PDF pattern tip from Sigrid

If you haven’t seen it already, check out the post Sigrid wrote last week about tracing PDF patterns. No taping or trimming needed! While I don’t mind assembling PDF patterns, I absolutely hate storing them, as I use the bare minimum of tape during assembly and the edges of the pieces often get caught in the non-taped areas. Sigrid’s method also gives you the option of allowing more space around pattern pieces than the PDF might allow for – very useful for when you’re working with a single size pattern, or if you want to use more generous seam allowances. Thanks for posting, Sigrid!

An Update

I’ve gotten a few emails from people checking in with me, wanting to know if things were ok.

I’m going to be honest: my life is a little messed up right now.

Last spring I postponed my wedding. We’re still together, just have no idea when we’ll actually get married. Our life circumstances had changed a lot since we originally set a date. My job has significantly improved. Meanwhile Tom’s very promising job has turned into a totally dysfunctional nightmare. Plus there was the tricky situation of where to live. He owns a house, but it would be a hellish one hour minimum commute to my job. And the rents where I am are so high that unless you plan on staying for only one or two years, it makes far more sense to buy. Plus most of them are VERY restrictive about pets. I thought it best to step back and give things a chance to stabilize first.

In the meantime I’ve been dealing with a rather messy living situation.

At the start of this summer of my brothers heard I was house hunting and offered to let me buy his old house, which he was currently renting out. I started moving in there sometime in mid-July. Long story short – my brother changed his mind about selling the house – to me or anyone else – the day I started moving inThis was a huge disappointment. (The whole point of me living with my parents all this time was so I could save money to buy a house, not rent one.) I was tempted to call off the whole thing and move out, but stupidly decided to stay. Then, since he had downgraded me from future buyer to mere caretaker, he proceeded to turn into an absolute tyrant. He is SO bossy, and I quickly found myself transitioning from caretaker to indentured servant! Further complicating matters was that he was extremely fussy about the house, which resulted in me feeling like I was walking on eggshells all the time. Despite being completely miserable living there I was going to stick it out for the winter and move out in the spring. But when my mom suggested that I move back in with them now I decided to cut my losses and accept the offer.

How sad is it that I had way more freedom living with my parents than I did alone at my brother’s house?

So now I’m busy moving all my crap back home. I moved a lot with Tom last weekend, some this week by myself, and will clear out the last of it this weekend. Two moves in the span of six weeks! I guess it ended up being a good thing I couldn’t coordinate anyone to help me haul my bed, dressers, and very large desk over there. I have no idea where I’m going to put everything though, since in addition to my ridiculously large fabric stash I now have kitchen appliances and housewares I have to find a place for. And I also bought a washing machine that I now have to store…somewhere. But I’m already much happier. My mom said “I would love to see you buy a nicer house than the one he was going to sell you.” Wouldn’t it be funny if that actually happened?

Hopefully I’ll be back to sewing again soon. I did manage to find time this month to make up Style Arc Candice skirt. I just need to get around to doing photos and finish the write-up for it.

Some hosting issues

Some of you may have noticed most of my previous posts aren’t visible.

Here’s what happened: when I contacted my web host about a billing question today, they informed me that there was a mistake on my account. The $10/month I was paying for what I thought was a shared server was actually supposed to be $50/month for a VPS! That explained why the performance was so good…but there was NO WAY was I going to pay that amount of money for a personal website. I made a backup of my site, cancelled the hosting service, and decided to move to the far more affordable wordpress.com. I’m not thrilled about losing the control I had when I was with an independent host, but I also don’t want to pour that amount of money into a website that’s not generating income or serving as a business marketing tool.

After importing my old posts I realized that the photos on my previous posts aren’t properly linked anymore. So rather than half-ass things and have a bunch of blog posts with dead photo links (which would probably result in a million emails notifying me of such), I made most of them private. (Some of them could use better photos or writing revisions anyway.) I want to go back and republish at least the tutorials, but considering that I haven’t had the time to sew for weeks I’m not sure when that’s going to happen…

If you are subscribed to new posts via email and got notified of this post, let me know in the comments. I’m not sure if that piece that carried over correctly or not. I had to get out of that hosting plan ASAP and didn’t have a lot of time to properly research first.

Style Arc Anita Top

I’ve taken a break from my Game of Thrones marathon to sew a blouse. It was perfect for this hot, muggy July day.






The Style Arc Anita is a looser-fitting peasant blouse. The cuffs of the three-quarter raglan sleeves are gathered with elastic, and a self fabric tie gathers the neckline. The front split is finished with a facing. It is a quick make. I was able to cut, sew, and finish the entire blouse in one evening.

This is an older Style Arc pattern. Back then their pattern illustrations weren’t always accurate. (They’ve gotten a lot better.) In this case the waist is not nearly as shaped as the depicted. The actual shaping is quite minimal – maybe 1″ smaller than the bust.

