fancy dress time

so here is an exciting project i have to get working on very soon! my husband and i have been invited to a charity dinner in NYC (on his company’s dime) that takes place in just a few weeks. it’s a “black tie optional” type deal at the Grand Hyatt. and ya’ll know what that means…

I’M MAKING A FANCY DRESS

i’ve put all of my usual practical sewing oh hold (except for one summer dress i’m finishing up). i really do love the practical sewing i usually do, but i’ll gladly shelve it all for something more exciting! i agonized for a few days as to what kind of dress i should make—silk bias cut? over the top chiffon gathers? short? floor-length? too many options! i had a few silhouettes in mind when i headed out to the fabric store the other day and decided to go with something structured. then last night i browsed mccalls patterns and this grabbed me immediately:

gorgeous! it will work perfectly with my fabrics and should keep me plenty comfortable. plus fitting shouldn’t be too much of a hassle (famous last words…).

so here are the fabrics i’ve chosen…

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this is a poly/rayon burnout that will overlay a navy cotton sateen. then the dress will be fully lined in navy bemberg. since my overlay fabric has a nice sheen to it i nixed the idea of splurging on silks or compromising with poly satin. when confronted with $8/yd vs. $40/yd… well ya’ll know me too well. plus i could buy extra fabric for insurance without breaking the bank.

here you can see the burnout pattern

here you can see the burnout pattern

i’ll be doing the full skirt, and as for bodice… perhaps both. i haven’t pulled out the pattern pieces yet, but i think i’ll make the strap-y bodice from the sateen, then overlay the top portion with my burnout using the v-neck fuller coverage pattern pieces (minus any of the lace trim). i’ll have to sort out how that’ll work, but i think the idea has promise.

i already bought some sparkly new shoes, the only missing piece is a clutch of some sort… that’ll probably be a last minute detail.

guys, i am totes excited for our trip because… i’ll have plenty of time to work in some NYC fabric shopping! it’s kinda sad that we only live 3 hours away, and yet this will be my first real visit. of course i’ll visit the venerable mood fabrics, but what other shops should be on my must visit list? do tell!

—lisa g.

knit shift dress | renfrew meets mccalls 6559 meets laurel

if me made may teaches me anything, it’s that my sewing is seriously out of sync with my blogging. and instagram is just an enabler since my makes are almost always seen there first. but, i have a several project backlog of photographed makes, so there does stand the chance that i’ll actually get them on ye olde blog soon-ish.

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a couple weeks ago i had a rare evening out with a group of moms from my daughter’s kindergarten class. naturally i needed to make something new for the occasion… you know how it is. but i should back up… i’ve been itching to add some flowy knit maxi skirts to my wardrobe, and i had a 2 yard piece of black cotton/lycra and thought that would be perfect. i drafted out a 1/4 circle skirt, but alas i was about 1/2 a yard short. i decided to try anyways and make an a-line maxi. chalked it out on my fabric, cut it out, sewed up the side seams and… well it was okay, but it just didn’t totally feel right. it was too fitted from waist to hip and would probably end up not worn very often.

awkward arm pose...

awkward arm pose…

i was bummed, but then i remembered the dinner outing and thought maybe i could get a shift dress even if i had to piece it together. well turns out that a failed maxi skirt is the exact amount of fabric required for a shift dress—no piecing necessary! i cut sleeves and binding from my remaining fabric (which i still had a good chunk of) and had a new dress hours later.

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so let’s talk about my pattern. you may recall last december that i made a shift dress for christmas out of a heavy sweater knit. i wore that dress a lot, so i knew i’d be making it again. i had hacked it by combining my sewaholic renfrew for the top with mccalls 6559 for the bottom. for this dress, i also narrowed the skirt hem, using my colette patterns laurel as a guide. (side note: why didn’t i just use my laurel—minus darts—for this dress? i had intended to, actually, but i pulled out my renfrew for comparison and i was afraid it would take some serious tweaking to get right. with my renfrew/shift previously hacked, the bulk of the work was already done.) basically all i did was line up the waist marking on the mccalls pattern with where my waist hits on the renfrew. line those two up and you’re ready to go! okay, mostly.

