Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Gossip Girl Dress - Progress Report

Are you bored with this dress yet? I know I am! I am definitely someone who needs a deadline to spur them into action. Still, I am struggling on and trying very hard not to be distracted by other projects.

I decided not to underline the dress with silk organza. I have found that the dupion I am using has plenty of bounce and I didn't want the whole thing to become too poufy.

I chose to finish the seams by zig zagging and trimming the edges. It may not be the prettiest seam finish but it won't leave a ridge on the outside as french seams or bound seams might. It reminds me of when I first learned to sew - before you could get domestic overlockers! Sorry for the blurry picture - I desperately need a new camera.

You can also see the stay-stitching I did on the waist edge of the skirt. This is really important on a skirt this shape. I also stay stitched the neck edge but I didn't bother with the armholes, I just handled them very carefully until they were permanently stitched.

As the side seams are on the bias, I hung the skirt (and lining skirt) to allow them to drop while I was sewing the rest of the dress. I'm glad I did as the bottom edge has dropped (unevenly as expected) and the lining is well and truly longer than the skirt. Better now than after I've gone to the trouble of hemming!

I did french seams on the silk habutae lining. I bought my sewing machine from a quilter so it came with a bunch of extra feet including a 1/4" foot which really helped me keep the seams the right width. Everything was going swimmingly until - argh!

When I was trimming this seam I *felt* something was wrong but I kept on until I realised one of the layers had folded up and I'd cut a hole in it - f&#k! I carried on and finished the french seam which took care of the worst of it and then I just ran a sneaky row of zig zag to reinforce the wound. Stupid me forgot to take off the 1/4" foot (which has a single stitching hole in it) first though and I managed to smash my needle into several pieces, one of which flew up into my face - double f^*k! Fortunately it didn't hit my eye and I don't seem to have done lasting damage to my machine. At this point I was beginning to think this dress didn't want to get made!

I took several deep breaths, had a minor tanty and then got back to it. Even though things weren't going well I do always try to improve my skills with every project, so I worked extra hard to match the midriff seams at the invisible zip. Shabam! Take that invisible zip!

Buoyed by this success I decided to consult my Christmas present to myself - the Industry Insider Techniques DVDs from Threads. Money well spent BTW. I finished the armholes using the technique demonstrated in part 2. I had seen this done in a magazine (maybe Threads???) before but it didn't really sink in until I saw it on video.

Now you can't tell me this isn't a thing of beauty! Maybe you all have mad skills in this area but my curves always look a bit crappy and I am (was) rubbish at trimming seams so I am really happy with these armholes. I keep going into the sewing room (that's a lie, the dress is hanging in my hallway where I can see it all the time) just to look at my beautiful curves. Not mine, I mean the dress's.

Now I just have to close the shoulder seams, bind the neck (yes, I am making the dress a bit differently than the instructions) and hem the skirt and lining. Almost. There.

***Sorry Marls, if you're reading - spoiler alert!****

Just as an aside, I realised that the pattern I am using is from the Hilary Duff line. And the inspiration is from Gossip Girl. Aside from being old enough to be both Hilary and Blair's mother, it also struck me that the girl who 'designed' the pattern is the very same girl who is currently being squeaky and annoying on the very same show that inspired the whole project. I was hoping that squeaky Hilary would soon get written out of the show (preferably breaking that pompous git Dan's heart in the process) but having just seen what Hils, Dan and Vanessa got up to in this week's episode now I just want to poke my own eyes out - ugh, so wrong!

Okay, enough stalling, I need to get on and finish this thing. This hot weather is inspiring me to dream of Autumn - lovely jackets and coats mmm!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Gossip Girl Dress - Dyeing results

When I last reported on this project all the pieces were wrapped up and ready to dye.

To discharge the colour from my silk pieces I mixed up two packs of Rit colour remover in a large plastic tub. I topped up cold water with a couple of kettles of boiling water to try and get the dye bath warm. You want to use water as hot as the fabric can take, but I was doing this outside so it was tricky to access hot water. I didn't want to go too hot for the silk anyway.

A note on safety. This stuff is really toxic so use all the usual precautions. Always wear gloves and wear a mask while you are working with any dye in its powder form. Also, the dye remover stinks real bad so do it somewhere well ventilated.

I scooped out some of the solution into a jar to dye the skirt pieces...

The rest of the pieces went in the dye bath...

I kept the bodice pieces moving pretty regularly so they didn't go patchy, but the other pieces were fine to leave alone.

Here are the results with a piece of the original (unwashed) fabric for comparison.

First the midriff piece.
One of the skirt pieces.
And a bodice piece.
I think the solution mustn't have been strong enough because even though I left the piece in for the full 30 minutes, the resulting colour is not what I achieved on the sample. I could probably go back in and fade it out some more but I actually don't mind the blue-green that I got (it reminds me a little 0f verdigris). If I tried to do more I might ruin it altogether.

