More Experimentation: Dip-Dyed Dress

Pattern: Simplicity's Special Occasion Dresses #4070
Fabric: 2 yds stretch woven
Cost: $30

Coming up at the end of my week off I had another friend's wedding (the twin brother of the groom from our Alaska wedding), this time in beautiful Tahoe. Because I had some time off, I decided to experiment on a design I've wanted to do for a long time - a dress with a dip-dyed hem. 

I had bought some beautiful cream-colored fabric for the project a while ago, but since this was for a wedding I knew that white wouldn't cut it. So I first started off by dying the fabric a light yellow. Or at least that was the intention... It came out looking like a banana cream pie, which is great for desserts but not my cup of tea when it comes to fashion. Some dye remover and a bleach bath later and I had it back down to a very light yellow. Perhaps a bit too white, but still much better than banana yellow. 

For those of you who are curious, my preferred method for dying is by washing machine. I have never had an issue with the color sticking around for the next load, and I like how evenly it comes out in this process. I don't have any sort of big vat or large kitchen, so this method works great for me. I simply let the washer fill up with hot water, add the dye (pre-mixed with a cup of warm water if I remember), submerge the fabric, and let it soak. To get the fabric fully submerged I let the washer agitate for a moment. After it soaks, I let the washer run and then throw the fabric in the dryer. Pretty easy! I think this method would work less well if you were going for a very specific color, in which case you would probably need a method that allows you to monitor more closely. 

For the hem, I cut the circle skirt and then prepared a warm dye bath in a bucket. It was difficult to dip a circle hem evenly, and it took some experimentation to get the intensity I wanted. After the initial dip I laid the dress out on a painter's tarp and sponged on some more color, but I think this just made more drips than color. I then decided to hand the skirt back in the dye bath, agitating the layers a bit every ten minutes. To preserve the bright color I squeezed the fabric out and threw it in the dryer rather than completely rinsing it out. This worked well in not washing the color out, but I don't know how the dress would hold up if I decide to wash it in the future. 

Of course, there was one final layer of dying. As I was putting the finishing touches on the dress and pressing the stitching around the zipper, a giant burn mark began to form. Right on the bum. Where where it would look like you had an accident or sat in something nasty. I cussed so loudly that I woke the dog up, and ran into the laundry room for the bleach. While the rest of the fabric had put up to rigorous pressing, for some reason this part of the fabric reacted. Perhaps there was more bleach or dye in this area? Luckily, a little dabbing of bleach cleaned it right up, and the fibers looked unharmed. I rejoiced. 

The end result is a little less edgy than my inspiration pictures, but fun and different than your average dress. It was perfect for a sunny summer wedding, and I would be excited to try dip-dying again.

The dress itself is once again Simplicity's Special Occasion Dresses #4070, the same pattern I used for the Alaska wedding dress but this time with a circle skirt. I love the shape of this pattern and how versatile it is depending on the fabric and details you choose. This fabric, which is a bit stiffer than the last one, had tons of body in the skirt, which I loved. 

Because the fabric had some stretch to it, however, I did end up needing to take in the bodice a bit, and it was still a bit too big at the shoulders. This was surprising, as the last version of this dress in a non-stretch woven was a bit snug after a big meal. I also should have stay-stitched the waist of the circle skirt before dangling it in dye, as I'm pretty sure that stretched out a good deal as well. 

Here are some shots from the wedding, including a rare one with my lovely photographer boyfriend and a fellow-party goer and lover of yellow. 

Giving Fiber Art a Try

I took this week off between quitting my full-time job and starting grad school, and it's been the perfect time to hang out at my sewing machine, tick some things off of my to-sew list, and experiment. I have always admired fiber artists, from amazing quilters like Completely Cauchy to Haptic Lab's city quilts, so today I decided to try my hand at it.

This one is a map of the Monterey Bay where I grew up, a present for my father who is not only a fellow lover of maps but also a marine scientist, and turning 60 at the end of this week! I was particularly inspired by Terry Aske and Linda Gass, who have both made amazing map quilts. Mine uses three fat quarters and interfacing, with embroidery and top stitching for the details like terrain, highways, and the deep canyon that runs in the bay.

Doing this project definitely gave me a huge appreciation for the time and effort (not to mention skill!) it takes to make true fiber art. Aske's and Gass's work is so elaborate and precise, you can tell they put a ton of time and thought into their creations. I just love the way they found the perfect fabrics for each part of their designs. And the stitching is so precise!

Mine is definitely a lot more novice looking, but it was nice to dip my toes in the water and try something new. If I ever get another great big chunk of time, it would be amazing to try doing an intricate quilt or wall hanging.

Now back to garment sewing!

Decision Guide to Buying Patterns

Some people are absolutely obsessed with patterns, and it is fun to see them sew up each new item. Others are very inspired by new patterns releases, and use that as a jumping off point for their garment. When it comes to buying patterns though, I find that I am more conservative: over the years, I have often found that I do not need to buy a new pattern to get the design I want.

For those looking to cut back on your new pattern purchases, I thought I'd share my process for deciding whether a pattern is worth getting. I'm hoping to use this to keep my pattern-buying in check during grad school! With so many new patterns coming out all the time, this chart is designed to help you decide when to buy a pattern and when to skip it.

