High tech solutions

As I mentioned before, it took me most of a day to cut out Vogue 1239. It’s a complicated pattern with a lot of pieces, but at least part of the problem is that I am really slow at cutting. My usual method for a big pattern is to put up both leaves of the dining table and cut on that, weighing my pattern and fabric down with food cans. This involves moving all the houseplants into the garden and rearranging the living room to find space for the dining chairs but there’s not a lot I can do about that.

The main thing slowing me down that I can actually do something about is that I find the food cans get in my way, so I have to keep rearranging them to avoid bumping my hands into them while cutting. A while ago someone (I wish I could remember who so I could link to them) mentioned on their blog that they use large washers as pattern weights, which would solve that problem nicely.

So today I went to the hardware store and had a look. Washers are not on display so I had to ask for them. They showed me some tiny little steel things. I tried to explain what I wanted them for, but obviously failed because then they offered me rubber ones. I eventually asked to see the biggest metal ones they had. They produced these, which are 7cm across, and then looked very surprised when I bought them. I realised afterwards they must have just heard ‘dressmaking’ and have been thinking I wanted to sew them to something! No wonder they looked rather dubious.

I think these will be a big improvement over food cans.

Time sink

Thanks for all the nice comments about my kimono! And yes, the gravel in the garden is pretty uncomfortable on bare feet but it was the only way to get the Japanese maple tree into the shot and given its name it just had to be done. Normal service of pictures taken in front of the wall will be resumed with the next project.

The next project is Vogue 1239, the dress that looks like a labcoat. I’m going to make my version in black cotton poplin so as not to be mistaken for one of the scientists at work.

Vogue 1239 pattern photo

The sewing rating for this pattern is ‘average’. I’ve previously made Vogue 1087 which has a sewing rating of ‘advanced’ so I figured 1239 would be quite achievable, if not a one weekend project.

I probably should have realised I was slightly wrong about what was involved when it took me two whole evenings to cut out the tissue. And another hour to lengthen all the pieces that needed lengthening.

I started pressing and cutting out the actual fabric and lining at about midday on Saturday. I think I finished transferring markings to the last piece of fabric at seven in the evening and my back still aches. Most of the fashion fabric is cut using a single layer layout so you have to cut the same pieces out several times over – and you really have to pay attention because a few pieces have multiple cutting lines and you have to cut one along each line. Piece 8 sticks in my mind in particular as you have to cut three different versions of that one.

None of this is terribly difficult if you’re concentrating so I can’t complain about the sewing rating too much. But if you make this one, allow yourself plenty of time. I haven’t even started sewing it yet.

Breaking my duck – making a kimono

I’ve somehow managed to not do any sewing for the last few weeks. This morning I had a few hours free, with husband out of the house and nothing to do until lunchtime. I got out the pattern pieces and fabric for the Burda pattern I’ve been intending to make…looked at them and put them back in the cupboard because I couldn’t bring myself to cut the pattern out of my good fabric. Despite having gone to all the bother of tracing the pattern, making a muslin, making a new copy of the pattern with corrections on it I think I’m giving up on this project. Something about the dress just isn’t grabbing me.

So I decided to start on my kimono instead. I had a brilliant kimono dressing gown years ago that I wore until the fabric shredded, and I’ve always wanted another. I bought fabric for this a few weeks ago at Karen’s Fabulous Fabric Fandango on Goldhawk Road. It’s the multicoloured cotton one on top of the pile.

Now the thing about making a kimono is that (apparently) you don’t need a pattern. It’s just a bunch of rectangles sewn together. So this is a good easy project to get me back in the sewing groove. I’ve been basing it on the information at these three sites:

Having measured myself (and my fabric) I came up with this layout which will fit on 45″ fabric and hopefully produce a kimono big enough to go around me. I’m a lot wider than the average Japanese lady! I haven’t really worried about seam allowances. I shall make them as small as I can and hope it works out. Kimono are supposed to have tiny seams anyway.

The broken lines on the diagram are fold lines where the garment hits the shoulder. My fabric doesn’t have much of a selvedge, although there is a manufacturer’s name printed down one side that reduces the patterned width of the fabric to about 44″ from the full 45″. I am going to use the unpatterned bit in the collar piece, which can be reduced in width slightly without breaking anything, and in the hem of the sleeves where it will be folded under.

That diagram is probably only going to make sense read in conjunction with http://fibers.destinyslobster.com/Japanese/Clothes/japmakekimono.htm which explains how all those pieces go together.

Then it was just a case of drawing the layout on the wrong side of the fabric with chalk and chopping away with the scissors. A rotary cutter would been even easier but I didn’t think of that until I’d started cutting. I have to say this fabric was perfect for this style of constructing shapes directly on the fabric. The pattern has lots of perfectly horizontal and vertical lines of symmetry which made it really easy to mark the lines without doing a lot of measuring. I’d have gone insane with something like my skull print fabric where what appear to be vertical lines of symmetry are in fact very slightly slanted. A complete accident, but something I’ll try to remember for the future.

Of course the proof of all this will be in the sewing, which I haven’t actually started yet, but I’m really pleased I’ve got some pattern pieces cut out at last. Even if they’re all rectangles.

