Friday, September 17, 2010

Crochet bubble purse

I am relatively new to crochet. I started to learn in February of this year, and I've only made a few things. I made the same scarf five or so times, so this was only my second project. I started it in July, put it down for a while, and finished it last weekend when my mother-in-law was in town. I would crochet while we were sitting by the pool or in the apartment chatting, and it came together really quickly.

I got the pattern out of a book called Positively Crochet. My friend Natalie helped me figure out how to make the bubbles. I am new to reading crochet instructions, so her help was very valuable. I never figured out how to make them exactly the same as in the pattern, but they turned out OK. I made the bottom/side out of a bit of multi-colored yarn I had made a scarf out of already. I like the contrast. I also added a bit of that yarn to tie the bag together. I might add a lining (I think I'd use purple fabric to match the purple of the contrast section), in which case I can add a snap or something, but until then, the little yarn tie works fine.

The one thing I'm worried about is that the handle isn't attached all that well to the body, but it held up pretty well on the inaugural trip. One side (the one pictured on the left below) looks a lot dicier than the other. I'm not sure why it worked out that way.

In case you were wondering, the inaugural trip was actually later the day I finished it. We went to the ballet with MIL and another friend. Here is me enjoying my purse and the bad lighting on the balcony of the Wortham Center. (Bonus: I wore the relined skirt too!)
I was tickled by how enthusiastic my MIL was about me finishing the purse. She encouraged me to have Jon make dinner while I worked so I would be able to finish up before we went out that evening. It was nice to have a cheerleader.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hurricane robe

Two years ago today, Hurricane Ike, which was approximately the size of the Gulf of Mexico, made landfall in Galveston and whomped us for a while. We got out of school early that weekend, and for some reason I decided on Thursday afternoon that it was a good time to do some sewing. I called to make sure Joann's was open and biked over there (we wanted to save gasoline in case there were shortages after the storm). I found a lightweight robe pattern and some pretty sunflower fabric and decided to make a robe I could use in Houston in the summer. (Terrycloth is way too hot.) I chose this one because it's about knee-length, has mid-length rather than long sleeves, and has two nice pockets on the front where I can put my ipod or cell phone and then forget about it and go crazy looking for it. I wish I could find this fabric again. I think it would make a lovely summer dress.

I cut out and sewed the whole thing on Thursday and Friday because I knew I wouldn't be able to after the storm hit. (Another important piece of hurricane preparation on Friday evening was eating all the ice cream in the freezer. We had our priorities straight.) I did get to spend a lot of time lounging in my new robe in the days following the hurricane, and I was very glad I had made it. I wasn't glad the hurricane came, though. I would gladly trade my robe for not having a hurricane.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wedding placemats

I made these as a wedding present for some friends. The wedding was in July, but I didn't finish the project until last weekend. I extended their celebration, right? The inspiration for this project was a set of books my aunt gave me called the Alabama Stitch Book and Alabama Studio Style. The books feature beautiful hand-stitched garments with a variety of different stencil and applique techniques. Here is the website for the company that makes the clothes and the books. I do not have nearly the patience for hand-stitching, but the leftover purple silk I had from the bridesmaids' dresses was just begging to be made into something special. The reverse applique technique intrigued me, and I decided that the purple would be a nice contrast color for reverse applique, and eventually I came up with this project.

The idea of reverse applique is to cut away the outer layer of fabric to reveal a contrast layer underneath. I decided that cream would be wedding-ish with the purple, and linen would be a nice contrast to the silk. Both fabrics are elegant in their own ways. I plan on making this project again, but I will never make it with linen again. Or at least such a wide weave of linen. It gave me fits. I am pleased with the end result, but I think I will be more sane if I use a nice polyester or cotton broadcloth next time.

The thing I found most unexpectedly beautiful about these was the back. I had originally planned just to topstitch the silk to the linen, but it would not feed right at all in my machine, so after some experimenting, I decided that I couldn't ever feed the fabric through with silk on the bottom and linen on the top, so I settled for having the stitching show on the bottom. I also considered using a bobbin thread that matched the linen so it wouldn't show as much, but I love the way the purple looks on the back.

