Friday, January 29, 2010

Quilt Three

So … I just finished a blouse and I couldn't be more dissatisfied. I knew when I tried it on I would never wear it. But I loved the fabric. So, I selected a different pattern, ordered more of the same fabric from Vogue Fabrics and waited for the fabric to arrive. My OCD wouldn't let me start the next outfit in my queue before this outfit was finished. This was a perfect time to work on my quilt.

I did not use a published pattern for this quilt – I designed it all by myself. I devised a layout that used only three simple-to-piece blocks:

1. Shoo-Fly

2. Churn Dash

3. Nine Patch Star

Since this is my third quilt and it uses only three blocks, I named this layout "Third Time Lucky". As a first design, this layout isn't great, but it isn't bad, either. The print fabrics were packaged and sold as a "medley", so I didn't have to worry about whether or not they coordinated. My job was to find the background fabric. I wanted something "batik-y", since the other fabrics were batiks. I did find a neutral batik, but I didn't buy enough and it was gone when I went back for more. I used traditional blocks this time and I realized I preferred a more a contemporary look in quilts. I enjoyed the design aspect of quilting. While coming up with the layout shown, I devised a several layouts for my future quilts.

The design was incidental, though. With this quilt, my goal was to improve my piecing skills. I put off quilting for a long time because I was worried about making neat looking corners. I made good-looking corners within a block. The corners formed when blocks were sewn together still needed some work.

By the time I finished assembling the quilt top, my blouse fabric arrived. I was glad to have a quilt to work on while I waited for the blouse fabric. Otherwise, I would have felt compelled to fill my time with cleaning and other useful housework.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Finished: BWOF 09-06-137 Pants and BPF SS-09-408A Blouse

Pants: BWOF 09-06-137
Pattern Description:
Fly front pants with vertical welt pockets and a single dart in the front.

Pattern Sizing:
European plus 44 - 52
US 18 - 26

Were the instructions easy to follow?
I did not use BWOF's instructions. Most of BWOF's instructions were devoted to the welt pockets and the zipper. Instead of using the BWOF instructions for the welts, I used the instructions in Pants for Real People (Palmer and Alto, 2007). This book has been invaluable on my quest to conquer the welt. After I successfully finished the pockets using PFRP, I went back and read BWOF's welt instructions – just to see if I could understand them. They made a little more sense, but not much. As usual, I didn't use BWOF instructions for the fly front zipper either. I used the instructions in Power Sewing Step-by-Step (Betzina, 2002). That left BWOF's instructions for the waistband, side and center back seams and the hem. I really didn't need instructions for those techniques.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
This pattern gave me the opportunity to make a single welt pockets. Using PFRP, I was confident about double welts. I practiced on scrap fabric before making the pockets in the actual pants. When I finally attempted the pockets in the pants, it took almost two hours!!! No kidding. I was happy with the results so I had no complaints about the amount of time. Clothing manufacturers use specialized machines for almost every task. I'd like to see the machine used for attaching welts.

Fabric Used:

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:
I increased the thigh circumference. I need to make this increase in some, but not all BWOF styles. I have to make flat pattern measurement a habit.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
I would like these pants in a summer weight fabric. I think they'd look good in linen.

Blouse: BPF SS-09-408A

I've wanted to make this blouse for months. Whenever I set out to make it, I didn't have enough fabric. The sleeves are in two pieces and require more fabric than more traditional sleeves. Finally, I bought fabric specifically for this blouse.

Pattern Description:
Blouse with front and back yoke and two piece, three-quarter length sleeves gathered into cuff.

Pattern Sizing:
European 46 - 54
US 20 - 28

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?
This blouse did look like the photo/drawing, and therein lies the problem. I didn't notice, or chose to ignore, the three-quarter length sleeves. I visualized a blouse with long sleeves.

Were the instructions easy to follow?
I've been using BWOFs almost exclusively for several years. The instructions used to make me crazy. Now, I just find them annoying. I cannot honestly say they were easy to follow, but I've gotten used to them.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
Once again, Burda Style had design details I've rarely found in other plus size patterns. In this case, I liked the construction of the sleeves.The bottom half of the sleeve is a flounce that gathers into a cuff. The result is a distinctive-looking sleeve.

