Clara Sews Posts

I must have lost my mind! I have finished a complete three piece suit in that delicate silky rayon stuff that can snag on a gentle breeze. The lapse in sanity aside, I think it turned out really well.

From the beginning, the fabric was the greatest challenge for this project. I bought four yards of it a while ago, as well as a matching black lining for it, intending to make it into a simple dress. I never had the time or the inspiration to take scissors to it until flipping through my boxes of patterns I came across and old McCalls “Non-stop Wardrobe” pattern – M5193. I had made this suit about a decade ago for my college interview in a burgundy corduroy.

It was very good luck that I was able to squeeze pants, a vest, and a jacket out of only four yards without breaking any grainline rules. Of course it wasn’t quite enough, and I had to use the lining fabric for the jacket collar and facing, as well as the pants waistband, but I really like how the solid color breaks up the floral print.

To make the fabric a little more manageable, I added a weighty cotton underlining to the jacket. It worked wonders in keeping things nice and smooth, and give it a little more body to boot. I’m not sure how it’s possible, but the heavy underlining made the jacket softer and even more silky. However, it’s still perfectly light and cool to remain in the Texas heat for a respectable amount of time. I only regret not giving the same underlining treatment to the vest, it might have been a lot less wrinkly and lay a bit better. Maybe the pants too, but they have a good drape as is.

The first time I made this jacket, I forgot that corduroy had nap, and one of the lapel corners always curled up funny. I had to wear a little brooch to pin the collar in place. This time around, I tweaked the pattern so the shoulders fit better, shortened the sleeves, and put real pockets into the jacket. I must have remembered a thing or two from last time too since the whole thing came together in about half the time – about two weeks instead of a month. The lapels on my jacket even lay flat (most of the time)!

The dang fabric though. You can’t really see it too much luckily, but just sewing the button holes mangled the front of the vest and jacket a little bit. I did my best to avoid handling the fabric, but the entire project was like working with a ticking time bomb to get finished before the seam allowance turned into fringe. I got really good at tugging and pulling and begging the fabric back after getting snagged, but there were still a few places I couldn’t quite fix. Doing a blind hem stitch on the pants was nearly impossible, since grabbing a thread of the fabric to “blindly” stitch your hem to usually creates a terrible snag. At least the underlining on the jacket really saved me when it came to hemming.

I particularly like the pants pattern because of the pleats. I mean, it’s actually a rather bare pants pattern, no pockets, the most comically thin waistband ever (I widened mine quite a bit than what was allowed for), and the most meager instructions for the fly. They must have spent all their pattern making money on the jacket, because those instructions are indeed quality, and I look at them whenever I need to bag a lining. But look at the pleats! In a decade, I have yet to find a pattern for pleated pants as great as these.

As wonderful as this suit is, it’s difficult to wear. You’ve got to admit, the thing is flashy! For starters, it’s quite glossy, which means in the sunshine it’s nearly blinding. In indirect light, the large, all-over print makes an equally loud statement. However, breaking up the set makes everything much more wearable. I’ve worn the jacket out with some black slacks without drawing too much attention, and the pants looked perfectly normal when I wore them with a navy blue tee shirt to lunch. Maybe I just need to work up to wearing all three pieces together. Thanks to my lovely husband for the beautiful photos!

I made jeans! And it wasn’t even as scary as I thought it would be.

For a pattern, I copied my favorite pair of Lucky Brand jeans that were getting a little beat up after two years of constant affection.  I’d go out and buy another pair or two in an instant, but Joann’s was having a sale on denim, and fabric enough for two pairs of jeans for 60 bucks is a steal. So I figured now is the perfect time to try my hand at making jeans.

In the past, whenever I attempted working with denim, it became a bulky mess at every seam. My tiny machine would valiantly chew and struggle through the thickness, but it could never make a professional looking finish. Besides the nightmares about the fabric, fitting a pants pattern has always been my greatest sewing weakness. However, this time I had a newer, more powerful machine and serger, and I was going to cheat the sizing department by making a copy of something that already fit.

Making a rub-off

Do you remember the thrill you got as a kid from tracing your hand? Abracadabra, and poof, there was my hand shape on anything I wanted. I bet my parents still have a book or two that I have personalized in this manner along with the really lose abstractionist style I had back then. Making a rub-off uses the exact same technique, except you might use fancier tools than a crayon. The beauty of it is that it enables you to capture the pattern pieces of a garment without taking it apart.

