Conquering Men’s Shirts – Vogue 9220

Conquering Men’s Shirts – Vogue 9220

I’ve had a mad hankering to sew up some clothes that require detailed work, like sleeve plackets and collars. My husband was willing to let me fiddle with numerous long sleeved shirt patterns and use him as a mannequin, for the greater good of well made men’s shirts.

Luckily, right when I was looking into sewing men’s shirts, Vogue released a new line with Vogue 9220. It includes 3 different button up variations, including a slim fit (version C). I initially made up version C as a working muslin, but didn’t like how it fit on him. So it went into the WIP bucket, and I started on version A in a nice, scarecrow-looking flannel I picked up at S.R. Harris in Minneapolis.

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Don’t mind his squinty eyes or crazy hair, it was a windy day!

This version sewed up with ease, and I was proud of my pattern matching and placket construction. And, it fits him wonderful! He’s on the short side, so I shortened the sleeves and torso by 2 inches and that corrected the length issue I saw from the version A muslin. I also added 1.5 inches to the back of the shirt, so that I could do the center box pleat and make it look more RTW. I enjoy the small details in this shirt, like the triangles that insert between the curved hem, and the two sets of buttons on the cuffs.

I followed the directions and did fully flat-felled seams throughout the garment, but in the future will likely just serge the seams together and sew them down, as a pseudo-flat-felling finish. When flat-felling the whole garment, intersection of seams under the armpit becomes bulky and difficult to evenly stitch through. To manage this, I used a Jean-a-ma-jig to evenly feed the fabric through and it worked like a charm! Definitely an improvement from my jagged, skipped stitches when I previously had tried to force it through the machine.

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I’m very happy with this shirt, and so is Ian. It’s in his regular button up rotation now, has been asking me to make more in various novelty fabrics (he really wants a Cthulhu shirt), which I plan on! There’s something therapeutic about diving into a detailed pattern and having all the hard work pay off in the end, by having a well-made garment that will last longer than most RTW.

Miss Frizzle Costume

Miss Frizzle Costume

In this family, Halloween is a big deal. There’s always a big party and we stay up into the wee hours of the night drinking beer and chatting around a bon fire. Being in Minnesota, it’s generally pretty cold at night and I keep this in mind when choosing my costume for the year. This year, my husband and I decided to be TV scientists. I fulfilled my childhood dream of being a bad ass magical scientist, and he went with Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty.

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I had been planning out this costume for a long time, because a Miss Frizzle costume had been a dream of mine for years. When we settled on this for our costumes, I was pumped and went straight to looking for the perfect microbiology fabric. Alas, the best microbiology fabrics were on Spoonflower and that’s simply outside my budget. So I settled for this amazing geology themed fabric from Fabric.com.

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In order to fulfill my Miss Frizzle dreams, the pattern was heavily altered, with a base of McCalls 6696 changed to be a half shirt dress, hacked together with the sleeves from McCalls 6989. I added the sleeves by tracing the sleeve cap from the three quarter sleeve view of 6696, slicing it to be the two piece sleeve like 6989, then tracing the sleeve portion from 6989.

Using stills from the Magic School Bus TV show as reference, I saw that a feature of all of her wild dresses include the contrasting white collar, placket, and cuffs. For the placket, I went for a close second, by making it  a contrasting half shirt dress. I followed these instructions for converting it to a half shirt dress, which worked quite well. I selectively chose the sleeve pattern for 6989 because they included cuffs, so this was simple to do.

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I removed a total of 6″ from the skirt front and back due to the width of my fabric, and attached them with gathers rather than pleats as is used in the original 6696 pattern. The amount of extra fabric in the back was also reduced by 4 inches, though it could have used further adjustment as it still felt poofy.  In order to be able to carry my phone throughout the Halloween party, I added a pocket on the side without the zipper. I followed this tutorial on a Male Pattern Boldness’s method of attaching a collar, which worked absolutely beautifully. I had never used this method before, and frankly I’m glad I didn’t start with it because it makes me appreciate the ease and simplicity so much more.

All in all, I love the dress and am so happy that I fulfilled my scientist teacher dreams this Halloween!

