Ready to wear never quite fits. Because, honestly, it’s not meant to.

RTW will only ever be your exact fit by happy accident. These items are intended to fit a body type and average size of that customer, graded up or down. Since we’re unique – and changable – we get our own unique fit issues by clothing type and brand. Even sometimes within a single brand…

  • Crotch depth in pants (and waistband gaping)
  • Bum coverage in undies
  • Bodice vs bottom sizing in dresses
  • Torso length in dresses/one-piece bathing suits
  • Bathing suits in general
  • Calf circumference in tall boots or even socks
  • BRAS. Freaking bras.

I hate bra shopping maybe slightly more than I detest pant shopping

These can be reasons we sew, but each of them includes specialized issues and techniques for a good finished product. Just because I can make a corset doesn’t mean I can tailor a suit (or want to spend the time learning to do so). Just because someone quilts doesn’t mean they can or want to sew a dress. I don’t know that I want to make my own bra…

I have a long history of being unhappy with bras (like probably 95% of you). I’m small busted with a small ribcage. My ribs are small enough that probably half the US brands don’t come in my band size. I usually find a brand that runs small and if it comes in a 32, great (but a 30 with the right cups would be better). If not I get a 34 and start on the smallest hook. That means my bras wear out faster.

Last year I bought a couple Warner bras that fit rather nicely. I even started on the outer hooks in a 34! But quickly moved to the middle ones. That was the point where I realized there was no elastic in the band, just powernet. WHAT!#@$??? The hem is folded up and I guess I assumed there was elastic inside. I already knew the bras were on the cheap side (though not MalWart cheap, that’s a whole different low) because the band isn’t lined. Lining can be cushioning, but it also means there are two layers of fabric taking the strain. Elastic helps with that even more. But not this bra. Incidentally, a similar bra in the same line, but in the previous year’s model, does have elastic. That version is lasting better, no surprise.

My solution is to add elastic. I bought some plush back to match. But how much negative ease do I need? Too much and it will be constricting. Too little, pointless. From the single t-shirt I’ve made I know that a self fabric band collar gets 15% negative ease, so that’s a place to start. But I want to do it once and be done. To the internet!

Whereupon a rabbit’s hole is discovered and an afternoon all but lost. I think I’ve mentioned before that I like research and planning and plans. Today, my rabbit hole is your gain:

  • A highly recommended bra size calculator that gives me a rather different size than what I’ve been wearing forever
  • Bra making supplies here, here and here
  • Discussions of what goes into creating an ideal custom bra pattern and challenges of a bespoke bra startup with Bra Theory (tons of great info in intricacies of underwires, finding suppliers, fittings, shape, etc)
  • Basic bra making at Threads
  • Custom drafting a bra made in your breast root measurements here and here
  • And the info I was looking for in bra elastic negative ease. Looks like that 15% is what I’ll be using.

Next stop, the actual bra upgrade.

Do you make your own bras? Alter RTW?

Also, Happy New Year to you!


Now that’s a wide pant. About 62″ around each hem.

This is a mock up for the 1930s beach pajama project, so they aren’t hemmed at the moment. I’m pleased to report that they for the client’s waist/hips nicely and the length is pretty good, though a bit long in the front. Of course she’ll need to wear the appropriate shoes for the final hem.

Wiiide leg pants, sans waistband

Frankenpattern 30s beach pajama pants

We’ve decided to do the pants in navy linen. The top (third image down, on the right) will be bi-colored in navy and the natural linen of Nick’s cowl. I’ll be looking for a period belt buckle and hopefully matching buttons for the top.

The beautiful linen used for Nick’s cowl

As someone who makes things I’m hugely aware of all the waste I personally generate. The end of a project finds my floor covered in multiple dustpan-fulls of thread and scrap fabric, depending on the project size, and that’s after putting the bigger scraps into the scrap bin. Unless you are using zero waste patterns you will generate scraps.

Enter a company like Avrin Goods, who buys scrap fabric from the floors of production sewing operations and turns it into new yarns and eventually socks and underwear. Kudos to them and I sincerely hope this is telling of the future.

I’m a little dubious of their claims. They say to grind down the scraps and create new yarn without using any liquids: “The yarn we use for our products does not need to be re-dyed, and there’s no chemicals or water used to produce it,” per Winegardner, one of the company partners. I’m not sure how you make yarn from what must be short fibers (which can’t be done in a low-tech manner) without some sort of liquid process. It’s possible the quote was misused or misleading; they may have been referring to not using liquids because they don’t dye. I also assume they (or their supplier) cleans the materials before use, which would involve liquids.

I hope they are as sustainable as the story implies. I’d like to think that is a future consumers and makers can look forward to.

Find the whole story on Fast Company.

I promised the Pretty & the Kitch I would share this little gem. It’s a dress of questionable quality and a tale of the late 90s, learning to sew, how not to sew and what happens to bridesmaids when a goth bride feels that she has to wear traditional white.

Please be kind, as time had not been to this garment. Without further ado I give you a much abused goth bridesmaid dress, in all it’s faded and rumpled glory. I promise that it looked better when it was newly made.

