Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Summer Series: Five in Five, Take Five

OK, brief intro on other matters - the next in the Ask The Bra Fitter series will be up tomorrow. Veronica just moved house and she's been getting settled...

But back to the Five in Five. It's done. It's over. I've met the terms of the challenge I set for myself (five garments in five weeks). Can't say I had much fun, all things considered, but I learned a LOT.

Here's Vogue 1287, a dress that does not photograph well on a mannequin (alas):

I swear I steamed the shit out of this thing and it still looks like a pile of wrinkles
Oooh, pretty pleats (and a little shot of the coverstitched sleeve hem). Man, I love that coverstitch machine.

The piece de resistance is the back - particularly the pocket construction:

I'm about to say a lot about this thing, so apologies in advance.

For starters - as you can probably tell, this is a wearable muslin. One might argue barely wearable.

My new Viking is not handling knits well at all. I believe I'm going to have to take it for a tune-up because all of the top stitching (not done by coverstitch) looks like the work of drunk mice. It's very distressing to spend 20 hrs making a fucking knit dress only to find the final seam makes it look like crap.

But never mind the mea culpas, let's get down to the crux of the matter. This is most definitely an advanced project, amongst the most advanced I've ever tried. It's as close to tailoring as you can get with a knit dress. The instructions, as always with Vogue knit patterns, are horrible, and given the complexity of construction, I would have been lost without this video tutorial that shows, very clearly, how to insert the pockets. I am so grateful for these resources...

On the body it is a Grecian delight. This thing is so, so gorgeous. I will most definitely make it again, now that I've ironed out the kinks. It's elegant. Sophisticated. Intricate. Interesting. And it fits me like a glove.

You'll recall, most of the (few) reviews of this pattern are not complimentary. I sense that's because the minuses of construction far outweigh the pluses of the finished product for most wearers. While I cut anywhere from a 10 to a 14 in Vogue patterns, this one does fit large. Mind you, I made my standard Vogue knit size - a 10 - and with very few alterations this fits me very well. Honestly, I shortened the skirt by 3 inches (I could have stopped at 2 or 2.5 inches, in truth) and I shortened the bodice by 1.5 inches. That's it. There's no other project I've made in the last year that required so little fit fussing.

Why? Well, my friends, this is a dress for a true hourglass with a substantial rack. I mean, seriously, if you're not in an E cup or higher, just give it a miss. In light of the pleating complexity, and the way the shoulder and neck unit is constructed, it would be painful to alter it to fit a smaller bust. Furthermore, if your hips are on the wide side, stay away. It gives a lot of profile to the derriere, in light of the volume of the pockets. There is no hiding from your curves in this dress. If you don't want to show them off - or if you don't have them - just walk away.

I'm not going to talk about the many issues I had - namely on the neck/shoulder unit construction, the pocket construction and the waistband construction but said issues were numerous - and I made much of it up on the fly, given that the instructions are just short of useless. When I said my spatial reasoning is alright, I overstated the case. Apparently, it sucks. In the end I had to remove (by a tuck on either side of the back seams) 4 inches of fabric from the skirt. I must have missed something because it was a very specific sort of excess. As a result of the drape, you can't really tell, but I mean - I worked hard and I still don't understand how this thing turned into a dress.

I'll also admit that this garment reflects some of the poorest sewing I've done in a long time - from the serging to the regular seams, it's a dog's breakfast. I'm actually embarrassed by the workmanship and, at a certain moment, I just had to give into the idea that what I've made is a legitimate muslin and the interior shows that. The fact that I may wear it a couple of times (just to test it out in the real world) is beside the point.

Here's who should NOT make it (like I'm the arbiter of who should make what?!):
  • If you're small of boob - or really, even if you're on the small end of moderate of boob, just say no. Gotta say, it's nice to find a pattern that's only for the ladies with the sizeable rack.
  • Those having a wide derriere or bulky hips.
  • Those who don't wear bras that fit properly. This dress requires breasts that defy gravity.
  • Those without all of the knit-sewing gizmos - serger and coverstitch. Sure, you could make this but it's going to look homemade on the inside and, given how complex and professional a pattern it is, it's unfortunate that the inside will not reflect the outside.
  • Those who don't love working with knits. I mean it, you've gotta have the love cuz this is TRICKY.
  • Those who love knits but haven't made numerous varieties of knit garments in the past. This is not like making a t-shirt or a pair of leggings. This is tailoring that requires a real sense of how to drape and how to apply a variety of techniques. You don't want to try to learn any basics on this one. All of the other shit you have to learn will keep you adequately busy.
  • Those who don't have access to the appropriate fabric. Don't try this with an ITY knit. You need something like a silk jersey or a firm rayon. Even a ponte would work (if it weren't too thick and spongy). I used Tencel and it was perfect - though the fabric was on the cheap side for Tencel and it is, alas, vaguely see-through.
Everyone else, I urge you to try it! :-)

Final Thoughts on The Summer Series first bracket - The Five in Five:

I'm happy that I set and achieved this goal. In the end (btw, use the search feature with the search term "Five in Five" for more info), I made:
  • a denim skirt
  • a surplice sleeveless top and 
  • three dresses: one with a cowl, one with a mock wrap and the one profiled above
I used only stash fabric and I've decided that, from now on, I'm buying 3 yards, as a standard, especially when working with knit fabric. I had to recut many pieces because I "muslined" as I went (as one "optimally should" with stretch garments). Not having to worry about how much fabric I had to use really helped to calm me down. The only garment I made, working on fabric fumes, was the simple denim skirt and it was stressful!

