When a Muslin Pays Off, and When It Doesn’t

Confession time: I hate making muslins. I hate the time they take, even though I kind of half-ass the sewing. I hate the materials they use up, even if I use old bedsheets, odd-colored thread and repurposed zippers. I hate that they’re just an approximation of a real finished garment, but never exactly the same.

Yet sometimes they are necessary. I made this checklist for when to make a muslin, and when I can do without.

muslin checklist

If you want to download this checklist for use, click on this link: make a muslin, or wing it

Your mileage may vary. These are issues that are important to me, maybe not so much to you. If you have any ideas for changing or expanding this checklist, I’d love to hear from you – drop me a line in the comments box.

 

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I Hate to End the Year with a Fail, But…

This is a Fail, with a Capital F:

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The Japanese-style Top from “The Great British Sewing Bee From Stitch to Style”

I knew going in that this was iffy, but in the spirit of my “Sew Edgy” wardrobe plan, I wanted to take risks. It was a low-level risk, to be sure. I got this cotton burnout knit fabric on clearance this summer for $1.99 a yard. And this pattern is very simple, with only a front, back and cuff, so it was not an investment in time or energy. Here’s what the pattern pieces from “The Great British Sewing Bee From Stitch to Style” look like:

GBSB Japanese top
Great British Sewing Bee Japanese top

The issue for me had less to do with the style than with what I can only call lazy drafting. The top is not, in the end, a quality garment without some modifications I am not willing to make.

The pattern maker made three decisions that seem lazy to me, from least offensive to most offensive:

  1. The cowl is too shallow. It constantly wants to flip out and escape, and who can blame it? You can remedy this by redrafting the cowl to make it deeper. If you don’t want to do that, you might get away with sewing a small weight, such as a metal button, onto the apex of the cowl to encourage gravity’s assistance.
  2. The cuffs are designed in such a way that you need to hem them. If you are going to have a knit cuff, don’t you want one that’s finished and polished? A simple tube-style design doesn’t need hemming. You’d need to redraft this, of course, and I can’t be bothered.
  3. The back neckline is just a turn-and-topstitch job. This is always going to look amateurish and won’t sit flat. A simple neckband, like you’d have on any knit top, would work much better. You’d have to draft this, of course, and again, I can’t be bothered.

To be fair to the style, I have seen a few chic versions out there. I think it favors an inverted triangle or rectangle body type, not a pear such as myself.

The fit is hard to figure out – there’s a ton of ease at the bust and waist because of the dolman/batwing sleeve shape, to encourage the drape, then it’s close-fitting at the hip, and the hem is asymmetrical.

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The book provides only finished garment measurements. I chose my size based on the hip measurement, assuming I’d want a bit of negative ease there. I cut a size 14, because the finished hip for size 14 is 40-3/8 inches, and I have 42-inch hips. Maybe it’s too big? Maybe my fabric doesn’t drape as well as it could? Who knows!

If you have this book and still intend to try this top, I noted two errors in the instructions:

  1. For step #1 the text and the pictures do not match. The text is correct, the pictures are wrong.
  2. For step #5, the WIDE end of the cuffs need to be pinned to the sleeves, not the narrow end. DUH.

Finally, beware that this top is a tracing-paper and fabric hog. Because the front and back are each one giant piece, you will need to piece together your tracing paper, and this uses 1.5 yards of 60-inch wide knit fabric.

On the positive side, the pieces are so big that this top will be easy to recut into another top. I am thinking another Style Arc Creative Cate, or a MariaDenmark Kirsten Kimono Tee.

Unselfish Sewing – A Christmas Gift for Mom

My mom’s look involves a lot of black and white clothes, with little pops of color in her accessories – glasses, nail polish, shoes or jewelry. So when I decided to make a handbag for her, I knew I’d make it out of black and white fabric, with a pop of brightly colored piping  – just for fun.

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A handbag for mom for Christmas

The pattern is the Swoon Ethel tote, which is free from Swoon Patterns. I really like this pattern! Especially for a freebie, it’s a good quality design, a pleasing shape and size, and it goes together quickly (once you get through all the tedious cutting and fusing of the interfacing anyway).

This is my second try at this pattern. I made one out of leftover denim and cotton for myself earlier this year, and because I had resolved to exclusively use stash materials, I interfaced the bag with leftover cordura nylon instead of the fusible foam interfacing the pattern suggests. This time, I sprang for the foam interfacing. I was a little leery of working with this stuff, but it turned out to be very easy to use. The pattern calls for Pellon Flex-Foam FF78F1, but I couldn’t find it, so I used Pellon Flex-Foam FF79F2, the double-sided fusible foam interfacing.

