Friday, June 13, 2014

Sewing Dreams

Me and Maeve at an Irish dance competition - Aonghus is in the sling I made.
It's been a long, long while since I've been in the sewing room. I've got a million things planned but haven't been able to get in there because... well, because the baby is a lovely little boy who wants to be awake - all. the. time. He pretty much doesn't do more than a small cat nap or 2 during the day, although he is known to fall asleep in the infant seat while I drive, which really does me no good. It means that there are things that I cannot do when he's awake, since he really needs to be upright due to his reflux. So I usually have him in the sling. Actually, now that I think about it, I did stumble into the sewing room about 2 weeks ago and I made a new sling, which he loves. And by loves I mean that he squeals and makes happy baby noises when he sees me put it on my shoulder. I bought the aluminum rings from Sling Rings, and used the instructions at the Maya Wrap website. It was all pretty straightforward: I ordered a selection of rings because I didn't know what size would be best and then used the largest size, bought 2.5 yards each of 2 coordinating fabrics because I wanted something that was reversible and because I didn't like any of the heavier fabrics that didn't have a wrong side. I washed the fabrics, then trimmed them up, placed them wrong sides together and serged the sides, turned them toward what I wanted to be the inside, and stitched them. Next I serged the ends and then simply followed the rest of the instructions on the Maya Wrap site. I used the entire width of the 45"-wide fabric because I wanted to be sure that this would grow with baby boy. In fact, the only reason I made it was because I was so frustrated with trying to adjust the old one I'd had for ages; it had padded rails and they just didn't allow for fine-tuning and made me feel as though Aonghus wasn't secure in the sling. The length means that even my husband could wear him, and that's a good thing, plus the longer tail means that I've got an impromptu nursing cover if I need one. The fabric is Kaffe Fasset and I think it's quite a lovely combo.

Not sure if you can see the lining, but it's a mustard-yellow with turquoise dots.

Meanwhile, my oldest has moved up in Irish dance so that she is at Beginner 2 level in all her dances. A few competitions ago, she came in 4th in her reel and 3rd in her treble jig, putting her quite close to moving up to the next level in those dances. Then last weekend she placed 4th in Slip Jig, which is great even though she couldn't move up. That's really important to her, since next level is the Novice level, and while it may sound as though it has absolutely nothing to do with sewing, it actually does. At the Novice level dancers are allowed to wear a solo dress and if you know anything about Irish dance at all, you'll know it's a big deal. If not, Google the term feis dress. You can also check out my Irish dance board on Pinterest. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Back already, are you? Do you see what I mean? Gorgeous dresses. Lots of embroidery. In some instances, lots of fancy fabrics and trims, lots of crystals. Maeve isn't really into the dresses that are ultra sequined or heavy with crystals - it's not her style. But she loves the traditional Celtic knot work motifs and really can't wait to be allowed to wear such a creation. But the cost of a dress is highly prohibitive. A good simple dress can cost upwards of $400 or $500 dollars, used! If you're lucky you can find one somewhere for less, but it's been worn quite a bit and most of these dresses cannot be cleaned in the washer or by a dry-cleaner. And a used dress is less likely to be what you want and every girl wants THE dress. So I've become obsessed with the idea of making a solo dress.

Yes, I know it's probably biting off way more than I can chew but honestly I know I can give Maeve what she wants and liking the dress you wear means that you feel good when you're competing. And that means you're more likely to smile and more likely to do well. Judges like smiles. Yes, in the end it will probably end up costing the same or close to it as if I had bought a used one. But at least it will be new. And I want her to have something that no one else has.

Maeve in her school dance outfit. This is 2 pieces - a black net skirt with gold sequin trim and a black top with Celtic knot embroidered appliqués (purchased patches) and a lace collar sewn on.

