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Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
Sometimes, I just need a break from projects that require me to think. I’m constantly engineering, prototyping, and problem-solving when sewing – it can be exhausting and burn me out.
I knew from talking to Erin on Twitter that she was my kind of perfectionist because I’ve seen how meticulously she tests her patterns before offering them in her shop. And I knew that she would be giving me the gift of a fun little project where all the brain cramps had been suffered for me.
I was not disappointed!
Erin’s instructions are amazing. A detailed supply list. Full step-by-step, with beautiful color photographs. Multiple options and ways to customize.
And her pricing is hardly charging what the sewing instructions alone are really worth!
Yeah, I can make a bag pattern, but why bother when Erin already has, and has already tested… and tested… and perfected?
Anyone can make professional looking bags with instructions like hers, truly. (When he saw it, my husband actually thought the first one I made was retail merchandise! “Where’d you get this?” was, in fact, uttered.)
I have plans to make other versions (especially when I need a break from thinking!), but here are the three I’ve made so far in more detail:
The best part about all of this is that I have a free copy of the wristlet pattern to offer to anyone who comments on this post. But you have to be quick!
Drawing for the free PDF pattern is closed
only open until 3pm on Saturday, September 21, 2013 United States Central Time (GMT -6). I will announce the winner in a short post that evening. Winner announced in this post.
I already have a 4th bag (another large version) cut out and ready to assemble.
So leave me a comment for a chance to win the pattern and make your own. And check out all of Erin’s other great bag patterns too!
Thanks, Erin, for the great pattern!
(Warning: Major geekery ahead.)
Personal log, Stardate: 67158.4
Captain Mari Miller of the USS Disparate Disciplines contacted me via subspace with a request to test another one of her new sewing patterns. (See my last test for her Avocado Hoodie in this post.)
I’m honored for my blog to be the last stop in her Blog Hop for the Dandelion Dress & Top.
The previous stops have been as follows:
I started with a mockup of the sweetheart neckline top to check the basic fit. I’m pretty close to being an exact size 0 according to the pattern’s measurement chart, so I cut everything at that size.
The main alteration I needed to make was dropping the underarm seam just a bit because it felt a little high to me. (I’m picky about my armseye fit, and I will avoid wearing something if I feel like it gives me an underarm wedgey.)
The unusual style lines make this pattern perfect for color blocking, and I wanted to make sure I showed them off.
I decided to make two versions – a solid color sweetheart top (B2) and a color-blocked sweetheart dress (B1).
The pattern recommends using a woven fabric (aka non-stretch) but I wanted to see how it would work with a thicker t-shirt fabric (I was hoping the darts would fit me a bit better in something with some stretch), so I cut up a men’s 4X tee.
I eliminated the pattern’s center back seam and cut the back on a fold since the fabric had stretch. I also added a few inches to the length of the top.
The end result was a TOS inspired shirt with a black rib-knit edged neck. Unfortunately, the darts were still too pointy and not quite right on me.
Then I made the dress – TNG style, because Leila inspired me with her skant from a few months ago.
I made my dress out of a drapey polyester suiting fabric that came in both red and black. (Yes, I know, expendable crewman. I’ll just avoid any away missions while wearing it.)
I stitched the triangular side panels in as I do when sewing inset points and completely left out the darts.
After everything was assembled, I discovered that I needed to alter the back neck a little because it was gapping. (One of the disadvantages of fitting yourself – it’s hard to catch those back issues in the first mockup or two when you can’t really see your back!) So I reshaped the seam connecting to the back sleeve.
I fussed and tweaked for a long time with the front bust. Ultimately, I decided I needed the tiniest of darts, and put one in that was less than half the width printed on the pattern. (I could probably eliminate them altogether if I messed with the pattern some more.)
I had fun taking photos in my new Dandelion skant. And now I actually have a Halloween costume this year because of my Star Trek inspired dress!