I tried two methods to gather the sleeves. First, I cut a piece of clear elastic to the finished circumference of the bottom of the sleeve. This measurement was given in the sewing instructions. I divided the elastic and the sleeve circumference into quarters and marked both. I stretched the elastic as I sewed it to the bottom of the sleeve matching the quarter marks. The sleeve gathered to the specified length when the elastic relaxed back to it's original length. NOT! For some reason, the gathered section was too long and it was impossible to adjust the gathers with the elastic attached. So, I removed the clear elastic and gathered the sleeve the old-fashioned and preferred way – by zigzaging over thread.

Although I liked the way the sleeve was constructed, I wasn't happy with the length. The photograph showed three-quarter length, but the sleeve looked longer in the technical drawing. On my arm, the sleeve was too long to be three-quarter and too short to be long. If I'd made a muslin, I could have fixed the problem. (When will I ever learn.)

Fabric Used:
Polyester from Vogue Fabrics. This polyester reminded me of why I love working with natural fibers. This fabric was really hard to press. A nice linen would have pressed so easily!

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:
The original blouse was much longer than my version. I measured up and subtracted nine inches from the length.

The motivation for this outfit was simple – I wanted navy blue pants. The situation quickly became more complicated. I wanted a blouse to wear with the pants, so I bought fabric for the blouse. I wasn't happy with the finished blouse, so I ordered more of the same fabric to make a different blouse. While looking through the Vogue swatches to order more blouse fabric, I noticed a knit that coordinated with an orphan piece of fabric I had on hand, so I ordered that, too. And all for the want of navy blue pants.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Feeling Better About Burda

For a while, I was a little worried about my beloved Burda. I didn't find much to inspire me in many recent issues. The English web site was in the middle of an overhaul and I found it incomplete when compared to the other languages. In order to see the previews, I had to navigate the German web site. It's a good thing "magazine" in German meant magazine in English. Luckily, things changed with the February offerings and I felt all warm and fuzzy about Burda Style again. (I'm even getting used to calling it "Burda Style".) After looking at the website, I found several pieces I liked from the February Burda Style and the Spring/Summer Burda Plus. There were many other pieces I liked, but these had the best chance of getting sewn.

I liked Blouse 137 because it had "classic bones" and suited my plain-vanilla taste. The pleated trim along the placket and cuff kept it from being too bland. Self fabric piping could be substituted for the pleated trim.

Dress 138 spoke to me. I always preferred tailored or sporty dresses over frilly and frou-frou. Now that I've done single welts, I'm not put-off by the pockets on this dress. I could be very lucky and find the pockets are faux welt pockets.

I saw more things to like in the Burda Plus Spring/SummerPreview.

Blouse 414A would work well in a SWAP with Dress 138 above. The flaps are an attractive design feature in both. If I were the kind of woman who could finish a coordinated wardrobe, this blouse and dress would definitely be included.

I like Blouse 418 as shown, a lightweight, gauzy linen over-blouse. I might even be tempted to wear a cami and expose some skin if I had this blouse. There is enough substance to the blouse to draw attention away from my bare shoulders and arms.

I always shied away from loose-fitting , high-waist tops and dresses for fear of looking pregnant. But 410B has a little shaping in the waist area and I might just get away with it.

I won't love every issue the way I loved February Burda Style and Spring/Summer Burda Plus. The web site changes coincided with two or three months of patterns that didn't move me and for a fleeting nanosecond I wondered if I should look elsewhere for patterns. Fortunately, Burda redeemed itself. I have always believed Burda offered the most interesting plus size patterns and I wouldn't find the same variety anywhere else. I was happy to find so many pieces I liked in one month.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

About Welts

I was critical of my last project because it was an all too familiar no-brainer. BWOF 09-06-137 presented the other end of the spectrum - a brand new technique I'd never done before - single welt pockets. I felt confident because I'd been successful with double welts using the technique from Pants for Real People, (Palmer & Alto, 2007). According to my convoluted mathematical logic, by definition, single welt pockets were twice as easy as double welt pockets. One-half the number of welts - multiply by the inverse - twice as easy! See? So I should have been able to knock out a single welt pocket in no time. Replacing BWOF's famously vague directions with clear and illustrated directions from Palmer and Alto would only make the task easier. However, I decided to practice a welt or two, just to be on the safe side.

