Tuesday, November 18, 2014

No Ordinary Dress…Frances Dress from Green Bee Patterns

"Where's my dust rag, Ethyl?"
Every woman has her own version of "You're never going to see me wearing that again!" clothing. As styles come and go, what we wore years ago that we thought was so chic may now seem hopelessly frumpy. Some of us are just not the vintage type, and others like our very own MJ, totally embrace both vintage and historical clothing design.

Since we've been moving toward adding dresses this Funky Fall to our garment planning, we found this Frances Dress from Green Bee Patterns. Some of us (Laurel!) were uncomfortably reminded of a vintage "house dress".

Note: a house dress was a type of simple dress worn informally in the mornings at home for household chores or for quick errands. The term first originated in the late nineteenth century to describe at-home garments designed for maximum practicality and usually made from washable fabrics. 

Perhaps the photo of the Green Bee's Frances Dress (the name even conjures up a "busy bee") reminded some of us of something our mother or grandmother may have worn, with it's classic chambray trimmed with red print example.  But I love our independent pattern designers and I was undaunted - I saw something about this little dress that was going to work for me, especially for work days here at the store.


We chose a soft brown cross-dyed cotton for the main body of the dress and a tribal inspired cotton print for the trim.

I love choosing cottons for a dress - they are lightweight, easy to care for and wearable even in the fall, paired with a light sweater if necessary.  But the best part of cotton fabric is that it's SO EASY to sew. As we started putting the dress together, it became clearer to my own little skeptic seamstress (Laurel, frowning: "Looks like a house dress, Zan...") that it was going to be adorable.

As a sewist you are always going to be confronted with buttonholes - not every dress or shirt is going to have a zipper. The only way to conquer buttonholes like the 8 (count 'em!) on this Frances dress is to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE using your machine's buttonhole setting. Use the fabric that your actual garment is made from in order to get a true picture of your finished buttonhole. Make sure that your practice buttonholes are long enough for your buttons to go through first. TEST IT!

Most button-up pattern designs come with a paper buttonhole guide.  You can use the guide provided or mark your own...as long as you space them evenly, it doesn't matter. With this dress, Laurel started her first buttonhole at the bottom of the dress front placket - the goal was to make sure that the buttons at the fullest part of the bust didn't cause an unflattering/revealing gap.

She made the first buttonhole and then marked and sewed each successive buttonhole as she moved upward on the dress, spacing them evenly. Sewing on the buttons is done in the same manner, from bottom to top.

This is definitely NOT a house dress!!

Let's make another one, Laurel!

Creatively Yours,

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Getting Ready for our Big Event with Sandra Betzina!

I am so excited to have teacher, designer and friend Sandra Betzina back at Stonemountain. Sandra has made many visits over the 33 years we have been here and each and every time she does a class for us, we all leave inspired and full of great new sewing ideas.

Some time for shopping with 20% off!
Cost: $45 per person

 This class is almost full, so call us right away at 
510-845-6106 to register!


Sandra Betzina is one of our "Go-To" designers when we are looking for something with innovative design and clever detailing. Last year, we made that wonderful silk and knit combination top, and I still love it!
Vogue 1355
Vogue 1355

Vogue 1355

And her soft yoga pants, also included in Vogue 1355 are still among my favorites!

Vogue 1355

When we made this Vogue 1291 pattern in a soft cotton voile, we had many customers who wanted to duplicate this top, using the same fabric!

Vogue 1291
Vogue 1291

Vogue 1291 made with Silk Charmeuse and Silk Chiffon!

So what's a girl supposed to do when you know Sandra is coming to town? Make one of her designs up to wear to the class, of course! Laurel picked Sandra's Vogue 1336, a color blocked dress that's so on-trend this season! Her only adjustment to the design was to shorten the dress to make it more of a tunic, so she could pair it with some leggings.

Vogue 1336

The best aspect of this pattern is that you have unlimited combinations of printed and solid fabrics. The true seamstress and design guru that she is, Laurel decided to use fabrics that she already had on hand, almost all of them being left over pieces from other garments that we have made.

When you want to do color blocking it's a good idea to lay your fabrics out on a table to see what colors and patterns might look good together.  Laurel had some of our silk knit that she wanted to be the focal point, a couple of large scraps of black knit, a couple of right-sized scraps of that wonderful silk knit, and a length of sheer nylon and Lycra netting she found upstairs in our sale section. You will remember some of these fabrics from previous posts.


Color block patterns like this Sandra B. dress have multiple pattern pieces, and with most of them, you would be cutting out one single piece at a time, such as a front left side or right front section.   Because Laurel was working with small pieces of fabric, she cut out each section of the dress front and then sewed them together BEFORE she even started cutting the back sections.  Get the front of the tunic the way you like it, then move on to the back.


With the front and back finished, she sewed the shoulder seams and then finished off the neckline.  Laurel chose some of the sheer nylon that would make the sleeves and the hemline band to also make the neckline trim.


