a bright & cheery bra

Yes, you read that right… Today’s post is one in a series (hopefully) of projects I’ve been sewing this summer but never quite got around to writing about. Apparently I need a little cheering up and so looking back at how many projects I’ve finished should help….

I’ve had the fabric and notions for a few bras since taking the fantastic bra-making course with Marijane Johnson back in June. However I don’t think it was until sometime in August that I actually got around to cutting one of them out! I will say I’ve been wearing the boring old flesh-toned bra I made in class for months… but it’s now much more fun to wear the white, green, red & orange mod print bra! With a little bow in front of course.

Are those not odd shapes or what?

My class bra pattern was a Pin-up Girls Pattern, size 32E with lots of adjustments. I tweaked it further for the latest bra (and could probably still use a few more tiny tweaks – but the fit really is damn near perfect.) My latest version of the pattern has been transferred to swedish tracing paper so I’m not dealing with all the slashed, spread & taped pieces any longer!

Cutting out the pieces is pretty quick – and about the only thing I use my rotary cutter for. I’ve never liked using them… but they sure do make a difference with working with stretchy lycras! Unlike my class bras, this new one used two layers of fabric (I can’t remember what the underlayer is called) but the upper layer is basically swimsuit material. Very bright swimsuit material.

I did say it was bright!

All of the construction technique were learned in the class although I did have to refer to my notes and the text we used, The Bra Maker’s Manual, fairly often since it had been two months since learning it all! I’m still pretty impressed that it’s possible to make these at home on a regular sewing machine – but a great deal of it is having all the right materials.

You can see the two fabric layers here

The close-up shot of the inside of the right cup shows some of the other materials and techniques, including the underwire casing and the back band fabric. The underwire casing is pretty neat – it’s actually a tube so you sew it down and then pop it open and slide the underwire inside the casing itself, rather than putting the underwire between the bra fabric and the casing. All of the exposed seam get ‘butterflied’ or opened flat and edgestitched 1/8″ away from the seam on each side. Sure enough, if you look at RTW… you’ll find the same thing.

I don’t have any photographs of the finished bra, because, well… there don’t need to be any picture of me wearing it on the web! However, here’s the last photo I took of the process which shows everything in place except for the neckline elastic and the little white bow I eventually added in front.

And I wonder why my dress form doesn't help with fitting. There are no hollows when this is on the body!

Did I mention that I have a matching pair of boy shorts with hot pink beaded lace for the waistband? Yes, indeed….


a few things with Kenneth King

Life’s been busy. And crazy. And sad. And every once in a while life is happy.  This past weekend was one of those happy times. The well-known couturier Kenneth King was in town to present a lecture and two classes. My head was filled with inspiration and ideas taken from his incredible photos of architecture and totally over-the-top finished coats, bags, and hats from his collection. And my hands? Well, my hands were kept busy learning a new technique to insert welted pockets, plus seeing the steps to create a ‘seamless’ pocket welt and a facing seam pocket for jacket or coat interiors.

Then the real fun happened… (after a quick break for sushi!) when Kenneth began the embellishments class. Of course pictures would help (they’ll get added sooner or later… I’m just happy to find a few minutes to write!) but all I can is that this class was so much fun. It involved layering braided trim, satin rattail cord, beads, and other such things onto a combination of silk and felt that had been basted together. As silly as it sounds… he taught some damn cool tricks – and yes, I’ll be adding his latest book to my collection! The embellishing process involved finishing the braid seamlessly and as someone who doesn’t take the time to be creative in such ways… it was immensely relaxing and I loved playing with all the bits and pieces and handsewing my way through all of it. I have grand plans to make an evening bag using the techniques… let’s see if that happens ;o)

All of events with Kenneth King were held at Unique Boutique Boston – my favorite place to sew (aside from own my couch or studio!) because there’s just a great atmosphere there. They have a bunch more classes coming up that I need to add to my calendar…

And if that wasn’t enough for one weekend… I spent late Sunday afternoon checking out the grand opening of Silk Road Fabrics and picking up some beaded red velvet trim for my in-progress cocktail gown. It was fun to visit all the pretty fabrics again – and amazing to run in to many of the same people that were at the Kenneth King programs the day before. (Apparently we were traveling in packs…) The weekend ended with the Pattern Review book launch party where I got meet the PR Founder, Deepika – as well as bunches of other fun people.  Plus Laura’s Sewing School, the host of the party – was super neat to check out. I got my new book signed and finally made my way home.

