a question of ease

A few administrative notes before we start, yes?

– We’re moving!  Hosts, that is.  I’ve had the WordPress.org business all purchased but not put together since, er, last November.  I have to figure out what I’d like this corner of the Internet to look like, and it’s surprisingly hard.  This will never be a capital-S, capital-B Serious Sewing Blog.  I’m probably not going to monetize it at any point, and if I did, we’d have a roundtable discussion about it.  I’m a total nerd for transparency and fairness, and you shouldn’t have to pay for this tripe, even if it does “just” mean clicking on an affiliate link or some such.  Furthermore, it’s more a blog about talking about sewing than it is about the act of sewing (I run the Seinfeld of blogs, folks!), so I have to take that into account.  I just want to land on something that is clean and approachable, without being too polished or too twee.  You’ll get a heads up when that happens.

– I am essentially having a fabric garage sale on Etsy.  Well, let’s not call it that.  It’s a dual-purpose experiment.  Purpose the first is to get rid of my some five bins of fabric.  It was easier when all of my fabric lived in New York, and I had a big old bookcase to accommodate it.  In my little, old, storage-challenged apartment?  Not so much.  (I have one drawer, reader.  There is one drawer in my entire apartment.  Isn’t that wild?)  I’ve been sewing up a storm, but I have made an awkward peace with the fact that I do not look good in orange or brown, and I do not need six yards of just about anything.

Purpose the second is to gauge how this sort of thing works.  I constantly agonize over the future of the Garment District.  I also want to find  balance between going to school, doing research, working at a (more likely than not) unpaid internship, but also living a life that involves money that does not come from my family.  So, you know, there.  It’s tentatively called I Refuse to Iron This, because it is so much damn yardage, that I’ve neither the time nor the patience to iron it.  Professionalism at its best.  Anyway, this is it: Shop Seam Ripped.  Buy something.  Or don’t.  Or just think about it.  Or get disgusted and frustrated by the entire enterprise.  Really, I run a very “Free to Be You and Me” sort of dictatorship.

On to the actual post.  Jeez, this is long.  I should have broken it up, no?  Anyway, we’re going to trudge through, almost there.

In the past month, I’ve made muslins and/or finished garments of the following:
– By Hand London’s Anna dress
– McCall’s 6696 (a shirtwaist dress)
– Colette’s Hawthorn dress
– Christine Haynes’s Emery dress
– Colette’s Zinnia skirt (versions 1 and 2)
– Megan Nielsen’s Kelly skirt
– Deer and Doe’s Belladone
– Simplicity 1873

I’m just learning how to do FBAs, and I’ve noticed this weird bagginess around the bust (but not directly at the apex and points latitudinal to it (I really need to find the proper geometric/sewing terms for this stuff when I finish this post—Catja, any opinions?) when I make them.  I’m a 34DD, but I’ll make a muslin that should bring things up to my measurements, with or without adjustments.  (I measure 40-30-41.5, with a 33″ high bust.)  I’ve had oddly mixed results.  M6696 is supposed to measure 42″ around the bust for a size 14 C/D cup, but I literally could not close the muslin at the bust.  I brought the Emery and Simplicity 1873 up to a level that should accommodate a 40″ bust, and they were seriously baggy around the bust, everywhere but the point of greatest projection.  I made the very same adjustment to the Robe Belladone, and it fit me like a glove.  Ponder.

Then I started thinking about the skirts I’ve made lately.  I always just go by the waist measurement, but with each skirt I make, I could comfortably lop off an extra inch or so around the waist.  Perhaps the answer is ease.  The Emery is built with two inches of ease in mind, the 1873 has 3 (but I made a smaller FBA to bring it down to 2 around the bust).  The Belladone?  She doesn’t list finished garment measurements, but mine seems to measure 41″ across the bust, as a size 42 with a 1.25″ FBA.  So that’s about .75″ of ease.  Big difference, no?

