Puns N Needles

Dispatches from my adventures: sewing, knitting, and otherwise.


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A really fun top

I shared some pictures of this top with a facebook group and there were some questions about the pattern, so I thought I’d write a little more about it.

It’s the Painted Portrait Blouse/Dress pattern from Anna Maria Horner. I think that no matter a person’s personal style, it’s hard to deny that this pattern has the potential to be really fun. Just do a Google Image search and see all the different variations: sleeveless, sleeved, or the dress version; solid yoke in the same fabric as the main top; solid yoke in a contrast fabric; or my favorite, the pieced yoke.

It’s comfy, easy to wear, and cool.

I made this once last summer entirely from scraps. In fact, I cut up a favorite linen dress for the main pieces of the top because the dress no longer fit and the armhole edges were fraying something fierce. I used bits leftover from soft voile scarves that I made one Christmas, and some leftover eyelet sort of fabric, all in shades of coral.

Not long ago, I noticed that a lot of the garments I’ve been making are shades of navy blue. I also happened to have some scraps of navy blue linen from a pair of pants I made long ago, so it seemed the right opportunity to make the top again. I had fun carefully choosing the fabrics for the yoke pieces and the yoke facings. I’m really happy with how it turned out.

Then I set to putting the top together. I remembered having some trouble with the instructions the first time—nothing too taxing, but enough to slow me down and pause while I read and re-read the instructions. On my second go-round, I was ready: I had one 99% successful Painted Portrait top under my belt with my recollections of the trouble I had making it. I was also prepared to just take a deep breath and know it would turn out fine.

Here are the challenges that I found in the instructions:

  • It’s a lot of text with few images, and it’s crowded onto one (large) sheet of paper. This is not ideal for visual learners or very new garment sewers.
  • Some of the terminology is different from most other garment sewing that I’ve done. For example, one step instructs to “edgestitch the neckline through facings and seam allowances…” I believe that this is usually called understitching in other patterns.
  • There seems to be a typo or mistake in the instructions. The armholes are finished with bias tape and the instructions say to cut 1” wide bias strips. Then we’re instructed to sew the strip to the armhole edge with a ⅝” seam allowance, then press the strip toward the armhole, fold to the inside and topstitch. This leaves a raw edge, if you can even get the bias strip to fold inside. You need about a 1 ½” wide bias strip which you can stitch to the armhole at ⅝”. Then you trim the seam allowance to about ¼”. Press the bias strip up, toward the seam allowance. Then fold and press the strip (around the seam allowance) so the edge of the strip is just inside the stitching line. Finally, press that all to the inside, so you don’t see the bias trim from the outside. Pin and topstitch (or handstitch) around the armhole. You can find tutorials and videos describing this if you search Google for “bias finish armhole” (or something like that).


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MeMadeMay + a little bit of June

In my last free time to sew on the last day of May, I thought I was going to make another Ann Carolyn Smock. It’s one of my favorite patterns, with raglan sleeves and a yoke front, with different length options. But instead, I decided to try this new-to-me vintage pattern than I found at the Habitat Re-Store while on a little trip several months ago. The price was right—what can I say?

Vintage pattern. Early 1980s?

I didn’t bother with a muslin this time. It’s a pretty forgiving style, and the pattern front and back widths are comparable to Ann Carolyn’s. The size Large was cut already (my size in this top — hoorah!) except for the sleeve for the view I chose, so I traced that off the original.

Results of first cutting session

I went back to my stash and selected this yellow linen. I bought it on a whim with no real plans for it—I love linen and it was a good price—and I could use a solid colored top in my work wardrobe. I was able to cut all the small pieces, fuse the interfacing to the front and back neck facings, and prepare the sleeve cuffs before my sewing time in May ran out.

 

Though I was racing against the clock to make a second garment before the end of May, I was still working to embrace “slow sewing.” I want to be more deliberate about what I make—to carefully choose the patterns that I make (so they reflect the kinds of clothes that I want and need, and are comfortable), and to make them carefully (so they will continue to look good and feel good for years into the future). I also want to continue to become a better sewist.

  • I worked on my marking methods. I usually use wax paper and a tracing wheel but sometimes it doesn’t work great. This time I practiced tailor’s tacks. They are quick and really useful.
  • I carefully followed the instructions for reinforcing seams and, something I used to hate, understitching. This helps keep a facing from showing to the outside and I am a huge believer in understitching now.
  • I noticed some different assembly and finishing methods in this vintage pattern. This one recommends the “stitch and pink” finishing method (I used my serger), and, it instructs the maker to press parts of some seams to the back and another part of the seam open. It also had me hand-hem the split in the sleeves, which was pretty fiddly but I don’t know how else it would have been done.
  • I forgot to trace a mark onto my copy of the sleeve pattern. I was ready to attach the neck band, and I very carefully matched up markings and seams, but something didn’t work. I tried matching the band to the body twice before going back to look for missing marks. Once I found the missing dots, it fit together perfectly.
  • Fitting the neck band into the shirt front was really challenging and ended in me handstitching it into place. The pattern also includes a “Time-Saving Shortcut ™” which is to stitch in the ditch  to attach the neckband facing — I handstitched that because I knew it would be easier for me, it would be satisfying, and I have a new porch swing that was calling.

