It's bittersweet, but this is the final project I made to wear during our trip. And, while I've saved it for last, this dress was my number one priority when I started planning and sewing garments to take on vacation. This is my travel dress.
A good travel dress is an essential item during lengthy international flights. It's comfortable, easy to wear, nonrestrictive and wrinkle resistant. It feels like lounge wear, but doesn't look like it.
I love that this dress is a wrap dress. The wrap on this particular dress extends from hip to hip, which gives excellent coverage and reduces the possibility of 'accidental flashing'. I was also very attracted to the flutter sleeve, because it provides shoulder coverage, but it's really breathable. It's a nice compromise for an environment where the temperature is in constant flux, like an airplane.
Like many knit patterns, this dress is very simple to construct. I didn't make any modifications to this version. If I make it again, I will likely widen the neckline curve slightly, for a little less coverage. Overall, I am very pleased with the way this dress came together, and it MORE THAN served its purpose during both legs of our journey.
It was only natural that Meg, Liz, and I would collaborate on some sort of project for our trip. That is, after all, how our friendships blossomed. Initially we discussed a variety of possibilities. After dumping all our ideas out of the table, we found a shared interest in sewing the McCall's 6696 shirtwaist, and a plan was formed.
Per usual, we all started at the same place and ended at slightly different destinations. One of my favorite things about working with these ladies on a project is seeing how each of us puts her own mark on her final garment with fabric choice, modifications, and fit. I think it's also really cool to see, at once, the way one pattern works for three different bodies. To me, the brilliant thing about making your own clothes is that no particular garment or style is off limits once you figure out how to make that garment work with your body. There's a freedom that comes with sewing and/or knitting. You can basically take all those "RULES" you've been told your whole life about being short, tall, hippy, busty, etc... and toss them right out the window.
We all chose different types of fabrics for our dresses. Liz sewed with Sateen, Meg used Linen and I used a vintage cotton border print.
While we walked as a group on this particular day, we joked how we wondered if anyone noticed we were all wearing the same dress; such a faux pas! I doubt most people, if anyone, did.
At the risk of getting mushy and sentimental, this is a trip I"ll always remember. Every time I think about Paris, I'll think about our little group and how we gorged ourselves on cheese and chocolate, and walked (over) a hundred miles exploring nooks and crannies, and how the best part of every day was returning to our apartment to share evenings sipping cider while we competed for the Quiplash crown. I can't wait to do it again!
This is the money shot. Three friends knitting in front of the Eiffel Tower wearing dresses sewn from the same pattern. :-D
I present, Mike, jumping for joy in his fourth version of McCall's M6044.
I don't have much to add about this pattern. It's really a winner, in my book. Mike loves his new shirts. He's even picked out some flannel to make a couple cold weather versions.
I'll let the photos do most of the talking on this one. Mike really got into posing this time around. It should be noted that Meg gets full Art Director credit for these photos. It's a physical impossibility to take yourself seriously when Meg's around. :-D
Mike and Josh, Meg's main squeeze, both got their turn in front of the lens on this particular day. They were a riot!
I'm excited for the completion of a project we're currently working on, Project Man Sweater, simply to see the product of a picture session involving the three of them.
I expect that I'll sew for Mike much more regularly now that he's honed his pattern cutting skills. I currently have a few patterns at home for him including the Albion duffle coat, McCall M6803 , and the Strathcona Henley.
Aren't we cute in our Hers/His McCall's?
This is a sneak peek at my final version of the famous M6696. I'll show you more of this project on Friday before I wrap (hint, hint) things up and get closer to caught-up with my real life. I knew I sewed a lot to take on our trip, but I didn't fully realize how much I made until I started posting! Sadly, I'll be back to posting pictures from the backyard soon. LOL.
I really feel like I've finally had my A-HA moment with garment sewing, so that's cool. All of the things I made to take on vacation have been in regular rotation since our return. It makes my hope/dream of an entirely self-stitched wardrobe seem like it's within reach!
