Time Machine Tuesday: (Almost) First Dress

My one and only picture wearing the first dress I ever made--with much assistance from the costume shop manager who was teaching me to sew (1997).

My one and only picture wearing the first dress I ever made (1997).

Here is a little, tiny picture of me wearing the very first garment I ever sewed.

I made it while working at the costume shop at Mill Mountain Theatre, along with a few pillows. Since I was working as a dresser backstage, it behooved me to know how to do some emergency sewing. The costume shop manager taught me the basics, and guided me through making this dress.

Her help with fitting was invaluable, and I wish I had such assistance now, when I can actually sew a bit better than I could then.

This dress turned out nicely, though a little wonky around the neck (probably due to my bust size). It was lined, as I recall, with a pretty printed purple cotton.

I wish I had kept it as a souvenir of my earliest efforts.

Time Machine Tuesday: Denim Pencil Skirt (Simplicity 9825)

My second sewing effort after my decade-and-a-half break was a pencil skirt, seen here:

Simplicity 9825 – A Pencil Skirt in Denim with Topstitching

It took only one muslin to get the fit, and I was satisfied with the outcome. Although I wouldn’t yet label this pattern “TNT,” I think that, with patience and a bit of tweaking, it could be.

Certainly, the line of the skirt is good, and, although I had to do some tweaking to make it fit better, it was minor. I can see myself coming back to this pattern multiple times, and I think it would look good in various kinds of fabric.

Proud of . . .

  • The burnt-orange embroidery thread that I used for the topstitching.
  • The top-stitching itself, which I kept an even length by lining the edge of the presser foot with the seam alongside which I was stitching. It worked!
  • The fabric choice: Although the photos don’t show off the color, this fabric is a lovely, dark indigo with a hint of lycra. When I brought a sample in to The Sewing Outlet to practice getting the proper setting on my new serger (ie, a lesson), the clerk admired the swatch.
  • The finishing: I serged everything on this skirt, so it looks just as nice on the inside as the outside.
  • The fact that I figured out how to fix the poor fit in the stomach area by pulling the extra fabric into the waistband (shortening the front).

Want to work on . . .

  • Actually writing down the alteration I made so I don’t have to figure it out the hard way again. Ooops.

Here’s my review of Simplicity 9825, as posted on Pattern Review.

This is my second sewing effort, made after Simplicity 5914.

Pattern Description: 
Misses’s Slim and A-Line Skirts Each in Three Lengths (six total views). The skirt is made of four panels with a back zipper, and the skirts include a broad waistband. I made “View C,” a knee length pencil skirt with stitching details down the front and around the waistband.

Detail: Topstitching

Pattern Sizing:
I sewed a size 14, and the basic fit was good. However, I did have to raise the front of the skirt into the waistband to eliminate bagginess in the tummy area. Also, the diagonal stretch lines so cruelly visible in this photograph suggest that either I have put on a little weight since I made this or I needed to make the hip area slightly wider.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?
Yes. The pattern is what it says it is! 

Were the instructions easy to follow?
The instructions were easy to follow, definitely. I am glad I made a muslin, since that’s how I discovered the need to pull the front of the skirt into the waistband to eliminate stomach bagginess.

I can’t remember if I followed the directions for inserting the zipper for this pattern; I think I again referred to the Readers Digest Complete Guide to Sewing. Nevertheless, Simplicity 9825 seemed much more amenable to having a zipper put in, and the waistband helped the process.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
The wide waistband hits right at my natural waist, rather than sitting on my hips. This cut definitely creates the illusion that my waist is smaller than it is. The skirt has a nice silhouette.

As for dislikes . . . well, it isn’t the pattern’s fault, but getting the perfect fit around the hips, especially since this garment doesn’t have much ease, wasn’t easy for a new sewer.

Fabric Used:
I used a lovely, high quality dark indigo denim (the color doesn’t show up well in the photos, perhaps because my living room is painted blue!). It has a bit of stretch to it. I accented the denim with top-stitching in burnt-orange embroidery thread (picture above). The top-stitching gives a nice, subtle, professionally-made look to the skirt.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:
As mentioned above, I had to raise the front of the skirt into the waistband to eliminate front bagginess. I chose to hem the skirt to knee-length instead of mid-thigh as pictured on the package.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
I would and I will. I already have some fantastic tweedy wool in my stash which is intended to be a work/professional version of this skirt. It only awaits me getting a bit more confident that I won’t ruin my expensive fabric with novice-errors!

I am triangle shaped (though I do have a waist about 10″ smaller than my hips). Though I think this skirt is flattering, I suspect it would not suit someone who is even more bottom heavy than I am, or who is more rectangle-shaped. As it is, I think this skirt looks best on me when I wear a top that gives my shoulders the illusion of being a bit wider.

