Happy Campers! Sewing a Men’s Shirt, Simplicity 1544

Back in May of 2016, (I can’t believe it’s been that long), I ordered some blue cotton poplin fabric from Mood Fabrics that had campers, flamingos, and other beachy things on it.


 The intent was to make a shirt for Keith for Christmas that he could wear to work on dress-down Fridays or to hang out at the coast.  I think I had been inspired by a blog post from another sewing blogger who had made a shirt for her spouse and thought, “Oh yeah, that’s cool! I wanna do that!”  Fabric arrived, I put it on the cutting table, then moved it to a shelf, and then it went into the fabric stash oblivion.  Fast forward to December 2017 and I bought a Craftsy class on sale with Janet Pray, “Sew Better, Sew Faster:  Shirtmaking.”

I have a couple of her classes and I really like her style and this particular class is geared toward making a men’s shirt.  A downloadable pattern comes with the class but I didn’t have the ink to print it so I pulled out Simplicity 1544.  I figured I’d use this pattern and her techniques.


One thing I did with this pattern was to match it with a shirt that Keith wears already to make sure it would fit.  I had to add about 3 inches overall to the length on the lengthen/shorten lines and I made it with short sleeves using the measurements from said existing shirt.  Otherwise, I left the pattern as-is.

I had a lot of fun with pattern matching. In this instance, Steam-a-Seam is your friend.  I folded the edges of the pocket under, added the SAS to the pocket edges, placed it perfectly on the shirt front, and ironed it in place.  I did the back yoke the same way.  I’m giving those factory workers a run for their money.  🙂



The collar.  Oh boy that collar.  And of course, I had to make it harder on myself by making it a contrasting band.  Why not?  Yeah, why not, I mean, how hard can it be?  Do I get credit for making a muslin if I really didn’t but I took it apart and re-sewed it more than once…or twice? Honestly, by the third time, I was a pro.  Janet’s method of making a collar burrito is ingenious and I cannot express in words the sheer joy of success when I got it right.  Really.  I did a dance around the kitchen like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky at the top of the steps.


Keith isn’t much for modeling so this is the best I could get.  You should have seen his smile when I gave it to him Christmas morning.  He really likes things I make vs. things that are bought.  He’s such a sweetie.


And look what was waiting for me Christmas Day!  I think my Santa thinks I’ve been a very good girl!!



How about you?  Did Santa satisfy your stitching itch?

(This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase the Crafty class using the link in this blog, I will receive a small commission…and you’ll love the class!!)

Sewing Classes & Essentials for Newbies

Many of my friends have told me that for Christmas or in the past year, they have a new sewing machine in their life. The popularity of this hobby called “Sewing” has exploded recently and I’m not sure why, but I’m going to chalk it up to an inherent need to put the phone down and get back to basics.  There is something so comforting about the entire process of putting a needle into a piece of fabric and forging ahead on the desire to create.  This is true whether you are sewing quilt tops, bedding, tote bags, or clothing.  Or maybe you just want to hem pants, sew on a Scout patch, or make a zipper repair.  Whatever you’re about to dive into, here’s some classes and advice to hopefully make your life much easier.  Some of the classes are free and some are paid, but all are worth your time.

In the previous paragraph, I mentioned four types of sewing: Quilting, Home Dec, Bag Making, & Fashion Garments.  While each of them share many skills that can build off one another, each one has its own special construction techniques, fabrics, threads, and machine accessories, not to mention its own share of frustrations.

This post is about what I wish I’d known years ago or sources to valuable things I’ve discovered in my sewing journey.  The very best piece of advice I can give to newbies is to take a class before your first project, and that includes those who have sewn before but it’s been years and years.  Today’s machines are very different from the non-computerized machines of the past.  You will save yourself time, money, and an incredible amount of disappointment, frustration, and swearing by taking a class before you ever make a bobbin.  You WILL make mistakes…a lot of them (and you’re in amazingly good company!).  The second best piece of advice I can give is to be patient and accept any failures as a lesson.  Learn from them, chalk it all up to experience, and press on.

If you don’t have a sewing machine yet but you want one, you’re going to want to know the best one to get. The best one to buy is one that you can afford and there’s a factory-authorized maintenance shop nearby.  You don’t want to have to send your machine away for maintenance and incur the expense of shipping as well as the repair or tune up.  If you have a non-computerized machine, your local machine repair shop will work fine.  However, if you’re getting a computerized machine (and I highly recommend that you do because they’re nothing like the old ones and they make life SO much easier) then know that a local machine repair shop may not be able to order new parts from the manufacturer.  They cannot do much more than a simple tune up or make timing adjustments.  When the power supply on my Brother PE-770 embroidery machine blew up during a storm, I had to take it to an authorized Brother repair shop after I spent the time and money to be told by the local repair guy that he couldn’t order the part.

Classes – The classes I mention below are courses that I have taken myself so I can recommend them from first-hand experience. I must be enrolled in 50 Craftsy classes and while the information is sound, sometimes the instructor can drives you bats.  I’m only going to recommend classes that have good basic instruction and info that I really got something out of and I was able to listen to the instructor for a couple of hours.  Any money spent on classes will be worth every penny even if it is to just brush up on your skills.

