Sunday, December 17, 2017

Rick Rack and Retirement

In late November, after  32 years  of service, my husband decided to retire from his job as project manager with Dominion Resources.  When he started with the company it was called Virginia Power. He submitted the retirement papers at the last minute.  Not giving me much time to sew something new to wear to the retirement party.  The party was at the site of the project where he has been working for the last three years, in southern Maryland, a three hour drive from our home. It was a dinner in a very nice seafood restaurant on the Chesapeake Bay.  I was the only female, as his work team is all males.  I knew I would be a bit overdressed, but I wanted to sew a dress because I now have very few occasions to sew and wear dresses,  and  will likely have even  less opportunities to do so  in the future.   This pattern and fabric for this dress were chosen based  on what was on the top of the piles in my sewing room, using the Last in-First out method of inventory management.  The pattern was Vogue 8949 one of about 20 current, unused Vogue patterns my sister found for $1.99 at a thrift store.

and the fabric, a dark floral printed Italian wool crepe, recently purchased from Emma One Sock.  

I picked the sleeveless version of the dress. I would have like to have had a small sleeve on the dress but the combination of me buying the minimum yardage of an expensive fabric and the vendor cutting the fabric length on a  slight angle to the selvedge wiped out that option. Sleeveless it was. This dress has an inset band located  1 inch above the natural waist.   If I was going to sew these extra seams in a fitted dress,  I wanted to highlight them in some way.  And I decided to use…  Rick Rack.  Yep the old wavy braid that has been around since 1870, but is often associated with children’s clothing and Little House  on the Prairie skirts. I have a collection of pictures of designer garments featuring rick rack. I created a Pinterest board rick-rack-designer  so you could see  them if you are interested.   I thought why not use a coordinating rick rack to both highlight the seaming and echo the curving lines of the floral print. I hand basted the rickrack to the neckline and  insert seams  to make sure that when I sewed the seam by machine, the rick rack extended evenly beyond the seam.

Rick Rack basted to neckline
Rick rack basted to Inset Seam

Wool crepe is a  dream to sew. I did interfaced the top with fusible weft for a bit of structure. The dress was fully lined in Bemberg rayon fabric.  I made the size 14, with  my standard alterations for upper back curvature, and square shoulders.  I  lengthened the skirt by 2 inches so the hem hit just below my knee.

Vogue 8949 on dress form ( with arms)

Rick Rack at Neckline



Wreath Hat?

Early in my husband’s career with the power company, I gifted him with  a table lamp incorporating an actual working electric  meter. The kind of meter that used to be affixed to every house. When I was a child,  a meter reader would come around every two months, read the numbers on the meter and send us a bill. When the lamp is on the meter actually runs! The meter was set at zero when I bought  the lamp.  Over the years my husband turned  on the light  when he arrived at work and turned it off when he left for the day.   On his last day at work,  his teammates had a fun time figuring out the number of hours it had ‘run’ since the day he got it ( a variable being the size of the light bulb) .

I plan to work a few more years, even though I was eligible for full retirement several years ago. DH was all ready to dive headfirst at the" Honey Do" list.   Unfortunately his next task  was not originally on the list. We found extensive termite damage in my mother's house over the Thanksgiving  holiday. So his first job, post retirement, is back in Maryland, supervising the replacement of all the floor joists, floors and kitchen in my mother's house. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Hollyween Glamour

When you are the mother of male children, as I am, the Halloween costume requests are for superheroes , characters from video games, or  liquor brand mascots.  Sigh!  This year was delightfully different. DS#2 and his girlfriend N were invited to a Halloween murder mystery theme party. Each attendee was given a character with background and appropriate dress code.  DS was a successful, but arrogant and egotistical Hollywood movie directory and N was his glamorous, but insecure and jealous wife, who was planning on divorcing him.   They walked “the red carpet” to enter the party location and a local TV camera man filmed the proceedings ( his side job).  N was excited about the party.  DS was initially a big fuddy-duddy about the whole event, mumbling something about post high school drama club nerds. He did come around in the end and joined the role playing fun.

