Balloons and Cocoons

My first reaction to this coat was a bit melodramatic. Whoa, this coat is a balloon!



I knew what I was getting into, the pattern’s line drawing makes it clear that this is a cocoon-like coat. (I love that Burda calls it a “hinted boule silhouette”.) Within minutes I was pinning it in all over the place to reduce some of its volume. Although I finished this peach version of the shell a week ago, it took a couple of days of stepping back, taking a bunch of pictures, letting it have some quality time on the dressform to change my perception. I’m not going to be walking around with my arms splayed out like I do when I’m examining fit, thereby exaggerating the shape.

Of course, my “muslin” fabric is also exaggerating the shape by the way it floats a bit stiffly. The “suede” was a bit of a mystery buy dug out of Joann’s mega-clearance pile in the home dec section, but it was perfect to try out sewing on a nappy fabric. This stuff is so groovy that I might even transform it into a coat of its own. (Perhaps it’s something like polyester microsuede? It’s a woven with a satin-y reverse.) It has the softest feel, and in one of those peachy coral colors that can never do wrong by me.

An interesting thing about this pattern is the fact that the armholes are quite low, landing almost an inch above the bust dart. I should probably check and see if that is typical for one of Burda’s raglan-sleeved coats. Normally that’d make for some immobilizing sleeves, but there’s a lot of room to move around: the ease right above the bustline is something like 13 inches!

The smallest size on the pattern sheet was a 38 so I graded down to a 36 and I’m glad I did since this style has so much room. (Are you curious how to grade down a multi-sized pattern? I figured it out from this PR tip about grading up a size–I just did the reverse.)

My actual coat fabric is very soft and drapey and so I think the whole shape will relax into gentle folds. I’ve been lusting after Persian lamb fabric since last winter; something about it reminds me of my grandmother’s couches. I’d describe it more as a velvet than a faux fur, with rippled curly pile. (And no, it’s not real lamb fur, although apparently there is a real.)

There are a few little changes I need to do before cutting into my “fur”. The original pattern has an exposed zipper closing up the front. Since I’m replacing the ribbon trim with a leather binding I’ll have to sew the zipper into the binding somehow. That’s this week’s puzzle! The sleeves were shorter than I expected, but now that I’m looking at them in pictures, I might even shorten them more. It helps balance out the proportions and a wrist-length sleeve would probably just look overwhelming. I really don’t want to turn into Blueberry Girl. I’m okay with “boule”. French just makes everything sound better, no?

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Fix-It Fridays and Front Porch Sundays

It appears that nothing resembling winter is ever going to arrive in Austin, which means I am going to have to shelf quite a few of my winter sewing ideas and get cracking on the summer ones. Aside from the fact that 73 in January bodes something hellish in June, I do love these kind of days here. The nights are even better. I love, love just sitting outside on our porch, listening to a neighbor practice his jazz sax through the window. There is a sweet quiet that falls over Austin running up to the madness that is March in Austin.

If I were to boil down all my autumn fashion inspirations to one fancy project by the spring, it’d be something in mixed materials, like a leather and fur combination. I’m a big Helmut Lang fan:



And there have been some bloggers who did some fun takes on leather looks, like Erika B’s suede-like top and Amanda’s leather-wool dress. I drool. Before leaving for the holidays, I traced out this coat from December’s Burda and started gathering supplies:

I doubt I’ll get much chance to wear by spring but I want the experience of sewing with new materials. The trim on Burda’s version is a hand-pleated grosgrain ribbon but D agreed with me that leather would be a much more interesting contrast. There are a few things I need to think through to make this work; at this point I have no idea how to cleanly sew a leather binding into a neckline. Thankfully this is a fairly uncomplicated pattern: no collars, simple raglan sleeves. I’ll write something later sharing my planned materials and process.

