Friday, 22 November 2013

My disappointing slice of Cake

Dear, oh dear. Does this look like a happy dress to you?

Poor thing, just hanging there all limp and lonely.  Behold the sad little pleats - scissor and bust - just waiting for some curves to come and fill them.

Alas, those curves shall not be mine.  This dress does nothing for me. See my face? The dress ain't happy, the face ain't happy.

Now I suspect there may be several reactions going on at this point. Perhaps you're thinking, hey, don't blame the dress! And you're completely right. I am not blaming the dress per se - or at least, not the pattern (which I'll come back to below), or the lovely viscose fabric, or the execution which for once is rather tidily done. It's just that it doesn't work on me. Let's try smiling:

No, sorry. Not working. 

Now the other thing you may be thinking is, hey! It's not that bad! To which I answer, no it's not! But unfortunately, I don't feel comfortable in it at all.  Even G, who is normally quite tactful, took one look at it and said, wow that doesn't flatter your bust!  So let's backtrack a bit, and get down to some details, shall we?

This dress is made with Cake's latest pattern, the Red Velvet. I think it's a really lovely design. It's casual without being sloppy or slouchy, and it's just a little bit different from what else is out there - in a good way. Put this together with Cake's innovative approach to sizing (draw your own! Full busts welcome!), and I took a risk and bought it. A risk, because although I like the style, it's not one that I ever wear. So yes, I knew, before, during and after making this, that there was a high likelihood of putting it on and going "euh, meh". And unfortunately, this time, the meh won out. Even though the sizing IS that great, and the sewing that well-explained and straightforward.

Plus, I didn't help myself with my fabric choice At. All. The feel of this is lovely: a bit solid but a bit slinky, super soft and stable to sew. And I sort of got carried away when I saw those big mustard/grey/white flowers. But they're just not something I can wear like this. I fatefully ignored the voice in my head that goes "no big prints on top no big prints on top no big prints on top". As if I didn't know: whether or not you might be thinking it looks good - I don't like to wear big prints on my boobs. Especially when they're literally right on my boobs (good one, Jo).

So, also, the fit could do with some tiny tweaks if I'm going to do this again. I was right on the edge of sizes 30 and 35, so my first muslin was a 35 and it was too big: my final dress is a 30D. But looking at the pictures, I think I need the size 35 shoulders. I also definitely need a deep bust adjustment. I added some bodice length already, but maybe you can see that the upper midriff seam stretches up under my bosoms. Even if you can't, it does and I feel the constant need to pull it down, so there's that.

The other thing with the midriff piece is I can't work out exactly where I want it to hit. It just feels kind of not in the right place. Maybe I should make it narrower, so the skirt hits higher? Or just lengthen the bodice/bust length a bit more and skip the midriff piece altogether. I actually think getting the under-bust and waist lines to fall right is the key to deciding whether this dress can work for me or not. What do you think?

And finally, I need to change the sleeves. Again, I knew this in advance but sort of had a sewing casual clothes mental block (yeah, this thing again). I never wear sleeves this length, because I don't think they flatter me. Really, I'd like to lengthen them - 3 quarter or even full-length. Would I need to add an underarm gusset?? Because if so, I think I might just throw in the towel...

After all that, I hope you can see that my problems with this pattern are exactly that: MY problems, not the pattern's.  I must admit, being used to traditional patterns, I had an idiot moment when I first opened the envelope. Then I got on with it, and it works GREAT! I think Steph's innovative approach to her designs, sizing and instructions is spot on in dealing with knit clothes for real people.

The only thing I remain unsure about really is this: is it worth me futzing around spending money on more fabric to try and make this design work for me? Or should I just put it behind me and try a Lady Skater?

Well, I feel like this post has been one long moan - and an unfair one, because this is a really good pattern! I guess I'm actually just pretty disappointed that this version/vision of mine didn't work.

So how about I leave you with a picture of the hem?

Ooh I do love me a nice smooth hem. Double needles all the way, baby!

OK, it's Friday, I'm off to the Chinese supermarket to get exotic ingredients, and soon - very soon! - it's good food and weekend!! Enough wallowing in my-comfy-dress-didn't-work-out. Besides, I have a quilt to be getting on with. And a Mr Pringles costume...

Any plans for your weekend? I hope it's a good one!


Friday, 15 November 2013

The wearability learning curve

So I have been doing a lot of successful baking recently, and of this I am bl**dy glad because the sewing has turned out a whole string of FAILS.

