Saturday, November 30, 2013

Christmas Dress - Butterick 4919

My employer has a large Christmas party every year at The Jefferson Hotel and it is a stunning venue.  Very festive.  I usually make my dress each year, but have very little time to make it, much less blog about it.  This year is no exception, but I knew early on that I wanted to make Butterick's re-issue of 4919.  (For the life of me, I can't find my pattern envelope, so you'll have click on the link to see the pattern.)

The pattern appeared to fit my requirements of a Christmas dress:  simple lines but a full circle skirt for maximum impact.  My go-to choice of fabric for a party dress is shantung silk.  It is the easiest of the silk weaves to work with.  Shantung is a lot like dupioni silk, but it has a smoother, more refine weave; that is, the slubs aren't as noticeable. And it has a lovely sheen.  

Here's the weird thing about shantung silk:  unwashed it is lightweight but it has a nice crisp body and keeps a crease incredibly well.  But if you wash it, all the body goes with it, becoming a mere wisp of its former self.  It reminds me of cotton candy - it looks substantial, but once you apply moisture, it is reduced to nothing.  

I sew my shantungs unwashed, and dry clean them as the garment warrants later.  I had some dark red, nearly burgundy, colored shantung in my stash, but it was only 45 inches wide, and I really wanted to make the long skirted version of this dress, which requires the wider 60 inch fabric.  I thought about black as this dress would have really been dramatic in black, but I get tired of seeing everyone in black, especially at a party.

I decided on a color at NY Fashion Center Fabrics website (where I also bought my wedding dress silk shantung fabric) that was described as "turquoise".  In incandescent yellow light it looks more teal, and I don't like teal, and I should have gotten a swatch first, but I didn't have time.  So I'm stuck with it and here is the color outdoors: 

See that great sheen?  I'm counting on that sheen for dramatic effect!)  

As with past Christmas dresses, I give myself permission to do a half-assed job.  That means no finishing of seam allowances or too much fiddling with zippers, or re-doing, etc.  My reasoning is that this dress will be worn once, maybe twice, so there's no point in spending the time on quality construction on a dress that doesn't have to survive the washing machine or repeated wearings.  Also, the party is dark, filled with people full of holiday cheer (i.e. alcohol), and no one is going to notice the details.  And after I'm done wearing it, I'll cannibalize it for other projects.

What they will notice is the color and the sheen and the big skirt - my sewing approach is like costuming, which I learned about at the Hollywood Costume exhibit at the VMFA.  I'm going for an illusion here, folks, not an award for Best Dress Construction.  A case in point, the front v-neck:
 As you can see, it's my usual, not-so-great job in precision sewing.  But its fine, because it is going to be covered by a beautiful gold and diamond brooch my father gave me many Christmases ago.

The hand and smell of this fabric brought back memories of making my wedding dress, and I was reminded of something else from making my wedding dress experience too:  I ended up not having enough fabric to cut out my dress.  When I was making my wedding dress, I just figured my layout wasn't in accordance with to the pattern instructions and I just ordered more.  But this time, I laid out the pattern pieces exactly as illustrated, and I ended up short.  I think the reason is that this silk is 54 inches wide (or maybe shorter) than the 60 inch layout.

I didn't have the time or the money or the motivation to order more "turquoise" fabric.  I just cut out the front bodice lining piece from some hot pink shantung I had in the stash, which I think is a complementary color to the turquoise:
 (If it ends up showing a little bit while wearing the dress, I hope people believe it was a deliberate design feature rather than having insufficient fabric!)

A few words about this pattern.  It is weird.  The wrap bodice has a new-to-me construction that was difficult to picture in my mind, and I just had to take one step at a time and see how it went.  Also, this dress can't really be tried on as you sew, making alterations-as-you-go damn near impossible.  And there are no shortening or lengthening lines on the bodice, so if you don't have a fairly standard figure, I haven't got the slightest clue how you would fit this thing to your body.

