Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Darth Vader Prosperous Audacity

I wanted a dress to do the traditional visiting rounds in, for Chinese New Year. The traditional female dress for such occasions is the cheongsam. Well, this isn't a true cheongsam in that it isn't super tailored to my curves (I don't much want to show off the front curve anyway). Though I did make it a little oriental-inspired with the high collar and chinese knot (which I learnt how to do following multiple YouTube vids).

It's in auspicious red and orange colours, so it's very New Years-y indeed, never mind the Darth!! It was great, because all the non-traditional younger folk recognized him, and all the traditional old folk just thought it was a nice red auspicious dress. Hah!

I've never enjoyed New Year visiting - it's basically just going from house to house smiling stiffly, making small talk, and generally being respectful to seniors. It's not a meet-up at all, oh no. It's probably the modern equivalent of the victorian habit of 'making house calls'. But this year, I was giggling all the way - watching my kids receive their red packets from genial old people, while I strutted around the houses in my Darth dress, past all the open-mouthed youths who were too polite to comment (it's an asian thing). What ho!

This is made from an old bedsheet off Ebay which wasn't cheap. I loved the Darth and the colour though. It's very well used, so it's all washed and a little faded, though super comfy. Darth was all up the lower right corner of the sheet, with flames across the lower left corner, and his name splashed across the upper left corner. I had to cut off his saber to fit him on my dress (boohoo!). I used bits of his name across the collar, and the flames for the back. The button was a leftover yellow bit, and I used leather cording inside to make the button puffy and stiff.

The cut-out was just for fun. I'm on a run with the cut-outs!

There wasn't nearly enough to make the whole of the back, so I covered up with a bit of orange chiffon. It was my first attempt with chiffon - the slipperyness was scary, and not being able to rip the seams also bothered me somewhat. But I'm glad to say it turned out ok. Just ok, not great. I need more practice with the curves. And now I feel a little sad that I didn't make a bigger, sexier see-through panel! Grumph.

I used my trusty shift dress pattern for this again. I really like the way this fits on me, now that I've got it exactly the way I like. It hides many a flaw and is quick to sew, to boot. I'm in quite a dilemma now, actually - should I go for the 'signature style' thing, and make a wardrobe fill of shifts? I can think of literally a hundred different ways to sew this up. Or should I be brave, and challenge myself with another pattern, another material (KNITs! *shiver*)?

Here is the dress in action at First Aunt's house. I'm brandishing two mandarin oranges - the dialect word for them, 'kum', sounds like gold in the language. Yes, the Chinese are only concerned about money. Haha.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

A mini-tutorial for making a faux-knot cut-out

As promised, here is a very tiny tute on how to make the knotty cut-out on this top.

My apologies in advance if anything isn't clear - this is my first tute-writing attempt, though I sure do read a lot of them! If you have questions, leave me a comment and I'll try to answer you.

Right then, here goes.

Step 1: Pin cut-out template onto shirt front

On a piece of paper, draw the shape and size of cut-out you want. To have it symmetrical, you might find it helpful to fold over the paper and mark just one half.

Cut out the shape and pin it to the front of your shirt. I chose to atttach the neck facing and sew up the shoulder seams of my shirt before doing the cut-out. This is useful because, 1. you don't have to fiddle with the facing in a very small sewing space later; and 2. you'll have two layers of fabric to strengthen the cut-out with.

Step 2: Mark cut-out on shirt front

Draw around your template with tailor's chalk or soluble marker. You can use anything that washes off your fabric (test it first!).

Step 3: Cut out centre and snip until edges.

Draw a mini-cutout-shape in the centre of the marked area, leaving about 1.5cm (1/2 in) all around the sides. The point here is not to be dead-accurate. Just to make sure you leave a good seam allowance to work with.

Cut out the shape you've drawn.

Take some sharp pointy scissors or shears and make small snips, about 1cm apart, all around the edges of your cut circle. Make sure you cut right up to the template line (I have that marked in blue). This is where you can be as hardworking as you like. More snips = more work, but also = a nicer, curvier circle. Too few snips, and your circle will end up looking like a polygon. But too many snips, and you'll go crazy in the next step!

Step 4: Turn in the snipped bits
This is where it starts getting tricky, and fiddly. You have to turn in the bits you snipped, to make a pretty circle. Do the fashion fabric layer first, turning the snipped bits down into the inside of the shirt.

Turn in a couple of bits at a time, and crease against the marked (blue) line with your thumbnail as you go. If it helps, pin down the folded edges. And if you're using a fabric that doesn't hold a crease well, er...my best wishes!

