Friday, July 3, 2015

Silk Serendipity and Skirt Stymied, Stagnating

FrankenWhiggish Rose Meets YLI Silk Thread
Happy Friday, everyone!  It's been a mixed week in my sewing world, so let's start with the good, shall we?  After breaking my left thumb and right collar bone in a bicycle accident on March 22nd, I was able to resume my FrankenWhiggish Rose needleturn applique project this week.  Yay!  I still can't bend that thumb normally and it hurts too much if I try to use my left thumb and pointer finger to precrease the applique shapes along the stitching line, but I can do that with my right hand.  A mere fourteen weeks after breaking my thumb, I can finally use it enough to manage hand stitching again.  I never before realized how important it was to be able to pinch and hold the folded fabric edge with my left hand in order to successfully stitch with my right hand.  And it feels really good to have a relaxing slow-stitching project in my lap again in the evenings and when I'm away from my sewing room.

Oren Bayan Mercerized Cotton Machine Embroidery Thread
However, what has NOT been fun or relaxing is the way-too-frequent thread breaks I've been experiencing, and that was happening before the accident, too.  For my first needleturn applique blocks (for my not-yet-finished Jingle BOM quilt) I was using spools of Oren Bayan, a Turkish mercerized cotton machine embroidery thread collection that I bought by mistake on eBay several years ago.  That worked pretty well for me, but I have not been able to find that brand in the U.S. and I didn't have good color matches for my FrankenWhiggesh Rose fabrics.  So I purchased Mettler 60/2 fine cotton machine embroidery thread instead, which looks pretty much the same as the Oren Bayan to my naked eye.  But, for whatever reason, it's breaking and snarling ferociously on me despite generous applications of Thread Heaven conditioner, and the thread breaks are really slowing me down.

I know that some people do use Mettler 60/2 cotton thread successfully for hand applique, but I also know that I tend to make really tiny stitches when I get my groove going (some have told me that my stitches are TOO small) and that means that my length of thread might be pulled through the fabric twice as many times as it might be for someone else.  I'm pretty sure that my thread breakage is due to my Mettler thread not being strong enough to withstand that repeated stress and friction.  I briefly considered that my needle might be the culprit, either due to a microscopic burr in the eye of the needle or friction at the eye from a too-small needle eye for the thread diameter, but if either of those scenarios were to blame I would be seeing thread breaks happening right at the eye.  I'm using a length of thread roughly the length of my forearm, and I'm having my thread break approximately halfway to two-thirds of the way in after I've taken at least a hundred tiny stitches without a break.  The kinking and snarling tendency happens throughout stitching.

My Successful Applique Combo: YLI #100 Silk Thread and Size 12 Bohin Applique Needles
I'm not about to go to a heavier thread like a 50/3 cotton, because I want my stitches to remain invisible.  Instead, I decided to try YLI Silk #100, which is the preferred thread of Jeanne Sullivan and many other (though not all!) applique experts.  As with the Oren Bayan thread, no one carries the YLI Silk thread locally, but there are a lot of online sources for YLI.  I ordered a selection of colors from Uncommon Threads, which is located right around the corner from me in Rock Hill, South Carolina, so I got my thread pretty quickly via USPS.  After experimenting with a lot of different needles for applique, I've settled on the Bohin applique needles (thin enough to leave tiny holes and precisely placed stitches, but stronger than the milliners or straw needles which constantly bend and even snap on me).  The size 12 Bohin applique needle is a perfect match to the YLI Silk #100 thread, and when I tested this combo last night I was in stitching heaven.  It feels very different to stitch with silk thread because it is SO slippery smooth -- I'm used to the way the cotton thread kind of grabs the fabric with each stitch.  However, I had zero kinks, zero knots, and zero thread breaks -- which means zero profanity and a happier household.  One annoyance with silk thread is its tendency to slide right out of the needle and unthread itself constantly, but I used a trick that I read about somewhere, threading the eye of the needle and then looping around and threading it again from the same direction.  That worked really well for me. 

So, one sewing problem solved for me this week.  Hooray!  I'd love to tell you that my skirt project was coming along just as nicely, but...

Tracing Skirt Pattern onto Pellon Sew-In Interfacing
The first thing I did was to carefully trace all three of my OOP (Out of Print) New Look #2708 skirt pattern pieces (in what I THOUGHT was my size) for my skirt onto nonfusible Pellon interfacing.  I did this to avoid cutting the original pattern in case I wanted to make a different size after sewing up the muslin, or in case I want to make the pattern in another size several years from now.  I'm glad I took the time to do that -- the interfacing pattern is a lot sturdier than the flimsy pattern tissue anyway and if I like the finished skirt, my traced pattern will easily stand up to repeated use for multiple projects. 
Traced Pattern Pieces, Ready to Go
I traced the pattern pieces with pencil, by the way.  I considered using fine point Sharpie or another ink pen so I could see the lines and markings more clearly, but it bled right through the interfacing and the underlying pattern tissue, and the last thing I need is Sharpie marks all over my butcher block worktable surface!  Then I used those pattern pieces to cut out my skirt from cheap cotton muslin fabric.  I started sewing the mock up skirt together according to the pattern instructions, and I panicked when it came time to sew the waistband to the top of the skirt because the two fabric edges did not seem to be matching up. 

