Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Me Made May 14

I've heard rumblings and mentions of this project over the last year, but I was never quite sure what exactly it was. Now I know! It's a blog project hosted by Zoe of So, Zo, What Do You Know?

It's open to anyone who's interested. Here's how it works.
Me-Made-May'14 (MMM'14 for short) is a challenge designed to encourage people who sew/knit/crochet/refashion/upcycle garments for themselves to actually wear and love them… The participants decide the specifics of their own challenge pledge, so that the month is appropriate and challenging for them.
For the full details, check out Zoe's comprehensive sign-up post. And sign up there too, of course!

I've decided to join in this year, as I've been much more focused on my own sewing and the effects of wardrobe choices in the last while. I think I have enough choices to participate -- here is my pledge.

I, Melwyk of Magpie Makery, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May '14. I endeavor to wear at least one handmade/refashioned item each day for the duration of May 2014.

I don't have quite enough to challenge myself in the same ways that some participants are: wearing something handmade with no repeats all month, or wearing only handmade items, for example. But as Zo says, it is a challenge to yourself, not a competition, and it's a way to wear and appreciate all that you make for yourself. I'm looking forward to it, and to sharing some of my outfits, too -- probably not daily, like some others, but a weekly round-up sounds like my speed. Hope to see some of you wearing "me made" in May!

Monday, April 14, 2014

March Recap of MAGAM Project

This is what I vowed to make in March, for the Make a Garment a Month project:

I was planning on making the dress, adding piping to the neck and sleeve edges, and lining the skirt (oh, and adding pockets of course).

I got all the way to the neck, and tried it on, and realized that I hadn't taken the advice of all the sewist reviewers on Pattern Review -- I'd forgotten to cut the neckline larger. Argh! I was strangulating in it! The thought of unpicking the facing AND the piping, resizing the neckline, recutting the facings and resewing it all was overwhelming. I put it aside for what turned into a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, I decided to make a nice easy top to recover from this mishap (New Look 6217) Well, that top had tons of neckline issues as well! I finally finished it this weekend (photos to come) and decided that since I'd spent so much time on it I might as well turn to fixing the dress as well. So my March garment will be finished, soonish, once I get those facings recut. Whew! That was the biggest case of sewer's block I've had for a LONG time. Once I finish and post I will also be deciding on a late April MAGAM too. More to come..........

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Lost Art of Dress: a book review

The Lost Art of Dress: the Women Who Once Made America Stylish / Linda Przybyszewski
New York: Basic Books, c2014.
329 p.

I so enjoyed this history of the "Dress Doctors" that ruled home dressmaking and fashion over the first half of the 20th Century. Though it was entirely focused on the USA, it was fascinating.

The author shares stories of the women who shaped design and home dressmaking over the early part of the 20th century -- through Home Economics departments, 4H, women's clubs, radio shows & pamphlets, the design principles that shaped American style were shared widely. They were based both on artistic beliefs in harmony, balance, proportion, rhythm and emphasis -- two sisters in particular were experts at teaching these long-standing artistic elements as part of clothing design -- and on economy and frugality.

There were many women who taught and emphasized different elements of home sewing, and the notes and bibliography of this book are a goldmine. I found quite a number of the books she mentioned available to read via OpenLibrary, from Mary Brooks Picken's The Secrets of Distinctive Dress (1918) to Margaretta Byers' Designing Women (1938). There were even some pamphlets available to read from the Women's Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences, like this charming guide to sewing Aprons & Caps. Przybyszewski often quotes from these vintage sources, which can be both oddly relevant and truly amusing to the modern reader.

This book is clearly based in extensive research, sharing the ideas that permeated the domestic arts, those of suitability of dress affected by things like income, personal appearance, function, and skill levels. The Dress Doctors were quite stern about areas of 'appropriate' wear, but they also involved themselves in campaigning for women's comfort -- against ridiculous fashions like the hobble skirt (which was responsible for actual deaths as women couldn't run out of the path of oncoming vehicles, and in one case, couldn't swim after falling off a bridge) or the tiny pinched shoes that restricted free movement. It's a wonderful social history of a large swath of the 20th century, and shows how much the Dress Doctors took for granted that the women learning domestic skills were also working women -- they discussed appropriate and useful fashions for shopgirls, teachers, office workers and so on, as well as the society lady (who wasn't really their target market). All of these women worked themselves, and influenced their areas of expertise greatly. Some of the dress doctors were even involved in academia, in chemistry departments and the like, before eventually being shuffled off into "Domestic Arts" which were often first then targeted when budgets shrank.

Przybyszewski touches on the inequity of race in her book -- the Dress Doctors often addressed an assumed market of white women, and when they went into homes and women's clubs to teach, had to recruit black women to work as adjuncts to teach in black communities, as many of the default instructors would not go into those homes. She also reflects on how the manuals that taught suitable colour matching and how to make fashionable choices based on appearance also gave short shrift to anyone outside of a very narrow range of "not-white" complexions. There is only brief mention of these issues within the scope of this book, though, and I would love to read a book that is completely focused on this area -- I think there is a lot more to learn here.

I was so engaged by this book, which I read in e-format thanks to Netgalley. Its publication date is set for April, and I would love to get myself a hard copy to refer to often, as there was SO MUCH information about so many different women, and different organizations that affected their work. I felt that this combined elements both of good social history and of dressmaking in particular (of course), both of which I love.