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Flex foam interfacing – squishy!

You’re meant to sandwich this stuff between two layers of fabric and fuse both sides separately. I just fused one side (the black and white bag fabric) and it worked out fine. I sandwiched the fusible interfacing between the bag fabric and a dry silk organza press cloth, and used a damp silk organza press cloth to fuse the bag fabric. The steam penetrated through to the other side a bit, but the dry press cloth peeled off easily.

To sew with this, I basted everything with my zipper foot for agility and then sewed the 1/2 inch seam allowances. It compresses pretty well under the presser foot.

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A bit awkward, but easy to sew

Then I used an edgestitch foot (Bernina #10C), which has a metal guide down the center. This helped prepare the needle for the bulk and prevented any skipping around or distortion.I used a size 14 jeans needle. And I trimmed down the seam allowances.

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Use an edgestitch fit and a hump jumper to control the bulk

Because I am pretty sure my mom would want a closure on the bag, I installed a two-piece magnetic snap. This was so easy! I coated the prongs of the snaps with tailor’s chalk to mark the place, made little slits in the fabric, then pushed the prongs through and bent them back. I cushioned the snaps with a scrap of leftover foam interfacing and gently pounded them with a rubber mallet to ensure they were secure.

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Coat the prongs with chalk to mark the spot

These magnetic snaps are so easy and useful that I could see using them on many things in the future.

As I did with my first version, I used a self-drafted facing because I didn’t want any lining peeking out. I wish I had made the facing wider – it’s a bit skimpy but wide enough for the magnetic snaps.

Other little details:
* I added some hot pink piping (leftover from a PJs project) to jazz it up a bit.
* To keep keys from falling to the bottom, I added a swivel snap hook, looped through a slim strap and sewn into the body of the bag.
* I did a double row of topstitching around the bag opening because I wasn’t happy with the way the lining was sitting in the bag with just the usual edgestitch along the opening.

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Swivel hook for keys

For fabric this time I used some cotton duck outdoor upholstery fabric. It’s been treated to resist water and stains, so I think it will clean up all right if it gets wet or dirty. Because my mom is a cat lover, I could not resist the lining fabric – design “Whiskers and Tails” #16340 by Neiko Ng for Robert Kaufman. Both bought at Joann.

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Meow!

I really hope she likes it!

Edgy Wardrobe Winter Sewing Plans

I have gotten a lot of wear out of my edgy wardrobe so far. I am still sporting the Assistant Manager of the DMV look to work a couple a days a week, but I have gotten more comfortable at wearing my edgy looks.

Now that I have a good pair of work pants, the Style Arc Jasmines, I want to edgy them up. The pair I made is good, but they’re pretty basic. To review:

The pair I made have a little bubble at the front zipper, which tells me that the front crotch curve is a bit too high. They’re also a skosh tight in the front crotch. I will deepen the crotch curve in the next pair.

As you can see from the line drawing, the pants have two interesting seam details. The angled front pockets, akin to jeans pockets, work very well if you have heavy thighs. And the back yoke works very well if you have a bit butt and hip to small waist ratio, as I do, since it’s easier to adapt that yoke than to adapt the whole back of the pants. The version I made dips down a bit at center-back, easily remedied in the next pair with a bit of a wider angle for the top of the yoke.

Now that the fit issues are out of the way, how do I jazz these up?

First, I’d like to replicate the built-in belting of these RTW Karen Millen trousers:

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A built-in belt? Yes please!

Not a belt as much as a sash? Whatever it’s called, I like it. I don’t like wearing belts because they tend to ride up (see big hip-to-waist comment above) and they never seem to match what I’m wearing. To put it another way, I don’t like wearing belts, so I don’t have a lot of belts, and then when I need a belt, I don’t have one I like… vicious cycle.

This Karen Millen detail is just a tube of fabric that emerges from the waistband and connects with two D rings about 3/4 of the way between the center front and the right side seam. The D rings are looped through a short tube of fabric that tucks into a waistband seam that lines up with the pockets. The other side of the pants has the same waistband seam, but there are no D rings.

The look is a bit edgy because of the metal and the asymmetry, but totally office-appropriate. This should be pretty easy to do (famous last words). The Jasmine pants have a much smaller waistband, so I will need to think this through.