I thought my findings were rock-solid until I moved on to skirts, though.  Zinnia is supposed to have only .5″ of waist ease, 1″ for me.  Yet, I can easily pinch out a solid 2″ from the band.  I suspect this might have to do with the infamous misalignment of the waistband and the skirt.  (The waistband is more than 2″ too short for the skirt, on the size 10, and I had to add a supplemental piece of cotton.  Thrilling, as you can imagine.)  Anyway, let’s get to some pictures.

Behold!  My Zinnia!  (I’m trying to exhibit the waist room without doing the whole Jenny Craig, clown-car trousers thing.  “Look how many people I can fit into my old jeans.”  Shut up.)  This is version 2, in a size 10, with the length of version 3’s size 18.  (Back story: I am having a bit of a midi moment, because Kiehl’s discontinued their Imperial Body Balm (as they do with everything I’ve ever loved), and my knees look like early-20th-century Fascist dictators.  True story.  I can’t decide if it looks like I’m wearing longer skirts because Christ has compelled me to, or if it seems like a conscious fashion decision.)  Anyway, if you look in the middle, there’s a weird pucker out.  If I look down through my waistband, I can see the floor.

Zinnia Wearable Muslin I


“Why is your head cut off in the picture, Charlotte?”  Well, this:

Zinnia Muslin Outtake

Hey, I didn’t say I was cleaning up the blog today, reader.  This is a face I made, unprompted.   To answer your question, I totally have a tripod, but look like a turtle when I use it.  Not jacked like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, but like one of the slow-chewing oldsters at the zoo.  Not cute.  Not cute at all.  In any event, until I figure out how I’d like my face to look there, you have to settle for cute pictures of me in the cheapest mirror at Target, with the view of my messy-because-the-cats-went-on-a-tear closet/bedroom.  Only the best for you, reader.

Where were we?  Yes!  Ease.  Perhaps I am more comfortable with a smaller amount of ease than your average bear?  That translates easily into skirts, but what about bodices?   I’m unclear about the engineering, here.  For instance, S1873 only gives the finished garment measurement for the bust.  At a size 14, for which one is supposed to have a 36″ bust, the measurement is 39″.  It’s built for a B cup, so I figured 36″ – 2″ = 34″ but three inches of ease seemed ridiculous, so why not corral it into 2?  I made a compromise, and did a 1.5″ FBA.  Does the excess ease mean that I have to take a smaller FBA?  Should I assume that the ease is limited to the bust, or that is present throughout the garment?  Should I cut a smaller size all together, and then work up from there?  Do I decide on the smaller size and its accompanying FBA based on the formula Finished Garment Measurement = Body Measurement + 1, or do I go with the envelope back?  When there aren’t finished garment measurements available, is tissue measurement the answer?

Simplicity 1873 Botched FBA 1

Everything looks kosher at the bust, except for that weird side thing and then, bam!

SImplicity 1873 FBA II

Here we have wrinkle city, a peek at my Anna, and the my cat-ravaged closet (it is one of my intersession break goals to tackle that monster).  No, I am not sporting a baby bump, that is just a surfeit of fabric.  Oy.

Simplicity 1873 Side View

The issue is, I don’t want to look like too much sausage stuffed into too little casing, if that makes any sense.  I think I’m going to have to dive head first into Pattern Review and Artisan Square to see what everyone else does, and then cook up an answer that works for me.

The weird solution was to take out two wedges from either side of the bodice, going from 1/8″ to 3/4″, for a total of 3″ taken off of either side.  I think that might do the trick.  I’ll show you the results after I press the bodice, and give the old girl a hem.  Plus, I have to figure out how to finish the waist seam, which always kills me.  Overlock it?  Stitch in the ditch?  The options, they are endless.

Who knows, maybe I’ll see you in another six months?

