Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Colette Peony Conundrum

I am here to say that I am a lucky gal - through all of the nightmarish tales about the Peony bodice darts, I somehow fit perfectly in the size 12 right. out. of. the. envelope.

I bought this pattern two years ago as a very novice seamstress. I originally made a FBA on the size 14 (wildly too large), made a straight 14 that I rarely wore (still too large), eventually did a FBA on size 10 (darts too restrictive) and then finally chucked the pattern. 

My recent success with my Hazel bodice got me thinking: perhaps I had approached the Peony pattern from the beginning all wrong. Perhaps instead of trying to make the 10 or 14 work (just like I had done with Hazel), I should start with the 12 and go from there. 

As luck, or the sewing fairies, would have it, I fit perfectly into the size 12 bodice. Gasp!

I spent a lot of time in the mirror analyzing this bodice.

Surely I am imagining things. Surely I am missing a wrinkle or pulling. Surely these darts need some manipulating.

Nope. Nada. Nothing of the sort.

Now, to be fair, I will gladly admit my perfectionism. I took the 12, removed 1" of length for my short waist, and did a tiny 1/4" FBA for what I call "singing room."

As you can see, there's not a ton of difference, except I can take a slightly fuller breath in the latter, and I feel better about the length and fullness adjustments.

This leads to an interesting thought: how many times do seamstresses overthink the obvious and wind up frustrated and confused? 

In my defense, it was only after making 10 size 12 Laurel dresses that the idea occurred to me that I had been choosing the wrong size in all Colette patterns. But two years!?! I have wasted two years not sewing the Peony pattern!

Some additional thoughts: perhaps muslins in three sizes (high bust, full bust and the one in between) are helpful to construct. Yes, this is a ton of muslin making, but let's take the Emery dress as an example:

Photo courtesy of

  • Based on the size chart, I fall between the 14 and 16 based on my full bust. 
  • Based on the finished measurements, I should pick the 14 bust and 12 waist. 
  • Based on my high bust, I should be a size 10.
My muslin of the 14 bust/12 waist/14 sleeve looks nice - there's enough room for everything - but it's a smidge too large. I also did a muslin of the size 10 bust/12 waist with an FBA - twice - and it looks wildly off base, plus the sleeve is too tight.

After my epiphany, I'm wondering now if the 12 + 3/4" FBA isn't the answer to the perfect fit. But seriously, how many muslins is too many? I've already made 3, none of which are perfect but now I'm 99% convinced the 12 is the way to go, AND it will provide a happy medium in sleeve fit as well.

Big 4 patterns I understand more easily - I always make a size 16 bust + 18 waist and check the finished measurements, adding an FBA if needed, OR stick to the patterns with cup sizes. 

Indie patterns, though, have me rethinking my entire system. Perhaps the answer is the simplest: compare measurements with finished measurements, and choose the size in the middle.

Have you had a conundrum like this? How did you handle it? 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

FINISHED: Colette Zinnia

I have concluded that Sarai just seems to know how to draft for the curvy feminine figure. I do not wear pencil skirts and it takes a special high-waisted skirt to flatter my lack of a highly defined waist. Enter Zinnia.

Here's why the Zinnia is so flattering:
1. The pleats flatten out any semblance of a tummy before they release.
2. The hemline is curved and therefore flares out giving the illusion of a defined waist.
3. The waistband is thin and does little to draw attention to a not-so-slender waist.

I had this cotton lawn for months (maybe closer to a year) when I decided to bite the bullet and use it. I vaguely remember cutting into it without really thinking too much about which fabric I was using. I chose version 2 with the pleats. I made a straight size 14.

The pleats do wonders to smoothing out a bit of a tummy. Amen to that. This is a very lightweight cotton so I have to be careful when choosing my undergarments for this one. It is incredibly comfortable in the heat. 

I interfaced the zipper area, and used a regular zipper. This pattern and fabric would have done well with French seams, but I stuck with serging. 

I've worn this three times for Me Made May 2014 and really should make more. I just recently made version 1 and will be blogging about it soon!

