A blog in transition

I’ve decided–after about 2 years of neglecting this blog–that I need to refocus. I had intended this space as a sort of journal of my sewing adventures, both in modern clothing and historical costuming. But time is limited, and I spend most of it actually sewing, rather than photographing progress and finished projects and writing about them for a blog. I want to record my work. I want to have a place where I can keep my thoughts and ideas about specific projects for future reference. And my head ain’t cutting it anymore. Neither are the bajillions of sticky notes and notepad papers I have stuck on every surface and pinned to my sewing room walls and inserted into pattern envelopes.

So I’ve come to a decision. I will blog about my sewing projects–when I feel like it. But I need to separate modern from historical. From now on, this blog–renamed Needle Thread Fabric–will be the place where I record my successful modern sewing projects: the blouses and skirts and dresses and jackets and pants, etc. that I plan to sew for my real life, my non-costumed life.

I have set up another blog–Belle Mode, Belle Histoire–to record my historical costuming projects. Both organization-wise and stylistically, this separation makes sense to me. Also it will make it easier for anyone else who wants to view my projects to find what they’re looking for without a lot of other stuff they’re not interested in.

My goal in 2015 is to try and post once a month about a modern garment I’ve sewn. The historical blog will get posts whenever I happen to finish a project, which tends to be less frequent than monthly. To start things off, I’ll be posting a retrospective this January about all the modern garments I’ve made in 2014. It’s not a lot, and some have been disappointments, and a few are being remade for better fit, but it’s a good place to start.

What I’ve been working on…

So, obviously I haven’t been able to keep up with my own plan to post about my sewing projects a minimum of once a month this year. I’d rather be sewing! Or making patterns for sewing!

There’s actually been a lot of sewing going on. I’m working on several projects, and here’s just a brief overview of what I’ve completed this year and what is currently in progress.

Completed:

  • A reproduction of a gown featured in a 1795 early Regency fashion plate
  • A vest-like, sleeveless Spencer (Regency)
  • A set of undergarments for Regency wear (chemise and drawers)
  • A bodiced petticoat (Regency)
  • Several reticules (Regency)
  • A sewn sweater-knit top for my mom’s birthday
  • A purple Swiss-dot dress (Sewaholic’s Cambie pattern)
  • A sleeveless silk blouse with leaf-like fluttery bits all down the front (McCall’s 5977)
  • A navy and black print dress using a Lily Pulitzer Zuzek print from my grandma’s stash (New Look 6020)
  • Countless muslins of sleeve and bodice variations for Regency gowns
  • Lots of patterns (sleeves, bodice variations)

In progress or up next:

  • A sheer Swiss dot voile Regency gown with below-elbow-length shirred sleeves
  • A new pair of stays from the brief transitional period between late Georgian and early Regency
  • A new set of Regency undergarments
  • A new bodiced petticoat
  • Another Regency gown of white voile with a turquoise and magenta flower print and short puckered sleeves
  • A few more reticules and Regency-era men’s wallets/pocketbooks
  • A sleeved Spencer of black cross-dyed linen
  • A sewn sweater-knit top for myself and another one for grandma
  • A Regency ball/dinner gown of periwinkle dupioni with an apron-front bodice

That’s a lot of Regency. See, I’m preparing for my local JASNA group’s first retreat next July. It’s only 2 days, but I intend to spend all of it in period dress. I’ll be teaching a class as well as enjoying other classes, there’s a promenade through town, and there’s a ball one night! So a lot will be going on. All the reticules and wallets are for the class I’ll be teaching.

Yeesh, no wonder I don’t have time to post about any of it. But I will try to post about them all eventually. Just for posterity and self-discipline. Especially interesting might be a post about the sleeve and bodice variations I’ve been drafting from my basic block and previous iterations (the Folkwear Empire dress pattern is the block from which all my variations have sprung).

So, that’s it for now.

I am actually sewing–I’m just not posting!

I’ve managed to finish lots of sewing projects in the past several months, and I’ve even photographed many of them quite thoroughly. But I haven’t been posting. I guess I’m just lazy. I don’t really want to turn the computer on when I get home from a day at work spent on a computer. Plus, my home laptop recently died and is in the repair shop.

Lately I’ve completed several muslins for Regency gown bodice and sleeve variations. I’ve made an early Regency gown I’m quite proud of, along with a complete set of undergarments (stays, drawers, shift, petticoat), a chemisette, and a vest-like Spencer. I’ve made a few everyday (read: normal person) dresses that I can wear to work, and they’ve turned out great. And I’ve got more waiting in the wings. I’ve completed a sleeveless blouse with fluttery appliques and have one more about half sewn. I’ve done lots of pattern work, made two pet-shaped pillows for work, and am currently developing a pattern for a Regency reticule that I’ll use to teach a workshop at a Jane Austen Society chapter retreat next summer.

