Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

A Silk Blouse for Barbados: Post-COVID (!) travel wardrobe planning

I don’t know about you, but when my husband and I retired from our real-life jobs a few years ago, one of our plans was to pursue one of the loves of our life―seeing even more of the world. That started auspiciously!

Three days after my husband retired―and while I was on a university sabbatical―I whisked him away for a trip that I’d been dreaming about since I was in fourth grade: a week in Tahiti followed by a cruise through the South Pacific islands. It was heaven!

Then there were lots of other trips―Rome and the Med, Venice, Istanbul (what a mesmerizing city), transiting the Panama Canal on a ship, Peru (and the forbidding Atacama desert), Chile (and the magnificent Andes), Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Japan! They were all beautiful experiences that we‘ll take to our graves

And, of course, the occasional revisit to favourite Caribbean islands, which is when I did a little capsule cruise collection I designed and created a couple of years ago.

Of course, two years ago, just the week we returned from a driving trip in Florida, all hell broke loose, and we haven’t dusted off our passports since. Well…that’s all about to change. We think.

Next week, the gods of COVID and Air Canada willing, we’ll be landing in Barbados to begin a bit of island hopping (no, we’re not getting on a cruise ship amid this COVID chaos). Naturally, one begins to think carefully about what to wear, doesn’t’ one?

My plan is to pack lightly. Although we’re planning to be gone for three-and-a-half weeks, I plan to take about a week’s worth of clothes and make good use of hotel laundry services. There are a few pieces from my original “cruise collection” that I’ll probably take, but one does need some new things, n’est-ce pas?

To that end, I whipped out that piece of divine silk I bought last fall in Montreal and dug out a pattern I’d been waiting to use―Butterick 6765 (which they brought out in 2020).

I loved the drape over the front, and I especially loved the cut of the short sleeves. However, I paid a lot of money for this fabric, so I didn’t want to cut into it without knowing how it would work and fit. Que the left-over rayon I used for another blouse I took on that last vacation before COVID.

One of the things I know for sure about making muslins or test garments is that it’s important to use fabric that has a similar hand and drape to the one intended for the final garment. I learned this the hard way! This rayon drapes a bit like the silk, so I figured it would give me a good idea of fit and style.

So, I cut out View C with the short sleeves and the front drape that dipped below the waist.

Here are some of my observations about this pattern:

  • The overlay is too much (large, bulky, long)―blah, blah…there’s just too much of it.
  • The back opening is unnecessary. The thing fits over my head without taking the trouble of doing this opening.
  • The neckline finish suggested in the pattern is inappropriate for the kinds of fabric you would likely use for this style (bias binding with the back opening just turned in *rolls eyes*). On this same topic, they suggest using a bit of elastic to fasten the button. *rolls eyes again*
  • The style would be more flattering with a slightly wider neckline (for me, at least).
  • The cut needs more side shaping.

So, what did I do? First, I created a facing for the neckline, which encompasses the back opening.

Then I cut a self-loop and encased it in the facing. As you can see from the finished product, it’s a bit overpowering for me and a bit too generous.

When the test blouse was finished, I redrew the pattern to make it more shapely at the sides and give it a slightly wider neckline. I also removed the back seam since it was no longer necessary, making the silk hang better. Then I created mirror pieces to cut the whole thing in one layer, my preferred (and recommended) approach for cutting out silk.

Since I found the overlay too big, I used the View A overlay when I cut the final blouse. It was a much better choice for me―not so overpowering. I cut in one layer and used silk thread tailor’s tacks and my most delicate silk pins!

When I did the test pieces before I began sewing, I did them with all the recommended accoutrements for sewing silk: cotton thread (I didn’t have enough silk thread in a matching colour), the walking foot, 2 mm stitches. Well, none of this worked well. Yes, I know polyester thread sits on top of silk more than cotton or silk, but I could not work with the cotton thread and this delicate fabric. As for the walking foot (am I a sewing nerd for having a favourite sewing machine part? It’s mine), it didn’t work for this fabric. There were more waves with it than without it. A bit of gentle tension on both sides, and my regular foot worked wonderfully well. And those 2 mm stitches everyone recommends? Nope. The 2.5 looked better and worked better.

I did, however, do French seam finishes on all seamlines. Now, I know this isn’t a remarkable feat (although I was proud of myself!), I also did them on the armscye. Yes, you heard that right. It occurred to me that expensive silk garments have these finishes throughout them. Well, I guess you have to go higher than Judith and Charles (retail for $250-400 CDN―I buy mine on sale) and Vince (retail for $300-500 CDN―ditto, only buy them on sale) to get a French seam finish on an armscye. When I examined my two Judith and Charles and two Vince silk blouses, I discovered (the horror!) that the armhole finish is serged. Oh well…not on my Barbados blouse (I decided to name it Barbados in honour of our planned first destination this year).