I kind of want to make this dress in a less geeky color-blocked version, but I haven’t found the right fabrics yet. (I’m thinking bright green & grey, or orange & grey.)
To show that it can be styled a little less Trek-like, I paired it with some pointed pumps and a necklace. Behold the power of photo editing software (even in my amateur hands):
In conclusion, I think the silhouette and style lines of this pattern are wonderfully interesting, and once the fit is perfected, it’s magic. Both the dress and the top are super comfortable.
I enjoyed sewing this because the pieces were so different from normal. The instructions were easy to follow and because of its unusual construction, I would be sewing along, and suddenly, I would be finished! It was sort of strange not being able to anticipate the end.
The only real difficulty lies in the fact that it can’t be altered in the standard simple ways if it doesn’t fit exactly right – there is no side-seam to take in, etc.
Everyone who wants a fun and different construction challenge should definitely give this pattern a try!
Buy your own copy – here’s the link!
And make it so sew!
=/\= Personal log, supplemental: My husband loves my new light-duty uniform and says I could pass for a secretary on a starbase.
So I left all you readers with math swirling around in your heads. I hope Part 1 wasn’t too technical or too much of a cliffhanger!
Now I bet you’re eager to see how my experiment worked when I applied the math. =)
First, I copied my pattern in the bust 34 size at 91% on my printer and taped the pieces together. (As always, photos enlarge when clicked.)
I used some of my favorite pattern tracing paper to trace the other two copies of my pattern at the same size they came in – one bust 34 and one bust 31 size.
Because my traced patterns were on such sheer paper, I could do a good comparison of the shrunken 34 under the actual 31 to see the minor differences.
The differences were subtle but interesting. Here are a few closeups:
To me, the most fascinating part of the pattern comparison was the keyhole detail at the neck. When patterns are graded by the manufacturer, many of the details are not proportionally scaled, meaning that some details remain the same size no matter what size a pattern is drafted to be.
This means that on a smaller version of the dress, the keyholes are relatively larger. Likewise they are smaller on the larger versions. This does not always make for the most aesthetically pleasing details on the far ends of the grade.
After all, a pattern designer designs a pattern to have the correct detail proportions for that prototype size. I think it is somewhat lazy for the pattern companies to then grade without changing all the proportions accordingly.
My shrinking/enlarging method using a ratio solves this grading proportion problem.
Okay, so are you ready to see how the mockup experiment works on a real person?
Here they are on me:
Obviously, the actual bust 34 size is too big for me:
When you zoom in to look at dart placement and where the armhole hits at the shoulder joint, you can really see which fits best.
All three had necklines that were a little too high for comfort. And both the 31 and the shrunken 34 had armholes that were a bit small (typical on vintage patterns). In the above photo, I have cut directly on the stitchline for all the armholes, but I have reshaped and cut on the corrected underarm curve for the shrunken 34.
Obviously, you can see that I have chosen to fit the shrunken 34 because of all the safety pins and drawn lines on the mockup. It had the least amount of alterations needed.
I took in the side seams slightly, and pinned a test hem. I decided it needed a little more flare for the A-line skirt, which I added to the paper pattern when I transferred my pin markings to the pattern.
(Here’s an example of how I transferred fitting marks from another mockup to the paper pattern.)
So what are your thoughts and ideas about my pattern scaling method? I would love to know if this works for others too! Please comment or send me photos or links if you try your own version of my experiment!
And in case you’re curious, here’s the geeky fabric I plan to use to make the real version of my dress.
This post was a long time coming. I knew I wanted to try this sizing experiment for more than a year; and over the last 6 months or so, I’ve been trying to work on it in between all my other work and personal projects.
(Warning: this post involves lots of words and math.)
First let’s talk a little about body measurements and standard sewing pattern sizing. Sewing patterns tend to be labeled with larger size numbers than mass produced clothing.
I talked about sewing pattern sizes vs. ready-to-wear size numbers and vanity sizing a couple years back in this post (but that was probably before many of my current readers found my blog).
