Friday, June 5, 2015

Make any dress fit perfectly in just ten minutes!

A few years ago I made a gown for the annual Smithson Gala. It’s been hanging in my closet since then, and my lovely daughter Diana wondered if she could possibly try it on to see if it fit.


Of course, it was too large, but certainly alterable. And in less than ten minutes, it went from loose and drab to fitted and fabulous!


(She insisted on adding the apple, for a little drama!)

And no matter how little sewing ability you have, you too can make ANY garment fit perfectly, in under ten minutes. I’m going to share my secret weapon with you.






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Yep, the humble binder clip. And it’s the reason why I don’t trust most photos for judging fit, especially if it’s in catalogs or store websites.

That dress went from blah to wow, just by clipping it in a few strategic spots. I’m going to show you the side the camera DIDN’T see.

To make the front look good, the back was clipped:

And to make the back look good, the front was clipped:

And yes, the clips were moved around so I could take the pictures of the two sides.

Of course, if she actually wanted to wear the dress anywhere but in front of a camera, it would take a lot longer to actually sew the alterations.

The moral of the story is that you simply cannot judge the fit of a garment by pictures alone, unless you were there when the pictures were taken. So many times people buy clothes online or from catalogs, and discover they don’t fit the way they did in the pictures, and end up blaming themselves for either “ordering the wrong size” or “I just have a problem body.” Neither is true. It is the fault of the clothing marketer, who has a vested interest in making the clothes look as perfect as possible -- never mind if they actually DID fit the way they do.

Think I'm kidding? Here's a behind-the-scenes look from a photo shoot with Antonio Banderas (from the Poorly Dressed section of

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Mom, can you copy this dress?" --The umpteenth edition

I love sewing clothes for my daughter. She has an eye for color and a thirst for style, and has a keen eye about what looks good on her. What she doesn't have is the discretionary income to indulge all her sartorial desires. That's where I come in.
She will often send me pictures of clothes she finds online and asks if I can copy them. And, most often, they're not hard to copy. She is fond of simple lines, so it's pretty easy to look at the pictures and figure out what the crucial details are. Of course, she likes to inject her own style onto them, and asks for necklines to be changed, or hemlines altered, or things like that. And I can usually accommodate her alterations.
So, a few weeks ago she sent me this picture of a Ralph Lauren knit dress.
Okay, nothing too difficult here. Looks like a t-shirt lengthened into a sheath. But what about that inset?
I started with a plain sheath in PatternMaster Knits, set to floor length. Then I brought it into Pattern Editor and drew the curved lines for the insert. After some cogitating, I realized that the insert was simply a half-circle, with the diameter sewn into the insert seamline. Once I measured the seam line for the insert (38"), I had the information I needed to draft the insert. It ended up being a half-circle, 76" wide, with a 38" radius.
The problem was, my fabric was only 60" wide. No problem; I just cut the inserts on the crossgrain.
Oops. Big problem. The fabric only had stretch on the crossgrain. So my inserts sagged terribly and just didn't hang right. Here's the first dress with the cross-grain insert.
This is prior to any finishing work, so the neck, cuffs and hem are raw. There was a lot of excess fabric in the inset; part of that is likely because, since the inset seam was curved, it was actually longer than the measurement from the top of the insert to the hem. But it was so saggy! It just didn't look right. That's when we figured out that the insets being on the crossgrain was causing the problem.

 Luckily, I had another piece of knit fabric in my stash, so I made a second dress, but this time I did the inserts as quarter-circles, with the vertical seam on the straight of grain, so it would hang better.

Here's the second dress, with my daughter standing on my work table (so glad I built it like a tank!) so I could trim it without crawling around on the floor. The inset was still too long, but it hung so much better.

Trim, trim, trim. I cut it so that it was evenly 3" from the floor. Diana didn't want to risk tripping over the hem, so she asked for it to be shorter than the sample picture she sent.

The neckline, cuffs and hem were all finished by folding over 1/2" and coverstitching.

She was very happy with the second dress. But, she asked, is it possible to salvage the first one? So I removed the serged seam (God, how I hate doing that...), then cut the inserts in half and sewed them back together so the vertical seam was now on the straight of grain, and re-inserted them. The skirt was trimmed and hemmed the same as the last one, only for this one I scooped the back neck a bit more since she often likes that.

So here we have the two finished dresses. They look very similar in the pictures, but the first dress is really more of a teal color and the second is more of a true blue.

First dress:

The two half-circle inserts mean it is a very full skirt!