Materials I used:

tracing wheel
tissue paper
beach towel
my favorite pair of jeans
pen or pencil
straight pens

A professional would have probably used a sheet of legit tracing paper that has a wax coating, but I couldn’t find any in a pinch. So instead, I laid out the beach towel and placed the tissue paper on it, this way when the tracing wheel went over it, it would leave an impression on the paper. Plus, I pinned the jeans to the towel occasionally to help keep it flat. You could use newsprint or wrapping paper with the technique I used, or probably even printer paper taped together. The idea is just to have large sheets of paper large enough to make the pattern pieces, and paper thin enough that you could make a mark on it through the jeans. If you didn’t have a tracing wheel, you could forgo the bath towel and just use a pen or pencil to trace, but it would be a lot harder for some of the seams.

I started with the front leg. I laid the jeans right side out, with the front facing me, the grain in the fabric perfectly straight, and everything as smooth as possible, and the pattern piece I was tracing is as flat as possible. For the side seam, I just traced along the outside of the pants, along the seam. The inseam took a bit more wrangling,  and for the pocket shape I traced that separately to make a sewing line template.

The back leg was trickier because it was too wide to lay perfectly flat all at once. I used pens and marks on the tissue paper as guides to make sure it was still lined up after adjusting it halfway through, and for tracing the yoke, I traced it from the inside of the pants. In total, I traced the front, back, yoke, and pocket pieces, but drafted the fly pieces, belt loops, and waistband later.

The next thing I did to my brand new pattern piece outlines was to add pattern markings and seam allowance. Using the original jeans as a guide, I checked every seam and hem with a ruler and made note of the widths to add to each pattern edge. Be sure to add a grainline mark to each piece, as well as marks for back pocket placement. Then, I went over all the tracing marks with a pen and smoothed out the lines a bit. With a ruler, I added the seem allowance to each pattern piece according to my notes. After cutting out the pieces, I had a brand new pattern ready for testing.

During my check of all the seam allowances, I discovered a new type of seam finish that I had never used before. It was a cross between a french seem and a flat felled seam, which turned out to be very flat and had the least amount of bulk possible, making it perfect for jeans. I made a muslin with my new pattern to practice this new fancy type of seam. I suspect the lovely people that handcrafted my jeans at Lucky Brand had a special machine to make this kind of seam, or at least a uber-wide felling foot and double needles, but I couldn’t find a foot like that for my machine, so I had to work out how to do it myself. This is my drawing of the technique I worked out for your viewing pleasure (and my reference for next time):

Drafting the Fly

Of everything, I think the fly was the hardest to finish. The pockets were a breeze (just apply generous basting stitches), the  I ripped it  out three times before being satisfied.

 

While there are many, many videos on youtube for how to add a zipper fly to pants, this is by far my favorite for some reason. She doesn’t gab for ages, starts with actually drafting the pieces you need, and the video goes at a good clip. The music is kinda relaxing too, which is what you need for putting in a fly. Her handy folding and manipulation tricks are the best that I’ve found.

There were some slight differences that I used on my jeans from her demonstration, but that’s just because I was trying to copy the original fly as best as possible. For example, on the original, the top stitching is a little different, and the fly facing has a folded seam instead of a serged one. Here’s the original:

 

Unlike the original, I didn’t find a zipper with a clover in the zipper pull, and I didn’t bother with the tag that said “lucky you” on the fly facing, but maybe next time!

Fitting

I’m very pleased how it turned out, probably because they fit a lot like the pair I copied. It’s a little loose around the waist, and I realistically need a belt to wear them, just like the original. If anything, in general they are on the loose and comfortable side, which is wonderful, but they wrinkle a bit more than Lucky Brand’s design. I think that’s mainly because my denim has a tad more stretch in them. Next time, I think I might take them in just a hair more in the thighs and hips so I don’t even need a belt.

 

 

I inherited three yards of nice black velour from the same stash I got the fabric for this blue dress. I was waiting to sew it up into something awesome, even though you can’t turn three yards into an epic ball gown, and then it hit me that it was the perfect amount for something super simple. Because I have a pattern buying problem, I just happened to find just the thing in my pattern collection – Simplicity 1018. I chose view A with the shorter sleeves since I had only three yards anyways, and it was clearly the best choice.

This was the quickest I have finished a project in a while. From threading up my serger to finishing up the binding edge on the neckline, this dress took maybe six hours. But that’s only because the binding edge took a couple tries. Doing binding edge isn’t hard, the only tricks to it is to pin it down so it’s perfectly even all the way around, and stretch the binding as you are sewing it in. I messed up because my binding ended up being about two inches too short the first time around, probably because my velour wasn’t as stretchy as they were thinking for the pattern, and I did a little bit more than the 3/8 inch seam the pattern allowed on it.

