Making the grade

Most of my posts have been focusing on designing fabric.  I also am working on designing sewing patterns.  One of the first patterns I designed was my zig-zag dress.








I started with a sketch, draped the dress, and converted it to a paper pattern.  Once I made up my first version of the dress, I was in love.


The pattern was easy to make and flattering to most figures.  I decided to use it for my first Renelope pattern.  I digitized my original pattern and began the instructions. There are a lot of  steps involved in creating a pattern!  I made another version in a silk charmeuse during the process.

Then I started grading the pattern.  This took an number of tries because of the diagonal pattern pieces.  I probably created well over 10 versions until I got one where all sizes lined up correctly.  I created some half-size pattern models to true the pattern once it was graded.


Once I had a good working copy, I asked a number of members of the Haute Couture Club of Chicago to test the pattern for me.  Each of them made up the pattern in a different size. Their feedback has been very helpful in tweaking the design.


It’s exciting to see how how the pattern has been used to create so many different looks.    I made another version with fabric painting, sequins and beads.  Here’s a version by Susan Gerbosi with a dramatic lace overlay on the waist panel.  I love the version Antoinette Eugene is working on using the Alabama Chanin technique.  Mary Kay Blaschke used two versions of the same print and added a back coral trim at the neckline.

I have created a pdf version of the pattern and a printed version.  The printed version includes all sizes and is printed in color.  The pdf version can be printed in black and white and either taped together or taken to a copy shop.


I’m also working to complete the instructions for my wide-leg jeans and puffball blouse patterns .   I hope to have both patterns available for sale shortly.


A peek inside Venice Carnival

Earlier this month the annual Carnival of Venice (Carnevale di Venezia) was  held in Venice, Italy.  The festival is world-famed for its elaborate masks.  I had wanted to create an easy pull on skirt using paintings of Venice.  The advent of carnival season got me thinking about creating a reversible skirt with a landscape (or canal-scape) on one side and a scene of revelers celebrating carnival on the inside.  I liked the idea of two skirts in one.

venice-1-orig carnivale-1`-origI started with two paintings that showed both a city scene and people celebrating.  I then manipulated the paintings so that they used the same color scheme and added some artistic effects.

venice-1-fabriccarnivale-1fabricThe next step was to create a simple pull-on skirt pattern and lay out the pieces on the painting.  I manipulated the artwork so that the picture wrapped seamlessly around the skirt.  I love the idea of printing my fabric so that I don’t have to figure out how to match the design.


I had the designs printed in Sport Lycra at Spoonflower.

venice-skirts-1-0-01The next step was to cut them out and sew.  Even though the design was matched in printing, the stretch fabric still took a little finessing to match perfectly.  I tacked the interior seams together by hand.  This took a number of tries to assure the side seams hung straight.

venics-1-front venice-1-side-2carnivale-1-front-2carnivale-1-side

I had originally thought to use a hidden elastic waistband and made my first skirt using that technique.   My first try did not turn out very well and I needed to rip out 3 seams of triple stretch stitch before I could redo it.  The hazards of working with lycra! Once I finished, the waist seemed rather bulky so my next attempt had an exposed waistband.

carnivale-2-front carnivale-2-side-2 venice-2-front venice-2-side

I think that worked better.  I added a label at the center back to help designate front from back.

label-closeupI’m now working on a third skirt for my sister using yet another print.


Warming it up with knits

It’s been cold in Chicago!  A cozy sweater would be nice. Unfortunately, my knitting skills are not up to the task so I thought I would take this time to look at some knit fabric options from Spoonflower.  I’ve been creating a few new fabric designs and some patterns for knits lately.  I’m wondering how each of these fabrics handles.

graffiti-gabricFirst, I had my Graffiti design  printed on Performance Knit.  I designed a simple boat neck top.  Unfortunately, I had a slight gap in my print and needed to cut judiciously in order to hide it.

pipingseamI created a yoke and added piping where the pattern gaped.  The rest of the top was seamed.

graffitiI’m not sure I really like the fabric.  It only has minimal one-way stretch and feels very plastic-like.  The top is kinda cute but I was limited in my design options by the flaw in the fabric and because I only bought one yard.