How’re things on your end, reader?   Not a rhetorical question, I’d actually like to know.

life choices

Ain’t no lining here in Washington.  Well, that’s a lie.  Let’s start from the beginning.  In my first few weeks in Washington, I realized that I have neither the room nor the energy to sew, so I packed up my in-progress makes and hauled them up to New York for Labor Day weekend.  Then I discovered that Bits of Thread allows workroom rentals and now I’ve just got some completely inappropriate fabric to work with. (Hey, did you know that you don’t have to cut things on the coffee table?  What?  More on BoT in a later post.)

My long-suffering mother has had to send me almost-weekly packages of random things that I’ve forgotten, so I feel beyond guilty asking her to post fabric and lining, most especially since I’m going home for Columbus Day weekend.  But, I have an appointment at Bits of Thread that I had to reschedule and should probably use sooner rather than later.  So, here’s what we’re working with: I’ve got Gertie’s book and all of those (fabulous) patterns, Simplicity 1873, 2444 , 2215, and 2180 (no BMV stuff, oddly).  I also have the following:

There’s also a completely seasonally inappropriate coral border print (which you can see blown up to elephantine proportions on the inaugural Seam Ripped post), a solid navy stretch sateen, and two African prints that my mum very randomly got (“Hey, they were only like $3 a yard, love!”), but I have to go to office hours in like ten minutes and if this doesn’t get written now it will die in the drafts folder.

Anyway.  I’m trying to figure out what to make.  I also don’t have any muslin and G Street Fabrics charges a heart-stopping, gut-wrenching $30/yd for silk crepe-de-chine for lining, so I’m trying to figure out how to work within these constraints.  It’s like a super fun logic puzzle, reader!  Okay, maybe it’s not.  In any event, I have a few options: I could high-tail it out to the ‘burbs to visit Jo-Ann’s or the mysterious Hancock’s (I’ve heard so much about it, I’m kind of thrilled by the prospect of Hancock’s—or maybe I just like saying Hancock’s) or I could go to the Bits of Threads $3 wall and pick up something random and whip it into a muslin.  Then, I could order lining online from Mood or one of the $1.95 blowout sale fabric people (fabricmartbarntopia, et alia).  I quite like all of the above fabrics and for the most part don’t know where to get them again, so I’m reticent to hack on into them without some sort of plan or direction.  I could always just wait the two weeks until I go home, but what fun would that be?

Also, there is the question of matching fabrics to patterns.  The floral brocade will hopefully be a pair of trousers (I have but 1.5 yards of it, though, so we’ll see how that goes), and everything else will be some sort of wear-with-tights dress.  Will I look too much like Mrs. Roper if I make a full-on dress with the paisley fabric?  Is the double gauze cotton a recipe for freezing my ass off in the meat locker that is my government lecture hall?  Will everyone accidentally see my kibbles and bits in the cobalt and gold number if I leave it unlined?  Major life questions, I’m sure.

It’s just fabric.  There will always be more of it.  Every project is the opportunity for improvement.  This is all stuff I say to myself until it’s time to take scissor to thread and I catch a case of the vapors.

but there are birds, you guys.

My birthday is on Saturday (Bastille Day).  I’m turning old.  This is usually the time of year when I load up my shopping carts around Ye Olde Internets, and start plotting for the birthday/back-to-school deluge.  I sew now, though.  While I’ll probably buy some stuff, I’d rather like to make things, too.  My new rule is that I’ll only buy things that I cannot make (be it because of design technique or just a really amazing print).

This got me to thinking about why I buy things.  Really.  The reason I started sewing is because I noticed that all of the dresses I bought kept to a pretty standard formula.  Full skirt, fun print, would work with a cardigan or with tights during the winter, slightly retro flair.  That’s doable, I suppose.  Also, I wanted really exquisite garments and was tired of just drooling at streamed Oscar de la Renta runway shows.  The print issue tends to be what really gives me pause.  I can find fun prints on quilter’s cotton, but I hate using it.  Finding fun, non-floral prints on garment-ready fabrics is not as easy.  Japanese cotton, Liberty, and widely available designer fabrics do help a ton.  However, it’s really hard to keep this in mind when I’m in a store and a see beautiful dress with a lovely, interesting print that seems like it can’t be replicated.