See! I have actually been doing a lot of sewing. I’m just not posting about any of it, in direct defiance of my stated intention to post once a month. I declared that back in April, and the end of August is nigh. Well, once I get my laptop back, I will make a far more concerted effort to post something once a month. Even if it’s just a link to my pattern reviews on PatternReview.com.

Promise!

Bad, bad blogger

That’s me. I am a very bad blogger. Not that anyone’s been keeping track. I originally started this blog to encourage and incentivize my own sewing. It worked! But shortly after starting, I made a big change in my life. I left one job and started another–and not just that: I relocated to an entirely different state. No big deal, right? People relocate for work all the time.

Here’s the thing, though. My new job involves sewing. Reading about sewing, writing about sewing, actually sewing. I no longer need this blog as an incentive for my sewing. And because my days are now sewing-focused, I no longer have the energy to write about my sewing experiences regularly. That’s why it’s been over a year since I last posted here. Again, not that anyone is keeping track except myself.

But I do want to post again. Maybe not more than once a month, but I do want to keep this blog up. And I have been sewing for myself quite a bit.

So, from here on out, my goal is to post about a sewing project once a month, regardless of the project’s progress or state of completion.

I’ve been working on so many different things, but about half have been everyday clothes and half have been historical costume. Since moving to Connecticut from Virginia, I’ve gotten involved with a Jane Austen group, and the group is beginning to organize more Regency-living type events, rather than just book discussions and movie viewings. (Interestingly, a few months ago, a Regency Society started up in Virginia–I miss everything good!) And I think I’ve established here before that I love playing dress-up and will take just about any excuse to do so. So I’m working on a Regency wardrobe. Slowly, but surely.

I’m also working my way through a LOOOONG list of dresses and tops for everyday wear. Again, slowly.

Anyway, that’s the plan. One post a month. Starting….NOW

Refashion Progress

Although progress on my second Heidi dress has slowed to less than a snail’s pace, I’ve made considerable headway in the neckline refashion on my grey wool Talbot’s sheath. What can I say? It’s easy to distract me sometimes.

After finalizing the pattern for the refashioned bodice center panel and neckline, and cutting the existing panel accordingly—outer fabric and lining—I flipped each so that wrong sides were together, pinned them along the new neckline edge, and sewed a 3/8-inch seam. Then I pressed the seam open and understitched the lining edge to the seam allowance and pressed it all again so I could have a nice clean edge that lays perfectly flat when it’s all finished. 

I pinned the outer panel to its lining in a straight line down the center of the panel to keep everything in place while I was working on placing it between the bodice outer fabric and lining. In retrospect, I should have basted the panel fabric and lining together to make it easier. But it worked well enough.

I started the placement by hanging the dress and sliding the bottom tip of the new panel between the outer dress and its lining at the open waistline seam and pinned it in place. Then I used a hand backstitch to sew it in place at the waistline.

From there, it was all pinned into place along each side of the unstitched bodice center. I tried it on to make sure it was straight and even and not bunching anywhere, and amazingly it looked perfect. I measured the distance between the bodice edge and the center V point on each side and got 4 1/2 inches for both.

I had hoped it would be easy to machine sew the panel to the bodice opening, but the existing seam allowance and the configuration and construction of the bodice (especially with the reapplied bodice stay) made it impossible.

So after making sure the panel was pinned correctly in place, I simply selected a dark charcoal thread and used a tiny pickstitch to hand sew the panel in place from the outside of the bodice.

If you look closely, you might be able to just make out tiny indentations where the “pick” of each stitch is located, but a good steam ironing might make them less visible. 

Then I flipped the skirt exterior up from its lining, pinned the open waistline seam allowance together, and machine-sewed it all together again.

To reattach the bodice lining to the center panel, I’ll also use a hand pickstitch, but will probably need to apply it from the outside above the top edge of the center panel to prevent any stitches showing through. I’m not sure it’ll be necessary to stitch the lining down to the center panel below the interior bodice stay. It was all sewn down originally, of course, but first I’ll try it on to see if it’s necessary to keep things smooth (it probably will be).

I’m really happy with how this refashion is turning out; it’s much better than I expected, but just as well as I had hoped. I’ve tried it on and it’s looking great. When it’s complete, I’ll post pics showing the interior lining sewn down and then the refashioned dress worn.

After this neckline refashion I’ll feel much more confident in taking on another one that should be simpler. I have a zebra-striped sheath from Talbots that just isn’t working for me anymore. More on that in another post.

I Needed More Fabric…

….like I needed a hole in my head. Seriously, my stash is substantial. But there are a few patterns I really want to make and I’ve never come across the perfect material for them.

So prompted by a helpful sale email from FashionFabricsClub.com, I browsed over to their selection of cotton lawns. I found three I just couldn’t do without–and I first saw one of them years ago, so I feel like I waited until it was priced just right before jumping. I purchased several yards of these three wonderful, wide-bolt cotton lawns for $4.95 per yard! They will be added to my stash, but with a purpose.