The flaws in my logic became evident very quickly and my initial confidence was replaced with frustration. After two practice attempts, I kept getting the same bad results and I thought, "Forget the mathematical logic! Single welts are more of a PITA than double welts, not less." The end of the welt didn't slip into the opening to form a neat corner. I got more and more aggravated so I took a break. Eureka! The solution finally occurred to me in a flash. The end of the welt wouldn't slip into the opening because I sewed the opening closed. (Duh!) In the midst of my false confidence, I didn't pay close attention to the written directions and depended on the diagrams, which I misinterpreted. Rather than sew completely around the box, I was supposed to sew only one of the long parallel lines to attach the welt. Somehow the illustration gave me the impression I was supposed to sew all the way around the box. As a result of this epiphany, the ends of the welt slid easily into place and yielded the neat looking single welt I expected. When I reread the instructions more carefully, I realized my interpretation was completely wrong and the instructions never said sew the shorter ends of the box. That was an assumption on my part and like most assumptions, it was wrong.

Single welt pockets are no different than double welt pockets. Making one welt takes just as much patience and practice as making two. I spent an entire evening practicing these pockets and about the same amount of time putting them in the pants, but it was time well spent. I'm so glad I didn't get carried away by my confidence and attempt the pockets without first practicing the technique. That would have been a disaster.

Monday, January 11, 2010

There is More to New York Than Fabric Shopping

Do I think about sewing way too much? It's entirely possible.

My daughter invited a friend to spend Christmas with us. J. lives in Germany and is doing a year of service in Portland, OR. She flew in to and out of Newark International Airport rather than Philadelphia International which wasn't a problem – the drive is only about 90 minutes. But, because of the time of her arrival and departure, we choose to spend the night in an airport hotel when picking her up and dropping her off. For her return flight to Portland last Sunday, we decided to arrive in Newark early, take advantage of the free hotel shuttle to Newark Penn Station and take the train into New York City. To J., NYC meant Times Square, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center and Ground Zero. To me, NYC meant fabric stores! Sure, the Statue of Liberty is cute, but does it compare with Mood Fabrics? (Yes, I do think about sewing way too much.)

Lindsey and J. did a little research and came to me with a plan.They would purchase One-Day Metro Fun Passes and take various subways and buses to the places J. wanted to see: Central Park, Battery Park (to look at the Statue of Liberty from across the river), the United Nations, Times Square and Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas Tree. My sister, who lives in Dutchess County, a short train ride away, agreed to meet us in NY. She and I were to spend time in the fabric store while the young ladies navigated the NY public transit system on their own!

What was wrong with this plan? First, I could not enjoy fabric shopping knowing my innocent, trusting daughter (who has grown up way too fast) and her friend from another country were roaming alone up one side of Manhattan and down the other. Second, it was Sunday and not many fabric stores were open. So we compromised. We would get the one day Metro passes, go to only Paron Fabrics, which was open on Sunday, and we would stay together and see as many of the sights as we could. My sister, who is more familiar with the transit system, would serve as guide. Everyone was satisfied. It worked out even better than planned. As we walked up 7th Avenue from Penn Station to Paron Fabrics, one of Lindsey's friends from high school saw her through the window of a restaurant. (What were the odds of that happening!) She and J. went into the restaurant with High School Friend while my sister and I went on to Paron. Lindsey had no interest at all in sewing, so she was only too happy to have a way out.

In spite of the cold (and I mean COLD. Battery Park was brutal!) we had a great time. We saw the Statue of Liberty from across the water, the tree at Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, the UN building from outside (closed on weekends in January and February) and Times Square, which was lit up in all it's glory by the time we arrived. And, I got to buy fabric!

On my way to Paron's 50% off fabric.

I bought only two pieces.

