Posted in Style, Couture Sewing, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Project: Fitting the Muslin

I don’t know about you, but I just love making test garments. Whether you call it a muslin, a toile or a calico, it all means the same thing: a garment made for fitting and testing out sewing and tailoring techniques before cutting into your fashion fabric.

The idea of a wearable muslin is a bit of an oddity to me because if I can’t mark on the fabric, cut it apart to use as a precisely-fitted pattern, and make as many mistakes as needed to get it right, there’s not much point in it, si there? Anyway, I love making them and am often sad when it comes time to cut the ugly little thing apart. So, now it’s time to get on with the muslin for my tailored blazer.

Of course, there are times when I don’t make a muslin. That would be when I make a loosely-fitted T-shirt or something. But, if there is even the slightest possibility that it won’t fit almost out of the commercial package, I make a test garment. And, of course, whenever I draft the pattern myself, I create a muslin the first time around. It’s the only way to test the fit and the techniques.

In the past, I’ve even had to do a second muslin from time to time. The last time I used a Claire Schaeffer pattern was the last time I did this.

This pattern was the last Claire Schaeffer one I made. Quite a different technique from this tailored one.

But if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well – and precisely.

I always begin with a bit of tissue fitting. I think you can see a lot of issues with tissue-fitting, but in the end, it has serious limitations. No one is making a tailored jacket out of any kind of fabric that resembles pattern paper (at least not in my atelier!) so it’s very difficult to work out solutions for fit issues even after you see them. That’s why I begin by washing, drying, and ironing my muslin to make it drape a bit better, then I cut it out very carefully. Just because it’s plain, old cotton doesn’t mean that I can treat it with anything less than the highest respect. After all, it will tell me a lot about my pattern, the fit and my personal sewing skills for this project.

Before I cut out a muslin, however, I always decide how much of the inner construction I’m going to actually do. Will I put on facings? Will I use the welts? Will I install pockets? Most of these pieces are not necessary for s simple fit garment, but they are crucial if I am using the muslin to perfect techniques. In this case, I haven’t done a welt pocket in so many years, I feel I need a refresher, so I cut out the welts and flaps. If the first one is perfect (ha-ha!), I won’t need to do a second. I think I’ll plan to do two practice welt pockets. (As I mentioned in my last post, I will omit the breast flap pocket because I think it’s unflattering.)

As for the large front facing, this is a puzzle at first. Claire Schaeffer’s instructions suggest that she has provided a front facing “guide,” which looks to me like a front facing, and a very large rectangular piece to be cut of fabric to shape into a front facing. Well, perhaps I’ll do that when I get there, but for the purposes of the muslin, I will be cutting the “front facing guide” out and use it as my test facing. You might want to consider this, too, if you’re doing this pattern. I will also put together test lapels so I’ll be needing the undercollar and upper collar pieces.

After the pieces are cut out, I come to the part I really love the most about this process – the marking. Seriously! First, I get out my large pieces of waxed tracing paper I bought from Susan Khalje’s website a few years ago and use a tracing wheel to mark the underside of each piece first. Then I remove the pattern piece, turn the piece over and mark the second piece using the bottom marks as a guide.

Once these markings are complete, I do need to do some machine thread-tracing so that I have some marks on the outside of the muslin jacket as well. I’ll need the waistline, the centre front marking, the grain marking and the markings for button placement.

Thread markings I can see on both sides.

It’s finally time to sew it together. I usually use red thread for the first go at it. If I need to make changes, I’ll use blue thread. Some people suggest that you don’t iron darts, seams etc. as you go, but I feel that I can’t really see how it will look if I do it. It does, however, mean that if I have to alter anything, not only do I have to pull out the original stitches, but then I have to iron it again. But I don’t mind.

As you can see from the first fitting, I had some alterations to make.

The sleeves were too big (this was expected – these Vogue patterns seem to think everyone is built like a Sumo wrestler) and they were too long (we’re not all built like orangutans!). You can see that I cut the upper sleeve at the marking for shortening (which I had transferred onto the muslin itself) and sewed it again. I also shortened the placket slightly. The pattern suggests four buttons at the sleeve vent. I think four buttons is too much. I bought four for each sleeve, but I’ll use only three each.

