Friday, May 29, 2009

pattern giveaway at adventures in baby-sewing

I commented to win a vintage pattern at a blog by a sewist who also posts at Sew Retro. check it out if you want to see what I said I'd make, or try to win it away from me yourself!

Since it's almost the weekend I'm itching to get home and start finishing up some projects. Also the patterns I posted about last weekend came in yesterday, so I need to clear out the lingering UFOs (unfinished objects, not alien transportation) to make room for those to get underway.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

a sewing lull but a pattern shopping bonanza

I have a couple of projects almost finished... the purple dress which I wore once but decided to alter only needs some work on the sleeves and a hem, and the camo print Vogue dress just needs finishing on the facings and also a hem.  But, between work craziness, the New York trip last week, and now the fact that I'm feeling really under the weather and have no energy to do anything, I'm kind of just stuck in a lull.That's ok though, the one thing I did have energy to do was shop for deals on vintage patterns at MomsPatterns and LanetzLiving.  And I found some pretty good ones.

I probably shouldn't be buying patterns because I have a ton of them that I haven't even made yet, but some of the ones I already have were sort of impulse buys that I didn't think hard enough about or that I bought in lots on eBay when really only a couple of them were styles that I'm likely to make.  In some cases I was a bit overambitious; I have been planning for a long time to learn to re-size patterns but I haven't gotten around to it yet so the ones that aren't really the best size for me right now have gone unmade.

So this time I only bought patterns in sizes that would fit me with minimum changes, or that are too big rather than too small because I'm much better at altering down sizes than up.

I kept in mind that I need things that are pretty simple so that they can work with a more casual kind of look, since I rarely need to dress up.  I find that shirt dresses and shifts and early 60s styles with clean lines and a minimum of fussy details tend to fit the bill.  

I also took into consideration that I ought to find dress styles that can work in cooler weather as well as warmer weather since San Francisco is almost never truly warm.  For that, I wanted styles that had 3/4 or sleeve options, or that seemed like they would look good layered over a turtleneck or under a jacket or cardigan. 

Finally I remembered lessons learned from certain disastrous previous projects, namely that not every style looks that great on my figure.  I avoided pleats unless I was pretty sure I could convert them, and focused mostly on A-line skirts, princess seams,  things that cling at the bust but not the midsection, and/or high waists.

So, you can see some of the ones I came up with here!  I don't have real specific plans for any of them, but I certainly have a fabric stash backlog to match up with them when I decide.
The first one, way at the top of this post, I hesitated about a little bit because the collar is maybe bigger and more 70s than I strictly prefer, but it is otherwise really cute.  I like V-shaped high waistline, and this certainly is the kind of style I could easily dress down and wear for casual comfy weekend things.  I also think it would look great with tights and boots, a look I wear probably at least 1/2 the time.

The second one down, the Simplicity 8889, is probably the simplest and most versatile of them all.  It looks easy to make, and easy to fit.  It's that clean line mod fashion that can be made dressy or not depending on fabric or accessories.  And it can be done for summer or winter wear, also depending on fabric and sleeve option.  In fact even the sleeveless could probably be worn on its own for warm weather or layered over a turtleneck like a jumper for cold weather.

The third one, Butterick 8883, is more of a 50s look I think.  I'm not so sure about the double darts or pleats or whatever those are in the front of the skirt, but I can probably deal with that somehow if I need to.  And bonus, it might as well be two totally different patterns, for all the difference between the two options.  That seemed like a good value to me!  Completely different collars, short or 3/4 sleeve, full or straight skirt... it's like 2 for the price of 1 and I actually like and think I could make and wear either.

The next one, Simplicity 5655, I really adore, just as much from simply looking at the pattern envelope as from pondering the prospect of making it.  MomsPatterns described it as Jackie O and Air Hostess, two very cool icon styles that I just enjoy thinking about.  Honestly I even have a couple of pillbox hats that were my Mamaw's, one navy blue and the other a very fab leopard skin, that I could use with it if the fabric matches and I want to go fully costume retro!  I probably won't, though it is tempting.

