Summer Style

Baring

cascade skirt by megan nielsen

Wow, the sun was disappearing on the horizon and it was still 105° as I was taking these pictures. Gulp. I feel like a wilting flower. Last week Austin went into an intense early heatwave and I tried hard to stay indoors especially during the afternoons. I think future summer outfit posts may have to be inside, too, but then of course I wouldn’t get to twirl about and let a skirt like this catch a hint of breeze.

cascade skirt

cascade skirt

This is the Cascade skirt pattern by Megan Nielsen, and exactly the kind of skirt I like to wear in summer. It has lots of elegance with no effort and is cool as a cucumber. This is something I just adore about my Lonsdale dress, and I’m thinking of making another one of those this summer, too. As soon as I saw Megan’s new collection, there was no pausing: I immediately went on the hunt for a light and drapey rayon print. The pattern is a simple design, a circle skirt with a graduated hem that wraps over in front, and when I walk about the hem has a lovely petal-like floating.

My man loved that part so much, we did a little “short” so you can see the cascading in action! Check it out on Vimeo. It’s my first attempt at editing video so I’m a little shy…

I was thinking of cascades when I braved the heat to the area where I took these pictures. There is a lovely little rocky stream along the part of Shoal Creek that runs through my neighborhood. It has a gentle sound, not waterfalls of the sort that Megan Nielsen was surely inspired by, but the trickle of a creek over limestone. Something I mightily needed on this day. I was willing to brave chiggers and heat to get to it but alas it was dry to the bone.

tube top

Outside of the pictures, I was barefoot all day and the shoes were a bit of an afterthought. I normally wear them out with shift dresses, and I think I like this skirt better barefoot. And bare-shouldered: I tried on a bunch of tops with this and decided that it just begged to go with a tube top. (Do we still call them that?) Of course I didn’t have any tube tops, so I made a pattern for one and sewed it all in an afternoon. I think it might look better, less bunchy, as a bodysuit and would need a little shelf bra to be truly, ahem, effective, but I really wanted it quick.

This skirt is total instant gratification sewing. It makes you look like you know what you’re doing, and quickly! Gotta love that. But since it borders on circle skirt territory and a baby hem is really the only option here, hemming is a patient exercise. Cutting and sewing main part of the skirt: 1 hour. Hemming: another hour. Anyone who’s hemmed a circle skirt groans with me!

cascade skirt and tube top

And p.s.: The original pattern is quite is long in the back. An easy way to figure out the right length is to measure the center back piece from waist to hem, which was almost ankle length on me. I’m 5’4″. I removed about 6 inches from the back hem length so it would hit mid-calf, slowly curving and tapering to nothing just past the side seams.

Details:
Skirt pattern: Cascade from Megan Nielsen
Skirt fabric: lightweight viscose woven, Emma One Sock
Strapless top pattern: self-drafted
Top fabric: cotton-modal jersey, hand-dyed (dye is Dharma Trading Procion, “Antique Lace”)
Gold strap rings: stash

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The Little Tank that Could

my perfect silk tank

Hoo-ah, this week Austin was really heating up! Seems like about this time every year I come up with gads of strategies to keep me cool and feeling healthy and refreshed (#1: must drink more water). Usually by the end of July I start feeling pickled and strategize all over again. The last three summers I’ve been a bit obsessed with finding the perfect tank top pattern. I really love drapey tank tops and especially woven ones in silk.

Coming up with a perfect tank is a bit like trying to define the perfect t-shirt. I’ve made several different patterns and clearly obsessed about this a bit, but was never completely happy with the fit or style of my previous attempts. My perfect has somewhat narrow straps, a narrow neckline, and a slight racer back. It’s a little bit slouchy and drapes softly just around my hips. This time, I drafted one using my own bodice sloper, something I finally got around to fitting over the winter.

floral silk tank

And I think I finally got there! Sometimes the long road is the better one. Drafting my own block taught me some great things about my body lengths and widths and has really been helping me to fit myself better. For example, I’ve used it to adjust my bust length and fullness on this Style Arc shift dress and this Vogue top. I finally feel like fitting myself is starting to click!

