Thursday, January 29, 2015

Layers in Ink

I am slowly working through the pile of fabric I bought in my mad I Must Sew New Clothes fit late last fall. That was when SR Harris opened its new branch close to home, and I was ecstatic because I could finally buy nice apparel fabric that wasn't kid knits. I always feel much more motivated to sew cool-weather clothes than warm-weather ones; I think it has to do with the richness of fall and winter fabrics - all the wool and other heavyweights are richer and drape so much better than the insubstantial cottons and voiles of summer and spring. 

So I bought fabric. And, as is the fate of all fabric that enters my home, it sat for long time on my sewing chair while I stared at it and willed it to magically become garments on its own.

If only.

Eventually, I finished the five skirts
And started on the two sweater dresses, one of which is finished. Hurrah.

This is Sweater Dress #2: ink.
I love the fabric. It's shawl-lacy and gorgeous.

And completely see-through.

Initially, I thought I'd just line the thing, but that would waste all the pretty detail of the weave. So I redrafted a separate slip instead. The armhole is wonky because I didn't think I needed an armhole dart with this knit and didn't draft it in. And then of course I was wrong and had to add the dart, which of course distorted the armhole. Were this an actual outer dress, this would be a faux pas of epic proportions, but fortunately it's just an underlayer. 

Here's a fuller-body shot, but the color is a bit off.

Here's the actual color of the fabric - slightly grey, slightly blue, just like ink. 

Photos when it's finished! 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sweater Dress in Flax

I thought "flax" was a bit politer than vomit yellow, which even my children agreed was an accurate description. Not that the actual color changed along with the name. 

I don't actually hate this dress, by the way. I think it has some merits. For instance, it has no zipper. And I lined it. And it's warm. 

But here's the thing - this is a sort of a clingy knit. I knew this when I bought the fabric. I also knew that vomit yellow flax wasn't really a fabulous color to wear during the winter when everything is so washed out already. But it was all the fabric store had, so I decided I'd make it work. 

Sweater dresses, really, should be knitted, not sewn. But I don't knit, so I sewed it. I've been wanting a sweater dress for a while now, because they're so casual and comfortable and you can run after children in them. The challenge for me and sweater dresses is they're really designed for tall thin people; sure, short people like me can wear them, but the knit fabric is chunky to begin with, and thus weighs down unskinny people and shortens untall people. And, if you also happen to not be uncurvy, there is the very real danger of being er... misrepresented. I'm not talking about wanting to look pounds lighter - I'm talking about simply wanting not to look pregnant when one is not actually pregnant.

Anyway, let's talk a bit about this sweater dress and then I'm heading out the door on errands. You might notice that I'll use the word "short" a lot, because I'm 5'3" and that, at least in dressmaking, counts as "short". Go ahead and say "petite" if you prefer, or "vertically challenged"; this is not about body image and social ideals, so don't take it so seriously - it's simply about mathematics and proportion and drafting.

First, it has raglan sleeves. 
I always like raglan sleeves in my knit garments. They sit nicely. No other reason. Also, the sleeves are three-quarter length, because
(a) that's always flattering
(b) especially on Short People.

Second, it is short. People who shop in the petite section of clothing stores cannot have chunky dresses whose hems hit the knee or, worse, mid-calf. That's just depressing to look at. They can have maxi skirts in gauze and chiffon and so on, but they will look like barrels in anything in-between. Tall People do not have this issue; they have other issues like exposed ankles and long torsos and stuff like that, but they will very rarely have to worry about being mistaken for a keg. Even a large keg.

Third, while it is dartless (and this is why we love sewing with knits), it has darting in the underbust region. There are three pintucks on each side to shape the underbust area. 

Fellow Short People, take note: you can wear anything that Tall People wear, but you must pay more attention to shaping because it is easier for you to look 
(a) unintentionally gestational
(b) even shorter
(c) chunkier in places you don't want 
(d) like your outfit was sewn badly when it wasn't

than Tall People.

When I was younger (and just as short), I used to think that Short People couldn't pull off the empire line because it was an automatic maternity look. I was wrong. In my defence, my flawed reasoning was the result of wearing store-bought empire line blouses that were made for Tall People who were also Thin People - you know, the aerated cotton kind with hundreds of gathers under the bust that look like you hitched a flouncy summer skirt up high and forgot to stop before it reached your armpits? Since then, I have learnt that a better Short Person's empire line is a fitted Aline beginning under the bust or a shallow pleat under the bustline. Or tiny gathers in light, thin fabric that does not manifest bulk.