I also love it because it fits pretty much all of the criteria I mentioned above.  Early 60s, A-line, multiple sleeve options, simple clean lines, a natural waistline, can be dressed up or down.  It also looks pretty darn easy.  And I bet the V-neck version on the right might look ok layered over a turtleneck.  Jackpot!

Finally, I bought a smock-like blouse pattern.  I don't do a lot of blouses, but I intend to start soon because I usually have fabric left over from dress projects that could be used in a smaller project like a shirt.  This top needs a lot of fabric, so it may not work that great for leftover yardage, but I think it's cute enough to warrant its own fabric purchase.  I'm in love with the pin-tucks and square neckline on the version at the far left of the picture.

I also bought two others that I didn't have good enough pictures of to post here.  One is a tent dress/shirt dress from the 70s with a collar and buttons up most of the front.  The other is another very simple mod looking dress, which can be made with contrasting fabric on the top part of the bust.  I thought that sounded promising, both for punching up a very plain shape and for using smaller pieces of leftover fabric yardage.

Anyhow I hope to get back to actually finishing some projects to post here soon, and I do still have some pictures of prior projects that probably haven't been posted that I may resort to if I don't get around to completing new stuff.  I don't feel quite as bad as I would if I have a real flu or something; I think I'm just worn down and hopefully will be much better by tomorrow or Monday at latest.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Friday, May 08, 2009

fitting the SweeTarts dress

Two posts in less than a week, that's unprecedented!  I really do mean to keep up with this blog better, because I'm sewing quite a lot and getting better at it all the time.

I finished up the purple dress and wore it to work the other day.  But as the day went on I felt that there were problems with the way it fit.  It sort of sagged in the front above the bust, and when I sort of pulled and pinched at it in different ways I concluded that it could maybe be fixed by adjusting the sleeves. 

I had to take up the sleeves where the sleeve cap meets the shoulder in another dress I made recently, a tiki themed thing with a mandarin collar (here's a picture of me in it at the Tonga Room; it was made for that occasion in particular and I really like it even though people thought I was a waitress!). 

I'm starting to think that it may be the kind of alteration that I'm going to have to make regularly.  I haven't had the time yet to see if it helps with the purple thing though because there was another big issue that I'm working out first.

That issue is with the pleats in the skirt.  I've decided, pleats are not for me. 
 They are not flattering on me at all.  They pulled weirdly to the sides, and pooched out right where I need poochiness the least: over my belly, ugh.  I felt good about the dress in general, but the pleats were a dealbreaker, and in fact I'm never going to made anything with skirt pleats like that again for myself, they never work out right.

So I needed to do something else with the front skirt, and I undid the side seams and detached the bodice from the top of the skirt piece and took the pleats out.  Then I got the skirt front piece out of another dress pattern that I thought would work ok and recut the purple skirt front to match it.

I think it's going to work out all right except that I haven't yet gotten the dart placement quite right--the darts need to line up with the curved seams on the bodice.  As soon as I make that happen, I have high hopes for the fit, especially because I'm really loving the collar.  It's kind of mod and surprisingly comfortable for being so wide.

This last picture is of my next project.  I have this stretch cotton camouflage print with the camo shaped like flowers that I love, and I finally decided to use it for this cute Vogue 8319 dress.  

I really like the idea of using casual looking fabrics on dressier looking dresses, or using traditionally dressier fabrics on casual looking designs.  Doing this gives a good mix of elements that is really wearable for me, because I'm hardly ever actually required to dress up for anything but I love to wear dresses.  This way I get to dress up a little without being overdressed.  I don't generally mind being overdressed a little bit, and I like being different, but it would be overdoing it if I didn't do something to make my clothing more everyday suitable. 