Before I started cutting out the dress, I was extra nervous about the inevitable fuzz explosion that you get when you sew courderoy, velvet, and velveteen, but honestly this stuff wasn’t even half as bad as I was expecting. Only a minor dust cloud, even when with the serger and knife blazing. I made every seam overlocked, and the hem and sleeves are sporting coverstitches. That makes this the most indestructible fuzzy fabric thing I’ve ever sewn. By the way, if you were on the fence about buying an overlock machine: YES they are worth it.

The description on the pattern is pretty accurate, “This comfortable and stylish knit pattern can be worn while lounging around, running errands, or for a night out on the town. ” Although it’s almost too stylish for work or the grocery store, because hello little black velvet dress, but it is so comfortable I might forget and wear it everywhere anyways. Oh and by comfortable I mean, SUPER comfortable, because the velour is irresistibly soft and it’s in my most flattering color ever. The black velvet is rather formal though, and if I do forget and wear it to work, I might need a jacket or something to tone it down a little ironically enough. As a software developer, I have certain dress standards to adhere to, ya know.

I managed to get the nap going the right way all the way around too. The fit is dead perfect too, and not just because knits are so forgiving.

I want to make a few more of these dresses for the summer since it turned out to be fast, comfortable, and extra cute. Probably in something with an adorable print, or a bright color. Next time though, I think I might interface the neckline a tiny bit, just to get it to lay a little flatter. The velour has enough body to get away with it, but anything a little lighter will need a bit more support.

Verdict: This dress is awesome. It has the perfect neckline for 95% of my necklaces. It fits perfectly and is comfortable, so I see this dress becoming a regular in circulation. Although, I might be playing the “is it too formal?” game a bit, because right after my husband took these amazing photos, he insisted on taking me out to a fancy dinner because I was “all dressed up”. 


I spent the last week and a half working on a dress loosely based on Burda 6853 view B. I wanted to try to only use the supplies I had in my stash and to figure out how to use some of the embroidery functions on my machine.

Fit

Maybe I read the measurements on the pattern wrong, or maybe the pattern didn’t come with seam allowances even though every pattern piece explicitly says it has 5/8” seam allowance included, or maybe people in Germany don’t have hips or arms, or maybe the thing was supposed to made out of spandex. I can’t figure out how the fit on this pattern went so wrong! In order to get the thing to go over my head, every single seam about an atom’s width away disintegration even though I cut the thing out a size larger than what I normally wear. Even with such extreme alterations, I can’t raise my arms above my head without all the buttons on my bust flying off violently. Everything bubbles and warps and pulls funny, and because of how bad it fits, I’ll probably never ever wear this dress ever again.

This is partly my fault since I didn’t bother with a muslin. I had a good excuse to not make a muslin, because I actually paid money for my nice muslin and the fabric I used for this was free, and you have to use the free stuff up first if you are just trying to experiment and clean out your stash. If I wasn’t so lazy, I might have cut out a new dress after sewing the first one because I still have about twenty yards more of that navy polyester stuff, but by that time I really hated the whole project.

Fabric choice

The pattern calls for wool, boucle, or crepe, and I went for something totally different, so I don’t fault the pattern for the fabric I chose being so awful in this design. The polyester I used in this dress is so cheap I couldn’t iron it properly. Either the iron was so hot the stuff started melting, or it wouldn’t make the slightest dent. Another factor in the quality department might have also been how free it was. I got it from a coworker who’s sewing fanatic mother-in-law had passed away, and he was trying to clear out the garage filled to the brim with her collection of fabric. I grabbed three giant storage bins of fabric because that was all that would fit in my car, and a collection of buttons that must have taken a life time to gather. Clearly, that lady must have been a sewing legend because all the fabric in that stash was organized, folded neatly and put into zip lock bags, and I scored several really interesting pieces. The fabric I used for this dress was probably meant to supply some kid’s school uniforms for the entirety of grade school, and it might even become a few pairs of pants for me at some point, but it didn’t do well in the style I picked this time. The material was too stiff, and the pleats don’t lay right at all.

The pattern in general

Besides the fit being meant for someone not shaped like me, there were a few things a bit off about the design of this pattern. For one thing, the pleats were made from three pieces (actually four because I had to make a special pleat insert because after all my alterations I didn’t have enough pleats to go around) instead of two really long strips, and they didn’t join up in the inside of the pleat, and because ironing the fabric doesn’t really work, you can easily see where the pleats were connected up.

