Sunday, November 16, 2014

Remembering how to sew again with a Moneta (what else?)

Between work travel and illness it's been an age since I sat down at a sewing machine, let alone finished anything, so in a short period of feeling better (sadly crap again now) I whipped out a Moneta. 

It was cold! The things I do for you, dear readers
I picked up this unique knit in Stonemountain & Daughter a few weeks ago in Berkeley, unsure whether it was a bit too "wearable art" (nothing wrong with that, just not my style) or whether I could pull it off. It has wide black and grey stripes, with a raised white stripe between them, which protrudes out of the fabric (I'm sure there's a more elegant way of putting that, but it's lost on me right now). Ultimately I decided to give it a shot because the Moneta's so easy, even if it didn't work out, not much would be lost. 

And I like it! 

I used my scoop neck variation, and underlined the whole thing with a black knit to stabilize it a bit. I tried my hardest to get a decent stripe across the waistline where the bodice and gathered skirt come together... and I sort of 80% managed with a bit of a blip (which is screaming at me from these photos but normal people may not notice, I guess). 

One incidental thing, but perhaps helpful to folks - gathering the waist on the Moneta can be tricky if you can't get the clear elastic thing to work (me neither), but a side effect of underlining the skirt first was that I already had a serged skirt waistline. I then found that when I ran my gathering stitches through the serging, it gathered like a dream. The downside is that you end up serging over the same seam twice when you attach the bodice, but I actually quite like the extra stability. 

I have a lack of comfortable "hang out at home" clothes in my wardrobe, and I think dress will help address the gap. Perhaps some Hudsons next, if I can find it in me to do some grading.

Peculiarly it seems that autumn and winter have come simultaneously to Boston, so I will leave you with a picture of me freezing next to some neighbours' pumpkins.

Final shoutout to Anne at Clothing Engineer for her ingenious focusing tip for taking tripod shots - I tried it for these and it worked like a dream!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review of Stonemountain & Daughter, Berkeley CA

Ah, work travel, you fickle beast, keeping me away from sewing and finishing up that damn coat.

On the plus side though, new fabric shops to visit!

Last week, I popped into San Francisco (en route from Vegas to Boston to London... yeah) and apparently there was this sports thing on which meant that lots of people got overexcited and swamped the centre of the city. This was most upsetting as it meant I missed both meeting my virtual sewing pal Tanya (next time!) and a trip to Britex.

However, the upside was that I was staying in Berkeley with my friend Anthony (of whom more will follow...) and that, of course, meant... my first trip to Stonemountain & Daughter!

Berkeley is a place teeming with character, overflowing with students, hipsters, homeless people and folks who tuned in and dropped out several decades ago. Delightfully, Stonemountain & Daughter fits right in, with retro signage and a most relaxed staff (who were all dressed up for Halloween - double bonus!).

I was a little concerned when I first walked in that it might be mostly quilting cottons, because they're all focused at the front of the store. Not that cat quilting cotton is bad, you understand... 

There was also an awesome button display - I want my own button Cashmerette sign! One day, dear readers, one day. 

However beyond the cottons and buttons, this place is an Aladdin's cave... venture back and you'll discover Fur Mountain (I feel like someone needs to set up a blog with that as the title), a huge variety of denim, eyelet, Japanese fabrics and flannels. 

Then in the adjacent room, a very solid range of other apparel fabrics, from silks to knits to brocade to wool.

Being the predictable creature I am, I picked up (top to bottom):
- Black jersey for lining a Moneta
- An awesome textured knit for the aforementioned Moneta - you can't see it well in this photo, but the white stripes are raised knit ridges!
- A stretch cotton in bright blue, yellow and pink
- A great navy and grey flannel shirting for a Negroni for Anthony.

So a lovely trip, a lovely reunion, a lovely fabric shop and I'll leave you with a lovely view of the Golden Gate bridge from the Berkeley hills. Remind me why I live in Boston again? 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Coating with Cashmerette: Entering the final stretch

The apparently never ending cashmere coat saga continues! But is, thank heavens, nearing completion. 

