vacation, all I ever wanted

swim_sewstylist.pic5A friend is getting married later this fall, and as part of the lead up to the big day a group of us took off to Palm Springs for a bachelorette celebration! (Unrelated: Should bachelorette parties maybe just be an annual thing, celebrated each year of a ladies ongoing singlehood? It’s just a little disappointing to wait until you’re signing off to celebrate, but I digress…) The lead up to this little vaca provided an awesome opportunity to go into sewing overdrive mode as I attempted to throw together some new Palm Springs appropriate me-mades. I ended up with two dresses and this suit, but I only ended up wearing the suit, partly because the slightly hasty way I threw together the dresses made me feel less confident about them. All those little details that take a piece from “homemade” to “handcrafted” take time, and I was in a weird not wanting to take time kinda mood. In the end, you reap what you sew. (Hah! I’m so fired for that one. )

swim_sewstylist.pic6I put this suit together at the beginning of the week, so finishing on it is pretty good. I’ve had this deep green lycra on hand for a few months now, with plans of making it into some sort of swim thing. It’s a good weight, maybe just a little heavier than average for swimwear, and has just the slightest bit of sheen and a really nice cool, silky hand. I serged the edges and am finally getting a feel for how to use that machine without it chewing up/screwing up everything! I used a double needle to hem the leg openings around an elastic band. I was skeptical about the addition of an elastic band hugging my thighs, but it turned out to be totally comfy and was pretty helpful in keeping the bottom half of the suit where I wanted it.

swim_sewstylist.pic4I lined the bust and between the legs with a plain mesh lining. I probably could have gotten away without any lining at all, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to wet fabric, so. I was back and forth over which pattern to use because there’s a couple lovely indie options I’d still like to try, but this time around I decided on this vintage pattern I’ve been holding for a bit. There was a little vintage quirk to some of the construction info. For instance, it’s clear stretch fabrics have come far enough by now we no longer require a zipper to get into a fitted bathing suit! And I’m not even going to admit to how much effort I wasted making that silly little neck strap the way they told me to… But all in all, this came together pretty easily.

I really like the details on this suit. The keyhole under the bust is a cute little touch and makes it so you can wear the suit with or without the halter strap. Had to be with on me cause otherwise we were edging into accidental exposure territory. I think the overall bust area was probs a bit too big for me, but all the gathering concealed that nicely. I did find myself fussing with keeping it up a bit more than I would have liked (=not at all). Oddly enough, once the suit was wet it stayed put quite nicely. Go figure. I also really like the low cut hips + full coverage over the rear. Even though the top half was a little fussy, the bottom half was solid, more so than any swimsuit I’ve ever owned. Between this suit and my growing army of Netties, I’m a low cut leg opening convert. Sooo much more comfortable, and cute too.
swim_sewstylist.pic1If I were to change one thing about this suit it’d be to drop the back down for a bit more exposure. Although, given the small trouble I had with keeping things in place up top, I’m pretty sure this suit isn’t properly engineered for that low-back look. Kelly posted a great vintage Stretch & Sew suit on her Instagram feed a month or so back with the sort of rear view that I crave. But in exchange for a low back I got bare shoulders, which I have to say was really nice.

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Here’s a paparazzi pic of me inching my way into the pool. It was insanely hot down there, like over 100 degrees every day, so we basically never left the pool. And get this, one of those brilliant people brought the most awesome little koozies + mini-champage bottles to go in them! As you can see, I took mine everywhere.

My First Mabel

Recently, I’ve found myself thinking about how much sewing has changed my attitude toward clothes and what I feel good wearing. The most obvious difference has been a major shift in my preference for fewer, higher quality clothes in my closet. Gone are the days when I would wander absently into H & M and want to buy all the things. Now, between the poor fit and flimsy fabrics, most of those things look unwearable.

Equally, it makes a lot less sense to settle for something that’s kind of what you want, when you know you have the skills to make exactly what you want. I credit this sewing perk for my expanding interest in skirts and dresses. When shopping ready to wear I typically find them cut too short for my tastes, or that there’s too many details, weird fabric, not enough pockets, etc. etc. etc. With fewer variables to contend with, I just found jeans easier. But (sewing discovery!) skirts and dresses can be waaay more comfortable than jeans when they’ve been made to order for and my me!

colette-mabel-sewstylist-pic1.jpgWord on the street is Colette’s Mabel skirt  is just as comfortable as pjs, yet it looks a whole lot better walking down the street. (Well, maybe not better looking than these.) The rumors are true. This skirt is super comfy, cozy, and easy to wear.

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I started with the pencil skirt version, then added about four more inches to the length so the skirt could be a bit high-waisted and still hit below my knees. Some might find this length a little dowdy, but it’s what’s most comfortable for me. I like the long line it makes.

I’ve wanted to try this pattern since it came out, and when I was able to get it 20% off (applying the awesome discount I get after my Bay Area Sewists Meetup) I jumped at the chance to give it a go. True, it is a pretty simple pattern, but the time I got to spend sewing instead of drafting was worth it. The fit is good and there’s some thoughtful details. I would not have approached the waistband the same way, and the proportions of the center placket on the pencil skirt are so, so flattering.

