Plush and warm double sweater knit

I stocked up on sweater knits from online fabric stores during the winter clearance sales and now my sewing room is overflowing with soft and cuddly sweater fabric. Most of it will wait until next fall before I use it, but I was eager to sew up some of it while it is still winter.

I decided to start by making a cardigan sweater out of the super plush and warm ebony Morraine Double Cashmere Sweater Knit from Surge Fabrics. This fabric is 44.5%Rayon/35.9%Poly/19.6%Nylon with a weight of 320gsm and 75% horizontal/50% vertical stretch. It is a thick, lofty fabric with a somewhat squishy and very soft feel, but it is also fairly stable with good recovery. I used the Banff Ultra Thick 1×1 Rib Sweater Knit for the bands and cuffs. Banff has similar fiber content — 50%Rayon/28%Poly/22%Nylon — but it is slightly heavier at 350 gsm and has 75% horizontal/25% vertical stretch. Although the specs are similar, the Banff is much less stable and tends to stretch out (as I discovered when I used Banff to make a dress a couple of months ago) and unravel at the edges. In fact I had a hard time cutting the bands out without inadvertently stretching it in the process. But it produces lovely bands and it matches the Morraine perfectly!

I thought about using the Grab A Cuppa cardi pattern I tried last week, but decided I didn’t want to make something so slouchy out if this heavy fabric. Instead I went with the free Sinclair Harper pattern with some modifications. Based on my previous Harper sew, I knew my usual size was fairly snug so I sized up one size to 6p. I also wanted a slightly shorter length, but not as short as the crop length, so I shortened the classic-length bodice by 2.5 inches. I don’t like the feel of neck bands that creep up my neck so I lowered and widened the back neck and narrowed the band by .5 inches on each side (cutting the band 1-inch narrower). To compensate I widened the inner edge of the front bodice by .5 inch and narrowed the shoulder to match the altered neckline on the back bodice. I estimated the new length for the neck band, but it ended up being much too long, so I iteratively shortened it until I got it right.

I serged my black cardi with my usual medium-grey serger thread. That’s the only serger thread I have and when I bought my serger last year I swore I would never rethread it. But threads break and I was forced to learn how to rethread it earlier this year. After many failed attempts I think I am now capable of performing a complete rethread of all four threads in about 5 minutes. Now I think having black serger thread on hand would be a good idea, as I have a number of projects planned with dark fabrics and it would look a bit nicer.

My Harper modifications worked pretty well. The Morraine was easy to sew on my serger. The Banff was mostly ok, but my serger was definitely not happy about sewing through four layers of Banff where the two bands meet. I resorted to sewing one side on my sewing machine. In the end the bottom corners did not work out as well as I had hoped (same problem I had with the Cayambe last week), but with some hand sewing and a lot of pressing I got them mostly straightened out ok. I debated whether to top stitch the seam allowance of all the bands but decided not to as the top stitching would add a significant ridge to this squishy fabric. I can always go back and add the top stitching later.

Overall I’m very happy with this cardigan. It is very warm and cuddly feeling, and has a nice tailered look.

Rosemary ribbed twin set

Last week I made a Pattern Emporium Grab a Cuppa Cardi out of rosemary Cayambe rib knit from Surge Fabrics (95%Poly/5%Spandex, 240 gsm, 75% horizontal/25% vertical stretch). This is an oversized pattern and I didn’t want it to swallow me, so I sized down from an AU 8/10 based on my measurements to an AU 4. I’m glad I did as it is still is quite ample width, but now the sleeves fit pretty well. I used the hip-length pattern. I don’t like the feel of collars creeping up my neck, so I lowered and widened the back neck by about an inch and adjusted the front bodice so the shoulder width matched the lower back neck.

The cardi went together pretty quickly using my serger and the neck adjustment worked well. The pattern includes some good tips, including pointers on adjusting the differential feed and great advice on how to gather the sleeves and attach the cuffs. I accidentally serged the bottom band on backwards (seam on the outside of the sweater… oops), so I ended up just cutting it off and resewing, but I lost about 3/4-inch of length in the process. I could have cut a new band out and lost only 1/4-inch, but I was feeling lazy and decided I was happy with the shorter length for this cardi. I struggled a bit with the bottom of the front band and it isn’t quite as even as I would have liked, despite following instructions to baste, etc. I think the stretchy ribs made this harder.

Since I had more of the Cayambe left, I decided to make a short-sleeved sweater and create a twin set. I used the Sinclair cachet relaxed tshirt pattern, with some modifications. Before cutting the fabric I tried on a Cachet I made previously with my new cardi and noticed the back hem of Cachet hung down considerably lower than the back of the cardi. So I adjusted the back bodice of the Cachet so that it was similar to the bottom of the front bodice and did not dip down so low. It is now uniformly a bit longer than the cardi, rather than just in back. I also wanted more of a scoop neck so I borrowed my screwp neck modification for the Sinclair Bondi pattern.

The Cayambe fabric is kind of a light-weight sweater knit, good for a spring/summer sweater. (Not really appropriate for winter weather, but it warmed up enough today that I ran outside for a quick photo shoot. I’m laughing in the photo because my photographer is making fun of me for standing outside in Pittsburgh in February in short sleeves without a coat.) The Cayambe has a bit of a sheen on the right side of the fabric and nice ribs. The web site suggests not putting it in the dryer, I’m assuming to avoid it catching on other garments as opposed to a danger of shrinkage. I did put the fabric in the dryer when I initially washed it without any problem. The rosemary color is similar to sage, kind of herby. It could be called sage too I guess.

Overall I’m reasonably happy with how this came out and I’m looking forward to wearing this set in warmer weather. I don’t love the Cayambe as much as I thought I would — it is soft but also kind of looks and feels like polyester (which it is) and isn’t as soft as I thought it might be. I like the Grab A Cuppa cardi pattern and think it will be nice with wide pants, but even sizing down 3 sizes it still looks slouchy and I think I generally prefer a more fitted look for tops.

I just bought some custom woven clothing tags from wunderlabel.com so I sewed them into these garments as a finishing touch.

Quick wool sweater

I bought some sapphire blue wool spandex jersey from knitfabric.com and decided to make a quick sweater. This is a lightweight wool with 3% spandex, 220 gsm. It has 4-way 75% stretch and it is machine-washable (and it seems to have survived its first wash just fine). At $12/yard, it is also a great price for wool (although it is only 44-inches wide). I wouldn’t describe it as super soft, but it is also not itchy. I found it comfortable against my skin. I’ll probably buy more in other colors when they restock.

I was planning to make a dolman sleeve sweater, but realized I only had 1.5 yards and at the 44-inch width, that wasn’t enough. So I turned to my trusty Sinclair Bondi screwp-neck t-shirt pattern, and sized up one size (to a 6p) for a looser sweater fit that could be layered with a t-shirt underneath.

This was my first time sewing with wool. The sweater was quick to cut and sew and it looks and fits great. (Modeled here with Walk Boldly pants.)

Flying over Dublin

I selected the Styla Dublin top and dress pattern to make a dress I have planned. It seemed perfect for the cotton-Lycra (CL) fabric I plan to use (which you will see when I actually get around to making it). However, I have never used a Styla pattern before and I have never made a garment with big puff sleeves or shoulder elastic, so I decided to try the top pattern first in some CL from my stash (a soft turquoise and navy print by Art Gallery Fabrics that I bought last year from Cali Fabrics). I honestly probably would not have made this top pattern if I didn’t want to make the dress later, but now that I made it, I am very glad I did and will probably make more. It has a short sleeve option too, but these long puff sleeves are just so much fun. CL fabric is great or this pattern because it has a little bit of body that helps the sleeves puff out, but I’m also thinking about trying it in a lighter weight fabric for summer.

The pattern does not come in short or petite sizes, but does offer advice on how to adjust it. I decided to make the size 6 as-is based on my measurements, and adjust later if needed.

The Styla instructions were fairly thorough and easy to follow, and even their tips for a more professional finish were not actually difficult to execute if you have a serger. I could have used some more guidance on shortening the shoulder elastic, as advised to accommodate shorter people (the pattern is designed for someone who is 5’5″ and I am only 5’2″), but I figured it out. After basting the sleeves to the bodice as directed by the pattern, I tried the top on and saw that the sleeves were in danger of falling off my shoulders. So I opened up the end of the elastic casing in the back and shortened the elastic by about .75 inch, which seemed to do the trick. The instructions did not indicate when would be a good time to check shoulder fit or how much to shorten the elastic, but this approach worked for me.

