Halston knock-off trousers

I was lucky enough to do a bit of modelling a few months ago and I got to wear a pair of amazing Halston pants. They weren’t even in my correct size (there was a bit of back-clipping involved), but I still fell instantly in love with them. The light, drapey fabric screamed Spring, and I just loved the large overlapping pleat at the front. Needless to say, I examined them very closely and took a lot of photos.

There are a few sewing patterns out there that are reasonably close in style, but nothing that is actually the same. The Ebony pants by Style Arc have a similar feel, but are pull-on, elastic waist pants with a mid-rise. The Halston pants are high waisted, with a regular waistband and back darts, symmetrical pleats next to the front pockets, and a centre front invisible zipper hidden beneath a large front pleat. What may seem like small design differences can make the world of difference to how a final product feels and looks. I felt it would be simpler for me to start with a well fitted pair of trousers and adjust the design from there. It’s not hard to cut and slash a few pleats. That’s all the overlapping pleat is in the front. It’s just a pleat that begins at the CF, at the same position as the zipper.

My pants are far from perfect. This was a wearable muslin (so I’m not too worried about the waistband puckers). I used the most hideous, poly suiting from Joann. I almost wish I’d spent a bit more now since they worked out better than expected. I could stand to add a half inch to the crotch length to bring the pants a little higher to my true waist. I also need to straighten my side seams by adding to the back and taking from the front and vice versa. See how my outer leg seam curves around to the back.

I love the look of pink silk with grey. But in real life, I’m most comfortable pairing these pants with a white shirt and wool boob tube. It’s just a little hard to show off the neat front pleat of the pants in this way though!

 

 

Black trimmed lace dress

I made this dress some time ago and entered it into the Tessuti cut out lace competition. However, I always had bigger plans for it. Here are some updated photos.

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Pretty much all the details are the same as before. I simply unpicked all the extra overlay that I’d handstitched in place over the shoulder straps, and turned the black trim back to the outside. There was a little seam-ripping and re-sewing involved but it was worth it (and easier because I’d made allowances for the changes to begin with).

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Now it’s just a shame that Summer is edging away from us. I’ve probably only got a few weeks of lace left but I will enjoy it while I can.

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Let’s talk about swimsuits

Not all bathers are meant for swimming. And by swimming, I mean actual laps, freestyle at a pace, butterfly, and flip turns. I have no tolerance for togs that bag out, grab air bubbles, or shift over my bust as I swim. I’ve always stuck to Speedos for my training, racing, and now lap-swimming togs, fiercely loyal in fact. But there could be an extra challenger soon. Me.

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I loved my Splash swimsuits, but they weren’t designed for lap swimming. Even so, they worked really well when worn with a rashie over the top half (halter necks just won’t do for real swimming!). This Summer, I’ve been wearing my tiger one-piece mostly. I’ve been playing with the kids, hanging at the pool, and swimming lots of casual laps in it. The fabric has held up beautifully. The design worked well enough, but doing so much swimming also gave me lots of time to analyse the features that needed to be changed.

It was a smidgen too short through the body. The cross back was positioned too high which meant I could feel it across my shoulder blades as I rotated my arms. Also, whilst I loved the novelty of low cut, full bottom bathers last season, I just wasn’t feeling this trend any more. A higher cut leg was calling, not just for the look, but also for functionality and range of movement. Either that, or a to-the-knee bike short style, but I wasn’t going there.

In fact, all this pondering about swimsuits got me thinking about the evolution of competitive swimsuits and the use of technical fabrics (and non-textiles). I ushered swimming out of my life around 1996. Around that time, we raced in ultra small, skin-tight suits, and occasionally what we called ‘paper suits’. The ‘paper’ lycra was developed in 1988 for the Seoul Olympics and the Australian swim team swam in them at Barcelona. This swimsuit fabric was different to normal lycra. It was extremely thin and felt very crisp and dry to the hand. Even the dark colours were semi-transparent in the light. The fabric was strong, extremely lightweight and we wore them skin-tight and a few sizes too small. They only really lasted for one competition. I was fortunate enough to swim under the guidance of a national coach, who bought back souvenirs that he swapped at international meets. That’s how I got my hands on a paper suit, and the ribbed swimwear I’ll talk about later. By the time I swam at an international meet, in about 1995, the swimsuits were back to being regular lycra and ultra small (for a brief window anyway).