If you are just getting acquainted with your sewing machine, this free class, Sew Ready, Machine Basics will get you started with understanding how today’s computerized machines work.  This course covers everything from how to make a bobbin to the different types of sewing machine feet, threads, needles, troubleshooting, etc.  In this video, she is using a Baby Lock machine, but it is identical to the Brother machines on my Power Tool Arsenal page.  They are the same company!  The Brother machines are less expensive than Baby Lock and I’ve not found a difference between the two at all.  Think of them like GMC and Chevy.  Same-same.
Craftsy Sewing Basics ClassQuilting – For basic block construction, your best bet is any video produced by the Missouri Star Quilt Company.  Jenny Doan makes the complex seem simple, and the introduction of fabric pre-cuts solves the basic problem of “Do these fabrics match?”  A single pre-cut will contain a sampling of each design in a fabric line and will be cut in anything from 10″ squares to 2.5″ strips.
Missouri Star Quilt CompanyIf quilting is your thing, or you want it to be, sign up for Missouri Star’s Daily Deal, add it to your favorites, and hit the site first thing every morning.  Shipping is always $5, and the cost of the deal is around half or less than what you’d pay in a store.  They also recommend the right shade of background fabric and a pattern to use that goes with the daily deal.  You simply can’t go wrong!  The daily deal can be anything from fabric, to rulers, or quilting accessories like thread, pins, clips, …you name it.  I’ve built my entire stash from the MSQC for a fraction of the cost I’d of paid at a quilt shop.

Please don’t let me dissuade you from frequenting your local quilt shops – they are a wonderful experience (most of the time), and you’ll be able to sign up for classes or Shop Hops (tours), fondle yummy fabric, and make many new friends.  I also hit the local shops for backings, batting, and specialty threads.  What I’m about to say however is very controversial, but it must be addressed if you aspire to be a quilter.  I believe that forewarned is forearmed about what I consider to be quilting’s dirty little secret.  Don’t be intimidated when you walk in your local quilt shop – just waltz in like you own the place and browse or shop to your heart’s content.  If your local shop is full of quilt snobs – and they are out there in droves – find the fabric you want, then go home and buy it cheaper online or look elsewhere locally where you feel comfortable in the store.  Do not reward snobby shops with your money.  These snobby quilt shops are behaving to their own detriment and being replaced one-by-one by technology.  As Jenny Doan from MSQC says, “Finished is better than perfect.”  Find a store that supports you no matter your skill level.  And if that shop is online, then so be it.

A note about quilting cottons from big box stores like Wal-Mart, JoAnn’s, or Hancock Fabrics.  You get what you pay for in feel, color fastness, and wear.  Balance the level of effort you’re going to put into the project against the cost of the fabric.  As your skills progress, you’ll want quality quilting cottons for projects whether heirloom or not.  However, if you’re just starting out with your first table runner, it might be a good idea to start with less expensive fabrics until you figure out the piecing aspect of the blocks.  It’s so frustrating to spend a ton on fabric only to screw up the project.  Again, the MSQC Daily Deal is a good way to start so you get quality fabrics at a fraction of the cost.

When it’s time to put the quilt top together and make the magic happen, this is probably the best class I’ve found. Ann Peterson is very thorough and explains the why’s and how’s of making all your time and effort on the quilt top turn into a successful finished quilt.  Small Machine, Big Quilts, Better Results  You don’t need a big long-arm quilting machine to finish your quilt.  If you’re just starting out, use some clear thread and stitch in the ditch through where the blocks intersect – easy peasy!  All the fancy quilt designs can come later.  My first quilting project was a MSQC Christmas table runner and it was a success.

For Home Dec – This is a great class for making duvet covers. Custom Bedding: Designer Duvet Covers.  If you want to make curtains or learn how to recover a chair or make cushions & pillows, search Craftsy and find a course you think will work for you.  I haven’t taken any so I can’t recommend one.

Bags & Totes – Bag Making Basics by Kristen Link.  This is a free class on Craftsy and will show you how to make two different types of tote bags.  This is also a good basic sewing class.
Are you pretty familiar with your machine and just need to brush up on some garment skills? Then Design and Sew an A-Line Skirt and Mastering Zipper Techniques are for you.  The instructor in the zipper class is Sunni Standing and from this class I began to also follow her blog, A Fashionable Stitch.  She’s an amazing garment seamstress and her blog links to many advanced sewing tips and tutorials.

Making clothing for adults or tweens with curves is a real challenge. Fit has always been my nemesis.  Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, can take a commercial pattern straight from the package, make your size and have it fit right on the first go.  So don’t even bother.  Most commercial patterns are a B-cup, and even if you are a B-cup, there are a ton of things that need adjusting before it will fit right.  If you are going to attempt to make clothing from scratch, do yourself a huge favor and invest in Sure Fit Designs.  It is worth every…single…penny.  The basic dress kit contains everything you need to make your own basic body blueprint with step-by-step DVD’s and templates for full-bust adjustments, darts, plus size, and a gazillion other things.  There’s also a segment on adjusting commercial patterns to your perfect fit.  You need the commercial patterns for design elements and instructions, but you’ll need your body blueprint (called a sloper in the industry), to make adjustments to the commercial pattern lines.  Really, I mean this…just pony up the cash and consider the investment in Sure Fit Designs just as important as the machine itself.  I can’t tell you how much time, effort, and money I’ve wasted making myself garments that don’t fit.  There are some SFD videos on YouTube so you can check it out before you buy.

