Thursday, March 5, 2015

Return to Japan: The Sewing Edition

Want to hear a sad story? Back in 2009, I visited Japan... before I'd started sewing. 

I know. 

On the plus side I did find apposite t-shirts: 

and my brother found very suitable hats (or is his head just super big?!):

But I strolled through the thrumming streets totally unaware of the fabric and notion wonderland that Japan truly is. 

Luckily our sad story has a happy ending: I'm returning! My friend Anthony (yes, Anthony of shirt fame) and I are going back in late April, and this time you can bet your life that I'll be doing All The Sewing Things. We'll definitely be going to Tokyo and Kyoto, and are currently considering side trips to Takayama and/or Naoshima, the "art island". 

In the meantime, I've got a lot of planning to do - and I would love your advice. I put the sewing bat signal out to Instagram and so far I have the following suggestions: 

- Nippori fabric town
- Okadaya in Shinjuku
- Nomura Tailor
- Tomato
- Zakzak
- A place that you can watch needles being made in Kyoto (!)

Do you have any other recommendations? And should I take a spare suitcase or just suck it up and ship all my goodies back to the US? I'd also love any opinions on whether to prioritize Takayama or Naoshima. I really can't wait! Squee!

Monday, March 2, 2015

In progress: Grainline Cascade Duffle coat

You know what they say: coat patterns are like buses - you wait years for one, and then two come along at once. 

Or is that men?

Anyhoosles I was riding high on the Leanne Marshall mini excitement-wave, but starting to come down slightly after a not-so-great muslin when up pops Jen's Cascade Duffle coat. The coat that was made for me. Even if Jen didn't realise that's what she was doing. 

I have long waxed nostalgic over a cream twill duffle coat (with cream fur trim, natch!) that I got in the Laura Ashley sale when I was about 18. Of course, me being me, it was only cream for a season and ended up getting chucked, but ever since then I've nursed the idea of a proper duffle in navy wool with brown leather and white cord toggles. 

You know what I'm talking about. 

It had to be done! 

I haven't made an unshaped coat before so I whipped up a muslin to check and it looks pretty acceptable. The arm is all wonky but that's because I put it in backwards. Yep. Top quality sewing there. The good news is: the 18 fits across my chest (taking up most of the drafted ease, but that's OK) and there are no majorly weird bust-draping issues. 

I'm making the coat from a gorgeous double-faced navy wool from Mood (still available here) - it's really, really nice. I'm making the zipper tape and internal piping from plaid from Grey's Fabrics, the lining is Ambiance Bemberg (here), and the body of the lining will be interlined with Thinsulate. I've ordered toggles from MyGann on Etsy, but now I have two decisions to make. 

First decision: what colour leather to use for the toggles. I'm making my own, and Ashley kindly donated two leather samples for consideration. Do I go for the warmer chocolatey leather or the more bronzed, orangey colour? I'm torn! 

Second decision: I ordered two cords from Pacific Trimming. The upper one is more white and rope-like, the lower one is natural colour and is waxed (so probably more hard wearing). What do you think? 

So, on to the rather long process of getting it ready to actually start sewing. I think most non-sewists would be astonished at how long it takes us to work on a coat before we even approach a sewing machine! I must admit that I find it a challenge to be patient and accurate during all these prep stages, even though I know it makes a big difference to the end result. Blogging doesn't help matters - it definitely gives you a (false) sense of urgency. So I'm trying to get around these impulses by doing tasks bit by bit rather than in huge chunks of time. 

First up, I got on with pre-treating the wool. Perhaps the dullest thing known to woman. I know some folks throw wool in the dryer with a damp towel but I've tried that twice, and both times I've ended up with damaged, slightly felted wool. So it was the old fashioned approach for me: a heavy steam. Luckily I have a gravity feed iron which makes it a touch easier. 

Then, cutting and interfacing. It definitely takes a while, but again something worth doing accurately. I did it in short sessions to try to not get tired, and then I did a second push a few days later to cut and fuse all the interfacing (mind that the front and back armhole pieces are labeled incorrectly - just swap them!).

Next up I need to cut the lining and Thinsulate and baste them together (I think I'm going to do it by hand this time), and then, I think, construction can begin.

So, which leather and cord do you think I should make? And also, should I self-line the hood so it's all in the navy wool, or should I use the lining? I'm on the fence! 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tutorial: 6 tips for nice jeans topstitching

Hi funsters!

Having barreled through four pairs of Ginger Jeans now (albeit 2 were muslins), I've received a bunch of questions about topstitching, so I thought I'd share some tips for getting professional-ish results. And of course as with all sewing the best thing you can do is practice! But in the meantime, I hope these tips will help.

Tutorial: Tips for jeans topstitching

1. Use your feet

This was my biggest "aha" - that perfect topstitching on your ready to wear jeans isn't due to someone with super-human steady hands. Nope, they're just using specialist feet. Now not all of us can have presser feet for every task, but if you have a couple I'll bet that you can get great results.

