Day #1 – Curvy ‘Mingos

Flamingo knit

On this, the first day of September, I was inspired to sew and sew and sew.  While working on a client’s custom garment, I discovered some fabric that would be perfect for my curvy young friend.  The school year has begun and her back-to-school shopping yielded nothing but frustration and some awkwardly fitting uncomfortable clothing. A t-shirt dress with a wide billowy shape constructed from this lightweight cotton knit seemed to be exactly what the young lady needed. Knits are not commonly found in my nearby fabric shops, being in the heart of quilt country as I seem to be. I was lucky enough to stumble onto this for her and it screamed at me to become a curvy tween diva dress.

I updated her measurements and altered a “big 4” Girls Plus pattern bodice from a party dress.  Initially, I did what amounts to a pivot full bust adjustment (FBA) using her measurements.  I pivoted the bodice, adding 1 1/2 inches and then altered the rest of the bodice by re-drawing the side seams out to match her measurements at waist and hip.

I stitched up a fitting muslin and tried it on her.  There was an excess of fabric in the armpit but the fit was close enough and I set about cutting out the flamingo pieces. This I learned: always create a pattern based on the latest alterations. How do I know this? I did not do re-draw the pattern and I completely ruined the cutest fabric and an adorable dress for a young lady.  When I cut out the garment for the second time, on the flamingo fabric, I totally forgot to pivot it for the FBA.

To add insult to injury, I did not realize it until the t-shirt dress was complete and on its way to the recipient.  Suddenly, it hit me like a lightning bolt.  I was admiring my talented stitching, my wrinkle-less neckband, and my label attached at the hem. It was all beautiful and had no hopes of ever fitting her.

<Heavy sigh>  It’s a good thing I have 30 days to get this right!


Goldilocks & the Three Blouses

Remember how the fairy tale goes…….

-This blouse is too small. (Pardon me while I spare you a visual of that.)

-This blouse is too big.
My mother destashed this crisp watermelon red seersucker and it screamed “Hawaiian shirt” to me. (It doesn’t help that I have been binge-watching Magnum P.I. episodes.) I pulled out my best men’s Hawaiian shirt pattern and cut the largest size. I decided that I needed a little more space in the bust area so I pivoted the side seams on both the front and the back piece to add a couple inches to the finished bust measurement. The result, as you can see, is a comfy, oversized South Seas-inspired garment. Yes, it fits. Yes, it goes around my bust easily which is often a rarity. Unfortunately, the blouse is too big and does nothing for my shape. It is a men’s pattern so that is to be expected. I will wear this but I think I can do better. They say third time is the charm, right?

-This blouse is just rightIMG_2021!
The next garment on my To-Do List was a blouse made from this navy blue and white striped seersucker with crabs embroidered all over it.  The little red crabs have on white sailor hats.  They are cute! Yes, I’m sure this fabric is intended for children’s wear but I have always been a sucker for seersucker and the motifs add just enough whimsy to suit my quirky personality. This is one of three embroidered seersuckers in my Fabric Stash. I pulled out another older tried-and-true pattern from the Pattern Stash.  

My goal is to create a well-fitting blouse and then repeat it in different fabrics and with variations for a complete wardrobe of exciting blouses to be paired with basic bottoms such as capris, leggings, skirts or jeans. The sailor crab blouse in my mind had a white collar and white sleeve cuffs top-stitched in red thread.  The cuffs did not make it to the final version but that is okay.  I like this blouse.  It feels good on and I don’t think it looks too big and boxy like the Hawaiian shirt.

The important thing is I believe I have finally found the basic blouse pattern I am looking for.  I have altered many patterns with a traditional full bust adjustment(FBA) and it has always been an epic fail.  See, in the fine print, it will tell you that an FBA is good for someone who does not need more than 2-3 inches additional width.  I exceed that range by a large margin.  An FBA for me results in a very large dart or two large darts on each side of my bust along with an extra thickness of fabric located in a spot where friction can be a problem.

I studied the use of pivoting darts also.  I never found that to be a viable solution.  In leafing through some older patterns, I came upon some older blouse patterns from years ago when I was sewing my own clothes.  These blouses all had blouse fronts and backs gathered or pleated to the yoke.  This seems to be a design method that is currently out-of-style. I remembered fondly several blouses that I stitched up back in those days.  It made sense to pull out this pattern and pivot the dart and hide any bust alterations within the gathers at the yoke.  That thought process rewarded me with this blouse.  I love this blouse.  I will make more.  I have several variations in mind already as well as a growing stack of fabrics pulled from my Fabric Stash.

