Sunday, July 28, 2013

in which I sew a large number of woven tanks (or, Grainline vs Wiksten)

The Holland Academy for Young Ladies is on summer break and I've been attempting to sew myself some clothes. To keep my spirits up I've been trying to make it all about The Process. Well, you can't wear The Process under a cute cardigan. So I guess I'm really all about Results. I'm happy to say my woven tanks have been a success!

I purchased the Tiny Pocket Tank pattern from Grainline and made a few, and then became curious about how the fit compared to the Wiksten Tank pattern. After staring at a lot (no, A LOT) of samples of both tanks online I decided just to purchase the Wiksten pattern and try it too. You can never have too many layering pieces, in my opinion.

Well, I love them both! Here's a quick comparison for you if you are wondering what's the difference:

L) Tiny Pocket Tank, R) Wiksten Tank Top (Ignore that seam down the back of the tank on the left -- I ran out of fabric!)


Both patterns produce nicely finished, airy, woven tank tops with deep scoop necklines, optional  chest pockets and curved hemlines. There are no closures required for either pattern, both styles slip on over your head. Yay!

Both have clear written instructions that are just right for a person who knows basic sewing techniques and terms. Both patterns come in the form of downloadable PDFs and the pattern pieces are tiled to letter sized pages and taped together at the guidelines.

If you want great results from either pattern, I don't recommend using quilting cotton. I did my trial runs in cotton, since I have so much on hand in my stash. Mid-weight cotton does make a nice looking woven tank, but the drape won't be the bestest. My favorites so far to use for these tanks: double gauze, lawn, chambray and linen blend. I haven't tried rayon, silk or similar, but I'm sure those would be wonderful.

Grainline Tiny Pocket Tank:

Grainline Tiny Pocket Tanks
(from L to R: cotton, chambray, cotton, double gauze)

Grainline's pattern (sizes 0-18) features darts in the front bodice and a handy technique to achieve smooth and professional looking bias-bound necklines and armholes (which is also featured as a tutorial on her blog). There are plenty of line drawings to illustrate the steps. There is also a tutorial on her blog to extend the tank into a dress.

 Darts in the Grainline bodice make for a nice curve around the bust.

Wiksten Tank Top:
Wiksten Tank Tops
(From L to R, linen blend, lawn, double gauze) 

Wiksten's pattern (sizes XS-XL) features french seams (ooh la la!), which means no raw edges will be visible on the inside of the tank - a nice touch in an otherwise basic garment. It includes a dress length option within the pattern. There are plenty of photographs and sketches to illustrate the steps.

 No raw edges on the inside of the Wiksten tank, very nice.
My Process:

Keepin' it real for your reference. I am 5 feet 6 inches tall, 135 lbs DSGV*, with broad, straight shoulders, average size bust, and a lamentably short torso, so I knew ahead of time I'd have to make adjustments in the patterns. I really think a couple of inches were taken from my spine and added to my toes on accident. I usually have to make a few mods to any purchased pattern, so that is no reflection on the quality of these patterns. I used my bust measurement to choose the pattern size and both worked out fine.
*Doctor's Scale Gravitational Vortex

Grainline dry run, size 8: I sewed the dry run in mid-weight cotton fabric I found at the bottom of my stash, not the ideal material, but OK for a test. Overall the fit was size appropriate but pulled a bit across my chest. Because of my short torso and chest, the length was too long and the front scoop neckline was way too hubba hubba (though my husband gave it the thumbs up). Because of my straight shoulders, the back neckline stood away from my back a bit.

Grainline wearable muslin: it shrunk a bit after laundering, but you get the idea.

Grainline Mods: 
  • Raised neckline in front a LOT (1.5 inches)
  • Lowered the neckline in back
  • Shortened the torso overall
  • Reduced angle of darts a bit and added a bit more room under the armscye
  • Made angle of the shoulder seam more shallow to compensate for my straight shoulders
  • Took a wedge off the back fold line to keep the neck from standing off my back (Got that idea here. Thanks, Rae!) 
  • In addition to the instructions, I added stay stitching to the neck and armholes so I could try it on without fear of pulling it out of shape before I added the bias binding. 

Wiksten wearable muslin, still some tweaking to do.

Wiksten dry run, size M: Fabric look familiar? I made a quickie true muslin, then adjusted some things and made a second try. I still had some cotton left from the duvet cover I thrifted years ago, so I used that for the wearable test run. Overall the fit was size appropriate, and I went ahead and raised the neckline an inch even before the muslin because I knew it would be too low. I had the same fit issues as with the Grainline tank: overall length a bit too long, and the back neckline standing away from my neck.

Wiksten Mods: 
I did the same mods as with the Grainline tank above, with these small additions:
  • In addition to the Wiksten instructions, I used the same Grainline method to grade, notch and understitch the neck and armholes.
  • I really dislike turning up a large hem on a curve, so I trimmed off some of the hem allowance and sewed a narrow hem instead.

Let me tell you, seeing the same armhole go by four different times under your needle (1-stay stitch, 2-attach the bias, {then clip the allowance} 3-understitch, 4-stitch bias down) can be a little frustrating and seems like overkill at the time, but it is very worth the effort. The result is a flat, smooth finish that doesn't loudly proclaim 'homemade'. If you've ever been frustrated by a bias bound neck or armscye that stands straight out from your body, then you should try this method.

