Tag Archives: sewing

Sewing a vintage wardrobe: Separates

In my last post, I bemoaned the state of my wardrobe. There are some very obvious holes that, when filled, would make everything work together — and enable me to wear the blouse I just finished. Which got me thinking: It’s time to put a wardrobe plan together.

The delightful Sarah took the time to comment on my post and said her wardrobe plan consists of dresses because they don’t have to go with anything. Right she is, which made me wonder: Why do I favor separates? I realized that it’s ready to wear’s fault.

I am different sizes on top and bottom, which by default sends me to separates. I’m also larger than the B-cup for which ready to wear is designed. Thus, I have a lot of sweaters and knits. What was I thinking, then, when I decided I ought to buy a new dress for my daughter’s upcoming eighth-grade promotion? The dresses I bought online HAD to be returned (shudder), and the search for one in the store was fruitless. Off to the sweaters, where I found a nice linen-colored number with a slightly 1920s feel that looks good with the two skirts I most recently made. Immediate problem solved.

But what about the rest of my wardrobe?

I decided that I need to sew some separates in 2012. And not just randomly. I need a plan!

I’ve posted before on the following book:

Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book, 1970 edition

I LOVE this sewing book! This is the 1970 edition. It’s in three-ring binder form.

The pages on wardrobe planning have always fascinated me. I showed some pages on accessorizing in an earlier post.

But I’m going to use the page on overall wardrobe planning to drive my sewing plan for 2012.

Better Homes and Garden Sewing Book, page from 1970 edition

It all seems so simple doesn’t it?

I’m not going to follow these suggestions slavishly because I’m a girl who likes pants. And here is my main pattern:

Simplicity 3688

Simplicity 3688. I’ve already made this skirt successfully.

So here’s the plan:

  • Perfect an A-line skirt pattern and make it in navy. I’ve made the Simplicity 3688 skirt twice: once as is and once with a contour waistband that I drafted. Contour waistbands aren’t vintage, but they work better on me. The version I did is 1 inch too big in the waist, and I may want it a little longer. I’ll be doing a wearable muslin of McCall’s 6438 next:
McCall's 6438

I like the longer length on this one and the four-gore structure, which will make it easy to change from a side to a back zipper because I want side pockets.

  • Perfect a wide-leg pants pattern and make it in navy. Wide-leg pants are flattering on me, and I like them cuffed. I also want a contour waistband and pockets, so there will probably be some drafting going on.
  • Perfect one basic blouse pattern and make it in cream. For this, I have no clue what I’ll do, but it won’t be Simplicity 3688. Jewel necklines are heinous on those with a full bust. One of Simplicity’s Amazing Fit blouse patterns (which have different pattern pieces for different cup sizes) may be involved.
  • Perfect one jacket pattern and make it in a navy pattern. The jacket pattern for Simplicity 3688 is a perfect 1940s platform for all sorts of embellishments. I’ve been saving pictures of 1940s jackets to one of my boards on Pinterest for inspiration. This will be the last project because it scares me silly! The pattern doesn’t call for tailoring techniques, but I want to try some. It will be the first time.

This will no doubt be a fairly lengthy process of wearable muslins, trial-and-error alterations, and new-to-me techniques. Now that I think of it, it’s mid-May. The remainder of 2012 may not be enough time!

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!

Fit and flattery

I’ve talked about the construction lessons learned during the making of the polka dot top and skirt. After two months of work, I also learned a few lessons about fit and flattery for my particular figure.

❦ Muslins are critical for me to get the proper fit on a closely fitted garment, but they are just as critical for checking proportions. I had to lengthen the bodice on the top, and that necessitated increasing the peplum length. Otherwise, it would have looked tiny. I increased the length of the peplum by 1½ inches, and another inch wouldn’t have hurt. I wouldn’t have even thought of that if I hadn’t made the muslin.

❦ Sleeves cut in one with the bodice are not my best look. My shoulders hunch forward a bit, which throws off the shoulder seam. This can be accounted for pretty easily with a set-in sleeve, but I have never found a successful way to deal with this on a sleeve that’s an extension of the bodice. No more of those, thank you.

❦ Fitted back darts really accentuate my slight case of scoliosis. That was an unpleasant surprise as I looked at the finished garment from the back. I couldn’t see it from the front, but maybe that’s just because I’m so used to seeing myself from the front. My waistline is not parallel to the floor, and my torso slants to one side a bit. I have no desire whatsoever to try to account for this with alterations. That would just be crazy, but a gathered waist might be in order. That’s a pretty easy adjustment to make to a pattern with waist darts.