So that’s it! I wish each of you the best of luck in your new sewing adventures!  I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and I wish you all a Happy and Safe New Year!

Quilt Fest Week 2015!!

It’s been a crazy and fun week.  I took vacation from work on Monday & Tuesday to attend a meet & greet breakfast event on Tuesday morning in Port Lavaca with #JennyDoan from Missouri Star Quilt Company ( @MissouriQuiltCo ).  She is an amazing woman with such a positive and simple message for all quilters:  “Finished is better than perfect.”  AMEN SISTER!  During the two-hour presentation of demoing what can be done with pre-cuts and her husband Ron dutifully playing the role of human quilt-hanger for 20 or so quilts (he’s such a good sport!), she regaled stories of how the company began with her children giving her a long arm machine just to keep her busy, to where it is now (employing over 200 people and creating a world-wide Quilting Destination), and what’s in the works (Man Cave anyone?).  Missouri Star Quilt Co. is the largest distributor of pre-cut fabrics in the world…and I think most of them are in my stash!  Needless to say, I’m a MSQC groupie and thoroughly enjoyed her visit.  That boat quilt is in my queue.

I drug myself to work on Weds and Thursday and then boarded a bus bound for Houston on Friday.  A torrential downpour and nearby tornadoes couldn’t stop the 50 obsessed quilters that made their way eastbound on IH-10.  We got there just as the doors opened and loaded back up at 4:00pm.  I’m glad I got to visit with Jenny on Tuesday because I never even saw the MSQC booth in the show.  Holy moly that place was packed.  Biggest hen-fest ever!  I really wanted to get a photo from above to put in this post, but I never got it.  The convention center is under construction and it just wasn’t feasible.

Check out this multi-quilt panorama.  Wow.  Simply wow.
WP_20151030_10_09_51_ProI found a couple of my online heros:  Kim Jolly from Fat Quarter Shop (great booth BTW Kim!)
WP_20151030_10_39_37_ProAnd Lindee Goodall, my Craftsy embroidery instructor for 20 Things Every Embroiderer Should Know, who was so great to spend time with me to explain Embrilliance software.  I picked up the pattern and instructions for the Zuni quilt behind us.

I also ran into Angela Wolf, my favorite Craftsy instructor.  She’s an amazing talent with a down-to-earth style I can completely relate to.  I’m enrolled in 5 of her classes:  Creative Serging-Beyond the BasicsSewing Designer Jeans, Sew with Your Serger, Tailoring Ready to Wear, and Tailoring-Beyond the Basics.   Those last two are the inspiration for my dabbling in my own alterations business.  This photo is from last year’s fest.  Dang, I’ve put on a few pounds.  Maybe it was the camera lens.  Yeah, that’s it.
WP_20141101_12_09_20_ProI came home loaded down with bags of fabric, patterns, thread, stencils, fabric, rulers, stabilizers, and oh yeah, fabric!  But my two biggest finds at the show?  #1 The Sapporo Gravity Feed Iron.  This bad boy has a liter size reservoir that hangs from above for hours of steam and NEVER turns off.  Halleluiah!  While I love my current Rowenta, the nosey do-gooders of the safety world who insist on Auto-Off for irons really piss me off.  At least give me the option to turn that feature on if I want to – don’t force it on me.  When I’m in the sewing room for hours at a time, the LAST thing I want is to approach the ironing board to a cool iron.  Frustrating!  This iron gets rave reviews from Amazon and Lauren Taylor from Lladybird alike, so I was in for a cool show price of just $99.

I’m going to take a page from Lauren’s book and plug the iron into a power strip that also has the lamp above the ironing board on it.  When the light is on, the iron is on so I can know to turn the power strip off when I’m finished in the sewing room.  No small kiddos in the house except those with 3 or 4 paws, as applies, so it should the pretty safe.


And #2 – A new dress form!  Getting a good fit in my garments has been a huge issue for me and for years I’ve wanted a quality dress form with collapsible shoulders but the good ones are very cost prohibitive.  This was actually the first vendor I happened upon at the show and definitely wanted to come back to.  Enter the French European Dress Form.  This retails for $799 on the website but the show price was just $399.  SCORE!  While that sounds like a lot, the crappy ones from Dritz in local retail stores are $100.  My measurements were taken to order the right form for me and it should be here in 2-3 weeks.  The vendor Joe worked on Project Runway and NBC’s Fashion Week and he was an absolute hoot.  I can’t wait for my new dress form to arrive!  Of course, after it gets here, I’ll have find another excuse for crappy fit issues.
dressformWell, that’s it for Quilt Fest 2015.  I’m already looking forward to next year!  Time to start hidey-holing my cash again each week to replenish my Quilt Bank.  ha