Porch swing sewing

Other than the finishing treatments that I don’t see as often in the contemporary patterns that I use, this top went together very smoothly. Since it’s got raglan sleeves, there are really only six seams. When I first tried it on before it was finished, I thought about adjusting the fit and making it a little smaller. It felt like I had put on a XXL men’s t-shirt. I thought about what belt I could wear with it, and figured that if I didn’t like it once it’s done, I could take in the side seams.

Relaxed style

But once I installed the buttonholes and buttons, I decided that it’s not a style that I typically wear (because it’s the year 2017 and the pattern’s from the 1970s or ’80s?) but I like it.

 


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Sailing toward my dream pants

I’ve wanted “sailor” pants for a long time, and I really like the shorts I made with this pattern last year.
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So several months ago, I cut out the pants version of the pattern in some mystery canvas as a trial run. The pieces sat for months while other projects took priority, and the size I cut is now too big. As in, I almost can’t wear the shorts from last summer. That’s why my promise to make two new pieces of work clothes in May had a rocky start.

I don’t like wasting materials, so I wanted to use what I’d already cut for a muslin. I had to re-print and assemble the PDF pattern because last time, I cut up the original (which was a giant piece of 48 letter size pieces of paper taped together). Hindsight being 20/20, for this version, I traced the pieces. Then, I laid the newly-cut pattern pieces over what I’d already cut, and thankfully, most of the pieces could be re-used.

Happily, I only had to re-cut one pattern piece and then it went together pretty quickly. I had to make a small adjustment, letting out the inside front piece

Seam let out/small wedge added to right of slash pocket opening


but otherwise was really happy with how the pants fit.

Linen swatches
From my stash, I decided on this Robert Kaufman Essex Washer Linen yarn dyed (a linen/cotton blend) in a charcoal color for the “real” pants. I love this fabric, and really like the two tops I made from it, so I’m pretty sure it’ll make good pants. Grey is my favorite neutral, so I expect I’ll wear them a lot. The other two are blended with rayon and will make nice dresses, tops, or jackets.

The pattern says that 1.7 yards are required for my size range, though I barely squeezed it out with 2 ¼ yards. I couldn’t find a recommended pattern layout but can’t see where I could have re-arranged the pieces and had any more leftover. I used a novelty print quilt cotton for the pockets and waistband. 

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I chose the “Darling” view (not “Sailor) and followed the instructions exactly, except for the button loops, which are very narrow. They’re so narrow that when I sewed tubes, it was impossible to turn them right side out, so I improvised by folding and then top stitching. The legs are much wider than the pants I’m used to wearing, but in linen fabric they will be great for the summer. Later on, I want to make the Sailor view, and maybe try leg width variations since the waist, hips and behind fit so comfortably. I love them.
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What’s a girl to do?

It’s the last week in May, and I have no new garments to show. For a lot of us who sew for ourselves and our family, May=MeMadeMay, which I wrote about recently

As it turns out, transitioning to a new job can be exhausting—even when moving from a 40 hour work week to 28-ish hours. Though, let’s call it 43 and 34, to account for commuting time. My work schedule has been irregular because I started at the tail end of the semester in an academic library. I worked one week at my normal schedule (afternoon/evenings), one week with daytime hours (since that week there were no classes), and then went on vacation for a week. Now I’m back, thankfully with a holiday allowing me two shortened weeks. All that to say, I haven’t been able to find time to make any new duds.

But I have a plan. I’m going to make a pair of pants Endeavour pattern cover 

that I started working on months ago, and I’m going to make a simple top. I believe I can do these two garments by the 31st. I think?

So the challenge or roadblock or stumbling area (whatever you’d like to call it) is that I’m smaller than I was when I started making these pants. But I still need pants, so I’m persevering, And I have a feeling the simple top will be in the Ann Carolyn smock pattern, like this one

Ann Carolyn smock, summer 2016

In the sunlight on the studio deck

but that will come after the pants. More next time.


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Fast or slow—What’s better?

When I started sewing lots of clothes, I felt pretty good when I could knock out a dress or a shirt in a day, or maybe a weekend. That meant I was good; I found a good pattern, I enjoyed myself, everything worked right. Excellent.