Attaching the facing to the basted bodice and sleeves required some puzzling over the geometry. But once I figured it out, the instructions made sense. The instructions did not suggest serging this seam (although they also didn’t say not to), so I opted to sew this with a stretch stitch on my sewing machine and I’m glad I did, as it made it much easier to correct a mistake I made. It also turns out that the seam in question gets entirely encased between the bodice and facing, so nobody will ever see it. I skipped adding the clear elastic as the CL seemed substantial enough not to droop, and I also realized the elastic could be added later if needed. I considered under stitching or top stitching the neckline but didn’t do it, and figured I could always add that later if needed.

This top sewed up pretty quickly, and once I adjusted the shoulder elastic, I think it fits perfectly. I was worried the sleeves might be too long (often a problem for me when I don’t have a petite size, but once I tightened the shoulder elastic the sleeves fit fine as well. Then bodice length also seems about right so I’m going to proceed with this approach for the dress, although I imagine I may need to shorten the skirt. The top is more of a spring/fall top than a winter top, as the neck line is somewhat low in the back. I’ll probably keep a scarf handy to keep my neck and back from getting cold. The big puffy sleeves will fit under a jacket or a loose sweater, but do limit layering options.

We had an unseasonably warm winter day today so I got to wear my new top and even my 17-year-old daughter approved. Now I’m excited to make the dress!

Pants fitting with slim pants, two ways

Having now successfully made several pairs of wide-leg and palazzo pants, I decided to give slim pants a try. I made two pairs of grey slim pants this week, with two different types of fabric and patterns. Neither came out quite as I had hoped they would, but they are wearable and I learned a lot about pants fitting in the process, and also why I should probably just stick with wide-leg pants.

Take 1: Pattern Emporium Urban Pants Collection

I was so happy with my Pattern Emporium Walk Boldly pants, that I wanted to check out other Pattern Emporium pants. I saw the Urban Pants Collection for knit fabrics, which includes in a high rise with back darts, similar to Walk Boldly, and decided to give the pattern a try. The collection includes wide leg, tapered, and flared pants patterns, all with yoga waist bands and a jeans pocket option.

I selected the tapered style for my first pair. I was originally going to use a grey ponte fabric, but read the warning about the pattern not working well with some pontes, and I decided not to take the chance. Also, the pattern designer highly recommended doing a fit test. So I used some grey cotton lycra from my stash that is soft and comfy but doesn’t have great recovery, so I’ve been reluctant to use it for anything I really care about. I figured it would at least make a comfy pair of PJ pants.

I cut out the pants in size 10 with a size 8 waist band. Since I’m 5’2 I shortened the pants by 2 inches, and because I love big pockets, I added 2 inches to the length of the pocket bags. I also zigzag stitched a circle of half-inch elastic inside the waistband fold because I often have trouble with yoga waistbands staying in place when I put things in my pockets and I prefer the feel of a snug waistband to feeling like my pants are falling down all the time.

The pants went together pretty quickly and easily, and the pattern was easy to follow. The bad-recovery fabric made the pocket construction a little finicky, and cause the top of the pockets to stretch out a bit. My 2-inch pocket extension was probably over kill on these pants and 1 inch would be sufficient. The length ended up maybe a tad short, but they look ok with a 5/8-inch hem (held in place with fusible hem tape and then finished with a narrow zigzag stitch). I could probably have shortened by 1 inch instead of 2.

I struggled a bit with stretching the waistband as I sewed it to the pants with my serger. I ended up with a couple of unwanted puckers, so I unpicked part of the waistband and sewed it again. It worked better the second time, but it wasn’t quite as smooth as I would like. I had pinned it in 8 places, and clearly next time I should add more pins (as the pattern designer recommended). Another option I might consider next time is to split the waistband into two pieces and angle the sides so the bottom is a size 10 and the top is a size 8, which means there is less stretching of the bottom needed. Adding a contour to the waistband could also work.

After finishing the pants, I scrutinized the fit to see if any of the extensive modification described in the pattern tutorial were needed. I thought it looked pretty good as-is, and my husband (who is not afraid to tell me the dress I just sewed looks like a sack) agreed. They don’t cling too much to my bottom or hips. They do cling to my calves a bit, which causes some wrinkling at the knees, so perhaps I should adjust a bit for wider calves.

These are pants I will wear with t-shirts on weekends (or as pajamas). The grey CL fabric gives them an athletic vibe, and they look like joggers without bottom cuffs. I like the back darts and the yoga waistband (except for the unwanted puckers. I think they fit pretty well, although I think they look better when my shirt is not tucked in, so that’s how I will likely wear them most of the time.

I would like to try another pair in a dressier looking fabric that has better recovery. I’m still not sure whether these would work well in ponte. I will probably try the wide-leg version in ponte first. The wide-leg style is not as wide or high waisted as the Walk Boldly pants (and it has the same yoga waist band as the tapered style, while the Walk Boldly pants use an elastic waist band), and the Urban pants use a lot less fabric. Unlike the Walk Boldly pants, the Urban pants do not have back pockets, but I think I could borrow the pocket design from the Walk Boldly pants and add pockets to these.

(I modeled the pants above with one of the first Sinclair Bondi shirts I made, and never blogged about, in a yellow cotton lycra print and wide scoop neck.)

Take 2: Love Notions Patterns Sabrina Slims

I still wanted to make a pair of slim pants with my grey ponte fabric, a stretchy 320 gsm viscose/nylon ponte in the wrought iron color from Surge Fabrics. I looked for other slim pull-on pants with high-waist options and pockets that listed ponte among their recommended fabrics. I decided to try the Sabrina Slims pants from Love Notions Sewing Patterns. This pattern is intended for stretch woven fabrics and stable knits. It has jeans pockets and patch pockets, and a 2-inch elastic contoured waist band.

This pattern instructions are a bit terse and the pattern does not come with as many explicit instructions and suggestions or diagrams as some of the other patterns I’ve been using. I have enough experience that this wasn’t a problem for me, but I think it makes this less of a beginner-friendly pattern when there’s actually not much particularly difficult about it. I followed the measurement instructions and selected a size 6 based on my hip measurement, as recommended. I noted that my thighs were size 8 and my waist and calf were size 10 (although based on the finished measurements there is a lot of extra room in the waist so a size 6 waist should be quite ample in a stretchy fabric). I graded the inseam on the front and back pieces to a size 10 but left the rest a size 6. I also extended the pocket bags to have room for my phone. I cut out a 28-inch inseam, which is longer than I expected to need but would give me room for error.

The pattern comes with a fit handbook, which was very helpful. They recommended sewing a muslin for a fit test and offered suggestions for a quick a dirty approach to basting the muslin together. I decided to take a chance and cut my muslin from my grey ponte fabric in the hope that it would be wearable by the time I got done with it. I basted it all together (using the recommended 3/8-inch seam allowance) and tried it on, and was not too happy with it. The front looked ok, but the back was too tight against my bottom, and the sides puckered where my hip crease is, and the fabric had folds around my knees. I read the fit guide but wasn’t entirely sure what to do, so I posted some photos to the Love Notions Pattern Support Facebook group and asked for help. I received a large number of responses, which was great. People pointed out that these pants were fitting me more like leggings. People suggested sizing up and sewing with a smaller seam allowance, offered tips on scooping the crotch or lengthening the crotch seam, noted that the fabric was pulling on my calves, pointed out that I have hip dips, suggested better underwear choices, and wondered whether my troubles were caused by the heavy ponte fabric. They also sent me pointers to a number of pants fitting videos. The “Lifting Pins and Needles” pants fitting video series was very informative.

From all this I learned a number of things. First, I had been oblivious to the fact that the shape of my hips has a name (hip dips). Now that I know the name I have learned that my inadvertent discoveries about selecting flattering clothes align pretty well with what people recommend: wear wide-leg pants and fit-and-flare dresses. Next I learned that I have largish calf muscles, something that had never occurred to me before – I don’t think they are enormous, but they are indeed larger than the pattern measurements for my size. Now I understand why none of the slim pants I own are smooth over the knees: they are all getting pulled by my calves. Going forward, I guess I will widen the calves of any slim pants I sew. From the videos, I learned how to measure myself for pants and adjust patterns based on this, something I will do before attempting another pair of slim pants.

I decided to try to salvage the muslin, so I removed all the basting and sewed the pants together with my serger using a 3/16-inch seam allowance everywhere except on the waistband, which makes it closer to a size 8 instead of a size 6. I also did some scooping of the back crotch and I recut the extended pocket bag in purple ITY to reduce the bulk since the ponte is pretty thick.

