Muslin Hell

At the last meeting of the Seam Allowance group, we all decided that September was going to be Shirtdress September. Meaning that we’re all (okay, the 5 of us that were actually there) going to make a shirt dress before the next meeting on September 14th. This works great for me because I’ve been eyeing the Colette Hawthorn pattern for a while. And I picked up some great fabric at the meetup last month.

So all was going well. And after my last few experiences with woven dresses (see the Darling Ranges dress. Also this and this, both of which have lingering fit issues that mean they haven’t seen the light of day very much.) I decided to muslin the fuck out of this one. I measured my size at a 14, and made a muslin.

Muslin for Colette hawthorn

Clearly I needed a full bust adjustment, so I made another muslin.

Muslin for Colette hawthorn

Better, but there were a TON of problems in back, the darts needed to have some width re-distributed, and the bust point was just too high.. Much pinning and gnashing of teeth later, I had muslin number three. It was looking pretty good up until I tried attaching a sleeve. But it was binding really badly at the front, to the point where I could have never worn the dress at a time when I needed to use a computer.

Muslin for Colette hawthorn

So I messed with the armhole a bunch (adding in back, taking away in front) and moved the shoulder seam forward for version #4. I also did a slight broad shoulder adjustment. And I re-drafted the sleeve cap. At this point I’m sitting on my basement floor surrounded by scraps of muslin and paper, tape, and three or four different books on fitting. At least I’m learning a lot!

Muslin for Colette hawthorn
This is the fourth (and hopefully final!) version. I haven’t pressed it or tried it on yet. It’s not at all shaped like my dress form anymore, which is probably a good sign.

Some reflections:

  • Is this more complicated than it has to be? Probably. If I knew what I was doing, I could do it faster and with fewer versions. But I think I’d still need both a full bust adjustment and a forward shoulder adjustment in any case, so it was never going to be that simple. My body is not one to fit anything out of the envelope.
  • Am I overfitting? Entirely possible, though it’s kind of what I’m going for. We’ll see how it works out.
  • Is this worth it? I hope so. I like shirt dresses a lot, so perhaps if I get the fit dialed in on this one I can make several variations.
  • Is this necessary? I say yes. Looking back, the only woven dresses I’ve made that really fit well were maternity dresses, which were all designed to be quite forgiving in the fit department. Everything else gets pulled out once in a while, but it’s not comfortable. I’m hoping to move past that point!

Next up is trying on the next muslin, and in all likelihood messing with it even more (though really, I hope not…). Then I need to true the pattern (making sure all the darts are the same length on both sides and so on) and trace off a clean copy. Oh, and re-drafting all the facings that no longer make sense because I changed everything else about the pattern. Then cutting and sewing the real thing! Worst case I’ll wind up with a sleeveless dress, which isn’t a terrible fate.

What are your experiences making muslins? Was it ever this involved?


The finished projects, they have not been forthcoming on this blog. At least not lately. The broken hand thing had a lot of do with it, but I’ve actually finished several things that just never got photographed. I’m still struggling to figure out how to use my fancy camera, and just haven’t had that magical combination of time + daylight that would let me figure it out.

But I did finish this other thing, AND I took pictures.




I’m pretty sure I actually cut this out sometime before I broke my hand. It languished for a long time. Despite having made the pattern before, it took longer than I expected to finish, even after I finally got going on it. So many details! The project never became and official Unfinished Project, it just happened One. Seam. At. A. Time. The toddler becoming obsessed with the sewing machine in the middle did not help, since I basically couldn’t work on it when he was awake, ever.



I added sleeve tabs (though not epaulets). I took my sweet time playing with the stripe directions and piecing the collar and back yoke to get cool chevron effects. That detail makes me really happy.



The inside of the cuffs and the inside yoke (also the back of the front facing, which nobody will ever see) are this 70s-looking orange print. The color is all weird here, but it matches the topstitching and the buttons.

When I was sewing it felt like I was doing a TON of top-stitching, but now that I see the pictures it really doesn’t seem that way anymore. I do think the orange contrast adds something, though. The fabric (brown striped cotton, purchased here) is nice, but the stripes are narrow enough that without some contrast it would just be a very boring, very brown shirt.

I only made a few relatively minor changes. I added some width to the sleeve/cuff, and then lengthened the sleeve plackets to make them easier to roll up comfortably. Tom can (and does) wear the first version, but this should make the shirt a little easier to wear.

My attention to detail kind of wavered over the course of the project, because it went on for so long. At the beginning I was very careful to line up stripes and make sure my top-stitching was just so. But by the time I was adding the cuffs, well…I’m just not going to show you the bad one. But it will never show on the shirt when it’s being worn, and I learned a bunch of things. I was just ready to be done, and sometimes you need to finish something off to make room for new stuff.