I also have to shorten the shoulder length. So, I had to take the sleeve partially out and then replace it after measuring the pattern to be sure I wouldn’t have to take any ease out. I didn’t, which was a good thing because I didn’t have to re-draw the entire sleeve head pattern.

I also did both flap welt pockets for practice. I followed the instructions Claire Schaeffer created for the Vogue pattern for the first one, but then I found a few tricks Pam Howard provided in her Craftsy class that really helped me get the second one right. I think I’m going to have to be flexible about using only the pattern instructions. I’ll be referring to my tailoring book and to he video classes I own.

I’m now happy with the fit, so the next step is to cut apart the lovely little ugly jacket and transfer all the alterations to the pattern.  Then…cutting out the fabric, canvas interfacing, organza interfacing and silk lining!

FYI’s

[No endorsements or kick-backs, just information in case you’d like to learn more about the things I use in my atelier.]

I use Japanese cotton basting thread I bought from Susan Khalje’s shop: https://susankhalje.com/collections/store/products/japanese-cotton-basting-thread

And here’s where you can find that waxed tracing paper: https://susankhalje.com/collections/store/products/waxed-tracing-paper

I had no problems with having these delivered from her shop in the US to my home in Canada.

Posted in Style

“The Perfect Shirt Project”: My “frankenstyle” test shirt

It’s always wonderful to be able to take a break from winter! I’ve just spent a couple of fantastic weeks doing a “road trip” that my husband and I took starting in Key Largo, through the everglades of Florida to the west coast then up to the northeast coast ending in our favourite Florida city, Fort Lauderdale. A few of my GG Collection pieces made their way into my suitcase and served me well but now I’m back and ready to complete my perfect shirt project. But Florida will return to the discussion since I actually visited a fantastically quirky fabric store and found the perfect fabric for the perfect shirt. But more about that later.

Now…back to the frankenstyle test shirt!

My overall plan for creating this test garment that might be able to appear in public on my back was to purchase no new fabric. And since I am not a fabric hoarder (stasher if you prefer) I have only left-overs. However, I have to admit that I do tend to buy more fabric than is really required for any given project so that I can recut if necessary. Anyway, as I mentioned in the last post, I found a few pieces that I thought I could make work together.

I put a lot of thought into the placement of the fabric. This was good design practice for me and might make it wearable as I mentioned.

Layout was key to the design.

The purpose of a test garment (toile, muslin) for me is to work out fit issues in the main but I also sometimes use it to practice techniques. The fit was the most important aspect of this one.

Problem #1: the collar turned out to be two inches too large for the neckline! What the…? So I had to redraft the pattern pieces, then I recut the collar and the undercollar using a seam at the back. Remember, I have no extra fabric here so I have to use what I have. Anyway, it turned out quite well and it occurs to me that I might use this on the bias for undercollar of future designs. So I have a one-piece collar-band pattern and a two-piece collar-band pattern.

Other fitting concerns that I’ll change in the final pattern: I think that the cuffs could be a minimum of ½ inch smaller and I need to back off the bust darts a full inch for perfection.

As far as techniques are concerned, I decided to use Angela Kane’s approach to creating a sleeve placket.

The pattern looks a bit like this…

This was a new technique for me and it worked out beautifully.

She provides a terrific template on her web site and has a very useful two-part video tutorial.

Here’s part 1…

…and you’ll need part 2…

I finished off the front with a series of not-quite-matching buttons I ordered from China on eBay and in the end, I have a tailored-meets-funky kind of shirt that I actually might wear in public!

The fit in the next one should be better but I’m going to do another test in a finer fabric that could become the basis for a “blouse” because they’re not the same thing at all!

Posted in sewing, Style

Commercial or self-drafted pattern duel: We have a winner!

