Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Project Bump: Isabella Oliver Knock-off Separates

There's just 8 weeks until Raspberry's expected arrival, and home improvement projects are well underway - ugly carpeting is at the curb, walls have been spackled, and closets, drawers and cupboards have been ruthlessly purged and de-cluttered.

I now have one drawer of clothing plus dresses hung in the closet. Everything I've sewn for myself is still fitting beautifully and there are some RTW garments still in play, so I have enough to wear. But as we are now in early Autumn and the final countdown, I decided that a few tops that have sleeves and could be worn either to work or with jeans once I'm on leave would be good additions to my Project Bump wardrobe.

I thought Simplicity 1468 - Megan Nielsen wrap knit maternity tops - would coordinate perfectly with my MN ruched skirts and together would be a great knock off of an Isabella Oliver dress that retails for $198. Both the RTW and mine are rayon/viscose and elastane.

Isabella Oliver ($198) vs Knock off (about $32 from stash jersey for skirt+top)

I actually decided to do two tops, one to go with each of my skirts - the black one and the striped one.

Black and striped tops.

This top is basically a shrug with really really long ties that can wrap around your body multiple times to accommodate a growing and then shrinking belly. It's is a pretty brilliant idea for pregnancy, even if it doesn't make for the most user-friendly top. I haven't mastered getting into it yet - you're supposed to roll up the ties and then wrap them around your body like ace bandages, which is kind of hard when you have to go behind your back. You can see that, for the photo shoot, I didn't do a great job getting the wrapping even on the black one, and the day I wore it to work, I spent time after each bathroom visit readjusting the ties - if they don't overlap, little bits of skin can peek out. So I'm not 100% sure this top is for everyone and I'm glad that I wore it with a high-waisted skirt.

Both tops would look equally cute with jeans, too. I'm happy that I'll be able to wear them a lot of ways - right now and as I continue to grow as a dressy/work outfit, and then postpartum with jeans as I shrink. It seems pretty breast-feeding friendly.

Here's the back.

Be aware that you need to get that first wrap to overlap the upper back part

Like the other Megan Nielsen patterns I've tried, this could not have been easier to sew, although there's miles of hemming to do if you want the ties finished (I did).  I wondered how this pattern, which is now sold/licensed by Simplicity, might differ from her other patterns. So, I cut a straight medium. It fit pretty similarly, although a little larger than the MN tee shirt top. If I make it again I would take in the back at the center. If this was not a wrap top, I would do something about all the drag lines at the armscye and bust. But I think this may be a function of it being a wrap top and how snugly I wrapped it. Overall, the fit is very easy thanks to the ties, which are entirely adjustable; just wrap them more or less times around your body.

Other than that, there isn't much to say. The construction is very basic. I did everything with my serger or a twin needle.

I think the striped top worn with it's matching striped skirt may be a bit Tim Burton-ish for every day, don't you think? Mix and match is probably how I'll wear it, with the exception of Halloween.

Overall, this is exactly the look that I was going for.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Autumn Baby: Pumpkins and Gourds and the Blocking Tomato

Now if that isn't a strange blog post title, I don't know what is...

Autumn is my favorite season. It's the time of year that I feel most alive and energetic. So, when I learned that we'd be having an Autumn baby, I was thrilled. What could be better than a little pumpkin baby, right in time for Thanksgiving?

Pumpkins are a terrific gender neutral theme for an Autumn baby, and Phin and I both love orange. This cute little hat is a free pattern that I found on Ravelry by Jill Albert Allen. It was quick and easy to knit and could not be cuter.

I also knit up some teeny tiny matching baby mitts designed by Susan B Andersen, also a free pattern. She really is my favorite for stuffed animals and quick baby projects. Don't these look like some kind of mini gourds? I think so.

Since I had quite a bit of the orange yarn left over and Trample Herd member Daffy was eager to get her gift for Raspberry done, I knit a second set in stripes, using leftover orange and the leftover yarn that I used to knit Daffy herself. I also omitted the pumpkin vine.

