Ok, You Can Mess Up PJs :-(

Went shopping for fabric for hubby’s PJs today, picked out what felt like the perfect weight checked cotton, didn’t pay enough attention when the clerk measured and folded it.

After I paid and left, I realized I had been looking at the back of the fabric–which is actually a complex plaid–and the “perfect thickness” was because the fabric was doubled.

Now, I have almost three yards of wafer-thin complex plaid woven cotton with a checkered wrong side. Not what I intended to get at all. There is really nothing I can do with it at all–I’ve pondered over it, and it won’t stand up to the beating that a pair of pjs would take, even if I did manage to make plaid pjs without losing my mind.

Disappointed with myself, and shocked that I did not notice that the fabric was not what it seemed. That’s what I get for picking something that was on a bolt in the very back of a huge mound of fabrics.

There’s $12.50 wasted. And it’s too bad, because it is nice fabric. Just . . . not at all useful to me.

Now I’m going to have to find something else. Perhaps I should go mope over a couple of my knitting projects that aren’t going very well, either.

The Saga of Simplicity 8523 (Part II)

"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!"

“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!”

This is a little too much for a basic, boxy top. I think this nice lady is mocking me.

All the time I’ve been in Virginia, I’ve been looking forward to getting home to NYC and getting back to Muslin #2 of my Simplicty V-Neck (8523 – View F: Blogged about here and here). In the first post, I showed off my inner-draftswoman by tracing the pattern that I’d already cut (ill-considered on my part) on the smallest line, in order that I might add to the hips, lower the waist, then lift the hem below the new waistline without losing my beautiful, new, hip-accommodating hemline. All I had to do–so I thought–was to put in a nice sway-back adjustment to take care of the extra fabric pooling at my back, and I’d be smooth-sailing towards an (admittedly baggy for my tastes) first top.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so eager to return to this project. First, I’ll show you the fruits of my initial labor (dropping the waistline and then raising the hem after tapering from a size 8 at the waist to a size 12 at the hemline). It was promising:

Muslin #2: Front

Muslin #2: Side

Muslin #2: Back

Unfortunately, there was still an excess of fabric in the back (though much improved from the first version). I’ve tried pinning in a swayback adjustments several ways. At first, I took out larger pinches of fabric because the top is just so saggy. Then I read that swayback adjustments should be more than 1/4″ pinches, so I tried that:

1″ tuck taken 1″ above waistline.

1″ tuck taken 1.5″ above waistline.

1/4″ tuck 1 1/2″ above waistline.

Yes, pinning this fabric out smooths the back noticably–even when it’s just a 1/2″ pinned out. But when I try to put these adjustments onto the pattern piece, it distorts the grading I did to a achieve a larger hip size.The new hem actually becomes concave.

Concave. After all the work I put into making the hip wider.

At this point, I’m wondering whether this isn’t just a terrible, terrible pattern for me. Either that, or there is an undiagnosed fitting problem other thank my long waist and swayback that is making this muslin look so awful.

I’m tempted to call this whole project (and pattern) a wadder. The hard thing about being a beginner is not knowing what is a “user error” and what is just a misfire.

Any thoughts? Am I missing a simple fitting issue, or is this just a terrible pattern for me?

The Saga of Simplicity 8523 (Part I)

Simplicity 8523


Such a lovely word. And–coincidentally–the brand-name for my first two successful sewing projects, both skirts. Now that I feel more comfortable with my very basic sewing skills, I felt ready to try sewing a very simple top. I’d picked up Simplicity 8523 at Daytona Trimming, which has a dusty selection of 80s and 90s patterns, 5 for $10. When I got home and checked the reviews for this pattern, I was pleased to see that it is generally well-liked as a simple “wardrobe-builder.”

I have a list of styles from head to toe that flatter me, and among those styles are square and v-necks. Therefore, I picked View F, the sleeveless, zipperless top. I figured that sewing a top with facings in the neckline and around the arms was enough in terms of adding new skills.

Besides, hubby and I are saving money by not using the air conditioning for as long as possible, so it is hot in our apartment. In such temperatures, sleeveless is ideal.

This top goes together easily. However, it has proven more difficult than expected to fit. The pattern has darts in front, but from there it drops straight down to the hemline. Because of my triangle-shape and the fact that the top had 11″ of ease at the 28″ waist (and my hips are 38″ right now), I cut out a size 8, figuring I’d just hem the top so that it hit me above the widest part of my hips.

Bad idea. Here is a what I ended up with for my first muslin:

Muslin 1: Front

Muslin 1: Back

Muslin 1: Side

Now we can say it in unison: “Ugh!”

Lots of discussion ensued on Pattern Review’s forums, which included compliments for the neckline and arm-scythes and more suggestions than I could possibly follow for how to fix the bags and lumps.

From those comments, I learned the following things:

  • Despite the 11″ of ease, I really did need to grade out from the size 8 around the bust to the size 12 around the hemline (using a french curve to draw a gentle concave line).
  • I have a long torso and will probably have to adjust that by adding tissue on every pattern. Then, I’ll have to fold the pattern up below the waistline to take out some of that extra length.
  • I also have a swayback, and pinning that extra fabric out of the center back (even pinning, and without fixing the above problems) makes a big difference in how the muslin looks:

Back: Swayback Adjustment Pinned

Side: Swayback Adjustment Pinned

These images convinced me of three things:

  • It’s time to start swimming again–look at those rounded shoulders!
  • I should never, ever cut pattern tissue. I’ll be tracing from now on, especially if I have any doubt about whether I might need to grade to a larger size somewhere.
  • I don’t like shirts with a lot of ease, even if they are simple to make.

The posters on Pattern Review convinced me of a few things, too:

  • That this isn’t nearly as dreadful as I thought. I shouldn’t be such a perfectionist! (ie. there is a such thing as “good enough.”)
  • I can learn a lot from making something very basic.
  • Sharing my experiences with others can help everyone learn.

Since making this muslin, I’ve spent hours tracing the original pattern, using another, uncut pattern piece to add the wider, size 12 hip and curving it into the size 8 waistline. I’ll detail the process of Muslin #2 in an upcoming post.

Sometimes even the most simple projects aren’t simple after all.

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.

Review: Singer 4423 HD


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.