Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Daisy Half-Circle Skirt

My first garment attempt was a disaster. I picked a 2-yard length of fabric in a neutral abstract of olive and pink batik, and tried to copy the one remaining Blue Ginger sleeveless shift in my closet. The dress has shrunk a little over years of frequent washing. Yeah, I know you're laughing, but seriously it is several inches shorter that it originally was. The width issue I can’t duck, but it’s not like I’m getting taller at my age. So, I decided to make my version a little longer, add a little width through the hips and bust, and why not add a cute little 1.5" ruffle at the hem? Plus, although the original had a long zipper in the back, I never use it: I just pull the dress on over my head. Which I figured meant I could do without a center back seam altogether and just cut a front and a back.

I measured the original and drew up a pattern on a length of freezer paper, adjusted for front/back differences, marked darts, decided to lower the neckline an inch, etc. Cut, stitched, tried it on and -- gack! what an unflattering sack it is. I might post a photo of it some day, but only after I’ve produced some better-looking things to be proud of.

Oh well. I didn't expect much from my first effort, and it's fine for wearing around the house on a hot day in the summer, which was the main goal for that garment, anyway. But surely I can do better.

Garment attempt #2: Gerbera Daisy Skirt

I decide to make a half-circle wrap skirt following the instructions in my new favorite book: Sew What! Skirts.

My weight goes up and down a half-size all the time, and wraps are nicely accommodating to size fluctuations. For the fabric, I chose a length of cotton I picked up a couple of years ago, thinking I would re-cover a floor pillow that needs attention. It was on sale, which means everyone else thought the gigantic blue-green gerbera daisies were a bit much.

Cutting was easy, stitching pretty much of a breeze. Hemming seemed to take forever, but eventually was done. I did a double-turned small hem, basting first then pulling up the basting to ease the turned in part for a smoother hem. That turned out surprisingly well. Trimmed the angle of the edges to hang straighter from the waist. Didn't bother interfacing the waistband, which would have been a good idea, as it seems to have stretched a little. Figured out how to use the buttonhole attachment on the sewing machine (!) so I can stick the long tie end through the waistband, and voila, the skirt was done:

Perhaps not the most flattering garment I've ever worn, but it's not the skirt's fault I'm a little pudgy though the hip area. It doesn’t really hang lower in the front, although in the photo it appears to do so. It's incredibly comfortable and I like the way the fullness of the skirt moves as I walk. And, since blue is my favorite color, I've got several tops to go with it.

I'm going to make this pattern again someday, in a longer length. Tips to anyone following in my footsteps:

1) The waist edge of the skirt stretched when I stay-stitched it. (Since it's a wrap, this isn't a problem, but there's now a few inches more overlap than I'd planned.) Next time I am going to mark the waistline on the uncut fabric, then stay-stitch before cutting that curve.

2) A half-circle, when you wrap it, produces ends that angle out much farther than they need to. Measure in about 6 inches on the hem and trim off the excess; it will hang better:

3) Check how stretchy your fabric is. I don't remember whether I cut the waistband from the width or the length of the fabric, but perhaps doing it the other way the waistband wouldn't have stretched as I wore it. This is a totally minor issue, but why not do a better job than I did?

Home Decor I Can Do

I do have a sewing machine, and sort of know how to use it -- for making basic stuff like cushions and slipcovers. I'm rather proud of having made a slipcover for our couch a few years ago, and in the past year I have turned out a cover for the daybed in the guest room, and cute little seat cushions for our kitchen chairs from the leftover fabric:

I’ve also made new cushions and covers for the "elephant bamboo" couch and chair in the living room:

I like the challenge these projects present of working without a pattern and figuring out how to cut the fabric and stitch the project. I can put in a zipper, make a constrast-lined inverted box pleat, and make my own welting. I can even make a patchwork quilt, although I haven't done much of that lately.
In fact, my stash of quilt fabrics is partly responsible for my decision to undertake the sew-my-own-wardrobe endeavor. I looked at it the other day and thought, "Who am I kidding? I'm never going to make quilts out of all of this stuff." Sure, I could just give it all away, but "Why not make some clothes out of it?", I thought.
Quilting cotton isn’t the greatest fashion fabric, but I'm not aiming for haute couture here, or even for half-assed Project Runway wannabe-dom. I just want some comfortable, not-too-hideous, not-too-boring, hot-weather-appropriate clothing to wear around the house and to the farmer's market and maybe, if something turns out particularly well some day, for going out to dinner.

My Quest for Style

This blog is going be about all the crafty-type stuff I engage in when time allows, with a focus on my attempts to create a wearable wardrobe using a bare-bones basic sewing machine and limited seamstress skills.

I will be the first to admit I'm not very well dressed. For one thing, I live in Hilo, HI, and dressing up isn't very necessary here. For another, I don't have anything to wear.

I was doing okay in the what-to-wear department during the 8 years we lived on Maui and I snatched up lots of bargains from the sale rack at Blue Ginger. But not only did I get sick of wearing similar rayon dresses every day (comfortable and climate-appropriate as they were), eventually those dresses wore out.

I knew what to wear a decade ago, when I lived in New York City. I'd figured out my own style there, both casual at-home stuff and business wear. Granted, there wasn't anything particularly exciting or "fashion forward" about it -- and perhaps relied more on denim than was necessary -- but I could get up in the morning and ponder the day's schedule and know I had an appropriate outfit in the closet, whether I was facing a dull meeting in a corporate office somewhere, or heading for whatever dive a friends' band was playing in that night. (Whether or not I could fit into any particular outfit was always a concern, but at least the clothing situation -- in theory -- had been figured out.)

But nine years in Hawaii -- and the onset of middle age -- have erased those accomplishments. It's too warm and humid here for my old stand-by of jeans and a leather jacket. Plus I'm almost 50 now, and can only fit into a size 10 on my skinniest days.

My goal is to dress in a style that suits my age, bodyshape, personality, and -- most important -- a damp tropical climate. The likelihood those factors will ever converge in anything resembling a fashion trend is beyond remote. Plus, clothes shopping options in Hilo are limited unless you have an unhealthy fondness for aloha attire. Yes, we have a (small) Macy's, and few boutiques, but they just don't have clothes that suit my taste, budget, or lifestyle very well. And I haven't seen anything that interests me online, with the exception of some gorgeous Nicole Miller evening dresses at that I drooled over but have no use for whatsoever.

With birthday number 50 looming, I am determined to figure out what my personal style is in middle age, and to accumulate a wardrobe that celebrates it. Even if I have to make it myself.