I can’t remember exactly when it was I decided that I wanted – no, needed – to learn to draft my own patterns. In my past sewing experiences, I confined my own designing to making changes in commercial patterns. You know: you change a sleeve, or tweak a collar, you make creative fabric selection, or ditch a zipper. In the end you believe it is truly yours. Well, that’s okay, but it does limit creative expression, and when I found myself continually having to tweak commercial patterns for fit, that’s when I realized I really needed to create my own patterns. So I started the courses to learn.

After a year of following several courses, creating a personal bodice sloper from a personal moulage, then learned a thing or two about operations necessary for creating patterns from that sloper, I finally created my first pattern. By the end of my last post I had completed the final muslin for my first totally self-designed pattern, and was ready to embark on creating a muslin for the commercial pattern that was also in contention for a particularly nice piece of shirting fabric. Here’s how that process went.

When I first clapped eyes on McCall’s 7546 earlier this spring, it was the sash that drew me to it. I like the idea of tailored shirts with body-conscious shaping. My own design this spring incorporates that idea, but does it differently.

First, my own design has princess seams.

first pattern

Although 7546 looks as if it has princess seams, it really has slashed darts from the armholes that end some distance above the hem in both front and back.

line art

The sashes are also different. The one I designed is sewn into the side seams leaving the back unencumbered. The McCall’s pattern has a wider sash that originates in the back seam resulting in a bit of a bulge – at least it was in unbleached cotton. I could only hope that it would be smoother in a smooth shirting fabric.

The necklines are also quite different as you can see. My own design has a mandarin collar – a design I love. The commercial pattern has an open collar with a collar stand. And of course, the sleeves in the dueling designs are so very different: my own is sleeveless, while the McCall’s has full-length sleeves with a cuff – one version with a so-called cold shoulder, the other without.

chicos cold shoulder
My ready-to-wear cold-shoulder…

It was not in any way the cold-shoulder sleeves that attracted me to this pattern. This design feature is certainly ubiquitous in spring/summer 2017 ready-to-wear, and I have to say its popularity puzzles me a bit. Maybe it’s the Toronto weather: too cold in winter for cold-shoulders, too hot in summer for any sleeves at all. Anyway, I did buy one this year, but I’m not really sure where I’ll wear it other than on a cruise through the Panama Canal this fall. I never wear prints, and on pain of death avoid the “boho” look. Wonder what got into me? Anyway, I decided that I’d make up one of those sleeves when I created the muslin. Hmm. That was interesting.

 

So many sleeves, so little fabric! I decided that in the interests of making a decision, and the fact that I was unconvinced about the cold-shoulder, I should cut and sew two different sleeves for this test garment.

I first cut and sewed the cold-shoulder with the cuff, then drafted up a three-quarter length sleeve using the armscye of the pattern and my own sleeve sloper – since the sleeve from the pattern seemed a tad wide for my arms in any case. So here’s what I got on the first try.

The cold-shoulder sleeve was hideously large, gaping even more than the photos show. My own ¾ sleeve, on the other hand, wasn’t so bad. But it didn’t seem quite finished. So I unpicked them both and cut the commercial sleeve without the cold shoulder. I also re-drafted my own slightly shorter and a tad wider to accommodate an external facing. Here’s what these two looked like.

 

So here I am, having to make a decision before cutting into the Mood fabric. I really loved my own design – the look and the fit. But I realized that the fabric might not be the best for it. So the winner is: the commercial pattern. But I’m making it with my second three-quarter length sleeve. So, I guess it’s my own design? Not so much.

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I have cut it out and begun to sew, but I’m off to the Toronto garment district this week to find the perfect fabric for my own design!

Posted in sewing, Style

My commercial sewing pattern nightmare: The continuing search for the elusive perfect fit

I love to create clothing pieces that fit my lifestyle at this point in time. Really what I mean is that I love to create clothing pieces that fit. Period. I know I continue to beat this drum – and will continue to do it until everything I make (or buy off the rack for that matter) fits me like a glove, which brings me to the subject of this week’s rant. Let me take a step back for a moment.

I’m fascinated by the extraordinary cottage industry (and in some cases far beyond the cottage stage) that has sprung up for indie pattern designers/producers.