As soon as the purple thing is done, I'll get started on this, probably later tonight. I already cut it out and I've got some ideas on how to sew it up without the lining that the pattern calls for.  I almost never feel like I need a lining and I didn't think to buy lining fabric to go with this camo print anyhow.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The projects I've got lined up

I'm back again, with lots of new projects done, a camera to actually take pictures of them with, a big stash of new fabric, and several projects lined up for another trip to NYC and for summer in general.  Not that we have a real summer here in San Francisco, in fact summer is downright cold here, but I try to keep that in mind as I sew and choose things that will layer well.

Anyway, I took pictures of the new fabric that I've decided to use first, along with the patterns that I will probably use with each one.  All of the fabric came from a sale on print cotton at and I have to say, it's all very nice and pretty good quality.  Best of all, it was very cheap.  In fact it looks like they have a similar sale happening right now, so check it out if you're into cotton print.

This first one I've already started working on, and if it turns out ok I will post pics when it's finished.  So far it's looking pretty good.  It's on my dressmaker's dummy (I call my dummy Estelle, I don't know why, it just seems like an Estelle to me) right now, waiting for my husband to come home to help me mark the zipper in the back.  Neil knows nothing about sewing but I often force him to help me anyway because otherwise my zippers always bag out in the back; apparently I'm a bit swaybacked or something, and I couldn't adjust Estelle to match my big old ass so that I can do the zippers myself.  

Anyway.  I'm using the version with the short sleeves and collar, the one pictured on the bottom left of the pattern envelope.  I hope to find a black patent leather belt to wear with it also.  I'm a bit doubtful about this print, somehow the color reminds me of SweeTarts, remember those?  We used to get them at the convenience store that was back behind my house when I was a kid, along with Bit O' Honey and candy cigarettes.  By the way, I recently went to a candy store in Calistoga that had all that stuff and more... plus every type of saltwater taffy you can imagine and awesome homemade fudge.  But I digress.  The fabric, it reminds me of SweeTarts.  But, the purple SweeTarts always were my favorite anyway, so maybe it's ok.

The next one is pretty flashy and bright red but I like red and flashy so I'm going to use it to make a maxi dress.  Because if you're gonna go flashy, you might as well go all the way! 
I've made this pattern only once before, out of some very ugly synthetic shiny fabric for a 70s theme party.  I didn't keep that dress.  It really was that ugly. But it seemed to fit fairly well, and I also have another version almost completely made out of some green knit jersey--in fact I should hurry up and finish that up, I think it just needs a zipper--that can serve as a test version as well.  The 70s one was the halter neckline, which I'm not using again.  This one will be the version pictured on the far left of the pattern envelope.

The next one is a very nice soft thick cotton with a dark brown background--not sure if the chocolate brown color shows up as well in this picture as it looks in real life--and I love how the flowers make it sort of summery but the colors can carry it into fall.
I have made this Retro Butterick pattern before, out of a black eyelet.  In fact it was one of the first wearable things I ever made, and it's been extremely versatile.  I wore it to a funeral in Oklahoma in July a couple of years back, and with conservative accessories it was totally appropriate.  But then I also wore it for my bachelorette party in the Zeitgeist beer garden with a cropped denim jacket and red belt and it worked fine for that as well.  (Oh ok, here's a picture of that particular occasion.  Hook 'em horns!)

Unfortunately that black eyelet dress which has served me so well for the last few years is finally falling apart, and though I might repair it I figured it was time to come back to that pattern again.

This time I think I will try adding the collar.  The first time I made it the collar was beyond my sewing skills, and in fact the neckline gave me fits even without it.  Now however I think it will be fun to try the same pattern again since I've had lots and lots of practice since then and I bet it will come out much better.

Finally, I have this green fabric with the crocodile pattern.  
I LOVE this.  Isn't it fabulous?  I love it so much I can't quite decide what I want to make out of it.  I don't want to pick something that makes it look bad.  I'm leaning toward the same Burda shirtdress I've made a couple times before, though I wish I trusted my fitting skills enough to find something new to do with it.  I really want to sew it up before I go to NYC in a couple of weeks though, so I've gotta decide pretty soon.

