Baby it’s Cold Outside Wednesday, Nov 23 2011 

Well, today is the day before Thanksgiving, and it’s finally starting to get cold here in Oregon.  So it was time to actually finish the coat I started way back in July.  That’s right, I cut out and began sewing my winter coat in the middle of the summer.  Not that it was all that hot this year, but whatever.

I finished it just a little bit ago, but I wanted to talk about how it started.

Probably the single most important step in cutting out a garment is ensuring that you have all of the pieces aligned on the grain correctly.  Have you ever purchased a pair of jeans only to find that the side and inseams rotated to the center front and back of your legs when you wore them?  Ever put on a dress that seemed to sag on one side or clung in an unfortunate way?  Probably a victim of being off grain.

  I laid out my fabric on the living room floor (yes, my carpet is teal.  no, it wasn’t my idea).  You can’t see in this photo, but the entire length of fabric is laid out flat on the floor.  Once the fabric was laid out, I arranged the pattern pieces on the fabric before I began pinning and cutting.

Why bother?

Well, in this case, when I purchased the fabric, there was about 1/8 yd less than I needed to make my coat.  I went ahead and purchased it anyway.  When I laid out the pattern pieces, it quickly became apparent that there would not be enough fabric to make the belt for this classic trench coat.

So I had a decision to make.  Run out and buy another yard of very expensive fabric just to make a belt that I would rarely use?  Or go with my gut design instinct and skip the belt altogether.

Bye bye belt.

Now, could I have cobbled it together by piecing the belt?  Sure.  But in reality, I dislike how belted coats look on me anyway.  So why put in the effort to make a design element that doesn’t flatter me and that I’ve never liked anyway?

So the coat is done, but the lighting in my sewing room isn’t great for photos.  You’ll have to wait until tomorrow for the finished project, complete with cost details and my coat’s dirty little secret.

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New Life for Old Chairs Thursday, Nov 3 2011 

When my dear friend delivered the couch she’d promised me, there was more in her truck that I had any right to expect.  I was overjoyed at the prospect of having a couch in my living room so I didn’t have to eat my granola while sitting on the floor anymore.  But along with the couch, she dropped off a small table, two chairs, and a few essentials for my kitchen that saved me over the next few months.

The chairs and table have a history.  Her husband had run a pizza parlor before they were married, and these were some of the leftover things he had tucked away in the attic.  They’ve been married for 25ish years, so it’s not like they’ve been in storage for just a few weeks.  Her children used these chairs in their first places.  And now they’ve come to my place.  The light blue and white large gingham pattern they were last covered with was nice, but the light blue clashed with my dark teal carpets.  Plus it’s just not my style.  The padding was still good, so all I had to do was cover them with new fabric.

Tools:

staple gun

screwdrivers

assorted crecent wrenches and socket sets as needed, depending on how stubbornly assembled they are.

scissors

band aids (because I’m clumsy as all get out)

Step One: Disassemble the chair by unscrewing the seat.  Now is a great time to tighten up all of the other screws.  Because wobbly chairs are bad news, even if they are pretty to look at.  Plus I usually loosen one or two screws that I don’t need to loosen when I’m trying to figure out how to take something apart.

Step Two: Remove the old fabric and padding, replace the padding.  I skipped this step because the padding was in good shape and I’m impatient.

Step Three: Center the seat on the wrong side of the fabric.  Cut the fabric at least 12 inches wider and longer than you need for the seat.  Staple one edge, then pull the fabric tight and staple on the opposite edge.  Repeat for the two sides.  You should have 4 staples in the fabric at this point.

Step Four: Work your way around the edge of the chair, pulling the fabric tight, pleating and stapling as needed to get a smooth cover over the top.  You can flip the seat over as you go to check your work.  Be careful as you staple that when you come to the pre-drilled holes where the seat was attached to the chair, that you staple closer to the edge of the seat to allow the fabric to be trimmed away from the hole so the seat can be reattached.

Step Five: Trim the excess fabric away from the seat.  Add any additional staples needed to keep the fabric secure.