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The fabric I used is a great mid-weight ponte with a sort of space dyed finish to it. Very cool to look at, but also very difficult to photograph! Nevertheless, it was kind of the perfect fabric for this project. It’s sturdy enough that I don’t have to worry about panty lines, but still stretchy enough that this skirt is a breeze to wear and walk in.

You can almost see in the pics above that I played with the direction of the fabric. The lines go up and down on the front side panels and the two back pieces, but I placed them horizontally across the center placket. This creates nice visual interest and is slimming, not that slimming is my first concern but , hey, can’t hurt!

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I cut a straight medium, even though the numbers said I was a small at the waist. As a result, in addition to lengthening the skirt I took about four inches off the waistband, and about a three inch wedge out of center back. The wedge helps accommodate my sway back, and I think I needed more off the waistband because I wanted it to ride a little high. These adjustments were easy to make on the fly, and the whole project was quick and fun to put together.

This skirt is such a basic, wearable shape, and the pattern has tons of possibilities. I definitely plan to return to it. Here’s a few images I pinned to inspire my next Mabel.

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One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

I love the idea of taking the #invisiblepajamas aspect of this skirt one step further by making it up in fleece. Also, what if you left off the back vent in favor of a slit up the front? Adding a peplum to this skirt would be super easy and create a totally different look. I definitely plan to make a little black Mabel. And what about that contrasting fabric? Nice, right? If you’d have told me in the years before I started sewing that I’d want an entire wardrobe of jersey skirts I probably would have laughed accommodatingly while secretly thinking you were nuts. But look at me now!

So, I’m curious, are there any types of garments that you’re more likely to wear if you’ve sewn them yourself? What makes your me made version better than the RTW offerings?

I’d Tap That

Friends, forgive me if you find the title of this post a little, er… crude. I’m not gonna lie, this joke has been in my head ever since Katy & Laney launched their sweet and sexy Tap Shorts pattern. Plus, I thought the occasion called for a little good humor. What occasion, you ask?

tap-shorts-oonapalooza-sewstylist-2.jpgYes!!! is what I exclaimed when I first caught wind of this brilliant Sewcialist plot. True, when writing about my core style a few months ago, I clearly defined my love of modern, easy wearing clothes in neutral tones. And I quote, “I’m not as into colorful clothing as I’d hoped I could be.” I truly did hope to be, as evidenced by my fabric purchases in the early days. But as I came around the learning curve I began to realize that what makes us fall in love with a fabric is not always what makes us fall in love with and wear a garment. So. That’s the long way of saying I’ve got a pretty colorful stash, and Oonapalooza time gave me a great excuse to dig in to it.

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In an effort to give you my best Ebony x Oona, I pulled out my biggest shoes and paired them with my boldest earrings. I was hoping to put a few more prints in the mix, but my neutral toned closet left a bit to be desired on that front. I settled for some fun, furry texture instead. (But really, why don’t I have any fringe in my closet? Seriously, that has to change.) When it came time to get in front of the camera I did my best to break out of my rather serious posing standard and said to myself, “What would Oona do?” 

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Sooo, less like this. (People don’t believe me when I confess to being a little shy, but honestly, this pic just about captures how I’m feeling most of the time. Especially with my legs hang’n out like that, sheesh!)

tap-shorts-oonapalooza-sewstylist-6.jpgMore like this! (Hey! Smiling is fun! Maybe I could get used to it…)

Now, let me tell you more about the make. I came by this fabric at a thrift store I used to frequent back when I lived in Eugene. I miss that thrift store something fierce because it always had the most amazing vintage fabrics for, like, a dollar. (Once I scored something like six yards of black silk noil for $4.99, but that’s a story for another day.) I had somewhere around a yard of this stuff, which proved to be just enough for the Tap Shorts. And, oh! The Tap Shorts! I really love this pattern. It provided the perfect classic, wearable outline to fill in with all this wild vintage color.

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In true Oonabaloona fashion, I chose to forgo a muslin, and given that I just sewed these up blind I think the fit is pretty spectacular. I cut a straight size 6, which is actually one size down from the size recommended by my measurements. I’m learning that I tend to prefer a bit less ease in my garments than is usually drafted for.

I added about two inches to the length. Then I ended up trimming some of that off when it came time to hem. These shorts really looked shorter than I would imagine I’d want them to be until I put them on, and then I realized that K&L know what they’re doing with the high waist + short leg proportions and I should just go with it.

You can see from the rounded side seam in the pic above that I could maybe have left a bit more room for my behind. I also may have had a little snafu with sewing the waistband on upside down and trimming my back panel to fit before realizing I’d done wrong. However, since the shorts have some fullness in the leg I’m getting away with it. (And I’ve been getting away with it all my life, getting away with it…

tap-shorts-oonapalooza-sewstylist-8.jpgI made view B, which also accounts for the fortunate fullness, but you can hardly see the pleats because A: The fabric hides it. B: My butt is using it. The waistband fit perfectly though, and the slope from waist to widest point would be perfect if I’d made a small sway back adjustment, which is something I keep not doing even though I keep seeing that I kinda need to get with that. So next time I’ll probably grade up a size at the waist hip, and take a wedge out of the back, and all will be well with the world.