Now, I'm not here to moan. It is frustrating to have made a garment that I'm not actually going to wear, but it occurred to me this morning that I don't actually mind that much. I've been here before and I know what it is. It's a Wearability Learning Curve.


I think most of us who sew recognise the stages of this chart - well, probably everyone does, but as far as I'm concerned sewing is the area of my life where this plays out most obviously and concretely. And I sorta feel like I've been through it all once, and now I'm doing it again.

I went through a massive learning curve with fitting and sewing wovens, making skirts, dresses and woven blouses or tees, and finally I think I've pretty much conquered it. I know fairly instinctively what style of pattern will (or won't) suit me, which patterns to take a risk on, which fabrics to pair with them, how to execute the vague design idea in my head, which inspirational urges to follow and which ones to judiciously ignore. As a result, I have a good lot of homemade smart-casual clothes that I wear to work almost every day. Clothes that I feel flatter me, and that express who I am in a way I feel good about. Clothes that fit and are comfortable. To me, this is the very definition of wearability.

But, since somewhere this spring, it's become not quite enough. I want to make my off duty clothes too. And there, I'm a lot less successful. I hardly wear my Briar dress. Attempts to add to my sweatshirt and slouchy dress collection fell flat. Recent makes include a Red Velvet dress and another Renfrew that just don't quite work for me, even though there's nothing really wrong with them. It's because wearability for what I like to wear on a weekend involves a whole lot of sewing things I haven't mastered yet.

My false sense of security came and went earlier this year when, thanks to having acquired a serger, I finally felt able to sew with knits. They no longer scare me, and I thought - hey! Now I can make whatever I want!!! But, um, choosing a pattern? Matching that with the right fabric, in terms of both drape and print? Fitting stretch stuff? Hahahaaaa!! I have a LOT to learn. Oh man, a lot.

I'll be showing you my recent 'failed' makes; they're not that bad. With each one I get closer to the elusive day when my instincts get it right, not wrong. I can live with the frustration of not having that self-stitched comfy knit dress immediately. But still.

Phew, that curve is looking steep from here!

What about you? Where are you on your sewing learning curve at the moment?

Are there kinds of sewing you feel you've mastered, while still being scared of others?

And finally, how do your home-made clothes fare on the wearability test? Are you confident in your wearable sewing skills, or not?

Please tell!


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Simple and good: banana cake

It's not always sewing round here.

Sometimes, there's baking. A good, simple banana cake, for example: ideal for feeding to (or indeed making with) children, and perfect alongside a cup of coffee, too.

This particular cake has no added frills. No chocolate chips, no nuts, no vanilla or cinnamon. it's just soft and gentle and full of banana. I don't know where the recipe originally came from; my much-loved, much-splashed, handwritten version was copied from my mum.

Banana cake

Pre-heat your oven to 150° C, and get out your Magimix.

  • 115 g butter or margarine, softened
  • 140 g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 - 4 ripe bananas (about 300 g or slightly more), mashed
  • 200 g self-raising flour
  • half teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Now, bananas. Of course, the beginning of many banana cakes is the need to use up overripe specimens that would otherwise go to waste. But in my house, the wasting away of bananas rarely coincides with the time and inclination to make cake. And we would waste many: my picky kids refuse to eat a banana, once a black spot has appeared. So what do we do? We freeze them.

They go entirely black, and they look fairly revolting once defrosted. But, what you scoop out of the skins is ideal for immediate baking, no mashing required.

With your bananas appropriately prepared, now mix your batter:
  • Cream together the butter/margarine and sugar
  • Add the egg
  • Add the (mashed) bananas
  • Add the flour, baking soda and milk

Line a loaf tin, pour in and level the batter, then cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool in the tin. Cut, and eat.

 Sometimes, the good things really are that simple.


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Darling Ranges: bodice fitting notes & queries

I mentioned when I posted my Darling Ranges dress that I would be back with details on fitting the bodice. I personally love to see how other people approach their fitting and muslining, and, well, this is a post for my fellow process geeks :-)  It's also partly to remember my own notes, partly to share them in case others are reading up on fitting this pattern (something I found really helpful), and partly - but very far from least importantly - a plea for your help. As you'll see, I still have not satisfactorily fit this bodice, and I am a bit stuck for where to go next. 

Behold the rose tinted picture whence I began...