This lovely lawn in a purple, grey, and green print will be used for Vogue 8492 (now out of print), View A. I’ll probably line it in black batiste to make those colors pop! I’ve been fond of this pattern for quite some time. I love a cross-over V neckline. Jury’s out still on whether I’ll actually make the sash for either of the versions of this dress I’m planning to make, but it’s possible I will make one in purple for the above material, and possibly dark navy for the one below.

This bright-blue and white lawn (above) that just screams “SUMMER!” will also turn into the above knee-length dress. I love blue-and-white combos for summer. They remind me for some reason of depictions of vacations in Greece, where the colors are vibrant but almost hard and contrasts are stark. This’ll be lined in white batiste and probably underlined as well, for opacity.  

And the sweet beige-and-pink floral lawn I’ve gazed at longingly for a few years now will become Vogue 8380, the low-neck version. Just imagine this lined in pink batiste. It reminds me of candy, for some reason. I don’t usually go for such pale, sweet prints, but this reminds me very much of a frock I had a few years back with a sand background and tiny pink-and-sage flowers sprinkled all over it. It had hemline flounces and pleating through the bodice and was so wonderfully girly, which I don’t often indulge in. I’m not trying to recreate that dress, but I did love the colors and it went with so much and was perfect for the summer.

Now, I have a long list of frocks already lined up to make, so these three will go at the end of the list. But the materials are beautiful, as are the patterns, and since I don’t really pay much attention to trendy styles from season to season or year to year–at least in terms of sewing projects–I think these will keep very well.

Refashioning a RTW Dress Neckline

The great wool sheath from Talbots. Looks great on the model!

Back in Fall 2009, I bought this fabulous charcoal worsted wool Talbots sheath. I loved the angled center bodice and skirt pleats, and in fact have since found a Vogue Ann Klein dress pattern with very similar pleating so I can make some more in this style. Another element I loved about the original dress was a very architectural neckline drape that was formed by a bias-cut bodice insert. On the model it looked fantastic—as garments usually do. See how nicely it lays? (ignore the feathery pin thing on the model—it’s not part of the dress.)

I loved it when I tried the dress on in the shop, as well, despite the extra material making my bust look a bit—well, baggy. I plunked down my money for it and felt very satisfied with my purchase. Sometimes you just have to buck pure figure flattery for something that’s interesting. My mother was with me at the time and she loved it so much she tried one on and bought it as well. Being small-busted (way smaller than me!), this dress works better on her. But even she now finds the drapey center panel annoying, as it won’t lay consistently unless it’s pinned.

The drape panel was already unpicked here, but you can see the general effect. See how happy I look?

Even with pinning, my bust looks baggy in this dress. It doesn’t lay well under cardigans or jackets, either. But I still love the overall effect of the dress, and have worn it many times. However, I recently came to the conclusion that I’m no longer so in love with the interesting detail that initially was so key to my purchase.

So I decided to refashion the neckline.

This is no easy task, and there’s a significant amount of risk in taking a RTW dress apart—even partially—and attempting such a change. But I’m willing to take it on, because otherwise, I’d get very little use out of this dress in future.

I spent much of this past Saturday morning picking apart the seams where the center drape panel—a bias-cut triangle—joins the main bodice pieces. This was difficult because the bodice and skirt pleats are also made in the same general area. I had to take the dress apart at the center waist seam, as well, because the point of the fabric triangle ends within the waist seam allowance. There’s also a separate lining insert under the drapey panel that holds the main bodice pieces taut—a kind of fabric “stay”. That came out with the stitches holding the panel in place, and it was the first thing to get stitched back in place (carefully, by hand) so I could effectively play around with new bodice insert shapes.

Drape panel removed, stay insert restitched in place.

Once the disassembly and restitching of the stay-insert was done, the fun of drafting new neckline shape ideas started. It took me a while prior to starting this project to decide on my goals for the refashion. I want the new center panel to lay flat, to eliminate that extra fullness in the bust that the drape created. I also want a sharp sweetheart style neckline.

I came up with a shape that’s very modern in effect, in keeping with the lines of the dress. It looks, when unfolded, like a very tall, narrow heart with sharply angled peaks, rather than softly rounded ones. The new bodice insert is narrower than the original and has a lower neckline. The original drape was a variation on a high boat-neck. Because of the way the main bodice pieces attached to the drape panel, it will be easy to insert this new panel with the lower neckline while retaining the original seamlines.

The muslin for the new bodice panel.

The bodice panel pinned in place.

I played around with the shape a bit, putting on the dress and pinning the muslin panel in place to see how it should lay and what alterations needed to be made. Surprisingly, very little needed to be done between the first muslin cut and the recut of the original panel.

The new cut wool bodice panel, freshly cut in the new shape.

So now I’ve got a new center panel all ready to install in my Talbots sheath to make it even more wearable for next Fall/Winter. Still undecided as to whether I’ll attempt to machine sew the panel in place (probably not) or affix it using a hand backstitch (probably). The waistline, however, will need to be machine sewn.