Hits and misses

Ever have the impression you’ve been sewing a lot of duds? This year my productivity has been down and I seem to have produced more failures than usual. Right now I can’t sew at all because I’m in the middle of moving and everything is packed up. So it seems like a good time to try to work out how to improve the hit rate for when I can get at my sewing machines again. Is it that I’m choosing the wrong patterns? The wrong fabric? Or something else?

So here are the failures. First of all, Vogue 1317. This really should have worked. It’s a Chado Ralph Rucci pattern, and the (fake) suede I made it up in has a wonderful texture. However I think I’ve only worn it once or twice. The fit is off, and the sleeves on it are drafted in such a way that you can’t raise your arms. It makes for a great shoulder line but it drives me up the wall when I have the dress on. I bought some more suede to have another go at it, but since then I’ve seen some suede skinny trousers, and they appeal much more than another attempt at this pattern.

Vogue 1317

Burda 134-06-2012 also ought to have worked; horrible fabric choice and sizing problems killed it. I might try this one again at some point though. The fit problems (tight skirt, weird length on the bodice) are easy to fix and there’s always more fabric out there. Again I think it would be better in a knit than the woven I used.

Burda 134-06-2012 front view

Vogue 8825 didn’t even get finished. It’s lurking in a plastic bag right now. I can’t quite bring myself to chuck it out yet, but I know I’m never going to complete it. It’s a beautiful pattern, but the style’s really not me.

Vogue 8825 envelope

And then we have two that seemed quite successful at the time, but I haven’t worn as much as I expected.

My violet version of Burda 122-09-2010 looks nice, but it’s too tight and short to be entirely comfortable. I love the pattern, and have other versions that were much better; it just needs a fabric with more stretch than this one. The twin needle hem has broken in a few places but I have no desire to make this any shorter by hemming it again.

Burda 122-09-2010

And Vogue 8866 photographs really well…but I rarely find the right occasion to wear it. And again it’s a little too tight. I’ll certainly make it again, but this version really belongs in the dressing up box.

Vogue 8866

So do they have anything in common? With most of them the problem is that they don’t fit. Which makes sense, because I only stopped wearing ready-to-wear because home-made clothes are so much more comfortable. It’s reassuring that the problem is likely to be fixable: it’s not that I’m sewing the wrong things all the time, just the wrong sizes – or the wrong sizes for the chosen fabric anyway. Hopefully once I get my new sewing space into a usable state my hit rate will improve.

Shoulder pads to the rescue

Thanks for all the good fitting advice on my coat muslin. I was all set to call it good enough and start cutting my fashion fabric, but you convinced me to go back and have another go.

The previous problem I had on the front was horizontal folds on the princess seams. ozviking, Lisette, Claudine, BeccaA, and maria all suggested shoulder pads so I took myself down to John Lewis to pick up a pair. I had no idea there were so many types! I picked a pair labelled ‘small’ with a picture of a set-in sleeve on the packet. No idea if they’re the technically correct sort, but they definitely help. I’ve also taken out a bit of length above the bust seam here as Beth suggested .

Coat muslin 2 front view

Here’s the back view with shoulder pads, a tiny bit of width taken out of the centre back seam, and again with reduced length above the bust seam. (Can I call it a bust seam when it’s on the back?) Clio and Beth both pointed out that the back seemed too wide to start with.

There is still a very small fold of fabric at the back shoulder but it’s really improved. I don’t want to risk trying to get rid of absolutely all the excess, I think I need some of that room to move!

Coat muslin 2 back view

The bust seam was rising up slightly at centre front so I let it out a little there, tapering back to the previous seamline before hitting the princess seams. That’s made a bit of difference.

The waist seam’s still rising up in front and falling slightly below my natural waist in back so I’ll adjust that in the same way as I did the bust seam. Not that you can see the back waist seam in this picture. I’m regretting using black fabric for fitting! It’s not just the photos; it’s quite hard for me to see what’s going on too.

Coat muslin 2 side view 2

This really has been a learning experience, thanks so much everyone!

Bewildering wrinkles

Well I took the plunge. Armed with everyone’s good advice from my last post I put on some music and sewed my coat muslin up, a few seams at a time. Doing it over a few sessions wasn’t too bad. Thanks for all the encouragement and advice, it really helped!