Yes, it was a happy weekend… and tough to return to work on Monday!


The finished 1692 silk damask mantua on display at the Witch House in Salem, MA

How sad that there’s not been much reporting here… Fortunately I have been finding time to sew, just not any time for photography or writing. Among my projects since May are:

  • the little black dress… actually has been worn in public!
  • Sulky Teacher Certification weekend… that was a mixed bag and deserves its own post with a few highlights and many entertaining low points
  • 1820s stays, bodiced petticoat, gown & bonnet… not perfect but willingly worn in public at Old Sturbridge Village for Militia Day in June
  • 1692 silk mantua… now on display at the Witch House in Salem (and look, I even have a picture of that!)
  • cotton stained glass dress… the latest project and even worn to work yesterday!
  • pumpkin pique maxi dress… worn many times but now in the laundry
  • BRAS!….  Took the best bra workshop ever and made three bras (although only the last one is the right fit) and in fact that’s probably the next project in line, too!

So… all in all,  not so shabby. Now to do some writing, reviews for PatternReview.com, and finish photographing everything. One of these days I’ll find more time! But as long as I can keep finding time to sew, we’ll it’s all good and I stay sane.

a little black dress, part quatre

This is the dress that never ends! Except… just maybe the end is now in sight!

After months of languishing on a hanger on the back of a door, it’s been rescued and progress has been made. Since the bodice had been sewn to the skirt with any pressing, I opted to take out that seam, press and trim all the seams to 3/4″ or so, and then sew the bodice back to the skirt.  This actually took several attempts – or at least touch-ups – as I tried to exactly match all the seams and pleats… but as with every other step on this dress, it turned out to be worth the effort.

After pressing the waist seam,  I got to work catch-stitching most of the interior seam. It may be a while before I add a lining so I wanted to make it wearable in the interim! This step was slow going but easy… most of it got finished while watching a movie on Hulu. (The Relic… if you must know. There’s something about cheesy sci-fi monster movies that I love!)

Moving on, with most of the seams taken care of, I followed the directions to staystitch and then press the neck and armhole seam allowances to the inside, then clip curves, then press again. With a deep V-neck in front and back this didn’t work perfectly but it certainly helped. All those edges got the catchstitch treatment, too.

Switching to Peter Benchley’s The Creature in the background (yeah, I know, extra cheesy monster) I went ahead and inserted the zipper using a lapped application, stitched by hand. Since I had been having trouble getting the dress on and off, I moved the zipper higher up the side to give more of an opening at the bust. I was mostly winging it… but luckily it did the trick.

A quick try on of the dress… and eek… a tad bit tight around the hips. I’ll try it with spanx tomorrow and hope for the best! If all goes well, the only remaining steps are fixing one of the side pleats and hemming. It may actually get worn tomorrow…

Well, I’ll also need a lint brush and a fresh pressing ;o) Silly cat loves being near when I sew lately!

Oh – and if I never say anything further about this dress… the neckline is so spectacular. Strapless bra required – but wow, will the effect be stunning. I’m already trying to think how I can use it other ways…

Vacation! (well.. almost)

I bought some black denim today (with stretch – ugh) and have high hopes to make a new pair of jeans tomorrow. Why? Because I’m on semi-vacation and I have free time!!! It’s just some 1% spandex black denim from Joann’s but the discount was crazy low and I wanted to keep playing jeans ;o)

Last night was a very big event for work – a colonial tavern dinner – and it was a smashing success, thanks to so many great volunteers who brought an 18th century house to life for the evening.  But.. phew! am I glad that it’s over. I’ve spent much of today sleeping and resting. And just to add a bit  of  fun, I’ve also started some new medication for arm & leg pain that is making me just a little bit loopy!  Driving (and thinking coherently) is out of the question for the first hour or two after each one.

This will make life interesting if nothing else!

There is one more work day on Saturday (outside and in the rain no less) and then a lovely eight days of making my own schedule.  And yes it will most certainly include some sewing! Dresses and jeans galore  – and just maybe some tops to go with all those jeans…

a very expensive pair of jeans, finis!

