2020 – a Year of Making

2020 is finally out the door and 2021 has arrived. What an odd year it has been! Last December I came home from a vacation with a sewing machine. Thus, 2020 has been a year of sewing, and I haven’t done as much knitting or spinning as I have in the past. Here are my makes:

January:

February:

  • We continued to settle into the house, and I started a mini raised-bed garden.
  • I wrote an article for Ply Magazine that came out in their Basics issue in the fall!
  • I knit a washcloth for a friend.

March:

  • I mended my slippers.
  • I made a chemisette for a Regency outfit I’ve been quietly working on in the background. 

April:

May:

  • I mocked up the bodice of my Regency dress pattern. 
  • I made a colourful pinafore
  • I bought a rose bush and planted more seeds in the garden. 
  • I finished weaving a handspun/mohair lace scarf

June:

  • I started brewing Kombucha and Kefir.
  • I finished spinning the wool samples from the spinning class I took in the Fall of 2018.
  • My husband made me a yarn display for my wall. 
  • We went on a massive hike.
  • I made a T-shirt

July:

August:

  • I made a second pair of shorts
  • I finished a sparkly tunic I had started several years ago, but stalled out on due to fitting issues. 
  • I made an 18th century-inspired petticoat skirt.
  • My article was published in Ply Magazine!!

September:

October:

  • I made a corset-style bodice and paired it with my petticoat skirt for a Hobbity Halloween look. 
  • We got a puppy!!

November:

  • We spent a lot of time playing with and training our puppy. He is adorable and is growing like a weed!
  • I baked Pumpkin Sourdough Bread in the shape of a pumpkin. 
  • I moved my garden indoors.
  • I knit a tasseled shawl!

December:

Throughout the year I have enjoyed making things, especially clothes. I always seem to think that a garment will come together in just a few hours, and I am rarely right. I need to work on factoring in a realistic amount of time when planning a project and not beat myself up when it takes longer than I initially thought it would. There is nothing like getting dressed in clothes you have made yourself. It’s like a sort of armor against the world. I am looking forward to continuing my garment-sewing journey in 2021 and (spoiler) I’m considering quilting. Because I don’t have enough hobbies yet.

A Hobbity Hallowe’en

I am posting this two months too late, but it is too good not to share. Enjoy my unseasonal makes! Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!

Every year I tell myself I’m going to make a a amazing Halloween costume. And every year I start too late or don’t start at all. This year I made myself a few pieces throughout the year that weren’t intended to go together, but turned out to be a pretty great Halloween costume.

First, I made a skirt based on an 18th century petticoat. The fabric is a striped herringbone rayon from Hobby Lobby. It’s totally the wrong fiber for 18th century, but I love the colours. I’ve come to the realization this year that I adore sewing with stripes and plaids. Something about the fussiness needed to match stripes and plaids really makes me happy.

The skirt, or petticoat, was simple enough to sew. I trimmed up my yardage so the ends were cut straight, then cut 2 lengths to the measurement from my waist to my ankles. I also cut a few strips to use as the waistband and tie, so the front and back panels weren’t quite the full 60” fabric width. From there I sewed up the side seams, leaving the top 8” open, and felled the seams by machine to finish them neatly. Since my fabric wasn’t right for the period, I had no qualms about using a machine construction. Once the side seams were completed I sewed a small double turn hem at the bottom of the skirt. Next, I made the waistband/tie. The front waistband is made of probably 2 yards of self-fabric 5 inches wide. I made this long enough to wrap around the back and back to the front and tie in a pretty bow. This is not historically accurate, but it made me happy. The back tie only wraps around to the front and ties, and it is made of twill tape.

I made a corset-y bodice from an upholstery fabric sample my bestie gave me using a McCalls pattern. I made View E. The upholstery fabric was so thick I couldn’t get two layers under my machine foot, so I sewed the fashion layer by hand.

The bodice is lined with white linen. I couldn’t find a bias binding or a fabric that matched my fashion fabric well, so I used a ribbon for the binding. It worked ok, but there is some bunching around the corners of the front neckline. This was my first time setting grommets, and oh my, it is so much fun to use a hammer! I finished it up by used a pretty red ribbon for the lacing.