After I got it all sewed together and added the back patch pockets, I tried it on and found that my changes had helped improve the fit somewhat. The back and hips looked better, but my hip dip was still prominent. There was a bit more room in the legs, but still not enough for my calves. I think I may have inadvertently added too much to the front crotch, which you can kind of see in the side view. The patch pockets also served as a camouflage, although I’m not entirely happy with the pocket placement, and would move them closer together, lower the outer corners, and also consider slightly smaller pockets next time (the pattern offers the same size patch pockets regardless of pants size). The waistband did not sit smoothly and was a big disappointment. While I was focussing on making my butt look better I hadn’t noticed the waistband problem, and just assumed the gaps were due to the fact that I hadn’t attached it completely. But now I see that the waistband is actually too big for me and I should have either sized down or added more of a contour. With the elastic it fits and isn’t going to gap or fall down, but it isn’t as smooth as I would like. I decided that the muslin was about as good as it was going to be, so I went ahead and finished the pants, cutting 1 inch off the bottom of each leg and sewing a 1-inch hem (effectively a 27″ inseam).

The muslin is wearable and I expect I will wear it, despite the flaws. It looks much better if I wear a longer shirt and don’t tuck it in. I expect I will likely wear these pants with a longer sweater or jacket and they will look fine. The ponte is actually super comfortable to wear and it has a somewhat dressy look.

My sense from reading the Facebook group is that other people did not have as much trouble with this pattern. The pattern states “as sizes get larger, the less negative ease there is.” With less negative ease in larger sizes, I think the pattern would be more forgiving. My choice of fabric may have played a role in my difficulties, but I’m not sure. And in the end, although these pants do not have my ideal fit, they fit similarly to most of the slim fit pants I have bought in a store. So maybe Ill make more adjustments and try again, but probably I’ll go back to wide-leg pants for a while.

Conclusions

This wasn’t a controlled experiment because I used very different fabric for the two pants. Nonetheless, I can make some comparisons. The Sabrina Slims are a slimmer style: the Urban tapered pants include a lot more ease. I expect to make the Sabrina slims look better on me would require a number of adjustments to the crotch, waistband, and calves, while the Urban tapered pants would likely need only a more minor calf and waistband adjustment and optionally the addition of back pockets. The back darts and fit with more ease are likely going to make it easer to get a good fit on the Urban pants for me and I am curious to see how they will look in ponte. However, I do like the slim look and it may be worth making more adjustments to the Sabrina Slims to get a slim pants pattern I can use for both dressier pants and pull-on jeans. Or maybe I’ll just stick with wide-leg pants for a while.

Update, 1 week later

So I wore the Sabrina Slims to work with a long jacket, and loved how comfortable they were. They feel like secret pajama pants (and after my daughter suggested it, I discovered that I could fit a water bottle in one of the back pockets). Most of the flaws I wrote about above didn’t really bother me, but I was still unhappy with the waist band. So after running through the wash, I took a pair of scissors and cut off the entire waist band. Then I cut off the bottom stitches, removed the elastic, and reduced the circumference of the waist band by about 2 inches. I carefully basted and then sewed the whole thing together. Now the waist band was smaller than the pants, so I had to stretch it as I sewed, similar to sewing a yoga waistband. Because I cut the waistband off instead of unpickiing it, I lost about 3/4-inch of rise in both the front and back. However, I realized from wearing the pants that I had more rise than I needed. Then I threaded the elastic back in and tried on the pants. I think they look a lot better now, despite a wee bit of puckering in the back. There are still some issues that I will try to address when I make this pattern again (more tweaking of the crotch and seat, more room through the thighs and calves, slightly smaller and better placed pockets), but I’m now pretty happy with these pants and I expect I will wear them frequently.

A lot of effort for an effortless hourglass sweater dress

As the temperatures dropped this week and I was preparing for the start of the new semester, I figured I had time to sew one more garment before the semester started, and I wanted something warm and cozy that I could wear to work. I purchased some Banff ultra thick 1×1 rib sweater knit in cranberry from Surge Fabrics back in November, so I got it out and looked for a sweater dress pattern to make with it. This is a 350 gsm chunky fabric in a 50% rayon/28%poly/22%nylon blend, brushed on one side.

I wanted a sweater dress with pockets, and somewhat fitted at the waist. I saw that some sewists had make the Ellie and Mac Effortless Hourglass Swing Dress in a sweater knit so thought I might give that a try. Looking through the photos and Facebook comments, I saw mixed success with the pattern. There were warnings that the pocket construction was not so effortless and I saw a number of dresses that looked more baggy than swingy. But I liked the bishop sleeves and the pockets, and was hoping I could get results similar to the red checked dress on the pattern website. The “hourglass” part of the pattern name refers to the fact that the front panel is shaped like an hourglass and if you use contrasting fabric for the pockets, you get the illusion of an hourglass figure. As I didn’t have another sweater knit that I thought would go well with my fabric, I decided to make it all one color, which also looked nice in some of the examples.

I checked the size chart and settled on size small, cut to the mid-thigh length in the hopes that it would come out above-knee length on me since this pattern does not have petite sizes. I checked for the recommended size adjustments, but all my measurements seemed to suggest the pattern did not need to be adjusted.

I projected the pattern onto my fabric and cut it out quickly, using the more-textured unbrushed side as the right side and the softer, brushed side against the skin. Then I began the pocket assembly and quickly came to realize why people said it was not effortless. Each pocket includes a pocket piece and a pocket liner. The pocket piece has a very narrow protrusion, about a half-inch wide. my first problem was sewing a quarter-inch seam in this very narrow protrusion. When I attached the pocket pieces to the dress and tried to sew it all together I found that the sweater knit had unravelled a bit in the narrow piece and got caught in the seam. Furthermore, my attempts at stretching the pocket a bit to meet the bottom of the pocket liner resulted in a seam that would not possibly lie flat. That’s when I saw the note in the pattern explaining that the bottom of the pocket liner might not match the bottom of the pocket piece and you should just trim accordingly. I don’t know why I was so far off, and after perusing the Facebook group I saw that a lot of other people had this problem too. I watched the pattern video and saw the pockets on the example dress worked perfectly. I attempted to unpick the pocket seams, but that did not go well. I finally gave up, and since I had enough leftover fabric, recut the dress front and pocket pieces. This time I cut them very carefully and made sure my fabric did not stretch while I was cutting. I also added about 3/8 inch to the narrow protrusion (it would probably be easier if the pattern had a wider protrusion to begin with and instructed people to trim it later).

I repeated the pocket assembly process, careful not to catch the frayed edge or stretch anything while I sewed. It went much better the second time, but the pocket liner ended up about two inches longer than the pocket. I considered cutting off two inches from the bottom of the liner, but realized that my pocket would be two small for my cell phone. So instead I added a pocket extension by sewing on a piece of lighter weight knit fabric. Having extended the pocket, I proceeded to sew together the rest of the pattern. I used my sewing machine for the pocket and then used my serger for most of the rest.

All went fairly well until I got to the bishop sleeves. I gathered the heavy sweater fabric for the bishop sleeves, basted it to the cuffs, and then attempted to sew it in place with my serger. This did not go well, and now I need to untangle the mess and rethread my serger. I ended up finishing everything else on my sewing machine and will figure out how to rehabilitate my serger later.

I finally got the dress put together, tried it on, and was fairly disappointed. While the big bishop sleeves were fun, the dress was not swingy at all and the neck opening had stretched out quite a bit. My husband said it looked like a sack, which is true.

But the dress was warm and had pockets, and after all the time I had already invested in it, I decided to try to fix it. To make it less baggy, I pinched in the top of the back seam about 2 inches and graded it down to the waist. I basted that in place and tried it on and like the fit better so I sewed it in place. The neck was still too wide so I cut the neck band open at the center back and threaded 3/8-inch elastic through it and tightened it until I was happy with it. This approach worked pretty well, but even after a lot of ironing, I could not get the neck band to like completely flat. (The pattern should have offered multiple neck heights and some advice on adding interfacing to the neck and pockets for some types of fabric.) Finally, I turned under the bottom edge of the dress and sewed a chunky 2-inch hem to raise it above my knees and give it some more swing.

