Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Welcome Return of Burda

I know I wasn't the only one who thought the last 6 or so issues of Burda basically sucked out loud. For a magazine that normally provides me with most of my sewing, I haven't even pulled the pattern sheets out of an issue since January (and that attempt ended in a wadder). I don't think I've really been enthused about them since this time last year.

But all that ends tonight.

The May 2010 issue is the best one I've seen in ages. I couldn't believe how many pieces I wanted to make out of this one - including, of course, almost the entire plus section. Not only does the plus section get fashion photography that actually does what I think fashion photography should do: tell a story and show off the clothes, but they actually get the best clothes.

In some respects I think that's good - most of the plus size clothes I see in the stores are just plain wrong, scaled up garments that don't look good even on tiny people or big, sacky, style-less dresses, pants and tops. Now there are some larger ladies out there in the sewing world whose sense of style I respect highly, and they wouldn't be caught dead in most of what's in the stores. (Clothes like those are probably what start a lot of women sewing in the first place).

So I guess it's only fair that Burda makes up for the dearth of interesting clothes out there in RTW land. I just wish they'd make every look in every size - or at least all the sizes feasible for the design.

But that's why we sew, right? And why if you're following basically straight lines, there's no reason grading down shouldn't work.

Stay tuned on that, because . . . one of them (#137, the blue shirt-dress on the right), taken down from a 44 to a 40, is cut out on my table right now. I don't always feel comfortable sizing down plus patterns, but the lines on this one were pretty simple and straightforward, so fingers crossed that it works - because of course I traced it out and cut right into my fabric!

Other patterns I liked from this issue:

The first four dresses pictured are plus - I love that red one - and the blue-and-white bubble hem dress could easily be un-bubbled, and it has the same great neckline as the red dress.

Burda's having another safari moment, but this one strikes me as a bit more interesting than their last 3 or 4 safaris. The two-layer vest definitely has a purpose, but I'm thinking about holding that one off until fall. The dress with the eyelets in the front is whispering sweet nothings to some deep toasty colored linen in my stash.

The blouse with the cutaway shoulders is similar to one they did a few years ago (that I made twice), but I like the style and I'll see what this one has to say.

The other little two-layer vest is cute, but the first thing that caught my eye, I had to say, was that the under-fabric is Liberty. I know that because I have some of that very print.

I'm not sure whether I like the jacket or not. I do - but not in their fabrics. I think that's where the problem is for me. It's a basic shape, with good lines, which works well for me since most of my fabrics are a little less than quiet, shall we say. Lots of style lines tend to get lost in the hectic.

Another piece from the safari line that I'm liking a lot is the trench-styled vest. What is it with Burda and vests? They always have such good ones.

This doesn't want to stay a vest, though - can't you see it lengthened into a trench-styled dress? Yes, I know, Burda has probably done one before - multiple times, no doubt - but it didn't strike me before this issue that I wanted a trench-styled dress, so I'm sure this pattern will give me what I want in the end.

Of course, you see that I have what, 10 or 11 patterns here? What's the likelihood of getting more than 2 of them actually finished anytime soon?

Then again, that's the good thing about Burda. It keeps on the shelf, and this will definitely become a go-to issue when I'm in the mood to sew, but without a particular project in mind.

Naturally, before I tore the plastic wrapping off my magazine tonight and disappeared into my room for a half hour, I had a list of things to sew firmly in the front of my brain. Now, what was on that list?

New black pants for work (using my TNT pattern, which I can knock together in an evening). My old black pants are no longer completely black, and they're too worn to go to the bother of dyeing them black again.

A couple of restyled t-shirts from some really cute XL shirts I picked up at the last half price day at the thrift store. Another quick knit nightie because some day the weather will be warm.

I need to do some tracing - am I the only woman out there who hasn't tried the Jalie jean pattern yet? Plus I have some other new patterns winging their way to me, and they need tracing as well.

I remember once upon a time when I hated the idea of tracing like poison and only wanted to use Big 4 patterns because I could just cut out the tissue and go.

Somewhere along the line, Burda's fit won me over, and I became a tracing convert (I still cut my Big 4 patterns, though). I resisted Jalie for a long time, I think it was just residual distaste for tracing, though their patterns are a breeze compared to Burda, especially the new, economical, let's print twice as many patterns on one piece of paper and see if we can drive them crazy, Burda.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sometimes it pays not to pay attention

I've made how many shirts for Mario now, about 10? And every time, even though I know what I'm doing, I still break into a cold sweat attaching the collar/stand to the shirt body.

Every stinking time.