So after all the interfacing-ripping and re-steaming and shaping, I found that the upper side panel (above the dart) was now waving... ARGH. This is *probably* because of being overworked and now under-supported, so I decided to do what I probably should have done all along: hand-baste horsehair canvas to the section. This is the first time I've ever done it, and I was skeptical that the stitches wouldn't show on the right side, but turns out it isn't that hard. I followed my trusty Singer tailoring book, and the result is fine (I know it isn't perfect!). 

The benefit to this is that it's now more stable, and the canvas takes a curve much better than the cashmere so it better for shaping. It's still not 100% perfect on the right side but I'm really, really hoping that a professional pressing at the end will smooth everything out.

Next up, I started the hem - I'm following Emma One Sock's lining bagging tutorial (which involves hand setting the sleeves), and I started by gently pressing the hem up (with 1/2 inch of canvas extending beyond the fold to get a soft fold), basting it down with silk thread, and then hand blind stitching it down about 3/4 inch from the raw edge.

The next stage is completing the backs of the bound buttonholes, and then bagging the lining... and then done!  Sadly, I'm traveling for work a bunch at the moment but I'm hoping that by the end of November it should all be done, just in time for the weather to be too cold to wear it... Oops! I will just have to swan around inside in it instead.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Little quilts for little babies

Everyone's sprogging! And if there are new sprogs that means that new baby gifts are in order. I got this one down pat a while ago: applique baby quilts are easy, speedy and fun to make, and much appreciated by parents for both useful and decorative value. Win-win! In fact I just found out the other day that one of the ones I made in the past is now a 2 year old's security blanket, and if that doesn't say gift recipient satisfaction, I don't know what does. 

First up, a blanket for wee blonde Irish-American baby Pierce. I popped over to Grey's Fabrics and picked up a fat quarter bundle of gorgeous washed-out soft flannels, including a novelty one with various little characters.  I made a triangle template out of a bit of cardboard, and cut out the bunting bits, stuck them onto the base cotton with fabric clue, then tight zig-zagged all the way around them. 

Then I made some little letters and went through the same process: 

Whap some batting and a back layer on, quilt through the bunting lines, and here we are! This looks much much more rumpled here than in real life - that's what taking iPhone pictures at night under overhead lighting does for you. I finished the quilt with pre-made quilt binding (also from Grey's), and the back is a gorgeous soft turquoise gingham check flannel. 

First quilt made and delivered (on the same day, no less), it was on to the second, this time for a wee lady who managed to unexpectedly come into the world in a back room at home, delivered by her father! She definitely deserves something nice. I used the second part of my fat quarter bundle, together with this cat fabric which I seriously can't get enough of - it's also going to feature as the lining on a duffle coat I'm currently working on for another little lady.

And here we are: another quilt, another baby.

 If you want more step by step instructions on how to make your own, I actually wrote a tutorial on this a loooooong time ago. Check it out!

What's on your baby gift roster? Or are you vehemently against sewing for wee babbies?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Flamingos and a blog hop: a classic combination

While I continue battling on with my coat, I thought I'd whip up an easy TNT outfit and make full use of those adorable flamingos, which I wisely over-bought when purchasing the lining for the aforementioned coat. Another McCalls 6931 if you please! 

Even though this pattern is pretty basic, the combo of pleats and elastic waistband and only taking 90 minutes to make is a winner in my book. It works best with swooshy fabrics, and these flamingos were most certainly swooshing around on the poly crepe de chine. I bought mine from EmmaOneSock, but it's still available from Caroline Amanda's new venture, Blackbird Fabrics.

Can you guess.....?


In addition, I have been mulling the possibility of making a wrap top with my dear Christine Jonson wrap dress pattern, and finally made it happen. I don't know what I was waiting for - it took all of an hour and I totally love it. All I did was hack the pattern off just below the waist, and then add a 1 inch hem band. I didn't bother making a hole for the ties to go through, and it seems to work fine just wrapping around my waist. I used an gorgeous merino wool sent all the way from New Zealand by the lovely pink-haired Sophie-Lee.


My other bit of news is that I was nominated by my dearest sewing friend Mary of Idle Fancy to participate in the seemingly never-ending blog hop that's been going around. So if you're interested, read on - and if not, scroll back up... look! flamingos!