Step Six: Reattach the seat to the chair and enjoy!

Basic Skill: Patching a Hole in Pants Tuesday, Nov 1 2011 

When I was 18ish, I worked in fast food.  In fact, I worked my way up from the drive-thru girl to a shift leader.  Yay for me.  But I hated spending tons of money ordering out of the company uniform catalog, especially for things like pants.  Then again, it was harder than hell to find a decent pair of work pants that didn’t make me look twice as big as I am.  So I made a few pairs of pants, but I was never honestly very happy with any of them.

One pair that I made had a center back zipper (don’t ask, I have no idea how anyone thought that was a good idea) and I was in a hurry to finish them in time for work.  So I did a good job of basting in the zipper and skipped machine sewing it in planning to finish it when I got home that night.  At the time I had a penchant for those lacy boy-shorts style panties, they were pretty but still comfortable to wear all day long.  That day I happened to be wearing a nude-colored pair.  As I bagged orders at the counter one of the guys, a few years older than me and a little gross looking though very nice, was cleaning tables in the dining room.  He was one of the ones that I had noticed leering at me before, but I ignored it.  Until that day.  My careful stitches had apparently come loose, and he came up behind me and made a suggestive comment that I won’t repeat here.  Mortified, I ran to the office, tied the nearest jacket around my waist (it happened to belong to the assistant manager who spent equal amounts of time flirting with me and explaining why us dating would be like cats and dogs forced to cohabitation), and then I called the AM who’s jacket I had appropriated over to inform him that I was going home to change right then.  No discussions.

It wasn’t the last time that a pants failure would send me running home from work to change.  Though I’ve avoided that particular hazard since then, I’ve had more pairs of pants just flat wear through the inseam than I care to count.

Think back about the last 3 or 4 pair of pants that you had to throw out because they were worn out.  What was wrong with them?  If you’re like me, the most common wear and tear injury to my clothes is a worn out inseam.  Plus sized girls have to deal with thigh rub, which is no fun all by it’s self.  But to have to throw out an otherwise perfectly good pair of pants because you’d worn holes in the inner thighs?  That bugs me to no end.  It’s hard enough to find pants that have pockets, no pleats, and are sturdy enough to stand up to daily wear at work.

Men’s work jeans often have a double layer of fabric in their highest wear areas: the front of the thigh and the knees.  But women’s jeans don’t have a corresponding option.  So here’s what I did with my current pants today:

See the lovely worn spots?  I’ve even got some baby holes sprouting up there next to the seam.

Entrance stage right, one pair of matching iron on patches (repair type, not decorative type).

Heat up your iron with the steam turned off.  Double check the tag of the pants to make sure that they’re 100% cotton or able to take a high heat ironing.

On the right side of the pants, center the patch over the worn area (or the area that you know that you frequently wear out).  Patch should be shiny side down.  Mine has most of the patch on the back part of the leg with a little overlap on the front part of the leg, covering the inseam.  When the pants are on, unless I’m being very unladylike in how I sit, you’d never know that I have patches.

Press for 40-45 seconds.  Repeat as needed if you’re unable to cover the patch completely with the iron the first time around.

Let cool and check that it’s fully adhered to the fabric.

Using a wide zig-zag stitch with a short stitch length, stitch around the edge of the patch.  This will seal the edges down to your pants to prevent fraying and peeling.

With a new pair of pants, you might want to wear them a time or two first to determine where you put stress on the fabric before you reinforce them.  But it’s better to reinforce them early rather than when you’ve already got holes starting.  Because the longer you go, the better your chances that when you bend or squat down at work to pick something up, you’ll split out your inseam and have to go home for a change of clothes.

And that, my friends, is bad news indeed.

Sewing Torture or The Narrow Hem Thursday, Oct 27 2011 

This is why I've always hated hemming.

