Darn, Darn, Darn!

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No, I haven’t pricked myself with a needle (again). It’s not that kind of darning. This is the type of darning you do to socks.

When there’s a hole in one, not when you can’t find the match.

Anyway, with store-bought socks fairly inexpensive, darning has fallen out of common usage for most of us. But if you’ve ever worn a hole in a pair of hand-knit socks or found a moth-hole in your favorite sweater, darning might just be the skill that keeps those items from the rag pile.

It’s a visual process, and this video from Greenfibres shows the process very well:

Those darning mushrooms always reminded me of the bulb syringes Mom would use on my brothers’ runny noses. In fact, if you’ve got one of those around or anything fairly round and sturdy, I’m sure it would take the place of the turned wood variety, at least while you’re learning.

Basted Together

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It’s finished! Well, not fully. In fact it’s a far cry from done but it is a perfectly serviceable muslin and so, as far as that goes, it’s finished.

Back to the title.

If you hear the word baste and only think of a turkey, this is your opportunity to learn something new.

A basting stitch, also known as a running stitch, is a simple stitch that’s perfect for keeping items in place that may not need to be permanently held in place.

Basting stitches in yellow on blue fabric

You just take your needle up and down through the fabric at regular intervals with no back-tracking. This makes the stitches easy to remove if you need to redo a dart or a seam or once you’ve put in the permanent stitches, whichever is appropriate to your design. All you have to do is make a small snip at the knotted end of your line of stitches and give a tug, the stitches will slide right out!

Because there’re no stops (back-stitches, etc.) in basting, this stitch is also prone to doing this:

Gathered fabric, example of basting stitch usage

Which is why it’s sometimes known as a gathering stitch, too: it makes it easy to gather a longer strip into a shorter distance, either for full skirts or to make ruffles or ruching. But it’s also a good reason not to have a basting stitch as your only stitch in any given area as puckering and pulling could result.

While you can baste on a sewing machine (most machines will have this stitch option), it’s just as easy to do it by hand. Since I needed to keep an eye on dinner while I basted the darts and pieces together, hand-sewing is what I went with.  For the record, it only took one viewing of the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility to put this dress together.

"finished" muslin of a dress to be remade later

I know it doesn’t look like much on this mannequin (poor thing isn’t nearly as well-endowed as I am*) but attempts to photograph myself in the dress in the mirror were just not working. The point of the muslin being to check fit, I did a pretty good job of adjusting the pattern to fit my measurements. For the top I needed to add a couple of darts to take in the neckline a bit, but that’s an easy fix and squares the nect a bit. Since v- and square necklines are more flattering on me, I’ll accept this alteration with glee.

The back neckline is a little low–I think I’ll redraw it on the final version to finish a little higher up on my spine. Even though I plan to wear a cardigan or shrug with this dress, I’d still be more comfortable if the back didn’t dip to my bra-line, you know? As for the waist measurements, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it came out. Yes, this fabric has some stretch to it but even without the stretch I’ll only need to add about an inch per end of the one back bodice piece just to have more wiggle room when attaching the front fasteners in the final picture-perfect dress.

Another thing about muslins and basting. If you notice in the pictures above, I used a contrasting thread color for the basting stitches. While not any sort of rule, it helps to do this so you can easily see your stitches either for adjustments or final stitch placement. In this case, though, the mustard yellow looks so good against the blue that I think I’ll be getting that same yellow in bias tape to edge the dress with. A yellow cardigan and a pair of yellow strappy sandals that I already own and this dress will be a nice addition to my work wardrobe once the final edges are sewn.

Of course, the real fun will be deciding what fabrics I want for the second dress!

(*Please ignore the chaos in the background–my studio was turned on it’s ear getting ready for the pumpkin party in October and hasn’t recovered yet!)

Fabric laid out on bed with half-circle skirt pattern pinned on, ready to cut

The Clothes Make the Woman

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Or, rather, the woman makes the clothes!

Last time we talked about measurements, now it’s time to get to the fit.

I love the scene in Monster In Law where Jennifer Lopez’ character says, “Well, I’m making the dress to fit me,” talking about her wedding dress and the fact that she’s not starving herself into one. Bravo for the sentiment, certainly, and that goes for any clothes!