 N chose this dress from the inter web and I offered to make it. 

I was under a severe time crunch, with only a week of after work sewing time available.  So there are no in process photos.
For the dress I used the top of Vogue 1471, without the  sleeves and with a  self-drafted circle skirt.  I did use the pattern  dress lining pattern extended to floor length under the outer  chiffon skirt. 

 The dress was made of 8 yards of polyester chiffon from Walmart @ $2.85 per yard with a similar priced red poly knit underlining/ lining.  We used inexpensive fabric to try and keep the cost down. But I will say the amount of work in a garment is the same whether  it is made from cheap fabric or  high quality fabrics.
N is 21 years old, works out, and has a lovely figure, but it is very different from mine.   She is also very concerned with RTW sizes and measurements.  I chose to discretely determine her pattern size and her unique figure features by draping a fitted muslin sloper on her body using the Shingo Sato technique in this YouTube video.     Moulage-Draping by Shingo Sato-Alternative Moulage   Including using tape to hold the darts and seams, instead of pins, as shown in the video.  I made sure to prattle on about what I was doing the whole time to make her more comfortable, though my natural working mode is silent concentration with bitten lips and furrowed brow. It worked out well though I think she was a bit skeptical about the white muslin turning into her dream dress. Trying to relate this experience to something she was familiar with, I suggested she think of it as similar to  the first model fittings on  Project Runway. Quite often the  first  fittings are done with muslin mockups or bits and pieces of fabric that do not resemble the final garment.
I cut apart the muslin and transferred the shape and darts to paper.  I think this is called a sloper. I  compared that against the pattern pieces of the bodice, factoring in  ease,  to find that she was very close to a size 12 on top, tapering out to a size 14 in waist and hip.

The pattern is designed for a stretch knit. For the first muslin, I sewed the bodice out of the stable poly knit and we did a fitting of the bodice with bust pad inserts. The deep V on this dress is not bra friendly.  We also took a waist to floor measurement while she was wearing her party shoes, to determine the length of the skirt and where the slit would go.

The outer layer of the whole dress is chiffon. I underlined the chiffon of the bodice with the stable poly knit.  For the waist band the chiffon is cut on the bias and underlined with power mesh. I wanted to really be able to snug in the waist area.  A woven with a knit underlining is a bit odd and I wasn’t sure it would work, but for this dress it did.

I made my own circle skirt pattern using N’s waist measurement and the waist to floor measurements. She wanted the slit in the dress so I patterned the right front skirt (1/4th of the skirt) with the  slit as a cut edge.  I added 1.5 inch on both pieces at the slit edge,  so that they could be hemmed and then overlapped at the waist, a technique used by Daniela on this youTube video  How To Sew A Deep V-Neck Lace Tulle Gown

  I use the method shown for hemming floor length gowns in this youTube video.  How to Hem a Chiffon Evening Gown  And I used the rolled edge functionality on my serger for the first time to hem the bottom of the chiffon skirt. It worked beautifully.

When understitching the front neckline, I used a zigzag stitch and zigzagged over a length of elastic thread ( still laying on my sewing table from the previous project. And drew up the elastic just a little to let it hug the curves in the area of the body, but not look gathered.
 DS’s recommended attire was the stereotypical director caricature with beret, megaphone and clapper. We googled pictures of directors at recent award ceremonies and most were wearing black tuxedos.  DS had a tuxedo left over from his high school choral group, but I really wanted him to wear a thrift store treasure I had.  A custom tailored, shawl collar jacket, in a wool metallic pin stripe. It fit him perfectly.  He went along with it and I think he looked quite good. 

N was delighted with her dress, though there was a last minute catastrophe. When she was dressing for the party, the invisible zipper in the center back broke open with the zipper pull at the top.