More technical, ribbed fabrics started coming in just as I was signing off, but these were still a woven textile. I had an Aquablade catsuit that was really just a high-necked swimsuit. The fabric was designed in a striped print, created by the addition of water-repellent resin.  It was supposed to increase the speed of water flow over the suit. The picture below is the best I could find (from the Powerhouse Museum of Sydney, Swimsuit collection). I might still have my suit hiding somewhere in a box in Australia.

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The history that follows this is even more fascinating. In 2000, Speedo introduced the Fastskin suit that was said to mimic sharkskin, with ridges and bumps to channel water around the body. They covered most of the body, wrist to neck to ankle. These suits were approved for the 2000 Olympics and 83% of the medals were won wearing them.

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In 2008, Speed then launched the LZR racer swimsuit, which they developed in conjunction with NASA, the Australian Institute of Sport, and an Italian company, Mectex. The patented technology for these suits apparently increases blood flow to the muscles, compresses certain parts of the body, and holds the body in a more hydrodynamic position in the water. Suits were also designed specifically to match the stroke being swum and the different pattern of movement/muscle use in that stroke. The “fabric” consisted of woven elastane-nylon and 50% polyurethane. The seams are ultrasonically welded together, rather than stitched! Other companies followed suit with similar technology, making their suits out of up to 100% polyurethane.

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LZR racer by Speedo 2008

Prior to the Beijing Olympics, FINA endorsed these suits. At Beijing, 23 of 25 world records were smashed, and 94% of races were won wearing them. It was suggested that these suits resulted in times being swum 2-4% faster, which is hugely significant in a fixed environment like a swimming pool. By 2009, 130 world records had been broken by swimmers wearing these non-textile suits. FINA backflipped and the suits are now banned. Yet, those records still stand.

Current policy states that swimsuit fabric must be a textile, which is defined as any open-mesh material like cotton, nylon, lycra, etc. So, no more polyurethane with welded seams! There are also regulations on how much of the body a swimsuit can cover. A good example is what you may have seen all the swimmers wearing recently in Rio (ignore the two-piece!).

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Meanwhile, back in the normal world, I’m just focusing on a very basic design, in a definitive textile of course. No chance of me being banned from any local pools any time soon! Even after all the modifications, my suit is still not perfect, but it is pretty close to meeting all my needs! The length is great. The cross back feels as though it is in a much better position but I’ll have to do some swimming to test that out properly. I love the bottom half of the bathers. The bottom coverage is perfect and I feel like I got the leg cut just right. I like the way the sides come forward a little more than a generic suit, and the back comes up a little higher. Next time, I’ll widen the bust area a smidgen. I might also have a go at lowering the back to a more traditional swimsuit height.

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Black overalls for Fall

I may have jumped the gun a little with this make, but I know I will get a LOT of wear out of these overalls in a few months time when the weather eventually cools. My plan is to wear them with crisp, collared shirts, and my plethora of off-the-shoulder tops. But in the meantime, there might be the odd occasion that I could wear them sans layers.

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I didn’t follow a complete pattern for this make. I slightly narrowed the pants from this playsuit, and then just modified this fitted bodice to a new shape. Having already sewn a few playsuits, I had a good idea of the bodice length I needed (which is one of the most important aspects of a playsuit in my opinion. Nobody wants a saggy butt, or to be cut in half!).

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The fabric I used is a very thick, crisp, cotton twill by Theory. It has a little bit of stretch like a cotton sateen and the good side has a soft, washed silk appearance and feel to it which makes the black appear more charcoal in colour. It’s a wonderful fabric that will be lovely and warm for Winter, but way too heavy for any other time of the year. I’ve purchased Theory branded fabric from Mood on several occasions now and the quality of this particular brand has always been exceptional.