The other part of this is that I desperately want to stretch myself in my sewing. I already have the embroidery machine, so that's in my favor. The local woman who does dresses does an okay job but I feel like her craftsmanship is slightly sloppy. She makes the school dance dresses and the one that Maeve has is not exactly up to my standards on the interior. Personally, I wouldn't let something like that out of my workroom but I'm a perfectionist. And she doesn't do embroidery, she just uses fancy fabrics. Since the fabrics won't be as glitzy, the work on the appliqués and embroidery would really stand out on the one I plan to do. Patterns for Irish dance dresses are available from Irish Threads and from Feis Dress and I plan to buy one of each, so that I can do a muslin of both and then determine what direction I want to go in. It will be a true labor of love, think. And I'm so excited to do it. I'll definitely end up doing many blog posts about it, just because I want to document the process. But it will probably be interesting to anyone reading this who sews. And the dress she loves best? A gorgeous dress by the company Prime Dress Designs. Just to prove that I need to make this, rather than buy one? That dress cost $1500 new, and it's not even got a ton of crystals or lots of fancy fabrics. Granted, the one I make won't be exactly like that one; it's the color combo and the fabrics that really make the dress, and as long as I can get the right embroidery and appliqué shapes it should come pretty close. *fingers crossed* In the meantime, I haven't bought the patterns and won't until she makes Novice in at least 1 dance. Then I'll buy them and start with the muslin, but I won't buy the fabric for the actual dress until she's made Novice in 1 or 2 more dances, since she won't be able to wear it if she's not in Novice level. This seems to be motivating her to practice more, so I'm hoping that she'll continue to improve and place in her Beginner 2 dances.

Monday, May 12, 2014

When You End Up with Lemons....

... you're supposed to make lemonade, right? Well, this time I didn't have lemons but I did have a dud. Sometimes it's hard to admit it, especially when you have a vision of what you're trying to create and it's something that you're really excited about. Other times, it's easy to say, "This just doesn't work." *** Note: this was originally written last summer but I never got around to posting it***So when I discovered that many of my below-the-belly maternity shorts were not staying up well, I felt like I should make a few things to replace them for summer wear. Now, bear in mind that this was the last baby I was going to have and I didn't really want to invest much in the clothing, which means that I was sewing from my stash. And since my stash is full of fabrics that I love, I didn't want to "waste" them on maternity clothing that I won't wear again. I scoured my patterns and Ottobre Woman back issues to find something that could be transitional - maternity or nursing wear. Something that would look okay with a belly but just as okay without.

The first thing that I landed on was the 2/2008 issue of Ottobre Woman. In it there are a few maternity patterns, like the skirt pattern I made previously. But it also has this cute maxi-dress with a wrap-front top. Wrap or crossover bodices don't always work well for me and the (ahem) ladies, since there's almost always a gap issue that happens, or it's too low-cut. I'm working on perfecting an FBA for a wrap-front top/bodice, but I'm not quite there yet, which is why the Ottobre tankini I made went from being a wrap-front to having a center front seam. Still, I'm not one to give up on a style when it's something that I truly like. This dress calls for voile or lawn - something light and airy, especially for the skirt portion. However, the voile I had been hoarding in my stash was not a big enough piece for the entire dress - a bummer. But then I had the bright idea of doing the bodice in a cotton-lycra knit and only the skirt in the voile, as I had plenty for the large skirt.

I worked really hard on the FBA and finally ended up with something that I thought was reasonably well-fitting.The skirt came together quickly and only required a few adjustments. Separately, they looked pretty darn good. But once I sewed them together, my opinion changed.

The overall effect was pretty boxy and unattractive. I lost all shape in it, and as a short woman who is right on the line between regular and plus-sized and was pregnant to boot, that's just not a good thing. I'm not sure how it happened, since I took in the side seams of the bodice before I attached the skirt. I think that overall it's just too big, which is weird, since I feel like I went by my measurements and cut the bodice a size smaller than I normally would have. This has happened a couple of times that I've worked with Ottobre patterns and I wonder if I'm just choosing the wrong size? Although to be honest, I've measured myself and gone with the measurements, so maybe my body is just shaped differently than the one they have in mind. At any rate, I decided that this just wasn't the style for me - at least not while I was still pregnant. I wanted to use the voile, though, so I turned it into a maternity skirt.

