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Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Averting Disaster in a Denim DuBarry

Getting this made was a bit of a saga. It's meant to be a transseasonal piece, but it's only now been finished, at the end of October. The pattern is early 1940s, but the denim and shortened hem takes it via the 1970s.

The pattern is one I bought at a vintage fair about four years ago, but have been a bit scared to use. It's DuBarry 5265, and it's extremely elegant. DuBarry was a pattern brand produced by Simplicity in the 1930s-40s, and they're hard to find and often pricey. This is the only one I own, and it's from 1942, so I'd been saving it until I found something I really wanted to sew it with. And so obviously denim was the perfect match for a classy 1940s pattern. I kind of think that the designers of the DuBarry patterns might be a bit horrified at making a dress out of - gasp! - denim, but I'm really happy with the choice of fabric.

I've been scared of working with denim for years. I've used almost every other fabric happily, even tricky fabrics like lace, lycra, velvet, and sequins with no problems. But denim? I've taken up jeans once or twice and it was a horrible experience. But I decided I wanted to conquer that fear and be able to use denim myself. Seeing lots of other sewing bloggers who've made their own jeans, denim jackets, etc, I wanted to join in the fun.

This lightweight denim is from Spotlight. I chose it because of the criss-crossed diamond/grid pattern and its nice dark wash. I thought that I'd make the diamonds match up nicely along the princess seams of the coat dress, and it would look fantatic. Well, after much frustration folding the fabric this way and that, I discovered that the grid lines are completely uneven! It was absolutely impossible to fold the fabric in a way that would let me get even the same pieces to have matching lines, let alone matching each piece's seams to its neighbouring piece. Coupled with the fabric being cut on a slight diagonal and undersized by the sales assistant, fitting the pattern pieces on the fabric was going to be difficult.

And then I compounded it all by for some stupid reason cutting out four side back pieces, and missing the centre front pieces. I didn't have enough fabric left over for the centre front pieces, and the pattern piece wouldn't fit properly on the extra side back pieces, so I was a bit stuck. And I still hadn't cut out the front facings, either, or the sleeves.  I didn't want to trek back to Spotlight just to get another foot of the fabric, so I looked at the extra side back pieces as well as the scrappy bits of fabric I had left to see what I could do. I had one rectangular piece about 60cm long left, which was good for the sleeves. Because that piece was smaller, those are probably the only part of the dress where the gridlines of the two sides actually match.

The centre front and front facings were going to be harder. I couldn't fit either pattern piece completely on the side back pieces, and I didn't have any offcuts large enough for them, either. In the end I realised I simply didn't have enough of the denim to cut all four pieces out completely. The facings were going to have to be at least partly in another fabric. Because the top of the facings is visible as part of the collar, I wanted them to be denim, but the rest of it could be in another fabric. So I focused first on the centre front pieces. They were going to have to be cut as two halves, joined at the waistline. So I marked the waistline on my pattern piece, and then cut the top halves out on my extra side back pieces, and the bottom halves on some of the leftover denim. I was then able to use the last bits of the extra side back pieces to cut out just enough of the front facings for the collar and top button - genuinely the exact minimum fabric I needed. It pays to be economical with pattern placement and fabric use! For the rest of the facings I was planning to be sensible and use something neutral, but going through my box of leftover fabric I found this one near the top and just couldn't resist. But pink and blue flowers on a bright yellow background is just so much better than navy or black cotton.

I have to confess that when I cut out this dress I didn't actually own jeans needles. I had some new size 14 and 16 needles, and the denim is lightweight, so I thought I'd give it a shot with them.
No. Bad idea.
It worked okay to join the two centre front pieces, but when I tried to do a seam my thread broke after about 10cm. The pattern does say that the dress is meant to hang basted (or, in my case, pinned) together for a minimum of 24 hours so that the hem can settle. It ended up being closer to 24 days by the time I'd bought jeans needles, made mum's dress, and was able to get back to this. But once I had the jeans needles, it sewed up like a dream. I'm sure those of you who've sewn with denim before are rolling your eyes at my bad sewing laziness, but at least I've now been converted to jeans needles.

