December 31, 2015

The end of 2015

While I am writing this, I can hear fireworks outside. 2015 really is almost over. For some of you in other parts of the world, it already is. In that case: Happy New Year! 
I am taking this last opportunity to round up my past year-in-sewing. I've never really been into writing posts like that, but I think there have been some real changes this year and some goals I achieved. So, for once, it feels right.

First of all, I took part in the Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge for the second time. In 2014, I made most of my garments in the last months of the year but this time, I was a lot quicker. In fact, I met my target and then some but late summer. 
It was never really about the target though. For me, it is all about exploring styles and looks from the past. 

I struggled fairly extensively with 1930's patterns (here and here) and, in the end, achieved something I might claim as a success. Although I didn't wear it again after the photoshoot, I am not sure...

I also tried a pre-New Look 1940's pattern for the first time, using a reproduction pattern from EvaDress, which worked much better than I had expected.

And I finally had a go at the quintessential 1960's look (here and here), which actually comes from the second half of the decade. I loved that so much more than I had ever thought I would. I have worn both dresses a lot over the summer and I really should make more. 

Although I didn't get back to sewing from my vintage patterns after my summer vacation, I really enjoyed it and I am planning to take part in the 2016 Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge (as soon as it is officially announced).

2015 was also the year I finally got to make a dress I have been thinking about for a while. The wedding of our friends V and A gave me the perfect opportunity to make a heavily constructed party dress. In it, I used all kinds of tricks learned in sewing, pattern making, lingerie and corsetry. It was a great thing to work on, I loved the result and I got lots of compliments. 

And, last but not least, 2015 was the year not-so-sporty me really got into climbing. I can no longer claim I am not sporty. I got quite a bit better at climbing and started bouldering. 

I started to make my own sports clothes because now, there was a need. I think it won't surprise you to know the me-made options became favorites straight away.
The climbing has more impact on my sewing though: I lost fat in places I didn't know I had any and gained muscles in other places. I can still wear almost all of my clothes but I can feel and see my look shifting. So, at the end of the year, I am less certain about where I will go style-wise than I have been in years. I don't think it is a bad thing but it will take some time to figure out. 

All in all, 2015 was a pretty interesting sewing year and 2016 is promising even more developments...

December 27, 2015

Party like it's nineteen twenty-....

Hi everyone! I hadn't planned to leave for the holidays without notice but it just sort of happened. If you celebrate at this time of year, I hope you had a lovely time. 
I spend Christmas with family but, as I mentioned before, we don't really dress up. I wore my recently completed 1950's suit-like thing and was easily the most dressed-up person there. 
As I have mentioned before, Dutch people today are just not that into dressing up. People who wear jeans to a wedding don't even really stand out...
Of course, this is as much a good thing as a bad thing. However, I have plenty of proof in my magazine collection that it wasn't always this way.

So today, I thought I would share some December party looks from the 1920's. All from the pages of sewing magazine Gracieuse.

1920 itself is still pretty tame. There are no real party looks in this issue but it does open with a bridal party (which is a bit unusual in itself. Usually, they concentrate on bridal wear somewhere in late spring or early summer). So, if you don't look at the bride herself, you can get an idea of what formal and festive clothes would have looked like at the time.

The magazine does have this amazing evening cloak on the cover though. Now, it is not really something you could still wear but it sure is glamorous.

Unfortunately, there are lots of years from which I have just a few magazines, and often no December or January ones. So, the next pages of winter party wear come from 1927:

And they are pretty good. These are no gowns for formal occasions. These are flapper dresses! Loose fits which show off the wearer's slim lines, daringly short skirts, stunning decoration and flirty floating panels. This is the kind of 1920's party wear we like to think about.

December 1928 starts with something completely different:

Don't be alarmed. This is not some crazy hype which did not make it into the fashion history books. It's for a fancy dress party. Gracieuse usually offers lots of fancy dress patterns in early February, in time of your carnival balls, but occasionally, they throw some in at other times in the year. 
I guess this is 1920's-does-18th century...