New gadget

Burdastyle patterns do not come with seam allowances. In some ways this is a good thing – you have to trace them and it’s a lot easier to check that all the traced pieces match up without the seam allowances getting in the way. You can also add exactly what seam allowance you want. I can see that using different allowances in different places can be a really good thing – you can avoid having to trim seams around facings for one thing – although I’ve not yet been brave enough to try this in practice.

However at what point in the process do you add the actual seam allowances? On the paper pattern tracing, or do you just place the pattern down on the fabric and add them at that point? The odd photo of the sewing process that I have seen in the magazine implies that you’re expected to add them on the fabric but not the pattern. I find this is rather fiddly and not very accurate. Having just traced a couple of Burda patterns without adding allowances I was wondering if there was a shortcut. I was in John Lewis looking for a zip, and found this nifty little device.

It is made by Prym although I can’t find it on their website. Nor has Googling found me any suppliers selling it. It has three settings for seam allowance – 1.5cm, 2.5cm, and 4cm. The marking end is just a regular chalk wheel (one of my favourite sewing gadgets) and the other side is a serrated wheel that you run around the edge of your pattern.

I haven’t tried it out for real yet because I’m currently sewing a muslin using a fabric that is far too pale for white chalk to show on it. However experiments on scraps suggest that while it’s not as accurate as adding proper allowances to the paper pattern, it’s a useful tool on a stable fabric. It’s completely unusable on a stretchy knit, but that’s not a great surprise.

Having said all that, I went and retraced my original pattern adding seam allowances in the end and used that for the muslin – if I’m going to the bother of making a prototype and fitting it then I don’t want to risk introducing any inaccuracies!

Neoprene – my current favourite fabric

Thanks everyone for the nice comments about Vogue 1087! I said I was going to sew something simpler next, and my plan is to make this Burda dress. It’s from the September 2010 issue.

I already made the matching skirt in neoprene. It was a success, so I thought I’d try to make the dress as well. This attempt is going to be a muslin (possibly wearable, possibly not) because I’m not sure of the fit. The pattern is petite and I’m quite the opposite! However the neoprene I’m using is a really old piece that’s been sitting in my stash so long it’s developed permanent creases, so no loss if it doesn’t work out. And if it does work out, I have a better piece I could use to make it again.

Neoprene is a a pain in the neck to sew but it is amazingly easy to cut out. You flop it down on the floor and it lays nice and flat straight away. It doesn’t seem to be possible to distort the grain because it’s so elastic it pulls straight back into shape again. And best of all, you can just chalk round your pattern pieces on the wrong side and then cut out the chalk outlines.

It couldn’t be much easier.

You can see the creasing in the picture from where I folded the fabric for storage, not knowing any better at the time. Luckily I was able to avoid the worst of it when cutting my pieces out. And yes, it really is that shade of red. But that’s what I’m going to use as the wrong side; the other side is black.

I suspect the sewing isn’t going to be quite as simple as the cutting out.

Glacially slow progress

Well I wish I had something to show on the tartan dress project, but I don’t. I got a bit too enthusiastic about trying to get the pattern to match perfectly and decided to rip out an imperfectly sewn dart by artificial light. Which led to a small but significant hole in the left bodice back and much muttering.

But all is not lost; I decided to throw that piece away and recut it, and this time I got a much better match on the tartan so it was worth all the aggravation. I think what made the difference was that I cut out the new piece on my ironing board rather than the dining room table. This was mainly due to laziness – I have to move lots of things round to get at the table and it didn’t seem worth it for one small piece. The ironing board was right there and better than the floor so I used it.

I think the ironing board is better because it’s a lot higher than the table, so I don’t have to bend over. This reduces wobbling. It also has a fabric cover which is a lot less slippery than the top of the table so fabric stays where you put it.

Now I want one of those collapsible cutting tables, although at this rate I won’t be cutting out another project until after Christmas!

Matching tartans

I’ve had to wait for the weekend to cut out my tartan dress because I wanted to do it in daylight rather than artificial light. I haven’t ever sewn anything tartan before so I need all the help I can get.

I was quite pleased to realise that the front of the bodice pattern I’m using (Vogue 8413) is cut on the bias and the back on the straight grain, so there isn’t any possibility of matching stripes at the side seams. All I had to do was make it match across the centre back seam, and on the side seams of the skirt.

This proved easier said than done. I mostly used the Selfish Seamstress’s clever technique for matching, and got everything lined up beautifully (which only took an hour). But the end result was a little off after I cut it out. Look at the red stripe closest to centre back:

I figure I can just fix this up when I sew it together by changing the seam allowances a little. And if I can’t, I have enough fabric left to cut those pieces out again. The only reason I haven’t done that already is that I’m pretty sure the problem is that I’m not cutting accurately enough, and I’m not sure a second run is going to come out any better except by chance. Something about taking scissors to fabric always makes my hands wobble uncontrollably.

Matching the stripes on the skirt was even trickier. The pieces are huge. My fabric was only just wide enough for me to cut the skirt front on a fold which limited how I could arrange things. I’d also made the mistake of cutting one of the skirt backs out before the skirt front which restricted my options even more. I think I’ve got the stripes to match. I’ll find out for sure when I sew them!