The Anthropologie Native Birds Dress is a prime example.  I was looking at it and thinking that the darling birds would push it from my sewing inspiration queue into the to-buy folder.  Then I realized that there isn’t very much special about the birds, is there?

Anthropologie Bird Dress

Finding a strapless dress pattern is pretty easy.  I own the Colette Eclair and Vogue/Cynthia Steffe’s 1174.  Both patterns use boning, which is a key feature of my favorite RTW strapless dresses.  I think I could get away with doing it in an underlined (interlined?) cotton or silk.  Maybe.  (Erica B. did it in a linen/rayon blend a bit back.  Then again, she could pretty much make anything look doable.)

What about the fabric, then?

Childhood Tana Lawn A

This is Liberty Tana Lawn in a print called Childhood in view A.  I love the color scheme and the whimsy of it.


I actually own this one.  It’s a Milly georgette and wildly inappropriate for this application.  It would make a horrible strapless dress (or, rather, I would make it into a horrible strapless dress), but it is one of my all-time favorite prints.  I actively regret that I have but 2.5 yards of it.  Plus, it’s basically the Tupac of fabrics.  Just when you think it’s gone for good, Gorgeous Fabrics gets just a bit more of it in stock.  Tease.

Marc Jacobs Birds!

This Marc Jacobs fabric from Mood is lovely and bright and young.  The black makes it a bit more dramatic than the first one, though, doesn’t it?

I’d rather like to do this a bit more, this channeling the dress spirits and working on my crappy mood boards.  I do need stuff for school and this clarifies things greatly.  It would be two birds, one stone, yes?  I slay me.

and lobster makes two

I’ve been really good about sewing output recently.  For serious.  I average about 2-3 yards per dress and have made four dresses, two dress muslins, a blouse muslin, and a skirt muslin in the past month.  Not half bad.  (These are totally monthly updates now, which is more than half bad, but I say we just overlook that.)

June Output, sans muslins: four dresses, ~11 yards.
June Intake, sans lining and muslin: 6.5 yards

Can we say victory?  No?  Fine.

I’ve been trying to curb my fabric spending while I save for a new sewing machine.  I know that I’m too far gone to actually give up cold turkey, but I do think I need a step-down approach.  I’ve been over to the fabric stores on 39th Street, which is basically a methadone clinic on every level.  My beloved Paron has moved there (and is not included in this assessment).  Baby Jesus.  It is a truly overwhelming experience.  I used to think that Metro Textiles was a bit cramped and overflowing.  Uh, no.  I left after two days longing for Metro’s organization.  I only bought from one place, It’s a Material World.

Peter over at Male Pattern Boldness noted that this print is still available two years later, and I had to snap it up.  Cathy looked fantastic in it.

Ascher Rose Print

I feel that if Cathy likes something, it must be good.   Also, I totally own an iron, but this was just out of the wash.

I had a big wheely-trolley thing from work and couldn’t navigate the labyrinthine aisles at Material World.  God, that makes it sound almost glamorous.  More like: I was deathly afraid of being crushed by fabric or beaten up by one of the bargain-seeking grannies because of my schlepper wheely.  All was well, I found the fabric easily, I wasn’t asphyxiated, and a man who gave off boss vibes waited on me.  I got 3.5 yards for $17.50.  The boss man’s guest joked with me, everyone was in a good mood and all ended wonderfully.  The end.

I went in today, unburdened by mah wheels, because I thought I’d be able to find some interesting fabrics on a dig.  On my first visit, I thought that there seemed to be really lovely florals and some Ascher to be had.  I suppose there were, but the sales associate kind of followed a bit too close for my taste.  This is a store where if you are anywhere but clear across the room, you are a lover’s distance from the customer.  I decided to choose the first fabric that really jumped out at me (lobsters!) and flee.

