Totally Tartan! (Part 3)

(See also Part 1 and Part 2.)

I still had some cotton lycra diagonal tartan Spoonflower fabric leftover from my tartan dress project, so I decided it was about time for my husband to get in on the tartan fun. I paired the tartan fabric with royal blue cotton lycra from and made him a short-sleeved Sinclair Tao semi-fitted classic raglan tshirt. I also made myself a cap sleeve, scoop neck Sinclair Demi classic raglan knit top. Both came together very quickly and easily even though it was my first time using both patterns.

The Demi is semi-fitted, similar to the Sinclair Cachet relaxed top (which does not have separate sleeve pieces). It is not as fitted as the Sinclair Bondi. I really like the scoop neck option, which is not as low as the Bondi scoop neck — more like my invented Bondi screwp neck. The fit of the Tao is almost identical to the fit of the Sinclair Kai semi-fitted crew neck for men.

How to sew a $1000 prom dress for $120

Last winter my daughter was browsing online looking for prom dress inspiration when she found the dresses of her dreams: Teuta Matoshi’s Flourishing Meadow Corset Dress, Flourishinig Meadow Midi Dress, and Flourishing Meadow Gown. She loved the sage green embroidered tulle, full skirt, and enormous tulle puff sleeves. She preferred the long sleeves on the corset dress and the V neck on the gown (but maybe not cut quite that low). What she didn’t like was the $850-$1050 price tag. Just in case, she showed me the dresses. When I suggested that we could try sewing something similar she objected that reproducing the embroidery on the tulle would be difficult and time consuming. I assured her that we could buy the tulle already embroidered.

I asked my daughter to look at online pattern shops for a suitable dress pattern (ideally with projector PDF files), and to check online fabric stores and Etsy for embroidered tulle. Over winter break she got to work and emailed me a list of URLs for dress patterns and tulle. The dress patterns were designed with zippers for woven fabrics, and all would require some modification to get the look she was going for. It occurred to me that one of my favorite indie pattern companies Sinclair Patterns had a knit dress in a similar style. I wondered whether the Sinclair Yasmin dress might be adapted to have deep front and back Vs (but not so deep as to preclude wearing a normal bra), a full skirt, and a tulle overlay. I remembered seeing a post from a sewist on Sinclair’s Facebook group in which she had used the Yasmin pattern to reproduce the Internet famous Lirika Matoshi strawberry dress, which also has a tulle overlay. I decided the Yasmin pattern could work.

My daughter debated which tulle to use at length, and eventually selected tulle that appears to be exactly the same as the tulle used in the original flourishing meadow dresses. The embroidery might be a little bit looser than in the original, but otherwise it seems to be the same. We ordered the tulle from an online lace store in Hong Kong that sells on Etsy.

Once we settled on the pattern and the tulle, we needed to find light green fabric that matched the tulle. It is really difficult to shop for fabric by color online as the color looks different on different monitors and different lighting conditions impact the fabric photos. I also wasn’t entirely sure what kind of fabric I wanted. I knew I wanted a knit, something with some sheen to it, and ideally a bit of structure but also fairly drapey. I ordered about 20 different green fabric samples from four different online fabric stores. I tried scuba, ITY, tricot, and various other fabrics with combinations of spandex, polyester, nylong, and rayon in their fiber content. I ordered variations on sage green, light green, mint green and “greeninsh” (yes that’s what one fabric store call it) colors. You can see most of the samples in the photo below. Note how much variation there is in the fabrics, including those that have the same color name.

The winner was Sage Sparkle Nylon/Spandex from Califabrics, which was the perfect color and weight for this project (and a little lighter than the green in the original dress). This is a fabric that might be used to make leotards or bathing suits, but also has a nice drape for a dress. When I went back to the website to order five yards of it, I discovered they had only one yard left. As it was a designer deadstock, I feared it might not be possible to get more, but I emailed the store to find out. About a week later, Ron from Califabrics emailed me to say he had found another 15 yards of this fabric (Thank you Ron!). I was so excited I ordered it immediately!

Before cutting into the beautiful prom dress fabric, I decided I would do some prototyping first. I sewed myself a Yasmin dress out of floral ITY fabric without alterations and then sewed my daughter a Yasmin top modified to have front and back deep Vs. Finally, I sewed myself a lovely baby blue knee-length dress with the V alterations, a full-circle skirt, and a tulle overlay with embroidered daisies. I learned a lot in the prototyping process and got a really lovely dress for myself that I probably would not have otherwise attempted (and I wore it a couple of weeks ago to perform with my flute choir).