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one thing that has bugged me on my chevron dress is some excess fabric in the back, and little bit of pulling on the front causing the back to look like it’s sagging. to fix all that, i retraced, narrowing the back piece in quite a bit at the waist. then to address the pulling at the front i added in some bust room by slashing at the bust line and adding 3/8″. this excess i simply eased in when i sewed the side seams, keeping the excess concentrated from the armhole to just under the bust. i would tell you that adding in the extra room was my brilliant idea, but that’s how the mccalls pattern is drafted so i figured it was legit. just note that if you have a striped fabric, start your stripe matching under the bust, not at the armhole!

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i finished the neckline with a binding facing, rather than a neck band for a nice clean look. i serged a strip of fabric to the front, then turned it to the inside and top stitched with my cover hem. oh yeah… i bought a cover hem (!!!). we’re just getting acquainted, so i’ll hopefully post more on that later!

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and that’s about it! i can see this dress covering all the bases from a casual day dress to an accessorized date night dress for almost any season. versatility at it’s finest!

—lisa g.

chevron shift

not long ago i found this ah-mazing fabric from fabric basement (local). i was browsing the sweater knits for my coppelia cardi, when i came across this ultra soft chevron sweater knit. you know how so many sweater knits are super thin and nearly unusable? and/or 100% poly? this is the opposite of that. it’s nice and beefy, stable, opaque, and rayon. at $8/yd it was a no-brainer. in fact, i would have happily paid twice that! folks, this fabric is so soft, i can’t adequately describe it. the only problem is, however much i love the fabric, the chevron seriously messes with my vision. i’m prone to migraines, and this fabric tricks my brain into thinking it’s experiencing the visual aura associated with them. if you’ve experienced this, you know what i’m talking about! the fabric, coupled with really bright sunlight actually triggered a migraine when i started making this. the things i endure for sewing…

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i bought a yard and a half because initially i was going to use it for my daughter, mostly because i thought the chevron might be a bit cray cray for my own use. however, i got it in my head that i could probably squeeze out a shift dress for myself, so i ordered her a different fabric to make up for it (yet to be sewn). i put out a plea on instagram for recommended shift dress patterns and while there were some great suggestions (HERE, HERE, HERE, and soon to be released T & TB coco) i decided i wanted to go with a pattern i had experience with. or rather, patterns—the renfrew and mccalls 6559.

now i hadn’t mashed these two before, but it was pretty easy to do. i simply marked the waistline on my renfrew and lined that up with the waistline on the mccalls. i wanted less shaping than those patterns have, so i cut it relatively straight from bust to hip. the mccalls dress is more fitted in the hips, so i added an inch to the side seams, giving me an extra 4″ all around.

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i wanted a higher neckline, and i planned to do a binding instead of an added on band, so i cut the neckline accordingly. i tried out a few methods of binding on scraps and finally came up with the following: i measured around the neckline and cut a 2″ strip to that exact length. then i sewed it into a circle with a 1/4″ SA (making the strip 1/2″ shorter than the neckline). i pinned it RST around the neck, stretching it slightly around the curves. then employing my walking foot, i sewed it on with a zig zag stitch to retain stretch. i aimed to have the leftmost swing of the zig zag at 5/8″, because that is how wide i wanted my binding. i trimmed down a little of the binding  to reduce bulk, then i pressed it up, careful not to pull too hard, and pinned it to the inside. then i used my twin needle to topstitch the binding in place. on the inside i went back and trimmed off the excess binding.

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sorry i don’t have any step by step pics, but it’s basically the same as this method, only wider. since my fabric was so beefy and doesn’t have a ton of stretch, this was ideal. a regular renfrew-esque neck band just wouldn’t have worked. i have to say, i am pleased as punch with the binding—it looks so legit! then i finished the sleeves and hem with a simple turn and twin needle. this fabric was so easy to work with it gave me no problems whatsoever.

