Fourth of July Sale at Jo-ann (1 of 2): Wish List Purchases

Remember how I said just a few days ago that it was a good idea to buy a few, flexible patterns? Well, today I broke my own rule. I’m in upstate New York, visiting my mom, in an area where there is a Jo-ann. Since there isn’t one near me and I had two gift cards burning holes in my wallet, I decided that it was worth taking advantage of the Fourth of July sale.

And I did.

My first plan was to just go for the McCall’s “Five for $5” deal, but unfortunately some of the patterns on my wish list were not available. I’ll probably have to order them online, which is too bad. However, a number of things that were on my wish list are now in my pattern stash, such as:

McCall’s 5947:

Apparently, this is the “Perfect Knit Dress,” and it was named a “Best Pattern of 2010.” Looking at this dress, I can see that Views A and B (scoop-necked with a waistband and a gathered skirt) are the most likely to suit me. The more popular views, C and D, are less likely to suit, though I’ll have to examine the construction. V-Necks are good for me, but wrap-style dresses rarely suit me (I had one, once, which was divine . . .). Also, the bulky tie + my small bosom + my wider hips are likely to make me look thick.

So, in this envelope I am hoping to find two good knit dress patterns. I might try out the wrap-style and hope for the best, or see if I can find a way to minimize or lighten the waist-tie portion of the outfit.

Anyway, since this one is being discontinued and it is so highly reviewed, I went for it. I hope I make it and it works out for me!

McCall’s 6331:

This pattern is also about to be discontinued, and it was an impulse purchase. I noticed it on the “about to be discontinued” page on Pattern Review, put it on my wish list, and then found it at Jo-Ann.

Into the basket it went. This is a more “daring” purchase for me. I love the romper, but as short as it is cut, I don’t think it would suit me without significantly lengthening the “shorts.” However, the “B” View, which is the yellow sundress, is lovely–and I don’t have a single sundress pattern. The line drawings show a tightly-fitted bodice with darts and a very floaty skirt, which is one of the silhouettes that suits my figure best. I think that McCall’s 6331 will be beyond my skill level for a while, but once I am ready to tackle it, I see promise.

New Look 6356:

After my struggles (as yet undocumented in detail on this blog) with Simplicity 8523, I was pointed towards this very similar pattern. At first I had my doubts about buying it. After all, this basic shirt set is very like the basic shirt set offered by Simplicity.

Then, I placed the line drawings for each side by side (perhaps I’ll do that in another post!) and compared. I was surprised by what I saw: whereas the Simplicity shirts fall almost straight down from the underarm, the New Look shirts are all tapered. Moreover, these woven shirts are all designed to have a zipper in the back, which suggests that they require less ease and will, therefore, not be as baggy as the Simplicity versions.

Add in the more plunging necklines, and I decided to spring for a pattern that is similar to one I already own (but only after opening up the tissue gently and confirming that the sides of these shirts really are far more tapered than Simplicity’s).

Simplicity 1784:

This last pattern is the one that I am most dubious about among those from my Wish List. I am drawn to the blouse’s bow-tie, the jacket (which is not going to be as fitted as I would want, I know), and the skirt (which I could, to be 100% honest, create from a pattern I already own). Nevertheless, every time I see this pattern photo, I feel drawn to it.

I haven’t seen many reviews of this pattern yet, but I’ll be watching. I hope they are positive.

Demoiselle’s Additional Commentary:

  • Boy, they sure get you at these sales! As careful as I try to be with selecting patterns (and I still think that I have picked things that offer additions to my wardrobe and do not fully overlap), the cheap prices make loading up on patterns appealing.
  • I got Dritz Wash-Away Wonder Tape! I have read that using that tape makes putting zippers in easier, and I am all for that.
  • I looked through the Burda catalogue for the first time. Now, I have something to aspire to for finding and making striking signature pieces. They are more beautiful than Vogue . . . and there are a number of Vogue patterns that I like.
  • Speaking of Vogue, I wanted to get two sheath dress patterns from them, but they break their sizes up in the worst possible way (for me). If I wanted to assemble a sheath dress from Vogue, I would have to get one envelope for the top and a second for the hips. Disappointing.

