Saturday, March 31, 2012

Simplicity 1877 - simple fitted dress

The warmer weather here in Ottawa has me thinking of spring, and dresses, dresses, dresses! I love cute summer frocks, but last year I didn't start sewing for summer until it was almost half over...and ended up spending what was left tucked away in my little sewing room instead of enjoying the warm weather. So this year, I'm starting early. 

And nothing says summer like a little black dress. Yeah, I know, it really doesn't, but I'm desperate for a few easy foundation pieces as well as needing to use up some of my why not...

I bought this pattern for 2 reasons. First, I was drawn to the shape, a cute sort-of-empire waistline that would flatter my shapely figure (small ribcage/waist, big bum). Second, it was on sale for $2.20, so I thought why not give it a shot? Here's the technical drawing...cute, right?

I love the uniqueness of the flounces, but frankly, not for me. And, maybe just a little too unusual for my somewhat conservative office. So I made a variety of modifications...
- raised the neckline
- lengthened the skirt
- added U-shaped piece to underarm
- omitted flounces
Recommendation: finish arm & neck facings by hand, instead of rushing and doing it by machine, the pieces will lay flat instead of curling up a little (see sleeves in top pic, the edge of the sleeve curls out a bit).
View the company's pattern details and instructional videos here.
Here are the comments I posted on
Pattern Description: 
Misses' dress in two lengths with skirt variations.
Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?
More or less, I modified the skirt section significantly - see comments below, and made the overall look a little more fitted, but otherwise it looked like the pattern photo.
Were the instructions easy to follow?
Yes, the dress has very straight-forward construction and the instructions were clear.
What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
The look of version A is a wonderful shape but would be a little too "unusual" for my work office, which is somewhat conservative. But I love the drape of the dress - it's sort of empire, but the skirt attaches a bit lower than a typical empire dress, and the overall fit is lovely.
Fabric Used:
Some kind of black polyester suiting, with a little stretch to it. 
Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:
I wanted to be able to wear this dress to work, so I made significant changes to version A; I omitted the flounces altogether, and I lengthened the skirt pattern pieces to come just below the knee. I fitted the dress to lightly skim my hips - I find a form-fitting dress more flattering to my figure (narrow ribcage/waist, big bum). Also, I modified and raised the v-neck line at the front...if I'd followed the pattern my very exposed cleavage would have been talk of the office! And finally, I added in a U-shaped piece of fabric under the arm because the sleeve hole was gaping...leaving about an inch of bra exposed.
Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
Yes, I will definitely be making dresses from this pattern again but will continue to make the alterations above so that it's suitable office wear.
My goal for 2012 is to sew a project a week (52 projects total) so that I can start working through the frightening fabric stash that is taking over my sewing room. This is project #1.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Making a muslin

For years, I avoided making muslins. "What?!? I have to make a rough draft first? That's like, waaaay too much work." And then, after the disappointment of a few ill-fitting projects that now lie in a crumpled heap at the back of my closet, I realized that achieving perfect fit in sewing takes not only skill and experience, but also patience and dedication. I marched on down to my fabric store and bought myself fabric to use in making muslins... 

What's a "muslin"? Muslin is technically a type of thin cotton fabric (at right), but it is often used to create pattern pieces - so "making a muslin" has come to mean cutting, fitting and sewing a rough draft of your garment to ensure you've got the proper fit before you cut into your good (and likely much more expensive) fabric.

I make muslins using whatever inexpensive fabric 
I can get my hands on, usually a thin cotton with no stretch to it - basically, any fabric that is similar in nature to paper flat pattern pieces. That trip to the fabric store I mentioned, I bought a bolt of beige cotton fabric that was marked down because it had grey discolouration running through it. The entire bolt cost me about $6, and will make about 8-10 rough drafts of projects I want to make. 

Give it a try! 
Here, I'm making a pencil skirt muslin...