After my extensive prototyping, I opened the Yasmin pattern in Affinity Designer and modified it for this final prom project. I started with the 2R size and drew in a square shoulder adjustment (that I had discovered my daughter needed when I made her the modified top) and the modified front and back Vs from my prototyping. I moved all the dots for marking the pleats closer to the seam allowance so that I could mark them on the fabric without fear of them showing up on the finished garment. Having learned from making my blue dress that the tulle overlay substantially reduces the bodice ease, I added about an inch to the side seams of both the front and back bodice pieces, starting at the bottom and tapering up to a quarter of an inch at the armscye. I also added about an inch to each side of the front and back waistband pieces, effectively adding almost 4 inches of ease. (That seemed like a lot to add, but I needed it for the blue dress and I figured if it turned out to be unnecessary I could always trim it off and resew the side seam.) I further modified the bishop sleeves I used in the blue dress to make them even wider and puffier, including stretching out the top of the sleeve so that it needed to be gathered before being attached. Finally, I drafted a full-length (40 inch) full-circle skirt pattern based on the Sinclair flared skirt add-on pack for the Valley Skater Dress. I then opened a new Affinity Designer file and made a a page the size of my 5-yard fabric piece. I copied the pattern pieces onto this page and laid them out so everything would fit. The big puffy sleeves just barely fit (I had considered making them even bigger to more closely match the original, but this was all I could do with the fabric I had). I decided I could cut the skirt as two giant semi-circles and avoid the center seam.

I realized that the projector wasn’t going to be much help for cutting the full-length full-circle skirt. So instead of projecting I moved all my cutting mats to the floor and spread the green lining fabric out on them. Then I enlisted my husband to assist me in making a giant compass out of a pencil and a piece of string to draw the semi-circles on the fabric (you never know when things you learned in geometry class may come in handy!). I then cut the semi-circles with a rotary cutter. I used the lining semi-circles as a template to cut the tulle semi-circles. I then moved my cutting mats back to my sewing room and projected the bodice and pocket pieces as usual. I cut the bodice pieces on the bias to maximize the stretch I could get out of the tulle in both directions. The waistband needed the most horizontal stretch, so I cut that entirely in the horizontal stretch direction. You can see this in the finished dress if you look at how the flowers are angled in the bodice. The flowers on the skirt are vertical in the center and horizontal on the sides due to the semi-circle construction.

Once everything was cut out, I zigzagged all the tulle pieces for the bodice to their corresponding lining pieces so that I could sew the two layers as one (flatlining). Then I started working on the pleats, first pinning and taping on both sides them before zigzagging them in place. Then I sewed together the bodice and checked the fit on my daughter. It fit well without any further modification, so I went ahead and attached the sleeves and made a casing at the wrists for 1/4-inch elastic. I checked the fit again on my daughter and she approved.

Next, I moved on to sewing the skirt. I sewed the to tulle pieces together with a shallow zigzag and a quarter-inch seam allowance. I left a 5.5-inch opening in the side seams to align with the pocket opening in the lining. I attached the pockets to the lining with my sewing machine and understitched them. Then I used my serger to sew the lining side seams in place. To help keep things from slipping out of the pockets I sewed the pockets partially closed from the top down 1.5 inches, left a 5.5-inch opening, and then sewed to the bottom of the pockets.

The next step was to join the two skirt layers and attach them to the bodice. I sewed the tulle to the lining at the waist with a shallow zigzag stitch and a 1/8-inch seam allowance. I then machine-basted the bottom of the waistband layers together with a 1/8-inch seam allowance. And then I basted the bottom of the waistband to the skirt layers. I had to remove some of the basting when I realized some of the layers had slipped out, but eventually I had everything securely basted together. Finally, I sewed the waistband (with bodice already attached) to the skirt layers with a shallow zigzag and 1/4-inch seam allowance.

At this point the dress was ready to try on and probably finished except for minor adjustments and possibly hemming. However, I had to wait two days for my daughter to return from a college visit before she could try it. You can see it here on a hanger both with and without a long crinoline underneath.

I think it looks nice both ways… more princessy with the crinoline and more sophisticated elegance without. After my daughter tried it on we decided to leave it unhemmed as the length looks about right with the heels she is going to wear to prom. I cut a pretty clean edge on the circle skirt and it is not going to unravel. This probably saved me an hour or two of hemming, even with my folded hem foot. In the end my daughter cut a layer off the crinoline to make it a little less poofy and not as hot to wear.

And here she is all dressed up and ready for prom. We did a photoshoot outside of Phipps. I got some good twirl photos and a nice back view, but forgot to take pictures of the pockets… you can’t see them but they are there, and she was quite pleased to go to prom with her wallet and phone in her pockets and no need to carry a purse.

