Monday, 26 October 2015

How to Make Mitred Self-Faced Vents

As I mentioned in my Inari dress post, my personal favourite type of vent is the mitred, self-faced vent - like this one, which I'm going to show you how to construct (though please pay a bit more attention to your top stitching than I did!):

Looking through my wardrobe I found four different types of vents - your preference might be for the simpler types, but perhaps you'd still like to see some other options?

The simplest type of vent, vent 1, just has the seam allowance turned under and top stitched in place:

Loose top in jungle print polyester, made using DKNY Vogue 1454 (blogged here)

The next one, vent 2, is only slightly more complex, with the seam allowance turned under and top stitched, but also an overlap between the front and back seams of the vent:

Vogue 2634 (2002) shirt in light-weight linen (sorry, but I don't think I ever blogged this shirt)

Then there's the vent (vent 3) which is faced by a deep hem, in this case overlapping with the other side of the vent, though the following jacket also has some of these sorts of vents in centre back and in the sleeves that aren't overlapped:


RTW textured linen jacket

and finally there's the vent, vent 4, which is self-faced with a mitred corner:  

 Vogue 1325 heavy linen jacket (blogged here with absolutely minimal detail)

and here's a RTW example of this last type of vent too:

RTW cotton trousers

This last vent is the sort I used in my recent Inari dress (blogged here), and it's the type of vent I'm going to show you how to add to an existing pattern. You can easily apply this technique to add attractive vents to patterns that don't include them, and of course you can apply the technique to vents in other places than side seams. Oh, and I'm sure once you've followed the detailed steps a couple of times you'll be able to wing it without needing to draw the extra facing pattern around your original pattern...


Assemble the pattern you want to modify, a sheet of plain paper for every pattern piece you're modifying (a front piece and a back piece in my case), a pencil, an eraser, sticky tape, paper scissors and fabric scissors (not shown), a fabric marker (not shown), pins (not shown) and a transparent ruler.

Start with your pattern with its vent markings - I'm using a fake pattern I've drawn on butcher's paper; it's rough as guts but will serve the purpose.

Place your sheet of plain paper under the side vent area of the pattern, and sticky tape or pin it to the edges of the original pattern. I'm showing this for the 'garment back' pattern piece, but you need to follow all the same steps for the pattern piece corresponding to the other side of the vent too ('garment front' in my case).

Use your ruler to draw a new deep hem, several centimetres out from the original garment edges. I'm starting my ruler at the garment edge and marking points that are 6 centimetres out, but you can choose a different width - just make sure you keep it consistent.

Extend these lines past the garment edges at the lower corner of the vent. and also a couple of inches beyond the start of the vent.

and also extend them above the vent marking. Draw a horizontal line from the original vent marking to the edge of the new facing.

Draw an upper edge to your facing, at least a couple of centimetres above the horizontal to the original vent marking.  I like to angle the top edge of the facing, but you can also just draw it perpendicular to the seamline or parallel to the horizontal line you just drew - both are shown in the next photo. Note: the pencil lines shown below should extend to the original pattern's seamline, and shouldn't stop at the original pattern's edge.

The deep facing you've drawn around the vent is all you need from your pattern - so now use your scissors to trim the plain paper back from the lines you've just drawn.

Pin the modified pattern to your fabric and cut it out. I've only shown the pattern pinned to the fabric for the back of my garment, but I'll also apply all these steps to the front of my garment.

Follow your original pattern's instructions until you get up to hemming the vent - for example, this may include stitching the side seam down to the 'vent' marking on a side seam.

Fold the right sides of the fabric together along the original pattern's garment edge - remember to include the original pattern's seam allowance.  You may want to push a couple of pins through the pattern and fabric to mark the corner and the lower edge of the garment, as you can see I've done in the photo below. Bring the fabric edges so they meet exactly at the corner.

Now carefully fold the corner down and draw a line along the 45 degree angle from the outer to the inner folded corner. I would normally suggest using a water soluble pen that you've tested on a scrap of paper, but on my fabric I've used lead pencil.  Use a ruler (or seam guide as shown) to measure 1 centimetre in from the cut edge and mark - this is the depth at which you'll fold back the fabric later.

Pin the 2 layers of fabric at the corner together and sew them together along the 45 degree angle you just drew, from the mark that's 1 centimetre in from the cut edge to the corner where you can see my pin sticking out. If you've used a pin to mark this corner, please take it out before you sew this short seam.