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the shift dress is really a new shape for me, and i’ve quickly fallen in love with it. way back when colette patterns released the laurel, my thought was eh… great for a toothpick, not so much for my pear shape. however, this fabric spoke to me and suddenly i thought i’d try this shift business out. lo and behold, i’m really loving it! i’m as self-conscious as the next gal about those mushy tummy bits, and this completely avoids cling in that area. it’s cute for christmas mass, yet cozy enough to spend the whole day in. and EAT in. hello christmas cookies, caramels, and fudge!

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hope you all have a wonderful christmas!

—lisa g.

orange silk blouse | mccalls 6793

my last post was of a scout tee in silk, but this blouse is actually the first one i made, and my first real foray into the world of floaty silks! natch, it comes with a convoluted narrative, so bear with me…

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last winter i entered the sewing for children pattern review contest and came in second for the coat i made my daughter. my prize was a $50 gift certificate to sewitup.com. truthfully, most of what they sell isn’t really my thing (haven’t looked recently though), but they do have a small selection of fabrics. i ended up treating myself to two yards of a silk crepe de chine. the price tag was a whopping $23/yd, so i crossed my fingers that it would live up to my expectations. at the time i didn’t know my chine from my charmeuse and had hoped to use it as a fancy jacket lining, but duh it’s totally the wrong type of silk for that. so… it sat in my sewing room for months and i kinda forgot about it until recently.

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i decided to make a blouse (though i wasn’t completely convinced that orange would look good on me) but in typical i’m afraid to ruin this fabric mode, i agonized over the details. for weeks. you know how it is… the longer you hold onto a nice cut of fabric, the harder it gets to use… then on a whim i decided to use mccalls 6793 and make the bow blouse with the peplum gathers and blouse-y sleeves (i love those sleeves!!), but as it turned out, i didn’t have quite enough fabric for that version. however, it led me to trying out the pattern on much less expensive fabric, specifically the bow blouse i made recently. i’m glad i did because i realized i really don’t need many bow blouses in my wardrobe. also, it was perfect to test the fit so i could confidently cut into my precious fabric. since i had the fit worked out, i decided to make some design changes. i browsed a ton of blouses online and decided to do the following:

  • raise the neckline to be more scooped
  • add a front button placket
  • bias bind the neckline
  • add a back yoke
  • add 2″ to CB of lower back piece for light gathers
  • add 1″ to back length, curve hem up at the sides

from my last version, i only tweaked the sizing a tad. i cut a straight S on the back piece (but added 2″ width at CB gathered to the yoke). on the front i also cut a straight S, but slashed and spread from the waist to swing the width out to a M at the hemline (just as i did for my last scout). anymore i prefer the “slash and spread/overlap” instead of grading between sizes because it feels more accurate and it’s more obvious what pattern changes i’m making to get the fit i need.

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even though i had all the details worked out in my head, i still procrastinated starting my project because i had about zero experience on dealing with silk. after a bit of online research and some swatch testing, i felt pretty confident that my fabric would not fall apart if i machine washed it, so in it went on the cold/handwash cycle. i threw in a color catcher sheet for good measure. after washing i line dried it, and that was it!

construction was slow, but all went well. the first thing i did was make the front button placket, and let’s just say i’m glad that i’m very comfortable with this process otherwise it would have been a nightmare. it’s still not perfect; even though i was using a microtex needle, it had a hard time piercing the layers. i encased the yoke seams as i would a regular button up, and french seamed the sides. the armholes i trimmed way down and serged.

