Thursday, 23 July 2015

SOSM Round Three: The Caravan Tote

This was the first challenge of the Super Online Sewing Match that I felt out of my element for, the Caravan Tote by Noodlehead. I'd never made a bag before, so this was completely new to me! My seam ripper was very well used over the course of making this bag, and you'll see a lot of phrases along the lines of "I was planning to do this, but it didn't work so instead I did this..."

I also found it really difficult to make a plan for this bag, because I had never made one before. For the previous challenges, I knew exactly what I wanted to change in the patterns (the hem of the Sutton Blouse, the neckline of the Marianne dress), and from there, it was easy to come up with ideas for how to really make the patterns my own (the lace trim, the reverse applique).

For this project, I didn't have a lot of ideas at first! I started sketching and brainstorming, and eventually decided that I would change up the contrast pocket, use piping, and add removable straps so that the bag could be worn as a backpack or with a shoulder strap.

To change the pocket a little, I rounded off the edges, and then split the pocket piece in two, added in a little wedge for an inverted box pleat to the lower piece, and added a seam allowance to both. I was originally planning to use (non-functional) covered buttons and magnetic snaps to close the pocket, but I'm glad I went with a snap in the end. With the new shape, it also seemed to make sense to just use one snap rather than two.

I was pretty confident at first that I'd have lots of fabric to choose from at the local quilting store, but my first trip there to look around was a little disappointing. They do have lots of selection, but of different kinds of quilting cottons than what I was expecting. I'm used to the modern designs by companies like Birch, and Cotton + Steel, whereas the fabric they have is definitely more traditional. There just wasn't anything that jumped out at me!

I wanted to steer clear of the novelty prints (for once) - I was after something modern and versatile. Since this was my first time making a bag, I wanted it to be something I would get a lot of use out of! I also didn't want it to scream "handmade" like it might have if I used a fun novelty print.

I also really wanted to use leather for the straps, but there was no chance of buying any locally!

When I returned the next day, I decided to have another look through their (very limited) garment fabrics, and I found some stripes that were exactly what I was after for the contrast! The fabric is a medium weight twill, and it was right next to some denim. I realized then that a dark denim would be perfect - neutral and versatile, but with more texture than a solid quilting cotton.

For piping, I picked a dark red cotton with some beige and dark green spots, which I thought would add a bit of colour, yet keep the bag versatile (dark red seems to go with everything!). I used the same fabric for lining, with a coordinating floral print for the inner pockets. I decided that three different prints were enough, even though I could have picked out more different prints for different pockets and lining pieces.

I was able to find most of the notions I needed, although not necessarily in the right sizes, so I had to make some adjustments. They only had three colours of metal zippers - white, light green, or brown - and the one that I thought would match best, the brown one, was 2" too short. I didn't want to use a plastic one, so instead I just made the tabs on either side of the zipper 1" longer.

Because the denim was quite a bit heavier than a quilting cotton, I skipped the light woven interfacing, and used only the heavier non-woven interfacing (the pattern recommends both). For the striped fabric, though, I used both, since it was a little lighter. Because I knew the seams would get bulky, I cut the non-woven interfacing so that it wouldn't be caught in the seam allowances. I also graded the seams a lot, although the pattern doesn't suggest this.

I got about as far as basting in the zipper when I realized that the piping wasn't going to work. It was far too bulky, and looked a little ridiculous! The cord that was recommended at the quilting store might work for piping on quilts, but for this bag, it was just too thick. I wanted it to be really narrow and subtle, so I unpicked everything I'd done so far, took out the cord, and used it like flat piping, so that it would extend around 1/8" from the seam (less around the zipper, a little more around the pocket and even more at the back seam). I love how this looks! It's super subtle but adds a little interest.

The next hitch came when I was sewing the front pocket flap. I was clipping the corners, and I cut right through my stitching and the piping by accident - whoops! That's the first time I've ever done that, and of course I couldn't fix it because I'd cut right through the piping. This was a lucky mistake, though, because when I re-cut the pieces, I changed the shape a little more, and I'm much happier with the second one! I also cut the underside from plain cream-coloured fabric, like I did for the pocket, so that the stripes wouldn't show through.

I originally planned to add a box pleat to the denim part of the back, but after cutting it out and interfacing it, I realized that it wouldn't be very comfortable as a backpack, so I cut another. The denim was quite wide, so I had plenty left over.