For the final look I used my Regency shift as a base layer. Next I put on the bodice, and then the petticoat. Since I was going for a hobbity look I let my hair be naturally curly and long. I used a silk scarf to fill in my neckline, and went barefoot (as a self-respecting Hobbit would do).

I love this impromptu costume, but if I did it again there are a few items I would add:

1. I wish I had made an underpetticoat for this outfit. The skirt silhouette is ok, but another petticoat would make for a much better shape.

2. I also wish I had a better neckerchief made of white or cream cotton or linen.

3. Finally, I wish I had an apron – preferably in linen and smocked or embroidered.

As a teenager I always wanted to be an Elf. Now that I am an adult I still love the elves, but I am learning to embrace my inner Hobbit.

Paper Bag Skirt

Do you ever do that thing where you find an irresistible fabric, so you buy just barely enough of it to make a hypothetical THING, and then when you go to make the thing you realize that you don’t really have enough fabric at all? Yeah, I do that a lot.

I had taken my sewing machine in to be serviced, when the most beautiful midnight blue and sunshine yellow floral batik captured me. I could not leave the store without it. I knew I wanted a garment in this fabric, but wasn’t sure what kind of garment. So I bought a yard. One. Single. Yard. Sigh. When will I ever learn that a single yard is not enough? My, er, artificial shortage of material made me think long and creatively about a solution, and I finally decided that I would make a paper bag style skirt. When I first saw paper bag skirts and pants I thought they were decidedly odd and unflattering, but evidently my opinion changed with time. And anyways, I wanted something a little more interesting than a run-of-the-mill A-line skirt.

I started (as always) with planning. This included measuring myself and my fabric and doing various calculations and layout sketches to make sure I could use every single inch of my precious fabric. I used this tutorial for general instructions, but decided to fully line the skirt and add an invisible zipper and an internal pocket. Because I like turning simple projects into not-so-simple projects. Oh, and since my sewing machine was in the shop, I would be sewing the skirt by hand. Because I’m impatient.

So I measured and cut my two layers of quilting cotton (the lining is a teal cotton I’ve had in my stash for ages), and ironed the seam allowances down. Apparently I’m at the point where if I’m going to sew a skirt by hand, I’m going to aim for interest rather than efficiency, and I’m going to use the most entertaining stitches I can. The pocket was constructed first, with running back stitches.

Next, the invisible zipper was sewn in with spaced back stitches (The only invisible zipper I had was brown. It doesn’t match, but it does coordinate, and I like the effect).

Then the side seams were sewn with an interesting variation on a whip stitch that I learned from the American Duchess book as the English stitch.

The top and bottom hems and the pocket openings were finished with whip stitches. The only parts of the skirt that were machine sewn were the pleats (I just didn’t want to sew these by hand, and my machine had come back from being serviced). Finally, I sewed in a waist tape so the strain of wearing would not be all on the pleats.

In my original sketch I had planned to make a self-fabric belt, but due to the busyness of the fabric this didn’t show up when worn. Instead I changed tactics and made a belt from a tie my husband no longer wore. It’s slightly the wrong shade of blue, but overall I think it’s a pretty good effect.

The skirt is wearable, but not technically done – I still need to add the belt loops!

There are a few picky things I would change if I made this again. First of all, I would not line it with quilting cotton. The two layers together make the skirt quite stiff, and the cotton grabs at my tights a little and wants to work it’s way up. Not a great look. Secondly, I would move the pocket down. Currently the top inch or two of the pocket opening are underneath the belt, which makes pocket access a little more difficult than it needs to be. The pocket will just barely fit my phone (length and width) so I would also make the pocket a little larger in both directions. The final change I would make is to lower the waist tape. The tape sits at the very top of the waist section, so if I look down at my skirt I can see the white tape peeking up at me. I’m the only one who will notice this, but it does bother me.

This is a fun skirt to wear! I paired it here with a black shirt and tights. It would go equally well with a chocolate brown top, and I’m dying to make a blouse in mustard yellow just to wear with this! I purposely made the waist to my sitting down waist measurement, so it’s comfortable to wear all day at work while looking extra glamorous. Overall, I’m pretty happy with this make, and I look forward to it becoming a regular part of my wardrobe.