This weekend I was working on a summer blouse, BWOF 2/2009 #125, with sleeves from an older, similar pattern, 10/2008 #113, and I got to the collar. I interfaced, sewed the collars together, interfaced the stand, sewed it to the collar, and while I was busy thinking about how I'm going to rearrange the back yard to fit in all the new veggies getting delivered next week, I pinned and sewed on the collar.

And it came out right the first time. I didn't even realize what I'd done until I went to topstitch it, and I almost choked. Why can't this kind of automatic sewing happen on the really important projects? This is a cute top, but I can take or leave it, really. It certainly didn't deserve a completely problem-free collar and 9 cooperative buttonholes, including the one on the collar.

What's next, forgetting that welt pockets make me dizzy with fear and knocking out welt pockets everywhere?

Nah. I don't think I'll ever not feel that way. Here's the patternreview, if you care to read further.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

BWOF 2/2009 #124

Air silence for a week, and then two posts in one day! No, I haven't been taken over by aliens, I'm just too tired to sleep and the birthday boy is unconscious on the couch not watching Dr. Who reruns. When I'm done here, I'll give him a poke and watch him sleepwalk down the hall.

But due to tiredness and having already said most of what I need to about this dress, here in all its eloquence is the patternreview:

Pattern Description: It's the packaging that counts! This bold floral print will drive out those winter blues - guaranteed! Our sheath dress is slightly fitted, falling straight to the hem, and is fastened at the back with an invisible zip.

In one description, Burda calls it a shift, then they call it a sheath. I guess it depends on how much fit you're going for. I went for sheath.

Pattern Sizing: BWOF sizes 38 to 46. I made a size 40, a bit larger than my usual 38, but I think I ended up somewhere between the two sizes. Here's a back view of it on me, slightly wrinkled from sitting for a few hours.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Absolutely, except of course the flowered version of the dress has almost no visbile details, and the lace version of the dress isn't much better. Neither version shows the very cute V back of the dress, which is a shame because I think it's one of the best points.

Were the instructions easy to follow? For Burda, they seemed really good - though there are so few pieces to this dress, they're basically unnecessary. Burda should have saved the clarity for one of those 3 dot patterns that have us smacking ourselves on the forehead.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I love patterns with simple style lines. (Actually I love fussy, complicated patterns more, but they don't go with my abiding love for prints, so I've grown to love simpler designs so that I can be as garish as I like). I loved the neckline in the front and when I saw the V back, I was sold.

The front bust darts line right up with the long fitting darts in the front of the skirt, which makes this dress a dream to fit. The back has darts in the skirt only, but that's because the back neck tapers down to a point not far above the empire seam. I have to say that the shaped facing for the back made for the neatest invisible zip insertion I've ever done.

Fabric Used: A very large print stretch woven I got at Metro Textiles at least a year ago, possibly longer. I thought it wanted to be a skirt, but apparently it wanted to be a dress. Or possibly a sofa, but the dress won out. I really was afraid of looking like grandma's favorite chair in this; I think certain patterns would have enhanced the home dec-ishness of the print, but this was simple enough to work with it, and the stretch allowed me to make the dress snug enough to make a statement while still being able to breathe, sit and eat dinner. You know, the important stuff.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: Other than tweaking the seam allowances to get the fit I wanted, not a one. It's a simple pattern - front & back, top & bottom. Fitting darts in the front bodice and both sides of the skirt. The sleeves are cut on and look much less so than they do in the drawing. I would like to try this again and alter the pattern to include a regular sleeve, or possibly use a similar pattern with a good sleeve and incorporate the neckline elements that I liked here.

I made this dress up starting last weekend to wear to Mario's birthday dinner tonight. The fabric's been resting on the shelf for a while, but when I started looking for something to use with this pattern, it almost fell into my lap. Thinking about it, I think I subconsciously was looking for a fabric to wear with a favorite pair of shoes that don't leave the closet often enough.

But that's a good enough reason to make a dress, right?

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Yes, and yes. I'm definitely going to try this again, and as I said, possibly work the pattern to include a sleeve, mainly so that I can wear a jacket over it. The sleeve - as is - is a bit wide to get into a jacket.

Conclusion: Yet another great sheath dress from Burda - they really should stick to sheaths, pencil skirts and trenches, that seems to be what they do best.

I'll sew tomorrow

It was too nice today to be trapped indoors, even in my very favorite place. But it's supposed to rain tomorrow, so I'll be back at it then.

For all of you who wondered if I'd fallen off the face of the earth since last week -- no, I haven't, but it was close. There's been a lot going on at work, the plans for PR Weekend in Philly are being finalized, and there's just been a lot happening.