I used to think that pattern makers sat around and though things like “This pattern goes together too easily, lets give it a narrow hem at the bottom so the poor schmuck who tries to sew it burns the crap out of their fingers trying to iron the hem. Mwah-ha-ha” As it turns out, trying to fold, iron, pin and sew a “scant ¼ inch hem” isn’t as hard as I always thought it was. You just have to skip the folding, ironing, and pinning.

Look! It's actually narrow! And neat!

Say what?! The solution was there in my sewing room all along. The clouds parted, a ray of sunlight sparkled off the metal, angels sang, and I discovered the solution to scant hems. Of the various contraptions I discovered with my donated extra sewing machine, I found a rolled hem foot. A rolled hem presser foot fits onto your regular machine, but it’s shaped so that as you feed the fabric through the machine, it rolls the fabric over barely 1/8th inch, just enough to be caught by the needle as you sew.

With this tool in hand, I took a second look at a Butterick Connie Crawford pattern for a flared skirt with a slit that has a circle ruffle edging it. I made it once about a year ago, but picked a bad fabric and my clumsy hemming just made the whole thing look… bad. Very bad. Awful, in fact. But this time I picked a silky type fabric with a bold black, white, and bright pink graphic print (It’s very 80’s, and this is about as far as I’ll go toward following fashion fads in my sewing). It cut out and sewed up very quickly. Like in an afternoon. Thanks, in no small part, to the speed with which I was able to finish edges with this rolled hem foot.

Now I don’t typically like tools that only do one job. But this particular tool does this one job so efficiently and well, that it’s worth it to track one of these babies down and give it a home in your sewing room. A few things to caution you about though. If you’re going to cross a seam, before you start hemming, clip the seam allowances down close to the stitching before trying to run it through the rolled hem. Diagonal cuts with the narrowest part at the hem edge will help prevent too much fraying and get the job done. And this will only work on lightweight fabric. Silkys, calico or lightweight cotton, and shirting weight fabrics at the heaviest. I used to deliberately avoid Silkys simply because hemming them was a pain in the rear. Now I’ll consider them, even though I still try to avoid polyester most of the time.

A Summer Shirt Dress Tuesday, Oct 25 2011 

So much cuter as a dress than a shirt, right?

I love a classic shirt dress. There’s just something that screams summer about a quick to throw on and look fabulous dress that’s just as appropriate going out to dinner, out for drinks, or out to the beach. And a shirt dress in a neutral shade like navy, chocolate brown, or black has staying power all year long. This one, though, has summer written all over it.

Confession time. This wasn’t meant to be a dress at all. In fact, I didn’t even make it for me. I started dating a guy a while back, a very tall guy with broad shoulders who loves Hawaiian shirts. Except that the two or three that he owns are all just a smidge too small, and most definitely too short on his 6’5” frame. So I offered to make him a shirt, in a tropical print, that would be long enough and big enough for him. I paid too much for the fabric and slogged through the construction. Basic button downs aren’t hard to make, but they’re not my favorite thing to construct. The relationship ended the same day I finished the last button on the shirt, and I decided I didn’t want to give it to him after all. But what to do with a shirt that would be a dress on me…. lightbulb. I tossed the shirt on my dress form and stuck a belt around the waistline, and voila, the perfect summer outfit.

I took a basic Simplicity Men’s shirt pattern and added just 4” to the bottom, moving the side vents down proportionally. Then I added a 6th button (they came 3 to a card anyway, why waste a button?) to the bottom and that’s all it took to turn a regular man’s pattern into a tall man’s pattern. And perhaps I’ll sew a little tag in somewhere that says “I dated what’s his name for two months and all I got was this fabulous shirt dress.” 🙂

Why I’ll Never Sew for a Wedding Again Thursday, Oct 20 2011 

Almost 4 weeks ago, I took pity on an aquaintence and agreed to sew 2 bridesmaids dresses, a flower girl dress, and two sashes for her daughter’s wedding.  The wedding is tomorrow.  She had been through about 5 different versions of bridesmaids dresses and was now finding out that the reason dress shops insist that you order dresses 6 months in advance is because it’s nearly impossible to get them on anything less than a 3 month time-frame.  At the time I took on the project, she still could have ordered the 3 bridesmaids dresses she needed, and the flower girl dress.  They MIGHT have arrived the day of the wedding.  And it would have cost her about $1,000.