Be forewarned: you need to let this hang overnight before hemming as it will stretch. Now that I'm thinking about that, I may not have let this version hang before hemming it - oh well! 

Pattern: Colette Zinnia, version 2
Size: 14
Fabric: grey polka dot lawn from Denver Fabrics
Needle: Schmetz 70/10 Microtex Sharp
Changes: none!
Time: About 2 hours construction plus overnight to hang

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

FINISHED: Deer & Doe Centauree

If you follow my Instagram feed you know that yesterday I was trying to decide which pattern to make out of a lovely 1" mint gingham. 

Several bloggers recommended the Emery dress which was my first thought, but then someone mentioned the Centauree dress pattern - the latest release from Deer and Doe. I still haven't decided on a pattern for the gingham, but around 10:00 last night decided to make the Centauree out of a recent linen purchase.

The Centauree is described as a sundress with double straps in two variations: short or asymmetric skirt. The bodice is made of geometric panels. This is listed as an intermediate pattern, and having made it, I would say for these reasons: 
1. Make a bodice muslin! I am relieved I didn't need adjustments, but my muslin helped me work through the construction order as well, which can get iffy if you're not paying close attention. 
2. Follow the instructions for the straps carefully! It's easy to get turned around if you're not paying close attention. 

I used a lovely linen from - it is well worth the $15 per yard. I have purchased the lightweight and the mid-weight in the past but this is a much finer weave and just lovely to work with.

My cameras do not do this color justice - the website and the photo of the dress on are the most accurate.

I cut a straight size 46 (the largest size) and made a bodice muslin ala Susan Khalje with extra wide seam allowances and everything. Turns out, I didn't need them - the 46 fit perfectly. 

The bodice detail is really lovely and unique, although I'm experiencing some rippling across the top seam even though I pressed, notched, top stitched. Who knows.

I did make a slight change: I added center back seam allowances and put the zip in the back. I added 5/8" to the back bodice and the skirt piece and this worked well. I interfaced the zipper seam allowances with tricot fusible.

I serged the internal seams except for the bodice, which I zig-zagged - next time I will use French seams for the bodice. I serged and turned the hem 1".

Center back zip - getting better each time! Practice makes perfect!

I also attached the straps in the back closer together to conceal my bra strap. There's no way I could wear this sans bra, so the straps closer together help a great deal. I didn't really follow the instructions regarding making the tape - I cut 2" strips, attached them then created a double fold, then opened them to stitch them down. The center front is genius - so easy! I used my 1/8" foot for the edges of the straps - not perfect, but good enough!

Overall, this is a gorgeous summer dress! I have several more planned and I just love the elegant and feminine construction and design. Eleanore is currently hosting a sewalong which technically I signed up for, but alas, I am impatient!

Pattern: Deer & Doe Centauree dress
Size: 46
Fabric: Cascade linen from, 2 yards
Changes: Moved the zip to center back; 1" serged hem instead of 1/4" baby hem; used 2" wide bias strips; moved back straps closer to conceal bra straps.
Thread: Gutermann Mara 100
Needle: Shmetz 70/10 Sharp
Make again? Definitely! I need to make more Deer & Doe patterns since they fit me so well out of the package!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

FINISHED: Megan Nielsen Tania Culottes

Every time I mention the word culottes my husband gets this look on his face and asks why I wouldn't just wear a skirt or shorts. I've composed a brief response to his inquiry:
  • Culottes provide the coverage and security that a short circle skirt cannot.
  • Culottes are more dressy than your average shorts. 
  • Culottes is a fun word to say.
  • I like culottes.
I personally think this argument makes perfect sense.

Last month I made a large purchase from Denver Fabrics, vowing that this would be my fabric purchase for the year and that I would sew through it quickly. I purchased a ton of cotton and have all of them earmarked for summer dresses. Since we live in coastal Georgia it made sense since "summer" is 8 months of the year. I also bought some linen but that's another story. 

I loved this black and cream geometric cotton - it's a true lightweight rather than a sheer. I realized, though, that I might not want it so close to my face for fear of making my friends sea-sick, so Tania culottes it became!

