December 28, 2015

Unexpected essentials: Swedish tracing paper

Have you ever used Swedish tracing paper? If so, you understand: nothing but the most extreme glowing hyperbole can do it justice. If you haven't used it, you're going to think I joined a Swedish tracing paper cult. Just wait. You'll see. Join us. Join us. Join us.

Mmmmmm. Swedish. Photo source:
In the BSTP (Before Swedish Tracing Paper) era, I was tracing patterns and making adjustments on regular grocery store wax paper.

December 14, 2015

Finished project: McCall's 6503

This pattern is quite the popular lady! See the different versions that sewists have made already: McCall's 6503 on PatternReview (you might even see an abbreviated version of this review on that site)

McCall's 6503 in an embroidered cotton lawn
I opted for View D, with its gathered bust closed with buttons (or not), pleated skirt, and no sleeves.

December 7, 2015

Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along #10: The completed project

Here it is: the big reveal! After nine sessions and a veritable carnival of techniques applied to this thing -- from the idiosyncratic Burda pattern method, to the honeycomb smocking style, to a handmade loop closure -- we're ready to step back and take a gander at what we accomplished.

Here it is!
Wait, what's that turquoise embroidery around the neckline, you may ask. It's a little somethin-somethin to tie it all together.

December 1, 2015

Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along #9: Hem sleeves and skirt

You're back! That's good, because it would be a shame to give up now. We're in the home stretch of our BurdaStyle Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along.

Ready to apply the finishing touches to the last raw edges of this thing?
In this installment, you will hem the skirt, finish the sleeves, and optionally secure the sleeve rolls with permanent stitches.

November 23, 2015

Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along #8: Neckline and closure

Today, we whirl through a veritable tornado of techniques. It's always the little things -- the loop turning, the bias binding, the button installation -- that cumulatively take the most time, eh? In my early days of sewing, I wouldn't spend any more effort than necessary when constructing a garment. They were flimsy and sloppy, and I wore them proudly.

But now that the novelty of being able to attach one pattern piece to another has worn off, the pride comes from attention to detail. That has led to my recent interest in couture and tailoring techniques. And, whoo boy, do we have some detailed techniques in this post! We'd better get started.

Loopy time

The BurdaStyle pattern recommends a thread loop closure on the neckline. Which is fine. However, I opted for a fabric loop closure. Why? Because, after [redacted - a very large number of years] of sewing, I finally bought a loop turner. It's tons of fun. And this project is a perfect place to use it.

Dritz Loop Turner: one of those under-$5 single-purpose tools that's worth the investment and space.

November 20, 2015

Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along #7: Attach sleeves & skirt

By this point, we have sewn some key structural seams on the bodice. Now we start attaching things to it. By the end of this session, you will have something that bears an uncanny resemblance to a real dress. A first glimpse of the finished product! We have a few more sessions to go, but this is the magical moment when the hard work starts paying off. Dig in!

Attach the sleeves

For once, this motion is fairly standard stuff. I'll show you the way I attach sleeves, but whatever your sleeve-attaching modus operandi, we'll end up with a nearly finished bodice. For more about my preferred technique, gaze lovingly upon the gorgeous sleeve seam and tute over on Craftsy (although I respectfully disagree that you generally don't need ease stitching -- I always need it, that's for sure).

Assemble each sleeve: Sew the straight line on each sleeve, forming a sleeve tube. You know, as one does

These sleeves are a little longer than the pattern called for. Personal preference - the recipient critter has long arms.

November 13, 2015

Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along #6: Bodice shoulders and sides

Happy Friday the 13th, friends! What a perfect day to cut into that smocked bodice piece you labored over, yes? Mwa ha ha haaah.

Today, we march into familiar territory: assembling a dress bodice. But wait. A few special tricks will be applied to this particular garment. For example, have you ever done thread tracing before? If not, by the end of this session, you'll have that in your repertoire.

Construct the back bodice (piece 22)

Nothing to see here. Just a bit of standard bodice construction - with some embellishment thrown in.