My Sewing Method

When I first started sewing apparel, I had a “go for it” kind of attitude. My mother had given me the foundations of sewing throughout my childhood, including knowing how to operate a sewing machine, serger, and rotary cutter. But she had never taught me how to make apparel. To get started, I found a vintage sewing pattern that was in my grandmother’s stash, a polyester from my mom’s stash, and just went at it. It was a simple trapeze dress, and I’m not sure that I even followed all the directions. I still have that pattern, and really wish that I had traced the pattern rather than cutting it out because now, I’m stuck with one size and one to two versions of the dress.

Choose the fabric and/or pattern

Starting with fabric: I know how it is at the fabric store. You fall in love with a fabric and you have nothing in mind for what to make with it. Soon you’ll accumulate a stash and months later come back to the fabric and ask, what was I thinking? This is when you assess the fabric. What is the drape and thickness good for? If it’s a thick twill, it might be best off for bottoms (skirts, pants, shorts), structured dresses, or accessories (purses). If it’s a lightweight fluid fabric, you’re likely looking at blouses or dresses with a lot of give. Dig into the patterns you own, the patterns available through the Big 4, and the indie patterns throughout the world. Find something that speaks to both you, and the fabric. Because if there is one thing to learn from this, is that it’s difficult to force a fabric onto a pattern.

Starting with a pattern: This is a bit easier to manage, as the pattern gives you general guidelines on what fabric to be on the lookout for and a vision in mind. Again, the fabric recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt, but do not force a fabric onto a pattern. If it calls for a woven and you want to use a knit, there are tutorials online for how to do that conversion. If you’re making a blouse and it calls for a lightweight woven, do not use a super heavyweight fabric because it will not have enough give. Keep in mind the work that will go into matching patterns, plaids, and stripes when buying fabric, and the laundering requirements for the fabric. I try to take a picture of the end bolt when I buy it so I know the fiber content and the laundry instructions for later on.

Size yourself

This took the longest for me to understand and accept. You are your own size, and the patterns aren’t always going to fit you right out of the envelope. I trusted the recommended sizes for a lot of patterns, and often it works out. But when it doesn’t, it’s incredibly disappointing. BE SKEPTICAL OF THE SIZING. If you want it fitted, take the pattern pieces out, measure the width or length, do some math calculating in seam allowances, and calculate how much ease there is. If there’s 3 inches of ease around the bodice that is supposed to be fitted, make adjustments or select a different size. If your hips are a size 12 and your bodice a size 10, grade the sizes together. It’ll make for a much better fitted garment and a happier seamstress. There’s tons of tutorials online to do this, give it a try and you’ll be much more satisfied with what you make.

Trace pattern onto tracing paper

Once you’ve chosen your fabric and have your pattern size determined, I trace my pattern. This is so that I can make adjustments to the pattern for sizing such as a full bust adjustment, hacks to the design, or simply to keep the paper pattern intact to use a different size or version in the future. Pellon sells tracing pattern which is wonderful for this, but there are others you can use and even directly sew up and make adjustments to. Once my patterns are traced, I simply keep them in a gallon sized bag labeled with the pattern enclosed.

Organize which are interfaced, interface yardage first

I find block interfacing helpful in maintaining the integrity of the cut, interfaced pattern pieces. If I don’t block interface, I end up with either the fabric or interfacing too large and it affects the piece. To do this, organize which pattern pieces need interfacing. Lay them over the fashion fabric, and decide how much yardage needs to be interfaced for these pieces. Interface the whole piece, then cut out the individual pieces. The exception to this is collars, where the collar seam allowance is left uninterfaced to reduce bulk.

Lay, cut, mark

Finally, you can lay out your pattern pieces on the fashion fabric and cut them out. I use a rotary cutter for a majority of my cutting, and mark darts and pleats with a combination of chalk and tailor’s tacks. To make with chalk, I insert a pin into the point of the pattern piece and rub my chalk along the point of the pin on the fashion fabric. Then, follow your pattern directions and sew to your heart’s content!

Moneta Frenzy

Moneta Frenzy

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Before I started consistently sewing for myself, my wardrobe of dresses was largely composed of knit dresses. They’re easy to throw on, comfortable, and have ease in the fabric for when you eat too much at the summer BBQ. Not to mention they wash up super easily and there’s so many different design directions you can go with them.

After a few years of dabbling with the big four patterns, I fell in love with indie sewing pattern companies. One of my favorite companies is Colette, who not only produce wonderful sewing patterns but also release tutorials, sew alongs, and one of my favorite things ever, Seamwork Magazine. The Moneta pattern was released with Seamwork Magazine, and has since become a standby for many seamstresses. It is a beautiful knit dress with a fitted top and gathered skirt at the natural waist. It even has pockets! The dress comes with three sleeve length variations and a free kit with a variety of necklines. It’s an all around winner. 