Inside, we get some serious party looks though. First, there are these dresses which can be made from now-unfashionable dresses from previous years (I don't know if you can see it but some of those are depicted in the little drawings). The alterations mostly seem to be about raising waistlines and creating wider skirts which hang longer in parts.

And then, there is a page with all-new festive dresses. Here, the text even mentions that for the new evening gown, bodices fit more closely and skirts are longer. Maybe less quintessentially 1920's but very likely more flattering to more ladies...

And just in case you were wondering what any of these dresses might look like in real life, the late January issue of 1929 shows us two lovely ladies in evening gowns, photographed and printed in colour on the front cover.

I won't be going to a big party for New Year and I will not need a party dress but it is nice to imagine an occasion to dress up like this, and to party like it is nineteen twenty... seven?

December 21, 2015

Much better!

Another attempt at making a soft bra... This time, I used my own pattern. The bra sloper I drafted a couple of years ago is for a full cup, underwired bra with a vertical seam. So far, I have always used it to make underwired bras, usually with a horizontal or diagonal seam. Sometimes, I made strapless versions, occasionally a plunge.
This time, I experimented with integrating the cup shapes into the cradle and wings while keeping that vertical seam. This means there is no place for an underwire anymore but crucially, there still is shaping at the bust.
I also cut it in kind of a plunge style, with center from at the underbust line, much lower than it would be for an underwired bra. I knew that was a bit of a risk but I liked the idea style-wise. 

I cut this test bra from lycra and finished it with strong bra band elastic at the bottom and fold-over elastic at the top. I had my doubts about the material. The front part of a bra is normally not supposed to stretch. However, both in RTW and in sewing patterns, you can find soft bra styles like this made from both stretch and non-stretch materials. It seemed like to only way to find out was to try it.

I am actually very pleased with the result. Yes, with a style like this you need slightly tighter shoulder straps than I usually wear, because they actually keep the cup in shape. And on a next version, I would cut away a little bit from the outside edge of the cup because those are ever so slightly cutting in my upper chest muscles (which were probably smaller when I drafted that bra sloper anyway). And a bra like this would probably not be supportive enough if you had a larger cup size. 
However, I only have to deal with my size, I think I can fix the one problem it has and it actually looks very nice. Kind of like a 1970's bikini top. I can already imagine a lot of variations I could make on this design. And it suits the slightly more sporty look I seem to be developing...
I'm calling it a success and making matching panties now. 

December 18, 2015

Action pictures!

As promised, I have some action pictures of my new climbing top.

If you noticed these look different from earlier bouldering pictures, you would be right. Different venue and a different photographer. This time, my friend A was kind enough to take some pictures and we were not climbing at Klimmuur Den Haag but at bouldering hall Delfts Bleau.

In this one, you can really see that arrow on the back. 
Obviously, it would work even better if I made that in a bright colour. The silvery under-layer of the fabric in the arrow is reflective but is would really need something like flashlight to stand out. And it was just too light for that yesterday.

And I like this one because it gives some sense of the odd twists and turns you often get into when climbing. And all of them show quite a bit more upper body muscle than I thought I had...

Oh, and wearing this top yesterday also gave me the chance to try out. I'm quite happy with it. The shelf bra is comfortable, the straps are the right length and that V-front stays in place really well. 

December 15, 2015

My Sierra bra...

Today, I was feeling a bit under the weather which, for some reason meant I got to take some time out of a normal day and sew. Sew something simple.
And because I was thinking about experimenting with new bra styles anyway, I went back to those free downloads I wrote about more than two months ago. The simple option was clearly the Sierra bra, so I made that one using fabric and trimmings from my stash.

The pattern is intended for stretch lace over a lining. A lining which, interestingly, is defined as "stretch mesh, micromesh or powernet". That phrase sounded some alarm bells in my head: Powernet is a really sturdy stretch material commonly used for control-wear, mesh is a very fine, soft and open stretch material. These fabrics can never be treated as one and the same. 
I only had some very sturdy powernet in my stash and I didn't think it would be appropriate for this design. Instead, I used lycra.
Instead of the picot elastic for the top edges, I used fold-over elastic and rather than not putting elastic at the bottom, I applied this beige-ish stretch lace.

