Beanie Boobies

So, my brother recently signed up as a subscriber to my blog, just in time for a post all about my breasts. Yeah, you might want to skip reading this one, bro.

I’ve never been able to buy a bra that fits. When I was younger, I wore stretchy non-wired bras that didn’t provide much support because they were all I could fit into. My measurements say I should wear a 34C, but they lie. My breast tissue (not just fat) nearly meets in the center, and my breasts extend well under my arms, so there’s more breast volume there than a typical 34C cup size. Lately I’ve been wearing non-wired foam cup t-shirt bras in either 34C or 36B, which aren’t too bad, but I end up with pressure points where the bra cuts into my ribs, I overflow the cups at the center and sides, and they are not terribly supportive. Lately I’ve noticed that there is a lot of tension on my bra straps, too.

Many years ago I decided I wanted to try sewing an underwire bra, thinking that if I custom fit it, I could wear a wired bra. I bought a pattern, fabric, elastic, The Bra-makers Manual, and a whole set of underwires in different sizes. I found a wire that fit the curve under my breasts, and then had to shorten the ends by an inch or two. The wire that fit me was six sizes larger than the one used in a 34C bra. Every day after work I’d come home and sew a new bra, then make some adjustments to try the next day. I made at least a half dozen versions before I quit working on it. I ended up with a bra that almost fit, but wasn’t comfortable enough to wear regularly. The wires still dug into me, and wouldn’t lie flat against my chest in the middle.

I’d like to add that The Bra-makers Manual (I have what is now the first of two volumes) was a huge disappointment for me. It’s almost exclusively dedicated to sewing wired bras, with a couple of notes here and there about non-wired bras. And I just now discovered that near the end of the book, the author mentions that women with breast tissue extending under their arms cannot wear wired bras. Wouldn’t it have been helpful to put that at the beginning of the book? She just jumps right into discussing wired bras, as if they are the only kind. Also, I couldn’t find any info on what to do if there is no room for a bridge between your breasts. The author just says that the bridge should lie against the chest, rather than the bra acting like a hammock. But I can’t figure out how to do that since I don’t have room for a bridge. This book was very expensive, and did not lead me to figure out my fit issues.

After giving up on sewing a bra, I went to be professionally fitted. I came home with an expensive underwire bra that I wore once, and some not very supportive non-wired knit bras. The underwire bra felt OK for the first hour or so, but by the end of the day I couldn’t think of anything other than the pain of the wires digging into me. I’m not the type to be willing to suffer for fashion, so I ended up wearing the knit bras. They didn’t give me a very nice shape, but what else could I do?

I decided I’m going to give making my own bras another try. I figured if I blogged about it, I’d be more likely to follow through with the project, since that worked for finishing my jeans.

To help me drape a bra pattern, I made an upper body form of myself, with semi-soft breasts stuffed with beans. This was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it simply as a craft project. Apparently I really like cloning myself- I’ve got all sorts of body parts scattered around my sewing area – a dress form, skirt form, pants form, and a pair of plaster feet. It’s really kind of creepy.

For anyone wanting to make a paper tape dress form, I have a few tips on working with kraft paper tape in my skirt form tutorial. I also took lots of pictures while making this bust form. I put them up on Flikr. I added further descriptions and explanations to some of the pictures, so click on the pictures to see the comments. One thing I don’t show in the pictures is that prior to taping the shoulder area, I marked my desired armhole location directly on my body with washable marker. I found this is very important – it is very difficult to get the left and right armholes the same otherwise, especially if you don’t have an experienced sewer doing the taping.

The bean-filled breasts are firmer than I anticipated, since I used foam bra cups and packed the beans in so tightly. But they are nearly in the shape I wanted, and I can pat them into slightly different shapes.

If I end up making a bra I really like, I plan to perform a double mastectomy on my full dress form, put a bra on her, and fill up the bra with lentil filled stockings. Then I’d have a much more realistic bust to work with for fitting.

11 nylons full of beans in breasts

33 finished bust form

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

Jeans Pockets

I like my pockets to be as perfect as I can get them, since your eye is always drawn to pockets. Here’s how I make the back pockets on my jeans.

If you like this pocket, you can use my pocket pattern.

Posted in Sewing

The Jeans That Killed My Sewing Machine

KillerJeansI had said before that you don’t need an industrial sewing machine to sew jeans. Well, that is only true up to a point. My Singer Fashion Mate 252 did fine on 12 ounce denim and just barely made it through 13.5 ounce denim as long as I hammered all of the bulky spots first and used double topstitched seams rather than flat-felled seams.
But . . .