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Never mind that little bit of fabric hanging out of the pocket there. Where’s the stylist when you need one?!

I chose to add the welt pockets as well because I can’t have enough pockets in my life. The directions for these, paired with the detailed online instructions, helped me produce the best looking welt pockets I’ve ever made. Honestly, they’re just about flawless. Of course, the fabric hides that too, but I see you, welt pockets, and I like what I’ve done with you.

I’ll end by saying that when it comes to both Oonapalooza and K&L’s Tap Shorts pattern there are too many beautiful things to link to. So if you haven’t Google stalked these yet, I’d best let you get to it!

 

Sewcializing with Rachel Hill of Origamicustoms.com

This begins as a tale of sewing synchronicity. I was at the fabric store (getting a few yards of jersey cut, even though I just went in for a double needle­—you know, as you do), and the woman across the way was getting herself a yard of black neoprene. When asked what she had planned, I overheard her saying something about custom swimwear and a traveling sewing machine. Needless to say, I had to speak to this amazing gal. She introduced herself as Rachel and was kind enough to take me up on a cup of coffee and regale me with her tale of sewing radness. Today, I’m happy to share the highlights of our conversation with you!

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Here’s Rachel modeling one of the monokinis she produces for origamicustoms.com

So, tell us how you got started with sewing and swimwear design.

I grew up in Victoria, Canada, and my grandmother and my great aunt were both professional seamstresses, so it was always in the family. I was brought up sewing; from the time I was 6 I was learning on my mom’s machine. My sister, who is ten years older than me, she was sewing as well. All our Christmas presents for each other would be hand sewn.

Then in high school I’d go to thrift stores and buy wedding dresses, or grunge t-shirts, and rip them up or sew lace or leather bits on them because I wanted to be different and have something no one else had. And I did! Some of them worked out super well. Some of them I look back and I’m like, oh my God… But that’s where I started to first experiment with putting different fabrics together. My line has still got that element to it. I experiment a lot with putting together different materials, things that wouldn’t necessarily go to together.

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And how did you get started with your swimwear line?

I’ve been living for about the last seven years in Central America, and lived for about five years in Honduras. I was a scuba instructor, which is how I got into sewing swimsuits. I moved there when I was eighteen, just after high school, and all my friends and I were in the water all the time.

It was this tiny island, only four to five thousand people living on it, and people couldn’t get things imported. Bathing suits were something that just wasn’t available. I mean, there were a few, but they were all small sizes. There was no variety, no quality. For bigger women, there was nothing they could wear. So I let people know I was experimenting with making things for myself and that I could try making things for them too. I would take trips back and forth to the mainland to get fabric. There was one ferry a day; a three hour boat ride. I never learned the techniques of stretch sewing until I started learning on my own, like how to put in elastic and use twin needles. I just Googled everything.

Recently, I’ve decided that I’m going to call Victoria home base again. The nice thing about running my business online is that I can be fairly flexible. Wherever I go, if I have a machine, or if I have someone else’s machine, I’m good.

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Let’s talk about that a bit more, because I think it’s so cool! I have to admit that when I first heard you talking about traveling with a sewing machine my mind was a little blown, because for me I feel that a huge part of sewing is having the space to do it in. You know, I feel like I need my space, I need my stuff…

I’ve always tried to live super simply. My thinking has been I need to be able to fit everything that I love into a backpack that I could throw on and travel with. Travel has always been super important to me.

When I design I just make the pattern from formulas, or my body, or someone else’s body. Mostly I just use math. You know, that takes up less space! I’ve worked on little, tiny plastic kitchen tables with one cruddy little machine. Now my company is growing to the point where I need to have industrial machines, and I need to have a studio to call home base. But I still need to be able to travel!

You have a machine you can travel with?

When I started out, I had a little machine I would travel with. I was working part-time in PR, so every time I would go on a business trip I would always pack my sewing machine. I’d work during the day and then at night I’d sew. It was just a dinky old Brother sewing machine. Nothing special, but it was all plastic, so it was light and I could take it with me on a plane. More recently, I was in San Jose [Costa Rica] for a while and set up a home base, including a Janome serger. At that point I figured if I traveled I could pick up a whatever sewing machine on Craigslist for less than a hundred bucks, but the serger was something I needed to take with me. I’d carry it on the plane with me. It’s pretty heavy, but I’d lug this serger around with me.

I love that! That’s real passion.

It totally was.

You were doing this even before you launched your business?

Yeah, when I was just sewing for me, and for friends, I would always take my sewing machine. That’s what I wanted to do at the end of a workday, to relax or whatever. It really worked at the time; I was just doing it part-time and I would get these fun little orders to do. I’m still able to do [some work on the go]. The fabric you saw me buying the other day was for a present to give to my friend for letting me stay with her.

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So you would take a machine. What else would you take with you?

Oh yes, my travel kit! I had a bobbin saver, my pincushion, my rotary cutter and a mat. I’d put all my patterns into these big manila envelopes and pack those too. It was so messy and terrible, but it would fit in my suitcase. I never got one of those big cutting mats. I just got little ones and taped them together so I could fold them up like an accordion.