Daffy and her baby gift.

There is something about stripes on a baby that is just so adorable. I'm sure Raspberry will be sick of stripes in no time.

All of these are made from Knitpicks Swish worsted yarn in Orange, Dublin (green), and Daffodil (yellow). For an inexpensive yarn for babies, I think Swish is a good choice. It's merino superwash, which means it's nice and soft and can go in the wash after Raspberry sucks on the mitts or other disasters. Softness and wash-ability are the top priorities for baby knits in my book.

The Blocking Tomato
I've been blocking all of my baby knits by soaking them in Dreft and letting them air dry on my blocking mats. When I was thinking about how to block the hats into a hat shape, I came up with a funny and good solution: the blocking tomato.

My mom likes buying funny kitchen gadgets for me and Phin as holiday stocking stuffers. Some of our favorites are a tupperware shaped like a slice of pizza (perfect for storing that last slice!) and a ketchup bottle lid that is a big monster foot so you can store the bottle upside-down (no more shake-shake-shaking the bottle!). This tupperware is meant to store a cut tomato on the counter so it won't get mushy or mealy in the fridge. But it's the perfect size for baby hats. LOL

If you have ever knit a hat or a baby hat, how have you blocked it?

One more happy Autumn knit picture...

Pumpkins and gourds

PS - I've been posting very regularly lately, but things may be a bit light for the next week or two. We* are painting, removing old carpeting and organizing for Raspberry's arrival. So, not sure how much time I'll have for blogging.  (* By "we" I mean Phin, and I am helping as much as I can, mostly by purging old clothing, books and the other things that accumulate over time. )

Monday, September 22, 2014

Frankendress #3: Top Fitting Issues/What Should I do?

I've run into my first set of real fitting issues with the two halves of my third Frankendress. The bottom is just fine since it is the MN Ruched Skirt that I've used 4 times now. The top, however, is a hot mess.

Two separate halves of this dress

The top portion  is V8633, minus the center back zipper. The pattern is fine and actually probably would fit my pre-pregnancy self well. However, I did not make an FBA. And at this point - with 2+ extra inches of bust - that was a mistake.

I did cut a size 12 so that I would have extra room. However, what I really need is extra length, not width. The lower darts end at the bust point instead of below and letting out the shoulder seam a little has only led to there being too much room in the armscye (ie: my bra band peeks out b/c it is too low).

Additionally, this pattern bodice has both a neck facing and a lining to support the collar. But I decided to save myself the trouble of the lining, which was a so-so decision at best. If the top fit, I wouldn't mind this so much, but if I recut, then I would probably go for the lining.

Now here is my dilemma:  I don't know how I can alter the top that I've cut and sewn enough to make a difference. I have enough fabric to recut it or a different bodice for the dress. If I recut this, well, it's not a quick/easy sew. There are lots of darts on the shell and lining, plus facing, which needs interfacing. Also I would have to do an FBA and raise the armscye. I'm just not sure I want that much fitting work on a pattern that I already struggled to cut so that the print of the top and bottom would match. I'm not sure I'm ready to devote more time to this.

If anyone knows of a creative way to fix what I've got, that would be best. I really like the style of the top. Maybe sleeves would help? I don't know. Your suggestions are welcome!  Other than than, here are the options as I see them.

1) Ditch the top and enjoy wearing the skirt portion as a skirt (easiest option)
2) Alter the pattern and cut new top pieces (possibly most time consuming option)
3) Cut a different top to go with the skirt. Either of my two previous Frankendress tops would work. Or something else? Feel free to suggest other patterns.
4) Other??

Let me know your thoughts.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Franken Friday: Double Shot of Megan Nielsen

After the success of Frankendress #1, despite fabric shortcomings, I decided to plunge right into two more dresses using my now trusty MN Ruched Maternity Skirt. Here is the first one, which also uses the Megan Nielsen Ruched Maternity t-shirt pattern for the bodice portion.