So! (Or, well, Sew…) Presuming you’ve bought the pattern closest to your size it’s time to compare the base measurements to yours and see what, if anything, needs to be adjusted. In my case, being more plus-sized than the pattern, everything needed to be bumped 6 or 7 inches, depending on the measurement.

If you find yourself in the same situation, keep in mind that the difference between the pattern measurement and your own is TOTAL. If you have one pattern piece for the front and one for the back (or 2 sides or whatever), remember to divide the difference by each piece of the puzzle, adjusting for whichever section needs it the most and how your particular garment is constructed.

Here’s how it worked out, cutting the pieces for my dress:

Since the front is one long piece from shoulder to hem and fairly fitted, I decided to allow 4 inches of increase for the front. Your first thought might be that it’s easiest to just add a couple of inches to each edge but your first thought would not be the best in this case. While there are exceptions, changes to the length or width of a garment are best done within the body of the pattern.

Sometimes it will be clearly marked, like here, where there’s a line through the bodice that says “lengthen or shorten here.” Basically, this is the safest place to adjust the pattern without messing with any of the fiddly fit bits, pre-marked darts and so forth. This particular line is good for those with a longer torso. Though on garments designed with a longer line in mind, a bit of a fold of the pattern to get the marked waistline to hit at the right point would not go amiss.

Close-up of a dress pattern, with adjustment line shown

I’m pretty short-waisted and this pattern seems like it’ll do okay for me as-is, lengthwise. Where I needed the change was width! Like a lot of dress patterns, this front bodice is one piece that’s meant to be cut on a fold. While it may mean adding an extra dart or two to keep the neckline from gaping, the easiest place to add the needed width was the center. I just measured and moved back the pattern from the folded edge 2 inches (remember, since the piece is folded, only allow 2 extra inches for each side, totaling the needed 4 when it’s all flat). I could have also extended the waist and hip measurements but, after seeing how the front fastens at the back of the waist and the back covers it, a longer loop closure will take care of any needed inches and the back of the dress will hide it.

Cut out bodice pattern piece showing added center section

The back is divided into a bodice and 2 parts of a skirt. The back bodice was cut out last, but I’m showing it out of order so you can see another way of making a pattern fit your measurements. In this case I needed to allow a certain amount of additional width in the center so used the same technique as above, at first. Since the waist edge goes all the way around, though, I needed to make sure it would reach. Adding the extra inches to the entire bodice would have made it way too loose but extending just the tail of the sides wouldn’t work because it would risk a bit of a gap along the sides.

So I made a slit between the pre-marked dart and the inner edge of the shoulder/neckline and added a couple of extra inches by splicing in parchment paper (from the kitchen). Because I didn’t want to create issues with the shoulder seams not matching, though, I kept the shoulder the same width and just moved out the bottom piece in a wedge. I have a feeling this will work the best. Time will tell.

Fabric laid out on bed with half-circle skirt pattern pinned on, ready to cut

The skirt was a chore. While I’m certainly looking forward to the fullness the circle skirt will provide, cutting each half out flat was more than even the kitchen table could handle. The bed was the only place large enough (other than the floor–and I really hate having to cut out fabric on my hands and knees) to accommodate the pattern. Just make sure you don’t pin or cut anything but the layer of fabric you intended to!

This was actually an exception to the don’t add inches to the edges rule. Because of the pattern being so large and cumbersome (and fairly straightforward for a circle skirt) I just added about an inch or a smidge more to each edge to increase the waist circumference. Of course, as I’m writing this and thinking about it, the way this dress fits, I probably should have allowed more. I’ll be sure to pin-fit it first, but I have a feeling I’m going to need to add some lenth at the wiast edge–the best way to do that, I’m thinking, is just to cut a large hole in the center–after all, I’m pretty sure the skirt is going to need hemming, this way it won’t need as much!

Back bodice pattern with wedge-shaped adjustment made.

Which brings us to the why of the muslin. While I’m hoping that this test-dress turns out to be something I can actually wear, at least around the house, the muslin gives you a chance to work out the fiddly bits of a pattern. Usually what makes a piece of clothing interesting are the sort of details that can trip you up in the making of it. The fact that this dress, especially when done in contrasting fabrics, looks like a full skirt wrapped around a sheath dress means that I’ve got to account for my waist and hip measurements twice: not something I’d normally have to do. Then again, since my test fabric is a knit (and the pattern was meant for a woven), the stretchiness might help cover my errors this go-round while I sacrifice the fuller skirt for a heavier, flowy one.