So in case you are wondering… how much did it cost me to make a $1000 prom dress? The cost of the fabric, pattern, and thread for the dress was about $120. I probably spent another $50 or so on fabric for the two prototype dresses (the prototype top was made from scraps from a previous project) and about $50 on fabric samples (and some of the larger samples will get used in other projects). I didn’t add up the amount of time I spent on this, but it was a labor of love and a lot of fun!

Update: She went to her second prom a week later since the friend she went to prom with goes to a different school. I came home from work early to do her hair and makeup and her “tax” was she had to pose for more photos in our yard. This time I got some pocket photos too.

Totally Tartan! (Part 2)

If you haven’t read Part 1, read that first, and when you’re done with this read Part 3.

Ready for a bigger challenge, I decided to make a pair of pocket leggings out of the tartan Spoonflower sport Lycra. I selected the Sinclair Flex No Front Seam Leggings pattern in size 4p. No front seams meant no worries about matching plaids in the front: all I needed to do was center the main front leg pattern piece on a vertical line in the plaid. Of course, then I had to align the waistband piece to the main front pattern piece and figure out how to cut the two back leg pieces symmetrically and somewhat aligned with the front leg piece. I decided to use the color blocking option and make the side pocket pieces in a solid black 300 gsm QUAD performance jersey knit from Surge Fabric Shop to avoid any plaid matching issues. The QUAD fabric is a similar weight and composition to the sport Lycra, but has more stretch and a brushed side that feels really nice. I wish it came in more prints because I really like this fabric. I ended up using up almost all my remaining QUAD fabric, which was too bad because I accidentally folded down and trimmed the wrong pocket pieces. Since I didn’t have enough black fabric to recut those pieces, I carefully unpicked them and then sewed a small patch on the corners I had trimmed off. It’s not very noticeable unless you know where to look (in the black section just below the waistband in the back).

The leggings were more challenging than most of my other recent projects, in part because of the slippery plaid fabric, but also because the waist construction involves joining many layers. As I rarely pass up a pocket opportunity, I included the back waistband pocket (highly recommended by the pattern designer). Adding the waistband pocket was fairly quick and easy, but it meant an extra two layers to join when I attached the waistband to the rest of the leggings. I did most of the sewing on my serger, but had so much trouble aligning the waistband that I basted it on my sewing machine. Even then, it still didn’t align and I had to unpick and ended up hand basting and then finally serging. The pattern also calls for optional top stitching. I top stitched some of the seams with a zigzag on my sewing machine, but wasn’t super happy with how it looked on the plaid so I didn’t top stitch all of it.

In the end, the leggings came together, the plaid is mostly (though not perfectly) aligned where it needs to be, and the leggings actually fit me. I chose the high-waist option and they stay in place pretty well, even though I did not include the optional drawstring (because I like my leggings to fit tight without a drawstring). I think on my next pair of Flex leggings I might add elastic in the waistband fold for a little extra hold. Overall, I think the leggings look good. However, one disappointment is that when the sport Lycra stretches, a lot of white shows through between the printing (“whiteout”). Since the legging pattern is designed to stretch the fabric, it means the fabric is not so bright, especially in the hip area. You can see it looks l a lot brighter near the ankles, where it is not as stretched. I think if I had a rotated the pattern 90 degrees on the fabric the whiteout might have been reduced.

I was going to make a tartan sports bra to go with the leggings, but then the new Sinclair Wave Athletic Knit Tank Top With Waistline Shaping and Pockets pattern came out and I decided to make that instead. I paired the tartan fabric with a black polyester/spandex stretch mesh from for the front and back side panels. (I still have enough tartan fabric left over for a sports bra and maybe also some color blocking on bike shorts.)

I debated whether to go for a 4p or 6p and in the end decided to sew the Wave in a 6p because I prefer my athletic tops to be loose. I think the 4p could have worked but would have been tight across the bust. Next time I might grade the sides in towards the bottom. I used the scoop neck option with bands, the cutout back, and hemmed bottom. The cutout back is a super cute feature that is easy to make. I ended up not doing any top stitching except on the hem and cutout.

Putting the wave pieces together is a little bit like assembling a puzzle, but it all worked out ok. My main frustration was with the Spoonflower sport Lycra fabric, which is slippery and doesn’t press easily. It made the bands and curved hem more painful to sew than they should have been. I did reasonably well with the plaid matching on this one, and even aligned the plaid on the top with the plaid on the leggings, although the top is darker because it doesn’t get stretched as much.