Using patterns from the same designer/same collection made the tee and skirt pattern pieces easy to match up in the pre-cutting phase. Hence, I was able to cut  the front piece and the back piece without a seam under the bust.

Matched stripes at the seams 

I think this dress is really all about the fabric. It's a jersey blend from MetroTextiles.  I knew I wanted to make it into a very simple style so that the variegated stripes would be the real feature of the dress without any darts or seams to break it up. This also made it very easy to sew. The biggest decisions were how I wanted the stripes to fall on my body and how I wanted the sleeves to look, given that cutting the sleeves so that the stripes line up with the dress stripes is just not a skill I have.

There's not much to say about the tee pattern - it's a good basic.  The upper portion of this dress (bust on up) is the size medium sewn with no changes except lengthening the short sleeves by 2 inches, which is a more flattering length and better for the cooler weather. Setting in sleeves is not one of my favorite sewing chores; I was happy that these ones go in flat.

To do again, I'd probably play around a little bit with the sleeve fit. There's a little gathering/pooling of fabric between bust and armpit. I think the shoulder/sleeve seam is not falling correctly on my shoulder point - it needs to be a slight bit closer to my neck. The sleeve also needs reshaping and possibly a higher sleeve cap. My one complaint about the pattern is that the sleeve is symmetrical - the same shape front and back. But I'm really not worried about it given that my sewing these days is time-sensitive, and "good enough" really is perfect.

Bump shot!
Even though this is a basic t-shirt dress, it really makes me feel pretty chic. What I want - and I think what most pregnant women want - is a maternity wardrobe that would be stylish at any time, but that fits during pregnancy.

Next up - don't miss Frankendress #3, which is in jeopardy of being a fail! I need your help deciding what to do with this one. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sriracha Knit Hat and Socks

Once we told the herd about Raspberry, they made it quite clear that baby gifts would have to be made. They are a serious bunch when it comes to planning for celebrations.

Little Sriracha, the newest and youngest member of the herd, was the first to formulate a plan. Remembering how cold it was once she was hatched into the world as a dragonlette, she decided that "dragonscale" hat and booties would help keep the chill away from our tiny one.

Sriracha's Gift for Raspberry

These are both free patterns that I found on Ravelry - the Easy Peasy Newborn Sock Hat by Keri McKiernan and Toe Up Baby Socks by Sheila Toy Stromberg.  Both patterns can be adjusted for different head and foot sizes.  I knit a newborn size hat, and the socks are 0-3mos and 3-6mos. The small socks basically fit on Phin's thumb; they are so tiny!

Thanks to the sock pattern I've learned a new bind off - the aptly named Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off. It really is sole mates (wocka wocka)  with Judy's Magic Cast On, which I use for my toe-up socks. If you are not a sock knitter, but are interested in learning, baby socks are a great way to go. These are basically knit the same way as adult socks (these ones have a short row heel), but because of their small size, they are less overwhelming and less of a time commitment for a first timer.

Naturally these were knit up in the same yarn that I used for Sriracha. Baby hats and socks are perfect for using up leftover sock yarn. So far, 2 skeins of ToshSock, which is a 100% merino superwash, have yielded a pair of socks for me, a baby hat, 2 pairs of baby socks and, of course, Sriracha herself. Not too shabby considering that there is still enough for another pair of baby socks. The beautiful purple colorway is called Vishnu.

Milkshake the Cow was wandering by during the photo shoot. She does tend to get into things. So I'll leave you with this picture of the hat being modeled by her.

Dragonscale Knits

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Simple "Maternitized" Ruched Knit Dress

I've been getting so much wear out of my V1314 Tracy Reese dresses (both the maternity one and the unaltered one which still just fits) that I decided to bang out one more, this time in a fun cotton jersey print from Fabric Mart.