Lobster Print Voile

The clerk told me that only chiffons were five dollars a yard and that this cotton was six.  Um, signs and precedent and oh whatever.  Sigh.  I forked over my card and, oddly, the charge only rang up as $4.77 a yard, for a grand total of $14.80 charge.  Wow.  Three yards of voile and a trip straight out the door.  Huzzah!

There’s no cutting table and they seem to be pretty exact about their yardage.  Kashi at Metro doesn’t have a cutting table, he has this big stick-thing (technical term) and he plops the bolt onto it and cuts evenly with at least a little extra.  Do with that what you will.

The stash check-in turned into a review.  Oy.  That was totally interesting for everyone.  Intrigue and mystery and new horizons explored.  No, it was actually boring as dirt and further evidence that I am basically sixty.  Hey, it’s something.  Moral of the story: I think Material World and I are kind of done for now.  I might stick to the greener pastures of labelled bolts and knowledgable sales associates.  Not before I pop into A&K.

who are those capable people, anyway?

I can’t make any decisions.  From the title of this blog to the use of my fabrics, I just waffle away.  (Seriously, though.  The Stitch, really?  Doesn’t that sound far too much like I’m positioning myself as an authority rather than a bungler?  Ripped Stitches is more like it.)  I have tons of posts in draft mode, but I haven’t finished any of the projects to which they’re attached.  Not to mention, I’ve suddenly lost all ability to insert an invisible zipper, which is usually my favorite part.  I’ve decided to just go with it.  Care for an example?

I have two Simplicity 2215s dresses that are almost done.  One needs a zipper, and both need buttons.

The first is with a black-and-white printed Marc Jacobs cotton.  It’s from Fabric Mart, so I’m not thoroughly invested in its future.  The question is about button size.  How much is too much?  The pattern calls for four 1/2″ buttons, though that strikes me as odd on a bodice that long.  Six, maybe, or four 3/4″ buttons.  Then again, I can’t quite gauge scale.


See?  It’s a nice, petite print, but I’m not quite sure of how the (black, average-looking) buttons will work out.

I also made it up in this pink ikat that I love.  I am not married to button size on this one.  Originally, I was planning on self-covered buttons, but that might be a bit much.  Maybe solid, hot pink fabric-covered buttons?  What about the exciting world of brown?  Leather or wood or metal?
Pink Ikat Fabric Buttons

I just can’t decide, so these projects live in limbo with the dress that refuses to just take a darn zipper, the one for which I haven’t topstitched the arm facings (I can’t decide whether or not I want sleeves), and the one that just sits there all cut out and basted with a missing sleeve and an off-the-market fabric.  Is there a sewing muse?  A sewing god in some sort of obscure mythology?  Whose candle do I have light, is what I’m asking.

Line drawings from Simplicity, buttons from M&J Trim, awful Photoshopping and even more awful fabric photography by yours truly.  Fin.

The Brakes

I can make a dress in about four hours.  A pencil skirt takes about an hour and change, and a blouse like the Colette Sorbetto takes even less than that.  From cutting to sewing, I can think of something in the morning and have it made up by that evening.  It feels great.  

When I sew, I buy fabric like a madwoman, then I spend months hemming and hawing about what that fabric should be.  Sometimes I feel that I never buy enough yardage, others I find myself drowning in scraps that hover around two yards.  By the time I get down to the business of sewing, I’m usually in some sort of rush.  Mostly because I don’t want to give myself enough time to change my mind again.