The end result doesn't look bad on my dummy. The fabric and notions have a nice effect and the wrap-over feature is quite interesting.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look anywhere near as nice on me. The dummy doesn't have a lot shoulder and its breasts don't get compressed at all. 
On me, the lines at the top of the bra are quite unflattering. I don't really think my chest muscles have grown a lot yet (from the climbing) but in this bra, I end up looking like I have big chest and shoulder muscles, a sportswoman's figure and I just tried to look girly anyway. NOT a good look. 
The bust shape isn't nice either. The design only provides support by compression and it wraps around and down. As a result, it mostly squashes the top part of my breasts and leaves these pulling lines from the apexes down. 
I suppose if I had not applied elastic at the bottom, those lines might have been less and the bottom edge would have flared away from the ribcage (basically providing no support at all).

You may have noticed that I only pinned the halter strap. That's because I was trying it on to determine the right length for it and then decided this thing wasn't worth wasting my good strap elastic on. 

I'm not saying it is a bad pattern. It just really doesn't work for me. If you are a bit more dainty and, like me, have a small bra size, it could work for you. I only knew about this pattern because Carolyn wrote about. She made it both for herself and for her daughter and it works for them. 
I think I will move on and try and draft some unwired styles for myself. 

December 13, 2015

Pattern development

Last week, I made yet another piece of sportswear. Another climbing top to be precise. 
I had hoped to illustrate it with some nice action pictures (like last time) but we had a change of plans today so we didn't go to the climbing hall after all. Hopefully, I'll get another chance in the coming week. 

I have written about the issues of Y-back sports tops and climbing (and other sports which lead to muscle development in the upper body) before so it will come as no surprise that I decided to stick with a design with shoulder straps (even though I should really order some bra sliders to make those straps actually adjustable). Those give more freedom of movement and are easier to change if I need more length at the shoulder in a few months.
This type of design would probably not provide enough bust support for sports like running but, as a climber, I don't have to factor in repeated bouncing so it is fine. 

On the topic of bust support, I did decide to try and incorporate a shelf bra in this top. My first one. I basically just made lining pieces for the top front and back of the garment. I made those pattern pieces the same size as those for the outside but cut them entirely from the least stretchy lycra I am using for this top. At the bottom of the "bra" there is a piece of wide, soft elastic.

Other changes to the design were basically just cosmetic. Instead of the old wide scoop neck, I now made a V. Slightly lower in the middle, higher above each breast. Nicely finishing a V in materials like this is a bit tricky but I think I really like the look. 

I also really wanted to improve on that arrow shape on the back. The earlier version didn't quite work and I think it could be such a fun design feature for a climbing top. This time, I made a seam between the tip and the shaft of the arrow so those could be at a right angle, making it look more arrow-like than the curved edge top the previous top. I also make the center back section higher and introduced side back pieces so the tip of the arrow could end lower than the edge of the top. 

The other design lines were basically drawn to accommodate for those. With an added bonus: I could remove the upper side seam! Of course construction would have been easier if I had not done that and in the future, I may curve those pieces at the bottom. Sewing corners in lycra is not the best idea.  

The material I used for the shelf bra, the bust pieces and the arrow is quite interesting. It may look dark grey in these pictures but it is actually a soft black mesh over a silvery background (which you can see in the picture of the back inside). If it catches the light in a certain way, it really reflects it. The black and the brown/red are materials I used for sports tops before. 

I'm looking forward to really putting it to the test. I'm trying to develop a design which works well for me but which would also work for others. First of all for a friend I often climb with. Of course, there would always have to be changes for body shape and personal taste but if I can get a full enough understanding of all the functional details and how they relate to this sport and the kind of bodies it creates, that would be great.
On that topic, I have also been wondering about fabrics. So far, I have been using lycra-ish materials. Especially the blue and the mesh-and-silver stuff are fairly thick and really intended for sportswear rather than lingerie or swimsuits. RTW tops all seem to be made from a more beefy fabric though. A nylon-spandex blend, according to the one legible tag I found. That stuff is matte and softer to the touch. 
So far, I have just bought fabrics I came across which seemed appropriate but I may have to look up Melissa's where-to-buy list for sportswear fabrics. 