You might think this is it for my Jo-ann shopping spree, but you’d be wrong. I bought three more patterns (not from my wish list) that I will show off momentarily.

Time Machine Friday: First Scarf

Welcome to Time Machine Friday. This is where I will post images, descriptions, and reviews of things that I made–or tried to make–before beginning this blog. Here is Exhibit AMy First Scarf :

My First Scarf (February 2008). Ugly, but I still love the colors.

I knit this after my then-boyfriend-now-husband re-introduced me to the idea of knitting, which I’d first sort-of learned working backstage in the theatre during my teens. I picked up this boucle from a local craft store because I love turquoise and brown together.

Believe it or not, this is no plain garter-stitch scarf! Nor is it a regular ol’ ribbed scarf. Oh no. I wouldn’t do something so simple! So I very methodically did a diagonal rib. That, I figured, would look lovely and prevent the scarf from curling.

Well, it didn’t curl, but I was foolish to think that with the boucle the pattern would show up at all. Lesson learned!

Actually, because I loved the colors and this matched my coat, I wore this scarf quite a bit. I never was happy with it, though, because neither the yarn nor the “design” lived up to my expectations. The next time I knit a scarf, I made sure to pick appropriate yarn and a more interesting pattern.

Tips to Get a Quality Result (Even if You are a Beginner)

I am a chronic researcher. I’m also a perfectionist. And a beginner. What a terrible combination!

This Thoughtful, Methodical Cat Will Make Beautiful Clothes. Photo by Anya Quinn.

When I decided that I wanted–no, needed–to learn to sew in order to own the quality of clothes I want to wear, I did a lot of reading. What I was most worried about was producing clothes that looked good enough to wear in public. I didn’t want a tell-tale “home-made” (as in “not well-made” rather than “custom and fabulous!”) look about me. Here’s a compilation of tips that I found particularly useful:

Know Your Goal:

  • My goal for sewing is to replace as much of my store-bought clothing with “demoiselle-made” clothes that flatter my figure. Hubby’s business is with people who make a lot of money–and dress better than we can afford to dress me. Therefore, whatever I make must be made of higher quality material than what I can get in the store, be made to last, and have finishing touches that shout “professional” and “sophisticated.” If I ever get to “tailored” or “designer-looking,” I will be over the moon.
  • Knowing your goal will affect choices down the road. For example, my desire for “finished” feeling garments is part of why I decided to get a serger, even though it isn’t necessary (I’d used sergers in the costume shop in high school, and could not get over how much better finished the garments felt). If you’re sewing just to learn or have fun, or to make cute clothes for fast-growing kids, then you can be much more relaxed about this stuff.

Pick Your Tools Wisely:

  • If you are going to buy a sewing machine, read the reviews–on retailer sites, on blogs, and on sewing sites–carefully. Don’t get something that is so new that there aren’t any reviews of it. If I’d had the sense to do this, I wouldn’t have gotten my lemon, the Singer 4423 HD. Of course, you can do you research and still get a bad machine–but you’re less likely to.
  • Get a good iron and ironing board that you can raise to a comfortable height. You’ll be standing over it a lot.
  • A large, self-healing cutting mat with a grid and high-quality scissors that you use only for cutting fabric are useful.
  • Get a good reference book. Or two. I got the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing in a used book shop for a couple bucks and I refer to it constantly. I prefer it to the The Vogue Sewing Book (also purchased inexpensively at a used book store). Doesn’t matter that they are from the 1970s or 1990s. The information is the same.
  • Buy patterns that are simple, timeless, and excellently reviewed. PatternReview.com is great for this: go through their “Patterns of the Year” pages and then move on to browsing other patterns. If others have found a pattern’s instructions clear and the resulting garments flattering, there is a good chance you will, too.
  • Look for patterns that offer several variations on a theme. You don’t need six different patterns for similar skirts. If you can find that one really good pattern with five or six different views, you’ll have made your life easier. Every time you make that garment, you’ll make it better–and by changing fabrics, views, and finishing touches, you can make sure that it won’t always look the same.
  • Fabric: Get the best quality that you can afford. The simplest garment made by a meticulous beginner will look many times better if your material is a step above what you usually see in stores. Getting to one step above the stores might not be that hard (especially if you are lucky enough to live in NYC like me). I can find polyester suiting at a reasonable price that feels and looks much better than Ready-to-Wear polyester suits, and the bonus is that the resulting skirt is machine-washable rather than dry-clean-only!
  • Buy at least a little extra fabric. Having a bit to play around with before you start seaming will help you test how you need to handle the fabric, what stitch length works, etc.
Me. I won't look good in every pattern ever.

