Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Coal-Miner's Daughter Dress


This dress has a lot of tears.  I don't mean tears as in torn or ripped, or tears from ripping out seams in frustration - I mean tears of sadness, real wet ones!

I cut this dress in the days after the Pike River tragedy which recently shook our little nation, and listening to talkback radio at the time was quite emotional, being full of tributes to the 29 men who died in the underground coal mine.  Especially emotional when one woman rang in with her story of her father who died in a coal mine many years ago when she was only eight, and she mentioned how proud she was to be a coal miner's daughter.  Then they played the song of that name.....and well, soppy me, guess the rest!

So this is my coal-miner's daughter dress, in appropriately coloured coal black poplin, with a few inherent tears from the day it was cut.


But I'm determined this dress is not going to be a sad number - for me this pattern is quite fun and frivolous, being my first tip-toe into fifties-full-skirtedness (but you can see I am not quite brave enough for the underskirt yet, lol!). 
Although I will remember the Pike River 29 every time I put it on, my real hope is that some of the fun I see in this dress will transfer to the families as they recover from the tragedy, and help them to rediscover fun and happiness in their lives again.


The pattern is Simplicity 3039, dated 1959, and is a shirtdress style with a full skirt.  This is the first time I have made such a full skirt for myself, so it is a bit of an experiment in safe-but-boring-black.  I always thought having a big-ish high hip that the extra bulk was not a good idea, however this pattern has tucks on the skirt rather than gathers, so I thought I'd give it a try.  I especially liked how the tucks were arranged in little clusters of four - so cute to look at, but let me tell you they are a nightmare to get accurate! 


After an age of arranging the tucks, I finally went to attach the skirt to the bodice, but it did not fit!  The instructions call for the skirt to be eased onto the bodice a lot, which I obediently did.  But I am not happy with it - it just adds bulk and detracts from the effect of the tucks.  I might go back and redo it, but haven't as yet, and will I ever?  Dunno - I can be a real perfectionist, but real slapdash when it comes to sewing for myself!!

Covering it up with a ribbon suits my mentality right now, and I might order some red grosgrain especially for this purpose..

I did a few alterations to the bodice - shortened it, narrowed the back, upsized the waist. I keep forgetting to document this process, and promise to try and remember next time.  Now I have photographed the finished dress I can see a 'lovely' drag line from shoulder to bust, and maybe I should have added to the front shoulder as I am quite prominent here.  Oh well, if I keep moving no-one will notice...

The fabric is a cotton/elastane poplin, so to stabilise the waistline and prevent it stretching I inserted some pretty striped grosgrain.  Here is a link to Tasia's tutorial that tells you everything you need to know!  On my dress the waistline had stretched and hung down at the front and back due to the weight of the skirt, and once I cut and inserted the grosgrain to the pattern measurement, it returned to its correct place.


For the record, the hem took me three hours to handsew!  On the poplin I had to be so careful picking up the stitches for it not to show.  But I did it one sunny afternoon out on the patio alongside my Mum doing her embroidery, so it was quite fun and leisurely, and I felt my glass of chardonnay afterwards was extremely well deserved!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Vintage Sewalong 2011 - decisions, decisions!

Have you come across the Vintage Sewalong 2011 in sewing blogland yet? 

No?  Then click here!
I promptly signed up, and now I'm in the process of deciding what to make.  As usual I'm using stash fabrics, which is rather restricting, although I did have a considerable increase in available options recently....

Potential candidates so far are:
  • Butterick 2669

I would copy the grey version exactly - I already have some charcoal linen and red topstitching thread. 
But it is such a basic shift, and I'd really like to make something more interesting for the sewalong.
But I would wear it, because I practically live in shift dresses in summer, winter, autumn  and spring!

  • Burda 2-7041

I would make this in some dark green wool, with black satin trim.  But I'm not sure I would wear this confidently - I like the vintage-ness, but at my age you have to be a bit careful - can I go there without looking like Aunt Doris?!


By the way, this pattern is from one of my latest acquisitions - a 1964 Burda - which I haven't even posted about yet, I promise I will soon!

  • Simplicity 3858

This design could easily be bordering on naff, but in black viscose crepe could Version 2 be a cute LBD?  The muffin-enhancing gathers could be a worry as I already have a fairly good muffin and am practically already peg-top without the skirt,  but viscose has great drape ... should I, or shouldn't I?

I'm not usually so undecided, but I find it so difficult to decide on some vintage designs - there is a fine line between looking decidedly frumpy, and looking like you are from another era!  Do you find this too? 

