Tips on taping together Dress Shop App PDF patterns

road warrior costume: completed

I have been using Dress Shop a lot lately and I have discovered a few things that make the taping-together process a lot quicker for me.

  1. Use the thinnest (and cheapest) printer paper possible. Thinner paper makes it easier to see the registration marks when one sheet is on top of another. I use Office Depot-brand 20-lbs paper.
  2. Work on a light color surface with one-inch grid. The light color surface makes it easier to see the registration marks when one sheet is on top of another. I work atop my cutting mat. (Of course, it’d be even better if the work surface can somehow be lit from below.)
  3. The cutting mat’s grid makes it easy to line up the pieces quickly: the registration marks for Dress Shop are exactly 3″ apart and are near the sheets’ edges. I can align the registration marks to the grid, making lining things up easy and quick.

(BTW, Dress Shop seems to generate about the same number of sheets per pattern as, say, burdastyle.com patterns, and from the sounds of it, Style Arc. This shirtdress, for instance, were 30 sheets: front (10 sheets), back (10 sheets), sleeve (6 sheets), and collar (4 pieces).)

One interesting alternate method is to trace the pattern, piece by piece, onto tissue paper. This method has the advantage of producing one-piece pattern pieces of tissue paper, which makes storage easier. However, I’m not yet convinced that this method is quicker than the paper-and-tape method. I might try it one day and see.

So, all that said, the assembly process is quite straight forward. Here is what I did for the top of my costume for the Austin Carnaval. There are only a few rules to keep in mind:

First, make sure to align registration marks and paper edges to the grid. Use pattern weights to keep the page from shifting.
taping up Dress Shop pattern: sheet 1

Follow the same rules for subsequent pages, also additionally aligning the pattern’s cutting lines and registration marks:
taping up Dress Shop pattern: sheets 1 and 2

As you add additional sheets lengthwise, remember that the registration marks are 3″ inches from each other:
taping up Dress Shop pattern: sheets 1, 2, and 3

And voilà, all done:
taping up Dress Shop pattern: sheets 1, 2, 3, and 4

Singer Fashion Mate’s pedal fix!

Singer sewing machine pedal contact springs, fixed

Do you ever wonder what’s the average age of sewing machines of all serious sewists out there? Maybe when you’re trying to justify that Husqvarna Super Automated sewing machine, the one with the built-in kitchen sink and waste disposal?

My Singer Fashion Mate Model 248 is almost 40 years old. It weights like it’s 40 years old as well, about thirty pounds worth of metal and plastic. As expected, some parts in it are beginning to show wear and tear. It’s not so different from its owner. The difference is that the broken or worn parts on the Singer can be fixed for about $24. On me, $24 would only fix my eyebrows.

A few years ago, I begun to notice the pedal behaving differently. It seems to have develop an intermittent on/off behavior where it’d either not do anything at all or it’d make the machine scream at full throttle. A quick disassembly revealed worn and burnt contact springs. Contact springs are thin flexible copper leaves, the pressure on which would result in varying levels of electrical power to the machine’s motor.

Years of duty left the contact springs either charred or broken. Being the thrifty resourceful type, I decided that, copper is copper, and I would use a few copper pennies to fix the broken contact springs:
Singer sewing machine foot pedal, lower springs, making contact

Singer sewing machine foot pedal, lower springs, before

Singer sewing machine foot pedal, before, close-up

The result was actually very serviceable and lasted for several more years:
Singer sewing machine foot pedal, before

Then I found a place on the Web that sells replacement contact springs. Alleluia! (That’s religious-speak for “About damn time!”) One of the new contact springs is a precise drop-in replacement:
Singer sewing machine pedal upper contact spring Singer sewing machine pedal upper contact spring

But, one of them has a hole in the wrong place (a problem I’m happy to say I don’t have). A little time and some judicious application electric drill and round rat tail file and all was good:
Singer sewing machine pedal lower contact spring

And voilà, good as new:
Singer sewing machine pedal contact springs, fixed

A better mouse trap: an improvement on how to cut a continuous bias strips!

cutting bias strip, step 3: sew ends and cut to separate strips

How often do you hear of a better mouse trap? Probably about as often hearing of a better wheel. That’s not square. Or does not rotate around a single axis. However, I guarantee you that you will get your money’s worth with this new and improved method of cutting bias strips! I am so confident I am offering a guaranteed 100% refund if not satisfied. Oh wait, this is free. Never mind!

The two more common methods are to cut single strips and piece them together, and the “tube” method, where you cut a piece of fabric on the bias of a width of several bias strips’ worth, mark cutting lines, join the ends offsetting by one strip and press the seam open, then cut the resulting tube on the cutting lines to yield one long continuous bias strip.

I use the tube method myself. I do dislike having to make the final cut by hand with scissors because it’s slow and not as accurate as it could be. My friends from a local meet-up, Susan and… Susan, came up with an improvement to the mouse trap that is the tube method. They would partially cut the strips before joining the ends so that after joining the ends, the number and distance of cuts are greatly reduced.