I really like how this print has photographed. It really isn't that blue in real life. The print is black on an off white background with blue highlights, but here it looks brighter and crisper -  navy with a lot of blue.

I hadn't announced that I was pregnant when I posted the black version of this dress at about week 18. So, now at week 30, I thought I'd mention how I "maternitized" this pattern.

Most pregnancy growth is on the front of the body. So, really not much extra room is needed on the back, leaving just one piece of this dress to alter. Also, one of my pet peeves for maternity clothing is seams that pull to the front (like this). This can be avoided to a great extent by adding the needed room where the room is needed (ie: the front) and leaving the back pretty much alone.

When I first sewed this pattern - as a tunic - I had traced an 8 through the upper back and a 12 through the bust.  The bust was a little big then and I had to take it in. But now that my bust is a little fuller (thank you, Raspberry), it fits really well exactly how I had originally traced it. Also, it was a little big in the upper midriff - again perfect for pregnancy. So, the only other thing I needed to do was add some room to the front bumpage area. I added about 4 inches there just by grading out by 2 inches at each front side seam and then tapering back in below the hip. It's not a perfect way to alter a pattern, but it certainly worked well enough. Since it's a ruched dress, I simply eased any extra front length into the seam.

Ruching is a pregnant figure's best friend. If I was altering a non-ruched pattern to accommodate a growing belly, I would also add some length to the center front, like I did with this dress (yes, that dipped front hem was a strategic decision). But thanks to the ruching, there is enough fabric to go over the belly without pulling up the hem in the front.

I should probably add that this dress is designed with a lining, which is not ruched, but I have omitted it on every version. Since I want the ruching to be able to spread out over the bump, it would be counter-productive in a maternity garment, I think.

Anyway, here it is styled for work.

The color is more accurate in this shot. 
After taking this photo, I went back to the Craft Lounge and took about 2-3 inches off the hem so it hits at the knee and not below. I've been leaving my hems a little longer in general these days; it's a luxury when you are tall! But I think I've probably swung too far toward modest. So, up goes the hem.

Anyway, I had a tough time accessorizing this dress. None of my necklaces looked right.  They all sort of got lost with the print or were too jarring a contrast. So, I threw on a black fly away sweater with a belt with a silver buckle and added silver accented flats and earrings.

How would you accessorize this busy dress if it was yours (either with or without bump)?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Project Bump: DKNY Dress/Tunic

So far in Project Bump, I've been sewing and wearing a lot of ruched, fitted clothing that is appropriate for work. But I thought it might be wise to add some more casual pieces and additional silhouettes so I have something to wear on weekends and once I'm on maternity leave.

One of the first things I mentioned for my Bump wardrobe, is that I've been looking outside of maternity patterns for interesting things to sew.

From the front: not looking so pregnant

So, this is V1179, an out-of-print DKNY pattern. It has a pleated neckline with a cowl collar and, I think, fits the bill for maternity without being "maternity".

I picked the pattern because the neck pleating gives it lots of volume through the loose middle while creating shape through the bust. I did not make any fitting changes whatsoever. Talk about easy to sew!

The fabric is a crazy multi-animal print ITY knit from MetroTextiles. I bought it on an impulse (how easily that happens at Metro!)  and by the time I got it home I was very not sure what I would do with it. But I think this was just the right pattern and, if you can't tell, I'm really liking throwing caution to the wind and embracing horizontal stripes/prints!

Cowl and pleating

A minor thing I'm not crazy about is that the cowl doesn't fully cover itself - you can see where it meets the neck pleating. At first I thought I had made some kind of mistake with sewing this part since I just glanced at the directions, but it looks like that on the Vogue website as well, so apparently that is just how it is.

To do again, I'd make this dress a bit longer and give myself just a little extra room in the hip/thigh area. As is, it's a bit shorter than my hemline comfort zone - really, this is more tunic length than dress on me, particularly when sitting. So, I probably won't wear this until it's a little bit cooler and I can pair it with dark tights or leggings. Then I will wear it plenty!

