French Fashion (to be Copied Later)

This past week, the 8th week of our France experience, our DD Angela and family visited us in Avignon. What fun we have had, visiting the sites and simply experiencing Avignon. Kevin’s sister, BIL and niece were also here for the week and stayed in a nearby apt.

Angela celebrated her birthday, a memorable one for sure, with family and a bottle of Chateaunauf de Pape from her SIL and brother. They left it for her when they departed several weeks ago.

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Mira and Cait wanted to buy some “French fashion” while they were here, as did Angela. Size 7-14 clothing is a bit difficult to find but at their favorite H&M they each found fashion galore. Mira got floral leggings and a black tunic, and Cate bought glittery high tops and a dress.

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As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the markets have been a great source for many types of dry goods and fashion is no exception. Angela found a beautifully styled cotton knit and woven linen dress with a pieced skirt. You can bet I’ll be copying this pattern. As seen the the photo, the sleeves, a front panel and back are ribbed knit while the remainder is linen.

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Mira and I found a lace top with the split back, a common style seen in French clothing stores.

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Mira loved it so much that she asked if I could sew one for her. For €18 I purchased the top and although I love it, I will likely take it apart, resize it and surprise her for her birthday. Of course I will also copy the style using a TNT pattern. Stay tuned for that post.

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Never Say Never: When a Shirt is Too Small

The Problem

We’ve all been in the situation where we have a garment we absolutely love but it’s too small.  In the case of a T-shirt, there are few ways for the garment to be enlarged and yet fashionable.  That’s what most of us sewists think, anyway, but for my 11 year old creative GD, she created a way to enlarge a favorite shirt and my job was to make the alterations.  Here’s the story.

The Back-Story

Last summer, Mira and her mother were shopping at a second-hand store when Mira found a shirt she loved.  Although when she tried it on, it was barely large enough for her, much less having the required wearing ease and length.  Despite the fitting issues (and there was always an opportunity to give it to younger sister Caitlyn), they purchased the shirt for a few dollars.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the sense to take a before photo, so bear with me.

On separate occasions, Mira’s mother Angela, and Mira told me about the beloved shirt.  Angela said she didn’t think I could alter it but maybe I could make a pattern from the shirt.  Mira said “Mom doesn’t understand what I mean” and proceeded to describe the alterations she wanted.

The "after" photo.

The “after” photo.

The Alterations

The fabric was similar to a slinky fabric – a four-way stretch poly or jersey, so for the alterations I used navy jersey, to give a similar stretch to the garment.  First I removed the sleeves and opened up the sides of the shirt, the sleeve seam, copied the pattern and then made the following 4 alterations:

1, Widen the shoulders – cut (lengthwise on the fabric) pieces of navy fabric a little longer than the armscye and 1-1/2″ wide, and then sewed it to each armscye.

2.  Add to circumference to the top, cut (lengthwise on the fabric) two pieces of navy fabric the length of the top by 1-1/2″ wide, and sewed it to the front and back side seams, creating a navy stripe down the side of the shirt.

3. Add arm circumference, cut (lengthwise on the fabric) and sewed two pieces of navy fabric 1″ wide and the length of the sleeve underarm seam.  As you can see above, this alteration isn’t visible unless the arm is lifted.

4. Shirt length – cut one piece (across the grain) of navy, 2-1/2″ wide by the circumference of the shirt.  Sew onto the bottom.  I left the bottom unfinished.  

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Once again, here is the result, with a not quite finished shirt I made from the pattern I lifted from the design.  In the end, the shoulders were widened, the circumference was increased by 2″ and the length was increased 2″.  A real success, though it doesn’t look as great in the photos as when wearing it.

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What this shows me is that sometimes I need to think outside the box.  Now I know that this method could be used to alter other types of t-shirts that are a size (or two) too small.

Tutorial: Girl’s Twirly Velveteen Dress

Sewing For Children

For Christmas, every girl deserves a pretty new dress. This year, Catie’s dress was a Twirl Dress – a T-shirt dress with a ruffled skirt and of course a matching dress for Kit, her American Girl doll.  Made from stretch velveteen, this twirly dress is a favorite style for girls and in fact, it’s the third in this style that I’ve sewed for Cate.  Most of all, mom’s love it because it looks dressy, is washable and the color doesn’t fade.

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Christmas dress for Cate and Kit

The steps to make this adorable dress are so simple that it’s hard to believe it all starts with a T-shirt pattern.  In this case, I used a boy’s T-shirt pattern (minus the neck binding) I’ve modified a number of times.