And for whatever reason, I haven't enjoyed making this dress.  I cut it out before I went to Italy, I constructed the bodice the weekend I got back, and this weekend I constructed the skirt, attached it to the bodice, and put in an invisible zipper.  It's coming along but I'm not enjoying it.  Here's my zipper with no finishing of the bodice edges:

 I thought such quick sewing would be fun and freeing after the slow-sewing Butterick Gertie coat, but no dice.  I think, deep down, I want to be working with wool/cashmere tweed I got in Italy, but I have to finish this dress first.  

Here's a photo of the gathered shoulders which I'm not entirely happy with - this silk is thick and didn't gather very well, unlike the pink lining which was thinner and gathered beautifully:

I tried it on this morning and the good news is that the dramatic effect I was going for was all there.  Also, the length is good - all I'll have to do it turn the skirt up 5/8 inch and topstitch it down and call it a day.  I do need to sew on some hooks and eyes, and handstitch the bodice lining, so I'm in the home stretch.

More photos to come when I'm done, and hopefully made up for the party!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Back From Italy - And The Tippi Hedren Suit Obsession Continues

The Carpenter and I returned from our pilgrimage to Italy after ten days and what a glorious trip it was!  Above is the first photo I took in Italy - our view from our hotel room in Assisi when we awoke.  I would go back to Assisi in a heartbeat - wonderful views, small town, excellent food.  

There was Florence as well, but the majority of our time was spent in Rome:

The trip was a guided tour with members of our parish and our priest attending.  Mass was said everyday in amazing venues - St. Peters (!), the Catacombs, Santa Croce just to name a few.  

Of course, not all of my time was spent looking at amazing art and learning history - we ate gelato too. Lots and lots of gelato.  I mean A LOT of gelato:  

I guess I'm lucky I only gained one pound on the trip and the tour included 5 to 7 hours of walking every day.  : )

But my obsession with the suit Tippi Hedren wore in the "The Birds" was uninterrupted.  Before I left on the trip, I trolled Etsy for vintage patterns that could work for the jacket portion of her outfit.  I order this Butterick pattern from 1962 or 1963, which could form the basis for the jacket:

The film came out in 1963, so the above pattern really does represent the style of the suit and the times.  The shape, the collar, and the three quarter sleeves are exactly like the costume, although Tippi Hedren's version had cuffs on the sleeves, patch pockets that went all the way to the bottom hem of the jacket, and the collar wasn't in a contrast fabric - all changes I could make.  And of course, she wore it with a dress rather than a skirt and "overblouse" (as it is described in the pattern instructions).

When I got home the pattern was waiting for me, along with some fabric I ordered from Fabric Mart that was on sale that I thought might work:

The fabric on the right is a wool tweed blend, in a greenish color, and the fabric on the left is a rayon checked suiting fabric that could work for the contrast collar or blouse if I choose to go that route. 

But green tweed wool was still on my mind as I traveled the Land of Gelato and Beautiful Art.  Once I reached Rome, our tour guide gave me the name and location of the fabric store her mother frequents and I was instructed to mention Signora Gotti's name for the discount.  I entered Fratelli Bassetti Tessuit on Corso Vittorio Emanuele street and I can only describe it as the catacombs of fabric.  Bolts and bolts of fabric were stacked upon each other, from room to room to room.  (Click on the link above and you can see from the photos what I am talking about.)  

It is a place where I can become easily overwhelmed; I had to concentrate in order to avoid losing my mind.  The silks, the Liberty lawns, the wools; they were all calling to me like the Sirens of Greek myth.  I quickly saw a beautiful bolt of heathered green tweed wool.  I petted it a bit, and below it I saw another bolt of blue wool tweed.  I couldn't decide, but then someone who didn't speak English wanted to help me, so I pointed to the green on impulse.  

It was expensive, even with the Signora Gotti discount.  It turned out to be 80% wool and 20% cashmere, and I had to have it, so I got three meters:

 The top photo shows more of the true color; the bottom photo shows the beautiful sheen.  Unfortunately, the photo cannot demonstrate the incredibly soft hand of this stuff - you'll just have to take my word for it that it is fabulous.