Done with the fashion fabric layer? Now do the same with the facing layer, turning those bits up into the inside of the shirt. If you want to be precise, try turning the bits on this layer slightly deeper than those on the top (fashion) layer, so you won't have ugly facing bit poking out into your top.

Step 5: Cut out some interfacing

Phew! That's done! This next step is optional. You're going to use interfacing to back the folded snippy bits you've just made. I like to do this because it stabilizes my work and makes stitching easier, though you can skip it if it's too much trouble.

Put your old paper template (the one that you drew around on the shirt front) on some interfacing, mark and cut out the circle. Since you don't want this to peek out on the front of the shirt, it's a good idea to cut the circle a very little bit bigger (say 2-3mm) than the marking.

Leave a good amount of interfacing around the cut circle, say 3-5cm all around. The less you leave, the fiddlier the interfacing piece will be, and the more your circle will warp. Don't worry about excess, you can trim it off later.

Cut out another piece for the facing.

Step 6: Iron interfacing onto fabric

Heat up your steam iron, and place the interfacing on the back of your fashion fabric.

Tuck in the snippy bits under the facing.

When you're ready, PRESS. And voila! The snippy bits are all nice and neat, and you have a piece of fabric with a cut-out in it. YAY!

Do the same for the interfacing on the facing.

Step 7: Flip fabric right side out and finish cut-out.

Trim the excess interfacing off, and flip your shirt pieces back together.

Press a little.

There's the cut-out. Isn't it gorgeous? Aren't you proud of yourself?

There are a couple of ways you can finish the cutout. The easiest would be to topstitch, in a matching or contrasting thread. If you want a subtle, invisible finish, you could pin and slipstitch the edges closed. Me? I chose to line and close it with a contrasting trim. Which was a BAD idea, because the trim ruckled enormously despite it being cut on the bias. A good press made it look slightly better (the ruckle took on the appearance of a quasi-gather), though not perfect. Bummer! I'm not about to do this again.

Step 8: Cut out fabric for knot tie

Now, cut out some fabric bits for a the knot tie. Use contrasting or matching fabric as you like. I was indecisive and cut out both!

Also remember to cut out a small strip for the middle part of the bow. A 5 x 2cm (2 x 3/4in) bit will do.

Step 9: Stitch knot tie fabric

Lay the pieces for the knot tie fabric right sides facing. Stitch all around using a 0.5cm seam allowance.

Step 10: Turn inside out.

Leave 4cm (1.5in) space unstitched for turning.

Clip corners and turn inside out. I've shown the underside of my knot tie for contrast.

Step 11: Topstitch knot tie piece

Again, this is optional. A good press will allow this piece to lie flat. I like to topstitch, because: 1. these small bits often get mangled in the wash, and it's impossible to ever get back the original shape without topstitching; and 2. I just like the pretty finish. (as you can see my top-stitching skill isn't tops)

Step 12: Twist knot piece and tack on.

This will be fun - give the knot piece a twist, and baste it onto the shirt. Use a half-twist if you want a bi-coloured tie like I have here, or a full twist if you want both ends the same colour. I used a contrast thread so you can see how the basting goes.

In general, you don't have to be too neat about this as long as you keep the basting within the area that will be covered up by the middle bit. But to be safe, I'd recommend using matching thread, and just putting in 3 or 4 firm, well-placed stitches.

Sew up a tube with the little 5 x 2cm scrap, and wrap it over the middle of the knot. Stitch in place, and you're done!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Birthday Hippo Dress

I'm a little belated in posting this, since I made this dress for the Big Bub's birthday in December! Eh eh, tardy as usual.

The Big Bub has been completely head-over-heels crazy about hippos since she was given a security blanket in the shape of one, when she was a wee thing. They're inseparable now, Hippo and she. He's even more precious to her than Mummy or Papa are!

I looked for ages for cute hippo fabric for the dress until I came across this Japanese linen. Not knowing what colour she would like, I bought half yards of pink, yellow and blue. Only the blue has been made up so far, though :)

I traced this off one of her existing dresses, adding a bit of ease to the sides because I was lazy to sew in a zipper. Come on, it's a lined dress (since I was afraid the linen would be scratchy) and I didn't want to deal with zipping up two layers! I think it was rather too much ease though, since quite baggy around the sides. But oh well, I guess she'll just be able to wear it for longer.

I made it in a drop-waist style, just because I thought it'd be cute. She wore it on her birthday weekend and was pleased as pleased. So I'm happy my efforts were appreciated! One little step to getting my girls to appreciate handmade (an uphill task considering the pervasive consumerist culture and easy availability of cheap stuff in these parts!).