From the side: there's a bit of a bump
Again, a point I made with my striped skirt - how hard is it to do just a little bit of print matching at the side seams?  Not all that hard, but worth the effort. Otherwise, I'd have ended up with something like this.

I think this will be fun to wear when I don't feel like flaunting my belly and when I am transitioning back out of maternity wear. It's definitely not my norm - both the print and the style are outside the box for me - but that's kind of what excites me about it.  Just slipping it on feels fun!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ruched Skirt 2.0: This Time in Stripes

If you follow me on Instagram, then you saw a sneak peek of this skirt on Labor Day.

This is my second - and altered - version of Megan Nielsen's Ruched Maternity Skirt. Now that I have the fit worked out, this took very little time to sew up. I liked it so much that I had to wear it right away.

The fabric is a mid-weight viscose blend that I bought at Paron Fabrics. It sewed up beautifully. In fact, I went back and bought more so that I can make a top, too.

One of my pet peeves in maternity clothing is how poorly it's made. I've seen countless numbers of tops where the print matching is just terrible (here and here) - clearly no effort was made.

Matched stripes

Really how hard is it to even do a semi-decent job matching up stripes? This really didn't take all that long - just a few minutes extra minutes while cutting and then pinning - and yet it makes the skirt look so much better. 

In these photos, I styled the skirt for fun, but I also plan to tone it down a bit for work by wearing it with a white blouse and drapey black cardi. I feel like this is more me than anything I've sewn to this point of my pregnancy. It even warranted a "so, you'd alter that so it fits after pregnancy, too, right?" from Phin. So, it seems like it's a hit. Anyway, I'm really happy to have it in my wardrobe for both work and play.   

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Nesting: Knit Cocoon for Raspberry

This is a redemption post - woo hoo!

Back in December I had a sewing/knitting/baking fail weekend of epic proportions. One of my fails was this sad and shapeless knitted cowl.

It should have looked like this.

But the nice thing about knitting, is that you can unravel your yarn and it basically ends up back in it's original form, unlike sewing. I actually knit up this ball of Malabrigo Rasta three times before landing on the right project for it... a cocoon for Raspberry.  It looks a little pinkish in these pictures, but the color is really a very rich red.

Laurel Love Cocoon with Hearts

This is patterned after the Laurel Love Cocoon by Melissa Riley, which is basically a tube sock for your baby to be swaddled in. I'm learning a lot about newborn development these days. Going from the confined quarters of the womb to the great big world is tough, and being swaddled can give a sense of security and comfort to a sensitive baby. Also, with such little motor control, swaddling can help a fussy baby remain more calm. Poor babies!  I'd be upset all the time, too, if I hit myself in the face with my own hands on a regular basis.  

Cosy Cocoon Swaddle

The original is plain, but I decided that it would be a perfect application for a little bit of lace and cable work. I picked the heart pattern from the center of these cashmere socks, which have since sprung a hole.

With a curious stowaway
Not only did it add more interest to the cocoon, but it made it a more enjoyable project to knit. You could really knit this up with any lace pattern that fit within the number of stitches.  I knit this 17 stitch pattern on one side and left the back plain. Other than that, there isn't much to say about this quick and satisfying project other than the yarn is plush and lovely. It is thicker than the called for yarn, so I knit it up on size 15 needles, reducing the total stitch count to 38.

A knit cocoon did spark some interest among the herd, and Dragon was elected to investigate this new curiosity.

Dragon the Hippo

I think he really does show how we can use the cocoon as Raspberry grows. When Raspberry is too tall to snuggle all the way down, it can be used up to the chest or waist to allow for arm movement.

