Category Archives: It’s done!

Sencha silk: All dressed up and nowhere to go

I finally finished the navy blue silk Sencha blouse that I started lo these many weeks ago. My first silk garment. With a pattern I altered quite a bit. And bust darts I created.

The good news is I made my way through a veritable minefield of potential sewing mishaps and came out with a wearable blouse (though truth be told, it feels a little tight at the sleeve holes, not sure why).

The bad news is I can’t wear it!

Colette Patterns' Sencha in navy silk

Isn’t it pretty? I wish I could wear it. By the way, it fits me better than the dress form. You’ll just have to trust me for now.

Navy is THE staple color of my wardrobe (which doesn’t work out that well with a beige cat), and yet …

I have no navy skirts. Well, not any that still fit. (Why are they still in the closet?)

I have two pairs of navy pants that I wear regularly, and the Sencha silk blouse looks horrible with both. This is not Sencha’s fault. This is my fault. These pants are just not flattering with a top that must be tucked in. I always wear them with sweaters or knit tops outside that fall to mid hip, if not below. Neither pair is a great fit overall.

So, the lovely Sencha silk has exposed a giant hole in my wardrobe: No flattering pants in navy, and no wearable navy skirts at all.

A-line skirts are flattering, and I can make those in a hurry. I only have to fit them at the waist. The next item on the sewing agenda is a wearable muslin for new skirt pattern with a contour waistband. I also have the contour waistband pattern I created for the coral polka dot skirt. Either way, I’ll be able to make a navy skirt that looks good in no time.

But pants? Oh, that’s a whole other story. In preparation for making pants some day, I bought Pati Palmer’s Pants for Real People. What was going to be a sewing project down the road has become somewhat of an emergency. I may just have to wear skirts for a while.

Until then, no shot of me in Sencha silk. My dress form will have to do.

Meanwhile, here’s what went right and wrong with the Sencha silk blouse project:

What went right

  • The silk sewed beautifully — No snags (thanks to a brand new supply of silk pins and my policy of using a new needle for every project), and handsewing the sleeve facings with the catchstitch worked great. Nothing shows from the right side. I LOVE this stitch. And if feels so much more sturdy than a slip stitch.
  • My pattern alterations actually worked — The bust dart and other changes I made helped the pattern fit beautifully. I wanted to interface the buttonhole area, so I merged the separate neck facing pattern with the center back self-facing and interfaced it all together. That worked as well. I’m not sure why the pattern isn’t set up that way, except maybe to save fabric on the pattern layout for larger sizes.
  • Pinking is awesome — Because of the on-seam construction of the sleeves, which have self facings, I couldn’t use French seams anywhere. I chose pinking and straight stitching instead. Love the vintage look of pinking, although my pinking shears (gift from a friend’s mother, say, 25 years ago. Thanks, Mrs. Mailes!) need sharpening.
  • I have found the perfect use for Clover Wonder Clips — They do a great job of holding a small double-fold hem in place before sewing. I only have 10 clips, which isn’t enough to do an entire hem all at once, so I will be buying more.

What went not-quite-right

  • The hand of the silk is a little stiff for my taste — even after machine washing and drying. I bought the yardage online. Oh, what I wouldn’t do for a decent garment fabric store nearby so I could feel before I buy.
  • My automatic buttonholer failed me — The Fancy Damn Machine makes beautiful buttonholes but, sadly, not on silk. It just couldn’t move the fabric the way it needed to. I realized later that I probably could have done them on my Brother PE 700ii embroidery machine. Because the fabric is moved by a hoop, not feed dogs and a wheel, it has no choice but to move correctly. Thankfully, I followed my usual procedure and started with the buttonhole at the bottom (the one that would tuck in). When the first one didn’t work (twice!) I decided to sew on snaps. I was IN LOVE with the contrast buttons I picked out, so I sewed them on after the snaps, just offset enough that I could get the needle through, but the snap stitching doesn’t show. No one will know the difference.
Sencha in navy silk, back view

I was so happy with the way the slightly iridescent gray plastic buttons I picked out matched the gray design on the navy silk that I just had to use them. Even without buttonholes.

Failed buttonhole

If you look closely on the left, not only can you see the failed buttonhole, but also a rough patch in the silk where I ripped out some stitches. I decided the rest of the stitches would just have to stay where they were.

  • It’s not just your thread spools that you need to protect from dust — Sencha silk lived on my dress form in its half-sewn state for WEEKS. By the time I got back to it, a fine layer of dust had formed on top of the shoulders. I dusted that off, then proceeded to sew, only to discover that a fine layer of dust had accumulated on my sewing machine flatbed extension as well. Curses! I have never noticed this with any other fabric. I guess dust just doesn’t show up as well on cotton. Apparently, everything needs to be protected with a dust cover. I got all the dust off the silk, but I’ve learned my lesson. Now I need to sew a dust cover that fits the machine AND the flatbed extension. (Alternatively, I could dust occasionally, but let’s not get ridiculous.)