Tutorial:

Supplies:  1-1/2  to 2 yards of knit velveteen fabric (depends on the fabric width), matching thread, embroidered design.  Wider fabric

Steps for Dress Top:

1. Select a T-shirt pattern of the desired size, or one size larger if you wish to have growing room.  For the length, use the full length of the T-shirt.  (Cate’s is a size 6x-7 with a finished shirt side seam is 12″)

2. Cut T-shirt from the fabric, taking care to have all pieces cut in the same direction.

Tip:  In order to get the richness of the velvet color, when cutting velvet the nap should go upward.  In other words, when you brush your hand upward on the fabric, it feels smooth.  

3. Calculate how many strips you will need for the twirly skirt.     

  • Tier 1 – at least twice the circumference of the top  (52″ for Cate – fabric was 60″ wide)
  • Tier 2: One-and-a-half to twice the circumference of Tier 1 (requires sewing 2 strips together)
  • Tier 3 – One-and-a-half to twice the circumference of Tier 2 (will also require sewing several strips together)

Note:  If you are using a ruffling foot, do not cut the strips to the desired length as ruffling is not an exact process.  You can cut off any extra fabric after the tier is attached to the previous layer.

4.  For the top front, I made the final cut after the embroidery.  For the skirt, cut the number of strips you will need, cutting across the grain.  For a smaller size, these strips are 3″ , 3-1/2″ or 4″ wide.  For Cate’s dress I cut 4-1/2″ strips, which allows for 4″ tiers minus 1/4″ for each seam allowance. 

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Cut pieces. Top front was embroidered before the final cutting.

5.  Embroider or place your desired design on the shirt front.

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Close up of embroidery and neckline finish

6.  Assemble the T-shirt but do not sew the bottom 5 or 6″ of one side seam.  Finish the sleeve and neckline but do not hem the shirt.  (For the neckline I turned over 1/2″ and sewed with a coverstitch however  using a double needle method on a standard sewing machine would work as well).

Now Assemble/add the Skirt:

There are several ways to make the ruffles.

  1. Gather the top of the cut strip and attach to the dress top (i.e. t-shirt) at a 1.5:1 or 2:1 gathering ratio.  For subsequent ruffles, add the gathered portion to the bottom of the previous ruffle.  Test to see how you want it to look.
  2. Use a ruffling foot on your sewing machine or serger, set to a 1.5:1 or 2:1 ratio.  For this method, it is important to do a test or two to get the result you want.  My preferred method is to use the serger ruffling foot.
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Method 2: Sewing the first tier onto the dress top.  Clear strip is water-soluble stabilizer. Bottom layer is being gathered.

Steps if using a Ruffling Foot:

1.  Place the piece to be ruffled on the bottom, with right sides together.

Note:  Because this fabric is stretchy, holding a narrow strip of water-soluble stabilizer over the top fabric (piece that’s not being gathered) will reduce the amount of undesired stretch.

2.  When you get to the end, you will likely have some left over ruffle.  Cut off.

3.  Sew the next two tiers in the same manner.

4. Sew the open side seam.

5.  Hem by turning under 1/4″.  Sew on a standard sewing machine.

6.  Steam dress from the back side, using a generous amount of steam over the ruffled seams.  If the top layer stretched, the steaming will help the latex in the fabric to shrink back into shape.

After steaming the ruffles.

After steaming the ruffles.

From the back

From the back

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Cate, Mira and dolls

“…..but I won’t sew Barbie Doll Clothes”

As a sewist grandmother, I set my sewing boundaries a long time ago.  “I’ll sew anything you want and will do everything possible to be a wonderful grandmother  but I won’t sew Barbie doll clothes”.

Hmmm.  Maybe I’m not living within the established limits.  Through a series of events, 10-year-old Mira (with my assistance) is now sewing a “Queen Elizabeth” dress for a Barbie doll.  As for me, I got sucked in big time.

First, here’s a little background.

Way back then, using a “World Book Encyclopedia” drawing as a guide.I sewed a “Queen Elizabeth I” doll for a history project.   Admittedly she was special and was one of the few childhood items I’ve kept.  Several months ago I found the doll still in a shoebox, tucked away with other memorabilia.  Like my sister and daughters, Mira and Cate were captivated by her.  Soon after, Mira set off to make her own version.

Circa 1960’s Queen Elizabeth I doll

She searched the internet for images and then drew her preferred dress design. My job was to make it into a doll pattern.  Yup, the doll came from a garage sale and her name was Barbie.  When the dress is completed, I’ll be sure to show you the result.  In the mean time, here’s the design.

