Darcy Lewis Design

Adventures in "Good Enough" Design

Archive for the category “Sewing”

Baldwin Center (Act II)

You may recall the remade garments I’m patterning for the Baldwin Center, a community charity in Pontiac, MI.  This has been keeping me too busy to post as much as usual, but here are the latest two garments (which were featured on TV last week!!):

We started with a lovely sandy tan silk shirt (with a wonderful hand!).  I cut it in half from underarm to underarm.

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I liked the idea of preserving the button placket as a functional detail that could be undone all the up (Oooh!  How risque!), but obviously it need a bit of dressing up and if we were going to have the buttons open, there might as well be something to look at!  So I took black lace yardage and made a second skirt a HAIR smaller than the silk – so they laid together nicely and didn’t cramp your movements.  I also took a strip of our French black velvet burnout lace knit (which was a nice blend of a tan base with black velvet flocking), and made an elastic waist casing at the top.  I scalloped the lace and left it long enough to just show underneath, but it still needed a little more…. So I encased a 2″ strip of very narrow elastic in the side seam allowance at the hem to ruch it up a little and added cream and tan satin ribbon bows to each side.  The finished look is ideal for a day-to-evening outfit!  Simply pair with a cream blouse and black jacket!

 

The second garment started life as a lovely blue satin robe with self belt.  I really wanted to use that belt, but there wasn’t much fabric in the robe.  So I cut a whole halter top front out of it, and paired it with some blue and white lace from the shop.  The belt becomes the tie that holds the front and back together in a pretty bow, while the otherwise-plain front gets some drama with some blue-gray ombred fringe!

What do you think?  I want to make this halter top for me!

Embellished Tea Cloth

Recently, one of my sewing groups challenged us to hand sew a project of our choice.  Since I’ve been wanting to improve my embroidery skills (not practiced since childhood), I decided that an embroidered tea cloth would be a great sampler.

I really wanted a tea-themed elaborate design (because why do anything simply?!) of stacked teacups and steam from the pot curling around in a fanciful design of sailing ships and caravans (you know, the exotic spice and tea trade?)…  Yeah, I’m insane.

I had a few small sample swatches of really pretty upholstery fabrics, so I made them into fabric appliques and then used a combination of machine embroidery and hand stitching to secure them to a cheap-but-nice cotton towel I picked up at IKEA.  I then added French knots and a variety of stitches to accent the fabric print design.

Overall, I’m quite pleased and I learned to my surprise that I quite enjoy some hand work.  It gave me hope that I could actually start one of those massive hand-work projects I’ve always wanted to try but was too afraid to….

What have you challenged yourself with lately?

Upcycled Coats!

It has been a CRAZY month and I’m looking forward to showing you what I’ve been working on!

Earlier this year, The Baldwin Center, a local community charity, asked me to develop a line of garments for them based on remade clothing.  You see, among the many services they offer is a clothes closet where clients in need can pick out clothing they need at little or no cost!  Some of the donations they receive, however, are fabulous fabrics but dated styles, or with a spot, or otherwise undesirable to the clients.  I was tasked with taking those items and designing several patterns they could use to make a series of garments they could sell for a higher price.  The money would be used to fund the charity’s other endeavors, and the plan is that down the road we can also offer training to their clients and set up a little workshop so the garments can be made on-site!

For one of my initial two samples, I started with this beige wool coat from London – it had beautiful designer details, but the lining was shredded and the elbows were worn.

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I couldn’t eke out an entire new coat from this, so I paired it with a delightful wool-cashmere blend from my shop and two different sleeve fabrics from my stash and created this stunning beauty:

I reused the back with the original vent, part of the collar, the beautiful pocket flaps, and the cuffs.  I added molded resin rose buttons from Italy, and an eggplant flannel-back satin lining.  Every coat needs pockets, and, mindful of the pattern needing to be accessible for unskilled sewists, I chose patch pockets.  The ribbons swirling over the back and up over one shoulder are an easy and unique touch that adds some lovely drama and interest to the otherwise-plain back.