Here are the steps.

First cut the parallelogram, as you normally would with the tube method:
cutting bias strip, step 1: cut trapezoid

Then partially cut on the cutting lines:
cutting bias strip, step 2: cut most of the straight cuts

After joining and pressing the ends, finish the cuts by hand with scissors:
cutting bias strip, step 3: sew ends and cut to separate strips

Outfit for Eeyore’s Birthday Party!

gold outfit for Eeyore's Birthday Party 2017

After twenty years in Austin, this year I finally made it to Eeyore’s Birthday Party, the 54th one, in fact.

Eeyore’s Birthday Party is just another one of those things that Keep Austin Weird. Eeyore’s Birthday Party started way back in the hippie era. Someone decided that Eeyore, the perennially sad donkey from Winnie The Pooh books, needed a bit of cheering up so a birthday party ensued and it has happened every year since. It’s basically a huge communal picnic where the proceeds from food and beverage sales go to benefit some twenty local non-profit organizations.

People just came and hung out. Impromptu drum circles and juggling and hackey sacking tribes formed. There was live music throughout the day. Reggae played on the P.A. in between bands. There was a costume contest, sack races, egg toss competition. People hung out with friends and family. Some, OK, many, consumed the wacky weed in its various forms. At times, the air seemed to consist mostly of pot smoke.

Everybody is encouraged to be in costume, though in many many instances, “costume” would consist mostly of body paint. It’s one of those events where if one is wearing any fabric at all, one is probably overdressed.

Always one to overdress, I went with a gold colored theme: a “Gathered Halter Shell” pattern (Dress Shop Pro), crop-top length, and an “A-Line Skirt” pattern (Dress Shop Quick Start, Deluxe, and Pro), micro-mini length, no front darts and no back darts, with a 25 degrees skirt flare.

I went with a gold color theme because I had made a gold lamé cowboy hat as part of a costume for an event last year and wanted to use it as the “anchor piece” for my outfit.

The halter top was another “wearable prototype” to further refine my Dress Shop measurements set. I used a gold metallic lamé knit. I went with a knit because I was in a rush and did not want to have to deal with a closure, and because a knit would be forgiving enough to compensate for any unforeseen fit issues as well as being more comfortable to wear. I used some remnant gold fabric for the top’s neck band as well as for the skirt’s waistband, to make the outfit look a bit more cohesive.

The skirt is from a semi-sheer gold metallic crinkly, crisp, lightweight polyester. In retrospect, I probably should have sprung for a better quality fabric that is more fluid. The crisp nature of the fabric made the A-line skirt behave in a slightly less than ideal manner, mainly that the A line would be pretty just that, an A line. The skirt resembled a funnel! I even tried adding a double thickness of 1/16″ polyster rope to the hem to give it some weight, but that did not help much. In spite of that issue, the skirt was still very wearable and good looking enough to garner multiple compliments during the day. So many people want to take their picture with me that I lost count.

gold outfit for Eeyore's Birthday Party 2017 gold outfit for Eyore's Birthday Party 2017 gold outfit for Eeyore's Birthday Party 2017

Apple Gingerbread Cake

apple gingerbread cake
One of my baking projects over the last holiday was an apple gingerbread cake.

The idea appealed to me: apples sautéed in butter, molasses, served with heavy cream. How could I go wrong? Famous last words, as it turned out. To be sure, the result was delicious, but it was nowhere near as pretty as it could have been due to just one simple oversight. Or to put it another way, as I said to a software engineer colleague one time, “That’s a bug.” He replied, “Well, it’s not optimal.” I’ve been using “not optimal” to describe my screw-ups ever since.

Anyway, the error in my execution of the apple gingerbread cake recipe was very simple error: when I layered the sautéed apple slices into the mold, forming what would subsequently be the top of the cake, I didn’t push down the apple slices down into the caramel hard enough and the result was some air pockets under the apple slices. When I poured the batter on top of the apple slices, some of the batter seeped down beneath the slices and as a result, ruined the top of the cake. You can probably see in the pic above bits of cake oozing and seeping past the apple slices.

Now that didn’t affect the way the cake tasted. It was delicious. Unfortunately, I believe that one eats with all of one’s senses, and if what one is eating is beautiful, that would only add to the experience. I guess it’s one mistake I will not make again any time soon.

