Kimono sleeves on McCall’s 6436, times four

I’ve been admiring some of the awesome kimono-sleeved buttoned shirt patterns (like the StyleArc Blair – check out Kelli’s and Meg’s – and Deer & Doe Melilot – check out Katie’s) and became obsessed with Heather Lou’s self-drafted shirt dress, but the idea of fitting a new-to-me shirt pattern was giving me hives. I turned to my my old favorite, McCall’s 6436, and grafted on some kimono sleeves using my Helen Joseph-Armstrong drafting manual.

I made a quick muslin, and I was off to the races, making no less than FOUR variations of this pattern. In all versions, I finished the sleeves with a cuff.

First up was an aloha shirt in palm-print rayon challis. I had recently re-watched Romeo+Juliet and was admiring Leo’s Hawaiian shirt. This fabric was as close as I could
come this time around (as in, not very close at all), but I’ll be on the lookout for that perfect Japanese floral on a blue background from now on.

(I had to attempt the Leo smolder.)

But this shirt makes me really gleeful…

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 kimono sleevecrabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 kimono sleeve

Next up was white linen, salvaged from an attempt at McCall’s 7325 that persisted in looking like a baptismal gown. The pattern pieces were large and rectangular, so the only adjustment I had to make was putting in a CB seam.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 kimono sleeve

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 kimono sleeve

Bonus project: these are my denim Morgan jeans converted into trousers!

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 kimono sleeves and Closet Case Patterns Morgan jeans altered into trousers

I changed the welt pocket placement a bit this time around.

crabandbee.com | Closet Case patterns Morgan jeans altered into trousers

Back to the shirts; after the first two versions, I was ready to lengthen the pattern into a shirt dress sewn in that magical thick silk rayon you saw in my jumper dress post! In order to add more ease to the hips, I added a back yoke and a CB pleat, adding 3″ total to the back width. Uncharacteristically for me, I didn’t end up liking the loose waist, so I added a drawstring.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 kimono sleeve dress

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 kimono sleeve dress

I found myself wishing I also had a collared shirt version in the same fabric, and had juuuust enough fabric to make it happen. I finished this one shortly after my sis and I took pictures, but I thought I’d include it for the sake of thoroughness.

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These shirts are simple, but a wardrobe dream come true for me. They’ll be the backbone of my 2017 wardrobe. The sleeves are a little breezy for winter temps, but I’ve still been wearing them – the dress, especially – quite a bit. They also layer nicely under my jumper dresses!

These shirts have also proved to me how much I enjoy sewing iteratively. Once I have success with a pattern, I love to make slight variations in length and design details to max it out. Being immersed in the construction helped me sew these rather quickly (which isn’t always my goal but nice in this case.)

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Jumper dress

Happy Friday, everybody! I’m here to share my first self-drafted dress.

crabandbee.com | self-drafted jumper dress

The design is obviously dead simple but, as one might hope for a pattern drafted off a personalized block, it fits perfectly – bust, waist, hips falling at just the right places, as do the side seams. Just like me, the pattern is square in the shoulders, long through the upper chest, narrower at the back and bust, with extra booty.

After finishing my bodice sloper in 2014 and my skirt sloper last year, I put them together last month to make what my Helen Joseph-Armstrong drafting text calls a torso foundation. (Clearly I’m on the slow-and-steady path to pattern drafting.) From what I understand, the torso foundation is what one would use for any garment that starts at the shoulders and goes past the waist without a waist seam. This could include shift and sheath dresses, woven and knit shirts.

Here’s mine; the front is a bit sloppy because it shows two versions (shoulder dart and bust dart).

crabandbee.com | patternmaking, torso foundation

Here’s someone else’s that’s easier to see.

POSTER-PB-SLO-017-ConvertFittedTorsoSloperSuit-Sloper.jpg
Sample torso foundation from University of Fashion

After making my torso foundation, I used HJ-A’s dungaree instructions and adapted them for a skirt instead of pants.

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I added some complexity by including button side closures. (Side closures are part of the HJ-A instructions, but I got a bit lost on her instructions and had to wing it a bit.) You can see the weird shape of the button extension below; it was ok in my head and not so great in cloth. It was worth it, though; the gold buttons elevate the dress from an apron.

crabandbee.com | self-drafted jumper dress

Let’s just cover that weird extension up, shall we?

crabandbee.com | self-drafted jumper dress

This project took about a month to complete, mostly because I had to figure out the construction. While I frequently alter commercial patterns to suit my style or construction preferences, sorting out the construction from scratch is a different beast! I did it all in my head, which prolonged the project. Next time, I’ll speed things up by sketching and writing out the process beforehand.

crabandbee.com | self-drafted jumper dress

And speaking of next time, I’d like to make a couple of design tweaks: widen the bib and strap placement by 1″ total, straighten the hip curve, and experiment with a front waist seam and pockets. This is a silhouette I love to wear, and could see many variations in my future.

crabandbee.com | self-drafted jumper dress

This dress was inspired by a lot of the styles I saw when I was in Japan and by some of the awesome dungaree dresses popping up on blogs, like Liza Jane’s, Kirsty’s and Juli’s. I understand the style may not appeal to everyone but I love it and I’m clearly in some good company!

