Knowing where your towel is

Do you know where your towel is? Or your tape measure, or your scissors? Is it just me who spends a large amount of my sewing time searching for the pins I know I had a moment ago but managed to put down somewhere on the other side of the room? (In case anyone’s wondering, the towel is a substitute for a pressing ham. It also makes a handy sleeve roll when wrapped around a rolled up copy of Burda.)

This week’s been particularly bad for losing notions because I’ve added hand-sewing needles and basting thread to the usual pile of things to keep track of. The dress I’m sewing has a lot of curved pintucks which need thread tracing. (Eight down, another six to go). However this little guy, a present from my friend Jane, has come into his own lately. At first sight he’s just a handy pincushion.

But pull his tail and he’s a retractable tape measure too!

Brilliant. The retractable tape measure is much easier to use for small things than my regular one, and I haven’t lost any of my needles yet. He even hangs onto basting threads because they stick to the felt. Now I just need a pair of scissors with a homing device built in. Thanks Jane!

The ULTIMATE sleeves

I have been sewing for more than four hours today, and what do I have to show for it? A pair of sleeves! But not just any sleeves. These are the sleeves from Vogue 1073. They have curved darts. They have gussets. They have pintucks with hairpin bends. One thing about this pattern, they don’t save all the difficult stuff until the end.

Here’s what the dress is supposed to look like.

And here’s what I have so far. The pintucks on the front have come out a bit more pointy than Vogue’s photo, but the technical drawing of the pattern shows them as pointed so maybe it depends on your fabric. I’m not sure I could have made mine much less pointy because the fabric’s quite thick.

One thing I hadn’t appreciated when practising for the pintucks is that the curviest tuck goes right over the shoulder seam, meaning you need to deal with the bulk of the seam allowances while sewing. I ended up trimming the allowances back to about 1/4″ at the point where the tuck crosses the seam. You can just see the end of the back shoulder dart in this picture too. The pattern hides all of its darts under the tucks.

The back has curved darts but I didn’t take a picture before making the tuck over them. Funnily enough, having the darts there made it easier to sew the tuck. Even at the points where you can’t really see what’s going on, you can feel exactly where you’re meant to be sewing because the edge of dart is your stitching line.

And finally the gussets. They aren’t beautiful, but who looks at your underarms?

In actual fact the sleeves aren’t quite finished even now. There’s some faffing with a facing and a slit to be done. I think I’ll have a bit of break first. This pattern is a lot of fun, but I can feel my brain melting.

Can haz pintucks – Vogue 1073 samples

I’m currently making Vogue 1073, a pattern that’s well out of my comfort zone. The obviously awkward feature in it is the curved pintucks, although no doubt there are others that I’ll discover later on.

The pattern instructions say something along the lines of ‘to make pintucks, fold along the marked line and sew close to folded edge’. Perfectly accurate but light on detail. So I spent an evening sewing pintucks in scraps of my fashion fabric in various different ways to try to find a way to do it neatly. This is what worked best for me.

My fabric is a viscose doubleknit – or perhaps it’s an interlock as I’m not quite sure of the difference between the two. Anyway it’s a beefy knit with no obvious right and wrong side. I’m sewing it with a stretch needle and a looser than normal needle tension as my machine tends to skip stitches on this fabric.

I start off by hand basting along the tuck with a long running stitch so I can see it from the right side of the fabric. Unfortunately the pictures that follow are a mixture of two different tucks with slightly different shapes because I kept forgetting to take photos as I went.

It’s easier to sew the tuck with the inside edge of the curve on top of the work, so the side where the fabric bunches up is on the bottom. This seems counter-intuitive to me but it really did work better that way round. It’s also easier to be neat if you keep the tuck very small – mine are a scant 1/8 of an inch.

Fold along the line of basting (wrong sides together) and sew along the line. When you get to the sharp curve, stop every few stitches with the needle in the fabric, lift the presser foot, and rearrange the fabric under the foot to avoid sewing any wrinkles in. It’s a bit difficult to see what’s going on and it feels like the needle’s about to fall off the edge of the fabric all the time. I had to resist the temptation to correct that as it just resulted in a wrinkly mess when I did.

Once you’re done it looks a bit wrinkly.

Pull out the basting and press, and it looks a whole lot better. And you can reuse the basting thread for the next one.

The samples didn’t all come out right first time, but I found that it’s possible to recover a wrinkly one by unpicking the wrinkle and resewing that section. This probably depends on the fabric. Mine’s quite forgiving.

Next stop, sewing the real thing. After I’ve cut out the interfacing and the lining, that is, which will be a job in itself.

Biting off more than I can chew

Thanks so much for the comments about my version of Vogue 1220! I’m going to wear it as it is…but make another version with a bit more length for work when I find the right fabric.

