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Friday, June 15, 2012

Part 1: Retro Inspires Sewing with Polka Dots

Associating Them with Skin Problems,
LR Shimer's Never Been A Fan of Polka Dots Before
Until She Picked Out the Wrong Fabric and Decided it  was So Right
A couple of months back, I was searching for a tee shirt knit with a print of white pin dots on a black background. I was so happy to find my black with white dotted cotton interlock material at Fabric.com, that I didn’t think to check the online sample image that showed the size of my dots. So I was disappointed when my order showed up, to realize that my pin dots were polka dots. I also wasn’t crazy about the fabrics hand, that tactile response we sewists get to the heft and feel of our yard goods.

How is a pin dot different than a polka dot? For me, the individual spots in a pin dot print are about the size of the head of the basic little flat, metal pins I use for marrying a couple of yards of cotton to it’s tissue paper pattern. The tiny points on a piece of stiff dotted swiss are about the right size. (Does anybody sew with dotted swiss these days? When I was a child, that was a real glamour material.)

On the other hand, I would say that a polka dot is a bigger spot. Anything the size of the rubber eraser on the back of a yellow number 2 pencil and beyond, qualifies as a polka dot in my book.

And what I had ended up with were four yards of polka dots, a print I wasn’t at all fond of, because they reminded me of the story about moucheron, the tiny patches that historical ladies like Marie Antoinette and her court wore as a fashion statement, a practice that originated in times even before those stylish gals came along, as a way to cover pimples. (Talk about making lemonade when you’re handed a lemon!)

Polka dots also reminded me of some of some aspect of my childhood I didn’t like, but couldn’t really identify. I just didn’t like them. What's the story there?

The material’s price had been right, why not use some of it to make a test garment out of my new McCalls pattern, M6078?  I fashioned view B, a sleeveless tee with stitched front pleats, neck drape and shaped sides.  That test garment changed my entire attitude about polka dots. When I put on my new tee shirt I felt suddenly glamorous and pulled together. The shirt cried out for some earrings that mirrored the dot shapes and a string of pearls. I have twice worn my pearls with the tee shirt to parties, but for my usual walks and school work they stay at home in my jewelry box and I just pop on some dropped, jiggly multi-pearl earrings that echo the shapes on my tee. The top goes with my black capri jeans and my straight legged black pants. It would go great with a slim-fitting black skirt if I possessed one (or indeed ever wore skirts) . 

Despite the fact that I intend to make a new version of the tee with some of the remaining fabric, (see Planned Alterations* below ) my polka-dotted tee shirt has really worked out for me. It's become what sewists with a plan call a '... go to wardrobe item'. And oddly enough the fabric's hand feels fine to me now. I've gotten used to the slightly stiff fabric that doesn’t stretch unexpectedly over time, like some of my other knits. It also seems to breathe just fine on a warm day. It’s not what I was used to but I’ve grown to like the feel of it and the way it works.

But what was the story from my childhood that affected my attitude about polka dots? More on that in my next blog piece, Why I Don’t Love Lucy

* Planned Alterations

I like this tee so much, I'm going to sew up a new and improved version from my remaining fabric. Next time:

• I will definitely not use a white fold over elastic to cover the armhole edge. I plan to try a self-fabric band using the same techniques as I use for self-fabric tee neckline bands. I learned how to do this from Lori (of Sew Forth Now fame). Here is her tutorial for neckbands. I sew it out of a slightly stretched cross-grain strip and I always, always baste these first, and test it folded down with pins in place, as every knit stretches differently. 

• I'm going to add 1 -2 inches to the torso length because I'm long waisted.

• I'm going to cut a deeper (higher) self-lining part on the top of the front piece. The entire front is one piece and the top part falls back and lines the drape. But the drape wasn't quite long enough to hide a glimpse of the wrong side of the fabric at the neckline. I added a strip of selvage and it could still use a bit more inner lining. I will probably add another 1-2 inches to that curve.

• I will add more to the sides and make it a tiny bit less fitted. I have a rectangular figure (I don't go in much at the waist or out much at the hips) and the shaping on this top fakes a waistline. More curvaceous ladies wouldn't need to do that.

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