I made a couple of changes to the pattern. As with all early 1940s patterns, the hem for this coat dress was originally below the knees. It's not really a length I like, not that I had enough fabric for it, anyway. So I shortened the hem to finish just above the knee, which makes it more wearable and fresh. I also decided on elbow length sleeves, rather than the short or long sleeve options of the pattern. The sleeves are also slightly narrowed in, because the original sleeves are gathered at the cuff. The sleeves also have fairly full sleeve heads which I was worried would be too puffy, but they're actually not all that big. But they do allow full movement in all directions with no pulling, which not all dress patterns do.

All the seams are once again French seams. Given this is a coat dress (and one that also works well as a coat), I wanted the seams to have a more polished finish, and I think the French seams do that. Of course it added a lot to the time it took to make the dress, and a bit of thought to the order I needed to do the seams in, but the final look is just right. The facings and hem are hand stitched, which took hours. In total there's got to be more than 20 hourse of sewing - both machine and hand - in this dress.

For the buttons, I decided that I wanted something that suited the denim more than that 1940s. This dress is basically vintage-modern, rather than vintage-costume, so I didn't think about matching the era. I briefly thought about metal buttons like jeans and denim jackets have, but decided they'd stand out too much, rather than blending in to the dress. So my next thought was dark wood. I didn't own any, so next time I was in the city I had a look in Lincraft at their button selection. They had some wood buttons, but they were all either too small, or too big, or too light. Then I spotted these coconut shell ones. I've actually used the back, rather than the lighter front, but they were just the colour and feel I wanted.

It's a coat dress, but making it with denim it really does work as both a coat and a dress. And yes, I am wearing it here with jeans so it is double denim - but at least they're maroon leopard print skinny jeans.

The wildly varying light levels in the photos are because of the weather. After storms yesterday and morning showers, I managed to catch a break in the rain, so the sun was sometimes out, sometimes behind the clouds, pretty much changing between every shot.

This took a long time and a lot of work to make, but final product does, I think, make up for the time and stress. And although it's a coat dress, it works as both a coat and a dress, so two items for the price of one! But definitely the effort of five.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Mum's Escher-esque Print Dress

Most of my sewing is selfish sewing. I started sewing to make things I wanted to wear because I found what was in shops boring or expensive, and have pretty much kept to making things just for me. But this year I've made a couple of things for others. This is the first one to make it on to my blog: a dress for my mum.

This fabric, as with that used for my beach romper and casual pants was bought in Benalla years ago when I was doing fieldwork there. I bought it even though I knew the colour really wasn't me - bright orangey-tomato red doesn't particularly work with my paleness - but the print, which looks like some sort of Op-Art/Escher mix is just amazing. And at $5 a metre, too hard to resist, so I bought some.

The fabric was always going to work best on my mum. Her skin tone, hair, and eyes really suit reds and oranges. But it's taken me a long time to get around to making this dress for her - the fabric was even sitting out near my machine for a good three months before getting started on making it. Part of that was choosing the right pattern. Obviously I wanted to keep the seam and dart lines to a minimum so they didn't distract from or mess up the print. That meant choosing a simple shift dress, but surprisingly I don't have many of those, and none that were quite what I wanted. In the end I used Simplicity 7380, a vintage 1967 pattern, as a base and made some changes.

What I liked about Simplicity 7380 as a pattern were the double darts, with both a normal bust dart and French darts, which give just a little bit of extra shaping while remaining relatively unstructured. But the pattern is also high-necked and with sleeves, neither of which I wanted. Changing the neckline was simple, I just cut the piece lower in the front, but for the armholes I wanted little fake cap sleeves. To do that, I used my French curve to taper the shoulder pieces out and down, and redrafted the armscye from the side seam up to the new shoulder seam. The pattern was also a smaller size than needed, so I did the terribly lazy upsizing by simply placing the two pattern pieces about an inch back from the fold and cutting it out like that. Horribly bad practice, I know, but it worked, so all's fine, right?

