Sunday, 17 November 2013

A Belated Halloween Post

Yes, I am perfectly aware that it is November 17th today. Better late than never, right?

After Halloween, I was so eager to finish my Ceylon dress, that a post about my Halloween costume got pushed aside and... um, forgotten about. My bad.

My Halloween costume this year was, as usual, put together the weekend before (actually, it's a little more usual for me to be putting it together the night before). I would have loved to have made a costume from scratch (one of these days I will make myself a fantastic beaded flapper gown for Halloween) but I'm always short on time. The one year I did make a Halloween costume from scratch was when I was in grade 10, and I was a parrot. My friend was a pirate, and I made myself a bright red shirt out of ruffled fabric, attached a red feather boa down my arms, and made multicoloured feathered shoulder pads and a headdress. That one I started about a month beforehand. Incidentally, our other friend was a boat, and I think she had the best costume out of the three of us. We painted a big piece of cardboard to look like a boat for her to wear, and I made her a headband with a pirate flag on it. It was pretty impressive.

Other than that, all my other Halloween costumes since I started making my own - an M&M, Pippi Longstocking (back when I had long hair to braid), a Rubik's cube - were done less than a week beforehand, and this one was no different.

I came up with the idea of Mary Poppins from my purse, believe it or not. It's sort of an inside joke - I have this bag that fits quite a bit, and I'm the kind of person to always have everything with me. If someone needs a band-aid, I have one. If someone needs a safety pin, I have one. If someone needs clear nail polish for a run in their nylons, I have some. People are also quite astonished when they see me pull a whole jacket out of this bag (which I can actually do with a light rain jacket or summer jacket. I haven't managed to fit a wool coat in there... yet). Anyways, everyone calls it my Mary Poppins bag, and that's where the idea came from. I figured that people who knew me would get it.

The costume was pretty easy. I already had my Mary Poppins bag (which I put a clipboard in to make flat on the bottom), a black blazer, the perfect shoes, a petticoat, and black tights. The hat I borrowed from my mom, and the umbrella I borrowed from a friend (the only ones I had folded up too small to be right for the part).

This white shirt I bought at a thrift store for $2 during an immensely successful day thrifting (which I will post about soon), and the skirt was $3. (Ignore the price tag on this - I bought it during a half-price sale.)

Excuse the unedited indoor picture. It was pouring rain when I took these and if I edit them all, this post won't be out for another week.
The shirt fit me reasonably well for ready-to-wear. There were no tags on it but it was in great condition and feels to me like cotton with a bit of spandex. There is actually a texture of solid stripes, although you can't really see it in this photo. The only problem was that it didn't button up all the way (although it did have a button at the collar), so I just sewed on some little snaps so that it wouldn't gape open. 

The yellow isn't a stain, it's just where I marked with chalk where the snap was supposed to go.
The skirt was huge on me. I measured the waistband, and it was forty-something inches... and my waist is 24. It was also quite long on me - I did want a longer skirt than I would usually wear, but this one covered my shoes.

Again, a horrible picture. Sorry. But this thing wouldn't quite fit on my coffee table.
If you buy things second-hand, do you ever think about the story behind them? This is an interesting skirt because it's made out of some awful polyester (I think, there's no fabric content label) double-knit that feels like plastic (I suppose because it is), but was well made. It has a covered button, lapped zipper, and hem done by hand. The label reads "Marjorie Hamilton Vancouver", and it appears to have been altered at home. There's a section added onto the waistband where there is zigzagging rather than serging to finish the edges, and when I unpicked the waistband I found that they had stabilized that section with some bright purple lining fabric, instead of the black non-fusible interfacing that had been used elsewhere.

It should have been an easy alteration, but of course I made it difficult for myself. I didn't want to re-do the hem, and since I had to take the waistband off anyways to take it in, I shortened it from the the top. I cut off the amount I wanted taken off, starting at the front. But... when I got to the back, I realized that I would lose all but one and a half inches of my zipper. Oops. It was too late to undo the damage, so I chopped of the majority of the zipper and figured that I would find another way to get it on.

I forgot to take an "after" picture of the zipper, but it ended up just over an inch long. It's cute.
Ready for my next facepalm-worthy mistake? Oh yes, there's more. I measured how much I would need to take out of each side seam, then sewed the new side seam, making a straight line of stitching all the way to the hem. I cut off the excess with my rotary cutter, and pressed the seams open. But when I went to attach it to the waistband that was the right size, there was still too much fabric! Either I miscalculated, or the fabric stretched. I blame it on the latter, but judging by how many mistakes I made while altering this it probably was some stupid math error.

Anyways, I measured and figured that I needed to take another 3 cm out of each side seam. I took it in on one side with no mistakes, but instead of taking in 3 cm on the other side, I took the same side in again. The centre seam, therefore, is not at the centre, and if I hold out the skirt, it's more flared on one side than the other. Double oops.