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i realized i haven’t done a proper bias bound neckline in… i can’t even remember when, if ever! it’s a bit nerve-wrecking since you have to chop off the whole seam allowance. no turning back once you choose to go that route. fortunately it turned out pretty darn good. in the future, i think i need to “pre-stretch” the binding before cutting it to the right width. as in, cut bias strips wider than needed and actually stretch them out, then cut to the width i need. i think that would have made the bias tape more stable and easier to bind. if anyone has thoughts or experience, feel free to chime in on that one!

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i love these feminine bloused sleeves. they have a continuous binding placket and bias bound cuff/hem. if i had to do over again i wouldn’t bother with cutting the cuff on the bias (per the directions); the bias made it extremely difficult to sew since my fabric is cray cray stretchy on the bias. i had to meticulously measure the cuff as i gathered the sleeve to it to make sure it ended up the right length.

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anyways, i’m glad i finally got over my fear of silk, and i’m glad i fretted over every detail. even though i had the difficulty ramped up in my head, i would have regretted skimping on the details. i think the hardest part sewing wise was getting used to the feel, or lack thereof, of the fabric. the stuff is so thin and floaty that it almost disappears under your fingertips. other than that, it was pretty well behaved. and oh yeah… i love my blouse!

—lisa g.

bow blouse | mccalls 6793

one thing i’ve been trying to do over the past year is make things to fill gaps in my wardrobe. blouses rank very high on that list, so i pulled out mccalls 6793. maybe it’s the archers in my life speaking, but i’ve been fully embracing the boxy tops as of late. the fabric i have is a cotton lawn of the most silky variety. i found this yardage at my local fabric haunt for $3.99/yd (score!) and i can not believe that it’s just cotton. those super high quality cottons i’ve read of were really only the stuff of legends to me, and now i get it. the feel is amazing! to be honest, i don’t 100% love the print. it’s okay, but with that feel at that price it had to come home with me. initially i planed to make a scout tee, but the print is so large i thought it needed some extra details to break up the print, hence the bow.

this pattern is sized XS-S-M-L-XL-XXL which always annoys me. i get that with the boxy fit individual sizes aren’t totally necessary, but still. knowing that you usually need to size down with these patterns it’s hard to pick a size to go with. i went with a S at the bust, grading out to the M at the waist/hip. to make sure it didn’t cling over my hips i made a curved hemline and lengthened the back by 1″. my measurements hit the upper end of the sizes i chose, so i thought i’d be pretty safe. and really it’s not far off, i like the fit in the bust/shoulders, but i really could have kept to the small at least through the waist and just flared out at the hip. partially to blame is my fabric choice which has a touch too much body for this fit (this pattern would be great in a rayon or silk crepe de chine). i’ll probably end up taking the sides in a little, but other than that i’m happy with it.

not trying to look all stiff here... it was windy and i was trying to keep my top in place!

not trying to look all stiff here… it was windy and i was trying to keep my top in place. also, bad lighting… sorry!

the bow part is a real fabric hog, by the way. it’s cut on the bias, which gives it a nice soft drape, but since the two pieces have to be cut perpendicular to each other to keep the direction of the print the same for each side it’s really fabric inefficient. ya’ll know how much i like to conserve fabric, so it definitely hurt a little. when attaching the ties around the neckline, you are supposed to slipstitch the entire inner seam, but i opted to stitch in the ditch from the outside and catch the turned in SA on the inside. i don’t mind hand sewing, but if i can avoid it i will.

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initially i had cut the blouse-y 3/4 length sleeves, but the print would have been way too overwhelming. i pulled out the cap sleeve pattern piece and went with that instead. i thought that the cap sleeve would be easy to sew, but man it was finicky. instead of sewing the sleeve together under the arm, you overlap the ends at the side seam. much harder than it sounds! i should have reduced the SA from the get go, i forgot how hard it is to sew these tricky bits with 5/8″ in the way. then, to keep the SA from flipping out, i stitched in the ditch to tack the SA down under the arm.