Another piece of not-great news is that I don't think we are actually invited to the wedding after all. The groom never mentioned it being a family-only event the last time we saw him but, since no one amongst the friends has received an invitation yet (and it's less than two weeks away) we have figured we are not going to get one. We all understand that weddings can be expensive and you can't necessarily invite everyone, so it's not a problem not to be going. Plus there is another wedding coming in April or May so I'll still get to wear the dress. Perhaps it's good not having such a tight schedule. It was 43 degrees (Celsius) today and yesterday and my sewing room is not air conditioned which makes everything feel like really hard work!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Another Milestone

Today is my second blogoversary.


I am quite impressed with myself that I've managed to keep up blogging for two whole years (I am easily distracted!), even if it has been a bit irregular at times. I hope that my blog is interesting and/or useful to at least some people out there. I am thrilled that anyone stops by to read my ramblings and still get unbelievably excited every time a comment comes through (except those pesky spam comments of course!). I can't believe my ramblings have been read by people all over the world!

Last year, I wrote a restrospective on my sewing 'career' which was pretty fun, especially digging out my fab photos of outfits I'd made in the 80's. My poor Mum must have had difficulty biting her tongue when I emerged in some of those get-ups but thank goodness she did or I may have given up sewing altogether! I guess we all looked pretty stupid back then.

So what has changed since last year? Well in my personal life, my fella moved in with me and I got an awesome new job, both of which have meant I've needed to re-prioritise how I spend my time. I'm lucky to work for the Government so I don't have to put in particularly long hours, but I still get tired and more than scheming/planning/dreaming is pretty much unachievable during the week. Not that I'm complaining, I do manage to put in a fair amount of time to my creative work. My fella understands it is something I NEED to do, and if I start to get a bit stressed out he will say "Do you want to go do some sewing while I make dinner?". I'm lucky there.

In my sewing life this past year I manage to enter two pattern review contests: the Ready-to-Wear knock off, and wardrobe challenges, which I thoroughly enjoyed. In total I completed 25 garments, a little under one per fortnight on average, a little disappointing I must admit. By garment type:

Err, I hope you can read the labels - they are a little small. In descending order: dresses, blouses/tops, skirts, t-shirts, jackets, cardigans, pants, accessories, waistcoats, gifts. Not much of a giver am I? In my defense there are two un-blogged Christmas gifts to add to the list.

The vast majority of clothes have been work-wear, with a few special occasions thrown in. I made no casual clothes this year, although my work wardrobe is pretty casual so I usually just wear ex-work stuff on my time off!

Most of my projects have been sewing, with only two knitted and one crocheted item completed (and blogged) this year.

I haven't had too many wadders this year and a few real successes. My top five are:

1. My most recently completed project, the Christmas dress. Great pattern, great fabric and an easy make - I can't wait to bust this one out for another event.

2. My entry for the RTW Knock-off challenge at Pattern Review. This is a really handy dress and I often get compliments when I wear it - even from people who have seen it before!
3. The cream t-shirt from the wardrobe competition. I don't sew a lot of knits but this one is a winner.
4. The pants, also from the wardrobe competition. They are not perfect but I am on the right track. Like many of you fitting pants is terrifying for me so I am glad to be on my way to conquering my fear!
5. The Vogue jacket from April 2009. It's so unusual and I feel very fashionable wearing it (blurry photo notwithstanding).

I suppose it's a good idea to set some goals for next year, so here they are:

My main goal is to finish more projects this year, let’s say 30. I’d like to make more:
Jackets. I used to have a few but most of them have (or should have) ‘gone the journey’ now, leaving me short.
Pants. Even just for the practice at fitting.
Tops and blouses. You can never have too many, and
Knitting and crochet. To make me a more well-rounded person!

In addition I’d like to:
- Spend a bit more time getting a quality finish, rather than rushing to get garments completed (which seems counter-intuitive to making more – let’s just say I’ll waste less time!).
- Learn some new techniques and get better at the ones I am not so confident with.
- Focus on 'investment sewing' - the home-made equivalent of 'investment dressing'.
- Branching out into some new skill-sets, whether in textiles or other materials.

I guess the overall theme for this year will be quality over quantity (but with improved efficiency, resulting in quantity!), so let's see how I go.

Anyway, thank you all for dropping by over the last year (or two) and by all means leave a comment if the mood takes you, I'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Gossip Girl Dress - Prepare to Dye!

So my fabric survived the indignity of being put through the washer and dried on the line and, after a good iron, is now ready to dye....

