Friday, March 6, 2015

McCalls 6754 -- Christmas Dress

This is a cellphone photo of my daughter standing in front of my sister-in-law's fireplace after my nephew's wedding, which was the weekend before Christmas.  Yes, I am posting my daughter's Christmas dress in March.  I am a very slow poster.  Also, circumstances conspired against me as far as getting photos.  I had hoped to get some family photos of us all dressed up, but my youngest son came down with an inconvenient stomach virus right as the wedding started, so he and I (and partly his dad) missed the whole thing!! Such is life, at least in this household.....

Anyway, my daughter made this dress in early December to wear to the wedding.  The pattern is McCalls 6754, view D and the fabric is berry stretch velour from Hobby Lobby.  The dress on the cover is very short and my daughter is tall (5'9" plus), so we thought we better add some length to the skirt.  We tried six inches at first, but that would not fit on the fabric, then we went down to four inches.  However, the skirt is quite full and the weight pulls it down, so in the end we only added two inches to the skirt length.

The rest of the pattern was sewn without alterations.  My daughter made a small (size 8-10).  She usually sews a 10.  This pattern is rated 'easy' and I would have to say it really is.  The whole thing sewed up in an afternoon. It has raglan 3/4 sleeves.  The waist seams make a casing for elastic, which helps hold the skirt up. She added knit stay tape to the neckline and the edges of the sleeves and the skirt, then turned them under and stitched them down, using a small zigzag stitch.  The fabric does not fray, so the other seams were stitched and pressed open, no finishing required. And it pulls on over the head, so no zippers or other fasteners to worry about.

I think it looks really cute on her.  The only thing she is not sure about is the raglan sleeves.  We both have really broad shoulders and wonder if the raglan sleeves emphasize that too much?  Also, the velour sheds on the inside, so after wearing the dress she is covered with bits of berry fuzz.  I think that might dissipate with a few more wearings.

We do recommend the pattern.  You can also make a tank top version for a summer dress, and there are some peplum top variations as well.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Vogue 8854 - Upcycled Sweatshirt

This is a higgledy-piggledy VERY casual top I made last year, repurposing an old maxi tube skirt and matching oversize top I'd had for probably twenty years! The dusky purple waffle weave fabric obviously has seen better days, but back in the day I had loved the original outfit and wanted to find a way to reuse it. I should have taken a photo before deconstruction began, but didn't:(

Anyhow, I am a big fan of Carolyn at Handmade by Carolyn, who, as just one of her many talents, has made some wonderful clothing out of scraps and castoffs (for a few examples, see hereherehere, and here). It is because of Carolyn that I now have a large plastic tub filled with discarded clothing that has the potential - maybe - of becoming something else.

This top was my first venture.  I used Vogue 8854.  I've seen several appealing versions of this top made up, some using a more drapey knit, some more stiff.  I really wanted to make the hooded version, but as I've said before, when you are making something out of something else, you never have quite as much fabric as you thought you would.  In this case, there was an embroidered and appliqu├ęd design on part of both the top and the skirt that was very worn and unsalvageable, and had to be cut away and discarded, leaving me with minimal fabric. So I went with view B instead.

As far as the pattern goes, I made a medium, which corresponds to a size 12-14.  I did add one inch width to each of the side pieces, tapering out from under the arm.  I also added one inch of length to the back hem, tapering to nothing on the side seam so that front and back would still match.  I liked that bit of high-low and the longer bottom coverage helps keep my seat warm:) This top has a shirttail shaped hem, which I had not done before, but the instructions on how to do it were excellent and worked, even on this extremely bulky fabric.
Side view of the shirt tail hem
The pattern does not really have a back seam, but I was using the back of the original skirt here.

The collar can be worn up or down, but if you plan to wear it up, you probably will need to cut the height down.  I have a long neck, and when the collar is extended it is up under my chin.  When it is extended you can see the pretty button I used to fasten it, but I omitted the snaps on the collar because  99% of the time, I'm going to wear the collar in the down position.
There are two large snaps hand sewn underneath the front flap. It also has a kangaroo pocket, which is a feature I like.  I did lower the placement of the pocket; the pattern had it up quite a bit higher.