Fabric: hot pink silk crepe de chine, a Sue’s Daily Pick purchased from Fabric Mart a few years ago:

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 8.36.49 AM

As you can see from my photos, this is a looser fitting top, so choose something lightweight that has excellent drape. Rayon challis, lightweight jersey, and silk or poly georgette, twill, crepe de chine, and charmeuse are all suitable.

The fabric recommendations on the Style Arc website are wrong, at least for the 44″/110cm width. After prewashing my fabric the width shrank from 44″ to just over 42″, and I needed most of the 2.5 yards I had bought.

You’ll need 1/4″ (6mm) wide elastic to finish the cuffs. Style Arc doesn’t mention the width in their pattern instructions. I did see an awkwardly worded reference on the website though:

ELASTIC: Finished measurements 6mm or ¼ inch width

Fitting adjustments:

  • Lengthened body 1″
  • Increased the waist shaping, removing 1.5-2″ width, using my Style Arc Katherine blouse pattern as a guide.
  • Added 2″ width at the hem
  • Shaped the hem to be like a shirttail rather than straight across, once again using the Katherine blouse as my guide. I find shirttail hems more flattering than blouses that are cut straight across.
  • 3/8″ forward shoulder adjustment
  • Added a total of 1.5″ width to the bust
  • Added 3/4″ width to the back
  • Added 3/4″ width to the sleeves (bicep/elbow)

Overall I prefer the Katherine to the Anita. It feels like a more distinctive blouse than the Anita, with the deep scoop neckline and the placket front. However I prefer the narrower sleeve width of the Anita, and plan on transferring this width to my Katherine blouse sleeve.

Marfy 3662

At the beginning of summer each year I like to make a frivolous and impractical sundress. This year I chose Marfy 3662.



Marfy 3662 is a one-shoulder dress with a handkerchief skirt. The bodice is cut on the bias, and the front shoulder is pleated and gathered. The zipper is set into the left side seam. Marfy mentions in the pattern description that this dress can be made as separates as well as a dress.

Pattern measurements for size 42:

  • 34.75″ bust (0″ ease)
  • 27.5″ waist (3/4″ ease)
  • Around 72″ hip ease (measured at the notch, 7.5″ below the waist).
  • 21″ skirt side seam length
  • 32″ center back skirt length (waist to lowest point of the hem)
  • 23″ center front skirt length
  • 33″ from the waist to the lowest point of the front skirt hem
  • 7.5″ from armhole to waist (bodice side seam)

Between the wind, sand, and water, I decided to forgo the tripod and let Tom be my photographer. First time I let him use my camera! It was nice not having to deal with a remote, but at the same time I lost most of my control over art direction and never knew when the photo was actually being taken…

Below are photos taken of it with the belt (which is how I will normally wear it). It was REALLY windy, and high tide was coming in full force.

Trying not to have a Marilyn moment
Ocean water wasn’t too bad today!
This photo really shows the difference between the highest and lowest points of the skirt.
Despite the wind blowing it around, here you can see where the lowest point of the skirt hits my back leg.

Here it is without the belt. These photos were taken the previous day at a different beach. The overcast skies made the light very soft and diffused. It was slightly less windy.  (And the dress wasn’t rumpled yet from a days wear yet!)




My preference is with the belt; it helps emphasize my waist and acts as a waist stay for the big skirt.

Marfy didn’t include fabric recommendations. I used this lightweight linen from Apple Annie Fabrics. I thought the minimal seaming of Marfy 3662 made it a good match for this large scale print.


Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 1.46.10 PM

Speaking of Apple Annie Fabrics, Tom took me there while we were in the area today. He actually went in with me too! (And yes, I made his shirt, which I believe is Kwik Sew 3484. Fun fact: he’s actually owned most of the cars in the print at one point or another.)


The fuller body of the linen combined with the very full skirt made this an even bigger and more dramatic skirt than I anticipated. I am about 5’9″ tall; I think this skirt could be overwhelming on a more petite woman, especially if she doesn’t have proportionally long and slim legs. The long points of the skirt are midi length, which I think is a difficult length for most people to carry off. I inherited rather stout legs from my Polish ancestors, so despite my height I always wear it with heels. Except when I’m walking on the beach, of course ;).

If your fabric is less than 54/55″ wide (for size 42) you will need to cut the skirt pieces on the cross grain or add a center front seam. I wanted to do everything I could to avoid a seam, so I took Marfy’s advice (“if short on fabric cut with weft”) and cut the skirt pieces on the cross grain.

I finished the armhole with a self bias strip and did a simple narrow hem on the machine. I didn’t add a lining because it is just a quick summer dress, and I wanted to make it as easy to care for as possible. The front facing stays in place relatively well, but I topstitched the back neck facing down in place because I could tell that it would flip out during movement. (This won’t be an issue if you line the bodice.) The bodice is on the bias, but the facings are completely parallel to the straight grain, which makes them very stable. No need to interface.