Another reason it took a while to get around to making this dress was that the fabric frays a lot. It's fairly structured with a thick but loose weave (a cotton duck, maybe?), so I definitely had to do something to stop it fraying. I decided the best option was to cover the seams in bias binding. And for the zipper, I double folded the fabric so that the raw edge is hidden inside the stitching. It meant it took longer to make this dress than it would have otherwise, but it should also mean it's wearable for longer and doesn't need repairs. And it means the insides look much prettier, too. The arm and neck facings and hem were also hand sewn so there would be no visible stitching distracting from the print of the fabric, to keep the clean lines.

I also did my best to try and pattern match the print when putting this together. I couldn't quite get it perfect to the point of being invisible, but I at least made sure the horizontal lines matched up for the back seam and the side seams below the darts. If I'd had more fabric I might have been able to match with the diagonal lines and triangles as well, but I didn't. And it would have been quite a bit of extra effort for something only noticeable if you look really closely. But the horizontal lines did come in handy for the hem - I didn't have to do any measuring, I could just fold with the line and knew it would come out evenly.

This dress was a simple make, even with the resizing and adjustments. And I'm really glad that I was able to put this fabric to good use, in making a dress in a style and print that suits my mum so well.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Retro Cord Skirt

So it's spring in Sydney, and my plan has been to make a few transseasonal pieces, but the weather isn't agreeing with me. It's decided to go straight into summer, with the temperature being above 35°C since Saturday. So if the warm weather keeps up I might not get that many opportunities to wear this corduroy skirt. It's not exactly heavy, but it's not light or airy, either. Still, I at least got these photos taken one morning before the day heated up too much.

The pattern is vintage Simplicity 8363, from 1969, so it's another vintage pledge make for 2015. I found it for 50c at a local op shop - score! I've found a bunch of patterns, fabric, and zippers at that op shop, it's a real treasure trove. The pattern's a teen size pattern, 25 inch waist which is just bigger than me (I'm a 24), but the slight size difference didn't matter. At most it just means that it sits a bit lower on my waist than it was originally meant to, but it still sits at a completely fine level.

I made view 4 of the pattern, the mini length with one central inverted box pleat. My fabric, a pinky/purple narrow corduroy, is even pretty much the exact same colour as the picture on the envelope - I've basically made the example picture! My piece of corduroy was in my stash, I'm not entirely sure where it came from. It was also just the slightest bit too small for the pattern, so I had to shorten the length by 1cm so I could fit the pattern pieces on. Given I was already making the 'mini' length I thought the skirt may turn out on the short side, but it really isn't. I wouldn't even call the length 'mini'. I guess definitions and skirt lengths have changed since 1969.

The centre pleat normally sits closed and flat, which makes it look a little bit like culottes. But it means there's a bit more room for movement, without being bulkier or fuller. Because the pleat sits flat it was a little hard to photograph how it expands, hence the awkward pulling-my-skirt-open picture below, and the weird pointy toe one further up.

Sewing this up wasn't perfect, though. Am I the only person who has problems sewing corduroy? Although the final outcome of this skirt is fine, I had thread catching and breaking so many times while making this, even after giving my machine a full clean-out. It also frays ridiculously, so the seams are frenched. I had been going to try using my overlocker which I've had for ages but been scared of, but when I threaded it up and tried it out on a piece of scrap fabric, the bottom looper snapped in half. As in the actual piece of metal. No idea how that happened, but obviously there's no overlocking for me at the moment.

I used a metal zipper for the closure. It was another cheap find at the same op shop, also 50c. I thought about buying a matching pinky/purple zip, but I have a lot of zips so I figured I should probably use one I already owned rather than buying more. And I already had everything else that went into making this skirt, including an identical colour thread, so making a special trip just to buy a zipper seemed to be a bit too much effort.

The colour didn't quite turn out right in these last couple of photos, but the at least show some of the close-up and inside detail. The waistband in hand stitched, but the hem is machine stitched. 

Overall, this skirt is probably more cool-weather than I'd imagined, although the corduroy is fairly lightweight. But it's quite versatile, and would work in most weather apart from really hot days. And the colour's nice and bright, which is always important!