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April 13, 2015

Crazy lady: Vlisco McCall’s 6696 shirtdress

I’m a magpie for big and colourful prints, so naturally I’ve been stalking the Vlisco website for quite some time. Vlisco are a historic producer of Dutch wax print fabric, which is particularly popular in Africa (it’s sometimes known as “African wax print” as a result). When I lived in Malawi, well before my sewing days, I loved it and was duly amused by novelty prints like Princess Diana faces and household implements – sadly past Jenny didn’t have the presence of mind to buy it all. What a mistake.

I was a little hesitant to buy some Vlisco because of the 6 yard minimum (which I heard has just been reduced), but then I saw Sonja’s Vlisco Grainline Alder Shirtdress and Dixie’s gorgeous sheath dress and IT HAD TO BE MINE. In fact, exactly the same pattern, just a different colourway. Those ladies, they have good taste.

Having jumped on one bandwagon, I immediately jumped on another (it’s tricky dual bandwaggoning, ladies): McCall’s M6696. A.K.A. “Mary’s shirtdress“.

Let me present: my Vlisco shirtdress

McCall's M6696 in Vlisco fabric | Cashmerette

It’s a pretty classic pattern, with a separate button placket, waistband with belt loops and a traditionally constructed collar. It comes in bust sizes, which, while only going up to a D (the American average is a DD…), is still a sight better than the traditional B cup I have to contend with. For this version, I used the full skirt which is pleated at the top. Weirdly, though the fabric is a bit stiff it doesn’t like holding pleats, so the whole thing just expands out like a psychedelic mushroom.

In an effort to get a decent fit, I used the 20D size and FBAed by an inch, then used the size 24 waistband, and for the skirt graded from the 24 down to a 22. To make the 20 bodice fit the 24 waistband, I didn’t sew up the waist darts, and I did a little less gathering at the back.  The resulting fit is…. alright. There’s a bit of tightness across my high bust, as I was potentially a little optimistic with the 20. The skirt is ginormous so no problem there, and the waistband is nicely skimming, meaning I can actually breathe and sit down in it. Yay for sitting and breathing! Feminism in action.

McCall's M6696 in Vlisco fabric | Cashmerette

The puffy back is a slightly peculiar design feature of the pattern, and I’m not entirely sure what I think of it. The plus side is that it makes my waist appear to nip in a lot more than it does!

McCall's M6696 in Vlisco fabric | Cashmerette

I wasn’t sure if I was sold on the fit-and-flare silhouette, but it’s growing on me! Plus I love digging my hands into the pockets and puffing it up like a puffer fish. Clearly I made no attempt at pattern matching, but the pattern itself is so insane I figure I’ll probably hypnotise any passers-by before they notice.

Have you tried using wax print fabric? It’s a lot stiffer than I’m used to, though it does soften a little with washing. What else do you recommend making with it? I want more ideas so I that I can justify buying more crazy patterns!

And I shall leave you on a spin:

McCall's M6696 in Vlisco fabric | Cashmerette

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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?

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January 21, 2015

A McCall’s M6436 shirt full o’ arrows

As an uber busty lady, it can be a lonely, tent-like world when you’re looking for button-down shirt patterns. The Grainline Archer is super cool – but with no darts, and billowy sleeves at the size 18, it tends to swamp the plentiful of chest. The new Sewaholic Granville shirt is also lovely – but clearly for pears and not for the likes of me without some serious FBA-ing.
Therefore, I was excited to find McCall’s M6436 – a shirt with cup sizes up to DDD. I’m a HH so not quite there, but an awful lot closer than the average pattern drafted for a B (or C if we’re lucky). And the verdict is…. mixed.
McCall's M6436 shirt DDD size
Although it goes up to the DDD cup size, it’s surprising how few alterations have been made for the busty. Basically there’s a really big dart, which goes a long way towards the apex – it ended up about 1/2 inch off mine. That doesn’t really work – it’s definitely nipply at the end – so I’ll be re-drafting the bust dart to be a good 2 – 3 inches off which is much better on busts my size. Weirdly, it’s been drafted without a dart triangle off the edge of the pattern, which means you have to cut out the body of the dart after it’s sewn. There’s no suggestion on how to finish the edges, and it’s difficult to get a nice result given this isn’t a lined garment. I ended up doing a tight zig zag and cutting it out, which I didn’t love and I’m a bit concerned about fraying when it gets washed. My other gripe is the excessive sleevehead ease – it was quite the trauma getting them in, and there are some puckers if you look close.
Anyhow! Despite these niggles, I do like my finished shirt. I made the size 20 with the DDD and the shoulders and back fit me much better than the 22 that I usually make, which is great. I used a “silk” that I bought from a roadside stand in Vietnam, and it was a little tricky to work with, but it didn’t fray too much. As to whether it’s actually silk – the jury is out! I have a suspicion it’s a poly crepe in disguise…
I like the two slim two-piece sleeve (so rare!), which also allows the simple “turn and stitch” placket finish which is much easier than a usual placket and looks great. The back is also nicely shaped with two waist darts.
McCall's M6436 shirt DDD size
I would never normally wear a shirt done up to the neck, but here it is just to prove that it (barely) fits my chest with no FBA.
McCall's M6436 shirt DDD size
I’ve made a couple of shirts now and my techniques are getting refined little by little. I always use Andrea’s collar tutorial, my edge-stitching foot (the only way to get even topstitching in my experience), and my Bernina now plays nice with buttonholes which is a blessed relief (there’s nothing worse than ripping out the same buttonhole 5 times, weeping into your tea as the material shreds before your eyes). I french seamed the whole thing apart from the armholes – I did try to do them, but there was just too much ease for it to work.
McCall's M6436 shirt DDD size