December 10, 2015

Beyer's mode 1942

This time, I wanted to share pictures from Beyer's mode, from the first autumn issue from 1942 to be precise (Beyer's mode was a German magazine. I have about 12 issues in my collection, ranging in date from 1937 to 1957. They came in a big box of other patterns which I bought through a local Ebay offshoot. The magazines originally came from a Dutch professional seamstress. I'm sure I posted about these magazines before and discussed the issue of a Dutch lady buying a German sewing magazine during the occupation but I can't find the post. I will repeat one little fact about Beyer though: These magazines are completely a-political. There are no symbols, no flags, no uniform patterns) 

I'm not a huge fan of the pre-New Look 1940's fashion. I know there are lots of vintage style seamstresses who love this era and make great dresses from patterns like these but to me the designs always seem a bit bulky and oddly proportioned.
Of course, that may just show how much I'm used to both 1950's and modern fashion. In my experience, you always have to "attune your eyes" to a seriously different silhouette.

This coat looks great and I think it would not seem out of place in a 1970's magazine. 

One of the great things about Beyer's mode is the generous use of photography to illustrate the designs. This provides so much more information about what those clothes would really look like than the usual fanciful drawings.

On these pages, you get them side by side.

Sometimes, the real garment looks pretty much like what you would expect,

sometimes, it has a lot more bulk.

And of course, there are also great drawings. I like the fitted coats, the dresses not so much.

December 5, 2015


It is done! My dress/suit is finished. I have, once again, sort-of copied a photograph of a gorgeous 1950's outfit. 
I've done that a couple of times now. I don't really know when I started it. It's not like I don't have ideas of my own... Maybe it is just one of the lures of pattern making: It's so easy to follow the observation "that is pretty" with "I could make that". Of course, really making it isn't always as easy.

In this case, the jacket was a bit of a struggle. I agree with everyone who said that it was likely a one-piece pattern which should be draped to get that interesting shape. However, I only have one of those standard, adjustable dummies which does not really have my shape. And, most importantly, it hardly has shoulders (that is fairly common among dressmakers dummies and I consider it a big issue). I also don't have a human body double or a greatly talented draper at my disposal. So, I couldn't try draping. Flat pattern making was the only way.
After my "toiles" post, I actually made another raglan version with a two piece sleeve which curved forward a bit. Although it went some way towards getting that forward slump, it didn't really do the trick. In the end, I thought it edged towards being over-engineered.
So, I went with the half-kimono sleeve version.

I didn't use interfacing in the sleeve hems. I agree with those of you who mentioned some serious reinforcement would be need to make them stand out like that but I want to be able to wear this in real life, not just have it as a show piece. 

The dress was much simpler. I made a skirt with six gores, slightly tapered at the front and side seams, flared from mid-thigh at the back seams. This also allowed me to put some real waist shaping in the dress, something you often loose a bit in patterns for knit fabrics. 
To avoid bulk, I made the bodice from some fairly thin viscose jersey and finished its edges with fold-over elastic (used with the matte side out). 

To keep and enhance the before mentioned waist shaping, I put a short invisible zipper in the side seam at waist level and made an inner waistband.

That waistband is just a piece of soft elastic which closes with a lingerie hook-and-eye at the same place as the zipper (the left side seam). I determined its length by measuring the waistline on the pattern pieces and tacked it in place on each of the vertical seams. The effect is subtle but it works. And, to my surprise, it isn't uncomfortable. It is probably not recommended if you have a lot of soft flesh around the waist though. 

I'm glad I kept going with this pattern. It may not have all the sculptural beauty of the original, I still think it captures some of that charm. And comfortably so. Who would have thought?