Why do you write?

I've always enjoyed writing, although for a long time it was mostly confined to schoolwork. However a while back I started up a blog about books, after telling someone that I read about a book a week during the year and then wondering if that was really true. Turns out it was! Then, there was a hiatus until Lauren and I learned how to sew, rapidly started learning almost everything from the sewing blogosphere, and then decided to join. Rediscovering the joy of writing has been just one of the many things blogging has brought me, and for that I am grateful. 

How do you write?

My blog posts usually start with pictures, and I'm lucky enough to have a sewing lady blog photo posse. I'm most often joined by Katy & Laney but also sometimes by Ping, Carrie and MacKenzie, and the day usually goes like this: rendezvous at my house. Get coffee. Wander the streets looking for a blank wall with good light. Two or three of us take photos of the other one, paparazzi style, hiding in bushes, up trees, and, a favourite, standing directly in the middle of the road. Repeat. Get the lint roller out. Adjust hair. Get another coffee. Well deserved brunch. As you can tell it is a most pleasurable approach to blog writing. 

Then it's back home, and I usually edit and write my posts straight away. I'm generally a "fast" person  - I read fast, write fast, talk fast and so on. So blog post writing gets done fast - I don't think it ever takes more than an hour from photo editing to finishing. Luckily (for me at least), my writing is pretty similar to how I think and talk so it tends to come easily, and I don't worry much about how things come across - I figure if you like it, you like it, if you don't, you'll stop reading!

How does your blog differ from others of its genre?

I don't think my blog is entirely unique (apart from the fact it's the only one exclusively featuring me!) but I do think I'm in a small but growing group of curvier bloggers who don't talk about trying to get smaller or look thinner, but rather just get on with looking good and making what we want to wear. When I started reading blogs it took a while before I found kindred spirits, but just in the past few years I've noticed so many more compatriots and that's incredibly heartening. Of course there's also the Curvy Sewing Collective, which has also hopefully helped encourage more curvy women to get sewing and blogging!

What are you working on next?

Well that's that #*?!@ coat... But I also have some awesome laser cut neoprene that I'll be making a pencil skirt from; some Prada (apparently!) silk to make a busty-lady Archer, and some pattern testing which hopefully will yield an incredible silk Christmas party dress! 

So, passing on the blog hop next.. it's hard to choose! As I've mostly seen fairly well-known bloggers participate so far,  I thought I'd throw it to a newbie: Rosie from SparkleNeedles.

Rosie has only just started sewing and blogging but 1) she is hilarious. Like, really, really funny 2) she is already getting so good! 3) I love her style (it is, in her words "a 5 year old at a rave")  4) it's fun to revisit the beginner days and 5) did I mention she's hilarious? Anyway, you should totally check out her site, and even though I know she's only just started blogging I would love to hear her answers to the blog hop. Over to you, Rosie!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Coating with Cashmerette: Like a phoenix from the ashes

If my circle skirt was the garment that social media built, why then this is the coat that Instagram, blog comments and Pattern Review fixed! 

So many of you responded to my plaintive cries for help last week, and thank you one and all. I felt like the star of my own murder mystery. Was it the lack of steaming in the armscye? The wonky FBA in the side seam?


This was suggested by folks in various mediums, and so I decided to take a deep breath and test it. I made a curved seam in non-interfaced cashmere, and then the same in the interfaced cashmere (yes I realize I did slightly different seams, but it worked). Observe: left hand side has no wrinkles, all looks fine. The right hand side is puckering before our very eyes. 

My mistake: block interfacing cashmere with my beloved pro-weft. Whether I shouldn't have used any fusibles at all (the opinion of some), or whether it was simply the fact it was in the seam allowances I do not know. The lesson here is that not all fabrics react the same... this approach worked perfectly on last year's coat, but turns out, it doesn't for cashmere. Lesson learned!