This dress started with what was either an 80s or 90s pattern. I no longer remember, but the Vogue 7614 1980s pattern is close. S thinks that it may have been a Simplicity pattern. Whatever the original, it had a rounded pointed waist and half sleeves. Basically, it was a sort of sweetheart neckline, high/low hem dress with half length puff sleeves that gathered slightly above the elbow. The bride decided on purple and to fill in the neckline area, a black lace with ribbon tie closure. The bride’s dress was the exact same pattern, but with long sleeves, without the high/low hem and no lace in the chest area.

It was either 1999 or 2000. S was the maid of honor, so I set out with my I’ve-only-made-questionable-Renaissance-faire-costumes-since-equally-questionable-high-school-era-drama-class-Camelot costumes skills to help her make this dress. I didn’t remember this, but she now says she didn’t know how to use a sewing machine at that time.

Things I’d not done previously or had little experience with, but needed to do, for this dress:

  1. Use a pattern
  2. Work with slippery satin
  3. Work with lace
  4. Line anything
  5. Put in a zipper
  6. Do a high/low hem
  7. Make the thing fit

And so it began.

Did we prewash the fabric? Maybe.

Did we make a muslin? Doubtful. I think we got lucky in the fit.

Did we know about ironing seams as you go? No.

Did I throw up my hands in frustration when trying to make the lining seams match those of the fashion fabric? Yes. Happily, S’s mother stepped in for the save and wrestled that lining into submission. I checked today and the seams at the waist are more than an inch off between the two, but it looks ok.

I’ve just been told that I did almost all of figuring and tweaking, cutting out and construction. I remember almost none of the construction except the parts I had trouble with (the zip, matching the lining and the hem). In fact, I swear I hardly made any of it. Nope, I won’t claim this dress.

On the day of the wedding, of the 3(?) bridesmaids, S’s was the only dress that was complete. One was done, as a purple dress, but lacked all black lace. I swear the third wasn’t even quite finished, but I don’t remember the state of it. I wore a black lace dress with waterfall sleeves, in the bride’s honor (seeing as she was stuck in all white, true torture to a goth).

Considering this almost 20 year old dress with 30ish years gone fashion “sense”… I’m still cringing a little. The design aesthetic is not mine. The sweetheart neckline screams 80s line dancing and high/low hems with self lining can look heavy. Cheap satin gives me hives, and adding black lace to dark purple for bridesmaids dresses doubly so. Though not a very unique one, I do like the specific lace.

I think there’s a pucker on the bodice lining at the armhole. Yikes.

Looking at the garment as it is today, time has not been kind to it. The satin just hasn’t held up. In fact, the color has altered greatly, off gassing and fading to almost a wine color, lighter where it was sweated upon. Originally it was basically the same shade as the lining. This is a problem with cheap acetate satin and just another reason to not use it.

If there’s one thing I dislike more than sewing satin, it’s ironing it, so no beauty shots for this post. “Beauty” shots… Bwahahahahaha!

It looks like the skirt was attached with somewhat haphazard gathering. This may have been the start of S’s loathing of gathers. The skirt could fall better. But of course it is self lined with satin, which would make it a little thick for gathers. The skirt is no longer self lined. That part was sacrificed a couple years ago for another project. No one was going to wear this dress again anyway.

Construction in the sleeve is pretty good. I assume I had little to do with it. The head of the sleeve has a very 80s puff, and the black overlay makes me think of Beetlejuice (even though nothing in that movie looked like this dress). The little gather above the elbow was done with a handy piece of grossgrain ribbon on the inside. Looks like we had dark green.

Just wow on that zip. Painful.

If you look closely at the top of the seam where it attaches to the sleeve you can see that I stopped sewing too soon. Luckily the fabric lays in a way so there is no gap. Shoddy construction!

Neat hand stitches at the bottom on the bodice lining. Definitely not mine.You can see where we cut out the skirt lining later.

The last thing I want to point out is the zip. I assume I put it in, but not the lining near the zip, but I can’t be sure. Clearly I was unaware of invisible zippers at that time and I didn’t even sew it in with straight seams. I may not have had a zipper foot.

And there you have it – a tale of woe in goth dress form. Many lessons were learned on this project, including an intense dislike for sewing satin and the need to practice zippers. And practice zippers I must certainly did. Sometimes it takes an overly ambitious project for your skill level to give you a nudge to improve.

Sadly there are no remaining photos of the dress in it’s original time.

I work with wovens, mainly natural fabrics without stretch. Aside from making one of those exercise belts to hold your cell phone and making existing t-shirts more fitted, I had basically never sewn anything with a knit. But I have all this knit fabric…

It had never occurred to me to try making my own t-shirt, despite the knits in my stash. I was browsing the Blank Slate website for some entirely different reason when I saw their free t-shirt pattern and remembered all the jewel tone four-way stretch knit I’ve had sitting around for years from the now defunct $1/yard windmill place. T-shirt time!

Not bad for my first try!