So now I am in a quandary as to what to do with it.  On the one hand, it would be beautiful for the Tippi Hedren suit project - I like this wool more than the Fabric Mart tweed, and I could use the Fabric Mart tweed as my muslin jacket - but on the other hand, it seems this fabric needs a more fabulous design, like a jacket with interesting details that I could wear with jeans or as a suit. Like Hot Patterns Mandalay jacket.  I've never sewn a Hot Patterns design; anyone have any opinion on the fit and quality of drafting??????

So now I'm happily surfing the interwebs for the perfect jacket pattern.  Who knows what I will ultimately decide; searching is half the fun!

The weather wasn't cold enough to wear my new Butterick Coat before I left for Italy but it sure was today.  It had its inaugural wearing today when I went to Mass in the morning and for a walk in the afternoon.  It was warm as toast, and making the pockets in the camelhair wool, rather than the lining fabric, was definitely the right call.  My hands stayed nice and toasty without gloves during our afternoon walk.

I wore it with my new cameo pin I got in Rome.  Here it is on my lapel:

Happy sewing, y'all!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gertie Coat Done! Butterick 5824

Y'all.  I made a coat.  I am seriously amazed and pleased:

 I impressed The Carpenter into taking some photos this morning:
 I can't believe this coat turned out exactly as I envisioned:
 Here's the back:
 The lining ended up being easy to sew, plus it makes the coat feel luxurious:
A few notes about the push for the end.  Hemming this coat ended up being not as bad as I feared, given the skirt on this thing.  The skirt edge of this coat is curved, so the raw edge is longer in length than the coat itself.  I ran long basting stitches along the raw edge of the skirt in order to gather up the bottom of the hem to the coat.  (Gertie shows you how to do this here.)  I used my longest stitch (stitch length 5 on my Bernina) and I used red thread in my bobbin, so as to better see the bobbin stitches that needed to be pulled (I used a safety pin to pull up the bobbin stitches).  Using matching thread would have made it extremely difficult to see the bobbin stitches.

Then I turned up the hem 1 1/2 inches and pressed the curved hem. The camelhair wool cooperated beautifully, as it has for this entire project.  I'll admit that this is the first time I have ever actually gathered a curved hem like this - when I'm making a dress that calls for this sort of hemming technique, I just put a smaller hem in it using hem tape and call it a day.  But I wasn't going to get away with that on this heavier and deeper hem.  Fortunately, it all worked wonderfully.

Then, instead of handstitching the hem to the coat, I used my blind hem stitch and did it by machine.  Much, much faster.  Then I pressed and steamed the heck out of it.  

Last were the buttons - I used the button thread I previously purchased and they went on with no problem.  And I was done!  With the exception of sewing the "Gorgeous Fabrics" label into the coat and doing the little bit of hand sewing on the bound edge of the skirt facing to the hem.  I'll do that tonight, but I wanted to go ahead and get photos now, since The Carpenter and I are leaving tomorrow for Italy for vacation.  I won't be taking the coat (the temps aren't going to justify lugging this to Italy), but when we get back it will be late autumn and I'll need it.

Last thoughts on this project:  I realize that by coat standards, this was an easy coat.  The shawl collar is very easy.  But the full skirt does make this coat a challenge - more to cut out, more fabric to buy, more coat to shove through the sewing machine as you finish the back of the buttonholes, etc. If you are rank beginner, a shawl collar coat with less of a skirt might be a better choice.  On the other hand, you have Gertie's step-by-step instructions, which are wonderful and I believe made my completion of this project possible.

Also, for those who are shorter in height, the skirt on this coat might overwhelm you.  I realize that at 5'5'' with a fairly standard frame I am lucky that this coat fits me right out of the envelope with no alterations needed.  