A New Top! New Look 6762, View E

This is not de’ja-vu.  I’m posting about New Look 6762 again, but View E this time for the top.  See, I left my favorite navy blue top at the coast and wanted to wear it to work tomorrow.  I had some fabulous navy blue jersey I got at Hancock Fabrics a few weeks ago in my stash, so I made myself a new top this morning.  (Seriously, how cool is that?!)New Look 6762As always, I dry iron the pattern pieces flat so the cutting lines measure as close to the designer’s original as possible.IMG_3326_new(1)I held up the pattern to myself and decided that I’d add 1-3/4″ to the length.  I’m tall and high waisted so I like a bit of length in my tops.  I cut the front and back pattern pieces on the lengthen/shorten line and then measured out a couple of extra paper pieces to add the additional length. IMG_3327_new(1)

When adding length, I don’t get all obsessive about cutting exactly on the lengthen/shorten lines but instead make sure that the printed line matches up with my drawn line on the paper.IMG_3328_new(1)If needed, I true-up the new cutting line with my designer’s curve.IMG_3332_new(1)I’m loving my new hardware-store-washer pattern weights!  I prefer to cut my fabric, especially knits, with a rotary cutter.  Some seamstresses freak out about a rotary cutter, but to me they are so much more accurate.  Sometimes with scissors, I get that jagged edge where the scissors were repositioned and I’m not comfortable with having to lift the fabric off the table to cut it.  Rotary cutting prevents that completely.IMG_3330_new(1)This was the first time I’d ever sewn a raglan sleeve.  It was kind of weird going in because the top of the sleeve blends in with the neckline vs. the shoulder like a regular set-in sleeve.  IMG_3333_new(1)The instructions to make this top only had 9 steps.  Nine!  It was so easy to put together.  Here it is finished on Betsy, my duct tape dress mannequin.  Betsy, as in Betsy McCall.  Making her was a hoot and her total cost was $12!  I’ll have to post about how she came to be some time.IMG_3334_new(1)I topstitched the sleeves, hem, and neckline with a double needle.  I see I’ve got some threads along the neckline I need to clean up.  There’s a little wonky rippling there on the neckline too.  Maybe it will lay down after it’s washed, but if I make this again, I’ll cut the neck band on the bias instead of the straight of grain like the pattern said.  Truthfully, I should have seen that one coming.  But it doesn’t bother me enough to take it apart and do it over.IMG_3337_new(1)  Here it is worn!IMG_3348_new(1)And I’m on my tippy toes so you can see the length. That look on my face is me trying not to fall over!  Ha!  All ready for work tomorrow!IMG_3350_new(1)

Palazzos! New Look 6762, View A

New Look 6762I don’t know about where you are, but where I am, these pants are all the rage.  Big, bigger, biggest, and comfy like wearing pajamas to work!  I love me some Palozzo Pants!  I actually stopped a couple of girls at work that were wearing them to study the design and pattern (that’s when you KNOW you are really a sewing obsessed dork!) and then I went straight to Hobby Lobby at lunch and I looked for patterns to work with in that design (I had that awesome 40% off coupon!)   I was wandering in the fabric aisles and OOOhhhh!  Look at THIS!  This Aztecan striped knit print is beyond Awesome!  I see it with my solid knit navy blue top.  The bolt was 60”, and I’m 69” so I figured 2 yards would be enough to make the pattern run vertically down my legs.  The lady at the cutting table said she liked the fabric but couldn’t think of what to do with it.  I showed her the pattern and explained the Palazzo Pant.  After cutting, instead of putting the bolt to the side to be returned to the shelf, she winked and put it behind the counter for herself saying her daughter would love some. Hobby Lobby Fabric

 Let me start by saying, if you don’t have a serger, DON’T even attempt this pattern with this particular fabric.  It was great to sew with, BUT!…The inner navy lining was stringy, it frayed, it balled, and was possessed with some kind of sticky.  Many times I was like my cat with a piece of tape on her paw (which is outrageously funny!).  And I cut it out using a rotary cutter.  I could have probably done it with scissors but I prefer to cut my fabric out as much as possible with rotary cutters.  New Look 6762

 This pattern is perfect if you’ve never sewn pants before – which truthfully, I never have successfully done.  These were my VERY FIRST completed pair!  And I’m very pleased with the result.  The only thing  I needed to do was lower the waist an inch.  And I cheated at that because I ended up rolling in the elastic waist one turn and securing with another zig zag stitch.  I eyeballed the leg hems too.  Seriously, I never took a single measure.  These went together so easily.  I did, however, use sticky notes pinned to each piece up near the waist that said “Front” and “Back” to make sure I didn’t sew front to front and back to back (been there; done that; many years ago and tossed it).IMG_3314


 I wore them to work on Casual Friday and a sewist co-worker said that if I hadn’t told her I had made them she would have sworn they were RTW.  Biggest compliment ever!  I will be making many, many more of these babies.IMG_3319


Easy Skirt Pattern Alteration

McCalls 2255Completed:  McCall’s 2255, View D. Skill Level – Beginner

One of the coolest things about being about being able to sew, is making your own clothes on-the-fly.  The other morning as I was getting ready for work, I discovered that I didn’t have a single dress in my closet that fit other than what I was wearing. Everything else was in the cleaners and I stood staring at a work wardrobe inventory that didn’t fit.  Seriously.  How did that happen?  I went from a size 10 to a 14-16 over the last 6-8 months.  Really?  Ugh.  Rats.  In my defense, I’m 5’9” so it sneaks up on me when I’m not looking.