1/2 yard of hippo print japanese linen. 1/2 yard of fine-wale corduroy, 3/4 metre of velvet ribbon, 2 vintage red buttons, 1/2 yard acetate lining, all from the stash. I have a serious problem with the size of my stash.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Little knot top

I fell in love with this fabric while poking around at Spotlight (my fave big-store haunt) for grommets. For some reason it was on the quilting clearance table for $6/metre. I can't imagine why such PRETTY fabric should have to go on clearance. Anyway, all the better for me :):) I snatched it up and out came the credit card. In my haste, I forgot about the grommets. Bleah.

This fabric takes honours as one of the few pieces I actually cut into within a week after purchase. It certainly wasn't a hasty decision - oh no! I thought about what I wanted to make a fair bit (a week's worth of travel time, shower time and dream time surely counts) but couldn't come up with anything better than a very simple top, because of the gorgeous pattern I wanted to showcase, and because there was only a metre of it.

Or maybe there's just a problem with my imagination.

The pattern was loosely on the top half of a shift dress pattern I already use. I had a grand time fitting and fitting the back darts to give it a bit of shape. I have quite a swayback, but I managed to make it fit quite well at the back (even Mr Tropical agreed!) so I'm proud of myself.

I also had to fit the back straps (on myself, since I haven't a dressform) with my bra on, to make sure they covered up the bra straps. That wasn't very difficult though.

I had to figure out the knotted-neck-hole thing myself. I was ambitious and wanted to line it and all with contrasting melon fabric, which turned out to be a bit too much for my low skillz - it doesn't sit flat, though it was a thin cotton fabric strip that I cut on the bias. But oh well, I think it looks okay.

I did take pics of the whole process so if anyone is interested in making a similar one (less the contrast strip, since mine turned out sucky) and wants to see my clunky inelegant method, let me know and I'll post.

I've worn this on a few casual outings already and really like it very much. My little bub loves pulling at the ribbon too :)

1 metre of mid-weight quilting cotton 'Happy Owl Petals' in melon from Spotlight. Originally $14.95/m, I got this at 30% off = $10.50. This is actually an ok-ish price to pay for cotton in these parts. Very slightly pricey, but I made an exception because I couldn't resist its cuteness! 

Thursday, 12 January 2012

On a run with the shorts

Since the first pair fit pretty well and went together so fast, I was greedy and sewed up another pair :)

Really, I was completely powerless to resist the pull of that fabric. I mean, look at all those HORSES! I'm a huge sucker for 'subtle' prints. I love it whenthe garment is a solid colour or nondescript print from a distance, but when you get up close, ooh look! pink umbrellas in a storm! little men with hats! eyeballs!

It really makes my day when the person I've been talking to all of the last 20 minutes suddenly stops mid-sentence and goes, "Oh my! *gape* Are those small grenades you've got on your dress?"

Ha. I'm such a nerd.

Or maybe I should just stop living around blind people.

I was looking through my scrap bag for a contrasting-yet-matching piece to make the back pocket and button trim, and came across this nice scallop-y piece that reminded me of grassy plains.Just for the challenge, I made it puffy - this is my first try at a bit of quilting. The batting looked kinda thick at the start though, so I ripped it in two and only used a half thickness. I kinda regret being chicken now - I think that pocket could do with a leetle more puff!

The other thing I love about this pair is the vintage zip :) I got a bunch of them from some good-hearted eco soul who was ripping them out of old garments destined for the landfill. There, my good deed for the day :)

A curious thing I noticed is how my two pairs of shorts sit differently. The first pair is a really fine, soft corduroy, so it falls straight down. This pair is a mid-weight quilting cotton, a little stiffer and crisper than the corduroy, which make my bot look way perkier. I don't know if I like the look or not. And I haven't any idea what sort of sewing thing to do about it! Take in the sides? It'll become too tight. Taper the legs? I wouldn't be able to walk. Right?

Any ideas?

1 1/2 yard of mid-weight quilting cotton from Etsy, courtesy of a really nice Canadian lady. The pattern actually gets by fine with just 1 yard, but of course I needed that extra 1/2 yard just so I could be stupid and cut out a piece or two with the horses facing upside down.

Oh and if you would excuse the graffiti on my left arm. It's not a tattoo. I just couldn't find any paper when I was writing out my grocery list.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Super belated 2011 wrap-up

Late to the party as usual, but here is the wrapup of my very first year in sewing.

16 garments to my name... (and look how Mr Tropical's photographing-people-skill has improved over the year :D )

Also some other little craft-type things (not shown).

Oh, and one UFO. A huge orange blousey thing that I made two months post-baby - what a bad idea. It's sack-like and totally unwearable at present. And way too embarassing for a picture!

Two dresses made it to the Burdastyle.com front page, and one to their Best of 201 1 (woo-hoo!). One doll made it on Craftgawker.