The alterations were a big improvement. The dress has more of an hourglass fit now and is almost even swingy. And with a strategically placed scarf, you don’t see the wavy neckline. It is warm and has functional pockets and fun sleeves, so I will actually wear it now. However, I don’t think I’ll be using this pattern again. It looks great on some people but doesn’t seem well-suited for me. I also don’t think it was a good choice for a chunky sweater knit (which I love, and choose a more suitable pattern in the future).

Walking Boldly

I’m loving the wide leg pant trend, so when I found the Walk Boldly Wide Leg Pants Pattern from Pattern Emporium, and saw that it was designed for knits, had no zipper, and a high-waist option with darts, I knew I had to give it a try. This is my first time using a PE pattern, and it was a great experience. The pattern was well illustrated and included a number of useful tips, including a good tip on sewing darts.

I used a premium black 12 oz rayon/nylon ponte fabric from KnitFabric.com. The ponte has about 30% stretch across the width. Although the website said it only had 2-way stretch, I think it has about 20% stretch in the length as well. It is a hefty fabric with a nicer drape than the other ponte fabrics in my stash. It is sold out in most colors now, but I may grab more in whatever color they have left (mustard perhaps?).

The pattern comes with two waist heights and multiple pocket options. I made the high-waist version, which hits right above my navel. I made the jeans-style front pockets and added an extra two inches to their length to make sure my phone would fit comfortably when I’m seated. I also made the back patch pockets, because I can always use more pockets and I think they’re cute. The pattern uses AU sizing, I normally would select a 4P or 6P for pants, but the size chart said I should go with a 10. The pattern doesn’t come in petite or tall sizes, but it does offer short, regular, and tall pants lengths (which means the only thing that adjusts is the length of the leg, but I often prefer the fit of short pants rather than petite pants so this works for me). I cut out the size 10 in the short length, which is meant for those who are 5’3″ tall. I’m closer to 5’2″ and the pants would have been about 1 inch too long (which makes sense) if I used the recommended 3/4-inch hem. So I did a chunky 1 3/4-inch hem instead. The size 10 fit perfectly, as you can see in the photos below (modeled with a bishop-sleeved Bondi from Sinclair Patterns).

I’m very happy with these pants. I’ve seen similar pants from major retailers this season, only most of them don’t have the back darts or the back pockets, which take these pants up a level. These are stylish, practical, and so comfortable to wear! I did have to add seams to the sides of the waistband to prevent the elastic from rolling.

My young adult daughter told me she loved the high waist and said I should tuck my shirt in to make my (short) legs look longer. She also recommended I try the Walk Boldly pants in a bolder fabric. So I selected a polyester/spandex “haute pink and umber plaid yarn dyed jacquard knit” from my stash (purchased from Surge) for bolder Walk Boldly pants. These are indeed a much bolder statement (although the haute pink is tastefully muted). Even one of my male co-workers yelled out “nice plaid pants” as I walked by his office.

Every time I use plaid fabric I get a frustrated because I want my plaid to match perfectly and it never quite does. Knit plaid fabric is particularly difficult to match because if it stretches just a little bit when you cut it or sew it, the plaid won’t match. There are some spots on these pants with fabulous matching that I am very proud of. The back pockets cannot geometrically have a perfect match due to the darts, and yet they match about as well as they could. The outside seam of the right leg is magnificent! The other seams are not as closely matched, and the matching in the front crotch area is particularly disappointing. But I’m not going to let that stop me from walking boldly and without worry (More on plaid coming soon!) Now I’m looking forward to making more of these pants (but probably not in plaid) in a lighter weight fabric for spring and summer.

The pink plaid pants look great with a black top, but I happen to have some cuddly versailles brushed hacci sweater knit (also from Surge) in my stash in something that seems pretty close to me to umber (officially the color is “sienna”), so I decided to make a trendy cropped sweater to match. This hacci is brushed on the inside so it is super soft against your skin. I decided to try the Sweet Cheeks Sweater pattern from Pattern Emporium, which has dropped, full sleeves that are gathered and cuffed at the bottom. It comes with several neckline and length options (including an ultra crop), and a super cute split banded bottom. The size chart suggested I should cut a size 8, but also suggested sizing down for less of a closer fit. So I sized down two sizes and cut a size 4 in the cropped length with the mid neck. This was another great PE pattern. I especially like the tips for gathering the sleeve and attaching the cuff. I will probably make more of these sweaters too in other fabrics with exactly this configuration, but may also try a longer length and the V-neck.

Bishop Sleeves

I’ve been seeing lots of bishop sleeves tops so I decided to make some using the Sinclair puffed sleeve add-on pack and the Sinclair Bondi classic fitted t-shirt patterns.

First I made bishop Bondi for myself using sangria microsuede jersey knit from Surge Fabrics. This is a soft polyester-spandex jersey knit with 50% horizontal and vertical stretch. It is not very thick, but it still has a warm, cozy feel to it on the inside. It was easy to work with a drapes very nicely but has a terrible tendency to be clingy. It behaved a little bit better after I sprayed it with anti-static spray, but it was still more clingy than I would like.

I made the Bondi in my usual 4P size with my usual hip adjustments and screwp neck. The bishop sleeves are cut wide at the wrist and gathered before attaching cuffs. I used a long stitch on my sewing machine and pulled the threads to gather. I sewed on the cuffs to the sleeve with my serger. This is not in the instructions, but I stretched the cuffs after they were sewn on to pop the gathering stitches and then pulled out the loose threads. I figured that would inevitably happen when I wore it so I might as well do it now and keep the cuffs nice and stretchy. I love both the look and the feel while wearing of bishop sleeve cuffs made from a folded piece of knit fabric.

I made the second bishop Bondi for my mother. I had extra ITY fabric from a Joanne dress I made last year with a beautiful blue swirly pattern that I love. My mother has commented multiple times how much she likes that fabric so I decided to use it to make her a top. This was the first top I sewed for her and I sewed it based on her measurements. She doesn’t live near me so I wasn’t able to check the fit until she tried it on later. She reports that it is very comfortable and the fit is perfect!

I was so happy with the way my mother’s bishop Bondi came out in ITY fabric that I decided to make myself one. I have a purple suit (I didn’t make it, but I bought it on sale from Banana Republic Factory and tailored the pants myself to fit better) and have been looking for a print blouse to wear with it. I scoured lots of online fabric stores for a nice ITY print with royal purple in it. I found this print at StylishFabric.com, an online fabric store I had not previously noticed. My bishop Bondi goes perfectly with my purple suit and is much more comfortable wear with a suit than a traditional woven, button-down blouse.

I love these bishop-sleeve tops and I’m sure there will be more! See also the Lakeisha top I made for my daughter, which has bishop sleeves too.

Cozy Quilted Soho Tunic With Pockets

A few weeks ago I made a Sinclair Soho dolman v-neck sweater from a marled dark green sweater knit. It was easy to make and super cozy. I’m wearing it a lot, but I have one complaint: I feel the sleeves attach at a rather awkward spot, which on me is too close to the elbow. I think the sleeves would look better and be more comfortable if they seam were moved up closer to the top or eliminated completely. So for my latest Soho I hacked the pattern a bit and extended the front and back bodice to include the sleeves. I basically just took the sleeve pattern piece, (digitally, in Affinity Designer) cut it in two and attached part of it to the front bodice and part to the back. I shortened the sleeves by .5 inch to account for not needing the seam allowance, and then I shortened them by another full inch because the Soho sleeves are a bit too long for me. I ended up cutting the two bodice pieces with attached sleeves on the fold, which I can do because I was using 58″ fabric and I’m a size 4p. So I just had a top-length front, back, neck band, bottom band, and pockets to cut. I cut the whole thing out of 1.5 yards of fabric.

I made a few other minor modifications to the pattern, including grading out the lower few inches of the bodice and extending the bottom band to be the same size as the bottom edge of the bodice so that the bottom of the sweater would be looser and not cling to my hips. I made the pockets about an inch deeper to make sure they would be deep enough for my phone and so that I could anchor the pockets in the seam attaching the bodice to the bottom band. (I usually don’t pass up any pocket opportunity and often add or enlarge pockets, but I didn’t include any pockets or bottom band on the green soho as I made that as a regular knit sweater top.)