My last pair seemed a bit short for daily consumption so I added 1.5" of length following Megan's instructions on how to do so. For the record, you extend the seamlines - you DO NOT slash and lengthen. Easy. These are around 20" from my waist now which I like a lot. The fabric weight gives these a nice amount of body - they neither fall limp nor can they stand on their own. 

I zig-zagged the waistband facing and then stitched in the ditch without folding the ends under. The waistband on my last pair was a bit thick.

(Insert facing pic)
I let these hang overnight but didn't notice much bias growth. I went back and forth on whether to narrow hem or just serge and stitch and ended up narrow hemming. I'd love to learn how to use my narrow hem foot. :-/

I really like these, which is the real reason I'll continue making them, and that's just fine by me.

Pattern: Megan Nielsen Tania
Size: XL
Fabric: 60" geometric cotton lawn from Denver Fabrics, 2 yards
Needle: Shmetz 70/10 Sharp
Thread: Gutermann Mara 100 in black
Changes: Added 1.5" to length, interfaced both waistband pieces, regular zipper
Notions: lightweight fusible interfacing, thread, black zipper

Monday, May 12, 2014

REVIEW: The Complete Photo Guide to Clothing Construction

I have learned a tremendous lesson since learning to sew: I am 100% a visual learner. I really wish I had figured this out a few years ago - I could have taken advantage of Craftsy classes and various books and saved myself a lot of mistakes. Live and learn.

I follow Christine Haynes' blog and LOVE her Emery pattern, so when I learned she was writing a book I got so excited! I wasn't sure that I really needed this book, but I was wrong the minute I opened it up. 

First and foremost, if you are a visual learner like I am, you NEED this book. I cannot tell you how many times I have read through sewing books with minimal diagrams and walked away confused and frustrated. Enter The Complete Photo Guide to Clothing Construction!

To start, I want to list what makes this book so fantastic. Included in this book are:
  • 4 types of zippers: centered, invisible, lapped, and fly front
  • 6 types of hem finishes
  • 9 types of seam finishes
  • 2 types of pockets
  • 4 types of button attachment
  • 4 types of pleats
  • 2 types of collars - flat and rolled
  • 2 ways to finish with bias
  • 3 types of sleeves - set-in, flat and raglan
  • sleeve cuff and placket insertion
These techniques alone make this book worth buying, and it is full of photos to outline each step. I think my favorite section is How to Sew on Buttons. I can't remember seeing this in other sewing books, and it is so helpful to finally know the correct way to sew on a button.

The first part of the book covers basics for new sewists, but these later chapters on techniques are just brilliant. It is always nice, though, to see new techniques for things you do everyday, like sewing darts. Christine has a nice way of pinning each dart leg and then bringing them together - why haven't I thought of that before?!

I don't know why I've never tried a Hong Kong seam finish, but I'm planning to now. 

I appreciated having a formal explanation on the types of pleats. I had never really understood the difference between inverted and box until I read this and saw the photos.

There are so many techniques in this book that I have read about but never really understood until I saw all of the accompanying photos of actual hands manipulating the fabric. I am so glad that I went ahead and bought this book. The photos are wonderfully staged, and I love that she uses all independent patterns, including her own, for the garments. 

I think it is important to note that not everyone is talented at teaching, but to me, writing a sewing book is teaching at its finest. The language has to be such that complete beginners could teach themselves to sew from this book and I think Christine did a marvelous job. The language is clear and understandable, and the photos do wonders for helping us visual learners! 

Have you purchased The Complete Photo Guide to Clothing Construction? What did you think?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

FINISHED: Cotton Hemery (Hazel + Emery) Dress

The Hazel dress was the second Colette pattern I purchased - the first was Peony - and it was the first dress I made in earnest after we moved to GA in 2012. I made four versions of this dress in 2012:

1. purple chambray - size 14: too big, and very visible invisible zipper
2. aqua linen with muslim underlining - size 14 with 1" seam allowances: poor seam finishing led to fraying 
3. colorblocked cotton - strapless: too low cut, wouldn't stay up around bust
4. green swiss dot - size 10 + fba: poor fabric choice - way too sheer

I tinkered a great deal with the fit of the bodice, and tried several adjustments on the size 14 and the size 10. When the 14 seemed too large, I made a FBA on the size 10 and it ended up morphing into some kind of pseudo-princess seamed bodice.