Instead, she chose to buy fabric and patterns and hope that she could find someone to sew them for her in time for the wedding.  I can’t find a single seamstress in my area who makes a living at sewing and would take on a project like this on the deadline that I was under.  For any amount of money.  But I’m an amateur, so I charged $75 a dress.

I had the bridesmaids dresses done on time for the Monday deadline.  They aren’t perfect, and I wasn’t 100% happy with the results, but they’re done.  I didn’t even have time to take a photo of them for the blog or my portfolio.  The flower girl dress… ah, it’s another story entirely.

This !@#$$%$#@# flower girl dress has been the bane of my existence this week.  It should have taken me about 3 hours to sew once it was cut out.  And that estimate was right.  Until I tried to iron the skirt prior to hemming it.  The fabric was the last of a bolt and had a bunch of wrinkles.  I was rushing, so I didn’t iron the fabric before cutting or the pieces before sewing, expecting the wrinkles to come out easily with just a quick ironing.

wrong.

So I tried using steam with the iron (I had been using a dry iron since it’s satin, that’s what the fabric care instructions said to do).  Looked great on the ironing board, but when I picked it up the wrinkles were right there taunting me.  It’s now Tuesday night, by the way.  I started this Sunday night, couldn’t get it finished, delivered the bridesmaids dresses on Monday, had an awful day, and started in on it Tuesday.  So I got it wet, tossed it in the dryer, hung it up, and went out with Mr. Potential.

And the wrinkles just came back.  At this point I’m starting to get a bit paranoid.  I mean, really.  I know I hate ironing, but I didn’t think the ironing gods hated me so much.  It’s now Wednesday morning.  I’m operating on an average of 5 hours of sleep a night for the past 5 days.  There might have been tears involved.  Next up was the diluted white vinegar spritz trick.  Which gave me pickle scented wrinkles.  Um.  Not what I was going for.  Another wash to get the scent out.  Hung the dress up in the bathroom and took a nice, hot, steamy shower.  Two of them, to be exact.  I have soft, bouncy, shiny hair, but still a wrinkly dress.  Am starting to suspect that this fabric is possessed.  Seriously consider tearing the skirt out and buying new fabric.  So I take out the zipper (center back, goes half way down the skirt).  I detach the skirt from the bodice.  I take out the flippin’ gathering.  Because I love gathering so much that I don’t mind doing it again.  #!@$%#$%@#$!!!  One last ditch steam ironing on the now flat fabric.  The clouds part, the angels sing, and my fabric is finally flat.

It’s now 5 pm, 2 days after the due date, and I’m back where I was Sunday night.  Only with shinier hair, bags under my eyes, and a nervous tick any time I think about ironing.  4 hours later and the dress is hanging up on my sewing room door, done, hemmed, and @!@# pressed.

 

I’ve sewn for other weddings before.  I did two flower girl dresses for a good friend from college, including hand embroidered bodices.  They were my gift to her for her wedding.  I even managed to sew on hooks and eyes the day before the wedding with my first set of fake nails.  I’ll never do that again.  I sewed a bridesmaid dress that I wore for my best friend’s wedding when her sister dropped out of the wedding party just 2 weeks before the wedding day.  Each time I’ve sewn for a wedding, it’s been an expression of love and caring for a friend.

This has been an altogether different sort of experience.  I have no connection to the bride or groom.  I barely know the mother of the bride, and I have to admit that while she’s a really nice lady, we’ll probably never be friends.  So each time I sat down to sew on these dresses, rather than thinking good thoughts about the people these dresses are intended for, I was faintly resentful that it was taking time away from my other projects.  My heart wasn’t in it.  It was a chore, work, a job.  Not an expression of love for a friend, a family member, or even myself.  It wasn’t even the creative and artistic outlet that I’ve found in costuming.