Simplicity 9825 (View C) is what it promises to be. It matches the envelope and it’s easy to make. It’s also versatile–you could make anything from a jeans skirt to a suit skirt with it. The wide waistband is flattering and accentuates one’s waist.

For a beginner like me, S9825 offers some minor challenges (applying the waistband and facing, having had to fix the tummy). It’s also–unless I made it wrong–quite fitted, so it’s good that my denim had a bit of lycra in it. The fact that my wool tweed is NOT stretchy and I will have to be more precise in fitting it over my curves is part of why I haven’t lept to make this skirt again. However, I know that I will. This is an excellent basic pattern to own.

Time Machine Triage*: Trojan Women Costumes (1997)

“You’ve been working in a costume department, haven’t you? Good! Then you can design and make the costumes for the school play!”

My Beloved High School Drama Teacher

Me as Andromache. You wouldn't believe how much time and mousse went into making my hair into those little snake-like twists (1997).

Me as Andromache. You wouldn’t believe how much time and mousse went into making my hair into those little snake-like twists (1997). **

When I write here about “my first skirt” and “my first top,” I am being slightly disingenuous. I’m talking about my “firsts” as an independent sewist, returning to a skill about which I was taught the basics, under close supervision, as a teen. I was first introduced to sewing when I volunteered at a local professional theatre. As a dresser for musicals, I was mostly responsible for getting actors out of one costume and into their next as fast as humanly possible.

However, accidents do happen backstage, and I was taught the basics of how to sew. Later, when I was hired to assist occasionally in the costume shop proper, I was given a more thorough introduction to how to use their sewing machines and industrial serger. I made little pillows, and–with a lot of assistance from the costume shop manager–I made a dress (which I will show in another post).

Those little lessons gave me two things:

  1. Confidence that I could sew someday, if I actually wanted to.
  2. An unexpected assignment at my high school.

After all, we were doing Euripides’ Trojan Women as our fall play, and we needed rag-tag costumes for the imprisoned chorus and their deposed royalty. So, my drama teach recruited me to design and make them.

After all, I knew how to sew, right?

Cue seventeen-year-old panic. How was I going to do that? Don’t worry, I was reassured, they don’t have to be fancy. These women have just lost a war, after all.


At the costume shop, I got advice: the easiest way for me to make seven semi-Greek costumes was to get lengths of fabric, sew them into robes like a giant T, and then put in the neck-holes. Those could be augmented with contrasting fabrics and trimmings to make them more form fitting and to finish the edges. That should be good enough for a show that would run for one weekend.

I still remember taking all of the girls to Jo-Ann in our hometown with instructions for them to find one basic fabric in a neutral color and a second fabric, if the wished, in another color that they felt expressed their character (those would become wraps and ties). Only royalty was allowed to use gold or silver detailing. I think everyone had fun, though many wished they could pick out prettier or fancier fabrics than “losers of the Trojan War” could be expected to own.

Then there were the late nights in the costume shop, measuring and sewing and hemming, adding trims to the necklines to hide the raw edges where I’d cut in the shape requested by the actress. I don’t know how many hours I spent on these in addition to schoolwork and rehearsal.

Somehow, I got the tunic-t-shirt-dresses done, and the photo of them on the costume shop dress dummies represents my idea of how each actress might or should wear them. They had other ideas, and of course the outfits were bags with holes cut in them, but considering the situation and the fact that I had to make these on my own, alone and unsupervised, in the costume shop’s after hours, I was pretty darned proud.

The chorus costumes on dress forms. (1997)

The chorus costumes on dress forms. (1997)

I was prouder of my hairdo, though.

* Ok, so I meant for my “time machine” posts to always happen on Tuesdays, but I’m so bummed about my top that I’m going to go ahead and delve into the past for a moment I was happy with (surviving) a massive project.

** Curse you, disposable cameras of the 1990s. So many of my photos from those days look just terrible and grainy because of imperfect lighting conditions. I’m lucky to have any photo at all of my first dress, and these two pictures aren’t much better.

Time Machine Tuesday: Boyfriend-Now-Husband-Scarf

My husband taught me (or inspired me) to knit. One of the projects he completed when we first started dating was a beautiful wool, basket-weave-patterned scarf.  It was breathtaking.

He still wears it.

I made a scarf for my boyfriend. Such a stereotype. At least it wasn’t a sweater, right? (September 2008)

Then, he lost it while traveling in Europe. I was so sorry that it happened that I ran out and bought a bunch of identical yarn (which I then didn’t use for years), thinking that I would make him an identical one.