In my stash I found this really fun woven print floral fabric I got eons ago from JoAnn’s and decided it would make a cute skirt with a solid top.  I went digging through my skirt patterns and found McCalls 2255 – it calls for a woven fabric and elastic waist. SCORE! Unfortunately, it was for sizes 8-12.  HA…Yeah right…not lately. I think I’ve had this pattern a very, very, very long time. So the first order of business was to grade out the pattern so it fit.

PATTERN GRADING WITH NO MATH: I wore a pair of shorts that had side seams. Gym shorts, jean shorts, it doesn’t matter. Using a tape measure, I measure the front of my hip line from side seam to side seam at the widest part and write the number down. Measure the rear, across the fullest part, from side seam to side seam and write the number down. Now take your tape measure and put your thumb on the front number (22.5 for me). Add one inch for ease (23.5), and add additional space for SA (I chose another one inch to 24.5). Hold your thumb on the last number. Fold up the end of the tape measure (starting at 0 inches) in half so the beginning of the tape measure meets your other thumb at that final number. Smooth out the dangle and crease the center.  Note the measurement.

Now put that center crease on the center seam (or fold line) of the pattern level with the matching marks at the hip line. Open up the tape measure from the half number to 0  (for me – from 12.25 to 0 in my case), stretch it out past the outer seam and grimace at how much bigger you are now  to determine the new side seam. Make a mark on the generous amount of extra paper that McCall’s was gracious enough to give you where the tape measure landed. If your skirt pattern has a center fold, only mark it on one side seam and decrease the ease and SA additions by half.WP_20150714_18_00_23_Pro

Take a ruler and figure out how much extra you need outside of the largest line drawn on the pattern from the mark you made. In my case, on the front, it was an extra 1.25”. I drew a straight line from top to bottom adding 1.25” all the way down on both sides (McCalls 2255 doesn’t use a center fold).

For the waist, that’s subjective according to your build. On the pattern, I noticed that the waist line dipped on the sides as the sizes got larger – like an 1/8” per size-ish. I kind of WAG’d it (“wild-ass guess”…that’s military lingo for those unaware) that my larger size would be 3/8” lower than the size 12 and then made a mark near the side seam 3/8” lower than the last line on the pattern.WP_20150714_17_58_40_Pro I used my tailor’s curve to draw the new waist line. You don’t need to get all crazy-exact on this…it’s not that important. What IS important is to make sure that both the front and back are the same height at the side seams. To do this, I measured up from the hip notch on the front to the waist which was 9.25”, and made sure the back was also 9.25” up from the hip notch to the waist so both pieces were the same height top to bottom.WP_20150714_18_18_04_Pro


Learning from my last mistake of my twin hurricane eyes on the back bodice of New Look 6184, I noted the large flowers on the fabric in relation to the center back of pattern. I didn’t want a bulls-eye in the center of my butt that screamed, “HELLOOO! LOOK AT ME!  READY-AIM-FIRE!”WP_20150714_18_07_22_Pro1

So I fiddled with the pattern until I found a look I could live with. The large floral pattern was off-set on both the front and back. Ready to cut.WP_20150714_18_08_50_Pro

The rest of the make was kind of a beginner’s blur.  Sew the side seams together, fold over the top of the waist a bit to hide the raw edge, fold it over again 1” deep so it’s larger than the ½” elastic and press, fold up the hem ½”, blah blah.WP_20150714_18_36_37_Pro

BUT!! What’s wrong with this picture? WHERE IS MY SEWING MACHINE? AND MY EMBROIDERY MACHINE? AND WHAT HAPPENDED TO MY SWIMMING POOL? This is my month for crap to break.WP_20150714_18_28_56_Pro

Pool-explosionSoooo…I was totally irresponsible and left my Brother PE-770 embroidery machine powered on during Tropical Storm Bill (late June 2015) and she suffered a mechanical breakdown and wouldn’t power up – much like me on Mondays. She was even plugged into a high grade surge suppressor but it didn’t matter.   She won’t power up. (sniff) I feel like that guy on the Nationwide Insurance commercial whose baby car hit a fire hydrant. The sweet Brother repair tech at the Creative Sewing Center in San Antonio called me today with the $150.00 repair news. Sigh. At least she can be fixed…we think.  Unlike my pool.  The exterior metal wall looks like a piece of paper completely torn in half, top to bottom, and we have no idea what happened to cause an 18,000 gallon tsunami in my backyard.  I literally stood on the deck with a glass of wine and cried.  It’s only 3 years old and Family Leisure is dancing around about the warranty.  They better make it right or I’m going to go all social media on them.