It’s my best intention to get this sewn up this weekend so I can show you the finished muslin and we can move on to other forms of needlework. Of course, being that it’s December and everyone’s calendars are filling up fast–mine is certainly no exception–we’ll have to see what actually shakes out. Chances are I’ll be just as surprised as you next Tuesday!
Until then, is there anything that wasn’t clear about today’s portion of the project that I need to explain better? Are you willing to try your hand at making a dress of your own, yet, or have I totally scared you off?


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Moving along from the culinary and beverage arts, we’re heading back into the artsy-craftsy bits for a little while and I couldn’t be happier. Next on the list?

25 Needlework

This comprises sewing together, weaving, manufacturing clothes, bodices, and costumes, and darning.

This art comes at a particularly good time for me, as I’ve got a not-so-minor sewing project in mind to kick it off. Todd and I are planning to have some engagement photos done in the near future and I have a very specific sort of outfit in mind for one of the locations. So specific that it’s easier just to make the dress, myself, than keep hunting for something “close enough”

I found the pattern I was looking for about a month ago (thank you, eBay!), so that means the next step is adjusting the pattern while making a muslin. (A muslin is a test garment, usually made out of inexpensive cotton muslin fabric, that allows you to check fit and proportion before moving on to the more expensive fashion fabric. Almost any fabric can be used for a muslin, though, as long as it’s reasonably similar to the type of fabric you’ll be using for the finished garment. For instance, you can use cotton broadcloth for a test garment, but if you’re finished item is going to be faux fur, you might need to build in a little more ease to account for the bulk in the fabric.)

Butterick B4790 pattern, fabric and pins

The pattern and a possible test-fabric.

If you’ve never made clothing for yourself, I’d suggest you work from a pattern before getting all Pretty in Pink and cutting up a couple of old prom dresses. The great thing about working from patterns is that you learn new techniques from each one. I remember one dress taught me about over-stitching neckline linings, another one taught me French seams. Gradually I progressed to the point where I didn’t need a pattern for basic garments, but it’s still nice to have one.

A few things to keep in mind when selecting a pattern to make:

1. Know your measurements before you shop.

Yes, patterns are sized and they resemble the sizes you would find on the tags of your store-bought clothes. The thing is, manufacturers have a nasty habit of sizing-down over time (today’s size 6 might have been a size 8 or 10 in the past, something you’ve found out if you’ve ever shopped vintage), a practice that pattern-sizing doesn’t quite keep up with. You may need to go up a size or two in order to get the right fit and patterns usually have a range of 4 sizes in a package. Make sure you’re buying the right range.

The measurements you’ll need are usually your waist, hip and chest (that’s over the boobs, ladies, not your band size). Depending on the garment and the fit, it may help to know your inseam for pants, the width of your shoulders, the length of your arm from shoulder to wrist and the circumference of your neck–but those are fairly specialized and more important for tailoring, truthfully. Still, while you’ve got the tape measure out, it won’t hurt to jot those down.

2. Choose the size that corresponds to your largest measurements.

Or, if you are uniquely-shaped (another excellent reason to make your own clothes), purchase 2 patterns–one that matches your top measurements, the other that matches the bottom–and piece them together in the best way for the garment. While it’s easy to take things in, a dress that needs severe alterations on the top to accommodate very curvy hips is better started with two halves of a whole.

3. Make sure you’ve purchased enough fabric and notions for the job.

Sometimes you have a fabric that you’re trying to match a pattern to. This happens a lot when a fabric is on sale and you buy 3 yards of this or 5 yards of that without a specific project in mind. 5 yards will make a fairly full-skirted dress in most cases, but if the fabric has a stripe or a very obvious directional print, you won’t be able to arrange your pattern pieces so tightly, meaning you might need more fabric. Each pattern envelope will tell you how much to purchase for each size, and I usually add an extra yard, if possible, just to be on the safe side.

(Extra fabric is great for smaller projects like quilt piecing, stuffed animals, Christmas ornaments, etc.)

Next week we’ll go over the reasons why it’s good to make a muslin, first, and how to adjust a pattern to get a better fit.