Selecting fabrics for Gemma

Orange Gemma Tank

Gemma tanks are a great summer staple, and we at MBR have been been putting ours into heavy rotation now that the weather’s warming up. Jess has easily made more Gemmas than I have, and I dare say has become a bit of an expert at selecting good fabrics for this pattern, to the point that I might even be a wee bit envious of hers (all I’m saying is she’s lucky she’s a size smaller than me otherwise they might start to disappear).

Orange Gemma Tank

Jess is general manager here at Made By Rae (she is in charge of wholesale, coordinates pattern testing, serves as project manager, and answers a ton of email), and she does a lot of sewing both for work and for fun. Jess made this particular Gemma tank with Robert Kaufman Manchester cotton in Poppy, a looser weave medium-weight cotton that has turned out to be a really comfortable Gemma.

The other day we were discussing this tank, and that led to a discussion about our favorite fabrics for Gemma, because ultimately the ones made with fabrics that are more comfortable will get worn, and the ones that aren’t, won’t. That seemed like a great topic to share on the blog, as I know many of you are also sewing Gemma tanks of your own (check out #gemmatank for some great examples).

Orange Gemma Tank

Fabric choice is one of the most important factors if you want to end up with a comfortable garment, especially when you are working with woven fabrics (knits are, by their nature, usually more comfortable to wear, but Gemma is designed for wovens). Here are a few things to consider when selecting fabric for Gemma:

  • a fabric with a looser weave tends to be more comfortable than tighter weave.
  • a fabric with a lighter weight tends to be more comfortable than heavier weight
  • a fabric with more drape tends to be more comfortable than fabric with less.

Every fabric has some degree of each of these characteristics (weave, weight, drape), as well as other characteristics that have less impact on comfort, but in general, I find these useful when choosing fabrics for Gemma.

Orange Gemma Tank

Here are some more fabrics to consider making your next Gemma out of:

double gauze – while it’s not super drapey, it’s fairly lightweight and has a very loose weave, to the point that you might even need to go down a size. Double gauze frays quite easily (so seam finishing is a must!), but the darts are easy to get to lay smoothly and it’s actually quite manageable to sew with, due to the stabilizing effect of the two layers. Manufacturers include Kokka, Andover, Monaluna, Cloud9, and Cotton and Steel.

shot cotton – also lightweight and with a looser weave but very little drape, this is a nice option if you can find it (as far as I know, Kaffe Fassett is the only one who designs shot cottons). I love the depth of solids due to the different colors in the warp and weft threads. Manufactured by Free Spirit.

cotton lawn / voile – lawn has the advantage of being widely available in many different prints due to an increased number of manufacturers producing it in recent years, and it is light weight. Be careful when using lawn for Gemma, however, as some of the lawns (looking at you, Cotton and Steel) are very tightly woven and less lightweight than others, and even have a bit of a silky sheen to them, making it less comfortable to wear and a more difficult to sew the dart smoothly without a noticeable pucker at the end. Manufacturers include Windham, Andover, Robert Kaufman, Liberty of London, Free Spirit (under “voile”), Cloud9, Monaluna, and Cotton and Steel.

chambray – most chambray is medium-weight, fairly tightly woven, and has very little drape, so in general I would avoid it for Gemma. However, the fabrics under the category “union chambray” produced by Robert Kaufman have become popular in recent years because they are lighter, drapier, and even have a bit of stretch to them. Manufactured by Robert Kaufman

rayon / rayon challis – a synthetic fiber that drapes beautifully, the quality will determine how easy it is to sew with, but one thing to consider (and one that I need to do more research on, frankly) is that rayon production can be pretty horrid for the environment; rayon tencel is the most eco-friendly rayon. Manufacturers include Free Spirit and Cotton and Steel.

batiste – in the past year Cloud9 (the organic fabric company that produces my fabric designs), has begun producing a fabric on a new “batiste” substrate for them; it’s loose-weave and light, so it’s almost a single gauze, but it’s less sheer than gauze. The prints they’ve released so far on batiste are quite lovely; however, it’s best to choose prints with darker backgrounds if you use this fabric for Gemma as they are still pretty sheer.  Manufactured by Cloud9.

Orange Gemma Tank

And now, a note about quilting cotton (dum dum DUMMMMMM): It’s not a great fabric for Gemma (or garments in general, really). I know…there are so many awesome prints, but it’s not going to be as comfortable to wear as the fabrics listed above. Even the quilting cottons that are lighter weight (like the one I made with Alison Glass’ Handcrafted fabric) end up looking great on the hanger but not so great to wear. I’d recommend QC for making a wearable muslin, but that’s pretty much it. Sorry.