Please excuse my rumpled appearance. I’m having a bad hair month (I’m growing out my bangs–argh) and this outfit has been through two hot and busy days (I wore this outfit twice, don’t tell anyone!).

me and my rumpled tank

silk tank back

This is a silk crepe I bought almost four years ago from Tessuti. I had it in mind for a sleeveless top back then but feared cutting into it because I just didn’t have the pattern right. And now I do. The print looks like paint splatters but these are actually large pop art flowers that seem to jump out of black negative space. I wish I had more for a drapey maxi dress–because that would really show off their scale.

My favorite, favorite finish for these kind of tanks is an all-in-one neck and armhole facing.

all-in-one-facing

It looks so clean and pretty and turns out miles better than my bias bound finishes. And my favorite tutorial for sewing (and drafting) an all-in-one facing is by Sherry at Pattern Scissors Cloth. She hasn’t been active on her blog for awhile, but don’t go missing out on a goldmine of tips from a patternmaker!

silk-tank-baby-hem

Speaking of which, I’m also a big fan of her method for rolled (aka handkerchief aka baby) hems. My mom asked me about rolled hems recently, so I thought I’d mention my favorite! I think this method is quite easy and ends up less wonky-looking than using a rolled hem foot especially on those evil bias hems, and with every top my hems are getting better and better looking. Alternatively, Jen at Grainline published a roll-hem method which involves sewing a line that you can follow as you roll, until you get used to rolling by eye and learning how to keep slippery fabric from unrolling. (My tip: wet your fingers, roll, stitch a few inches, repeat. It’s weird but it works!)

Details:
Floral silk crepe: Tessuti
Pattern: self-drafted
Earrings: Native Clutter (by Stephanie at Makes the Things – just had to mention because I love her jewelry!)
Jeans: old and much loved

26 Comments

If It Weren’t for the Skeeters

{update: Oops, I didn’t realize comments on this post were disabled. I had a conflict with one of my plugins. All is working now!}

I’ll go for months and months without shopping and then suddenly I get a get a bee in my bonnet to make a whole day of it. I rarely drive anywhere–most of my week happens within a five-block radius–but I love my car so it gives me an excuse to tool around town in my Ladybug.

A shopping day starts with a latte from my favorite coffee shop and then I visit a few local boutiques. There’s always a stop at Anthropologie, and mostly I just drool over their furniture and all the little knick-knack housewares. Sometimes I’ll cruise as far as the mall to check out lingerie sales at Nordstrom. But I really love small boutiques that have their own creative voice, that operate more like galleries rather than try to serve everyone at once. Kick Pleat is one of those shops, with a tightly edited, small collection of designers, mostly independent European brands you wouldn’t find elsewhere in Austin.

Two of my absolute musts for the summer were a blouse-y white tee shirt and silk shorts. I really thought I’d get around to making a tee by now, so I couldn’t resist this floaty white tee which has that right amount of haphazard slouch I like to throw on with everything.

{I’m a sucker for lady sandals, especially ones with bizarre slug ornaments…}

If it weren’t for the mean skeeters, I’d probably wear something short every day. I had a few pairs I planned to make this summer, including a remake of my pretty purple silk charmeuse shorts. They were one of those projects on which I spent more time working out the finishing techniques than fitting them properly and I accidentally cut the wrong size (down). I mocked up the next size up only to realize that the pattern is better suited for a more structured fabric than charmeuse. The original pattern was in the Burda June 2010 issue and is a sweet little short pattern, but has a bit of tailored fit and not quite the drapey loose-fitting style suited to something like charmeuse. (There were two looks in the magazine, which are both available at BurdaStyle here and here.)

My sewing hours the last week have been spent working out a new pattern, but keeping all the trouser-y details. A contour waistband, fly, options for cuffs and welts are all unexpected touches in silk, dontcha think? I’m working out sample #3 and I think I’ve got the pant leg just right. It’s almost a different pattern entirely and sometimes I wonder why I just don’t have a trouser block to begin with!

A few of my inspiration shorts:

{Credits: Shopbop, ForwardForward, Ralph Lauren}

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One in Every Color

Do you have a signature pair of sneakers? These are mine, in my favorite summer color of the moment, a cooling mint–like a mojito on my feet.