Yep, it's the same pattern as the khaki and navy floral linen skirt I made previously. The difference here is that I had to line the skirt with something because the voile was too sheer on its own. I ended up using some cheap, lightweight bleached muslin because JoAnn's had no batiste or plain white voile. I know - bizarre, right? When I asked the lady for batiste, she said,"You mean batik". I told her no, I meant batiste, and I even spelled it for her and then went on to describe it and its uses. She had an extremely confused look on her face and then asked another employee if they had it. They didn't. Same thing with the word 'voile', although her confusion was due to the fact that she, like most Americans, mispronounces it to rhyme with foil. The correct way to say it, of course, is "vwahl". It's a French word. Anyway, I did a rolled hem for both the lining piece and the voile and then simply basted them together at the waist and treated them as one when I applied the waistband. This time I used a super soft red rayon-lycra knit, figuring that I was probably going to wear this with a red shirt, and even if the shirt crept up a bit, it wouldn't look so bad if the waistband is the same color. The only real changes I made to the skirt were to cut it slightly bigger than the linen one and I did that by simply placing the pieces a bit away from the fold when cutting. The difference is really negligible. I got several comments on it when I wore it, so that's good, and I like it enough that I'm going to wear it this summer, even though I'm no longer pregnant.

This skirt is so comfy I wore it a lot. This is me about  12 hours before I gave birth.

Skirting the Issue (aka: How to Get Through 1 Last Pregnancy without Buying More Maternity Clothes)

***NOTE: this was written last year - I just never got around to posting it because, well, babies keep you busy.***

This is the last pregnancy I'm going to have and I don't want to buy any more maternity clothing. At the same time, I don't really have a ton of summertime maternity clothing and this baby isn't due until the end of August and I can't spend summer in jeans and corduroy pants, of which I have quite a bit. I seem to have enough shirts to get me through summer without getting new ones, although I have replaced one or two of the older ones - most of my maternity clothing dates back to 2005, so it's roughly 8 years old and some items are a bit, well, worn out. I ended up buying 2 tank tops and a striped t-shirt at Old Navy, simply because I had some 'bonus bucks' I had to use before they expired, and because I could get 30% off my purchase, which made it more than reasonable. I'll sell them after this pregnancy, along with the rest of my maternity wardrobe that isn't too worn or old to be given away.

Anyway, it's the bottoms I'm in need of and I'm trying to get away from shorts. I ended up buying a pair of tan poplin cropped pants just because it suddenly got warmer than usual, but I'd rather have some skirts or something. It can get humid here and we don't have air conditioning - I want something easy and breezy for the last trimester of this pregnancy. Ottobre to the rescue! In the Spring/Summer 2008 issue of Ottobre Woman, there were a couple of maternity items and one was a cute two-layer skirt with a knit waistband. I had some linen that I bought a while back which I'd decided against using for the project I'd had in mind but which was kind of perfect for this pattern - a sort of khaki ground with navy blue flowers in a very large print. I decided against making this a 2-layer skirt because I liked the print and I only cut the longer, bottom layer. Add a waistband in navy ribbing and it was a quick and easy skirt to make. It's very cute with a navy tank top but will also look cute with white or red on top, and it's not too dressy so I can wear it with flats or Birkenstocks but I can also dress it up a little with my espadrilles. I cut this in a size 46 but I think a 48 might have fit better, since the linen has no stretch. I plan to make this from a knit, too but I think I'll keep the size 46 for the knit.

The other skirt I made is the Megan Nielsen pencil skirt pattern, which is super fast and easy to put together. You could totally do this in an hour if no one was there to bother you. The shape is really simple and, honestly, I'm embarrassed to have spent $18 on a pattern with 2 pieces when it's something that I probably could have drafted for myself. I didn't want to waste the time doing it, though, so I can't complain and I'll probably sell it later on if I don't know anyone who wants it.