Change of Course on Fitting

I firmly believe that one should know when it is time to stop pursuing an idea, trash it all and start over from another direction.  If you like the “outside the box” metaphor, then I envision holding a lit match to the box and setting sail in another direction.  I’ve been struggling through several garments trying to apply all the FBA (Full Bust Adjustment) principles for my XL bust.  I’ve had some excellent help from Curvy Sewing Collection and I’ve read virtually every tutorial available and my XL bust defies fitting.  I finally developed a muslin that fit (tightly) around my full bust but the fit of the rest of the bodice was awful.  The shoulders were horrible, the waist was a nightmare, and the darts were so large and pointing at the wrong angle.  This is not going to work for me.

Enough is enough.  Time for another idea.  I have a couple of shirts that are RTW (Ready To Wear) and fit very, very well.  I purchased them from plus-size fashion retailers.  Plus-size clothing retailers have obviously done some work in the fitting department or they would not be in business and would not be selling garments to the masses.  So I’ve set about tracing off a pattern from these two garments.  These garments will at the very least provide a starting point to tweak rather than force me to start from scratch and build a fitting bodice from the ground up.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Killer Bees Vest

IMG_2428b(raises hand) I, Aleeah, do solemnly swear from this day forward to never sew a garment for myself by following the pattern exactly.  I do further swear that I will not cut exactly on the printed pattern lines or stitch on the printed seamlines until I have made every attempt to fit and adjust said pattern pieces, specifically seamlines, to fit me.

I place this photo here and wear the Killer Bees Vest to the day job today as an example of my sewing misconceptions and document it as a means to remind me of lessons that I have learned over the past couple of months.  These past few months have been very enlightening as I return to garment sewing after 20 years.  I’ve spend much time reading blog posts and tutorials and op ed’s on how sewing and fitting should be approached rather than how I was taught to do it.

This is the last garment I will sew straight from the pattern!

I referenced this vest in an earlier post. Here are the details:

I used McCalls 5252, opting for view D, the hooded full-zip vest.  I used the XXXL size, split the yoke and spread it about an inch and increased the width of the underarm side panel piece.

Note the red arrow in the upper right.  There is extra fabric there because I pivoted the front to add a couple of inches for a FBA but failed to realize the shoulders need adjusting as well.  And yes, you can fit a bowling ball in there.

The arrow on the left pointing to the base of the zipper shows where I could not make the hems match.  I hemmed it twice.  The zipper, although stitched on the vest separately, matched exactly at the top and I was never able to get the bottoms to line up.  Needless, to say, this is the only time today the vest will be zipped up.

The arrow on the lower right seemingly pointing to my right hand demonstrates exactly how much room the pocket opening has.  Something about the construction of these pockets totally eluded me.  Not only is that pocket very small, the opposite pocket is regular size and both has the fleece selvages exposed at the pocket opening.

All I can say was it was a bad sewing day.  Evidently, the thought of trying to produce a good-looking garment for myself affects my subconscious in a very negative way.

Onward and upward!

Oh, and here is what I think I look like with this on.

Fitting Frustration

Does the quote “every man who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client” apply to sewing garments for yourself?  Does any one that sews to fit themselves have a nitwit for a client? Maybe not all, but maybe those that have difficult body shapes to fit?  I’m beginning to feel like a fool, nitwit and idiot.

Disclaimer:  I feel I must state here that I have a shape that has an above-average degree of difficulty to fit.  (No hating, it is what it is.)

First, there was the green dress.  I chose Butterick 6033 because I really crave a dress.  I would love a simple dress with a little shaping. It needs to be something I can put together quickly in an easy-care woven fabric.  I’m not a fan of draping clingy knit on my body.  I chose the Connie Crawford’s because they are the only ones close to my RTW size of 4X (34-36W). I picked a sweet little print in a pale sage green.  I cut a 4X but used a pivot FBA to add an inch to the bust measurement in some vain effort to fit my DDD+ bust.  I’d show a picture of it but that dress and all photo evidence has been deleted from my life.  I stitched the dress up quickly and was hoping to wear it to my daughter’s wedding shower.  On the day of the shower, I was able to get the dress on.  There was more than enough ease under the arms but when my husband asked if the armholes were supposed to show on the front of my bust, I removed the dress and tossed it.