My second jacket was designed for spring, so I chose a silk Maggy London maxi halter dress with a great floral print.  I managed to get the fronts and back out of the skirt, and took the self-spaghetti straps from the halter for the jacket ties.  I chose an ivory lace shirt to complement it and barely managed to get the sleeves out of the entire front and back of the shirt.  For the facing and cuff bands, I used a sage green Thai silk shantung from my shop.

I had been waiting until the jackets were presented at their annual gala to reveal them, but now that the gala has passed, I am thrilled to share these with you and to say that everyone LOVED them and both garments were snapped up in the fundraising auction.

I’m so honored to have been asked and glad that I could help.  I look forward to sharing the rest of the collection with you at a later time.

The Knit Challenge

Before I tell you about the knit challenge, I have to share this story with you.  Today I went to one of my sewing groups, and a member I barely knew and had no real previous interaction with handed me the sweetest card she’s tried to mail me – congratulating me on my Fulbright.  It was so incredibly adorably sweet!!!  Talk about Giving Warmth!!
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On to the knit story… that same sewing group just had a knit challenge.  A couple of months ago, members were instructed to bring a piece of knit fabric – either one piece that was 2 yards long or 2 pieces that were each one yard long.  They were anonymously redistributed and members had until today to make something. Though I was happy with the fabric I got, I couldn’t find any design I liked, and so the day before it was due (of course), I bit the bullet and picked a pattern I thought might work…. (Mind you, I was the co-presenter and one of the more expert knit sewists in the group, so I had a certain standard expected of me… GULP!).

Here’s the fabric I received, it’s from JoAnn Fabrics, their Nicole Miller line.  A nice weight, soft hand, I’m guessing a cotton blend.

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My weight keeps fluctuating right now, so I prefer drapey tunics.  I chose McCall’s 7437, view B (the one the model is wearing), from my stash:

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I decided to actually make the pattern as shown (for me this is shockingly irregular, I did the same thing last week with the gray fleece cocoon kimono trimmed in pink plaid – I must be getting sick or something! I never make patterns!) – though without the fringe.  I thought the fabric print was too busy to make the whole garment out of it (plus, I’ve never been able to make a whole garment out of just one fabric…), so I paired it with a magenta slinky knit from my stash.  I wasn’t happy with the poor design for the hemming, so I redid it and just bound the bottom hem and back neck in the black jersey seam-binding from my shop (find it HERE).  I didn’t like how it hung without sleeves, but once the sleeves were in, it was kind of cute.  I wanted to break up the color block a little more, so I choose to make the sleeves in solid black – I used the jersey crepe from the shop (HERE), and since I’d banded the shirt body with the black jersey trim, I decided to finish off the magenta colorway and band the sleeves with it.  All in all, I’m fairly happy with how it came out, though obviously the shoulders need to be raised.

What do you think?  Have you sewn with knits before?  Want to try our challenge 😉  ?

Cocoon Kimono

I’m not sure what to call this jacket – it has kimono sleeves and a cocoon bolero shape, and Burda calls it a cardigan, though it doesn’t fit my notion of a cardigan (which to me is more shaped, though that isn’t the definition).

Anyways, I wanted an easy project that would go together smoothly (it’s been a rough week!), so I just grabbed Burda pattern 8027:

I chose fleece for the weight, ease, and no fraying – and I realized that because of my former custom sewing business, I have tons of fleece – in patterns and designs I wouldn’t wear!!  Anyone want to swap or buy a bunch of children’s fleeces in exchange for adult designs?!

ANYHOO… I barely had enough gray for the body, and some plaid for the border – which I cut on the bias.  In some places, I was actually short a hair, but it worked out ok.  The problem with fleece is that it stretches, so when I needed to ease the band around the jacket body in, it did fit nicely, but now it puckers very slightly in places.  Not enough for a non-sewist to notice, but enough that I will probably go back and sew some kind of trim right over the line where the plaid band meets the gray body.  I think it looks ok, it fits fine, and for once I don’t immediately hate it 😉  Oh, I may also put a single clasp on the front at the bust line. I skimped on fabric and made a size 18 with about 2 yards of fabric (1 of each), and made the whole thing – start to finish – in one evening.  Because of the curving shape, I did not even try to get the plaid to come out perfectly at the center back, and I think it’s ok.

