Monday, September 5, 2016

Lessons Learned: RTW Blouse Alteration Fail, and Didn't Know My Serger Could Do That!

Cotton Poplin Blouse from White House Black Market
Having a khaki and white dress code for church choir this Sunday and plenty of khaki beigish skirts, but no white tops in my closet, I went Emergency Shopping on Saturday afternoon with my mom.  She convinced me to buy this size 14 blouse from White House Black Market because, with all the princess seams, she thought we could get a really good fit for me with way less work than sewing a tailored blouse from scratch.  I  wish I had taken a picture of this RTW (ready-to-wear, a.k.a. "store-bought") blouse BEFORE we started messing with it, because this top was so big on me that I thought it was SUPPOSED to be an oversized fit.  I was shocked when I went to the store web site just now for this image and saw how fitted the blouse is on the model.  I do not LIKE this blouse!  This is an important point that we will come back to.  So, anyway.

We were in a rush when we got back to my studio with the blouse, so my mom put the blouse on Headless Helena (my customized dress form) and started pinning in the blouse at the three princess seams on the back.  Meanwhile, I was getting my machine set up with the right needle, thread, presser foot, etc.  When mom showed me the blouse-in-progress on the dress form, it looked like a maternity blouse to me because it was more fitted in the back and bust but flared out below the bust and through the tummy...  So I asked if the front could come in a bit just under the bust.  Then I started struggling to get a balanced 3-thread overlock stitch on my serger while Mom started taking in the seams she'd pinned on the other machine.  Anyone noticing the red flags yet?  I did NOT try on the blouse before Mom started taking in the seams.

And there were mishaps.  I had cleaned and oiled the sewing machine, but apparently got a little too much oil somewhere because the first stitches on the blouse came out oily beige instead of white thread.  Sewed on scraps until the thread was clean and continued on.  The serger was making me crazy, the Bernina 1300 MDC serger that I have owned and loved for 10 years, and I couldn't get a balanced 3-thread narrow overlock to save my soul.  My serger manual recommended setting the needle and both looper tensions at 4.0, and my stitch looked REALLY, DRASTICALLY wrong at that setting, and minor adjustments weren't doing any good.  But the RTW blouse had a narrow 3-thread overlock finishing all of the princess seam allowances, and this being an expensive blouse, I wanted it to look just as good inside and out AFTER alteration as it did before.  Anyway, it was getting late and Mom had to go, so she left the blouse for me to trim and overcast the seam allowances and close the hem again at the back of the shirt.

I took a break for dinner, came back up, changed needles, rethreaded about 15 times.  Started wondering whether I had ever actually USED a 3-thread overlock stitch on the machine in all the time that I've owned it -- maybe there's something screwy with my machine and it just can't MAKE this stitch?!  And then finally, at about 10:30 PM, I got a lovely 3-thread overlock stitch on my serger with these crazy settings:

My Serger's Weird Settings for 3-thread Overlock
Can you believe it?  I've never had to make such drastic adjustments for a 4-thread overlock, or a 2-thread overlock, or for any other stitch.  For some reason, I had to jack the needle tension all the way up to 6.0 and reduce the upper looper tension to 3.0.  So I wrote these settings on my sample and shoved it in the drawer with a hundred other samples that I hang onto for reference.  And then, totally by accident in my button-pushing, I discovered something wild about my serger. 

The Bernina 1300 MDC serger is not computerized, but it does have a little electronic screen where you can scroll through all the different serger stitches and see the suggested settings for each stitch.  You can totally ignore this screen, because it doesn't automatically change any tensions or settings.  However, whatever stitch is showing on the screen when you turn the machine off, that's the stitch that will show on the machine the next time you turn the machine on.  So in the past, I have scrolled to whatever stitch I was doing and used this feature as a reminder of what the machine is set up to do currently when I turn it on again 6 months later.  If I know I used the machine for a 2-thread overlock last time, then I know I have to take off that little looper converter bypass cap thingy before I can do a 4-thread overlock, for instance. 

But I have just finally realized that I can EDIT the settings shown for each stitch on that screen, and the changes will be SAVED!  Eureka!!

Crazy Tension Settings Saved for Next Time
See?  It used to say 4.0, 4.0, and 4.0 for this stitch.  I remember in my serger mastery class so long ago that the instructor said these recommended settings are just a starting point, that each machine would be a little different even when they are the same make and model.  She had us write down in our workbooks what OUR machine's settings were for a few of the different stitches, but she did NOT show me that I could actually save that information in the machine itself.  I know there is a big button marked "EDIT" on the front of the machine, but when I pressed it in the past and nothing happened, I forgot about it.  You have to press Edit, then the button on the left marked CHANGE, then the right or left numbers to increase or decrease to the right number, and then to save it you have to push the bottom button marked SET.  I know this sounds obvious now, but I feel like I discovered a new continent or something.

Back to the blouse.  So, at 11 PM I finish with serging off the excess seam allowances from the altered princess seams, and restitching the back of the shirttail hem (poorly, by the way -- I could not get it nice and smooth like it was before).  And I try the blouse on, for the first time since I tried on an enormous oversized blouse in the store that fit like a smock.  And I am astounded and displeased to discover that the blouse is now VERY FITTED through the tummy and upper hip/tushy area.

Blouse Altered: Size 14 Shoulders and Bust, Size Snug at the Bottom
Ugh.  I was so not loving this.  Very matronly, I think, and it looked like a uniform to me, too -- like I should have a name tag pinned to my chest.  Not at all what I wanted, or what I was expecting.  There were other issues -- a hump in the upper back.  The seams needed to be taken in all the way from top to bottom, since I am not a hunch back. 

