The Hot Date Dress

I swear I didn't plan it this way, but life has a funny way of working things out: My last post was on October 6th of last year. Today is October 6th. It has officially been 1 year since I've updated this dusty old blog! Well, it's about time, isn't it? After I started sewing for a living, it became harder to find the time and motivation to make things for my own closet. I spent most of my time researching new techniques, testing ideas for new classes, and making things for clients. Add a whole lot of sewing ADD into that mix and you have a recipe for never getting anything done for yourself!

I actually started working on this dress back in April. A friend was hosting a swanky martini party and I was determined (especially since we became friends through sewing!) to make a swanky dress to wear to this party. I had one week to get it done so I hit up Joann Fabrics and started looking through the pattern books. I proceeded, of course, to pick out the most complicated pattern I could find - Vogue 1286. It has a grand total of 43 pattern pieces to cut out (that's including the outer shell, interfacing, and lining). But for whatever reason, this was the dress that called out to me the most. Every dress I've made so far has been cutesy, retro inspired, and A-line. I really wanted to branch out and make something totally different. Something possibly even a bit modern and sexy. The cover photo for this pattern wasn't too convincing, but I saw some major potential in the line drawing. I really love the straps in the back, and I thought with more of a pencil skirt bottom it would be the perfect Little Black Dress for any future swanky events I may need to attend...or invent, more likely.

So, did I finish the dress in time?

Pffffftttttt....nope! Luckily, I had a fancy dress left over from my engagement photos that worked perfectly. And I'm really glad I didn't rush to finish. I learned my lesson after staying up all night to finish my winning Hawthorn dress...which looked lovely in photos, but my slapdash sewing didn't hold up past 3 washes. So I decided to take my time and not impose any deadlines. I worked on it whenever I felt like it, picked out every mistake, and worked on the fit until it was just right.

Last weekend, Scott and I went to Orlando and celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary, so I thought that would be the perfect time to finally hem the dress and wear it out.

If you live in Gainesville, you're probably thinking to yourself, "Ummm, Shona...that's the Thomas Center. Not in Orlando." Clever you! Yes, these are recreated photos because the ones I took on my actual anniversary didn't turn out. It was dark. And I forgot my real camera. And my curling iron. So hey, here's how I intended to look on my anniversary date night!

All the caffeine has left my body, rendering my brain useless. Pattern Review format to the rescue!

Pattern Description: Lined dress (close-fitting through bust) has bands, three-piece bra, semi-fitted skirt with darts stitched on right sides of fabric, back-button, self loop and invisible zipper.

Pattern Sizing: Misses 6 - 22. I made a size 6 bust, 8 waist, and 10 bottom. These were each 1 size down from the size recommended for my measurements and I still had to take it in at least 1/2" at the sides.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes. But, you know...in black.

Were the instructions easy to follow? The instructions were very well written, I thought, and I learned a lot by making this dress. The only part that stumped me was step 66 - joining the lining and facings to the shell at the side seam. Once I got to that point, re-read it about 20 times, practiced putting the pieces together every way I could think of, looked at it upside down, sideways, and right side up a few times, then took a night to think it over...suddenly the next day it made perfect sense!

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I really think this pattern should come with different cup size pieces since it is built from a bra top. I'm lucky to be close enough to a B cup not to need it, but most women are much more busty than I am. Luckily, it is pretty easy to alter the cup size - try this tutorial from Ohhh Lulu if you need to do that.

Fabric Used: Cotton jacquard with a bit of stretch, lined with a cotton silk blend. All from JoAnn Fabrics, suprisingly!

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: I tapered the skirt down at the bottom to make it more like a pencil skirt and added a small slit at the back seam for walking ease.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I probably won't be sewing it again, but it was a good experience and I'm extremely proud of the result! I think it's the most difficult and professional looking thing I've made so far.

Conclusion: Make if you love this dress and have plenty of time to devote to working on it. Take your time with the fit. Expect to make at least 1 size below what your measurements suggest (within the lower size range at least, I don't know if this is the case for the larger sizes). Also keep in mind that it's very difficult to find a bra that you can wear with this dress due to the strap position and plunge neckline. I sewed bra cups to the inside of the dress, but I'd much rather wear an actual bra if I could find one that wouldn't show.