What’s more, the last time Mira was at our house, she wasn’t satisfied that the Barbie’s hair had enough curls.  As we parted that day she said, “Ramma (that’s Gma), can you curl Barbie’s hair so it looks prettier”?  Well, how in the world do you curl a Barbie doll’s hair?  Finally it occurred to me that possibly some strips of fabric would work.  After all, Ma Ingalls used rags to curl Laura’s hair.  So one night while watching a movie, I cut strips of fabric and curled the doll’s hair  …. and waited until today to see the outcome.  In case you’re wondering, I rolled the hair ends into the fabric, curled it around and then tied the fabric strips in a knot.  Just writing this makes me crazy.

The Bottom Line

Is there anything we won’t do for our precious granddaughters?  Not only have I crossed the line by sewing Barbie doll clothes but I’m also a Barbie doll cosmetologist!  What next?  Tonight Mira removed the fabric strips/curlers and here’s the result.

Sewing the Popular Top with Draped Sides

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that draping is all the rage in ready-to-wear.  Specifically, draping at the side of a longish top or tank, or in the center front of a sweater.  If you’re interested in sewing a garment with side draping, which is sometimes called the “sharkbite” look, it is incredibly easy to modify an existing pattern.  Although I’ve sewed a few of these, this is the only modeled garment I’ve photographed, and you’ve already seen the photo several times.

On the other hand, having planned to do this post for a while, I have taken photos of how to alter an existing pattern to make it drape on the side.  It’s the extra width at the bottom of the garment that provides the draped look.  A few examples:

While this produced the desired length, there was less draping than I hoped for.


Experiment #1 (above):  

This was my first try, where using a t-shirt pattern, I added length and tapered the side starting at the armhole.  The result was a cute top that Mira could wear over leggings but it didn’t have as much draping as I wished for.

(BTW, the black weights that look like hockey pucks are just that.  They were my DS Shaun’s when he was a teen.  When he outgrew his hockey interest I snatched the pucks and have used them ever since).

Experiment #2 (above)

Having learned that the amount of drape comes from the amount of fabric added horizontally at the hemline, this one turned out better.  In this case I used a sleeveless dress pattern which already was tapered at the side.  From the photo you can see that (for a girl’s size 10) the bottom of the fabric was cut about 7 inches from the original dress side seam.  This turned out to be the perfect amount of drape, so I used the same proportions for Catie’s red tank top.  For an adult, I would taper the bottom to at least 10-12″ from the original side seam, and would error on the side of having too much drape as you can always reduce the drape by reducing the taper at the hemline.

Construction:

Sewing the top is the same as any other and the bottom can be finished in with a hem or rolled hem of your choice.

If you’re interested in this modern look, give the above modification a try.  It’s quite easy.

 

Under-shorts: Coverage when wearing a Skirt

One of the trends in children’s clothing is and “all-in-one” skirt and shorts.  The obvious purpose is to assure that there is panty coverage during normal play.  While this no-brainer design element isn’t ubiquitous, there are some children’s clothing manufacturer’s such as Lands’ End and Carters who regularly design play clothes with built-in shorts.  Unfortunately, without the under-shorts, an adorable skirt can hang in the closet unworn.  I understand that at schools, pants are a dress code requirement in order to play on the gym equipment.

Here’s an example from my last blog post

If you aren’t fortunate enough to have a skirt with built-in shorts the alternative is to sew under-shorts only so they can be worn with existing skirts.  

Sewing All-in-one Skirt and Shorts

The method for sewing shorts into a skirt is fairly simple – when sewing the waistband onto the skirt, sew a third layer which is the shorts.  In other words, you are sewing the waistband, the skirt and the shorts together.  What’s not so simple is that the circumference of a skirt is often wider than the circumference of a pair of shorts, so you may need to stretch the under-shorts a bit while sewing.  

Here’s and inside photo of Catie’s new skirt with under-shorts.  In this case I did need to stretch the under-shorts. however the fabric has a good amount of lycra.

Inside photo of skirt with under-shorts

Tips for success when sewing skirts with attached under-shorts.

  1. Take a good look at ready-to-wear with built-in shorts – this is the best way to learn how they are constructed.
  2. Use a knit with lycra for the shorts (~30%) so they can stretch when attaching the waistband.
  3. To reduce bulk at the waist, choose a pattern with a yoke or a wide waistband and
  4. Reduce the rise on the shorts by the height of the waistband (or else the crotch will be at your young-un’s knees)
  5. For a pattern, copy an existing pair of knit shorts or use this leggings pattern.  Add width so the shorts aren’t skin-tight and shorten it to the desired length.  This is a pattern where the exact fit isn’t so important.
  6. Avoid side seams in the shorts – they add bulk (and a few minutes of your precious time to the project).