JeansUnderliningI had one last piece of denim in my stash I wanted to make into jeans. I’m not sure of the fabric weight, but I think it is 12 oz or less. It’s non-stretch denim, and it’s loosely woven, so I was worried about the jeans stretching out too much as I wore them. I decided to underline the jeans with an especially horrendous piece of quilting cotton from my stash (no, I didn’t buy that fabric- it was given to me as part of a bin of fabric from an estate sale). I didn’t give any thought to how my sewing machine would handle the extra layers of fabric. (The jeans ended up uncomfortably tight, so this was an all-around bad idea.)

Everything was going OK until I was topstitching the inseam and got to the thick spot at the crotch where the seams come together. Then clunk, I heard the sewing machine needle hit metal. I thought maybe I’d bent the needle, but no, it was straight. I cut the thread, removed the fabric, and checked out what was going on. The needle was hitting the shuttle race every time it went down. I thought, oops, I must have thrown out my timing on the thick fabric – no big deal, I can fix that.

BrokenPlasticGearAs I was looking at the bottom of the machine and turning the hand wheel, suddenly the wheel started turning way too easily, and I realized something was broken. It turned out to be a broken plastic gear up in the top, and I think the machine would have to be mostly disassembled to replace it. Everything else important is made of metal, but they just had to put in a plastic gear in an inaccessible location.

This sewing machine had been making some screechy noises for a while, so I think it was already on its way to breaking, and the jeans were just the last straw. So, that was the end of that machine :'(

I tried finishing my jeans on my Janome Magnolia 7306. It really doesn’t like thick fabric, wouldn’t make even stitches, and I was afraid I would break this sewing machine, too. I really don’t like sewing on this machine anyway. I am so spoiled from sewing on my treadle-mounted machine I don’t want to sew on anything else – the stitches are even, and it is so easy to control the speed with the treadle. My Singer 252 is an entry-level sewing machine from the early 1970’s, but it sews so much better than my six year old entry-level Janome.

I had a spare Singer 252 for parts, but the tension assembly screw was bent on that one. I pulled it out of storage and managed to straighten the tension assembly enough that it works. Whew. I’m so glad I was able to fix it! After only a few hours without my favorite sewing machine, I realized that a lot of the joy I get from sewing is from using that particular machine.

WalkingFootSewingMachineI have a semi-industrial portable walking foot machine that I really should have been sewing these jeans with rather than risking my other machines. I found this machine on Craigslist, and just had to buy it after thinking about all of the times I’ve had trouble sewing through thick fabric. It is hard to sew in a straight line on this machine, the stitches don’t stay an even length, and I can’t use a top-stitching foot with it, so I’d rather not use it if I don’t have to. It will sew through just about anything, though. Well, now I’ve realized how fragile my other machines are, so no more risking them. If I have wobbly top-stitching on my jeans from sewing them on the walking foot machine, so be it. Chances are non-sewers will not notice the imperfections unless I point them out. Heck, they probably won’t even notice that my jeans are home-made.

On a good note, I only had a 60 yard spool of topstitching thread for these jeans, and I was carefully conserving it, hoping I would have enough. I just made it with 2 yards to spare!2yardsThread

Posted in Sewing

Jeans for Me!

I’ve had denim sitting in my stash for years waiting to be made into jeans, but I kept putting off making them because I didn’t know how to get the fit right. I finally did it. It took making four muslins, but I perfected my jeans pattern enough that I was willing to sew it up in denim.

I’ve had such bad experiences with the fit from commercial patterns, I wasn’t willing to use one. So instead I started with a rub-off pattern from my best fitting pair of old jeans. I altered the pattern to add some length to the back crotch seam, and I got the length right, but I couldn’t quite get the shape right.

After three muslins, I was about to give up and say my figure just isn’t suited to jeans, but I decided to give it one more try. I have a custom pants form I made from a plaster mold last year, and I draped a completely new jeans back pattern on it. I was surprised at how straight the back crotch curve is. I sewed up one more muslin, and finally, the jeans felt right.

I compared my pattern to McCall’s M5894, a classic fit jeans pattern I have, hoping I could get some clues about how to alter commercial patterns in the future. Maybe these comparisons will give someone else with a similar figure some fitting hints. My pants front pattern was not altered from the ready-to-wear pair I copied. Look how different the McCall’s front crotch curve is (the solid line corresponds to my size). If you look at the pictures of the models wearing these jeans, you can tell there’s some weird bagginess in the front crotch area. I’m thankful I did not use this pattern – I would have had even more fit issues.