Fitting alterations were done to mostly the bodice:

  • Added 2″ width to the front waist, tapering to nothing at the bust
  • Removed 1″ width from the back waist
  • 1″ swayback tuck. Normally I would do just 1/2″, but the bias made the center back dip down even more than usual.
  • Took in the upper section of the right side seam 1/2″.

This is not a hard pattern to sew; however, the heavy, uneven skirt combined with the bias cut bodice make fitting tricky because it pulls down on the bodice, making it get longer and longer during wear! As I mentioned before, wearing an elasticized belt with it helps stabilize it. I think that’s why Marfy styled it that way in the pattern illustration. If you want to get it perfect, I recommend basting the bodice to the skirt and wearing it around for a while, then shortening it as needed.

Jalie 3131 Bra


My mom LOVES this pattern. LOVES it! I made the bra for her about two years ago, and despite the elastics getting rather tattered at this point she insists it is just fine and still wears it all the time. (The fabric, a microfiber I bought from Elingeria, is still in surprisingly good shape.) My mother is an incredibly practical woman that’s a self-described “old farmer,” and she spends much of her day doing physical labor. (She claims shoveling manure on a daily basis is the best exercise you can get!) Her favorite bras are soft, unstructured styles made out of stretchy fabrics. She loathes underwires, and her top priority is comfort. She has an average size bust and  doesn’t require a lot of support.

Before you ask – no, I haven’t made the Cloth Habit Watson for my mom. I just don’t see the point when she’s already very happy with this one.

This bra goes together very quickly. From cutting to finishing it takes me about 1.5 hours. There’s only three pattern pieces – cup, front, and back band. It is fully lined and the seams are entirely enclosed (which is why the center front bridge needs to be a little wide at the top.) The cup shaping is done through gathers at the bottom of the cup. This gives a seamless cup, but at the same time it has the tendency to flatten since there’s no seaming to provide shaping at the apex. (Don’t expect a lot of uplift from this bra either.)

The original bra I made her fit great in the cups but was too big in the band, despite having used a fabric which had the recommended amount of stretch. After I took a 3/4″ tuck at the side she was much happier with the fit. When I made the bra again this time I transferred this 3/4″ tuck to the center of the back band. (I think it is roughly equivalent to going down three sizes.) My mom has a broad back and doesn’t like tight bands, so the band on this bra definitely seems to run big.

Another little quirk about this pattern is that the strap extension is not quite long enough, in my opinion. I extended it upward 3/8″ so it wasn’t quite as wide when folded over the 5/8″ ring.

The first bra I made this time (not pictured) was plain white matte milliskin, lined with lightweight by-the-bolt mesh from Fashion Fabrics Club. I wanted to see how my mom felt about the fit before I cut into my good fabrics. She was happy with it, so I proceed to cut out the next bra, which was a lightweight Supplex from Spandex World. (No photo of this one either since she’s wearing it today.) Rather than use the mesh again I went with a self-fabric lining. This fabric is so incredibly soft and smooth to the touch. She says the fit is perfect and the comfort level out of this world.

This pink bra is Bra #3, made out of a lightweight microfiber I bought a few years ago from Elingeria. The bow was pilfered from a RTW bra. While my mom is the least vain person I know, as her daughter I insisted on making at least one bra that wasn’t plain white :).

Jalie 3131 bra
Jalie 3131 bra
Jalie 3131 bra
Jalie 3131 bra
Jalie 3131 bra
Jalie 3131 bra

I lined it with the lightweight by-the-bolt mesh from Fashion Fabrics Club. See how the seams are entirely enclosed? The disadvantage to this is that there’s four layers of fiddly lycra to topstitch! (BTW I did not dye the mesh to match, it is just the pink lycra showing through the weave.)

Jalie 3131 bra
Jalie 3131 bra

The neckline and armhole edge are finished with 3/8″ stretch lace I had in my stash. It was from either Lace Heaven or Sew Sassy.

I attempted to dye the strap and back closure to match using Dharma Trading’s acid dye in Ballerina Pink. Unfortunately the lycra is a little bit more peachy than Ballerina Pink. On the Dharma Trading website Ballerina pink looks a little peachy, but in person the pink definitely has a cooler tone.

Some dye notes:

  • Nylon accepts dye very quickly and very easily. Plan on reducing the amount of dye by 1/4-1/2 of the recommended amount for silk and wool, especially if you’re going for a less intense color. For this pale pink I think I used barely 1/32 teaspoon of dye, and the elastics were in the dye bath a total of 10 minutes.
  • The bottom band elastic from Sew Sassy is a poly/nylon blend rather than 100% nylon. The plush section dyes. The picots do not. The back of the elastic dyes in a checkerboard pattern. I like the strength and durability of this elastic, but obviously this is a deal breaker for dyed-to-match projects. For this project it didn’t matter because the lycra is such a light color.
  • The bottom band elastic from Fabric Depot is 100% nylon, so it dyes completely. (I think just about all of the Fabric Depot elastics are 100% nylon.)
  • I like the back hook and eye closure tape from Porcelynne. The stitching is concealed, so when you dye it you don’t get those bits of white thread sticking out. This took a little longer to dye than the elastics.
  • The 5/8″ strap elastic from both Sew Sassy and Fabric Depot dyes extremely quickly. I take these out of the dye bath first so the color doesn’t end up more saturated than the other elastics.
  • The 3/4″ fold over elastic from the Etsy seller frogfeathers dyed in about the same amount of time as the Fabric Depot bottom band elastic – not as quickly as the strap elastic, but quicker than the back closure.
  • Oddly enough, the nylon coated metal rings and sliders from Fabric Depot dyed with Jacquard acid dyes, but not the Dharma Trading acid dyes. I did a little experiment where I mixed a Jacquard acid dye with a Dharma Trading acid dye in an attempt to get a blended color, and the hardware started taking on the color of the Jacquard acid dye but not the Dharma Trading dye color. The rings and sliders take the longest to dye, and I can’t seem to get the color as saturated as the elastics. I’m ok with that though. If I am being especially picky about rings and sliders matching I’ll just use clear ones. Since the pink was so light I went with white ones for this project.

Style Arc Cleo Knit Dress

My apologies for the less than impressive photos. I took these after getting home late from a work event.



Got a little bunched up back there after I reached for something and forgot to tug it back down again…oops!


Isn’t this an elegant neckline?

The Cleo dress from Style Arc is a simple V-neck, below-the-knee jersey dress with optional waist darts. You have the option of making it sleeveless or with long sleeves.

I chose to sew the darts. I think t-shirt style dress can often look rather frumpy, but sewing in those darts made it look sleek and greatly improved the fit. It skims my body without needing to be skintight, there’s definition below the bust without the back tenting out, and there’s minimal pooling at the small of my back.

My wardrobe has been lean ever since I did a big purge a few months ago. On Wednesday night I realized I needed a dress for Friday afternoon/evening. I decided to sew the Cleo because the darts made it a little bit more structured than the average t-shirt dress, and the sleeves were suitable for the cooler weather we’re having right now. I know fitted knit dresses like this are perhaps not the best choice for a pear shaped figure, but they’re more practical than wrap dresses and fuller skirts when the wind blows and both of your hands are occupied carrying equipment…

The fabric I used was a bright royal blue acetate/lycra matellassé knit from Gorgeous Fabrics. The rich texture of this knit definitely brought this dress up a notch. The weave and fiber content made this a very comfortable dress to wear when it was in the low 50s in the morning and mid 70s in the afternoon. The fabric is light as a feather too, and could easily pass for a woven.

Since I wanted this to pass for a woven as much as possible I hemmed the sleeves and hem on my regular sewing machine with a blind stitch suitable rather than a coverstitch. Look at how invisible it is! The thread just disappears in the texture of the fabric.

While this knit is incredibly wrinkle-free and would be amazing for traveling, it did not like to be pressed. I needed my wooden clapper when it came time to hem it. The weave of this knit was really odd too. It didn’t grow like some knits without lycra do, but it was difficult to get the darts fitted because stretching it too much would remove a lot of the knit’s depth. It was like sewing a sponge. So if you use this fabric, choose a pattern without a lot of negative ease.

I was pleased to see that the neck binding pattern piece Style Arc included was slightly smaller than the neckline, which eliminated gaping. (I think it was 95% the length of the neckline opening.) Due to the personality of this knit though, I removed an additional 3/4″ from the length at the ends, and when I stitched the ends together I also stitched inward an additional 3/8″ halfway rather than just straight down the edge. This way the sewn seam  would naturally form a V when attached to the neckline of the dress.


  • Added 5″ to the hips
  • 1/2″ swayback tuck
  • 1/2″ rounded back alteration
  • 3/8″ forward shoulder alteration
  • Added a 3/4″ dart to the back shoulder for my prominent shoulder blades. Normally with a knit I would just ease in maybe 3/8″ extra fabric or ignore this type of alteration completely in favor of letting the knit stretch, but since this was a more formal dress I went with a dart.
  • Added 3/4″ width to the sleeves, mostly at the elbow
  • The sleeves run long on this. I lengthened them 1″ and ended up needing only 1/2″ extra length.
  • Removed the slight pegging from the skirt, making it a straight skirt. (Pegged skirts, especially pegged jersey skirts, are not kind if you are widest at the lower hip/upper thigh area like I am.)
  • I ended up taking in the side seams 1/2″ each from just below the bust to about mid-thigh level. I think this is mostly due to the fabric.
  • Let out the front darts 1/2″ at the waist. I should have also moved the front darts inward 1/2″. I just forgot in my scramble to get this done.
  • Took in the back darts a LOT. There was a lot of variation as to how much – 1/2″ in some spots and up to 2″ in others.

Despite spending an awful lot of time tweaking those back waist darts to fit my freakishly narrow and hollow mid-to-lower back, I am pretty happy with how this dress came out. As I mentioned before, the darts really help improve the shaping. The neckline is wide and deep without being overly expansive. The skirt length can be tricky to carry off without the help of a nice pair of heels, but it is also very ladylike and helps nicely balance the neckline and slim shape. (Plus skirt length is probably the easiest thing in the world to change.)