Of course we hit up Disney (or part of it) while in Orlando but that wasn't the real reason I was there. Real reason? BELLE AND SEBASTIAN. Seriously, I've been waiting for over 10 years for them to come anywhere even remotely near me and they finally did. On my actually anniversary day! It was amaaaaaazing! /fangirling

Next up - my version of The Marlborough Bra by Orange Lingerie. If you've stuck around with me this long, after a year of not updating, seriously - thank you! I'm finally on a roll finishing up the giant mound of UFOs I've had going on forever and it feels great. Yay blogging!


My Badass Unicorn Briar

Yes, you read that correctly. This is the wackiest thing I've sewn so far...and I LOVE it!!!

When I spotted this unicorn fabric on Girl Charlee, I knew I had to do something awesome with it. First I thought it would be a dress, but then I went on a Briar-making spree and decided it would make a great top. I wanted to try out the shoulder patch variation that Megan Nielsen posted about, and after some deliberation I settled on this grey wool I had left in my stash (I actually used this stuff to make Scott's mini-suit for our wedding caketoppers).

But the more I looked at it, the more I thought I have to do something really ridiculous to go with those crazy, flying unicorns. What should it be? Rainbow stitching on the shoulders? Nope, too obvious. Then I thought about taking it in the complete opposite direction. I mean, it's already a black shirt...and just look at those unicorns. Don't they look kind of menacing - flying in huge flocks, following their one giant leader with horns ready to impale whatever gets in their way? Yeah?

You know what these unicorns need? Metal studs!

I ordered a pack of 1/4" pyramid metal studs from Studs and Spikes. It kind of took me back to my awkward high school years of listening to punk rock bands, wearing torn fishnets, spikes, and way too much eyeliner, and putting safety pins in damn near everything. Oooh wow. Remind me to never show those pictures!

When I ordered the studs, I thought they would be easy to put in. It's like a Bedazzler, right? (Who remembers those?!) I thought I could just position them and use something like a eyelet tool to set them in. Well...I couldn't find anything like that. It was really difficult to position them just right. Even after marking, they would tend to go off to the side a bit or twist around as I put them in...and then they might just fall right out before I could use my pliers to bend the teeth in. It took me a few episodes of Weeds to figure out a method that would work for me and finally get the first one done. I finished the second patch at work during a slow day. It was fun trying to explain that one to all the little old ladies who walk in..."Well, ma'am, you see, these are some hardcore metal shoulder patches I'm going to put on a unicorn shirt. Of course."

I appliquéd the shoulder patches on by machine using a blanket stitch. Last week I did a TON of appliqué for some samples at work, so I was thankful for all that practice. It really isn't hard (and now I kind of want to appliqué everything!).

You know, maybe I've just gotten used to the idea of this shirt, but it doesn't look as crazy as I thought it would. I honestly think it looks pretty awesome!

Shoulder details may be the new Peter Pan collar for me this year. Although, I will probably leave metal out of the equation from now on. But...beading? Sequins? I'm thinking of all kinds of stuff I wouldn't normally touch for a sewing project. Dear god, what has happened to me?!


Weekly Tips: Check your seam allowance!

When you have handy seam allowance markings on your needle plate, it's easy to get used to relying on them. But keep in mind that those markings are only accurate when your needle is in the center position. If you are sewing a different stitch, such as a zig-zag, your needle position may change and throw your seam allowance off!

The metal puzzle piece looking doodad you see below is a Measuring Gauge. I picked mine up when I took a bramaking class (where this tip was first revealed to me - I can't believe I hadn't thought of it before!). It's a little confusing at first glance, but it makes measuring the tiny spaces around your needle much easier!

Today I needed to use the lightning stitch (a narrow zig-zag stitch used for sewing knits) and thought this would be a great time to demonstrate how this works.

Here, my machine is set to a regular straight stitch with the needle in center position. You may notice my foot is a little different - this is a clear presser foot with standard seam allowances marked along the right side. It's my favorite! The line in the middle marks center position and then 1/8", 1/4", 3/8", 1/2", and 5/8" at the very edge.

You can see that as long as I'm sewing with the needle in center position, the first line from the very edge correctly marks the 1/2" seam allowance that I'm using.

Here I flipped the gauge around so that you can see the markings better.

I just set my machine to the lightning stitch. As you can see, my needle has now moved to the left of where it was. When I measure from the center of my needle, a 1/2" seam allowance now lines up with the second line from the edge (which would normally be the 3/8" line). So in order to come out with a correct seam allowance, I need to follow that line instead.

Just to be extra sure, I measured my final seam allowance after sewing. A perfect 1/2"!

Let me know if you're finding these tips helpful. I have a lot more lined up!