Austin Carnaval costume

You may have seen from an earlier post on making the mohawk headpiece for my Austin Carnaval costume. I found this braided metallic mesh tubing at Jo-Ann Fabrics:
braided mesh tubings at Jo-Ann

…and decided to add fringes to the back of the mohawk:
adding fringes of metallic woven tubing adding fringes of metallic woven tubing

Beyond that, it was on to making the rest of my “Road Warrior in White” costume:

I made a fingerless glove, with straps made from fold-over elastic.
I also made a small purse to carry my phone and keys and credit cards.
glove, with straps made from fold-over elastic close-up of glove and purse for road warrior costume

And of course, apocalypse would not look the same without huge “football shoulder pads”. Here’s the back view of shoulder pads, on dress form:
shoulder pads on dress form
…and with chains added:
shoulder pads with chain trim

And voilà! Here are my posed “studio” pics of completed costume:
road warrior costume: completed road warrior costume: completed road warrior costume: completed road warrior costume: completed

And here are my Carnaval “action” pics:

Performance by the Austin Samba School’s troupes:
performance by the Austin Samba School's troupes

Samba dance troupe
Samba dance troupe

With masked purple woman
with masked purple woman

With couple in red/yellow
with couple in red/yellow

With people who made their own costume
with people who made their own costume

With “cowboy” couple
with

With woman in purple/green costume with fascinator
with woman in purple/green costume with fascinator

With couple also all in white
with couple also all in white

With “firemen” and woman in red; pouch has been moved to front
with

With other “road warriors”
with other

With yet another hot celebrant
with yet another hot celebrant

With yet another woman in red
with another woman in red

With a whole bunch of “insects”!
with a whole bunch of

One “occupational hazard” of getting up close and personal with other people to take pics with them is that you end up wearing their glitters! 🙂
occupational hazard, OPG: other people's glitter :)

Clever way to correlate fabric to pattern

using fabric strip to secure roll of pattern pieces
As you may know, I started using Dress Shop to generate patterns. Dress Shop generates a PDF file which is printed out on a normal printer on 8.5″ x 11″ paper. I would then tape the pages together to form the pattern. One artifact of printing patterns this way is that they are too sturdy to fold easily, even when printed on the lightest weight printer paper. As a result, I store patterns by rolling them up, which means I need to secure the rolled up patterns to keep them from unfurling. A simple rubber band will do, obviously, but I came up with a better mouse trap: I use a strip of fabric remnant, left over from cutting of the garment, to secure the pattern roll.

This way, I tie, literally and figuratively, the fabric to the pattern. The fabric remnant tells me what garment I made with the pattern and also, what the pattern is without needing to look for description or name printe don the pattern, or worse, having to unroll the pattern.

For instance, the picture above is of a Dress Shop shirt dress pattern that I made with a white/black/red plaid cotton flannel:
white/black/red tartan shirtdress, front view, with white boots and white hosiery

Austin Carnaval costume: “mohawk”

finished mohawk

I made an all-white “road warrior” costume for the 2017 Austin Carnaval Brasileiro. I’ve been “incubating” the idea for several years, and this year I finally “pulled the trigger” on it.

Since the costume is for the Carnaval, it needed to be super sexy! That means short skirt, bared midriff, spike heels, etc. However, one element of the costume that I settled on early on was a “mohawk” headpiece: nothing says “road warrior” like a fierce mohawk! This is how I made mine. (I’ll write about my costume soon.)

I used buckram for the “base” of the mohawk. The base is basically a form that sits on my head and that everything is attached to. Since I wanted to sew everything to the base, I can’t use, say, plastic. I used brim wire (“millinery wire”) at the form’s perimeter to give it the necessary stiffness. I zig zagged the brim wire to the edge of the form:
zig zagging brim wire to base zig zagging brim wire to base: almost done zig zagging brim wire to base: wire clipped to length zig zagging brim wire to base: wire joiner added
I left adding the joiner for last, so I’d know exactly what length the wire needed to be.

Test wearing of the base:
test fit of base on my head

For the mohawk, I made a form/pattern to determine the size and shape of the mohawk, using card stock (boxes from frozen entrées 🙂 ) to make the pattern:
pattern to test fit mohawk pattern to test fit mohawk

Test fitting the pattern to ensure its fit and size:
test fit of mohawk

Test fitting of base to mohawk pattern:

I wanted the “body” of the mohawk to be of the same white sequined lace that I used for the rest of the costume. Obviously, the lace won’t stand up by itself. It will need to be backed with something stiff yet transparent to show off the see-through nature of the lace. I wanted something similar to the acetate from, for example, Whole Foods baby spinach boxes. The problem is the boxes are not large enough. I’d have to piece several pieces together, which is doable, but it would have meant having to eat a truck load of spinach. I like spinach but not that much!

I settled on acetate sheets from Jo-Ann. I found them in the paper crafting/scrapbooking/card making section:
acetate sheet

I did a test to make sure I can sew on the actetate, because I will need to sew lace, Velcro, etc. to it:
test of sewing velcro to acetate sheet
The acetate can be stitched easily, using normal sewing needle (80/12 Schmetz Universal) and thread (Gütermann), without it tearing or the stitches getting messed up.

The mohawk will obviously need to stand up by itself and not flop over. It also needed to be light enough to not present a problem staying on my head, or be a pain to wear a whole night. I decided to make two acetate+lace mohawk shapes and attach them so they’d have a wedge cross section: attached at the outside/top edge, and spread apart at the base and attached to the long edges of the base. The wedge cross section ensures that the mohawk will stand up by itself and not flop over.