Off to bed…more work events on Saturday!

Italia Photo Shoot Details Overview

Note: If you aren’t interested in photography you’ll probably want to skip this post. 

I got quite a few comments about the lighting in my Style Arc Italia photo shoot, so I thought I would give an overview of what I did. I am still pretty new to photography so I like using my finished sewing project shoots as an opportunity to practice and experiment.


My blog photos are pretty much the one time I get to experiment with lighting and framing and posing at my own pace, and since I do everything myself I don’t have to worry about time constraints or an impatient/uncooperative subject. For example, Sallie is a gorgeous subject, but she is so wiggly and fast that I spend most of my time just trying to keep her in the frame.


While the BurdaStyle magazine gets a lot of hate for their poses, I always loved looking at the spreads and seeing what they came up with for art direction. And I admire how they try to do something different rather than the same old stiff, boring studio-set poses that you see all the time on Butterick and Kwik Sew pattern envelopes. So I decided to try for a Burda rather than Butterick style shoot, and if I failed miserably and looked dumb, well, so be it. At least I would try something new and get to enjoy the beautiful weather in the process!

Camera Setup

I took the photos at around 5:30 or 6PM. The sun was very bright, and even though I didn’t plan on it I ended up needing to wear my sunglasses. I could have moved into the shade somewhere, but I liked the background of the spot I chose, plus I wanted to use the fence as a prop. It made for a slightly rustic setting for this denim dress. And the green grass in the field really made the plum-colored fabric pop.

I shot these photos using a Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM lens. As usual I shot in RAW (Canon’s digital negative format) instead of JPG. I always shoot in RAW now because when you go to “develop” the file in Photoshop you have a lot more flexibility to correct things like underexposure and color temperature.

I also almost always shoot using full manual mode now. When I first started doing this it was really scary; I felt like I was going into it completely blind. And I got it just plain wrong for quite a while and got a bunch of terrible photos. But the advantage is that you have complete control. Letting the camera do the metering and choose an aperture/shutter speed/ISO works really well sometimes, and other times it fails miserably. (I’m sure those of you that are fair skinned like me have had your fair share of photos taken in bright sunlight where you look like a ghost!) Plus if you’re looking for an intentionally overexposed or underexposed image manual mode is probably the only way you’re going to get it. You can definitely shoot in full manual with a consumer-level DLSR, and I think most point-and-shoots will let you as well. Even if you have just an iPhone for taking photos, there’s apps out there that will let you shoot in manual mode.

Since it was extremely bright I set my ISO to just 100. (ISO relates to light sensitivity. Lower ISO (like 200) is great when you have a ton of light, and gives a razor-sharp image. Higher ISO (at least 800) is very useful when you have minimal available light, but you’ll get a grainier photo.)

To have a nice blurred background but keep myself sharp I needed a shallow depth of field, which basically the range/depth of your focus. I set the aperture to f/4 (which is as wide as it will go on this lens).

Then I metered off of green grass; green grass is read by the camera as roughly 18% gray (neutral). This way my highlights wouldn’t get blown out, and my shadows would still have some detail. I upped the shutter speed to 1/1000, which left the image very slightly underexposed. I like to err on the side of underexposure because if you overexpose the details get “blown out” and are just about impossible to recover in post-production. But if your image is a little underexposed you have a very good chance of being able to fix it.

Here’s a few test images, straight out of the camera (I made no changes when converting from RAW):

f/4, ISO 100, 1/400. Not awful, but quite washed out. If I was standing in the frame you would be blinded by my skin ;).


And here’s the same image again, at f/4, ISO100, 1/1000. See how everything looks so much richer?


At this point I shot my gray card. If you shoot in RAW it is a good thing to do before beginning so you can more easily color-correct the white balance (light color temperature) if the lighting is too cool (blue) or warm (yellow). If you’re shooting at sunset the light will be warm, and if you’re shooting on a cloudy, snowy winter day the light will be cool. I was happy with how my camera handled the white balance during this shoot, so I ended up not using it.


Equipment Setup

Now here’s a diagram of how I had things set up. The arrows from the sun show the direction of the light.


I was taught that when you’re setting up the light for portraits, stand where the subject will be and extend your arms out at about 45º. Set your key (primary) light at that angle, slightly above the subject. Then move your other arm out directly to your side. Set your fill (secondary) light at that angle. Then you position the subject so that they are looking toward the key light.

In this case I used the sun as my key light and a silver reflector as my fill light. If I took the photos without the reflector the strength of the direct sunlight would have been too harsh and half of me would have been completely lost in a shadow.


I use this giant collapsible 5-in-1 reflector since one of my primary interests is full-length portrait shots. My first reflector was a smaller white/silver-gold reflector. It isn’t as useful for full-length portraits, but it is much easier to handle when doing head shots or photographing smaller objects. Reflectors come in different colors, but the most popular ones are probably white, silver, and gold.