Last night was the opening of the local theater's final production of the season, a steampunk-themed Twelfth Night. The costumes were so much fun, and the whole show was a blast. We went out afterward to the opening party and wandered home around midnight.

Today is Mario's birthday - an almost reasonable age - and while today we just did our normal Saturday errands, I'm currently waiting for him to get out of the shower so I can start getting ready for our dinner out.

I'll be wearing my new Burda sheath dress, but unfortunately, not its matching jacket. Said jacket met its demise yesterday. I took the day off from work to do a variety of things, one of which was finishing the jacket to wear tonight. Thankfully I tried it on again before I got too much further, because it just didn't work, on me or as an idea. The dress works well alone; I'll have to wear something over it while we're out, but so be it. I mostly started making the wadder jacket because I had leftover fabric anyway. Not a good enough reason.

Today, after we did our errands, I was going to sew. I got as far as heading up the back stairs, and then I heard something calling me. It was the yard.

So I took a pitcher of iced tea, a few magazines and some farmer's market oatmeal raisin cookies and I went out and sat at the table in the sun for about 2 hours, feeling as lazy as one of my cats. The tree peony bloomed this week when I wasn't looking, but as I sat there reading, I could hear the bees buzzing in and out of the blossoms.

Speaking of cats, Max here says it's a wonderful day to get the sun on his belly.

I just heard the shower stop, so I'm off to transform into something cleaner and a bit more festive than my current state - I couldn't be expected to just sit in the garden, right? I had to do some weeding and cut back the lilac and water the salad greens and dig about 20 pounds of compost into the new vegetable bed.

No wonder I'm hungry for his birthday dinner.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dress in progress

I know I'm supposed to be making tops. I signed up for the Spring Month of Tops, and tops are what I need. Right? Right.

So of course, I'm compelled to make a dress.

I have a justification, if that helps. Mario's birthday is next weekend, so I need a dress to wear for dinner that night. And there was this piece of fabric on the shelf that's been calling to me since last summer, but until this week it never really announced what it wanted to be.

Since the print is fairly large (and somewhat home-dec-appearing), I wasn't really sure it could be a dress. I didn't want to make a skirt with it - I had 2.5 yards, and it seemed wasteful - but the right dress pattern hadn't come along.

Burda to the rescue, yet again. The other night I pulled out several years worth of issues and went through them, line drawing by line drawing, looking for something to sew that wasn't what I said I was going sew. Dress #124 from the 2/2009 issue jumped out at me.

I'd put a sticky on it at the time as a possibility, and I'm not sure why I waited this long to try it. It's very close to perfect - neck not too low, interesting V in the back, fitting darts top and bottom in the front, darts in the skirt in the back, cut-on sleeves so you can tinker with the side seams without messing up the fit.

What's not to like? The more I looked at it, the more I thought it could work with this fabric. The fabric, by the way, was from Metro Textiles last spring (or possibly earlier, but I'm going to say it's about a year old). It's a stretch woven, but not too stretchy, jsut with enough give that I could take this dress in and make it nice and snug and still be able to breathe and eat and walk and sit down.

The pattern drawing - and Burda's photo - struck me as vintage-inspired without being the wrong kind of retro. (You know what I mean - there is a wrong kind of retro).

The almost-finished version of this dress is striking me the same way.

Which means I'm going to have to pull my dark raspberry pink strappy high-heeled Reaction sandals out of the closet to balance the potential tipping into uber-retro.

Okay, I admit it. One of the first things I thought of when I connected this fabric to this pattern was, "Oh, cool, a dress I can wear with those sandals!" They're hot and more than a little FMP, and yet they're ridiculously comfortable. Almost the perfect shoe, and they go with diddly in my wardrobe.

As for the dress, I haven't completely finished it, but I'm already thinking about other ways it can be made. I'd like to re-draft the bodice so that it has armholes and sleeves, because while the pattern is interesting as it is, I think I could get a lot more mileage from it if it had proper sleeves. Or, barring that, proper armholes, because this would make a smashing little black dress.

My favorite part is the back. The V is low, but not so low that my bra shows, and the way the facing is drafted allows for an almost perfect invisible zipper insertion. The zip went in first time, and the zipper tabs fold right into the facing so there's a nice clean finish.

Can I get an "amen" for a no-profanity zipper insertion?

I thought so.

I have some hand-sewing to finish this off, and then I promise pictures. Maybe before next weekend, but if not, then on the birthday, and in those shoes.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Now that's more like it

Spring-like, I mean.

This is BWOF 2/2007 #113, which I made and reviewed before, back in January, 2008. Another pattern I made sufficiently long ago that I barely remembered it. Though I do wear the skirt pretty frequently; I guess I just don't notice the details.