I used the interwoven squares quilted knit fabric in the clematis color from Surge Fabric Shop. This is a 60% cotton, 35% polyester, 5% spandex knit with a cool pattern, reminiscent of the tumbling blocks quilting pattern, that looks like interwoven 3D cubes (or just a bunch of upside-down or right-side Ys depending on how you orient it). I love the fabric, but it wasn’t quite what I expected when I ordered it online. Based on the photos on the Surge website, I was expecting a brighter, pinker purple, similar to the boots I’m wearing in the photo. In reality, the color is more of a dusty violet. In fact, it almost exactly matches the grape brushed sweater knit I also bought from Surge. (To be fair, this is a tricky color to photograph in indoor light. My initial indoor iphone photos of this fabric looked very pink and I had to futz with the color in my photo editor to get an accurate representation. The color looks more accurate in my outdoor photos, which I did not color correct at all.)

I also didn’t fully understand that the fabric is actually quilted. I was assuming it was a quilted look, but actually it is three layers of fabric joined together. The top layer is where all or most of the cotton is, and it feels very soft. The bottom layer is a smooth polyester, and the middle layer is a fluffy polyester that looks dark purple like quilt batting. The result is a very warm and snuggly fabric on the outside that is fairly smooth on the inside. However, I did not realize that when I cut it, purple fuzz would start to seep out of all the cut edges. It’s not a huge problem, but it does mean you should be prepared to cut away fuzz balls as you sew and fold under or overcast all of the raw edges.

The end result is soft and cozy and looks great. The v-neck looks awesome and the pockets and band look pretty good. The fabric is heavy enough that there is no way to make the pockets completely invisible, but with the understitching, they tuck in pretty well and don’t look bulky, even when I put stuff in them. I felt pretty warm wearing this outside over a cotton t-shirt on a chilly winter day while my photographer was bundled up in a parka.

Lakeisha Top

When I saw the new Ellie & Mac Lakeisha Cottage Dress pattern released a few months ago, I knew my 17-year-old daughter would love it. The pattern includes multiple sleeve and skirt options, as well as instructions for making a peplum top or crop top. It also includes instructions for a variety of modifications.

My daughter asked for a longer version of the crop top with bishop sleeves and selected a maroon midweight soft polyester rib knit from my stash. I followed the suggestions from pattern tester Lindsey and added five-inches to the bottom and curved out the side seam about 1 inch to turn it into a top that could be tucked in. I hemmed the bottom rather than adding the elastic. I used 1/4-inch elastic rather than 3/8-inch elastic around the neck, because that’s what I had. Otherwise I followed the pattern as written. The instructions for choosing a size were good, and the bra-cup sizing for the upper bodice front worked well.

My first attempt at sewing the upper bodice to the bottom bodice and clear elastic with my serger was a complete disaster, and rather than unpick the seams from those two small pieces, I cut them out again and started over. Getting the gathered top bodice, elastic and bottom bodice aligned under the serger needles was tricky but I succeeded the second time. I think it would probably have been easier with a smooth (not ribbed) fabric. After I figured that out, the rest of the top construction was fairly straight forward. I sewed most of the seams on my serger and used my sewing machine to sew the basting stitches for gathering, the elastic casing, the bottom hem, and the sleeve cuffs. I was going to use the serger for the cuffs but they are quite narrow and there wasn’t enough room to maneuver so I used my sewing machine.

My daughter is very happy with her Lakeisha top! She especially likes the big bishop sleeves, which work really well in the rib knit.

Soho and Loop Sweaters

My past attempts at knitting a sweater ended badly. Some day I may try again, but for now I’m just really happy to buy fabric that has been knitted on a knitting machine and sew it together into a sweater. Today I will show you two sweaters I sewed, both from Sinclair patterns.

I sewed my first sweater last spring using the Sinclair Loop drop shoulder knit top pattern. I used a lightweight black and white polyester sweater knit from Cali Fabrics with 2-way 100% stretch. I sewed it with the basic sleeves, medium scoop neck, and long-line high-low split hem. The pattern has lots of options for sleeves, and even a kangaroo pocket, but I stuck with the basics. The best feature is the split hem, which looks complicated, but is very cleverly designed so all you have to do is cut out the right shape, sew it together, turn it around, and a lovely tailored split hem with a beautifully mitered corner just pops right out.

This week I sewed a warmer V-neck sweater using the Sinclair Soho dolman relaxed style top, tunic and mini dress pattern. While the Loop and Soho are both fairly relaxed and have sleeve seams that aren’t right at the shoulder, the Soho drops the seam all the way to just above the elbow and has a wide curve through the arm pit. The bodice also has a little bit of shaping. The loop is a boxier fit. For the Soho, I used a very soft and fluffy marled hunter green brushed rib sweater knit from Surge Fabrics made from polyester, rayon, and spandex. It has a 75% horizontal stretch and minimal vertical stretch.

The pattern can be made color blocked, with diagonal stripes, with pockets, with or without a back V-neck, with or without a bottom band, and at various sleeve and hem lengths. I made the most basic version in the regular top length without any pockets, color blocking, bands, or back V, and I cut the front and back on the fold rather than with a center seam. I considered having the ribs run diagonally (check out some fun diagonal stripe looks on the Sinclair website), but was concerned about how it might hang with a lot of horizontal but not vertical stretch, so I took the easy-peasy approach. The ribs run vertically on the bodice and also on the bottom part of the sleeves. I cut out the bottom band but decided not to use it, so I made it into a matching headband.

This pattern sewed up very quickly on my serger (in a couple of hours). The only bit of trickiness was the V-neck. I had never attempted a V-neck before. The pattern has great instructions, although it took me some time to get my head around them. Now that I did it once, it will be even easier next time around. The fact that I was dealing with a very stretchy fluffy knit made the V-neck a bit more challenging, as the instructions call for making a very sharp point at the center of the V, which was hard to do with this fabric, but I got it done. I can see grafting this V-neck onto other patterns too, for example to make a V-neck Loop. It is a fairly low V on me so I might raise it a smidge or shave half an inch off the center seam/fold line.

I did have to shorten the sleeves by about 2.5 inches before I hemmed it. Looking at photos from others who made the long-sleeved version, it looks to me like most of them have sleeves that are a couple of inches too long. That might be the intended slouchy style, but I prefer sleeves that don’t go past my wrists.

The sweater if very soft and comfortable. The fabric feels very light but it is actually quite warm and cozy!

I look forward to trying other variations of the patterns in different sweater knits, and maybe even trying some color blocking or making a longer length for a tunic or sweater dress.

Neck Ties

A while ago I made a bunch of ties and never got around to blogging about them. Here they are. Details on pattern below.

I previously had commissioned a tie-seller on Etsy to make some ties out of my bad passwords fabric. But she isn’t on Etsy any more so I decided to try sewing some times myself. There are lots of tie patterns available online, some of them free. Most require a main fabric, interfacing, and lining, and require some hand sewing along the center back seam. So I was excited to find Bryanna’ Free Neck Tie Pattern and Tutorial that was super easy and can be made without any interfacing or hand sewing (except for tacking down the tie keeper ribbon on the back). I tried it and it was great, but when I came back later to find it I saw that Bryanna had taken down her sewing site some time in 2023. Fortunately, you can still view her tutorial using the Wayback Machine. Unfortunately, you cannot view her pattern. But I had previously saved it and hacked it a bit. So I will share my hacked version of it here.

First I merged the multi-page file into a single page, suitable for projector sewing. For those of you who are printing out your patterns on 8.5×11 pages, sorry this may not work for you. You may be able to print it tiled. The pattern calls for cutting the tie in two long strips diagonally (on the bias). The front is much longer than the back and requires a really long piece. This minimizes the number of ties you can get out of a yard of fabric. The long front piece is also too long to easily project. So I took a segment of the tie front and moved it to the tie back. In my hacked pattern you can see the segment and you can put it on the front or the back as you see fit. Just don’t put it in both places or you will end up with an extra long tie. You do end up with a seam where the front and back connect, but in my experience, even in my hacked short front, the seam does not end up in a visible part of the tie when being worn.

The great part about this pattern is you layer your main fabric and your lining, fold them, and sew the whole thing together in one long seam on your sewing machine. You then turn the whole thing inside out in step 7 and you are basically done. The tricky part, is in the turning the whole thing inside out with a safety pin. You have to feed the thick part of the tie through the narrow neck, and that is not all that easy to do. Just take it slowly and you’ll get there eventually.

Bryanna suggests folding the ends of a 3″ tie keeper and hand sewing them in place. Instead I recommend cutting a 4.5″ tie keeper, folding it in half, and sewing it into the main seam of the tie as part of step 6 (just the ends will be sticking out of the seam at the end of step 6). After the tie is turned right side out in step 7, you will have a tie keeper tucked into the seam, with no raw edges. At that point you just need to flatten it out and stitch down the sides. I think it looks a little neater this way.

