2013 – A Year of Sewing Firsts

Thanks to Gillian of Crafting a Rainbow for spurring me and many others to look back at this past year. One thing I realized is that 2013 was a year of sewing firsts for me. So here’s a brief rundown of the “firsts” in chronological order.

I entered my first sewing contest in February – the BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern contest. You had to make something from the book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern and post photos to your BurdaStyle profile. I made the Elizabeth Gathered-Waist Dress and a crinoline with the following adjustments: changed the neckline from square neck to boat neck, lined the bodice (first tine I lined a bodice!), added bra strap holders at shoulders. I posted about making the dress but never actually posted this photo on my blog. So here it is.

To my great surprise I was selected as one of 20 finalists. I didn’t win but it was exciting to be a finalist. (You can see more photos on my BurdaStyle Project page here.)

I participated in my first sewalong last June – making the Hummingbird peplum top by Cake Patterns and sewing by first neck and sleeve binding using knit fabric (link to pattern here). I liked the pattern so much I made three tops: solid blue, solid red, and my favorite, black-and-white striped version with binding cut on the bias.

Striped h-bird - standing

It was so much fun participating in the Hummingbird sewalong, I joined in the Fall for Cotton Sewalong hosted by Rochelle of Lucky Lucille and Tasha of By Gum By Golly, and made my first Decades of Style pattern, the 1940s Girl Friday Blouse, a bit of a challenge with three collars and a side invisible zipper.

1940s Girl Friday blouse - Decades of Style pattern

You can see more photos in the post My Fall for Cotton 1940s Girl Friday Blouse Is Finished!

This year was the first time I sewed with chevron fabric – which I discovered was not quite the same as sewing stripes (heheh). I made my Chevron Red Velvet Dress, when I participated in Cake Patterns Red Velvet Knit Dress sewalong (pattern link here).

Red Velvet Knit Dress - Cake Patterns - csews.com

And finally, I made the Emery Dress, a Christine Haynes pattern, and did my first small bust adjustment and my first wide shoulder adjustment using the tutorials she provided with her Emery Dress Sewalong.

Emery Dress - photo - sewn by Chuleenan of csews.com - Christine Haynes sewing pattern

And coincidentally, these “firsts” are also my top five. Happy New Year! Do you have any sewing resolutions for 2014?

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My First Fashion Photo Shoot for a Dress

photo by Susie Biehler
photo by Susie Biehler

I’ve never worked with a photographer to shoot anything I’ve made. It was either me with my iPhone, friends, or my husband with a point-and-shoot digital camera. But this time I’d be working with a professional photographer – Susie Biehler, a fine art photographer who graciously agreed to take photos of me in exchange for a handmade top. (To see how I found a photographer, read this post.) Here’s what happened on my first fashion photo shoot for a dress I made using the Elizabeth Gathered-Waist Dress pattern from the book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern.

You may have read in an earlier post that I entered this dress in the BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern contest. I had never entered a sewing contest before but I knew that good photography would be important to present the dress to its best advantage.

We arranged to meet at the San Francisco landmark, the Palace of Fine Arts, which has a theater, rotunda, lake, and plenty of trees. Susie visited the location earlier in the week to see what the lighting would be like at 9 am. Though it had rained earlier that week, it was bright and sunny that Saturday morning. The temperature was in the 50s so it wasn’t very warm but it was bearable even though I was wearing a sleeveless dress.

I live in Berkeley so it would take me at least a half hour to get there, so I needed to change into my dress at the location. I didn’t want it to get wrinkled. You can read here about how I prepared for the photo shoot.

photo by Susie Biehler
photo by Susie Biehler

It was easy to find parking before 9 am in the morning. We met in person for the first time — and then walked around to the back of the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre among some trees and I changed there. Susie kept an eye out for morning joggers and I quickly unbuttoned my cardigan and slipped the dress over my head. Then I shimmied out of my jeans, put on my high heeled shoes, and was ready to go.

Every evening that week I was up really late sewing so I hadn’t really given much thought to how I would pose. I have very little experience modeling (I once posed in an outfit for a retail store in an informal shoot) but I know that I’m really not very patient and that I don’t have a repertoire of facial expressions or poses.

I thought that having a prop would be one way I could compensate for my lack of experience. It would give me something to do with my hands. So I  ordered a black-and-white full-size umbrella on Amazon.

I told the photographer that my goal was to show the dress to its best advantage. I also had had conversations with my work colleague Cailan who had attended fashion school. She has suggested that I wear high-heeled shoes, telling me they would provide some height and would make a big difference in the photos. She was right – I didn’t take any photos with the low-heeled shoes.

photo by Susie Biehler
photo by Susie Biehler

We began with me posting with the umbrella open and and then closed. I stood in an area where the sun streamed in between the columns and began smiling and posing, trying to keep my arms relaxed. I didn’t want to look stiff. We took photos there until we began losing light. Susie also pointed out that the open umbrella may overwhelm the dress so we didn’t take any more pictures with it open.

We left that area and walked along the paved path along the lake with the fountain in the background. Though we took a few shots there, Susie said the sun was getting too bright there. So we then moved to an area that had a bit of shade and took shots standing near a bench.

Then Susie suggested that I sit on the top of the bench back with my feet on the bench. I liked those photos. Then we moved over to a tree and took photos of me holding the dress out to show off the crinoline and full skirt.

I quickly ran out of poses and I couldn’t think of what other views I needed other than front, side, and back. It probably didn’t help that I was tired. I’d had less than six hours of sleep the night before and that entire week I’d been up until 4 am nearly every night working on the dress (I could only work on it when I got home from work). After about an hour, we were done. I couldn’t think of any other view to shoot.