As per usual, it is extremely unlikely that I will actually finish all of these in time to wear on my trip, but I intend to try.  At the very least I should be able to manage 2 of them by then, maybe 3.  Wish me luck!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas sewing and street style

Well I finally came down with the flu, full-on this time.  I've had small bouts of illness over the winter but Saturday night I started feeling a bit icky and woke up yesterday with a fever and aches and cough and all the rest.  I felt bad enough to stay home from work today though I'll be back tomorrow regardless.

I have to say though that having the Macbook makes being sick so much better!  I watched documentaries all day yesterday when I wasn't napping, and most of today, and I didn't even
 have to move out of bed or off the couch.  And there's a bonus: it keeps me toasty warm.  Very crucial with the flu.

Anyhow I was lucky to get sick after Xmas instead of before, and though I didn't have time to sew everything I wanted to for gifts I got the most important ones done.  Couple weeks before Christmas I cut out the pieces for several small boxy zipper bags and not quite so many shopping bags. 

 I organized all the materials into their own ziploc bags as I do for my projects, and as you can see to the right.  

Then I gradually sewed them up, finishing 2 shopping bags and 1 zipper bag in time for Christmas Day, and getting some others started to send out late or give as gifts throughout the year.

Today I felt marginally better and although I slept most of the day I also did some web 
surfing and online shopping.  First I poked around on in their section on beauty icons, mostly from the past, which I love for finding retro looks and beautiful old photos of starlets and divas of yore.

I am also interested in street fashion blogs, and I rediscovered the Sartorialist and Facehunter and also found links in another blog (can't remember now which) to a blog on stylish older people called Advanced Style which is fab!  I wanted to find some street style from Eastern
 Europe, preferably Warsaw, Prague, or Budapest, but haven't had any luck yet.  
I love that Eastern style, so chic and sort of world weary especially in the winter time, but I haven't seen any street fashion blogs based in those cities exclusively.  I found one or two Moscow sites, but they seem younger or more party-scene-oriented than I prefer.  I also like this Copenhagen blog, but it doesn't seem to have as frequent postings as some.

One of the things I bought was a wrap sweater from Target, as seen here.  My only reservation about it is that I am most likely to wear it when it's cold out, obviously, and I don't know how I can wear a jacket over it very well.  I was hoping to find some images of folks pulling it off but couldn't so far, so if anyone has suggestions please let me know!

Sunday, December 07, 2008


I thought I had posted about this already, but on
 second look it seems not.  While I was procrastinating working on my wedding dress, I decided there was no possible way I could work on something so darn important until I spent, oh, like 10 hours shopping for organizing supplies and then another 5 or so using those supplies to organize my entire sewing area.  Yay!
Now this of course was classic procrastination and avoidance, but it really turned out to be a good idea and made it a lot easier to do the dress--and all my sewing--when I finally got around to it.  which was of course mere days before the wedding itself, but that's no longer important.

I like seeing other people's systems for organizing themselves, so I took some pictures to post here for anyone else who shares my obsession.  Of course it's all very messy again by now, since I've actually been using the space, but for a few brief shining moments it was perfect as pictured here.

The top picture shows the thread holder I hung up above my cutting table which also holds my sewing machine.  I put various zippers, bias tape, hem tape, lace, and ribbon in zip lock bags which I also hung on the extra pegs, and 2 clipboards on the bottom row of pegs to hold pattern instructions for easy reference as I cut or sew.

the bottom picture is of peg board which I hung to the right of the sewing table for all my scissors and rulers and tape measures, etc.  I also left space at the top for zip lock bags with unfinished projects, though I hope to eventually cut back on those by, you know, finishing them.  Or giving up and getting rid of some which I've already done.