I tend to find a classic and stick with it. For years I loved Chucks, then classic Vans. Then I discovered Superga. They are Supercomfortable and seem to last longer than Vans. Unfortunately, all of my sneaks eventually get holes and turn into muddy-colored garden shoes. Derek and I once considered making a wall sculpture out of our dead but sentimental shoes from the past, but quickly realized it’d be a rather stinky sculpture…

So sneakers and tanks are the mode du jour. We are officially in the dog days of summer. The 100s have arrived, and just like last summer I have realized my wardrobe doesn’t have enough floaty, breezy tanks. So over the last couple of weeks I’ve been refining a tank pattern I started in on last summer. I’m determined to have one in every color!

These are a few samples from leftover yardage. Each one is from a different knit (modal/lycra, rayon/lycra, and an organic cotton jersey). I was trying to learn a bit about fabric fit and behavior, particularly with bindings.

One of my favorite tank shapes is a loose sort of a-line fit with a deep u-neck and a slight racer back. My first version (not pictured) looked more or less like a sleeveless tee with a slightly tented hemline. On the next three I added a shirttail hem and kept scooping the neckline and armhole a little bit more each time. It’s super easy to draft a tank from your favorite tee pattern and it’s only taken a few experiments to get the right scoop shapes to my tank. If you need a book to guide you, I really like Built by Wendy’s Home Stretch, a good beginner’s guide to sewing with knits. It includes a few starting patterns, like a tee, and walks through modifying a basic tee pattern into other shapes. Although I’ve never used the book’s patterns, it gave me some starter drafting ideas when I first started playing with my tee shirt pattern (BurdaStyle’s Lydia) a couple years ago.

I think I’d like deeper armhole scoops for future versions. I was being a bit conservative at first, worried I might reveal too much. You can see that the white tank looks a little tighter around the bustline. When I first drafted this pattern off my tee, I narrowed the bustline to account for stretch. The stripey modal fabric stretched over 100% and fit just perfectly. Even though the white knit is about t-shirt weight, it’s quite stable and stretches only about 20%, so I’ll probably need a second pattern adjusted to fit stabler knits.

It’s good to know the stretch percent of knits particularly when it comes to bindings. The more elastic the fabric, the shorter the binding needs to be. I experimented on scraps before binding each tank to get the right reduction for a flat, clean look. So, for example, on the striped fabric, I narrowed the binding length by 30% and for the cotton knit by 10%. Too long bindings cause all that ugly rippling and the binding to stand away, while too short bindings gather too much and pull in and up.

My favorite edge finish is a sewn-on band using this method, which I’ve been doing for most of my tees the last couple of years. I start out by basting the folded binding to the seam (right sides together), then I serge over the basting, then I fold the binding out and topstitch the seam allowance down from the front to keep the seam flat. I see a lot of store-bought tees with this sort of binding, in which the seam isn’t actually “bound”.

For actual bindings that enclose the seam, I think it’s difficult to get a clean, consistent look unless a binder is involved. And I actually have a couple of binding attachments for my old Bernina, but still need to do some experimenting to get them right on knits. For some tanks I’d love to have a little baby binding with just a single stitch on top (rather than twin needle or coverstitch) for a more elegant look. For the white cotton version, I knew the fabric was a bit more stable and would take better to this kind of single fold binding so I tried a method Sherry described on her blog. It came out very clean and pretty!

Stay cool everyone! Now back to that glass of lemonade…

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First Summer Shot: Red Scallop Shorts

These shorts were really fun to make. Or at least I was having a lot of fun saying scallops, scallop. Isn’t it a cool word? The consonance, I guess.

They were finished over a week ago, but I really, really wanted to wear them with this exact top–a body suit, actually–which is a straight-up knock-off of Daughter Fish’s. And that turned into an adventure of drafting not one but two different bodysuits. (More on that later!)

As I got to my unshaded location, the sun went behind clouds and the chiggers came out. Ouch, ooh, ouch, they sting. Ahhh, signs of summer in Texas!