This is a top I will workout in, but it also looks great with jeans. I like the fact that there is enough shoulder coverage that this can be worn with a regular bra or a racerback, and it offers more sun protection on the back than a lot of sleeveless sports tops.

Because I don’t know when to stop and you can never have too much tartan, I made a headband to match and now I have a totally tartan athletic kit! I love the pockets in the leggings and the fact that the black panels on the top align with the black pocket panels on the leggings. I wore the leggings a few weeks ago in the Carnegie Mellon “Random Distance Run” and will certainly wear the entire outfit for future CMU races.

Songbird Kimono Jacket

I love my lightweight Pylos LiKnit palazzo pants and wanted a jacket to go with them. I was looking for something unstructured and drapey that I could throw on over a tshirt or a dressier shirt in warm weather. The Pattern Emporium Songbird kimono jacket/duster/cardi seemed about right. I decided to give it a try in the cropped length with the narrow binding option. I made it in AU size 10 with the semiflared sleeves, shorted 1 inch. I made it in a 2-way stretch fabric, but it is also suitable for wovens.

It was pretty quick to cut and sew from the black LiKnit. (I took a couple of days off this week to sew after having spent last weekend on campus at graduation.) I used 1″ fusible knit stay tape for the interfacing on the binding, which is not exactly what the pattern called for, but it seemed to work pretty well. I cut the bottom of the binding at an angle, but messed up and cut one side at the wrong angle. I fixed it and then forgot to adjust the length of the other side to match and didn’t notice until the whole jacket was put together and I discovered that the binding was lower on one side than the other. I pondered how to fix it, and then decided I didn’t really like the binding ending a few inches below the hem anyway. I considered attempting to unpick the whole binding, which didn’t seem like much fun. I also considered just cutting off the binding and redoing the whole thing, which probably would have worked ok but I was too lazy to do it. In the end I decided to splice additional binding pieces to the bottom of both sides and bring the binding down to the hem line. This is not really the right solution, but since the whole thing is black, unless you look at the jacket in bright light, the two diagonal splices are not very visible. Other than the splices, I really like this look and when I make another Songbird jacket I will almost certainly plan to extend the binding on purpose this time. Here’s a closeup in the bright sun so you can see what I did.

Even though I shortened the sleeves by 1 inch, I still felt they were too long for me (a problem I often have for garments that don’t come in petite sizes). The sleeve hem is 1.5 inches so I folded it over a second time and effectively shortened the sleeves by 2.5 inches, which was perfect for me. The pattern comes in a choice of semiflared, flared, or tapered sleeves and multiple sleeve lengths. I was looking for something to cover my arms so I chose long sleeves. I wanted something loose but I didn’t want flared sleeves that would get get in the way, so semiflared was the right balance.

I’m modeling the jacket here with a Sinclair Yasmin dress, but trust me it also looks great with the palazzo pants. Also note my little tricolor beech tree in the background, which struggled last year but is hopefully making a comeback.

Low waist, high waist band: More Urban Wide Leg Pants

My first pair of Pattern Emporium Urban Wide Leg pants came out great in purple ponte. However, I thought I could make the waist band fit me a bit better and improve the pockets. I made another pair in black ponte but this time I changed the waistband to a contour and flattened the top of the front pockets. These were even better, but I felt the waist could be more fitted while still leaving more ease through the seat and legs. So for my third pair I used the low-rise pattern instead of the high-rise pattern, but added an extra inch to the height of the contour waistband piece. I also graded in the tops of the pants legs at the side seam on both the front and back pieces. I cut the updated pattern out of a yard and a half of charcoal grey super soft “charming heather” legacy ponte from Zelouf fabric (69.1% Viscose, 27.1% Nylon & 3.8% Elastane). I cut back pockets too but in the end didn’t use them as I wasn’t sure whether they would look good with the low rise. Now that I see how the pants look in the back I think the back pockets would work but maybe a little shorter than the ones I borrowed from the Walk Boldly pants pattern — and I still may add them.

I love the fit of this latest hacked version of Urban Wide Leg pants. The high waist is both comfortable and flattering. I can wear with shirts either tucked or untucked. The waist looks good and the pants stay snuggly in place without pinching. This is also the softest ponte I’ve used so far. (Pants modeled with Sinclair Bondi top in CMU tartan.)

I really like this version and will probably make more with these modifications or try this waist style with the wider Walk Boldly legs. So to summarize what I did, I made the Urban Wide Leg pants, low waist style with jeans pockets in size 10 with the following modifications:

  • I changed the waistband into a 3.5-inch tall contoured waistband. I cut separate front and back pieces as well as inner and outer pieces. I used an athletic knit for the two inner pieces. I sewed 3/8-inch elastic to the top seam joining the inner and outer layers and then understitched it to the inner layer.
  • I moved the side seams in about 1 inch at the top of the pants and graded them out to the original size 10 side seam line about 5.5 inches below the top.
  • I changed the top of the front pockets to be straight diagonal slashes and I lengthened the pocket bags by about .75 inch.
  • I shortened the legs by 1.5 inches and then sewed a 2-inch hem to fit my 5’2″ height.

