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Category: patternmaking

how to: add a button extension

And just like that, three weeks have gone by since my last post. June and July have been busy and full of new adventures and distractions, but I certainly didn’t think my blogging routine would fall by the wayside. And I’ve had good intentions, saying things like “coming next week” and “look for the new post in a couple days” but time and other things kept me from sticking to it. All of this to say, my apologies for getting off track. I’m excited to be back with you today, and I have tons of content planned for the rest of the summer. The funniest part about all this is that I have the pictures and ideas ready to go, it’s just a matter of editing and typing it all. Maybe I’ve stumbled into a lazy streak when it comes to computer work?

If you’re wondering about what’s been going on with us this summer, I’ll put some highlights at the end of this post. But first, let’s talk about this darling skirt. I’ve had this out-of-print pattern for ages (McCall’s 5431), and it’s one of those patterns that always gives me pause when I’m digging through my pattern stash. It’s a great little skirt for summer, and I especially love the big patch pockets. For the longest time, I thought the design was missing something, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was. That is, until Emily’s Summer of All the Buttons 2017 mindset kicked in and the lightbulb went off: Buttons! It needs buttons! (And I’m not kidding about my button obsession. I’ve made two new button-up blouses, and I have plans for four shirtdresses. I can’t stop with the buttons.)

My fabric is 100% linen, and I got it from Textile Fabrics in Nashville last month.

In order to have the skirt button up the front, I added a button extension. It’s an easy pattern change to make, and once you know the rules for button placement and spacing, you can apply this concept to just about anything. There’s a few different ways to execute the placket itself (a fold-over facing, a separate placket, etc.), but for this skirt I went with a separate facing piece.

The rules for button placement and spacing are pretty simple, but it all starts with the size of the button. I used 7/8″ buttons for this skirt. Usually, with button extensions (on a blouse, for instance), spacing is determined using the first and last buttons as a guide. Then you fill in the rest, making sure each one is evenly spaced. With a skirt, however, buttons don’t always go all the way to the hem, so determining placement and spacing is much easier. You can just start at the top and work your way down without having to worry about spacing the buttons in between the top and bottom buttons. So, if this is something you’d like to try on a project, I’d recommend starting with a skirt.

Here are the guidelines for adding a button extension:

  1. Length: The length of the buttonhole is equal to the size of the button plus 1/8″. My buttons are 7/8″, so my buttonholes are 1″.
  2. Placement: Buttonholes are sewn 1/8″ beyond the center front line, or wherever the garment is overlapping. So the majority of the buttonhole will be on the garment side, with just the 1/8″ extending beyond center front.
  3. Spacing: For blouses, mark for the first and last buttonhole, and then divide the remaining space among the rest of the buttonholes. For a skirt or other garment where the buttons do not cover the full distance of the placket, start at the top and work your way down. You want enough space from the top of the button so that it doesn’t touch the edge of the garment, but don’t leave too much space so that it gaps open.
  4. Extension/Facing: To accommodate the buttons, you have to add space beyond center front. This is equal to the size of the button. So, I have added 7/8″ beyond the center front line. Then, I added seam allowance (5/8″). In total, I’ve added 1.5″ to center front. (You can see that in the white paper.)

This skirt has a yoke, and only one button could fit on it, so that made this even easier. I simply centered the first button on the yoke and worked my way down.

To determine the spacing for the remaining buttons, I used a couture method I like to call “eyeballing” it. (Hey, when it works, it works!) Bigger buttons need more space between them, and then the opposite is true. Just keep an eye on proportions. My buttons are spaced 3″ apart.

 And that’s it! I’m quite happy with how this skirt turned out. I think the buttons give it a little something extra, and I know I’ll get a lot of wear out of this piece this summer. I really, really need a few garments like this (easy to sew, unlined, comfortable in the heat), so I know I’ll be making this one again.

This pattern is out-of-print, but it is still available to purchase on the McCall’s website. I’d also check eBay too, if you’re interested. I didn’t make any other changes to the pattern, but I will say that it runs a bit big. I ended up going down two sizes. The pocket flap is also a bit funky, so I ignored that pattern piece and tweaked the pocket piece so it would have the same look.

I didn’t have any ribbon on hand that I really liked, but I did have a small piece of lace to use along the bottom of the yoke lining. I think it finishes that seam nicely. It serves no practical purpose, it’s just a pretty detail for the inside.

It’s been a busy summer for us. I mentioned a few weeks ago that we were house hunting, and I’m thrilled to tell you that we found one. YAY! This is our first home purchase together, so it’s extra exciting for us. We have big renovation plans for the house, so I’m excited to share those with you soon too. We’ll be moving next month, and I’ve already started organizing and packing the house we’re in now. It’s been a few years since we last moved, so I’d forgotten (or just blocked out) what a task all that is. But I’m taking it one day and few boxes at a time.