V1406Next I printed my Factory Puffball design on their Modern Jersey.  This time I had two yards printed because I wanted to make a top loosely based on Vogue V1406.  This is a dress pattern made for woven fabrics so I needed to make a few changes so it would work with the knit.  The fabric is very soft and comfy. There is a lot of horizontal stretch and a little bit of vertical stretch.  I created a facing and interfaced it to give the neck some body.  I also needed to add some bias stay tape along the neckline to get a sharp edge.

biasfacingI’m pretty happy with how this came out.  The biggest hurdle was adjusting my cover-stitch machine to work well with the fabric.

puffbalMy final adventure involved printing Streetcar Pinwheel on Sport Lycra.  I’ve been working on a reversible stretch pencil skirt pattern and used this as a mock-up.  I slightly reduced the image size in order to fit the entire image on the length of the skirt.  I only needed one yard of fabric for the skirt.

streetcar small-streetcarIn this test, I lined the skirt rather than making a reversible version but used the same sewing techniques.  It’s a slim pull-on stretch skirt that I think will be very versatile.  I like the fabric for this skirt.  It has a 4-way stretch but enough body to sew well.


I’m finishing the designs for the reversible skirts now and will be making samples next month.  I’m planning on using historic art prints of cities and people.  Here’s a taste.

carnivale-1 venice-1

Wrapping it up for the holidays

The Holiday rush is over and I’m still wrapping up my December projects.  I’ve been working on sewing up the Cut ‘n Sew skirts I created.  It’s been a lot of fun but really time consuming.  The first thing I discovered was that the fabric I suggested (organic cotton knit from Spoonflower) shrunk a bit when I washed it.  I needed to quickly make the pattern about 5% larger to compensate.  The fabric is a little thicker than traditionally used for this technique, but I like it.  I also created a stand-alone version of each print.

525 simple skirt birds

I started making up the bird print skirt.  First, I lay out the fabric pieces and cut the largest size.  If you measure the difference between sizes, you will see that it is either 1/4″ or 3/8″.  I decided to start with the largest size and adjust later.  I pinned the layers together and started stitching. I used embroidery thread for this skirt.


The background print I choose did not have enough color variation so the fabric I received was a solid grey. Since the cut-away inside the bird silhouette was rather large, I thought something else was needed; so I added some sequins!


Once both panels were done, I trimmed off the excess fabric and fit the skirt.  I’m happy to say that my sizing was good and I cut off enough to make the medium size skirt.  After sewing the skirt together, I stitched the seam down with the embroidery thread.

birds-cuttingOnce I had the skirt together, I added beads to the wires.  Along with the sequins, this adds a nice bit to shine to the skirt.




I finished off the skirt by using fold-over elastic for the waistband.  I joined the elastic at the center back so that I had a reference point when wearing the skirt.  I really love the skirt.  It looks a fabulous with my blue suede boots!


I am now working on the leaf print skirt.  It seems to be taking a lot longer.  Not as much bling but I think it’s a really cute skirt.



Cut ‘n Sew – My First Pattern

A couple of months ago I took a workshop from a member of the Haute Couture Club of Chicago on how to create fabric (and garments) using the Alabama Chanin® technique.  They sell wonderful stencils to use in the process and many people make their own.  Here’s a close-up of the technique.  Isn’t it gorgeous?  It uses two layers of organic cotton knit and is entirely done by hand.

1348087287-alabama_chanin_3_Alabama-Studio-Sewing-Design-bookEarlier in the day I had presented to the club on how to make your own fabric and one of the members suggested that I could design fabric with a stencil printed on it.  I loved the idea! But being the pattern nut that I am I decided to take it one step further and include prints.  I started off by designing a print for autumn and a couple of complimentary pieces for the back layer.

Leaf-Stencilleaf contrast 2 leaf contrast 3






I also wanted to create a print that used birds and a cityscape.  I think that the wires should be done in sequins or beads.  I made a couple of background fabrics to work with this design as well but I also think it works well as a stand-alone fabric.


Then came the bigger idea.  I decided to print the fabric in a cut ‘n sew skirt pattern.  I designed a simple skirt pattern, graded it to multiple sizes, and wrote some quick instructions.  I’m going to lay everything out on a yard of fabric so that you can get a complete skirt ready to go.  Here’s how it turned out.


Both designs will be available in my Spoonflower store along with the contrast fabric soon.  I’m going to order mine now so that I can make a new skirt for the holidays!

I take the plunge!

