My first bridal sewing commission… Friday, Feb 7 2020 

Although I haven’t posted here much, I have been sewing like a madwoman for the past several months! I’ve been quilting, costuming, clothing-sewing… I do most of my fly-by posting now at Instagram, so follow me there, for quicker, more frequent updates.

This winter I was commissioned to make wedding gowns for my twin nieces’ new American Girl dolls. What a fun and involved project this was! The girls designed their gowns, and it was up to me to fulfill the brief. Tracking down the Very Specific requested fabrics and working out the construction of these special ensembles was quite the adventure, but in the end it was so much fun. CJ asked me what took me so long to get involved in sewing for dolls!

Georgie Before. As a friend noted, “That doll has Seen Some Things.” LOL

The first necessary step was recruiting a fit model for these projects. A true American Girl doll is well outside my budget, but fellow doll sewists online suggested checking out thrift stores. I was able to find a vintage 1990s Battat Our Generation doll for a very affordable $5.99. She just needed a bit of TLC, and she was ready for her new career.

After a trip to the salon and more respectable outfit

The second step was practicing some new-to-me techniques. I expected that translating clothing construction details to the small scale of dolls might present some challenges, so I stocked up on research materials and patterns. My library had a copy (with the CD of .pdf patterns) of a Joan Hinds book, and I picked up a couple additional patterns, as well.

Joan Hinds, DOLL COSTUME DRESS UP, Kwik Sew 2921, and See & Sew 6082

I pulled some fabric from stash, and got to work.

I made a dress, pinafore, tights (from a tutorial), and little wool felt slippers (from the book). I was hooked! This was some of the most fun I’d had sewing in a long time. Thus energized, I got to work on the wedding gowns and assorted accoutrements.

Tavie’s Mermaid Gown

With a little artistic assistance from Dad, Tavie designed a strapless mermaid-style gown (“See the scales?” LOL) with a layered blue overskirt and red jewels on the bodice.

I found perfect fabrics–a mermaid-scale foil print jersey and some glorious blue iridescent organza for the overskirt.

A friend pointed me toward the Liberty Jane Sheath Dress pattern as a base for the ensemble.

I began by altering the pattern to make it strapless, and drafting a flouncy skirt for the mermaid part of the gown. More details are in this review.

The gown required some fiddly fitting to adapt a woven dress to a strapless knit dress—mostly removing some ease (and then some more ease, and then even more ease!), but in the end it turned out beautifully and stays up on its own, even with the added weight of the red jewels. (I found a very useful packet of inexpensive jeweled buttons in lots of colors [actually, they’re more like buttoned jewels—jewels with holes drilled in] and used several of them throughout both ensembles! A great addition to the stash.)

The overskirt flummoxed me a bit—I had trouble imagining what the pattern shapes for the skirt should be. Finally I gave up trying and just made something up! With skirt-length guidance from the Joan Hinds book, I cut 4 rectangular panels from the organza twice the doll’s waist measurement. Each panel is 2″ shorter than the next, so they’ll fall in graduated tiers: 3″, 5″, 7″, and 9″. I then stacked them up and gathered them all together with my serger, which worked beautifully. I felt the gathers could still use a little more oomph, however, so I ran them through a second time, gathering them again by sewing machine. Perfect! Then to make the floaty petal shapes, I folded the skirt in  half, and cut the fronts into a nice smooth curve:

After that, I added a waistband and a jeweled button-and-elastic-loop closure. This fabric was sheer delight (ahem) to work with. It doesn’t fray at all, so there’s no need to hem these pieces, and it gives such glorious fanciful sparkle. It reminds me of tropical fish—their iridescent fluttery fins. I wasn’t really going for full-on mermaid with this gown, but thanks to the fabrics, I kind of got it!

Tavie didn’t include a headpiece in her design, but I felt it needed one, so I whipped up a simple little birdcage veil.

I followed this tutorial for a human-sized version, just adapted it for doll size. It’s a very forgiving project–nothing has to be terribly exact. I just happened to have on hand some perfect white doll-sized netting for the veil, from an unexpected source: it was the packaging for some dollar store Christmas candy! We hung onto it thinking it might be useful for something, and we were right! I cut it to shape, gathered it up and whipstitched it to a vintage rhinestone barrette I found in my hair-stuff drawer. Perfect!!

Irene’s Pink Wedding Dress

Irene designed an even more elaborate and specific ensemble: A strapless gown with a light blue bodice with swirls (“swirls can be any color”) and “ribbon or trim” at the neckline, a white ruffled skirt with a daisy on the hip, and a dark pink or red “triangle” in the middle, with silver accents. It has a pink lace mantilla veil with multicolor floral trim.  I quickly reinterpreted this as a pink skirt with a ruffled overskirt.  But how on earth to find such very specific fabrics?