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i didn’t muslin this top, but i did make some flat pattern adjustments before cutting. i made a 1/4″ FSA (forward shoulder) and pinched out 3/8″ all around above the bust line. i find that despite my height, my upper body is petite, so typically i have indecently low necklines and gaping armholes. those adjustments worked out perfectly, yay me!

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final verdict: this is a cute top and fairly quick to make. the pattern is labeled “easy” but i don’t think “quick” and “easy” are necessarily interchangeable here. the neckline treatment requires a lot of precision to look nice, and the cap sleeve was a little challenging. also, if you’re on the low end of the size measurements, size down! there is plenty of ease since this blouse pattern isn’t intended to be fitted (finished measurements are stated on the pattern). but, if fitted is what you want, i would look elsewhere. i may use this pattern again for view B with the gathered peplum-type detail (that’s the view i bought the pattern for) but i’m not sure i need another bow blouse in my life. maybe i can come up with a different neckline treatment—scoop neck with a button placket? we shall see…

—lisa g.

lounge wear

lately, i’ve been lamenting the fact that i don’t have enough lounge-y clothes. fact is, as soon as dinner is over and the dishes done, i sprint for my comfy clothes! problem is, i don’t really have that many to pick from. i have some yoga pants that i’ve worn for ages and really need at least one other pair to switch off with, and any leggings i have are too thin to wear without bootay coverage. the problem with RTW yoga pants is that they are expensive, always too short, and made of horrid synthetics. and RTW leggings… well, too thin and hahaha as if they can make it over my bum!

i haven’t done the yoga pants yet (though i really want to try this maria denmark pattern), but i finally did make leggings. i ordered the most dreamy black modal/rayon/amazingness knit fabric from girlcharlee.com. and holy moses, i wish i could pass a little swatch to each and every one of you this stuff is amazingly awesome! it’s super stretchy, matte, thick, and feels amazing! did i mention amazing? i used mccalls 6173 and went down a size from the recommended, and added 1″ to the back rise, grading to nothing toward the sides. from mid-thigh down, they were huge. granted, my fabric had far more stretchiness than called for, but i had to remove inches in width. i left the bum area alone (no need for the fabric there to be stretched to max capacity) then kept tapering in and tapering in… and finally i arrived at what you see here. i am pleased that this pattern sits high enough to cover both my rear and my mushy mommy bits (most leggings give me severe muffin top).

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photo quality is pretty meh, i know. it’s been cloudy and rainy and i gave up waiting for it all to clear out… classic new england weather!

i’m not really in the “leggings as pants” camp, but these cover and, since they’re black, hide the lumps and bumps pretty magically. i’m really looking forward to making some longer tees (hemlock i’m looking at you!) and tunic length shirts to pair with them. and dude. leggings are flipping FAST to make. one pass up each leg, join the legs, then for the waistband i serged 1″ elastic to the inside top SA, then flipped it down and zig zagged it in place along the lower edge of the elastic. had i not needed to go back and fiddle with the leg width, these would have been cut and finished within the hour.

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oh hey, i also made my top! this is a sweatshirt-type knit, maybe a french terry? i really don’t know. it doesn’t have much stretch, so i took my dolman top from cation designs and added a total of 4″ in width, 1″ in length, and lowered the front neckline by 1″. my original pattern printed off-scale, so i can’t necessarily give you specifics, but you get the idea—i was aiming for a sweatshirt type top. i kept the hem band smaller to hug my hips, and did a narrow neckline binding. i made this one a few weeks ago and i’ve pretty much lived in it ever since!

after i cut this top out i started to doubt whether or not a short sleeve sweatshirt was going to be very useful, but it seems to be just the right weight for chilly evenings. plus, i’m constantly pushing up long sleeves, so this turns out to be extremely useful.

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wow guys, i’m totally hooked on loungewear! hopefully i can make more of it, especially as fall comes around. with my current lack of interest in buying RTW, these are great pieces and near-instant gratification because they are so darned fast to sew!