Now, I have to admit that styling shorts is not my forte. I have one pair of ikat shorts, kind of shorty shorts, that I love pairing with floaty blouses. There’s something about floaty and oversized with a smaller silhouette on bottom that looks right on me. I like these two together in a classic nautical way, but looking at the whole outfit in photos makes me feel a bit, um, revealed.

What do y’all think? A white button down with these might be cute. Or perhaps a drapey tank? Definitely not these sandals, if only because they are wearing out and I’m kind of bored with them. I’ve already got my eye on the “every day” sandals I want for this summer. They have just a smidge of a wedge heel, which I like. I usually only wear flat sandals with things that cover my legs, like maxis or long trousers.

Pattern: Pattern Runway Sweet Scallop Shorts. Lots of cool little details, like separate front pieces with lots of top stitching, hem facings, welt pockets, yoke pockets with again, facings. This pattern is facing-happy! I really like them on hems–they make such a nice finish. It also has some good little “industry” techniques, such as how the invisible zipper is inserted, by machine, into the waistband facing. I’ve used this method several times before to line and face zippers, and it really turns out beautifully.

(Note: I bought the pattern in September and it had incorrect instructions for the welt pockets, which gave me a bit of a head mash and I ended up sewing the underwelt backwards. If you make these make sure you have the updated instructions or see Sarah’s tutorial. She kindly pointed me to it when I thought I was going crazy!)

Fabric: Red organic cotton twill from Mood, a nice twill with a soft hand. It was terribly off-grain, but after a lot of pulling on the bias, I was able to get it all straight. They have some other really pretty colors, too. I only had a yard, and that was enough; I even had just the right amount left over to cut a 2nd front piece, after I serged a hole right through my original front while putting in the pockets. OOPS.

Fitting notes: I’m exactly in between an XS and S in the pattern sizing so I went with the XS and made up a quick muslin. I mentioned before that this pattern has a lot of ease, but when I made the muslin, it didn’t seem so gargantuan and in fact looked slightly more fitted than the model picture. I still think going down a half size was a good idea.

I also knew that my fabric would work better if the shorts were more fitted. This twill is stiff (and non-stretch), kind of like a mid-weight denim. I tend to think that the stiffer and weightier a fabric, the more it is suited to a fitted style, which is why it’s so hard to predict the look and fit if you use a lighter or drapier fabric on the muslin. I’m glad I didn’t overfit the muslin, though, because after adding all the fusings, facings, etc, the shorts felt even tighter. Thankfully, the fabric relaxed a little as I wore them about!

On the muslin, I folded out just a smidge of a wedge out of the back for a swayback, and took in the waistband by a teensy bit. I might be able to stand even just a smidge more of a swayback adjustment. I made the biggest change to the center front seam/crotch curve. Commercial pants patterns often do this weird thing right where the center front seam forks. That looks funny now that I’m writing it, but tailors use the term “crotch fork”–why can’t I? It looks baggy in the front but feels tight from side to side. In most of my rtw pants, including jeans, that curve is much shallower (and usually the inseam is closer to the front). So I redrew the curve to be shallower, which also makes it shorter AND adds extra room for the hips. Does that make sense?

Happy summer sewing!

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If the Riviera Were a Dress

Hey y’all, how’s your summer going? Mine’s all kinds of hot. I’ve just gotten back from an extended trip to my old hometown of Cincinnati, and as I was flying over those blue mountains of Kentucky, I was shocked at the stark contrast between the deep forested greens and the sort of sandy-colored, yellow-lit landscapes of Texas. The midwest was almost as hot as Texas but at least my eyes felt better.

Several years ago my husband and I spent an anniversary walking the Camino de Santiago, an ancient religious pilgrimage trail that extends from Barcelona to the coast of Spain. While hiking through small villages whose dusty natural landscapes resembled the hilly outskirts of Austin, I kept noticing the widespread use of a very cool blues painted into architecture and everyday items from doorknobs to dinner plates. They range from the more lavender-toned blues to the very deep cobalt blues that are more a southern Spanish Moroccan influence.

Blue Door - Spain

These blues were very welcome to the eyes in the middle of those extreme heated and white-lit Spanish afternoons. I finally understood that whole traditional Mediterranean blue and yellow palette. It’s about relief!