Me. I won’t look good in every pattern ever.

Don’t Sew for a Fantasy:

  • Analyze your body, or at least the clothes in your wardrobe that flatter you. With all the gorgeous patterns–and gorgeous finished garments–pictured in reviews and on blogs, it’s easy to convince yourself that you, too, would look good in that dress. Step back and ask yourself if the cut really suits your figure. The line-drawings on the back of patterns help you see what the construction of the garment really is. Use them.
  • It can’t hurt to make a chart of what styles look good on you (there is plenty of information about different cuts–and what body-types they flatter–in books like the Complete Guide to Sewing).

Always Do a Muslin (and Not a “Wearable” One):

  • If you’re a beginner, you need practice. If it is your first time making a particular pattern, you need to learn how it fits your body. You need to practice sewing in zippers, or even sewing in a straight line! Get some muslin or ugly woven cotton and make the whole garment, fitting along the way. Take note of any changes you had to make so you can duplicate them when you cut into the real material.
  • This will be controversial but I’ll say it: I was taught that muslins are not meant to be “wearable.” Lots of people make first garments as “wearable muslins,” but I fear that sets a beginner up for disappointment. You may not be using your favorite fabric, but if you had the goal of the muslin being “wearable” you probably liked it. Then, when it doesn’t work out or fit right, you’ll feel disappointed. You don’t need to set yourself up for disappointment. I get ugly cotton on sale that I wouldn’t dream of wearing out of the house.
  • Practice new techniques (darts, zippers, buttonholes) on scraps of fabric–both your muslin fabric and your “ideal” fabric, if you have spare.

Be Meticulous in Construction (Even on the Muslin):

  • Preshrink everything. Look in your reference book and see what needs to be preshrunk–you might be surprised how much there is! Not only does your fabric need to be preshrunk in a particular way according to what type it is, but so does your interfacing, lining fabric (if you have it), and your zippers!
  • Iron the pattern tissue before you use it. Wrinkles can distort the shape of the fabric you cut out.
  • Press every seam immediately after you sew it, first flat and then open or, in the case of a dart, in the direction called for by the pattern. You would not believe how much of a difference this makes!
  • No, really, press every single seam immediately after you sew itPressing, stitching a straight seam, and picking a simple, flattering, well-tested pattern are probably the three biggest things you can do to make your simple, beginner garment look good.
  • If you are stitching curves (darts, or hips on a narrow skirt), you’ll find you have problems pressing those seams on a flat ironing board. If you don’t want to get a tailor’s ham (I didn’t–I waited for hubby to give me one for Christmas), you can wad up towels to fill in that curve and get a better result.

Don’t Forget the Details:

  • From what I’ve read, one of the big things that keep beginners’ self-made clothes from looking polished is that they leave off some of the finishing touches that we’ve gotten used to from RTW clothes. The finishing detail I saw mentioned most often was topstitching. Topstitching is all over RTW clothing. Taking the time to topstitch can make your finished garment look much more . . . well, finished.
  • The same goes for well-chosen buttons–even if you use them for embellishment rather than functionality.