—lisa g.

shorts and wrap top | mccalls 6689

a while ago i placed and received an order from fashionfabricsclub.com and had ordered a smokey black with white polka dot cotton lawn. pretty sure i would classify it as a stretch poplin. not sure who is categorizing their inventory, but i think a lesson in fabric identification is in order. after getting it i wasn’t sure what to do with it. i only had a narrow yard, so it was destined to be a kid something. i did know that some khaki twill i had ordered was going to be shorts for my oldest daughter. i had mccalls 6689 on hand which includes a super cute wrap top/dress, a pair of slim pants, and a mini skirt. that, my friends, is a lot of pattern for one pattern envelope.

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clearly the top/dress is the star of the show here, and the mini might be okay, but the pants are most definitely a throwaway pattern. the drafting is beyond terrible—there’s no way anyone tested it! so let’s talk about the pants first. i decided it would be cute to make the pants as slim knee-length shorts. she measured exactly the waist/hip for a size 7 so i went with it. these have an at-waist waistband, so i chopped off 1″ all the way around the top and adjusted the waistband to match.

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i made them up and holy smokes are they poorly drafted! the front rise is way too long, and the back is way too short. a simple moving of the crotch seam forward would solve all this, and had anyone actually made them, this would be so very obvious. a size 6 would have been a much better fit, but it just doesn’t feel right sewing up a size 6 for a nine year old. i know we all love to hate on the big 4—and this is why. yeah, i’ll probably re-draft and adjust the pattern because i really like the idea of this pant, but jeez louise. test your flippin’ patterns. don’t just throw them out there thinking no one will actually try to make it!

somehow, all the fit issues aren’t readily obvious in these pics, and as it stands, she loves the shorts and sees nothing wrong with them. they will be worn (and have been worn many times already) but they could be so much better. final verdict: unless you plan on doing a muslin for those pants and know how to make crotch adjustments, STAY AWAY. just walk away. that pattern sucks.

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on to the top… when i went to cut out the shorts it dawned on me that the cotton lawn stretch poplin would be a perfect match for the cute wrap top. of course after the debacle with the pants, i was hesitant to attempt the top. but, like i said before, clearly the pants were a throwaway pattern never intended to be made up, so i decided to give it a try. p.s. this top has a billion pieces! i had just enough fabric to squeeze it out of the one yard i had. i strayed from the pattern’s directions quite a bit though. it has the top fully lined (bodice, peplum/skirt, and sleeves!), and honestly i think that is just a lazy way out of  writing alternate directions for finishing a non-eyelet fabric. so instead of the lining, i used bias tape to finish the wrap edge and around the neck, and used the inside waistband piece to neatly finish the bodice and skirt seams.

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while the pants were quite large, the same size top is a great fit. maybe too good, i probably could have made the size 8, never minding that the last time i made her a size 8 of something it was practically falling off of her…. you never can tell how crazy the fit is going to be on kid patterns!

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anyways, this top is super duper cute! and the girl loves the whole outfit. i may even do the dress version at some point because who doesn’t love a little DVF-inspired wrap?

—lisa g.

mccalls 5613

well now i’m posting projects out of order, but is suppose it’s no difference to you. my ocd doesn’t approve, but it just so happens that i got great pics of this dress and wanted to share.

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i dug through my kid patterns looking for something i could make out of specific fabric scraps i had in the too small to use for myself pile. i came up with mccalls 5613 and set about doing view B. i made the top portion in leftover chambray from my much-beloved archer (i seriously wear that shirt 3-5 times a week. if you haven’t made an archer yet, why not?!) and the skirt portion from leftover seersucker from way back when. i was slightly hesitant that this might look a little young for my daughter; she is, after all, nine. and, can i just say, it is very hard to dress a girl her age. so much of what’s available in rtw just looks trashy. i don’t need to dress her in ruffled sappy little kid clothes, but surely there is some middle ground?