I don’t even remember when I finished this project. It was sometime after Girl Scout Cookie season ended (I oversaw cookie sales for 93 troops) but before I left town for my company’s annual convention. I’m still catching up with life, but I can’t wait to do my next sewing project.

Next up: A wearable muslin for a four-gore A-line skirt with a contour waistband. I’m going to want to add some pockets.

Sencha wearable muslin

I finished my first Sencha, a wearable muslin, yesterday; and I LOVE the pattern! Here’s how it all came out.

My wearable Sencha, from Colette Patterns. Don't you love the 1940s-inspired tie front? That was the whole allure of this pattern. Like the bangles? Charlotte at Tuppence Ha'penny was my inspiration. I've been buying them like crazy.

According to Colette Patterns, their patterns are made for a C-cup; and you should use your actual bust measurement, not your high bust, when deciding what size to sew.

i generally have to make a full bust adjustment for my D-cup and lower the bust point two inches, but this pattern seemed generous in all the right places. I selected a size based on my measurements and took a chance on a wearable muslin without making any pattern adjustments.

Yay! I indeed got a wearable garment, and learned some reasons a wearable muslin is preferable to a regular muslin.

The retro flair is what sold me on this fabric. The design looks white but is light blue.

But first, let’s talk about how the pattern worked.

Fitting notes

It is definitely wearable, but only tucked in, which is fine. Here’s what didn’t quite work:

    • The whole garment is an inch shorter than I would prefer.
    • The darts, while releasing below my bust, should really release closer to my waist.
    • There was plenty of circumference for my bust, but the front hem is riding up a good inch compared with the back hem. So that’s where a full bust adjustment would have helped.

The first two points I could have realized upon closer examination of the pattern prior to cutting the material. But this was an experiment in “reading” a pattern, and now I know some key points to examine with regard to fit.

So, when I make this pattern again, and I plan to at least two more times, I will lengthen the entire blouse by an inch, and lengthen the front piece by another inch, taking the extra out at the side with a dart.

See how it rides up in the front? But I like the fit at the neckline, shoulder and waist, so I'll stick with this size, and just lengthen the front an inch and put in a dart.

Construction notes

As I noted in an earlier post, there is a curious lack of interfacing for the center back, where the button closure is. The pattern calls for interfacing for the neckline only. Hmmm. Don’t know why that would be. It was easy enough to rectify. I cut interfacing to the fold line for each self-facing for the back closure.

Blue buttons to match the blue motifs. (I know. They look white.) Can I just say I LOVE the buttonholes the Fancy Damn Sewing Machine makes? Perfect every time!

Also, the back opening self-facing could have been cut on one with the back neck facing. It would have been a little more tidy that way, but would probably have been less efficient with material and layouts for the various sizes, all of which are on the pattern. I may change that next time around.

The various sizes were a little difficult to follow where all the lines converged, particularly around the keyhole opening, but that didn’t seem to affect the outcome.

Also, I know some people like the digest-size “book” setup of the Colette Patterns instructions, with the pocket in the back for the pattern and the front flap that closes it all, but it doesn’t work well for my particular sewing setup. I discovered years ago that if I gave up facing a window while I sew, in exchange for facing a wall with a giant 4 feet wide by 3 feet tall bulletin board, I would have a handy place for the pattern instructions. I much prefer the big instruction sheets tacked up in front of me.

The beauty of the wearable muslin

By making a “muslin” all the way through to completion, I ended up testing more than just fit. Turns out I also tested the construction techniques. I found a couple of challenges, and one technique worked surprisingly well.

      • Turning the little ties was challenging. My blunt chopstick pushed right through the end of the second one, so I had to tuck the end in and hand sew it closed. This was cotton. Can you imaging trying it in silk? I’ll construct the ties differently with silk.
      • The round keyhole, the reason I chose the pattern to begin with, is a pretty tight circle. I did a credible job, but next time I’ll draw that seamline just to be safe!
      • The “invisible” catch stitching on the sleeve hem and the back facings was a lot less visible than I thought! I won’t hesitate to do this on silk. I think it will work fine.
      • I don’t think I need to underline silk to make it up in this pattern.

I was really happy that my wearable muslin turned into a dry run on the entire garment construction. Now I can move on to a more expensive fabric with confidence. What an unexpected bonus from using inexpensive material and sewing to completion rather than using muslin and just checking fit. No wasted material. Plus, I got something to wear!

