Sunday, June 26, 2016

Another great McCalls shirtdress

I so enjoyed sewing McCalls 6885 that when McCalls patterns were on sale recently, I hopped over to my local store and picked up a couple more. I bought 6696 even though it's a fussy pattern (inset waist band, back gathers) partly because I love the look of the eyelet version with the bicycle and partly because I think the slip pattern could be useful. But I bought 7351 for the slim lines of view A and decided to make it first.

Then I went stash diving and found a beautiful cotton print I no longer remember acquiring. I am pretty sure that I got it while traveling somewhere in western Canada, maybe Victoria. It's an indigo batik-like print that has a strong vertical direction but it was printed sideways on the yardage, only 115cm wide. And I only had 2.0m when the pattern called for 2.9m for view A.

Skimpy fabric
But The Sewing Lawyer scoffs at the Big 4's generous yardage requirements and could see that lots of the 0.9m she did not have would be taken up by the bias strips to finish the arm openings, the back yoke lining and the pockets.

Hidden bits
So taking due care (measure twice cut once) I verified that the length of the front bodice and skirt *just* fit on the cross grain, which meant they could be cut in the same position vis-à-vis the pattern repeats. I was able to get all the other main pieces on there too, although I had to cut the back yoke and one of the collar stand pieces with the pattern going across instead of up and down. I got both front bands on the last skinny scraps - they just fit. Sadly, there are no pockets but I had already resigned myself to that impossibility. The hidden bits were cut out of scraps left over from a white shirt.

It was an enjoyable sewing experience. Substantial cotton is so well behaved! For some reason the buttonholes had to wait but I charged up the beast and made them today. That machine does buttonholes like a champ! There are 8 because stash had only 8 of the perfect buttons.

I love this dress!
See the sideways yoke? Or not...

You can tell I spent a lot of time matching the pattern, right? OK maybe not, but it makes me happy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Simplicity 5914 - colour me surprised!

When I last posted, I expressed some reservations about this ca. 2003 pattern, presumably long out of print.

There was no need. This was one of the most straightforward sews ever, and the resulting skirt is very nice indeed. I guess my front and back aren't so different after all ...

I made this skirt from a very old stashed piece of cotton sateen (its origins long forgotten). The pattern is a fabric miser and calls for only 1.5m of 115cm fabric in any size.

I can see more of these in my future. I wonder why it took me so long?

Onward! I'm about to start yet another shirtdress.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Some inferior photos from a brilliant day

It got warm enough for me to put the dress on for a quick photo shoot in the backyard. 

My those irises are fascinating!


For my next project I decided to dig out a really old Simplicity skirt pattern, number 5914. Now this one really IS simple. It has only two main pattern pieces - a centre piece and a side panel, and a single facing piece. The thing that makes me a little nervous is that the front and back are the same. And I'm pretty sure that my front and back are not. However we shall see. I'm making it out of a very ancient cotton sateen from deep stash. So it may turn out to be an experiment rather than a skirt.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A simple shirtdress

After I figured out a few problems* with my new (to me) sewing machine the Pfaff quilt expression 4.0, otherwise known as "the beast" because it's so big and powerful, I had a lot of fun making this dress. Too bad the weather is not cooperating and I feel it's just too cool to even put it on for some quick modeled photos. This is a hot weather dress. Maybe later.

This is an "easy" pattern from McCalls. I'm never sure what criteria pattern companies use to decide if a pattern is "easy". Although this dress has only two "main" pattern pieces and no darts, I'm not sure I agree with McCalls' rating. It has a proper shirt collar (two pieces with a stand) and a partial placket with a curious pleat built into the bottom end of it. These are at least moderately difficult to sew because they really demand very precise sewing.

But I own David Page Coffin's book on Shirtmaking (a valuable resource) and - as I told the lady behind the counter at Fabricland tonight (who unaccountably assumed that I needed help choosing my pattern size) - 40+ years of sewing experience. I laugh at shirt collars and applied plackets.