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anyways, back to the dress! i lined the bodice in muslin, and the skirt in a lightweight poly lining. i try to avoid polyester, but i do like this lining for skirts. i don’t know what it’s called, but i pick it up at joanns for about $4/yd. it has a nice drape and just the right amount of opacity to work with a huge range of fabrics. i didn’t have much of it on hand, so for about the bottom third, i took six inch wide strips that i pieced together to make a long strip, ruffled with the serger and sewed on. it actually worked out quite well and gave the skirt a little extra body at the hem.

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oddly enough, i almost like the back of the dress better than the front. it’s a pullover dress, so the back portion has a casing made from the seam allowance with 1/4″ elastic threaded through. while the pleating on the front is nice, i may use this pattern again and re-draft the front to be more like the back and have it gathered and elasticized all the way around. i’m only so-so on the button straps. it’s cute, but the straps end up being cut on the bias and it just doesn’t feel very sturdy. it feels like it needs some interfacing, and the front of the bodice under the straps occasionally shifts out of place. you can see in the pics how there is some pulling where the buttons are attached. not a deal-breaker, but i would definitely make adjustments before doing another version.

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for size, i had the envelope that was 3T-6. i knew i needed about a size 7, and since the pieces are extremely not complicated, i graded it up a size. one thing i do like about this pattern is that the skirt is actually a-line and not just a gathered rectangle. it really helps keep down the poofy-ness up top without sacrificing a nice full hemline. it seems many patterns have gone away from the a-line skirt in favor of a rectangle if it’s gathered, so props for that, mccalls.

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all in all, this is a nice pattern for a quick summer dress. sorry for being so picture heavy, but my little photo-bomber was really hamming it up. happy summer!

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—lisa g.

mccalls 6044 version 3.0

so last weekend we hunkered down for the

BLIZZARD OF 2013!!!


during which time not only was it difficult to leave the house, we were expressly forbidden to at risk of fine and/or imprisonment. not kidding! not that i had any intention of driving around in a blizzard, but there you have it. we got 2 feet of snow and literally had to dig our way out the front door.


so what’s a girl to do while snow is falling at an alarming rate? why sew, of course!


i already had this dress shirt cut and fused and waiting for it’s turn under my needle. after cutting the shirt i perused david coffin’s “shirtmaking” and wanted to employ some of his techniques. while i didn’t strictly adhere to his method on all points, i did pay close attention to how he does the shirt collar. while i haven’t achieved perfection here, it was interesting to see how such small changes improved my collar attempt so dramatically! to me at least.


i’m not going to detail a full rundown of his methods, mostly because he does such a great job of it in his book, but also because duh! he wrote a book and it’s hardly fair for me to just put it all out there on the internet. if you’re not interested in owning a copy, most likely you can find it at a library. my library has a great inter-library loan service so i can get virtually any book i need. that’s how i tracked down this source, though i plan to buy a copy soon to have on hand.

i’m just going to call that last buttonhole
stitched in green my signature okay?


to start, he gives you several different seam allowances to work with. he suggests 1/4″ for most parts of the collar (except the edge of the collar that attaches to the stand—that you leave 5/8″) which allows for more control and accuracy. i find 1/4″ difficult to stitch because it falls under my presser foot, which i obviously can’t see, so i went with a 3/8″ SA.

he also suggests trimming width off the under collar and inner collar stand, so the under or inner side of these pieces are 1/4″-1/2″ smaller than their counterpart. i find it interesting that he has you stretch the smaller piece as you sew to fit the larger piece. what i have seen before, say in tailoring a coat or jacket, is to cut the outer pieces larger then ease them down to the smaller size. do you see the difference? it’s subtle, but it really works well. when you let go, the collar just naturally curves itself! very cool. i was a bit nervous and didn’t trim as much as he suggested so i still have a few wrinkles. next time i’ll follow more closely for sure.


i always had issues getting the rounded edge at the front on the collar stand to look good. i could never figure out when to sew that little curved bit and thankfully, coffin address this very well. no more guessing for me! all in all, the collar on this shirt is much more crisp and formed than my previous attempts. i still need some work on my collar points. i may need to invest in one of these.

