Bias tape is a wonderful way to finish an edge, particularly weirdly shaped edges that you can’t or don’t want to line. It gives a nice clean finish even along curves that are otherwise difficult to deal with. You can make bias tape from the fabric you’re using for something subtle or use a contrasting fabric to add a bit of interest. You can buy bias tape in solid colored cotton, but it’s easy to make yourself and if you do you can have so many lovely colors, patterns, and materials. Continue reading
Category Archives: Sewing
When I was working on my 1920s dress, I sketched several things that incorporated this skirt from Modern Pattern Design*. I didn’t end up using it, because the scallops didn’t suit the geometric embroidery on my fabric, but I still think it’s a fun design element – maybe someone else has a project for it. The diagram shows how to modify a straight skirt to introduce flounces. (This is probably obvious, but in the diagram cb labels the center back and cf the center front.) The diagram is a bit confusing, but the concept is simple: if you put a circle skirt into an uneven waistband, the fullness will be unevenly distributed, creating flounces.
* A wonderful 1942 pattern drafting book by Harriet Pepin. A copy is available online.
On Sunday I went to the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island with Kristin and Ashley. It was quite fun to pretend we’d gone back in time, to sit on the grass with our picnic and listen to music, to dance a bit, and most of all to admire everyone’s outfits.
This dress was a quick project I made in Brattleboro while Prima was working. Another old sari, bias cut and designed around the decorative edging, with serger binding in red thread. I love the fabric and I had fun playing with the decoration. But something went a bit wrong with the center triangle. The embroidered pallu at the end of the sari was narrow, and I wanted a long thin triangle anyway, one that would extend from the v-neck to a dropped waist and be no wider than my hips. But I wanted the squares of the embroidery to line up, so the angle of the center panel changes after the first square, making weird little corners. Also, the central triangle turns out to be a sort of awkward shape anyway – if I did it again I would have the triangle extend all the way to the hem and give up on keeping the top square intact. But the embroidered sari fabric makes up for a lot and I do like a dropped waist. It may not be particularly flattering, but that’s not it’s purpose – it’s an exaggerated, playful style that’s more about having fun than about showing off your body. And we did have fun.
I also decorated my hat to match! I bought a cheap paper cloche from the hat guy on the corner, ripped off the hideous polyester band, made a new one from a bit of silk left over from my dress, and clipped it in place with a feathered hairpin.
Late afternoon light glittering on this field was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. You can almost see in these photos the way the air above the field sparkled and the grass glowed. We came here at the end of my last day in Brattleboro, and it was a perfect end to a wonderful weekend.
My dress is less than perfect. I love the fabric: a cotton lawn printed with art deco pansies. I’m happy with the back, which is low but bra friendly, and the general silhouette. The neckline is ok, although I had to put a pleat in the front after I cut it out too wide, but I think that fixed it. The problem is the elastic waist. The dress really isn’t big enough on top to warrant an elastic waist, and it’s a struggle to get into, especially when you’ve decided you need an outfit change out in a field with a couple of friendly strangers asking where you’re from. It really needs a side zipper, and someday I may add one.
Photos by Prima.
“Let me show you something ridiculous I made,” Prima said when I arrived in Brattleboro. “It’s not going in the shop, it’s just something I made for myself, but I love it. Look at that, isn’t it absurd!” She showed me this beautiful red bra made of swimsuit fabric with a bit of lace at the center and matching shorts. Not your average swimsuit, but quite a lovely thing, and something I think others would enjoy. I insisted on photographing it so she could list it in her shop, and it got us thinking about what inspires our best work, what sells, and what is worth working on.
I always think Prima’s craziest projects, the ones that she makes for herself because she loves them, are her best work. As a shop owner, she worries about whether anyone else wants to wear a swimsuit that looks more like lingerie, and that’s definitely a reasonable concern. But she had so much fun making this swimsuit, and I think that comes through. When you love what you’re making you pay attention to it in a way that is difficult to force – you notice all the little details and have an intuitive sense that the peach elastic band should peak through in the center. So my vote is that she should list the clothes she wants to make for herself and not worry about designing specifically for her shop.
There’s no question that you should make the things you love, because it’s just fun to do so. But what about when you’re designing for a shop? How important is it to think about what other people want to wear? Prima and I decided last weekend that for her it might be better to just make the things she wants to wear and hope that someone else will have as much fun in this lacy red swimsuit as she does.
Vermont is very into its covered bridges. Prima took me to a lovely bookstore overlooking a river, where we failed to find a copy of her favorite book for me to read, but did find a surprisingly large collection of books with titles like Covered Bridges of Vermont. At the time I was a bit annoyed with the covered bridges for taking up shelf space which could have housed the book we were looking for. But a few hours later when I saw the bridge crossing over our swimming hole I understood. It’s a pretty cool bridge.