Side View Showing Upper Back Pouf
This upper back poufiness gets worse as I move around in the blouse, because the overfitted derriere rides up, like so:

The Hunchback of Charlotte, North Carolina
But at this point, I called it a fail.  Not worth spending more time trying to get this blouse to fit perfectly, now that I know that it is just not my style or not flattering on me or whatever.  I'm not going to wear it anyway.  I am NOT COMFORTABLE in tight-fitting clothes, period.  I don't like that I can see my belly button through the blouse, I'll bet it gets even tighter after I wash it the first time, even if it was cold water.  And that bright white cotton fabric would get stained and ruined the first time I made a cup of coffee (which is probably why I didn't have any white tops in my closet to begin with!),  Even the little sleeve cuffs, that seemed so cute in the store, are even annoying me now, reminding me of a '50s diner waitress outfit. 

Diner Waitress Cuffs
If I button the blouse all the way up, I look like a linebacker -- too broad across the chest and shoulders.  If I unbutton the top couple of buttons for more of a V-neck effect, I look like a diner waitress.  I am getting flashbacks of this teal waitress uniform that I wore in high school when I worked at the Burger Hop after school:

Burger Hop Uniform, Suspiciously Similar to WHBM Blouse
Just looking at this, I am flooded with memories of mopping floors, refilling ketchup bottles and rolling napkins late at night, and coming home smelling like greasy French fries.  Bottom line?  I just don't like the style of this blouse.  If I had seen that picture of the blouse on the model, and known how fitted it was supposed to be, I would never have bought it in the first place. 

So, what have I learned, besides how to achieve a balanced 3-thread overlock on my serger?  I have learned -- hopefully! -- to STOP BUYING THINGS THAT DON'T FIT ME.  And I have learned that, although the dress form is handy, I should have known better than to start sewing without tryin the blouse on my own body to see if I liked the way it was fitting.  My mom was right about the princess seams giving lots of opportunity for fitting adjustments, but really, this blouse was never going to be perfect on me.  The reason it's giving me hunch back is that it's still size 14 in the upper back/  If I want a tailored blouse that fits me, I'm going to have to make one myself using a smaller size pattern that fits me in the upper chest, shoulders and upper back, and doing a full bust adjustment to make extra room only where I need it.

I should have made a quilt block instead.


Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

It sounds like you have problems with finding a button down blouse to fit you that you knew you would need to make adjustments. I can never find a button down top to fit - it will tight across my back, sometimes tight in the hips - or way to loose in one area and too tight in another. Good thing I'm not a blouse person, I have found a couple timeless pieces to fit and keep hanging up when needed and a couple of men's flannel shirts for yard work and camping - but I can never find a woman's flannel shirt to fit me for the life of me. My upper back is wide and doesn't look it until you try to find a blouse that will fit.

Jenny K. Lyon said...

You write so well! I was giggling throughout the read. Not that I've ever done anything similar.... I hope you found something to wear to church!

shelleyjwilliams said...

Great Read! Recently I have been delving into garment sewing once again. A pattern maker Peggy Sagers has been on my radar. She makes patterns with A, B, C, and D cup size already altered. She also has a boatload of you tube videos and a PBS show. Simple to make a custom fit pattern in about 20 minutes--I know, I could not believe it either, but I have done it. I have no monitary interest in this company, but I had to share with you. I think, when you find something that works, share it! Anyway, the videos are free. PBS show is called Fit2Stitch, and the patterns are called Silhouettes Patterns. Hope this helps.

shelleyjwilliams said...

Great Read! Recently I have been delving into garment sewing once again. A pattern maker Peggy Sagers has been on my radar. She makes patterns with A, B, C, and D cup size already altered. She also has a boatload of you tube videos and a PBS show. Simple to make a custom fit pattern in about 20 minutes--I know, I could not believe it either, but I have done it. I have no monitary interest in this company, but I had to share with you. I think, when you find something that works, share it! Anyway, the videos are free. PBS show is called Fit2Stitch, and the patterns are called Silhouettes Patterns. Hope this helps.

SJSM said...

Been there, done that! What a frustrating experience! Button up blouses in RTW never fit me well. If you get the shoulders and upper chest to fit, the bust and hips don't. There is never enough fabric to make big alterations in a fitted RTW blouse. This is one of the reasons I sew. Whatever I do gets a better fit than off the rack in fitted blouses. T-shirts, knit tops not as big of a problem. You have a nice figure a well fitted blouse will look marvelousness on you and more than likely you would only need a FBA and perhaps a slight waist/hip grading between sizes. Good luck on the Sunday deadline. I'm guessing you are shopping for something with stretch at this point.

Janice Holton said...

Oh, you crack me up! It might be because I just wrote about a similar experience making a very simple mini quilt (or it should have been, anyway) with multiple mishaps along the way. I DEFINITELY learned a lot though! Rebecca, I love your writing style!

Pam said...

I bet it was not funny when you were going thru this whole process! Funny later in the telling. Looks like your mom is a lot of help-lucky you! I am sure you have found something by now. darn those darts and fitted seams!

greg @ grey dogwood studio said...

That was the funniest thing I've read all week! I had to try hard to not laugh and wake everybody up. I'm sure that it wasn't funny at all when you were actually sewing... but at least you got to learn something valuable about your serger. So it wasn't a waste after all! (oh, and I'm going to NYC very soon, and I have a ticket to see the hot musical, Waitress! I know that I'll see LOTS of those uniforms on stage, but the costume designer has altered them to make them look more "real.")

Kristin said...

"since I am not a hunch back"!!! Made me giggle! That was a lot of work for a blouse. I would have picked a knit t-shirt to wear and called it good.

Love your blog!