Monday, June 2, 2014

Smithson 2014: Another Gala, Another Gown!

After a few intense days of trying to carve out sewing time in between home inspection work, the gown, vest, tie and handbag were all done with some time to spare, and we had another magical gala evening.

So here's how we looked as we headed out the door.

Here is the front of the dress.

You can just barely see the black velvet binding around the neckline and armholes. The hem was also bound with black velvet.

I was amazed at how comfortable the dress was. I inserted an Ambiance lining, which really helped glide it on (there was no closure). And yes, I wore a pretty heavy-duty smoother to even out the lumps!

Here's Bob's vest and tie, ready to go. I used my regular vest pattern, with black velvet for the outside and Ambiance for the lining. The sequined lapels were added like appliques, with the outside and the fold edges bound with black velvet. This really helped it all lay flat and kept the sequins from rubbing his shirt. The back of the vest was fastened with black velvet ribbon through two D-rings.
The tie also had the front edge appliqued, rather than trying to force the sequins into a knot.

Here's my purse! This is the same clutch purse I've used for a few years, with a new black velvet cover. I wanted to glam it up a little, so I cut this dragon head out of the sequin fabric. I thought the sequins would fall off, or that it couldn't hold the detail, but boy, was I wrong!!

Here's the close-up:

Some of the sequins flipped up at the edges, but all in all, it held up fine. The applique was glued onto the velvet with strong clear craft glue.

Construction Observations

I have never worked with sequin fabric before, and was really, really worried that it would be a nightmare. Sure, there were bits of sequin all over my table any time I made a cut:

But once the loose ones were shaken off, there was absolutely NO sequin loss on ANY of the pieces I cut. Even the edges stayed intact! I was flabbergasted, because people had warned me that I would have nothing but trouble from sequins. But then I got to thinking: maybe the reason I had so little trouble was that the fabric was of a really, really high quality? This sure wasn't from the Joann's bargain aisle. Sure, it did a number on my scissors (thank goodness the sharpener guy will be back in my neighborhood next week), but overall it was a dream to work with. It sewed beautifully; I didn't have to hand-stitch anything except the button on Bob's vest.

There are only a few seams on the dress: the shoulders and the center back and train. All edges were covered in a narrow binding of black velvet: I stitched the velvet to the front of the edge, flipped it around to the back, and stitched in the ditch to secure it. Then I trimmed the excess off with applique scissors. I decided to do the edges this way to avoid the look of sequins folded around a corner, and also to prevent having sequins touching my skin.

Originally I had a front drape on the dress as well, but when I put it on, that front drape just felt so much like a bib that I took it off. So the front ended up a bit plainer than intended.

The Gala!

This year's gala was held in the Atrium of the National Museum of American Art, which is not on the mall. From the moment we got there, I had people coming up to me and complimenting the gown and Bob's vest! As a result, we got to talk to a lot more people than we usually do. We even got to say hello to Dr. Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian.

Here's Bob listening to Dr. Clough give his welcoming remarks. Oh, and if you look carefully, you can see the tablecloth is blue and green, so the colors were perfect!!

We actually had such a good time that we didn't take many pictures; sorry! Most of the dresses we saw there were sheath style; more and more are opting for two-piece outfits. There were about half a dozen other sequin outfits (jackets), and another handful of beaded jackets. I'll post a few pictures of those later.

Thanks for following yet another Smithson Gown saga!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Smithson 2014: The First Cut

There's something about the thought of cutting into expensive fabric that just paralyzes you.

Over the last few days I started in earnest on my dress (after all, the gala is a week away!). The first thing I did was to clear enough space on my sewing table to spread the fabric out and take a careful look at it.

From one angle, it's predominantly blue.

But look at it from the other corner, and it is a totally different color.

To clarify the orientation, the top picture is viewed from the "bottom" of the fabric, and the bottom picture is taken from what will be the top edge.

I spent quite a while thinking about how I was going to tackle this. With the help of my PMB Users Group friends, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted the end product to look like. The real issue was getting there, with as few seams as possible.

The first step, of course, was to actually cut the fabric to make the basic dress shape. I wanted what was essentially a big tube, so I figured the easiest way to get that was to measure my widest point (my hips), and cut a tube that fit around that (plus some ease and a seam allowance).

First I tried draping it on my dress form, inside out, to see whether I could just sew it inside out that way and have it work. But the fabric is sooooo slippery that it really didn't feel like it would work properly.

Nope, didn't look like much at all. Time for plan B.