Cutting the pieces
- cut out the commercial paper pattern pieces in your size
   *if you're unsure at all of the pattern sizing/fit, cut 
     a larger size to be safe
- lay them out on your muslin fabric
- trace the outline using a pen, making any major 
    adjustments you already know you need to add in

With this skirt pattern, I knew the short was too short (pic left)and that I also wanted a little extra fabric along the back seam for the zipper (pic above).

- now transfer any markings as well (ie, darts)
- cut out your new muslin pattern pieces

Sewing the garment
- sew major seams together following 
    your pattern instructions
   *major seams = shoulders, sides, darts, etc
   *use wide stitches, you'll want to be able to 
     rip them out easily afterwards
   *if putting in sleeves, make sure to adjust 
     and sew at your 'true shoulder'
   *this is a rough draft of the finished item, 
      don't bother with hemming or 
      finishing the inside seam allowances!
- try your muslin on, and adjust the fit by taking seams in further as needed or ripping apart and re-sewing areas that need to be adjusted in order to achieve a better fit

Here, the skirt was still too wide at the hips, back darts a little pointy, and look at how the front waistline is higher that the back - I created a new side seam about 1/2" inside the original sewing line, adjusted the darts, and the cut 1/2" off the top front to make sure the waistline was even all the way around. I also decided the taper in the side seams (pic at right) so that the bottom of the skirt would taper in towards my calves rather than hang straight down from my hip.

Finishing the muslin
- lay your garment out on a flat surface
- using your marker, trace a dashed "sewing line" 
    along your stitches
- trim the fabric about 1/2" away from your 
    stitches, this creates your seam allowance
- now rip out your stitches and remove zipper
    (if used)
Using your marker, name each pattern piece so you know what's what and transfer over any other important markings (ie, hemline or changes to dart position).

Voila! You can toss the paper pattern pieces or give them to a sewing buddy, you now have perfectly-fitting muslin pieces of your own to use again and again. Fold them up and put them back in the commercial pattern envelope or use a medium-size plastic zip baggie to keep everything together.

What about making a muslin from an existing piece of clothing? It can be a bit tricky, especially if you don't want to cut up the item into it's individual parts just yet. Just lay the item out on your muslin fabric, and try your best to trace around lines where the item was sewn together. The biggest difference = add your seam allowance! It's already included in commercial patterns (most likely), but you'll need to use your imagination a little if you're trying to create a pattern to recreate beloved items from your closet. Remember - it's a muslin, it's ok to mess it up or have to redo it, the whole point is to play/adjust/fix now instead of after you've already cut into your good fabric! 

What about knits? Honestly, I made one cotton muslin for a perfectly-fitted simple jersey top (from my favourite t-shirt) and I use that to compare against any commercially-made pattern for knits that I intend to use. Is the pattern as wide/long as my perfect muslin piece? Yes? Then I just go for it. The stretch in knits is so forgiving, I usually don't make a muslin unless the pattern is very unique and might not look quite right on my body type without adjustments. But, if you are concerned and want to make a muslin, your best option is to buy an equal amount of cheaper "fashion" knit and test out the pattern first following the guidelines above, and then copy the pattern to a sturdy cotton for future projects. Why not make a muslin out of the cheaper "fashion" knit itself? Knits ravel at the sides, and unless you're interested in putting little weights all around the edges to keep the cut pieces flat, stick with a test run of the commercial pattern and then make your cotton muslin pieces.

Do you have to make a muslin every single time you try out a new pattern? No, not necessarily. If you already have a muslin that is similar in shape to the pattern you want to try, much like with my example of the perfect simple jersey top, you can simply use your muslin to judge if there will be any problems with the commercial pattern's sizing.

But apart from that, don't skip making or using an existing muslin when sewing! Not only do you end up with a properly-fitted garment, but you now have reliable pattern pieces for future garments of the same style. It's a lot faster to throw together a new dress if you know you can count on the sizing of the muslin when cutting out and sewing together your pieces. Having said that, making a muslin does NOT mean you shouldn't still check the fit when sewing your final garment...always try your garment on as you go along. Any changes that still need to be made = don't forget to make them on your muslin as well so the next time things are even more perfect!

Happy sewing!