First, you want a foot that will get your first line perfectly straight and very close to the edge. The best option is an edge-stitching (sometimes called edge-joining) foot, or a blind hemming foot. I use this foot from Bernina, but there are also generic feet available that work on a variety of machines. They have a little dull blade in the middle of the foot - you move your needle over to the side (I go all the way to the left), and then  press the fabric up against the blade for stitching edges like pockets, or place the blade in the seam join if you're stitching along places where the seams are already sewn, like on the yoke.

Then, for the second line you need a foot with a marking that will get you a perfect 1/4 inch width. You could use a specialist quarter inch foot (they're very popular with quilters), or, just find a marking on one of your other feet that lines up. For me, I use my regular presser foot and put my needle two places over to the right which makes it an exact 1/4 inch from the edge of the foot.  Be very precise about where you line up the foot compared to the first line of stitching - I make sure that the edge of my foot is going along the *edge* of the previous line of stitching, so I can see it (rather than covering it) - this type of precision really helps.

2. Chalk it in first

There's no shame in chalking on your lines before you stitch them. I usually only do this for the fly front, but if you're just starting out, why not do it for all the seams? Following a line is much easier than following the seam allowance gauge on your machine (or at least it is for me), so give it a go. I have a rainbow assortment of Clover chalk liners which I love and give a fantastic thin line for this type of job.

3. Use topstitching thread in your top needle, and regular thread in your bobbin

I've had really good results using Gutermann topstitching thread. There's no need to put topstitching in your bobbin though - in fact, it's likely your machine won't like it! As long as you have the tension correct (see below), you shouldn't get any bobbin thread appearing on the top.

4. Increase the tension of your top thread

I'm not sure if this is universal or not, but on my machine, it helps to increase the tension to 7 (it's usually around 4).

5. Increase your stitch length

The best topstitching will almost always be at a longer stitch length, especially if you're using heavier topstitching thread. I usually go from my regular 2.5 stitch up to a 3.5 or 4. Definitely do a test on a piece of denim before you start to see which length you prefer.

6. Don't backstitch!

Backstitching with topstitching thread is the worst. It just gets tangled up and nasty! Instead, start and end with a few really small stitches (I usually go down to 1 - 1.5). This secures the topstitching thread in place without snaggles.

So that's what I do - do you have any other tips to add? I haven't been at this jeans-making malarkey for very long so I'm sure there's a lot more I haven't learned yet!

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links to some of the products that I personally use and recommend. If you'd rather not participate, feel free to Google the products instead. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ginger Jeans, Redux: super-skinny edition!

Ever since I made my first pair of Closet Case Files Ginger jeans I've been wearing them like... a person who really likes her jeans. As it happens, I thought I didn't really like jeans because I never wore them much. Turns out I don't like wearing ill-fitting jeans, but once I had well-fitting ones, I was sold!

I clearly need a few more pairs, but instead of immediately going back to my Ginger kit denim (I used the winter weight length already, but have the second set left) I ordered some off-black cotton stretch denim from EmmaOneSock. The denim was paired with the bronze set of button and rivets from the kit - I finally mastered putting rivets in so I thankfully managed to get all 6 installed first time. 

This denim is a lot lighter and stretchier than my Ginger kit, so I made them with a pretty consistent 5/8 seam allowance rather than the varying seam allowances of my original pair. I also went this route because my original Gingers are starting to bag out a little bit (mostly remedied by being thrown in the dryer), and I thought it would behoove me to make these a little tighter to begin with. 

The result? Super-skinny jeans! They fit pretty well through the legs, but I must say the waistband is a bit nippy this time. That's probably because I also took a different waistband approach - instead of cutting on the cross grain without interfacing, this time I went to the opposite extreme, cutting with the grain and interfacing. I think I may have gone too far, as these have very little give - next time, I think I'll try on the cross grain plus knit interfacing. 

They also look a little wrinklier in these photos than my last pair, but that's mostly because I'd already worn them all day when these photos were taken! They thinner denim does show up lumps and bumps a bit more though, I'll admit. 

I made a few changes to the back: I transferred some length (about 1/2 inch) from the yoke to the legs, and I also realized that last time I accidentally used the view A pockets. Oops! So this time, I used the slightly longer view B ones instead.  

On the inside I made a pocket stay again, and used the same little birdie cotton to face the waistband. Funnily enough this was one of the fabrics I bought when I first started sewing 5 years ago - I don't think I ever would have imagined it would end up in a pair of jeans!

Here's how they'll actually get worn! With a hat (actually, probably two hats if we continue having feet upon feet of snow here), and my big and snuggly zip-up cardigan from Iceland.

Now I just have to decide what to do about the waistband - whether to hope it stretches a little to be more comfortable, or to remove it and add a new one. Hmmm. Question is, how lazy I'm feeling. I'm also going to make up the second pair from the kit, because I need a proper jeans wardrobe in rotation!

How do you cut your jeans waistbands? Do you go the traditional on-grain, interfaced route, the newfangled cross-grain, non-interfaced, or something else entirely? 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Old dog, new tricks: McCall's M6884 wrap dress

I'll admit it: I'm a bit of a one-trick pony. Believe it or not, I wear wrap dresses even more than you'd guess from reading this here blog (yes! it's true!). They really are my uniform, and usually they're exactly the same, bar the sleeve length and fabric.