In other sewing news, I’ve decided to join up with Fix-it Fridays at pattern scissors cloth. I needed that one little blogosphere push to post about something weekly and especially get through this:

Yes, that’s my very unorganized pile of various UFOs/fixes/alterations (and there’s more in the back!) that beckon me longingly every time I walk into my sewing room. Hopefully, just setting aside special time to work through this and no other sewing projects will help get me past my abhorrence of hemming and learn a few things about alterations in the process.

My first stop on Fix-it Fridays (I know, it’s Sunday!) was to tackle my recent pajamas. They were originally entirely sewn on my regular machine while my serger was in the spa, but the curling seam allowances were driving me nuts. I’m very spoiled by the finish and speed of a serger! The jersey had also “grown” quite a bit after about twenty wearings, so the bottoms especially needed to be taken in and up.



The top didn’t go through many changes; I just cleaned up the chunky seams where the bindings are attached. On the bottoms, I had to remove part of the waistband to properly take them in. I’ll spare you more photos of me in my jammies, but I feel much better in them now!

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Byzantine Lingerie Set

That is no country for old men…

This set turned out much more engraved and ancient-looking than I anticipated. I was thinking it’d be just a step up from my first two bras, a lacey black number with a bit of nude accent. But these fabrics were much less shy in person than in their online pics. The lace has a strong horizontal medallion design with metallic threads, and the lycra leans in a more bronze-taupe than nude direction. It’s hard to convey metallics in photos but it’s pretty dramatic.

As I was cutting it out, I could see I’d have to play intentionally with the strong; otherwise it’d go in the direction of Atlantic City bling. Not that I have anything against that… ironically. I was telling Derek, “this thing is going to be, kinda, um… Byzantine! Yeah.” Historic bling! And of course we immediately started discussing Yeats and what that might have to do with bras. Put two former lit grads together and you get lots of obscure writer jokes. (“Prufrock’s, like, my mantra!“)

Aesthetically, I’m in love. And at the moment, I feel I have found one of my “callings” as a dressmaker. I feel pretty stress-free about making lingerie and even possibly wasting fabric on experiments. Okay, bras don’t consume much anyway, but I also love working small and up close. (My favorite photos are macros of things like insect legs and iris veins.)

I still have some things to sort out fit-wise. The bra pattern is Pin-up Girls Classic bra in a 32B. In my last make of this I’d worked out a vertical seamed cup and for this new bra, I’d intended to make the entire cup of lace. Unfortunately the design was too directional and the repeat pattern too large to cut mirroring pieces. So I went back to the original horizontal seam and used lycra for the bottom cup. I still had a bit of lace left to squeeze out for the front band and bridge.

I’m learning that every fabric and lace requires little construction decisions along the way. I kinda like the puzzle. For example, even just a couple of mm difference in elastics might mean trimming or lengthening parts of the pattern or working around it. I may have jumped in too fast with such different fabrics than my last two bras but I’ve learned a bit more about bra fabrics. I had to rip out every seam at least once. (Ripping out serged stitches is a dream compared to the 3-step zig zag.)

These fabric and notions were all from e-lingeria. They have the loveliest stretch laces so I ordered a few at once to make the shipping from Germany worthwhile. Their kits for bras and panties include what they call “lycra” for both cups and bands, and it feels kinda like the lycra fabric in bike shorts. It’s kinda thick compared to other bra fabrics I’ve browsed. I’m assuming it’s nylon and stretches like its got about 10% lycra. As a band fabric, it’s quite comfy and good enough for support in a smaller-cupped bra.

Because it was so stretchy I figured I’d need to stabilize it for the cup. Thankfully I’d ordered some extra meterage of sheer nylon tricot, which I used as a second layer and lining. I got the idea to enclose the seam in the lining from a tutorial at Summerset’s blog. My results look clean but made for a very bulky seam, and after topstitching the seam became wavy and rigid.

And in the end, the lining didn’t seem to prevent the cup from growing in size. I probably should’ve just interfaced them instead. Or perhaps next time will have to cut the pattern smaller to accommodate stretch.

