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.

 

A Few Footsoldiers for The People’s Sewing Army

Let me start off by saying that sewing toys and little fiddly things is not my jam. I have little patience, for one thing, and I find that no matter how I try, something store-bought is going to look 100 times better than what I can make.

That said, when I heard about The People’s Sewing Army on Instagram, I signed up. It’s a group that aims to use scraps of fabric and other stashed items to sew for good causes. The December challenge was to sew items for homeless children in Oregon. I happened to have some suitable scrap fabric, leftover polyfill and one stuffed animal pattern in my possession, so I signed up.

I feel that these stuffed animals are sad to look at. I am reminded, however, that my most-loved toys as a child were things my great-aunt and grandmother made for me – a little lumpy and bumpy, asymmetrical and awkward, but loved literally to pieces. I hope that’s the case for these.

The pattern came from an issue of Simply Sewing magazine. It’s supposed to be a dachshund. I think it looks more like a mouse or a rabbit or a mammal from some fever dream in 1975. Anyway, I did the best I could, using leftover chambray from these pants, cotton shirting from this shirt, and gingham from a bathrobe I made back in the 90s. The polyfill is leftover from Halloween costumes I made for my niece and nephew when they were little (they’re teenagers now). And the buttons ribbons and trims have all been hanging around for years.

I made these in one day, then switched gears to something for older kids. They often get left out of charity drives because it’s easier and more fun to buy or make for little ones. I had some Harry Potter-themed flannel left over from a PJ project many years ago, so I had the idea to make them into little tags the older kids could put on a bag or jacket.

The fabric had these Houses of Hogwarts shields on them, so I made one for each house. I cut out each shield piece with a 1 cm seam allowance, then cut a frame out of other bits of the fabric. To the frame pieces I sewed some clear hard yet flexible plastic that I salvaged from a box of Christmas ribbons and bows. I made paper tags that the kids can remove to write whatever they want, and finished them off with ribbon ties.

That’s all I had time to do, so I boxed the lot up for shipping to Oregon. Of course, the damn post office was closed by the time I got there yesterday. I’ll try again this week.

Looking at other people’s contributions on Instagram, I felt pretty lousy. I mean, many sewists are more talented than I am at this type of thing. Still, I tried. I feel good about trying. This is not exactly what I had in mind when I was seeking sewing projects outside my comfort zone, but I learned something anyway. And I hope someone will love or at least use these things.

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.)

Edgy Hardware Shopping Spree

I hit up the Garment District in New York last week for some hardware and trims for my “edgy” wardrobe plan. Here’s my haul from Pacific Trimming:

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Hardware helps make an “edgy” look

I splurged for a lightweight silver-tooth RiRi zipper with a very flexible, serpentine quality for my Muse Patterns Jenna cardigan. I had it cut to size at Pacific too, since I don’t know how to shorten a separating zipper. It was $8 altogether, but worth it, I think, since I really needed something flashy yet light to make the cardi edgy. It looks good pinned in place anyway:

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I also got zippers for my cranberry knit dress and for the wide-leg pants I plan to make.

The three bags at lower right in the picture contain two types of faux leather trim and some 3 1/2-inch wide black petersham ribbon, to try making a skirt waistband facing from. Never tried this before, but I am interested to see how it goes.

I bought these two buckles to try adding some detail to the front of Simplicity 8058, a Cynthia Rowley skirt. The original skirt’s center-front detail is awkward to wear, since it tends to get warped out of shape when you sit, and those giant fabric-covered buttons are a bit twee so me. So I intend to trim it even with the rest of the waistband and then use a belt and buckle detail to add some interest, like so:

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Buckle vs. buttons

We’ll see how that goes. I think I could have bought a larger buckle, but I was worried that it would weigh too much and would pull at the front of the skirt – a concern especially because it’s a knit.

I also got three roundly spiked buttons to add to the epaulet of dress 120 from the December 2017 issue of Burda Style. I used the same buttons for the epaulets of my Simplicity 8174 moto jacket. They’re plastic, not metal, so their weight shouldn’t be annoying or pull the dress in some unappealing way, I hope.

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Edgy buttons?

I also bought a dozen of these square-in-a-round buttons, on spec. I plan to use them in a button-up blouse which will include a button-down collar to bring a bit of metal and menswear detail in the party.