But then I started learning about fit, and everything took longer because I wanted to spend the time to make it fit well. I took an online class on couture sewing and the project involved a lot of hand sewing and extra layers and well, don’t tell anyone, but I never did fully finish the dress. I ran out of time but was also kind of overwhelmed. Making something like a formal dress with couture methods, jeans, or a suit takes time. And there’s no reason to rush. I’ve been making peace with slow sewing. It’s nice to not have a deadline (self-impose or otherwise) and to relax and enjoy the process.

Also, sometimes I have an entire weekend, or a few weekdays without work, during which to sew with few interruptions. But most of the time, I’m sewing on a weekday afternoon in the middle of a split shift at work, or on a weekend day between other obligations. Without having huge blocks of time, it doesn’t make sense to try to knock out a shirt in a day.

But a recent weekend was different. I was feeling pretty terrible about work and decided that it would make me feel better if I spent ALL of my time sewing. Boy, was I productive. I started out with a leggings pattern that I bought months ago, thinking it would be fun to try. Several hours later, once that was finished, I moved on to a knit shirt, in a pattern I’d made twice before and whipped that up in 90 minutes.

Holy smokes — I finished a pair of leggings, in a new pattern, and a shirt/sweater before we left for the movies on Saturday night. And on Sunday, I was able to take a great walk and have lunch out with the Machinist, so it was kind of well-rounded. When we got home on Sunday afternoon, I started another project, though this one is going to take a while…


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Learning to design

I live an hour or more from a decent fabric store, which may or may not be a big surprise. In recent years, many independent fabric stores have closed and in fact, Hancock Fabrics, a big chain, went bankrupt last year, closing all of their stores. In times of emergency, I can often find a zipper or thread at the Super WalMart and there are two small independent shops that have quilting fabric. But I do have two good stores somewhat close, Ragtime Fabrics in Harrisonburg, Va., and Les Fabriques in Charlottesville, Va.*, and visit one or the other every few months. Both are pretty well-rounded with a variety of materials for sale, notions, patterns, and helpful staff. They both offer classes, too, and I have always been on the lookout for an in-person class to expand my knowledge.

Finally in September I read an email description of a course at Les Fabriques that caught my eye: Drafting a Bodice Sloper. In this class, students would learn to take measurements and then draft a pattern piece for a plain sleeveless garment, and learn a little bit about how to turn it into a wearable blouse. The price seemed good, the teacher was recommended by the store as someone who knows her stuff. The schedule worked for me (Sunday afternoons, two weeks in a row, with an optional third session), and so I signed up.

The first class was on the day after my birthday, and the Machinist and I fit it into an action-packed day including sheepdog trials, fiber festival, barbecue lunch, pho supper. While I was in class, he went junk shopping (and found a very cool stool). It was three hours of taking measurements and learning the theory of drawing something that would create a 3-dimensional garment. I partnered with Ingrid, a petite and spunky woman a bit older than me who had completed the skirt drafting class over the previous two weeks. Because of all the curves, angles, and other geometry to a human body, it’s not that easy to accurately take measurements, but Ingrid and I did our best. We heard the other two women in the class expressing many of the same challenges that we did as they measured themselves.

I was eager to do my homework. There was a lot of excitement in taking a bunch of measurements (some which seemed arbitrary as we took them) and putting them down on paper with rulers and pencils. And the first time around, I ended up with something that vaguely resembled a blouse pattern. Just vaguely. The armhole curve didn’t look like any sewing pattern I had ever bought, and there was a sharp angle on the front that seemed weird. So I emailed our teacher, with my questions and pictures of my draft. She had a few suggestions and I created another draft (this time it went a little bit faster than the first).  Around this time, I began to see how the arbitrary measurements corresponded to my actual body and combined to make the front, or the back, pattern for a blouse. Nayana, the teacher, offered to meet me before class started but I felt that my third draft of the front and second draft of the back were sufficient.

Then I returned for the second session.  And before I could try on my garment, Nayana asked to look at my second draft (the main difference between it and the last draft was the length of the side seam, from under arm to waist). She checked my measurements and saw what I’d done (one calculation was way off), and eventually asked me to start from scratch, using two new mutually agreed-upon measurements. I cheerfully set to re-drawing my pattern piece, when I was nearly finished, Nayana checked my work and there was a point that had ended up in an impossible place. Yes, it was correct according to my measurements, but no, it was not possible to create a pattern with point S where it ended up. So, Nayana wanted me to complete the pattern UP TO the bust darts, at which point I would try it on and we would find the dart placement by “draping,” which means placing fabric on the body and fitting the fabric to the body.