And in the end, the amount of work I put into the dresses doesn’t match up with what I charge.  I put in a minimum of 25 hours of work on all three dresses, and got paid $225.  That works out to an hourly rate of $9 per hour.  I make more than that at my job.  I used to make more than that baby sitting.  And in that time, all of the work was highly skilled.  The only joy I got out of the project, and the only part that I’m really proud of, is the 3 hours I spent re-designing the bridesmaid dress to fit the plus sized maid of honor.

 

I’m sure I’ll sew for other weddings.  Mine, for example.  I fully intend to sew my own wedding dress once I meet Mr. Right.  And I’ll happily volunteer to sew for friend’s weddings when they come up.  But I don’t think I’ll ever take on a project like this for money again.

Where I’ve Been and Where I’m Going Thursday, Oct 20 2011 

Hello to all 4 of my subscribers!  🙂

It’s been an interesting year, to say the least.  I’ve costumed a play, moved into my own place, and made the decision to finally go back to college next year.  I’ve thought about this blog more times than I care to admit.  Mostly in guilt/desire to get back at it/disappointment that I don’t have anything on topic to share.  And all of those feelings finally brought me to the realization.  I was being too rigid with my project.  And as a result, my writing sounded stiff and rigid too.  I wasn’t comfortable with how I sounded.  I’m still not comfortable that I have to avoid any mention of my job, but it was the one condition that I couldn’t avoid.

My amazing lampshade

I moved into my new place in April.  Those of you who have been reading along might remember that when I started this project, I lived with my Grandma and I lost everything in a house fire just over a year ago.  Since I moved in, my focus has been more on somehow creating a home out of all of this empty space rather than making clothes.  I’ve decided that I’m going to include those adventures in decorating in my future posts.  Because a trousseau was about more than clothes.  It was about setting up a household when a young woman came of age.  I’m getting a little bit of a late start at it, but I’m coming of age in my own way and setting up housekeeping with my little family of one.

I’m still sewing clothes.  But on a less strict plan.  I can’t wait to share with you some of the fun, amazing little things that I’m so proud of.  Because for some reason, Mr. Potential isn’t as visibly impressed with my lampshade as I would like him to be.  He’s another addition to my little world.  Mr. Potential is the man I’m seeing.  He’s a great guy, and has the potential to be the right guy for me.  But it’s still too early to tell.

Ivory Silk Shell Thursday, Mar 17 2011 

I’ll start off by saying, I know, I know, it’s been forever since I’ve updated.  I’m not going to make any promises as I’m now working two jobs, costuming a play, and trying to move to a town 30 miles closer to my main job.  I am busy, though that’s the understatement of the year.

Butterick 5334 (view B)

Fabric $6

Lining $4.50

Thread $1.75

Zippers $0

Total (for two blouses) $12.25

$6.12 per blouse

Several months ago a shopping buddy of mine and I found two bolts of lovely 100% silk in the bargain department of our local fabric store marked down from $19.99 per yard to $6 per yard. And on top of that, all bargain fabrics were 50% off the mark down price. One bolt was a pretty ivory, the other was a lovely dusty rose, and both were 54 inches wide, a bit wider than standard fabric. I had no plans for it at the time, but I bought a yard of each because I simply couldn’t pass up such a deal. When I began putting together a list of how much fabric I would need for each garment in my trousseau, I noticed that the simple sleeveless shell I had chosen as one of my summer professional blouses only called for just under a yard of fabric. A light bulb went off in my head as I connected the summer friendly silk in my fabric stash with the simple but elegant pattern.

When I sat down to begin cutting out the pieces for these blouses, I have to admit a bit of happy delight when my good sewing scissors first began sliding through the silk. There’s really nothing like it, it feels completely different in your hands than anything else. Fabric manufacturers may try to imitate silk, but once you’ve seen and worked with the real thing, no imitation will ever fool you again. It’s like the difference between butter and margarine… once you’ve had butter, margarine just doesn’t quite satisfy any more. Ok, I think I’m done waxing poetic about real silk now.