I’m sure you’ve heard people say that the standard measurements used in the clothing industry have shifted over the decades. But they really haven’t changed as much as people think. The only thing that has really changed is the size number on the label – known commonly as “vanity sizing”. The standard body measurements have barely changed from year to year.
Here’s a section of a spreadsheet of my vintage patterns showing sizing for a 34-inch bust. Notice that the biggest change from year to year is the size number not the measurements used:
You’ll see that in the 1940s and ‘50s, a 34-inch bust was considered a size 16 in sewing patterns. In the late 1950s and through the 1960s, that same bust size became a size 14 with a slightly smaller waist and hips. Then in the 1970s, the 34-inch bust became a size 12 while the waist and hips went up a little in proportion – proof that there is a bit of psychological vanity sizing in sewing patterns, but not as drastic as it is in the ready-to-wear industry.
Today’s sewing pattern size 12 is the same as it was in the ‘70s with measurements of 34-26.5-36.
Most patterns are drafted in a mid-range size and then graded down for the smaller sizes and graded up for the larger sizes. This method involves some math and a whole bunch of measuring. (Threads Magazine provides a good explanation of grading here and a quick-guide chart here.)
Now, on to my experiment.
I admit I’m lazy when it comes to grading patterns. The math isn’t complicated, but all that measuring is a lot of work.
I started using my cheater’s method years ago when I needed to increase the size of flower-girl dresses for little girls who were larger than a standard pattern but proportionally still the shape of a standard girls’ pattern. (Part of the reason I started doing this stemmed from last minute clients who didn’t give me the time to do much patterning.)
I compared the differences on the pattern’s standard measurement charts and used ratio computations to find the percentage of the needed size increase. Then I just copied the pattern at the larger percentage on my home printer.
This enlarging method also helped me make a quick bodice pattern for a cousin in my sister’s wedding, who was really tall for her age but still not shaped like a woman yet. So far, this method for enlarging a kid’s pattern has worked for me every time with very few (if any) alterations needed.
When I wanted to sew a vintage pattern for myself but only had it in a size that was 2 or 3 sizes too big, I used my ratio method to shrink it to my size on the copier.
I did this for myself for a few years, getting a nearly perfect fit every time I shrank a pattern. For a long time, I thought vintage patterns were just drafted better, or differently.
But then I discovered that a vintage pattern in my actual size had as many fit issues as most modern sewing patterns. And I began to reexamine why shrinking by a percentage seemed to work better for me.
I think it’s because I am proportionally smaller than the average size used to draft most patterns. (I am small but not petite by clothing standards.) I don’t need merely a few areas changed, or some areas changed more than others (like when grading). I need everything equally shrunken down.
I had decided to test my theory by doing a real comparison of a vintage pattern that I owned in both a bust size 34 and a bust size 31 (my actual size).
I chose the Simplicity 7136 pattern from 1967 for a couple of reasons – I had it in two sizes and it had very basic style-lines, making it easier to compare small differences.
I made three mockups – one straight from the B31, one straight from the B34, and one B34 copied at 91%.
NOTE: Most vintage patterns have actual stitch lines printed on the pattern pieces. If you are using a pattern without marked seam allowance, you will need to either cut off the seams allowance before copying or make a line to measure what the new copied seam allowance ends up being. You will want to sew on the actual copied stitch lines, so adjustments to seam allowance may be required.
Here’s the math I used with the bust measurements printed on the pattern envelope to determine the scale factor:
Bust 1 31
Bust 2 34 = 91%
My theory was that I could also apply this percentage to both of the larger waist and hip measurements to obtain the corresponding chart values:
Waist 2 x 91% = Waist 1: 26 x 91% ≈ 24 Hip 2 x 91% = Hip 1: 36 x 91% ≈ 33
I’m obviously rounding to the nearest whole number because that’s the precision on the pattern envelope. And look! It’s pretty darn close. Here is how my exact ratio computations compared to Simplicity’s size chart:
Scaled 91% Simplicity Waist 23.66 24 Hips 32.76 33
My experiment worked!