So, when I finally attached the waistband (not doing it properly, mind you, but it was late and I had had enough of this skirt already), I had a one and a half inch zipper and a lopsided skirt, but it was done. I can get it on over my head if I try, but I don't think I'll be wearing this one again. I'll keep it for a future refashion though, because I know that no one will buy it if I donate it back to the thrift store.

Oh, and I broke my needle with a few centimetres left to sew. I got a little too close to the zipper and for whatever reason it didn't like that. I ended up just leaving that bit unsewn, and it managed to stay together anyways.

All I needed now was a bow, but this proved to be much easier than I expected. I went to a little local fabric store and the salesperson suggested using some grosgrain ribbon  after I explained what I was looking for. I bought a metre for 75 cents, preparing for more stupid mistakes, but I was pleasantly surprised when I made it work on my first attempt.

I didn't make it so that it would go around my neck, because I tried pinning it and it didn't sit right because the collar sat too low down. I guess women's collared shirts aren't really meant to be worn with bow ties, who'd have thought? I ended up making two loops of ribbon, one big one and one small one, and slipping the big one trough the small one, and hand stitching it in place. I considered sewing on a snap to attach it to the blouse, but decided a safety pin would be much less hassle.

So that's it! A Halloween costume in a hurry! On the day of, I added a petticoat just for fun. It's not the same one that I wore when modeling this dress and this dress, because it was too short and looked really awkward. Instead, it's a longer and subtler (and softer) one that also belonged to my aunt. I also added some vintage pearl earrings although I have no idea if Mary Poppins wears them, but my ears felt strange without any.

I was pretty happy with the finished costume. Most people recognized it right away, and everyone who knew me got the joke. Oh, how I love Halloween dressing up! 

Seriously, I don't really care much for Halloween itself. But I do love an excuse to dress up.

Blouse: Thrifted
Skirt: Thrifted and altered
Blazer: H&M (probably my last fast fashion buy and makes me feel guilty every time I look at it)
Petticoat: Vintage
Shoes: Chelsea Crew
Hat: Borrowed from my mom
Earring: Vintage
Tights: Hue
Bow: Me-made 
Purse: bought at a market
Umbrella: borrowed from a friend

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Completed: Colette Ceylon Dress

With every project, I try to do at least one thing I've never done before. With this dress, I tried lots of new things! It was my first time using a Colette pattern, sewing with wool, sizing down a pattern, fitting a pattern completely on my own, making covered buttons, and making buttonholes. Whew!

This was also sewn for my first time participating in an online sewing challenge, the Frocktober challenge at The Monthly Stitch, but I kind of missed the deadline so I'm not sure that entirely counts. Oops. I blame this:

So, the dress! It's the Colette Ceylon, sized down. I sized it down one and a half sizes smaller than the size 0 at the bust, one size smaller at the waist, and a half size smaller at the hips and graded between them. I didn't think to follow any sort of tutorial but it seemed to all work out (even the notches, which I wasn't sure would line up when I was done). I used a bunch of math to figure it out but I won't bore you all with the details. It took a while, but I guess it's just another step that I'm going to have to get used to doing. I then traced all my pattern pieces onto Swedish tracing paper so that I could keep the original sizes intact (which I do with all my patterns).

The great thing about Swedish tracing paper is that you can pin or baste it all together before you cut your fabric, which sometimes completely eliminates the need for a muslin. I prefer pinning so that I can easily un-pin and adjust as needed. After pinning it all together, I knew that I would need to take in the shoulder seams and adjust the back. I made the alterations on the pattern pieces and it seemed to work, but I wanted to be sure so I made a muslin anyways, since the tracing paper doesn't drape (or gather) like fabric does.

As it turns out, the changes I made to the pattern pieces were spot on, and the only thing I changed after making the muslin was that I took a little out of the centre of the gathered back piece, since it just seemed to emphasize my slight swayback. I was amazed and pleased that I had to make no bust adjustments, which I think is a first.

I laid out the altered pattern pieces on my cutting table, and realised that I could get the whole dress out of 1.6 metres of fabric as opposed to the suggested 3 yards (2.7 metres). When I bought fabric, I got 1.7 just in case. The fabric is 100% wool that I found at a local discount fabric story for $12.99 a metre. It frayed like mad, but other than that was very cooperative and sewed up nicely. This fabric store is the kind of place where a lot of fabric isn't even marked with fabric content, so I don't know what this type of wool would technically be called. Maybe gabardine? It has a little more body than a crepe but still has nice drape and is thin enough to be gathered.