Yikes!  Why Is There Extra Fabric???
There seemed to be a LOT more fabric along the waistband edge (or the "yoke," as the pattern instructions call this piece) than there was along the edge of the skirt to which it should be sewn.  Could this be a pattern drafting mistake, or something I did wrong in construction?  All I had done so far was sewn the side seams on the skirt and on the waistband, and I sewed those seams at a precise 5/8" as per the pattern instructions.  When I texted this picture to my mom, she said that it was possible that my stay stitching at the top edge of the skirt pieces had drawn that layer in imperceptibly.  But I did not see ANY visible puckering when I was stay stitching.  Well, part of the reason for the test garment was to figure out how to construct the skirt, so I decided to pin the two pieces together within an inch of their lives, sew the seam, and then evaluate it afterwards.  I am familiar with sewing a concurve piece to a convex piece from my Drunkard's Path quilt blocks, but quilt piecing uses 1/4" seams instead of the 5/8" seams in this pattern.  It made sense to me that even if the opposite curved pieces matched perfectly at the seam line, the wider seam allowances could cause it to look like one piece was too long for the other at the cut fabric edge.  So I pinned the two layers together very closely, matching the notches, right side seam, center front and center back, and I carefully sewed them together.

Pins, Pins, and More Pins
Now, I pinned these pieces together and sewed them according to the pattern instructions, with the waistband piece on top, like this: 

However, when I sewed those drunkard's path blocks together, I put the convex outer curved piece on the bottom and then pinned the concave inner curved piece on top.  I think that was a lot easier to pin and sew accurately.  Does anyone know of any reason why I shouldn't sew my skirt the same way -- with the contoured waistband piece on the bottom, next to the feed dogs, and the concave curved top edge of the skirt pinned to fit along the edge on top of the skirt?  I'm going to pin it just like I did in the photo above, and I do have Dual Feed on my Bernina 750 sewing machine, if that makes a difference (I know some people like to sew with any fullness on the bottom so the feed dogs can help ease it in).  The curved seam came out just fine regardless, but when I tried on the muslin skirt to check the fit --

Custom Fit?  Hah!
UGH!  YUCK!!!  It is so big that it's in danger of falling off -- unless I wear it with suspenders.  Keep in mind that the skirt is supposed to sit 1" below my natural waistline, even higher than I was holding it in the photo.  Yes, I remembered to press the edges of the skirt opening in 5/8" on each side, and it's still ginormous. 

So, half hoping this was evidence that I had lost weight since I'd measured myself, I grabbed my tape measure and measured my waist AGAIN.  I still got 30", the same as last time, which is a size 16 according to the pattern sizing chart.  So why is the skirt so HUGE??! 
Obviously this means I should make the skirt in a smaller size, and it's a good thing I made the muslin first, but it still bothers me that the skirt is so big because now I have zero confidence in my ability to use a tape measure.  If I had chosen a pattern size by my hip measurement instead of by the waist, I'd have made the skirt in a size 14.  But I don't know -- this test skirt is SO big.  Will a 14 be that much smaller?  Should I make a 12?  I did pull the tape measure snug when I measured, but does the pattern company expect you to suck in your gut and hold your breath, and pull that tape measure as tight as a tourniquet?

The only good news from this muslin misfortune is that I'm pretty sure the skirt has enough fullness for my cotton voile fabric to hang nicely.  I wasn't sure based on the pattern photo and I was a little concerned that my lightweight voile might hang too limply if there wasn't enough fullness at the bottom of the skirt.  I think the length will be good, too, when the top of the skirt is up where it belongs and the hem is turned up at the bottom.

SO...  I'm going to wait until my Mom comes over tomorrow to find out what size SHE thinks I should make.  Mom to the rescue yet again!