The house we found is truly a blessing for us, and it has just about everything we’d been looking for. Ty has an office, and I lucked into a huge studio space (even bigger than what I have now!), and we have plenty of room for guests and an acre lot for the puppies to run around in. The neighborhood is charming with tons of mature trees, which takes me back to growing up in North Carolina. The house itself has quite a bit of southern charm, and I can’t wait to get some white rocking chairs for the porches and enjoy having usable outdoor spaces.  We love it.

Ty had some business to do in Alaska and California recently, and I got to tag along. His parents have a cabin in Alaska, and they happen to live 20 minutes from where Ty needed to go, so we got to visit with them for a few days. We explored and fished for salmon and had a wonderful time. This was my first trip to Alaska, and it was magnificent. Then we spent a couple days in San Francisco for the final leg of the business trip. I spent an entire afternoon at Britex Fabrics, easily one of the best fabric shops I’ve ever seen.

It’s always fun to leave for a trip, but it’s also nice to come home. I’m glad to be back, and it felt so good to sit down at my sewing machines after a few days away. You know me – always working on projects is my happy place.

Ty in his element, fishing at the Kenai River.

Walking along the beach in Homer, Alaska.

I caught a salmon. ALL BY MYSELF. It was amazing. (Also, kind of gross.)

Beautiful Alaska.

Have a great rest of the week!

the gingham dress

I really can’t say it enough: I love gingham. For whatever reason, I didn’t use it very much until this year, but after discovering the fabric for this Butterick dress I made in March I can’t seem to get it out of my head. It’s such a happy print, and nothing else reminds me more of summertime and America and classic, timeless style than gingham. Today I’m finishing a red gingham dress, and then I’ll have a fun little trio of gingham dresses. So maybe a matching skirt and blouse set will round out the collection for this year? Yes, I like that idea.

The dress in today’s post came to me one afternoon, after I finally found the perfect navy blue gingham. I found it at fabric.com, and it’s not a poly/cotton blend, which I especially like, and I also like the size of the checks. I like prints that aren’t so small that they essentially look like a solid color and not so large that they’re overwhelming. This 1″ gingham was the perfect size for this project. I can’t quite remember what sparked the idea for this dress, but it’s possible I saw something somewhere that inspired it. All I know is that once I had the idea, I couldn’t get it out of my head. And, I can say this with complete confidence, this dress will make the “hits” list at the end of the year. It is exactly the vision I had in mind, it’s easily one of the most comfortable dresses I’ve ever made. It also felt good to use my slopers and execute my own design. I love the convenience of commercial patterns and I’ll never stop using them, but every once in a while I need to design something on my own. It’s what I know, and I enjoy it.

I wanted something that tied in front, but anything remotely skimpy or revealing was out of the question. I also needed a dress with full back coverage so anything strapless or spaghetti straps wasn’t an option either. Sometimes you’ll find a dress or top with a tie element, but it’s pieces of fabric sewn into a seam that ties over another part of the garment. For example, in my research I saw a button front top with ties that came from the side seams and tied on top of the button placket. I didn’t want that. I wanted the tie element to be functional, not decorative.

To achieve the bodice I had in mind, I drafted a fitted bodice with a midriff and shaped pieces that tie in front. When I have an idea like this, I often start my search in a commercial pattern catalog, in case there’s something similar that I can adjust to save time. I never did find anything that would have worked, so I made the pattern myself. This was the best way to go for this project because it let me control every design detail without having to test too much or worry about the fit.

I outlined my idea on the dress form and used that as a guide for the pattern. This step just gives me a nice visual for style lines, seams, and specific measurements like width of the ties or shoulder seam.

After drafting the first pattern, I made a muslin on which I noticed only two fitting adjustments that needed to be made. I pinched out a little excess fabric under the bust, and made a slight swayback adjustment. Here you can see the midriff and bodice pinned where the fullness needs to be taken out. (And, gah, my apologies for such an icky picture!)

The muslin on the form:

My pattern pieces looked like this: 

Lining the entire top bodice piece would have made the ties a bit bulky and difficult to tie, so I had to get creative with the lining. The ties could have been lined in rayon, for example, but I didn’t want the lining to show anywhere. That would have been distracting. So, the lining extends far enough into the ties so that cups can be sandwiched in between, but it ends in a spot that keeps the ties free from an extra layer (and you also never see the lining from the right side of the dress).

Here you can see the lining pattern on top of the bodice pattern that shows where it ends.

And here’s how that looks in the dress itself.

I had a pair of cups hanging around in the studio for ages, so I just used what I had on hand. You can find these at JoAnn. I just tacked the cups into place underneath the lining.

Once I decided that the ties wouldn’t be lined I had to figure out how to finish the edges, but I knew I didn’t want a narrow hem. So, I frayed the edges. Just having frayed edges on the ties didn’t make sense to the continuity of the garment, so I cut the selvage off of my fabric and continued that detail around the entire neckline and the armholes. I’m particularly crazy about this part of the dress. It’s so darling!