After I made a few password ties, I found the cookie fabric and decided to make a tie for my student who was presenting our research paper on cookie consent banners at a conference.

T-shirts for my guy!

I finally sewed something for my husband. Sinclair has a bunch of men’s patterns and the sewists in the Sinclair Facebook group often post smiling photos of their husbands and sons modeling their creations. After Chuck recently went through his drawers and removed a mountain of old long-sleeve t-shirts with holes in them, I decided to sew him some new ones. He loves striped shirts, so I have been on a quest to find good yard-dyed striped fabric in t-shirt weight knits (which is surprisingly difficult, pointers to good sources welcome).

I selected the Sinclair Kai semi-fitted crew neck t-shirt for men pattern. This was very easy to sew and is essentially the same as Sinclair’s Bondi t-shirt pattern for women, but with a different cut and sizing. The instructions for measuring and fitting were clear. I ended up making only a minor adjustment, grading between two sizes on the lower half of the bodice, but the pattern offers instructions for addressing more difficult fitting problems. I also shortened the sleeves and the bodice by about 1.5 inches before hemming. With my serger each of these shirts took only a couple of hours to sew.

For my first Kai, I selected Surge’s Sedona mini stripe jersey in Tuscon sun (a gold color). It is a lightweight stretchy fabric that is a blend of rayon, cotton, polyester, and spandex. It’s great for drapey summer-weight tops (maybe a summer cardigan), but ended up being a little too light and slinky (as Chuck put it) for a long-sleeved men’s t-shirt. It works fine as an under layer, and he was seemed happy with it none-the-less.

For my second Kai, I selected a stretchy rayon/polyester/spandex yard-dyed rib knit in navy and olive. This fabric is also fairly light and drapey, but it is more substantial and has a more suitable weight for a long-sleeved men’s t-shirt. I like this one better. This fabric was fairly easy to sew with, but I found it almost impossible to mark notches with my washable markers, so I ended up improvising the collar band a bit. I probably should have marked the notches with clips.

I think he enjoyed being photographed rather than being my photographer this time. I was excited about using the fall leaves as a backdrop but he was more interested in a photo with our new car.

I’ll make some more Kai t-shirt for him after I find some good cotton-lycra striped fabric.

Stretch velour corduroy palazzo pants

I love my Pylos LiKnit palazzo pants made with my adaptation of the Sinclair Cleo pattern, but they are more of a summer weight and not so good for our chilly Fall weather. So I made a new pair in black Surge’s stretch velour corduroy last week. This is a somewhat slinky corduroy, very soft and a medium weight and horizontal wales. It makes for a super comfy pair of Fall pants (with pockets, of course!), perfect to wear with a chunky sweater. When it gets colder I’ll probably wear tights or leggings under them. Wide-leg pants are very comfortable and cool in the summer because they let the air flow, but that’s less desirable for cold-weather wear and thus may require layering. But either way, these pants are comfy like my pajamas.

I sewed the pants using the same adaptations of the Cleo pattern I used previously, and lined the waistband with Surge’s black quad performance jersey knit. To keep the tops of the pockets from sagging I sewed a strip of clear elastic into the seam allowance of the diagonal seam at the top of the pockets.

I’m also wearing a Sinclair Bondi shirt here I sewed last year and never got around to photographing. This is a grey cotton-lycra fabric. I tried a binding rather than a band on the neck for this one.

Full-circle valley skater dress

I’ve been holding onto this fabulous ivory and black geometric polyester double-knit fabric since last spring, with the plan to turn it into a long-sleeve Sinclair Valley Knit Skater Dress. The fabric has some body (and just barely enough stretch for this pattern) and a nice drape, so I decided to use the full-circle skirt from the add-on pack for a skirt that would naturally poof out. Unfortunately, I didn’t have quite enough fabric, so it took some tetrising to cut it all out (with my projector), and I ended up having to split two of the skirt panels in half and turn the long sleeves into 3/4 sleeves. But by splitting the skirt panels I was able to avoid a seam in the center front of the dress.

Sinclair Valley Knit Skater Dress with full circle skirt in black and white geometric double knit

I made the pattern mostly as written, lengthening the bodice as recommended when omitting the waistband. I also used my Bondi screwp neck modification, as I have done for my previous Valley dresses. This time I sewed the pockets to the waistband as the pattern suggests, since this is a pretty stable knit and I wasn’t worried about the pockets getting pulled down. I did lengthen the pockets by about an inch to reduce the risk of my phone falling out. The pockets on the finished dress are great and with the full skirt they are nearly invisible, even when full.

This is the first Valley I sewed with a serger, and it went very quickly. It only took about 3 hours to sew after cutting the fabric. Of course, it took a while to hem the 13-foot circumference full-circle skirt. But my teen daughter approves and says the full-circle skirt was definitely worth the effort. Indeed, this is a dress that really is fun to wear.

Sinclair Valley Knit Skater Dress with full circle skirt in black and white geometric double knit. A perfect fall dress?
Such nice pockets!
Fun to twirl!
The circle skirt has a 13-foot circumference.

Pietra pants

Back in August I tried out the Pietra Pants and Shorts pattern from Closet Core Patterns. A friend made a couple of pairs of these pants and the pocket design immediately caught my eye.

Closet Core does not seem to offer projector files, so I used their copyshop pattern, designed to be printed on two A0 pages. I used Affinity Designer to select the layer for the size I wanted, thicken the lines, copy and paste the pieces onto one large page, and rotate them all in the correct direction for cutting. This was pretty easy to do.

The pattern did not come in a petite size, but as I like high-rise pants, the only modification I thought would be needed for my short stature was to shorten the pants. I cut out size 6, but shortened the bottom hem of all the pieces by 4.5 inches. I made view A, the wide leg pants. There are also instructions for tapered leg pants and shorts.

Although the pattern was designed for lightweight woven fabrics, I used Pylos Liknit fabric, which is actually a knit fabric. But having used Liknit for two other pairs of pants, I knew it doesn’t stretch a lot and is fairly stable, so I decided to treat it as if it was woven. I used the linen colorway. The main part of the Pietra pants that you don’t want to stretch is the front waist band, and since that is interfaced, there wasn’t any issue with unwanted stretching. I think this fabric worked out well for this pattern. But I had a lot of trouble with the back of the waist band and it is possible the fact that it wasn’t actually a woven contributed to the difficulties I had, but I’m not sure.

The instructions were clear and easy to follow for the most part and the pattern is nicely drafted. The pocket and waistband are a bit tricky, and some of the construction is not completely intuitive. However, I found if I carefully followed the instructions, used the diagrams, basted all the seams where the instructions recommended basting, and matched all the notches (I marked the notches on my fabric with my trusty Crayola washable fine-point markers), it all came together the way it was supposed to. The result is a very clean and professional look in the front. I topstitched the front leg seams, which was optional, but I thought it gave a nice finished look.

I sewed all the seams with my regular sewing machine at 5/8 inch as instructed, and trimmed to 3/8 inch and serged in one step with my serger. This is only my second serger project and the first one with any major amount of trimming, so I’m still fascinated by watching the trimmings slide into the bucket. The pattern didn’t specify trimming on the inner our outer leg seams but I went ahead with that as I had for the other seams.

Everything went really well until I got to installing the waist elastic. For a size 6, the instructions said to use 12 inches of 2-inch wide elastic. I attached one side and pinned the other and tried on the pants. The waist was way too big. I pinned the elastic shorter, but the front of the pants pulled to the back. I decided some grading was in order. I unpicked part of the inner waistband seam so I could grade both sides of the waist by .75 inches, bringing the new line of stitching down about 6 inches to right above the pockets. I probably could have graded it even more. Then I shortened the elastic to 10.5 inches and sewed it into the waistband. The instructions direct you to sew two parallel rows of stitching in the back waistband, through the elastic, while stretching the elastic. This was easier said than done. I could have used some more hints about how to achieve this. In the end I got it done, but my back waistband looks messy. That said, even if I had sewn it well, I think this style of gathered waistband would look messy, and it pulls the front more than I would like, which is not very flattering. With an untucked shirt it looks much better.

The instructions call for a 2-inch hem, but I ended up doing a 2.5-inch hem to get it to the right length. Of course, I could have trimmed .5 inches off before I hemmed it.

The pants didn’t take that long to make and they are very comfortable to wear. I love the fit of the high waist, but I really don’t like the look of the back waistband, and the way the elastic pulls the front in, it ends up not being all that flattering against my tummy. As long as I keep my shirt tucked in, I think the pants look pretty good.