Trim the angled seam and press it open. This is the mitre join on your facing, and by trimming it and pressing it open you're minimising bulk in the corner of your facing and giving yourself a better chance of a sharp looking corner.  

Turn a 1 centimetre seam allowance on the now mitred deep hem, wrong sides together, and press in place.

At this point if you haven't sewn the two sides of the vent together you may want to do so, as once the facing has been pressed we'll be top stitching it.

In the upper corner of your facing, above the original vent marking, snip the fabric to just before the stitching line. My photo shows a snip that isn't deep enough - I needed to snip this a little further - and I could have stitched the side seam further. Press this top edge of the facing down.

Turn the mitred hem inside out so your new mitred seam is on the inside, as is your turned under seam allowance.

Press the facing, making sure its depth is consistent. If your corners don't look sharp enough, this is the time to adjust them (yes, I should have fixed mine!). On a flat surface, now pin the facing in place ready for top stitching.

Top stitch on the inside of your garment following the edge of your new facing. I like to use an edge stitch foot and a stitch length of about 3 for this step, but if you take it slowly you can achieve a neat result with just your normal machine foot (and in fact even with my edge foot, the fact that I rushed this step means my top stitching doesn't look great).

Turn your garment to the right side, and check out your mitred, self-faced vents:

Congratulations, you're done!

So what do you think - do you like mitred self-faced vents? What's your favourite type of vent to wear, and what's your favourite type of vent to sew?

See you soon

- Gabrielle

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Inari Dress

About 5 months I saw Amy's version of the Inari dress and was smitten. Winter was already looming though, and I had the usual backlog of sewing projects to distract me; and so months went by.  Then winter passed, and I started to get my sewing backlog under control. Time to sew something new! 

After the long wait, my Inari dress had to have something in common with Amy's; I chose geometry, though really our dress fabrics are quite dissimilar. 

When I first sewed this dress up I wasn't sure if I liked it or not.

Printing problems from the start of the project shouldn't have coloured my opinions of the dress, but they might have. When I printed the Inari PDF at 100%, the 10 cm test square was a 9.5 cm square, regardless of the program I opened it with.  Eventually I just printed the file at 105% and recycled lots of paper. Grr!

And the dress itself?  I like the obnoxiously brightly coloured fabric, a mid-weight cotton from The Fabric Store, but was disappointed with myself for not having noticed the repeat in the vertical lines: three coral lines, one pink, three coral lines, one pink...  How hadn't I seen it when I was aligning the heights of the patterns?  If I'd noticed I would have centred the dress on the vertical colours, for example having the middle coral bar running down CF rather than just off to the side. And having the pink bar running down the the middle of CB rather than just to the left:

Maybe you can picture the fabric shifted slightly left in these photos? 

Ha, no; no need really!  It did irritate me when I first spotted the mistake, but I'm fine with it now - getting more relaxed with age, I think!

And I really like the general shape of the Inari dress, but the fit - well, as I'm sure you can see, the fit is just not good in this fabric. The pattern instructions say the dress can be sewn up in "a light or medium weight fabric, inelastic or with stretch", but I suspect the pattern is best made in a slinky woven or jersey.

My dress is sewn in the next size up (EUR size 42) from the one that corresponded to my bust size (EUR size 40), but you might notice in my photos that there looks to be excess fabric at the front of the dress, where the sleeve meets the bodice.   I actually muslined the dress in my correct size, and found it quite tight across the bust - to the point where my arms felt a bit restricted - and that's why I went up a size for the 'real' dress.

Going up a size gives me more room, but hasn't fixed the fit.  As you can see in the next photo, when my arm is by my side there's excess fabric, begging to be taken out by a dart and a change in the armhole curve (cutting it in further), and when I arm the low armhole / shape of the arm scye means that the sleeve pulls on the dress:

I do realise that the Named pattern makers know how to design darts and more closely fitted sleeves (of course), and that the dress has therefore been consciously designed like this, but for me this design decision detracts from what is otherwise a lovely pattern.  I love the cocoon shape of the dress and the side vents, but if I make this dress again I'll be substituting in the upper bodice and sleeve from a different pattern.

By the way, please ignore the grumpy look on my face in most of these pictures - it's called being concerned a neighbour's going to come down that driveway at any moment!

There were a couple of minor changes I made to the pattern too, ones that didn't affect the fit.

First off I widened the sleeve cuffs - and probably that was a mistake, as I prefer the narrower cuff on everyone else's Inaris - and secondly I made mitred self-facings for the side vents.