Then I realized: why am I trying to reinvent the wheel? I have a knot top shape that fits me well; why not use that as the basis for this dress? So I grabbed my "Tried and True" knit top pattern and laid it out on the fabric in such a way that it was cut as one single piece, with double-ended darts in place of side seams, and a single seam running down the center back.

Here's where that difficult first cut came into play.

"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can..." And with that, I started cutting.

(Note to other sewists: sequinned fabric is not difficult to cut, but it sure puts up a fight. My hands were quite sore when I got through!)

Then I just sewed the shoulders, darts and center back seam on the sewing machine (after testing on a scrap and deciding that the machine-sewn seams didn't look all that bad) and tried it on.

Front view:

Not too terrible, I think! Here's the back view:

The big wedge opening at the bottom is where I will be inserting a godet to make a slight train.

Here's one of the darts.
I'm not thrilled about the dart, but really can't think of another way to do the shaping of the dress; without some kind of dart, it's just going to look like a shapeless tube.

So there you have it; Progress!! I'm going to continue working on it tomorrow evening; now that I know it pretty much fits, it's on my dress form for the tweaking stage. I need to do something about the front and back necklines (such as adding cowls), and finish all the edges. I'm also going to add lining so it slips on and off easier. Then, of course, I still have to make the vest for Bob, as well as a purse for me. Stay tuned for updates!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Smithson 2014: Why, yes, I have completely lost my mind.

"Wait", you may be thinking, "Didn't you just do a Smithson gown a few months ago?" Yes indeed, I did. Last year's Gala was in September. This year they decided to have it in May, on the 31st, to be exact. And yes, that is just a little over two weeks away. Lately it seems like inspiration for the gown is coming later and later, which can mean challenges for getting it all done in time.

This year I was just not feeling any inspiration at all. The last three years' gowns were so much fun to make, and this year I was just struck with an overwhelming feeling of "Now what?" Sure, I could have used the same pattern as a previous year, but in a different fabric. But heck, what's the challenge in that?

I started planning a quick fabric-shopping trip to New York for the end of this week, to find the Perfect Fabric that would just leap out and inject the dress design into my head, fully formed. Hey, it's worked before! But this morning I looked at the weather report and saw that Friday was going to be a day of unending heavy rain -- not the kind of weather conducive for a day on the road, not to mention schlepping in and out of fabric stores. So I reluctantly called off the trip. But then one of my ASG friends reminded me of a closer option that I always seem to forget about: A Fabric Place, on the outskirts of Baltimore.

Today my daughter personal fashion consultant and I headed there to see what we could find. And after more than half an hour looking through the fabrics (and seriously considering a lovely lace, until I saw that it was Dior and carried a $198/yard price tag -- eek!), I spotted one that whispered "look at me!"
Well, okay, it didn't whisper -- it shrieked. With great trepidation I pulled some off the bolt and we draped it to see how it would work. And that's all it took.

Those of you who have seen my dresses know that I tend to be mostly -- well, "conservative" is the closest I can come up with. So you may be totally shocked to see the fabric I picked.


Yes, my friends, that is indeed an overall sequin fabric. It is an iridescent green/blue, very much peacock tones. It drapes beautifully and does amazing things for my figure. Honest! And I feel so fabulous when it's wrapped around me!
The style isn't nailed down yet, but I know that it needs to be minimally seamed/darted, and I've got to reinforce the heck out of the shoulder seam because the fabric is quite heavy. Suggestions are welcome!
I've got 4 yards of it, and that ought to be plenty for a simple gown. I'd love to have some kind of short train, and a draped back... perhaps reminiscent of my Constellation gown?

So, what do you think? Subtle it ain't!!

Friday, May 2, 2014

An end to the sewing drought?

It's been quite a while since I had anything to post; I really haven't done that much in the way of sewing recently so it feels great to be able to tell you about some projects I've done in the past few weeks.

Sewing for Me!

I've fallen way behind on my "Garment a Month Challenge" sewing, but plan to get caught up by the end of this month. Here are two projects I finished in the last two weeks: a knit top using my "tried and true" pattern (drafted with PatternMaster Knits), and a pair of jeans drafted with PatternMaster Boutique.

I'm really, really happy with the fit! These are actually a "wearable muslin" for some work pants for me, so I took the time to add all the details like pockets and such. The only modification I had to make after the first try-on was to take in about 2 inches from the center back seam as it stood away from my back a bit too much. Other than that, the fit is great!

Back view:

This is the first time I've had success with yoke-back jeans, even if I did have to take them in a little. I can move comfortably in them, which will be important when I'm dealing with attics and crawl spaces! I think they'll soften a bit in the wash; it's pretty heavy denim. Now I need to find the right shade of green and start making myself work pants!