Oh, okay! I was thinking, How the heck did she take the mat?

Yep, I had three little cutting mats all taped together on the back. I would take that with me, and a pack of needles. I didn’t even bring thread because that’s something I could always buy easily. And… my stitch ripper. Really, not much else!

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You set yourself up in this way where you were forced to go out into the world and find your community.

That’s very true. I did like that because it was a way to get connected to a lot of people. You know, the people at the fabric store would get to know me as the only English speaker. I was just starting to learn Spanish, and I’d go in and didn’t know the names of any of the fabrics. But once we started to form a relationship they were really great about letting me know what was going on, or if there was a new store I should go check out. But I’m also pretty much an introvert, you know? At the end of the day, I do like to just go home and sew.

I’m so impressed by what you did because I can get overwhelmed in fabric stores, especially in the notions department, even when everything is in my native language!

Every time I come up to North America I have this problem, coming from having just one of everything, just enough, and having to reuse things. I used to have to put bobbin thread on top of bobbin thread, eight colors on one spool! And then I come here and I can get all this stuff, and it’s cheap. I have to ask myself, Do I need all of this stuff? Do I need a magnetic pin holder? Twelve different rulers? It’s really tough for me, to try and just stick with what I know. But my new studio, there’s very little stuff. It’s pretty much bare minimum, and I like that.

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Tell us more about your business!

I’ve been doing the business fulltime for the last year and a half. Before that I always had other jobs, but then I got to the point where I was like, “Actually, I can do this as a career, and I’m not gonna go broke!” That was super exciting.

It’s still really new, but I’m feeling pretty good about it. I did a lot of work over this last year upgrading my website to make sure everything is really simple, easy to use, and clear. I’ve been working with a little company in Ithaca, New York, doing consignment sales, and I just got my first big wholesale order. To do a whole batch of something is totally different because everything else I do is one-of-a-kind. People send me their measurements and I hand-pattern for each person to make a piece just for them. I do custom designs too, with people sending me an idea or concept they want me to work up. That’s totally the fun stuff for me.

That’s a great concept. Especially with things like lingerie and swimwear, when so much of our sense of ourselves and how we feel about being in our bodies is impacted by how we look in these garments.

I work a lot with the queer community and customers whose bodies don’t necessarily conform to the established standards of mainstream swimwear companies. It’s something I’m really passionate about because there are so many people out there that can’t find what they want and need. Sometimes people will come to me and say, “I need to hide this part of my body,” or “I need to emphasize this.” They may come with a list of restrictions or needs that are going to make the design process more challenging than just, you know, making a pretty bikini so I can sell a billion things. I’d much rather make something that’s going to work with that person for what their needs are.

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It sounds like your ethics and what you want your life to look like have been just as important when forming your career as your passion for sewing has been.

Yes, that’s so much a part of my brand. At this point, I can’t really separate myself, my life, from the brand. I just switched over from using cottons to using bamboo. The quality of these fabrics is so much better, but I researched it and also found it to be more ethical. It uses less water, plus it’s more sustainable and renewable. This is what I would want from anything I would buy for myself. I realized I need to be offering something that feels really good ethically as well as on your body.

My ethics have been so strongly appreciated by my customers as well. A lot of shops charge more for bigger sizes because that uses more material. But I’ve said I will never do that. There’s no cap on the sizes that I offer. I offer between an xxs and a 5xl, but people can send me literally any measurements and it’s no more expensive. I feel really strongly about all people being able to find swimwear and undergarments that are good for their bodies. I feel really good about being able to offer that to people, to make that an accessible, safe, comfortable experience.

With your business taking off, do still have time to sew for yourself?

It’s something that I’m making more of a focus now. What I’ll often do, when I’m developing new ideas for a line, I’ll make a prototype of my idea for myself and wear it around, see how it feels, how well it holds up when I’m doing yoga or whatever. Sometimes they turn into something that I’ll offer, and sometimes they don’t. But either way I’ve made something for myself.

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What, if any, ways do you find yourself engaging with the larger sewing community?

I’m newly back in Canada, so I’m just starting to branch out and go to places where crafts people are going to be, like craft fairs, flea markets, or even garage sales. I’ve found that there’s a lot of overlap with handmade and vintage too, so talking to little shop owners can be a great way to connect with makers. I’ve met people at parties and we’ve bonded over sewing. I do tend to talk about sewing a lot because it’s such a huge part of my life, and this is what I love. When I’m making new friends, I definitely want to make sure they’re the type of people who are into that. I’ve been around people before who don’t see it as a legitimate job, and that’s been really tough and frustrating.

It’s very much a movement here, whereas where I was in the third world it’s not. Sewing is seen as “something my grandma does,” or “only poor people sew because they need to in order to have clothes.” This movement of crafters, that hasn’t caught on. People are very negative when talking about crafting, because the thinking is if you’re crafting it’s because you can’t afford to buy new clothes. And so there wasn’t any excitement, there wasn’t any reason why you would want to do that. It was very much looked down upon.