It boggles the mind of a sewer who had, for many years, slavishly followed the instructions on the patterns from the big commercial manufacturers, which these days seems to consist of the McCall’s company (one that seems to own Vogue and Butterick and be the distributors for a few other line such as Marfy – one of my sewing goals for 2017) and Simplicity. I’ve turned with delight toward many of these independent pattern designers only find fit issues there as well. There are so many swingy, baggy tops and dresses.

bolero-pattern-indie
This indie pattern may be the exception to the fit problem rule. It has funnel-neck darts, proper set-in sleeves, back shaping. I got it free as a PDF and plan to make it. Hope I can get it to fit! It will be my first experience with a PDF pattern.

 

I understand this interest in comfortable, easy-wearing, easy-sewing clothing, and I like a loose-fitting top as much as the next woman (as you’ll see below) but it just isn’t always for me, and truthfully, I think that clothing with more ease has to fit, too. My own pattern-making education is taking me ever closer to being able to design this kind of pattern for myself without the help of anyone else. But what I also perceive is that designing these kind of patterns is a lot easier than designing patterns for garments that are fitted or even semi-fitted.

Excluding pants patterns (one of which I have and will try in a few months to see about fit), so much out there seems to be tent-like, flowing and generally loose-fitting, and if it’s not, it’s not as tailored a style as I like. So where does that leave me while I learn to do it myself? Back to McCall’s patterns and the like.

img_0969I recently decided to complete what I thought would be a sort-of-at-least-partly-fitted tunic that otherwise flows. I chose McCall’s 7247 because I had it in my pattern file and I liked the cross-over front.

Right out of the envelope it is already clear to me that I will need to do some alterations to the pattern. That accomplished, I cut and sew and fit the bodice before moving on to the neck band and sleeves. A perfect fit! I am in heaven. So, I adhere strictly to the pattern and its instructions for the insertion of the neckband. When in, it looks great. I’m happy. Then the sleeves (I set in a mean sleeve, so the finished product looks pretty darn professional). It’s now almost finished; I just have to find the perfect length for the sleeves – so try it on me (Gloria junior doesn’t’ have arms) –which is when the problem becomes apparent.

The pattern instructions clearly state that you need to stretch the neckband while sewing it in. I dutifully stretch as I go although I do think that it is requiring more than the usual amount of neckline stretching even for a knit fabric. Well, I was right. Now that the neckband is in, finished and edge-stitched into place (permanently affixed as it were), all that requisite stretching was too much. Now it pulls from the shoulders and isn’t perfect across the upper chest any longer.

Damn! See those little wrinkles under the neck band? They weren’t there when I did the pre-neckband fitting. Oh, I’ll probably wear it but it will never feel as perfect as it did when fitting it before the neck band went in. My lesson here: if something seems wrong, it probably is. So on to the next commercial pattern.

Enter Vogue pattern 8886 – a “very easy Vogue.”

vogue-8886-sleeve-variations

I love it because it has a slightly funnel-shaped, collared neckline and well-fitted princess lines. If I can get this one to fit, I’ll be laughing. But this time, I’ll do a muslin.

So, first is sort-of tissue fit and based on this and my sloper, I make a few tweaks. Then I decide to cut the D-cup pattern because this is a “perfect fit” pattern and I wear a D-cup bra. However, I wear a 32-D and when I have done the princess seams in the front of the muslin, it’s so big for me that it’s laughable. I guess they meant 38-D or bigger! I should have cut a smaller cup size, but how was I to know?

Oh. My. God. Just look at it.

Well, the good news is that now I have all this extra fabric on the seams to get it just right. I think I’ll sew it with a machine-basting stitch in case I have to make any more adjustments after the sleeves are in. So another “very easy” pattern that isn’t! But that’s just me!

Posted in Couture Sewing, sewing, Style

How to Turn a Fast & Easy Sewing Pattern into a Challenging & Time-Consuming Project!

vogue V9184
As soon as I saw this Vogue pattern #V9184 I knew I had to have this dress. High collar, cut-in armholes, fitted silhouette and side slits. what’s not to like?