When you're combining a sheer fabric for sleeves or a hemline band such as this nylon, you have to decide if you want the seams to show at the joined edge.  Laurel turned the finished armhole with the sheer sleeve turned back on to the knit fabric so that the sleeve was sheer all the way to the edge, then top stitched it down.


The sheer nylon on the hemline band really finished 
off this design beautifully.


All I can say is that I'm green with envy - this Sandra B. design is perfect for those of you who want to mix it up a little and be creative - isn't that what sewing is all about - taking a pattern such as this Sandra Betzina dress and making yours? Laurel's tunic totally fits into our "Funky Fall" season at Stonemountain. I can't wait to see her rockin' it at our November event !


I cannot wait to try on my "twinsie" dress - Laurel's bringing it for me to try on this Thursday! 

Yes we will take lots of photos to share with you all 
that won't be able to join us!

Creatively yours,

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Zen of Sewing

There are a lot of us who haven't sewn a single stitch for a long, long time, much less make an entire garment.  Even if you sew a lot, there are bound to be times when you put the machine away for a period, moving on to other creative ventures. Or perhaps you have an extended break from your sewing routine when life got in the way. Or maybe you've had a more pleasant interruption, like a nice long vacation.

If the break in your sewing routine has been long, just starting a new garment may cause a tiny elevation in your stress level. You see the pile of projects waiting for you to start (they've been there for two months!) and if you're like me, you immediately start procrastinating...cleaning the oven or sorting socks. It's not that we've forgotten how to cut out a pattern or sew a seam - it's just that whole "starting" thing.

My favorite seamstress had a couple of thoughts on "starting", since she's been traveling and away from her machine...with MY pile of fabric waiting in her sewing room. She contends that the secret to starting is actually STARTING! But sometimes, putting in some time to set the mood for sewing helps the starting - it's all about finding the zen of sewing.

1) Get your space ready to sew...is it clean? Is it organized? Clearing the sewing table of magazines and junk mail, dusting your machine and getting your tools ready is considered "starting".

2) If watching cooking shows relaxes you and you can do two things at once, then by all means turn on some noise...for Laurel, a little soft jazz to sew by creates a nice (and calming) "starting" atmosphere.

3) If you have a lot of projects to start, don't go for the silk dress or the wool coat right away - choose something simple: an easy fabric with a pattern you know you're going to enjoy; nothing too complex. We loved Natalie's top and had picked out some great cottons to make this Very Easy Vogue 8815. This would be a great place to Start.

Natalie is an amazing muse inspiring me with her Vogue 8815 top!

4) Go ahead...START. Just do it. (Once the "Starting's" over, you'll remember why you love to sew).

We chose an easy fabric to sew and fit - our beautiful cotton voile in two different prints to add a unique and funky flair for Fall!

 After a few darts and some seams, your sewing zen is back - something like a decorative zipper doesn't seem so intimidating. For my top, Laurel "Googled" How to sew an exposed zipper and found a Threads article to get a few pointers - remember, the Internet is your friend:)

This blouse pattern is just as the name implies...very easy.  The neckline has no facing, just a single fold bias tape edge.  The hemline on the peplum is curved, so that same bias tape makes hemming a cinch.

And just like that , you've got your sewing groove back on track...ready to tackle that silk! 
Welcome back, Laurel!! Looks like you brought back lots of inspiration from your trip to France! Please pop over to Laurel's blog to see where she went "In search of Style" 

I can't wait to try this on! 
Natalie and I will have so much fun wearing our funky tops on the same days.

Look at that wonderful zipper detail on the back outside of my top!!! We are going to be showing more ways to use our new designer zippers on my new fall wardrobe - stay tuned!

What fabulous fabrics would you combine for this versatile top

It can be cotton, silk, rayon and even a lightweight wool!
Creatively Yours,

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Do Your homework - The muslin!

Marie Antoinette in her Muslin
Before cutting pieces from the final fabric, a dressmaker may test the fit of a garment, using an inexpensive muslin fabric, thereby avoiding potential costly mistakes. This garment is often called a "muslin," and the process is called making a muslin. In this context, the term, "muslin" has become the generic term for a test or fitting garment, regardless of what it's made from.

In previous posts, we have mentioned the importance of making a muslin, especially when you're using a pattern that you've not tried before.  No matter how much you sew or how many garments you have made, pattern designers all have their own concepts of how a particular garment should fit. Making a muslin is the only way to insure that your garment will fit you the way you want it to. Isn't that why we sew for ourselves, anyway?

Remember the pants we were going to make out of a lovely wool? The muslin proved that this pattern was not going to look good on my body, no matter how great it fit.

Our New Look 6013 dress is another perfect example of why it's important not to assume that your customary pattern size will have a good fit.  This pattern is a basic sheath dress with a raglan sleeve - it's meant to hug the body, so proper fitting is important.

Cutting out the muslin should be just as precise as the layout and cutting of the actual finished fabric - otherwise, proper fit could still be an issue.