And please - can you help me decide which one to sew for my Vintage Sewalong !?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas fabric heaven!

I love having family visit at Christmas time, and I especially love it when they bring gifts like this:


Yay - a major stash enhancement!

My mother sent me some fabric swatches a couple of weeks ago, and said if I wanted any of them she could bring them with her when she came to visit at Christmas.  I must say, the list of 'wants' was much larger than the list of 'don't wants', and lucky greedy me - she managed to cram all these into her suitcase!

I recognise some of these fabrics from when I was a schoolgirl, some originally belonged to my grandmother, and some were production ends from my own business that I had once given to Mum, but have made their way back to me.

I have a vague idea what I will make from each one, but past history has shown that is completely subject to change!  Whatever I do, I'm looking forward to adding a bit more colour to my wardrobe (there's not too much black and grey amongst that lot is there?), and you can be sure I'll reveal all here!

But there is no sewing for the moment, I need to ice the second batch of Christmas cookies because the first one has completely disappeared, no idea where, and I must make some lemon butter to marinate the turkey overnight, and then I might require a Christmas Eve glass of wine, or two.....

A wonderful Christmas to you all xx

Sunday, December 12, 2010

bust darts - up or down?

How do you prefer to press side bust darts - do you press them upwards, or do you press them down?


I was taught to press them upwards, the theory being they were less noticeable from the outside. I don't usually sew commercial patterns, but I notice the vintage ones I've sewn recently all indicate to press the darts down in their instructions, and I can't think of any reason for doing it this way - any suggestions?  

I've taken a couple of photos of my current project with one pressed up and one pressed down.  Which one looks better  - left or right?



I prefer the one on the left which is slightly less obvious - in comparison, the one on the right looks like it needs a better press!

Now guess which one is which.....

The one on the left is pressed upwards, and the one on the right is pressed downwards.  From eye level you look into the 'ditch' of the dart pressed down, whereas the 'ditch' is partially obscured by fabric when it is pressed up and so is less noticeable.

I admit the difference isn't exactly major in this thin cotton poplin, photographed in low contrast lighting, and from a near horizontal viewpoint.  If the fabric was thicker, in contrasting lighting, and viewed from eye level the difference would be even more noticeable!

So my 'experiment' proves my theory, and I will stick to pressing my bust darts upwards for aesthetic reasons!

If you want to make the switch be aware that your pattern will be drafted for the dart to press downwards.  It is simple to alter - just add a piece of paper to the seam allowance of your pattern around the base of your dart, fold the dart as if it is sewn and pressed upwards, and trim the excess paper off the side seam.  You need to do this so you don't end up with mismatching raw edges like this:

A no-no!
So now you know my angle on this!  Which way do you prefer - up or down?  And more importantly - why?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

sway back alterations - my analysis

In my last post I mentioned that I did a sway back adjustment on my white tank top, and some of you asked how to do this on a back where there are no seams.  Here I'll show what I did, but I'll cover some theory too for the geeks amongst us!


My alteration didn't fix my wrinkles completely, so after lots of thought and lots of reading both online and off, I came to a few other conclusions that I'll  also share.  I'm as guilty as anyone here, but I think there are a lot of misdiagnosed sway backs, and sway back alterations are often done unnessarily, and done where other alterations may be more effective - wrinkles at the back waistline are not only caused by a sway back!

So what exactly is a sway back?

A sway back is where the natural inward curve of the spine at the back waist is exaggerated.  It could be due to the backward tilt of the thorax, or the forward tilt of the pelvis, or a bit of both. 

It causes the vertical distance between the bustline and the hipline to be shorter than normal at the centre back (CB).  The side seam remains of normal vertical length:


How does this affect the fit of garments?

Essentially the centre back length (CBL) of the garment appears too long.  The appearance depends on whether the garment is fitted or loose:
  • In a fitted garment, horizontal wrinkles will form across the back waistline.  With a sway back these wrinkles will be most pronounced at the CB, and they will stop short of the side seam which remains flat.
  • Looser garments may balloon above the back waist, or the hipline/hemline falls longer at the centre back while the side seams swing forward. 