Part of the reason why I got started on these overalls was because I stumbled across a buckle kit for sale at Hancocks before they closed down. I didn’t use the no-sew buttons though. I had a couple of deep shank metal buttons in my stash that I liked so much better.

At this point, I’ve only basted the hem in place. I just can’t decide how long or short I want the pants! I’m very tempted to crop them a little bit more for Fall, but with a deep hem that I can lengthen again in the future.

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Off the shoulder dress and tutorial

Every time I wear this dress (or this one), I always get a few compliments, and yet, it is possibly the simplest dress I’ve ever sewn. It is really nothing more than two rectangles and a bit of elastic casing.

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I hesitate to call it a ‘tutorial’ because it really is so easy. Read the steps below to see why.

STEP 1. Cut two rectangles for the dress body.

 

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STEP 2. Cut two smaller rectangles for the sleeves.

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If you want a fuller volume in the dress and sleeves, simply multiply the width by 2 instead of 1.5, or any other number in between.

To create the elastic casing, you can fold down the top of the dress and sleeves. I got a little bit fancy and added a contrast band as casing.

The sleeves are attached to the dress by matching the top side seam of the dress (at the casing) to the undersleeve seam and sewing through both securely to fix them in place.

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This dress is a style of off the shoulder that I’ve seen in some high end RTW (despite the simplicity of the design!). It shows a little underarm cleavage but the elastic allows a good range of arm movement.

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My dress was made using vintage cotton/silk voile, which I lined with a bit of cream silk habutai from my stash. It’s a very lightweight and cool dress that can easily be dressed up with a pair of funky heels. I wore it most recently to an evening function in sweltering KC. It was bliss.

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I also want to mention the shoulder straps that you see in some of the photos as they quite obviously aren’t a part of this tutorial (you can find a bit more information about them here). Several months ago, I made my first off the shoulder dress (to a slightly different design). I wear it as an off the shoulder dress sometimes, but mostly I wear it with the same bra that you see in these photos. The bra is just stock standard in my closet, but I covered the straps in the same fabric as the dress so it looks like it is a part of the dress. I hate strapless bras, so the bra increases the wearability of the dress for me.

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Cold-shoulder dress

This dress was not on the top of my sewing queue but somehow I managed to drop everything else as soon as I spotted this Tibi ensemble. It was love at first sight sight. The fabric is to die for, but I also loved the laid-back, cut-out design of the shoulder and the loose-fitted, fluid nature of the outfit. To me, it screamed, “hot, steamy, Summer”, which is exactly what we get to expect in Kansas City.

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I used a gorgeous fluid (cotton-like) viscose that I purchased recently on whim (I’m a sucker for filling my trolley to get free shipping!). I had no idea what I wanted to use it for at the time, but it was absolutely perfect for this dress.

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The design is my own, but it was a very simple one. If you have a basic shift dress pattern that fits you well the modifications are easy. I simply slashed the length of a TNT shift dress pattern to spread it into a slightly more A-line shape (rather than a boxy shift). And then I lined up the pattern pieces to create cut-outs over the shoulder seam. I used the same principal described in my off-the-shoulder top.

This dress worked out even better than I imagined. It’s like slipping into cool cotton sheets on a hot day, which is probably going to make it my favourite dress to wear in a few months time.

 

 

Bias cut dress – #inseasonsilkcomp

This is one of my entries into Tessuti Fabric’s latest sewing competition. It wasn’t my Plan A, which is why I now have the opportunity to make two garments instead of one. Plan A called for a LOT of fabric, but after nearly two weeks of literally dragging myself through every sketch and stitch of the design process, I still wasn’t feeling it.

And then suddenly, like blow to the head, Plan B occurred to me. It’s amazing how sewing can turn from feeling like an absolute chore to the best thing in the world. And when things go well, I find that they also go fast! I stay up too late. Netflix and Nurse Jackie are my companions… oh hello there Oonaballoona! (That must be a sign I should keep sewing and not sleeping!).