I bought this fabric some time last year, in a little store on 40th Street in NYC. I don't remember the name of the store, just that I got snagged window shopping by this really aggressive blonde Russian woman, who dragged me in and started hurling bolts of fabric off the shelf that "suited" me. None of which did, oddly enough. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

This is what I found that did suit me. She tried to tell me it didn't work with my skin tone (and she might be right), but I also always knew it was going to be a skirt, so it didn't really matter.

Light cotton batiste, almost no weight at all to the fabric. $6 per yard. And it's by . . . wait for it . . . Betsey Johnson. A little restrained for her, maybe, but I liked it.

I've been holding onto it until I found a fabric where I could use the print on both the straight grain and bias, and after the festival of gray on Saturday, I went in and dumped out all my skirt patterns to find something for this. And it turns out I had something, which was even better - I didn't really feel like tracing, although I would have if the right pattern hadn't already been waiting.

Like the striped top, this took next to no time. I skipped a few steps from the original - I omitted the waistband, which was always a little binding, and just lined the skirt up to the waist and topstitched. If you only take the easy way out once in a while, the sewing gods won't get you. Hopefully.

And this is how the skirt is being worn to work tomorrow. I braved my least favorite store on the planet last week - H&M - because I wanted a couple of lightweight cardigans to combat the air conditioning in my office. I knew they'd have a good selection of colors, and the price would be okay. I just had to get over the fact that I have to buy a larger size in that store than I wear in sewing patterns. I'm a RTW 8, a 12 in the Big 4, and at H&M, I'm a 14.

Obviously a real size 14 can't shop in there. I felt like all the skinny, black-clad salespeople were pointing and snickering, "Look, dumpy 40-something trying to buy cool clothes." It's the only store that makes me feel lumpy and dumpy and 40-something. If they didn't serve an occasional very specific purpose in my life, I'd never set foot through the door.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Shades of Gray

Now that spring is finally here, you'd think I'd be sewing in spring colors. Right?


Last night I finished off the last of my theater sewing, and I dropped the costume off this morning. Enjoyed making this one, but as always when it's not for me, I'm glad to see the back of it.

This afternoon, I locked myself away in the workroom and finished Mario's Burdastyle vest before it became a UFO, and then I made a top for myself using BWOF 8/2007 #105. I even used the same striped jersey as the original - how boring is that?

This was not the top I intended to make today, but I had a small stash avalanche, and this was what fell out on top. It reminded me of the original top in the magazine, which I had photocopied and stuck the picture on an envelope, but never traced out. Easily remedied.

Start to finish, including random dumb mistakes and getting the center fronts to not quite line up several times, I traced, cut and sewed this puppy today.

Since it was a Burda pattern, I felt free not to look at the instructions, especially when I saw on the cutting layout that they wanted me to make a facing strip. I hate facings on knits; I can never get them to stay put properly, and I just didn't see the point for a top this low cut to have even more issues with my neckline.

Instead, I cut a strip of the striped fabric on the cross grain, so it didn't have much stretch, but did have interesting striping, and sewed it along the edge of the neckline. I also thought it might stabilize the stretch somewhat and avoid spillage, but I'm not so sure. I could still cause an incident in this one if I lean over too far.

Here's the full patternreview for the top.

And on to the vest. It's finished. He likes it. I'm pleased it's finished and more pleased that he likes it, but I don't really like it.

Despite using this pattern thinking it would work on his body shape due to the Selfish Seamstress' issues with its fit on her man, it didn't fit mine properly either!

It was still too big. I cut a 52 (equivalent to a 40" chest, which is what he has) and it's definitely roomy. You can't see it in the photos, and I told him he has to keep it buttoned up, but I snugged the vest over when I sewed the buttons on so there's a bit of extra fabric underneath that is totally not right. But I wasn't going to rip it open and alter it, and I wasn't gonig to scrap it, so the other alternative was to make it fit him and ask him to keep it closed.

And also to kindly keep his hands out of his vest pockets, if he can at all help it. The welts mostly worked, but I would worry about their stability in the long run if he shoved his hands in there like he does to his jeans.

Here's the patternreview for his vest.

So now that's two tops done to the Month of Tops sewalong, and near-UFO finished for Mario.

On to the next project, which is . . . hopefully something that looks like spring. The lilacs are blooming in my back yard, and I have a big jar of them sitting in the sewing room, perfuming the air. Maybe that will inspire me to lighten up my colors and make something that says "April."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My First Jalie

Can someone tell me why I've never tried any Jalie patterns before? It's not like I don't know people who've used them, and I've read review after review (and I'm not even talking about the jeans pattern). But until now, I've never given them a try.