The first step in the process is to decide which way up to cut your fabric. Like velvet, silk has a nap which means you have to cut all your pattern pieces with the top to the same end. If you don't do this different panels will appear different colours. To decide which end to use as the top I normally pin both ends to my dummy and go from there. It can be hard to see the difference as evidenced by the photo below which I took indoors with the flash on.
But look at the change when I photograph the fabric without a flash. You don't want your front to be one colour and your back another, or have your left and right sides looking different!
I tend to go with the darker end but it's personal preference which way you go.

Once I decided the end to use I laid out my pattern pieces and roughly cut out the bodice and skirt, leaving the remainder to be used for the midriff and any trimming I end up doing. I did cut the waist edge accurately because I need the colour change to line up there.

I marked the right side and top end of all the fabric pieces with safety pins so I don't lose track.

The bodice pieces will just go straight into the colour remover solution so they whole bodice is light. The top edge of the skirt will be dipped so the majority of the skirt is the original colour and the midriff will be cut from fabric dyed using (pretty rough) shibori techniques. Remember when doing this that anything exposed will go light

First here is how I set up the skirt pieces

I laid the front and back pieces so the waist edges were even and fan-folded across all three pieces. I tied a bit of string about 3 or so inches down from the top to mark where I wanted the colour change to stop.
I cut the bottom out of a veggie bag and wrapped it around below the string to protect the rest of the skirt. This bit won't be submerged but it's just to protect it from splashes. Then I wrapped string up to about an inch or so below the waist edge, thinning the amount of string as I got closer to the waist (because I want more light fabric higher up).

Here it is ready to dip in the solution.
For the fabric that will become the midriff and trimming I fan-folded it as with the skirt pieces but used the iron to help hold the pleats in place over the full width of the fabric. Perfection is not the goal here but the fabric is so springy it's difficult to work with if you don't tame it a bit with the iron.

Then I twirled the folded fabric sort of diagonally around a wine bottle, wrapped with string to hold it in place and it's ready to go too.
I'm a bit nervous now, I understand these processes in principle and have messed about with them a bit but there is always an element of 'planned trial-and-error' involved. I am confident it will work out fine but I am always wary of a disaster!

Sadly that's where my story ends for now since silly me forgot to get another package of colour remover yesterday and Perth still doesn't have Sunday trading - grrr. I hope I'll have a chance to get to it mid-week as I really need to get moving if I'm going to wear it on the 30th of this month!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Gossip Girl Dress - Pre Washing the Fabrics

It's so funny that over at Gertie's New Blog for Better Sewing there is a post today on pre-treating fabrics as that's the topic I had in mind for today too! If you want to know the proper way to treat your fabrics then please head over there for some really good advice. This post is about how I do it, and some of you may not like it.

First I'd like to share a little story about why you must pretreat fabric:

Once upon a time an indie chick in her early 20's went to the Big Day Out. She needed a new dress to wear so she popped on down to her local Spotlight and bought some crinkle 'polyester' to make a quick little shift dress. The festival was the next day so she didn't wash the fabric first and, since it was polyester she figured everything would be fine...

The Big Day dawned, a very very hot day indeed and everyone at the festival was running around spraying each other with water guns and hanging out in the misting tents. She was having so much fun! Then she realised her skirt didn't finish where it used to anymore, it was a good couple of inches shorter. It kept getting shorter, and shorter until she had to spend the last two hours of the festival with her jacket tied around her waist!

Guess the fabric must have been rayon, not polyester! Needless to say that indie chick has never skipped pretreating since.

So, how do I pretreat?

First of all, start with the end in mind. How are you going to wash the finished garment? I have no room in my life for hand washing. Everything goes in the washing machine - silk, hand knits no exceptions. Well everything except winter coats, which I do have dry cleaned once or twice a year. If I'm ever lucky enough to get married I probably won't put my wedding dress in the machine either, but don't hold me to that!

So with that in mind I pretreat everything in the washing machine (except fabrics for winter coats obvs.). See, I told you you might not like it! I have never had a disaster in more than 25 years of pretreating fabrics - ever, and if I did I would rather it was at this stage than down the track when I have invested my time on top of my money. If I am being good I'll overlock the cut ends first so they don't fray and tangle up but if I'm being impatient I don't even bother with that.

Sure there is risk involved and, yes, this means I also have to pre-iron everything. Washing silk does change its finish a little, dulls it a little, but personally I don't mind that.

As this project involves dyeing it was extra important for me to pretreat the fabric, particularly because I'll be cutting some pieces before the dyeing process. I want to be very very sure there won't be any further shrinkage.

So here is where I'm at. From the left: yellow habutae for lining, silk organza for underlining and silk dupion for the shell.

Lazy? Absolutely. Brave? Maybe. Successful? Generally. Quick? Hell yeah!

Stay tuned for the dyeing process, very exciting/scary!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Gossip Girl Dress - The Toille

I hope everyone is fully recovered from the festive season. At the risk of sounding like a grinch I am always glad to see the end of this part of the year. Don't get me wrong, I love catching up with friends and family to celebrate Christmas and the New Year but I find that small doses of social activity are best for me.