   I remember reading long ago, a rant from some younger blogger about the quality of invisible zippers when something similar happened to her. I had never had issues with invisible zippers on tight fitting garments and the blogger didn’t have much sewing “cred” with me so I dismissed it.  It came back to me while I unsewed the  lining from the  tape of the broken zipper and  ripped the zipper out. The only red, non invisible zipper that I could find in my stash between the panic call for help and their arrival at the house was a separating zipper with gold teeth.  I inserted it as an exposed zipper,  reattached the lining to the center back seam, and in twenty minutes she was good to go.  The exposed zipper actually looked quite nice.

Walking the red carpet

Red Carpet interview

They had a lot of fun  at the party. Someone was "murdered". The perpetrator was revealed.  I learned a lot from  sewing for and fitting someone other than myself.   Next year I think I will make myself an amazing  costume and find  a party to attend.  It would be more fun than what I did this year on Halloween,  hanging  with these  guys and  handing out candy.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Shirred Blouse - Burdastyle 09/2017 #104

This Burdastyle blouse caught my eye because it had some interesting bohemian style features, but with relatively simple sewing; rectangular sleeves sewn on dropped shoulder,  decorative ties at the shoulder seam and wrists and a shirred neckline.  It is available as a download.  Shirred Blouse

The blouse is shown in a metallic pin stripe chiffon print.  I had a  silk burgundy paisley print with metallic pin stripes in my stash, which was very similar. (Source:

To make the chiffon easier to sew, I stiffened several fabric pieces with a product called Terial Arts Magic Fabric Spray.

I had received a sample spray bottle  of this product at a recent sewing guild meeting. It is a product that is applied to the fabric and when dry gives the fabric a paper-like texture. The firmer texture makes the fabric stiff enough to do embroidery, cutting by machine or feed through the printer, without any additional stabilizer or backing. It can be rinsed out of the fabric to restore the original hand.    I used it on the collar piece to make it easier to doing the shirring, and the bottom edge of the sleeve pieces to facilitate sewing the vent openings. It worked great.

The stand up collar is shirred, a term which means to gather (an area of fabric or part of a garment) by means of drawn or elasticized threads in parallel rows.


There are two common methods to do shirring by machine. The first uses regular thread in the needle and elastic thread in the bobbin.  The disadvantage of this method is that it is difficult to control the amount of shirring so that the finished piece is a specific width. It is often used when the garment is going to be stretched over a body so the shirring just needs to be snug on the body when worn. The second method is the one used on this blouse.  You zigzag over thin elastic thread forming a casing, and pull the elastic thread to the desired finished measurement. The purpose of the zigzag stitch is to hold the elastic in place but still permit it to be pulled tighter to gather the fabric to a specific length.

Shirring elastic or elastic thread typically comes in black or white.  Just an FYI, an interesting source of other colors is the kid's craft area of Hobby Lobby or Michael’s in the bracelet making supplies ( package on far left).

I used black from a huge cone purchased at a factory outlet store long ago ( like the red one above).  To shirr the collar, the instructions have you zigzag over unstretched elastic thread on the wrong side of the collar, on the fold line.

Draw the elastic to the recommended measurement and tie off.  Sew collar back seam.  Then fold the collar in half along the fold line (where you sewed the first line of elastic) with wrong sides together and zigzag over  elastic in parallel lines ½ inch from the folded edge, on the inside of the collar. I fed my elastic through one hole in the 7 cord presser foot which kept it aligned so the needle  did not pierce it  at all during the zigzagging.

The blouse is a fun addition to my wardrobe. Since the fabric is a bit sheer, I wear a color coordinated tank top under it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


My local sewing group had several fall sewing challenges. The Richmond ASG group had a One Yard Challenge with a deadline of late Sept.  Rules: take a  one  yard piece of 45” wide white cotton fabric and use your creativity to color it, embellish it, and  make something from it. No other fabric could be used.  The ASG Fashion Focus Neighborhood Group has an  Art to Wear Challenge due in Nov.   I tend to like challenges. Put a objective and deadline in front of me and I begin to plan and focus.  Unlike my personal sewing when I can spend days being indecisive about my next project because of too many pattern and fabric choices. 