That is really interesting, that connection between economic prosperity and crafting. Of course, now that I hear you say it, it seems so obvious that there is a luxury to crafting for pleasure, as a hobby, rather than out of necessity.

Yes, my friends [in Central America], they would probably be embarrassed to talk about the fact that they had handmade clothes. Because it would seem like, “My parents had to make me these clothes because they couldn’t afford to buy me new ones.” So for me, saying this is something I do for a living, the response is, “Why would you want to do something like that?” And there’s not that feeling that you want to pay more for handmade clothes, because the value is lower. The attitude is, “Well, it’s just handmade. If I can have a brand name sweater, why would I get one handmade?”

Here, the value of the work and the time that goes into something that’s handcrafted is much more understood. And I also think people here see that if they’re supporting a crafts person, there’s a very good chance that they’re supporting their community, and putting money back into their local economy. That was a motivating factor for my move back to Canada. I wanted to be part of that community, and be where people value my work.

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What are the best things that your skills, experience, and passion for sewing have brought to your life?

Well, the main thing for me is being able to be self-sustaining. To be able to not just craft for fun. That people want to pay me money for my skills, that’s huge. It still blows my mind: People want to pay me money for stuff I make! I’m still new at this, and I’m a terrible self-critic and really hard on my work. So just that fact that my business is self sustaining, that I don’t have to take another job… It just blows my mind everyday.

…..

I hope you enjoyed learning that little bit about Rachel and the inspiring work she does as much as I did! I find it wonderfully inspiring to hear from other passionate seamstresses and to learn something about the unique ways people have for incorporating sewing into a lifestyle and, as in Rachel’s case, sometimes even a living. I was also really intrigued by her perspective on the attitudes toward sewing and handcrafting in different parts of the world.

Do you take your sewing with you when you travel, as Rachel does? What ways have you found of engaging with other sewcialists and keeping your crafty passions alive when you’re on the road?

 

 

 

 

 

 

tutorial // fabric covered buttons

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fabric covered buttons added a nice, high-quality touch to my simple sundress

One of the best things about sewing your own clothes is having the opportunity to add the special details that make a garment uniquely yours. Fabric covered buttons are a simple, easy way to add interest and detail to your garment. Covering your buttons is a great way to upgrade less than stellar buttons from your stash or to save yourself the work of hunting high and low for the perfect match to your project. This method for covering buttons is easier, less expensive, and more delicate than most of the covered button kits on the market.

let's get these naked little buttons covered!

let’s get these naked little buttons covered!

What you’ll need:

  • Find yourself some buttons with two or four holes, not shanked.
  • The best fabric for this application will be weighty enough to withstand some manipulation and tugging but lightweight enough to wrap snuggly around the button, and it won’t easily fray. Here, I used a linen blend. You won’t need more than a tiny scrap of fabric.
  • You’ll also need a needle, thread to match your covering fabric, scissors, and some fray check.

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How to:

  • Trace and cut a round of fabric that’s about twice the circumference of your button. Here I used a quarter as a template for my 1/2 inch button.
  • Leaving about 1/8 inch seam allowance, sew a running stitch around the edge of the fabric round. You might want to secure your thread with a backstitch as you begin; a knot alone may not be secure enough to hold.

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  • Don’t knot off your thread once you’ve stitched all the way around. Instead, start tugging the thread and gather the round into a cupped shape. I used the tip of my thumb to begin easing the fabric into position. (Try to keep your needled threaded during this step.)
  • As the fabric begins to cup, drop your button in (see below). If your button has a front and back, place the button with the front facing down against the fabric. Use your finger to keep it centered as you pull the thread, tightening the fabric around your button.

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  • Take a few stitches around the little folds of fabric at the back of your button, reinforcing the gathers you just made.
  • I also like to pass the thread beneath the entire mound of folds once or twice before knotting off.

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  • Knot and trim your thread. You may also want to trim down the fabric gathered at the back of your button. It’s cool to trim off any stray threads, but be careful not to snip through the securing stitches you’ve just made.
  • Drop a little fray check over the whole business for extra security. Buttons can take a lot of wear and handling over the lifetime of a garment, and this helps ensure our covers are secure enough to last.
  • That’s it! Look at that sweet little button!

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  • When attaching your buttons, check with a needle first to find out where your buttonholes are. I like to wiggle my needle around to open up the weave a bit and clearly mark the openings.
  • I used 3 plys of embroidery thread to attach my buttons. I made two passes through the fabric + button, then I wrapped the thread twice to make a shank before knotting off.

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  • I took the simple route and used self fabric for my buttons, but think of all the fun ways you could use this application! It could be cute to use a bit of your lining fabric to make a co-ordinated button. You could also use the wrong side of your self fabric to create a similar but different look for your buttons. Or imagine if you used a vintage silk scarf or repurposed the fabric from a stylish old tie?
  • It might also be a nice touch to tack your buttons down with French knots, instead of just a simple strand of thread.
  • Finally, you might want to make a spare button or two while you’re at it. It would be sad if, sometime in the future, you lost one of your couture buttons and no longer had access to the fabric you used to cover it.

fabric covered button tutorial.finished button!