I also wanted to make the mohawk so it can be disassembled, to simplify transport and storage. I used Velcro to attach the two mohawk halves together:
Velcro sewn to mohawk Velcro sewn to mohawk
and to attach the mohawk to the base:
Velcro tabs sewn to base

To secure the mohawk on my head, I zig-zagged elastic cord to the base, adding a cord keeper to ease adjustment:
elastic cords & cord keeper
This work well, but I think I will add a hair comb or two to the underside of the base to make it even more secure.

To hide the attachments at the base of the mohawk, I added a length of gathered tulle to the bottom edge:
tulle trim for mohawk's lower edge tulle trim at mohawk's lower edge tulle trim at mohawk's lower edge

The final touch, which really made the mohawk look like a mohawk, was a strip of feather trim tape along the edge:
finished mohawk

Now to make the rest of the costume! And make it in time for the Carnaval! 🙂

A pressing matter

fleece motorcycle jacket with nicely pressed seams

Pressing and steaming differentiate great garments from home-made looking ones probably more than anything else. Mismatched plaids and stripes, uneven hem, and wrinkly sleeve caps also say “home made” instead of “tailored”, but not to the same degree, as it takes a bit of scrutiny to see those things. Unpressed seams, however, says “done at home” as much as a bowl haircut on a kid! It only takes the briefest of glance to see the puffy seams, bulging darts, and overly thick collars.

Here is an example, from a “project” page of an on-line fabrics store. I have removed identifying info so as not to shame anybody! I feel this is particularly egregious example of lack of pressing because this jacket could have been so amazing, being made from a “selvedge denim” costing $18 a yard, which is actually more like twice that expensive since it’s only 31″ wide! Pressing and steaming is super easy and very satisfying with denim because it takes a seam so beautifully, being 100% and reasonably loosely woven. Granted, it’ll take a bit of extra work to pound the thicker areas such as where seams intersect, etc. to make the finished seam as thin as possible, but it is always worth it.

unpressed, puffy, lapel on denim jacket unpressed, puffy, seams on denim jacket unpressed lapel, top view

By contrast, this jacket in a pattern review on patternreview.com, of a silk and linen blend, is beautifully pressed. You can see the difference nicely pressed seams make.
linen jacket with beautifully pressed seams

Even a jacket that I made from fleece (top pic, above) can be coaxed into having flat and pressed seams by having flat felled seams as well as having interfaced cotton facings.

Pin sizes

comparison of shaft size, Dritz #44 pin and Dritz #22 Ultra Fine

I have written before about sewing over pins. There is always a “religious war” over whether or not to leave pins in place and sew over them or to remove them as one sews. I think at least some of those who are in the “remove pins” camp use pins that are sturdier but as a result have a larger shaft and are much more likely to get hit by the needle.

I current use Dritz extra-fine pins as well as Clover “Patchwork Pins, Fine”. The Clover pins’ shaft is 0.016″. The Dritz extra-fine pins are about as fine, maybe a hair thinner. By comparison, Dritz #44 pins (red ball head) have shaft of 0.035″ diameter. That is more than twice as thick as the pins I use!

The silver ball head pin and yellow ball head pin (bottom and third from bottom) are similar in size to the Dritz #44 (second from bottom). One can see how, using those pins, the chance of pins getting hit by needle would be more than twice as much!
comparison of shaft size, assortment of pins

I used the blue ball head pin (third from top), Dritz #21, for a short while before I found the Dritz extra-fine and Clover pins. Their shaft is 0.027″. They’re OK but still a bit too thick to sew over safely.

The Dritz extra-fine and Clover pins’ shaft are so fine that if the needle hit them, they’d just get bent and nothing much else happens. I had the opportunity to sew on a Bernina Activa 145 this weekend at a charity sewing event. I loved the machine! It sews beautifully and the user interface is very intuitive, at least for me, a very experienced sewist. The machine’s owner is in the “remove pins” camp. I think I can understand why she’d prefer that. The Bernina appears much more precise and finely tuned than my 40-year old Singer Fashion Mate Model 248! Hitting a pin on the Bernina, no matter how fine the pin, may have much worse consequences than on my Singer.

P.S. Here’s a Threads magazine article on pins.

“Chatelaine”

close-up of couture technician wearing a chatelaine

A chatelaine is “a set of short chains attached to a woman’s belt, used for carrying keys or other items.” (It also means “a woman in charge of a large house”, presumably because she’d be carrying a large cluster of keys etc.) I saw “Dior And I” at the Austin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival a few years ago, a documentary about the designer Raf Simons and his time at the House of Dior. One interesting thing I saw in the film is the chatelaine that couture technicians wear around their neck. It’s basically a little pouch on strings, used to carry scissors, pins, chalk, etc. It struck me as being a great idea for two reasons.

The first reason is that, obviously, having the stuff they use the most around their neck is more efficient because they always have what they need right at hand. They don’t need to go back to their workbench to fetch what they need.