Orange Gemma Tank

Do you have a favorite fabric for Gemma? Let us know in comments! You might also want to check out this post: My top five fabrics for clothing.

The Gemma Sewing Pattern is available as a PDF in my shop.

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Starry Sky Skirt – Making Magazine no. 3

Starry Sky Skirt

I am so honored to have been asked to contribute to Making magazine’s third issue, Dots, which is out this spring. For those of you not familiar with Making, it’s a themed print magazine that includes sewing, knitting, handwork, and all sorts of other craft-related articles, patterns, and tutorials all compiled in the most beautiful layout. The magazine is the work of Carrie Bostick Hoge of Madder, who serves as both its editor, designer, and chief photographer. This issue’s theme is “Dots;” issues one and two are Flora and Fauna. All are visually stunning.  I love how Making brings together so many areas of of craft together; there are tons of patterns and tutorials alongside articles that include recipes and interviews and stories about makers in such an artistic format.

Making magazine no. 3 dots

Starry Sky Skirt for Making Mag

photo above by Carrie Bostick Hoge / @maddermade

I first became familiar with Carrie’s work through Quince and Co, one of my favorite yarn companies. Carrie designed a number of knitting patterns for Quince that are available in the Quince shop that I’ve admired and purchased over the years. I was so honored to be asked to contribute alongside of so many other talented artists and makers. My friend Anna Graham blogged here about the wallet pattern that she contributed for the issue.

Starry Sky Skirt for Making Mag

photo by Carrie Bostick Hoge / @maddermade

Starry Sky skirt
The project I contributed to the magazine is a tutorial for a simple gathered skirt called the Starry Sky Skirt. A simple gathered skirt is — as my friend Erin said recently when she posted one on Instagram — the “gateway drug to the sewing world,” and it’s certainly a lovely thing to throw together two rectangles of fabric and add a waistband. But although I’m certain many people have written tutorials for the basic gathered skirt before, something I felt was still missing was specific length and width dimensions for gathered skirts for a broader range of humans; not only children’s sizes but also all the way up to adult sizes (including plus). The pattern includes dimensions all the way from a children’s size 1 (12 months) all the way through the nine women’s sizes my patterns currently span, which is to say, from a waist size of 19″ to 45.” The skirt is designed to hit roughly at the knee, and has length built into the hem for extra adjustability and height differences. I love having these dimensions at arm’s length; it takes the guesswork out of making a quick skirt for me, which means it’s an even easier project to whip out in an hour or so, and of course I’ve provided step by step instructions to help even the beginner tackle this project. If you have the magazine I hope you’ll find this useful for making piles of simple skirts for yourself and little ones!

Starry Sky Skirt

The fabric
When Carrie first told me the theme was Dots and shared her inspiration board with me, I was inspired to create a skirt out of dark fabric with lighter dots scattered over it like a starry sky. Initially I thought I might try to figure out a way to stamp a solid blue fabric to get the desired effect, but when Carrie mentioned she had two double gauze fabrics that might work already in her stash, I was really excited. The fabric she sent for me to make the women’s skirt is a now out-of-print Nani Iro double gauze, and it’s absolutely gorgeous, don’t you think? I’ve already received a number of emails asking where to find this fabric, and regrettably I don’t think this particular print is available any longer, but I do recommend checking out Jones and Vandermeer, Miss Matatabi, and Red Beauty Textiles if you want something similar. All of those shops are places that carry a nice selection of Nani Iro and I’ve purchased from all three of them in the past.

Starry Sky Skirt for Making Mag

photo by Carrie Bostick Hoge / @maddermade

I also love the reversible dotted double gauze (above) that Carrie sent; I was able to make two children’s skirts for the shoot, one with the blue on the outside and one with the white (below) on the outside. They made an adorable pair (see top photo).

Starry Sky Skirt for Making Mag

photo by Carrie Bostick Hoge / @maddermade

Making Magazine issue 3 is now available online from the Making shop, as well as many other local yarn and fabric shops. Here in Ann Arbor you can pick up a copy at Spun in Kerrytown.

Fancy Dress for Clementine

Clementine's Pink Daisy Bow Dress

Clementine (the other day): “Mom, I’m not a Fancy Girl.”