I wondered why Texans don’t use more blue in their buildings. The light here is very white and direct and like Spain, reflects off the white limestone landscaping. New Mexico’s architecture uses healing colors so well, and its celebratory pueblo colors are very reminiscent of some of those tiny Spanish villages.

{Credit: Taos, New Mexico}

Even the gardens here tend toward the hot in summer–what few native flowers are in bloom right now are very hot reds and yellows. Interesting…

So I’ve been taking a bit of time off of sewing but also rethinking all my project ideas. I got sidetracked by seeing the new Sewaholic dress pattern on Tasia’s site.

Isn’t it lovely? I really wanted to sew a maxi this summer, but couldn’t find a pattern I liked, and I like this one, just released today. It’s not an empire-waisted maxi (yay!) and I love the neckline. Since I don’t have 5 yards of anything to make this I have to (poor me) buy some new fabric and after a bit of searching I found this appropriately named “Riviera blue” linen/rayon fabric at marcytilton.com.

Now if the Riviera (or northern Spain, or Provence) were a dress, this would be it. I need to set aside all my coral fabrics for the time being to cool my eyes off.

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The Silk Tank, or How to Stay Away from Plastic Flip-flops

It took me a long time to adjust, both physically and psychologically, to the intense heat and sun of the Texas summer. I’m a native midwesterner and before Austin we moved around northern Europe, so the perfect wardrobe in my imagination was a very constructed urban sophisticated look better suited to Londoners. I never had more than one pair of sandals, and snuffed plastic flip-flops, which are standard Austin uniform. I had to let my ideals go and embrace a looser and freer style.

Now Austin is infamously laid back. Sartorial for men here is an occasional button-down to go with one’s shorts. But I have to find a way to stay theatrical and even glamorous-feeling–that’s the challenge. It’s too easy to “dude it” here.

I’ve always loved silk but used to consider it somewhat of a luxury. A couple of summers ago, I bought a few silk pieces, like a sleeveless lightweight crepe dress (which I’m wearing here under the jacket), a flowy charmeuse wrap skirt, and a crepe jumpsuit–and ended up nearly wearing them out. Now I go out of my way to wear silk in the summer. Sure, cotton is great and rayon/viscose can be silk-like, but there’s something about silk… it’s feels so weightless and cool on the skin.

So I’m on a mission to make a few basic tops in silk–my red charmeuse tank is a good excuse not to reach for one of my raggedy Old Navy ones. I should really throw those away….

The fabric was left over from a recent lining and wanted something really simple and breezy, in a kind of a-line shape. Kwik Sew 3795 was a good place to start. I liked the a-line of the pattern but it was very low cut so I had to raise the armholes about 2 inches. You can’t see it here, but the original armhole falls below the bustline. I’m still not sure about the neckline–I think I like a narrower u-shape, and will fiddle with this line before I make another.

The pattern also calls for bias binding on the armholes and neckline but I wanted something dressier and wondered if there was a way to work out a simple facing and googled around. Of course, it seems like I keep finding my sewing solutions over at Sherry’s blog, which has the exact tutorial I needed: sewing an all-in-one facing for neckline and armhole.

Thank goodness for easy projects. Overall, from re-drawing the pattern to cutting and sewing, it took about 4-5 hours. That’s fast for me.

The truth is, most days I just feel like throwing on a tank and some kind of loose trousers. I just want weightlessness–not a lot of straps, no binding clothes or shoes. I can barely handle a neck scarf, no matter how light it is.

I got the idea to pair red and coral from a recent Lucky mag. I’m pretty obsessed with coral in all its shades–it’s turned out to me the perfect summer color for me and when I saw these silk crepe Sonia Rykiel trousers I leapt at them. I’m still trying to figure out if I can wear the carrot pant style; these are so high-waisted and billowy and have massive belt loops. Obviously one has not found the right belt yet because they are falling down!

I’m sure some of you find seasonal dressing pretty natural and would love to hear stories from others who’ve made major climate-moves. I’d wear knee-high lace-up suede boots year round if I could–I’m like a Celt in the desert.

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