My Results:

So I took about one thousand pictures of myself to model my new tanks, while my family looked on and mocked me (and I felt increasingly ridiculous). What to do with my hands? Should I look away? Gaaaah the timer is almost up! *click* Do over. I have a newfound respect for those who do this on a regular basis. I really need to buy a tripod and a remote. These were taken on my back screened porch, and it was humid, so please forgive the hair.

On the left is how the tank looks by itself, on the right is how I'll most likely wear it. I love me some cardigans. The parade of woven tanks:

I've laundered this one and I notice the pulling is back under the arms. No matter, I'll be wearing it as a layering piece mostly. I might go up a size on future Grainlines and see if that helps.

Bought this cotton ever so long ago and I'm so glad to have used it. I've actually made two of these, but the first one wasn't lined and the white fabric was too transparent. I remade it with a featherweight cotton lining. Much nicer! This is the only one that I added a pocket to, just because it needed more gray/black right there. The teeny pocket is so cute.

My first try with double gauze! I fell in love with this Fuccra when I saw it a while back, and hoarded it in my stash. I only had a meter so I had to put a seam in the back to make it work. Double gauze has a nice drape and a casual, crinkly look, but it can fray and stretch while you work with it. Stay stitching was a great idea. I bound the neck and armholes with a sturdier cotton to give it some body.

First time sewing with Liberty lawn! This is one of my favorite prints, Wiltshire. The fabric came out of the dryer practically wrinkle free with hardly any raveling, and took only a second to press. A joy to cut. Very easy to work with, but be sure to use a small needle. The lawn makes a more billowy looking tank. I might try a size down if I make another one in lawn.

The. Dreamiest. Fabric. Kaufman Essex linen blend. The yardage felt a bit heavy so I was hesitant about making it a top, but it has such a floppy drape it worked out great. I can tell this tank is going to be a wardrobe staple. Love the nubbly finish of the fabric. Wow. I need a haircut.

More Nani IRO double gauze. Love the colors of this one, such a fun print! I have more double gauze and I'm excited to make something else with it. Kind of a goofy expression for that last one!

I've actually sewn a couple more, but you get the idea. I'm going to love having so many options for layering. Not having a standard body shape can make sewing for yourself a trial, but I'm going to take what I've learned about alterations for my body type and go forward with more confidence. Now on to conquer more patterns...

Monday, July 22, 2013

I made clafoutis

I came into the kitchen this afternoon in a frowning funk over my less than successful sewing attempts. More on that later.

I realized four things:
1) I've never eaten clafoutis.
2) I don't know how to say clafoutis. Clah-FOOH-tee? Foux du fafa.
3) I happened to have all the ingredients handy, according to the recipe in my Joy Of Cooking* (except for the cognac).
4) I needed a Win and it might as well be a high-calorie, sweet, custardy Win.

Aren't those pretty eggs? My friend Tracy keeps chickens and I love the variety of colors and shapes the eggs come in. One day I'll be cool like Tracy.

*The gift that just keeps on giving, Robyn. My most useful cookbook by far.

 I also realized I could use a cherry pitter. My thumbnail is sore from prying out a million and a half cherry pits.

The finished product right from the oven (Win), before a coating of powdered sugar. The smell in the kitchen was a big payoff too.

Now, like any good southern girl I've made and put away a lot of fruit cobblers, but this is a different animal because of the eggs. Just as simple to make, but it's less like a gushy cake and more like a firm custard with cherries. I recommend eating it warm (with maybe a little extra sugar and some heavy cream splashed on if your sewing project is not going well). Remind me to give you my easiest fruit cobbler recipe ever sometime.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

handmade gifts from my sister

My sister Leigh loves to make handmade gifts as much as I like receiving them. So we are a great combo.

She just gifted me with these little chalkboard labels she made with balsa wood and chalkboard paint. It's a clever idea. They have clothespins attached to the backs so they are great for clipping to dishes at potlucks. Now I can easily let folks know what they are dipping into with helpful labels like:
"Nut free"
"So not a low fat food"
"It tastes better than it looks"
"Eat this so I don't have to take it home."

And because she loves me, she also gave me this fabulous spa eye pillow she made from organic hemp silk, filled with organic golden flax seeds. Fancy! She made them to sell at a local shop. It feels so nicely weighty and cool on my eyes. You can chill the pillow in the fridge or freezer to help with puffy eyes (I call this Netflix Eye) or warmed up to help with sinus pressure. I also deal with constant eye irritation from blepharitis, so this is a nice thing to have handy!

Thank you, Leigh Ann! When are you starting your blog?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

pattern review for the Flora Needle Book

Image courtesy of Stephanie, Peas in a Pod

Wondrous pattern tester and maker extraordinaire, Stephanie, has published a pattern review of my new Flora Needle Book pattern on her blog, Peas in a Pod. Isn't her needle book pretty? And she sewed it while sick with pneumonia, y'all. She can craft with one hand behind her back! More photos and a thorough rundown of the pattern are here.