It’s come out pretty well! The most important thing is that I can move my arms, despite having removed all the ease from the sleeve cap. I seem to have forgotten to take any pictures of that. In passing, isn’t it great not to have to keep getting undressed to try a garment on? I did wonder if I should be putting on more layers to simulate a really cold day! However I am wearing several thin layers and a very bulky belt under the coat in these photos, which is my normal winter work wear. I guess if the coat goes over all that then things will be OK.

Coat muslin full length

I had a hard time deciding what, if anything, needed adjusting. Every time I move the wrinkles seem to move as well, and most of them don’t match up to anything at all in my fitting books. The most obvious problem is a wrinkle on the front princess seam. That one doesn’t come and go. I think this is due to excess length above the bust point.

Front princess seam with wrinkle

I took out a tiny amount – about 5mm – above the seam and things are somewhat improved. I think I need to take out a little width from the seam as well, but on the other hand I don’t want to overfit things. I measured the pattern and this style is unusually close-fitting for a coat.

It looks like it needs a full bust adjustment in this picture (taken after taking out the length) because of the way the horizontal seam is rising up and there’s a wrinkle pointing from the waist to the bust point, but I can’t see the problem from the front or in the other pictures I took. Also if I take a pinch of the fabric over the bust there’s actually lots of room there. This is why I find fitting so confusing!

Front princess seam with wrinkle

There’s a similar problem on the back, only more so.

Back view of muslin

But I think I need some of that extra fabric for mobility, because look what happens when I put my arms forward. The excess width vanishes and there’s just a bit of extra length.

Back view with arms forward

Three quarter back view

I’m just going to take out a little length at the back underarms as well as at the front, and stop there. I picked my muslin fabric because it has a similar (lack of) drape to my shell fabric, but the shell fabric is substantially thicker so I guess it won’t make up quite the same and there’s no point worrying too much at this stage. Wish me luck.

I made shorts!

I finally did it. I made shorts. They are not the most perfect shorts the world has ever seen, but I think they’ve actually turned out wearable. I’m really pleased with the results. Thank-you all for your good advice and encouragement! I really can’t imagine sewing without the Internet sewing community.

Burda 111 06/2011

The pattern is 111A-06-2011 from BurdaStyle magazine. It’s also available to purchase as a PDF download. I picked the style because it has a side zip which I figured would be easier than a fly closure for a first attempt at trousers. The design is extremely simple. The only real detail is the cute patch pockets on the back.

Burda 111 06/2011

There are inseam side pockets as well. Putting an invisible zip into a seam with a pocket attached was easier than I expected. The side in this photo is the one without the zip, which surprisingly came out looking worse than the zip side. It looks OK in this picture, but it’s a bit wobbly in real life. I think it could use a bit of understitching and stay tape to stabilize the pocket edge and side seam. My fabric is a stretch cotton twill and the pattern is intended for non-stretch fabric.

Burda 111 06/2011

Using stretch fabric makes it a bit difficult to judge the fit, but I think it’s come out OK. The only thing I want to adjust is to let the side seams out a very small amount. I should have realised I needed to do that in advance, but I didn’t look at the size chart carefully enough.

I hitched my jumper up in most of the photos so the waistband is visible, but in practice I’m far more likely to wear these shorts like this.
Burda 111 06/2011

I wonder if I can get away with these at work. Perhaps without the purple tights.

Anyway this bodes well for trouser-making! I’ve just acquired some really nice black stretch denim for an attempt at some Burda stovepipe trousers. Wish me luck.

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Wrap dress mark 1 – the first muslin

I’ve just done a muslin for my Liberty fabric dress. The pattern is an attempt to reproduce an elderly and much loved Vivienne Westwood wrap dress that has been sitting in a box for the last few years because I wore it to destruction but can’t bear to chuck it. Here’s the now rather sad-looking original. The most interesting feature aside from the amazing fabric is the collar, which extends into a sort of long flap on the left front that gets tucked through a buttonhole on the right front. Alternatively you can wear the flap loose. The original never looked quite right on me when worn tucked in, but it’s effective on the dressform.