Accept that You’re Not Going to Fit the Standard:

  • Skirts are a good beginner project because they are less likely to need adjustments to the pattern, but anything more complex is likely to have fitting issues. I’m going through this right now with my first top. When it gets hard, ask for help. Try things. And thank goodness that you used that ugly old cotton for your muslin and can still pet the nice fabric you’re planning to use when you get the fit right.

Just Wear It, Already!:

  • You’re sure that your home-made garment won’t pass muster? Wear it out! Try just going for a stroll in the neighborhood wearing it–something low risk. Then, try it in more formal settings. If there is a flaw, figure out how to hide it (I hid a wonky zipper with a well-placed belt, and I got tons of compliments on my skirt). Wear it around the house. Wear it for dinner parties. Most likely, your garment will not draw criticism. If anyone comments, it’s most likely to be a compliment!
  • Of course, if you wear your self-made item out over and over and it never feels right, perhaps there is another problem (poor fabric or pattern choice for your figure?). If this happens, make a note about what suits you and what doesn’t. That way, you won’t end up with an identical “wadder” in the future.

Well, there are my tips (so far). Any other suggestions are warmly welcomed.

Useful Links

A lot of my information for this post (as far as I can remember) came from a number of discussions on PatternReviews.com, though it has been a couple years since I read through the threads. For more advice and information, try reading these threads:

Other Links

These links were suggested on PatternReview.com as additional resources:

Review: Singer 4423 HD

Lemon

The Singer 4423 HD (Alternate View)

My first sewing machine was a Singer 4423 HD. It was a disaster that put back my progress with sewing (that I wanted to take up in 2010) back by several years. Here is my review of the machine, as worded on Pattern Review, for reference:

What demoiselle likes about this machine:

I got this as my first machine after I decided to take up sewing. Because I had been taught the fundamentals in a theatre costume shop, I was used to using simple, hearty sewing machines. Therefore, I wanted a fast, heavy-duty, non-computerized machine that would handle a variety of fabric-weights and offered an array of simple stitches and an automatic buttonhole. I also didn’t want to spend a ton of money until I knew I’d be sewing regularly. The Singer 4423 HD seemed to fit the bill.

When I first got the 4423 HD, I was impressed by its speed and the way it felt “sturdy.” However, that sturdiness was not real: this machine is a lemon.

After attempting to use this machine to relearn sewing, I can confidently say that there is nothing I like about it.

What demoiselle does not like about this machine:

It breaks. A lot. There is a problem with the bobbin timing getting out of alignment with the needle, resulting in ruined fabric, knotted and messy clumps of thread, and hours of tears. This machine meant me huddled over my sewing table (bought at Goodwill and customized by cabinet-maker friends JUST to house this machine so it could fold away in my tiny NYC apartment) or my husband lying on the floor under it working to figure out “what was off.”

We spent ages researching what tensions I’d “gotten wrong” that the machine was so messed up. We checked online for instructions. We researched analyses of how sewing machines work. Very informative, but ultimately useless. There was no “at home” fix for this problem.

That meant that I had to take the machine out of the table and haul it to the nearest NYC sewing machine repair shop (via subway and a long walk). The owner was surprised, said that Singers were usually good, and thought that it was most likely a “new sewer” error, but checked it out.

I was right. It was the bobbin timing that was off. $70 went to the repair man for synchronizing it. I asked if I had a lemon, and the guy said “probably not”–that it might have been jostled in shipping.

Of course, halfway through my next sewing project (a few weeks later), the same problem happened again. Rinse and repeat. By the time I dragged the machine back to the shop, I’d lost several months of sewing time afterhaving waited a year and a half to get the machine + customized table back from the cabinet maker in Virginia.