Meanwhile, back to my hand stitching!  I'm linking up Slow Stitching Sunday at Kathy's Quilts, Main Crush Monday at Cooking Up Quilts, as well as with Can I Get a Whoop Whoop at Confessions of a Fabric Addict, because Sarah is a sweetie and she understands that sometimes we need encouraging feedback (and advice!) even more when we're struggling than we do when we finally hit that finish line with a completed project to show off.  For those of you in the United States, happy Independence Day weekend!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

S-L-O-W-L-Y Starting the Skirt Project, Research and Discovery Phase

Making A Start: The Package Is Opened!
Ten days ago, I announced my plans to make myself a skirt.  See how much I have accomplished so far?  I actually bought my cotton voile print skirt fabric, solid navy cotton voile lining fabric, invisible zipper, thread, and twill tape over a month ago.  Then I spent several weeks procrastinating researching and agonizing over:

1. Whether and how to prewash my fabrics
2. What kind of interfacing to use for the waistband of the skirt 
3. What size should I cut out

I know my mom is going to laugh when she reads this.  She would have started cutting and sewing immediately and finished the skirt in a day.  I, on the other hand, need to research, ponder, mull, consult the Internet, and only THEN can I proceed.  Since I have only ever made one garment that ended up wearable (and I was disappointed with the fit), I started by purchasing a new book to teach me the basics.  I picked the Threads Magazine Sewing Guide because, having subscribed to Threads in the past, I know that Threads is all about garment sewing as an art form, with the goal of achieving couture quality garments with the best fit possible.  The frustrating thing about trying to learn to sew from a monthly magazine is that each issue has a random assortment of articles that never seem to mesh with the project I have in mind.  So, for instance, I have studied articles on how to contour princess seams, underlining with silk organza, and how to do a hand-picked zipper from reading Threads magazine, but I don't know what to do first when I open a new pattern.  The Threads Sewing Guide seems to be a compilation of articles from the magazine, but arranged logically so that a beginner like me can start reading at the beginning and know what to do.

The Skirt Pattern: New Look 6708
At this point I should probably explain that my goal for this project is not to have another skirt in my closet.  I already have a bunch of skirts in my closet, and if I really needed another one I could go to the store and buy one faster and probably for less money than it will cost me to make this one myself: $5 pattern, $45 for 3 yds of floral print fabric, $1.50 zipper, $1.30 twill tape, $3.35 thread, $17.25 for 3 yards of lining fabric, and $4.30 for an 8-yard bolt of fusible interfacing that I got with a 50% off coupon...  It is costing me about $78 to make this skirt.  Gone are the days of sewing for thrift!  But the skirt is not the goal, and saving money on a skirt is not the goal.  The whole point of making this skirt is to teach myself garment sewing on a simple project that is easy to fit, so I can learn the basics of reading and following a pattern and constructing a garment from start to finish, and then work my way up to more difficult garments like blouses and dresses -- again, not to save money, but because I have a horrible time finding anything in the stores that fits me well.  I took some great classes on pattern alterations and fitting when I went to Atlanta in March for the Sewing & Quilt Expo, but I think I need to get more comfortable with the basics before I tackle something that will require pattern alterations.  I want to take my time, learn as much as I can from this skirt, and do everything in my power to ensure that this garment is a "win" -- meaning that it fits well and looks good enough that, if it was a ready-made item in a store, I would have liked it enough to purchase it.

The Fabric: Pretty Potent Echinachea on Cotton Voile
So in answer to Quandary #1, yes, I did prewash my fabrics, both the print fashion fabric and the lining fabric.  They are 100% cotton voile fabrics of slightly different weights, so two concerns: First of all, when I establish the finished length of this skirt, I want that to be the REAL finished length of the skirt.  I do not want it to shrink two inches the first time I wash it.  Second, what if the print fashion fabric shrank more than the lining fabric and I ended up with the lining hanging out at the bottom of the skirt?  That actually happened to me with a ready-to-wear skirt from Ann Taylor, and after shortening the lining and having the top layer of the skirt CONTINUE to shrink, I finally added crochet lace to the skirt hem to make up the difference.  But since I'm going to all the bother of sewing this skirt myself, it's worth the extra trouble to preshrink the fabric before cutting into it.  I washed the fabrics in the machine with the Very Warm temperature setting and dried them in the dryer.  I plan to wash the finished skirt in cold water and line dry.

As for Quandary #2...  My pattern calls for fusible interfacing, period.  As if there was only one kind of fusible interfacing out there, and everyone knows where to get it.  Hah!  There must have been twenty different kinds of fusible interfacing at JoAnn's, some of it tissue-thin, others that were stiff and reminded me of heavy weight cutaway machine embroidery stabilizer.  How am I supposed to know which one to use?  I consulted several different sources for this one.  According to my Threads book, the general rule of thumb is that you want to use an interfacing that is similar in weight or lighter weight than your fashion fabric.  That helps.  But then I consulted another great book, Sandra Betzina's More Fabric Savvy, which lists today's common garment fabrics alphabetically and gives sewing recommendations for each of them.  Betzina has a section in the book for Batiste & Voile, and she recommends interfacing with self-fabric.  Hunh?  But my pattern says FUSIBLE interfacing!  I consulted another resource, Shannon Gifford's sewing tutorial for Voile at EmmaOneSock (one of my favorite online garment fabric shops).  Gifford says, "If you prefer to use a fusible interfacing, use the thinnest fusible available... However, the best interfacing for this fabric is a coordinating solid colored silk organza."  When I went to JoAnn's for interfacing, they did not have any coordinating silk organza, and the lightest weight fusible interfacing they had was a Pellon Ultra Lightweight Fusible Interfacing By the Bolt.  It's 100% polyester and the care instructions are machine wash warm, tumble dry and warm iron.  Fortunately, I bought a little more fabric than the pattern called for, so I'll be able to experiment.  I'll try both ways, fusible interfacing and self-fabric interfacing, and see which one looks and feels better.