One of the interesting things about this pattern is that there are only two pattern pieces. It’s structured to look like a princess seam blouse, where a curved seam runs from the arm hole around the point of the bust and down to the hem line in front and a similar curved seam runs from the armhole to the hem on the back. Instead of using 4 pattern pieces like a typical princess seam, the two pieces have a slash and dart that runs where the princess seam would normally be.

Dart – A construction technique where one layer of fabric is stitched to it’s self to shape the garment closer to the body, the stitching tapers out so that the fabric lays flat at the end without creating a pleat.

Slash – A cutting line indicated on a pattern where there is no space between the two pieces, often used in large or long darts to reduce fabric bulk. These two techniques are used in this pattern to create the illusion of a princess seam. Pros: easier to make minor alterations to, fewer pattern pieces to lose track of, gives excellent shape to the garment. Cons: requires extensive use of marking tools, requires extra time to baste the darts, makes extensive or detailed alterations difficult.

I’ve never been a big fan of ironing, but this project reminded me just how important pressing is to the quality of the finished garment. Without good pressing, the lining would show on these blouses, which would be noticeable because I wasn’t able to make a perfect color match with the lining. Without a good press job, the wrinkles that set in while the fabric was tucked away waiting for a project would mar the finished product. And without good ironing skills, this blouse would LOOK like an amateur made it, not a skilled seamstress. That’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid.

P.S. I did make both blouses, but for the sake of time and actually getting this posted today, I only included a photo of the ivory one.  It’s kind of a pain to drag the dress form downstairs, set it up, dress the dummy, and take a photo.  Plus it’s been raining off and on.  And I don’t want you to see how much of a mess my sewing room is.  🙂

Silver Sumer Casual Shirt Sunday, Jan 9 2011 

McCall’s 5809

Fabric $12.50

Thread $0.87

Beads $1.00

Pattern $1.99

Total $16.36

Total Time: 6 hours (two of which was hand beading around the neckline)

I made this blouse with some changes. I used the longer sleeve from view B, but left the ruffle off the sleeve. And since the pattern only went up to a size 20, I altered it before cutting out so that it will fit immediately. Many people who sew are deathly scared of altering patterns, but there’s really no reason to be afraid. Honestly, why bother sewing something for yourself if you’re not going to bother making it fit any better than something you buy at the store?

Altering a pattern starts with accurate measurements. Without accurate measurements, you might as well toss the project in your scrap bin before you even start because it will be a total waste of time. It’s always best to have someone else take your measurements. If you don’t have a sewing buddy (someone else who sews that helps you with measurements and fitting garments) it may be worth it to seek out a professional for help, at least the first time. Wedding dress shops, seamstresses, tailors, and people who do alterations are all well practiced at taking measurements and won’t be all that surprised to get a request just to take your measurements. When you do take measurements, wear well fitted foundation garments similar to what you expect to wear with the finished garment. Even if you normally wear a thong (or no panties at all), wear something that gives you more coverage just this once. Yes, you’re going to need to get down to your undies to get accurate measurements. And believe me when I tell you that the salesgirl at your local formal dress shop will not be impressed with your barely-there lacy underthings. In fact, some stores will turn you away if they feel you aren’t covered enough.