This coat was an experiment for me in "slow sewing" which I'm not used to.  I think taking my time on this project also made the completion possible.  Beginning in the spring, when coatings go on sale is a good strategy.  I cut out and constructed the outer part of the coat before the hottest part of the summer began, and then I picked it up again in October when it got cooler, but before I needed it, which I believe is excellent timing.  I simply could not work on this coat in the heat of the summer, no matter how much the air conditioning was cranking  - this wool was just to hot to handle.

All my post on this coat are here.  I'm so pleased I want to make another coat!!! (Not with this pattern - I think one of these is enough - but my confidence level has been boosted.)  I'll definitely plan another coat come this spring.  : )

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Hollywood Comes to Town; Coat Update

I did not get my coat done in time for the opening of the Hollywood Costume exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, but it ended up being such a warm night, I didn't need it anyway.  I wore my dress I made for my company's Christmas party last year, along with a big crinoline underneath, because my philosophy is, if your dress ain't poufy, it ain't a party.  And where else would such a dress be appropriate but at a Costume party?

The exhibit was fantastic.  I had such a wonderful time and I was surprised by how many costumes were on display.  The original exhibit was put together by the V&A museum in London, and how the VMFA got it, I don't know, but kudos whoever was responsible for bringing it to Richmond!

Photography wasn't allowed, unfortunately, in order to preserve the costumes, but they are well worth preserving.  One of the first costumes to greet me as I arrived was Brad Pitt's costume from "Fight Club", complete with the red leather jacket worn by his character, Tyler Durden.  I figured this was the closest I was ever going to get to Brad Pitt, mostly because of the retraining order, so I was swooning all other the place.  Soon after, I feasted upon Helen Bonham Carter's day dress from "A Room With A View" where Lucy Honeychurch gets a passionate, possessive kiss from George Emerson in the field of barley in Italy.  

I was dying to see how all the cotton, linen, and laces were put together, and as a sewer, I wanted to turn up the lights and the skirt of the dress to check out how the costumer finished the seam allowances.  But alas, it was not to be!

There was a whole Elizabethan section - costumes from movies about Queen Elizabeth I or set in that era - and there was Gwyneth Paltrow's dress from "Shakespeare in Love", the scene when she is presented to the Queen for the approval of her marriage to the Earl of Wessex - it was exquisite - and Judy Dench's Queen Elizabeth costume from the same film as well.  Both of the dresses are in golds and creams, and they radiate opulence, even in the dim light of a museum.

Other notables - Daniel Craig's 007 tuxedo from "Casino Royale" and Mel Gibson's kilt from "Braveheart".  (Daniel Craig's shoulders must be really, really broad, and his waist is tiny.)  And so many others.  I learned a lot about costuming; how each detail of the outfit supports the character or mood of the film.  What really struck me was how different making a costume is from sewing clothes.  Many of the films that encompassed a particular historical period contained costumes that were not strictly historically accurate - the costumes were "interpretations" of the period and the mood of the film and character they dressed.  It was fascinating.  

I have become particularly obsessed with Tippi Hedren's green suit from Alfred Hitchcock's film, "The Birds".  Made in 1963, her suit consists of a subtle green tweed dress with a boxy jacket with three-quarter sleeves.  I looked at it and literally said, "I could make that."  I never cared for the film but I love the outfit.  What really surprised me were the patch pockets on the jacket - they reach all the way to the hem of the jacket, which I thought was a unique detail.  So I've been trolling the internet for more photos of the costume, and I have bought a 1962 pattern with a similar jacket and I've bought some wool tweed from Fabric Mart.  My obsession isn't quite complete, as I am sure I will return to the VMFA to check out that suit ensemble prior to making my own version!

So all I can say is:  go.  Go, and you will be amazed.  The exhibit is here until February, and I will definitely return.

But progress was made on the coat:  I finished the backside of my bound buttonholes, and I'm glad I did because I was worrying about it.  Gertie instructs you to use some silk organza if your wool is prone to fraying, but with the fusible interfacing, I figured I could do without it.  I think my first effort is pretty good:

I also went out and bought some thread specifically designed to sew on buttons:
I got it at Hancock's, and I figured I needed it because my metal buttons are heavier than the usual plastic buttons I use - and because they are shank buttons, using my sewing machine's button foot wasn't going to work.  I want to make sure once I sew these buttons on, they aren't going to come off.
Onward to hemming and finishing!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Butterick Coat 5824 Progress!