Here’s the muslin on me. It needs a few changes, in particular bit of extra width over the hips, but I think I’ve managed to make the collar work!

What changed was that I moved the buttonhole down quite a way. The muslin now has three buttonholes. Here’s the collar tucked into the highest one, which corresponds to the one on the original dress.

And here it is on the lowest buttonhole, which is the one I shall use.

And here’s the collar worn loose.

So this is looking quite hopeful so far. Of course I still have to do all the adjustments, draft facings, and work out how to construct the real thing, but I’m very pleased with this for a first effort.

No more muslins

At what point do you give up on fit faffing and decide it’s good enough? Or conversely give up on a project altogether?

I’ve made two muslins of Vogue 8633 this week and I still can’t get it quite right, despite all the helpful suggestions! This is on top of the two actual dresses I’ve made from it previously, one of which also involved a muslin. But I love the style so much I don’t want to give up. How does Vogue get such a smooth line from the shoulder to the bust on the photo below? My body definitely does not have a straight line there. More of a concavity, in fact. And the alterations required to make the shoulders fit me at all are dramatic. The pattern pieces look nothing like the original.

But despite the less than perfect fit, the two dresses I’ve already made from this pattern are amongst my favourites. And I have some gorgeous black stretch twill to use, and I am completely sick of making muslins. So no more faffing, full steam ahead.

Eureka moment

Sorry I’ve been so slow about replying to comments lately…I’ve been having some time off work but that just seems to make me busier! Thanks for all the lovely comments and tips. I have quite a few things I want to try out to make cutting out fabric on the floor easier now – it certainly sounds like getting a big piece of cardboard or lino is the way forward.

But on to the eureka (or possibly ‘doh’ moment). Vogue 8633 is one of my favourite patterns. It’s a Easy Options pattern, which means there are all sorts of variations, but my favourite is the one below. And you should definitely check out AlisonC’s stunning border print version.

I have never been able to get the fit quite right on the bodice of this pattern. On my first muslin I got huge diagonal creases from the shoulder to the end of the neckline slit, and despite much faffing I never really solved the problem, as you can see below on both of my versions. My fit books say that this is caused by square shoulders, but it’s not a problem I have ever had on any other pattern. Letting out the end of the shoulder seams helped but didn’t cure it.

Vogue 8633 green version

I’m about to make it again in a fantastic black stretch twill, and I really want to solve the fit problem this time. I got the pattern out of the envelope to have a look at it…and was astonished to find I hadn’t done a full bust adjustment for the first two versions. I can get away without one in some styles, but not a very fitted bodice like this. No wonder the first two versions pull where they do! So I’ve done that and am off to make another muslin now. Fingers crossed.

Fitting aggravation

I finally sewed up my muslin of Burda 132-04-2011. And the result is a resounding meh. The line art is below.

The original pattern is designed for leather, and maybe this is the problem. My muslin, obviously, is in a woven: a fairly coarse, loose weave fabric that feels like linen or a linen blend. There’s no single glaringly obvious problem with the fit, but everything – and I mean everything – is a little bit off. So much so that I don’t know where to start to improve it. Unfortunately I don’t have pictures right now so I’ll just have to try to describe it. The shoulder seams are quite a bit too far back. Ok, that’s fairly normal for me. The waist is too low. That’s not normal at all. I’m really tall and most of my extra height is in my torso. Waists are never too low. The bust darts are too high. This is starting to sound like I went seriously wrong when lengthening the pattern, which I could believe. But even after that there’s something really odd going on with the underarms. There’s clearly too much fabric there when my arms are by my sides, but if I pinch it out I can’t reach forward! And yet the amount of ease around the bust and across my back seems about right.

The one thing I do know how to fix is the gapping back neckline. So that leaves me with about four other problems that I don’t really know what to do about. I vaguely recall reading somewhere that you should fix fit problems working from the top down, as one fix affects another. That makes sense as I have the impression that fixing the shoulders is likely to make the low waist and the underarms worse.

Apart from the fit problems I also managed to cut the skirt front as two pieces, instead of on the fold as I intended, but I seem to have also added seam allowances in the right places so that isn’t the end of the world. It just looks odd. I’ll just have to remember not to do that with the real fabric, assuming I ever get to the point of cutting the real fabric. Right now that’s looking unlikely! Hopefully it’ll look better tomorrow. I’m giving up for tonight.