Crummy picture. Yummy jeans!

Happy dance! I’m wearing my new jeans!!

I was a bit annoyed after the rear fitting issues I discovered last night but another hour or so of sewing today and it’s all forgotten…

It was a bit of work to take out the back seam topstitching, and in fact, I had to do it 3 times – twice due to refining the back seam fit, and once because I forgot to check the stitch length before topstitching. In case you’ve ever wondered, small topstitching (2.5) on jeans looks really dumb. No getting around it – don’t bother experimenting! For what it’s worth, a stitch length of 3.25 worked perfectly with my Gutermann topstitching thread. The tension was increased slightly depending on how many layers of denim I was sewing at any particular time.

These are now a mess inside... but who can tell when I'm wearing them?

Since I opted to do the back seam adjustments with all the other seams in place, I had to hand finish the threads for the topstitching. This meant pulling threads to the inside, tying them off and then threading them back through the seams.

I then re-topstitched (or re-re-re-topstitched) the back seam since it took me a few tries to get the jeans fitted to my liking below the waistband.

The hem length was perfect – just enough to turn up the suggested 1″. We’ll see how they do after being worn and washed a few times. The belt loops were pretty straight-forward although this is another area that doesn’t have much detail in the directions. I admit, not much is needed – but again, I didn’t want to have to think! In the end, both ends were turned under about 1/2″, topstitched straight across 1/8″ away from the fold, and I lined up the bottom fold wherever it looked best, keeping it loose enough to actually hold a belt.

Yes, I need better pictures. But still the jeans look good!

Hmm… what else? Ahh, yes… pockets! I opted for the cotton print lined version… worked just fine and placed according to the directions. I did wait until the jeans were fully constructed so I could test the placement which made them a bit trickier to sew.  No photos of the back view – partially because I forgot and partially because there’s no reason to draw attention to that side. However, they don’t look so bad from the back either. Enough said! ;o)

This is probably the quickest turn around time for a project in years. Clearly new jeans were long overdue! I’m still wearing them… and doing the happy dance!!!

A few gripes:

  • Although I will undoubtedly make another pair using this pattern, the back yoke & back seam area still need to be refined for my figure.  (But that’s my issue not the pattern!)
  • It would be easiest to have two machines set up simultaneously – one for topstitching and one for seams. It got really annoying switching the threads and settings back and forth every few steps.
  • Next time I will head the advice to serge all edges in advance. They all need it and it really would speed up the rest of the construction process. Stitch and learn!
  • Even after two washings, the blue dye is affecting the topstitching thread. I’m going for 3 or 4 pre-washes next time.
  • Inseam and upper outseam could use some topstitching. I think I’ll pick a favorite pair of jeans to mimic next time. While I do love these pair, they could be even better!

Had enough yet? Now I just need to remember all this for next time! And yes, there will most certainly be a next time.

a very expensive pair of jeans

So jeans really can fit! (but only after a few trys)

Several weeks (or perhaps months) ago I was inspired but all the ‘I sewed my own jeans’ posts on various blogs that I ordered the J. Stern Designs jeans pattern and some lovely medium weight denim from Fabric.com in an ‘antique blue’ shade. I washed and dried the fabric and it’s been sitting patiently on top of the dryer until this weekend.

Any excuse to play with different stitch patterns... but at least the 'pocket' held for fitting purposes

I’m not sure what got in to me, but after checking my most recent set of measurements, I decided to dive in, trace off the pattern in a size 12 and make up a muslin.  For the muslin, I just faked the pocketsand the front fly so that there was enough together that I could check the fit. Overall I was mightily impressed – the size 12 seemed to be a great fit, particularly in the length – the knee marking hit perfectly (and I’m 5’8” so things don’t always work out that way!) and the front rise, which is on the low side, looked and felt comfortable.

The back side was (and is) another story. Big hips. Small waist. A pain in the @$$ to fit. No pun intended.

I opted to raise the back rise of the jean and used the pattern designer’s excellent instructions from her blog. With full hips and small waist… low rise just equals major gaping in the rear. Neither comfortable nor attractive! I’ll spare you the details of what the muslin looked like in that area. End story is that I added 1″ to my back pattern to increase the rise which I thought would do the trick. I also shortened the leg length from the knee to the hem by about 1.5″ since I really wanted to wear these jeans with flats and sandals.