What do you think?  Have you ever made this jacket?

More News…

I thought the chaos in my life would end once Expo was over, but of course it didn’t…

I’m very honored to announce that my application for a Fulbright scholarship to study the preservation of ethnic clothing through modern fashion design in Asia was accepted!!!  I’m officially a Fulbright Scholar!

Also, I finally had my wearable art coat, The Temptation of Eve, officially appraised, and am absolutely thrilled that it came back valued at $2500!!

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Back to sewing…  The next project I’m working on will be a jacket (of course – that’s like 90% of what I sew!).  I found this really cute bold print fabric at IKEA:

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And for reasons unknown even to myself, I decided I simply HAD to make a jacket out of this…  Stay tuned for the blog post…

POST-EXPO EXHALE!

ERMAHGERD!! Expo, LSAT, packing, unpacking, packing, unpacking, labelling, labelling, labelling, need more shelves, shelves fall down, build better shelves, VIKINGS!!!!

Yeah, so that, in a nutshell, is how the past month has gone….

First, I have to say that my husband went so far above and beyond in helping with Expo, that I don’t even have the words to properly express my thanks!  Truly an exemplary partner!

Second, the MI sewing community has been so nice to me – their response to me at Expo and afterwards – making a point of stopping by to say hi, asking how things were going, expressing support for me and for my business, buying from me… the outpouring of well-wishes and affection has been incredible!

On to the details… We had so many idiotic crises getting to today, highlights include the moving truck we’d reserved a month in advance to haul all our stuff to Expo was mysteriously “unavailable” 2 hours before pick-up, and there wasn’t a replacement vehicle to be found!!!  Arrived at Expo, get everything in our booth set for me to just arrange the fabric on the shelves, and so Raf went off to classes…. and about an hour later, my booth neighbor suddenly gave me their space and moved….So I made a mad dash to IKEA, bought a ton of new shelving, went to set it up and…discovered that it was so flimsy it fell over when you so much as breathed on it.  Then I had to sit and wait for Raf to get back from class, mad dash to Home Depot, 2x4s screwed in to the backs, STABLE! Then frantic fabric arranging and unpacking… we didn’t get done until after 2am (supposed to be setup by 10pm, but security guard was REALLY nice to us and let us stay).  Then the next morning, the doors opened, the crowds descended (that would be the Vikings)… and the next thing we knew, it was 3 days later and time to break it all down.  It was truly an utter mad house!  For our very first expo, though, I think we did really well – we were prepared for everything, our booth looked really nice, other vendors who were Expo pros complimented us on our professionalism and style, we got tons of compliments from customers, our fabric was even selected by one of the Passion for Fashion contestants for use in her project (they have the first 2 days of expo to sew something on site to be judged!), and my classes went brilliantly and everyone seemed really happy!

We’re still catching our breaths, and recovering from our exhausted delirium, so here are some photos.  I’d love to hear from you – what do you love/hate about fabric vendors at Expos?  What do you wish they did differently?  What do you like?  We’re already looking to how we can make next year better, and we’d love your input!

 

TWO T-SHIRT ALTERATIONS!

I found two adorable shirts at the store, but they were clearanced and not available in my size.  ;(  Nothing for it, I HAD to have them, so I bought with the intent to alter…

 

The red and blue shirt perfectly matches the red feathers!  So I tried on the feather shirt to see where I needed ease.  It was snug but fit ok over the bust, but the body didn’t look good – especially with those elastic-gathered sides (made me look very pregnant!)  I measured the shirt against another shirt I like the fit of (recognize my French knit shirt? 😉  ):

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So I  cut triangle wedges out of the side of the red shirt (really is pretty symmetrical, just laid out badly). Cutting them out of the sides not only saved the body of the shirt for alteration #2, but meant there was a seam down the actual side, so it looks deliberate, not like an alteration:

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And sewed them into the feather shirt.  The red shirt is not actually hemmed, so I hemmed it to match the lines on the feather shirt, and I think I need to lengthen the sleeves, which I will do by adding more mesh.  And now I have an adorable shirt that actually fits!! (Though I still suck at selfies 😉   )

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That left me with a cut-up red shirt that needed bigger sides of its own…  I have some beautiful navy cotton eyelet in my shop that I needed to make a sample with for expo anyways, and it blended perfectly with the blue on the red shirt, so… The only caveat is that it’s a woven not a knit, so I had to make sure it’s full enough to compensate.  I based the size for this shirt on a favorite sweatshirt.  Then I cut rectangles (not squares, bc I wanted the shirt to be a little longer in the back than in the front) that were 13″ x 15″.  I hemmed the 2 sides first, then sewed the insets into the shirt, making sure to match up fronts (the selvedge edges with a wider hem), and hemming the red shirt to match the insets.  And now I have a gorgeous shirt that looks like a designer original, which, of course, it is!!!

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I think I need to hire a photographer 😉

 

What do you think?  Tell me about some of your favorite alterations!

Sewing Room Hacks…

DIY TRACING TABLE/LIGHT BOX:

One of the sewing groups I’m in had several members asking how to see the pattern lines under thicker tracing paper we sometimes use, like medical exam paper (a popular choice) and butcher paper.  Vintage patterns are especially prone to having faint lines that can be difficult for even the most eagle-eyed of us to trace accurately.  My friend Adrianna has the best, easiest, solution for this!!

She took 2 saw horses, stuck a glass table top from IKEA across the top of it, took two clamp-on work lights and clamped them to opposite legs – pointing up at the underside of the glass.  When they are turned on, they make even the smaller notches and marks crystal clear!  Plus, the set-up can be used as a regular table, is easy to disassemble and put away, and you even easily put a little bit of storage room underneath the table!!

Bonus: Don’t forget, light boxes can be used for all kinds of crafting projects where tracing would come in handy!

 

PATTERN STORAGE AND ORGANIZATION:

I’ve also seen lots of questions about how to store and organize your patterns, so thought I’d share my method.  I use filing cabinets – I have one vertical and 1 lateral.  I divide my patterns into two main groups: New patterns, and patterns I’ve already made.  Patterns I’ve already made are put in their own drawer.  On the front of the envelope I put a post-it note that says which view I made, which garment it is, and any critical notes (doesn’t fit right, take in bust 2″, lengthen 3″, etc.). This is only a short note – I keep full notes separately (see below).

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New patterns are sorted by type of garment – jackets, skirts, dresses, pants.  On a pattern with several garment types – like the photo above, I file it under the garment type I am most interested in. I also keep a list of the patterns in an Excel spreadsheet that lists the brand, pattern number, and location (ie, filed with jackets), and any other details I care about (size, fabric type, yardage, whatever is most important to you).

In the lateral filing cabinet, I needed a way to keep the columns of patterns neat and separate so they didn’t squish into each and get untidy.  I found my local grocery store yielded two IDEAL box sizes – 1 for normal-width envelopes, 1 for wide:

The boxes are almost exactly the same length as the drawer, and they allow me to fit the pattern columns very close together!  To save on both space and the number of boxes needed, I alternate 1 column of loose (boxless) with 1 column in a box.  Here you can see all the patterns tightly wedged in together very neatly:

 

And finally, my tip on how I keep my pattern notes.  There are many different ways to do this, this is NOT the most efficient, but I like it… I buy an 8″ x 6″ spiral-bound artists pad.  I only use 1 sheet per pattern, and always leave the back of the sheet blank – so if I ever rip them out and put them in a notebook, I don’t have to choose or worry about splitting the page 😉

On the top of each page, I put a descriptive name for the garment: “Sakura”, “Gray Roses”, “Silver Rain”, “Opera Cloak”, etc. I put the date I completed the garment.  Then I list any patterns I used, their view and size.  I list the fabrics used and the price I paid for them (best guess), ditto with any trims or closures. I tape in a tiny swatch of the fabric(s), add notes about needed alterations, the amount of time it took to make, and anything else I might want to know later.