And look, no mono-butt! At first I wasn’t too concerned when I noticed that style had become popular. I thought it was just a fad and would be gone in a few years. But now all pants seem to be cut tight under the bum, and I realized how uncomfortable they are, since the tightness on the lower butt cheeks makes the pants pull themselves down every time you move. Also, there is no extra fabric down there to allow you to sit without pulling down the back waist a little too far. This style has lasted so long, there is an entire generation that thinks it’s normal to be constantly tugging up your jeans. Thankfully, I have a jeans pattern for myself now, and I no longer have to be subjected to the discomfort of mono-butt jeans.

016D jeans front and back

016D jeans side view

I wasn’t trying for completely wrinkle-free pants like those modeled in Pants for Real People – comfort was my primary concern. I’m not sure it’s possible to get the back wrinkle-free for my body shape anyway – I have a lot of curves back there!

After all the pairs of jeans I sewed for my kids, and the wearable muslins I made, I got pretty good at topstitching. And aren’t my inner pockets pretty?

016D jeans fly

016D pretty jeans pockets

P.S. I uploaded my back pocket pattern, if you want to use that swoosh I have on them.

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

Leopard Print Self-Drafted Pajamas

For the longest time, I’ve been avoiding buying clothing, because “I’m going to sew myself some clothes that fit”. Occasionally, I’ll run out of things to wear, because I still haven’t sewn any, and I’ll break down and buy some clothes from a thrift store, since it’s a lot less painful to spend only a little money on ill-fitting clothes I hate to wear than buy them new.

My old pajamas are completely worn out. Seriously, there’s not even enough of them left to make decent rags. But guess what? I finally sewed some new winter pajamas! I used four way stretch leopard print cotton knit. I made three tops and two bottoms, and used up a huge piece of fabric that was taking up room in my stash. Well, almost used it up. There are some good sized scraps I might be able to use – I can’t quite part with those ;)

To draft the pajama pattern, the first thing I tried was copying my best fitting T-shirt to see if I could use it as the base for my pajama top. I made a rub-off pattern from the T-shirt, and it turns out the shirt really doesn’t fit as well as I thought. My version is too tight under my arms, and it is obvious the shoulder slope is too square. Also, the chest is a little snugger than I like. The original fabric stretches and drapes nicely, hiding the fit issues. I guess I at least have a new T-shirt to layer over, if nothing else.

Leopard print pajama topSo I went back to the drawing board. First I tried draping a shirt pattern. After about five minutes I lost patience with that and I pulled out my patternmaking textbooks. They don’t have a whole lot on knits, and none of the drafts were exactly what I wanted, but they did give me some ideas. I pulled out my torso block pattern and rotated the upper bust dart to the armhole where I left it unstitched as ease. I rotated the back shoulder dart to the armhole and left it as ease as well, then smoothed out the armhole shapes.

I looked at some other long sleeve T-shirts to get an idea of the neckline shape, ease around the chest, length, and sleeve cap height that I wanted. I drafted sleeves to fit the armholes, and added seam allowances. I sewed it up, and it was almost perfect. The only change I made was to shorten the sleeves a little.

Drafting from slopers seems like magic to me after all the fitting woes I’ve had. I don’t even really feel like I know what I’m doing, but it works anyway and the fit is perfect.

I also made pajama pants to go with the tops. I wanted them to be loose fitting leggings, with zero ease at the hips. Pants drafts based on measurements don’t work for me at all, since they all make assumptions about how much your butt sticks out based on your hip measurement, and I have relatively narrow hips and a round butt, which makes a big difference in how pants fit. I decided I needed to drape a pattern. I basically used the “plastic wrap patternmaking” method.  I stuck Glad Press’n Seal on my body and reinforced it with tape, with seams at the inseam, similar to this tights tutorial. I cut it at the inseam, clipped and spread it here and there so it would lie flat, and traced around it. Leggings PressnSeal Pattern

When I sewed up the leggings I realized I needed to take some out of the center back seam from waist to hip, since I’d spread the pattern too much there, but that was easily pinned out in fabric. Here’s what the final pattern looks like:Leggings Final Pattern

These are sooo warm and comfy. I don’t like being squeezed by tight clothing while I sleep, but neither do I like loose pant legs to get tangled up in, so these are perfect.Leopard print pajama pants

I actually hadn’t planned on sewing animal print this month, but since it’s Jungle January, that worked out pretty well. It’s a good thing I can’t see my pajamas while I’m sleeping, since the print is so loud it just might keep me awake!

I’ve made a list of the things I want to sew and next on my list is jeans for me. I’m not sure I’m ready for that, though, because I still seem to be burned-out on sewing jeans after the nine pairs in a row I sewed last fall (mostly for my kids). Maybe I’m ready. I might try draping a pattern, because for the life of me, I can’t get the back thigh and crotch area to fit right, and I hate sewing up one muslin after another, only to discover my latest alteration actually made things worse.

