Does the camera lie? Realism in project pictures

Ever had the experience of not being able to get a decent picture of a garment you’re really pleased with? Or then there’s the project that you’re not very happy with that nevertheless seems to photograph well. How much effort do you go to for project pictures?

I started thinking about this because recently I was looking for feedback on a failed project. I made an effort to photograph it in the way I would for something that had worked: put some makeup and pretty shoes on, took quite a few shots and picked the better ones. It doesn’t look as bad in the pictures as it feels. But I really would not wear this dress out of the house. And going in the other direction, here’s a dress that I do wear but that didn’t photograph at all well.

So while photos are very interesting to look at, and I certainly enjoy looking at pictures on sewing blogs, can we really trust what we see? The acid test has got to be how something actually feels to wear.

I rarely wear things in real life in exactly the way I photograph them. If I’m getting dressed for work there are lower heels, rather more layers, and usually I forget to put lipstick on. So the pictures aren’t realistic in that sense. But for me a part of the fun of blogging is styling things in a way that I’d like to be able to wear them; if only I didn’t walk to work and have a job that involves climbing ladders and heavy lifting. I should say, I like the job and I like the walking. I just wish they were more compatible with my favourite shoes.

Here’s a rare picture of one of my projects styled as it is usually worn, although you’ll have to imagine the pockets stuffed full of the junk I drag around with me at work.

Burda 116-08-2011

And here’s the grey version of the same dress styled in the way I usually do for blog photos.

Burda 116-08-2011

I tried wearing the shoes I’ve paired with the grey dress to work one time. I ended up walking around in my socks and getting the bus home. So I can’t say the above picture is realistic in the sense that this how I normally wear the dress, but I don’t have a problem with putting it out there. It’s how I’d like to wear the dress, and I think getting close to the look you aspire to have is a big part of the fun of sewing for yourself. I really like blogs which project the owner’s personal style. Check out Ooobop!, Kazz, and Alice‘s blogs for the sort of thing I mean.

Finally there’s the question of how much editing to do. My normal procedure is to get a lot of shots, pick the better ones, crop them, and maybe adjust the contrast. If the colour’s really off I’ll adjust that too. For me, doing any more editing than this crosses a line between an image that’s real, even if not representative of daily life, and one that’s artifical. I don’t have any objection to photo editing to produce a good image, but I’m avoiding it on my own blog because here I’m trying to achieve looks that exist in real life. Full discolosure: I did once edit some flyaway hair and a lamp post out of a set of photos. But I try not to make a habit of it.

So I’m pretty sure my own photos are not truly ‘realistic’ in some senses of the word, although I try to keep them ‘real’. But I’ll keep on producing them this way for the blog because it’s enjoyable.

Do you prefer realism or fantasy on sewing blogs? Which do you aim for?

Down but not out

Thanks so much for all the feedback on the stripy dress. It is really helpful to get unbiassed opinions! I’m not giving up; I’m going to look for a heavier and darker striped fabric (maybe navy and white?), change the direction of the stripes on the front bodice, and lower the neckline a bit. But this is definitely a summer dress and autumn is upon us in the UK now, so I think it’ll be one for the 2013 sewing list.

I’m sewing things with sleeves now…and discovering I have completely lost the knack of setting the darn things in, if I ever had it. I often resort to that trick of leaving the side seam open and sewing them in flat. I’m going to have to learn to do it right now though, because my coat fabric has arrived!

Chartreuse wool coating

The wrong fabric

Some you win, some you lose. I’ve been banging on about my striped version of Burda 117-02-2012 for weeks. I finished it last week and…it just doesn’t work. Here’s the evidence.

Burda 117-02-2012 stripes front view

Burda 117-02-2012 stripes front view

The back view’s not so bad. But the front is Wrong. I used to have a housemate who could pronounce ‘Wrong’ so that you could hear the capital letter. I can hear him saying it now about this dress.

Part of the problem is the stripe placement. What looked good on my sketches doesn’t actually work on a body. The stripes on the front shoulders need to go the other way. More like this, in fact:
Stripes front view - midriff slants top left to bottom right

I think it’s not just the stripes though, some of it’s the fabric. The shade of red doesn’t work on me, and it’s much too lightweight and clingy. There’s a reason I am not showing you a side view of this dress even though I matched most of the stripes at the side seams.

I made a Vogue 1250 with what was left over of the fabric after cutting out the Burda, and that was so horribly unflattering I have destroyed the evidence. (Well, shoved the dress in the scraps bag. The contents are going to a primary school where they will be chopped up for cut ‘n’ stick, so someone will get something pretty out of this project at least.)

So I’m writing this off as a learning experience. I still want to make a striped version of this dress but I’m going to wait until I find a heavier striped knit. And in the meantime I’m going to trace off a pile of autumn patterns and do some serious comfort sewing.

The refining process

Recently I made up a pattern three times in the same fabric. I’ve made multiples of a few patterns but never with exactly the same fabric before. I can recommend it: the third dress is a definite improvement on the first. Repeating the project meant I could experiment with techniques to see what really worked. It helps that Burda 116-08-2011 is a seriously quick sew.