To see the photos I uploaded to my BurdaStyle project page for the sewing contest, go here. All the photos on this page are ones that I didn’t post to that page.

photo by Susie Biehler
photo by Susie Biehler

Though Susie is not a fashion photographer, she did a very nice job. I also learned a lot from this experience. On the drive back home I thought of other things that would have been helpful. Here’s my list:

  1. Create a shot list – write down every possible shot you want so you don’t forget anything, for example, Full-length Views: Front/Back/Side/three-quarter; Bodice: Front/Back/Side; Details: Gathering at waistline; Invisible zipper; crinoline.
  2. Bring along a friend who can act as your stylist and tell you when some part of the dress is off because of your pose or let you know when your hair or makeup needs fixing. It’s hard to do it all by yourself.
  3. Look at some fashion magazines and get some ideas for poses. Search online for model poses. I didn’t have any time to do this because all my energy was focused on finishing the dress. Modeling is a skill — and unless you’re a natural at it, you should do some research and practice before a shoot. Otherwise, you’ll end up looking awkward and have a stiff expressions on your face.

If you have any other tips, please let me know!

 

 

 

 

Nitty Gritty Dress Details

Clockwise from top left: Gathering the skirt, detail of hand sewing the lining around the invisible zipper, the hook and waist stay near the zipper, waist stay attached to bodice
Clockwise from top left: Pinning gathered skirt to waist, detail of hand sewing the lining around the invisible zipper, the hook and waist stay near the zipper, waist stay attached to bodice

Yesterday I wrote a post about adjusting the neckline and lining the dress I was making from the book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern. I also mentioned that I would be writing more about the dress details. So here’s the nitty gritty.

After I sewed the lining and the fashion fabric together, I turned the pieces inside out (wrong sides together). See this tutorial on Blithe Stitches for step-by-step directions on how to line a sleeveless dress.

Three-quarter view - turning in dressI sewed a couple inches down the left side seam below the armhole to leave room to insert the side invisible zipper. My next step was to prepare the skirt so I could attach it to the bodice. I sewed the right side of the back and front skirt pieces together so I had one long rectangular piece of fabric.

Then I sewed yards of seam tape to the bottom edge. The book instructs you to finish the hem edge by serging or using a zig-zag stitch. I don’t have a serger and I don’t really like the look of a zigzag stitch so I used seam tape.

[Side note: Britex Fabrics is only a couple blocks from my office so I went there on my lunch break to get seam tape but they didn’t have any in the off-white color I needed! Next I called Discount Fabrics and asked them if they had any in the color I needed – nope. My last hope was Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics in Berkeley, which is about a 15-minute walk from where I live. I called and they checked to see if they had off-white seam tape and they did! Yay – but that meant I needed to leave work early enough to get there before it closed at 6:30 pm. I got there about 10 minutes before closing. Thank you Stonemountain & Daughter!]

After that was done, I machine basted two rows of stitches at the top of the skirt, which would then be pulled to gather the fabric at the waistline. The book had a great tip — break up the gathering into four sections, which makes it easier to manage. You just take the front and back pieces, divide them in half, and baste each section separately.

After I pinned and sewed the gathered skirt piece to the bodice, I sewed up the left side of the skirt, leaving open several inches for the side invisible zipper. I pinned and sewed the invisible zipper to the bodice and skirt sections, carefully keeping the lining of the bodice out of the way. I found the  tutorial “Installing an Invisible Zipper” on Coletterie to be very helpful.

Once the zipper was in place, I realized the bodice lining might be a tad short to fold over the waist seam so I attached seam tape to the hem of the bodice lining. Then I ironed a crease in the lining so it lined up with the waist seamline and hand sewed the lining to the waist just over the seam and around the invisible zipper. When I hand sewed the lining to the zipper tape, I made sure that it wouldn’t get caught on the zipper teeth when the zipper was going up or down.

Bra strap holder and snap
Bra strap holder and snap

Next I hand sewed the hem in place — by this time I was getting really tired of hand sewing. And then I had two final details I wanted to add — bra strap holders and a waist stay. My mom first showed me how to make a bra strap holder many years ago. She grew up in Thailand, which has hot and humid weather so sleeveless outfits are the norm. Thus she was an old hand at adding bra strap holders to her clothes. She made them by crocheting a thread carrier and attaching a snap at the end. (See this post on Design & Style for how to make a thread carrier.)

But I didn’t have a crochet hook, it was after midnight and the photo shoot for the dress was on the following morning. I was out of time so I improvised. I looked through my stash of ribbons, bias tape and twill tape and found some off white twill tape that I could use in place of thread carriers. I sewed one end to the shoulder and sewed a snap to the other side.

I got the idea of adding a waist stay from a reissued 1957 Vogue dress pattern I bought a few years ago. I made the dress (it used four yards of fabric!), which got me really interested in construction details that I don’t usually see in modern patterns. A waist stay helps the dress keep its shape and also take away some stress from the zipper. You hook the waist stay before you zip up. The waist stay (I used Petersham ribbon for mine) has little ease in it so it brings the fabric edges of the zipper opening close together.

I attached the waist stay in seven places – near the front and back of t he zipper, at the two front and back darts and at the right side seam. I hand sewed it in place with small stitches at the top of the ribbon at the waistline. And then I was done with the dress.

On Friday, I’ll write about the photo shoot for the dress, how I found a photographer, and what it was like to be a model for an hour.

If you want to see more photos on the dress, see my BurdaStyle project page. My dress is a finalist in the BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern Sewing Contest! To see the 20 finalists, go to this page. My dress is on slide 13. You have until Sun., Feb. 24, 5 pm ET to vote.