So, how to salvage? I tested the fusible-removing process and... it worked. Kind of. I steamed it and then used an X Acto knife to slice it at the edges, and then the rest peeled off. It definitely slightly warped the cashmere, and there's glue residue left. I tried ironing over it with some tracing paper and that seemed to take a lot of the stickiness away, but it's definitely not ideal. I'm really, really hoping that it doesn't stick to the lining. 

If you're squeamish you may want to look away now...

But here's the butchered inside of my coat, with interfacing removed from the seam allowance (I went back and neatened it up, don't get conniptions!) 

And here it is, slightly neater (my fusible-removing technique improved) in the sleeve. Note that I took about 1.5 inches out, because it wasn't just the seam allowance that was puckering, it was the area just outside of it too.

And here are the results. Before: ick.

After: WOOHOO! (I hope you appreciate the no-makeup, overhead lighting, wet towel bathroom shot. The things I do for you, readers).

Next up, I re-set the sleeve, and won't you just look at that. It's not perfect. But my god is it better. The main issue now is that the upper side bodice (above the dart) is a little wavy with all the fusible-ripping-out. I've tried steaming it but there's only so flat it wants to go. Next step is going to be to sew in some hair canvas and see if that can stabilize it. But to be honest at this point it's not particularly noticeable.

Phew! Perserverance seems to have paid off. I'm still not 100% sold on the actual coat, but this has definitely been a timely reminder than an awful lot of sewing can be undone and redone if need be, and if one can keep one's nerves steady. I'm still a beginner sewist in many ways - I realize absolute beginners are probably thinking  "tosh! you're making a coat! ", but I've had almost no formal training and a lot of the time I'm trying something new. But you never get better if you don't give things a try, so here I am. Trying. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Och aye the circle skirt

This is another garment that social media built!

I saw this blue, brown and orange plaid on Sunni's A Fashionable Stitch Instagram, and instantly knew it would have to be mine. Although my accent sadly lets me down, I am, actually, from Scotland, and can prove this by my love of haggis (not kidding, it's delicious), deep fried mars bars and tartan. All that said, I've yet to make anything from tartan fabric, and this cried out to me to be the first. Then I saw on the listing page that Sunni wanted to make a circle skirt from it... and lo it was decided (incidentally, there is an abundance of absolutely awesome wool on Sunni's website - you must check it out before I go on a one-woman buying spree). 

Funnily enough I've never actually made a circle skirt before, despite the fact it's many people's first garment. They are indeed easy to make, and even more so using By Hand London's handy circle skirt calculator - just plug in your waist measurement and desired length and you're sorted. I wanted mine to be a bit longer but was constrained the width of my fabric and not wanting too many seams.

The benefit of a plaid circle skirt is that you can also serve as a picnic blanket in emergency picnic situations:

I made a very simple straight waistband... (yes yes yes I should have moved the waistband over a inch - I only noticed once it was too late!)

... and I used a side invisible zipper, with a little waistband overlap, secured on the inside with an internal button and a hook and eye ( my new favourite waistband fastening approach). 

On the inside, I used pre-made turquoise binding to finish the seams neatly (I felt like such beautiful wool deserved more than the savagery of my serger), and then, after hanging it for 24 hours to let the bias stretch out, I finished the hem with seam binding and hand blind stitching. Yes, it takes a long while. No, it's not too bad if you watch Scandal when you're doing it. 

And check out this pattern matching if you will...

And there you go! Sometimes the simplest patterns are the best for showcasing special fabrics. And I would thoroughly encourage any beginner to give it a go - it's a fantastic way to make a garment without following a pattern and to get your head around the fact that once you have the basics down, it's quite easy to make your very own skirt from scratch. 

What do you think of circle skirt Cashmerette readers? Do you prefer 3/4 circles a la Mary? (I must say her fabric seems to have been chosen by someone with *exceptional* taste..) I myself am lacking in the hip & bum department so welcome any help in that area... I can't wait for bustles to get back in fashion!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Coating with Cashmerette: When to quit? That is the question.