The removable straps weren't quite as easy an addition as I was hoping. I bought some D-rings and swivel rings with clips (which were the priciest part of the bag, at $5 apiece, and I needed 6 of them!).

For the backpack straps, I cut interfaced triangles, then sewed them together on the diagonal edge with some of the fabric I used for piping sandwiched in the seam, attaching the D-ring. I sandwiched this in the bottom of the side seam, and then when I sewed the corners, I caught the other raw edge in the bottom seam (hard to explain - I should have taken a picture!). That was probably the hardest part of the construction, because it was super awkward to deal with the mostly sewn, heavily interfaced bag at this point. I also couldn't get any pins through the multiple interfaced layers of denim! It took me lots of tries and unpicking to get it right, but I'm so happy with the result.

To attach the backpack straps at the top of the back, I simply added in some D-rings where the straps are attached, on the outside of the straps. It was tricky enough to sew through all the layers (4 layers of denim, 5 layers of quilting cotton, and interfaced twill!), so I was really glad I didn't use denim to attach the D-rings.

The shoulder strap was considerably easier. I just attached a D-ring on either side, centered over the side seam. Easy peasy!

To make the straps, I used the same strap piece that comes with the pattern, but made it longer for the shoulder strap, and shorter for the backpack straps. I had to taper the ends a little to fit the swivel rings, which were only 3/4". I turned under the raw edges and stitched them down, then looped them through the rings and stitched them down again. Denim maybe wasn't the best choice for this - I had to hammer the seams to flatten them, and my machine had a really difficult time getting through the 12 (!) layers of denim.

I hoped to make the straps adjustable, but I couldn't find the sliders (I think that's what they're called?) in the right size. At least, since they're removable, I can always make adjustable straps later with the leftover denim, once I find the right size.

Another little change that I had to make was to omit the grommets as yarn guides on the inner pocket, since I couldn't find any that were the right size. Instead, I made a little loop from the lining fabric and sewed it into the seam at the top of the pocket (you can see it if you look closely at the photo above, on the right of the pocket).

I also made the matching pouch, which I knew I would use because I have one that's similar, and it's super worn out. I use it in all my big bags to keep little things (lip balm, notes, pens, sunscreen) together. This one is a perfect replacement! I didn't have enough of the quilting cotton left for lining (I barely had enough to piece together some piping), so instead I used the striped fabric. For the zipper, I used a navy vintage one from my stash, since there was only one of the brown metal zippers at the quilt store. I also changed the shape of the pocket to match, although it was too small to ad a box pleat to.

I feel like I really surprised myself with this bag! I really couldn't visualize what it would look like when made up, but I'm so happy with the end result. I think it looks really professional! Every time I look at it, I can't quite believe that I made it myself.

(Also, did you notice my stripe matching? This was my second time ever matching a pattern, and first time matching stripes. I'm so pleased with it! Now I want to sew with ALL the stripes...)

I think this will become the bag that I take everywhere with me this summer. I love backpacks because your bag is out of the way, and they're far easier to wear when cycling than purses, but I don't like having to take them off every time you need something. This way, I can carry it like a tote bag when I need things from it, and if I want it out of the way, I can just clip on the backpack straps, tuck in the handles, and wear it that way as well!

I also love that it's designed for knitting, with knitting needle pockets and a yarn guide. I'll use it for much more than knitting, but it's nice to know I don't have to worry about losing my knitting needles!

All in all, I'm so incredibly happy with it. I've wanted to sew a bag for ages, so I'm really glad that this contest gave me that little push I needed to actually do it. I feel like this will be the first of many bags... now I have my eye on the Colette Cooper bag, or something a little smaller, for going out (the only time I don't want to carry a huge bag!).

To see everyone else's take on the pattern, head on over to Sew Mama Sew, where they'll showcase all the entries tomorrow!

In this post...

Bag: Me-made (Caravan Tote by Noodlehead)
Blouse: Me-made (Sewaholic Pendrell)
Jeans: RTW (Guess)
Belt: Thrifted
Shoes: Second-hand (Sperry)

Sunday, 12 July 2015

SOSM Round Two: The Marianne Dress

Thanks to everyone for the wonderful comments on my Sutton Blouse for the first round of the Super Online Sewing Match! If you follow me on Instagram or if you follow Sew Mama Sew, you may have seen that I made it through the first round, and that the second challenge was the Marianne Dress by Christine Haynes.