 

Sewing Under-shorts:

If your favorite girl loves to do cartwheels and has a closet full of unworn skirts without built-in shorts, this tutorial is the answer.  Now as standard attire, Mira and Cate have many colors to choose from.  How convenient that both Mira and Cate enjoy skirts and I often have knit scraps.  Sometimes I sew the undershorts to match a top or skirt such as in this photo.

And sometimes the under-shorts are a good way to use up left-over fabric.  A pair requires little more than a quarter yard of knit fabric or some random scraps.  Here’s an example from several years ago.  Seems to me that I’ve still seen them in action recently.

Made from the fabric scraps from on of my black summer dresses, this fabric isn’t a typical children’s wear choice however it is very stretchy and thus works for intended purpose.

Tips on sewing under-shorts.

  1. As with attached under-shorts, avoid a side seam.
  2. Shorten the front and back rise so the waist elastic falls slightly below the natural waist.  This reduces bulk and improves comfort.
  3. Hem with a zig-zag, cover stitch, decorative elastic or a rolled hem.  Some knits can be left un-hemmed as is common in ready to wear.
  4. When applying the elastic (I prefer 3/8″ lingerie or knit elastic), stretch slightly so the elastic is slightly smaller than the circumference of the under-shorts.
  5. Use a zig-zag or cover-stitch to apply elastic (click on above photo to see detail).
  6. Place a small piece of ribbon at the back seam to make it easy for the wearer to know which is the back.

Now give it a try.  You can whip up a few of these wardrobe expanders in no time at all.

Celebrating Independence Day in Style

Several weeks ago Catie announced that to match her new July 4th headband, she needed an outfit for the holiday.  We looked through my stash and found just the right fabric;  red jersey knit for the top and navy and white striped knit for the skirt.  Our planning evolved into Catie’s description of what the outfit should look like and how it should function.  Here’s the list of requirements:

  • Swirl skirt
  • Wide waistband on the hips
  • Tank top
  • Under-shorts
  • Big enough so it will fit next year (at 6 years, very practical!)
  • Stars on the top

As the last step of the planning stage, we searched my sewing room for just the right decoration – a iron-on rhinestone star.  I also went to the local chain store and purchased 4 stars.

Skirt with under-shorts

Doesn’t she look grand?  Ready for the July 4th Bike Parade in her neighborhood.

Next I’ll discuss how to make the very popular and practical under-shorts – no pattern required.

What’s with this Heat?

Upon planning our move to Wisconsin from Philadelphia, many of our friends and colleagues were astonished that we chose to live in a state with a northern climate.  We’re here now and for the past week (and for days to come) it’s been hotter in Wisconsin than in Philly.  What’s wrong with this picture?

Today we made the best of it while watching our DGD, Cate.  When it’s approaching 100 degrees and there’s not a pool in the back yard, there’s nothing more refreshing than a run through the sprinkler.

A run through the sprinkler

Full Bust Adjustment (FBA): Adding a Horizontal Dart

In my last post I showed you the Edwardian dress I sewed for my SIL.  Despite using reference books and websites with directions on FBA, I wasn’t able to put my finger on the  directions for adding a horizontal dart while narrowing the shoulder.  Since I’m not sure I can describe what I did for the narrow shoulder adjustment, I can show you how I made the full bust adjustment (FBA).

This Past Patterns #903 pattern was the starting point.   Given that the bodice only has vertical darts, my options were to slash the pattern, eliminate the darts and make it into a princess line dress or to add a horizontal dart.  While I chose the latter, I now wonder if it would have been easier to convert one of the vertical darts into a princess line and forget the second dart, especially because of the narrow shoulder adjustment.  Maybe the next time?

Tutorial:

1.  Copy the pattern piece onto a separate piece of pattern paper, leaving several inches around all of the edges so you have space to make adjustments.  Out of the envelope, the front pattern piece looked like this.

Original pattern piece – front bodice

2. Start by adding width to the side of the bodice front (and back if needed), making sure that the dress pattern is equal to the wearer’s full bust measurement plus wearing ease.  I did this by adding to the side of the front and back of the dress top.  On the photo below, if you look to the right side (arrow #1), you can see that my pattern is much wider than the largest size of the printed pattern.  Note: By taking this step you have accommodated for the wearer’s circumference, however in order to avoid having the dress pull up in front, you will also need to add length to the dress front.  That’s where we’re going now.