The matching panties are from Merckwaerdigh Mix 30. I like the general shaping of these–they fit like lower-cut briefs, and would be easy to change around to other styles.

I guess my lesson learned is that stretchy cup fabric does not make a good beginning bra experience. Just be warned, if you ever go for one of the ready-packaged e-lingeria kits. Kits are a great way to start because you get all the elastics and hooks and things that match. I wasn’t too happy with the elastic quality of these kits, either. (The elastic in the panties lost all their stretch after one wearing.)

On the notion-y goodness front, Wonder Tape is my new sewing BFF. (That and bra pads, which will make this bra wearable!)

I kept seeing folks on sewing boards extolling its goodness but had no idea what it was, either. It’s a roll of double-sided sticky tape in a teensy 1/8″ width that later washes out. It’s a great thing to have around if you make alterations a lot, too–like hemming.

Phew. That was a lot. That’s what I get for not blogging for two weeks. And with that I’ll leave you with my favorite bra of the week:

This is a simple but lovely long-line bra by Fortnight Lingerie. They’re a cut-and-make boutique company out of Toronto, and used to have an Etsy shop until recently. (You can some of their pretty things at Lille.) A friend of mine asked me what these kind of vintage-style bras were called, having noticed them popping up more frequently in fashion. A long-line is basically like a regular bra, except the band that goes around the cups is wider. It’s definitely a comfortable, supportive option for bigger cups without needing underwires, and I’m glad they’re getting a revival and making their way out of a niche market. Plus they’re just so dang cool.

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Lovely, lovely Antwerp

Hello, hello. And Happy New Year!

Yes, I know that’s a bit late, but only in internet time–which pretty much came to a halt for two weeks. We had a very quiet and unplugged Christmas in Antwerp, Belgium. My husband and I lived there briefly before we settled in Austin, but continue to visit at least once a year. This year we used the holidays as an excuse to gather with a few friends who traveled from Prague and Berlin. I love European cities at Christmastime… the families gathered together in the squares, huddled against the cold with cups of mulled wine, the relaxed holiday pace.

We peaked into the Christmas Day mass at St. Mary’s, where a glorious tenor was belting out American black gospels.

{This one is by my husband. I have a sorry lack of pictures of the entire two weeks but I’m not the iPhoneographer around here. He somehow climbed on the rooftop of our apartment for this one.}

Antwerp is, in my humble opinion, one of the friendliest and most relaxed cities in all of Europe. My favorite activity here is just to sit on the crowded Meir and people-watch for hours on end–the Flemish walk to the sound of their own drum with offbeat style at every age. (I’ve also never heard so much whistling in any place. People whistle songs to themselves–constantly. Surely a sign of happiness?)

It also has a reputation as a fashion and shopping mecca, and I’d be remiss if I never wrote about it on this blog. There’s every kind of fashion from high street to luxury packed into the small streets. You may have heard about the Antwerp Six, a collective of designers (Dries van Noten, Ann Demuelemeester, etc.) from the Art Academy here who basically put Antwerp design in the international spotlight in the 80s. These designers have their stores here and you feel their influence in much of the design. I’d name that influence something like post-street-pop-Japonisme. (There’s a huge representation of Japanese design here–including the pioneering designers of the 80s. I should write a post about that connection sometime.) The MOMU fashion museum is a rare treat with a curated exhibition that changes a couple of times a year and a permanent historical collection.

Since lace was on my brain when we left Austin, I thought I might find some here–after all, this is Belgium, right? Surprisingly it’s hard to find fabric stores in Antwerp and I didn’t have much patience to explore in the gale-force winds and rains that haunted our last week.

But it was exactly the holiday we needed. Friends, lounging indoors and talking, lots of Irish coffee, more talking. And Chocolate. Every. Day.

New Year’s on the Scheldt. (One of two pictures I took! Yep, it was that relaxed.)

I’m looking forward to getting back to sewing…. and catching up on the crazy zillions of blog posts in my reader!

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