My Brother PC-420 sewing machine? She just got an attitude with a jammed bobbin all of a sudden. I replaced the needle, blew out the lint with an air can and no dice. Grrr. Off for a tune-up she goes. To be fair, it’s past time for a tune up with the amount I sew. So I serged the side seams with my Brother 1034D.WP_20150714_18_30_34_Pro

What to do with no sewing machine for the waist and hem? Tin Lizzie to the rescue!! WP_20150714_19_40_25_ProYes, I know she is for free-motion quilting and can’t spell Feed Dogs. But living by the motto of “Adapt and Overcome”, I sat down and had a long motivating talk with her and let her know that it’s the 4th down, we’re down by a waist and hem line, we’re on the ½” yard line, with seconds to go, and it’s all on her. I slapped her on the tension dial and she came through like a champ! Woo Hoo! And for you Tin Lizzie haters out there? The certified Brother Repair Tech told me he swears by the Tin Lizzie and they just bought his wife a new upgraded model and willed the original to their daughter – after 11 YEARS of continued use by momma! So there. Stuff it.

Here’s the final result. This skirt wore beautifully all day with minimal wrinkling. I was completely comfortable and received several compliments!WP_20150715_06_29_20_Pro WP_20150715_06_29_59_ProBut, I have no idea what I’m going to wear tomorrow…

The Shotgun Wedding Dress

One Sunday morning in 2013, my cell phone rang…
“Hi, this is Donna.”
“Oh hi!  How are you?”
“I’m sorry but I have an emergency and I need your help.”
“Sure.  What’s up?”
“My daughter is getting married in less than two weeks, she’s 5 1/2 months pregnant and the dress doesn’t fit anymore!  This is an $850 wedding gown that we bought back in May of 12 and it fit up until a week ago!  I’ve been to 3 seamstresses and none of them will touch it.  I’m so desperate, I nearly broke down and purchased another wedding dress last weekend but the ones on the rack that fit were horrible and it would take too long to order another.   This one took 6 weeks to come in and we don’t have that long!  Then I woke up in the middle of the night and I thought of you.  Do you think you can you help?”

Now this is a woman in sheer desperation!  How can I say no?  “Well, I can try.  We’re in Houston right now but we should be home in a couple of hours.”  “That’s OK.  Her shower is today from 2-4 so we’ll be by after that.”  “OK.  See you then.”  As I hang up, I wonder if it’s a bridal shower or a baby shower… 🙂

Funny thing about the pregnant body.  One day you’re one size, and the next you’re two sizes larger like someone took a bicycle pump to the girls overnight.  Which is fine, unless you’re hoping to fit into your pre-preggo size 4 wedding gown.

I know that wedding gowns come with an additional 3 inches in seam allowance on each side – that seems to be an industry standard.  I did some online homework before they arrived and found the perfect solution – the corset back wedding gown.  That would solve the problem of her possibly getting bigger before the wedding after the alteration.  When they arrived, I see why no seamstress will touch it.  This strapless dress is covered top to bottom in a layer of silk organza folds and ruffles.  Oh boy.  Fortunately, the bride wasn’t fussy and when I asked her about converting the back of the dress, she was good with it.  I mean really, what choice did she have?  When she put the dress on, the top of the zipper had a 5 inch gap and there was no way it was going to close.  Here is the front of the dress.dress front

And here is the back.dressBack

The first step was to match the fabric and no single fabric would work because of the organza overlay on the gown.   I had to haul this monster dress to the store to find fabrics that would work and I found them at #HancockFabrics.  While lighting can be a challenge with store fluorescents and incandescent lighting at home, I ended up choosing the wrong side of a candlelight organza (or the less-shiny side…it’s hard to tell) over the wrong side of white satin.  The effect was nearly identical.

Now to put them together.  If you’ve never done it, sewing slippery, shiny fabrics is an absolute nightmare.  So I reached into my Mad Quilting Skills part of my brain and hauled out the miracle of all miracles…Sullivan’s Quilt Basting Spray.

First to make the tie.  I read somewhere that the tie needed to be 3 yards long and I didn’t want a mid-seam which would create a stress point on satin fabric that shreds like crazy.  The LAST thing the bride needs is to have the tie holding in the girls to give out during the reception!  So I purchased a full 3 yards of both the satin and organza even though I didn’t need that much.  I know you’re supposed to sew sheers on tissue paper, and I didn’t have any, but I did have a huge roll of white plastic table cover left over from a company Christmas party.  (It’s always good to be on the decorating committee in case of any leftovers).    I’ve experienced pulling paper off the back of quilt pieces when paper piecing, so I thought, well – why not plastic too?   I swept off the screened-in back patio to get rid of the dog fur, locked the dogs into the house, and rolled it out.backPatio

I folded the fabric and cut the strip with a rotary cutter on my cutting mat.  It’s one, 3-yard long piece – not pieced together like custom bias binding.  I laid out a 3 3/4” wide strip of satin onto the plastic, sprayed it with quilt basting spray, and pressed and smoothed a 5” wide piece of organza over it using my Pampered Chef Baker’s Roller.  (Adapt and overcome amiright?)

The image below is the plastic (with CRAZY static cling [ugh! Major PITA], then satin, then organza.  bastingSpray

I pinned like crazy, cut it out with scissors at least an inch away from the edge of any fabric, and sewed a long basting stitch about 1/8 inch from the edge of the satin along both long sides.


