Cheap But Not Cheerful

Readers,

This floral stretch cotton, at ease.

This floral stretch cotton, at ease.

It was a cheap and cheerful fabric of unlisted fiber content that I picked up at S.R. Harris Fabric Outlet a few years ago that was sitting in my stash waiting for a summer project.

It was a perky blouse pattern from 1950 that looked easy enough to fit and a match for the mood of this floral print.

Advance pattern 5455, from 1950.

Advance pattern 5455, from 1950.

Yesterday I finished the revision of the wearable test of the Advance 5455 blouse pattern from 1950. I asked Jack to take some pictures of me modeling it.  As Jack asked me to pose, I found it hard to look happy or proud. I was dissatisfied–but by what, exactly?

Was it the fit?

This last version did fit better than the previous one. At a Treadle Yard Goods salon last week Michele pinned out extra fabric from above the bust and side seams and moved up the bust dart–all good changes.

Was it the fabric?

Not exactly thrilled.

Not exactly thrilled.

My best guess was this was a cotton with spandex. It stretches a lot, and when I burned a sample it smelled like burning paper.

Whatever the fiber content, this fabric was difficult to press.  It emerged from machine washing and drying a little wrinkled, and the wrinkles didn’t go away entirely. Annoying.

There's a lot of stretch in this woven.

There’s a lot of stretch in this woven.

Also, this fabric has a peculiar hand, a stiffness from the synthetic component. The fabric released above and below the waist tucks stands stiffly away from the body rather than draping.

Aha. I’m onto something here. I think I picked the wrong pattern for the characteristics of this fabric. If I want shaping using this stretch woven, princess seams might be the way to go. Certainly not released tucks.

Princess seams might be more compatible with the characteristics of this fabric, which doesn't drape.

Princess seams might be more compatible with the characteristics of this fabric, which doesn’t drape.

Or, another way of looking at it, I picked the wrong fabric for this pattern. It doesn’t show off the pattern to best effect. Maybe a handkerchief linen or Liberty cotton would be better, for the drape and the feel.

And now I’m thinking I picked the wrong fabric for me. When I bought it I was attracted to the liveliness of the colors and the flowers. But this is a small-scale print and can be read as cute. Not a look I’m aiming for.

I thought I could dial it back the cuteness aspect. But it remains insistently cute. Shoulda known.

So the remainder of my cheap and cheerful floral-print stretch cotton looks to be my first donation to the Textile Center’s Fabric Garage Sale in April, 2014. I’ll pin a note to it telling the prospective buyer about my experience with it and wishing her or him good luck.

Time to put this yardage back into the great sewing flow and move on.

Time to put this yardage back into the great sewing flow and move on.

Project: Advance 5455 (1950), blouse

Readers,

The sewing space is 90 percent done,

The sewing space is 90 percent done.

It sure feels good to be back in my freshly painted and much better organized sewing space with the pegboard back up on the wall, where I can see my tools. I missed this place!

When I uploaded the top photo to the media library of this blog, my caption was shortened from “sewing space” to “sewing spa.” How apt!

This is a stretch woven, which stands away from the body a little.

This is a stretch woven, which stands away from the body a little.

Yesterday I pulled the Advance blouse project that I’d started some weeks back and soon was engrossed in finishing it.

It was gratifying to move from step to step with success. I made facings to finish the armholes, sewed buttonholes and attached the buttons, and hemmed. No complications for once.

I like the idea of wearing the collar up, but some well-meaning person would probably turn it down for me.

I like the idea of wearing the collar up, but some well-meaning person would probably turn it down for me.  More shaping at the waist would improve the fit.

Readers, you might think that after sewing a coat, a jacket and an anorak, I would not be fazed by a little old blouse. But I’m always surprised when things go without a hitch. I make no assumptions. Mishaps lurk around every corner.

I swear these buttons were just waiting to be paired with this fabric.

I swear these buttons were just waiting to be paired with this fabric.

Just before lunch I finished the blouse. Then the question arose: how would I get pictures of me modeling it?

Jack’s gone, visiting family for several days. My photographer-sister, Cynthia, is 764 miles away in Columbus, Ohio. I could ask a neighbor to take a couple of shots …nah, I didn’t want to impose.

I like the way the collar brings the eye up. (Oh look--a squirrel!)

I like the way the collar brings the eye up. (Oh look–a squirrel!)

It was time to learn how to take pictures of myself using my tripod (a gift from Cynthia–thanks!) and the timer on my camera.

Again luck was with me. The camera manual had simple instructions that worked the first time through. Within minutes I was simpering my way through a photo shoot on our deck.

Facings finish the armholes.

Facings finish the armholes.

The fit of this blouse isn’t perfect. The bust dart should move up, and there should be some more shaping at the waist. The armhole should be a little smaller. But that’s the point of a wearable test: to fine-tune the fit. I plan to go to the next sewing salon at Treadle Yard Goods to get help perfecting this pattern.

Here's the blouse with with a full skirt and a bolero jacket. The button-embellished pocket would be fun.

Here’s the blouse with with a full skirt and a bolero jacket. It would be fun to choose buttons to embellish those pocket flaps.

Although this blouse falls short of perfect, it’s been so much fun to finish a summer garment on a beautiful summer day, and even learn to take pictures of myself into the bargain.