Under the table, where you can't see it all, is a laundry basket with mending, a shopping bag with scraps, and some cutting mats and other things too big to hang elsewhere.

vintage buttons

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving I went to Calistoga for the day with my friend L. She is not a sewer like me, but she has many obscure interests, and she was a very good companion for the day as it turns out because one of the best things we did, besides drink margaritas and then hang out in the hot tub at Calistoga Spa, was to shop in little antique stores and clothing resale shops.  

I'm pretty sure there are very few people in my life besides L. who would be willing to spend as much time as we did looking at vintage buttons. We went shopping around, and this one really fabulous consignment shop drew us in with promises of sequined caftans and rhinestone clip on earrings and gold lame turbans, but kept us there with a wall of vintage buttons to peruse!

The clothes and accessories were awesomely flashy, just like the kind of things that I could see my dear old Mamaw and her twin Mildred going ga-ga over.  They're no longer with us, but I like referring to them as the Glamor Twins of Marlow, Oklahoma.  They used to wear matching outfits that included plenty of gold lame, normally in the form of appliqued sweatshirts, and they carried gold mesh cigarette cases and wore gold lame wedge mule shoes with clear lucite rhinestoned uppers.  

That was the kind of stuff they had in this shop.  Unfortunately it was all
 either too expensive or too small or too incongruous for me to buy (where would I wear a lame turban?  hm, not quite sure), but we did find vintage buttons that I was interested in, as well as some belt slides (or they could be scarf holders, not sure  yet).

When we told our friends, even our most fabulous friends, that we spent almost an hour pawing happily through old buttons they looked at us like we were insane.  But I don't care.  

I have plans for most of the buttons, as you can see from the fabric that they are pictured with here, and will post more about it all as I get around to it.  I already started on the card print dress which will have the red buttons on it.  That one is a Burda pattern that I've made once before in a cheetah print. 

The wooden ones will go on the pictured plaid, probably in a 1960s or 70s vintage shirtdress pattern I've been hoarding for a little while now.  I'll have more to say about the card print dress, and maybe a couple of other projects I've started planning, in the next post.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

History in the making

History in the making
Originally uploaded by fishbellywhite.
this has nothing to do with sewing (I didn't even wear anything I made for the occasion) but is more important to me than anything else right now.

I also took a picture of my NO vote on Proposition 8 but the print was too small and it didn't come out very well.

I'll be on pins and needles all day long waiting for all the results!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Dia de los Muertos dress

I have always been fascinated by Dia de los Muertos.  I like the way it combines mourning with a certain lightheartedness, with sugar skulls and dancing skeletons and visits to the graves of those we've loved.

A few years ago I bought some Day of the Dead themed fabric, and have been planning to make something out of it ever since.  This year I finally got around to it.  I didn't have anything to do for Halloween that warranted a full-on costume, so I wore this instead.  If something that required a costume had come up last minute I would have
just painted my face like a skeleton and gone as one of the skeletons on my dress, but that didn't happen.

It's a duro dress, which is a design that I think lends itself to themes.  I don't normally like to sew theme dresses, because then I feel limited in how often I can wear them and my thrifty nature requires me to only make things that have multiple uses, or at least things that I can convince myself will have multiple uses even if that is just denial on my part.  but this?  I can wear it every year!

So I wore it to work Friday, and got many compliments, particularly from strangers on the Muni train in the Castro.  I would have worn it Saturday too at the Dia de los Muertos
 procession, but it was raining cats and dogs so I didn't go.  Then I wore it again today under my choir robe at All Souls' Day mass where we sang the Mozart Requiem.

I also included a picture of my skull necklace,
 which I bought in San Antonio over 10 years ago at an artsy shop in the King William District which specialized in such things, shortly after I first developed this ongoing fascination with Day of the Dead.  I used to wear it quite a lot, though nowadays I'm only goth on Halloween itself so after today I'll hang it back up on the vanity where it's been for all 4 and a half years we've lived here.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Back on the Blog, and what I learned by sewing my own wedding dress

When last I blogged I had plans to sew every day.  Since almost a year has passed since then it may seem as if I must not have met that goal.  Truth is, I didn't sew EVERY day, but pretty close to it for several months, if not sewing then definitely knitting.  I just didn't blog any of it.  At first because I was making things to give people for Christmas and didn't want to ruin the surprise for anyone by putting it on my blog.  Then, because my computer died.  And then the camera died.  