After these four pseudo failures (I say pseudo because I had wearable garments, but not enjoyable garments), I wrote off the pattern altogether and said "to hell" with attempting to make the Hazel pattern work for me. What I once considered a tried-n-true pattern was marked off the sewing list.

But, two years and a few Pinterest pins later, I began yearning anew for the Hazel pattern. I'd also learned a few things about Colette patterns since then:
  • I wear a size 12 in the Laurel dress - interesting. 
  • Size 10 with fba in the Laurel dress was too snug.
  • Perhaps I should fba the size 12 Hazel bodice.
And this is where I found some success with the Hazel pattern. See, it's one thing to make a dress that is so-so and walk around all day knowing it's so-so, but it's quite another to wear something with confidence because you know it fits like a glove and has superior construction. So, I took size 12, made a 3/8" fba and made a muslin. I didn't like the length so I hacked it up and added some length so I'd show no cleavage. Presto!

The bodice fit perfectly! It's magical how these moments occur in our sewing lives. It's as if we have to make horrid sewing mistakes before the mysteries unlock themselves. I think this is a true testament to the need to keep fiddling with patterns until we have them just right. 

I swapped out the Hazel skirt for the Emery skirt, and the Hemery was born!

I found this fabric at JoAnn (gasp!) in the quilting section (double gasp!) and finally bought it when it became marked down, and I'm glad I did. If you pay attention, you know that Christine recommends quilting cottons for the Emery, and I personally believe the Hazel bodice needs some structure (see swiss cotton fail above). 

After I constructed the bodice, trimmed and notched the seams and pressed those suckers on my pressing ham, I stood there debating whether to serge or add a lining to the facing for some added strength. I had a perfect cotton voile in the perfect shade, so I finally decided it was worth it.

I then went rounds about whether to turn and stitch-in-the-ditch the lining, or just stitch to the skirt and serge them all, which is what I decided.

I serged the bottom edge and turned up 1 1/2" (1" less than recommended) and stitched the hem. I used a regular zipper in contrasting thread. For some reason it's been awhile since I've sewn zippers and I can't keep the construction order straight in my head. Sewing is a use-it-or-lose-it activity indeed. A bit wonky, but look at that waist seam matching!

I waited to install the straps until I had on a bra and my hubby so he could make sure they covered the straps. I interfaced both strap pieces (just to be sure) and used a 3/8" seam allowance rather than 5/8" to ease the turning. I used a triple stitch to stitch them down. The ends of the straps are serged.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with this dress. The fit of the bodice is near perfect - perfection is an odd thing to strive for given our imperfect bodies! The length is super-flattering - this skirt is just genius - flared a bit at the hem - love it! And the fabric, despite it's low brow origins (or something) I love as well.

I wore this on Wednesday to music rehearsals and really liked it. The bodice fits so well that I had no worries about it gaping open or anyone being able to look down it - a fear I had with the original length of the bodice. It was a tad snug to sing in and get a good breath, so I'll note that for future wearing. The straps perfectly cover my bra straps so I can wear this in the heat of summer without a cardigan.

Pattern: Colette Hazel bodice + Christine Haynes Emery Skirt
Size: Size 12 + 3/8" fba on bodice, size 12 skirt
Fabric: high quality quilting cotton, 2.5 yards of 45"
Needle: Organ 80/12
Thread: Gutermann Mara 100, seafoam for construction, black for hem and strap securing
Changes: 3/8" FBA, 1" length added to bodice, 1" seam allowances on bodice and facing, added bodice lining, serged seams, 3 rows of basting thread on skirt, serged and turned 1.5" hem, interfaced all 4 strap pieces, 3/8" seam allowance on straps, placement based on bra straps, regular 16" zipper with interfaced seam allowances. (Whew!)
Notions: needle, thread, roll tricot fusible for zipper, lightweight fusible for facings. 