Today was the day when the outer coat and the inner lining came together in step 32 - very exciting!  But before I took that exciting step, I decided to do a little finishing work on the raw edge of the lining facing.  This isn't in the instructions, and Gertie suggests you finish this edge after hemming with a little seam binding or bias tape but I decided that finishing this edge before doing the hem would be easier.  Here is the edge I'm talking about:

Because the facing is fused with interfacing, this edge probably isn't going to unravel, so this finishing effort is for aesthetic reasons only - it will look prettier - and thus is completely optional.  To finish the edge I first cut two strips of the lining fabric one inch wide:

Then I pinned it to the edge and sewed it with a quarter inch seam:

 Then I folded the strip to the back of the facing, pressed it, and then stitched in the ditch on the right side to secure it:
 Here's what the back side looks like.  The edge of the strip is raw, but that is okay because it won't show and it will be enclosed between the outer coat and the lining:

This is generally how this edge will look like once I get it hemmed:

Most of the edge will be covered by the lining and by the hem, so only a short amount of my binding strip will show.  I probably spent way too much time on this step than was warranted, but I think it makes the coat look more professional.

Finally, the time had come for the actual joining of the coat and lining (step 32).  I did a bunch of pinning, and then I marked the hem seam at the bottom of the lining facing on each side of the coat to ensure everything was even:
 After sewing the above, I trimmed the heck out of that corner so it would turn properly.  Gertie instructs you to cut notches on the curved collar seams so your collar will lie flat, so I did, with my trusty tailors point scissors which worked great:
 She then instructs you to grade the seam allowances - the lining seam allowance from the waist up should be longer than the outer coat seam allowances, but the lining seam allowances should be shorter than the outer coat below the waist.  I trimmed the shorter seam allowance to a quarter of an inch, and the longer to about 3/8 of an inch.  It ended up being easier than I thought.

Next, you press those seam allowances open - this allows you to achieve a crisper edge later, and I did this step, but only up where it started to become difficult to press the curved collar seam - I left that alone and hoped for the best.

Gertie used silk thread to baste the coat layers in place before pressing and steaming the heck out of it to get the seamlines to roll to the underside.  I skipped the basting because that involves handsewing, and just used my hands to manipulate the layers of fabric so the seam would roll to the underside.  It helps that I am working with dark fabric, so any seamlines are difficult to see anyway.

So now I have a coat!  It still needs a ton of finishing work, but the basic pieces are together.  This was my first chance to really try it on, and it looks good.  Sleeves are a good length, everything looks good.  Whew.

And it feels heavy.  I'm glad I didn't go with a heavy wool - I can't imagine how heavy the coat would be if I had used a traditional coat weight wool.

The next step is finishing the back of those bound buttonholes.  In an effort to procrastinate on that step, I searched high and low for the buttons that I had bought for this coat so I could see how the buttons would look with the coat, and only after an exhaustive search did I finally realize that I had only bought buttons for this coat in my own mind - no such button purchase ever happened in real life.  I am now at that age where if I just think about doing something, then somehow my brain registers it as "done".  Pretty soon, I'll be able to hide my own Easter eggs . . .

The expensive fabric store, the one that sells a myriad of cool buttons, closes at 3:00 pm on Saturdays, so if I wanted to have any hope of finishing this coat this weekend, I knew I needed to hop over there and pick them out.  This is what I got:

 And here is a blurry photo of a trial run - the buttons are just laid on top of the bound buttonholes as a preview:
And that is where I stopped for the day.  I was tired, and knew making the openings in the front facing to match the buttonholes was going to be fiddly work (which includes, sigh, handsewing) so I gave myself permission to continue another day - hopefully tomorrow!