The sleeves are reused from the original top, so I can't comment on how the pattern sleeves do.  Because of converting already sewn up pieces of clothing, there are extra seams on my top - some in less than ideal places.  Here you can see - if you squint through the blur - the double shoulder seams:
Because this was an experiment, I decided not to let any wonkiness bother me, instead hoping  pretending that it adds a little note of whimsy.  This is a very casual top, but hey, sometimes I need that in my wardrobe.  I made three tops last winter: a cozy pullovera brown leopard print tunic, and this one.  I have worn them all a lot, which shows me that tops are worthwhile sewing projects.
I had planned to make a few more tops this winter - I'd love to try the hooded version of this pattern - but my coat used up all my sewing time.  That's okay; I'm trying to enjoy the process of my sewing/crafting and keep it pressure-free. I have to confess that I have just started a project that is definitely NOT pressure-free: a formal dress for my daughter.  I will be working on that for the next few weeks -- wish me luck!

In the meantime, I hope all my U.S. friends are keeping warm. Even here in Texas we are planning to be holed up for the next couple of days.  I hope to get in some sewing, cooking and maybe even a jigsaw puzzle:)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Butterick 5960 - My First Coat

Finally, after many months, I finished my coat!  And I love it!

The coat saga began with four yards of a silvery double-knit jacquard-ish fabric I found at my local thrift store for $4.  Thrift stores are hit-or-miss, but over the course of last year I happened upon a lot of usable fabrics (like this shower curtain fabric).  I didn't know what I was going to make with it, but for $4 it was coming home with me.  At first I thought a dress, but when I saw Katherine Tilton's coat pattern Butterick 5960, I realized that was what the fabric wanted to be;) I made view B, the lined coat with inside pockets.

I loved the simple lines, the oversized duster shape and no closures, the shawl collar. However, upon closer inspection my fabric was a little light weight for a coat.  I decided that a quilted lining might offset that.  I found some on ebay for about $30 (around $7/yard). That, plus the pattern ($2 on sale) pushed the cost of the coat up to just under $40.  I still feel pretty good about it, especially after seeing this Emilia Wickstead coat, which - as best as I can tell - originally sold for the US equivalent of around $3,900.00. Now I am not claiming that my coat is on a par with the designer one as far as quality of construction and materials, but at least from a distance my coat gives a similar feel and I know that oversized bold silver floral coats are a 'thang.'

I made the lining first.  I like to do that when possible - it helps me check fit, etc. The lining I ordered was pre-quilted and quite stiff, so it functioned as a skeleton for the outer fabric. (A note on this lining: the backing was made of a fusible batting.  BE CAREFUL using your iron on this.  I did use a press cloth, but I still managed to melt a few spots.  Thankfully I caught it before ruining the whole thing, but learn from me - don't use a super hot iron on this).  I used a quilting needle in my sewing machine since this was a quilted piece of fabric, and the needle gave me no problems, so I continued to use it on the whole rest of the coat.

I was a little afraid of a Michelin-man look, especially in the sleeves, but it is comfortable to wear and also very warm.  The coat feels very much LIKE a coat, it has a nice heft. Having said that, I do think you could make a great sweater coat using view A, that would be a lot more drapey, but still very attractive. Maybe one of these days I will do that myself.

The voluminous side view!
Back view
I made a size medium, and the only alterations were to add one inch to the lining length (as per Bunny's advice) and one inch to the sleeve and sleeve lining length (a common alteration for me). I am 5'8" and normally sew a size 14 in the shoulders plus add width at the waist.  This put me at the upper end of the medium size range and I did not add any width, nor did I add any length (which I usually do). It is still plenty roomy and long on me, so if you are on the smaller end of your size range, check because you may want to go down a size.

As far as construction went, I combed over Bunny's posts at LaSewista.  She made a gorgeous cashmere version of this coat last year, and put up a series of construction posts that were very helpful.  If you plan on making this, I highly recommend reading her posts - I learned a lot! Her coat is much more couture, and mine is definitely not, but I like that you can see that the pattern can look good either way, and that people with very different skill levels and fabric choices can both end up with a great-looking coat.

Some construction notes: The front facings are supposed to be padded with wool batting, but I used high loft polyester batting, primarily because I wanted my coat to be potentially washable, although I think I would only hand wash it.  The facings are hand-basted in, but I did not find a place in the instructions that had you remove the basting stitches.  I did remove mine because they were visible; however, I carefully and as invisibly as I could hand-stitched the batting to the fabric near the fold line because I couldn't figure out how the batting would stay in place without that. ( just occurred to me another design option could be to quilt the facings).