It should also be noted that the pattern does not have real pockets or a real button closure. I added the real button closure because I didn’t have a zipper handy, and I have so many free buttons to choose from. Besides, turning it into an actual button closure was so easy, it irritated me that the pattern didn’t do that to begin with. I had plans to keep the pretend pocket flaps and add actual welted pockets since the bodice is lined, but I was already really mad at the fit and the fabric.

The one thing good about it – assuming the fit ever turns out ok – is that this is the first ever drop-waisted dress that looks o.k. on me.

Embroidery

I got this amazing sewing machine for my birthday last year, and while I have tried out many of the functions on it I had never been brave enough to try out the embroidery gadgets. The design I picked looks pretty cool, even though I think I used the wrong thread color and/or placement for it. Also, I did a terrible job of lining the design up with itself, and it’s not interfaced quite right so it puckers funny in places. If you look closely, one of the swirls on one of the designs isn’t quite finished because the bobbin ran out of thread halfway through, and even though I had already successfully re-filled the bobbin once before in the middle of embroidering, it wanted to start all over again, instead of where it left off.

Even if I had got everything right, the dress needed a lot more embroidery to really make the design work, like some more around the neck and sleeves, and probably other places too. Sadly, when it was time to do more, I didn’t think the dress was worth it. As it is now, it almost seems like I added the embroidery as an afterthought.

Verdict

In conclusion, this dress is good in theory, but the worst in execution. I doubt I’ll ever try sewing the pattern again, let alone wear it. Thank you dear husband for the amazing photographs!

After many months, millions of slip stitches, a tiny bit of tears,  and lots of fun, I have finished the prettiest jacket I have ever made! It is the Claire Shaeffer designed jacket V8804 that you may recognize from my sleeves tutorial.

Were the instructions clear?

Aside from getting to make an amazing jacket, the instructions are pretty much the entire point of buying this pattern. Claire Shaeffer lets her obsession with Chanel jackets shine through in full force in this pattern, and  it is chock full of the delicious details you can’t find many other places: quilting, the chain sewn into the hem, special interfacing techniques, genuine vented sleeves, quality pockets, and faux bound button holes. And each detail of constructing the jacket has a “couture tip” to make sure you’re doing it like a pro. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t buy her books – because Claire Shaeffer’s books are amazing – but this pattern is like a hands-on sewing lesson for high end couture techniques with Claire holding your hand the whole way.

If you compare the instructions with the set that come with your average sewing pattern, you may be shocked if you were hoping for something simple to throw together. Because it’s so detailed and wonderful, constructing this jacket will take many many hours. Almost like a genuine couture jacket! I would classify this is more of an advanced project, simply because of the time involved. You need to be an experienced sewer to have built up the patience for the details, and even I had to give it a break – but only because of the life-sucking plaid fabric I chose. Otherwise, the instructions were so well written, I think any level sewer would learn a lot from a pattern like this.


How is the fit?

I can usually pick up a pattern and wear it without many alterations, and this pattern is no exception. It sits perfectly at my shoulders and bust without any alterations. The fit is a little different than I was expecting. Around the waist, it has a different softer, looser sort of feel compared to every other jacket I’ve ever made, which makes it extremely comfortable, yet it still looks flattering. I was really tempted to take it in a tad, but that would have totally ruined the entire shape and I’m glad I didn’t. It almost feels like I could also gain or loose 5 pounds without needing to alter it, making it a versatile piece through my many moods of ice cream.

I got really concerned with the neckline as soon as I put the tape edging on it, and I was worried it wouldn’t look right because of the overlap in the front, and it seemed too big, but I had faith, and I’m glad I didn’t mess with it because it works perfectly.


What was the hardest thing to construct on this jacket?

The mother fudging PLAID. It took me a day just to cut the thing out because of the plaid. All my unpicking and tearing out and sewing and resewing was 99% the darn plaids refusing to match up. But, the effort was well worth it. If you look closely, there’s a stripe that goes all the way around!

Other than dealing with the consequences of my choice in fabric, the hardest thing I had to conquer would have to be the pockets. They were so small, and the fabric so soft and frayable, doing the tiny turns and folds on them was a serious effort. If I was smarter, I would have used some of that spray-on glue-like stabilizer stuff. The quilting was also somewhat challenging, but mostly because I hadn’t done anything like that before, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.