There is nothing like seeing NY with a 20-year-old from another country. J. was so excited about everything! She and Lindsey wore out the batteries in two cameras taking pictures. They stayed outside in the 20ยบ cold and took pictures of each other in Times Square while my sister and I had dinner in warm and cozy Ruby Tuesday!

J. and Linds in the bowels of NY

J. and a not-so-terrific view of the Statue of Liberty

J. at Times Square

Sis & me at Rockefeller Plaza - too cold to smile

Props to my sister: I would have been much less patient and much more cranky in the cold if she hadn't been there to distract me. Props to the guys in Paron, who cut a deal while cutting fabric. And, big props to J. for allowing me to see New York City (and the United States) through her eyes.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Thin Line Between Love and Hate

Kwik Sew 3586, I love you. You've saved my butt when I needed a blouse.
Kwik Sew 3586, I hate you. If I have to make you one more time I will scream real loud.

Here's the thing. Sometimes when I buy fabric, I don't have a particular pattern in mind for the fabric. So, if I'm making a blouse or pants, I've gotten into the habit of buying 3 yard lengths of everything. Since I'm a plus size woman, that lazy little trick only works if the fabric is 55 inches or wider. Lately my brain has been on auto pilot and I forgot to consider the width when I bought fabric. I bought a few 3 yard cuts for blouses when the fabric was only 45" wide. Three yards of 45" fabric limit my options considerably, especially if I want to make a BWOF blouse with many pattern pieces. I bought 3 yards of this dark green print and it wasn't enough for the blouse I decided to make. Enter ol' reliable Kwik Sew 3586. If I were a snarky, whiney, middle school b!t¢#, Kwik Sew 3586 would be the loyal friend I talk about as soon as her back is turned. You know the one -- "Kwikie's okay, but she gets on my nerves!" I loved this pattern when I bought it, but I've made it three times in six months and now it's just boring.

Anyway, on to the review.

Blouse: Kwik Sew 3586
Pattern Description:
Long or short sleeved "oxford style" blouse.

Pattern Sizing:
Plus size 1x - 4x

Were the instructions easy to follow?
I love Kwik Sew because the instructions are simple and straightforward. Of course, by now I could make this blouse with my eyes closed. The first time I made this blouse, I almost missed the fact that the seam allowances are 1/4 " instead of the customary 5/8" Kwik Sew uses on wovens.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
This pattern has a back yoke and uses a technique I love. I first learned the "roll-the-back-and-fronts-up-into-the-yoke" technique many years ago by using a Kwik Sew pattern. At the time, I thought the technique was ingenious and I still love using it. I would recommend this pattern to anyone who may not know the technique.

Fabric Used:
Cotton from Vogue Fabrics by Mail.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:
Luckily, this blouse doesn't need any alterations or design changes.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
This has become my "go to" pattern when I need a quick blouse.

More about the 3 yard lengths: I've been told pros always lay out and cut pattern pieces on a single layer. If I did that, I might have been able to squeeze-in pieces and make them fit on 3 yards of 45" fabric. But, it's more fun being snarky and whiney.

I have no ambivalence about the pants.

Pants: Burda 8283
Pattern Description:
Traditional fly front pants with hip yoke pockets.

Pattern Sizing:
European 36 - 50
US 10 - 24

Were the instructions easy to follow?
Rather than follow the instructions given for the fly front, I always use Sandra Betzina's method for installing a fly front zipper. In my opinion, this method yields a much better looking fly front.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
The design of these pants is typically classic - just what I like.

Fabric Used:
Twill with lycra from Vogue Fabrics by Mail.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:
I extended the hip pocket piece so that it reaches the center front. I did this on the last pants I made and I will try to remember to do it on all the pants I make from now on. Somehow, the hip pocket piece never seems to reach the center front unless I extend it and I end up with the extension hanging loose inside the pants. I treated the pocket extension and the fly extension as one so the pocket extension gets sewn into the fly.

Although I started this outfit in 2009, it's the first completed project of 2010. Since it has that distinction, I wish it weren't such a no-brainer. On the other hand, I have two more TNT patterns.