New Venture – Away!

It has been an exceedingly long time since I had a blog (other than on tumblr, which isn’t really blogging the way I use it), and since that long time encompasses the serious beginnings of my life as a seamstress, this is basically a new venture for me. Hurrah for trying new things!

I’ll leave the details about myself for the “About Me” page that I’ll be writing shortly, and jump right in with what people might actually want to read about: a project! A few days ago, my belated birthday gift to myself arrived in the mail – a lovely, shiny copy of Gertie Sews Vintage Casual that I bought to accompany my mother’s gift of Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing. Considering that I recently quit my day job so I could take the summer off before moving to NYC in the fall, I was itching to pick one of the many fabulous patterns and get sewing. I ran into a snag, however, in that both books come with double-sided pattern sheets on sturdy white paper, with the intention that you’ll trace just your size onto pattern paper. Having no quick, easy, or cheap access to pattern tissue or tracing paper, I was at a loss until I remembered:

Light table!

I have a glass kitchen table! A quick trip to Walmart later for paper (wound up with packing paper from the office supplies department), a last skim through GSVC to finalize my pattern choice, and some monkey business with an end table and a decorative lamp, and I was all set to trace my pattern pieces.

I decided I wanted to make the Shift Dress – usually my vintage leanings are more 1950s than 1960s (beanpoles need that waist definition, y’all), but the clean lines promised a simple and relatively quick build (semi-instant gratification will always win me over). Plus, I have had three-ish yards of a really fun cotton print languishing in my stash for months now in wait of a project that would actually A) show it off properly, and B) not require more than three-ish yards, and this seemed like a perfect fit.

The pattern tracing went easily (except for that moment when I almost forgot to include the back darts – oops…), and the beginning of the sewing was pretty standard. I decided that as much as possible I would make the dress as written – the only major modification I made was adding about three inches to the bottom so the length jived with my excessive height – although I gave in to temptation and got a little crazy with the collar.

As shown in the book, the Shift Dress has a simple white Peter Pan collar. Cute, right? It was one of the design details that made me decide on that pattern in the first place. However, once I pulled out my fabric, the grand ideas started coming. The print is on a white ground, but the print itself is majority pink-and-orange flame-flower-shapes, with a scattering of the same shapes in green. The white collar would technically go with the fabric, but – wouldn’t a pink collar be cuter?

Pink Print

Tell me I’m wrong! Of course, by this time I had already started sewing the rest of the dress (what can I say? I hate cutting pattern pieces; I have to reward myself every few by beginning the fun part!) and although it was late enough that going out to buy pink fabric was out of the question, I was on a roll and didn’t want to stop. A rummage through the stash followed, and I found a forgotten remnant of very pretty magenta-peach-purple organza that, when doubled up and backed with white interfacing, gave me a pink that nicely complemented the print. Unfortunately, that meant dealing with double layers of organza – I swear, this stuff shifts off-grain if you so much as look at it funny! The first layer I could fuse onto my interfacing, which involved a lot of dabbing at it with my iron to fuse only small bits at a time as I painstakingly shifted it back into the shape it had been when I cut it out, but the second layer had to be flat-lined over that. After spending a good hour altogether on just the two small crescent shapes that were the upper collar, I finally called it a night.

That was last night, and today started with cutting out the under collar pieces (plain white cotton – I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid) and finishing up the collar so I could baste it to the neckline. As written, the pattern calls for careful grading and notching of the curved edges, and since I was trying to make the pattern as written I did as Gertie said. Y’all. Why have I never graded my seam allowances before. Somehow that has never entered into my experience, and it makes such a difference! Gertie also details the difference between notching and clipping curves, which again, I used for the first time. I’ve always known you need to clip or notch curved seams, but I thought they were interchangeable. Not so! Notching is used to actually remove fabric on outside curves, to reduce bulk and make it lay flat when turned, and clipping is used on inside curves because once turned those slits will open out into notches all on their own. Altogether, this new knowledge resulted in the nicest curves I’ve ever sewn. Converted, I also made sure to follow her instructions for grading and clipping the neck and armscye seam allowances once I’d attached the collar pieces and the facing.

Grading and clipping


Grading and clipping closeup

See how nice? How professional?

Other than those epiphanies, the build was a fairly simple one – I used Gertie’s instructions for putting in a centered zipper, which made a lot more sense than the half-remembered instructions from my college costume construction class that I’ve been using for four years, and I actually pressed all my seams when she told me to instead of finger-pressing the parts I’d need to include in other seams and calling it good – and as of this writing, all I have left to do is hand-stitch the back facing edges to either side of the zipper and hem the whole shebang. Then I’ll be done! A dress, with actual finishing work put in to make sure it looks good, and finished in just three days! It could be two, but I’m tired and don’t feel like hand-stitching that lining tonight. Besides, aren’t you supposed to let hems hang before setting them? This hem has barely any bias to it, but I’m going to give the hanging thing as my real reason for not finishing it entirely tonight. Can’t do the hem until tomorrow, and there’s no point slaving over those facings if I can’t even finish it tonight. Yeah. Going with that.

I’ll try to take some good pictures of the finished product tomorrow – until then, goodnight, blog. I leave you with a gratuitous shot from the midst of the sewing earlier today. The pile of fabric is the dress itself, I believe while I was sewing the facing in, and the machine is my beloved Joni (a Husqvarna Viking that once belonged to my grandmother – more about her another time).

Joni in action

And so goodnight!


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