Certain pattern pieces can be skipped in the muslin stage, as an option.  For instance, we did not make a muslin of the facing pieces.

Here is why we make muslins: this pattern is my normal size, but look how much extra fabric there is in the body of the dress...we are so glad that we took the time to do a muslin test - this could have been another fitting disaster!

Pinning and marking the muslin shows us where we will adjust the final pattern of the fabric. Me thinks Laurel looks a little stressed, but she assured me that this process is well worth spending time to ensure a good fit.

After the muslin fitting, we know exactly where we will be adjusting the pattern pieces. The final garment will fit like a glove, all because of the care we took in the initial stages.

I am super excited about this dress! Stay tuned to see how we funk it up a bit...

Creatively Yours,
Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Getting it right! Falling for a Soft Knit Dress

Fall is on the horizon, and I've been thinking about dresses! Finding a great dress pattern is easy, but if you're not used to wearing them, then it becomes a little more problematic! When I saw our customer Ruth's Lynn Mizono Vogue 1312 dress made in one of our imported Japanese cotton double gauze, I fell in love with the pattern and the fabric.

I loved the ease and fullness of the skirt and thought of making it in a soft knit while I waited for this fabric to come back in. I chose a Bamboo/Rayon and Lycra  knit because of the way it draped over my hand. The pattern calls for 4.5 yards, and you will use every inch of it.

 Laurel's oriental rug is a 9X12, so you can get some idea of how much 
fabric is in the skirt of this dress (hope I won't get lost in it!).

Because of the sheer volume of the lower skirt and the fine gauge of the knit, she marked the four sections of the skirt with masking tape before trying to assemble the lower skirt. Not only did the panels all look alike, it was hard to distinguish the right side of the fabric.

Remember that there is no "one-size fits all" stitch for knits.  You need to consider the weight of the knit and it's stretch.  This rayon and Lycra knit is exceptionally drapey and heavy.  Given the volume of the skirt (remember that 4.5 yards?), Laurel tested several stitch settings and decided on a small  zig-zag.  The length of her stitch was set at 1.5 and the width was set at 2.0.

Sewing a "straight length" of fabric around a "corner" can be scary.  The trick is to take it one step at a time. For a sharp corner, Laurel sewed on the lower skirt side (the straight length), then flipped it over to make sure that there were no puckers in the corner. If you're happy with it, trim off the outer corner.

Most fine dresses use an invisible zipper, and this one is no different. Usually an invisible zipper is put in BEFORE any of the seams are sewn together - this makes it easy to match everything up.  However, this side zipper is put into an "opening" in the side seam, making it a little more tricky to do a stellar application.

Kudos to Laurel for sticking with it, but she reports she had a rough time.  That should tell you that even the experts can't do everything perfectly, so don't be too hard on yourself if your garments aren't perfect. We are not all about perfection here at Stonemountain...we are about having fun and enjoying the process.  (I would have told her to give it up and put in a regular zipper!) This puppy is going to be under my arm anyway. I'm good!

Such a soft drapey (and voluminous) knit dress calls for a steamer to get the wrinkles out, rather than an iron. If you want to tackle the iron, be careful with your temperature on some of these finer knits - if your iron is too hot, you can create a shine on the fabric...a definite downer! I'm so happy one of my friends gave me a professional steamer that I use on all my clothes at home.

What a beauty! Can't wait to try it on! 

Fast forward a week to fitting day at the store: Okay, I think we have some issues.  The very qualities that make this fabric so dreamy are the same ones that impact the way it fits. The sheer weight of the skirt caused it to hang off my shoulders, stretching the armholes...and it's just too big in the bodice.

We decided to take it up in the shoulder seams and in the bodice.

Fast forward to Laurel back in the studio...Among the least favorite tasks of any sewist is ripping out your work.  As I mentioned before, this Bamboo/Lycra fabric has such a tight knit that "deconstructing" it was not fun.

Even though seam rippers are designed to do this sort of thing, often a sharp pair of embroidery scissors is more effective. And after all the pain of that invisible zipper, we decided the fabric and style of the dress didn't really require a zipper anyway. So we took it out!

A word of advice: When you have to undo all your hard work on a garment, don't expect it to go back together as easily as your initial construction - it rarely comes back together as well.  It takes patience and an understanding of just how far you need to rip to make it work.

In the end, we're happy with the adjustments we made and when I get to actually wear it, it's going to be glorious!  I LOVE this dress!!

 The Re-engineered Lynn Mizono Vogue 1312 Dress, ready for prime-time!

I am going to make this dress again in the double gauze from Japan featured in our customer's dress above - stay tuned!!!

Creatively Yours,

Visit the FabricLady Collection of Garments on display at
Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics and Sewing Center
2518 Shattuck Ave. @ Dwight Way
Berkeley, CA 94704
email: fabriclady3@gmail.com
M-F: 10 am - 6:30; SAT: 10 am - 6 pm; SUN: 11 am - 5:30  pm