The second reason did not occur to me until recently when I was making the black/white/red tartan dress. I didn’t want to have to undress every time I need to try on the dress. Since I was by myself in my workroom, I just sewed in the nude. (Don’t tell anybody! 🙂 ) That did save a lot of time. Until I found that, one, since I’m nude, I don’t have anywhere to clip my scissors scabbard to 🙂 and two, I still had to take off my pin cushion around my wrist and put it back on afterwards every time I tried on the dress. It then dawned on me that the reason the chatelaine is worn around the neck instead of, say, clipped onto a belt, is because one always has a neck to hang chatelaine from regardless of what clothes one happens to be wearing, or not wearing 🙂 .

I went looking for proof that “chatelaines and couture technicians” is a thing, and found plenty.

One example is from a photo of a group of couture technicians of the house of Givenchy on a balcony with a model wearing a design by Riccardo Tisci. A couple of the technicians can be seen wearing a chatelaine around their neck. One woman’s chatelaine shows a pair of sewing scissors. Her chatelaine does not appear to very deep and also has a wide mouth, probably so she can easily retrieve items in it:
couture technician wearing white smock and a chatelaine
The scissors are located at the chatelaine’s upper left corner, handles up, probably for convenient access for righthanders. You can also see that in this pic of two of Dior’s in-charge couture technicians, with the designer Raf Simons:
wo of Dior's in-charge couture technicians

While the vast majority of chatelaines are utilitarian and unadorned, slapped together with random fabrics and with quick stitches:
utilitarian chatelaine
…some chatelaines are more embellished with edge binding and quilting:
couture technician w/ embellished chatelaine

I think there is a chatelaine in my future. And definitely there is more sewing in the nude in my future. 🙂

Bûche de Noël

Bûche de Noël, view 3

Continuing to brag about my holiday baking 🙂 : I made a bûche de Noël, a.k.a a Yule log to bring to the holiday dinner at my cousin’s house. I was overjoyed at how it turned out since it was the first time that I attempted many of the elements and techniques in making it: meringue, sheet cake, ganache, and marzipan. Admittedly, most of them are straightforward and anybody probably could have done them. The meringue was probably the most challenging technically, both because of the skill involved (knowing how and how much to beat the egg whites) and the baking required (baking temperature and time and cool-down).

I loosely followed this bûche de Noël recipe, using its sponge sheet cake, bittersweet ganache, and mascarpone filling.

For the for meringue mushrooms, I used a chowhound.com recipe. It came pretty good, though the egg white could have been a bit stiffer: the tips of the mushroom stems drooped a bit when piped out. It wasn’t too bad. I only needed to chop off a bit of the tip to assemble the mushrooms. I used bittersweet chocolate to “glue” the stems to the caps, and to also to make the underside of the caps a dark brown: close-up of meringue mushrooms

For the “bark”, instead of the recipe’s white “birch bark”, I used Two Sisters’ Crafting’s recipe for chocolate buttercream frosting.

The assembly is fairly straightforward, albeit with one flaw in the instructions, IMO: the mascarpone filling should go on first, underneath the ganache. The recipe calls for spreading on the ganache first then the mascarpone filling which didn’t work out so well. When spreading the mascarpone filling on top of the ganache, it was difficult to avoid smearing the mascarpone filling into the ganache because the ganache was too soft and did not make a good base for the mascarpone filling. Even the recipe itself says: “carefully spread [the mascarpone filling]over [ganache] surface, trying not to blend with ganache!

I used a marzipan recipe from foodnetwork.com, adding bittersweet chocolate powder to make the “leaves”.

Here’s the result. It was the huge hit one would expect, both visually and taste-wise!

Bûche de Noël, view 1 Bûche de Noël, view 2

Apple gingerbread cake

bittersweet chocolate apple cake aka torta di pere

For the holidays, I attempted to bake a couple of things, an activity I engage in a few times a year, always fueled by a wildly optimistic and delusional valuation of my baking skills. I made a Apple Gingerbread Cake. (I also made a Bûche de Noël, but that is a post for another day.)

I followed the recipe fairly closely, which is unusual for me. I find pastry recipes tend to have too much sugar for my taste so I usually cut back on the amount of sugar. Also, I like to increase the salt by a little. I find a touch more salt brings out sweetness more. Another place where I deviate from the recipe was to substitute maple syrup for molasses.

I could not find molasses in small enough quantity. The recipe only called for ¼ cup but the smallest molasses quantity I could find was one quart. I suppose I could have bought that and use the rest in experimentation, using it in place of sugar. It’d a lot of experimentation though, so I decided to use honey instead. I was guessing that honey is about the same sweetness as molasses, just with a different flavor profile.

As it turned out, the substitution worked great and the cake turned out to be amazing. The recipe is straightforward. I was suspicious of the step where the recipe calls for whisking eggs into the hot molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar, and butter. I was concerned that the eggs would be scrambled when introduced into a hot medium. Instead, I tempered the eggs first before adding it to the host mixture. Maybe that was not necessary, but I didn’t want to take the chance of ending up with scrambled eggs.