To make the tie, I sewed the end of a piece of cording into the end of the tie for a tugging rope, and then right sides together using a tiny 1.8” stitch length, I sewed the cord within the length of the tie inside the basting stitch.  Then I inverted the tie by pulling on the loose end of the cord and coaxed the fabric to turn right side out as I tugged, and tugged, and stuffed, and tugged the opposite end through itself.  It was a total and complete pain and took me 45 minutes!  Check the shredding on the seam.  See why there cannot be a stress point via a center seam?  I know I could have simply folded the fabric WST and top stitched one side but…tacky.  I wanted this to look factory with no visible seams.  I mean, it’s a wedding gown and everyone will be staring at her back as she walks down the aisle.turningTie

The whole process of prepping, laying, spraying, laying, pinning, cutting, sewing, and turning took 2.5 hours.  But it turned out absolutely perfect.  I had a little happy dance!colorMatchTieToDress

See how the color matches nearly exactly?  And the outside fabrics are both organza so the texture is the same as well and there’s no seam on the tie.  Gorgeous.

Creating the corset loops was tricky.   I know you can order these online but I had little time and didn’t want to chance not matching the color correctly.  At Hancock Fabrics I found a close match of satin cording and my first attempt by sewing the cording to twill tape was a fail.  The twill tape wouldn’t stay straight which I anticipated would cause a wonky tug factor from one side or the other as the corset was pulled together.  The beauty of a corset back gown is the perfect serpentine that is created when the tie is run through the loops.  To get this effect, the loops must be the same distance apart on either side of the bodice and evenly spaced.  I decided on a stiff boning-by-the-yard to make the loop sets and broke out my heavy-duty machine needles.  The boning was perfect and stabilized the loop sets.  Again with my quilting skills, the loops were held in place until sewn with Clover Wonder Clips (‘cuz you CAN’T pin the cording into the boning evenly) and I attached the loops with a zipper foot straight stitch down the center of the boning.  Then I reinforced those babies with additional horizontal zigzag stitch on each loop end.  Those bad boys were NOT coming loose on my watch!makingLoops

I was hoping not to have to deconstruct the dress to remove the zipper.  So I sewed the boning by machine to the outside of the dress with the loops facing toward the side seam.   I left the top loop about 1/2 “ below the top edge of the dress.loopsOnDress


Once the loops were turned toward the inside of the dress, I stitched the folded portion by hand to the inside of the gown using a heavy upholstery thread and curved upholstery needle.  The top layer of the skirt’s organza ruffle came up over the bottom of the zipper.  It looked like I wouldn’t have to deconstruct the dress.  Yay!loopsInsideDress

Once both loop sets were installed, I had to make the modesty panel.  I read online somewhere the modesty panel had to be 10 inches wider than the final gap in the gown so the top of the panel needed to be 15 inches across.  (I’ve noticed in wedding gowns since this event that you barely get an inch on each side of the panel – cheapo manufacturers!) Again I used a spray basting method to adhere the organza to the satin and sew them. I drew my sewing line with a Frixion pen and left a small opening in the bottom so I could turn it right side out.  sewingPanelskeded

I trimmed up the panel, turned it, poked out the corners with a chop stick, gave the panel a good press and top stitched the opening closed.  Then I hand stitched it, using a strong polyester thread, to the left side of the gown right next to the left loop set.panelInstalled

Here’s the secret to a perfectly centered serpentine down the corset back gown.  Run the tie through the top two loops, then standing way back, hold the ends of the ties like reigns on a horse, to get them even and straight.  Then drop them, and run the right tie through the 2nd left loop on the left side so both ends hang on the left making sure there are NO twists in the tie as it goes through the loop.  Then take the tie in the top left loop and run it across from right and back to left inserting it into the 3rd left loop.  You always start with the top tie on the left side, over and back.  Don’t run the ties like a tennis shoe.  Continue this process down the dress, left to right to left, until it is completely tied.  When you get to the last right loop at the bottom, create a bow with the ends and tuck them down inside the dress.  Here is a pillow modeling the final effect.tiedUp

And Here Comes the Bride! (Not really.  This is a final fitting in my LR, not the actual ceremony!) ha  Seeing that I could have made the modesty panel a little longer, I advised the bride to ensure her undergarments were white for the ceremony.bride2

The corset back was the perfect choice for this bridal alteration.  Her mom told me the gap at the top of the gown the day of the wedding was even farther apart than it was when she brought the dress to me.  The bride was thrilled with the outcome and really, so was I.  I hear she was absolutely gorgeous at the wedding and the dress got rave reviews….And they lived happily ever after!

In case you are wondering, because I didn’t know what I was doing when I started, I was a sucker and did this for a case of beer + the cost of fabric ($75).  Mom offered more and I said no.  I know, I know… but I felt good about the outcome and told her to consider it my wedding gift to them.  Besides, her sister Dana and her hubs have done so much for us and that’s what friends are for, right?  🙂

Completed: New Look 6184

Supplies:  New Look 6184 – View C, 2.5 yards bottom weight woven fabric from Hancock Fabrics, 22” zipper, hook & eye.  Total investment:  Less than $20.00 with Hancock discounts and coupons.PatternEnvelope6184

I love this dress.  I’ve recently become obsessed with dresses and they are all I wear to work anymore because (read my Creative Fraud page) I don’t have to expend any energy attempting to match a skirt and top.  No deciding required…much like my military days!  Yay!  Just step in and zip.  Done.  I literally can wear just 4 items of clothing to work including shoes.  So no, I’m not going commando.  This dress style speaks to me because it doesn’t have my dreaded princess seaming.  I always require an FBA so I usually steer clear of princess seams or button downs.  If you’re a B cup or less, good for you and whoop-tee-doo.  But for the rest of us, the new style of tucks at the neck is Heaven sent!  And I’m all about anything sleeveless.  Since I had my plumbing removed in ’09, sleeves spell “roaster oven” to me.