Stay tuned for Part 2…
And now for something completely different.
(Well, maybe not completely – it is still about sewing.)
I recently had the pleasure of being a pattern tester for Mari of Disparate Disciplines as she launches her first sewing pattern for her new independent pattern business – the Avocado Hoodie, in versions for both men & women.
This is my brief review of both patterns.
She needed testers to be a variety of sizes and I just happened to be the small end size most others could not test for her. And since my husband was a size that she also needed to test for the men’s version, I was able to make one for each of us.
Part of what attracted me to this pattern is the unusual back pockets for your Significant Other to use. I love the details on the hoodie because they are interesting and something I wouldn’t want to take the time to pattern & test myself. For me, it’s always about the style lines and interesting details when I choose to buy & make a pattern.
(The Avocado Hoodie even has a sweet backstory that can be read here.)
The pattern is a downloadable pdf file that you print from your home printer and then tape together. The printing instructions are easy to follow and I had no trouble taping all the pages together and cutting out the appropriate sizes.
I cut mine at the pattern’s size 0 and cut my husband’s in his suit size.
(Tip: If you are cutting a size that is not the smallest or largest, use a highlighter to mark your cut lines because it can be a little tricky to follow the one you want through the nested pieces.)
I chose a dark grey microfleece with 40-50% crossgrain stretch (10″ stretched to about 18″) for our hoodies because the standard sweatshirt fleece options at my local fabric store did not have ANY stretch. (What’s up with that?? I still can’t figure out what you would want sweatshirt fleece without stretch for.)
I had fun playing with a new-to-me stretch stitch. I chose to use it for all my seams and the topstitching because it is like a straight stitch & serge all-in-one (at the moment, I really need to have my serger serviced) and it looks sort of like a coverstitch as topstitching.
My jersey options were limited (and boring!) at the fabric store, so I resorted to buying the biggest men’s t-shirts I could find (and they were only $4 at Walmart!).
Despite my favorite colors being green and orange, I ended up choosing the pink for my hoodie for three reasons:
1) I decided to use pink jersey,
2) I recently got a new pair of sneakers that would match,
and 3) I had already decided my husband’s hoodie topstitching would be blue (you know, the whole cliché boy/girl thing).
I followed the pattern & instructions as printed. The only small modifications I made were lining the hoods with the same jersey fabric I used for the pockets, stitching the seams and then trimming the seam allowance close to the stitching as I went, and adding some decorative topstitching.
The pocket was fascinating to me. I didn’t realize it would be all one pocket with 4 holes until I started assembling it. Nice engineering!
Oh, and I did manage to figure out a way to completely clean finish the thumbholes so there is no topstitching or handsewing necessary. I followed the pattern instructions up to the point just before you turn them right side out. Just before I turned them, I made two more stitchlines to attach the edges of both cuff holes to each other.
It is a bit advanced and hard to explain exactly how I did this with still photos, but here are some example pictures. (I might try to do a video if anyone is really interested in seeing how I did this and if the photos are too unclear.)
Both hoodies fit very well without any alterations! That’s something that almost never happens for me – most mass produced patterns seem to have ridiculous amount of ease. I can tell that Mari spent a lot of time and attention to the fit of her hoodie patterns. They’re very well planned & drafted and went together like a dream. These patterns are about as close to custom drafted as you can get with something that has been graded.
I liked the snugness of the sleeves on the women’s version; however, I have really skinny arms, so I’m guessing that the average woman might prefer the sleeves a little looser. (I might even cut my next hoodie a little bigger in the sleeves just for ease of wearing with more layers.)
And here’s a series of photos of me and the comic-relief husband wearing our hoodies:
I love this pattern and plan to make a few more variations of the hoodie for myself, probably with a center front zipper because that’s what I wear the most when I work (the zipper makes it easier to shed when I’m wearing a walkie and other costuming junk around my neck).