There was one gotcha, which I found out when I, buoyed by my success, I baked a second one. (Note to self: quit while I’m ahead. 🙂 ) When layering apple slices into the caramel, if the slices are not pressed firmly into the caramel, the cake batter may seep down into between the apple slices and the caramel and ruin the cake’s top. It’ll still taste great, but it wouldn’t look as good.

I served the cake drizzled with heavy cream, as called for in the recipe. It was a bit hit!
slice of apple gingerbread cake, served with heavy cream

So it seems that while my valuation of my baking skills remains to be verified, genius is indeed 10% talent and 90% perspiration! Sometimes.

Details, details, details

white/black/red tartan shirtdress, front view, with white boots and white hosiery

Often, it’s the the small details that separate a “home made” garment from the “Wow, you made that?!” garment. I would like to share a few details from my recent use of Dress Shop and from making a shirtdress recently.

Dress Shop generates the pattern pieces for the collar such that the undercollar is slightly shorter and narrower than the collar. The collar is then eased into the undercollar, generating tension that will curve the collar inward without needing a lot of steaming:
pattern pieces for undercollar vs collar

Also, the undercollar is cut on the bias, which gives it a bit of elasticity and makes it much easier to ease the collar into it:
collar & undercollar comparison

Another “detail” I would like to mention is buttonhole orientation. On my white black red tartan flannel shirtdress, all buttonholes are oriented vertically, as in most shirts and dresses, except for one. I oriented one buttonhole horizontally, the one near the waistline. It’s a touch I noticed in Italian tailored men’s shirts. The one horizontal buttonhole ensures that the two overlapping layers don’t shift vertically relative to each other:
close-up showing horizontal buttonhole
This is especially important for plaids, tartans, and patterns or where alignment is important, such as alignment of horizontal details (seams, piping, pleats, etc.).

Here’s another wearing of the dress, this time after getting my bangs chopped. Hosiery: Wolford Satin Touch 20; boots: Loriblu.
white/black/red tartan shirtdress, front view, with white boots and white hosiery

Shirtdress in black, white, red tartan

white/black/red tartan short dress, front view

As part of my process of refining my Dress Shop measurements set, I made another garment, this time, a shirtdress. The pattern used was “Dresses/Unfitted/Shirtdress” and is one of the Dress Shop Quick Start patterns, which is of course also included in the higher-end versions, Dress Shop Deluxe and Dress Shop Pro.

I chose a pattern that does not depart much from a close-fitting sheath. The minimal ease of the pattern makes fitting issues easier to observe, thus making it easier to fine tune my measurements in Dress Shop. The pattern is listed in the “Unfitted” folder, but its “fit” can be set to any of five fits, ranging from “form fitted” to “unfitted”. I chose “standard fit”, the next looser fit up from “form fitted”.

I found a heavy cotton flannel from Jo-Ann in a great tartan of white, black, and red. The fabric’s tartan most resembles a MacPherson of Cluny tartan. It’s slightly heavier weight than top weight, perfect for fall, winter, and fall wear down here in Texas, where we have two seasons, summer, and slightly-cooler 🙂 .

(BTW, do you know the difference between a “plaid” and a “tartan”? According to Scot Meacham Wood, all plaids and tartans are comprised of stripes that meet at a 90-degree angle, but “with most every tartan, the pattern on the stripes running vertically is exactly duplicated [my emphasis] on the horizontal axis“.)

white/black/red tartan short dress, front view white/black/red tartan short dress, front view white/black/red tartan short dress, 3/4 right back view white/black/red tartan short dress, 3/4 left back view white/black/red tartan short dress, right side view white/black/red tartan short dress, back view

As expected, the stripe matching was a lot of work. I cut each piece separately, matching the pattern of a just-cut piece to the succeeding adjoining piece. Also as expected, I goofed in cutting and had to make one additional trip to get some more of the same fabric! Of course, the new piece of fabric had to be washed and tumble dried and ironed before I can cut it, taking even more time!

The mistake was that because I worked my way through the bodice pieces, right front, right back, left back, left front, matching the pattern of each piece to the succeeding piece, by the time I get to the left front piece, in addition to matching the pattern at the left side seam, I forgot to also match up the pattern at center front! One would think that the center front would autimatically match up, but not so, because fabrics can and do skew diagonally. I did make sure to “true” my fabric beforehand, but with fabrics of a looser weave, there is the possibility of localized distortion. The lesson here is to, well, pay attention! 🙂

The match of sleeves to bodice in front turned out great:
white/black/red tartan shirtdress, closer-up front view
but not so much in the back, because matching the sleeves’ dot up to the shoulder seam rotated the sleeve a bit such that the pattern is off a bit in the back:
white/black/red tartan shirtdress, closer-up back view
For next time, I might try rotating the sleeves a bit when cutting them, so the pattern matches both the front and back bodice. Of course, the pattern will no longer run parallel the sleeve’s axis but slightly off. I wonder what that would feel like visually…

“Dress Shop” motorcycle jacket

front view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece front view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece, showing lining both sides
I am continuing to explore using Dress Shop Pro to make my own patterns. My initial attempts at a few pairs of shorts were moderately successful. For best result, I should really have spent the time and effort to make a sloper and adjust my measurements set in Dress Shop. If you’re like me though, you’d lack the patience to undertake that step. I decided that I’d make “wearable prototypes” instead and adjust my measurements set with each succeeding one. That way, my time and effort would result in things I can wear and yet also contribute to refining my measurements set.