Sew center back seam; Stitch this as you normally do, up to the mark. What mark, you say? The one on the BurdaStyle printed pattern. You did trace this important mark on your piece, didn't you? No matter; you can just approximate it. Ssshhhh, no one's looking. It's about 1 3/4" to 2 3/4" from the bottom seam line of the bodice back.

The printed BurdaStyle sheet from the magazine shows where to stop stitching the center back.

November 10, 2015

Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along #5: Embellish & construct pockets

Last time, we smocked the heck out of our bodice fabric. After all that handiwork, it's time to head back to the sewing machine. On today's agenda: cut out the fashion fabric, apply bias tape to the pocket edge, then embellish the pocket with machine embroidery, and insert the pocket backing. If your machine doesn't do embroidery, no biggie; embroidering by hand, or not embroidering at all, are also options.

Cut out the fashion fabric

Not to shirk my sacred tutorial duties, but you guys know how to lay out pattern pieces and cut the fabric, right? Okay, not gonna waste your time. 

Just remember: don't cut the bodice front piece (21) ... yet. Let your smocking hang out for a while. Admire its beauty.

Apply bias tape to pocket edge

Moving on: we focus on the skirt and pocket pieces, both drafted in the previous session.

My method of applying bias tape is not unique. If you're already a bias tape wizard, skip this section. Just remember that we added a 5/8" seam line to the pattern piece, so your first bias tape seam starts 5/8" from the edge.

Mark the sewing line: With a ruler and a water-soluble pen (or chalk), mark 5/8" from the edge of the pocket curve on the right side of the fabric. This is where you'll be sewing the first edge of your single-fold bias tape.

Mark the 5/8" sewing line on the right side of the fabric.

November 6, 2015

Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along #4: Smocking the bodice fabric

You're back! Glad to have you here. As we continue our BurdaStyle Girl's Smocked Dress (08/2015 #137), let's take a moment to get really excited about today's episode. This is it, y'all. Music swells; sparklers ignite; a million balloons fall from the ceiling. It's time ... to ... smock!

If you've never smocked before, that's okay. This is my first time, too! We're in this together. Below, I'll share some tips I learned from making mistakes in this first attempt. I encourage you to 'fess up in the comments, as well, so we can learn from each other.

Prepare the fabric for smocking

Cut out the piece to be smocked: Let's go back to the instructions in the magazine. Find the "cutting out" section. As you can see, piece "b" is a long rectangle of fabric that will be smocked. 

You know about grainlines, right? For the purposes of this pattern, the width measurement aligns with the fabric width. In other words, the smocked piece is going to be longer than it is tall, when it is finally installed in the garment. None of this matters if you're using a solid fabric, or one whose print is the same whether it's right side up or upside down. But it's good to know, especially if the print on your fabric is one-way directional, or if the fabric has a nap.

In my case, size 116 (6x US), the rectangle is 9 1/4 inches long by 32 inches wide. 

November 4, 2015

Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along #3: Draft skirt and pockets

Hello again, my sewing friends! We're continuing our sew-along for BurdaStyle Girl's Smocked Dress (08/2015 #137) from the Fall 2015 U.S. edition of the magazine.

Today we're back on the patternmaking train. Last time, we traced pieces from the printed magazine sheet, and added 5/8" seam allowances. Now we just need to draft the skirt and pocket pieces.

Wait, pockets? Yep. As you may have observed, the original  pattern doesn't include pockets. The magazine shows you how to add a curved embellishment on the skirt that is supposed to look like a pocket. But what a cruel joke that is, right? We demand real pockets! Today, we'll create a pattern piece for the skirt, and draft a simple interior patch pocket.

Pockets! Everybody needs 'em.

November 3, 2015

Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along #2: Make your paper pattern

Welcome back to the sew-along for this casual, fun smocked girl's dress. In the last post, we gathered our supplies and discussed some fabric options. Ready to start making a paper pattern?

If you're here in the United States, this might be your first exposure to sewing a pattern without a seam allowance. The printed patterns available here - McCall's, Butterick, Vogue, Simplicity - include a 5/8" seam allowance. You construct the garment by lining up the fabric's raw edges with the 5/8" mark on your machine, and sewing the seam in relation to that raw edge.