❦ Big contrasting belts are not for me, but thin matching belts work. I’ve never had any waist definition and gave up belts years ago, but it turns out that if it’s the right kind of belt, I can wear it. That was a nice surprise since belts can be an important part of a vintage look.

❦ Speaking of no waist definition, I learned on the project just before this one that a straight waist, no matter how nice it looks on my dress form, doesn’t sit correctly on me. That’s why I made the polka dot skirt with a period-inappropriate-but-comfortable-for-me contour waistband. It came out a smidge big, but I plan to perfect that waistband and use it for all my pants and skirts.

❦ My tummy, on the other hand, is pretty well-defined. No need for additional bulk in that area, thank you very much. A side-zipper skirt works fine for me. And the next pair of pants I make will have a side zip as well.

Wow, did I learn a lot from this project

The polka dot skirt and top project took two months total. No wonder I’m over it! But now that it’s all done, it’s time to take stock of the lessons I learned. I learn something with every single project I make. Today, I’ll talk about construction revelations. Fitting issues are for another day.

❦ If you suspect you’ll need two spools of thread, buy them! I could have finished a week sooner if I’d bought two spools to begin with, but I thought I could get by. Really, with all those overcast seam allowances? The Sewing Gods had a good chuckle at that one.

❦ If you’ve made your own pattern, or are making significant structural changes to an existing pattern, write out your instructions ahead of time. At least twice, I had to stop, regroup and restrategize because I didn’t know how to proceed. I had almost sewed myself into a corner.

❦ Underlining increases the quality of a project. This was the first time I’ve done an underlining. It will not be the last. I love how it makes the inside look.

❦ Interfacing may not be needed if underlining is used. It certainly wasn’t necessary for my project, but I had already fused the interfacing. Softer edges would have been nice, but oh well.

❦ A serger is not necessary for a tidy looking inside. The overcast stitch on the Fancy Damn Sewing Machine finished the edges nicely. There are some threads poking out here and there because of course the sewing machine doesn’t trim the fabric, but to me that’s a fine tradeoff for keeping the serger in the back of my closet.

❦ Invisible zippers should be darker than the fashion fabric, not lighter. In theory, this should not matter because they are supposed to be invisible except the pull, but I haven’t reached that level of execution yet.

❦ Underarm zippers on a blouse go in upside down. Learned that one the hard way.

❦ Invisible zippers actually can be sewn in if you have already stitched the remainder of the seam. It’s not easy, but it can be done. Learned that one by necessity.

❦ Facings should be pin-fit into place with the facing on the inside, which is where it will be when the project is complete. I usually pin them into place with the facing on the outside because it’s easier, but I realized that that makes no sense whatsoever.

❦ Facings should not be the same size as the area being faced. Turn of the cloth must be accounted for so the facings lie smooth. Even if the fabric is thin. With trim inserted, an even smaller facing may be needed. Check the fit before sewing the facing pieces together. You may want to adjust by sewing larger seam allowances. I had to restitch my sleeve facings because the circumference was too big by about a half-inch.

❦ Catch-stitching is cool.

❦ Fun details on the inside make a project more special. I sewed the hem of my skirt lining with a decorative sitch in thread that matches the fashion fabric. I don’t know why I haven’t done that before. I love it.

❦ Making a matching belt is totally worth the effort! For kits and, even more importantly, excellent tutorials, check out A Fashionable Stitch. I followed the instructions exactly and am so happy with the result. I doubt I’ll ever make a dress with a defined waist without a matching belt. I’ve even started a vintage buckle collection to use on future projects.

❦ If you machine top-stitch a belt, start from the point and work toward the straight end. I did it the other way. The fabric shifted ever so much, so that the point has some excess fabric hanging off the end. Not much, just enough to annoy me if I think about it. But I’m not thinking about it. Really.

❦ Snaps are difficult to sew on neatly. They just are. The snap pieces I sewed onto the belt look pretty good, but I had to get out my thimble to make it happen. My thimble and I have never been close, but we are working on our relationship.

And, lastly …

❦ Do not accuse your kitty of stealing your supplies without proper evidence. Sewing Assistant Teacup was my No. 1 suspect when the leftover crochet lace trim for the sleeves went missing. I searched all over my sewing area. After I was all done with the project (of course), I found the missing trim hidden between two pieces of fabric for another project. I think I might have stashed it there so Teacup couldn’t get ahold of it. Ah, the irony.

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