I’ll definitely be making this again, because with a few tweaks to the bust dart and adding a little bit of ease it could be great. I have a few silks calling my name…

McCall's M6436 shirt DDD size
Have you found an awesome shirt pattern that you keep coming back to? I’m still on the hunt – I think I’ll have to try a princess seam pattern next.

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January 5, 2015

A McCall’s M2401 for Mum

Instead of making garments for all my family this Christmas (last year’s 4 garments was a bit of a stressful marathon), I decided to go simple for my Dad and brothers (they got Dopp kits), but go all-out for my dear Mum.
My Mum’s known as a rather stylish lady, and she has a signature “look”: fitted sheath dresses in cool fabrics (I guess the fabric thing runs in the family). However, she also really needs an FBA, which is not something available from off-the-rack dresses, regardless of the expense. Around October I had a revelation that it would be pretty simple to create a sheath dress TNT with an FBA, and then any number of dresses would be possible for future gifting opportunities.
And so here is the first McCall’s M2401, made up with 4ply silk from EmmaOneSock:
McCalls M2401
Look Mum, no straining/gaping!
McCalls M2401

I made up a muslin a few months ago and fitted it when my parents were over in Boston. It required the predicted FBA, a swayback adjustment and a little bit of nipping in at the waist.

McCalls M2401

I underlined the whole thing by hand with silk organza, and made a cream crepe de chine lining. To give a bit more wiggle room in the lining, I sewed the bust darts but not the fisheye waist darts, and that seemed to work well.  I originally planned to french seam the whole thing but the silk had quite a heavy hand, so I serged the edges and pressed them open instead, and just french seamed the lining.

The final fit is pretty good, but there is a bit of rippling in the back and gaping at the top back when she moves her arms forward.. something to adjust on the pattern before I make it again.

McCalls M2401
Making the gravy for Christmas lunch

I’m really pleased I now have a TNT for Mum – with a little bit of adjusting, it’ll be easy to whip up some in other fabrics in the future (I think a tweed one would be particularly nice). There are also other neckline and sleeve length options that it’d be fun to play with. And the additional bonus? I forgot that when I ordered the fabric I liked it so much, I got an extra 3 yards for me! Woop! So now I just have to decide what to make with it – I’m thinking maybe a swooshy tea length skirt, if I can squeeze it out of 55 inch wide fabric.

McCalls M2401
Play it again, Mum

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August 25, 2014

The last skirts of summer

Summer seems to have already started winding down in Boston, and while I’m looking forward to the renewed appearance of tights in my wardrobe (I LOVE TIGHTS), I have been feeling a touch sad. So when it suddenly brightened up this weekend, Nina and I got out of town pronto. 
And of course I had to have a new outfit for the occasion. 
Enter: another McCalls M6931 and a trusty Renfrew!
McCalls M6931 and Sewaholic Renfrew
The fabulous skirt fabric is Marc Jacobs silk twill which I snapped up from my virtual sewing buddy Charlotte’s stash when she started selling it off on Instagram. I have been visiting it at night and cooing gently to it, but decided it was time for it to finally make it onto my body. Other ladies with extremely good taste have also indulged, so I feel in esteemed company. 
Have I said how much I love silk twill? I really do. I always thought silk was flimsy and hard to sew and clingy on the body, but silk twill and faille give you all the wonders of silk with none of the flimsy hard-to-weared-ness. Delicious.
Also: silk elasticated waist skirts. This is the third I’ve made one in as many weeks, and it is, dear friends, the way forward. The insides were french seamed, and the hem blind stitched by hand (which I can report takes exactly one episode of Project Runway, during which the contestants make a full length ballgown).
The top is super simple – just a Renfrew with the neckline more scooped out (quelle surprise), and three quarter length sleeves with cuff bands. For the neckline I stuck wonder tape to the wrong side, folded over, and coverstitched. Easy peasy. I used Robert Kaufmann Laguna Jersey which is a total dream to sew with and wear… expect to see more of that around these parts. 
For our little expedition, Nina and I headed out to the World’s End park in Hingham, which is about 15 miles south of Boston. It’s a really magical place: it was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (also see: Central Park), and has winding tree-lined carriageways looping over hobbit-like little islands jutting out into Boston harbour. I definitely have to have a birthday picnic there one year…

From the top of the hill you can see Boston on the horizon!

I’m super pleased with another colourful, comfortable and unusual little ensemble, and expect to make more separates with this silhouette in the future. Only thing is, I may become actually allergic to waistbands, and then there’ll be no helping me. But fear not, dear readers, I shall take the risk just for you.


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