My next project’s another Vogue designer pattern, 1073. This one has been around for a few years. I remember seeing it in the Vogue catalogue when I was buying my first ever dress patterns, noticing it was marked ‘Advanced Difficulty’, and wondering what on earth was so tricky about an A line dress with a few little pintucks. But I had enough sense to realise I was missing something and bought a Very Easy Vogue pattern instead, which proved quite difficult enough to sew at the time.

Now I’ve been sewing for a while I appreciate why making those curved tucks – in a knit as well – would be a challenge. ‘Average’ difficulty is about my level in Vogue. I did make Vogue 1087 but that one is only really ‘Advanced’ in the insane amount of tailor tacking and hemming it requires. (I cheated and used hem tape). But I still like the 1073 dress so I included the pattern in my last batch from Sew Direct, and bought some cream knit fabric on a recent expedition to Goldhawk Road.

I then started looking online for what other people had done with this pattern. No reviews on Pattern Review, which is very unusual. I’ve been the first person to post a review of a pattern once or twice, but not a Vogue that’s been around for a while. There are a few posts on the Sewing Divas site about possible methods for sewing the pintucks but no pictures of a finished project. In fact Google can’t find me a finished project. This pattern is three years old – has no one made it at all? Or is it such a disaster area that no one will admit to having made it?

As I have the fabric and the pattern I intend to give it a go despite these ominous signs, but I am not setting my heart on making it come out perfectly. Wish me luck.

Into the blue

So here’s my version of Vogue 1220 being worn by me for the first time, as opposed to my dressform. I really like it. But it’s not at all the easy-to-wear shirtdress I’d envisioned. This dress is short.

I’m surprised by the shortness because the envelope photo shows it stopping on the middle of the model’s knees. I made my usual length adjustments before cutting it out, but I think I’d need to add another four or five inches to get the hem to the equivalent length on me. I am going to have to invest in some very thick tights.

On the other hand, it has highly practical pockets. More dresses should have pockets. And the little sleeves are a nice change, and I love the pleats on the bodice.

Other than the length issue it’s really comfortable. I was worried that there wouldn’t be enough walking ease but it’s come out fine. It’s a great design and I really recommend it – but I’m very glad I read all the Pattern Review reviews of it first because the pattern instructions miss out an important step in finishing the placket. Some of the reviews also point out alternative ways to do some of the steps to avoid hand sewing. I’m all for that.

I’m definitely going to wear this version, but I think I’ll try making it again and adding some length too.

Defeating the button nemesis

Buttons are my nemesis. Give me a dress with a zip any day. I’ve never managed to get my sewing machine to make good buttonholes, and I can’t sew a button on in such a way that it stays put for more than a few days. So I clearly wasn’t going to make Vogue 1220, the recent Donna Karan shirtdress pattern. And then I saw Allison’s version. And all the positive reviews on Pattern Review, and I weakened. The buttons on the style are concealed, so I figured it wouldn’t matter if I made a mess of the buttonholes.

This dress has a separate placket that you make the buttonholes in and then sew on. I made a second placket, and started practicing making buttonholes. It took me about six goes just to get the positioning right. But it was worth it in the end – the final placket is actually fit to be seen! No one will see it, of course, but I’ll know it’s there.

I don’t know if the buttons are going to stay on though. I sewed them on while coming home on the bus on Friday because I was determined to get the dress finished for the weekend so they may be even worse than usual.

Space opera

Here’s the first fruit of the overlocker. It’s model 128 from the October 2010 Burda.

And here’s Burda’s version. I notice that the image file from the BurdaStyle website is named something along the lines of ‘Burda Star Wars’ so the science fiction effect is obviously intentional! Personally I think it’s more 1980s cyberpunk than Star Wars. I’m having a hard time thinking of anyone in Star Wars with a short skirt. Princess Leia’s gold bikini does not count.

The original version is made out of real leather and stretch gabardine, but mine’s pleather and a stable viscose jersey, which seemed to work pretty well. I ended up leaving out the centre back zip from the original and I can still just about get it on as the fabrics have quite a bit of stretch. I prefer the look of it without the zip. I’ve just realised I skipped the shoulder pads too. Clearly they aren’t all that vital.

I had lots of problems with the fit. I didn’t make a muslin and ended up having to unpick stitching on the pleather. Luckily I was taking in rather than letting out so the original stitching holes are hidden. The back still isn’t quite right but I think it’s as good as I can get without taking the whole dress to pieces and starting over.

I’m not entirely sure if this dress is going to get worn or not. It’s certainly not casual, and a bit over-the-top for work. Maybe in winter with opaque tights and boots? And accessorized with a blaster.