Did I lose you here? It’s another method of garment design, less mathematical and more precise than drafting (what our class focused on). Once my pattern pieces were ready and traced on to the fabric with seam allowances, I cut them and Nayana quickly hand-stitched it together. I tried it on and we learned that there was not enough room in the front — but thankfully, I had allowed two inches for the front seam, so we were able to make it fit. The side seams were pinned together, the darts were pinned (then sewed) and we had a very well-fitting garment. Nayana showed us all how to transfer the pattern adjustments to the paper pattern, and I beamed. My mind was swimming thinking about what I can make now, and how to use this newfound knowledge to adapt some of my purchased patterns—and I have a cabinet full of them now.

This class was well worth my time, the expense, and the mileage to and from Charlottesville twice. I enjoyed our teacher and the other students. My sewing skills continue to improve, but it’s nice to have another tool in my garment-making kit.

*Les Fabriques has since closed. The owner wanted to retire. I originally wrote this post in the fall, so it’s “old news,” I suppose.


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Sewing vintage

This week I did something new when I sewed a garment from a vintage pattern. I’ve written before about my fondness for vintage sewing stuff like buttons, trims, and fabric, never mind sewing machines, but I’ve also been collecting patterns.

My pattern filing cabinet, decommissioned from a fabric store and bought off Craigslist, had been filling up with vintage patterns. I wasn’t trying very hard, or looking for any particular pattern or even those from a certain decade. But, when I encountered an older pattern (think thrift stores, antique malls, yard sales)  that seemed close to my size and was cheap, I would snap it up. Often, these patterns came by the grocery bag sized lot or box-full. And just as often, they’re not my size and would require a lot of adaptation to make them work for me. But still I persisted, and before my recent cleaning and purging of my sewing room contents, that pattern cabinet had two drawers nearly full of vintage patterns. Now, that I’ve sort of gone “Kondo” on my sewing room and supplies, I’ve got a carefully chosen selection of vintage patterns in styles with some possibility of me actually wearing, and in sizes that won’t require any more adaptation to fit me than a new sewing pattern will.

And that group included my newest top: this tunic-length smock.

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I’d spent many hours over the past few weeks cleaning and organizing my sewing room, and while it’s not quite finished, I was ready to start a new sewing project. But what to make? I spent some time thinking about what I could use, and it seems I can always use more long tops. Then I looked around my fabric stash and decided to use this linen blend which has been kicking around for about a year. Time to sew it up?

Kaufman Essex Linen Blend Yarn Dyed Rust

Robert Kaufman Essex linen blend yarn dyed, “Rust.”

Then I had to choose a pattern. I looked through my new and vintage patterns but this one rose to the top. I’d had my eye on it for a long time—similar to other smocks or blouses with yokes that I’ve made before, this is different because it’s from 1973. It’s from the days when women wore dresses that short. Well, if you spend any time around very young adults (college campuses, anyone?) you might say those days are back. But not for me. This will be worn over pants or leggings.

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I did have to do some minor adjustments for style and materials; one was accomplished before I cut the fabric, and I did the other during construction. First, I wanted to take some width out of the front and back. The fabric is a little heavier than what the pattern recommends, and by looking at the samples on the cover, I could tell that my fabric would likely stand straight out from the gathers.

 

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I used two different methods to adjust the pattern so I could remove 1 1/2″ on the fold of the front and back pieces.

I used my rulers, my guess-timator, and my experience to figure out how much width to remove. I knew how wide the smock’s front would be if I followed the pattern and instructions, and I compared it to a top that I made from the same fabric (different color). The pattern produced a 30” front and 30” back, and my other top (which I love and wear a lot) has a 24” front and back, but it’s only hip-length, and I figured it would be comfortable and look right with some more room around my bottom and hips. I decided to make the front and back of this smock 27”, removing 3” altogether—or, 1 ½” on the fold.

 

The construction of the smock was straightforward. Butterick calls this an easy pattern. I did some of the steps out of order relative to the instructions, because my way was slightly more logical for me. There were some terminology differences from today’s modern patterns, but overall, it went together pretty nicely.

And then I basted on the sleeves. I “forgot” to get a picture, but just look closer at the pattern here, and you’ll see what I was dealing with.

 

IMG_1937Way too much “poof” for my liking. I knew enough about sleeve drafting to be dangerous. LOL. I found some online tutorials for changing the amount of ease in a sleeve cap, and it was pretty clear what I had to do: measure the length of the seam around the sleeve, on the sleeve, and on the smock’s armhole. I had a difference of 7 inches. No wonder the sleeve was so poofy! I needed about 2 inches to allow for movement, so I wanted to remove 5” of ease. Look  at the fabric I cut off the top of each sleeve!

 

IMG_1934I used my blind hem stitch for the smock’s hem, and my serger for most of the inside seams. And I pressed pearl snaps in to the cuff. I love my snap and rivet press!

 

IMG_1935I’m quite happy with the smock!
What do you think? Have you sewn from vintage patterns before?