Here is a view of the completed facings and the lining.  The batting really makes the collar feel luxurious and warm.
Unlike Bunny, I did put in the hidden upper pockets, using a silky black remnant so as not to add any bulk.  I just thought if I were somewhere and didn't want to take a purse, I could very safely put my phone and a few other small items in those pockets. (And they are deep! I have to really reach down to get to the bottom).

Reaching into my 'secret' pocket
Interior pocket close-up

The outside pockets were probably the most complicated part of this pattern, primarily because you can't see what you are doing. You really do have to thread trace them, as Bunny recommended.  I can't see how you could mark them otherwise.  I'm just glad I was using a print, which is a little more forgiving of slight inaccuracies.

Thread tracing from the wrong side

There is a place in the directions (step 16) that has you stitch the top and the bottom closed.  I just hand-stitched a little bar there, but you don't actually stitch through ALL the layers or you will not be able to get your hand in (thanks for the heads up, Bunny!).

Outside pocket close-up
I have long arms and my hands don't quite reach the bottom of the pockets, so if you have shorter arms you may want to see if you need to raise them a little.

This was a bulky project.  Sewing the lining to the outer fabric was like wrestling a bear! I kept all my supplies in a big box on the floor.  While the pattern is not necessarily difficult, there are LOTS of markings and you will need every single one.  I kept having to get my pattern pieces back out and see what marks I was supposed to be matching up.

I stitched and pinked all my seams during construction.  I'm sure serging them would be easier (and I got a serger for Christmas!), but I was already too far in to change methods. The lining hem I turned up and sewed down. I tried doing that with the outer coat, but it was too bulky and left a lumpy ridge.  I ended up using some Hug Snug seam binding I already had for the coat and the sleeve hems, which gave them a nice finish.

lining hem
Blurry view of the Hug Snug

As far as the pattern goes, it is drafted very nicely, although I would add an inch to the lining length so that your lining hem will be sure to cover the hem edges of your outer coat.  I did make myself a few notes.  On Step 9, DO NOT sew past the square.  This is clearly illustrated, but easy to overlook (ask how I know). On Step 16, DO NOT sew through ALL the layers, just through all the FRONT layers. On Steps 20 and 33, when sewing the sleeves in, note that you DO NOT line up the seam lines, you line up the marks, the sleeves are slightly offset. (If you do it wrong, your sleeves will not fit right.  Again, ask me how I know). On Step 35 I think it is clearer to say "Stitch one POCKET (9) to each side of side front lining, matching notches and large circles and STITCH one pocket section to each facing section of front." (I added the word "STITCH" in bold).

I started this coat in October and quickly got the lining made.  However, November and December saw little to no sewing.  I got back to my coat after Christmas and finished it by the end of January.  I'm a very slow sewer and I have to sew in bits and pieces of time, which slowed me down a little more because I would have to spend time finding my place.  My coat is definitely not perfect, it is not as smooth as I would like where the facings attach to the back hem, but I love it and hope it keeps me warm for many years.

(Links to my Pattern Reviews are on the sidebar, if you are interested)

(Also linking up to Share in Style - Japanese Inspiration, hosted by the beautiful and gracious Rosy at sewingadicta). 

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Latter Half of 2014

My modest snowman collection, which I'm leaving up through the end of February
The last few months my life got caught up in a whirlwind.  Some of it was good.  My daughter played volleyball for a small team, and we spent August through October going to practices and games all over rural north Texas.  They mostly played small public schools, a few privates and a few homeschool teams.  One school was so small it wasn't even located in a town - just a building in the middle of some fields.

This precipitated lots of driving on my part, but as long as the drives are primarily rural, I don't mind. It actually is stress-relieving to be in the car and at the games, because there is nothing else you can do but BE there, all the other pressures and responsibilities of life temporarily melt away.  (As an aside, I took one of those little personality quizzes on Facebook, and one thing that rang true about myself that I hadn't previously thought of is that I am a very in-the-moment kind of person.  I'm not looking to move on to the next thing; I'm just happy being in the moment I'm in.  Which has its pros and cons.......).

There were so many things I wish I could have taken a photo of to show rural Texas to you:  oil pumps bobbing their heads up and down like some kind of dinosaur relics; wind farms; LOTS of cattle, longhorn and otherwise; LOTS of horses, too.  The trees are much less in number here than in the east of the U.S., but the ones we have tend to be low and spreading, majestic in their own way.  Rolling countryside, and of course, the big sky. Also, the little towns, often with a traditional square.  I enjoyed it all so much, which confirmed that I am definitely a small-town girl at heart.