(And yes, the seams are a little puckered. This fabric was NOT fun to work with.)

Low scoop in back.

Here's the second dress:

Holding out one of the inserts so you can see just how big it is:

The neckline on this one is a little higher in back.

It does have a nice twirl to it, too!

I'm now busy with a pair of work pants for me, which is quite necessary as my last RTW pair bit the dust. I'm just glad my sewing room has air conditioning!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Costumes for Legally Blonde: The Musical

I've been pretty busy with costume work again, this time for our local high school performance of "Legally Blonde: The Musical." Because I apparently live under a rock, I was not familiar with the story at all. Why on earth would a movie about a ditzy lawyer need a bandleader outfit and a Playboy bunny suit? And why did they also need a cheerleader's outfit copied in shades of gray and white? And what's with needing a breakaway dress?

YouTube to the rescue! There was an upload of an MTV broadcast of the Broadway show, so I finally understood the context of the outfits. So I got to work.

I knew the most challenging piece was going to be the bunny suit. Ever try and find a pattern for a Playboy Bunny suit? I tried, I really did. The best I found was this Instructable, which at least got me started. I used PatternMaster to get the basic top fitted, but even they didn't offer a tightly-fitted princess seam bodysuit. I ended up doing a bit of a Frankenpattern routine, using a princess-seamed strapless top and adding the front and back by hand, drafting the leg curves and crotch pieces. I knew what her crotch measurement was, so I used that as a basic guide to get the length right. In looking at pictures of the traditional Playboy Bunnies, I saw that the peak of the leg curve was in the front of the leg, rather than over the hip, so I had to figure out where that fell as well.

The first muslin wasn't too bad; I pinned out the extras and sliced where it was too tight, then did a second muslin in the final fabric, which looked worse.

I was despairing of ever getting it right, but fortunately the third time was the charm. We used a scrap piece of rabbit fur for the tail, and I also made cuffs, a collar, and bunny ears (thanks to that Instructable!).

On to the Bandleader outfit!

The prime concern about this one is that it was a double quick-change. The actress had very little time to get into it, and to get out of it. So I decided to make the top and the jacket into one piece, zipped up the front. The slinky gold shorts were worn under the previous costume, so that wasn't too much of an issue. In the end, it came together pretty quickly.

The costume director also wanted me to decorate the hat they had for her, with the proviso that I not damage it, which meant not gluing or sewing anything directly to the hat. The hat was a very deep blue, so it had to be completely covered. My solution was to make sort of a "slipcover" for the hat, and gluing decorations to that. The tassel and button are actually part of the original hat; I just cut a slit into my cover and pulled them out. The front ornament is also part of the original hat.

Now, about that cheerleader...

The director handed me this cheerleader dress and said she needed a copy in shades of white and gray for the same actress.

 I traced the dress rather than try to create a pattern, and got a pretty decent fit the first time. The contrast stripes were simply topstitched onto the bodice; I knew the costume would only be on stage for a few minutes, so I applied my "30 foot rule" and didn't bother with edge finishes. It was knit fabric, after all, so it wouldn't fray. I didn't even hem the skirt.

Breaking Away

In one of the earliest scenes of the show, the main character walks onstage in a flimsy white dress and moans that it just screams "bride".

She is then surrounded by a circle of her friends and two seconds later emerges from the scrum in a vivid pink number!

How did she do the change so fast?

Snap tape to the rescue! I just opened up the entire back seam and sewed in about three feet of snap tape. It's pretty much undetectable, even from just a few feet away, and once the actress is within the circle of girls, the one in back simply yanks the entire back seam open and pulls the dress off in one smooth motion, revealing the pink dress underneath. It's a great stage moment!

Closing night is Saturday the 21st, and I'm looking forward to being in the audience. I always have fun making costumes for this group, even though my kids have long since graduated from the school. I'm also happy that my daughter has become adept at hand sewing and on-the-spot alterations backstage; for this show she is serving as the main character's dresser backstage. I'm so proud of her!

Note: All production photos taken by Eric Lader.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Everyone needs their own Minion

A sewing group I belong to does an annual gift exchange at the February meeting, and this year I stumbled across Lady Joyceley's pattern and instructions for making a Minion pincushion. In case you're not familiar with Minions, they are the adorable little yellow sidekicks from the "Despicable Me" movie franchise.

Here's my completed pincushion:

It came out pretty well, but I did do things somewhat differently than the instructions said. There was also a LOT more hand-sewing involved than I had realized, and some of the instructions weren't terribly clear (like for the legs). The instructions said to embroider the mouth, but I cut a sliver of black felt and glued it on instead.