I had a lovely time sewing up my first Moneta. I used a purple, floral knit from the Joann Fabrics red tag clearance section. I used size S on the top, and size M on the bottom, grading between the sizes for the bodice. The instructions were very clear, and there’s even a sew along online if you have any questions about the construction! The neckline, armband, and hem were all finished with a twin needle. I had some issues of it not laying flat, despite lowering the bobbin tension. I thought that a steamy ironing would fix it but after it went through the wash, it bubbled up again. I eventually fixed this on my next Moneta, by decreasing the bobbin tension all the way down to 1. It might have also been a fabric issue.

Sewing the clear elastic in the waist can be a challenge. My machine is pretty strong and can handle the tension needed to stretch the elastic while feeding it into the machine, but I pined it twice as much as the pattern recommends (1/8ths rather than 1/4ths) which definitely helped the even gathering.

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My second Moneta was made up with a rayon blend from Joanns, with the three quarter sleeve and tie neck variations. I found this fabric to be a challenge because despite being so thin, it has a heavy drape. Also it didn’t take ironing the knit interfacing very well and has some iron marks on the neckline now (noo!). Because of the thinness of the fabric, I’ll likely wear a slip or shapewear underneath to cover all my lovely lumps and bumps.

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I really like this version for fall, and can see it being worn with a variety of tights and boots already in my closet. I have fabric in my stash for one more Moneta, this time it’ll have a peter pan collar though. So look forward to more variations of this pattern!

Soma Swimsuit

Soma Swimsuit

Last summer, I struggled to find a supportive swimsuit that didn’t have multiple inches of bust padding. I wasted so much time in dressing rooms, looking at myself falling out of shrunken breast cups. Around this time, I came across Lladybird’s beautiful make of the Soma Swimsuit and was inspired to muster up the time and confidence to try my own version.

Version 1: Floral fabric from Etsy vendor BigFabricDeals

I was definitely intimidated by using swimsuit fabric, but it is truly no worse than sewing with knits. It’s a bit slippery and stretchy and requires the use of a zig zag stitch, but it is relatively stable compared to some rayons. My recommendation would be to cut out the pieces using a rotary cutter and make sewing indications with shallow notches.

Version 2: Stormy fabric from The Fabric Fairy

For both of the versions, I extended the top of the high waisted bikini by approximately 2 inches so that it fell on my natural waist. Since this pattern is a New Zealand pattern, seam allowances are in centimeters. In the floral swimsuit, I used 1/2 in seam allowances but found that they were too big. I was much happier with the 3/8 seam allowances in the storm swimsuit. Additionally, I changed elastic from a 1/2 in swimsuit elastic to a 1/4 in swimsuit elastic. This made it fit better, and the elastic roll over looks much nicer with thinner elastic.

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In my first version, I fully followed the instructions and left the front bodice seams exposed around the triangle, finishing with a normal serged edge. After wearing it, I found that it bothered me that those seams were the only ones not enclosed. Why should they be out and about?! In my stormy swimsuit, I followed Lladybird’s recommendation to burrito the triangle like a yoke and enclose them. To do this, I attached the right side of the triangle together with right sides of the lining and patterned fabric together. To attach the left side of the triangle to the other bust cup, you have to roll/fold the bust cups within the middle of the triangle and move them out of the way of the seam line. Then, pin the right sides together again carefully stitch, ensuring not to catch the bust cups in the seam. The top of the triangle was a little fiddly and I had to unpick a few stitches and redo a small section, but I’m really happy with the end result and found it to be entirely worth it.

These swimsuits came together much more quickly than I had expected. Even though the bodice has many parts, they are relatively straight forward and the assembly order simplifies the process immensely. I truly enjoyed making these! And it feels so great to have a swimsuit that holds me up and makes me feel fully confident. I can see myself making more swimsuits in the future as the need arises.

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Bonus photo of Rosie helping me take pictures, always such a helper.