Now, on the off chance that you do need to take your own measurements for whatever reason, it’s important to know how to do it right. An often overlooked measurement is the bicep or upper arm measurement. There’s nothing worse than finishing a new blouse and realizing that it won’t fit around your arm. Bring the measuring tape around the fullest part of your upper arm. Make sure that when you move your arm up and down that the measuring tape doesn’t cut into your arm. Next is the bust. Wearing the bra you’d wear with the finished garment, measure around the fullest point of your bust, keeping your arms at your sides as much as possible. Why is the bra so important? Try your measurements with a variety of different bras and you’ll see the difference. An inch difference can be critical to ensuring that your blouse fits properly. Waist measurement is easier to take on your own. Without sucking in, measure around the slimmest part of your torso, which should put the measuring tape in line with your belly button. Now, those instructions work well if you’re an hour-glass or triangular shape, but for the oval or apple shaped body, it will put your measurements all out of whack if you go for the slimmest point on your torso… that’s likely to be right where your bra band sits. The problem with that is that it’s not giving you an accurate picture of where and how much you need to alter your pattern. So if you fall into that oval or apple shaped category, line your measuring tape up with your belly button and record that number, even if it’s ugly. Please note that where you measure your waist is NOT where modern jeans tend to sit. Modern jeans are designed to sit below the waistline, sometimes almost at the hip line. Speaking of hips, when you measure your hips, it should land somewhere around 10 inches below your belly button, depending on height. For those of us plus sized girls with a tummy, resist the urge to measure below your stomach and just across the fullest part of your bottom. You won’t be doing yourself any favors.

Now that you have your measurements in hand, you’ll need to gather the finished garment measurements from the pattern. Sometimes all the finished measurements you need are printed right on the back of the pattern. Sometimes you’ll have to look at the pattern pieces themselves to get the measurements. Most major pattern companies include those finished measurements somewhere in the pattern, on the pattern it’s self it’s usually indicated with a circled cross symbol. Keep in mind that the finished measurement includes the extra room they give you for wear-ability and to achieve the look the designer is going for. This is called ease. To figure how much ease has been allowed, subtract the pattern size measurement from the finished garment measurement. For example, if a size 20 shows body measurements of 42, 34, 44, and the finished measurements are 44, 36, 46; then 2 inches of overall ease has been allowed in the garment.

If your measurements are over the pattern size measurement but below the finished garment measurements, you may be able to proceed without making any alterations. Consider how tight of clothes you’re comfortable with and how much room has been allowed. Where there’s a lot of ease (5 inches or more) it may be easier to get away without altering. If your measurements are at or above the finished garment measurements, you’ll need to adjust. Start by figuring out how much you need to add to the garment. Make sure to add enough so that it will not only fit around you, but will allow some wearing ease. In the back of the Vogue pattern book there is an excellent guide to how much ease to allow to achieve a fitted, semi-fitted, etc. look, it’s the guidelines they use in their patterns.

Let’s imagine that my poorly drawn example above is the front and back pattern piece for a simple tank top, where both the front and the back are cut out on the center fold of the fabric and there are no facings. In this example, there are 3 main locations where you can easily add inches to make the top larger: the center front, the center back, and the side seams. At the center front or back, you would simply pin the pattern an inch away from the fold to add two inches. Then when cutting out, instead of cutting along the pattern on that edge, continue the neckline to the fold as if the pattern extended that far. If you only need to add a little bit to your pattern, say an inch or two to allow for a large bust line, you could add the extra inch or two just to the front of the top at the center front without causing any problems in fit. Anything more than two inches and you should really consider splitting the addition between the center front and the center back. Anything more than four inches and you need to consider adding at the sides as well.

Adding to the side seam isn’t terribly complicated either. After pinning the pattern to the fabric, use a chalk or fabric marking pen to draw the extra onto the side seams. Keep in mind that two pieces meet at each side seam and there are two side seams, so you’ll need to divide the total number of inches to be added by 4 to ensure that the extra is added evenly to the shirt. So if you add just one inch to the front side seam and the back side seam, a total of four inches will be added to the shirt.