 

What kinds of tips and tricks do you use to keep your stash organized?

Bog Coat

Some years ago, I saw this stunning tutorial in Threads Magazine for a “Bog Coat” (See the Tutorials heading).  Well,  I’d been making similar jackets of sequined velvet for ages, but I fell in love with one of the particular samples they showed, which seemed only slightly more elaborate than what I’d been making:

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Much to my dismay, their tutorial didn’t really explain how to make this coat, it really just explained the coat on the right and its variances – which I didn’t like at all:

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Searching for another quick, easy, dramatic project, I stumbled on this image again, and decided to create the red coat even if I had to figure it all out from scratch myself.

I had these two beautifully complementary fabrics – both with just exactly enough yardage! A floral cotton, and a striped jacquard.

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MATERIALS:

  • You’ll need about 1 yard for the primary fabric (in this case, the floral).
  • If you plan to line it, you’ll need the same amount for the lining. (I used a deep brushed teal twill from my shop from Worth NY).
  • Trims – personal choice (I used a yard of the striped fabric to make bias strips for the cuffs).
  • Fabric for ties – I used 2 yards of gray silk charmeuse from the shop.
  • Thread to match, pins, other standard sewing supplies.

INSTRUCTIONS

It was a little complicated to figure out, and I did my best to make the directions clear and easy – please let me know if you get stuck somewhere!! On the upside, I completed this whole coat – start to finish – in half a day, and that was without having convenient instructions and having to run up and down the stairs all day because the iron and thread colors were on the second floor, and I was sewing in the basement….

Step 1: Decide on how long you want your sleeves to be – I just used the full width of the fabric, in this case about 54″, and how wide you want your sleeves to be – I made a loop with the tape measure, stuck my arm inside it and adjusted it until it felt ‘right’.  Very conveniently, this turned out to be 20″, which was so close to the length of my fabric, I just went with the fabric as is.

 

Step 2: Fold your fabric in half, selvedge to selvedge.  Fold it in half again, mark that second centerfold point and unfold that fold – leaving the first fold in place.  Draw a straight line 2 or 2.5″ (I used 2″) from the center fold to slightly below the marked center point.  Free-hand draw a graceful quarter arch from the 2″ line to the center fold – this will be the part where your neck goes.  Cut along the line – you’ve now created your center opening!

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Step 3: Unfold, and fold in half the other way – RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER.

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Step 4: Sew from the selvedge in along that bottom open edge.  It takes a little trial and error to find how much you need to sew – what is comfortable for you.  For me, a 12.5″ seam worked really well (I’m a size 18).

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Step 5: * OPTIONAL* If you are full lining the garment, duplicate all of the above steps with the lining fabric, making sure you use the same measurements you used for the primary fabric.

Step 6: With right sides together, sew around the necklines (I pinked these edges to reduce bulk and help it curve nicely), and sew the bottoms together – the parts that weren’t part of the 12.5″.  This will be a little squirrely to line up and you’ll end up with all these points converging on one spot, but take a little time to pin and sew carefully, and this is really way easier than you think.

You still need to insert the ties, which is a step that properly goes in here, but I’m putting it in later so you can try on and adjust the garment first – since really they are the next-to-last step.

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Step 7: The only parts NOT sew together should be the cuffs.  Turn the garment right-side out through the cuffs and nest them properly (lining inside fashion fabric).  Try on your jacket – this is your last chance to make any adjustments and changes. (Have I mentioned how much I suck at selfies?) If you like it, press everything.