I decided to go extra easy on myself the first go-round and use a pattern with integrated sleeves. I found a likely looking pattern with good instructions, the Kirstin Kimono tee, a free pattern from Maria Denmark, downloaded the PDF, taped it together and measured myself against the recommendations. The only change I decided to make was to extend the length by about 3 inches. I dislike too short t-shirts and have a somewhat long torso.

Pattern traced and adjusted, the cut out was straight forward. Just two pieces! The neck binding piece is not included, but instructions on how to measure for it are. Being knit and stretchy, that piece gets cut on the straight grain, unlike the bias binding you’d make for a woven. As simple as that is, I managed to screw it up. Twice. First I miscalculated the correct length by a couple inches, then realized I didn’t cut it wide enough. The third time was the charm and when I got to the neckline step it fit perfectly.

Construction is also pretty straight forward. I learned my lesson on the belt thing about using a needle intended for knits, which is one that can part the yarns, not stab through them, getting caught in the process or missing stitches altogether.

Shoulder stabilization with grosgrain ribbon

First are the shoulder seams. I was going to use some narrow clear elastic I had to stablize the shoulders, but what I had was disintegrating. I also didn’t have any stretch or light weight interfacing so the internet suggested using a narrow grosgrain ribbon (improve #1). That I always have! The shoulders were stitched with a zigzag and ribbon applied, also with a zigzag. Not sure if that’s what your are supposed to do, but I wanted the cut edge to lay flat. Raw edges were serged. Next, the sides stitch up normally with a long zigzag and I serged those edges (with 4 different shades of blue because that’s what I had = improv #2). Since the sleeves are part of the side seams that only left the sleeve and bottom hems and the neckline.

I have a (probable) 80s/90s serger (overlocker to most everyone who isn’t from the US). It’s basic and has no manual. I can’t do rolled hems with it. It has no differential feed adjustment, blade disengagement or blade cutting width adjustment. It can use 3 or 4 threads and there are adjustments for the width of the stitch itself and it’s density. What all this means is I can’t do coverstitch like finishes as are found in modern t-shirts. I had to go old school and improvise. I needed to figure out a different way to hem and finish that would look polished. Here’s what I did.

Lurking in my closet are a couple worn old shirts I keep putting in the donation pile and taking back out. Once again I’m happy I kept them. These t-shirts are about 25 years old and they didn’t make them the same way back then. I don’t know when the coverstitch machine was invented, but those old shirts use no coverstitch! My old shirts have stitches on the right side, in the same place where you now see the parallel lines of the coverstitch, but these lines run perpendicular to the hem direction.

Hem finish on the 25 year old t-shirt. Note the direction if the stitches on the outside and the tightness of the corresponding stitches on the inside.

After some fussing I realized I could do the same thing by removing one thread and completely loosening the tension on one of the remaining ones (improve #3). I tested it on a woven because that scrap was handy. I folded the fabric correctly for the hem, stitched, then you pull the fabric flat by pulling the hem down. It looked perfect. And it didn’t work on the knit. Grrr! Something about the squishiness of my fabric allowed the threads to pull too tight (the old shirts are more stable and don’t stretch much). Whether it was the knit, fibers and/or elasticity, I couldn’t pull the fold down on the new knit, so the hem refused to lay flat once done. A new plan was needed.

The new plan (improve #4) was to serge the edge and stitch it down from the front with a very wide zigzag. I know, not sexy. Not as polished as I wanted. But it works! The bottom hem and sleeves were done in this way.

Neck binding, serged inside edge and zigzag top stitch.

See that little wrinkle in the right side of the pic? That’s a pucker. Grrr.

Next I applied the neck binding, dividing the length into even quarters and pinning, stretching to fit as I went along. I may not have been pulling quite evenly when I stitched and ended up with a little pucker in one spot. But for a first I thought I did pretty well! Last I topstitched the neck and sleeves, again with a long zigzag, ’cause that’s what I’ve got to work with. This is the part I’m most disappointed in. A zigzag top stitch definitely does not look professional if you look too close.

Overall fit is nice. The length is good. The sleeves are a little short, but that’s the pattern. Next time I’ll try a version with separate sleeves, be a little more patient when I apply the neck binding, and borrow a more modern serger.

There’s that dratted pucker again, but it doesn’t stop me from wearing it occasionally. The neck shape doesn’t quite look even, but that’s just the easy the shirt was placed on my dummy.

Should you find yourself looking for 1930s sewing patterns, I highly suggest checking out the excellent New Vintage Lady. She specializes in patterns for the Stout (plus sized) lady for primarily 1930s and 1940s. You can find her patterns for download on Etsy. Here is her blog, which includes info about her patterns, vintage advertisements and catalog pages, historic photos and her adventures in sewing. A lady after my own heart. I’m still making my way through her blog, but she has lots of great info, including vintage dos and don’ts for the plus sized figure and a primer on how to read vintage patterns.

il_570xN.836183478_56ihDid I mention that she illustrates all her own patterns and has an indy comic, Vintageville? I love her illustrations!

You can also follow her on Pinterest and all over the internets. Enjoy!