I did make a major modification to the dress and that was to change the waistline to an empire waist.  Well, to be honest, I made a BUNCH of modifications to this dress.  But the empire waist was done because that style hides a multitude of sins.  I’ll admit it, I’m lumpy below the waist.  I’m not 25 anymore and when a garment waistline hits around my belly button, I have a tendency to balloon out just below the waist seam.  Muffin tops are not usually a problem for me since I have a naturally high waist anyway that is higher than midway between the girls and the hips.  So the empire looks the most flattering on me.  Whoever came up with that way back in-the-day should have been put up for sainthood!  I Franken-patterned the bodice by shortening it 2” and added the shortened amount to the waistline ensuring the new waist circumference matched that of the bodice.  I pattern-graded the difference to smooth out the join and adjusted the darts accordingly.  Wow, looking at this pic my co-worker took, I could stand to lose 10-15.  I’ll get right on that.6184-worn-front

Now, I did have one major screw up with this pattern.  It’s not the first go-round with this dress and I didn’t have the back bodice piece in the package.  ????  I have no idea why it wouldn’t be there but it wasn’t.  Not even a smaller one I could size up.  And I was at the coast doing this make and didn’t have resources to get another bodice piece to copy from.  Rats.  Can I create one from scratch?  Ha, that’s funny.  But check this out!  A few weeks ago I was wasting time and money in Barnes & Nobel and I picked up “Dressmaking Step by Step; Classic Patterns and Essential Techniques for a Range of Beautiful Garments” by Alison Smith (DK Publishing 2012).  This is an awesome book and one of the dresses in there is the classic Empire Waist dress.  And even better, there are patterns in the back of the book.  They are small but on a graded scale.  So I taped together some of my handy-dandy printer paper, drew a 2×2 grid on the paper and eyeballed it from the book to create the back bodice.   I was feeling pretty froggy after that save so I strutted around the rest of the afternoon telling hubs he could just call me Sewing Machine MacGyver.  He refused and went fishing.  Humph!

Dress Making Step by Step

EmpireDressPageBodice Back Pattern
Lesson Learned:  Careful on the cut or you’ll look like you’ve got the eyes of two hurricanes across your shoulders!  Note to self:  Wear your hair down next time.

Let me introduce Lance.  My Deaf Englishman co-worker.  Love him to death but I every time I say something he says, “Huh?”  Refuses to wear his hearing aids and it drives his British wife crazy.  You can see how enthusiastic he is about my sewing.WP_20150706_09_27_23_Pro

Next mod:  I despise chintz-y facings.  None of the quality dresses you find that are RTW have that crappy 1.5” facing around the neckline or arms.  No, they all have a hefty wide facing that spans both sides of the bodice.  So I re-drafted the facing pieces to mimic my RTW dresses so they span the arms-eye front and back and extend down the chest a bit.  Essentially the neck facing becomes a bodice facing and blends with the arm hole facing into a singular unit.  It’s fairly easy to do – just use the bodice pieces as patterns and match up all the edges.Facing with Captions

Next mod:  Widen the shoulders.  I know it’s cool in some circles to show bra/tank straps but that’s not me.  Especially not me at the office.  I HATE  to be self-conscious about my bra straps possibly showing while I’m at work so I normally make the shoulder seams a bit wider.  The facing has to be graded as well to make this work.  Also, I added ½” to the front armholes to keep any armpit pillows from escaping.

Next mod:  Lose the arm hole bias tape called for in the pattern.  Gag.  Again, following my RTW as a guide, they don’t use it.  To me, it looks less-professional than the clean finish without it.  The very best video to show this is by Colleen Lea found here. ( ) IMO, the bias tape method is ok in casual blouses/tops, but it’s really not what I’m looking for in a dress for the office.
The back facing combined with the back armseye.WP_20150706_18_50_06_Pro

The front facing combined into the front armseye. I probably could have deepened the center of the front facing but hey…it’s hot down here in South Texas.WP_20150706_18_50_24_Pro

In the video, she showed it using an entire lining, but I just treated the facing unit as the lining and went from there.  The results were EXCEPTIONAL!  I was absolutely giddy to learn this technique.  I have to admit to having to unpick the shoulder seams (because I was following the pattern until I recalled the video).  After I was finished, I performed an under-stitch on the graded facings as much as I could…where I could.

A 2.5” blind hem, hook and eye, and it was finished!  I’m looking forward to making a few more to work out those little kinks I see here and there.  This pattern is totally a work in progress and I know it looks too big on me.  But honestly, I was so comfortable all day.  Maybe I can perfect that feeling without the look of being a size too big.

Happy Sewing!