Monday, March 25, 2013

H&M Dress Refashion

It must be the official (not to say in any way actual) first day of Spring last week that made me have a bit of a tidy up of my closet. That or I was avoiding doing something else, which is when I usually find myself getting all organized. For example, at peak marking times I get the overwhelming urge to do things like alphabetize my sock drawer.

All I did was re-group everything in the closet by length and then by colour which makes it much faster to find something to wear in the morning. (Really Gil? How exactly do you sort an all black winter wardrobe by colour?)

As usual I found some items I hadn't worn for a while. Some were nice surprises, some were headed for the charity bag, others I still had hope for. One of these last items was this (cough) black H&M dress.

When I really stopped to think about it, I realized I have only worn this dress once - about 4 years ago in LA. I'd needed something that could pass as a LBD for an alumni event, but seeing as I rarely wear dresses I didn't want to spend too much. Hence the cheap H&M purchase.

So why did I only wear the dress once? Well, the cross over neckline reveals more cleavage than I am comfortable wearing public and the length cut right across my pudgy knees. It was either too long or not long enough. Either way it was not right.

So why had I kept it? Simply because it actually fit well otherwise, I really like the empire styling and the material is a soft heavy rayon and spandex jersey. And I am such a sucker for rayon jersey. Seemed like this would be a good item for a refashion session!

My plan:

I have a 'girls' trip to Arizona planned for May - can't wait. I'm thinking that an easy to wear, easy to pack knit maxi dress would be a good travel item for this vacation. You know, for swanning down for drinks on the terrace. And due to the simple skirt of this dress, it would be easy to add more length. Colour blocked clothing is in, so I could add some colour to the dress and I could also do something about the cleavage revealage.

I headed out to Fabric Land to find some compatible fabric. I couldn't match the weight of the existing fabric (of course) but they did have a good range of colours of a lighter jersey and it was on sale for 6 bucks. That's always good. I decided that the skirt extension could be a double layer to give the right weight and opacity. A couple of metres would do the job. I was torn between an intense blue and this coffee colour. Glad I chose the brown.

Here's how you can do it too: 

This is a pretty simple refashion that you could could do with a t-shirt dress or tunic from your own closet.

1) Fold the dress in half and trace the skirt onto paper to establish the angle and length needed for the extension - a quick paper pattern. Remember to add seam allowances on the top and sides and hem allowance on the bottom.

When I went to trace out the skirt it became obvious that it was massively asymmetrical. Yup, there is a reason that clothes are so cheap at places like H&M! So I ended up opening the whole side seam on one side and recutting the skirt to be symmetrical. Ripping out several feet of black on black overlook stitching on drapey stretchy jersey is not my idea of fun.

2) Cut off the existing skirt hem and open the lower side seams about 4 inches.

I actually cut off a bit more than just the hem to get the right proportions of black and brown. You'll have to judge this based on your height and the length you have to work with.

3) Sew the new skirt pieces to the front and back of the existing skirt, and then sew up the side seams .

I used my serger for this - but jersey doesn't fray, so you could just use a stretch stitch or very narrow zigzag on a regular sewing machine.

4) Make an inset for the deep neckline.

I made a rectangular piece 'cause it was easier than working out the correct triangle needed! I top-stitched the upper edge of the double layer to give it some structure.

5) Pin the insert in place while wearing the dress to make sure it is in a flattering position. Sew the insert in place, then trim away the excess fabric.

I basted the insert in place before sewing by machine due to the multiple layers of fabric in the cross over area. This is something I hate doing, but it was all too much and too slippery to manage well with pins. The ease with which it went through the sewing machine made it worth while. In this case I also needed to stitch the entire cross over closed, since it gaped. (Another great moment in H&M clothing.) When I wore it originally I'd had to pin it closed.

6) Hem the dress. Or because it won't fray and jersey edges roll so nicely, you could just cut it cleanly off at the length you want. I'll go this latter route because I am lazy and because I know the double layers of fabric will give me some considerable grief otherwise.