One of the more touristy things we were sure to do while we were in Paris was climb to Sacre Coeur. I had heard the view of the city was worth the throngs of people. And, indeed, the view is spectacular. This area of the city wasn't particularly my favorite, since the surrounding blocks were brimming with souvenir shops and dense crowds, but it had its perks.
A large number of fabric shops can be found surrounding the base of Sacre Coeur. A lot of these shops are coupon shops, meaning that the fabric is pre-cut into 3m pieces. This method of fabric sales was a totally new concept to us. I guess 3m is a fairly average length of fabric to purchase, overall. But, the entire practice seems very wasteful to me. For instance, if I need 2meters or 4meters, I'm stuck with and paying for fabric that won't be used. And, despite our American understanding of the word coupon, there is no discount for the pre-cut lengths. Also, a lot of the shops in this area carried identical inventory, which made it seem like there was a lot more to choose from than there actually was. I did buy one wool coating coupon while we were there, but, overall, I wasn't a fan.
We also, very briefly, stopped into a yarn store in this neighborhood. It's called Chatmaille, and it was the most bizarre yarn store I have EVER been to. There's a very strict NO TOUCHING policy. Seriously, there are signs in both French and English posted all over the place. I felt like I was five walking through a China shop with my hands in my pockets. The space is small, and the yarn is tucked into cubbies on the wall. There are some knit samples that patrons are welcome to handle, but they don't appear to be knit from the same yarns displayed as inventory. It was strange. Really, strange. Do yourself a favor, if you're ever yarn shopping in Paris, and skip this shop. Or, go there just for the novelty, because it's truly an odd place.
My favorite shop from our visit to Sacre Coeur is Dam Bouton. It's a wonderland of buttons! All the walls are shelved full of color coordinated button varieties from the most basic shirt buttons to the most elaborate rhinestone buttons you can imagine.
On this particular day, I was outfitted in another McCall's M6696 Shirtwaist dress. This version was sewn using an embroidered eyelet fabric I picked-up at Joann Fabrics. I underlined the dress in navy cotton. Based on the double layer of fabric, I had expected this version of the dress to be the most fitted version I made. Quite the opposite. I made the same changes to the bodice and used the same construction methods as I had on previous versions, yet this dress appears a size, maybe two bigger. I have no explanation why.
I had hoped to sew a small stack of Oakridge Blouses for our trip. Sadly, this was the only version of the pattern I made. Mostly, this is the only version I made, because I don't love it. I'm not giving up hope that Oakridge and I can be friends, but that remains to be seen after a bit of pattern tweaking.
Oakridge and I got off on the wrong foot. I bought the PDF version of this pattern during the Sewaholic Birthday sale with the plan to have it printed full-scale at a print shop. I love knowing I have the option to re-print my favorite indie patterns after I've loved them to shreds, but I really don't love taping together tiles. I was really excited about the print shop option. Except, it wasn't as excellent as I'd hoped.
Due to page size of the printshop version of this pattern, it was too large to print on the blue printer printer at my local Staples. The good news, is that Staples has a large scale document printer, the bad news is that it would have cost me $118 to print my pattern using said printer. FedEx- Kinkos has an Oc'e printer that can print documents large enough to print a sewing pattern without scaling, but they were unable to print the Oakridge (or the Granville) blouse(s) due to a security encryption placed on the files. It took me more than a week of emailing print shops and the ladies at Sewaholic before I was able to get this pattern printed. In the end, it worked out.
I am happy to report that I had incredibly positive experiences in all my email inquiries to Tasia and Caroline at Sewaholic. They were responsive and professional throughout our entire interaction. Ultimately, I was able to print the pattern at FedEx. For whatever it's worth, they get my highest possible rating in overall customer service and satisfaction, truly.