The last pattern I made that had side vents in it, my DKNY jungle top, had the same basic fold over and top stitch finish that the Inari pattern suggests (though admittedly the Inari has deeper hems), but look at how that finish turned out in a slinky polyester:

This sort of finish is so flimsy - look at how my vertical hem is wobbling and folding back on itself!  

This time around I caught myself in time; I remembered the vent finish that used to be standard in sewing patterns back when I was an avid beginner - the mitred self-facing!

The mitred self-facing on a side vent is essentially a deep hem all the way around - not just on the horizantal hem - and one that's finished on the inside so that even if the vent flips open no seams are visible. What's more, its construction does away with the bulky square of multiple layers of fabric you get in a regular vent.

Here's how the mitred self-facings turned out on my Inari dress:

Apologies for the rumples - I had ironed the dress vigourously before wearing it, but apparently not vigourously enough! 

These days deep hems seem to be shorthand for luxury - extra fabric on the inside of your garment that no one's going to see.  Deep hems give weight to hems, making them less flimsy and better anchoring the garment; the hemline becomes beautifully stable.

If you look around in RTW, and even in most modern patterns you'll see that the narrow seamed side vent is the norm.  I don't know why that is, but my first guess would be that it's about efficient cutting out of garments in a production environment; about the cost of a few centimetres of extra width.

But if you're going to draft a deep hem for home sewers, why would you skimp on the side vents? Actually, why would you (other pattern companies!) draft side vents without any decent facings?

I'll stop 'venting' for now, but I have dug out an example of a lovely mitred self-faced vent (sewn a couple of years ago from an designer 80s pattern) that I'll try to photograph and share with you in the next day or two - and in case it's useful for anyone, I'll list the basic steps so you can make your own.

You've got a few issues, but I do like you, Inari dress!

See you soon

- Gabrielle xx

Saturday, 10 October 2015

My Frocktails Cape

Finally, let me tell you about my frocktails cape!

Yes, this wonderful, draping floral coral thing of beauty... I'm making an exception today; that gushing can stay.  Seriously, it's my favourite garment ever made.  I absolutely L.O.V.E. this cape.

Apologies in advance, but there are going to be lots of photos in this post.

Not the hardest thing I've ever made, but the best I can recall making - made with care from start to finish, and looks just like I hoped it would.  It's so rare for me not to make at least one irreversible stuff-up!

My cape story started with a random fabric find; a small and beautiful half price remnant at Tessuti Fabrics in Chatswood.  When I last looked for the fabric in-store there was still some, but I don't know if there would still be.  I haven't found this fabric in Tessuti's online store, so if you're lusting after some it's probably best to just call them. 

The fabric is a woven viscose, medium weight and terrifically drapey with a loose weave that's prone to fraying. That coral colour is one of my favourites, and the fabric looks amazing on both the right side and the wrong side where the colours of the woven pattern are inverted.  Each panel is nearly 2 metres long, with the white flowers growing inwards from each end of the panel cut and a section of coral colour between the tops of the two plantings. My 90 cm remnant was just a little smaller than a half panel, but it had me thinking of 40s-style dresses for winter so I bought another full panel too. 

The fabric came home with me, and was subjected to lots of my admiration over a period of weeks. 

And then frocktails drew nearer and nearer.  I made most of my frocktails dress, and then it came time to make sewing decisions for an outer layer.  I wanted to use a pattern and fabric from my stash (qiuckly narrowed down to this fabric, of course), and I wanted to be able to accommodate my dress sleeves without crushing them. Surprisingly that still left me with several choices in the very wide sleeved jacket and cape departments.  Laying out the fabric on the floor and measuring the floral heights and widths from the two panel ends, it seemed that a medium length, not too flared cape that was made from several panels would allow me to have the flowers climbing up nice and straight from all around the hemline, with a plainer coral fabric at the top of the cape. 

Frocktails Cape - front flat view
Frocktails Cape - back flat view

Vogue 7231 from the 1960s fit the bill perfectly.  Judging by the pattern illustrations it had a lovely shape and some attractive, slightly curved seams, one of the variations was designed to hit just above knee length, and its panels looked about the right width to fit my flowers without pruning them too much.  

Vogue 7231 on Etsy

The photo above comes from Etsy (unfortunately now sold); my copy of the pattern came from a second hand store in a size 14.