After making this I’m all excited about making more shirts with fun details – contrast stitching, shoulder tabs, fancy pocket designs, decorative yokes, embroidery… But I realize that at my current pace these things will take FOREVER to complete. Maybe it’ll speed up if I’ve made the pattern several times? Or if I get specialized feet for some of the more time-consuming steps (flat-felling, top-stitching). We’ll see. The internet seems to be littered with people who can just whip out a men’s shirt in a day or two, but for now I am not among them.

Have you finished any long-term projects lately? Do your sewing projects ever just drag on forever?

A meetup! Home improvement!

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a meetup (and fabric swap!) of the Bay Area Sewists. Which was awesome! Chuleenan was kind enough to organize a meeting at the library a few blocks from my house. I’ve known about these for a few months, but never managed to actually make it to a meetup before this. But when it’s so close, I have no excuses! Unfortunately I got no pictures, but Meg did an great writeup on her blog which has a picture of everyone. It was fabulous to finally meet people in person! And also to see everyone’s creations (like this gorgeous dress) in real life.

I brought a bunch of stuff to the fabric swap – mostly 1 and 2 yard lengths of fabric left over from various projects where I wasn’t likely to use that exact fabric a second time, plus some stuff for baby projects that never actually happened. I hope it all went to good homes! I did come home with a few things, but at least it was a lot less than what I came with.

(Apologies for the terrible flash. It’s dark out.)

I got some polkadot lining fabric, a length of really nice, heavyweight swimsuit fabric (I’ll have to try out the Closet-Case Bombshell pattern now!), a length of gray denim (probably for shorts), and a bunch of cotton lawn with blue and purple woven through it that will be perfect for a summer sundress. Hopefully I’ll get to sewing these up sooner rather than later!

In other news, my kitchen, which until recently looked like this (lots of stainless steel, virtually no cabinet space):

Now looks like this:
Well, actually I’ve pried off more of the rubber cement and so on since that was taken. But yeah…need to work on that. The plan is to add a bunch of cabinets, which will be a big improvement.

Cal Patch drafting class

Big news! My hand is FINALLY out of the splint, and so my life of making things can resume. This is a REALLY BIG DEAL. Now here’s a dress I made before all of that happened.

I’ve been telling myself that I just haven’t been sewing at all this year, but I realized that’s not strictly true! In February I took a pattern-drafting class with Cal Patch at AVFKW. It turns out I’d owned her book for years, but never actually made anything with it. The class was one day, so we just drafted a pattern and made up a muslin. I made this dress up a few days after. If you ever get a chance, I totally recommend Cal Patch’s classes. She’s great fun to talk to, and the one-on-one feedback on the muslin was a great way to speed through a part of the process where I usually get stuck by myself. I hear she has some classes on Creativebug, which I’ll have to check out soon.


It’s a really simple shift dress, so it came together really quickly. I drafted front darts, but left them off this version. I’m not sure this was the most flattering choice, but it is comfy. And I’m kind of digging the hippie back-to-the-land vibe. This is a fashion trope I always come back to, but it’s been out of favor the past year or so while I’ve had pink hair. The jury is still out on whether or not that’s something I can effectively incorporate into how I dress right now.


The fabric is 100% cotton Khadi cloth from AVFKW, dyed with indigo. It’s hand-woven and gorgeous. The pictures definitely don’t do it justice, but it feels great and should wear wonderfully. The edges are finished with bias binding, sewn onto the outside and then hand-stitched down. I like the effect, though I should have been more careful to stretch it around the curves.


The dress is still a bit plain, so I’m thinking about adding some kind of decoration on the bottom band. Embroidery? Stencils? I’m not sure yet.


My absolute favorite part are the cut-out pockets. I’m definitely doing this style of pockets again! I have a deep loathing of inseam pockets. These are a vast improvement.


This is a self-drafted pattern, so there really shouldn’t be alterations…but of there are. I drafted the neckline too low, something that didn’t become obvious until the garment was finished and my bra was showing. The seam allowances on the muslin masked quite how low it was. So I took up the straps about an inch, which helps but makes the fit around the back of the arms sub-optimal. For the next version I’ll raise the center front a couple of inches. I’m also planning to make the skirt flare out more. Something loose-fitting like this really needs to not look like a strait up-and-down tube! These ought to be easy fixes, and I already have fabric for the next one.

Next up: another (much awaited) Negroni shirt for Tom, followed by the second version of this dress and then a couple of Alabama Chanin style projects that I bought fabric for while my hand was in a cast.