I hope you’ve found this helpful, and please do let me know in the comments if you have any questions!

So, what do you think? Do these covered buttons look like something you might try on an upcoming project?

my ideal dress

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It’s been a strange year in San Francisco. The glorious, warm, summery weather we typically expect to get no more than 2-3 weeks of down here Has Not Quit. Did I mention it’s been glorious? Glorious! Okay, I’ll calm down. But seriously, my closet was not prepared for all this (glorious!) sunshine. The heat would strike and I’d feel the need for a comfortable, easy to wear dress that was as feminine as it was sexy. Was I thinking I’d find the answer to my sartorial dreams in a vintage patten with a cover art model that looks like an extra out of a John Hughes film? Hmmm, nope. Can’t say that I was. Bad cover art be damned; when you make this dress up in something less visually arresting than peach+blue+yellow+plaid it kinda starts looking like a garment that would be equally at home on Audrey Hepburn or Bridgette Bardot. Right?

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I came by Simplicity 7506 (circa 1986) when a member of my most excellent local sewing club brought a huge box of vintage patterns to giveaway at our last meet-up. I did have a moment of worrying over getting greedy around the free-vintage-pattern-awesomeness; fortunately the moment was brief. I’m not sure I realized when I nabbed this pattern that it was my dream dress. But The more I considered the elements of this dress—the full tea-length skirt, the princess seamed bodice, the button front, the pockets!—the more I started to feel the need to push all other sewing plans aside and proceed with making up this dress pronto. Friends, I’m so glad I did, because today was another glorious San Francisco summer day!

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The lovely fullness of this skirt made it easy to chill at the park without worrying about showing my lady bits, and since I made it up in an easy wearing grey/black linen blend (that has been languishing in my stash for at least a year) I could be totally casual about sitting on the lawn, noshing on a sandwich. This turned out to be the perfect fabric choice for this dress. The linen has the body to hold up the fitted bodice, but still enough easy, breezy goodness to hang loose at the skirt.

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I lined the bodice with a light weight rayon twill I had leftover from another project. This not only feels great against my skin, it also provides the opaqueness I needed up top. In other finishing news, I pinked all the seams because I really love the vintage look this gives and also because it’s a light weight, flexible way to finish a seam, which made it a good treatment for this light, flowing skirt.

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I used my rolled hem foot to finish the hem. Now I’ve gotta tell you, I’ve never had a rolled hem turn out this good! I’m not sure if the difference was me or the fabric… I’m thinking it was the fabric as usually I try to use that foot on silk, and the whole endeavor makes me want to cry. Things went so well this time I’m inspired to try using that little foot more often.

14454481452_45bd3fed74_oSpeaking of developing new skills, this dress marks the first time I’ve made spaghetti straps and that’s also my first button placket! I used Jen @ Grainline Studio’s method for turning the straps, as witnessed on her Instagram feed. Getting those suckers started was tough going, but once you’ve got that first inch or so turned the rest is a breeze. As for the button placket, I stuck pretty closely to the pattern instructions. Only change was stitching in the ditch to get the backside tacked down instead of doing that by hand. I did tack the lining down by hand, but it seemed like the placket should be as sturdy as possible. It came out looking clean, so I’m happy.
14269545089_7aa4c36469_oYou can also see in this pic that I made my own fabric covered buttons to match the dress. I got a bag of about a hundred little buttons at the thrift store, and covering them was a good way to uh, raise their profile a bit. They were fun to make and add a special, handcrafted touch to the dress, I think. Once I had the dress on I saw that buttons alone do not a fully closed dress make… Er, which is to say there was some major gappage happening in the in-between areas. If I make this dress again (and right now I’m thinking there’s a good chance I will do) I’ll probably add just a wee bit more ease into the bodice, which may or may not help with the gappage. But for this round I added the hook + bars you see above & problem solved!

14454456372_5864789c92_oYou know how sometimes you try on something you made for the first time and can’t help but let out a little squeal of joy? This was totally one of those times. I’m in love with this dress, you guys! My closet finally has the perfect dress for strolling, park sitting, barbecuing and cocktail sipping so long as SF wants to keep all this glorious weather coming!

i made this: Simple Silk Shirt

The other night I was toiling away in our sewing room, when my housemate paused outside the open door to say, “Oh, are you sewing?” To which I groaned in reply. Actually groaned, like, “Uugggh.” May have also rolled my eyes. I was in a state because the answer to Housemate’s innocent question was no, I was not sewing. Instead I was re-working, for the umpteenth time, a pattern that I really, really wanted to be sewing. But instead I had put a stupid amount of work into tweaking the pattern, this way and that; I was basically redrafting the thing!

Housemate tried again: “So…you’re working on your coat?”

“Sort of.”

“Okay, cool.”

But it was not cool, which is why I said, “Well. There’s not much joy in it at this point.”

