Erin McKean's Blog

March 22, 2012

So I had this idea that, for one week, I would try to wear only things I HADN'T made myself. The few RTW pieces I have, vintage, etc.

I made it to Monday: 


one day only!

Seriously, I woke up Tuesday morning and looked at the three (!) daywear-appropriate, weather-appropriate choices I had (two purchased RTW skirts and a vintage dress) and said "The heck with this" (or words to that effect) and went straight back to my regularly-scheduled rotation of made-by-me stuff.

I'm not quite sure what I was trying to talk myself into, except that sewing does take a lot of time (which I'm short on right now, as I'm sure you might have noticed from the dearth of posts recently) and perhaps I thought that if I could get back into the swing of wearing RTW, I wouldn't feel compelled to sew so much. ("Pfffft, fat chance," is what I think my answer to myself was.)

Anyway, if you're interested, the sweater is a J.Crew "Jackie" cardigan purchased on eBay; the blouse is this dotted-swiss wonder from Boden; and the skirt is a pink wool Cynthia Rowley (with great pockets!), bought at Filene's lo these many years ago (I'm pretty sure it's more than five years old). The belt is from H&M, bought in a pack of three. Invisible in this picture (and invisible on my legs) are a pair of microfishnet tights, also in pink. The watch is one of my favorites, a silver plastic Swatch.

So anyway, that was the beginning and end of my RTW challenge. What wardrobe challenges are you working on (or giving up on)?

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Published on March 22, 2012 21:09 • 172 views

March 19, 2012

I still can't seem to stop with Simplicity 1577. I made this one a while back:

It's from some of the fabric I bought on my last trip to Japan. It's a very, very fine-wale plaid corduroy, almost a velveteen.

Sorry for the dark photos -- dark dress, dark room:


Simplicity 1577

Matched plaids on the front skirt! (This was easier than I thought, I used instructions from the Colette Sewing Handbook.)

Simplicity 1577

Not so much matching on the back -- I ran out of fabric! But then again, if you're spending enough time looking at my rear to notice that the plaid isn't precisely matched, there's another discussion we should be having.


Simplicity 1577

The fabric was heavy enough that I lined the collar with a lightweight black fabric, instead of self-lining it: 


Simplicity 1577

And a slightly brighter view of the bodice: 


Simplicity 1577

This fabric is so soft and comfortable to wear -- it's lighter-weight than it looks, so the skirt doesn't quite hang as nicely as in the denim and seersucker versions. But it's not a huge difference. It does pick up quite a bit of lint (especially in the wash). 

I think it may be time for another one ... I have some heavy corded cotton that might be just the ticket!

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Published on March 19, 2012 06:57 • 85 views

March 11, 2012


Amelia had promised her mother that she'd retire her "bitch, please" face, but, upon hearing that Helen actually believed that Robert would be proposing that afternoon (in a hot-air balloon, no less!), no other expression would do.

"Not since the great deviled-egg crisis of the summer of '49 have so many people been so wrong about so much," Amelia thought. Robert might be proposing something in a hot-air balloon this afternoon, but it wouldn't be marriage, and it wouldn't be to Helen. If only Amelia could get the blueprints in time!

Pattern at MOMSPatterns ... 


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Published on March 11, 2012 22:21 • 61 views

February 23, 2012

I tried Simplicity 6894 again, this time in a completely unforgiving, show-every-mistake solid red poplin: 

I'm not sure why I picked this red, other than that I started working on this dress around Valentine's Day, and I had the fabric hanging around. (I don't wear a lot of red.)  

I made the pockets (adding them was my main alteration to this pattern) a little deeper this time. I don't think I have it 100% right yet -- the opening is still a little high.

This photo came out funny, but the zipper didn't: 


The wrinkles across the back are mostly due to my dress form not being set to my form any more. I changed the settings to take a picture of a much smaller vintage dress and still haven't gotten them back to "normal".  (The tangle of cords there on my computer desk is very much "normal".)


Whose advice was it to sew the tucks first, then cut out the bodice? It was great advice, made for very fast construction! 

The buttons here are vintage, have had 'em forever. They were my second choice -- the first was a set of red, white, and blue buttons that I think I snagged in a fabric swap before I left Chicago. But the red was just a little off ... this red is *perfect*. 

I gave this a test wear last Saturday -- with gray Keds (see below). It was slightly too cold for bare legs in the San Francisco Mission in February, but as long as I sat in the sun (and had a copy of New Scientist to read) I felt fine ... 