This summer I experimented with scuba fabric and neoprene.  I wanted to see what the fuss was all about.  I’m not sure that I’m a fan.  This may be because I selected patterns that did not really lend themselves to the fabric.  My first try was an absolutely beautiful flocked black scuba fabric that I found at Joann Fabrics.  Yes Joann’s!  It was relatively expensive for them at $19.95 a yard, but lovely.  I designed a simple shift dress with a square neckline and armholes. scubaI was also taken by the digital print neoprene at Mood.  I ordered two pieces.  This fabric is much thinner than the scuba fabric I used and had a nice drape.

faded floralsdtained glass

I also wanted to try using a Burda Magazine pattern and selected a couple to try with the scuba fabric.  The first dress I made was huge!  I wasn’t sure how the pattern ran and had to really take it in.  The instructions were also very confusing  I sewed the back together wrong and had to re-cut the dress with a waistband to save it.  Unfortunately, I did not like working with the fabric. It did not sew well.  I finally used a triple stretch stitch which is extremely difficult to remove if you make a mistake.  I’m not sure that I will wear the dress much.

flower-back flower--front

My next effort was with another Burda Magazine pattern.  When I printed the pattern it seemed a little small so I used 5/8″ seam allowances to cut but sewed it with 1/2″ seams.  The dress fit perfectly.  I’m not sure why the two patterns fit so differently.  For this dress, I think the neoprene worked better but since I used piping, I still needed to finish all edges.  I was also able to use a straight stitch on this dress because most of the seams were vertical.  This is one I will wear. I think I prefer the heavier weight scuba to the lighter neoprene.  I’m thinking that it may work well for an evening look.


The next plunge was to create a presentation on designing fabric for the Haute Couture Club of Chicago.  The fashion show next year features a segment on custom designed fabric and the members wanted to learn how to do it.  This was the first time I have presented on fabric design and I wanted to really give the audience the feeling that they could do it themselves.  I really enjoyed the process.

presentationHere’s a link to a movie of the presentation.    It’s a little long, I hope it inspires you.


How does your garden grow?

Every summer I enjoy the flowers on my deck when the weather is warm. This year I was also inspired to create some summer floral fabric.  I was looking through the new Vogue patterns and was immediately attracted to two of them.  The first was Vogue 1446 which I envisioned in a floral print in soothing summer colors.  I was inspired by the cool feeling of Monet’s water lily paintings.

inspiration Vogue 1446I quickly began creating the fabric.  I like my fabric design to be multi-layered so I began with a background design of clovers.  I then worked with a couple of floral photos to create cascading flowers.  I decided that the look was too bare so added some butterflies. to the design.  Then I noticed that the pattern called for a contrast fabric – I removed the flowers to create a contrast of the background print.  I had the fabric printed on kona cotton by DPI.  It was wonderful to work with.

floral-fantasy-background-0 floral-fantasy-01Making the dress was a challenge all it’s own.  Take a look at my Pattern Review write-up to discover all the pain this dress caused me.

dress-2back 2

The second dress that caught my eye was Vogue 1423.  I immediately pictured a border print with poppies.  I started with a background made of swirls that I decomposed and gradually increased spread out.  Then I created a field of poppies across the heavy swirled background.  Once I had the fabric laid out, my husband told me it was a little disjointed to his eye.  I played with the poppies and transformed them into squiggles that worked well with the swirl background.

Vogue 1423

I had the fabric printed on cotton-linen by DPI.  The first time around they did not understand that I wanted a border print and printed the design vertically.  Luckily they were able to quickly reprint and I got the fabric I wanted.  I also learned that black is not the best choice.  Even with heat setting the fabric, the black still rubbed off when handling.  When I washed the fabric, the color faded slightly.  The kona cotton did not fade at all.

Initial design
Final design

I cut the dress with the border at the hem and also used a portion of the border to cut the yoke.  I then beaded the yoke because I’m a sucker for beads. Click here for a closer look at the project.


I really like the way the dress fits. Now I am really ready for summer.

1423-front 1423-back

Through the Looking-Glass

In my last post I mentioned that I was working on garments for the Haute Couture Club of Chicago’s annual fashion show.  The show was held at the Fountain Blue in Des Plaines, IL in May and was a great success.  I showed a number of the garments I worked on over the past year.  Here’s what I entered.

Two dresses made from Chinese silk that I wrote about in my last post.  Here are the details on making the dresses.

My 1950’s vintage dress from pomegranate inspired fabrics.  I serged the edges of my crinoline with lime green thread to match the dress.

My fun camel dress made another appearance.  You can see more about making the dress here.

I entered a new version of my Photo-Op dress made up in a fabric featuring barbed wire and cherry blossoms.  I’m currently working on another dress from this fabric.  I also donated some fabric with this design to the silent auction.  I can’t wait to see what is made from it.

I made this great maxi dress from a piece of Missoni pima cotton knit.  The dress is partially lined and open at the sides.  It’s super comfy and fun to wear.

Finally I showed a jacket made from a piece of boiled wool I won from Elliott Berman Fabrics that has leather sleeves and trim.  I also made the black jeans.


