Sew The Look: Alexa’s Corduroy Shirt Dress

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The fall weather here has been perfect for wandering about…sunny, warm and colorful! When the weather is like this, I find it impossible to stay inside. On a recent walk, I found myself in front of my favorite RTW haunt, Anthropologie. What a surprise! I couldn’t help but go inside. As usual, the racks were loaded with inspiration. My favorite ‘find’ was a navy corduroy shirt dress, an A-line with a seventies vibe.

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Since I’ve been in a bluesy-denim mood for about a YEAR, the color alone was enough to make me swoon, so I grabbed it and headed to the dressing room. There, I just happened to glance at the price tag. Sticker shock! The price was roughly three times what I expected it to be. How could that be? The dress was made from corduroy! It turns out that my favorite frock wasn’t just any old shirt dress, but one designed by model,  Alexa Chung. It’s part of a line by AG jeans of dresses, all with a retro seventies look, so, of course, I fell in love.  As fate would have it, the dress didn’t fit at all. My narrow shoulders….my high waist…yada yada.  You know the story. (This is one good reason to sew!) Still, I wanted that dress! That moment gave birth to a new obsession – – to create my own version of that cute navy dress. Stealthily, in the privacy of my dressing room, I studied it, making a quick mental list of the details that made that dress so awesome: soft navy corduroy, great a tonal top stitching, french seams, a very ‘seventy’s’ A-line shape, princess seams (who can resist!!), cool silver buttons, two pockets, and long sleeves with cuffs.

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Choosing the pattern was a no-brainer. McCalls’ 6124 is a TNT for me,  a shirt with princess seams, front bands, sleeves with cuffs, and collar variations.

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Fabric? I found the softest corduroy EVER at Mill End, and it was a deep rich navy, so I was off to a good start.The cutting out phase of the project went well, with one exception. A small, orange-ish cat snuck into my sewing room. I’ll just say this. If you choose to make a dress out of dark corduroy, carry a lint brush at all times.

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This classic shirt dress went together as expected, and, as usual, I had trouble with the challenge of the collar stand. It’s the curves, the positioning of the collar, the edge stitching – – everything about it pushes my patience.  I can never get the collar and the band to line up perfectly. This time though, I used a technique I learned about awhile ago from the blog, Four Square Walls. Instead of attaching the collar to the collar stand, then attaching the whole piece to the neckline, you re-order things a bit. First, you sew one interfaced collar band piece to the neckline. Then, you sew the collar to that, following finally with the other collar band piece, and Voila! Perfection! Here’s the link that describes the process perfectly: four square walls, sewing a collar a different order.

The top stitching was so fun too, especially because I got to use my new best friend, Bernina presser foot 57, my 1/4” Patchwork Seam Foot.

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Love that thing. You just line the little seam guide up and you can not go wrong.

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Because I might use this dress as a layering piece over jeans (wearing it open?), I worked extra hard to make the inside perfect. So, I did french seams throughout, using a light blue topstitching thread. It took awhile (a three hour movie – – but who’s counting), but I’m sure the effort will pay off at some point (?). I also added self drafted pockets with flaps and top stitched them as well.

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The most satisfying detail of all for me was the buttons, little jeans buttons with stars on them!

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If you’ve never played around with these things, let me tell you, it is a kick. You get to use a hammer to pound the back on! I like the silver accent of the buttons against the blue corduroy.

The dress is so comfortable to wear. There is nothing like the comfort of a soft cotton corduroy and a walk in the woods to make a day perfect.IMG_2918

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What RTW inspirations have you found this fall? Happy sewing and thanks for stopping by!

Seeing Red!! An embellished version of Simplicity 3833

IMG_1136s This This Fall, there’s a new kid in town, the Little Red Dress. While the Little Black Dress and the Little White Dress have always been favorites of mine, there’s something fierce and unexpected about a red dress. For one thing, you can’t be a shrinking violet if you’re wearing red at a party. You will be noticed. You might feel a bit powerful, too.

I decided to make this dress from red because when I looked at my Fall wardrobe, only one word came to mind – Somber! Everything I saw was gray or black.  Eeek! Is there anything worse? I decided it was time to find a new favorite color. Then, I met this fabric. True love! It was the most perfect shade of red; not too orange or pink, but a true, cardinal red.

My lovely cardinal fabric became the back drop for embellishment, courtesy of the second round of the Pattern Review Sewing Bee. We were asked to make the fabric our own by using surface embellishments. It took me a few days to get my head around that one (clock ticking, ticking, ticking). But once I got used to the idea, the embellishments used by Italian designers, like Dolce and Gabbana came to mind. Inspired by their swoops and swirls, I decided to try my hand at it.