However, I thought I should step up and try something new so... here's a *fixed* wrap dress! I decided to try out Pattern Review's #3 most popular dress of 2014: the McCall's M6884 dress. And let's just say you'll be seeing a little more... err... Cashmerette than usual: 

McCall's M6884 fixed wrap dress

Yep, it's a plunger! I usually wear my wrap dresses with a camisole because I like the look and it's work-friendly but I thought I'd try this one without. As suspected, it's date-night not day-at-desk. 

I made it using the rest of the birdie jersey from my StyleArc Demi Drape top, which does cover up the style lines a bit in these photos. To be a bit clearer, I made view C of the technical drawing below - it's got a ruched side and the ties meet on the side rather than going all the way around like a traditional wrap dress. There's no waist seam, which I like, and the length is fairly short (I'm 5'6") - I would potentially lengthen it by an inch or two next time. 

McCall's M6884 fixed wrap dress

It was pretty easy to make, although I did do a different process than the instructions. They suggest going back and forth between hemming and finishing the edges and constructing seams, but because I use a convertible serger and coverstitch I wanted to batch the tasks together. So first I did all the edges and hemming, and once that was done, I did all the seams. 

McCall's M6884 fixed wrap dress

I like the end result, although I'm not sure I like it more than my usual heavily hacked Christine Jonson wrap dresses. Still, good to have some variety!

McCall's M6884 fixed wrap dress

Have you made this dress, or any of the other Pattern Review top patterns of 2014? Would you add any more to their list?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Help! I have a fabulous problem.

I may have the world's most fabulous problem. 

Last time I was in NYC I peeked into that Aladdin's den of wonderfulness, B&J Fabrics. If you haven't been there before, it's an incredibly upscale purveyor of the fanciest fabrics you can imagine (along with some more normally-priced bolts for we regular folk). My favourite parts of the store are the display walls where they have swatches of fabric together with stills from the runway shows where they've been used. If you've ever wanted the chance to pet $2,500/yard Valentino lace, this is the place for you. 

I was fantasy-shopping, minding my own business, when.... 

it was love at first sight. 


It's (apparently) hand-painted silk organza. From Italy. It has the most unbelievable crisp but drapy hand, and it's even better in person.  I didn't buy it on the spot because I was a little overwhelmed and couldn't quite justify the cost (though I will reassure you it's *not* $2,500 a yard!). But as all crushes will, it dwelled on my mind, and one night I found myself buying a yard and a half online. No regrets. 
The big question now: what am I going to make out of it? It's enough for a top or a skirt, but not for a dress (unless it was panelled with something else). I have a total fear of screwing it up, which I'm going to need to get over, but the best way to address it is to muslin the heck out of something and use couture techniques, I think. I'm also a little concerned that because it's organza the seams could split if I sit down quickly when wearing it... I'm guessing it's going to need either underlining or some  other kind of under-layer. I don't have that much so I don't want to worry about pattern matching.
 So, dear readers, help! What garment should I make? What pattern should I use (or should I draft something)? And which couture techniques would be best?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Like mother, like daughter: Butterick B5929 skirt

Is there anything better than making a garment with fabric that quickly becomes your favourite ever... and then remembering that you bought some extra yardage, just in case?

While I generally try to keep my stash under control, sometimes I throw another yard or two into the (virtual) basket when I particularly love a fabric, and I don't know about you, but I've never come to regret it. In fact, it's recently happened to me three times in a row: that stripy lace skirt from the other day? Got another 3 yards! The birdie knit from my draped top? Another 4! And remember the McCall's M2401 I made from 4-ply silk from EmmaOneSock for my Mum's Christmas present? Well it turns out that past Jenny bought an extra 2.5 yards. High five, past Jenny!

I've been petting the silk for a while, and after creating my new love, the stripy tea-length skirt, I decided that I clearly needed another one, given that I do indeed drink a lot of tea (yes, I'm a walking stereotype).

Butterick B5929

I was originally going to draft a half-circle skirt but then I realized it just wouldn't fit on my fabric without creating lots of panels  - if your waist is over about 37 inches I think you face this if you want a skirt longer than a mini. Instead, I picked up Butterick B5929, a simple six-sectioned skirt pattern with options for a pleated and pocketed version, or a more flowy, faced verison.

Butterick B5929

Wanting the maximum flow and optimal tea-lengthi-ness, I went for version D, which has the waist facing. It was an extremely easy and quick make, helped by the gorgeousness of the firm silk - no shifting about there. I made up the 22 which was theoretically 2 inches too small at the waist according to the finished measurements, but I skipped the easing in the pattern instructions and it fits totally fine.  It does hit me at the widest point of my legs, but you know what, I really don't care. I love it, and screw flattering!

And the final result is totally twirl-tastic.

Butterick B5929

Plus, I match my Mum! I feel like we need to have a "bring your Mum to work" day at my office so that we can parade around in matching outfits. Because that wouldn't be weird at all, right?
Butterick B5929
Spot the difference!

Have you ever made your Mum and yourself matching outfits, dear readers? I'm dearly hoping so. And for photo evidence.
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