Monday, August 22, 2016

Starting the Skirt (Finally)

Skirt Cut Out, Ready to Sew
My mom came over a few days ago to help me overcome the inertia, procrastination, and confusion that has prevented me from making any progress on the OOP(Out of Print) New Look #6708 skirt that I started at the beginning of LAST summer.  Ahem. 

When I abandoned set this project aside back in July of 2015, I had purchased the fabric, lining and notions, and prewashed the fashion fabric and lining (both cotton voiles).  I had sewn up a muslin, which was good because I discovered that the size corresponding to my measurements on the back of the pattern envelope would be WAY too big (the muslin fell off and hit the floor; that's how big it was), and even more importantly, I realized that the fitted yoke at the top of this A-line skirt wasn't shaped at all like me through the tummy area.  I redrafted those pattern pieces until I got a fit I was happy with (basically size 14 at the top of the yoke transitioning to size 12 at the bottom edge of the yoke, but if you just grade from one size to the other you get a weird inverted V shape at the sides instead of a straight seam around your middle that you can attach the skirt to) and made sure that my new yoke pieces would fit at the seams that attach it to the skirt front and back.  And then life, and other projects, intervened...

So here we are, ready to cut out the skirt.  First consideration: I wasn't thinking about this when I picked out my fabric, but this bold, large scale floral print fabric is kind of like a plaid or stripe in that the pattern needs to be perfectly centered on the front and back of the skirt, and perfectly STRAIGHT on the front and back of the skirt, or I am not going to wear this skirt when it is finished.  And the voile is shifty stuff, folks -- the same qualities that make it soft and flowy for a skirt make it scoot all over on the cutting table, especially prone to stretching askew on the bias.  So I made full pattern pieces for the skirt front and back as well as for the yoke front and back, and cut out the skirt the way I would cut out drapery swags from a print fabric.  I centered a row of flowers on the center fold line of the pattern, and carefully shifted the fabric behind the pattern until the same pattern motifs were positioned in the same positions at the edges of the pattern all the way along the hem line and the right and left side seams. 

Skirt Front Cut Out with Pattern Centered
After I cut out the front from a single fabric layer, I used this cut-out fabric piece as my pattern to cut out the skirt back by laying that piece onto my fabric and adjusting the position of until the pattern was perfectly aligned and the top piece "disappeared."  This took a lot longer than just using the cutting layout in the pattern instructions, but it was the only way I could get my pattern centered and straight with this squirmy, wiggly voile.  So the pattern placement is identical on the front and back of the skirt.

Once all the pieces had been cut from the fashion fabric, cutting out the pieces from my solid navy blue cotton voile was a snap.  Since I had already had made a full pattern piece for the skirt front and back, I just cut the lining from a double layer of fabric.

Next dilemma: This pattern specifically suggests lightweight fabrics, sheers, and voiles like mine in the fabric suggestions.  However, the instructions tell you to put in a standard centered zipper through both layers with an ugly rectangle of stitching around the zipper opening that would look terrible from the right side of the finished garment.  Why, oh why, would anyone want to do that?!

Yucky Centered Zipper in Pattern Instructions
Can you imagine how awful that would look, stitched through two layers of semisheer cotton voile?  YUCK!

Inside View, with Exposed Zipper Tape
And if I followed the pattern instructions for the zipper, I would have exposed zipper tape scratching against my skin even though this is a lined garment.  This isn't how store-bought clothes are made, and this is a major pet peeve against the pattern companies.  Why do they give these cheesy instructions for making things that look dorky and homemade instead of writing instructions for professional looking garments that their customers can be proud of?  They are undermining their own customer base by deliberately making it difficult for beginners to achieve good results when following a pattern.  It's very frustrating to feel like only someone with years of experience, who knows which directions to follow and which ones to disregard, can sew a successful garment from a pattern.

So I looked through the RTW (ready-to-wear) skirts in my closet for something similar to what I'm trying to make.  Every single one of them has an invisible zipper at the side seam, and every one of them except one has got the invisible zipper sewn so that the zipper tape is completely enclosed between the fashion fabric and the lining for a clean, professional finish on the inside of the garment. 

Invisible Side Seam Zipper in RTW Skirt, Enclosed Between Lining and Fashion Fabric
That's what I'm going to attempt to do for my skirt.  My sewing technique books recommend leaving the rest of the seam open until after you have inserted an invisible zipper, so my mom wrote that in the pattern instructions for me, crossing out where they told me to sew the side seam below the notch and then noting later in the pattern instructions, after the zipper insertion, when it's time to close the side seam.