And my sewing resolutions for 2012? A rather long list, though perhaps not particularly embitious:
1. Break out my new serger.

My sweet parents gave it to me on my birthday (I'm a Halloween baby) after I asked for one. I really do want to see myself using it, but at the moment all those needles and wheels scare the hell out of me!

2. Sew one thing from knit or stretchy fabric.

I'm SCARED of the things. All that stretch, all that movement. How will I cut it? Hem it? Won't it get swallowed up by my machine. Maybe if I get my serger figured out, it'll fall into place.

3. Join a sewing contest.

Just for the kicks :) because it looks like it'll be so much fun!

4. Join a sew-along.

Caveats: It must be something I want to make, and it must happen at a time when the other bits of my life aren't crazy. Hmm, that's a hard one...

5. Not take my sewing too seriously, or spend toooo much time at the machine.

Because sewing is my hobby, and that means I should have a ball of a time doing it. That means no sewing anything that isn't fun (unless it's a favour for family). No crying, no pulled hair, and no zombie nights over sewing. And because this is supposed to make me a happier person, no point in driving Mr Tropical up the wall with it - he's already telling me he doesn't see much more than the back of my head some nights!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

2011 - my sewing year

These are truly tumultuous times. There’ve been some pretty major changes in the last few years – becoming a Mrs. and starting graduate studies in 2007, and having two little girls in 2008 and 2010.

And I'll always remember 2011 as the year I started sewing properly. The year I made the leap from crafty/homey-type projects to real garments. That I wore out of the house! to work! to outings!

And people told me they loved them. This possibly means more to me out here, living in a shy Asian culture where you don't make social/personal comments unless you know the guy pretty well, than if I were living in a nice open stranger-friendly culture like the US or UK has.

So here's me thinking to myself, I am DA BOMB! I make clothes that fit! I can wear clothes again!


It wasn't so long ago when I didn't care which grubby T-shirt I wore with which grubby pair of baggy jeans (hello, uni days!). And my boring, mass-market days are not long left behind (this went with the whole scientific-academia environment I grew up and eventually worked in). I've always been around people who give you the suspicious eye if you're in any colour other than black, grey or brown, and if you wear a Dress, will ask if you've got a wedding to attend!

Starting graduate studies meant I worked in a lab, and fashion-wise, that meant freedom from the monochromatic trousers/skirt stereotype. Lab rats can be as weird and wild as they come. Not me though - I just went back to T-shirts/jeans (though admittedly I'd learnt a thing or two about fit by then).

Then I got married, and needed to look a bit better so as to accompany Mr Tropical out in the evenings.

Cue babies.

Cue loss of awesome hourglass figure.


And you have the real reason why I thought about getting into this sewing thing. Because with the likes of MNG, Zara, Topshop and H&M, why'd anyone even bother to sew these days?

Except that those mountains of clothing no longer fit either my body or my budget. I can't carry off a mini-skirt these days. Or skinny jeans. Or thin jersey anything. And I can't plonk down all my spare cash on beautifully tailored separates, however much I want to!

It was a bad time. For a year or so after the first baby, shopping actually made me depressed. I'd try on oodles of things and the only ones I was happy to wear were the ones I couldn't buy. I was surviving on five nice leftover early-maternity outfits, and improvisations with maxi skirts and men's shirts!

I found Burdastyle in late 2010 while preggers again (I think I was referred from Etsy, on which I ran two crafty shops), and as they say, the rest is history.

I dug out my dusty old sewing machine and made my first garment, a cheery but awfully shapeless cotton smock that I still wear around the house (the bright orange armhole binding is its only saving grace).

It was a moderate success, so I invested in some more fabric and patterns. And waited breathlessly for the return of some semblance of a figure so I could start sewing dresses.

I made my first very shapeless shift in early 2011, and have come a little way since. So far, I have 16 garments to my name, mostly very simple shift dresses, tops and shorts. But some of them have been very well received (see Press), which is absolutely gratifying :)

I've accumulated quite a stash of patterns, about half of which are vintage (and cost pennies! woo!). I'm also quite the fan of downloadable patterns. And I'm just starting to learn how to customize patterns by changing or adding things, or by using features from a few different patterns in one garment.

I also have a small-but-growing library. Next on the wish-list: Pattern Magic 1 and 2, and a nice McQueen picture-book.

I'm too embarrassed to photograph my fabric stash, because the pile I've acquired in one year is HUMUNGOUS. It fills up 50% of one floor-to-ceiling unit of shelving. Oops!

I'm having such a ball of a time here, I even have half a mind to make 2012 the year I forego conventional clothes shopping. What do you think? Will I make it?