Finally Finished: Purple and Sparkly

I have done more sewing this spring and summer than I have in any other period of my life. I tend to go through phases with how I spend my time: I’ll spend 6 months knitting, then I’ll do nothing but read for a month. The next 3 months will be dedicated to spinning, followed by a month of dabbling in crochet or tatting. I love learning new things and experimenting in an environment where a mistake only costs me a skein of yarn and a few hours of my time.

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A few years ago I went through another period of intense sewing. At the time I didn’t have a sewing machine so I used the sewing machine I was born with – my hands. It turns out that sewing by hand is slower than by machine, but that you can be much more precise. Sewing by hand is also much more soothing than sewing with a machine will ever be. In college my best friend had a deep purple sparkly skirt she had made. I loved that skirt and wore it as often as she would let me borrow it. Eventually she gave it to me and I continued to wear it as often as I dared. Only, after college I found myself gravitating less and less toward skirts and more and more toward pants. It broke my heart that this beautiful skirt wasn’t being worn and loved. So I hatched a daring plan to refashion the skirt into a tunic. I used my trusty Alabama Chanin T-Shirt/dress pattern, and very carefully laid my pattern out. I was just barely able to eke out the shirt and 2 elbow length sleeves. Proud of myself, I quickly sewed up the shoulder and side seams and felled them down. Then I tried it on. The tunic did not fit at all how I had expected it to. In hindsight I know that I hadn’t payed attention to the grain of the knit fabric, so instead of the direction with the most stretch going around my body, it went vertically. The tunic was skintight and wanted to stretch in length. Frustrated, I put all my supplies into a bag and put that bag into my stash and out of sight.

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Over the years I’ve brought the bag out several times, turned out the contents, thought a bit, and put everything away again. I came to the conclusion that I needed to add gores to the side seams, but there was not enough of the original fabric to make this work. Black seemed like a good alternative, given the dark purple of my fabric, and I had already intended to use a black binding for the neckline and hem. But when I shopped around for black knit fabric I could never find anything that I was really happy with. Recently I bought some 100% cotton knit in black and white just to have around. You never know when a lightweight cotton knit will come in handy. As I yet again considered this project a light bulb went on. I pulled my quarter yard of black cotton knit out of my stash, measured the length from the underarm to the hem and marked this on my fabric twice, then I cut the lengths diagonally from corner to corner, leaving 1 inch of seam allowance on each piece. I then sewed the straight edges to the side seams of my tunic, and sewed the angled sides together.

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When I tried it on this time, the angels sang! It was so comfortable and flattering! I sewed the sleeves on, then started the finishing work. Since I was working with Jersey it wasn’t strictly necessary to finish the edges, so the inside seams are a mixture of left raw and felled down. The hems and neckline were finished with double-fold elastic. 

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All in all, I am so pleased with how this make turned out. It is comfortable to wear, and I feel so pretty in it! There are several elements that echo Regency fashion, namely the squared neckline, the close fit through the bust and looser fit in the skirt, and the fitted elbow-length sleeves. This pleases me immensely! I am still working on upping my binding skills. The sleeve and skirt hems are pretty decent, but the neckline hem wants to curve outward ever so slightly. I noticed this same problem with the striped T-shirt I recently made as well. I think the solution is to stretch the binding a little more around the curves, but this is easier to say than to do. I will keep practicing.

It’s tempting to keep this top in reserve for a special event or date night, but it’s so comfortable and beautiful that I think it deserves to become part of my “normal” wardrobe – sparkles and all.

Building My Summer Wardrobe: More Shorts

In April I made my first pair of shorts. I took the time to adjust the pattern to myself, but even so there were some fit issues I wanted to tweak a little more. For my second pair of shorts I used the same pattern, originally from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual, and another stretch denim from StyleMaker Fabrics. The fabric is a dark-wash denim with woven-in silver pinstripes. I already had a perfectly matching thread in my stash, and I used a silver zipper.

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The tweaks I made were:

  1. Take in the waist 1/2 inch on the side of the front pieces (I did not adjust the back pieces)
  2. Adjust the curve of the center back seam to account for my slight swayback. This reduced bubbling in this area.
  3. Add extra length so I would be able to do a double-fold hem.
  4. Lengthen the pocket pieces by 2 inches. Because big pockets are the best thing ever.
  5. Finish all the interior seams.