I live NEAR rural Texas, but not really in it.  I personally live too close to what I call "subdivision hell", where huge look-alike houses completely cover their lots and are built so close together you could hop from roof to roof, and highways look like mazes and traffic jams are all too daily. There is beauty to be found there too, but getting out and away from all that was a balm to my senses.

Unfortunately for the blog, I had to enjoy all this rural beauty without any photos, as I was the driver and I was speeding down the highways (one nice thing about Texas is that you can drive fast, speed limits are sometimes 75mph!), and while the stress was less, there was still a volleyball player pushing me to get to our destination on time: no dilly-dallying!!

The volleyball season ended at the end of October in a national tournament in Springfield, Missouri.  My daughter, my two youngest sons and I went for a long weekend.  Her team won the title for their division in the tournament, which was very exciting and a great ending to the season.

I assumed things were about to slow down, but when we returned to Texas, life took another turn.  First of all, we had a very disruptive bug infestation, which was a major deal and I will talk about that at some later point.  Then, my husband needed surgery, which he had right before Thanksgiving.  He is doing fine now, but it was two months before he could eat normally.  The first couple of weeks everything had to be liquified, and I was glad I had the Ninja blender!  Then, right after his surgery, his dad's health, which has been precarious for several years, started plummeting. My husband did have good talks with him on the phone, but he couldn't go see his dad because he was still unable to travel.  Hospice was called in, but less than a week later his dad just went to sleep for a couple of days and then went on home to heaven.  This is actually what we were praying would happen.  We didn't want his dad to have to suffer in pain, and he was ready to go.

However, the memorial service had to be postponed until we were able to travel to Tennessee (and my sister-in-law who lives in Florida could travel), and my other sister-in-law who lives in Tennessee had a son who was getting married right before Christmas, so they rolled the wedding and the memorial service into one long weekend, the weekend before Christmas.  Like I've said before, these major life events are spread far enough apart that my two younger sons had grown again and therefore had no appropriate clothes to wear, so they got new suits out of the deal.  My daughter made herself a dress for the wedding, which will eventually get blogged, and I wore a lace dress  I made a couple of years ago.

There were many misadventures along the way and while we were there, which probably best remain unblogged (sometimes family stories need to stay in the family, at least for a few years;).  The two-day drive was grueling, and it was also sad because now there is only one grandparent left.  But it was good to see family - however briefly - and it was good to hear from so many people who had loved my father-in-law.

We wanted to be back home in time for Christmas, so we pushed through and pulled back into town about 2:30 p.m. Christmas Eve.  I didn't even go to the house.  I had them drop me off at the grocery store and then my husband came back and got me.  I rushed around Kroger (along with everybody else in town!) and grabbed stuff to festive up the holiday.  I went home and in about an hour made sugared pecans, peppermint bark, sausage balls, fudge, and some other stuff I can't even remember now.  Suffice it to say that I amazed myself, even though my family took it in stride!

Christmas came and went.  Uncharacteristically, we had wrapped most of the gifts before our trip East, we actually had outside lights up and our tree had been up since the weekend after Thanksgiving.  All that helped since we had so few hours to get ready to celebrate. I was also uncharacteristically efficient after Christmas: all the decorations were taken down and put away by New Year's.  I left the snowmen up through January February because they are cheerful and can be considered 'winter decorating'.  So far though this winter has been very cloudy and gloomy but snow-less.........

I do think we should consider hibernating during the winter.  Everything feels like a slog. Too much death in 2014 for me; too much grief. It is still a bit difficult to look at 2015 with hopeful eyes, instead of wondering what unhappy events lie in wait around the corner. Which is not a good attitude on my part, and not one I want to have!  This year I will reach the half-century mark, which is also daunting, mostly because I don't feel like I 'have arrived' or 'have it all together' or anything like that.

Thankfully, my hope is not in myself and my coping abilities or accomplishments, but in God who holds all things in His hands.  My desire for 2015 (and following) is to find joy in the midst of the uncertainty and the messes and the bumbling along of me in my life.  I want to enjoy my family, my home, cooking, making things, working here and there, gardening, friends, church, nature, etc. All these and more are good gifts, and "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above" - James 1:17."  There are good gifts every single day.  I want to have eyes to see the gifts and the Giver, and to let my heart be glad.

 "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." - Psalm 118:24
"Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, rejoice." - Philippians 4:4 KJV