The pattern as drafted has a back inverted pleat and a martingale belt, but as I wanted the cape to be all about the fabric I removed these elements and made a back pattern piece that was cut on the fold. More time on my knees shuffling pieces of pattern tissue on fabric confirmed this modified version of the pattern would fit nicely on my fabric - IF the pattern fit me!

Obviously removing a pleat in the back removes some wearing ease, and I suspected a 1960s size 14 might be equivalent to a modern-day size 10, so I sacrificed some gingham to a muslin - and was absolutely relieved :).  The cape sewn to knee length looked fine, the shoulders fit well, the neckline sat in a comfortable position (some vintage necklines are VERY high), and the body of the cape fit me, though it felt a little too fitted.  Based on this fit, I left the shoulders and neckline alone but added ease in the panel seams of the cape (ie all the vertical seams except those at centre front), starting at around shoulder level.

Frocktails Cape with some extra ease

Now at this point, when I could very well have cut out my cape, I stopped the practical work and let Google lead me astray.  My pattern instructions were very simple, and I was worried they might be dumbed down, so I started searching for cape construction and jacket tailoring tips online.

Everything I read seemed to tell me I needed to underline my fabric as well as line it, so I popped back to Tessuti Fabrics for supplies, and was very lucky to catch Colette before she dashed out for lunch.  Colette advised me that underlining would take away the lovely drape of the fabric (of course!!), and that a layer of interfacing and a lining would be plenty. I mentally breathed a sigh of relief - so much less work!  And then even though Tessuti's had some plastic buttons that were the right size and style and nearly the right colour for my fabric, Colette suggested I get fabric covered buttons made up at a little specialist button shop in Newtown, All Buttons Great and Small.

The cape fabric drapes beautifully, even after it's been interfaced and lined

Back home I serged the cut edges of my fabric, warm machine washed and line dried it, ironed it and then block fused all of it to make it more stable before I cut out my pattern pieces.  I hadn't ever block fused a whole panel of fabric before - and with a small domestic iron and ironing board in a small room it's slow and painful - but I think it's very good practice to fuse the interfacing to the fabric before cutting out the pattern pieces, so I'll definitely do it in the future.

And then I spent a few hours on my knees moving pattern pieces around on my fabric to try to fit everything in without chopping up the flowers, and with the aim of getting a feeling of symmetry, or at least balance, in the cape.  I know most people hate the cutting out stage, and the painstaking layout work is a really slow part of the cutting out stage, but when I mess up the pattern layout I tend to hate the finished garment - for me it's very much worth the pain, and lets me do things like including a single bloom on one side of the collar :).

Frocktails cape: print placement

To add ease to the cape I just adjusted the angle of the panel lines so as to add about an inch at the fullest part on each side (except centre front) of the panels at the hemline, tapering away to nothing at around shoulder level.

With my pattern pieces all cut out on the Sunday before Frocktails, I caught a train to Newtown the very next day on my lunch break with a bag full of interfaced fabric scraps. All Buttons Great and Small made up my buttons on the spot, and the resulting buttons looked perfect - just the right style and colour, and they even threw in an extra (slightly imperfect button) for free.

Beautiful fabric covered buttons for my frocktails cape

With such perfect looking buttons, I was worried my machine's button holes wouldn't be up to scratch - in fact, I wasn't sure my buttonhole attachment would cope with the large buttons - so I decided to outsource this step too. 

Normally I mark my buttonhole placement with pins at either end of the horizontal, but that often results in buttonholes that are only very nearly parallel.  This time around I used more pins and rulers and lots of measurements before marking the buttonhole placement on my fabric with a washable pen (and yes, the marks came out later without a problem). 

I was cutting it fine by now, with only a matter of days until frocktails, but I remembered reading this post about the Quick Buttonhole Service in Alexandria.  Monday evening was a mad rush of sewing - the main seams, facings and collar, and lots of basting to hold the outer and facing layers in place - and on Tuesday I rushed out to Alexandria at lunch with my cape and a sample button.  Mick wasn't able to do my buttonholes till Thursday, so I used Tuesday and Wednesday evenings to finish my dress, cut out and sew together the cape lining pieces and prepare some welts for the cape, 

And look, my buttonholes are perfect too! Perfectly straight, all the same length and inset from the edge of the opening, and all very neat.  

Buttons in their buttonholes

Two evenings to go... Sewing the cape facings to the lining pieces was straightforward, and the collar fit perfectly (it's a simple camp collar, which is why I wear it with the top button open).  I pressed the cape carefully to check that everything was hanging well without any seams puckering, and then it was time for the cape's welt pockets.

