Monday, June 27, 2011

Instructions from Bizarroland

I really wonder who makes these things up. Or if a garment existed before the instructions were written. I'm working with vintage Simplicity 7882, copyright 1977, in a size technically a hair too small but actually a hair too large. I am so glad I'm doing a test run of this thing, because I would have lost my mind at this point had I used irreplaceable fabric. The dress bodice and skirt are a delight, but the facings don't fit. And the topstitched facings are what elevate this dress from pretty good to special.

I can just SEE the wheels turning. "We want lines of topstitiching for the sleeve detail, so let's cut it on the straight grain so they can follow the thread." Unfortunately, the armhole is curved. When you cut the facing or detail on the straight grain as a straight bit of fabric, you cause problems for a person with a sewing machine. An experienced seamster would read the instructions, laugh, and do it her own way. A trusting beginner would read the name of the pattern company, Simplicity, and assume it was going to be simple. Ho ho ho. A lunatic such as I will attempt to follow the instructions regardless of their idiocy.

We are instructed to sew the straight piece of fabric into a ring and then attach it to the bodice already stitched. This removes ANY chance you will be able to do it  because fabric cut on the straight grain does not stretch, whereas the curved armhole does. Incidentally, the sewing term for armhole is armscye, a word I used to see frequently but now don't see at all. The sane thing to do would be to redraft the armscye  to be a straight edge. I wanted to see how or if these instructions would work, so I left it as written.

Okay, we've gotten the  ring made and now must try to sew it to the bodice. It would be easier to sew the flat piece to a bodice before sewing the underarm seams. I can see the wheels turning again. "Gee, it's really hard to get those short seams to align, and we want them to align on a channel quilted facing." It's as if a person with technical knowledge of sewing but no practical experience wrote these instructions. Or someone with no technical knowledge of sewing looked at the drawing and gave us a standard curved armhole despite the straight look of the drawing.

I used to assume these people spoke to each other and that I was wrong, or stupid, or inexperienced. At this stage of the game I've been decoding pattern instructions for 50 years, and I have a pretty good idea of what is possible and what is simple. This topstitching detail only looks simple. It is simple when the facings fit. It is simple when the fabric is wool. It may even be simple on a lightweight knit. It was not simple for soft cotton, and will undoubtedly be much worse for soft linen.

I caused some of my problems by not deconstructing after the test fit. With the skirt attached to the bodice,  there was a lot of extra fabric to wrestle. When the pattern is new to you, it is wise to test the fitting before adding embellishments. You don't want to end up with a beautifully embellished thing that no one can wear. Or at least, I don't.

On the entirely rebuttable presumption that the instruction writer had actually done what he/she/it has written instructions for, I followed them. Note the lines of topstitching at armhole and neck. There are four of them. When doing that much topstitching, you should use a new needle. I did. You should also use a full bobbin; I did not. I have doubled threads for starts in the middle of more than one line of stitching. This is not lovely but not a disaster.

The single most important thing for facings stitched on top of the garment is that the facings should fit. It never occurred to me to check the fit of the facings. I didn't change the size or shape of the neckline or armscye. I ended up hand basting the front curve and adding an inch at the center back ends. Because the arm facings are straight, I just recut them.

Several lines of topstitching add stiffness to the fabric. Because this is a test garment and because of the topstitching, I did not interface the facing. I DID sew around the outside of the facing and iron it under, as suggested. When I sewed it to the dress, something happened on the curves: extra fabric. Because there are multiple curves in a low neckline, accidental ruffling was a strong possibility, even though I started my topstitching close to the last line of stitching. There was extra fabric, not stitched down. Oh, the horror.

When in doubt, fake it. So I added lines of topstitching on the extra wide curves. It does not look precisely like the drawing, but  I'm not 6 feet tall like the model in the illustration, either.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I Hate Nylon Knits

Another day, another sewing disaster. For 20 years, sewing lingerie  fabrics was impossible because I had a Kenmore Snarl-o-Matic sewing machine, a machine that could and would chew up anything other than cotton no matter how clean and well-oiled it was -- all because the one place the manual did not say to oil was the only place that really really needed it.

I have a Bernina 1230 now. The only place you oil a Bernina  is a little screw in the bobbin casing. I tried it on Snarly, and he worked beautifully. So well, in fact, that I was able to give him to a niece who has had no trouble at all with him.

Some things don't change. Nylon knits snarl when I sew them. Today I offered the Bernina  four short seams and some gathering of a nylon nightgown. It sewed one seam nicely. It tried to stuff 8 inches into 1/4 inch on the second. We had a brief discussion, which I won. Periodically, while nicely gathering a long  piece, it would hang in one area, creating bits where the gathers do not slide.The Bernina won that battle.

I am certain that someone with more experience sewing nylon knits would not have these problems. I am certain that I will never have more experience sewing nylon knits. I will finish this nylon project and never never never go near the stuff again. I will henceforth and forevermore wear old lady cotton  knit undies rather than go near nylon knits again. I will not sew polyester, either. Silk, cotton, rayon, wool, linen and blends, I will sew. Maybe.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ruffling Through Time

Ever read a set of pattern instructions that led you to believe folks were making things up as they went along? The empire waist and floating sleeves got my attention. The wide skirt was a plus. Unfortunately, it doesn't start widening until well after the point at which I start to widen. And there is a DART in a side panel. Why is there a dart in a side panel of a dress that supposedly floats?