Sewing Aprons

One of my favorite accessories has been my sewing apron. I made one last year to use during home inspections and it has proved to be an invaluable accessory there! I recently had the opportunity to make two more; one for our annual PatternMaster Users Group gift exchange, and one for my daughter.

Here's the one for the exchange:

The design is from Urban Threads and was embroidered on my Designer1.

My daughter recently discovered a talent for making quick repairs on costumes and asked me to make an apron for her to keep her supplies in as she dashed around backstage at the local high school performance of Aida. She asked me to put a phrase she had to use often to prevent other people backstage from manhandling the fragile dresses.

Both aprons were sewn from plain canvas and lined with drapery lining (my old standby!), then trimmed with bias tape.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What every dangerously crafty person needs

I've been AWOL for a while; lots of stuff going on and none of it involves me in the sewing room (darn it!). But I had to get up there to make a gift for our annual PatternMaster Users Group gift exchange, which was supposed to happen in February but weather delayed our meeting until today. Not that I had a gift ready in February, of course... I didn't decide on what to make until yesterday.
When I did drapery work, one of my vital tools was my work apron. I made my original one from a pattern I got from Kitty Stein, one of the luminaries of the drapery world. She has since discontinued her pattern, but I still have my copy and continue to make them for myself (yes, they do wear out) and as gifts.
Everything from the apron came out of my stash, including the embroidery design from Urban Threads, which I've had since 2011 but hadn't yet used it on anything.

The pockets are made from a scrap of painter's dropcloth that I had trimmed a few months ago. The bias binding is from the aprons I made at the ASG Retreat in January and ended up not using.

The back side of the apron. The original pattern didn't call for lining or anything like that, but I felt that having an extra layer between the wearer and the drop cloth would be more comfortable. So I lined all three layers with drapery lining. The polyester webbing was stitched on with three lines of stitching, and I used a parachute buckle to fasten the belt. Since I didn't know who would be getting the apron, I made the belting 60" long so the recipient could trim it to length.
The apron is really simple to make, but it's such a handy thing to wear to hold thread snips, measuring tapes, chalk markers, scissors, and other sewing tools. I made one for myself to hold my home inspection tools too!
At today's meeting, I also picked up a lot of fabric that was donated to our local ASG chapter by the husband of a member who passed away. So now I have some luscious wools to add to my stash, and I really want to turn them into some wonderful garments.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

When a Retreat is a Recharge!

Last weekend I had the good fortune to spend three days with nothing on my agenda but sewing, sewing, sewing. I was at the Northern Virginia ASG Sewing Retreat in Winchester, VA, at the lovely George Washington Hotel. This is the same retreat I attended last year. But this time I decided to check in to the hotel the night before, so I could get started with my sewing bright and early!
I had intended to spend part of Thursday afternoon wandering through the lovely town of Winchester, but the bitterly cold weather prevented me from staying out for more than about ten minutes. And, being a home inspector, I was spending a lot of that time looking at the old houses, admiring the construction, and spotting ice dams.

(The icicles coming from behind the gutters is a dead giveaway... These folks are probably going to see some pretty bad leaking along that wall)

Friday morning I unloaded all my supplies at my chosen sewing spot.
It may not look like a lot, but I had two boxes of fabric, four bags of supplies, and three machines with me (the third -- my coverstitch -- stayed in my room with the intent of bringing it down when I got to working on knits. Which I never got to).
I wanted to start the weekend off with a quick project, so I whipped up this little basket out of two fat quarters and some Decor Bond stiffener.
I used it to keep some M&Ms handy for myself (and for anyone who passed by).

Then it was time to get some serious sewing done. The first project I really wanted to get done during this weekend was a set of two aprons for an online apron swap I'm participating in. I made one adult and one child sized apron, using Butterick 5506.

These aprons are now making their way down to the recipient's house, and I hope she and her daughter enjoy them.

Welcome to the world's most glamorous sweatshop!

My next project was the barn jacket I wrote about in my previous post.
Here I am working on the muslin.

And here it is, done!

Once I had finished the coat, I only had a few hours left before it was time to pack up, so I made a few quick scarves from a pattern that was published in Threads magazine back in 1995 (issue #60).
Doesn't it drape nicely? But what if I don't like the blue?

I can turn it inside-out! This was a piece of polyester from Joanns that had a gradient print, so the two sides of the scarf were completely different.

Here's what the scarf looks like flat.
Since it's cut on the bias, it drapes beautifully. I also made one out of a single layer of polar fleece to wear as sort of a balaclava. I'm sure I'll be making more.