I did find this excellent video tutorial on French seam finishing for armholes, but I didn’t watch it until I had already decided on my own approach. And I have to say that mine is a bit less like sewing inside a paper bag.

I decided that I would insert the sleeves not as I usually do with a traditional insertion, but more like putting them in as if I were making a men’s shirt―flat (but with that ease). I eased each one in flat, then I basted as I usually do, first wrong side to wrong side, trimmed, pressed, then right side to right side. It worked! Then I did the entire underarm and side seams from garment hem to sleeve hem as a single seam.

I am very pleased with the finished product and will share photos of it in action when (and if) I get to the Caribbean in ten or so days. Wish me luck with the pre-trip COVID test, the weather and the airplanes. Maybe I’ll post from the sunny south!

Posted in Fashion Design, Pattern-drafting, sewing, Style, Style Influencers

Cruise collection project: Designing my perfect “sunny day” dress

I’m not really a sundress kind of woman. I know this about myself. All those flowy, floaty, cottony printed dresses with strappy bodices are simply not my style. With that off my chest, I can concede, though, that there is nothing quite as cool and comfortable, not to mention pulled-together, than a well-fitting “sunny day” dress. That I could get into – as long as it fulfils a number of important GG criteria. But before I get to that, what about all those sundresses out there?

Let’s start with a definition (forgive me: I’m a former Professor and this is where we always begin).

Dictionary.com (what would we do without those online dictionaries? Open a book perhaps?) defines a sundress as follows…

noun

  1. a dress with a bodice styled to expose the arms, shoulders, and back, for wear during hot weather.[1]

Well, isn’t that interesting. Not a thing about flowy, floaty, cottony prints! Just a lot of exposure. Interesting. But then, there’s the Urbandictionary.com definition (Don’t blame me; I’m not endorsing anyone’s definition. I’m just sharing what they say for the sake of discussion…)

sundress

A one piece dress with a to-the-knee or lower hemline, usually worn by clingy, slutty, chunky-looking women during the summer, often accented by clogsflip-flops, and the absence of panties…[2]

Geesh! Duly noted…but I’m a bit old for the last element! Well, I guess everyone is an expert these days. And if you didn’t know there were other descriptions out there, maybe it’s a good thing to be educated! In any case, that’s not how I see them. In any event, this definition doesn’t seem to mention that flowy, floaty, cottony thing either. So, I’m on firmer ground than I thought by establishing my own criteria for the perfect sundress.

In general, I think we can all agree with that all-knowing authority we call Wikipedia, that it is a “dress intended to be worn in warm weather…”[3] This is a suitably vague definition that has endless design possibilities. I have seen references to American designer and socialite Lily Pulitzer as leader in making the sundress a must-have summer garment choice in North America in the twentieth century. Her tropical coloured prints, so reminiscent of Palm Beach where she lived, became my reference point for Florida- style hot-weather dressing, and it never did suit my aesthetic. But it was everywhere. So, you can see where I got my notion that sun dresses are printed!

https://www.lillypulitzer.com/dresses/

…Although I have to say that I would wear a few from the current collection that even has black *gasp* and other non-print colours.(These are dresses from the current collection…Lily herself died in 2013.)

The brand really took off in 1962 when Jackie O. (then Jackie Kennedy) was photographed with her husband and children wearing an LP dress. As you already know, Jackie O.’s Mediterranean style is one of my design muses for this little cruise-worthy collection.

jackie in LP
Jackie (Kennedy) in LP

So, then, what are the attributes that I look for in a cool summer dress that is at the centre of my cruise wear day-time wardrobe?

  • The dress should be in a natural fibre – or at least a natural blend.
  • The dress should be in a light colour. I do love a black dress (no kidding), but have you worn a black T-shirt or top out walking in the sun? Not good.
  • The dress should be a sheath. In other words, it should not, as the original definitions of the sundress suggest, be a bodice with an attached skirt. That’s not as cool as a well-fitting sheath in my view.
  • The dress should be sleeveless, exposing arms: it should not expose the back. Have you ever walked a distance in the Caribbean sun in a backless garment? Not good at all. I don’t want to be nursing a sunburn for three weeks.
  • The dress should have a tailored vibe. Yes, that’s right. T-a-i-l-o-r-e-d. That’s who I am.

So, when I put all of these together, it’s little wonder that I was inspired by an old sewing pattern image I stumbled upon when collecting ideas for this collection.

I did a few sketches and decided that this was the one I’d go with.

