Sunday, 30 October 2016

The Vampire Bat

I never got around to blogging the costumes I made last year, and with Halloween almost upon us again it seems like the perfect time to catch up.

Last Halloween my daughter wanted to be a vampire bat, as you do...

Here she is, pointing backwards at a rose bush (yes, awkward pose but I didn't manage to get many photos before she and her friends were off door knocking):

This costume was heavily improvised.  There was a costume online that my daughter wanted, but it was (a) expensive, (b) trashy and (c) too warm for our climate. Oh and it was shipping from America, so probably wouldn't have got to us in time.

So we discussed the key elements (stretchy black dress, silky wings, furry hood with ears, holey stockings) and I sketched out the costume to check we were on the same page (yes!), then whipped up a very quick long-sleeved t-shirt dress using a t-shirt pattern that I knew fit well, Burda 9439:

This is a short-sleeved t-shirt pattern, but with a couple of length measurements it's very easily turned into a long-sleeved t-shirt dress.  Anyway, the fit was good, but the grey/black jersey I'd used looked vaguely trendy instead of spooky, so we called version 1 a new dress... and dug out a second piece of stash fabric, a remnant of black jersey (not quite enough for the dress, hence the seam at hip level).

This time around I paused after sewing the shoulder seam and attaching the sleeves (in the flat) so I could make some wings to sew into the side seams of the dress.  The only fabric I could find in my stash that looked and felt right for wings was a length of beautiful silk jersey I'd picked up a Tessuti remnant sale a long time ago.  In the interests of reusability (I want that fabric back one day!!) I decided to simply cut it in half, so that each wing is simply a long rectangle, long enough to stretch from skirt hemline to wrist.

I hope the next photo explains that a bit better:

Not hemmed, not ironed but perfectly acceptable for a kid's costume!

This "design" means there is a lot of scope for arm movement and bat-like fluttering - and my daughter can extend her arms above her head without the wings moving the dress up. The luscious wing fabric makes the costume very popular, and the outfit has had a lot of wears over the past year. It went to a Halloween disco on Friday night and is going out again on Monday evening, and now fits a lot better than it did last year, so I guess it's been a successful costume...

Oh I nearly forgot - the hood! I actually love the hood, because it reminds me of the movie version of Where the Wild Things Are - I kind of want a giant furry hoodie for myself :).

For this part of the outfit I started with Butterick 6695, a little kids animal onesie pattern I used years ago for my son (not blogged). I didn't want the hood to come all the way around the neck the way the hood in the animal onesie does, so I studied a couple of Simplicity costumes (5512 and 5840) to confirm the shape for a simpler hoodie.


And none of the standard ear shapes on Butterick 6695 looked particularly bat like, so I drew up my own ear pattern: a smaller inner piece with a fold in the middle, and a larger enfolding outer piece (much easier to do than that probably sounds). Here's the hood in close-up - the ear details get lost in all that fur though:

You can probably see in the above that the fur is just on the outside of the hood - the "lining" is matt black technical fabric left over from a dress I made ages ago. (The fake fur is left over from a mouse costume made for my son when he was in childcare). The hood "lining" is sewn to the neckline of the dress because I thought the weight of the fake fur and ears would make the outer fake fur hang fall nicely over the neckline, but in fact it all tends to tip forwards. Which is not a problem, because it's comfortable on, and my daughter loves it.

Here's a back view of the hood taken last year - this year I'm afraid the fake fur is tipped further forward as it accounts for a bit more growth...

And since I was sewing a costume and playing around with all the black remnants, my son got a "test" hoodie to wear with his costume cape and staff.  This one is a very simple pointy hood, and my recollection is that I made it just by sewing up 2 adjoining sides of a rectangle, then sewing a deep hem around the face.  

This year the vampire bat is being resurrected, but my son is going to be a dead person, complete with fake knife wound - very gory but no sewing is required. 

I'll leave you with one more photo of the vampire bat's fluttering wings:

 And will try to be back soon with more sewing!

See you soon

- Gabrielle xx

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Swimming in Italy

I'm just back from 3 weeks in Europe (mostly Italy), and I took the opportunity while I was there to photograph a couple of recent makes.  Embarrassing myself in front of people I don't know is definitely easier than doing so in front of the neighbours!  These photos were taken in the back garden of a house where I stayed in Sicily.

First up I'll show you the bikini bottoms I sewed using McCall's 7168 and two colours of swimsuit fabric from Tessuti fabrics (this gorgeous fucshia lycra is my red; the pink isn't showing up online). The top I'm wearing with them is a RTW top that I got at a very good price a few years ago because it was an orphan - no pants to go with it - and it's very satisfying to be able to make the bikini complete!