I’m apparently not the only one who has had some trouble with the elastic waist. Closet Core offers instructions for adding a zipper, and other bloggers have reported having to redo the waist with darts. I think the elastic works better on some figures than others, and may also work better with some types of fabric. I considered adding a zipper, as suggested for those with smaller waists in proportion to hips, but figured it would make these otherwise comfy pants less comfortable. So Instead I decided to unpick the back waistband and chop off the top 2 inches of the pants so I could add a yoga waistband. It was a shame to cut into the beautiful finished front panel, but this seemed like the best way to turn these into pants I would actually wear.

I constructed a 3-inch yoga waistband using the Sinclair Cleo pattern I have used successfully for other Liknit pants. Since the Liknit has some stretch to it I was able to make the outside of the yoga waistband in the same fabric as the rest of the pants. I used beige QUAD Performance Jersey Knit for the inside of the waistband for a nice snug fit and didn’t add any elastic. I basted the waistband in place, tried it on, unbasted, made some adjustments, rebasted, tried it on again, and then surged the waistband to the pants. I topstitched the seam in place.

I think the pants look a lot better now. I still love the Pietra pockets and the front leg seam, but now the waistband looks good too. I might make another pair in another fabric (maybe a ponte) with the yoga waistband modification, perhaps only 2 inches next time. By the time I got around to doing this modification the Fall weather had kicked in so it is getting a bit chilly here for such light weight pants, but I expect I will wear them a lot next summer.

Pocket parity

I feel strongly about pockets. When I sew my own clothes I make sure they have pockets large enough to hold my stuff. It is very frustrating when I buy ready-to-wear clothes with inadequate pockets. I’ve seen blazers advertised as having “adorable faux pockets” that make me want to scream. There is nothing adorable about faux pockets. But even worse, perhaps, is buying a pair of pants with pockets, only to find out that my phone does not fit in them, or that it fits but slides out every time I sit down. My husband can fit his phone, his wallet, his keys, a tube of chapstick, some change, and other odds and ends in the front pockets of every pair of pants he owns. I should be able to do that too!

What about the back pockets? Pocketing a phone in a back pocket may be ok while standing, but on me, back pockets are usually placed such that I end up sitting on my phone, which can be uncomfortable or cause the phone to fall out of my pocket. Plus, putting valuables in back pockets makes you more of a target for pick-pockets.

With pleated pants, a phone can often be completely concealed in a front pocket if the pocket bag is deep enough. However, with tight fighting pants made of stretch fabric, it is hard to avoid a phone bulge. I can sometimes fit my phone in the pocket horizontally, but it produces a bulge across my stomach that isn’t very flattering. I personally prefer to see that bulge further down the leg or more on the hip, but that requires deeper pocket bags.

I have started seeing some women’s pants advertised as having “utility” pockets. The best I can tell these are special pockets that are actually large enough to be used. Shouldn’t all pockets have utility?

I have started retrofitting the pockets of my pants that otherwise fit well, adding pocket bag extensions. It’s actually not that hard to do. Here’s how I augmented the pockets bags of a pair of black dress pants recently.

Here’s the pants turned inside out. You can see that the original pocket bag is big enough to hold a credit card and not much else. My cell phone fits, but as soon as I sit down it slides out.

To improve this situation, the first step is to figure out how much you need to add to the pocket. I like my pockets to be long enough so that my phone will sit entirely below my hip crease when I’m sitting down. If my phone sits above the crease, it will fall out. If it sits in the middle of the bend, it will be uncomfortable to sit down. For this pair of pants, the pocket bag needed to be about 3.5 inches longer. So I cut 4 pieces of fabric 6 inches wide by 4 inches tall. You can use any sort of lightweight fabric for this. Generally people use woven fabrics for pocket bags. But I used some ITY with a little bit of stretch for these pants, which can be a little more forgiving as you sew.

The next step is to turn your pants inside out, slit open the bottom of the existing pocket bag, and pin one piece of the new pocket bag material to the inside of the old pocket bag. If the bottom of the pocket bag is rounded, you may want to square it off. I think it works best when the seam is on the outside of the pocket so nothing catches on it when you put stuff in the pocket. Once the pocket piece is pinned, carefully sew it on. This requires some tight maneuvering with the sewing machine. Alternatively, you can use a fusible tape to fuse the old and new pocket pieces together, and then zigzag to secure.

Then pin an sew the other new pocket piece on.

You will then have a pocket bag with two flaps on the bottom. It is not a very useful pocket at this point because it is completely open at the bottom. The next step is to sew around the three open sides. If the original pocket is anchored in the side seam of the pants, you can attache the pocket bag extension to the side seam too.

And that’s it. Now you have and extended pocket big enough to actually hold your stuff. Once you have sewn a couple of pockets this way, you will probably be able to do it without any pinning. It is important to realize that without a lot of unpicking, it is nearly impossible to make all the seams line up perfectly due to the limited space you have to maneuver, but it doesn’t really matter. As long as your pants are not see-through and any gaps you have are not so big that anything is in danger of falling out of your pocket, nobody is going to see the gaps in the pocket bag inside your pants and it will not impact the functionality of the pocket.

Here are two other pants with extended pocket bags: a pair of pleated flannel dress pants and a pair of wide-leg stretch cords. I used scraps of quilters cotton for these. The grey pants only needed a small extension, but it made a huge difference in having my phone sit comfortably and not fall out. When I wear this pants with a phone in my pocket, you can’t really tell. The cords needed a longer extension, Although these are wide-leg pants, they are fairly tight at the waist. With the original pockets, my phone produced that ugly waist bulge. Now the phone sits just below my hip crease — it is still visible, but I think it looks better there.

Bad pockets before modification

Password dress: ball gown edition

I made my first bad password dress back in 2013 — a simple, short, sleeveless sheath, that has become quite famous. After wearing it to give a lot of security talks, it started showing wear and so I made a second one — the original is in the privacy art collection of the International Association of Privacy Professionals. But I finally got tired of wearing it to places like Davos in the winter where everyone insisted that I needed to be photographed outside in the snow and experiencing cold arms and lack of pockets, so I made the long-sleeved version last winter. But now I have taken this whole wearable password game to the next level and I give you the password dress: ball gown edition. So as not to keep you in suspense, I’ll jump right to the photos. But scroll past if you want all the details about how and why I made it.

It’s made from a luxurious custom printed crushed velour fabric from Contrado. It’s vibrant and shiny, especially in the sun. And it feels stretchy and soft and is the most comfortable ball gown ever. All of my past custom password fabric orders have been from spoonflower.com. But they didn’t offer a suitable fabric that was both dressy and stretchy, so I started looking for other custom fabric vendors. Contrado is based in the UK so I was a little bit uncertain about placing an international order, but they offer a ton of fabric options so I ordered a fabric swatch kit. A few days later I opened an envelope with more fabric swatches than I knew what to do with. I didn’t count them, but I think there were over 100. So many fabric choices! I dumped them out on the floor and tested each one for light weight, softness, and stretchability, narrowing down the pile to a short list of scuba variants and crushed velour. They were all nice, but I loved the feel of the crushed velour and the way it catches the light. So with that in mind I ordered some cheap crushed velour to make a muslin of the pattern I intended to make (Sinclair Serena), but at a shorter length. The cheap crushed velour did not feel luxurious at all, but it made a nice dressy summer dress that I have worn several times this summer.

Once I had picked out the fabric and settled on the pattern, I worked on the fabric design. I took the PDF file for the Serena dress in the size 4 petite, and extended the skirt length to be long enough to graze the tops of my feet after hemming. I then created a PDF file the width of the fabric (53.15 inches) by 108 inches long in Affinity Designer. I pasted the Serena pattern pieces into the file, mirroring those that needed to be mirrored. The skirt back at that length was wider than 53 inches, so I decided to add a back seam and print the skirt back in two pieces. I split the skirt back and added a seam allowance to the center back seam. The skirt front is not as full so it fit the fabric width without a problem. I made all the pattern lines red and deleted all of the internal pattern markings, keeping only the outlines. Then I added a solid purple layer under the pattern pieces. The next step was to add all the passwords to the dress. I started with my previous password dress fabric and cut and pasted the passwords inside the pattern pieces (removing the naughty words this time). In some cases I rotated them or scaled them slightly from the previous design. I spent a lot of time rearranging the passwords to fit them all into the puzzle. I also chose some of my favorites for prominent placement. I decided to cover the entire skirt and back of the bodice with passwords but leave the bodice front solid purple.