This skirt is similar to the other one I brought to Vermont. The skirt is only a third again the size of my hips rather than twice as large, making for a less fluffy skirt. But the basic construction is the same. It does have a wider waistband which requires a dart at each side and one or two in back and it closes with two overly enthusiastic hammer in snaps rather than a button. I regret the choice of snaps: I like this skirt but I want to take it off some day.
I’m in Brattleboro, Vermont for the weekend, visiting Prima. It’s lovely here: quiet and green. A bit stormy yesterday, but that’s my favorite weather to take photos in. We had a delightful photo shoot in the graveyard and in front of what we’re convinced is a witches house.
As you learned in the last post, what really matters in a skirt is its buttons. This one came from my last visit to Brattleboro, when Prima and I spent all afternoon browsing the button collection at Delectable Mountain Fabric. You can’t really tell in the photos, but it has a line drawing of a poppy. I think it was happy to come home.
The skirt I’m wearing is quite an easy one, even for a beginner seamstress. The front and back are rectangles, as long as you want the skirt to be and each as wide as your hip measurement (or a bit less if you don’t want the skirt to be quite so puffy). The waistband is a strip 1″ longer than your waist + seam allowance and 1″ wide + seam allowance. Cut a second waistband to use as lining.
Sew up both sides of the skirt, putting in pockets if you want them. Gather the skirt, beginning 4″ away one side seam and ending 4″ away from the same seam (As in, gather your skirt except for 8″ at one side). Pull in the gathers until the gathered portion is as long as your waist. Sew the waistband to its lining along one long side, down both short sides, and one inch in along the other long side (to form the button tab). Next, sew the waistband to the gathered portion of the skirt: press under 1/4 inch on the front of the waistband, sew the lining to the skirt, then top-stitch down the front of the waistband. Make a buttonhole in the tab of the waistband, sew a button on the opposite side. Finally, try on the skirt, fold the extra flap of fabric to the front or back, and add a hook and eye to hold the end of the flap in place.
Kristin over at Sew Classic and Ashley at Craft Sanctuary have issued a challenge to make and model your own underwear. This is a great idea! Underwear is fun and easy to make, and should definitely be part of your repertoire if you like to sew. On Monday I wrote a guest post on Kristin’s blog about making your own underwear. It’s similar to something I posted here a couple of months ago, but I added a bit about choosing the right fabric and different ways to finish the edges.
Seeing Kristin and Ashley’s lingerie sewing projects and writing that tutorial put me in an underwear-making mood, and I made these sleep-shorts. If you’ve clicked through to the Show Your Skivvies Challenge (which you should), you know that I haven’t quite met it: I should be wearing them in the picture. Obviously I’m not. I like my body and I’m pretty comfortable with people seeing it if there’s a good reason. And I think “it’s helpful to see clothing on people” is a very good reason. You don’t really get a sense of a dress when you see it on a hanger – you don’t know where the seams lie, or how it fits, or how the skirt is meant to hang. Clothing is three dimensional art, and it doesn’t look right laid flat. This is even more true of a swimsuit than it is of a dress – with the elastic all bunched up on a table you really just don’t know what it would look like on. I don’t think that’s quite as true of these pj shorts, which are loose and don’t have much three dimensional shape even when they’re on, but I did mean to model them for you. But I’m back in New York where my apartment is too dark for photos and I don’t have a tripod, so to take photos of myself I have to sit right up against the window and balance the camera on the couch. You can’t see my pj shorts at all when I do that, so the bench is modeling again. Thanks bench.
I made this shirt from a vintage sari I bought on Etsy. It’s a nice way to get interesting fabric with pretty borders. You can’t see in these pictures because the hem folded up, but there’s a little border of dots running along the hem of this shirt.
The pattern is very simple: rectangles with a slight curve at the top for the neckline and armholes, with a lot of extra space between the strap points. Gather in this excess, then bind in the gathers with bias tape (a tutorial on how to make bias tape is on my to do list). Sew up the side seams. Bind the armholes with bias tape, starting at the side seams; continue to stitch down the bias tape alone to form the straps; when the straps are long enough, start binding in the other side of the armhole, being careful not to twist the straps.
On Saturday I had dinner with my favorite little girls and their parents. Clara told me a sad story: she’d left the bedroom door open when she went out and Otis the dog had eaten Bunny’s shirt. I agreed to help her make something cozy for bunny to wear. She picked out a soft purple knit from the scrap basket and a blue dotted swiss for the cuffs, and we made Bunny a new coat. I drew the pattern, Clara cut out the pieces, and we sewed it together.
Bunny’s coat is a very simple a-line shape with set in sleeves. It has an inverted pleat in back because I cut the neckline too wide at first and needed to pull in a bit of a fabric (and of course to give bunny more room to move her arms). The neckline is bound with bias tape, and I used my favorite trick for the cuffs and hem. Bunny’s coat closes in front with a shirt button.
Clara is wearing her flower girl dress from my wedding.