Monday, June 22, 2015

Sometimes it's good to step outside your comfort zone.

I love to sew. In fact I just love to make things, all sorts of things, but I have a confession. I am kind of chicken about making things that fall outside my comfort zone. For years I sewed only square things made with flannel. Then I branched out into square things made with canvas or home dec fabrics. It took years and years for me to try sewing a dress and then another few years for me to try sewing anything with knit fabric. My stepmother thinks I'm fearless, but really I'm not.  And so when my buddy J asked me to "help" her make a tulle skirt for her vow renewal, I quickly said yes before thinking too hard.  She asked me in January maybe, which was really smart of her since it gave me time to do some "research" (read hem and haw and sweat and stress)! No really, I spent hours searching the interwebs for different tulle skirt tutorials. And J and I went back and forth in email and text about what exactly she wanted in this skirt.

We finally landed on this tutorial that was pretty thorough, although I still didn't quite get how all the raw edges were going to be hidden on the waistband until I sewed up a muslin. Now sewers, I can't say this enough… there are times when you can wing it and just sew without a test, and there are times when you must must must sew a muslin. For me that means I can not sew up a new bodice without first testing where the bust darts fall, and I can't sew up a skirt that a friend is going to wear for her vow renewal (!!!) without making sure the length and fit are going to be exactly what she wants. (keep reading to see how sometimes muslins lie!)

Having never sewn a circle skirt before, I started with a tracing paper pattern mock up. J is model tall with very long legs and she wanted the skirt to hit mid calf. That's a lot of skirt. It meant that each panel would have to be 82" x 82" in order to get a circle out of it on the fold with no seams. OK let it soak in for a second, that's 3 layers of tulle and one layer of knit, each 82"x82".  That is a LOT of fabric people.

I mean look at this! I could use that pattern to sew myself a dress and it would still hit me at the knee! 
So J went to  Joann's and bought a butt load of white muslin for us to give it a shot. We tested with muslin that was 108" wide to make sure it would all fit on the tulle J had found and ended up with a very large very white skirt. But it let us know that the length on the pattern was perfect but the elastic had to be tighter, like 5 inches tighter.

After that I set to work.. I realized that my hangup all along was the fear that J would be unhappy with the result. I knew I could do it, but I didn't want to disappoint her and make her have to start from scratch on the hunt for the perfect skirt at the 11th hour.

So one Saturday I started for real, I took a very deep breath and layed out one panel of tulle on the floor and pinned the paper pattern to it and began to cut! Then I cut out the beautiful but very heavy cream ponte knit J had purchased.. and a little nagging voice started talking in my brain. I remember texting J that the knit was heavier than I was expecting.

But I kept going and set to gathering the knit and the tulle and sewing them to the waistband elastic, that I ended up shortening by 6!!! inches.  

At one point it was almost comical how large the marshmallow of tulle was at the sewing machine. And that day we got to try it on for the first time and that's when we knew… muslins can't account for changes in fabric weight… 

The ponte knit was so heavy and the knit elastic we used so weak that the skirt wouldn't stay up where she had wanted it to fall. She had a lace tank shirt that she planned on wearing with the skirt and the weight of the skirt meant it was sitting a good 2 inches short of meeting up with the top. In the photo above we had pulled the waistband tight enough so it was sitting at the right spot, but the result was a rather unflattering bustle at the back. I was starting to worry that I'd have to unpick all the stitching and re-sew the waistband. But after about 30 minutes of staring at it and making notes of the different ways we could fix it, we even joked about having her mother sew her into the dress for the day, we decided to safety pin the shirt to the skirt just for kicks. I really just wanted to see if she could fudge it for the day of, but as you can see it took about 20 safety pins and that would not have worked for a real life wearing.  

The result was pretty spectacular, though, it actually looked fantastic and J said the weight of the skirt actually helped the shirt stay down (it had been riding up a bit without it). So she tested that she could actually slip the whole thing off over her head and VOILA… problem solved. I took the whole thing back to the sewing machine, and sewed the tank to the dress! Instead of separates, J now had a lovely dress to wear for her vow renewal and these pictures don't lie, she looked stunning. 

Thank you J for letting me be a small part of  your special day. I was so thankful that it all worked out and I was pretty proud of myself for stepping way outside my comfort zone to sew with a fabric I'd never sewn with and to sew an item I never would have had the opportunity to sew otherwise. Next time, I'll be sure to use a much lighter knit as the lining! :-)

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