If you want to sew your own Avocado Hoodie, you can buy your own downloadable copy of the Disparate Disciplines Pattern. There’s the men’s hoodie, the women’s hoodie, and a discount if you buy both together.
Both versions fit true to measurements and have nice style lines, which keep them from looking sloppy.
I highly recommend these hoodie patterns! Thanks, Mari, for letting me test them! =)
For Easter in 1963, Jackie Kennedy wore an Oleg Cassini dress made in pale pink linen. Fifty years later, the simple style of her dress is still beautiful, and I’ve wanted to copy it for myself for years.
This Easter I finally did.
I first fell in love with her dress when I purchased the book Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years, which I was lucky to find at my local Half Price Books for only $10. It is full of wonderful photos specifically of her fabulous clothes.
While I love everything about her dress, I knew I would not look good wearing such a pale pink. I look better in warm colors, and let’s face it, I am the opposite of tanned. (I’m bordering on vampire pale.)
I already had a large stash of 100% linen in an ivory color left over from a wedding dress I once made for a client. So I decided to dye some in a color I can wear.
It took me at least 6 attempts to get the final color. I almost stopped at this shade of orange, which was just a little too yellow:
Thankfully, one of my coworkers at the time is a dye expert, and she was able to tell me what color to over-dye my linen to make it a better shade of orange. (Thanks, Susan!) I also dyed my white cotton/poly underlining fabric a similar color to prevent seams from showing through. (I checked the linen with the undyed white, and there definitely would have been some color difference around the seams had I left it white.)
After studying the photographs of the Cassini dress closely, I chose McCall’s 7158 from 1963 because the style lines were the most similar. (I didn’t even realize the pattern date was the same as the Cassini dress until just now when I checked!)
The pattern needed a lot of tweaking. You can see how I fit the mockup in this post.
Once I had made the appropriate pattern alterations, I cut and assembled the lining first so I could double check the fit. Then I cut my linen and underlining fabric and basted them together.
I also made matching linen bias for the “quatrefoil motif” and to finish the arm and neck edges. (I generally dislike facings and try to eliminate them whenever possible.)
My favorite part of this build was creating the single decorative detail near the neckline of the dress.
My least favorite part of this build was making the bust darts cooperate – I almost gave up and threw the dress in the trash because of them. When stitched in the linen, they wanted to be extra pointy and I really wanted to avoid an Anne Hathaway dart dilemma.
Had I not wanted a new Easter dress so badly, and if so many people (online and in real life) had not known about me making it, I doubt I would have been so determined to finish it. (And yes, I did have to remind myself of the advice in this old post.)
I fought those stupid, hateful darts for at least 2 nights after work. I ended up shaping them slightly and stitching them by hand because it was easier to do the minor changes by hand.
Ultimately, I found the biggest improvement to the pointiness was stitching the dart fold down to the underlining to control them. (In hindsight, I probably should have reduced the length of the darts on the pattern before I cut the linen.)
They still aren’t perfect, and they really bug me because that’s all I see when I look at the dress. I’m hoping that by the time next spring comes around, I will have had enough distance from the dress for the darts not to bother me as much.
Somehow, I can make nearly perfect things for others, but when I try to make something couture for myself, it’s never quite right. I know part of the problem is that fitting and seeing the design elements on your own body is nearly as hard as cutting your own hair – it’s hard to back up and see the full picture.
So during two short breaks and part of my lunch break every day for a couple weeks, I did as much as I could to build my dress during my time at the opera. Then I continued working on it at night when I came home. But I managed to complete it in time for Easter Sunday.
Here’s the abbreviated summary of the build, through photos (as usual, click to enlarge):
Easter morning was quite chilly where I live, but since my dress was three layers, I was rather warm even without sleeves.