Regarding the blouse, the shape of the blouse doesn't suit my preferences. I should have taken photos to illustrate how flared this shirt is. I am a pear shaped lady, no doubt; however, the flare on this blouse is far too exaggerated for my personal tastes, and it makes me feel wider at the hip than I am. I would never wear this blouse un-tucked, because I feel that the flare draws more attention to my hips, the area of my body I typically dress to minimize. It does work tucked into a skirt. Also, I love the bow neckline as an alternative to a collar. So, at some point, I may try to redraft the body of the blouse into a more subtle A-line and see if I feel more comfortable wearing it. After all the trouble I went to in order to print it, it deserves a second look.
The backdrop for the photos of my Oakridge is Canal Saint Martin. During the planning phases of our trip, the group made a list of all the things we preferred in our accommodations. Having all lived in Chicago, one thing we were certain about is that we didn't want to stay in or around the 1st arrondissement, the area with the most tourist draw. To us, this seemed comparable to staying on Michigan Avenue during a trip to Chicago, which we know, is not where the best parts of the city are found. Hoping instead for more local flavor, we chose to stay in Canal Saint Martin.
The location was exactly what we'd hoped. Our apartment was approximately a block from the canal & the Republic Metro station. Within the same radius, we had access to two grocery stores, a cheese shop, a top rated bakery, numerous cafes, bars, restaurants and shops.
This, friends, was my favorite part of Paris. La Promenade Plantee, or Coulee verte Rene Dumont, is a green space and artists community. The green space, started in the 1980's, is built on top of out of service rail tracks.
It's a brilliant use of space. Promenade Plantee has been used here in the U.S. as the inspiration for the High Line and Bloomingdale Line projects. Mike and I walked and enjoyed the High Line during a trip to New York a couple years ago, and I've been eager to visit the park that inspired the project since.
In addition to its well established plant life, Promenade Plantee is home to numerous artisan shops. The shops, built within the viaducts below the tracks, house book binders, instrument makers, jewlers, and FABRIC. Yes. FABRIC.
During our fabric shopping excursion, our hostess and guide Barbara introduced us to Mahlia Kent. Mahlia Kent is a weaver and textile artist who supplies numerous fashion houses. The Paris store front, located within the viaducts of the park, stocks remnant cuts and excess bolts of these textiles. THEY ARE AMAZING.
If you're the sort of souvenir fabric shopper who likes to buy things she can't find at home, this shop is an absolute must! Meg, Liz and I all found treasures here during our first stop, and we all went back for seconds.
After our first walk through the Promenade Plantee, Mike and I returned here for training runs. It was an incredibly peaceful place to run. Starting at the beginning of the park, near the Bastille Opera, it's possible to run an uninterrupted 6 mile loop. An added bonus is that you can reward yourself for a job well done with Starbucks on the walk back to the train. 'To-go" coffee was one of the most difficult things to find while we vacationing, which made it even more of a treat! Starbucks was one of the only options we found for a cup on the run, and even that seemed to be a half-strength watered down version of what we're used to. I digress.
If you're not a runner, I know the idea of running while on vacation seems strange. But, we were very excited to discover the park. Urban running can be very frustrating between dodging pedestrians and cars and frequent stop/starts for traffic signals.
If you are a runner, you might also be interested to know about LRP. They're a fun group! Mike and I joined LRP for an 18km (11mile) run from the center of Paris to Versailles, one of the most memorable experiences of our trip.
Enough about running, you're here for sewing. This dress is another of the McCall's 6696 shirtwaist dresses I made to bring. For this version, I used a vintage fabric purchased at an estate sale. It's 100% cotton with screened flower bunches printed on top of a gingham check. The instant I saw this fabric, I knew it wanted to be a shirtwaist. It sat on the shelf for two years waiting for me to build my skills and confidence. It's well worth the wait. This dress is everything I hoped it would be. :-D
I can't stop myself. These days, when I find a pattern I love, I have to make it over (and over) again. The Sorell Trousers are no exception. My love for this pattern deepened as soon as I finished this denim pair.
