Friday, March 30, 2012

Polka Dots, Print, and Stripes, Oh My!

The moment I saw Katherine Tilton's pattern for a top with a zipper trimmed double collar (Vogue 8793), I knew I wanted to make it. When I saw Shams' versions, I wanted to make it even more. I love the zipper-trimmed double collar, and the fabric collage.
Vogue 8793
With the pattern in mind, I sorted through my stash and found a rayon polka dot jersey and a rayon/metallic striped jersey (both from Marcy T) I thought would work. Wanting a third fabric to round out the collage, I added a printed rayon jersey from Sawyer Brook, and went to work on it. Here is the result:

I really love the look of these fabrics together. Each has a fun personality, making for a whimsical garment. Of course, the collar takes center stage on this design.

I like the contrast of the rugged zipper with the smooth fabrics, so I used lightweight molded separating zippers, as Katherine recommends. This required an internet order from in NYC, but service was very quick so I waited only from one weekend to the next. Sawyer Brook stocks some YKK coil and invisible zippers, so I was able to match the lilac color using a real color chart instead of photos on my computer monitor - a big advantage. The collar edges are fairly long, and a 28" zipper was too short. Not wanting to piece them (Katherine gives instructions for this), I was able to get them in the 36" length.

The pattern instructions have the teeth beginning at the center fronts, rather than at the neck seam. I was ok with this, and sewed mine that way. When I make the pattern again, I might place them close to the seam. It might make sewing the seam more difficult, which is why I stuck with Katherine's instructions. The zippers are inserted into the seam between the collar and facing. I fused them in place using Steam-A-Seam II, which worked great. After sewing the pieces together, the edge is topstitched. Then the inner collar is laid on top of the outer collar, the edges are basted together, and sewn to the neck edge.

I can't say how much I like this collar. It is so unusual and on trend - I just love it! On Katherine's blog she shows some tops where she lowered the neckline a bit, extending the length of the collars. That would be great for warmer weather. (A couple of posts earlier, she shows how she constructed the collar for the red top on the pattern envelope.)

I'm pleased with my placement of fabrics, except for the striped sleeve. The fabric was narrow and I had short yardage, so I had to turn the sleeve lengthwise in order to fit all the pieces. I do like having the stripes vertical on the back.
However, cutting the back on the crossgrain means there is stretch in the length of the back. It was problematic only in the armscyes, which lengthened some. As usual, I added length and width to the front and back, and added bust darts. It took several tries to get the bust darts looking good. I first placed them in the side seam, but ended up moving them to the armscyes. That seems to be the best location for me.

I found the pattern instructions to be well-written and easy to follow. The sleeve length is quite long. The length of the pattern piece is perfect for my long arms, which means most women will need to shorten it. I found the shoulder width quite wide, so much so that the sleeves were dropped. I trimmed away over an inch around the armhole to get a better fit. It might have been a bit too much in the back, but it was definitely needed in the front and at the shoulder seam.

I love the design of this top, and definitely plan to make it again. I like the fabrics together, but, I'm not really comfortable wearing these stripes. I think it's their boldness. The narrower, subtler stripes I used in my Back Words collage top are very quiet. The stripes in this top seem to holler, "Hey, look at me! I'm glittery metallic stripes!" I try not to think about them when I'm wearing the top, but every time I see myself in a mirror I wonder who the clown is, wearing strips and dots together. One of my co-workers asked me why I don't buy enough of one fabric to make an entire top! She was joking, of course. At least, that's what she told me. (Ahem.)

I have enough of the polka dot and print fabrics to make another top, so maybe you'll be seeing them in a collaged top this summer. You won't see these stripes with them, though!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ponte in the Raw Vest

For years, the only ponte I've worn is in RTW pants. The fabric is easy to care for and very wearable, and it happens to be popular in plus size pants styles. Over the past couple of years, several pieces of it have slipped into my fabric collection. Some of it was intended for pants, and some of it had no known destination. The color of this blue violet version (from Sawyer Brook a couple of years ago) spoke to me, and it happens to look great with the Back Words top and my deep peony pink top from last fall.

I didn't have a lot of yardage, so making a vest was an easy decision. I had just used Katherine Tilton's new vest pattern with a different fabric, and really loved it (I'll blog about that soon). However, I didn't want to make it twice in a row. So, I went back to Marcy's Vogue 8430 jacket pattern, which I used last fall for my raggedy edge linen vest. The linen version has become an extra layering piece for when I'm working in my studio. I'm not crazy about its extreme unconstructed-ness, especially in the linen fabric. Would I like it better in ponte? Would a double knit make it seem more finished?

Well, yes, I do like it better, probably because it's more substantial and drapes better. Plus, it's really easy to wear. No fussing with it at all.