I could have continued futzing with the password layout for quite some time, but I was not sure how long it would take for my order to be delivered and I had a deadline for finishing the dress, so I saved a giant jpg file and called it done. (I subsequently spotted several small glitches but hopefully nobody else will notice.) I went ahead and placed the order on a Sunday morning in August. Much to my amazement, the fabric was printed in the UK, shipped across the ocean, and was delivered via FedEx to my doorstep in Pittsburgh, PA just TWO DAYS LATER on Tuesday! The custom fabric is expensive. Even with a discount coupon it was $42 per yard. But I paid only $9.95 for standard international shipping.

The Contrado website said the fabric would be machine washable, but was a little vague on whether to expect shrinkage. Given that it was 100% polyester fabric I took a chance that there would be minimal shrinkage (definitely a risk if you print your pattern pieces directly on the fabric) and I was right.

I laid the fabric out on my magnetized cutting mat and cut it out along the red lines with my rotary cutter. I knew from sewing the muslin that crushed velour is slippery and hard to pin in place, so I did a lot of hand basting and then serged most of it, leaving the cutting knife retracted so I wouldn’t accidentally cut anything I didn’t want to cut (since the pattern had 1/4-inch seam allowances there wasn’t really any need to trim as I sewed). The first few steps of the bodice assembly went pretty well, until it came time to join the F1 piece to the F2/F5 piece of the bodice. There are multiple points to line up and after basting and unbasting multiple times I realized that there was no possible way to get everything simultaneously lined up. After about three hours of this I finally gave up and sewed it together so the outside looked good, but the inner lining (purple ITY) looked like a train wreck. But nobody will ever see it, except for the fact that I am showing you this photo right here so that you can see that the inside is a complete disaster but the outside still looks really good. You will see there is a diagonal piece that goes from the top left to the bottom right. There is another diagonal piece that starts in the middle and goes to the bottom right. Those two pieces are supposed to be sewn together on top of each other, but yet there is a bout a 1 inch gap between them. So that nothing would be flapping in the breeze, I sewed the loose edge to the inner lining. I believe the problem has to do with the fact that my fabric stretches only in the horizontal direction and has almost no vertical stretch (going against the advice of the pattern maker). The fabric I used for my muslin was similar, yet somehow I did not end up with this particular problem. I’m perplexed, but it all worked out in the end.

Of course, I chose the pocket option, since Cinderella and I always need pockets, even when we go to a ball. I decided to make the pocket bags out of the purple stretch velour so that they would not show if they fell open. Stretch velour is not really ideal pocket bag material, especially since I stitched the pocket openings up a bit to prevent things from falling out. Sticking my hand in a pocket tends to cause the pocket bag to come out with my hand, but it works well enough for holding my phone and a small wallet. From past experience with this pattern, I know that I prefer the pockets to sit a bit higher than the pattern calls for so they don’t jiggle around when I walk, so I ignored the marks and just tried on the partially completed dress and pinned the pockets where I wanted them to go.

I’m really happy with the end result. It is exactly what I wanted. I was so excited that I put it on and made my husband follow me around my yard with my DXLR camera while I played fashion model and posed for photos. He has no formal photography training but he is starting to get the hang of fashion photography as I explain to him that there is a difference between zooming in and moving closer to the subject.

Did I mention that this dress has some twirlability?

Ok, so why did I make this dress? Well I’m the director of the CyLab Security and Privacy Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. This is our 20th anniversary year and we held a gala to celebrate on Tuesday. Obviously, I need a password ball gown to wear to the gala. (And of course my husband needed a matching tie.)

CyLab 20th Anniversary Gala

As an added bonus, the Carnegie Science Center held their Geek Out Gala on Thursday, and this was the perfect outfit! So many people I didn’t know came up to me to talk with me about my dress.

Closing the gap

My college-student brought home a pile of jeans that mostly fit her but gap at the waist. She asked if I could fix them. I asked the Internet and found a number of complicated solutions. Then I found a really easy solution involving elastic. My daughter was skeptical but agreed I could give it a try on one pair. I mostly followed the instructions and It worked so well she brought me several more pairs to de-gap. I have a few pairs of my own jeans that will likely get this treatment too.

The technique takes advantage of the fact that most pants waist bands are basically a tube that goes around the entire waist. There is an inside and an outside and empty space in between. I have previously improved the fit of several pairs of yoga pants by opening up the side seam on the the inside of the waistband and threading elastic all the way around, and sewing the two ends of the elastic together. For jeans, you just need a piece of elastic across the back. So the problem is what to attach it to. The solution is to sew the elastic to the waistband under a belt loop so it is hidden. (Even if you don’t sew it under a belt loop, if you use thread that matches the jeans it is not going to really show. And of course, if you wear a belt, it is not an issue at all. But one of the reasons to add the elastic is so that you do not need a belt to hold your jeans up.)

Most jeans do not have a convenient side seam as the inner waistband is a continuous piece (although one of the pairs of pants my daughter brought me were actually pants, not jeans, and they had a convenient seam that I popped right open with my seam ripper). So for the jeans, I just used a small sewing scissors to cut a little vertical slit through the inner waistband, positioned right under a belt loop on each side of the back.

Then I used a safety pin to thread elastic inside the waistband between the two slits.

I trimmed the elastic, leaving the waist bunched up a bit (it will smooth out when you wear the pants). I pinned the elastic a bit inside each slit so it wouldn’t pull out while I sewed. (Yes I know the photo below is from a different pair of jeans than the one above, but trust me, I did the same thing on all of them.)

Then I used my sewing machine to sew a wide zigzag over the slit, holding the belt loop out of the way so it didn’t get caught in the stitches. I did this for both slits and removed the pins.

Now her pants fit and the stitches holding the elastic in place are hidden under the belt loops.

Crushed velour Serena dress

A few weeks ago I made a Sinclair Serena dress to try out the pattern, which I plan to use to make a fancy gown. The pattern worked out pretty well in double-brushed polyester, but I’m planning to use a fancy (expensive) custom-printed crushed stretch velour fabric for the gown, so I decided to make the pattern again with some cheap velour. I bought two yards of purple crushed panne velour from Cali fabrics for $4.99 a yard. This fabric is pretty and has similar stretch as the fabric I plan to use, but it is not as soft and doesn’t feel quite as nice. It is also not really purple – I would call it lavender, but it is not the royal purple shown on the website. This is not meant as a high-end fabric, but it is fine for a muslin.

I projected the pattern and cut out the velour. I decided to use a purple ITY fabric for the lining pieces. Then, throwing caution to the wind, I decided to sew the dress together using my brand new Serger, having never serged before. It actually wasn’t that hard, except for the fact that velour is a super slippery fabric and no amount of pinning could get it to hold still. The slippery ITY lining just made it worse. There are parts of this pattern that call for two layers of regular fabric and 2 layers of lining, and getting them all lined up to complete the jigsaw puzzle bodice was a real challenge. I eventually basted together the layers before sewing, and it was fine. But parts of it that I sewed early on are not quite lined up right, although I managed to mostly hide them. Note to self when I make the gown, plan to do a lot of basting.

Besides being very slippery, the velour as almost no vertical stretch. That doesn’t seem to be a problem with this pattern, other than reducing the ability to ease out mistakes. Somehow the back ended up being and inch longer than the front when all was said and done (I’m pretty sure it was cut correctly, but there were numerous sewing errors), and I ended up just trimming it before hemming.

I did make a few mistakes that are mostly attributable to learning how to use my serger while making this dress. I now have a full understanding of the knife function and how not to use it when turning a corner. Repairing some of these mistakes might be one of the reasons the back ended up longer than the front.

I did manage to fix some problems from my last Serena dress. This time I added clear elastic to the neckline for good measure, and I sewed the crossover all the way to the edge. With both of these improvements, there is no possibility of drooping. I also did a better job stretching the armhole bands around the curves, so they look better than last time. In order to reduce pocket flapping,I made the pocket bags a little slimmer and attached them to the skirt a bit higher than the pattern calls for – about 1 inch below the point where the skirt meets the bodice. I made the pocket openings a bit smaller to keep my phone from falling out. I used the velour for the back pocket bags and the lining for the front to reduce bulk. But the lining still peaks out a bit so I may just use the velour for both sides next time.

The good news is that the whole dress did end up coming together nicely. The proof of concept worked and the muslin is a dress I would actually wear in public. In fact I wore it to an outdoor theater production this evening and can report it was both stylish and confortable.