IMG_1438Because I suspected the trim and appliqué would be heavy, I decided to make my dress from a medium weight rayon (woven) with some body and weight. I’m glad I did that, because the finished dress is surprisingly heavy.  Just think what the royals have to deal with, given the size of their medals and jewels!
Dress Pattern: I used Simplicity 3833 for the bodice but added self drafted sleeves because I wanted them to be bell-shaped to match the a-line shape of the dress’s lower bodice. The embellishments on the sleeves are meant to match the themes on the dress bodice. I highly recommend this pattern. It’s really fun and easy to sew. The curved seam between the upper and lower bodice gives it a unique look, I think. I chose an a -line style because the skirt is wide, a nice blank slate for embellishments.

IMG_0928The embellishments:
  • Before constructing the dress, I made a template of the swirled pattern, so that the design would be consistent on both sides of the upper and lower bodice which I knew would be tricky.
  • Then, I transferred the finished designs to the right side of the fabric with basting stitches. Nightmare. I could have used one of those lovely invisible ink marking pens, but I discovered with a test swatch, that the ink didn’t disappear on this fabric. Since I knew I’d make mistakes, I didn’t dare use one.
  •  Following those markings, I laid the trim onto the fabric pieces, adjusting the curves as I went so that the swirls wouldn’t look forced.  This took forever as it had to be done in stages – – so that the curves of the swirls would be remain perfect and symmetrical. I hand basted each trim to the fabric to keep it from shifting, before using my machine to secure it with a appliqué stitch.
  •  I created the appliqué flowers and trim from lace, then appliquéd those embellishments to the center of the swirls.
The best part of this project, was deciding where to put the embellishments so that my figure would be (ahem) enhanced by the design.  I created the swirl design templates with the a-line shape of the dress in mind. The largest swirls were put at the center of the upper and lower bodice to create a focal point for the eye. The secondary swirls were placed at the side of the a-line skirt to draw attention to that shape, while also (hopefully) adding a slimming line to the design. The design of the front embellishments are carried through to the back of the dress in a continuous line.
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Part of the fun of this project was creating the design templates, then applying the design to the fabric in stages. This was a long process, but it was fun to do this in layers. Each time I added a new line of embellishment, the dress took on a new look, so the design sort of ‘evolved’.
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One challenge I didn’t expect was locating the right trim for the embellishments. To make the design have a bit of energy, the trims needed to be of varying weights and styles. I drove all over Portland, looking for trim and bought everything I saw. So, Portland-ites – – there’s nothing left for you!   If I had to do it again (with more time), I’d probably have ordered some interesting trims from other sources for more variety.
 Ultimately, this was a fun challenge and because of it, I now have a new special occassion dress. And sewing with a color as vibrant as Cardinal was definitely inspiring. I’m determined to add some color to my fall wardrobe, maybe some jade, a bit of gold, a touch of fuchsia? Lots of warm, vibrant colors.  I’m excited to start sewing with some lovely prints too!
How is your fall closet? Happy sewing and thanks for stopping by.

Thursday tee: A sporty tee dress

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Even if you don’t consider yourself an athlete, who can resist dressing like one from time to time? My Thursday tee is a sporty dress, a nod to the trend that gives us a chance to look fit and relaxed, even when we aren’t at the gym.
Since the sporty trend is strong, there’s plenty of inspiration in ready-to-wear.
Proenza Schouler gives a nod to fitness with this look.
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I love the color blocking here (It appears as though I will never get over my obsession). Another plus – – you could actually wear this dress with sneakers, if you wanted to. What’s not to like about that?
And here’s a cool dress from Jonathan Simkhai.
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You probably wouldn’t hit the gym in this one, but at least you look as though you’d like to!
 To make my sporty dress, I used Vogue 8817, a close fitting pullover top with neck binding, seam detail, and contrast variations. It was designed by Katherine Tilton, well-known for her  love of mixing colors and prints in blocks. So, even the pattern envelope includes yardage measurements for a variety of blocking options which makes the mix and match thing pretty easy to do.
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I used a Ponte knit with moderate stretch for view C, an A-line shaped tunic. Although it’s designed to be a top, I lengthened the pattern to make it a dress, then added a hem band at the bottom for contrast.
This pattern was so easy, I finished it in an afternoon. Instant gratification!
And, the blocking variations make it the perfect pattern for (need I say it) stash busting. I was able to use a remnant of red knit from my stash for the contrasting bands and borders. Yahoo!
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This dress is so comfortable, I’m sure I’ll wear it a lot this summer. The knit is just the right weight to make it an easy travel dress too. What about you? Do you like the sporty, active wear look? Thanks for stopping by……