I generally end up feeling exhausted, anxious and completely frazzled by the time New Year's Day comes around and I just can't wait to retreat into a bit of quiet and solitude to recharge! Plus it has been diabolically hot the past few days and nights so I am tired and grumpy on top of everything else! I for one have thoroughly enjoyed looking at the 'snow' pictures on the blogs of my Northern Hemisphere counterparts!

But it's a new year now, and who knows what it has in store for us? For me, I am looking forward to finishing the renovation, maintaining a work-life balance, developing a healthier lifestyle, spending quality time with my fella and lots of lovely sewing challenges of course! Starting with the 'Gossip Girl' dress I introduced here.

Thanks for the feedback on my dyeing samples, the votes were 3 to 1 in favour of the green.

As luck would have it that is the decision I came to independently but it's nice to have the back-up. The Selfish Seamstress recently wrote about chic and unique vs crafty-crazy and I admit I sometimes worry about my choices. Being unrestrained by retail availability I am concerned about looking too 'different' for comfort (not being of the personality type that enjoys standing out - kudos to those who love it!).

I spent New Year's Eve at a concert that was completely not my scene - no criticism of hip hop and drum and bass, it's just not for me. On the upside they let off terrific fireworks at midnight (I always love a fireworks show) and I pretty much spent the rest of the night day-dreaming about the dress. Do you do this too? Before I start a major project I tend to work through it in my mind to figure out what sort of techniques I'll use, any construction issues that might crop up, whether or not the style will really suit me, what design changes I'll make and so on, I'm sure you know what I mean (it has got me through many a boring meeting/conference!). So I was able to spend a really enjoyable evening going through this process and I realised every time I pictured an aspect of the dress in my mind, it was green. Decision made!

As to the style, I chose McCalls 5804 (as I created this link I noticed it's on clearance for US$3.00!!!), it's not exactly like the inspiration but waistline gathers aren't going to do me any favours and I think this style gives the effect I'm after.

As usual when using expensive fabric or a new pattern I made a toille. Generally I would only toille the bodice to save time and fabric but this time I decided to do the whole thing for kicks. Looking at the pattern tissue I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of ease so I thought I might be able to get away with a straight size 12 - I was right. So be warned people, if you like a neat fit then choose your size from the finished measurements, not the body measurements! The only change to the pattern I made at this stage was to lengthen it by 15cm (yes, that's right 6 inches in the old language!!). This baby is SHORT.

So here is the front view.
Clearly an fba is not needed here. I wear a D-DD these days so I would normally need to add a bit of room in the front, if you are more petite in the bust then I would suggest taking out some of the fullness unless you want to look like you are dressing up in your mum's dress. The midriff is a touch snug, but since I would normally cut a 14 in the waist it's not surprising. I'll probably let out the side seams a smidge.

The length is fine. Actually this will be the finished length of the lining, which will have a band of the dress fabric around the bottom. The shell of the dress will be a bit shorter. If you look at the inspiration picture there seems to be a double layer thing going on which I quite like.

Here it is from the side - I don't usually do profile shots for good reason but it illustrates why I do a couple of the alterations I always need. I believe this is known as 'military' or 'upright' posture, which shortens and narrows the back and lengthens and broadens the front.I am leaning my head forward here, which isn't my normal posture but you can clearly see the issues I have with the back of my clothes. Even though my shoulders go a bit forward, my shoulder blades actually sit quite far back and into the middle of my back which is why I need to do a narrow back alteration, here I have pinched out 3cm either side of the zip. I usually take this right off of the centre back line, but if your neck is average sized whilst your shoulder length is shorter you'd want to do this differently.

You can also see that my upper back is not straight above my waist, but curves backwards like a closing parenthesis ). This has the effect of shortening the centre back line so I normally take out an inch just above the waist, tapering to nothing at the side seam - here I've pinned it out above the midriff band.

Here is a back close up so you can see the alterations. I have pinned them myself (luckily I am flexible!) so they are a bit wonky. It doesn't matter, I know my body so well these days I only need a rough guide for this sort of alteration. You may have noticed a different backdrop for these photos. We took the pictures in the front of the house instead of the back for a change. We've done a bit of work out the front over the break, now we just have to keep everything alive in our harsh, dry conditions. My fella insisted on getting 'owlie' in the shot, he loves that owl! I like my front patch a lot more than my back courtyard (which hasn't had any work done), but I'm not sure I'll be doing photos out there regularly since I live in a complex and my neighbours might start looking at me funny!

I'll rush out after work tomorrow to buy the fabric and notions. I'll pre-wash the fabrics and I hope I can get the dyeing done over the weekend. I am still tossing up whether or not to underline the whole thing in silk organza. I know it will give a lovely finish but I am concerned it will make the dress a bit hot to wear.