Sure, after reading today on Lauren’s blog that she worked through SIX muslins in order to complete her latest make, I feel like a baby admitting I was pouty after only 2.5 muslins, but I totally was. When this convo with Housemate caused me to realize I was no longer having fun with it, I officially put that project aside. Then I needed a brief time out. But before the day was out I returned to the sewing room. (How lucky am I to have a sewing room?! So lucky.) There I launched a fun project to counteract some of the ill-effects of that  boo-boo pattern that I’ll probably not be using. Like, ever.

photo 11This project was super fun to make! Let me tell you why. First off, it took me the length of Howl, the movie, plus 1/2 of Iron Lady (I ❤ Meryl), to prep my fabric for cutting, cut it, French seam the shoulders & side seams, then press & pin the neckline and sleeve hems in preparation for hand sewing. And then there was hand sewing! SILK! That was fun. All told, the Simple Shirt came together in something like four hours.

photo 22The fabric is some that I’ve been hoarding for over a year now. I purchased it on a trip to San Francisco, back when I was living in Oregon. As I am now living in San Francisco, it seemed high time I take the lovely silk out of hiding and figure a way to get it on my body. The fabric is the most lovely dusty-greyish-mauvey color, and I washed it to take down some of the shine, which brought out a more crepey texture in the fabric.

photo 1The pattern was drafted using the rub-off technique on a favorite shirt from my closet. Lots of sewist around the blogosphere have been talking about their desire to sew more wearable clothes, and I think copying the clothes you know you love to wear is a great way to achieve this. I read about the basic procedure in Steffani Lincecum’s book, Patternmaking for a Perfect Fit. Craftsy also has a couple courses on the subject. There’s a few different methods you might use to get the basic information from your garment onto paper. Once you have that, you need to know some drafting basics to get you from tracing to pattern. It’s a fairly straight forward process, at least with something as simple as this shirt! I’m excited to try again with something a bit more complex. This original garment was purchased at a fast-fashion shop and made of a totally decent rayon. Needless to say, silk > rayon.

photo 4Here’s me basking in the joy of being swathed in silk…. I’ve got the shirt layered over a silk tank dress I bought some years ago. It’s super cosy, but a little more revealing up top than is ideal on the average day. Layering my new shirt over it was just the thing! You know you’ve made a good addition to your closet when the new item is not only wearable in and of itself, but also makes the things you already own more wearable!

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And finally, there’s this: I had a bit of a camera malfunction when I went out shooting. As a result, I ended up shooting video. So I took the opportunity to mess around with iMovie and came up with this clip below. It’s dorky, and I won’t be winning any Oscars for my editing skills! But I made it and figure there’s no harm in sharing. If nothing else, it does a great job communicating just how glorious silk can be!

Have you ever sewn with silk? This was my first time, and now I can’t wait to try again!

thinking about my core style

wardrobecollage3wardrobecollage2Over at the Coletterie Sarai has been hosting a project she’s calling: Wardrobe Architect. The idea is to put some time and thought into designing a wardrobe that suits and services the person you truly are. You can learn more about the project here. I love thinking and talking about clothes, so of course I was excited when this launched! While I certainly consider myself to be someone with a distinctive vision for how I want to present myself to the world, it’s also true that I have at times (honestly: many, many times) made wardrobe choices that were more inspired by whim than by some deep sense of what works best for my personality and lifestyle. The way we present ourselves to the world has the power to inform and influence the way we are perceived, and as I get older I feel an ever increasing desire to have more focus and intention around all this. Not so much because I find myself caring more about what people think about me, but because I have a stronger sense of myself and I want to support and communicate that. It is my hope that working through some of the exercises Sarai has created for the Wardrobe Architect project will help me pursue this, and I thought sharing what I come up with here would be fun.

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This week I’m using this worksheet for exercise 2: Uncover the styles that make you feel like yourself and attach words and images to them.

When you are wearing your favorite clothing, how do you feel (e.g. confident, sexy,
poised, powerful, etc)?

My favorite clothes make me feel feminine, womanly, at ease, individual, warm enough (this is huge for me!), sensual, interesting, maybe a little romantic, and definitely a little tough, or you know: bad-ass. If I’ve got all that going for me then I’m sure to feel confident too. Feeling sexy for me is about feeling all of these other things…I can’t say it’s a feeling on it’s own; it’s the sum of the good-feelings equation.

When you’re wearing something that is not quite right, how do you feel? What are the
feelings you want to avoid about the clothes you wear?

The first word that comes to mind is fussy. I don’t want to have to tug, pull at, or mess around with my clothes too much. I want my clothes to work with me, not the other way around. I also don’t care for clothes that look or feel sweet, boring, sloppy, predictable, constrained, or itchy.

“I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch.” -Gilda Radner

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Who do you consider to be your style icons? What is it about them that appeals to you?

This is a tricky one because most of the women whose fashion sense I admire I wouldn’t necessarily like to model myself after. I’m also a total fashion nerd, so I feel as if I could (and maybe should…) write an entire post for each of the many, many women who dress themselves in a way I find inspiring. Instead I pulled images of the women below not because I want to dress like them, but because I want to feel how they appear to feel in their skin…

When I was growing up I thought Lisa Bonet’s natural, bohemian style was the epitome of cool and sexy, still do.

While it’s hard for me to speak to a distinctive style that belongs to Diana Ross, I can easily recognize the style that is Diana Ross, and this picture embodies all that I love about it: confident, unexpectedly glamourous, soulful, and damn sexy.