Oh – and nearly forgot. The waistband was also too big at the top edge so I made a dart in my muslin at the side seams to increase the curve. Transferred to the waistband and waistband facing pattern and voila… snugger waistband! [Edit: after reviewing the muslin fitting pictures… I can’t bring myself to post them. Hello insecurity! Sigh. )

After pressing my denim and falling ever more deeply in love with the dark blue color and finish (pictures coming, really!) I got all the piece cut out. I wish I could remember how much I bought because I have a lot left over – possibly enough for a second pair. But that will have to wait a bit longer!

For the pocket linings and facings, I dug out some great block printed Indian cotton from my 18th century repro fabric stash. Love, love, love the effect! Goes so well with denim!

So onto the construction. I did review the jeans tip and techniques on Pattern Review for some pointers but mostly I just followed the pattern instructions blindly. I should mention that I opted for the J. Stern pattern rather than widely lauded Jalie pattern because I specifically wanted to work with non-stretch denim.  I like my jeans made of plain old cotton denim!

The instructions were good, but there were a few places a bit more information could have been helpful. It helped to have a pair of jeans handy for reference while I was making this pair. The front fly made sense once you started doing it – but it was tougher to wrap my head around  when just reading the steps. Also, the instructions indicate that a coin pocket should be added to the left and right pockets, yet most jeans only have one on the right side, and illustrations for other later steps reflect this. I opted for just one on the right side.

Trust me... this looks better than the muslin did! This is pre-waistband and post-back seam alteration #1

Also, there was no mention of what to do with the inseam and side seams once sewn together. By looking at the envelope cover, I was able to confirm that they aren’t topstitched, but it wasn’t entirely clear if anything else need to be done – such as stitch them again for strength, press to one side, etc. A minor detail and hardly critical, I just like knowing every last intended detail. Sometime I just don’t want to have to think for myself when sewing!

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself… in my spare weekend time I made the jeans from start to finish, with the exception of the hem, button and buttonhole. The center back seam was adjusted once to take in the yoke area about an inch, prior to adding the waistband. I was hoping this would help the jeans fit closer against my lower back. Sadly, I ignored my better judgment – and the odd angle of the new back seam – and went ahead and finished the waistband.

The end result… the jeans are gorgeous in the front – great fit, great details, great length. The back… not so much. There’s a weird  section of extra fabric below the yoke at center back – I knew it was there and yet just kind of hoped it would work out when all was said and done.  It did not. So… tomorrow I’ll pick out the topstitching of the center back seam, take it in further (and in an straight line this time), and replace the topstitching. I’m reasonably certain this can all be done without affecting the other seams – I’ll just need to finish some of the threads by hand to avoid having to backstitch in awkward place.

So, hopefully by this time tomorrow I’ll have a stunning pair of new jeans… and better yet, a perfected pattern so that I can keep churning them out! I may even remember to take the camera out of the car and add some pictures ;o)

As to why the jeans were so expensive. Well, umm, I’d been wanting a new serger for some time, and um, well, a basic enough one was on sale at JoAnn’s – a mere 5 minute drive from home. Nothing like instant gratification, eh? And jeans really do look SO much better when you finish them with a serger on the inside… so, shopping I did go.

And now I can’t wait to keep playing on it!

a great white driving coat and hat, part troix

I think I’m gonna need to practice my French numbers… I’ll be lucky if there are less than six or seven (or should that be sept?) posts to finish this project!

Note the all important iced coffee on the ledge... it was truly motivating!

I had a burst of energy last weekend and made some major progress on the coat… and if my luck holds, I’ll have more time to work on it tomorrow, too. It’s actually starting to look like a coat – and that’s making me want to finish it.  That and we have a sewing club meeting on Thursday and I REALLY want to move on to a more interesting (and authentic!) project. The photo isn’t so great and it has sort of 1960s Elvis collar feel at the moment… but I assure you it is starting to look pretty!