Have you drafted your own patterns or thought about it? I found making the slopers to be a chore (well, at least the bodice) but drafting from them has been easier than I expected.

Shirt shifts

When I was finishing my sister’s and my dresses, my sewing brain was scheming on summer projects. As I’ve gotten a bit obsessed with altering patterns over the past couple of years, the possibilities felt even more numerous/tantalizing. So a few weeks after the wedding wrapped up, when it was as hot as blazes, I made good on one of those ideas and sewed a couple of shift dresses based on McCall’s 6436 shirt pattern.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

The pattern seemed like a good shift candidate because of the bust/back darts and the body-skimming fit. The shirt hit the widest point of my hips, so I was able to extend the side seams and square off the hem. I added extra ease through the hips just in case, but found I’d removed it all by the end of fitting. I was working with a light-weight stretch denim, previously sewn up as pants.

This dress has a split hem that’s 1″ longer in the back, a bound neckline, and an exposed zip back closure that would be too short for a non-stretch fabric.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

Even though I’m in love with this dress and wear it multiple times a week, I can acknowledge its faults; the fabric doesn’t press particularly well – I can’t seem to steam out those dart bubbles – and my zipper insertion caused waves. And fit-wise, there are some lines in the front, I’m getting some pooling in the low back, and I think the back darts could use some work towards the top.

Getting close but not quite achieving a good fit triples the likelihood I’ll make another version immediately. I dove directly into my second version. To contrast the first, I chose the loudest fabric in my stash, a quilting cotton (!) bought as a souvenir from my trip to Kauai.

This was the best picture of the front of the dress…

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I think everything lays much more nicely in this version, even though I wear the denim version 10x more. I raised the neckline a bit and cut the armholes in further. I’m still seeing some mild lines from bust to hip – is this just shift dress territory, or is there alteration I can make? Maybe one of those crazy darts I see on 60s shift patterns?

Not sure what I’m doing here…

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I think I could stand to make a bit more of a swayback adjustment, but the back is much improved. I added a center back seam on this version, which helped me squeeze this dress out of 2 yards of 44″ fabric.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I underlined with a cotton lawn and used a neckline facing instead of binding.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I also used another one of my grandma’s spectacular buttons and made a thread loop from embroidery floss.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

Here’s a gratuitous shot – I just like how nonplussed I look while wearing this festive print.

Overall, I would call this pattern mutation very wearable. I am realizing just how much I neglect fitting my back, though, especially below the arm holes. Do you have any techniques for fitting your own back?

Wedding dress: design, pattern and muslin

This is the first post in a series about making my sister’s wedding separates, and covers planning and design. The next posts will cover construction, the final look and resources.


When I first started working on my sister’s dress, I had hoped to find a single pattern to suit my sister’s exacting tastes. She was sending me tons of gorgeous Pinterest images, and I was sending her links to patterns, and boy, was there a big divide in aesthetics. None of the patterns ended up appealing to her even though what she wanted – a sweetheart bodice with some kind of flattering shoulder and armpit coverage, and a floor-length skirt – wasn’t too outlandish.

So we put down our phones and laptops and did some field research at a boutique where my sis could try on a dress by her favorite bridal designer, Monique Lhullier. She fell in love with this dress bodice, which gave us something more solid to work from.

Image credit: weddingchicks.com
Image credit: weddingchicks.com

She also fell in love with a-line skirts with chiffon overlays, like this one:

Photo credit: glamour.com
Photo credit: glamour.com

My diagnosis was that we’d need a strapless bodice – and all accompanying structure – with an overlay of lace, and a skirt that was shaped at the top with a full hem.

With some basic design decisions made, I found myself cobbling together patterns. The skirt I chose – Sewaholic’s Gabriola – was an instant hit with Bee and fit with only minor de-hipping. After a false start with Simplicity 1606, I made some flat pattern alterations to an unlikely candidate, McCall’s 6325 (a bustier top pattern with a button placket, which I’d sewn as designed here and here), by eliminating the front closure, removing the peplum, and extending the cups both horizontally and vertically. I documented three muslins (there were probably more):

crabandbee.com | making a wedding dress
Muslin 1: utterly unwearable but good enough to prove the concept
crabandbee.com | making a wedding dress
Muslin 2: with boning and batting, shown on yours truly
crabandbee.com | making a wedding dress
Muslin 3, with minor fit and design tweaks and what passes for straps at Crab & Bee Bridal

I won’t delve into the muslin construction too much, but I will mention that Susan Khalje’s Bridal Couture book has a section muslin-making that I benefitted from immensely. I used quite a few of her techniques, like thread tracing the muslin pieces, wide seam allowances and marking the natural waistline with elastic. I also added boning and a simulated waist stay to the muslin –  techniques I would have assumed were for the final bodice – and stabilized the neckline with twill tape, which was necessary for keeping the shape during fitting.