i hope to make up a “how-to” for the collar stay channel soon…


i’m still not great at flat felling. i had removed most of the ease in the sleeve cap because it’s quite unnecessary here and makes felling even more difficult. i think with practice i’ll get a little quicker at it, but i spent f-o-r-e-v-e-r putting those sleeves in and felling them. the side seams, by contrast went super fast. it’s still tedious to get all the way up or down those sleeves, but using my new felling foot at least got my stitching far more even.


inside felled armhole


inside felled sleeve seam


another thing i found interesting was how coffin recommended a very short stitch length. i had noticed while examining my husband’s rtw shirts that the topstitching was done with a very short stitch, so i did this on the last shirt, but he suggests that you do all your construction with a much shorter stitch. his argument is that the shorter stitch uses more thread to go up and down with each stitch which enables the fabric to retain some of it’s natural give. i noticed that i was getting slight puckering in my seams, but dialing down the tension a touch took care of that.


there are still minor changes i’ll make next time around: widening the button placket (coffin recommends 1 1/4″, this one is 1″), turning the under button placket to the inside instead of the outside, widening the back pleat, etc. i do feel pretty good having made three dress shirts this year, and it’s only mid-february! i know more will be on my plate before long, but these are a good start. actually, i wouldn’t mind making one for myself. each time i make one i keep thinking, you know with leggings and a belt i think i could wear this… focus lisa, FOCUS!

—lisa g.

mccalls 6044: version 2.0

it’s tricky to get interesting-looking shots of an un-modeled men’s white shirt (i should probably at the very lest get myself a nice hanger) but here you go anyways. i finished this last week right before my husband had to take off for the weekend on business. to las vegas. wah-wah…

this is one of two shirts i cut out for my husband, this time dress shirts for work. there is a dive fabric shop nearby that has amazing deals and i picked up some white and light bluish grey shirting for $2.50/yd. since i’m still learning all the tricks i’m not ready to splurge on the $10-$20/yd quite yet.

i made the white shirt first with a couple fit and design alterations. i widened the neck by about 5/8″. when i had him button the top button on his first shirt, it was definitely too small for tie-wearing. also, the sleeves were a touch long, so i shortened the sleeve by 1/2″.

if you squint you can see the collar-stay channel i added

then i did the front placket different. i extended the center front of the shirt front so i could attach the placket at the edge then fold it onto the front, then top stitch.it’s a small change, but it requires less blind precision and eliminates hand stitching the placket from the inside.

i went ahead and flat-felled the sleeve/shoulder seam as well as up the sides and down the sleeve. surprisingly not as hard as i thought it would be! i just ordered a felling foot to make this stitching a little more precise in the future though. it’s damn near impossible to hide imperfect stitching on a light solid colored fabric, let me tell you.

i decided to track down the ultimate resource in shirtmaking, aptly titled “shirtmaking”, by david coffin. since the husband has tasted the fruits of custom clothing there’s just no going back. i’ve glanced through the book and there is so much information to absorb. he has great techniques for all the tricky bits and i will no doubt rely on this book heavily.

i had promised a sleeve placket tutorial to go with my pattern piece, but i made this one in the evening and had no adequate lighting. i’ll make sure to do the next one during daylight hours for your benefit. it did turn out rawther well, i think.

overall i’m pleased with how the shirt came out. the fabric weave is looser than a lot of shirting so i had some issues and struggles all throughout. the next one has a very tightly woven fabric so i think it will come together a bit easier. even though i have it cut out, fused and ready to go, i have another project i’ve already started: thurlow pants in denim! the shop that i picked up the shirting fabric at always seems to have a pile of denim for $2.50/yd and i finally picked some up. plus i have an unblogged pair of pants i made for my daughter… ack! it’s only the end of january and i’m already getting behind in posting!

—lisa g.