It wasn’t long before I realized that I would never be patient enough to replicate that tiny basket-weave pattern–and certainly not as well as hubby had. So, instead, I got Patons SWS yarn in a nice, off-white/tan shade, took advantage of my new confidence with cabling without a needle, and knitted a Shifting Sands scarf.

If my memory serves me (because I didn’t put an end-date on this project on Ravelry), I managed to knit this replacement scarf and gift it to hubby just before he left for a ten-week stint working in the UK. If memory doesn’t serve, I finished it while he was gone and had it ready to present to him when he arrived home for his first NYC winter.

Years later, this scarf remains one of my favorite projects. It was a happy marriage of pattern and yarn: the SWS solid, with it’s light color and slight variation in ply-width, shows the cable pattern ideally. The pattern itself is simple enough, but looks breathtaking.

I can’t take credit for the combination; if I recall, I looked through the yarns previously used with this very-popular pattern and duplicated a choice that I liked. Nevertheless, I am glad that I learned from my first-scarf mistake (boucle yarn + patterned scarf = invisible hours of labor).

This photograph was taken after hubby had already been wearing his Shifting Sands scarf daily for three winters. It has now been five years, and there is some pilling that could be corrected with a razor. Obviously, the SWS yarn held up incredibly well. I’m sorry that the line was discontinued: it had some gorgeous colorways.

Everyone has heard about the curse of the boyfriend-sweater. Perhaps there is a “blessing” of the boyfriend-scarf. With a little cleaning up and a good wash, I think this Shifting Sands scarf could easily last another half-decade. (Hubby had better stick around a lot longer than that, though!).

Colors and Me

Ah, that 80s fad: getting your colors done! Are you a Spring, Summer, Autumn, or Winter?

Ah, the key to developing inner beauty, outer beauty, self-confidence, and higher self-esteem, all in one booklet.

Ah, the key to developing inner beauty, outer beauty, self-confidence, and self-esteem–all in one booklet!

I can still remember that day when I was about eleven or twelve: my mother had had her colors done, and, in a moment of extravagance, decided that I ought to know what colors would suit me, too. I recall kicking my heels as I sat on a high stool before a big mirror in a local specialty fashion and makeup shop while the “expert” attempted to divine my season. It wasn’t easy, perhaps because of my pre-teen shape-shifting.

Or perhaps the saleswoman waffled because the she was savvy and knew Mom could be “upsold.” Whatever the case, the verdict she reached was that I, in fact, was between seasons and fit into two: Summer and Winter.

As I was going through my drawers in my mom’s new place the other day, I found the swatch booklets she bought. All these years, I’ve kept them socked away–just in case I needed to know what colors would make me look especially good.

It’s interesting to reflect on the “Color Me Beautiful” fad. Until I looked online last week, I hadn’t realized that there was a book. Something I had realized–way back in 1991, as I perched on that stool–was that it was a rather unfair system. I remember the saleswoman being flustered when I asked her about seasons for anyone who was African-American or Asian (I don’t think I was globally aware enough in my little Southern town to think beyond our region’s not-very-diverse community). Only Caucasian women could be any one of the four seasons, I learned. I thought that was unfair and probably demanded to know why.

I have always liked the question “why.” The saleswoman did not. Funny. I have to say that I felt vindicated when I read the internet reviews for Carole Jackson’s Color Me Beautiful that pointed out the inherent bias in her system.

For twenty-two years, my “Summer” and “Winter” color and advice booklets have sat in my dresser drawer. Now, while acknowledging the bias in Jackson’s system, I find myself flipping through the two mini-wallets and asking myself . . .

Was “Color Me Beautiful” right?

Bad hair. You're not supposed to have a natural red cast, and I shouldn't accentuate it.

Bad hair. You’re not supposed to have a natural red cast, and I shouldn’t accentuate it (2012).

Certainly, it’s hard to get past the dated language. Then, I come to some things that make me shake my head:

Winter: Hair color–cool ashen tones, ash brown–ash blond–blue-black. Avoid: frosting, bleaching or streaking. Avoid: red and gold tones.

Summer: Hair color–Frosts: are very good; Platinum-Ash. Lighten and tone with Ash–Ivory–Beige–Silver. Avoid: golden, auburn, or black.

My natural hair color–now that I am an adult–is reddish-brown. You could call me a brunette, or say I have auburn hair. Ooops. I’ll have to protest to my parents. That said, Carole Jackson can rest assured that I will not be getting my hair frosted anytime soon.

But . . . the colors? Were the colors right?

Ok, ok. I’ll let go about being two seasons, and I’ll let go of the fact that my natural hair color is apparently all wrong (though after taking the quiz on the website, I am just as confused as that saleswoman about what season I should be).