Posted in Sewing

My First Tried and True Pattern!

Looking back over what I sewed in 2014, I counted 26 items for other family members and 2 for me. The 2 for me are actually just wearable muslins for my jeans that I sewed up in gray canvas (which I’m wearing in the pictures below), since I’m still not happy enough with the fit to make them in denim. I also spent a lot of time last year working on half-scale dress forms and patterns. Actually, when I started designing the paper half-scale dress form, it was because I was procrastinating on making jeans for myself, because I knew I’d have lots of trouble fitting them. I’ve decided 2015 is going to be the year I sew myself a new wardrobe.

I’ve been purposely not buying any clothes for myself, hoping that not having anything decent to wear will motivate me to do the hard work of designing some clothes that fit me. I actually have plenty of clothes; I just don’t wear most of them because they are uncomfortable due to poor fit. It wasn’t until my ready-to-wear jeans were completely disintegrating to the point of being indecent to wear in public that I was brave enough to try to sew some jeans, so I guess it’s working.

I have bodice and skirt slopers I made for myself, but I was too chicken to do anything with them for a long time. My fitting shell has just been collecting dust on my dress form. Designing half scale basic blocks and dresses finally gave me the confidence and knowledge to start designing my own clothes.

Torso_block_patternThe first step I took toward designing my own clothes was to make a torso block from my bodice and skirt blocks. Making a torso block for a real person is not as easy as it is in the patternmaking books. Well, unless you happen to be shaped like a dress form. I used a combination of a couple of different methods (from Armstrong and Knowles) to make the torso block. I wasn’t able to get a close fitting torso block due to my extreme lower back curvature – I had to reduce the back waist dart so it hangs away from my body a bit at the back waist. Even with the looser fit there’s still a big dart back there. But I’m pretty happy with it. It’s not like I’ll usually want a blouse or dress to emphasize my sway back anyway.

Before I got too far into designing my own patterns I decided to do a reality check and sew up a commercial pattern. I wanted to make sure I hadn’t given up too easily on altering commercial patterns. I’ve never been able to alter a commercial pattern to get a good fit – I just have too many fitting issues, and not enough fitting skill and patience. (But somehow I’ve had the ability and patience to teach myself patternmaking. Go figure.)

I decided on the Colette Sorbetto tank top for a test, since it is about as simple as you can get, and Collette designs for a C cup, which is what I measure for. I printed out and traced my size from the Sorbetto pattern. Then I lined up my torso blocks over it, rotated the front upper bust dart, and traced my patterns for comparison.

The only significant changes I made to the back pattern were to increase the armhole depth* and increase the width a little at the waist and hip. On the front, the bust dart on my torso block was over twice as wide as the dart on the Sorbetto pattern. I still cannot explain that, since I thought Colette patterns were drafted for a C cup, so theoretically I shouldn’t need to do a full bust adjustment. My final front pattern has a wider waist, a much bigger dart, and a different curve at the armhole. The neckline and shoulder strap position fit well without changes – my bra strap sits right in the middle of the tank top straps. I removed the box pleat down the front, but that doesn’t affect the fit since the pleat is stitched down at center front.

There is no way I would have been able to figure out how to make even this simple tank top fit so well without comparing it to my torso block, so I’ve convinced myself I made the right choice when I decided to design my own patterns rather than alter them. I did like the approach of comparing my sloper to a commercial pattern, though. The fit was really good after the changes I made on paper – when I made a muslin, the only change I had to make was lowering the dart a little more. I’m not sure how well this approach would work for a more complex pattern, however. I may try looking at commercial patterns for neckline shapes, amount of ease, etc. and designing similar patterns from my slopers.

*If you do a Google image search for Colette Sorbetto, you will see lots of people with wrinkles pointing to their underarms, so I think most people will want to lower the armhole on this pattern.

Posted in Patternmaking

KAM Snap Pliers Adapter

A while ago I got all excited about KAM Snaps and bought a bunch of them (quite possibly a lifetime supply) along with the pliers to install them. I have problems with tendonitis, and it turns out that using these pliers is really painful for me, even for just a few snaps. Since it doesn’t make sense for me to buy an expensive snap press for home use, I adapted the pliers to be used like a press. I cut up some scrap pieces of wood, then wedged in and strapped the pliers down onto a base. It’s not pretty, but it works really well. I just have to press down on the handle, which is a lot less effort than squeezing pliers.

KAM Snaps Pliers Holder/Adapter

KAM Snaps Pliers Holder/Adapter

Posted in Uncategorized
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