Would I make this again?

YES! Just not in plaid. Or maybe in plaid, it is so seductive when I’m not actively sewing with it. I have such a short memory. I have plans for another jacket in this pattern using some cream material I have in my stash, with maybe a deep red charmeuse lining.

Is there anything I will try to do better next time?

There are some weird bubble issues in places where i did a poor job quilting, and I couldn’t quite shrink them away. Next time I’ll try not to be as lazy and do the maximum amount of basting for the quilting. I still think I did o.k. for my first try at a quilted lining!
Also, the taped edge look is sexy, but in a couple places it wrinkles weird. Maybe next time I’ll follow the instructions and do a trim instead? Or maybe a wider, bolder trim, and just learn how to sew it in place properly.


How often will I wear this?

As often as possible! I’m going to wear this thing with pride, too. It’s not too warm despite the wool blend since it’s so thin and light, so except in the peak of the Texas summer heat, I’ll want to wear this most of the year. I think it’s also not too dressy for the office or around town, even though it is so pretty. There’s no rule saying you can’t wear pretty stuff at work, right? The only thing that might deter me from wearing it is that it’s a hand wash only item – but that’s nothing compared to the joy of the super soft fabric and luxurious lining.

Verdict:

I learned a lot, sewed a lot, the plaid was worth it, and I LOVE the final product. I think this is the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, or at least tied for first place with my wedding dress. Thanks to my darling husband for the photographs!

 

I dug out a project I started in October, Vouge 8804. The material I chose for this project is a super soft wool blend woven into a nice plaid. It’s a sin to make a Claire Shaeffer designed Chanel-esque quilted jacket in anything but tweed or boucle, but I couldn’t resist. I also passed up the braid trim option for a bias tape edging, which I think is less sinful since I made the bias tape out of the super soft and silky fabric I used for the lining. I had finished most of the jacket with only the sleeves left to attach before I put the project on hold, so I used this as an excuse to make a little how-to guide.

      

 

Step 1 – Iron the affected area. Especially if the jacket had been living in the bottom of the closet like mine had. Also, because the wool has more of a loose weave to it, the material had a bit of a fraying problem the second it was cut. I gave the armscye some stay stitching to hold down future fraying, and a bit of a haircut before bothering to work with it.

Step 2 – Since this is a quilted jacket, and you have to do the quilting before you sew the sleeve together, and long story short the lining needs to stay out of the way while I do the next bits, so I pinned it out of the way.

Step 3 – Two sets of basting stitches go on the top part of the sleeve next, so you can ease the sleeve into place. Why two rows? I’m not sure, but I always regret it when I only do one row.

Step 4 – With right sides together, start pinning the sleeve in place. It’s always a good idea to check you’ve got your sleeve on the side it goes to at this point. Especially with shaped sleeves or ones with vents.

Step 5 – Baste where all the pins were. At this point, you might as well put on a movie. I put on the sweet sewing inspiration of The Parent Trap (the 1961 version please). Check out this amazing suit!

Step 6- Check the basting, and cry a little when you realize that your plaids don’t quite line up where they should and the gathers are uneven. But this is to be expected, that’s why it’s basting.

Step 7 – Revenge of the Basting. Baste it again. I prefer hand basting these steps because ripping out hand basting is marginally faster, and machine basing just doesn’t understand the lumps and gathers you are trying to navigate.

Step 8 – Baste again, probably.

Step 9 – Give up and blame it on the quilting and non-boucle fabric for the way it bubbles and hangs funny right there. At this point, you can hold on to the hope that with a little ironing and dab of steam shrinking action things will work out in the end.

Step 10 – Stitch it in place for real. I did two times around, but then I left in the basting stitches because again, I’m lazy.

Step 11 – Give the seam a trim and a trip to the iron.

Step 12 – Time to unpin the lining and slip stitch it in place. Now that your movie is probably over, it’s time to do the other sleeve!

I was perusing the remnants bin at the fabric store a few days ago when I found a yard of black satin, and I of course I chucked it into my cart the way I always do when I find fabric on sale that I think I might possibly want to use some day. The unusual part was that I started fooling with it so soon after I bought it.

My husband gave me a beautiful dress form for Christmas, and I had been anxious to start playing with it as soon as possible. I drafted up a pattern for a strappy shirt, and started sewing away. It turned out a bit strappier than I intended, and on a whim I made the hem in the back slightly pointy, but I really like how it turned out.

Credit to my husband for the lovely photographs.