  • White is matte and gives a very soft, diffused light. You can make a very cheap white reflector out of foam board. The effect is a little weak, so you need to hold it as close as possible to the subject.
  • Silver gives a much more dramatic look than white (which is what I wanted) but due to the very reflective nature of it you may need to place it further away so it isn’t too overpowering.
  • I haven’t used gold too much yet. I heard it is great for darker skin tones, or when you’re doing shoots with a lot of skin (like at the beach) and want to really warm up skin tones.

I’ve been reading about how useful reflectors are for outdoor photos, so as soon as it warmed up enough to be outside for a significant amount of time I decided to try using one. The biggest challenge I faced was getting it positioned correctly. I had to make do with a stand, and whenever the wind below it would start to topple over. (This is why when you look at an overview of an outdoor photo shoot you’ll probably see assistants standing around holding them.) I am starting to prefer them to strobes/external flashes for fill light though because the effect is softer and more natural. There’s a billion articles out there showing how useful they are for brightening up a person’s face and eliminating “raccoon eyes.” (I have deep-set eyes, so I’m up for learning every trick I can to eliminate the raccoon eye effect!) I found this article one of the best for showing the effects of a reflector, and how to position one.

Now for a couple more out-of-the-camera shots.

In this outtake I didn’t have the reflector set up right (it was reflecting too far to my right and not high enough) and you can see how contrasty the image is. A lot of detail is lost in the shadows.


I moved it for this shot. Now you can actually see the whole dress (and that lovely hem gusset!)



After I shoot my photos I select the ones I like best, then “develop” them using Photoshop’s Camera Raw:


As I mentioned earlier, shooting in RAW lets you do a lot of tweaking. Below I’ve played with the fill light. You can see how my left side is a little bit brighter than in the original photo above.


And in this one I’ve set the white balance to Cloudy, which gives a much warmer light. (It isn’t suitable in this case because it was a very sunny day with minimal clouds.)


When I’m done playing with Camera Raw I save it as a JPG, then bring it into Photoshop again for further processing.

1. Unsharp Mask

My first adjustment is applying an unsharp mask adjustment of 35%, the amount someone recommended to me for the Canon 5D Mark III:

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 6.39.43 PM

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Then I immediately fade the unsharp mask Luminosity mode to 100%. This restricts the unsharp mask effect to just light and dark sections, and leaves the color alone.

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The reason for the Unsharp Mask adjustment: many (most?) cameras apply an anti-aliasing filter when taking the photo. This helps prevent moiré patterning (you sometimes see this with photos taken of densely patterned fabric) but also results in a slightly soft image. The Unsharp Mask adjustment helps negate the effects of the anti-aliasing filter.

Before and after. The effect is very subtle, but in the second photo everything is a little bit more defined.

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I keep this Unsharp Mask adjustment saved as an Action so I can just run it on a batch of photos instead of having to do it over and over again.

Selective Color

Next I play around with the Selective Color adjustment. I use this adjustment a lot for increased contrast, and to give more depth to a photo. (As far as I know this is something you can do in Photoshop, but not the consumer-grade Photoshop Elements software.)

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I usually start by adjusting the blacks. This can deepen shadows and other dark areas, giving a more “punchy” and dramatic image. (It is particularly helpful for sports photos when you want to darken the background and help highlight the player. Or if you are shooting something like hockey through plexiglass, which usually results in faded blacks.) It depends on the image (and what effect I am going for), but usually I bump up the Black up to 6%. Sometimes I need to go up to 12 or 15% though.

Here’s the original, then 3% Black, then 6% Black. Notice how when the blacks are increased the trees in the background (particularly on the left) get darker, the grass by my feet gets darker, and the shadows and folds of the dress are enhanced.

Sometimes I play around with the Neutrals too, which can lighten or darken mid-tones. Here I increased the Neutral Black 5%. In the second photo my skin and the plum color of the dress are a little bit more saturated. (I kept the Black Black at 0%.)


Sometimes I’ll also play with the Levels adjustment, but usually I like to try Selective Color first.


After I am done with the Unsharp Mask and Selective Color I crop the image. I used to do very tight crops, but now I prefer more breathing room in my photos and do looser crops. I do try to crop for impact though; the image below was full-length, but since I wanted to use it for making a point about the sleeve I cropped it more closely.

Style Arc Italia shirtdress


Here’s before and after. In the After I applied the Unsharp Mask, bumped up the blacks for Neutral 5% and the blacks for Black 2%.

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Aside from erasing things like the occasional zit (which I STILL have at 30 years old) or a nasty bug bite I don’t bother with retouching or body modifications. I just don’t see the point, when everyone that’s seen me in person knows I’m pear shaped and my alterations list things like adding 5″ to the hips. Everyone has their best poses and angles, so I try to work with that instead. I also do as much as possible prior/during to the shoot rather than depending on Photoshop to correct things after the fact. For example, I have deep-set eyes and very fair skin, so I often have dark circles under my eyes no matter how much I sleep I’ve had. It is much easier and quicker to touch up my under-eye concealer prior to shooting than it is to fix it in post-production. And my skin-tone is a bit uneven, with redness especially around the corners of my nose, so it is easier to apply/re-apply some foundation than it is to digitally fix it after the fact. 