Why am I doing this again?  I love to sew, but it’s not a race.  Just because I can sew something in an afternoon doesn’t mean I should.  So I’ve decided to take it slow.  Mostly because I’ve been watching Claire Shaeffer’s videos on Threads, reading up on technique.  Your sewing never feels as shameful as when you watch someone like Claire Shaeffer take a hack at it.  Good Lord, I was taken with the vapors.  You thread trace your seam lines and hand sew but not before you wax your threads and please remember the seventy-five types of stitches while we’re here?  I sew because I want really well-made garments and because I’d like more of a connection with my consumption (hippie, yes).  Obviously, this means that I asked for it. . .

This week, I’ve cut out two dresses.  While I haven’t thread traced the pattern markings, I have actually basted the skirts and darts into place so that I don’t have to pull out my hair come showtime (or sew-time—yes, I slay me).  Y’all.  I don’t baste.  Ever.  I usually just perpendicularly pin and call it a day.  This is a big, big deal.  Tomorrow I’ll insert the interfacing and turn on the sewing machine.  Then I’ll let you know if the slow sewing is worth it.  Usually, I’d have banged out these two dresses already.  Sure, they’d have had crappy darts, and I would’ve spent most of my natural-born life fighting with sewing the bodice through pleats, but still.  I wonder if it’ll be worth it.

and then there was stash

I own a lot of fabric.  You see, the Internet will lead you to believe that it is nothing if not normal to own bolts and bolts of fabric.  I’m not 1000% sure it is.  I have no research, I have no evidence, so I have no idea what the average sewist has in their stash.  However, I do know that exposure to Internet has probably led me to buy more fabric than was absolutely necessary.  I read sewing blogs for years before I sewed, and I bought fabric for a bit before I actually owned a machine.  I only have about a hundred-and-something yards, but my output does not match my intake by a longshot.  Tis a disease.

Do I think we should all stop buying fabric?  Are you mad?  Of course not.  I do think that my fabric habit is teetering on the brink of untenable.  I don’t think I should necessarily stop buying fabric, but that I should set up sound ground rules and a timeline.  Yes, this how I think.  Yes, it is totally over-structured, but here we are.

I suppose I want to:

  1. Try to keep the rate at which I sew yardage in step with the rate at which I purchase.  It won’t be perfect given how I tend to buy fabric (save, save, binge), but a rough estimate might help.
  2. Keep fabric for no more than two years.  I need good turnover in my stash to keep it fresh.  I think it must feel wonderful to uncover a buried treasure after a decade or so, but I’m not sure that works for me.  Also, I really am attached to more than a few pieces, and don’t think I’ll ever take a needle to them unless it’s imperative.
  3. Faithfully track intake and output.  I’ve been trying to figure out what a healthy sized stash would be, and I think I’ve got it.  Enough fabric to last for a year of average sewing.  A year with as many seasons as you’ll experience.  Hopefully, this year I’ll keep track of how much I sew, how often, and what I need.  I’d like to have a solid estimate by 1 June 2013, then I’ll set parameters on purchasing, etc.
  4. I need to always know exactly what I’ve got—from lining, to zippers, to notions, to interfacing.  That prevents getting a whole bunch of doubles from the dreaded Jo-Ann.
  5. Match at least 75% of my fabrics to patterns.  I really do think that’s half the battle.
  6. Weekly-ish stash check-ins to keep accountable.

My summer schedule is a bit thin, so I do hope to log some serious sewing hours before things get busy again in the fall.

I don’t know about you, but I’m nosy as all get out.  Whenever I read someone’s blog, I want to know what’s in their stash, where they got it, how much they paid for it, what they want to do with it; what size pattern they cut, what kinks were encountered, and all of that jazz.  It might be too much information, it might even be obnoxious, but I love getting a peek into the cupboards of others.  I’d like to let y’all know everything that I’d like to know, most especially from a blog that is ostensibly a tool for reining in a fabric habit.

All that to say: Here is the inaugural stash check-in.  It is all the fabric I’ve got, minus leftover bits from projects, linings, muslins, and interfacings.  It’s probably not a lot for the average sewist, but I do require a kick in the pants to jumpstart a healthy turnover.