 I left all of the edges raw on this version, and top stitched 1/2" from them. But I think I might actually prefer to turn them under. I'm not sure why, as my personality favors clothes that are a bit "different".  I added a small dart to the armhole, but these photos show that it could stand to be a bit bigger. Perhaps some day I'll enlarge the dart and stich the armhole seam allowances to the inside. That might make the vest feel more finished.

An aside: Having made this pattern twice now, I think the best fabric for it is felted wool. That's what Marcy originally designed it to be made of. Felt has far more character than ponte, and its added stiffness would improve the stand of the collar, which tends to droop a bit in the knit.

To liven up the styling a bit, I added some cool pockets from Diane Ericson's Just Pockets pattern. These are simple patch pockets with a narrow bit cut out to make a slit, which is then sewn together with a button. These beautiful buttons are Italian, from Sawyer Brook - of course.

The pockets make the vest fun and add some interest to the otherwise flat fabric. I think that's the downside of ponte - its flatness. It's a rather boring fabric - which is what makes it a "wardrobe workhorse". It doesn't have much character, so it can be used in many different types of garments. I have plans for a jacket or two out of colorful ponte in my collection, so I'm going to look into painting them, to give them more interest.

This is a fun vest and I'm sure I'll get more use out of it as I add more tops to my wardrobe. I love the blue violet color!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Back Words Top, or, How to Wear Horizontal Stripes and a Wild Print

If you're like me, you've purchased some prints that drew you to them, then had you wondering how you would ever incorporate them into your wardrobe. There are many prints I pass by because they're just "too much" for my large body. But some are irresistible, begging to linger in my fabric collection so they can tease me until I figure out what to make with them.
Back Words Jersey (Yes, it's readable in a mirror!)
With its dry hand and wonderful drape, this printed viscose/elastane jersey from Sawyer Brook was one of those teasers. I knew the print flattered my personality, and I knew the colors flattered my body. I also knew I could make a simple top to wear underneath a solid jacket or vest. But I didn't want to hide this stunning print that way - at least, not totally. That's when it dawned on me to make a collage top.

I get lots of sewing and design inspiration from the Tilton sisters, and I've long admired this collage top made by Katherine (you'll need to scroll down the page a bit). I noticed it again while browsing her blog last month, and set out to find fabrics that would combine well with my print. I knew I wanted to incorporate a black mesh purchased from Marcy some time ago. I also wanted to use a stripe, if I could find one that complimented the print.

This is where having my studio smack dab next door to a fabulous fabric store is the biggest blessing ever! I took the fabric to Sawyer Brook to see what I could find, and was pleased to discover that Fay, a bamboo and cotton striped jersey with a beautiful hand and drape, is a very close color match to the taupe in the print. Stripe mission solved!

To round out the grouping, I wanted a solid. At first I thought the violet jersey used in my previous garment would look good. While it echoed the red violet in the print, it was waaaaaay overpowering in the collage. I stepped back from the fabrics for a bit, then realized black would be the perfect finish. Black can be a bit harsh on me, especially an all-over black garment. But piecing it would lessen that harshness, and I just happened to have a black cotton jersey on hand. I was fortunate these four fabrics had similar drape and weight, another key to collage success. I had also achieved a pleasing mix of color, pattern, texture and solid.

One big reminder that came to me during the fabric selection process was the colors didn't have to match perfectly.  I grew up in an era when a stylish look required carefully matched colors, including shoes and handbag. As fashion trends have become more relaxed, so have I. This took all of the pressure off as I "shopped" for my fabric combination. I love how these fabrics speak to one another, and how the black and taupe visually calm down the wildly colorful and busy print.

Fabric choices resolved, my next task was to determine which fabrics to place where. Katherine had given me some good advice on this via email, specifically the importance of placing visually weightier fabrics lower in the garment, and flattering colors near the face. There was no doubt the print would go near my face, so I placed it on the upper right front, upper back and a sleeve. The mesh was a no-brainer; there are times when mesh worn high on a 50-something body is a good thing, but this wasn't one of them! I knew I would want to place it at the hemline and the lower part of a sleeve.  Taupe isn't a very flattering color for my face, so the stripe went to the lower front, upper back and a sleeve. Black balanced everything else out.

Now the cutting began. Using Katherine's version as a template of sorts (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery!), I took my altered Vogue 1261 pattern and traced off the front and back pieces. I determined where I wanted the seams to be, and added seam allowances. I also drafted a lower, slightly asymmetrical neckline. Since I didn't have a photo of the back of Katherine's version, I used the opportunity to play a bit. I moved the vertical seam to the center, and carefully positioned the horizontal seams in flattering places. Katherine advised me to not make the back placement just like the front, and not to try to match seams at the side seams. Viewed from the side, all of the horizontal seams fall at different places. To avoid over-matching the fabric placement, I switched the black and stripe on the back.