I made a maxi dress out of a piece of Roberto Cavalli fabric I purchased on eBay to wear to the luncheon while I was not walking the runway.  I lined the dress with a wonderful heavy-weight silk crepe.  I used a vintage pattern without any changes. I felt wonderful wearing it.  It was a fabulous show and I’m looking forward to next year.

Everything’s coming up roses

I have been working on some additional garments for the Haute Couture Club of Chicago’s annual fashion show.HCC-TTLG-LogoThis year the theme is Through the Looking-Glass so I decided to create a few additional items to fit within the theme.  My first choice was to make a dress out of some beautiful Chinese brocade with a rose print.

b-fabric 1b-fabric 2

There will be segment about the Garden of Talking Flowers that I wanted to have a dress for.  Since time was short I decided to use a commercial pattern.  I chose a Vintage 1997 dress pattern.

mccalls 8858

Of course, it was way too small, so I used my handy digitizer to copy the pattern and then grade the pattern up to fit.

b-on digitizer

I used the reverse of the fabric for the bodice and to line the inside of the slit.  I added a beaded trim under the bodice and enlarged the back bow slightly.

b-bow detail

b-slit lining b-rose dress b-beading

Otherwise, it was pretty straight-forward to sew up.  I also created a fascinator to be worn in the show.  I was pretty lazy about it and purchased a pre-made fascinator and added some additional roses and embellishment to make it work better with the dress.

b-fascinator frontI also wanted to make a red dress for the show for the segment on the Queen of Heart’s tarts.  I have been interested in the silks for sale on eBay and wanted to get a feel for the fabric.  I decided to purchase a couple of yards to try.  All of the fabric I purchased was listed as a stretch silk. I am always looking for a good quality silk knit so I was really excited to try these.  Unfortunately, none of the fabrics were actually knit fabrics. The word stretch only referred to the slight stretch across the bias.  Though the fabric was nice, it was not the silk knit I was hoping for. b-fabric

I used a current Vogue pattern for the red dress I made out of the silk I ordered.  I did not really make any changes to this pattern except adding some beading to highlight the waistband. The fabric sewed up very nicely which was important since the entire garment was sewn with french seams.  It was a quick dress that will be perfect for the show.

b-red dress b-bodice beading

A blast from the past

One of my major purchases last year was a digitizer.  I found mine on eBay for about $400.  A design shop in Chicago must have been going out of business as there were a number of them up for sale at that time.  I got a GTCO Roll-Up III which can be rolled up and carried around.  This makes it much easier to store than the stationary digitizers.    Even though my model was from 2008, it’s still the most current model.  A 30″ x 36″ model like a have retails for $2225 so I got a really good deal.  digitizerI discovered quite a few things about digitizers after my purchase.  The first is that pattern drafting software is behind in technological advances.  I bought a digitizer with a USB connection because that was the latest technology.  When I couldn’t get my software to recognize the digitizer, I did a lot of digging on the web for answers.  I finally discovered that I needed to use a serial connection.  Once I ordered a serial connector for the digitizer (luckily it can use both connectors) and a serial adapter for my laptop, everything worked properly.  My other mistake was to get a 16-button puck (or cursor).  I thought more buttons were better.  I turns out that it just means more clicks to map a pattern.  Go with the 4-button puck.


One of the major reasons I wanted a digitizer is that I have hundreds of vintage patterns.  As is often the case with vintage, you take whatever size you can get.  I wanted to be able to resize some of these patterns.  I am starting with Simplicity 4354.  I was immediately attracted to this cute sundress.  Unfortunately I have it in a size 12.  A 1950’s size 12 is about the same as a current size 2.  Way too small for me.

Shoulder cutaway

First I digitized the pattern and then I resized it using my pattern drafting software. This picture shows the digitizing process but with another pattern.  I use Pad System software which has a digitizing module.  Once the pattern is digitized, it can then be opened in Pad and altered.  You can see the original pattern (black) and the new resized version.
digitizer 2
 Simplicity 4354 [Converted]I had some cotton sateen from Spoonflower in a couple of my pomegranate prints that I thought would work great for this dress. Once I had the pattern laid out, I adjusted the skirt so that it was fuller and followed the 45 degree angle of the design.  It’s a great pattern.  I added a bound buttonhole, self belt and contrast facing to make it really pop. 
front buttonbelt
 front and back views
I think it’s really cute.  I can’t wait for the weather to warm up so that I can wear it.  I also purchased a crinoline to wear underneath for a fun look.  Click here to see more pictures from this project.

Follow my journey to learn about designing patterns


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