Now for that “muslin” part. I got all excited about doing the wearable muslin in a quilting cotton and learning so much before sewing the pattern in a finer fabric, that I went out and bought more quilting cotton for a top and skirt I want to make. Only the cotton was $7 a yard on sale.

Not quite so muslin-y is it? If I goof up, I’m still going to waste some decent, though not super-nice, fabric. But I think my skills are getting better. And I’ll spend more time tissue fitting the Swedish tracing paper to make sure it all works before I cut. If a pattern works for me, I like to make more than one. I guess I should always make the first version in an inexpensive material, to see if the pattern is worthy of moving on to something really nice.

Hopefully, there will be more hits than misses in my sewing adventures. I learn so much with every project. Even the Sencha, which is suitable for beginners, had a lot to teach this 30-year sewing veteran!

The polka dot top — inside and out

The Simplicity 4047 top is finally finished! It took FOREVER, and I am SO over it. But I am excited to wear it to work for Halloween on Monday. A couple of the guys (!) picked out Mad Men for our department costume theme, so I’m all ready.

(The skirt is a Simplicity reproduction 1940s pattern, while the top is a Simplicity reproduction 1950s pattern, but I can make it all work for the early 1960s.)

I finished the last of the hand sewing last weekend. I’m really pleased with how it turned out and particularly how nice it looks on the inside because of the underlining. Plus, I made a belt. How cool is that? Let’s take a tour …

The polka dot top all done

The outfit is all done, finally! Check out that snappy matching belt. Can you tell the crochet lace at the sleeves is different from the lace on the neck? No? Perfect! 

polka dot top inside front

The inside, from the front. How tidy does that look?

polka dot top, inside back

The inside, from the back. No serger was involved. Yay!

polka dot top, catch stitching

A close up of the hem. Check out that crazy catch-stitching. It’s the first time I’ve done that. I like it.

And as a sneak peek for my Halloween ensemble, here is the jewelry I’ll wear:

Halloween jewelry

You can never go wrong with pearls. Never.

And the accessories:

the accessories

I had the shoes and gloves, but the purse is a $7 acquisition specifically for the occasion.

All I need to do is tease my hair a bit, and the outfit skews early 1960s, but I’ll go more 1940s when I wear it on a regular day.

There were tons of lessons learned on this project, but I’ll save that for another post. Also coming soon, the mood board for the next top, which is a wearable muslin. After all this, it’s time for some quick sewing gratification!

The polka dot skirt, inside and out

I finished the polka dot skirt and got a little fancy as I was working on the lining.

As I mentioned previously, I converted the pattern to a contour waistband and wasn’t quite sure how to attach the lining. The zipper being attached after the waistband definitely complicated matters. In the end, I decided to attach the waistband facing to the lining, then sew the fashion fabric layer and lining layer together using a technique shown in a tutorial on the Coletterie blog.

I still wanted to anchor the two layers together at the waistband and skirt seam, so I sewed them together by hand from inside, between the layers. I’m quite happy with how that worked out.

Finished polka dot skirt

The finished skirt

The lining got a little fancy when I decided to sew the hem with some decorative stitching. I think the inside came out about as nice as the outside.

The polka dot skirt inside

The inside

Hem detail

Detail of the hem

There are, however, some things I will definitely do differently when I use this pattern again.

First, I would remember to grade the seam allowances in the waistband. What was I thinking? I got so wrapped up in knowing I was close to finishing that I forgot that step entirely. I remembered as I was understitching the top waistband seam, but by then it was just too late to regroup. Thus, the corners near the zipper are not things of beauty.

Second, I would make the lining a little longer. The hem allowance is 1 1/4 inches, and the lining is 1 inch shorter. It would have benefited from being only 3/4 of an inch shorter. I think a bit of my overcasting on the hem edge is showing below the lining in a few spots.

Most importantly, however, I’d do a much better job with the zipper insertion, which is sadly lame. Please do not fault the technique, merely my execution! The evidence speaks for itself:

Zipper outside

The not-so-invisible zipper

The zipper inside

And the most horrifying part, the zipper from the inside!

As it turns out, I didn’t leave enough room for the hook and eye, which I’ve never been particularly good at sewing on. I may take it back off, but it’s easier to pull up an invisible zipper when you use a hook and eye.

All in all, a nice skirt. I may even wear it tomorrow. I am very happy with my conversion of Simplicity 3688 from a straight to a contour waistband. I don’t think it’s period-appropriate for a reissued 1940s pattern, but it sure is more appropriate for my apple-ish figure.

I hope to finish the matching top before the crisp fall weather shows up, but we’ve had such a cool summer here in Northern California, I may not have much time.

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