But two evenings before a big event is a bit late to try to work out something you haven't tried before...  Up until this point I'd intended to skip all the top stitching suggested in the pattern (for a cleaner look and less stress!) but to include the welts and pockets in my cape.   I could see how I'd sew the welts to the openings in the cape, but I couldn't understand how to attach pockets behind the welts that would also let my hands move in and out of the cape, and when I got to this step I discovered my pattern was missing  the critical last page of instructions. (I can see now that the welts were to be sewn on from just behind the openings and the pockets were to sit forward of the openings, between lining and outer fabric.)  Argh! I took the easy approach and skipped the welts and the pockets.

At this point it became clear that I should have added another layer of interfacing to the cape opening where it had extra stress from buttons and buttonholes - the fabric was looking too "worked" around the buttonholes. On the buttonhole side I cut pieces of interfacing of about 4 inches in width to fit above, between and below the buttonholes, and then pressed in this extra layer of interfacing retrospectively - it was a very fiddly and irritating job, but well worth it for the improved look of the fabric. It was an easier job to then add the same width of interfacing to the button side of the opening, where I hadn't yet sewn on the buttons, and then to add strips of interfacing around the fabric at the hand openings in the body of the cape. 

Nearly done!

Hand stitching the lining to the outer fabric at the slit openings was easy when the fabric was pressed and pinned, sewing on the buttons was straightforward with lots of pins to help with my button placement, and I was able to bag 90% of the lining using my machine, with just a short length to hand stitch.

Small hand stitches on the hand openings
A bagged lining on my frocktails cape

A careful press, and all done! 

I've heard people say they couldn't possible wear a cape; that capes are impractical and that they just don't work, but I found mine a delight to wear.  Obviously I couldn't wear a shoulder bag over it, but it worked well with an evening clutch, and it did a much better job than a regular jacket in not crushing my silk organza dress sleeves.  I like too how a cape makes what you're wearing underneath - even the shape of what you're wearing underneath - a surprise.  I don't think I need another of this type of cape in my wardrobe, but I'm tempted to sew up a more modern cape, like Vogue 1322: 

Vogue 1322

As you may have guessed, I took these photos at the same time (and place) as the photos of my frocktails dress.  I think they've turned out really well, much better than photos in my garden or on my balcony, but they were a bit of an effort - I really need to find a quieter place for photos!

With Gillian's Better Pictures Project in mind (and specifically the ideas of taking photos out and about, and more is more), let me tell you about taking these pictures.

First of all it although I took these photos many weeks ago, we were having a bit of an unseasonal heatwave. It was a really hot afternoon; too hot for a warm dress let alone a cape on top - my flushed cheeks are partly the result of the heat, but mostly the result of bucketloads of embarrassment (more on that later).

I had a "location" in mind for these photos, a short drive away from home with easy parking, so that's where I set up my camera and tripod.  It just didn't photograph as well as I'd imagined though; my camera's photo review function showed me it was too bright and contrasty and any photos I took there were overexposed. What's more, people kept walking through the space, on their way to and from a big apartment block!  So I packed up my stuff and tried another spot nearby which I remembered as having consistent shade and interesting geometric backdrops, set back from the road in a quiet square.  I was taking some test photos to determine which angle would look best when the entire family of a good friend of my son's walked by and waved hello (oh, embarrassment!). Very soon after they'd left a security guard appeared and told me I had to move on immediately, and that I was not allowed to take photos there (oh, mortification!).  I felt so embarrassed at this point that I really didn't want to stay in the area and take photos, but I'd been promising myself all week that I'd take the photos that day, so I swallowed my pride and walked around the corner to a road with some nice walled sections of footpath.  The road was much busier than usual as it had become a temporary bus route while the nearby train line was being repaired, all those buses were driving slowly due to a couple of small roundabouts, and across the road was a high-rise apartment block with plenty of spectators, I mean residents. At least the light was good!

I took a LOT of photos in this position.  At first I was so embarrassed that I looked cranky in the photos, but after a while I got used to the people watching from their balconies and the passersby staring, and decided I should just laugh at myself for being such a spectacle.  Hence the smiles and the flushed cheeks :). All up with three attempted locations, a little travel time and pauses between larger groups of passersby the exercise took me an hour, a lot longer that photos in my garden take - but I got photos that I think are good enough to represent how much I love my cape.

Well, that's a long blog post, and a lot of pictures - I'd better stop!  Thanks for reading (or just looking at the pictures), and see you soon!

- Gabrielle xx

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