But BurdaStyle patterns don't have a seam allowance. They show only the seam lines, which you transfer onto the fabric with a tracing wheel. The the amount of seam allowance doesn't matter; it's up to you. Many designers prefer this style because it lets them make adjustments quickly, without measuring a new exact 5/8" seam allowance every time.

But that's not my bag, baby.

Team Seam Allowance: mount up!

November 2, 2015

Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along #1.5: Pattern substitutions

All are welcome in this sew-along, even if you don't possess the exact pattern for the BurdaStyle Girl's Smocked Dress (08/2015 #137). This is a fairly basic pattern, which is good news for y'all renegades out there who refuse to conform to the harsh strictures of my authoritarian sew-blog regime.


Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along #1: Welcome and supplies

Hello, sewists! Ready for a sew-along? For those not in the know, a sew-along is a multi-part series that walks you through a particular garment from start to finish. Each episode gives us a chance to look at things in detail, and we'll learn some new tricks as we go.

This time, we'll be making the Girl's Smocked Dress (#137) from BurdaStyle magazine. In the United States, the pattern is part of the the Fall 2015 issue. In the United Kingdom, look for the pattern in the August 2015 edition. Not a subscriber? Download the pattern from the BurdaStyle store: Girls Smocked Dress 08/2015 #137.

BurdaStyle Girl's Smocked Dress 08/2015 (#137 from Fall 2015 BurdaStyle U.S.). Source: BurdaStyle website

Here is a highly professional sketch of what I'll be making in this sew-along:

Ta-da!!!! Please, take all the time you need to recover from the blast of awe you are experiencing. 

October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween 2015

Do you sew your own Halloween costumes? That's a trick question. Of course you do. Many of us got into sewing through costuming. 

But a funny thing happened once I started dabbling in the dark arts (aka tailoring and couture): I am less inclined to make costumes. Halloween's energy comes from slapping together a costume quickly. One night of fun! Exhibitionism! Caricature! Clever puns! No over-thinking it.

Tailored clothes, on the other hand, are all about time-suck and attention to detail. In a good way. But it seemed counterintuitive to labor over something that would be worn at a party where the guy next to me scrawls a face on a paper plate, tapes it to his stomach, and wears a name tag saying "Hi my name is KUATO." And these days, I am constitutionally unable to just slap something together. No hand stitching? No underlining? NO MUSLIN???? Boooo.

The compromise last year was to construct one keystone I could happily labor over, and wear in different ways year after year. Like a sofa: an "investment piece" that anchors a room.

Behold, the pattern: Butterick 4929, view D. It's fully lined, with fun details: mandarin collar, long pleated tails in the back, puffed shoulders, fully lined, princess seams.

And here she is, in a soft cotton flannel with wool/cotton twill contrast. Full disclosure: I made  this last year (2014), and dragged it out again for tonight's festivities. 

Butterick 4929, out of print but only recently.

October 29, 2015

Unexpected Essentials: Boning and Hymo

Hello, dear readers! Welcome to a new series: unexpected essentials in the sewing nerd's supply bin. This is not a list of basics; you already have scissors, pins, thread, etc. Instead, I wanted to highlight some niche goodies for intermediate and advanced sewists -- the stuff you don't need to buy right away, but when you finally do, you'll wonder why you didn't earlier.

For our first sashay into the topic, let's yak about two extreme sewing-nerd essentials: boning and hymo canvas. Before I started tailoring, these were totally off my radar. Now I can't do without them. Boning and hymo both add structure, stability, and all-around classiness to the fit of a garment. They're lumped together in one post because they help make your garments un-lumpy.


Boning gives form to strapless dresses and corsets. If you have an inner 10-year-old, it's thinking, "hur-hur-hurrr, she said boning." I'm not here to talk about corsets. Many talented corset-makers have shared their knowledge with the world. In fact, let's pause to go down a mostwonderful. rat-hole. with. them.

I like to let my boning out into the backyard. It enjoys running around, curling up in the sun, and digging holes in the garden.