Not perfect by any means, but I've had swimwear sewing failures in the past and these feel like a terrific step in the right direction. I'm happy with the way they look on, and stoked that the colours match the bikini as well as they do - though sadly they don't fit me comfortably.  

Basically they feel too tight - like shapewear tight, particularly around the waist - and I also feel like my bum is hanging out at the back :(.

The first fit issue (tightness) came about mostly because I assumed I was the same size as usual with McCall's (and maybe swimmers are different, or maybe recent patterns are different) - I couldn't find finished measurements on the pattern tissue or instructions so I really should have measured the pattern pieces to confirm the size.  Oh and also because there is something odd going on with the waistband, but more on that later.  And the "bum hanging out" feeling (yes, there will be relevant pictures later in this post) comes from my cutting back the leg opening on the pants ie absolutely my own fault. The legs of these bikini pants were initially too low cut in the front for me, and the gusset area was too wide, but in retrospect the original length was probably just right for me in the backside :(.

Anyway, let's backtrack a bit to talk about the pattern and the sewing.

The pattern is the very cute McCall's 7168, which has been made up beautifully by lots of other bloggers and no doubt many non-blogging sewists too.  It includes loads of variations for the top half of the bikini - strapless bandeau, halter neck, flounced top, long flounce top with tummy coverage or triangular bikini bra - and three options for the bikini bottoms (panelled high waist bottoms, panelled gathered high waist bottoms or simple bikini bottoms), and the sewing instructions are detailed as you'd expect from McCall's.  Here's the main photo from the pattern envelope:

I cut out the high waisted gathered pants (like the ones in the above photo) in a straight size 14, but since the waist band looked narrower than my waist (and narrower than the top edge of the swimmers it would join to) I cut it a couple of sizes bigger and just a little smaller than my waist.

The gathered sections of the swimmer are sewn to an ungathered layer of swimsuit fabric and also later enclosed by the lining, so the sides become quite thick. The front and back panels without gathering are supposed to have just a lining layer, but I thought these areas needed to be more substantial so made the entire lining from swimsuit fabric.


The gathers go all the way to the seam allowance, so if you're concerned about where the leg seam is going to end up sitting this is something to be aware of - on me the front leg seam was a few centimetres below that natural crease between thigh and hip - and if you zoom in on the pattern photo above you'll see that the original swimmers extend below this crease on the model too. 

A comparison with my favourite RTW bikini bottoms also showed me that the crotch width was a couple of centimetres wider than my usual size, so I'd recommend checking this width for yourself if you sew these up.

To confirm how much I wanted to remove from the leg opening I tried the pants on inside out at the stage where the panels had all been sewn together, and used a washable marker pen to draw the "natural" leg lines that I wanted to become my new seam line.  You can probably see the vestiges of blue pen marks in some of my inside out photos if you look closely! 

I'm happy with the new seam line in the front leg (and crotch) but I wasn't sure where I wanted the seam line in the back - in retrospect I should have left that area alone instead of extending my pen line all the way around.  Actually I think the fit would feel a lot better if I had more tension in the leg elastic around the bum area... I used the prescribed length of swim elastic inside the folded over leg seam, but it's slightly longer than I needed. 

And this is what they look like on, from behind:

Not my favourite view!

You can also see that the join between the gathered panel and the flat panel gets quite bulky, especially at the leg opening where you turn all those layers over a piece of elastic:

The waist band is sewn onto the paneled pants the same way you might sew a neck band onto a top - except that the waistband also includes elastic.  The pattern didn't indicate the sort of elastic to use, but I've never seen wide swimwear elastic so I used a regular firm non-roll elastic, the sort you'd use for a skirt or pants.  The pattern provides a guide for the length of elastic to cut, significantly longer (around 13 centimetres longer in a size 14) than the waistband length. The waistband and elastic are intended to conform to the body when the pants are worn, but both my waistband and waist elastic feel too tight on.  Of course I should have checked these measurements on myself - my fabric and elastic may have a different amount of give and recovery to those assumed by the pattern. 

I think I might unpick the waistband to remove the elastic - maybe that will make the swimmers more comfortable. Hmmm - perhaps I need a whole new waistband in my larger girth... 

I'm not 100% thrilled with these because they aren't comfortable to wear, but I know what I need to fix (waistband, leg elastic!) next time.  And these swimmers do at least look the way I wanted them to, which is at least half the challenge, right? 

Next up, a simple top photographed in a stunning spot - I hope you won't mind seeing some travel photos!

See you soon

- Gabrielle x

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