What if you need to go really far and add 6 inches or more? That starts getting a little more tricky. At that point, I always advise first to consider buying a pattern large enough to begin with. Excuse me for a moment while I duck the tomatoes being thrown at me. Yes, I know that plus size patterns look like tents and the misses patterns are much cuter and shaplier. But I also know that there are three wonderful lines of patterns from three of the major pattern companies that take into account the concerns of the plus sized woman with some taste. Vogue’s Today’s Woman Line, Simplicity’s patterns by Kahlia Ali, and Butterick’s patterns by Connie Crawford all offer better styles in larger sizes. Yes, they still have a long way to go and yes, there’s still a limited offering. But they’re making strides and you might have an easier time dressing up a simple classic from one of these lines than you’ll have in adding a significant amount to a smaller pattern. With that said though, it’s not impossible. In the example above, you’ll need to add at all three locations to keep the garment even as you size it up. Here’s how: Take the total number of long “seams” (or center front and center back as the case may be) and multiply by two. Take the total number of inches you need to add and divide by that answer. In this example, you have 4 locations (two sides, center front and center back) times two equals 8. If you need to add 6 inches, you’d be adding ¾ of an inch to each seam. So when you pin the center front and center back to the fabric, keep that pattern piece ¾ inch away from the fold.

Even though you’ve been monkeying with the finished measurements of the garment, you’ll still sew the seams at the same seam allowance that the pattern calls for. Your pattern already takes that seam allowance into account when they figure the finished measurements, and in addition, sewing at a different seam allowance can mess up the accuracy and usefulness of the pattern markings. You’ll learn as you experiment with adding to patterns that trying to transfer the pattern markings like notches and dots has wildly varying success rates. Personally, I don’t bother with them when I’ve altered the pattern. I rely on accurate measurements and accurate cutting to ensure that my pieces will come together the way they’re supposed to.

Now that we’ve explored adding to a very simple pattern, it’s not a huge leap to adapting the pattern I made this weekend. The primary concern is to remember to consistently add to ALL of the side seams and ALL of the center backs. Aside from that, I also have to consider how my alterations will affect the v-neckline of the shirt, which is why I chose not to add at the center front. Since I added to the side seams of the shirt, I also had to consider how that affected the arm hole and the sleeve. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to sew an un-altered sleeve into an altered arm-hole! As I mentioned before, when it was all said and done, of 8 pattern pieces, 7 had at least one alteration. I know it sounds horribly time consuming and tedious, but making the alterations only cost me about an extra half an hour of work, and most of that was in tearing out a seam when I forgot to gather the front of the top before attaching it to the band. I spent more time adding decorative beading to it than I did working on the alterations.

Really, the only way to learn to alter is to try it for yourself. Start with a very basic, very simple pattern, the fewer the pieces the better. Get your measurements and some cheap fabric and start experimenting with it. As I say every time I’m worried about a small technical error: “If anyone’s close enough to see it and stupid enough to mention it, I’ll just slap them. They shouldn’t be looking at my armpit (or wherever) anyway!”

Sewing for a Cause Tuesday, Dec 28 2010 

In an effort to get back into this project for the new year, I made several things for Christmas.  Primarily I made things for my sister and brother in law.  You see, my sister ALWAYS hates whatever I do for her for Christmas.  One year I made a quilt in the colors she chose.  She let her dogs destroy it.  Last year I gave her a gift card to the book store she frequents.  She was annoyed because the location she normally goes to was closing.  I figured so much the better, she could get more with her gift card.  She saw it as useless.  So this year I gave up and rather than getting or making anything for her, I picked two needy kids off the local sharing tree that had requested clothes or coats.  I spent several days making two winter coats, a set of pj’s and a pair of pants that went to an 11 month old girl and an 8 year old boy.  The girl’s coat was adorable: a heart print on a brown background in fleece with an appliqued heart in pink fur on the front, and it had a cute little pom-pom on the point of the hood.  The boy got pj pants with a robot print.  I thought it was a wonderful idea.  She had resentment rolling off of her in waves.  But I think the important part is that I enjoyed working on it, even down to the tinniest details.  And at the end of the day, I don’t care if she hated her present.  I found a lot of joy in getting excited about simple, small projects that will be a blessing to kids who have very little to begin with.  And I only spent about $20 total, including a few toys to go with their clothes.  Both kids received a shopping bag full of things that they wouldn’t otherwise have.  I had so much fun that my dear sister might get the same thing again next year.

Coming up: I’m working on one of my summer casual blouses.  This may end up being a trial run, but there are lots of lessons on alterations to be had in this one.

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