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Step 8: TIES! Inspired by the photo of the original jacket, I wanted big full ties.  I looked at my jacket, and decided I wanted them to be no more than 3″ wide where they attached to the jacket, but then they should flare out to 6″ at the ends.  I also wanted them long enough to wrap around my body and tie in a huge bow, with plenty of trailing ends. I used the tape measure and decided that my ties should therefore be 75″ long with seam allowance.  I happened to have a piece of gray silk charmeuse that complemented this and was 77″ long – close enough.  I liked the idea of using the silk because that would drape and tie much more nicely than the cotton, twill, or stripe jacquard.  Stupidly, when I laid out my silk, I completely forgot to double it (for folding it in half and having 2 nice sides), so I cut a straight strip of 10″ wide (the math doesn’t even make sense for not folding, I have no excuse)…. and rather than waste the silk, decided to just go with that and cut a second strip, also 10″ wide. Don’t make the same mistake I did – but if you do, it came out ok, so it’s Good Enough (more on that at the end).

Folded the strip right sides together, pinned it (silk is slippery!), and straight stitch all the way down using a narrow stitch (2.5 – I usually sew everything at 3.5, so for me, this is a huge leap. But I wasn’t going to serge the interior seam, so wanted to make sure the silk didn’t start fraying.) I left one end open (to turn), and sewed the other end at an angle (just eyeballed an angle that looked nice.)  Do the second strip.  Carefully press your ties.

My ties were now 4.5″ wide (10″ fold in half with a 1/4″ seam allowance), so I gathered the open end.  I very carefully went in between the still-open cuffs and found the bottom center front corners of the jacket (be very careful you have the front edge, not the bottom edge – once you get inside, everything gets turned around! Also be careful that your ties are on the outside of the jacket, backed into the hole – not inside out 😉  ).  I wanted my ties right at the very bottom, so I measured up from the bottom stitch line 2.5″ and ripped that open.  I inserted the open end of the tie – being careful to orient the stitched seam toward the bottom – and used the gathering stitches to gather it until it fit nicely into the 2.5″ hole.  I adjusted the gathers to be even, then stitched the hole closed. Using that narrow 2.5″ stitch, I sewed up and down several times, making sure it was VERY securely attached.

Step 9: Turn everything back right-side out, and baste your cuffs together, aligning the bottom seams.  Then finish to taste.  You can fold them over and top stitch, you can bind the edge with a fancy trim, you can use a decorative serger stitch, etc.  I took a 5″ bias strip of the striped jacquard, pressed it in half, sewed it on to the outside, used a long basting stitch to sew the same seam allowance on the other side (not sewing it TO anything), pressed it in along the basting line, removed the basting stitches, carefully pinned the folded edge in place along the inside of the cuff, and did stitch-in-the-ditch on the front side (using a metallic gold top thread, and a black bobbin thread) to catch and fasten the back half of the strip.IMAG5817

(The lining is TEAL – not purple!!!  Stupid cell phone camera…)

Presenting my finished product (ignore the wrist brace):

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A final word on this tutorial, and my projects in general:  You may have noticed (ahem) that there is an awful lot of “about 10 inches”, and “roughly…” and “oops, I measured wrong…”  I advocate the philosophy of Good Enough.  Shoddy, poor-quality work is not an accepted part of Good Enough, but Good Enough is about recognizing that there some things that matter and some things that don’t really matter.  No one but me – and you because I told you – know that the ties were supposed to be a different size.  They don’t affect the finished product in any meaningful way.  All too often, we hear this chorus of perfection – from the Martha Stewarts of the world, to the super-strict sewing teacher that made you cry when your points weren’t perfectly aligned, to the endless demands from society that we somehow be Perfect Mother, Perfect Wives, Perfect Daughters, and Perfect Housekeepers (even if we have a full-time career) with Perfect Bodies.  I say ENOUGH.  It’s ok if the house is not immaculate, if your quilt points don’t perfectly match, if you never lost the pregnancy weight from the baby that’s now in college, if you fed the kids non-organic hot dogs for third dinner in a row because you’re exhausted and they’ll at least eat that without a fight.

My projects encourage you to aim for Good Enough – not perfection (highly overrated!).  For more information, please see the Good Enough tab at the top of the page.

(General rules – you may share this project and the Good Enough idea – but please be sure to properly credit me, and share it by linking back to this page – not just copying and pasting.  I know you respect the amount of effort that goes into developing interesting content for you! )

 

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