Have you ever struggled with a pattern only to return to it later and solve your fitting issues? 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

WIP: The Tailored Blazer

A month or so ago I signed up for Steffani Lincecum's class on, Classic Tailoring: The Blazer. If you recall my sewlutions for 2014, one of them was to take more time on individual garments to really improve the construction quality. I ordered my tailoring supplies from Wawak, worked up a muslin of a McCall's blazer and cut into my most prized seafoam wool flannel that I'd been hoarding for a year.

It's important to be careful what you wish for - I wanted some projects that would stretch my skills, slow me down and force me to focus on quality construction. My jacket fronts (that's right - just the fronts), have taken me weeks to finish. The hair canvas is pad-stitched to the lapel, basted around the edges, then the roll line is taped, as is the front edge. Other pieces, which I haven't gotten to yet, are reinforced with muslin.

The class also has you do a bound buttonhole. I promise I did a sample, but something went wrong and I ended up having to do what I call a "faux" bound buttonhole - although Gail Yellen in 40 Techniques Every Sewer Should Know refers to what I did as the actual bound buttonhole method. I'm not convinced, but I fixed the issue of my wool being too dense to fold the lips.

What have I learned so far? A TON!
  • Hand stitching can be uniquely therapeutic and relaxing.
  • Hand stitching is neither complicated nor difficult.
  • Very fine pins hurt when they stick you.
  • Using a beloved fabric forces you to concentrate (shouldn't we always?!)
  • Always use a press cloth.
  • RTW is just terrible compared to these techniques.
  • I can only work for about an hour on this fine detail work before needing a break and a fast project.
  • I am 100% a visual learner.

I cannot wait to get this thing finished, and hopefully be able to wear it come fall!

Pattern: McCall's 6172
Fabric: seafoam wool flannel from Fabric Mart Fabrics
Needles: Thomas Sharps & Betweens
Thread: Gutermann Mara 100 from
Notions: hair canvas, 1/4" cotton twill tape, thread, basting thread, extra fine glasshead pins, tailors ham/seam roll/tailor's board, cotton muslin

Sunday, May 4, 2014

FINISHED: Colette Hawthorn

Have you ever had a project that you just weren't sure about until it was 100% complete? I had made muslins for the Hawthorn but somewhere along the journey (ie when hubby saw it 90% finished), I wondered if it was at all flattering. I tend to avoid strong waist definition since I don't have much of one but I think this might work.

Please excuse the iphone pic in the choir robe room - tis all I have!

Anyway, I bought 3 yds of this blueish cotton from Mood specifically for a Hawthorn, and I'm quite pleased with it. It sewed up easily and pressed nicely. I cut a straight 14, removed about 4" from the skirt length and made this version sleeveless. Could I achieve a better fit with a 12 + fba? Probably, but the 14 is nice and comfy without being overfitted.

I thought I had buttons in my stash but I didn't, so I found these nice grey ones at JoAnn. I'm really liking the slightly brighter thread on the buttonholes and topstitching - nice pop of color. 

I used a slightly lighter Gutermann Mara 100 for the hem, about 3.5 stitch length. 

Overall, I think I could maybe wear belts with this under a cardigan - the cardigan adds a bit of waist definition. I put in the hook & eye but I'm not pleased with it and might trade it for a snap. I used stat tape at the waist seam around the entire bodice and serged the waist seam. All others are French seamed.

The side view is nice - just above the knee and nice and swishy. But, the fabric wrinkles...

In her Pants Construction class on Craftsy, Sandra Betzina called wrinkles in linen "rich wrinkles" - polyester doesn't wrinkle. I'm going to go with that here too!

Pattern: Colette Hawthorn size 14
Thread: Gutermann Mara 100 
Needle: Organ 70/10
Buttons: JoAnn 6 for $.99
Changes: shortened bodice 1", shortened skirt 4"
Make Again? I think so - with a snap!