One of the things that had slowed me down was the simple fact that I decided to use a hong kong seam finish on all the interior seams. Partly for practice, partly for durability and aesthetics. But this meant needing lots and lots and lots of bias tape! A month or two ago I had treated myself to the bias strip cutter machine from Simplicity (no, not the official name but I don’t have the box in front of me!) and once you get it set up properly… wow, can you create miles of bias strips in minutes! In all it probably took 15-20 minutes of cutting enough strips to bind the seams. Actually applying the strips took considerably longer.

I remember this being a bigger pile… the strips were cut from some kind of synthetic satin leftover from a past project

I did find that you need to do one side of the seam at a time to get a good finish – although that may have something to do with this particularly binding fabric. In any case, it worked best to apply it to the right side of one seam, press it perfectly, then go back, finish that side and do the first step on the opposite side of the seam. Press again, then finish the second side. It was good practice… but I’m not sure I’ll use the technique for such longgggg seams again.

I was so careful with the trim... even making sure the overs & unders were symetrical for each flap.

Applying the trim was much more fun! I started with preparing the pocket flaps  and then lightly tracing the trim pattern onto the right side of each finished pocket flap The trim was pinned in place at each corner point of the pattern, and then I permanently secured it in place with a wide machine zig-zag stitch. This worked pretty well, even without any special trim feet for the machine. I jumped ahead and trimmed the collar… but sadly this turned out to be a mistake. It’s supposed to be trimmed after it’s sewn to coat as the trim extends down through the lapels, too. Oops!

This was when the frustration on this project started to kick in again and I began cutting more corners. I opted to sew the pocket flaps to the coat, without the welting strips or pocket pieces. It doesn’t look too bad… but I think if I start this again when I have more energy, I probably will undo the pocket flaps and the collar trim… and follow the directions properly!

But let’s see what happens in the morning, shall we?

a 1692 silk mantua

Ahh… more historical sewing. This time it’s a lovely rose and gold silk damask from Osgood Textile – and at $42/yd it should be fantastic! The mantua will be used for a display at the Corwin House, also known as the Witch House, in historic (and spooky!) Salem, MA. The gown is roughly based on an example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is being made of luxurious silk fabrics since the Corwins were an incredible wealthy family – something not generally interpreted when it comes to the stories surrounding the 1692 Salem witch trials. Much, much more to come on this one but for now a lovely teaser photo of the gown mock-up being tested in the room where it will be displayed.

So much loveliness! Even while it's still so unfinished...

So much loveliness! Even while in such an unfinished state!

a little black dress, part trois

A not-so-great photo of my matched seams – horizontal seam is the waist. Above is the front bodice dart and below are two of the front skirt darts.

Four uninterrupted hours of sewing… how’s that for a lovely Saturday? I was invited to join one of the guild’s other neighborhood gatherings today, so I packed a small box with miscellaneous unfinished projects, put it in the car with the machine and away I went.  The little black dress had been sitting in a pile since whenever in January I put it aside so it went in the box! Once I started to unpack turned out that was the only complete project I managed to get in there. Duh!

Anyway…  during my time today, in addition to some lovely conversation, I finished basting the entire dress together and then moved on to actual sewing the seams on the machine. Wow… only 15 or so hours later and four pieces of fabric are starting to look like a dress! All joking aside, it’s been interesting constructing a gown using such painstaking methods. One of the more tedious steps was matching the seams and darts between the bodice and the skirt. Of six points, I think I was perfect on two, darn close on two, and not so close on two. I will definitely red0 the last two… the darn close ones are still up for debate. I haven’t yet pressed the seams – I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the mis-matched points miraculously re-align with steam & pressure ;o)

Better picture and better matching - too bad it's the back!

The other minimally fun step? Taking out all the basting stitches! Keep in mind that every seam and dart has three rows of basting stitches which have now been sewn through with the machine stitching. Tweezers would have been helpful and the seam ripper was invaluable! That step alone took about 3 of the 4 hours I was working on it today. Taking out any kind of stitches will never be my favorite step!!!

The tally so far:

  • Muslin fitting ~ 4 hours
  • Prepping underlining & lining – 4.5 hours
  • Constructing dress & removing basting stitches – 5 hours

Still to be done:

  • Perfect matched seams
  • Turn seam allowances to inside and tack down
  • Zipper
  • Lining
  • Hem

I need to stop making lists…. looks so much worse that way!

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