After having the same problem diagnosed again, I decided that it was not worth throwing another $70 into this machine. I’d hardly managed to finish a skirt and one muslin between breakages. The salesperson looked up the record of me coming in with the machine or questions about fixing the machine and agreed–this was a lemon.

I traded it in for parts and bought a BabyLock Molly (A-Line Series). THAT is a good machine. It doesn’t fit into my customized sewing table, but it works and looks just fine sitting on top of it. If I’d bought the Molly on sale to begin with, I would have spent the same amount as the Singer + repairs + the cost of tears and frustration and lost time.

In summary:

Don’t be taken in by the initial feeling that the Singer 4423 HD is “tough” and “unbreakable” and “fast.” It isn’t. It’s a money-pit. I recommend spending more now for a high-quality machine and suffering less later from repair fees and ruined garments.

The Saga of Simplicity 8523 – View F

Image

Simplicity 8523: Anything But Simple. Why? Because of fit.

I’m sewing my first top. Or rather, I am trying to sew my first top. It’s going well. The muslin has a very nice neckline, and I managed to insert my first facings almost without a problem. The darts are straight and don’t pucker. Overall, I should be proud. I am proud.

And also appalled. I knew when I picked this pattern that it was very simple and boxy. The top falls almost straight from the underarms to the hem. When I saw that the waistline had 11″ of ease (11″!), I decided to cut to fit my bust and not to taper out to the larger size at my hips. With 11″ of ease, I figured I’d just hem the top to hit me above the widest point of my hip and that all would be good.

That was my first mistake. The results (bunching and bagging) were readily apparent in my muslin (of which I will not post pictures yet, thank you very much).

Thanks to the good folks at Pattern Review, I’m receiving a bit of a master class in how to make adjustments. I’ve even had to retrace the pattern from scratch and use other, uncut pieces to add back in the wider hip and grade outward.

Image

In which I channel my grandfather and learn to draft things. Or trace them. Close enough.

Now I’m busily lowering the waistline on my new pattern. Then I have to raise the hem and taper again (so as not to lose the ease I added in tracing the size 12 hemline). After that, I may have to do a swayback adjustment. Then, there is the second (or second and third) muslin.

All for a super-simple v-neck.

Demoiselle, Stripped to Her Simplest Lines

Croqui of myself, made by tracing a photograph in PhotoShop.

Croqui of myself, made by tracing a photograph in PhotoShop.

If I am going to do a sewing and knitting blog, then I might as well go full out. My first post is a croqui I made of myself (apparently a year or three behind the trend). In order to make it, I followed the tutorial outlined by lladybird. Since I have PhotoShop, I used that instead of GIMP-shop. I leaned heavily on the “define path” and “stroke” functions to get my outline. I found that I got a good weight bodyline by using a 6 pixel brush, a good collorbone with a 4 px brush, and dimples for the elbows and knees with a 3 px brush.

By far the hardest part was getting my hair and jawline right.

For the photograph, I used a white wall, a self-timing digital camera, and a stack of encyclopedias that raised the camera to waist-level. I also wore the shoes that I am most likely to wear with most clothing (seeing as shoes can change your posture slightly).

It’s an interesting experience, looking at oneself in stark lines. I’ve got mild scoliosis, which (when I am not swimming or using a rowing machine regularly) expresses itself in an uneven waist and a high hip. It’s quite visible in the croqui, but not nearly as hideous as I imagine it when I look in the mirror.

It’s also interesting to see my body as it is now. Until I hit 28, I weighed under 100 lbs. Now I weigh about 124 on a 5′ 3/4″ frame. The weight-gain happened fast (working out, bigger appetite, husband who cooks, and generally feeling happier) and, ever since, I have struggled with a disconnect when I look in the mirror.

Now I know it isn’t so bad. I don’t look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I do have a waist. And even though I didn’t gain much if any weight in the bust, I’m not terribly out of proportion. Yes, this body means that certain clothes will suit me better than others.

But it will also mean that certain clothes will suit me better than they’d suit other folks, right?