In other words, Short People need very clean lines in their garments, where possible, 

especially if those Short People are also Not Skinny People. By clean lines, I mean good shaping and good darting. 

Hence these underbust pintucks - just enough to shape the underbust area and define it as separate from the general chunkiness of the waist and the roomy ease of everywhere else. Thought I'd include that discussion here since we'd just recently introduced the idea of pintucks as a darting alternative to shaping.

I prewashed this fabric but I know that it's going to stretch again as I wear it. So I might take this dress in a little more at the sides if I decide it's starting to balloon out of shape. Maybe. Currently, it feels like a fitted sack and I must say I like that feel. 

Incidentally, I don't mean to tell you how to dress, friends. I mean, for instance, if you make a sweater dress yourself and want to wear your belt right at your waistline, go right ahead. I wear mine, as many Short People With Short Torsos do, on my hip so I can pretend my legs don't begin just under my bust.

And in case you like my hat as much as I do, I didn't make it (knitting/crochet ignoramus, remember?)- it's a $12 Banana Republic thing I picked up while shopping. Short People, I am happy to say, have same size heads as Tall People and can wear anything on them that they want. Hurrah.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Weekend update

Weekend sewing to-do list:

1  Wallet(s) (done). More photos later.

2  Laptop case for husband (done).

3  Sweater dress in vomit-yellow oatmeal (in progress).

4  Gunmetal faux leather jacket (in head).

5  Various alterations for entire family (in Permanent Procrastination Pile and daily added to their number).


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bag in Grey Vinyl

Occasionally, I will make myself a bag.

I'm kinda picky about bags I use, see. So picky that I often don't think homemade will do. Especially fabric homemade. I like my bags to be leather (if I'm feeling rich). Or vinyl (if I'm feeling middle-class). Or nylon (if I suspect I might be running through dirt and mud and snow). So I buy my bags instead, because commercially-made bags are often in those materials.


There's nothing original about this bag, incidentally. It's a complete knock-off of an Old Navy piece I saw earlier in the summer, except that the O.N. version was solid-color vinyl. And much as I like solid anything, I wanted something a little edgier, preferably in a very neutral color (but not black) that would go with all my clothes because I am too lazy to swop out my purses and handbags as I slide along the fashion color spectrum from day to day. And also preferably with custom pockets for idiotic things that only I put in my bags, like my entire cosmetic collection, 6 different pens, CDs and my travel mug of tea du jour.

So, grey.

In a combination of homedec fabric, stabilized with canvas, and upholstery vinyl.

Quick tour: 
Here's the bag opened up - piping around the base and vinyl strips along the sides, 

that terminate in buckles,

into which the shoulder strap fits, 

adjustable from short so the bag can be carried on one shoulder,

to long so it can be worn cross-body. I've learned that until my kids go to college and I no longer have to subconsciously leave at least one hand free for emergency herding and pointing, cross-body bags are my best friends.

The opening of the bag is drawcord through grommets,

fastened with a cordstop

and ending in tassels.

Here is the inside:

Quilting cotton, backed with sew-in interfacing, and with pockets,

not that you can see them,

so I'll flip the bag inside out.

Here's pocket #1 - a zippered welt.

On the other side are Pockets #2 and #3:

for sunglasses, cellphone and general flotsam and jetsam.

And here's a key strap, so I won't lose my keys in one of those pockets.

I am sorta tempted to sometimes use this bag inside out, because the aqua is so pretty with the vinyl. But one of those 6 pens is going to trash up that lining before long, so I'll just stick to grey-side-out.

Because I know you're going to ask, let me just say No, I'm not going to do a tutorial or pattern for this bag, okay? Like I said, it's not even original. You can go to Old Navy to see one like it in person and make your own facsimile thereof. And if you do make your own vinyl bag, consider a leather needle. It is the wonderfullest thing next to an industrial sewing machine, and infinitely cheaper. 

Now I must finish my wallets. I procrastinated and made an entire bag to justify it, but, still. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Kate Sewing

Today's post is at the request of Kate, our little six-year-old. Upon discovering that Emily has been enjoying airtime on the blog, sharing her Christmas sewing, Kate asked if she could "have a blog all to myself, too."