This being my first time working with wool, I wasn't entirely sure what I should do to pre-treat it. Honestly, I don't want to have to dry clean this dress - I'll probably wash it by hand. I don't mind dry cleaning fancy dresses like this vintage one because they're quite precious to me and they don't need it very often, but a casual dress? No way. After testing it out on a small square of fabric, I threw caution to the wind and put it in the washing machine. I find dealing with uncut fabric quite annoying, and didn't really want to handwash it (although in my defense, I did put it in the handwash cycle and my machine is quite gentle). After coming across this article on Coletterie while trying to figure out what the heck wool challis was (I was browsing online fabric stores), I wish I had tried putting it in the dryer with a wet towel, but oh well. Next time. 

On a side note, I've been pronouncing "challis" wrong my whole life, and so has my mom. It's "shall-ee", apparently. I'm guessing it comes from a French word, just like crepe or boucle, because that's how you would pronounce it in French.

Where were we? 

Oh yeah, this dress. My wool looked just fine and not at all felted or shrunk after coming out of the washing machine, so no regrets there. Cutting it out was a pain and took forever, because I don't have a cutting mat big enough and have to shift it around. Usually this isn't a problem, but this wool seemed to want to stick to the mat and every time I shifted it it dragged the fabric with it, which meant I had to re-position the pattern pieces every time. I used pins up until quite recently (my second Cambie dress what the first thing I cut out using only weights, and I was amazed at how much faster it was), and now I'm too stubborn to go back to using them. In the end (after I'd spent over an hour re-arranging the pattern pieces) I gave up and pinned what was left to cut out.

After that, the construction went amazingly fast (for me, anyways). I sewed the whole thing except for the sleeves, buttons, buttonholes, and hem in one day, and I even took some - gasp! - homework breaks. I thought it would take a while because it has a lot more pieces than other dresses I've made, but I suppose being unlined helps.

Something interesting about how this dress is sewn that I never seen before is that rather than sewing a seam, pressing it, and edgestiching it, you staystich, press the seam allowance under, then just place in on top of the other piece and edgestich. I thought that I would have trouble with it, and figured I would probably resort to stitching it and then edgestich it, but it was surprisingly easy (although I was being a total perfectionist with my edgestitching, and made myself redo lots of it because it was too far from the edge). I'm not sure what the advantage to doing it this way is, but it seemed to work quite nicely.

Partway through the construction, I realised that I took a bit too much out of the back piece after my muslin (2 cm), because my gathering didn't look much like gathering. Because I didn't have enough fabric to re-cut the piece, I just took out an inch of gathering stitches (5 stitches) on either side, and then gathered it. I'm quite happy with how this turned out, and I might actually do the same for my next one, rather than adding back some of the fullness that I took out.

The only real hitch was my machine. It was doing funny things, so in the end I used my mom's. This was fine up until I finished the sleeves, but her machine (although a better machine than mine in many ways) doesn't do nice buttonholes. I wanted to do the buttons and buttonholes before the hem because I wasn't sure where I would want to hem it, and wanted to be able to see what it looked like buttoned up before deciding. So, this sat as a UFO for a very long time while I was too busy (aka lazy) to figure out what was up with my machine.

In the meantime, I made my buttons! I only bought 15 instead of 16 because that was all the store had in the right size, and they came in packs of 5 so it seemed to make sense. I figured that since I'm short and I was making smaller than the smallest size I could get away with it. I bought a tool for making them, too, to make things easier for myself.

I won't go into too much detail since there's plenty of tutorial out there on how to do this, but I quickly realised that a faster of making them was to cut a rectangle and cut away the excess as opposed to cutting a circle. If the circles weren't perfect, I had to re-cut them, so I figured that this way, they would fit perfectly every time.

And ta-dah! Covered buttons!

When I finally sat down to fix my machine, there were two things wrong with it. One, it needed to be oiled, and two, I was threading it wrong. I mean, duh! I felt pretty stupid. This machine is a relatively recent acquisition - I bought it secondhand because it was a great price, it's tougher than the machine I was using before, and it does nice buttonholes. I was going to give it its own blog post, but I have way too many other things to blog about. Sorry, machine! (It has yet to be named.)

Anyways, I have no idea when the last time it was oiled was, so that should have been the first thing I did when I got it. Actually, the first thing I should have done was had it serviced because it sounds like it had been out of use for a long time when I bought it, but I wanted to use it right away. Its performance improved so much after oiling it, but it would still get caught every so often. So, I admitted that I couldn't figure the thing out without a manual (it had been lost before I bought it) and bought one online. Turns out there's a little hook that you have to open up the machine to see that you're supposed to put the thread through, which keeps the thread from getting caught. Oops.

So, after fixing that, I could finally do my buttonholes. This was fairly nerve-wracking for me, even though I did a bunch of practice ones (this was only one of my samples...).