Here are my thoughts on some of these questions:

Do I already have a pattern with similar style lines? 
I've seen indie designers lampooned for releasing patterns that are similar to others out there, but even the Big 4 often rely on a few base patterns which they update with new trends. Take this basic princess-seamed dress for example, which was used in at least eight different Simplicity patterns. Because there are so many variations on a theme in the fashion world, I'll shop around for a style that I like, and just buy it once. The key is to look at the line drawings and determine if this is a new style or not. Using some great basic patterns works well for me, because my style contains a lot of basic shapes that can be mixed and matches.

Can I frankenpattern it?
I don't know who coined this term, but I started frankenpatterning very early on in my sewing adventures. If I didn't own the exact pattern I wanted, I would often try to combine two or more that I had on hand: adding a circle skirt to a t-shirt top, lengthening a tank top into a dress, borrowing a hood from a pattern, and so on. I especially love this technique because you can use a pattern that you've already fitted to your measurements to create a brand new pattern. You also don't have to be a fancy-smancy pattern drafter to get your very own designs, which I find very inpsiring.

Is the design unusual, new, or interesting?
These are the main reasons I end up buying new patterns. If I don't have it and I can't frankenpattern it, I try to think about the value it adds to my collection and the complexity of trying to draft it myself. You won't see my trying to replicate a Japanese drape drape dress or Marcy Tilton Vogue Pattern by myself! I bought patterns last year to make my hooded rain cape, Burda trousers, and Ponte Blazer, all of which I'm not skilled enough or patient enough to try to replicate on my own. BUT, with the exception of maybe the rain cape, these patterns have also proven to be useful additions to my stash. Unless I find the fit does not work for me, I know I will use them again and again.

What are your reactions to this? Does this sound like a plan that works for everyone, or do you have your own system? 

Fan Dog

Pattern: Milla Milla Dog Sweatshirt (size FB), modified with button front and collar
Cost: free

Our favorite college football team has a "pet of the game" contest where fans send in pictures of their pets in Cal gear in the hopes of getting featured and winning a pair of free tickets. Of course Beatrix had to participate. I made her a shirt with scraps from ours, and now all three of us have matching shirts. Ha!

Like ours, hers is a button-front shirt with a little collar. I've made this french bulldog-sized raglan pattern a few times so I knew what I was getting into as I modified it, but I'm still a little surprised about just how good the fit is. I did have to piece together several parts as I really was working with only scraps, but the print makes it hardly noticeable. To put it on I have her step in the arm holes, and then she lies on her back to get all buttoned up. I think she quite enjoys it, not to mention the pictures and attention!

I'll let the rest of the pictures do the talking:

Our little line backer. 

End of Summer Crop Top

Pattern: bodice of Simplicity's Special Occasion Dresses #4070
Fabric: 1/2 yard Windsor poplin
Cost: $4

Remember my recent dress? Well I had mentioned I made a partial muslin of it, which ended up fitting pretty well. I tucked the muslin away, and this past weekend before heading out to a BBQ party I decided to finish it off into a crop top and try it out. I've always been a bit curious about this trend, and since I had one mostly sewn up I decided I had nothing to lose.

In contrast to the crop tops we all knew and loved in the late '90s/early '00s (when I was 14 and thought nothing of showing some extra skin), the nice part about this recent trend is that you don't really need to show much skin. Paired with a high-waisted skirt or pants, you could keep completely covered or expose just an inch or two of midriff.

Because I sewed it up so quickly, though, this particular crop top is a bit of a hack job. While the part I did for the muslin process is sewn precisely, the finishing was done in a mad rush (see slight puckering around armholes, mismatched notions, etc.). This reminded me of when I first started sewing and treated everything as a rush job because I. just. wanted. it. done. now. That, and I don't think I knew of or appreciated more advanced techniques for making something better. So I started making a list of the techniques I've learned that, when actually used, make my garment that much better:

  • Clipping seam allowances. I used to think that a lot of the "wonky bits" of my sewing were from not feeding the fabric through the machine in a straight enough line. But really there are so many other ways to improve the look of a garment. Seams will lie much flatter if you clip or trim certain seams, like the princess seams on this bodice. I like By Hand London's tutorial
  • The iron is my friend. I finally just got a pressing ham, and man does that help! Here I used a sleeve ham to get in and press the shoulder seam flat. And of course generally pressing seams open, etc. always helps!
  • Lining the zipper up properly. I used to sew so that the top of the zipper tape lined up with the finished neckline. But this meant that the zipper, which stops 5/8" before the end of the zipper tape, didn't zip as far up.  When I discovered that the extra bit is meant to be folded under when you hem the neckline, my zippers started looking a lot more professional.
  • Finishing my seams. I didn't even know you were supposed to do this when I first started sewing! And while I know a few great sewists who don't always follow this rule, I find it helps a garment last longer and look better after multiple washings.
  • Paying attention to seam allowances. I often improvise when I'm sewing. Use bias tape with a 1/4" seam line instead of folding under 1/2," etc. For this top, I didn't trim off extra fabric as I rushed to bind the armholes, and they ended up feeling too tight. when I went back later and redid them, they felt much better!
  • Slowing down. And of course, you're much more likely to think of these things and many others if you take your time. Slowing down isn't even a sewing technique, but it was one of my biggest follies. The seam allowance of an adjacent seam would end up pressed the wrong way when I rushed the fabric through my machine, or I wouldn't bother to stop and unpick mistakes. Taking breaks and thinking through each step of the construction is my biggest lesson learned.

For this top, it was fun just to experiment with a new style, and finished is better than perfect. But it did drive home the difference between a quality garment and a fun experiment. What was your biggest aha! moment in sewing?