Other issues easily confused with a sway back:

Browsing online, I saw the following fit issues frequently confused with a sway back problem:
  • A short (high) waistline - on a fitted garment this causes horizontal wrinkles that extend into the side seams and front bodice.  To fix this the whole bodice needs shortening, not just the CB. 
  • A large back high hip, or prominent buttocks - tightness in these areas causes the fabric to "ride up".  The garment needs to be made wider in these areas to prevent ride up.
  • An erect upper back - excess fabric length in the upper back may drop down to the waist area, and to prevent this the complete upper back requires shortening.
  • A prominent front or bust - insufficient fabric length in the upper front may pull up the front waist, causing drag lines towards the back waist.  The front needs to be lengthened to solve this, and possibly widened also.
  • Looseness at the back waistline due to insufficient waistline reduction.  The vertical dart shaping should be increased or sculpted for a closer fit.
  • Diagonal wrinkles - these can be caused by strain from another direction, eg a prominent bust, or overshaped side seams.  Waist reduction should be relatively evenly spaced around the body, not just at the side seams, to prevent these.
However a sway back can exist in conjunction with these fit issues.  I also have a short waist, erect back, and a large back high hip.  On my tank top, all these issues were contributing to wrinkles across the back waistline.  In fact, a sway back was probably the least of my worries!

I recommend fixing these other problems before determining whether a sway back adjustment is required - it may not be necessary after all!

So - how do we adjust for a sway back if it is necessary?

Simple - we reduce the centre back length!  The side seam remains unchanged.

First try the garment on and pin out the excess fabric in a horizontal tuck, beginning at the CB and tapering to zero at the side seams:


Measure the total length that you need to reduce - it is usually about 1 - 1.5cm (1/2").  If you need to reduce much more than this, I would definitely check that some of the fit issues mentioned above are not present.


In this example my folded tuck measures 6mm, so I need to reduce the CBL by 12mm in total.

The pattern alteration undertaken depends on whether the garment has a waistline seam, a CB seam or no seams:
  •  For skirts or trousers: 
 Scoop out the upper edge of the back - this corrects the CB waist to hip measurement:


Before you cut, fold the darts closed so they maintain their correct shape:


At the CB, ensure the waistline and CB seam remain square:



  •  For garments with a horizontal waistline seam:
Scoop out the bodice panel as well as the skirt, enough on each so the waistline seam remains in the correct anatomical position.  Fold the darts closed before cutting and square the waistline at the CB like above:



  • For garments with a CB seam and no horizontal waistline seam: 
Slash along the waistline and overlap your pattern at the CB seam the same width as your horizontal tuck:


Smooth the lines of the CB and side seams (blue dotted line):


The grainline will need to be redrawn - here I have maintained the grainline of the skirt so that it hangs correctly, for a top I would probably maintain the grainline of the bodice:



  •  For garments with no back seams:
On the half-pattern, slash and overlap your pattern the width of your horizontal tuck as above.

Redraw the CB fold between the CB neck and CB hem:


Square the hem to the centre back:


Trace around the side seam to the CB neck.  The CB neck should be square to your new CB fold if it previously was:


You can see the old outline in pencil, and that the back waistline is now larger.  To alter this, match the underarm point and side hem points like so:


 And redraw the new side seam shaping (line with a tick):


This method is basically what I use for seamless backs, and is the same as that described in Aldrich.  But see how it also increases the back bodice width?  To prevent this I usually redraw the side seam shaping from the hem directly to the shoulder point instead.

There is also another method I discovered, documented here.  This produces a very similar result to mine, but I find the shoulder angle becomes too square for my liking.  You might like to try it out to see what you think though.

More for pattern geeks:
If you study the end result of these last two methods for a seamless back (my modified Aldrich and the online one), you will notice that the pattern below the back armscye is actually unchanged in shape.  All the change occurs in the shoulder and neck region, and the excess centre back length is effectively being eliminated from the top.  This surprising (to me) revelation led me to discover an even quicker way - my adjustment is the equivalent of simply changing the angle of the shoulder and back neck to the rest of the pattern!

Here's how - draw right around your pattern from hem to shoulder point.  Then pivoting at the shoulder point, swing the CB neck point downwards by your required adjustment (ie 12mm) and then square the CB neck to the CB fold:

    Done - you end up with exactly the same result, only more quickly! 

    Let the discussion begin!

    I am really interested in hearing your feedback and experiences with sway back alterations too.  What I do works for me - but I know we are all different shapes and sizes, so please comment and criticise as you see fit - pun intended!  I think a lot of instructions are vague and confusing, and I want to compile a clear summary for everyone's reference, so do ask if I have overlooked something or you have a query.  Feel free to link any of your fitting images too, as they do tell a thousand words!

    ~ Sherry