Ta-Da! My finished dress is a bit regency in style. I glammed it up with some bronze and black beads at the waist. It needed something and this did the trick. Because I want this to be washable, the beads had to be removable. These are strung from a black ring through which the ties can be threaded.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Tale of Two Tops

It was the best of times, it was the worst... no wait, it actually was the best of times in terms of sewing.

This week I have been working to draft up a couple of properly fitting top patterns for woven fabric. The first one I did is a hip length tank with darts and neckline options and the second is a long tunic with slightly dropped shoulders, boat neck and deep side slits.

I selected a grape coloured cotton linen blend from the recently reorganized stash for the muslins. Mostly I chose it because it was the right weight and I had a lot of it, likely 3 metres or more. And I remember paying very little for it at an end of season sale last year - or the year before! I figured I'd get two muslins and maybe one finished top out of it and wasting some of the fabric would not break my heart.

Surprisingly (to me at least) I must have done a pretty good job on the pattern drafting because both the muslins were about 90% successful right off the sewing machine! The tank top just needed the arm holes cut a bit deeper - easy to do on the partially constructed garment. The tunic could have used deeper armholes too, but you can't cut into empty space! I made the change to the pattern for next time, but the rest of the sample was so good I didn't want to just trash it. So I added slits to the shoulder seam to give the arm area a bit more room. It's not bad.

With these changes making the tops fit well, it was worth putting in the time to do the facings/bindings and hems. Hmm. Now I had 2 plain purple linen tops. And I didn't even know I needed one! Here was an embellishment opportunity it I ever saw one. I decided to use a couple of stencils that I have been hanging on to for a while.

The Tunic:

I've made this pattern so that the back and the front are the same, so I continued the theme with the stencilling - essentially this is a reversible top. I can wear it plain side forward with any long jacket covering the design on the back or design forward with white pants or skirt. Crisp!

I'm a bit bustier than my mannequin here and I actually have arms, so I have to admit that it looks slightly better on her than on me. Deeper armholes next time will make all the difference.

The stencil for this is one of a number of Frank Lloyd Wright designs than Mark and I picked up at the gift shop at Taliesin West in Phoenix several years ago. I used a spray-on temporary adhesive on the back of the stencil so it laid flat and a small foam roller for even coverage in the large cut out areas. The edges came out clear and sharp, but I had to touch up a few spots into the white areas where the fabric paint was a bit thinner. I did this with a fairly dry brush.

The Tank:

This is very summery top, so I thought I'd do something with some hot colours. The stencil here is one I've had for years but never used. Having stencilled the front of the first top, I decided to do the back of this one. Small brushes were the tool for this job - working the paint well into the tiny details and then adding some additional shading afterwards.

Painting the fish was so much fun and it looked so good when I was done that I did it all over again on the lower front. Then I made myself stop.

I think this design could easily have some embroidery and or beading added. I'm still thinking about that.

So, it was a successful week in sewing. The only problem is that it is still firmly winter here! Will it ever be linen weather again?

In winter, summer is only a myth.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Unexpectedly Coming to Terms With My Fabric Stash

I had decided that my next undertaking is to (finally) draft the perfect sleeveless tunic pattern for myself. You know, something that I could always go to when I had found a nice bit of linen, or to which I could easily add kimono sleeves, big pockets or inset side panels or that could turn into a dress if needed. It's something I've been meaning to do for ages, but never really got around to.

For this, I knew I'd likely need to do a couple of muslins just to get everything right, so I turned to my trusty fabric cabinet. Surely I would find something potentially 'disposable' there that I could use for this job.

And that was as far as I got ...
Like many art and craft oriented people I have a tendency to collect things.  I know people (and you do too) who have problems with pack-rattiness. People who keep everything and have so much stuff they don't know what to do with it. 
Luckily, I don't fall into that category. My collections are pretty much under control. Prior to moving to this house, I had always lived in very small spaces so I have good storage and editing habits. And none of my collections are useless, being at least somewhat practical (small bowls of every colour and material), consumable (bamboo socks - black) or simply necessary for life as I know it (a myriad of scarves for every season and occasion). So they don't usually worry me.
The largest of all my collections is my stash of beads. Even this extensive collection is not a problem. These are immaculately sorted by colour and material and stored in plastic cases. OK, lots of plastic cases. - but beads don't take up much space. They are heavy, but I'm not moving so it's not an issue. And every time I need a piece of jewelry of a specific design, length and colour for a look, I can simply put one together.
The thing I really love about my bead collection is the sustainability of it. Yes, that trendy term. The beads are never consumed. Once a necklace or bracelet outlives it's outfit, style or colour trend, it can be broken down and the beads returned to the collection for re-use at a later time. I have beads that go back decades, that have been used in many different incarnations over the years, and that will be used again in the future.