For example, after the last thing that I made, a halter top sheath dress, I changed some measurements before making this biker jacket: reduced the “across back” measurement by 1/2″ and decreased the “bust back” measurement by 1/2″.

I intended this jacket to be only a “wearable prototype” to further refine my measurements set in Dress Shop. However, I got carried away with the trims a little bit! 🙂 I had some black and white harlequin pattern cotton left over from when I made my Carnaval Austin costume earlier this year, so I used that for trim: undercollar, front facings, welts and bags for hand warmer pockets, wrist straps, and epaulets:
3/4 front view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece front view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece, showing left side lining
hand warmer pocket, topstitched hand warmer pocket, topstitched & opened
wrist straps and would-be epaulets

Did I say epaulets? I meant “would-be epaulets”, of course. 🙂 I was going to add epaulets but when I inserted the sleeves, I completely forgot to insert the epaulets. So now I had two left-over epaulets. What to do? Since I had put some effort in making them, making sure the pattern lined up and was the same on both epaulets, I didn’t want to waste them. I used them as “back straps” at the jacket’s back side waist. Doing that allowed me to add a bit of gather to that location, to improve the cut and fit a little:
3/4 back right view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece

I also had some tan bottomweight cotton twill laying around on my cutting table, so I used it for the inside pocket’s welts:
inside double welted pocket & facing & lining inside double welted pocket

For buttons, I had a bunch of multicolor buttons of assorted sizes that I bought as part of a big bag at Jo-Ann, so I used the brown buttons. I wanted to use the sage green buttons but I don’t have enough of them in the set.
BIG button!

I also topstitched with black topstitching thread, mainly to anchor the seam allowances, because the fuzzy fleece obscures the topstitching quite a bit so it is not as decorative as topstitching would normally be:
topstitched seams

I used an ivory cotton voile for the lining, with the thinking that it’d be light and not add much bulk. Plus, it’s much smoother than the fleece which makes donning and doffing the jacket easier. The fleece can be quite fuzzy and thus “grabby”. The cotton voile is a bit too sheer, however, so it doesn’t actually hide the jacket’s inside very well, like a lining should. It’d have been more suitable as lining for a garment that one doesn’t take off in public, say, a skirt. (Well, at least *I* don’t take my skirt off in public. 🙂 )

front left view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece front right view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece side view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece

Sewing machine presser foot as helping hand

using sewing machine's presser foot as a
A “helping hand” is not new in sewing, nor in many crafts, for that matter. For example, there exist antiques of the “bird’s beak” clamp. Similar devices exist in jewelry making, watchmaking and other tiny-scale crafts, such as fishing lure tying.

I’m reasonably dextrous so I can manage manual tasks well. There are times though, when an extra hand would make things go quicker and/or less fiddly. For instance, when I need to rip a long long seam, as I did recently when shortening the skirt of my “Dorothy” costume. I wanted to re-use the costume but wanted something a bit racier than the skirt’s modestly long hem. Afterall, Halloween is the time to having fun dressing up the way that would get one arrested any other day 🙂 .

Anyway, the costume’s skirt hem has about two million yards of ruffled cotton eyelet trim:
Dorothy costume, front view
All of which had to be removed before the skirt can be shortened. The seam is straight and simple, but there was just so much of it!

With someone or something holding one side of the seam, things would go much quicker. Enter my sewing machine’s presser foot. It has enough grip force to anchor one side of the seam firmly and is a “quick-release” clamp of sorts which makes it easy and quick to move the seam along.

Oh, and this how the costume ended up looking (I didn’t get arrested 🙂 ):
Dorothy costume with matching purse

Braiding purse handles

purse handles
I have a Tignanello purse that I really really love that was showing its age. I love its shape, a satchel shape with full length two-way zipper to allow the purse to open really wide. I love its utility, having just the right number of pockets and zippers in just the right places. I love its color, a pale red wine color, which can go with dark hues such as blacks and browns as well as with brighter spring and summer hues. I love the handles configuration, just the right sized hoops for carrying on my arm or swinging in hand.
After a few years of use, the leather of the handles became worn and cracked. The rest of the purse was still in tip-top shape. I really hated to discard it just because of that. Also, it’s so difficult to find a suitable purse that I felt it’d be more efficient to try to prolong use of the one I already have and love.
Enter Paracord braiding! Paracord is a kernmantle-style cord, generally made of nylon and originally used as suspension lines of parachutes. I think today, paracord is so widely used in so many applications that it has become a common name, like “xerox” has.
Paracord appears to be used in many many craft applications, but most commonly made into bracelets and used to wrap handles. It was easy to find a really good video tutorial for paracord braid cover of a handle. It was also easy to get into a rhythm, to produce uniform braids, at least for me. As you can see from the result, I got pretty good at it after only about a third of a way into doing the first handle.
Another plus of paracord is that you can get in many different colors. I used a purple one that I just happened to have around and the purple matched my purse reasonably well.
So far, the braidings appear to hold up well, but it has been only a couple of months. It’s not yet clear how this particular brand of paracord stands up to abrasion of repeated use. (I bought the paracord at Home Depot.) One thing is for sure, new, spiffy, braided handles sure beat spending loads of time looking for a new purse. The only thing better would have been to make my own purse, which I may yet try at some point.