I'm pretty sure I'll make this again ... maybe even in another solid color! 

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Published on February 23, 2012 22:37 • 78 views

February 19, 2012

Remember Simplicity 1577? I made it in heavy seersucker a while back, and have nearly worn that one to death, so I figured it was time for another version: 

Although I'm not a jeans person, I do like heavy denim dresses. They feel very utilitarian-competent. I'm pretty sure I could shingle a roof, raise chickens, or rivet a fighter jet in this dress. There is one problem in making them -- you can't self-face collars in heavy denim, so you have to find some other fabric to use:

Good thing I have lots of Liberty scraps lying around, right? 

Ditto for the pockets: 

It's a dark black denim (cue Michael Penn) and I've been wearing it with bright long-sleeved t-shirts in rose or teal underneath. With stripey socks. So I look a little like a Raggedy-Ann doll in it, but it's so much fun to wear that I don't care.

I've also made this in black plaid low-wale corduroy (part of the Japan fabric haul) -- pics of that soon!

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Published on February 19, 2012 18:23 • 58 views

February 13, 2012

So remember the tsuris I had over Simplicity's 2180 printable/downloadable pattern? It was all rendered moot, because I wandered into JoAnn's on a day when all Simplicity was $1 or something ridiculous, and I thought: "the hell with all that tape", and bought two copies in two different size ranges. (Which is what I should have done to begin with.)

Anyway, I opened it up and looked at it and thought, "oh hey, this looks easy". Note: whenever you think "oh hey this looks easy" about a pattern, especially latish at night, and just fire up an episode of RadioLab, assuming you can put your brain on autopilot, get ready to get that seam ripper out. Which is what I did with this dress. Here is a short list of things I put together upside down:

-- the upper neck collar piece (twice)

-- the piping for the upper neck collar piece

-- the midriff

-- one pocket (put in on wrong side of skirt)

Honestly, I know Jad and Robert are mellifluous as all-get-out, but I have NO IDEA why this was so hard for me to put together. My mind was not just wandering, it was on an extended gadabout with time out for some lollygagging, and was toting a bindlestiff while whistling "King of the Road."

Oh, and the best part? After I got it all put together I put it on and realized it was EXACTLY 5/8 inch too tight in the bodice. Five-eighths of a measly inch is the worst amount to be off by. It's too wide a gap to just hope the zipper will accommodate you, and just narrow enough that you can RIP OUT EVEN MORE SEAMS ARRGH and resew them to get the necessary ease. Which is what I did.

Anyway, enough whining, where's the dress?


So there's no pink piping on the midriff (which had been part of the plan) because I had to use it to get the Neck Piping: Take Two done. Although it didn't get done that well -- the vee in the back (although really, really pretty ON) is a bit tricky, so it's much more bobble-y than I'd like:


Here's the front: 

And here's the oh-god-don't-have-a-cupcake side seam: 



The verdict? Unproven. I've only tried this on (haven't really worn it yet) and I haven't made a version in the right bodice size, either (although I have one cut out). I kind of want to widen the midriff by two inches, too ... 

On the plus size, the neckline really is lovely on -- it stands out a bit from the body -- and the pockets are great. It seems like a really wearable dress (will report back once I, you know, actually wear it). 

This fabric is left over from a Heidi I made last year (I can't find the picture, weirdly) and I think I still have three more yards! It is the neverending piece of black floral vaguely vintage-y-looking cotton (okay maybe I did buy ten yards ...)

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Published on February 13, 2012 01:07 • 61 views

February 6, 2012


Among twenty boxes of patterns

The only desired thing

Is that pattern, over there, on the Internet.



I had three ideas

Like a table

On which ten patterns are hopelessly jumbled.



The pattern lies wrinkled on the floor.

It was a small part of the shambles.



An idea and a pattern 

Are one.

An idea and a pattern and two yards of Tana Lawn

Are one.



I do not know which to prefer,

The beauty of the line 

Or the beauty of the fold,

The girl in the illustration,

Or the dress made flesh.



Pins scatter themselves

With ill intent.

The lines of the pattern

Break and clash.

The plaid

Underneath it all

A matchless question.



O thin women of Vogue

Why do you imagine harem pants?

Do you not see how the full skirts

Swirl around the knees 

Of the women about you?



I know welt pockets 

And gently rolling collars;

But I know, too,

That the pattern doesn't know

What I don't know.