3. Slash the pattern horizontally at the wearer’s bustline.  Note:  If you slash the pattern at the full bust line, the dart should fall in the correct position.

4.  Physically separate the top and bottom pieces of the pattern and add an amount that is consistent with the wearer’s fullness.  For me is was guesswork to start and then I made further adjustments with each muslin.  There’s probably a formula to calculate this but I couldn’t find it.  In the final muslin I added nearly 4″ to the bodice front.

5. Fill the slashed area with a piece of pattern paper and tape in place (not visible on my photo).

6.  Draw a dart at the center of the area you added to the pattern. (Arrow #3).  Note the bottom of the pattern – the revised pattern is much longer than the original.  (Arrow #4)

While this will likely not be your final alteration, it’s a great place to start, and you can make changes based on how the muslin fits.  In the end you should end up with something like this:

Narrow Shoulder Adjustment:

Unfortunately I don’t feel that I mastered this technique or could even offer advice on what I did to narrow the shoulders while adding several inches to the side seam.  Essentially this was so the armhole wasn’t oversized for the sleeve.   All I can say is that I followed Nancy Ziemen’s Pivot and Slide technique .

Readers, if you have suggestions on how to make this alteration differently, please leave a comment.

Long Distance Sewing: Margie’s Edwardian Dress

So lovely in her new dress

This dress took sooo much longer to make than I anticipated, mostly because it’s really difficult to fit a dress when you’re not in the same state (excuse #1, I know).  Interestingly, when we got to the point of having a good muslin, it only took a week or two to sew the dress.

Nearly a year ago, my SIL Margie asked if I would sew a replica of a historic dress for her.  For their volunteer work at a 1900’s historic home in their community, my BIL John and SIL Margie needed a dress from that era.  Delighted by the request however unfamiliar with sewing historical garments, I searched for patterns online and thankfully found PastPatterns.com.  Specifically, their 1890’s Day Dress pattern was the pattern of choice.

Here’s a chronicle of the events leading up to the dress completion:

Summer, 2011 – request to sew the dress

Aug/Sept 2011 – Once again, Jomar’s in Philadelphia rose to the occasion.  We planned for our long distance fabric selection and one evening I spent an hour or two digging through the fabric options at Jomar.  After photographing candidate fabrics, I emailed the photo to Margie and John from my iPhone.  “Yes, I like that one; I don’t care for that color; no that’s too blue; that green is nice”  They settled on a lovely light green cotton brocade.

November 2011 – In my possession was a pattern and some fabric but we hadn’t been together so I could take measurements.  Margie and I (with others) traveled to Spain together, so like a diligent sewist, I had my tape measure in my backpack.  This preliminary set of measurements allowed me to alter the pattern and make a muslin.  

Christmas 2011 – Margie and I saw each other for only an hour but had enough time to fit muslin #1.

January 2012 – Muslin #2 completed and mailed to her as then we lived a thousand miles from each other (now ~60 miles).  John kindly took photos of the muslin and pinned some of the areas requiring alteration and returned the muslin to Philadelphia.  His eye for detail was crucial for me to make the needed changes.

February – March – Now things really slowed down as the project was packed away in a moving box while I secretly hoped Margie wouldn’t need the dress.

April – Finally we had an in-person fitting of muslin #3.  I was ready to cut the fashion fabric and start sewing the dress. 

May – Margie stopped by our house for a fitting.  I made a few sizing tweaks and pinned the hem.  A week later my niece picked up the dress and delivered it.  Whew!

All of my sewing friends know that the above outlined events were underscored by showing photos of Margie in the muslin followed by requests for fitting assistance. Thank you to my sewing colleagues who helped me along the journey.  

I was so excited to be finished with the dress that I failed to take inside or construction photos however I can share a few details with you:

Fabric – cotton brocade was pre-washed twice to assure that it wouldn’t shrink in the future.

Lining – lightweight cotton-linen blend for the top only.  The lining and fashion fabric were sewn as one.  This was also pre-washed.

Seam finish – Hong Kong finish with silk organza to reduce bulk.

Buttons – vintage shank buttons purchased on Ebay.  They even smelled vintage, or musty.  The smell passed quickly.  The 22 buttons forced me to learn an easy 2-minute buttonhole technique.

Pattern alterations – added a horizontal dart for bodice fitting.  More about that on another post.

Details – a watch pocket on one of the side front seams.  Margie has since purchased a pocket watch and chain.

Summary:

This was a great project as it really stretched my skills at fitting.  Margie said she got lots of compliments on her first wearing and I am very pleased with the outcome.