GG-CC019-03 alone

 

It’s really a shirt dress style, but I love the fact that the collar goes right to the edges of the cross-over at the front rather than to the centre front. If I were to actually close it over (which I nave no intention of ever doing) it would actually create a kind of stand-up collar, a look I might be inclined to use in a winter dress or top. I love the intentionality of the popped collar on this one.

I began with drafting a pattern from my sloper…

IMG_1758

…and sewed up a muslin…

After a few tweaks, I was ready to select a fabric from my cruise fabric selections. I chose the striped seersucker.

I did learn one new skill with this piece. Don’t laugh: I learned to use the machine button foot. Not the button-hole foot – I already use that – I mean the one that sews on buttons. I have to credit my husband for goading me into it. I always hand-sew buttons on a garment, but he, a master of gadgets, asked why I don’t use the machine foot designed for this purpose. I always thought it would be more trouble than it was worth. I was so wrong!

buttons

I have created a dress that will be an important part of day-time dressing on the cruise and during our pre-cruise week in Puerto Rico and post cruise couple of days in Fort Lauderdale. (Keep in mind that a Silversea ship isn’t exactly a sloppy T and cargo shorts kind of venue).

It may not be what you call a sundress, but it’s my “sunny day” dress! Photos of it in action will have to wait until the cruise!

IMG_0048

[1] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/sundress

[2] https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=sundress

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundress

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Dueling patterns: Commercial or my own design?

A couple of months ago I found myself with a free hour to wander by myself up and down the aisles of Mood Fabrics in Los Angeles. I perused all the aisles first, then zeroed in on the two or three that were home to the fabrics I was actually on the hunt for. I am not a fabric hoarder in any way. The mere thought of a so-called “stash” makes me gag. (As I’ve said before, that’s just me – no judgment – I know others feel differently, very differently!). This stems from my and my husband’s inclination for quality over quantity in as many aspects of our lives as we can manage. That means fewer clothes, a little less wine and even fewer pairs of shoes – but every one of better quality than we might otherwise accumulate. This philosophy even governs our travel: we travel less often than many of our friends, but always in style – no economy seats on long flights, that’s for sure! Well, this is how I shop for fabric.

Anyway, as excited as I was about the surfeit of wonderful fabrics – there were dozens of silks, linens and wool bouclés I adored – I stuck to my little pink book where I had specific patterns and their requisite yardages. I only buy when I know I have a project. One such project was a bit hazy, though.

theory blouse
The Theory blouse at Saks, summer 2016 collection that inspired me

I had a picture in my mind of a sleeveless Theory blouse that I had considered last summer at Saks. It was, however, a whopping $385.00 CDN which, even for someone obsessed with quality, is a bit steep for a blouse. So, I reluctantly put it back on the rack, concluding that given what it was and its potential price-per-wearing, it was past my point of diminishing returns. But I never forgot it.

 

With the concept of the blouse still in my head, I searched the shelves for white, textured shirting to see if anything caught my eye. It did. So, against my own rules, I bought it without an actual pattern in mind. When I got home, though, I found what I thought might be the perfect pattern.

McCall’s 7546 isn’t even sleeveless, but it has of-the-moment- bare shoulders at the top of its long sleeves. It does have that tie, even if it is a bit wide and long, sewn as it is into the back seam. So, I prepped the fabric by washing, drying and ironing, then began to think about tissue-fitting and cutting a muslin. But there was something nagging at the back of my mind.

I’m ready to design my own blouse, I was thinking. I had learned to draft a bodice for a blouse, how to draft necklines and collars, how to create button plackets, and I was certain that drafting a tie that was set into the side seams would be a piece of cake. I was ready. So I started sketching.

My own version of the sleeveless, tie-front blouse has that front placket, but it also has princess seams in the front and back and a mandarin collar. I just love a mandarin collar (and have a plan to draft myself a cheongsam someday). Anyway, I thought why not draft the pattern then cut and sew muslins for both of the patterns? Why not make it a bit of a competition (where I get to be the judge and decide which one will have the privilege of being cut from my Mood fabric)?

So, I started drafting a pattern then cut out both patterns in muslin. Then I started sewing.

Of course, with my own pattern, I knew I’d likely need at least two test garments to get it just right. I needed two. The second one fits perfectly, and although the muslin is stiffer than the fashion fabric, the tie isn’t bad. However, I actually think I like it better without the tie at all! I guess that’s part of the design process.

IMG_1061

So, here’s where I am in the duel of the commercial versus self-designed patterns: I have now completed a muslin for my own design and it’s ready to rip apart to make the final pattern. But before I do that, I’m working through the muslin for the McCall’s pattern. I want to see the two of them side-by-side. At this point, I do have a contender in mind for the prize fabric, but I’m not quite there yet.

Next week!