Totally Tartan! (Part 1)

When I joined the Carnegie Mellon University faculty in 2003, the school mascot was tartan. Yes, a plaid scarf. Kind of strange, but maybe not in a town where the terrible towel is also a thing. But in 2007 CMU decided to adopt the Scotty Dog as the official mascot, which is much better if you want someone to put on a costume and run around at sporting events. Nonetheless, the official CMU tartan remains a major part of the university identity. The CMU Kiltie band (affectionately referred to as the band without pants) wears tartan kilts and the CMU doctoral robes and hoods are adorned with wool tartan trim. You can even buy wool tartan fabric at the book store along with matching tartan flannel pajamas. I have purchased both and have even used the wool tartan in an original quilt design and as part of an original fabric design.

I’ve wanted to buy the tartan design in a fabric other than wool or flannel, and thought I might just digitally print some tartan knit fabric. However, the digital tartan file on the university website since 2010 does not actually properly tile for a fabric repeat. I have spent many hours futzing with it and trying to figure out if there was a way to crop it so that it would tile. I succeeded in a vertical tile, but not a proper horizontal tile. I came close, and maybe nobody else would notice that it is a little off, but I couldn’t bring myself to use it. You might say I was “mad about plaid” and you would be right. So last Fall I reached out to friends in CMU marketing and communications and asked if anyone knew where I could find a version of the digital tartan that would properly tile. After a few weeks of searching my friends reported the answer was “no.” Apparently the lack of repeatability was a known problem and I wasn’t the first to ask, but nobody had ever fixed it. But as CMU was winding down for winter break, one of the designers offered, in the holiday spirit, to fix the digital tartan for me for. I was thrilled! A few days later I received my first repeatable digital tartan files and uploaded them to Spoonflower for printing. I printed a sample of a cotton spandex jersey knit, a couple of yards of polyester modern jersey with 4-inch squares, and a couple of yards of sport Lycra with 5.5-inch squares.

When my fabric arrived I checked out the printing and the sizes of the plaid. After looking at lots of pictures of plaid dresses, I decided I wanted the 5.5-inch version printed on point for a dress, so sent a request to the designer for a diagonal version. In the mean time I decided to make a shirt out of the modern jersey, using the Sinclair Bondi pattern, a pattern I have used many times before. I tried to cut the plaid so it would match horizontally, but otherwise didn’t worry about plaid matching. I’m pretty happy with the results.

After printing up the diagonal tartan in Spoonflower cotton spandex jersey knit, I started working on my tartan dress. I was looking for a pattern that would allow me to keep all the tartan running in the same direction, and thus chose a gathered skirt rather than a circle or semi-circle skirt (which would have had the plaid appear to curve). When I saw a Styla Dublin dress with enormous puff sleeves sewn up in cotton-lycra plaid by another sewist, I decided to try the Dublin pattern. I first used the pattern to make a cotton-lycra Dublin top. Since this pattern didn’t come in a petite size, I was tempted to shorten the skirt of the dress, but decided to go ahead with the size 6 pattern as written, only shortening the shoulder elastic. This seems to have worked just fine. My tartan dress came out great and looks much like the plaid dress that inspired it. And, of course, I made it with usable pockets (lengthened slightly to better hold my phone). The pattern suggests optionally adding clear elastic at the neckline. I didn’t do that but I did understitch the font and back neckline and also understitched the pocket openings.

This is a bit of a different style than I usually wear, and I usually prefer circle or semi-circle skirts for less bulk around the waist. The Spoonflower cotton spandex is somewhat stiff from the saturated inks that sit on top of the fabric rather than absorbing into it so the gathers do poof out a bit. I don’t think this is the most flattering waist style for me, but I still think the dress looks pretty cute. I do love how the stiffer fabric poofs out the sleeves and the ruffle at the bottom of the skirt. The dress is fun to wear and looks great with my Scotty dog necklace (an inexpensive online purchase to keep the outfit on theme). Also, thanks to my neighbors for letting me pose in front of their dogwood, which was in full bloom on the day we took these photos.

I’ve started working on making some athletic wear out of the sport Lycra fabric and have ideas for using up the rest of the cotton spandex fabric. Stay tuned for more totally tartan posts in Part 2 and Part 3!