And proceeded to list all her recent sewing projects as supporting evidence that she was a worthy guest-poster, before I could even answer "yes".

So, today, you guys get to see three sewing projects made by the feistiest first grader that ever lived.

That first photo is Kate's Rainbow, which she designed one day when she was desperate to make something colorful. Without any particular object in mind, she was given full access to my big tub of fleece and, overwhelmed by all the colors, was motivated to use as many as possible, including pink. I helped her cut the shapes out and she glued them on in layers before handstitching all around the edge.

This next one is one of her earliest sewing projects. Her excellent whipstitching was aided only by ink dots on the backside of the bunny head, to remind her to only poke the needle in one direction.

This was Kate's most recent machine-stitched work: a bear head for Jenna for Christmas.

She has since made her own to-do list, and commandeered the white board in my sewing room to announce her 2015 sewing goals for garments for her best friend.
Make pants
Make gloves
Make hat
Make shoes

In the spirit of comprehensive learning, I'm going to also teach her to procrastinate, because it's a very important skill that all good seamstresses should have. I figured that I wouldn't be a good mother if I didn't.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Subtleties of Drafting: Darts Part IV - A Dart by Any Other Name


So let's skip the preamble and plunge right in, shall we?

Okay, this last post addresses this question:

What if we don't want to use darts but we still want shaping in our garments?

Sometimes, a designer will want to shape a garment but will deliberately avoid using darts. There are many reasons: the fabric print looks hideous interrupted by a dart, the fabric is too thick for darts, the presence of darts ruins the lines of the garment or interferes with the seam structure, and so on. In such cases, there are other garment features that perform the equivalent function of darts.

Darts serve their function of shaping fabric by taking in ease non-uniformly along their length. This allows them to, in a single "pinch" of the fabric, take in a lot of ease where the body is hollower, and less ease where the body is fuller, thus giving "shape". See diagram below of single-point dart (left) and double-point dart (right):

When other garment elements are substituted, they have to mimic this non-uniform-ease-reducing magic of darts i.e. they must somehow take in more ease in some areas and less in others.

Here follow some common design features that can be used in place of darts.


Seams are the joining edges of pieces of fabrics. They can easily be made to shape a body unhomogenously by simply cutting these fabric edges in non-straight lines, flaring for more fullness, and narrowing for less. 

Some seams are part of the natural process of assembling a garment e.g. side seams and center back seams that incorporate a zipper. We've discussed how these seams shape fullness in this earlier post

Sometimes, additional seams are specially drafted into a garment to shape particular areas that are not natural edges in the assembly process. Some very common examples off the top of my head:

(i) Panel seams in skirts

Incidentally, the converse is also true: it is possible to shape a garment entirely with darts and no seams. An example is a wrap skirt made from a single rectangle of fabric  

with (in this case) eight darts to shape the waist and hip area.

(ii) Princess Seams / Princess Lines
You've probably read about princess seams here on ikatbag about a million times because I can't say enough about them. You can get familiar with them yourself here and here.

The important concept to take away is this: a princess seam is a shaping seamline that combines the effect of a bust dart and a waist dart. 

The simpler - and more commonly-occurring- princess seam fully merges a bust dart and waist dart 

into a single seamline. 

Below are some sketches I've adapted from Dorothy Moore's book, Pattern Drafting and Dressmaking (pg. 108). These are some lesser-seen examples of princess seams. In each case, I've color-split the princess seams into their bust dart components (orange) and waist dart components (blue)

Sometimes, a princess seam can be used in combination with additional dartage. This could be for alternative shaping purposes, interesting design effects, or both.

Here are two examples - both starting with an underarm bust dart and the usual waist dart.

In Example 1, the princess seam originates from the armhole (where it could also incorporate an armhole dart if need be)  and passes over the bust apex, leaving the bust dart as is.

The pattern pieces are separated around the waist dart. In fabric, the bust dart is sewn closed, and the princess seam is completed. The resulting garment has a princess seams plus an underarm dart. 

Example 2 is a variation of Example 1. The same princess seam originates from the armhole but passes partway through the underarm bust dart, dividing it into two parts. 

The pattern pieces are separated, 

and the portion of the bust dart in the side panel is drafted shut - either simply taped up or, if necessary, rotated to the armscye and incorporated in that portion of the princess seam. Eventually, only the pointy apex portion of the bust dart remains in the fabric layout.

The resulting design lines look like this. 