I also want to play with zippers at the hems. I splurged at Botani in New York’s Garment District for two fancy zippers with black tape, shiny silver teeth and decorative pulls:

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Pretty zippers…

Unfortunately, I screwed up and bought 8-inch zippers when I meant to get 6-inch zippers. I could shorten them, but that’s a hassle with metal teeth. Also, because these are fancy zippers instead of the basic cheap ones, they are a bit heavy. I worry that the weight will drag the sideline of the pants down unless I use some sturdy fabric. I’ll have to think on this.

Finally, the back yoke and front pockets seem to beg for some faux leather piping, like the stuff I used for this Swoon Patterns Ethel tote bag:

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Telfon foot works perfectly to apply faux leather

I was thinking also of some piped welt pockets in the back. We’ll see.

The pattern calls for woven stretch fabrics such as stretch Bengaline. This is hard to find fabric, but I figured anything with some texture would do. The original pants are in a heathered gray stretch gabardine. At B&J Fabrics in New York, I scored some black stretch wool pique that would be suitable for the next pair. A think a stretch twill would work well, also.

 

Feeling My Way Around a Blind Hem

Every time I set out to do a blind hem by machine, it takes me half an hour of thumbing through the manual, folding and refolding the hem, marking, pinning, swearing, and at least one test run on some scrap fabric to figure out what the heck I need to do. My machine does a nice blind hem, so it’s well worth documenting the steps. If you also have this struggle, read on…

The blind hem is a duet of a special presser foot and a special stitch.

My machine’s blind hem foot includes a guide bar that you butt up against the hem. The bar wraps straight around the bottom of the foot, except for a little jog where the needle goes when it’s doing the “blind” part of the stitch. I believe that such presser feet are standard on most machines, but if you don’t have one, they are well worth seeking out.

Obvs, you need to use the blind hem stitch in conjunction. It’s a sequence of a few short straight stitches all the way to the right, followed by one long wide zigzag to the left, followed by more short straight stitches.

When you sew a blind hem, the short straight stitches sink into the raw edge of the fabric at the hem of your pants or skirt, and the zigzag takes a tiny bite into an anchor point along your pants leg. This stitch is “blind” because most of the stitches go into the raw hem edge, and the zigzag anchor point is so tiny you can’t see it from the right side. While this seems like a fragile, fussy stitch, it’s actually very secure. Even if a zigzag stitch breaks when you’re wearing the garment, the hem won’t fall because all those small straight stitches are backing the zigzag up. I usually want this for any dressy clothes where a topstitched hem would look too casual.

Where I get confused is when it comes to marking and folding the hem correctly for the blind hem to work its magic. Start by finishing the raw edge of the hem (I just zipped it through my serger) and mark the wrong side of the fabric where you want the finished hem to anchor to the pants leg. In my case, that’s 2 inches from the raw edge.

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Mark the anchor point for the blind hem

This is NOT the finished hem length – it’s just the anchor point – and you will need at least an inch below the anchor point for the finished hem. This means you might set the blind hem anchor point up higher than you’d do if this was a turn-and-topstitch hem.

Fold the hem in wrong side into right side along that anchor line, and press. Then, fold the hem back on itself so the raw edge just barely peeks out from under the anchor point line you just marked, like so:

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Folding is the key to a good blind hem

My picture here shows the hem half folded in. The top is folded in and pinned, but the bottom isn’t yet. The fabric that lies between the anchor point and the bottom of the finished hem is tucked up in between the anchor point and the raw edge.

Position the pinned hem along the special presser foot like this from the wrong side:

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Blind hem presser foot in action!

The bar rests against the anchor point’s foldline, and the raw edge is to the right. Stitch, and check to be sure the small straight stitches are going into the raw edge, and the long, wide zigzag is taking a tiny bite into the fabric on the left.

Sew all around the hem and press. If it’s all good, you’ll get a hem like this:

Occasionally the blind hem goes wonky for me if the tension is off. You want a rather loose stitch so there’s no puckering or drawing up. You might want to pay around with the tension. For the stitch length and width, I usually just go with whatever the machine’s preset sizes are, but if you’re dealing with bulky fabric, you can adjust the stitch – just be sure not to move the needle from its preset positions, or it may collide with the bar.

Besides the blind hem’s invisible appearance, it’s very easy to rip out if you want to change the hem of a skirt or pants anytime, since only the zigzag stitches into the anchor point are really holding the hem in place.

At Last!

I feel like Etta James….

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AT LAST a pair of me-made pants that fit really well! Here they are, the Style Arc “Jasmine” trousers:

 

 

To understand why this is such a big deal, remember my three-muslin doomed effort earlier this year?