Anyway, this was a fun and quick project with a double bonus - the use of yarn from my stash that happens to be the perfect color for the holidays.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Franken-dress #1: A Maternity/Non-maternity Mash Up

Picking up where I left off on Saturday, one strategy for creating a maternity wardrobe that is fun, has style and doesn't bore me is to take a basic pattern - my Megan Nielsen ruched maternity skirt (MN1008) - and give it the ol' frankenpattern treatment.

Another of my other strategies is to look beyond maternity patterns. I noticed early on that McCalls has a "Suitable for Maternity" section on-line rather than maternity-specific patterns. Inspired by this idea, if not the actual patterns listed there, I created a pinterest board drawing from all different pattern companies. I've already sewn a bunch of not maternity patterns with minor alterations to make them maternity appropriate.

V1314 Tracy Reese with a little more room in the middle, V8977 Very Easy Vogue with a dipped front hem and Ralph Pink Hareem pants (also in black) with extra waist room

For a franken-dress series based on the Megan Nielsen skirt, I figured that just about any top or dress that has an empire/below the bust seam or could easily be altered to have one would do. So, for my first go-round, I picked Jalie 2804, the very popular Empire Crossover Top.

Jalie 2804 - MN1008 Frankendress!

And a crazy loud print fabric. I think this is a winning combo! I should add that Jalie - in addition to including maternity variations in some of their patterns - also lists regular patterns under the maternity header when suitable. Go Jalie!

Top first: I cut the front pieces as drafted and, for the back, simply merged the top of the Jalie into the skirt to create one pattern piece.  From there I only needed to change the construction order slightly.

There is a lot to love about Jalie patterns and this one is no exception. They include a large number of sizes (27 women and girls sizes) in the one envelope, the instructions are solid but concise and their construction methods are straightforward and effective. The neckline on the top lays flat and secure against my sternum - again, go Jalie!

I made a few minor changes for fit and style considerations along the way. I omitted the modesty panel on the grounds that this dress could be suitable for nursing if I left it out. To make it less low cut and because the size I cut was a little big on me, I overlapped the front crossover a bit more. Finally, I left off the optional shoulder ties since I think they would have made the dress look more casual than I wanted.
For the bottom:  I made a number of changes to my MN ruched maternity skirt prototype that I am very happy with.

Gratuitous happy bump shot.

My first version was very fitted. This worked out just fine in very stretchy black jersey, which slims and camouflages, but in any other color I felt that the skirt might be uncomfortably close fitting, potentially unflattering and get too tight before the end of pregnancy. So, I added 2" to the center front and 1" to the center back. I also added a bit of length in the middle so that I could extend the ruching by a total of 2", which hits at a more flattering location IMHO. 

Much improved ruching; sad wavy hem.

I'm really pleased with my little frankendress pattern, except for one big glaring flaw: the fabric.  I love its loudness and how soft it is, but this jersey created all kinds of problems.  First, it took me forever to actually cut this dress. I struggled to get the fabric on grain and then realized the print is off grain. So I tried to cut it with the print rather than the grain.

Next, the hem is wavy. Folks, I hemmed this dratted thing three times! Three times! It's much improved as it is now, but it's a sad, sad day when Steam-A-Seam Lite fails to produce a nice hem! I can only blame the fabric for this one. It looks good enough to wear and the print does a lot to hide this flaw, but in the photo above you can see the sorry truth.

Last - and this is the one that means the dress will have an even more limited shelf life than my belly dictates - it's already pilling pretty badly after just one wear.

Pilling by the end of the first day! Gaaahhhh!

Fortunately, I have a clothes shaver and the busy print will help distract from the pilling. I really like this dress and will wear it until I feel like it really doesn't look good, but I'm disappointed about this fabric fail. Perhaps when it's no longer fit for public consumption, I'll wear it around the house and to bed. It really is that soft and comfy.

On the bright side, I can't help but think that my little wardrobe project is off to a great start and this is proof that my strategy will work!  So, a big victory despite a fabric flop.

Last shot of me in this happy colored dress!  More versions of my franken-experiment in the coming days!