Another view:

The feet came out kind of wonky, but the recipient still loved it. While I'd love to make one for myself, it will have to wait until I have enough free time (hah!) to do it justice.

Friday, February 20, 2015

What the well-dressed knight is wearing

You may be familiar with Reddit, the online forum that has something for everyone (really! Check out their sewing subreddit, or the one for knitting, or the one for sushi, or the one for potato salad... you get the idea!). One of the subreddits is called Secret Santa, and they organize gift exchanges throughout the year. You sign up for an exchange and are given a name and address to send a gift to. All the exchanges have themes, and one of the recent ones had a Medieval theme.

I was stumped as to what to do for my giftee, until my daughter pointed me at an online picture of a hoodie that looked like a suit of armor. Perfect!! But, of course, there's no pattern for it. Which, or course, has never stopped me before. I drafted the base pattern with PatternMaster Tailor Made and kind of winged the remaining pieces.

It took a little trial and error, but overall I'm pleased with the final result, which was sent out this afternoon and should reach its recipient early next week. Can't wait to hear what he thinks of it; I hope he likes it.

I asked my daughter's fiance to help model it as he is about the same size as my giftee, so I was able to get some pictures prior to packing it up.

Front view:
Alex just happens to have a sword he could pose with.

Back view:

And a close-up of the hood:

The helmet parts do swing up and down, and can also be removed.

Everything is made of fleece. The add-on parts are two layers, and some of them (like the helmet face pieces) have a layer of Pellon Decor Bond in them to provide stiffness. The black "grill" on the face piece was done with strips of heat-transfer vinyl, cut with the Silhouette Cameo.

Alex has now requested one for himself, and as soon as my son Ian saw it, he said he wants one too. They really weren't too difficult to make, and now that I've made one I have some ideas on how to improve it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Snuglet is back!

When I migrated our family website to a new platform, one of the things that didn't make it across was my popular Snuglet pattern. I've had a few requests to make it available again, so here it is!

Just click here to download the PDF. My only request is that you ask permission before using the pattern for a class or guild meeting.

Friday, January 2, 2015

First sewing for 2015!

Not to skirt the issue, but... I need skirts.

I did a pretty thorough evaluation of my wardrobe a few weeks ago, and found that the biggest gap was in skirts. Lately I've fallen into a fashion rut, where my go-to outfit is a pair of jeans and a knit top. Safe, but boring. My resolution for 2015 is to break out of this pattern and start injecting some variety into my closet.
All last year I participated in two online challenges: the Make a Garment a Month challenge (which I failed at... I think I only sewed about five things for myself all year) and the Ready-To-Wear Fast (which I aced... Didn't buy a single item of RTW all year, much to my shock!).
But this doesn't mean I can now go on a shopping spree; both challenges have been extended into the new year, so if I want some new clothes, I'll have to make them.
So, I dug into my stash and produced a lovely piece of gray wool (source unknown; probably got it from a swap at a sewing retreat) and a piece of shocking pink silk to use as lining. The pattern was drafted with PatternMaster Boutique (as usual). Assembly was pretty straightforward; the outer wool pieces were edge-finished with the serger prior to construction, then everything was just stitched together. The lining pieces were serged.

The finished skirt!

Front view:

I'm standing kind of wonky, I realize... But really, the hem IS level.

Back view:


A peek at the lining!

The lining isn't attached to the outer fabric; it hangs free.

I'm very happy with how the hem came out.

Because of the curve of the hem, I elected to use a facing rather than trying to turn the fabric up. I stitched the hem tape to the top edge of the facing prior to attaching it. I then fused a strip of medium Pro-Weft interfacing to the outer fabric, and hand-stitched the hem, being careful not to go all the way through the outer fabric. This was a BIG hem... about ten feet around. It took me two full episodes of "Mission: Impossible" on Netflix to get it done.

A Skirt for Diana, Too

After much trepidation, I cut into the camel hair wool I bought ages ago to make a skirt for Diana. And once again, I was reminded that I really do know how to sew, and that sewing fine fabrics is actually a lot easier to sew with than crappy stuff.

It's the same draft as for my own skirt.

It's a big hem sweep.

The lining was from Chanel; I got it at A Fabric Place in Baltimore.

She's already worn it to work twice (I finished hers last week).

The nice thing about this skirt draft is that I can use it with a bodice pattern to make a dress, too.

Here's to more sewing for me in 2015! Happy new year!