I learned, in this process, to keep my cool. I encountered numerous issues which would have, even a year ago, derailed an entire project. Sure, I have more skill now than I did then. But my greatest resource was my ability to stay calm when things went wrong. It's pretty rare to be completely unable to find some way to fix a problem. Even the mystery extra 4 inches of skirt width in the dress you see above, was easily managed with a clear head. Is it perfect? No. Is it a solution that worked? Yup.

With the exception of the mock wrap dress (the weather has been hideous, rainy and cold this spring/summer), I've worn every garment at least once - and some of them on a few occasions.

This palette is sensible (weather notwithstanding) and suitable for my lifestyle and my sartorial tastes. I like things that are stylish, basic (which is to say a well-fitted, elegant back-drop for accessories and my natural personality :-)), made of good material (I'm getting better at sourcing these) and easy-to-wear. All of these items fit the bill.

My biggest disappointment in the process is that I didn't have as much fun as I would have liked. I encountered a lot of set-backs and they undercut the pleasurable aspects of sewing. I also feel that much of my construction (esp. given how my new machine handles knits) could have been better.

Another lesson I can take from this experience is that, as long as the fabric is good, the style is attractive and the fit is excellent, the quality of sewing doesn't really matter (she says, trying to make herself feel better). Even I don't care as much about imperfect seams as I did when first I completed these garments (and I care about these kinds of things). What I notice most is the drape and hand. Of course, here's hoping I can pull it all together in the long run!

Next up, some knitting. And the Cherry Bomb bra and undies set. But I need to chill on the sewing for a couple of weeks. I'm spent.

So, today's questions: Which is your fave of the five? Do you have any interest in making V1287? What are the elements of your handmade clothes that you appreciate the most (and therefore wear the most)? Let's talk!


  1. Your dress is beautiful! I know how much work you put into everything you make and it shows.

  2. Your dress turned out great despite the problems during construction.

    I do all my knits at the machine before I go to the serger. I've never sewn with tencel but here's some general thoughts on the Viking and knits not getting along.
    walking foot
    foot pressure as low as it will go
    stitch length 3.0 maybe longer
    fabric/needle combo wrong

    Is it just this fabric or all knits? If it was just this fabric I know you said it was a bit thin. Maybe the addition of a lightweight wash away stabilizer would help.

    The fabric that trips me up is a rayon knit unless it's on the heavier side. It wants to stretch all to hell when I try sewing it. I just don't buy it!;)) Maybe that's the case with your tencel.

    The element of my handmade clothing that I appreciate the most is a superb fit. I work really hard on getting a good fit with basic patterns and then draft in new style elements to change the look. I use a lot of pattern tracing paper!

    1. Oh, I used the machine before the serger. It's just that the fabric chose to freak out at that stage of the game (there was a lot of complicated attachment that the serger didn't love). I had a walking foot on my old machine but I didn't find it very useful. Maybe, on this machine, it would be. And I've got the stitch at 3. I think I may need to go to 3.5 (which seems crazy long). I also think your idea about the stabilizer is right on. It did work better where I fused the stay tape.

      Thanks for these great suggestions. I'm going to consider them some more...

  3. I really like this dress and I like sleeveless top.
    Oddly enough the homemade item I was wearing most was kimono with sleeve pockets (you can't buy something like that easily!). Coordination of the print was a real head ache, but I loved the result and I was wearing it at home a lot for several years.

    1. Thanks! I think the skirt is my fave from a frequent-wear perspective. But I'm really enjoying that wrap top too. I love the idea of a kimono. Maybe you should make it again in a solid?

    2. May be one day when my lifestyle stops to be crazy like hell. ))

  4. Beautiful dress. Great review of the pattern.

  5. I find a negative correlation between the quality of sewing and the number of times an item is eventually worn...

    1. Oooh, that's interesting. I'm going to have to pay attention to this...

  6. in all honesty, i didn't realize this pattern was for knits until you started working on it. i really love the pattern, but i suspect i'll pass because i certainly don't have the bust to pull it off! it sounds like vogue made it far more complicated than it really needed to be, great job on seeing the project to the end though! the finished product looks pretty good from here; if this turns into the "wearable muslin" i'd love to see version two!

    1. You can use a knit or a drapey woven (like silk) but the reviews I read all suggested that it was better with a knit. I don't know that Vogue made it more complicated than it is (it is pretty complicated) but the instructions confused the situation. OK, I guess they did make it more difficult with the instructions.

  7. Thank-you for the extensive notes. This is a pattern I've been eyeing for years. I think it would be a smokin' date night dress. The process sounds difficult, I'm probably not ready yet, but I will be... someday.

  8. How would it do for camouflaging a tummy? I find it funny that I'm even contemplating this now, because after seeing Vogue's version I wasn't even remotely interested. Heck, I didn't even realize it was made for knits! Anyway, I think you'll probably get a lot of wear out of this "wearable muslin", and you'll probably decide that you don't need a "real" version. :-)

  9. Kristin, you have to model this one. It is SO beautiful.

    And of course I can tell that the "small of boob" need not apply :).

    1. I have to model all of them - and the freakin' suit. I am so bad at that part of this process - I'm just always SO occupied (or a mess) :-)

  10. Another hit! I know this project hasn't been without it's challenges but the results have been well worth the effort. This dress is so chic.

    1. Thanks Evie - it would look great on you btw.