I don't know what's going on with this photo because the colour is completely different in the actual photo, and it just changed when I uploaded it. 
I ignored the button placement that was marked on the facing piece, and arranged them so that there would be no buttons directly on a seam. I didn't think it would look very good, and it would have made buttonholes trickier. At this stage, I also realised that it would be really nice to have one of those tools to determine your button placement. I measured the distance between every one individually and marked them with chalk, which took a while.

The first buttonhole was terrifying...

...but didn't turn out too badly!

I regretted using white interfacing, though. I really should have used black but I wasn't really thinking. So, out came the Sharpie. It wasn't a perfect match, but it worked.

Bottom right is before, top is after
Sewing on the buttons took me just as long as the buttonholes, which I hadn't really expected. I suppose it didn't help that my cat kept deciding that my dress was a comfortable place to sit.

Ready for the major blooper? I got to the end of my buttons, and still had a buttonhole left. I thought that I must have lost a button somewhere and looked around, but then I counted the buttonholes. There were 16 of them... *facepalm*. I don't know what I did wrong. I laid out the buttons so that I could see where they looked nice, and then I removed them one by one and drew in where the buttonhole should go. Somehow, though, I ended up with one buttonhole too many, and buttonholes are one of those things that are pretty permanent. I haven't decided what I'll do yet. I might go out and buy another five buttons, but I might just leave it. It's far enough down that it's not too noticeable... right? Maybe people will just think I forgot to button the last button... every single time. It's possible.

If you look closely, you can spot the lone buttonhole.
In case anyone is thinking that this was another mistake, I sewed the buttons on the wrong side on purpose. They're easier to get on that way, and hey, I don't want to be trying to button up 15 (maybe 16) buttons the hard way when I'm late for school. Most of you are probably familiar with this already, but men's and women's clothing have buttons on opposite sides because historically, men would usually dress themselves (and most are right-handed), so their buttons are on the right side. Women's shirts and dresses have their buttons on the left side because they would often have servants dressing them, meaning that the buttons would need to be on their servant's right. But quite frankly, I've been capable of dressing myself for quite a while now, so I see no reason to put my buttons on the side that's convenient for my non-existent servant. 

I thought that I would want to shorten the dress, since I'll probably be wearing it with boots and I find dresses worn with boots look nicer if they have a little bit of leg (or stocking) showing, rather than the dress going down to where the boot starts. But when I tried it on pinned above the knee, it just didn't look right. Below or just at the knee is much more flattering on me than above, and suited the style a lot more.

I thought that I would do a blind hem by machine because I didn't really feel like hemming by hand. Plus, a blind hem foot came with my machine and I'd never used it before. Honestly, though, I was disappointed. If anyone out there avoids doing blind hems because they don't have the proper foot, don't. Until yesterday, I had always done blind hems with a regular foot and had no problem with it. I actually think my blind hems without the blind hem foot look nicer because the foot makes the needle catch more fabric than I usually would with my blind hems.

I decided that this looked horrible, so I ripped it out and did it by hand. I used slipstiching rather than catchstiching, which I find just as invisible but much faster. The whole hem took me about 20 minutes.

For whatever reason natural light made this look a lot more purple. The other pictures show the colour better.
Overall, I love this dress! It fits me really well, and it's really warm. The fabric, being wool, is a little scratchy but no more than a wool sweater would be (and in my opinion, the warmth of wool makes up for any scratchiness). It doesn't bother me at the moment, but if it ever does, there's enough each in it that I could wear a slip or even just a tank top underneath. I usually avoid drop-waist styles because I prefer to emphasize my waist rather than my hips, but I find this very flattering. The only change I would make it I make it again is that I would add a little bit back onto the shoulder seams, because I think I took them in a little too much - I took them in an inch, when maybe I should have only taken in 1/2" or 3/4". I would also reduce the area that's gathered above the bust because it looks more like it was eased in rather than gathered.

Oh, and sadly it was too wet to take photos outside, so I shot these in my brother's old bedroom. He's away for university so his room is pretty empty, and this was the only place in the entire house that had a neutral enough background and decent lighting (although looking back it really could have been better). I think this may become my fall/winter photoshoot location anyways since soon it will be too cold to take photos outside in indoor clothes. When I took my close up pictures outside (because I thought the lighting would be better, when really it distorted the colour a lot), I had to wear my wool coat, so I don't think I would have been warm enough in only a dress, anyways (even a wool one!) I also took these photos with our point-and-shoot because I didn't really feel like bothering with the DSLR that I've used for my other photos. Theses aren't great, but they'll do.

For more pictures (I took lots this time!), have a look at my flickr.

Wow, that was a lot of writing! If you got this far, thanks for reading! (Heck, thanks for reading even if you didn't.)

Dress: Colette Ceylon

Tights: Hue
Shoes: Chelsea Crew

My sewing companion.