In a panicked, last-minute New Year’s Eve run into a store five minutes before closing (never underestimate my ability to shop for fabric under ANY conditions!), I found some drapey pale pink lace and this lovely organza trim that looks like rosebuds for the mantilla (this is also when I found the mermaid fabric). On a more leisurely stroll through JoAnn, I lucked into the perfect fabrics for the gown: a pale blue butterfly-and-swirls brocade, and some fuchsia satin with a silver glitter floral print!

All the fabrics! Irene’s on the left, Tavie’s on the right.

This took HOURS to sew and years off my life, but it’s beautiful, so it was worth it!!

I wasn’t quite sure how they’d all end up working together, but hating to disappoint a seven-year-old by imposing my stodgy aesthetics (“can this dress have more brown?”) on her designs, I dove right in. And I must say, her sensibilities were spot on. It’s an over-the-top confection of pink and sparkle and ruffles (and pearls and lace!), but it definitely all works!

I realized that fitting the second strapless bodice would require a different approach this time, with the woven fabrics, where I wouldn’t be able to rely on the stretch of the fabric to hold it up. Instead, I opted for boning, in the form of itty-bitty zip ties! I don’t know why we had these practically microscopic little things in our zip tie stash in the tool chest, but obviously they were meant for doll dresses. I sewed the boning channels into the lining fabric, although they would have been really pretty visible in the outer bodice, too. The boning channels are really tiny—just 1/8″—so separate casings would have added way too much bulk, which is a concern when you’re working at a small scale.

And a shot of the mockup, because even that was so darned adorable!

The fabrics I chose looked fiddly, but in reality they sewed *beautifully.* I couldn’t be more pleased with how well they handled beneath the needle, through the serger, and under the iron. Huge props to JA here for producing these surprisingly nice and affordable special occasion fabrics. I’d use the pink glittery stuff in a little girl’s dress easily, and the brocade would be lovely for anyone.

I got a bit ahead of myself there, but I used the same Kwik Sew pattern I used for the little orange test dress, just altered to be strapless, and with a full-length skirt. (Not having to set in those tiny, tiny sleeves actually made the construction much faster and easier.) I made a couple of tweaks to make it a little more serger-friendly, but the materials handled so nicely (I could not believe how well that pink satin gathered!) that I could have done it on the machine just as easily. Still, serging makes for a sturdy, clean finish inside, which is nice.

For the trim on the bodice, I dug through my stash and found a strand of pearls, which I simply whipstitched to the top edge, around the neckline, while watching “Sabrina.”

The overskirt was made much the same way as the tiered organza version. I cut a trapezoid of white muslin twice her waist measurement by the length I wanted (22 x 11″ plus hem allowances), then finished all four sides and gathered the top edge. Next came topstitching row upon row upon row of ruffled trim onto the right side. The top layer of trim holds the gathers in place, and the hem finishes the waistline edge. I wasn’t completely happy with the drape of the finished overskirt, so I folded the front edges in a bit more to expose more skirt. The last touch was another elastic loop and sparkly button.

With the all-important daisy!

The final piece of the ensemble was the mantilla veil.  I studied a lot of veil tutorials to suss out the pattern shape, and draped my half yard of pink lace on Georgie to determine the length and hemline:

 

I roughly pinned around the shape I wanted, then took the lace, laid it flat, and cut it with the rotary cutter. My first cut was too long for my trim, so I popped it back on and trimmed it freehand until it was the right size. The final shape ended up a sort of oval. The bottom edge (which is almost straight across) goes across the head, and the top curve is the back. The shorter ends of the oval are the sides.

…Then I spent roughly the next twenty-seven years hand-sewing the trim onto the veil. Wedding bloggers are BIG FAT LIARS! I saw so many tutorials that claimed “it took about an hour.” I am giving them the evil eye right now, because this took at least three times that–and was TINY compared to a human mantilla! You have been warned.

She’s wearing the blue organza overskirt here–everything is mix-and-match!

Still, the whole ensemble could not be more fabulous! This was a grand adventure, and except for about two hours of mantilla sewing, I loved every single second of it! I want to sew All the Doll Things now, and in fact am looking for a friend for Georgie. Stay tuned…

(But first: more quilts and an Epic Historical Costuming Project. After this, however, I feel like I can tackle anything! Maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh….)

UPDATE! My sister-in-law sent me these wonderful pictures of Tavie and Irene with their wedding-ready AG dolls! Huzzah! Twins and Dolls

 

Sausage & Popovers Tuesday, Jun 20 2017 

19 June, 2017

Gosh, it’s been six months since I’ve posted here. Ridiculous! It’s not because I haven’t been busy—it’s because this has been The Spring Of Many WIPs and Few Finishes (both sewing and writing), and because my last two old girls, sixteen-year-old twins Jade & Jasmine, require a lot of time and care (and, on occasion, Exceptional Forbearance). Some of you know that until Jade got sick a couple months ago, I was sending a new project through my weekly writers’ group. Exciting!!