I'm in love...with a t-shirt pattern

There has been a massive hole in my closet for a while - I need more comfortable tops! Most of my handmade tops have been sent to alteration purgatory, and to be honest I'm not sure I want to fix them. I guess I've been on a skirt and dress kick this year because I sure don't seem to have much else!

What I do have is a box full of knit fabrics from Girl Charlee that I ordered earlier this year (I had ambitions of starting an Etsy shop. You can guess what happened to those ambitions). I finally had some time for sew for myself, so I thought I should finally do something useful with those fabrics and make myself some comfy tops!

I thought about using my self-drafted t-shirt pattern, but I really wanted something less basic. Something with a little more style. I'd been wanting to make the Briar shirt from Megan Nielsen for a while, so I went ahead and bought the PDF pattern so that I could get started.

I cut three Briars out at the same time so that I could have them all ready to sew. This version is the only one I've completed so far...and I've worn it 3 times within the last week. Don't judge.

I love this top!

This version was made semi-cropped by drawing a line in between the cropped and full-length version. I wanted it to be just long enough to wear with my regular jeans, but it came out a little too short. It does work perfectly with my high-waisted shorts however, and I really love it with those! I've also worn it to work with a tank top underneath.

This fabric was a nightmare to sew with! It's tissue thin and very drapey. I had to pull out all of my sewing-with-knits tricks! The pocket was sewn using tear-away stabilizer (the kind you use for embroidery - works wonders!). The hems were sewn after using Stitch-Witchery to fuse them down. I would have preferred to use knit stay tape, but I still haven't ordered any. I keep swearing I'm going to do that and then cursing myself every time I sew with knits and don't have any. Stitch-Witchery definitely works, it just leaves it feeling like it has something papery underneath. But not noticeable, so no biggie. The rest was done entirely on my serger. Which was slightly scary. No seam ripping!!!!

Note to my small busted readers: I was totally expecting to grade this pattern down since the smallest size offered is for a 33" bust, but after measuring the pattern I found that the bust line is 32" (probably to account for negative ease?) and decided to just sew it up as is.  I'm 31.5" and the fit feels perfect to me.

I highly, highly recommend this pattern. The instructions are great, the fit is great, and it's comfortable and stylish enough that you'll want to wear it all the time.  You could easily give it a straight hem, which is what I think I will do if I turn this into a class (and I think I might. I need a good class for learning to work with knits!).


How I dye my hair red

Today I'm going to deviate from my usual sewing topics to discuss a subject I get asked about a lot - my red hair! The usual questions include "Is that your natural color?" (Nope!), "Who does your hair color?" (Me!), and "What color/brand do you use?" (Well...read on to find out!).

I started dying my hair red when I was 16, starting with a boxed color that looked really horrible on me. I've done a lot of experimenting with my hair color over the last 13 years and I've finally settled into a regular routine that I think works pretty well for me.

I have had my hair colored professionally many times, and still try to go that route whenever I can afford it. But one of the big drawbacks of red hairdye is that it fades out really fast! Mine is pretty well faded after about a month, but I try to hold off on coloring it until my roots start to show. And with each hair color appointment costing anywhere from $80-$120 (not even including the cut!), I just can't drop that kind of money. Although my hair always feels really, really amazing after a salon visit (one reason I still go when I can), the color never lasts long at all and they very rarely ever get the shade right. So that is my reasoning for going the DIY route.

Please keep in mind throughout this post that everyone's hair is different. What works for me may not work for you. My natural hair color is dark blonde, which allows me to dye at home without having to use bleach beforehand. If your hair is darker and you want to give this a try, I've heard great things about the L'oreal HiColor line. It lightens and dyes your hair in one step! There are lots of reviews and tutorials for this product on Youtube if you're interested. And if you're going to DIY your hair color, do lots of research first!

Also keep in mind that if your hair is sacred and you would be horrified to mess it up, the DIY route is not for you! Go to a nice quality salon and have a consultation first.


Weekly Tips: Cut tricky fabrics in a single layer

The more I learn about working with knits, the more I love them and want to use them! The biggest plus is that they're super comfortable and so much easier to fit than woven fabrics. There are definitely some tricky things to deal with in sewing up slinky jersey knits in particular, though. I've been working with knits a lot recently and I'm currently sewing up a few different versions of the Briar t-shirt from Megan Nielsen. So for the next couple of weeks, I'd like to share a few tips that have made a big difference in my sewing with knits adventure!