The skirt is a simple full circle skirt pattern, and there are side seam pockets. The skirt lining is a half circle pattern (no need for a full circle lining), and I used bemberg rayon to line the skirt. This gingham fabric is very “cotton-y”, and a cotton lining would have gotten bunched up under the skirt and not allowed it to move and flow like it should.

I let the dress hang on my dress form for a day to let the bias settle. Then I leveled the hem so that everything would be nice and even. For more information on leveling a hem, see this post from last fall.

I wore this dress in Nashville last week on the day my mom and I went fabric shopping and had lunch. I got lots of comments on this dress, and the ladies at the fabric store especially liked it. They also appreciated the sewing and time it took to make it. Every once in a while if someone compliments something I’m wearing I’ll respond by saying, “Thank you, I made it!” Then, I get the enjoyment of seeing their reactions, because sewing your own clothes is still one of those things that most people don’t think about. Usually, they’re so shocked they have no idea what to say. Isn’t it funny when that happens?

I cut the midriff pieces on the bias, because I liked the visual of the print going in a different direction around the wait. It interrupts the placement of the gingham in a way that isn’t distracting or overwhelming.

There’s this cute little flower truck that parks in spots all around Nashville, and it happened to be close to where we were that day so we had to check it out. Adorable, right?

My parents and my brother live in Nashville, so I like to go visit them a couple times a year. We had the best week together! The fabric store I mentioned is Textile Fabrics Nashville, and I would encourage you to go there if you’re ever in Nashville. They carry the most beautiful things, and I stocked up on some delicious linen for some summer projects and a plaid shirting that I think will make a pretty shirtdress.

I’m happy to home and back at work. I missed my studio, and it felt really good to crank up the sewing machine on Monday. Have a great week! 

how to: add a vent in a straight skirt

I’ve never been one for mini skirts. I don’t really have the legs for a skirt that short, and I’ve always wondered about the whole sitting-down-and-actually-doing-things-in-a short-skirt dilemma. But I do have the height to pull off a skirt that falls below my knees. Good thing too, since my preferred skirt length falls somewhere between right below the knee and mid calf. I add length to my skirts on just about every project.

Any skirt with adequate sweep in the hem is a no-brainer to lengthen, but the closer fitting pencil and straight skirts require an extra step or two to make them wearable. Enter, the back vent. Today, I’m going to show you how add a classic back vent to straight skirt patterns, and then we’ll go over how to sew it. Just like everything else, there’s more than one way to go about this, and it’s up to each seamstress to determine what’s best for her project. A pleat in the center front seam can be a fun alternative to a basic back vent. Or, a flared gore in the center back seam elevates the back vent to an intentional design detail. I’ve seen pleats in the back princess seams too, which is also another interesting option.

Adding a back vent to a skirt is as easy as adding length and width to the center back seam. The length of the vent itself depends on how long the skirt is. For some context, my skirt is 27″ from my waist, and I made my vent about 8″ long. You don’t want a vent that comes up too close to your backside, but you also want a vent long enough to allow for your normal stride.

So, to the center back seam of my pattern I added a piece measuring 2″ wide by about 8″ tall.

I like to curve the top of the vent, to make serging the center back seam easier.

And that’s it for the pattern! The back skirt pieces are both cut the same.

To create the back vent, the back seam is sewn together from the bottom of the zipper to the edge of the vent. Here, my center back seams have been sewn together, and I’ve turned the skirt right sides out and placed it on my ironing board. I have turned under the serged edges of the vent, and I will sew those before sewing the vent together.

Once the edges of the vent are sewn:

Now the vent gets pressed in place. It doesn’t matter to what side the vent gets pressed, just use a hem gauge to make sure what you’re pressing is accurate. Remember that that vent is 2″ wide, and I just pressed under 1/4″, so now it’s 1 3/4″.

After the vent has been pressed, carefully pin it in place. Now, here’s the trick I learned in college: use a piece of tape as a sewing guide. Place it at the top of the vent, making sure that your sewing line will go through all the layers of both sides of the vent at the top. It’s also a good idea to go just beyond the center back seam and either backstitch or bartack this spot to make it as strong as possible.

Tape in place:

Sew alongside one side of the tape guide.

One thing you sometimes see on a back vent is a sewing line from the top of the vent to the hem, which keeps the top side of the vent in place. I opted not to do that on the orange striped skirt to keep distracting topstitching to a minimum. I also knew I would go back in and tack the vent down on the inside, which is a totally acceptable option. If you sew the vent along one side, it will look like this (I know the bright green thread is hard to see clearly):

Once the vent is sewn in place, hem the skirt. This particular skirt has a 2″ hem, which I hemmed using the blind hem stitch on my sewing machine.

Hem completed:

And that’s it!

There are other ways to add the vent to the lining, but this method is my favorite. It’s simple and straightforward. So, if your skirt is lined, follow the same steps to add a back vent to the lining.

Back vents are one of those things that may seem intimidating at first, but after doing it once it clicks. Then, you’ll feel like you can do them with your eyes closed!

Happy sewing!