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So to cut long story short, Plan B went ahead like a dream. I began with a pattern I’d started last year. I’d already spent a great deal of time draping this pattern from scratch, fitting muslins, and even making a wearable dress. I wore the wearable muslin frequently at the end of Summer and I knew that there were things about the pattern that still needed working out, mainly the fit around the armscye, neckline, and the shape of the skirt hem. I also had a few small modifications in mind.

I initially turned the bodice into a kimono sleeve top with shoulder cut-outs. I loved the idea, but the cut-outs looked like they would work better with a set in sleeve. So I went back and drafted some little (shoulder-less) sleeves to attach instead. And I gave them a little point at the hem.

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I used self bias binding in the making of this dress. The neckline, armscye, and top of the sleeve are all bound. I narrowly hemmed the sleeves and bottom hem. Although I do love a French seam in silk crepe de chine, I chose to serge the inside side seams instead. The skirt is cut on the bias and a bias cut seam needs to be free to stretch as it hangs to get a smooth result over the hips.

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I love the way the little sleeves worked out. I also love the curve of the seaming in the back of this dress. I polished up my last version to get the back darts in the bodice perfectly lined up with the back darts of the skirt. It’s hard to see these details in the busy fabric, but they all contribute to the nice fit of the dress. A line drawing helps (so does Fashionary, since my sketching is very, very basic at best).

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There’s still heaps of time to enter the In Season Silk Competition. I always get started early because I never know what life will throw at me (with three little girls). The fabric I used is sold out, but I think the other print is still available. It’s a really lovely silk crepe de chine (at a really great price too!). The best bit for me is seeing what everybody decides to make.

 

DIY // Off the shoulder jersey top

I’m loving the look of off the shoulder tops right now. It’s a little difficult to get on board with this trend during Winter, but it helps to keep the sleeves long and by adding a little leather.

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I modified an existing long sleeve top pattern to make this top. It was a very easy pattern modification as you can see from the diagram below (excuse my dodgy freehand sleeve cap!).

All I did was draw a line across the front and back bodice at the point I wanted my off the shoulder neckline to reach (red dotted line). I cut the pattern pieces off at this line, including the sleeve cap. Finally, I attached a band (the exact size of the top neckline) which I used to encase elastic to hold the top up securely.

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I’m so pleased with how this top worked out that I’ve already cut out a second, shorter sleeve version. I used a one-way-stretch, pure cotton jersey for this version, which is why my top isn’t as clingy on the arms and body as it could be. A knit fabric with two-way-stretch would work even more beautifully. It all depends on how well the unmodified top pattern fit you in the first place.

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The velvet dress // from fabric dyeing to construction

Up until this year, I’ve never really given velvet a second glance. I used to walk past the carefully perched rolls of velvet at Tessuti Fabrics and sigh, and perhaps tentatively stroke them, but I couldn’t really see how such a lush fabric could fit into my wardrobe.

This season is different. I’ve got images of velvet playsuits and blazers stuck in my head. I’d actually like to make all the velvet things but I had to decide on just one. I toyed with the idea of playsuit, but opted for a more classic style of dress instead. I think the simple design of this dress will have more longevity in my wardrobe.

You’ll have to forgive the scrunched up sleeves and trust me when I say the fit is pretty spot on. I could scoop a smidgen more out of the lower back curve, but with normal walking/moving, those wrinkles aren’t actually that noticeable. I really just need an assistant to straighten me up before photos.

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The dress is a faux wrap design with a crossover bodice and wrap skirt. The fabric is a woven, not a knit. It contains some stretch, but not so much that would eliminate the need for darts/gathers or closures. I chose to add gathers to the bodice design and a zipper in the back. I hid the back darts in the back curve of the waist seam. I prick stitched the back zipper in place, adding a tiny glass bead with each stitch. I also made a detachable leather tassal. which I will secure to the zipper pull to aid dressing. I’m just waiting on a little spring clip in the mail.

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With regards to the fabric, I had my heart set on a deep teal, navy, or bottle green velvet. I couldn’t find what I wanted so I decided to dye the fabric myself. I purchased some natural stretch velvet  and the necessary chemicals from Dharma Trading Co. I find their website quite informative and simple to use, particularly when trying to figure out exactly what I need for something I know nothing about.