I think it takes a certain kind of perverse talent to be able to take a project that is designed to be easy and make it difficult. Or maybe I’m just missing the endless fiddly hand work that my “Little French Jacket” required. Nevertheless, I decided that I needed a linen dress for the summer, so being unable to find anything I like on the ready-to-wear racks, I take a trip to the fashion design district on Queen Street West here in Toronto, visit my favourite fabric purveyor (Affordable Textiles) and come home with all the material and notions I need to whip up a pattern I fell in love with.

 

Early in the season I was browsing through the Vogue Patterns magazine and fell in love with a new pattern – Very Easy Vogue V9184 – which they described as “a shapely sheath with cut-in armholes and raised collar band” that is, according to them, “stunning in stripes.” I was in.

As soon as the pattern came on sale at Vogue patterns online for $5.99, I had jumped on it (regular price in Canada is $33.00…in the USA $22.50 yikes!), so when I finished my bouclé jacket I was ready for a new project while I search for the perfect bouclé for a second LBJ.

I really love the shape of the dress, and I’ve observed that women of “a certain age” who have managed to stave off much mid-life weight gain – and yet have noticed that it ‘stuff’ has rearranged itself – still have lovely shoulders. This kind of cut-in armhole is very flattering. So is the fitted shape. For me, a casual summer dress that isn’t a tent yet isn’t skin-tight is worth considering.V9184 pattern package

I decide to make it in a linen-cotton blend. So I begin the process.

Well, my foray into couture sewing indicates to me that in spite of it being a “fast and easy” pattern, I will have to take the time to make a muslin. So I first fit the pattern to me (and Gloria junior) and mark the changes. I will have to move the under-arm dart and lengthen the bodice slightly. That means I will have to move the waist dart, too. So it begins.

I do the pattern changes, cut the toile and sew it together. Geesh. All those darts look – well, they look a bit old-fashioned. I’m going to have to alter the darts to make a more flattering, contemporary princess seam. I’ve never done this before, but it occurs to me that if I can get it to fit well, I may just have myself a pattern that I might use again and again. So I search online for instructions.

V9184 pattern package modifications
This is the view I’m doing, and those darts really do look quite prominent, no?

Every time I have to find a sewing or fitting answer I am so grateful for the web and everyone who has posted before me. I find a plethora of sites with information, but one is better than all the others. I find that the blog post on the Craftsy web site is terrific (see below in the resources). I want the princess seams to come from the armhole rather than the shoulder, so I get to work.

So, I redraft the pattern and cut a SECOND muslin. Fast and easy? Not so much. The second toile is a much better fit. So I cut apart the second toile and cut yet another pattern. I think this is the third and this is a simple summer dress.

I finally prepare my fabric and lay it out to cut. Maybe next week I’ll have a new dress! Or maybe not. The challenges of the “very easy Vogue” aren’t over yet, I’m afraid!

Am I the only one who can make such an easy project so challenging?

 

 

 

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Resources (these are the online sites I referred to):

Tutorial: Lowering (or raising) a bust dart http://curvysewingcollective.com/

Fashion Design 101: How to Manipulate Darts on a Bodice for Princess Seams http://www.craftsy.com/blog/2014/09/how-to-manipulate-darts-on-a-bodice/

How to Create a Princess Seam for Flattering Fit [these are from the shoulder] http://www.clothingpatterns101.com/princess-seam.html

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

LBJ*: Learning to Make the Toile (Muslin)

[*Little Black Jacket sometimes referred to as the LFJ or Little French Jacket]

 

So I’ve done my research [Researching the Real Deal] and found my mentors who will guide me as I proceed to produce my own version of a Chanel-inspired little black (French) jacket. I can hardly wait to move forward.

I don’t know about you, but I learned to sew in home economics classes in junior high school. Yes, I’m that old – I don’t think the term home economics exists any more, but I have to say that the skills I learned have stood me in good stead for decades. It was those classes that hooked me on sewing and as a teenager and young adult with a love for fashion and style that was not matched by my bank account, I quickly became adept at producing the clothes I wanted, and occasionally ones that my two sisters wanted.