I was very worried about doing things in the wrong order on this project, so I actually wrote out directions for myself. So here is how you can make these yourself. The directions below will make one placemat. I recently purchased a rotary cutter and cutting mat, and I highly recommend them. This would have been very difficult to do with scissors.

For all steps, I used a very narrow stitch, about halfway between a 1 and a 2 on my machine, which goes up to 4.

1) Cut two 12" x 15" rectangles of base fabric. I cut the first one and used it as the pattern for the others so they would be as close to identical as possible.

2) Make your stencil. I used a stencil from the Alabama Stitch Book for one of them, part of a stencil I had downloaded from Alabama Chanin for one of them, and clip art for the other two. If you use art from the internet or something you've drawn, print out the picture and cut it away. You will have to stitch around every cut out portion of the stencil, so don't make it too intricate.

3) Trace the stencil onto the top piece of base fabric. You could also just cut it out, but I liked to make sure it looked OK before cutting. Don't put it too close to the edge because you will lose about 1/2 an inch on the edge eventually. After tracing the stencil, cut it out.

4) Put the top fabric over an upside-down piece of the contrast fabric. Trace the stencil. This will help you know how much of the contrast fabric you will need. Place the top fabric over the bottom base fabric. Trace the stencil. This shows you what you need to cover up with contrast fabric.

5) Leaving at least 1/2 inch on every side of the traced design, cut a piece of contrast fabric. Sew it to the bottom base fabric, being sure to cover up all of the traced design. Try to keep the stitching away from the traced design on the bottom fabric. Otherwise it will show through when you put the top fabric on.

6) With outsides together, sew top piece of base fabric to bottom piece of base fabric with a 3/8" seam. Leave a portion of one side open to turn. Trim corners. Turn. Press edges.

7) Topstitch each portion of design about 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch from raw edge. I found that lifting the presser foot and rotating the fabric was better than trying to turn the fabric as I sewed, even for rather gentle curves. In some places, I had to lift and rotate every two or three stitches, but that was OK.

8) Fold under the open part of the edge you used for turning. About 3/8" from the seam, topstitch all four edges.

You're done! If you use fabrics with very different properties like I did, be careful when you're pressing. I put a cotton cloth over the silk and used the cotton rather than linen setting on my iron when pressing.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


First, a small rant. Why do stores sell clothing with really uncomfortable lining? I am trying to be more discerning in the clothes I buy and avoid the ones with super-cheap polyester lining that won't breathe, but sometimes I trip up because it's cute. Usually these are dresses or shirts, so I rationalize by saying that since I won't be wearing them when I'm running laps or hiking, it won't be a big deal. But I live in a hot, humid swamp. I ride my bike to church (the place I usually wear nice clothing). I ride my bike or walk or take light rail to concerts and restaurants and parties, so I can get sweaty in nice clothes. And those super-slick 100% polyester linings do not breathe at all, so they're just nightmarish in hot weather. It irks the heck out of me when clothing I would otherwise really like is marred by a wretched lining.

In the past, I have cut the lining out of a couple dresses. If the dress still hangs right and isn't too sheer, it's not really a big deal. (The inside looks a little hacked up, but I don't really care about that. The awful polyester lining isn't prone to too much fraying.) Until this weekend I had two skirts with the polyester stuff in them. One of them was a white linen-rayon blend that will be much too see-through without the lining, and the other one was a heavy, somewhat stiff gray polyester skirt. (Both are from Dress Barn, by the way. I think they have some attractive, reasonably priced clothing, but I am disappointed with how much non-breathable material they use.) The material is too coarse to be comfortable without some lining.

This weekend, I decided to reline! I bought some pretty pink polka dotted cotton for the gray skirt and white with faint white vines for the white one. I only did to the gray skirt, but I think a similar method will work for the white.

I began by cutting out the original lining. It would be better to take out the seams and remove the lining altogether, but I didn't want to have to re-sew the garment completely. Around the zipper, I could use my seam ripper to remove the stitching, but at the top, the lining had been sewn into the waistband, so I just cut it as close as possible. I left the lining intact since I wanted to use it as a pattern for the new lining.