Fitting Class with Lorraine Henry
And finally, Quandary #3, which size do I cut out?  Well, the reason I picked a loose-fitting skirt for this project is that it should be fairly easy to fit, just as long as I go by my waist measurement when deciding what size to cut out.  Easy enough, right?  As long as I know WHERE MY WAIST IS...  I learned from Lorraine Henry's fitting classes to tie a piece of elastic around my middle and then bend at the waist from side to side, forwards and backwards.  The elastic naturally settles at the elusive Natural Waistline (nowhere near where the waist of today's clothing is generally located) and THAT'S where you take your waist measurement.  No sucking in your abs, just relax those tummy muscles or the skirt will be way too tight and I won't want to wear it!  I got 30 1/4" for my waist measurement, and then I looked at the back of the pattern envelope and saw that a 30" waist is a size 16 and a 32" waist is a size 18.  Panic!!  That can't be right!  The skirts in my closet that fit comfortably are size 6 or size 8.  I understand that pattern sizes and RTW clothing sizes are no longer comparable due to serious vanity sizing in ready-to-wear, but size 16 for my skirt sounds HUGE. 

So I decided to figure out how big the waist of the finished skirt would be if I made a size 16, so I could compare that to the waist of the skirts hanging in my closet.  I measured along the top edge of the skirt waistband pieces, and subtracted out the side seam allowances, and I got a finished waist band of approximately 32 3/4" for a size 16 skirt (not the same as the waist measurement for that size, because the pattern adds wearing ease and the skirt is designed to sit 1" below the natural waistline).  Then I went into my closet and discovered that the most comfortable skirts I own actually do measure around 32" at the waist.  Go figure!  It looks like I'll be making a size 16, after all.  I'm still a little nervous about that -- what if I made a mistake measuring the pattern pieces or subtracting out seam allowances?  Just to be on the safe side, I think I'll cut the waistband pieces out of muslin, stitch them together, and try it on before I cut into the real fabric.  Maybe I should make the WHOLE skirt out of muslin, since I don't really know what I'm doing? 

Ironing Pattern Pieces
Meanwhile, I did manage to cut the pattern pieces apart and iron out the folds and wrinkles (dry iron, medium setting).  But then I stalled out, remembering how I made Lars a cute pair of toddler pajamas (a long, LONG time ago) in size 2T, and then when he outgrew them I couldn't reuse the pattern to make him a larger pair because I had already cut out the smallest size, cutting off all of the larger sizes of the multi-size pattern.  What if I cut on the size 16 line to cut out my muslin, but then after sewing up the muslin I realize that a smaller or larger size would be better?  I'm making the 24" long version of the skirt this time, but what if I decide that I want to make the 29" long skirt someday in the future and I've already cut the extra length off my pattern?  Should I trace the original tissue pattern pieces onto butcher paper, Swedish Tracing Paper, or some other material before cutting them out?  Or is that silly for something so straightforward as this skirt pattern?  I haven't decided yet.

Today I spent some time straightening up and organizing my studio so I have room to work on this project.  I ordered a roll of the Swedish Tracing Paper from Amazon because, even if I don't use it for this pattern, I know I'll want it for when I'm ready to make a lot of pattern alterations to dress and blouse patterns.  I had hoped to make more progress on the skirt today, but I ended up writing about it here instead.  Which is fine.  Writing about it helps me to sort out all of the conflicting advice gleaned from various sources, and helps me to clarify what to do next:

1. I need to read through the pattern instructions and make sure I understand everything.  I may need to look some things up in my sewing books, like how to do a sewn-in self-fabric interfacing, if I decide to go that route.

2. I need to decide how I'm going to finish my seams.  My Fabric Savvy book suggests either French seams or a 3-thread overlock stitch. 

3. I need to trace off the pattern pieces (if I decide to do that) and make up a muslin to check that I like the fit and the style. 

...and THEN I can cut out the pieces from the fashion fabric and the lining!

I'm linking up with Esther's WIPs on Wednesday even though this one isn't quilting related (I hope that's okay).  Meanwhile, we're headed to Carowinds tomorrow to ride the roller coasters with Lars and Anders.  Fingers crossed for light crowds and clear skies!
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