In order to obtain a good fit, construction of the top was somewhat unconventional. I sewed the top four pieces together, leaving the vertical seams open toward the bottom. Then I attached each lower piece seperately, tweaking the fit and length as I went.

My biggest challenge in piecing the collage was the sloped seam on the front between the print and the stripe. I cut both of these pieces about 2" longer than needed, so I could achieve some fit in the angled seam. Without doing this fitting, the stripes on the lower front piece would have sloped to the outside (because of my rounded torso). Using the print on top proved to be fortuitous, as it allowed me to add some length over my bust, in order to make the pieces fall evenly. No option for adjusting unevenness at the hem of this top!

Another challenge was to avoid having a bright blob of color on my breast. This took some work, and I'm not sure how well I succeeded, as it looks like I leaned into a freshly painted blue wall! At least I don't flaunt a big dark square or a large cream blob ladened with big letters.

For the sleeves, I cut them out to about 3/4 length, leaving a couple of extra inches to play with. I figured out the lower sleeve shapes later, when I assembled them. This helped me make them proportional to the body of the garment. I sloped the seams 1" on one sleeve, and 2" on the other.

Wanting a clean finish that didn't add more busy-ness to the top, I stitched the hems and neckband by hand. First, I used my favorite ultralight Design Plus fusible bias tape to stabilize the fabric edges. It shows through a bit on the mesh, but I didn't like the look of the mesh hem without it. The mesh is very large, so there isn't much fabric to stitch together. The tape gave me something to sew into.

Ok, time to talk about the elephant in the living room, so to speak. Stripes, you say?! Yes, stripes can perform a strong balancing act in a collage. I really lucked out in this case, as the taupe and black striped knit is so subtle. A cream and black stripe would have been much louder, and would have commanded a lot of attention. The size of the stripe makes a big difference, too. Imagine the same colors in a 1" stripe. Way too LOUD!

But horizontal stripes?! Isn't that a no-no? Don't they make you look fat? Once again, it all depends on how bold the stripes are. I'm a big girl, no doubt about that. But because of the other design lines in this top, the horizontal stripes recede to the background.

This project was a blast to design and execute. It took a lot of patience, ingenuity and double-checking, but once I got into the groove, the process moved along quite smoothly.  Katherine was a huge inspiration, and her advice was very helpful. I so appreciate pattern designers who are willing to communicate with those of us who are using their patterns and ideas!

This top is very comfortable and really reflects my personality.  I just love wearing it. Best of all, I have enough yardage left over to create another collage top. I'm thinking a more summery cut...

Horizontal stripes and a wild print? Oh yeah!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Alicia, the Alex Knock-Off

This is the final garment I sewed in 2011. I had admired the Sewing Workshop's Alex top for a long time, and had planned to order the pattern - sometime. Then I realized I probably could do a fairly good rendition of my own, using the Alice + Olivia Vogue 1261 pattern that I made earlier in the fall (this one).

I started with a red violet rayon/lycra jersey from Sawyer Brook. I swore I wouldn't sew with rayon any more because of its tendency to pill, but this fabric has a crepe-like, dry hand, which means it shouldn't pill much, if at all. I've washed it several times and it doesn't show any such inclination. Yay!

I just love this color, and it seems to love me. I always get compliments when I wear it. You might notice in these photos a slight dye flaw in the fabric. It shows as a faint stripe effect. I chose to ignore it, as matching faint stripes would have been crazy making. (I'm already crazy enough!)

Wanting a higher neckline, I pulled out Marcy Tilton's Vogue 8582 and borrowed the cowl collar and neckline. I really like Marcy's twisted cowl. You simply make a loose turtleneck and hand sew the inner edge to the seam allowance. But instead of folding it straight, you shift it about three or four inches to the side. That forms the soft folds you see here:

For the inverted vee shape in the center front of the shirt, I determined how wide I wanted it and redrafted the pattern piece into two pieces, adding seam allowances. I don't know what the hemline of the Alex does in the back, as I haven't seen a schematic drawing. The front hemline appears to be more exaggerated than mine. If I make this again - which I might - I'll change that, as I like the look of the Alex hem.  I hand stitched the hems to give the top a more refined look.