Coat woe is me. I had a bad feeling about putting the sleeves in: the princess seams absolutely refused to go in smoothly, and there are puckers all along the curves, so what hope did the curviest of curves, the sleeve, have? Not much, says I. Theories for *why* my cashmere refuses to be moulded abound. Maybe I used the wrong kind of interfacing (Sewing Supply's pro-weft medium weight). Maybe I should have pre-shrunk the entire bolt of cashmere first (I didn't do this for my last coat and it was fine, but perhaps cashmere is different). Maybe I should just have not been foolish enough to purchase a lightweight, solid colour coating - coat beginners if I can offer you one tip, it's make your first coat from a dark, textured, reasonably heavy wool. Thank me later. 

Anyhow, it all started fairly well putting together my elegant two piece sleeve: 

And then.... crap. The actual sleeve head isn't too bad. But puckers a-hoy on the armsyce, which weren't there before the sleeve got eased in. Once again, pressing/steaming doesn't help - in fact, it gets worse. I spent a long time gently pressing the curve over a ham, but as soon as I lift the iron... puckers re-form. They're not under any stress - it's just the fabric waving. 

Avert your eyes from this misery

The only saving grace is that the back looks fine! Quite why, I'm not sure. 

And on, you can see a further issue with a new armpit wrinkle. 

So, what to do now? Maybe I just chose a really bad fabric/interfacing combination and nothing's going to remedy it. Options are:

1. Just scrap it. Get over the expense (sigh) and start again in a few months with better fabric choices
2. Unpick both the sleeves (basted *and* sewn!) and somehow see if there's a way to get the puckers out *without* steaming/pressing. Some people have suggested removing the interfacing - it's fusible so that would be very tricky but maybe I can cut it off with a razor somehow (obviously risks damaging the cashmere but could be worth as a last shot)
3. Throw it in a corner and maybe in a few months attempt again

Unfortunately this all coincides with a period of great stress at work, so I sort of dread coming home and then working on a frustrating sewing project that I'm concerned I may not even like once it's done. That's not what sewing is about!

What do you reckon, oh wise ones? 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tutorial: how to finish a wrap dress neckline

Hi lovelies! I've mentioned in the past that I've found a great way to finish wrap dress necklines and I got some questions about it, so I put together a quick photo tutorial to show you how to do it.

Start making your wrap dress by sewing the shoulders. Now, you're ready for the neckband.

First, make a strip of your fabric, 1.5 inches wide and the length of your neckline - if necessary, join two pieces together to get the end. Fold the strip in half wrong sides together, and press in half down the length of the strip (remember to "press" up and down and not slide your iron along, which will distort the fabric).

If you had to connect two pieces together to make a long enough neckline band, here's a little trick for getting the seam to lie nicely: snip the serged seam in half *just* up to the left needle stitching. Then, push the seam allowance one way above the fold and another way below the fold. When you now go to fold the whole neckline band, it lies flat as there are only 2 layers of fabric rather than 3. You can also use this tip any time you need to serge over an already serged seam.

Now, take the band and pin it to the right side of your neckline, with the raw edges matching - i.e. the "open" side of the folded band should line up against the raw edge of the neckline. If you want, you can wonder tape this rather than pinning.

Over to the machine! Serge the band to the dress at a 3/8 seam allowance - which on a serger means that you're not cutting any fabric off with the knife, you're just skimming the edge against the knife.

Personally, the combination of the thin band + stretchy knit + large bust + wearing a camisole means that I don't have to do any stretching to the neckline band (unlike on a t-shirt where you definitely do) - the knit just eases around the neck curve without anything energetic, much like the collar on a woven dress. However, if you're making a fixed wrap, or have a different knit/bust/camisole situation going on, you may want to stretch the band as you're sewing it - that will make it spring back a little and the neckline will be tighter against the body.

Now, flip the seam allowance to the inside, so that you're just seeing about 3/8 inch peeking out on the right side.


Press that baby! Not everyone presses knit fabrics while they're sewing, but I find it gives a more professional finish. 

When you press the band over the shoulders it curves around, so press it over a ham to retain the shaping.

And this is what it should look like.

Finally, use a coverstitch machine or twin-needle on your sewing machine to sew around the neckline band, securing the seam allowance down.

And you're done! A professional and easy wrap dress finish.

This tutorial first appeared on the Curvy Sewing Collective as part of the Wrap Dress Sewalong.
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