These are my favorite pair of pants I've ever owned. These pants are a great example of why I love making my own clothes. As a short gal, a lot of RTW pants styles are off-limits for me. It's not possible to maintain the shape of a pant leg after you've hemmed 6 inches off the bottom, because, as those of us who sew know, the length needs to be taken from the middle of the leg, not the bottom.
Then, there's the booty, which in my case requires a different size pair of RTW pants than my waist. I can't tell you how many pairs of gappy waist, ill fitting pants I've owned in my life. When you make your own pants, especially if they're darted, there's no problem closing the gap! These pants work with my curves, not against them.
Did I mention they're comfortable and easy to wear. I felt very put together wearing them, and they transitioned beautifully from one activity to another. Following our morning at the flea market, Mike and I joined Meg and Josh for a trip to the museum. Neither Mike nor I get very excited by museums, but it seemed silly to travel all the way to Paris and not stop to visit a couple of the most famous.
Musee d'Orsay wasn't originally on our short list of contenders, but as chance would have it, it was free day at the museum and we had an open afternoon.
After browsing through vintage fashion sketches and loading up on buttons, we made our way across the city. A lot of people had the same idea we did. There was a substantial line to get into the museum, but it moved quickly and it was worth the wait.
We enjoyed d'Orsay even more than the Louvre. Mona is great, but she doesn't compete with the collections of van Goh, Renoir, and Monet on display at d'Orsay. It's a hit factory. And, for people who prefer the highlight reel over spending entire days museum hopping, it served our purposes.
One activity that made all our lists of "must- do" while we were in Paris was a trip to the flea market. Everyone in our group shares a fondness, to some degree, for vintage. Perhaps my love of vintage is the reason flea markets are one of the first things that pop into my mind in association with Paris, even before the Eiffel Tower or macarons.
We each had an eye out for different things while we were there. Liz found some vintage fabrics, including a cut of rayon. Meg and I were on a mission for buttons. Mike, on the other hand, spent most of his time skimming through stacks of records and vintage screen prints. Felix took and posted wonderful photos of the different varieties of objects available.
Though Marche aux Puces St.-Ouen de Clignancourt is the largest and most famous flea market in Paris, we decided it wasn't for us. Most of the reviews we read suggested that it was geared largely towards an interior decorating crowd, overpriced, and very crowded. Instead we opted for Les Puces de Vanves. It was a moderate sized market filled with some very eclectic goods.
We were sure to arrive to the market early in the morning, a good decision, as the crowd filled-in midday as we were preparing to leave.
Mike donned another of his McCall's M6044 shirts for the occasion. This shirt was a last minute addition to his wardrobe. I finished sewing this shirt moments before we left for the airport. I don't know which one of us was more excited to discover that, thanks to all my practice shirt making, I can put one of these together in a few short hours. We've already added a couple pieces of flannel to his stash for future versions. I think M6044 is to Mike's closet what the Archer is to mine.
It was a cool morning, and the coffee vendor situated at the midpoint of the market was the most popular guy doing business that day.
Back in the list making stages of planning what I wanted to make and take on vacation, I knew I needed to sew pants. As deeply as my love runs for McCall's 6696, I didn't want to limit myself to dresses the entire time we were away. Fortunately, for me, the Pauline Alice release of the Sorell Trousers pattern perfectly coincided with my list making. It was love at first sight. These wide leg trousers are everything I love about old Hollywood trouser styles with modern elements that seamlessly translate into a contemporary wardrobe.
These pants have a moderate rise, which eliminates the 'mom butt' that accompanies higher waisted vintage designs and allows the pleats on the front of the pant to hang below the fullest part of the abdomen, reducing the appearance of bulk in the midsection. The volume in the leg of the trouser beautifully balances out the proportions of the body. The result is a very flattering, incredibly comfortable, and, in my opinion, very classy and classic looking trouser.