This was my first, freshly-traced front bodice piece. But before we get down to the adjustmental nitty gritty, how about some vital statistics? Here they are, with the corresponding pattern size each one falls under (see the pattern envelope here):

  • High bust 86 cm (XS)
  • Full bust 96 cm (M)
  • Waist 81 cm (L)
  • Hips 99 cm (S-M)

As you can see, I span quite a range. Usually, I pick my dress/top size based on my high bust and then do an FBA to add ease in the full bust. This generally results in a bodice that fits fine across the shoulders and back, with enough room for the bosoms too. However, in this case I strongly doubted that beginning with the XS would be a good idea - for a start, I am way out of the other measurements for that size, and I had read that the shoulders in this case are narrow to begin with. So I plumped for the S, graded out to an L at the waist, and did an FBA:

Now I had seen many, many comments about the placement/size/shape of this bust dart and the difficulties of fitting it. As I have rarely come across a bust dart I actually liked, I had decided a long time ago to deal with this by rotating it to a french dart instead, which is supposedly more flattering on fuller busts in any case. (Megan has good tutorials on her blog on how to do this). I'm now not so sure that doing so immediately was a good idea, but we'll get to that later.  So, my first bodice front pattern piece then looked like this:

And here is the resulting bodice muslin (almost stomach flashing on the internet, oh my goodness!):

I'm not sure how obvious it is, but this was basically so tight I could hardly move - despite being too big at the waist (it falls above the natural waist which I suspect accounts for that in my case. I am what you could politely call "thick" in the stomach area). You can see some excess fabric gaping at the neckline at my right shoulder, so that already jumped out as a thing, and from the back you could see bra lines. For a dress made in woven fabric, that closeness of fit is definitely not what I call wearing ease.

Thus, on to the next size up. Here I faced an unusual situation: the pattern's bust measurement for the M is 1cm larger than my full bust measurement.  I don't think I've ever made a straight up bodice without an FBA, at least not in non-stretch material. As I had decided to go down a size at the waist from my first muslin, the only change I made to bodice pattern piece #2 was therefore to rotate the dart again:

Here's the result. Clearly already a much better fit, and it felt more comfortable too.

However, do you see those bubbles at the end of the darts, just sort of sitting there on my boobs? That's no good! (Please ignore the drawn-on nipples where I had been experimenting with the location of bust points). Again, there was some gaping at the top right of the neckline, and also some armhole gape, which you can see pinned out on the right armhole above. I pinched out a small armhole dart and rotated it into the main dart:

But it didn't help. No pictures of muslin #4, it was late and I was fed up. At this point I gave up muslining and spent some considerable time Googling things like "bust dart fabric pooling". I'm not sure how conclusive this was, but my conclusion was that the large size of the dart probably had something to do with it, and splitting it in two might work. My next pattern piece was the M again, with no FBA, the bust point lowered 3cm, and the dart split equally between the waist and the side:

And that, oh persistent readers for making it this far! That is the pattern piece I used to make my dress. I did do another muslin, decided it was the best so far, and that I was going to get on with the thing I actually wanted to be making, instead of obsessing about making it fit.  And yes, I do truly believe that it's OK for things to not fit that well, as long as you don't mind wearing them - after all, that's how I wore shop-bought clothes for years. I mentioned before that I can live with this one. But, I want more of these dresses, and I want them in plain fabric - which doesn't camouflage like this print does.  So, please, cast your expert eyes over these pictures and tell me what needs to change!

First and most importantly: that fabric pulling towards the armhole over my bust:

Do I need to add some ease with an FBA after all? Or should I just have left the bust dart where it was originally (maybe shortened slightly?), with the fullness therefore at the high bosom level instead of nearer the waist?

A side view of the same thing - but here you can also see, on the right, that the neckline doesn't actually lay flat at my shoulders. Do you think I could just shorten the neckline a very little bit at the shoulder seams? (Does anyone know what I mean??)

And then there's this weird bubble of fabric between the darts. I guess this is like my boob-placed bubbles from muslin #2, but moved, and moved to a location I can live with in fact. I just sort of wonder about it, and whether/how this 'excess' can be moved to somewhere I want it rather than somewhere I don't.

I don't want to fall into the trap of overfitting, but at least that pulling from centre front to armhole must go. I don't really want to convert the dart to princess seams as I like the lines of the pattern as it is. Any other ideas, from those with full busts or none? A dart cluster like this? Or do I just give up? Can you tell that I'm really quite determined not to?

Any and all suggestions will be welcomed and very likely acted on. I will happily document my next series of muslins if that's any encouragement to you!

And THANK YOU fellow sewists and sewcialists - at time of writing I may be stuck, but I'd never have made it this far without you :-)