Making a matching clutch purse for costume

finished clutch purse

When I sew a garment, I like to make a matching hair scrunchie as to wear as an accessory. A matching scrunchie signals that the garment is probably custom made and not just an off-the-rack one. For my Halloween costume this year, I rehashed a previous year’s costume: Dorothy of Oz, shortening it quite a bit, from “slightly demure” to just about “call the police!” 🙂

The shortening resulted in quite a bit of left over fabric. Instead of the usual scrunchie, I decided to try my hands at making a clutch, since the costume has no pockets. The costume’s skirt is quite voluminous and I could carry a lot of stuff under it, but it would mean having to hike up my skirt and making a scene every time I need to retrieve something!

I sized the clutch to fit my phone. In retrospect, it could have been a little wider and longer to also accomodate keys, lipstick, etc. I used fusible felt to add body to the fabric, and underlined the clutch to make the inside appear a little more finished. A pocket with a Velcro secured flap on the outside was sized to fit credit cards, driver’s license, and a bit of cash. The wrist strap was a strip of selvaged, interfaced with fusible shirt-weight interfacing.
velcro closure on clutch purse's credit cards pocket

A lesson that I discovered almost immediately is to construct all the details such as outside and inside pockets first before closing up and attaching zipper. I did not and as a result, had to struggle a bit when attaching the outside pocket.

inside of clutch purse

The end result was reasonably polished, and people did notice it and knew that the costume was custom made:
Dorothy costume with matching purse

Using fabric scraps to trim greeting cards

finished card

Every sewist has come up against the difficult decision of what to do about fabric scraps from sewing projects. Some scrap pieces are small enough such that tossing them is the obvious thing to do. However, often the scrap pieces are big enough that they seem like they might be useful for small projects. The problem is when I’m staring at a bunch of scrap pieces seems to be the time when I’m the least creative. I’m full of ideas at any other times, but the sight of scrap pieces seems to stanch my creative juice.

Conversely, when I set out to make custom greeting cards, the very process seems to blank my mind as to what to make. I’d stare at a greeting car blank and draw a… blank, as to what to put on it.

Enter fabric scraps! Why not use the leftovers from a garment project to make greeting cards?! Immediately after I’m done with a project, I would already have all fabrics and thread and trims are already at hand, and more importantly, they are all coordinated, matching or contrasting each other. And the machines would already be threaded with the right color thread. All I’d need to do is to throw them together on a greeting card blank.

Here are two cards that I made using scraps resulting from shortening my “Dorothy” Halloween costume. With these two cards, I was going for the “deliberately unkempt” look, leaving raw edges and “tassels” of thread at ends of stitch run, leaving the wrong side of the cards unfinished, etc. Well, OK, I was just being lazy. 🙂

I just used the same mid-sized universal needle that I used for the garment in making the cards. I can see how sewing card stock might dull the needle, so be aware of that ad change needle sooner than you would normally would.

For these two cards, I used the blue gingham cotton and the white lining fabric for border: cut 1″ wide strips, place them right side down and sew them to the card down their center, fold and press, and zig zag or topstitch:
ready to make cards fabric trimmed with scraps attaching fabric border to card attaching fabric border to card attaching fabric border to card

I leave the strips long and trim them after I started attaching them. Swiveling the card to one side made it easier to do trimming:
swivel card to trim border

I used the white netting for the crinoline for an “overlay” of one card. I want to be able to customize the card further with, perhaps, lettering, so I attached the netting with small safety pins, including them as a design element. The safety pins allow me to remove the netting later to embellish the card some more, to customize it to the occasion e.g. birthday, wedding, etc.:
finished card

I also used tiny scraps of fusible fleece (left over from making a matching clutch purse for the Dorothy costume) to make petals of a flower, which I fused to the card. (The heat of fusing warped the card a bit but when it cools, it returned to almost normal shape, being only slightly wavy, which added to the “unkempt” look!) I added a small pearl for the flower’s center: I removed the presser foot, set zig zag stitch width to the widest, set stitch length to zero, threaded the pearl onto the sewing machine’s needle and turned the wheel by hand to zig zag a few times to attach the pearl.
flower with fusible fleece petals and pearl center

I wanted to use oral letter size envelopes for the cards so I trimmed the cards and added the cut-off pieces to inside the cards as “leaves” in a book:
inserting

Oh, and it would also help the card making process if you already have a stock of greeting card blanks on hand so you don’t have to spend time making some and can just get right to creating cards.