And it’s been especially fun to be back–

–in the sewing spa.

When Bad Patterns Happen to Good People

Readers,

Advance pattern 5455, from 1950.

Advance pattern 5455, from 1950.

Yesterday I took my blouse project, Advance 5455, from 1950, to my sewing teacher, Edith, to look it over. I’d gotten to a place in the instructions that had stopped me when I made the muslin five or six years ago. I was still stumped.

No wonder. I still don’t quite understand the instructions but it doesn’t matter. Edith frowned and said, “These instructions are bad.” They were directing you to clip where the front and self-facing met before you stitched the collar on.

It’s still confusing to me, but essentially you were told to do something that’s very difficult to do accurately once, let alone precisely and consistently twice, to attach each end of the collar. A simpler method virtually guaranteeing success could be so easily substituted.

Edith didn't like the front's having an attached facing.

Edith didn’t like the front’s having an attached facing.

Also, Edith disapproved of the cut-on facing. A sewn-on separate facing would provide more body and stability at the garment opening. She showed me how I could cut off the self-facing and easily draft a separate piece.

This blouse pattern didn’t come with a back facing. Instead, it directed you to face the back neckline with a bias strip. Edith recommended drafting a back facing.

Where the pattern directed you to turn under and stitch the raw edge to finish the facing, Edith recommended stitching the interfacing to the facing right sides together in a 1/4th inch seam along the unnotched edge, and then turning and pressing the facing for a neat, clean edge.

I cut off the attached facing and cut a new, separate facing.

I cut off the attached facing and cut a new, separate facing.

Here’s where getting an expert opinion saved me so much grief. Edith could see right away where the charming vintage pattern was calling for uncharming construction techniques that were fussy and risky.

I wonder how many potentially good sewers over the generations have been so discouraged by bad design and poor instructions that they’ve given up, thinking “I will never be good at this.”

When I was an avid cook and baker with cooking school and on-the-job training, I used to run into poor recipes and incomplete or even incorrect instructions a lot, even in cookbooks by respected authors. Having worked with experts, I developed some sense of which methods would yield good results and which wouldn’t.  I usually knew where I goofed and where the recipe was a bad recipe.

Neatly interfaced front and back facings replace the original cut-on front facing and bias strip to finish the back neckline.

Neatly interfaced front and back facings replace the original cut-on front facing and bias strip to finish the back neckline.

This very important distinction helped me stay the course and become a pretty good home cook and baker.

It’s going to take me a good while before I can scrutinize pattern pieces and instructions and distinguish the good from the bad as well as I can with a recipe. But every time Edith points out poor design or construction choices, I gain a little knowledge–not just of a specific construction technique, but of how to think through what I’m being asked to do and what result I’m aiming for.

The fault, dear Brutus, may be in ourselves–but it may also be in the pattern.

The goal: this blouse. Maybe someday the skirt, too.

The goal: this blouse. Maybe someday the skirt, too.

Summer Sewing

Readers,

My muslin in the process of being pinned and fitted at a Treadle Yard Goods salon.

My muslin in the process of being pinned and fitted at a Treadle Yard Goods salon.

Summer sewing. For various reasons I have never given it its due.

Summer’s not very long in Minnesota, so I don’t wear my summer clothes so much that I get tired of them. Soon enough they get packed away again.

And until recently, in the summer when I wasn’t working I was probably traveling and away from the sewing domain.

And then in colder weather I turn my attention to sewing warm things.

I have managed to sew Jack a lot of summer shirts, though.

Jack sports a shirt I made him last summer.

Jack sports a shirt I made him last summer.

Hmm. I guess that’s because the decision is so simple: “Wow, what great shirt fabric for Jack for summer! I think I’ll sew him a shirt!” Boom. Done.

For my wardrobe, though, the decision process can go on indefinitely. Which patterns shall I use? Fabrics? Buttons? What shall I coordinate with? The curse of the divergent thinker: infinite possibilities.

I’ve tried to narrow down the possibilities recently to several simple summer blouse and pants patterns. They’re at the muslin stage.

I'm making the blouse, but aren't the jacket and big-pocketed skirt great, too?

I’m making the blouse, but aren’t the jacket and big-pocketed skirt great, too?

I’m about to make a wearable test of the blouse from Advance pattern 5455, from 1950. There are no illustrations of the front of the blouse completed, by itself. But the collar appeals to me.  It can be made with three-quarters-length sleeves or sleeveless. I can see both in my summer wardrobe.

I brought my muslin to yesterday’s Treadle Yard Goods salon, where Michele worked her fitting and pattern-altering magic on it.

The next step is making a wearable test from stash fabric. I will try this cheerful posy-strewn stretch woven that just shouts summer. I have a lot of it, so I can afford to “waste” some on a test.

A cheerful, summery print for my wearable test.

A cheerful, summery print for my wearable test.

I like this fabric, but am a little conflicted about it: I want to keep the happy feeling but skirt cuteness and sweetness. Is that possible?

The cuteness factor can certainly be turned up or down by the cut of the garment and the colors of the coordinating pieces.  I’ll see how it goes.

I’d better get cracking. Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Transferring changes in the muslin to the paper pattern at a Treadle Yard Goods salon.

Transferring changes in the muslin to the paper pattern at a Treadle Yard Goods salon.