Now, back to my story:

Instead of getting going with the sewing, I ended up spending a chunk of my day with the fabric stash. It was a little more extensive than I realized.

First I stared at it for a while. Then I reorganized it. And then I stared at it again.

Then I looked up pictures of other sewists' stashes on the web.  OK, that made me feel quite a bit better. (Holy crap some of you have a lot of fabric!) Just google fabric stash and you'll see what I mean.

But really, I have shelves full of good fabric that I haven't used. What's up with that? How did it even happen? Upon reflection, it seems that fabric has ended up in the stash for 5 main reasons:

1) Interruption 

This one is pretty common when I am working. I spend all week thinking about making the perfect 'thing' - whatever that is at the moment. I spend a chunk of Saturday shopping for, then washing, drying and ironing the fabric. Saturday night I review the pattern or draft up something new. Then Sunday comes and I don't start the sewing because I have too much homework to do. So the project goes into the stash and completely out of my head. And by the time I get back to it the passion is gone, or the season is past.

Somewhere at left you'll see a nice piece of coral cotton slub jersey and a full 3 metres of both purple linen and tomato soup silk noil. These are good examples of Projectus Interuptus.

I know that a few of these will turn up in projects soon. But it would have been so much better if I had just used them right away as originally planned.

2) Infatuation

Oh yeah, you all know this one. The fatal attraction you sometimes feel for a bolt of fabric. Maybe it's the hue, or the pattern, or even the price. You can't help yourself! Next thing you know you are the proud owner of 3 metres of total textile gorgeousness, but have no plan of how to use it.

I'm prone to this with odd fabrics. Hence the presence of an orange and brown mottled, textured, distressed knit of unknown fibre content and the black coat weight wool (embroidered and embellished with grey felt flowers) that you can see on the top shelf.
Gosh, these are cool fabrics. But what was I thinking? Good luck using these, Gil.

3) Trepidation

This often follows infatuation. You have this fabric that is wonderful ... and now you are terrified of actually using it. And of course this is not like the bead stash. Once you've cut into it, you can't return the yardage to it's original state to use it again.

The fabrics in my stash that frighten me include a stunning pale spring green silk/bamboo herringbone twill (not shown), a piece of lime silk dupioni that is painted, embroidered and beaded and a short length of white silk chiffon with brightly embroidered circles. Too pretty.

However, you'll be glad to know that I have prepped the green silk/bamboo and have done some doodling about its use, so this is going into production soon.

4) Affection

I don't know about you, but when there is a nice chunk of something left over, I can't part with it. Who knows how I might use it in the future, but it is way too pretty to throw out. Hence a bunch of Ikea boxes labeled things like 'short lengths dark', 'short lengths velvet', 'washed white cotton', etc.

5) Frustration

This one is a result of having only one chain of fabric stores in Ontario, and no independent stores under a 45 minute drive from where I live. Once again, I have the perfect project in mind, but can't find exactly the fabric I want. However, the desire to sew is so strong I compromise on colour, fibre or hand. And then after all the prep (as above) it is still not really what I wanted and so I lose heart.

There's nothing wrong with any of these fabrics, but they just aren't quite right for me somehow. So it is from this category that I found the fabric for the test pieces. And I'm thinking I'll send some of the rest of this bunch along to the local charity shop. It will free up some shelf space for new pieces!

There. I've made my confession and I guess I feel a bit lighter, just as the stash is going to get lighter soon too. And looking intently at all these lengths has inspired me. There's a really nice watercolour chiffon in pale line green, white and grey that will look terrific with that the silk/bamboo from the Trepidation Collection...

How do you feel about your own fabric stash or other collection? Leave a comment and let me know!