Friday, February 20, 2015

Takes one, two, and three

I really should be able to sew much better than I do.  I come from a proud tradition of seamstresses on my mother's side, including, arguably, the most famous seamstress in American history, Betsey Ross herself.  Slightly closer to the present, my mother's mother was quite talented, and though she was slowing down by the time I came around, she did sew the flower girl dress I wore when I was six and an incredible little dress and pinafore for my beloved Cabbage Patch doll.  Even my mother, a busy doctor, managed to sew said doll a little flannel nightgown.  Between the two of them, they gave me scraps of cloth and taught me the basics of sewing by hand, which I am actually pretty good at, but they machine has always been a bit beyond me.  For a little while when I was young my parents had an incredibly talented woman at church give me sewing lessons.  I made two skirts on her old Singer at her house, but that was that.  I never did figure out threading my mother's more complicated machine at home.  In high school I mostly focused on music and drama and writing things no one will ever read, and then I moved out to go to schools and taught myself to knit and crochet, two crafts I love because they require minimal equipment.

After having a baby girl, however, and falling in love all over again with little girl clothes, I thought that maybe now was the time to demystify machine sewing, so when a friend at church mentioned she had an extra machine that I could borrow, I jumped at the chance to give it a try.  So, despite having a tiny baby two toddlers, plus no place to actually set up, I jumped on the internet and started looking for some ideas.  I managed to pull together exactly one skirt (with the ruffle sewn on inside out) and a crude peasant dress (with the selvedge left on the hem and sleeves instead of proper hems) and was just beginning to sew a proper dress from a purchased PDF pattern (the Birthday Party Dress from The Lily Bird Studio) when I managed to wreck the feeder that pushes the fabric through the machine.  Well, that was that, so back the machine went to my friend to be repaired and I only recently managed to get it back again.  So, after scouring just about every PDF little girl's dress available from about a hundred different websites, I decided to start with a simple free skirt tutorial found on the blog Scattered Thoughts of a Crafty Mom.  Here in Taiwan, the smallest length of fabric you can buy is a "zhi" which, as far as I can tell, is about 1/3 of a meter or 13 inches.  I had bought two separate 13 inch lengths of a loosely woven purple cloth on sale at two separate times, and I found out this was actual perfect for a toddler skirt.  I was able to use one 13 inch piece (selvedge to selvedge) for the body of the skirt and divide the other into two 7 inch lengths to sew together for the ruffle piece.  I love this tutorial because they have you use a doubled over ruffle, which saves a hem and gives nice body to the ruffle.  So, here is the first entirely successful solo skirt attempt:

Next, I decided to get brave and give a dress a try, though I am still nervous about figuring out button holes and zippers.  This simple little Colorblock Dress from Heidi & Finn. I love a good ruffle and a nice, big sash, but sometimes you need something a bit more sophisticated to counter ruffle overload and they have some great options.  This particular pattern closes with just one simple loop and button, which I was brave enough to try.  It's fully lined, so it should be pretty easy to make it reversible should the fancy strike at a later date.  I have a few solids already lined up to do the three blocks of color mentioned in the title, but I thought for my first attempt I would combine the top two blocks so I only had one set of seems to line up.  It turned out really cute in this Japanese-esque rabbit print.
We'll see how it works as a stand-alone dress once the weather warms up.
I made it in 3T for my skinny 3-year-old, and it fit OK but it was definitely a slim fit, especially over the turtleneck sweater, so I've already cut the pattern out in 4 T for the next attempt (which will actually be done with blocks of color, I think).  We'll see which works out better.

For my third attempt, I had a small piece of this pretty rose cotton I wanted to try to do something with.  Now, they have a lot of loosely woven cottons here and I am not quite sure that they are suitable for kids' clothes, but I thought I would try them out anyway from time to time because the patterns are too nice to pass up entirely.  This dress might fall apart by the end of the year, but it wasn't too much work and will hopefully last for a few wears.  This is from a free pattern called Simple Elegance from one of my favorite kids' clothes sellers, Ellie Inspired.   Unfortunately, it's not available anymore, though other designers have similar ones floating around.  It was my first attempt at making and using bias tape which worked out great and I am definitely going to try to do again (though the pack of workspace might be a bit of a problem in making a lot of it.)  I chickened out with the closure, though.  She wanted you to cut down the back and make a placket for buttons, but the size I chose was a bit big and as I was putting it together I thought that if I added snaps to the straps, she should be able to get it on just fine.  The snaps are actually in the back since she's three and doesn't really dress herself much anyway.  Just look at the fun she had modeling it.

So, nothing fancy like buttons or zippers or any such thing, but there you have it.  I figure that sewing up way more dresses than Viviene could ever wear is a much more fun way of learning how to sew than sewing practice swatches or pillow covers.  The only thing that scares me is how much ironing all these cottons are going to require.  I really don't do ironing.  Oh well.

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