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I am SO HAPPY with these shorts! The fitting adjustments I made really make these perfect for me. The original shorts are just a touch too big in the waist, and they end up sagging down as I move around, which leads to me having to pull them back up throughout the day.

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The insides of the first pair of shorts are super shreddy. I finished the edges by pinking them, but that doesn’t seem to be a very good finish for stretch denim. This time I felled all my seams, which make these so clean and beautiful on the inside as well as the outside! And the pockets! The pockets are so big and deep and beautiful. All of my pockets need to be this size!

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There are one or two more tweaks I’d like to do for a future pair of shorts (because you can never have enough shorts):

  1. When I adjusted the side front pieces this caused the pocket openings to be really close to the side seams, and almost too small to get my hands into. I opened up the  bottom of the pocket area where I attached the zipper and felled the side seam and reworked the top stitching to be closer to the seam. Next time I would adjust the angle of the pocket to combat this.
  2. The lower leg portion of the shorts is quite fitted to my legs. This is intentional based on the original pattern, but for the next pair of shorts I’d like to increase the width of the leg pieces to make for a more relaxed fit.
  3. If I make these in a striped fabric again I would adjust the grain of the front side piece so the stripes match up with the main front piece. It’s a small thing, but I love it when stripes match up perfectly.

 

Can you Paint with all the Colours of the Wind?

When I was growing up Pocahontas was my favourite Disney princess. It seems she made a lasting impression on me, because a while ago I bought a few yards of this viscose blend jersey to make a dress.

My pattern was New Look A6122, and I used view A. 

After washing my fabrics, I laid everything out and cut it, doing my best to keep my fabrics on the straight of grain. It’s hard enough to cut on the straight of grain with a more stable knit like I used in my basic t-shirt recently, but this viscose blend was all kinds of shifty! As mentioned before, my sewing machine won’t do a zig-zag stitch right now, which would have been the best way to sew this dress up. I used a twin needle instead since the zig-zagging bobbin thread allows seams sewn this way to have a small amount of stretch. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s better than a normal straight stitch.

I worked up the bodice, then tried it on for a fitting before attaching the skirt. It’s a good thing I did this, because I ended up taking 6 inches of width out of the top of the neckline, raising the bottom edge of the bodice, and removing the lower bust darts. With that done, I reattached the armsceye and waist pieces, and started work on the skirt. The pattern instructs you to make gathers with the extra fabric in both front and back, but I didn’t want to create any more bulk around my midsection. Instead I put two pleats in the front and back pieces – much more slimming.

I sewed the front pieces and the back pieces together, then sewed up the side seams. Then I attached the straps to the back piece by hand in an effort to keep the garment outer as clean and seamless as possible. I let the dress hang before hemming it. I was afraid the slippery, stretchy fabric might grow in length with time. Once it had hung on my dress form for a day or so I cut the hem, and hemmed it. 

This dress is very fun to wear! It is swooshy and feels so flattering! Every time I wear it I start singing the Pocahontas sound track! I would absolutely consider making another one, however there are some changes I would make: the waist and armscye pieces are interfaced with fusible interfacing. As you can see, the outer layer is pulling away from the interfacing in places, leading to a messy looking front. This is mainly caused by the fabric being so much stretchier than the stretch interfacing. If I did this again I would choose a fabric with much less stretch for the interfaced pieces, maybe a 100% cotton knit, and depending on the strength of that fabric I might skip the interfacing altogether. If I made this again, I would do the majority of the stitching with a zig zag stitch, possibly supplemented by some top-stitching. The twin needle works well enough, but it’s not quite stretchy enough for this fabric. Ah, the fabric. If I made this again, I would probably go for a less stretchy/slinky fabric. It’s so fun to wear, but so hard to sew!

Spur-of-the-Moment Sewing

You know how sometimes you see a fabric and it just grabs you? That’s what happened to me with this.

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It’s a wide-stripe cotton seersucker I found at Hobby Lobby, and there was less than a yard left on the bolt. I’ve never seen a seersucker with such a wide stripe! It hurts my brain when I try to figure out how to weave it.