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I used a Fiber Reactive Procion dye, regular table salt, and soda ash as the fixative. My velvet is a silk/rayon blend. It only stretches on the cross grain and is reasonably light weight (for velvet). It doesn’t require lining, but I’d consider lining it if I was working with a light colour. I’m actually really pleased with the quality of textile and absolutely delighted with the dyeing outcome. It’s important to note that the fabric shrinkage was quite significant after the first wash, but that information was on the website so I was able to order the extra yardage to account for this.

The dyeing process was extremely simple. I used my front loader washing machine, set on the hottest, longest cycle. I read somewhere that a front loader holds about 8 gallons of water so I made my dye calculations based on that (however, I was hardly precise about anything!). Here’s a quick summary of my dyeing process:

  • Pre-wash fabric with Synthrapol
  • Begin long/hot cycle. When water has filled the machine, pause cycle.
  • Dissolve dye powder in water. Dissolve salt in water. Open machine door and pour in dye and salt. Close door and resume cycle.
  • Run cycle for 15-30 min and then pause again (you need about 15min remaining for the soda ash).
  • Soda ash should be dissolved in hot water – add this to the last part of the cycle.
  • Close door. Finish cycle.
  • Start new cycle to wash out leftover dye, using Synthrapol as the detergent.
  • Remove fabric.
  • Clean machine by running a cycle on empty.

In terms of sewing with velvet, this was my first time. I knew to respect the nap, both in cutting direction and pressing, but I also learned a few other things along the way.

Velvet is shifty to sew. I wonder if the slight stretch in this particular velvet made it worse. My Pfaff has a walking foot which helped immensely. My serger hated the velvet. I only attempted one edge with the serger and then decided to pink the remaining raw edges. Hand-basting and lots of pins also helped deal with the shiftiness.

Velvet seams finger press open beautifully because the pile shifts and locks the seam in place (a bit like Velcro). When ironing, I used a thick, doubled up towel, but I’ve heard another upturned piece of velvet works well to press on too. Velvet is a dream to blind stitch as the pile hides the stitches so well. I machine stitched the centre front edges of the skirt before I realised this (so I’m not very happy with the ripple along one side). The neckline, sleeves, and hem were all hand-stitched (the neck with bias binding) and the finish is much nicer.

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Long sleeves in linen

I started sewing clothes for myself in 2012. Before that, my sewing was all about kiddie stuff and quilting cotton. It was also the year I discovered that I could sew with ponte knits and linen. I quite simply overdosed that year. Lucky for you guys, this was also before I started blogging.

I’ve always loved linen, but it’s one of those fabrics that I rarely, if ever, saw in the RTW shops I frequented back then. So it was mindblowing to me that I could suddenly make everything in linen. So did I? Yes. I. Did.

I’ve since had a few years without a lot of linen in my wardrobe. There’s been the odd thing, but nothing like it was in 2012. However, I feel the season changing. I am so in love with it right now. It’s like my long lost friend has returned.

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The thing about linen though, is that it is one of the fabrics I am most pickiest about in terms of quality. I loath buying it online. I’ve been disappointed a few times when I’ve opted for the cheaper option. I recently purchased a length of European white linen from Fabric dot com. In the description it was recommended for making dresses, pants, anything. Let’s just say, I’m ditching the idea of using it for a Summer top and might simply hem it for use as a pretty table cloth instead. I think I’m a linen snob.

The linen I used for this top came all the way from Tessuti Fabrics in Sydney, one of the few places I trust implicitly in buying linen from without ordering a swatch first (online shopping is sadly my only way to purchase quality fabric in the Midwest). This linen is truly delicious. I could iron it better, but I really, really love linen crinkles.

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This top is the long sleeve variation of a pattern I’m working on right now. I paired it with my long leather shorts.

If everything goes to plan, I might be ready for testers in a few weeks. It takes time because I want to make sure that even my testers get a good experience.  If you are interested in testing this or anything else in the future, please head over to my Facebook page, Lily Sage & Co. To avoid driving non-tester inclined blog readers batty,  I will only be putting the tester call out there from now on.