Plus, I am lazy.  I'll blog if it's easy, but not if it isn't.  Now it is easy again because I got a Macbook which I love more than pretty much anything else I've ever owned, and even though we still haven't replaced the digital camera I figured out how to use the PhotoBooth feature to make images that are plenty good enough for blogging with.

Since then a lot of things have happened, the main thing being that I got married.  I sewed my own wedding dress from Vintage Vogue pattern V2903.  I had these great plans to get it 
all done early and avoid last minute stress, which of course didn't happen at all and I was literally hemming that thing at 2 AM on the morning of the wedding.  

I didn't mind though, I'm pretty much at peace with my procrastination habit and I figure that as long as things that have to get done actually do get done it doesn't matter so much when.

the main drawback was the annoyance of having every single person I encountered ask me every single day during the two weeks before the wedding, "how's the dress coming?" and then react with extreme abject horror when the answer was inevitably oh I haven't started yet but I will soon, don't worry! 

Seriously, people looked at me like I said I had killed a puppy or something and everyone else was 500 times more concerned about it on my behalf than I was.  Including people I hardly even know: the hipster dude who cuts fabric at my fave store, the little old lady who struck up a conversation with me at the bus stop, waitresses at the rehearsal dinner restaurant, everyone.

I will admit to feeling that if I had given myself more time I might have been able to make it into a more flattering fit, but everyone I've mentioned that to says I'm crazy and it looked great so whatever.

I learned a LOT by making the dress myself.  Technically I didn't do it all on my own; my friend Carrie who is a dressmaker and has been sewing for longer than I've been alive helped me out, and having someone actually show me how to do things that before I'd only ever taught myself from books or websites made a huge difference.  Here are the things I learned for the first time, or learned how to do a whole lot better than I knew before:
  • Making and fitting a muslin: before I'd been too lazy to do this, but it wasn't hard at all and didn't take as long as I feared.  I still won't be likely to make muslins all that often, but now I won't avoid doing it if it's a project that really calls for it.
  • Installing an invisible zipper: this is one of those things I had always thought would be difficult but it was so super easy that I only want to do invisible zippers in pretty much everything from now on!
  • Using bias tape to finish the arm opening: I wanted to make the dress without the sleeves, and wouldn't have known how to make this work without help.  Carrie showed me how to finish the raw edges with bias tape, which before I had only ever used as a decorative trim, not as a way to smoothly and invisibly finish a raw edge.
  • Clipping curves: this one feels so dumb and simple when I think about it now, but I never truly understood what the instructions meant when they said to do this!  now I do, which is great because I tend to like designs with princess seams or other curved lines and it is much less challenging for me now to make these things work for me
Besides learning this stuff, working with Carrie helped me get a better sense of what parts of a project to spend lots of time on and what's safe to let go of.  For example I normally like to have very nice finished seams on the inside of my garments, french seams usually, but given the time constraints and the fact that I'm unlikely to wear this dress more than the one time it was nice to be able to give myself permission to just not worry about that.

Also, turns out I've gotten much better at sewing in general and I totally don't need to use as many pins as I have been.  Things do come together just fine without all the overthinking and fretting I'm usually in the habit of doing.

Overall, it was a great experience to have, and I am so very proud to have sewn my own wedding dress.  It gave me a great deal of confidence that I'll take with me when doing other, much less momentous sewing projects.  I'm at the point now where I pretty much sew an outfit for myself for every special occasion, whether it's formal or casual, a once in a lifetime event or just a day trip or regular old garden party or holiday celebration.  I intend to post about this much more often now and share my crafting fun with whoever is interested enough to check in on this blog.  Enjoy!

Friday, December 28, 2007