Like much of the world right now, I’ve been working from home a lot recently. One of the up sides of this is that if I decide to cut out a new shirt in the middle of the day I can do it on my lunch break. That’s totally normal behaviour, right?

I used a Dolman Sleeve shirt I currently own and love as a pattern template. The front and back are the exact same pattern piece except for the neckline. I used the full length and width of the fabric, and only have a few square inches of fabric leftover! For the construction I used a mixture of machine and hand sewing. The seams were done with the machine, and the finishing was done by hand. I do love a tidy felled seam!

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When the construction was done I tweaked the sleeves and neckline, then finished the edges with bias tape. The bias tape was sewn onto the right side of the garment by machine, then felled down on the inside by hand. The shirt hem didn’t need any finishing since it is the fabric selvage.

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Tadah! This was a super quick project! I made it over 3 days, working on it for odd minutes here and an hour there. It was a pleasant mixture of hand and machine sewing. The fabric is delightful – I love the colours and the texture. The only thing I’m not sure about is the boxy silhouette.

P.S. This is yet another make that pairs so nicely with my cream jean shorts. I swear they go with everything, and I wear them all the time! Wearing clothes I’ve made myself is the best!

Sewing Basics

I’ve been sewing a lot this year. This is in large part because I now have a sewing machine, which allows me to complete projects more quickly. As I looked at my wardrobe recently I realized I was missing some basics, and was quite unhappy with my t-shirt collection. I’ve found myself avoiding wearing the t-shirts I have because I just don’t like them. So I pulled out my trusty Alabama Chanin t-shirt pattern, bought some printed cotton knit from Hobby Lobby, and got to work.

I’ve used this pattern before, but last time I used a rib knit, which is much more stretchy than the Stockinette fabric I was using this time. I did not realize this until I had already cut out the whole shirt. It turned out to be too small and too short. I was lucky that I had just enough fabric to cut out another shirt in a larger size. I made sure I was using a Jersey needle in my sewing machine, but it started making a funny noise, so I sewed almost the whole shirt by hand with a running backstitch. I figured out later it was not a problem with the machine. The needle was slightly bowed, which caused it to rub up against part of the machine.

The last piece of the puzzle was hems and the neckband. I chose a Herringbone stitch that I worked around the shirt hem, the sleeve hems, and the neckband. I debated doing a second round of herringbone in either white or a soft green, but ended up liking the single Herringbone better. The shirt was now finished.

One of these days I’d love to add more details, like additional embroidery, appliqué or reverse appliqué, or even beading! These are the techniques Alabama Chanin is best known for, and I’ve never given it a proper try.

**You’ll notice I’m wearing my new shirt with my me-made shorts, making this an entirely me-made outfit! I love wearing clothes I’ve made for myself, and these shorts are super comfortable!

Words to Think On

A few years ago I was introduced to the idea of selecting a word of the year instead of, or in concert with, new year’s resolutions. I like how this is rather less specific than, say, a resolution to lose 10 pounds or start exercising every day. It is harder to gauge progress using this method, but it is also harder to feel like a failure when you still weigh the same in December and stopped going to the gym in February.

In 2019 the word I chose for myself was Enough. I chose this word because it could mean a lot of things – good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, but also, rest because you’ve done enough. Reminding myself of these concepts helped me when I felt anxious about myself or like I was always behind or nothing I did was good. One afternoon I sat down and did a small embroidery of this word – something decorative to remind me of my goal. This embroidery should have been very simple by rights, but it turns out I don’t know when to stop. I thought about taking some of the colours out, but I decided that with all its imperfections, it was still good enough.

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This year, the word I chose was balance. I chose it before the Coronavirus pandemic took over the world, and while I didn’t have the pandemic in mind when I chose my word, I have found it to be very appropriate to what is going on. It’s hard to find balance when you’re not supposed to leave your house or see people. This word has been a reminder to me that even though right now I’m working at home, I don’t have to work all the time. And that getting some rest, or even relaxing and not working on a project, is part of the balance of life, too.

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How do you find balance in these strange times we live in?