 I'm not really one for the super skin-tight maternity clothes; I do prefer a more fitted knit top when I'm pregnant, simply because I'm short and if I don't try to define my figure in some way I end up looking kind of dumpy and lord knows nobody wants to look dumpy when they're pregnant. Also, I'm not usually fond of fitted clothing that emphasizes my derrière. But I have these excellent shoes that I bought for my birthday and their shape and style deserved something a little bit sexier than the average maternity outfit in my wardrobe. I made this from a bamboo stretch French terry in black, which is thinner than cotton French terry but not so thin that I'd be afraid of having a panty line or any unsightly (ahem) lumps. The whole point of this skirt is to show off the bump, so the waistband sits directly under the bra band. This gives you a smoother look under your outfit, I think, but then it makes it harder to wear a thinner, lighter-colored shirt if it comes down over your belly if the skirt is a dark color. Anyway, I decided to wear a red button-down maternity shirt with it, but since it's an older shirt (from my first baby, 13 years ago!) it doesn't have a very modern shape and is more tent-like. Because of the high waist on the skirt, I was able to tie the shirttails in a knot above the bump, which was kind of cute. In all, it was a pretty successful garment and I had a nice date with the husband at a local Mexican restaurant.

Pirate of the Playground

A while back I posted about the "Pirate Girl" outfit I made for Miss G - she's all about being adventurous and brave and pirates pretty much fit the bill for that. And because Mr. T is so close in age to her, he usually wants to do whatever she does. So when I bought the pirate girl iron-on from Bunte Fabrics before it closed, I also bought a pirate boy and promised T that he could have a "Pirate Boy" outfit. I made the pants in August, not long before Aonghus was born. The shirt got finished in September and I figured I ought to blog them now before I forget to document them!

First up, the pants. I found this super cute medium-weight striped twill at JoAnn's a couple of years ago. At the time I'd thought of doing some cropped summer overalls for T. but I didn't get around to it. Then this year when I was planning his summer SWAP, I decided to make these part of it - sort of. They didn't really go with the general color scheme but he always has a blue or red t-shirt of some kind, so they'd fit into his wardrobe without necessarily needing the pirate shirt. The pants are from Ottobre 2/2005 and they are #23. I chose this pattern because the magazine actually showed the pants made up in a stripe fabric and it immediately reminded me of the twill that I already had. I wasn't sure about adding the knee patches, but decided to do it and used some dark denim from my stash. I used it for the faux pocket-flaps on the back, too. The pocket lining is a navy cotton with white stars. I used red topstitching thread for these pants so that it would pop against the navy knee patches. And although the pattern calls for rivets at the knees like commercially-made jeans have, I don't know where to find those locally or online, so I just did bar tacks at the corners.

The length of the pants makes them a perfect transition garment, for those early fall days when it starts out cooler but warms up enough by afternoon for the kids to want shorts. The elastic waist and faux-fly make them easy to put on and take off, which is nice when you're in a hurry to get into your bathing suit! This pattern is easy to make up but has enough details to make it more than just basic shorts. I'm definitely using it again in the summer.

The pirate boy shirt is Imke from the SCKL book. This version uses the straight-cut sleeve and the rounded, sporty hood. Gwyneth's has the pointy hood with the tassel. I used a red and white stripe cotton-lycra knit for the hood and lower sleeves and a medium weight navy cotton solid. It may have some lycra in it but I got it as a remnant so I don't recall. I didn't have enough of the stripe to do 2-layer sleeves, so these are single-layer sleeves made to look like 2-layer ones.
 On the right sleeve we have the skull and crossbones iron-on and pirate kid ribbon from Banberry Place; the left sleeve features a double ribbon trim, with blue and red star ribbon from Farbenmix on top of a navy grosgrain ribbon with red pick-stitching. Embellished, but not too girly.

Sleeve detail - right.
Sleeve detail - left.
As I said before, I made this shirt because I had the iron-on pirate boy. It looked great the first time T. wore the shirt, but then it lost a foot! Apparently the glue wasn't fully activated. Anyway, here's the look of the shirt-front, minus a pirate foot:

I'm trying to figure out a way to add a new foot that doesn't look too weird, so I'll post an update if/when I get to that.