I have learned that this is called a Dior dart, which was quite popular in the '60s.

So - two variations of the same design lines.

Tucks are like darts in that they are pinches of fabric that are sewn shut. However, unlike darts, they are uniformly pinched along their length, and therefore take in ease uniformly along that length. This makes them, as is, somewhat useless for shaping. 

However, when positioned only where the dart legs usually lie i.e. where a dart would usually take in the most ease, 

they have the same effect as an entire dart.

In the picture above, pintucks (very narrow tucks) are sewn directly above and below the swell of the bust, to pinch the fabric in those areas. They approximate a shoulder-and-waist dart combination, taking in ease in the same places that the widest part of traditional darts would.

Pleats, like tucks, are also uniform along their length, but they are sewn shut only at one or both ends, allowing the rest of the pleat free to unfold and accommodate movement or bulk. 

The box pleats in the example above span the chest to accommodate the bulk of the bust in the absence of traditional darts. They are sewn shut at either end - which imitates the narrow dart apices, and left free to spread in the center where the bust is fullest. 


Gathers are the more casual cousins of pleats; where pleats are sharp, precisely-spaced folds, gathers are bunches of fabric held together by threads pulled to the desired width. Often used to create decorative fullness in a garment, they can also shape fabric in the same as darts. Like pintucks and pleats, gathers pinch (or bunch) the fabric in places where the widest part of a dart would usually be located, to reduce ease in those areas. 

Underbust gathers sewn into an empire-line seam 
take in ease in the hollow underbust area, 
leaving the fabric free to drape the rounded bust.

Gathers sewn into the armhole take in ease 
at the side of the bust, 
approximating an armhole dart.

Gathers shape a bikini top by taking in ease 
on either side of each breast, leaving remaining fabric 
free to drape the fullest part of the breasts.

Gathers shape the entire front of the body - 
armhole gathers approximate armhole darts 
and gathers along the sides of the waist 
approximate french darts, 
shaping both the bust and waist.


Shirring is gathers with elastic - rather than taut - thread. It approximates a dart the same way that gathers do, with the added comfort of being all-around stretchy.

Another variation of shirring is gathering-with-elastic, or an elasticized panel, very common in the small-of-the-backs of blouses and dresses, in lieu of the back waist dart.

Smocking is the decorative stitching on pleats and gathers.

In principle, it takes in ease and shapes fabric in exactly the same way that pleats and gathers do, except that
  1. it's pretty
  2. the resulting pleats and darts are held in place solely by the smocking stitches, not hidden rows of taut or elastic thread.
A smocked panel of pleats 
(or gathers) spanning the chest.

Hellooooooo, corsets. And corset-style garments.
Lacing is a handy -if uncomfortable- way to take in ease under the bust. Usually, the laced portion of the garment (it may be part of the garment or a separate piece) is pulled tight, over loose underlayers, in the region of the body where we want ease taken in. In the diagram below, an underbust corset is laced in the hollow underbust-and-waist area, acting like a all-around, tight dart. 

Here, we must ask the question: 
how do we know when to use which (or any) of these in place of darts?

The short answer is, "it's up to you."

It truly is preference and choice. Just like in Part III, in which assigning shaping to darts vs. seams was a fit decision, substituting darts with any of these alternatives is a design decision. If you only sew with commercial patterns, you probably won't need to make this choice; it's been made for you by the designer. However, understanding the role these dart substitutes play in shaping a garment can help you make informed decisions when you adjust your commercial patterns to fit. 

Imagine a pattern that has no darts because the designer has used princess seams, gathers, pintucks, or a broad panel of elastic, which doesn't fit you well.

Old You
assumes those princess seams, gathers, pintucks etc. were merely decorative, and alters the fit by either introducing new, random darts and/or conspicuously taking in/letting out the side seams. Or just surrenders and wears her new, ill-fitting as is. 

New You
recognizes those princess seams, gathers, pintucks etc. as having shaping functions and tweaks them to fit her body. Need more ease here? Unpick a few gathers and pintucks. Need it more snug there? Add more pintucks or gathers.

Hurrah! We're finally done unpacking darts and their subtleties. It took four posts! I hope it was all helpful in demystifying darts and making them feel more like your friends than your nemeses. If you'd like all four posts in a single place, go here for the very first post, at the end of which are links to the other three. 

Here's to making and wearing better-fitting garments!