Everything about Lupita Nyong’o is gorgeous. It’s undeniable, and that is revolutionary. I like my style with a side of subtle subversion.

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Sure, maybe Cher has gotten a little strange over the years, but whenever I see photos of her in the 70’s I’m like: Yes! The epic hair, the even more epic nails, the high waisted jeans, it all speaks of a feminine fierceness I can get behind.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s life and art are an inspiration. Looking at her in this image only confirms what we know already: This woman was earthy and intelligent, creative and talented, and she lived life her way. I’d wear that.

Meryl Streep is outrageously gorgeous in a way that is totally her own. She seems completely at home in her own skin, and this makes her sexy in a way that speaks of intelligence and dynamism.

Debbie Harry embodies the bad-ass, rock & roll, lady-chic vibe that I love. I’d like to feel as cool as she looks in this photo everyday.

Angelica Houston is another smart, sexy, womanly-woman who has redefined what it means to be feminine and beautiful by imbuing it with something mysterious, unexpected, and uniquely her own.

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What are some words that describe styles that you like in theory, but are not quite you?

I am seriously drawn to drama, and while I imagine I’m willing to go a bit more dramatic than many, at the end of the day I feel most comfortable when people see me before me clothes. I’m also discovering that I’m not as into colorful clothing as I’d hoped I could be.

Thinking about words the do describe my style yields:

Comfy

Luxurious

Easy-going

Modern

Timeless

Interesting

Thoughtful

Livable

Earthy

Warm

Sensual

Touchable

Inviting

Special

Edgy

Uncomplicated

Sophisticated

Unexpected

Intriguing

Rugged

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And if I were forced to narrow this list down… I’d go with: 

Uncomplicated

Interesting

Timeless

Sensual

Edgy

The pics I pulled for this post embody what all that means to me. Have you checked out the Wardrobe Architect project or spent much time thinking about how you would define your core style?

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it’s in the bag: Grainline’s Portside Duffle

I recently moved back to San Francisco after a three year hiatus, and exactly one month after my arrival one of my best friends announced she was moving from SF to LA. It was a happy/sad moment because she was moving in order to accept her dream job, and I’ve seriously never seen her as happy as she has been since taking this leap. Needless to say, her move also provides a great excuse for me to travel down to visit her and her fun new town, which I did for the first time this past November. Of course, I like to travel in style: intro the Grainline Portside Duffle!

Portside Duffle

I’m a fan of all the Grainline Studio patterns I’ve tried, and this one is no exception. The instructions were really clear, and after just a little effort on my part to hunt down the sort of hardware I envisioned (found at Britex!) the pattern came together really quickly. Admittedly, I was on deadline; I needed to pack the finished bag for my trip! I was in LA for a long, four day weekend, and was able to pack all the necessities (plus two pairs of shoes, of course) into this perfectly sized beauty. During my travels I got not one, not two, but three unsolicited compliments on my bag. It seems everyone is on the lookout for travel gear that isn’t made out of cruddy and unattractive nylon.

Portside Duffle1 The only change I made from what’s stated in the pattern was using the wide 1 1/2″ webbing for both my handles and the over the shoulder adjustable strap. This makes sense because you don’t have to fuss with finding matching webbing (which I actually found to be kind of difficult), and I think wider straps are more comfortable. I also did my adjustable strap just a little differently.

Portside Duffle innards

This time around I used a heavyweight denim for the contrast fabric, and lighter weight green denim for the main body. The green denim actually has a really cool design on it, but it’s difficult to see in these photos. If I make this again (and I think I may because 1: It was super fun to put together & 2: I’ve had some birthday requests from friends) I would try to find a way to sew the lining in by machine. I lined my bag with a light canvas in pale blue—pulled from the stash. I generally love hand stitching, but this was a little tough on my fingers. I’d also like to add a zipper pocket to the lining. (But maybe this felt more necessary because I didn’t have time to make up the awesome travel pouch and dopp kit that come with the pattern…)

All in all, I’m really proud of how well this bag turned out! It was especially rewarding to sew something so utilitarian. Have any of you experimented with bag making?

a funny but functional little sewing tip

I’m still waffling over my waistband issue, despite the fact that a couple kind sewcialists have offered up some smart advice on how to fix said prob. And while I wait for that skirt to fix itself, I thought I’d drop in today with a little sewing tip: Don’t pin your trial-hem in place, use bobby pins! You can see in the pic below how I applied them to my skirt (and yep, this is what’s holding the hem in last week’s photos).

bobby-pinned hem

These slip on easily and securely, but it’s still no trouble to roll the fabric around and make adjustments as needed. There’s the obvious benefit of these not being sharp, so you won’t hurt yourself whilst bending down awkwardly to apply them to the garment you’re wearing, nor when you’re prancing back and forth before the mirror to see if your hem looks all right. Unlike other clips, bobby pins are light weight, so they don’t tug or pull at the fabric much. Finally, I think bobby pins are the sort of thing that 99% of women are likely to have at hand, so next time you’re trying out a hem, give these a try. I’ll be excited to hear if this works well for you too!