I used David P.C.'s instructions (p. 100 in his book) which help me avoid the dreaded nasty blob of fabric lumpiness just at the point where the collar stand meets the placket and is completely finished by machine.

After I finished sewing this, I read on the McCalls blog that the bottom bit of the placket is not supposed to be sewn down. Oops. Maybe next time I should have a peek at the instructions.

I checked all the pattern reviews on PR looking for some indication about the hemline. This pattern has three different hem lengths/styles. I had it in mind to make the hem from view D but I think the technical drawing isn't quite accurate. As drawn on the pattern tissue, the shirt tails are much more exaggerated. Several reviewers noted that the hemline was very short at the side seams - 6.5" or 17cm shorter, in fact - and that it felt uncomfortable as a result.

For safety's sake I decided to cut the hem for view C and decide on shaping later. I'm glad I did. When I tried the dress on I realized that it was a nice knee length and that I didn't want it to be any shorter. To keep the shirtiness of it I left slits at the side seams and sewed in a little bias triangle reinforcement, mimicking something that is sometimes done in nice men's shirts.

The fabric is an embroidered mid-weight cotton/linen (I think). From deep stash. It has a nice drape for this dress, although I am thinking of doing it again in a stiffer cotton (African print).

My only complaint about this pattern is that the arm openings are quite deep. If (when) I make this again I will raise the opening by at least 1cm.

* Problems with the 4.0 were:

1. In stitching down the placket, I was getting tension issues. This machine has electronically set tension and I had not had any problem before even when sewing through multiple layers of quilting cotton (that Bionic Gear Bag project, remember it?). I had a hunch that the tension might regularize if I inserted a slightly bigger needle. It did. Problem solved!

2. I had a thread jam and the built-in thread cutter simply stopped working. I went on line and came across a clue as to how to reset the sensor. I tried it. It worked. You have no idea how happy I was!

For posterity, here is a picture of what needs to be adjusted, if you have this machine and encounter the same problem. Take off the throat plate, get something pointy and use it to push the little nut at upper left as far to the left in its channel as it will go. I don't think I had to move it more than about 1mm, and this was messing up the cutting completely. Problem solved!

I love this machine, especially the buttonholes...

There are more shirtdresses in my near future.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Burnt by machine

That's the name of my knitted top, get it?

I finished it!

It took as long to finish the arm and neck openings as it did to knit the pieces. This is how it goes with machine knitting, I'm learning.

In the case of this top, a lot of the time spent on that phase was thinking about how exactly to do it - by machine. It's a technical/mechanical issue.

Knitting by machine is so different from knitting by hand where you can flip stitches around, combine them and add new ones wherever you want.

On a knitting machine, you are stuck with each stitch on its own fixed needle. If you want to add or subtract one in the middle of a piece - as I had to to make the vertical darts for shaping this top - you need to move all the stitches to one side of where you are increasing or decreasing to make room (or take one stitch away) in the middle.

Needles on one bed only knit, and on the other bed they only purl. Making garter stitch, the easiest thing in the world for a hand knitter (knit every row) is about the slowest stitch you can do on a machine because you literally have to switch the stitches from one bed to the other, or reform them on a single bed machine, every single row.

So the problem with my bands was that the pattern called for them to be knitted on (stitches picked up around the edges) in reverse stockinette stitch so they would curl and look nice and round. Easy by hand, tough by machine because of the configuration of the needles and how they would knit. No matter how I figured it, I'd end up either with the stockinette side showing (curling the wrong way, therefore) or with the "seam" where the stitches of the band were joined to the body on the outside instead of the inside.

There are probably ways of doing it but it was going to be really, really awkward.

So I did it by hand with skinny 2.5mm circular needles. Picked up the stitches, knit four rows, cast off. I am very pleased with how it turned out.

And here's the back. Yes, that is a band of garter stitch on either side of the (totally redundant) keyhole opening. See above for degree of difficulty.

The Sewing/Knitting Lawyer is happy with how this one turned out. It should be a nice basic item for summer.