I've noticed in these photos the top of the sleeve is quite tight on me. The Alice + Olivia pattern is drafted quite narrowly in the shoulder/upper arm area. Next time I'll add more fabric to the sleeve head to give a less strained fit. I'll also add darts to eliminate the folds that form on the sides of my bustline. This is a task I don't enjoy, so I skipped it on this top and the teal one I made earlier. Now I see I would prefer to insert them, as they would help the top fit more smoothly.
This top is very comfortable and looks great with the navy cardigan I made in the fall. I recently made a black vest (blog post coming soon!) that looks great with it. I'm really enjoying having it in my closet!

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Jacket that Wears Me

You know when you make a pattern you think will look terrific on you, with fabric you really like, only to end up with a garment you don't wear? That was my experience with this jacket. I love the softness and color of the fabric and I love the design of the pattern. But the two are not a happy marriage, and I when I wear the jacket, I feel like it is wearing me.
The styling of Katherine Tilton's Vogue 8778 appealed to me from the very start. Asymmetrical zipper, dolman sleeves, and a gorgeous, huge collar. What could possibly go wrong?
Vogue 8778 Pattern Envelope Photo
What went "wrong" was my choice of fabric. It's a luscious organic soy and cotton french terry from Sawyer Brook. The color is *me*, the hand is soft, and I thought it would work great for this design. An email conversation with Katherine helped me realize my fabric was too drapey and clingy. The pattern needs a fabric with more body, like a fleece, so the collar will stand up a bit and lie smoother. Here's what Katherine wrote (posted here with her permission):

"My guess (without seeing and feeling the actual fabric) is that the soy/organic cotton/spandex is too soft for the collar to stand up. Probably fusing a lightweight knit interfacing would help if you do another one in a similar fabric. The rust fabric used on the pattern envelope was heavy and had a lot of body so it holds a 'stand'. The orange and grey fabrics are softer but when they photograph them the collar only has to 'stand' for a moment and in actuality probably looks more like yours in real life. If you overlap the ends and close with a pin (I do this with one of mine), or add a button and buttonhole (I've done this too) it creates more of a frame for the face which at my age I'm finding flattering."

In addition to being too soft, the fabric is also clingy. No more so than the RTW french terry hoodie I'm wearing right now, but just not the best choice for this pattern. My husband tried to straighten the jacket as he photographed me wearing it, but it still managed to cling to itself, the shirt I wore underneath, and my butt.
Katherine's idea of interfacing the collar is a great one. I think it would have given the terry enough body to hold itself up better. While constructing the collar, I decided to "favor the fabric", to prevent the edges from curling up. I trimmed just a 1/4" or so from the bottom edge of the undercollar. This was an unnecessary step that actually made the edge curl under, as shown in the above photo. (I'm not beating myself up about this, just mentioning it in hopes it will prevent someone else from making the same mistake!)

The pattern calls for a second fabric for the sleeves, but I chose to use the reverse side of the terry instead. I did this on the collar, too. It adds some nice texture to an otherwise smooth garment face. I found the pattern sleeves to be drafted too long. I wanted the seam joining them to the body of the pattern to stay above the elbow, as pictured on the pattern envelope. The seam fell below my elbow, so I cut off about 2". Even with that, I needed to shorten the lower sleeve an inch or so. I also added a bit of width to the sleeves, as they are drafted quite narrow.

Two details that were really fun to work with were the zipper and topstitching.
I knew I would be wearing navy or dark blue tops with the jacket, rather than black. Wanting some contrast, I chose a navy zipper and topstitching thread. To add even more interest, I used twin needle stitching throughout. I like the raised ridge it creates.
When it came to topstitching nice corners on the collar, I was puzzled at first. How was I going to turn the corner? First I thought I would drop one of the twin needles, but then I remembered they're on the same shank (this was twin needle stitching, not cover stitching). Knowing no other solution, I broke the stitching at each of the four corners, leaving long threads.
I removed stitches as necessary and hand sewed each thread to create proper corners. I'm pleased with the result.

 If anyone knows of another technique to achieve this effect, I'd love to hear about it! A front corner:
So, why don't I wear this jacket? Mainly because it just sort of hangs on me. I added a couple of inches too much to the length and the width of the jacket. That, plus the dolman sleeves, make it rather boxy in shape, which isn't flattering to me. Also, while I love the diagonal zipper when it's closed, the jacket doesn't look good at all when it's unzipped. I've worn it a few times, and on each occasion, I felt like the jacket was in control of me, rather than the opposite. I prefer garments that I can put on and forget about. This one demands my attention too often. I think it will end up being an around-the-house layer, as it's very comfortable and warm.

Having said all of this, I still would recommend the pattern to those who like the styling. Just be sure to use a fleece that will stand up on its own, and not wear you!

P.S. We've had a mild winter, but no way does my back yard look like this now! These photos were taken in early December. We had a storm yesterday that has the lawn buried under 6 or 8 inches of snow. No way is spring arriving early here in Massachusetts!