The reason I chose to do the gray skirt first is that there was a little flap right below the waistband that I could machine sew the new material to. To reline the white skirt, I will have to rip out at least one seam at the waistband or hand-stitch the entire new lining in. I wanted to do the easy one first.

After I had removed the old lining, I laid it out on my new lining fabric. The skirt and original lining are bias cut, meaning when you wear them, the line that goes straight down from the waist to the hem is at a 45 degree angle to the grain of the fabric. For the skirt to hang the same way, I would need to cut the new lining on the bias as well. Unfortunately, I was given bad advice at the fabric store, and I did not have enough fabric to cut the lining on the bias. If I had done it, I would have had to make the lining much shorter than the original lining. A little shorter would have been OK, but much shorter would mean the coarse outer material would be bugging my knees and thighs when I sat down.
It took me a while to decide whether I should cut one piece on the bias and get more fabric the next day or try cutting on the straight grain and risk having it not work at all. I figured that since in either case I might have to get more fabric, I might as well risk messing up. So what I did was lay the old lining on the grain of the new fabric. I traced with tailor's chalk and then folded the fabric in half. I cut out as much as I could of the triangle of the skirt and then just cut on the fold so I would have two identical pieces. The shape of each piece was basically trapezoidal. If I made a skirt out of these two pieces, it would look very distinctive (and maybe a little weird) because the distance from waist to hem at the front is much shorter than at the sides.

First, I sewed the two pieces together along one side. The other side was the zipper side, so I left it open until I had attached the lining to the waistband. Working very carefully to make sure I didn't catch any of the outer fabric, I sewed the new lining under the little flap around the waist.
This was difficult since I had only about 1/4 inch of room under the flap, but I eventually succeeded. In a couple places, I decided to use a zigzag stitch to make sure I had caught both the lining and the flap. I think the combination of straight and zigzag is cute, although I am the only one who will ever know how cute it is. After I sewed the lining in at the waist, I whip-stitched the lining to the zipper facing and then machine sewed the rest of the zipper side seam in the lining.

The moment of truth: trying on the skirt. I knew the skirt would hang differently because I had cut the lining on the grain rather than on the bias, but I really liked the new hang. The lining holds the skirt out from the body more, but not in such a way that it looks like I have a petticoat on. It's just slightly poofy and full. I am very happy with the new lining. Overall, I am much happier with my relined skirt. It's fun for me to know that I have the polka dotted pink fabric under the skirt, plus I won't sweat nearly as much.
In the second of those photos, you can see the effect the flat cutting line had on the shape of the skirt. I think it's kind of cute, and I might try making a skirt like that sometime. Sorry for the poor photo quality. If I get Jon to take some good photos of me, I'll update the blog with some decent ones.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My perfect dress

Simplicity 2917 is my perfect dress. There are options for sleeves, but I have only made the sleeveless version. It has four pieces each in the front and back, so there is no need for darts for shaping. The flared skirt is flattering on my hips, and the way the pattern is shaped from the neck to the waist makes the most of my curves. I think this dress is probably flattering on most female-shaped people.

I have made this dress eight times now. Four for me, four for other people. The first was the red one above. I made it because I didn't know what to wear to a December wedding in Dallas. This with a black sweater was just right. I have now worn it to three more weddings and several other occasions. It is made from a heavy cotton knit with just a tiny bit of stretch. The weight gives it a great drape. I did the zipper on this one the way the pattern suggested, with the left back lapping over the right side. I had never done that before, and it turned out pretty well. This isn't a great picture, but it's what I have.

The second time I made the dress, I made it a little longer in a lightweight blue and white cotton knit with a little more stretch.
The stretch of the fabric made it a little harder to get the fit right at the neck, so it's a tiny bit gappy at the top, but it's a nice, lightweight, casual dress for church or Sacred Harp singings. Plus, the length and fullness of the skirt make it very bike-able.
The third dress was my wedding dress.
We didn't have a big wedding, and I had been saving this airy turquoise silk for a special occasion, so I made my wedding dress out of it. I didn't have time to waste on a pattern that might not work, so I went with 2917 again because I knew it was simple and flattering. The silk was pretty tricky to work with, and because it was so light the drape was very different than the other two dresses. I had a dickens of a time getting the hem done, and I was never all the way happy with it, but it was my wedding, and no one was going to criticize my hemming skills!
In this picture, you can kind of see that the hem isn't quite smooth. Oh well.