Grey Twill Shirtdress

Grey Twill Shirtdress

So often when it comes to sewing, you dream up beautiful ideas of flouncy dresses that have no place in your normal, day-to-day life. And that’s fine! It’s fun to dream big and play dress up with your sewing machine once in a while. But there’s only so many pretty dresses you can make before they overwhelm your closet. I’ve been making more of an effort to make pieces that are versatile and good for daily wear in my wardrobe. For me, this means dress shirts and shirt dresses that can be layered throughout the year.

I made this garment as a test for shirt dress construction, as I have had no previous experience with it. This was made with the McCall’s 6885, which has one of the most dreadful photos on the front. I don’t know what they were thinking with the floral dress and matching hat! It looks awful. If they had featured the chambray illustration it would be much more appealing. I made the short sleeve variation, out of a fabric that has been in my stash for many years. I don’t remember why I had bought this fabric originally, but it’s a thick grey twill from the S.R. Harris fabric depot in Minnesota.

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I indicated all of the pattern markings using tailor’s tacks, which helped as the placket attachment can become quite a hassle. Reflecting back on this, I should have started with the Grainline’s Alder shirt dress as that pattern has much more clear instructions. Overall, the placket went on quite nicely. I had some issues with the collar stay being longer than the neckline/placket, likely due to imprecise sewing. I also used the straight hem variation rather than the curved hem, as I had read from other bloggers that the curve comes up quite high on the thigh.

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After completing the garment, I found that the shoulders and short sleeves felt tight. This, with the heaviness of the fabric, makes me feel super claustrophobic when I wear it and since it’s been completed, it’s never been worn. I can’t move my arms back or forwards without it pulling on the front or back and being uncomfortable. I believe that I may try a rescue operation on the dress, removing the short sleeves and finishing the armhole with bias binding. Into the UFO pile it goes… Next time, I’ll make it sleeveless and/or consider a lighter cotton or flannel eventually and maybe put a yoke in the back with some gathers underneath to allow for arm movement.

Despite being unwearable, I consider it a learning experience, which I was glad to have on a fabric that has been in my stash for ages!

Olive Sleeveless Shirtdress, or the Damn I Feel Good Dress

Olive Sleeveless Shirtdress, or the Damn I Feel Good Dress

DSC05020After having moved to Des Moines from the twin cities, I had the entire summer free and I knew that I would have to keep myself busy. So I started the summer with a goal in mind: make it through my enormous stash.

Granted, I have seen some other bloggers fabric stashes. Gigantic! As sewers, we often pick a pattern then go shopping for the fabric for it. So our fabric deals and impulse purchases sit in our cabinet, or cubbies, until we make a referendum that they have to go.

This olive polyester was one such fabric. It had been sitting in my stash unused for about 2-3 years. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, I was just uninspired. It has pretty good drape, and I was shying away from anything with a lot of precise sewing and detail. Until I realized that with the magic of spray starch, I could whip out a button up dress.

DSC05021For this dress, I used enigmatic McCall’s M6696. It’s a wonderful shirt dress pattern (with pockets!) that includes three sleeve and two skirt variations. This version is collarless, using the collar stand as a mandarin collar. I often gravitate towards this neckline in my day to day wear, so it felt right at home in my wardrobe. I used the guide provided by Grainline for the mandarin collar variation. I have some puckers at the very front of the collar stand, next to the edge of the dress, because I top stitched the collar stand prior to attaching it. Whoops! Thankfully it isn’t super obvious, but it’s one of those mistakes that only the maker would see. Next time I know to top stitch after it has been attached to the dress.

The skirt of this dress has a total of 24 pleats. Surprisingly, they’re not bad to do! My advice is to ensure that all markings are on the right side of the fabric to make the pleating easier. I first ironed the pleats down using the markings, then machine basted them in place, which worked out quite well. When I went to attach the skirt to the waistband, I ended up having a significant amount of excess fabric to ease into the waistband. The excess fabric was easily hidden behind the various pleats, so you can’t tell from the outside.

To finish the dress, I made quick work of the buttons by using my sewing machine’s automatic button holer and attaching the buttons with a zig zag stitch. I could also see this dress being done with snaps, which would be fun. I finished all of my seams with serging to prevent fraying from within. This makes it feel much more professional. I’ve always been interested in finishing seams with the Hong Kong finish (bias binding on the raw edges), and this would be a good pattern to test it out on in the future.

This is a pattern that I absolutely enjoyed making, and see myself making it again. I already have a plan to make my Ms. Frizzle costume for Halloween out of this pattern. So look forward to repeats of this bad boy!