The pattern features deep front pockets and welt pockets on the rear. I chose to eliminate the watch pocket on the front of the pants. It's a cute detail, but I worried it would add bulk. I sewed this version in a black linen/rayon blend fabric. The fabric worked nicely with the pattern and provides ample swish when I walked, but I do prefer a heavier fabric for these pants. The only other modification I made to this pattern was to reduce the length of the pant leg by 3 inches (I am 5'1" (and a half) for interested parties).
I topped these pants with another sleeveless Archer blouse. I made the blouse using some stashed estate sale rayon that I was surprised to discover had an Alexander Henry maker's mark printed on its selvages. I have come to terms with the realization that I cannot stop myself from sewing more Archers. It's a four season pattern, and I can always use another.
On that subject, I really could use another black 4ply cardigan. My Grace cardigan, shown in these photos, goes with me on every trip I take. It's easily the most practical and useful garment I've ever made.
We spent our first full day in Paris getting acquainted with and oriented with the city. The best way I know to get comfortable in a place is to explore on foot. Aimless exploration, however, is not my strong suit. I like to have a purpose to my meandering. In Brussels, we used the comic murals and chocolate shops as a way to propel ourselves around the city. For our first day in Paris, we used a map of covered passages.
Mike and I accidentally stumbled into the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert during our chocolate hunting adventure, and we were hopeful that the Paris Passages/Galleries would be as fun to explore. The passages are a 19th century equivalent to present day shopping malls. The covered corridors protected shoppers from the rain and/or other inclement weather and were formerly a very high-end shopping destination. Today, they largely house specialty and antique shops.
If you do decide to tour the covered passages of Paris, I would suggest you take a pass on Passage Du Prado and Passage Du Ponceau. They were among the first passages on our route. They are poorly kept and filled with sketchy businesses. The passages got better as we went along. We were delighted to stumbled upon Lil Weasel in Passage du Grand Cerf and we found a favorite food stop, Caramel Sarasin on our way out of Passage des 2 Soeurs.
We even manged to make our way down to the Louvre campus before calling it quits. We covered a lot of ground on our first day in town; 10miles or more if Fitbits and phone pedometers are accurate.
Our final day in Brussels was also our first day in Paris! We had a late afternoon train, so we decided to squeeze in one more attraction prior to leaving the city.
We'd spotted the Musical Instuments Museum (MIM) the day before during our hike to the Sablon area for chocolate, and we were curious to see if the inside of the building was as delightful as its exterior.
After we fueled up on omelettes and coffee, we trekked back towards the Mont Des Arts garden en route to the museum, which provided a gorgeous backdrop for photos of Mike's second version of McCall's 6044.
In the course of traveling together, Mike has been dragged to numerous yarn and fabric stores. Fortunately, he's a really good sport. Since he's along for the ride, he sometimes spots fabrics he likes for himself. At this point he has a designated cubby of the fabric stash.
The majority of the fabric stash dedicated to Mike is plaid and/or gingham. So, he had to learn some basic plaid matching principles before he could start cutting.
As I mentioned previously, he's a quick study, and he caught on quickly. He did a great job balancing the plaid on the fronts of his shirt and matching across seam lines. We decided to cut his cuffs and button bands on the bias as a design feature and to avoid having to match in those areas.
For those of you who seemed curious about getting your recipients involved in the process of making their own garments, I highly recommend it. It's much like cooking together or other activities where you're where you're participating towards an outcome that you're both rewarded by.
I love to sew, he gets a shirt. It's a win-win situation.
The museum was a fantastic way to fill our last morning in Brussels. There was a wide array of Instuments spanning centuries of development across continents. Most of the installations have interactive recordings of music featuring the instruments they contain. It's not a large museum, so you can easily explore all the exhibits in a short window of time and it wasn't at all crowded. It's definitely worth a visit, if you find yourself in Brussels.