If you've been following this blog for a while, you'll know that I love a good knit dress. I taught myself to sew with knits just over a year ago with my first Moneta dress - before that, my attempts at sewing with knits had been unsuccessful and downright frustrating, so I avoided them as much as I could. After that first Moneta, though, I really learned to love them! I made Monetas numbers two, three (unblogged), and four, as well as the Sewaholic Davie dress, the Muse Natalie dress, and countless knit tops.

So, I was really excited at first when I saw that the second challenge was a knit dress! I had also been curious about trying the shift dress silhouette for a while now, even though I usually prefer more fitted bodices and more flared skirts. The Marianne dress, though, looked like it could be a really versatile and wearable dress, so I was eager to try it.

My only worry about this challenge was that it could be too easy! I had plenty of patterned knit fabric in my stash that would be great for this dress, and I probably could have put it together in a few hours had I not modified the pattern. But, it is a sewing contest after all, and part of the reason I entered was to motivate myself to take on some more challenging projects. This project just needed something more, and it took me a little while to come up with a plan.

In the meantime, I printed the pattern (at the library again), and cut a size 0 at the bust, 2 at the waist, and 4 at the hips. I knew that the pattern had enough ease that a straight size 0 probably would have been fine, but I figured it was easier to take it in than let it out.

I made a shirt-length wearable muslin out of some patterned jersey that I had tons of. I'm really glad I did! I found it a little snug everywhere, despite cutting out the size that should have given me plenty of ease. I thought that this was a little odd, but just added on 1/2" on either side at the bust and a couple inches onto the sleeves, and moved on. I also widened the neckline significantly, which I find is more flattering on me than a crewneck.

The idea for how I could make this much more than a simple knit dress came from Laura Mae, whose fabulous vintage-inspired garments and sewing skills I've always admired. A few months ago, she posted an amazing Alabama Chanin-inspired outfit, a skirt and jacket made of two layers of cotton jersey reverse appliqued together.

After remembering this outfit, I spent some time looking through some Alabama Chanin (and Alabama Chanin-inspired) pieces online, and I decided that I really loved the idea of reverse applique around the neckline of this dress. With that in mind, I decided on a short-sleeved, collarless version, to let the applique stand out.

I had the perfect fabric for the main body of the dress, a dark purple ponte knit that I got when I volunteered at Our Social Fabric. It was great for this dress - it's so soft and doesn't feel super synthetic like some ponte knits do (although it probably does have some nylon or poly content, as ponte knits do). It was solid enough that it was a dream to sew with, but drapey enough to be flattering.

The tougher question was what to use for the contrast! I had some patterned jersey in my stash, but decided immediately that they would be too busy. I considered using some lace that I had, but it was really scratchy and I didn't think it would be comfortable around the neckline. Since shipping to Canada takes too long, online shopping wasn't really an option, and the local quilting and sewing store only had nothing, I had to work with what solid knit I had in my stash, which was a small amount of some off-white bamboo jersey.

I thought that the off-white would be too high-contrast for what I was planning, though. I was planning a leaf pattern, and I wanted something a little softer. So, I tried dyeing the fabric with tea! After making some samples with coffee and a couple different kinds of tea, I liked the colour from black tea best. I made a large pot of pretty strong tea on the stovetop, let the fabric sit in it for about 20 minutes, then rinsed it in cool water and dried it. I didn't think it was quite dark enough, though, so I tried again, making the tea a little stronger this time. Still, not dark enough... the next morning, I added another five tea bags, kept the water simmering, and let the fabric sit in it for about two hours, while I worked away on the design that I wanted. Finally, I was happy with how dark it was, and cut out the dress!

Instead of using the neck binding, I made a facing/partial lining to finish the neckline and the sleeves out of the contrasting jersey. To do this, I simply cut out the upper part of the dress, trimmed all the edges 1/8" to make it slightly smaller, and sewed it so that the seams would be concealed, but the right side of the fabric would be facing the wrong side of the ponte, so that it would show through when I did the reverse applique. I made it quite long on purpose, because I wasn't yet sure how I would finish it.