Style Arc Italia Shirtdress

My Italia is done! (And it is finally warm enough here to wear a skirt and sandals and forego the tights/hose.)

Style Arc Italia shirtdress
Style Arc Italia shirtdress

Belted (which is my preference, and how I wore it today):

Style Arc Italia shirtdress
Style Arc Italia shirtdress
Style Arc Italia shirtdress
Style Arc Italia shirtdress

Check out that hem gusset! One of my favorite features about this dress.

Style Arc Italia shirtdress
Style Arc Italia shirtdress

Here it is unbelted:

Style Arc Italia shirtdress
Style Arc Italia shirtdress
Style Arc Italia shirtdress
Style Arc Italia shirtdress
Style Arc Italia shirtdress
Style Arc Italia shirtdress


The Italia shirtdress is a slightly fitted and A-line, with bust darts, front and back vertical darts, and a back yoke that extends slightly forward to the front and is slightly rounded upward in the back. The front button placket is simply folded back in place. The special design details include a hem gusset, two bust pockets, roll-up sleeves with a tab, and a front placket tab overlay.

When my mom saw this dress she said “I had one just like that back in the late 70s or early 80s!” Guess I’m turning into my mom! (That’s ok, she’s awesome.)

This is my first “real” project in a while. The past few months have been challenging for me (some of it good, some of it not so good) so I was taking a break from sewing for a bit. I had this cut out at least two weeks ago but it just sat there until I started working on fusing some of the pieces last weekend. Some of my topstitching is less than perfect, but at least I got it done and enjoyed myself in the process. I completely agree with the Sometimes Sewist that perfection is always desired but not necessary.

I used this non-stretch denim from Gorgeous Fabrics.


The fabric is still a little stiff after pre washing. I’ve used this fabric before for another project, so I know from previous experience that it will take another couple of washings for the sizing to completely rinse out.

The buttons are the natural shell buttons from Fashion Sewing Supply. (I LOVE these buttons. They are nice and thick, reasonably priced, and go with almost everything.)

I used the lightweight Pro-Woven crisp interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply for the collar, collar stand, and cuffs. I also interfaced the front facings, front tab, and sleeve plackets using Pro-Sheer Elegance. Interfacing that front placket tab wasn’t recommended in the instructions, but it helped me get a crisper result.

I didn’t have great results with the sleeve placket pieces included with the pattern, so I ripped them out and replaced them with the placket pattern from David Coffin’s Shirtmaking. This is my TNT placket pattern. If you’ve never sewn a shirt placket like this before I highly recommend the Sewaholic Granville tower placket tutorial. (I used to use Sandra Betzina’s instructions in Power Sewing, but I think Tasia’s instructions have better photos and are much easier to understand.) I used the full men’s length instead of the shorter women’s length. It looks good when fully buttoned, but when I turn up the cuffs it looks kind of odd since the tab goes between the placket split, so the whole roll isn’t captured:

Style Arc Italia shirtdress
Style Arc Italia shirtdress

So next time I will cut down the length. It is fine as-is for this dress because the weight and color are more suited for spring and fall rather than hot summer days.

For the collar stand I used method described in Grainline Studio’s collar tutorial. I love this method; it is the only one I’ve tried where I get good results all the time, plus it eliminates that bulk at the intersection of the shirt and bottom collar stand that makes it difficult to topstitch/edgestitch around that corner. The only thing I do differently is before attaching the inner collar I sew along the seam allowance. The stitching helps stabilize the slightly curve and gives an accurate pressing guide. If you stitch just inside the seam allowance – like barely 1/16″ – it is pretty much hidden once the seam allowance is folded back and collar is completely sewn in place.

Construction FYI: do not be tempted to flat-fell the side seams, or serge them together, unless you omit the hem gusset. In order to sew in the gusset cleanly you need to have the side seams pressed apart. Also, the gusset is folded in half with wrong sides together, then it is stitched to the dress.

Fitting adjustments:

  • Moved the vertical front darts inward 1/2″
  • I did not lengthen the sleeves. Next time I will lengthen them an additional 1/2″. I think the sleeves run long on this dress – I normally lengthen Style Arc sleeves 1-1.5″.
  • 3/8″ rounded back alteration
  • 3/8″ forward shoulder alteration
  • Added 5″ to hips
  • Added 3/4″ width to sleeves (mostly at the elbow)
  • Took in the back darts an additional 3/8″ at the waist; I think I should probably take them in a little bit more at the lower section.
  • Lowered the side bust dart 1/2″
  • Lengthened it 3.5″ between the waist and hem.
  • The upper back feels a little tight, particularly when reaching forward. I will add a little bit more width at the center of the back armhole for next time.