The first thing I always dread when sewing up a knit garment is the cutting. Knits tend to be unstable and floppy, sticking to themselves and refusing to lay flat. When I cut them on the fold, I end up spending a lot of time straightening the grain, smoothing out puckers, and trying to unstick the layers from each other. When I started on my Briar the other day, I groaned at the thought of dealing with this again, but then I thought "Hey, do I have to cut it on the fold? Wouldn't it be easier if I could just cut it flat?".

Um...yes, self. Yes it would! I'll show you how I handled this:

Lay your fabric flat (over your cutting mat if you're using one) and place the first pattern piece on top, close to the corner edge to conserve fabric. Use pattern weights to hold it down or pin.

Cut around the pattern, leaving the "on fold" edge uncut. Use chalk or a water soluble pen to make a few little marks down the edge.

Here you can see where I've marked the "on fold" edge, which is the center of the pattern piece.

Turn your pattern piece over to the other side and line up the "on fold" edge with the marks you just made. You want to just barely cover the marks so that there is no gap between the pieces. Just as before, use pattern weights or pins and cut around the pattern.

Ta-da! Your pattern piece is cut and ready to sew (unless you need to notch or transfer markings - luckily I didn't).

In writing, it may look more complicated than cutting on the fold but I actually found it to be much faster and easier. Give it a try and let you know what you think!

I can't wait to finish my unicorn Briar. I bought this fabric a few months ago from Girl Charlee because I thought it was hilarious! Just waiting on a few extra supplies to come in the mail so I can complete my magical fantasy character t-shirt vision ;) Look out for a patch of Briars (har har) coming from me soon!


Jasmine Bra in Coral and Lace

Last weekend I had bras on the brain. I couldn't stop thinking about them! I've been meaning to get back into bramaking for a while, but you all know how that goes. After working all week on finishing up a commissioned project, I decided to spend a day working on something for myself. And that's seriously all it took to make this bra - 1 day!

If you've already ooooh'd and ahhhh'd over Sarah's handmade lingerie line, Ohhh Lulu, then I'm sure you already recognize the pattern! This is her Jasmine bra.

I love this pattern because, even though it's a PDF, the pieces are so small that there is almost no taping involved! There are only 3 pattern pieces. So nice!

I had some concerns about sizing because the smallest size offered is 33"...two inches bigger than my bust. But this was easily solved by grading down one size. The band size is easy to adjust as well because you can just wrap the elastic around your ribcage and cut whatever length feels comfortable for you.

I omitted the back closure since I didn't have any white bra backs in my stash that would fit this band width. Luckily, the fabric I used is stretchy enough to fit over my head. I forgot to topstitch the back seam allowances down, I've just been too lazy to rethread my machine and do it.

I used some coral knit fabric from Girl Charlee Fabrics and some dotted stretch netting that I picked up last year from Gail K Fabrics in Atlanta (someone give me an excuse to go back there! It's only a 5 hour drive, right?). Everything came from my stash. The wide strapping that I used is the only thing I dislike about this bra, but it's all I had. I may replace it later once I get some more bra supplies in.

The lining was cut from a thin, white rayon t-shirt that I've grown to hate because it's too slinky and see-through to wear with anything. But the fabric feels amaaaaazing so I knew it would be perfect for this.

The thin jersey was difficult to sew with. My machine kept trying to eat it, so I wound up using some tissue underneath and then tearing it off. Works like a charm! I only had to do that for the first few seams, then I had enough thickness to work with that the tissue wasn't necessary.

I left an opening at both sides for removable padding. This is a really easy modification - just cut the sides of your lining pieces shorter than the outer pieces and don't attach the two at the side seams. I simply basted the outer and lining pieces wrong sides together since the edges will be finished by the elastic. I have several comfy bralettes that have removable padding so I just borrowed some from those. It's easy to swap them back and forth between bras.

This is not something I'd wear every day, but it's perfect for lazy days when I'm sitting around the house sewing or just running errands around town. It also works well under loose-fit clothing. It's nice to have pretty lingerie to wear underneath my blah t-shirt and jeans on those days that I don't feel like getting dressed up. Which, honestly - don't be fooled by all the pictures you see here - there are a lot of those days! I try to save my handmade skirts and dresses for work, otherwise I'm in a loose shirt and jeans.

If you've been wanting to give bramaking a try but don't know about dealing with all the crazy underwires, channeling, bridges, and fit issues - give this pattern a try! It only takes a few hours to make and it's a great way to use up scraps of t-shirt material and lace.