I'm a little nervous about the zipper for several reasons.  I've got my Threads magazine article from back issue #179 (June/July 2015) with tips for zipper insertion in tricky sheer fabrics like mine (I'll be stabilizing the seam allowances in the zipper area with strips of fusible interfacing and sewing with a layer of Sulky Solvy water-soluble stabilizer between the voile and the feed dogs of my machine to prevent puckering).  And I've got the fantastic Bernina invisible zipper foot that I've used successfully to sew invisible zippers in home dec pillows.  I'm just not sure whether changing the zipper application will affect anything at that top edge of the skirt, and I'm not 100% clear on how I am going to sew the lining to the zipper tape after I've sewn the zipper to the fashion fabric of the skirt, in order to get that clean finish of my RTW skirts.  But I think I just need to get started, because some of the instructions and illustrations in the pattern don't make sense to me.  With my caroling outfit, I found that some of those instructions make more sense when you have a partially sewn garment in front of you that you can match up to the illustration. 

On My Worktable
Anyway, everything is cut out now except I'm not sure whether I'll use the Pellon lightweight nonwoven interfacing that I already cut out (I think it's P44) or a lightweight woven fusible interfacing (Pellon Shape-Flex SF101) that is less stiff and drapes more like my voile fashion fabric.  I've got my machines threaded up and ready to go with new size 70 Microtex needles and cotton 50/3 Gutterman thread, so my next step is to test machine settings on fabric scraps in case I need to adjust tension, presser foot pressure or (on the serger) differential feed settings in order to get a nice stitch.  The RTW skirts in my closet have 3-thread overlocked seams, but I'll be sewing my seams on my sewing machine first and then using a narrow 2-thread overlock to finish the seam allowances.  That way if I mess something up along the way, I have a chance to rip out my machine stitches and fix it before the serger has trimmed away my seam allowances.  If I was more confident in my garment sewing and fitting abilities, I'd save time by just doing it all in one pass on the serger.  In fact, I have some other fabric stashed away that might work for this pattern.  If the voile skirt turns out to be a wearable success, I may make this up again in the stashed fabric, and I'll be able to serge the seams on the second skirt once I feel comfortable with how the whole thing goes together.  Wouldn't it be nice to have a TNT ("Tried and True") skirt pattern that I could just whip up in different fabrics with variations?  That's the goal, folks!

My kids go back to school a week from today, but historically my design business picks up steam in the Fall, so Back to School doesn't necessarily mean more free time for my sewing projects.  But it's all about finding that balance, right?  At least, that's what I keep telling myself.  Have a great week, everyone!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Yet Another New Project That Isn't A Skirt: Anders' Modern Building Blocks Quilt

Anders' Modern Building Blocks, 70" x 96", drafted in EQ7
Look, I made a new quilt on the computer last night! This one is going to be for my soon-to-be-thirteen-year-old son, Anders.

Anders' Froggy Quilt of Many Colors, a dizzyingly busy I Spy novelty print quilt completed in 2003 for his third birthday, has seen better days:

Anders' Froggy Quilt of Many Colors, 2003

How I struggled to get those flying geese with practically perfect points!

The Embroidered Quilt Label
Ten years later, that frog quilt is looking awfully childish, and it's also literally disintegrating.  He needs a new bed quilt sooner rather than later, so add that to my LONG list of things to do...  And I can't take three years to make this new quilt, because the current bed quilt won't last that long. 

...And Another Quilt, Loved Literally to Death!
I haven't made him a new one yet because he was VERY ATTACHED to this one and every time I brought up the idea of making a new quilt, he got upset and declared (LOUDLY!) that he wanted to keep his frog quilt FOREVER.  But now that his thirteenth birthday is coming up (in three days!), he finally has conceded that his room needs an update for his teen years and it's time for a new quilt.

So, remember that Moda Modern Building Blocks quilt that everyone was buzzing about two years ago?  I admired it when I first saw it, but didn't consider making one because I didn't know what I'd do with it, plus I was up to my eyeballs in so many other quilts-in-progress at the time.  As usual.