But here was the best part...

Rather than eat breakfast at the hotel on Friday, I decided to try out a little diner across the street called "Just Like Grandma's." And boy, am I glad I did! By the end of the weekend, I think every one of the retreat attendees had eaten at least one meal there.
It was a tiny place... maybe 15 seats. The gentleman in the plaid shirt is Perry, the owner and cook, and next to him is Boots, his helper. The food that came out of this little shoebox kitchen was simply amazing!!! And he kept giving us samples of things: eggnog poundcake, buttermilk pie, jerk chicken omelet, curried chicken salad... It's amazing I didn't gain ten pounds over the weekend.
As I was leaving the restaurant after lunch on Friday, I noticed a white hoodie hanging on a hook on the wall, and asked whether it had been left by one of the retreat attendees. No, Perry told me, it had been hanging there for a few weeks, and they didn't know who it belonged to. I was struck with an idea: I took the hoodie back to the hotel with me and invited all the attendees to embellish it in some way. And they did! I presented the hoodie to Perry and Boots on Sunday afternoon (after finishing an awesome lunch).

Same time, next year...
I've already got next year's retreat on my calendar!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Barn Jacket finished!

This weekend I was in Winchester, VA, at a sewing retreat organized by the Northern Virginia Chapter of the American Sewing Guild (ASG). I've been on these retreats before, most recently last January, and really enjoy them for the burst of inspiration and productivity I get. More about the retreat itself in another post; right now I want to share one of the projects I made on the retreat: my Barn Jacket.
I had intended to make a muslin before leaving on the retreat, to save time, but a nasty head cold sapped my energy in the week prior, so I ended up doing the whole thing at the retreat. And I'm actually pretty glad I did, because it gave me the opportunity to tap some really smart brains (thanks, Monica!!) to analyze the muslin and help me improve the fit.
There were three issues with the muslin:
  • The sleeves were too tight at the bicep
  • The armhole was too high
  • It was too tight across the upper back
Now, if I were home with access to the computer and my printer, I would have just pressed a few buttons, made the adjustments, and printed out a new pattern. But that wasn't an option, so I had to figure out how to do it manually. Monica was a tremendous help, suggesting how to make the changes to the sleeves and bodice. Then I started cutting and assembling. I got most of it done by Saturday night, and on Sunday finished inserting the lining and adding the snaps.

Yeah, I was happy to get it done. Now that I'm home, I was able to take some more pictures and show some details.

There's only a bust dart in the front bodice, and a shoulder dart in the back.

The pockets. These were copied from inspired by the Green Pepper Frenchglen Barn Jacket, and someone with the pattern was kind enough to tell me how they were assembled. And it turned out to be very simple.

I love the "handwarmer" pocket feature. I used polar fleece on the back side of the pocket, so this makes the pockets extra cozy. Both front pockets have this feature.

The back of the jacket. See the ridge along the center back seam? That's where I made the adjustment for extra room across the back. The original pattern had a straight back, cut on the fold. Instead, I made it a shaped back seam, with a little more room right between the arms, where I needed it.

Here's the pattern piece, showing how I added the curved seam, along with about 1/2" more the rest of the way down. The neckline stayed the same. You can also see where I dropped the armhole about an inch. I made the changes because I was going to be using a quilted lining, and the added bulk would have pinched the arms and armhole otherwise.

The interior is a pre-quilted polyester fabric. I used the same fabric to make pockets for both inside flaps: open ones at the top, and zippered ones at the bottom.

For the collar, I used fleece for the upper rather than canvas, to keep it more comfortable around my neck. I didn't use any interfacing in the collar at all.

The best part about the coat is that it was all done at the machine, even inserting the lining. The lining was attached at the neck edge first, then at the hem. The sleeves were pulled out through the front openings and machine-stitched (it still feels like I'm sewing a Kline bottle when I do this... it all aligns properly but it always feels like magic!). Then the front edges were stitched (you can see the stitching line in the last picture).

All in all, I am extremely happy with how the coat turned out. It's my first official "Make a Garment a Month Challenge" garment, and I'm happy that I knocked it out of the park. Of course, the only issue is that now Bob wants one as well. But now that I've made one, I'm more confident making one for him.

For the PatternMaster crowd, here are the settings I used:
  • Classic jacket
  • Button placket
  • Jewel neck
  • Fitted side seam
  • Straight back
  • Straight hem
  • Armhole depth 1 (manually lowered to 2)
  • Set-in sleeve
  • Tapered
  • Pleated cuff
  • Convertible collar, 2.5 inch width
  • Ease: Chest 5, waist 2, hip 5