Sewy Isabell

For those of you that are unfamiliar with Sewy, they are a German lingerie pattern designer and lingerie shop. The patterns do not include seam allowances. While I found the shape of the cups much more modern than most other patterns, I do not recommend them to most people just starting out in bramaking because like the website, the instructions are written entirely in German.

The Sewy Isabell is a three-section cup bra with a diagonal seam and split lower cup. The upper cup is unlined stretch lace, and the instructions appear to call for the lower cups to be lined with powernet.


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I found the style and shaping of this bra was very similar to the Panache Andorra 5676 plunge bra. The appearance is lifted yet natural, the stretch lace upper cup gives a very smooth fit. As I mentioned in my introductory paragraph I find the shape more modern than most other cut-and-sew bra patterns. While some people like a very projected, pointy look, I am not a fan because it looks old-fashioned, doesn’t do much for my smaller bust, and it makes clothes drafted to modern standards fit very oddly.

While I am a smaller size, I still have a lot of trouble buying a well-fitting RTW bra. I need the lower cup depth and wire of a 32C/D but the upper cup depth of a 32B/C. (So far the Panache Andorra is the best-fitting RTW option I’ve found.)  So when trying out this pattern I went with a 70D and underlined with non-stretch cup lining. Instead of the band included with the pattern I used my TNT Make Bra DL01 band. While I was very pleased with how my first version was out-of-the-envelope, that did not mean that I didn’t make changes for subsequent versions!

Here’s my first version. The band/bridge were actually from another project where I experimented with some cup shaping tweaks. I was unhappy with how they came out, so I ripped out the cups and reused the band for this project, just setting the new Sewy Isabell cups into the band and re-attaching the channeling and foldover elastic. (Good thing I saved the extra fabric/stretch lace left over from the Merckwaerdigh kit!)

As I noted in my Instagram caption, the shaping was very good, as was the overall volume. I could have left it as-is, but I wanted to reposition things to make it fully customized to my figure. (I’ve noticed that if the cup depth is too shallow, even by as little as 1/4″, it makes the bra ride up during the day.) After making three more wearable muslins I finally settled on my alterations enough to make this one:

All-lace Sewy Isabell #bramaking   A photo posted by @clothingengineer on Apr 19, 2015 at 4:21pm PDT

Few more views, since this lace is gorgeous…

I used the extra channeling left over to make boning casings. For the boning I used 7 3/8″ white cable ties from Harbor Freight. They’re thinner and more flexible than the plastic boning from Joann’s. Not to mention really cheap – about $2 for a package of 100, which is enough for 50 bra bands! (I think I picked up this tip from Kenneth King.)

For this bra I used a Merckwaerdigh kit. After getting a couple of kits lately that included elastics with poor recovery, I was pleased to see that the stretch lace and elastics in this particular kit were top-notch. (Too bad Kantje Boord is in Europe. Normally I love the convenience and selection of buying fabric online, but elastics are the one thing I would LOVE to be able to handle in person before buying.)


Because the lining included in the kit was nylon sheer (which has mechanical two-way stretch) rather than non-stretch cup lining, I used some non-stretch sheer cup lining from Bramaker’s Supply instead for the cups and bridge. (I did not line the upper cup.) I used the heavyweight nude powernet from Spandex World for the band underlining.

Here’s a side profile shot of it worn under a thin, drapey rayon/lycra tee. You can see how the upper cup is extremely smooth.

With my changes to the upper cup depth, the neckline is also low enough to wear under my Marfy 2733 dress. The shape of the cup also works really well with this dress, and pretty much all of my woven garments with darts and princess seams.

These were my final alterations:

  • Repositioned the vertical seam of the lower cups 1/2″ inward. This is a very, very common alteration for me, with both bras and tops/dresses with darts and princess seams. (I think the typical apex-to-apex width is 8″ and mine is more like 7″.) I had to make the same alteration to the Cloth Habit Watson.
  • Raised the cup depth 1/4″ by curving the apex of the seam upward. I need a lot of lower cup depth, and this alteration put it more on par with the Panache Andorra.
  • After moving the seam and raising the cup depth, I removed 3/8″-1/2″ of depth from the upper cup. I took out most of it from the apex outward, tapering to nothing where the strap starts to curve upward. (I didn’t make any changes to the depth at the center front.) This makes the upper cup proportionally smaller than the lower cup, which is just what I need.
  • Omitted the elastic stabilizing the upper edge. I know elastic is supposed to work as a stabilizer, but the Panache Andorra bras don’t stabilize the upper edge and they have such an incredibly smooth look to the upper edge – no quad-boob or gaping at all. I’m not very rounded at all above the apex so maybe that’s why this works for me.
  • Decreased the bridge width from 3/4″ to 1/2″ for my final version.
  • For this particular lace version I shortened the strap extension 1/2″, making the neckline slightly less of a V-shaped plunge. I did not make this a permanent pattern change though.