I'm up to the mid Seventies in my stash of  vintage patterns, and discovering that one cannot always believe what the pattern says about hip size if one is a short person. Either I'm short enough that the hip falls in the wrong place, or they just plain lied. In any case, McCall's 4557 is a failure. The neckline is too high, the torso is too long, and even if those things were fixed, the construction is just plain quirky. 

Some seamsters ignore the instructions. I read and try all of them, figuring that I might learn something. This time I learned that the person who designed the dress and the person who made the mockup had no contact with the person who wrote the instructions. And if all three were the same person, he/she/it wrote the instructions while muddling through and did not refine them. I think the designer saw an ethnic dress and translated it into pattern shapes he/she/it could deal with. These were not the best shapes for a female human over the age of eleven.

When there is  a separate bodice and skirt, I sew the bodice pieces together and then sew them to a skirt. But this pattern demanded that I sew bodice front to panel front. I was permitted to sew panel front to panel sides only after sewing the facing to the side panels. The entire back is a single panel -- a NARROW panel. The front is narrow as well. All the shaping is in the side panels and that shaping is more or less at the knee.

I wonder if the designer thought young men would like to wear this dress. After all, young men rarely require flares at the hips. That would explain the dart in the side panels. Young men rarely have defined waists, and the dart hints at waist definition. But it is a high waisted dress, so really, what's the point?

Did I mention that the neckline is too high? Too high. The ethnic dresses from which this pattern is derived just plop over the head. No zippers, buttons, snaps or straps are required. 
M4557, on the left, is a bizarro pattern.

At least I had fun making it. I was getting tired of plain muslin muslins, and put together 3 ditsy calicos (purple and white, turquoise and white, and ye gods and little fishes, who let him loose with the crayons) in the blouse length, thinking that if it fit, I'd have a fun blouse. Such was not the case. I do like the floating sleeves through. I'll do them for a nightgown sometime.

No photos. I had already ripped out the zipper and side panels before it dawned on me that I could rant about it to my heart's content. If I were to make this again I'd redraft the skirt panels so the widening begins below the bust, not somewhere between waist and knee. But I have six 14 x14 inch crates full of vintage patterns, and I am not wedded to this particular rendition of a folk pattern.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

End of the World

Shorts!  I made shorts from  Simplicity 2654 and they fit without my having to go back and add anything at all. They fit better in the muslin than in the twill, but I'm not going to quibble. I made pants from a commercial pattern. They fit. The world as we know it has ceased to exist.

I'd show you they fit, but my photographer got a picture of her toes, the window,  my knees and many other things instead of the shorts. You'll have to take my word for it. Imagine a small round person in shorts. There.

I chose S2654 because at some point in my misspent youth, I had a pair of high-waisted bell bottoms and loved them. 

My goal was to make a pair of loose shorts for gardening. The high waist was the first thing to go. Inseam pockets? Who needs them in a muslin! I tried them on. They slid nicely up. I put in a zipper. They still worked. I slapped on a pair of pockets and they became phenomenal -- lightweight loose shorts that were perfect for the 99 degree weather. So I cut them out in tan twill and instantly made errors. 

I managed to sew in a fold of 3 inches. The shorts zipped but pulled. I took off the pocket and repinned it while wearing the shorts. Much better. The pattern calls for a folded  cuff, and the twill seems to demand that extra weight, but the muslin version behaves nicely. I'll make them again in lightweight denim and make them a little smaller. Oh, I love that word. SMALLER. Possibly narrower in the leg as well.

The secret to  my success: I began with  a pattern that was too big. When I started sewing many decades ago, patterns did not come in my size. I bought the smallest they had and  kept taking it in until it fit. I didn't do any sewing other than mending for years. When I started again, patterns were available in the sizes I used to be. I bought patterns according to my measurements and couldn't make them work. I could make anything for anybody, but could not sew pants for myself.

This time I enlarged the pattern before I started, then  basted it, and kept basting until it fit. I like this method much better than cutting in pieces here and there and adjusting the rest of the pattern endlessly.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dress Success, Skirt Not

I went back to the basement, and in the sixth crate, THE PATTERN appeared. It is loose, tailored, sophisticated and only a little smaller than I am, according to the measurements on the envelope.
I first saw this pattern in the Seventies, loved it, couldn't buy it then or find it later. When I DID find it, it vanished into my crates of patterns. It likes to hide from me.  

It is tailored enough to look good with a jacket if I need to wear one, and loose enough to move in a breeze. It almost demands a rayon solid instead of the  recycled linen tablecloth I had planned to use. Its only flaw is that it lacks pockets, but I'll open a seam and slip in a couple.

This is a dress I want to wear, even if I have to wear nylon stockings, which are no longer nylon but polyester. It would even make a bolero look good. Clever topstitching accentuates neck and sleeves, but I don't know that I will do it. I'm certain I will not make skinny tube ties for the sides. 

There was plenty of ease when I pinned the tissues together, but as I made it larger, it will need to be cut down.
The trial looks good, so I'll add facings and a zipper and wear it around the house for a bit to find out what else I should do to it.

Another test was a qualified failure. I love the look of tiered skirts, but when I use the standard instructions, the tiers hit me in just the wrong places. Instead of using  three 10 inch tiers, I opted for four 7-inch tiers with a separate elastic waistband. A separate band is the way to go. This is the first time I have not cursed the waistband.

HOWEVER. For tiered skirts you add 3-4 inches to your hip measurement, then each tier is 1.5 times the preceding one. This is too fluffy for me. I suspect that even 1.3 is fluffier than I'd like. I did get to use up bits from the stash, but this will be reduced to strips again soon.