I decided to combine the objectives for both challenges and make an art to wear garment from one yard of fabric.

 A 45" wide piece of fabric will fit around my bust with lots of ease or my hips with not a lot of ease.  So the garments choices were limited to a sleeveless top, vest or a tight straight skirt.  I decided to try and use as many  fabric dying and  embellishment techniques as possible from recently purchased Craftsy classes, to ease my buyer's guilt

I chose Vogue pattern 1515, the Sandra Betzina “pop top”   for the garment.

Here is the finished top.
Jungle Dusk Front

Jungle Dusk Back

 How did I do it?

I looked through my fabric dyes for inspiring colors.  I decided to go the easy route and use some bottled Rit dye rather than my other dyes which require mixing and chemical additives.

• Dyed 1 yard Kona cotton fabric with Rit Cobalt Blue,
• Dip dyed one edge of fabric with Rit Black dye. 

• Checked that the front, back and neck pattern pieces would fit on the fabric. No room for hem or armhole facings pattern pieces – would need to think about solutions for that later.

The colors of the fabric inspired a Jungle at Dusk theme and got me thinking about how the plants and jungle creatures would look at night in moonlight.

• Made leaf shaped  stamps of varied sizes and orientations from foam meat packaging trays.  They were easy to cut out with scissors. I glued them to scrap wooden blocks from DH’s wood stash. (wood stashes are not near as exciting as fabric stashes)

• Printed leaf shapes over dark border of fabric using metallic black and pewter acrylic craft paint.

• Backed border area with Floriani Tacky ...Water Soluble Stabilizer which would provide  firmness while  embellishing, but it would wash out later. 

• Sewed phragmites type grass between the printed leaves, using blue cotton quilting thread and fringe  pressure foot.  How To Use A Fringe / Looper Foot

• Made cloud shapes in sky area using different blue shades of Decolourant Plus,  a non bleach color remover that replaces the removed color with another color.  I used long skinny shapes torn from soft open cell packing material, from my new laptop, for my cloud stamp.

• Created pink color under clouds using magenta Sharpie and isopropyl alcohol, which makes the Sharpie ink spread. See youTube for Sharpie ink related fabric crafts.  Sharpie Dyed Fabric

• Created flight paths for flying creatures using machine stitching with metallic thread. Sewed glass and wing shaped beads to end of flight paths to create the flying bugs.

• Backed collar piece with Tacky ...Water Soluble Stabilizer. Used decorative machine stiches and variegated thread to embellish collar.    Hand sewed star shaped beads and bead groupings to collar piece.

• Created vines using two different cords; blue tubular yarn and gray and white parachute cording.  Intertwined them by hand and hand stitched in place.

• Hanging flowers on vines were created with  thread bundles of pink metallic cotton embroidery floss and 1” circles cut from thin leather.  The pink thread bundles were machine tacked to leather circle using a wide zig zag with 0 length (used to sew on buttons by machine). Grey rayon thread was looped over vine. Bottom ends of loop were sewn to leather circle. The front of the leather circle was folded over the loop cord and fiber bundle to hide all the attachment threads,  and secured by leather adhesive.

• Assembled the top. Finished the armholes with bias binding cut and pieced from remaining scraps. Faced the back hem (because it hangs longer than front and can be seen) also pieced from scraps.  Turned up 5/8" hem on the front.


Some techniques, like sewing beads on fabric by machine,  require practice to be successful, and I need more practice. Great book. All Beaded Up by Machine .
I  need a stronger eyeglass prescription if I am going to hand bead at night.
I really need to  explore all the decorative stitches on my machine.
Decorative threads are expensive. 
Keep fabric backed with water soluble stabilizer away from the  glass of iced tea, covered in condensation, sitting next to your sewing machine. What a ooy gooy mess.

Overall I had a lot of fun and the top turned out to be very wearable.

And as a added bonus, it won first prize in the challenge.