After the struggle of finding a pattern, fitting was the next major challenge.  Part of it was a lack of experience on my part; I rarely make or wear close-fitting garments, and when I do, I prefer a low-profile look through the bust. Bee wanted this bodice to fit like a bustier and support like a bra. Getting a good fit through the bust, especially as we wavered on undergarments, was something I had to really focus on.

As I mentioned above, I wanted the bodice support itself as strapless to reduce stress on the lace. My sister and I share the same shape, which is broad through the shoulders, no difference between upper and full bust and a fairly narrow ribcage. I can’t imagine a shape less conducive to holding up a strapless bodice! Tightening the upper edge created the dreaded back overhang and the whole bodice would eventually creep down anyway. Adding the boning and waist stay to the muslin were critical to proving the bodice could stay up.

crabandbee.com | longline bra in progress

The same fit issues with the strapless bodice applied to RTW undergarments that Bee was trying out. I ended up making a bra for Bee based on the bodice, thinking it would be easier/faster than waiting for her to find a product that may not exist. Even if it ended up getting abandoned, making the bra was what allowed us to move on from the muslin phase.

So, because I love a good summary, here’s a list of what this phase entailed:

  1. Search for dress patterns
  2. Fail at finding dress patterns
  3. Try on real dresses
  4. Start searching for skirt and bodice patterns to match favorite real dress
  5. Try Simplicity 1606 for bodice pattern
  6. Reject Simplicity 1606
  7. Choose Sewaholic Gabriola for skirt pattern
  8. Alter McCall’s 6325 for design
  9. Muslin McCall’s 6325 for fit and design, adding boning and padding
  10. Try to find strapless bra
  11. Fail to find bra, and make one myself
  12. Graduate from muslin phase

I’ll be back soon with more posts! For now, I’ll leave you with an image that captures the turning point of the messy, amorphous muslin process, when both Bee and I started to feel more confident and excited. Seeing the bodice and skirt come together, even in muslin, was magical.

crabandbee.com | making a wedding dress

A dress in blue noil

Hi guys! Thanks for your thoughtful responses to my interview with Leigh Anne Van Dusen. It was reassuring to hear that many of you experience the same feelings I do – wanting to sew with sustainable textiles but wondering (and feeling overwhelmed by) what really constitutes a sustainable, healthy fabric. I thought it was cool was that people had a wide range of experience with the idea – some people were new to the concept while others started sewing because they specifically wanted clothing made from textiles that met certain requirements.

Anyhoodles, today I’m sharing a project made with one of my personal favorite sorts of fabric – second-hand! One of the more astounding fabrics I’ve found at Our Fabric Stash was a royal blue silk noil. It’s weird, amazing stuff – heavier, some drape, crazy easy to sew. And, it’s one of my absolute favorite colors that I don’t seem to come across often in fabric. I’ve been pondering what to make out of it, and decided to go for a dress-length version of my long-coveted, out-of-print Built By Wendy pattern (graciously given to me by Philippa and previously sewn up in the shirt length).

crabandbee.com | Simplicity 3964

As I was constructing the dress, I started wondering what I could do to make it special. Eventually, Sanae’s sashiko stitching on a dress for her daughter got me thinking, and I realized I could try to play up some of the cool design lines in the pattern with embroidery.

crabandbee.com | Simplicity 3964

You want to look even closer, you say?

crabandbee.com | Simplicity 3964

I tried a lot of options – three strands of embroidery floss, two, different designs – and this is where I ended up. Part of me wanted to go crazy and cover the yokes and insets completely, and another part of me wanted to stitch a single outline around each piece. Evidently, I reached a compromise! I’m a total novice at embroidery, but I really enjoyed seeing the graphic stitches come together to form a pattern.

I’d meant to start listening to Christine’s podcast Thread Cult for awhile, and this was the perfect project to start digging in. I’ve often wished for more sewing-related documentaries and media, and Christine does a great job interviewing a wide swath of sewing folks.

crabandbee.com | Simplicity 3964

One change I wish I’d made is closing up the back opening. The neckline is large enough for even my melon head, and the weight of the ties tends to make it gape open. I stitched the ties down to make a fake bow that isn’t as bulky.

crabandbee.com | Simplicity 3964

I decided against a sash (included in the pattern) or elastic waist (not included). I’m not sure it’s my “best look” (I’m irritating myself just writing that!) but it’s definitely a “best feeling”. And, I get to feel like I’m following in the stylish, un-fettered steps of Sonja.

crabandbee.com | Simplicity 3964

The pattern has you sew the little sleeves and the binding onto the arm scye. Given the thickness of my fabric, I had to remove the binding and use a thinner silk scrap for binding that I hand-stitched. More hand-sewing = more Thread Cult!

I shortened the dress a bit by cutting off 10″ or so and turning it into a hem band. I love the weight this finish adds to the dress.

crabandbee.com | Simplicity 3964

And that, my friends, is how my precious piece of blue silk noil became a embroidered, no-waist dress that is a delight to her creator. Is embroidery in your arsenal? Do you go waist-less? Do tell!