With CJ and the girls at the park for Father’s Day.

Eventually, hopefully, there will be Quilt Updates, Cosplay Updates, and Book Updates (!)… but here, at last, are some finishes that are worth posting about.

I’ve been making popovers!

No, not these (because y’all know I don’t cook):

These!

Isn’t this cute? It’s Butterick 5997/See & Sew 6270 (a rebranded, abridged release):

   

The pattern is meant for wovens, but I made this from some lovely lightweight cotton jersey. I made it straight out of the envelope as is—the only change I made was shortening it by three inches (I’m 5’4″), because when I tried on the muslin I got “bad nightshirt,” not “cute popover top!” I love the interesting details–the band collar, the (faux!) roll-tab sleeves in my favorite 3/4 length (so flattering on my T. rex arms), and the pretty gathered shoulders that take the place of bust darts and give a lovely fit to pretty much any figure. (Stay tuned for how I know this!)

In fact, I was so smitten with that antique violet top, that I immediately made another! This time, I salvaged a length of green & navy homespun cotton from the costume closet (I’ve been wearing it as a wrap on Scottish days at Fair for aeons).

Et voila:

Wait! I think I might like this one even more than Version 1! This is the first modern/mundane woven top I’ve ever made myself, and I keep pulling it out of the closet—three times the first week. I think it’s a winner.

I was already trying to decide just how many identical tops a woman can have in her wardrobe, when THIS appeared in my inbox, from FabricMart:

 

 

I might have waited a whole day before ordering that. Because I knew IMMEDIATELY that THIS had to be:

Happy birthday to my dear MIL, Judy! Doesn’t that color look stunning on her?!

Because we can’t get enough sunny happy yellow rayon:

Judy’s 4″ taller than I am, so I left the length as is for her, and its perfect. See what I mean about looking great on different figure types? Short and curvy, tall and lean, and probably any other configuration out there.

This fabric was an absolute joy to work with. The color is rich and saturated, and the print is a really nice scale, breaking up the brightness a bit. I wasn’t sure what to expect from “rayon broadcloth,” but it turned out to be a little bit like rayon crepe—lightweight with an interesting, almost faintly ribbed texture. At first I thought it was going to read quite dressy, but when I washed it, it crinkled up beautifully! I was delighted with the texture change, but it may not be what you’re expecting, so keep that in mind if you decide you need some of this fabulous fabric, which comes in several other colors/prints.

Lightweight rayons, like challis or jersey, can be a bit squidgy to cut out, so I was really extra super-duper careful with my tracing and marking. But it was exceptionally easy to sew, gliding through the machine and taking a beautiful press without obliterating the crinkles. I used a pretty fine needle, and all exposed seams were serged. There’s a fair bit of hand sewing (a lot of facings), and the rayon loved it—the stitches just disappear into that beautiful texture.

I want like six hundred more yards of the stuff. Happily, I have just enough left for Popover #4 for myself. I mean, it will be #3 for me, but #4 total. Because I’m not crazy. Sheesh.

First, however, I’m taking a break to work on other things, like… sausage! Keep thinking sewing, folks; I mean a seam roll (which is not like a cinnamon roll), aka a sleeve sausage:

Now that I’m making more things like pants and blouses, I needed a long, narrow pressing surface. Modern padded seam rolls are really short—around 10″. I could have gone vintage (around 14″), but the folks at Pattern Review convinced me to make my own. So a couple early mornings when Jasmine couldn’t sleep, I scrounged around in the sewing room for materials: some blue wool flannel scraps, and a coordinating quilting print. I lined the cotton side with wool batting to decrease lumpiness (the wool is really thickly fulled), and stuffed the whole thing with 2 years worth of serger trimmings! Commercial models are stuffed with sawdust, but I was too impatient to wait on the carpenter bees at work on our fence. (There was some discussion with Jenn about food processors + cedar pet bedding, but I went the free & easy route.)

I finished this yesterday and have only  had a chance to press one test seam, but so far so good! Looking forward to the next set of popover sleeves. For reference, I cut rectangles 18×5″, then rounded the ends off. It was an easy-peasy and supremely thrifty and practical project, great for 4 am sewing. That opening can be tricky to sew shut; my trick for that is to press the seam allowances well before stuffing, then use a ladder stitch to close up the seam. No curved needle necessary (but if you know how to use one, more power to you!). I made *very* tiny stitches, however, and knotted about every third one. Nice and sturdy. I kept stuffing until there was no room for even another molecule, closed up the last few stitches, then rolled it firmly between my hands to really firm up and smooth out the lumps.

So that’s the latest from Elizabeth’s kitchen! Er, dining room. Or really it’s the sewing room; we should just stop pretending otherwise.