I also made Jon's tie out of the same material as my dress. I loved that we matched! The silk made the tie quite tricky, and it never lay entirely flat, but the dicey parts were hidden under his collar, so it was OK.

The most recent five copies of the dress were made for the bridesmaids at my sister's wedding. We used a heavier purple silk that we got for a song. Here are the two sisters.
And here are all the maids. We had some issues with fitting for a couple of the girls (my fault, not theirs), and my mom did all the hemming work and most of the facings. I think the biggest issue is that one of the patterns should have been shortened before cutting. I hadn't even thought about that before taking their measurements, but it is difficult to correct for height after the pattern pieces have been cut out. I think in the end everyone looked great, but I would have saved myself and my mom some trouble if I had shortened the pattern beforehand.
I was very tickled a few weeks after the wedding when I saw these pictures on one of the girls' facebook page.

She was a beautiful fairy at Scarborough Faire! I'm really glad I was able to make a dress she liked so much. (And of course, that elusive bridesmaid's dress that you can actually wear again.)

I am done with 2917 for now (making six of something in a row will do that to you), but I won't be surprised if someday I haul it out again because it does work very well for me. Plus, I'm really good at making it now!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Jet lag dress

I made this dress during the wee hours of the week after I returned from Singapore and was suffering from jet lag. I picked up this pattern for 25 cents at an estate sale a couple years ago, and I was very happy that it contained almost all the pieces I needed!
This is Simplicity pattern 6027 from 1973. (Fun fact: At least in the past, Simplicity recycled numbers. There seem to be 6027s from the 40s and 80s as well.) The pattern is a size 10, which fits my bust, but I had to add 4 inches at the waist (1 on each piece) and 6 inches at the hip (1 1/2 on each piece). I just used my gauge and tailor's chalk to mark the cutting line. Luckily, I didn't have to alter the front facing piece. The back facing was missing, so I had to make that one up. I just traced the curve of the back pattern piece and made it facing-shaped. I accidentally made it much narrower than the front facing, but it didn't hurt anything. I used a mostly cotton stretch knit. I made it green because I didn't have a green dress, and green is a pretty color.

I am pretty pleased with the alterations I made, although next time I'll try to make it slightly tighter just above and looser just below my waist. I think it clings a little there. I like the dress, but I think it looks a bit uniform-ish. It's probably because it's all one color and the fabric is a bit stiff. The cream-colored zigzag trim helps with that, but I still imagine myself with a little nurse's hat. I have some ideas for embellishments to the dress that I hope will also make it look more personal and fun.
There are three slight mistakes in the dress.
The trim looks a little weird right here. I was using a zigzag that reverses to go back over itself, and I wasn't quite careful enough there to make the corners right.
The trim doesn't line up right at the zipper. (But isn't the zipper beautifully set? I recently got an honest-to-goodness invisible zipper foot, and it makes a big difference.) My mom probably thinks (and rightly so) that it's sloppy that I didn't put a hook-and-eye at the top. They annoy me. Maybe when I grow up, I will not be annoyed by them. For now I have slightly gappy zipper tops.
The arm trim (right) is slightly paler than the rest of the trim (left). This is because I ran out of the arm trim thread, and the replacement thread was slightly darker. Unless I stand very strangely with my arm right against my neck or hem, I doubt this will be noticed.

I have worn the dress twice so far. Once (about thirty minutes after I finished the hem) to dinner with a friend and once to school. It's still a bit too hot here for someone as sweaty as I am to wear a dress with such tight sleeves, so I won't be wearing it again until it's cooler. I doubt I'll make this pattern again because it's so distinctive, and I don't know if I need two dresses like this in my wardrobe. I might make the tunic, which is just the dress cut off higher.