Several years before I got my swatches, I nailed "true green" for my school photo. I also borrowed mom's beads.

Several years before I got my swatches, I nailed “true green” for my school photo. I also borrowed Mom’s beads. Smashing! (1989).

The real question is, “Do the swatches flatter me?”

Yes. Yes, they do.

Color Me Beautiful got my colors right, even if they did put me into two different seasons. When I open the (twenty-plus-year-old!) swatch-book, I find that the fabric samples (which have not even faded) are pretty much what I pick when I shop.

There are some colors missing, though: I look really nice in corals and burnt oranges that are decidedly not in my suggested spectrum. The color that I’m wearing in my 2012 head shot (above) is nowhere to be found.

At the same time, both books suggest that I should look good in yellow, which I’ve always avoided like the plague.

I’m left wondering if “Color Me Beautiful” isn’t a little like a fortune cookie. Its little tests find out enough about your basic coloring to throw a few good options at you (in my case, I look good in the suggested colors because of my pale, blue-tinted skin). Then, as you wear only those colors, you get convinced that Carole Jackson’s got you all figured out.

But what about all the other colors? What about my burnt oranges and purpley-pinks? Am I just lucky that I can wear a lot of colors? Am I deluded? I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that–even if the suggested swatches are a bit too limited for my taste–the system guessed pretty well.

But then, so do fortune cookies, most of the time. There is a horoscope-quality about these booklets:

The Summer Woman: Classic feminine, soft-spoken, highly social and a good listener. If you have a problem, she will try to help. She is conservative, an excellent creative home-maker and mother, is patient, even-tempered, trusting, can be stubborn and set in her ways. She is involved in community and social affairs, and is a gracious and poised hostess.

Erm . . . well. Let’s try this one:

The Winter Woman: Is known for her calm, dramatic, and sometimes formal quality. She is confident, and always seems to be in control. This air of confidence can make her appear aloof and difficult to get to know.

Her positive attitude, good organization, and ability to delegate responsibility makes her a good leader in career and community activities.

She is always striving for perfection. She is sometimes over-organized, emotionally strong, has a strong will, and is not easily intimidated.

Who knew you could tell so much just by finding out if my hair is dark or light and my skin-tone is warm or cool? Perhaps I should put Aquarius up next . . .?

It’s easy to tease “Color Me Beautiful,” but there is validity to her system. I’m tempted to check Jackson’s book out of the library just to find out of the swatches for my seasons are more extensive in the full-length book than they are in my mini-wallets. Regardless, I’ll be taking my swatch-books home with me. They may be of assistance as I plan my sewing and knitting.

The colors are made to look good together, after all, which is essential to planning a wardrobe.

Have you had your colors done? What did you think of the results?

Time Machine Tuesday: First Cabled Project

For my last time machine post (a Friday, but Time Machine Tuesday sounds so much better, doesn’t it?), I showed off my lumpy disaster of a first scarf. Fortunately, I got better. Here is Exhibit B–My First Cabled Project.

First cabled scarf. It’s long finished, I swear (May 2008).

I started this scarf before going to visit my boyfriend in Edinburgh. I figured I’d want a nice, long, cozy scarf, so I picked the very popular Irish Hiking Scarf (free pattern!). Wary of spending a lot of money on a starter project, I bought Red Heart.

Now I know the anti-Red Heart folks are frowning, but really this buff fleck yarn is lovely. It looks nice, washes up soft, and I loved it so much that I bought a ton of it and made my first top down v-neck sweater out of it. I have never regretted buying this yarn, and have thought about getting it in other colorways.

Since I was going to be knitting on a trans-atlantic flight, I used Grumperina’s tutorial to teach myself how to cable without a cable needle. I have never regretted that choice, either; being able to cable without a needle has made knitting pretty cables much more portable.

It also meant that I’ve learned how to pick up and fix dropped cable stitches, which is not fun. In the balance, however, learning Grumperina’s method is well-worth-while.

What I learned with this project:

  • Picking the right yarn and pattern to match is essential.
  • Red Heart Buff Flecked yarn is pretty and washes well.
  • I can cable.
  • It is possible to make a scarf that is too long. This thing is massive. I must have zonked out on the plane.
  • It’s nice to be complimented on your crafty-work, especially when you are a beginner.

I still own and wear this scarf–and it looks just as good five years after finishing it as it did the day I wove in the last end.

I think that this scarf is so popular that there is no need to plug the pattern too strongly. It is a great standard and looks handsome in a variety of yarns. Honestly, I think the crispness of the acrylic yarn makes the cables stand out even better on this scarf than it would have with wool.

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.