When the facing piece disappeared

It marked the end

Of following instructions.



At the sight of the name

"Ceil Chapman"

Even those who draft for themselves

Hit the "Buy It Now" button.



She floored the pedal

Of the machine.

Once, a fear pierced her

In that she mistook

The back bodice of 4788

For that of 8744.



The pattern is motionless.

The scissors must be snipping.



It was almost finished all day.

It was done and almost done.

The pattern did not

Fit back in the envelope.


[with apologies]

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Published on February 06, 2012 20:44 • 48 views

February 1, 2012


Pink: Does my butt look big in this?

Stripes: Oh, definitely. Big as a house. Big as two houses!

Pink: Thank goodness! 

Stripes: And I look like a cross between grandpa's pajamas, a deranged candy-striper, and a poodle, right?

Pink: You know it, girl.

Stripes: Allllll riiiiiight! We are going to pull tonight! 

Today's pattern is from Jen at MOMSPatterns -- she's running a BIG SALE: 30% off all patterns at this link (not including the pattern above, which is priceless, I'm afraid). The sale runs until the end of February (or until the more than 500 patterns that are on sale are gone) and as always, free shipping on 5 or more patterns ... 

As for me, I think I'll be looking for the pattern above in my size. In wide black and white stripes it will make the best "Escape from Fashion Alcatraz" costume EVER.

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Published on February 01, 2012 03:52 • 58 views

January 31, 2012

Only four pieces sounds like a bad deal when it's a box of See's, but when it's a pattern, it sounds pretty nice ... (especially to me because I'm still wrestling with Simplicity 2180, and by "wrestling" I mean "sobbing over with a seam ripper that is glowing red from friction"). 

Like with this great pattern from Michelle at (which, by the way, has had a major update, including a shopping cart! Woot!)


Yep, this pattern supposedly only has four pieces: two bodice, and two skirt. I'm tempted to buy it just to open it up and marvel. Anyway, it's only $15 and it's B36, here.

I like how in this illustration you have Miss Burnt Orange, and Miss Purple, and then if you squint a little bit, you can see that Miss Print's print is burnt orange and purple. Which is not a combo I've tried, but by golly, I think it works. (Miss Burnt Orange and Miss Purple are both "why didn't I think of that?")

Coming up soon: more book reviews, a new shirtdress, and a Simplicity 1577 with *matched plaids*. Oh yeah. 

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Published on January 31, 2012 03:00 • 46 views

January 23, 2012

I think I've posted about this before, but I can't find it: Simplicity 6894.


Anyway, I made it. Here it is:


I chose such a busy print because 1) I hadn't done tucks before and figured that if they were uneven, uneven on a bed of slightly abstract ochre roses was the way to go, and 2) I have had this fabric SO LONG that it has been giving me reproachful looks. Especially as new yardage has continued to come in ... it was well past the eye-rolling stage, and into heavy sighs and significant eyebrow-raising. So. Now it's ready for its close-up:


You can see a little of the red thread I used to thread-mark the buttonholes. The buttons are vintage, I have no idea where I got them, either. This is not their first rodeo -- they had little bits of cloth and thread on them that I had to remove. Looks like I cut them off whatever they had been on before. (Or maybe I bought them that way? My buttons are not what you would call "organized.")

The fabric is very lightweight, just a couple steps up from voile, so I did a very deep blindstitch hem. [PHOTO NOT AVAILABLE] 

Oh! I added pockets, slash hip pockets: 

And in lieu of my usual "here's the side zipper" picture (which is nearly invisible in this print, anyway, but you can see it here if you are so inclined) I present to you instead the "here's the set-in sleeve cap." Not my finest work, but not the worst I've ever done, either:


(My set-in-sleeve-setting life changed when I finally started taking the time to sew from the top center of the shoulder down to the underarm seam on each side, instead of trying to sew the whole thing in one go from underarm seam to underarm seam.)

Verdict: A+, would sew again. This is not so hard to make (after I figured out the tucks, which look FAR more complicated than they actually are) and it's fun to wear. I felt like a 1960s schoolteacher all day, which is better than it sounds. It did end up being slightly too big (it's fine through the bodice, but I added too much ease for the pockets). I will go easier on the wearing ease next time. 

I have another shirtdress coming ... one I'm very pleased with, and another one cut out. Oh, and a semi-traumatic encounter with Simplicity 2180, but I think we managed to hug it out. Stay tuned!

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Published on January 23, 2012 21:10 • 52 views

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