 

 

I decided that instead of trying to adapt any pants pattern to my body – with its heavy forward thighs, wide hips, ample butt and small waist – instead I would seek out a pattern that is as close as possible to some decent RTW pants I own already. I have this pair of Calvin Klein stretch gabardine pants that fit pretty well. They work for me because of the angled front pocket, fly front, darts in back but not in front, curved waistband, and tapered legs. A long search uncovered the Style Arc Jasmine pants, with the same pocket, fly and dart sitch:

 

 

The pattern calls for stretch gabardine or other bottomweight woven fabrics. As a bonus, the Jasmine trousers have a yoke in the back, kinda like jeans. This seemed to offer good fit options for my rear and waist. I had some really nice wool gabardine in stash. Let’s roll!

I have not used Style Arc much because they can be hard to get in the US, the patterns are only one size, they use a 1 cm seam allowance (I prefer 1.5 cm, especially for pants) and their directions are … shall I say … “minimal” and “open to interpretation” (or, to be blunt about it, “crappy”). I also think Style Arc has less ease than Big 4 patterns – the two Style Arc blouses I’ve made were a little too close-fitting. So I ordered the Jasmine pants a size larger than I thought I would need.

The first fit was encouraging. They were too big on the sides but pretty good along the crotch curve and butt. So far, so good. I widened the back darts 1/4 inch, took in the waist 1 inch on each side, tapering to 1/2 inch from the belly to low hip, then graded out again to 1 inch from just above the knee to the hem. Viola!

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Style Arc Jasmine fronts

These pants are not perfect. But they fit better than most RTW pants I can find, and I am very hopeful for future pairs. For the next iteration, I will deepen the front crotch curve a tiny bit and pinch out a tiny bit of fabric at the hip crease in the front to remove that little bit of whiskering.

In the back, I will pinch out that bit of extra fabric under my rear, and I will grade the top of the yoke up 1 inch so to remove that little dip down at center-back.

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Butt, baby!

I really want to try these also in denim, a full size smaller since I can wear jeans tighter. I may be getting ahead of myself, but I hope that I have found a true TNT pattern for dressy AND casual pants.

By the way, I am wearing the blouse from La Mia Boutique that I made earlier in the year. I keep hoping I will love it, but nope. Note the awful distortion of the back stripes because of my scoliosis and shoulder issues. (A topic for another blog someday.)

#IPM Anything but Clothes? How About a Bag to Go with My “Edgy” Wardrobe?

As the clock ticks down on my 40s, I crave a new look. I have been working on an “edgy” wardrobe to take me into my next decade. I’ve made some skirts, tops and jackets, so how about a bag to go with it all?

This is the Ethel Tote from Swoon Sewing Patterns, with some modifications:

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I am proud that I made this almost entirely with materials leftover from other projects. The main fabric is black denim, leftover from wide-leg jeans I made from Simplicity 3688. The lining is leftover from a tunic I made from the Japanese sewing book “Happy Homemade Sew Chic.” Yes, that is an abstract snakeskin print!

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Using remnants – tight squeeze!

The lining’s interfaced with stash interfacing and the denim with leftover cordura nylon from a bag I made years ago. The bottom is reinforced with leftover buckram from yet another bygone bag project. The only new material is the faux leather piping, which I bought earlier this year to jazz up projects for my “edgy” look.

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Telfon foot works perfectly to apply faux leather

To sew it on, I used a teflon presser foot to baste it, then used a zipper foot to edge up close to it when I joined the seams. I think the piping adds a lot of interest to an otherwise basic black bag.

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Side view with piping

My major modification to the bag itself was a facing around the opening. While I love the purple, pink, black and gray snakeskin print, I didn’t want it peeking out, and I worried that it would get dirty over time, so I wanted a facing as a buffer. To draft the facing, I just removed the top 1.5 inches from the lining to make a template, added a 1/2 inch for a seam allowance, sewed it on, pressed and topstitched.

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Facing under construction

The bag has two big, deep pockets in the front and calls for two more inside. I sewed three on the inside – a skinny one in the middle perfect for holding a pen. I thought about sewing in a zipper, but the bag’s so deep that I don’t worry about things falling out.

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Inside view with pockets

Overall, this is a great bag, with clear and well-illustrated directions. It’s not a quickie project – altogether there are 33 pieces because you have fashion fabric and lining, with interfacings for each. (Plus 8 more pieces for a facing and interfacing for the facing if you go this route.) The bag calls for quilting cotton and foam interfacing, but since I was using heavier denim, I used the cordura.

Here it is with my other recent “edgy” makes (Oki Style “Joker” shirt and skirt made from Vogue 1312). I am sure this bag will get a lot of use!

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One of many “edgy” looks – now complete with bag