Since we got out of church before the rest of my family, I ended up taking most of the photos by myself using the camera’s self-timer while I warmed up the food for lunch at my parents’ house (my husband went back at our house to attend to other things).
It was so stinking bright outside, I could hardly keep my eyes open and I was almost crying. I captured lots of photos of myself with my eyes closed or really weird expressions. I did manage to take a few decent shots though.
I had hoped to take some better pictures with my husband’s help later, but nothing turned out any better. He did take a photo of the back (something I had forgotten to do):
And I shall end with a close up of my favorite part – the simple decoration:
I’ve had a couple requests for a tutorial of sorts about how to transfer the fitting marks from a mockup (aka muslin or toile) to the paper sewing pattern. So since I’m in the process of making my Easter dress for this year and the pattern needed a lot of tweaking to be what I want, it was the perfect time to take some photo examples. =)
I’m currently working at The Dallas Opera (helping to build fun 19th century costumes!), so I was able to have my coworker Traci help me fit my mockup during part of a lunch break. Really convenient since the pattern needed more work than I could easily fit on myself alone! Thanks, Traci!
Behold, the truly flattering (*sarcasm*) before & after fitting photos:
Mockups aren’t meant to look pretty. They are meant to be drawn all over and pinched and pinned and then cut up. This is why my fabric choice was a cheapy bedsheet – nothing pretty because I knew I would be throwing it away in the end. I never plan to save or use a mockup once it has served its purpose. If the pieces are big enough, I might cut it up and use the fabric for another mockup later (this fabric was actually left over from Camille’s wedding dress mockup).
There was a pinch taken out of the neckline to eliminate a gap. Tucks were taken out of the side front pieces for a better fit at the bust. Some of the flare was removed from the skirt. The princess seams were moved inward a bit and the neckline was widened slightly at the edges for a more pleasing shape (these adjustments were mainly made to match a photo of the dress I’m copying).
And here’s how I transferred all those marks to my pattern:
First step was to cut right on the new line for the princess seams in the front, cut off the sleeve following drawn armseye, and rip the stitches out of the shoulder seam – all so the mockup could be opened up and traced onto the paper pattern.
The cut mockup was placed on the center front piece and aligned with the pattern’s top line of the bust dart, shoulder seam, and center front. The new lines were traced onto the paper following the mockup at the neck, armseye, and down to top of dart.
Then the mockup was shifted down to line up with the bottom line of the dart on the pattern and the rest of the new seam was traced.
To eliminate the gapping neck in the front, I measured from the top safety pin to the edge of dart.
I forgot to take one photo at this point (but finished alteration is seen in next couple of pictures). To remove that fabric from the pattern without changing the straight center front line (because it’s cut on a fold), I drew a line perpendicular to the neckline and down to a random point on the side seam.
Then the newly drawn line is cut almost all the way down to the side seam – only a tiny point is left attached. And the paper is overlapped the measured amount at the neck (in a V-shape) and taped.
To add the new seamlines on the side front pattern piece, I needed to extend the paper so scraps were taped down the length of pattern.
The mockup was lined up with the paper pattern and pinned down to the table (eventually, I plan to make my cutting table’s surface pinnable too!) and the front edge was traced.
I traced the new side seam (new because of the tuck taken out of the center of the piece) using a tracing wheel, but you can also use a pin to poke a line of holes through the seam and into the paper.
There were only a couple tiny tweaks to the back pattern pieces. I will adjust the center back seam in a final fitting and then insert my zipper accordingly. (It will probably be a bigger seam allowance.)
Altered patterns always look a little weird because they are no longer “standard”. Learn to trust your mockup markings and ignore the unusual look of the corrected pattern on paper and your real garment will fit properly in the end. (And you can always make a second mockup just to be sure!)
I hope this photo walk-through is helpful! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments of this post. =)
Now that my pattern is altered, my real Easter dress fabric (and underlining fabric) is cut and ready to assemble! (See the finished dress in this post.)