Now that I know what I've been missing, I need to accumulate a few more of these babies.

Because I'm up to my earlobes in more theater sewing, I'm going to be lazy and copy my Patternreview here.

Pattern Description: Women's knit tops with scarf collar attached with a buckle (A), through opening at center front (B) or tied in a bow (C). Sleeveless or with short or three-quarter sleeves. I made view A, with short sleeves. Here's a closeup of the neckline, with the buckle.

Pattern Sizing: Jalie sizes R through FF, or 33" to 50" bust. I made a size V (equivalent to 37" bust) but I think I could have gotten away with size U.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes. Here's a photo on me and one on Evelyn. The sign of a good pattern - that it looks as good on me as it does on my much smoother dress form.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Extremely easy - especially after years of sewing with Burda. Illustrations are nice, and words and sentence structure that make them unnecessary are even better. There's a way that they attach the collar by rolling the entire top INSIDE the collar and pulling it out through one open end that actually made sense WITHOUT the illustration. Very cool.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? No dislikes at all. I may have finally been converted to Jalie, which I've resisted up to this point, mainly because I have a wall of pattern magazines and it seemed like a shame to fall for yet another line of independent patterns. Mea culpa!

Fabric Used: Poly/lycra blend from my local store's dollar table. I bought it thinking I would make something for a friend, but that never happened and I decided to use it to give this pattern a trial run. This is beyond a wearable muslin. Here's a back view.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: None at all. Straight out of the envelope. There's only one change I would make next time - I mentioned above about the burrito-wrap you have to do to get the clean collar, and while it works really well as is, pulling the top out of one tie end and then sewing the tie closed by hand was my least favorite part. Next time, I think I'll leave the opening a little further up and sew the bottom of the tie closed - I think it will be less noticeable hidden further up the seam. I understand it was probably done this way because most people won't want to sew MOST of the seam, stop, and then pick up again 2 inches later to get a better finish, but I think it would be well worth the effort, especially depending on your fabric. My contrast black doesn't show much in the way of stitching, but a lighter color definitely would.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Absolutely, and absolutely. Although this is a recently issued pattern and there are already 23 reviews, so I'm not sure how strongly I need to recommend it.

Conclusion: A great addition to the work wardrobe, and a use - finally! - for all those little buckles that seem to have multiplied in the notions drawer.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Month End Review - March 2010

March was a weird month. I felt like I got a lot done, and then I felt like I hadn't done anything, and this, here, is basically what I got done (minus one skirt refashion which is in the laundry right now).

I decided that warm weather would come eventually (and it has - I love being right) and I needed a few more skirts. When in doubt, pencil skirt, right? That's what I thought.

These are two older BWOF pencil skirts, both of which I've made before, and I remember why - I really like both and have worn each of them already, despite the fact that the warm only happened a few days ago.

I'll say it again. March was a weird month. I got through my aunt's settlement, and she's finally talking to me again after a month of air silence. I'm not saying I really minded the break, and I know she's not going to apologize for what she said, but pretending it never happened and going on like usual is fine. Shame it took a month to get there, but it is what it is.

As is family in general.

Also in the news, random houseness. The endless bad weather we had, including the Biblical deluge wherein Mario and I were trapped on a train in Rahway, NJ, caused my old house to leak in random unpleasant places.

Enter my tax return.

The roof got patched and recoated last week. I generally do that stuff myself, and I did the porch roof and bay window patch/coating, but the main roof is a lot of square footage and the place where most leaks happen. I decided to call in the pros, and was glad I did. I actually found a roofer who came highly recommended by my neighbors for his leak-finding tenacity, and he did a same-day inspection and work, for a price that didn't make me completely sick, so that was one down.

Next I decided to deal with the deteriorating wooden gate to my alleyway. The next door neighbor (absentee landlord) doesn't do anything about his split gutter, so it pours water down on my gate. There was actually a sheet of ice over the gate this winter and that did nothing good. Neighborhood handyman is coming on Easter Sunday to install new gate. I questioned his choice of Easter, and his response was, "I don't like my family and if you're paying me, it's a good excuse to get out."

Far be it from me to spoil his Easter.

More projects today: I ripped out a rotted basement window, then we did some concrete demolition and installed a new glass-block window in my basement. I'm not a huge fan of glass block, but it's in the side alley, it's sturdy, it doesn't leak, and we could do it ourselves. Damn, those windows are heavy. Mario earned himself another shirt by inserting and removing the window at least 10 times from the frame while we worked on the fit.

Tonight he's off helping build a stage for a local theater production, and I'm supposed to be working on a costume, but I'm tired and a little cranky and tomorrow is another day.