The fabric is stretch cotton poplin from Tissu Fabrics. I had it in grey, navy blue, and a very bright red.

The grey dress came first. It has no interfacing anywhere. The high collar at the back is a little saggy as a result.

Burda 116-08-2011

I added interfacing to the inside collar on the next two versions. As the inside of the collar is cut in one with the dress it wasn’t entirely obvious where to stop interfacing. I tried two different ways. The best one was where I interfaced just up to the point where the shoulder seam joins the collar. (yeah, that’s some impressive poufiness over my stomach there. But that space is good, it means plenty of room for lunch and stuffing things into pockets.)
Burda 116-08-2011

As it’s a Burda magazine pattern there was little to no detail about finishing in the instructions. I ended up with a lot of overlocked edges showing on the inside on the first dress. Here’s the collar and the edge of the cowl.

Grey dress collar inside edges
Grey dress overlocked cowl edge

I’m not someone who is bothered by messy edges inside a dress if they are a lot of effort to avoid – who’s going to see them anyway? But I realised that finishing the collar more nicely isn’t any extra work. So for the next two versions I pressed the seam allowance on the inner collar underneath and stitched in the ditch from the outside to hold it down. Easy to do and it looks a lot nicer.

Red dress collar finish

I bound the inside edge of the cowl with bias binding on the blue and red dresses. This isn’t much more work than overlocking the edge because my machine’s binding foot is completely foolproof. I say this as someone who still struggles with the rolled hem foot and has given up on the automatic buttonhole foot. Looks a lot neater.

Bound cowl edge

The other thing I changed was the pockets. I can’t blame Burda because I didn’t follow their instructions in the first place, but the pockets on the grey dress are bit sad-looking. No interfacing at all; just a bit of top-stitching to try to keep the edge crisp. This one’s been washed a couple of times which makes things worse.

Grey dress pocket

Here’s the red version, with interfacing on the front pocket edge. Both sides of the pocket bag are understitched. I skipped the top-stitching because it’s not needed. I haven’t washed it yet, but I’m pretty sure it will hold up better.
Red dress pocket

I like all three dresses and have worn them quite a bit over the last couple of weeks, but the red one is definitely a cut above the other two. I doubt I’m likely to make anything three times on a regular basis but I’ve certainly learnt a few things about using interfacing from this process. Anyone else ever do this? Was it useful?

Batch processing

Thanks so much for all the really positive feedback about my colour-blocked dress. It’s definitely growing on me but I think the solid versions of that pattern are still my favourites. I have my planned stripey version cut out now, so it’ll be interesting to see how that turns out by comparison.

I don’t know about you, but while I can sew by artifical light I really need daylight for cutting out fabric. And the nights in the UK are really drawing in so the only chance I get to cut out is at the weekend now. And as making enough room to cut out fabric involves rearranging the entire living room, I thought I’d try cutting out more than one thing for a change.

Four cut dresses

That’s four dresses, all of which I’ve made before. Burda 116-08-2011 in red and again in navy, a stripey Vogue 1250, and the stripey version of the colour-blocked dress, which is Burda 117-02-2012. I normally only cut one garment at a time because my cut fabric pieces either crease horribly or go missing as soon as I turn my back on them. All of these projects are quick enough that the pieces won’t be hanging around for long enough for anything bad to happen; that’s the plan anyway.

Flying the flag?

Thanks for all the feedback on coating choices! I think it’s going to have to be the chartreuse boiled wool, although Alice and Mary Nanna have got me wondering if I can get away with pink after all. This is one of the great things about sewing. It seems so much less risky to make an experimental garment than it does to buy one, or is that just me?

And on that subject, here is a somewhat experimental garment. It’s Burda 117-02-2-2012. I’ve made it twice before in single colours, but this is my first foray into colour-blocking. Back view first, which is definitely the best side of this dress.

Burda 117-02-2012

I’m not enthused about the front view but I can’t put my finger on why. I probably should have swapped the jade and white over, but the white fabric’s a little bit see-through so I didn’t want it sitting right over my bra cups. My husband’s first reaction to the dress was ‘You’re wearing a flag’ and I can see what he means. I’m not sure which country has jade, black, white, and grey though.

Burda 117-02-2012

Having said that I wore it to work this week and it grew on me a bit. I’m certainly not done with the pattern; I just cut out the striped version I’ve been planning for a while!

Autumn sewing

Summer’s definitely over in my part of the UK. The schools have gone back for the autumn term, the nights are drawing in rapidly, and I even needed to get my winter coat out one evening last week. I’m sorry the summer’s gone, but on the other hand I really prefer the autumn and winter seasons for all things fashion and sewing-related.

Look at these gorgeous coating fabric samples that came from Stone Fabrics last week. I wasn’t planning to make a coat, but now I’m wondering if I can carry off that chartreuse colour. I’d love to use the bubblegum pink, but I just dyed my hair bright red again.

Coating samples

I have several great coat patterns in my stash. Could I possibly find time to make two coats?