Patterns or drafting? Or somewhere in between?

I love dressmaking patterns. I have only been sewing for a couple of years but my stash of pattern envelopes and magazines is getting to the point where I can’t easily lift the box it lives in. Despite all this, when I have something very definite in mind that I want to sew I often can’t find a pattern in the box that’s exactly what I want.

The current case in point is my skull-print dress, which is inspired by the lady with the pink hair in the centre of the back row in this cartoon by John Allison. (If you like the art, check out his webcomics Bad Machinery and Scary-go-round.)

It’s an empire-line maxi-dress with a surplice-style bodice. There isn’t any bust shaping visible but clearly any real-life version of this dress that’s going to fit is going to need darts or gathers at the bottom of the bodice.

I briefly considered trying to draft something but I’m fundamentally lazy and drafting is complicated. I decided to go for the very unscientific method of taking two patterns I have that already fit and munging them together. Simplicity 3775 is a modern knit dress with a surplice bodice (sadly now out of print). I’m showing you my version rather than the envelope art, because the envelope manages to make the dress look utterly frumpy, and it’s really not.

Simplicity 3775

Simplicity 5349 is a vintage halter-neck maxi dress that I made last year for a bit of a giggle, and have worn and worn and worn.

Simplicity 5349 envelope art

But these two have their problems. The maxi-dress has off-grain centre front and back seams in the skirt, which will look very odd with the regular print on my fabric, and the knit dress is, well, designed for knits. My skull-print fabric is a woven.

Skull print fabric

After much dithering I decided to cut the skirt pieces on the fold, even though it’s going to mess up the grainlines, because the alternative is just going to look strange.

I changed the gathers on the bodice to a couple of darts, then laid the midriff pieces from the first pattern over the top of the skirt pieces for the second and traced round them. I also added some tiny darts to the bodice back to give it a bit of shaping as the knit version has none.

And amazingly, my muslin of it seems to have come out looking like a dress. This is the muslin on my dressform. The back has a wrinkle on the left side, but that’s mainly to do with the sloppy way I sewed the zip into the side seam.

The funny thing is that I feel much happier tweaking something like this than a Real Pattern. If the pattern is a horrible mashup to start with then the sewing police are not going to come and get me for what I do with it. This may explain why it’s worked somewhat better than some of my attempts at fitting Real Patterns.

And it’s too late now anyway because I’ve cut out my real fabric, all four metres of it. I really hope this works out!

Inside-out dress

I’m making Burda 122-09-2010, which is a knit dress with all the shaping in the seamlines, in neoprene. This is my trial run, made from an old piece of neoprene which got creased in storage. I’m wearing it inside-out in the pictures because the right side is black and wouldn’t photograph very clearly, whereas the red side shows up nicely.

Here’s the front view. I had to take a wedge out of the centre front, which is what the short black seamline running from the neckline is for. I also had to cut the front neckline down by about an inch.

The original pattern was a petite and I’m taller than average so I had to add quite a lot of length to it. However I got this slightly wrong. The first seam down from the neckline runs over the bust rather than below it. I measured pretty carefully, so I’m not quite sure what happened there.

The back needed quite a lot of adjustment. I had take three darts out of the top to accommodate my rounded shoulders! I quite like the interest the extra seamlines add so I’ll probably keep this in the final version rather than adjusting the pattern pieces to remove the darts.

I think the back piece needs to come in a little around the waist too, although if I make it too much smaller I won’t be able to get into the dress! I was going to add a zip, but right now it doesn’t need it and I don’t really want to have to put one in if it can be avoided.

I sewed most of the seams by pushing the two edges (with no seam allowance) up against each other and zigzagging over the top, but this would have been practically impossible for the long vertical seams on the back. I did these by using the hinge method that Elizabeth posted about recently for sewing fur. I can report it works a treat on neoprene too.

I’m really liking this dress so far. It’s comfortable and very warm. I think it’s wearable as-is (well, it is if I turn it right side out) but I am going to adjust the pattern pieces and make another version.