Anyhow, there was much more detail in it about tons of other designers, instructors, and social movements that I could share, and many more cool anecdotes and interesting facts to trot out at a dinner party, but I'll stop now and hope that you'll be intrigued enough to get yourself a copy in a couple of weeks when it is available. If you have any interest at all in the domestic arts, or women's history, or simply fascinating non-fiction, do put this one on your list. Przybyszewski has created a book that will end up leading you down many new paths of investigation!

(first posted on my book blog, The Indextrious Reader)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Wearable Muslins for the Win

Earlier this year I had thought about joining in on the Little White Dress Contest on Pattern Review... I had an interesting pattern to try out and thought it might be fun. Well, I also decided that I'd muslin this pattern, which I don't do very often, but I didn't want to cut into my fancy white fabric from the stash without testing out whether the dress design would look good on me first.

So I picked up some muslin-ing fabric, a deep red Martha Stewart sheet on sale at the local Goodwill. Once I washed it, it was more of a brick red -- a lot of the dye bled out, but thankfully, I'd washed it all by itself. And I started working on Vogue 8755. I never did enter the LWD contest, as I barely finished the muslin before the deadline. But I like it so much that I've been wearing it with great delight. The only issue I found is that it is a bit snug around the ribcage -- I'd like another half-inch in each side seam. Fortunately the fabric has enough give that it isn't uncomfortably snug, though. I guess the pre-cutting measurements weren't so bad!

I've worn it a couple of times now, and am pleased that even if I didn't get further than my muslin, at least the red muslin itself has become a fun dress, that works with a sweater and tights but will also work alone in summer.

With grey tights & sweater

I added pockets, of course

One of my better zips ever --
but you can notice that I haven't
sewn in the hook & eye at the top yet...
This was a fairly straightforward dress, with a few features that interested me -- the lined bodice (I just self-lined here) and the interesting seam lines in the bodice that match up with pleats on the skirt. One of my concerns was whether the pleats would accentuate the midsection too much; but I think the fabric here has enough body that the pleats are crisp and don't cling to me. I don't find that it is a problem at all.

The only thing that this pattern was missing was pockets, so of course I added some. Simple side seam pockets, there was lots of room for them and they are so useful to have. I used the same fabric for them, again, as I was just going to test it all out. This wearable muslin is a winner!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Black and White and Red all over

Just getting this posted by the end of the's my February "Make a Garment a Month" project! I'm going to post even though the only pictures I could get were rather blurry phone shots taken in my front hall. Oh well! I am certainly not going outside today in the -30 wind chill for photos ;)

This Kwik Sew 3658 is super easy, as shown in my last post; I made up a 'muslin' and this dress in just a couple of nights. The first try was useful to get the construction figured out, though that only took a read-through of the clear instructions & illustrations, plus a couple of tries with the fabric, and all was set. But it also showed me that it might be a good idea to cut Medium on top and Large at waist to hem, particularly because I wanted a bit of room left to add in some side seam pockets (which I was able to do, using some stash scraps of a black damask - I wanted a woven fabric for the pockets to minimize any stretching in the side seams)

Nice solid pocket!

Cozy dress!
Side View: not too clingy!

Love it! I'm going to try my blue,
yellow, purple, and green tights too!
Not all at the same time...

The only thing I noticed was that the stitching at the v of the neckline started coming loose -- the neckline is a bit low so that is dangerous...remember to backstitch carefully at that seamline because there is quite a bit of stretch-pressure put on that point while wearing. I'm going to handstitch it up again from the back/inside, about an inch to make it a little more reliable.

Otherwise, this was a really fun project, and the fabric was a perfect choice. It's soft and warm, and this dress is extremely comfortable to wear. The weight of the fabric also made the collar stand up nicely, though I've folded it down a bit in the picture above. I'm pleased with this one.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Green Tee

To test out the Kwik Sew 3658 that is my February sewing goal, I made up View B, the t-shirt, in a medium weight green knit that I had in the stash -- just enough for this view, I think it was a sign ;)

I wanted to test out how the neckline sat on me, as well as the sizing. I cut a medium all through, and discovered that this is a really easy, quick design that looks a little special thanks to the different neckline. I had no problems sewing it up, but found that I'd probably want to grade to a large at the waist/hips when I made the dress -- despite the Kwik Sew pattern sternly warning me: DO NOT GRADE BETWEEN SIZES.

I wore this to work (with a cardigan, as it's still cold here, though I removed it for a good view of the top) and the colour is so cheery! Great news, the dress has benefitted from my test muslin; I'll be posting about that soon, too. I'll easily meet my February MAGAM goals.

Something I found interesting: this pattern states "Designed for stretch knits only with 35% stretch across the grain." Well, I'm still pretty new to knits so don't always know right away what that means in terms of the actual fabric. I've tended to wing it, but have learned that that habit can cause some mighty annoying situations. Thankfully, I recently discovered this great tool to help judge the stretch of a knit. Print yourself one and save yourself the trouble of guessing wrongly (can't imagine who might have done such a thing before...)

Monday, February 17, 2014

MAGAM February Plans

Well, better late than never! For the last little while I was working away at a muslin for a dress that I wanted to make for Pattern Review's Little White Dress contest, but I barely even finished the muslin in the time allotted, so no LWD for me...

Anyhow, I just realized that I never did choose my February garment, so here it is -- I would like to make this Kwik Sew 3658, using a black and white heavy knit. I like the design and the fact that it's a thick knit that is still quite soft and flexible. Also, I think it will be easy to accessorize with lots of different colours.

It's an easy KwikSew, with only three pattern pieces. Let's see if I can get this done before the month is out!