 

I thought my pinafore days were over

My mom sewed a lot for me when I was a kid. She made me all sorts of lovely dresses and skirts, especially sundresses until I stopped wearing them in favor of pants around age 12. I don’t remember if she ever made me a pinafore as such, but I remember reading about them, and my sundresses certainly served the same purpose.

Recently as I was scrolling through Instagram I came across the Fleur Pinafore by Untitled Thoughts. I was entranced. But then I kept scrolling, because I don’t wear pinafores, and I haven’t since I was 12 at most. But then it kept popping up on my feed. And then I followed the hashtag. And then I found myself at the fabric store shopping for supplies to make myself a pinafore.

I bought this beautiful softly woven cotton fabric from Hobby Lobby. It’s somewhat more loosely woven than quilting cotton, which makes it drape nicely, and the colours and pattern remind me of my childhood in Arizona. I also bought some plain deep red cotton as an accent/lining fabric.

Now I am a very creative person. I’ve written knitting and tatting patterns, and I’ve drafted one or two very simple sewing patterns for myself. So when I looked at the Fleur Pinafore, I thought about how it’s pretty much just rectangles, and I decided to take my measurements and draft my own pattern. And doing that turned out pretty well, but I definitely feel that if I had bought and followed the pattern this would have taken me less time and my finished product would have turned out a little nicer. As it is, though, I’m pretty happy with what I made.

The first thing I did was to measure myself and my fabric and have a good think. I even made a little sketch! I wanted to be extra fancy with the front “bodice” block of the pinafore, so I cut and stitched this first.

Then I cut my lining fabric. I had originally planned to do my pockets, waistband, and lining all in the same wine red fabric, but it turned out that I didn’t buy quite enough. So my waistband and the front and back blocks were lined with an eggplant purple linen/rayon blend that was left over from another project. Before sewing the fashion fabric to the lining, I made up the straps so I could stitch these in with the seam. Once the front and back blocks were assembled, I turned them right side out, clipped the corners, ironed everything, and top-stitched around the edges. With this the bodice front and back were done.

The next piece I worked on was the waistband. I cut the waistband straight, as a rectangle, but with hindsight I wish I had cut it on a slight curve like a pants or skirt waistband. The red fabric originally meant for lining was cut as the outer waistband, and had interfacing fused on. Then the waistband outer and lining were centered over the bottom edge of the bodice blocks, and seamed.

The final piece to assemble was the skirt. I found that if I folded my remaining fabric in half it was the perfect length, so I cut it into 2 equal pieces along the fold line, and sewed 3 rows of basting stitches along the top of each skirt panel. Before gathering the skirt panels, I sewed them together, leaving a 5″ opening at the top of each seam. I inserted a placket into both openings, but instead of attaching both sides of the placket to the skirt, I attached one side of each placket to my pockets. The pockets had not been seamed yet, so I sewed the second half of each pocket to the second skirt panel, and then sewed the pockets together. This is hard to describe, and even harder to visualize, but it left me with a pocket and a skirt opening in the same place.

At this point I was running out of daylight, so I did a quick single-turn hem, and went to bed. The next morning I was wild to wear my new pinafore, so instead of waiting to sewing in closures I pinned it on and went about my day. This wasn’t part of the plan, but I am so glad I wore this around for a day before adding closures! It turns out that my sitting down waist measurement is about 2 inches larger than my standing up waist measurement, and I had not accounted for this in my pattern drafting. Wearing the pinafore pinned closed for a few hours helped me to figure out where the closures needed to be so I would end up with a garment I would actually enjoy wearing.

The last adjustment that needed to be made was to the hem. I cut the skirt as 2 equal rectangles, not taking into account the difference in waist-to-hem measurements in the front and back. The proper technique to fix this is to take out the waist seam and raise the waist to the right measurement, but I had already established that I was not taking the waist seam out. Instead, I cut the front panel to be an inch shorter in the front, angling to match the back panel at the side seams.

My pinafore is technically still not done. I still have a single-turn hem, and I need to do some finishing work on the pocket edges, but it is wearable, and I have loved wearing it this month!

P.S. This garment is massively cat approved! My black cat normally refuses to sit in laps, but the first day I wore this pinafore he volunteered to be a lap kitty. This dress is magic!