I made this on a regular machine, since I'm not living at home anymore, so I can't use my mom's serger. This is the second knit dress that I've made on a regular machine, and I'm getting the hang of sewing knits without a serger! It's a little more work, but it's surprisingly neat, and gives a little more control. I didn't finish the edges of the ponte because it didn't roll, but I did finish the jersey edges with a medium zigzag.

I started by sewing the shoulder seams, adding clear elastic, pressing them open to reduce bulk, and then basting the side seams to check the fit. Well, I had a bit of a problem! By extending the sleeves, I had made the armholes so small that I couldn't get my arms through them! I ended up taking off everything that I had added on under the arm, and leaving the sleeves an inch longer than they originally were, rather than the couple of inches that I had added. I also noticed that the dress was considerably shorter than what the finished measurements said it would be... strange!

It wasn't until I cleaned up the scraps of paper I cut away from the pattern that I realized why. I saw the 4" square and measured it, finding it to be only 3 7/8"! I've never had a problem with my printer scaling patterns before, but I suppose the library printer must have scaled it. I didn't have a ruler with me, so I never even bothered to check! It's amazing how much of a difference that 1/8" can make. Ah, I felt so stupid!

By the time I realized this, there wasn't time to start over, so I just had to work with what I had. After removing some of the extra I added onto the sleeves, the armhole fit comfortably, and I'd already added onto the side seams, so it wasn't too much of a problem. Lesson learned, though! (And, my printer ink just arrived in the mail, so I shouldn't have this problem again!)

I unpicked the side seams, sewed the facing and the dress together at the neckline, and stabilized it with some clear elastic (without it, I find that wider knit necklines stretch out over time). I understitched for a nice edge, then sewed the side seams. I used this method from the Moneta dress, to give a nice, clean finish when sewing the dress and the facing together at the armholes.

Next up was the most time-consuming part, the applique. I had worked out the designs and made a stencil from some cardboard while my fabric was dyeing, so I started by tracing the design onto the fabric with chalk. I then ran a line of long, running stitches around every leaf and stem, through both layers of fabric, about 3/16" from the chalk lines. Using embroidery scissors, because I was scared that I would cut too much using fabric scissors, I trimmed out the leaves and stems.

The whole process of hand sewing the applique around the neckline took me about 8 hours (the most hand sewing I've ever done in one sitting!), but I found it so satisfying. I loved the effect that it created, and with a good audiobook, the time went by quickly.

To finish the facing, I originally thought that I would just trim it around the stitching, but I was a little worried that doing so would make a ridge visible from the outside. Instead, I just trimmed a little off the bottom, zigzagged to stop it rolling, and tacked the seam allowances of the dress and the facing/lining together by hand. It ends just under the bust, where the dress is loose enough that it doesn't show.

In these inside-out photos, it was difficult to get it to lay flat, since the facing/lining is a little smaller than the dress, but it lies really nicely when worn, without any bunching up like there would be if the facing were the same size.

I was considering leaving the hem raw, since it was already on the short side, and I thought it would match nicely the raw edges of the applique. But, that just felt so anticlimactic! I actually love hemming as the final step in making anything, especially when I do it by hand. So, I pressed up 1/2" and catchstitched it by hand. This was my first time hemming a knit by hand, and I was a little worried that it wouldn't have enough stretch, but I was pleasantly surprised!

The most stressful part of this challenge was taking the photos! Unfortunately, the family friend that took the beautiful photos of my Sutton blouse couldn't make it at the last minute, and it was too late to find anyone else to take some photos for me. It took me a few tries to get a decent set of self-timed photos, but I think they're passable. For me next project, though, I'll definitely find someone to take some photos for me - they turn out nicely when I don't have to duct tape a camera to a tree someone else takes them!

Overall, I'm so, so happy with how this dress turned out! It's so comfortable and easy to wear, and the shape surprisingly flattering. Despite being a little surprised at how short it ended up, I think I like the shorter length - it balances out the looser silhouette! I'm so proud of the reverse applique, and I think it was completely worth the time.

To see the other contestants' finished Marianne dresses, and to follow the rest of the contest, head on over to Sew Mama Sew! I've already seen a few Mariannes up on the others' blogs, and it looks like it's going to be a tough competition - they're all so gorgeous!