I made dresses, pants, tops, prom gowns, wedding gowns, bridesmaid’s gowns, tailored jackets and skirts, costumes for period plays and the list goes on. In all of this mad sewing I was always in a hurry to finish – always chasing a deadline like a wedding, prom, interview etc. Things are going to be different this time. The process is so important to me this time that I plan to take my time to enjoy it, take my time and get it right. In order to do that, my first step is to do something that I never learned to do and never even considered doing throughout my sewing career: I have to create a muslin or toile.

A toile – also known as a muslin – is a kind of test garment that I wish I had learned to do in the past. As far as I’m concerned the two most important characteristics of home-sewn clothes that don’t look homemade are that they have been well-pressed throughout the construction process and that they fit. It is this last issue that often causes my headaches with the continual fitting especially when I’m trying to fit myself. It almost takes a contortionist! I need to produce a test jacket in an inexpensive cotton fabric so that I can get it to fit me, then take it apart and make a new pattern just for me. Oh yes, there is a lot to do before I even get to the actual fabric and lining I’ll use!

IMG_0941First I decide on a pattern. My research has told me that there are several patterns from which I can re-produce a Chanel-style jacket, but the one I’m using is Vogue pattern 7975. The reason for this choice is that it is the pattern that the instructor Lorna Knight who facilitates the Craftsy course I’m following recommends and uses in the series of videos. [See Finding my Mentors]. I’ll make the open front jacket with the bracelet-length sleeves and I’ll use real pockets since Chanel never used false plackets. She also used princess seaming for fit and two or three section sleeves. This pattern has two- section sleeves (although from what I’ve learned, her jackets mostly have three-piece sleeves).vogue chanel pattern

First I purchase some light-weight cotton in white so that I’ll be able to sew it easily and write on it. I prepare the tissue-paper pattern by trimming the pieces I’ll use. Then I cut it out using the size closest to my own measurements. For anyone who doesn’t sew regularly, it must come as quite a shock to find that you will wear a size that is at least three sizes larger than what fits you in ready-to-wear! I have to remember that it’s just a number! I have to check the back length before I start so that I can be sure that the back waist length accurately reflects my back waist length or I’ll have to alter it on the pattern before I start. It turns out to be right so I’m ready to move forward.

Cutting out cotton is easy – I think that the boucle I’ll eventually be using will be more challenging. Once I have them all cut out, I carefully mark them as I’ve been taught on my video course.

I use tracing paper and a tracing wheel to mark the straight grain of the fabric and the waistline. Since the waistline isn’t marked on each pattern piece, I have to measure it down from the fold line on each piece so that I will have it marked all around. Then I use a pen to mark ease points on the sleeve heads and elbows and other assorted dots that will be useful for putting the pieces together. I’m putting all of these marks on what will be the outside of the jacket so that I’ll be able to see them when I’m fitting it later.

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At long last I’m ready to get out the sewing machine! Using a 3.0 mm stitch (a bit longer than normal stitches) I sew the pieces together with bright blue thread. It’s going to be very important to be able to see this stitching line later when I have to cut the pieces apart to make a personalized pattern.

FullSizeRender
I use bright blue thread to sew the toile (muslin) together. Later when I begin to take the toile apart, I’ll be able to clearly see where to cut.

 

I press all the seam allowances open as I go but don’t trim any of them in case I need to let something out. I clip and press in the 5/8” seam allowance at the neckline, and press in the 5/8” seam allowance down the front. I press up the 1 ½” hem around both the bottom of the jacket and the sleeves – I opt not to cut these off so that I can use them if I need to lengthen anything.

The sewing is finished and I have what resembles a very ugly white jacket! I’ve managed to acquire “Gloria Junior” as I call my new fitting mannequin and it looks quite professional on her. Next up, I’m going to have to pop it on myself and figure out how to make it fit perfectly.

IMG_0955
“Gloria Junior” is wearing the finished toile. Now I need to fit it to me!