Original Moda Modern Building Blocks Quilt, 84" x 96" at Quilt Market in 2014

In case you haven't seen this quilt before, it was a wildly popular pattern that Moda put out to promote their fabrics, and you can still get that pattern here if you want to make an 84" x 96" quilt like theirs.  I liked this quilt when I first saw it, but it popped into my radar again recently because Greg over at Grey Dogwood Studio just posted photos of his finished version using Fig Tree fabrics with a few prints mixed in:

Isn't that gorgeous?  I love every quilt Greg makes, seriously.  The color palette of both versions of this quilt, the Moda original using all solids and the Fig Tree version with a few soft prints, is part of what makes it so interesting -- these aren't super bright primary colors, but they aren't quite pastels, either.  Anyway, this color palette isn't going to work for my son's room because he is adamant about keeping his dark green walls and the red-framed red-eyed tree frog painting that my mom made for him, and I am adamant about not changing the expensive hand printed Italian wallpaper in his bathroom (I know, what was I thinking, right?  It's an occupational hazard of being an interior designer.  I did have the paper sealed when it was installed, which is why is still looks great).

Anders' Bedroom in 2011, right after the bathroom wallpaper was installed
My idea for updating his room now that he's a teenager (as of this Saturday!) without changing it drastically is to paint over the juvenile wallpaper border and make it a wide navy blue stripe edged with narrower red stripes.  That, along with a new quilt in solid fabrics rather than novelty frog prints, should help the room "grow up" a little without Anders feeling like I totally changed everything.  So I had to alter the color palette of the Moda Modern Building Blocks quilt, but I also had to resize it to fit a twin bed.  I like to make my kids' quilts an XL Twin size, 96" long, because that way they wrap under the foot of the bed more securely and don't end up on the floor every morning from the Midnight Boogie or whatever these squirmy sleepers are doing.  And then a fringe benefit was that Anders' XL Froggy Quilt was just the right size for the XL Twin dorm bed at Davidson where he stayed for the Duke TiP Summer Center program this June.

The original Moda design calls for blocks that are all multiples of 6": 6", 12", 18", 24", 30", and 36".  By resizing the blocks to multiples of 5" instead, I was able to use the same blocks in the same layout, but the width of the finished quilt is reduced to 70" instead of 84".  Perfect for my twin bed.  Of course, shrinking all the blocks reduced the length of the quilt as well, so I added 8" striped borders to the top and bottom of the quilt to get the 96" length that I wanted.  Since I was changing the colors and the block sizes, I decided to redraft the entire quilt in my EQ7 software.  Added bonus: I had to learn how to do a "Custom Set Layout" in order to do this.  Quite a few of the blocks in this quilt were already in the EQ7 block library or in the supplemental Block Base library.  For others, I was able to find a similar block and edit it to look like the one in the Moda quilt (more good software skills practice).  However, as I was getting near the end of the quilt, recoloring it with Kona Solids as I went along, I was starting to get kind of a Scandinavian/Germanic folk art vibe that I liked, so I deliberately swapped out two of the larger blocks for others that better supported that concept.

My EQ7 XL Twin Version of Modern Building Blocks, 70" x 96"
It did take me quite awhile to resize, recreate and recolor this quilt in EQ7, but it was time that was well spent.  For one thing, I had to get the colors the way I wanted them before I bought or cut any fabric, because a quilt like this is difficult to rearrange once the blocks are made if you discover there's too much black in one area or too much blue somewhere else.  The blocks fit together almost like a jigsaw puzzle.  Another reason that I went to all this trouble in EQ7 is that it is very likely that, by changing my blocks from multiples of 6" to multiples of 5", I might find that the patches I need to cut for my blocks are no longer "Ruler Friendly" for rotary cutting.  Now that I've created the project in EQ7, I can easily print any or all of the blocks as templates or as foundation paper piecing patterns.  I can also continue to play around with recoloring (still not 100% sure about that salmon pink color) and/or swapping out blocks, saving each version of the quilt so I can compare all of them, all before spending a dime on fabric.  EQ7 also generates yardage requirements automatically, which is a VERY handy feature.  I am SO glad my husband and kids bought me this software -- one of the best gifts ever!

I'm linking up with:

Let’s Bee Social at

WOW WIP on Wednesday at

Design Wall Monday at Patchwork Times

Main Crush Monday at Cooking Up Quilts

Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt

Moving it Forward at Em’s Scrap Bag:

...And then, I'm going to get some work done, and THEN, I swear I'm going to cut out that SKIRT

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