Since January…

I knew it had been a while since I updated this blog, but I didn’t realize it was quite this long! Apparently my last post was in January. Many things have been happening, but very few of them are sewing/making things. Some excuses, in list format:

Regarding the broken hand, it happened about a month and a half ago, but I was in denial and din’t actually go to the doctor for a couple of weeks. I broke the head of the 5th metacarpal. Sadly, I forgot to ask for a copy of the oh-so-blogable x-rays. So I had 3 weeks 100% in a splint where I couldn’t do ANYTHING (it’s my dominant hand) and any sewing/hobby/etc. type stuff ground to a halt. Now I’m allowed to occasionally remove the splint for low-impact activities like typing, but I still have to wear it for sleeping and anything that has a chance of being high-impact (like, uh, life with a toddler). Not being able to make things or have any kind of creative outlet has been DRIVING ME UP THE WALL, so I’m hoping I can start to ease back into it now.

I was considering doing me-made-may, because it was pretty awesome last year and got me excited to make lots of stuff. But when I actually looked at what I had to wear vs. the style I’ve been dressing in lately, they don’t match up. The clothes I’ve sewn push me towards a style that’s a lot more cutesy than I’ve been feeling. I describe this in more detail in this post. I half-hearted tried to wear me-made clothes yesterday, and this was the result:
Outfit 5/3/14
But I changed soon after – that outfit wasn’t very comfortable for toddler-chasing.

My plan now it to try and take some photos of me-made outfits in May…but only things where I feel really happy about the style. If I succeed in making new stuff (despite being in a splint all month) that’ll be in there. I have some Alabama Chanin fabric from A Verb For Keeping Warm and plans to make some simple hand-sewn garments. Since my Chanin-style dresses (see below) are among the few handmade clothes still in heavy rotation, I have high hopes for getting something wearable out of this.
Outfit 5/30/13
(pic from LAST May)

There’s another paragraph to write about making vs. blogging and my priorities there, but the baby is making noise and it’s probably time for lunch, so it’ll have to wait. In any case I’m hoping to post here more now. The sewing blog-o-sphere is a pretty awesome place, and I plan to stick around!

this post is total filler

Hey look, I drew a thing during a meeting:


I signed up for this blogpact thing with my friend Kathleen and some other people I mostly haven’t met. The idea is to blog once a week and encourage each other to keep up with it, or something. I’m already behind, so we’re off to an auspicious start.

Three more random things:

  • This is a perfect summary of why I haven’t done much with wearable electronics, even though they really ought to be right up my alley. There’s a lot more I could say on this. Someday.
  • The Law of Jante is apparently a thing in Sweden. Interesting cultural thing I had no idea about. (Also maybe Scandinavia isn’t just a paradise of paid maternity leave after all.) I first ran into this here, and then had lots of interesting discussions about it with my coworker who married a Swede.
  • This is a really great podcast about the history of American housing policy. Lots of (mostly pretty terrible and racist) things I didn’t know actually happened. I should really learn more 20th century history.

get the look: space pirate fashion

I recently watched this episode of Star Trek, and it made me think: really, why wouldn’t you want to dress like a space pirate? Seriously: the clothes are comfortable and practical to move in, but still look totally badass.

Some space pirates of note (click to enbiggen):

  • Okona (from the episode)
  • okona

  • Han Solo
  • HanSolo

  • mal reynolds/anyone from Firefly
  • mal22ht7

  • riddick
  • riddick-2013

  • many, many anime characters
  • Honorable mention since he’s not a space pirate but whatever: Rufio
  • RufioDying

Note that these are all dudes. But Zoe from Firefly proves that women can also pull off pretty much this exact look:

See also Cation Design’s Genderbent Han Solo costume. This zombie space pirate is also pretty good.

So what makes one look like a space pirate? Probably most of all a swagger and a devil-may-care attitude. A touch of cyberpunk, a touch of Old West. But if we want to get specific, it pretty much comes down to this:

  • vests
  • gun belts
  • fwooshy coat

All of which I can totally make. This could totally be adapted to a streetwear look (at least, streetwear for me. Maybe not for other people) or done up as a full-on costume. I’m not sure which way I want to go. Probably both! Costume details in everyday clothing can definitely make them more fun. In any case, I am a big nerd and enjoy plotting sewing based on science fiction or random media (comic books are a big one) rather than the latest issue of Vogue.

I’ve been pondering a lot about the balance of practical sewing vs. fun crazy sewing. On the one hand it’s awesome to use my sewing skills to get basics that really fit, but it’s boring to only sew those things. I’m definitely planning more projects on the “unique and possibly super weird” side coming up. The line between “regular” clothes and costume pieces in my wardrobe is often kind of blurry, so it doesn’t need to be totally either-or. And since I sewed a lot of basics – t-shirts, underwear, etc. – in 2013, it’s probably about time for something more frivolous!