Next, there was the Pearl Snaps and Pivot FBA shirt. I used a menswear western shirt pattern that I had used in the past with good results.  I pivoted the pattern to allow for the FBA and produced a western shirt that I have worn and will wear again.  It does fit around the bust AND the hips.  It has a rather large blocky shape to it and I fear it does nothing for my figure.  It is a fun shirt that I wear line dancing so I will continue to wear it for the fun of it. But I have been reading all of the blogposts on fitting a curvy figure and I crave a better fit.

Then, there was the Killer Bees incident.  My husband found a new sporting goods store to visit in a nearby town and I rode along to get in some quality time with him and my latest knitting project.  I happened upon a Hancock Fabrics store and decided to run in.  Fleece was on a fabulous sale and sitting right at the front door.  A few yards of golden yellow jumped off the fabric table and followed me home.  Why golden yellow, you might ask?  My university’s colors are blue and gold so I envisioned a fleece vest or jacket in gold with a navy zipper and navy top-stitching.

Days passed and the more I thought about that fleece and my shape, the more I began to worry.  A mental image came to me one day of John Belushi in his Killer Bee costume from Saturday Night Live.  Would I really look like that, I thought.  With that in mind, I pressed on.  I used McCalls 5252, opting for view D, the hooded full-zip vest.  I used the XXXL size, split the yoke and spread it about an inch and increased the width of the underarm side panel piece.

The vest is finished. I may wear it, I may not.  It does in fact fit around me.  It does fit around my hips. It is long enough to cover my midriff excesses.  But the armholes are large enough I could pass a small child through them while I’m wearing the vest.  I have so much extra fabric and space in my shoulder area.  Three strikes and I feel that fitting clothes for myself seems an impossibility at this point.

Yesterday, I ran across The Truth About Fitting post by  on the Curvy Sewing Collective. The timing of Mary’s blogpost was perfect.  When the vest did not work out last night, I simply filed it away as a lesson learned.  I analyzed all three of my epic-fail sewing as I prepared to write this post, and have come to one conclusion.  Fitting yourself is hard for EVERY body. It is hard to do and it is hard to get right. Perfect fit is a very elusive creature. I think trying to fit something on yourself adds a whole degree of difficulty that we don’t take into consideration.

So, I will not give up!  I will continue to try, to persevere. I resolve to not use any more menswear or unisex patterns.  I will continue in the ongoing search for someone or some idea that will help me conquer an XL FBA.  It’s out there, I just need to find it.  Or am I the only one of this size out there?

Pearl Snaps and a Pivot FBA

I grew up near a farm as a tomboy so boots and western clothing were the norm.  As I’ve grown older, I’ve never lost the love for either.  A recent stint of line-dancing re-ignited my passion for a well-fitting pair of boots and an ornately decorated yoked western shirt.  After reading a blogpost in which the blogger was mashing up a modern-styled western shirt for herself, I set my mind to making myself a shirt with decorative yokes and yes, pearl snaps.

I ran across this fabric and it screamed, “Buy me! I’m born to be a western shirt!”.  The selvage says it is part of the “You Go, Girl” line.  ‘Nuff said.

Unfortunately, western shirts are no longer in “vogue”, at least not in the Big 4 pattern companies so I was forced to dig into the pattern stash.  I ferreted out McCall’s 7955, a man’s western shirt with yoke variations, circa 1995.  The largest size, XXXL, was still a little too small for me so I cut the shirt fronts out with a full bust adjustment (FBA) using the pivot method.  And it would have been wonderful………until I discovered that I had neglected to adjust the yokes as well.  I didn’t discover it until sleeve construction and at that point, there was no going back.  Refusing to trash the whole shirt at this point, I creatively re-drew the armscye to catch the edge of the yokes.  After all, I had applied gold braid to the yoke and nothing with gold braid trim can be deemed a mistake, right?

No western shirt is perfect without pearl snaps, but alas, pearl snaps are as scarce as a modern western shirt pattern.  I found a seller on Etsy, Cowgirl Snaps, whose variety of colored snaps makes my mouth water and my creatives juices flow with visions of western shirts to come.  I completed the shirt with gold braid shining, wickedly incorrect armhole in place and pearl snaps proudly adorning the front and ran to put it on.  I wore it out the next day with a denim skirt. Despite the errors, the shirt fits well……slightly large and boxy as I would expect a man’s shirt to fit but I’ve always liked menswear fit.

And let me just say, pearl snaps make everything better!