Me: “What’s a Fancy Girl?”

C: “Well, you know, there are some girls at school who always wear the fancy clothes, like dresses with tights, and fancy shoes, and they like pink and purple and stuff?”

Me (in my head): “There are kids who go to elementary school in tights?

Me (outloud): “Oh, right. So that’s not you? What kind of girl are you then?”

C: “Well, I’m like, a Cool Girl.”

Me: “Ahhh. What’s a Cool Girl?”

C: “Well, you know how I like video games? And I like blue and aqua and other colors, not just pink and purple?”

Me: “Yeah. I love that about you.”

C: “So, that’s like, a Cool Girl. You know that pink dress you made me for Easter, with the bow and the flowers?”

Me: “Yeah?”

C: “That’s what a Fancy Girl wears.”

Me (laughing): “OK. Got it. Wait! There are blue flowers on it??”

C: (rolls eyes)

Clementine's Pink Daisy Bow Dress

Yes, it’s pink and it’s pretty fancy, but she wore it for Easter, and even though she likes blue better, I happen to know she still wears a lot of pink. So I’m not going to write this dress off yet. But even if she never wears it again, I pretty much died of cute when she put it on the first time and danced around like a fairy. I’ll just hold that memory in my heart while I sew her a pair of blue skater punk shorts this summer, right?

Clementine's Pink Daisy Bow Dress

Clementine's Pink Daisy Bow Dress

Clementine's Pink Daisy Bow Dress

Clementine's Pink Daisy Bow Dress

But she’s definitely less “this:”

Clementine's Geranium with Bow

And more “this:”

Clementine's Geranium with Bow

My weird little monster.

Clementine's Geranium with Bow

Fabric: Cotton lawn by Cotton + Steel, designed by Melody Miller

Patterns: Geranium Dress + Geranium Expansion Pack (zipper, bow, and gathered elbow-length sleeve). I used the selvage-to-selvage width of this fabric for the skirt, resulting in a fuller skirt.

PS. This dress gave me a chance to try putting the zipper together with the sleeves (these are the gathered elbow-length sleeves) from the Geranium Expansion Pack. I was v. pleased at how this turned out; I’ve never been a big zipper fan — quick and easy is my personal sewing motto, and surprise! zippers don’t usually fall under that category — but I’m really in love with how this looks. More info on the zipper can be found in the GXP zipper post.

Geranium Expansion Pack: Tester Versions

I want to share some great photos with you today from my awesome Geranium Expansion Pack testers! When these photos starting rolling into my inbox a few weeks ago, I got even more excited about this pattern. Seeing these great combos of the different expansion pack (or “GXP”) elements is so fun, and I hope they’ll give you some great ideas for your own Geranium variations!

Made By Rae Geranium Expansion Pack - tester roundup

During our #lovemygeranium contest back in March, Mackenzie posted a few adorable dresses that I was completely smitten with, so when it came time to test out the expansion pack, I asked if she would be willing to try it out. Here’s Mackenzie’s little one in her long-sleeved Geranium. See more on her Instagram: @mackenziesasser.

Made By Rae Geranium Expansion Pack - tester roundup

Erin at Hungie Gungie chose the short fitted sleeve and added a contrast neck bow to Coco’s Geranium. Read more about it over on Erin’s blog!

Made By Rae Geranium Expansion Pack

I love the combination of the floral print bow with the lightweight white Swiss dot. So dreamy!

Made By Rae Geranium Expansion Pack

Natalie at Hungry Hippie Sews chose the long gathered sleeve for her tester version. She later added a sash, which you can see in her blog post.

Made By Rae Geranium Expansion Pack - tester roundup

I love this girl’s style. Mix and matching that print, dots, and stripes. Perfect!

Made By Rae Geranium Expansion Pack - tester roundup

Lindsay posted a whole bunch of gorgeous photos of both her girls in their GXPs on Instagram. You can follow Lindsay on Instagram at @lindsayinstitches. Both these dresses have fitted sleeves, and the floral one features the bodice extension.

Made By Rae Geranium Expansion Pack - tester roundup

A lovely back view of the bodice extension with buttons:

Made By Rae Geranium Expansion Pack - tester roundup

This pout just slays me. And look at this adorable seersucker with the keyhole neckline!

Made By Rae Geranium Expansion Pack - tester roundup

Jess over at Craftiness is not Optional put a neck bow on Ava’s dress, and used the 3/4-length fitted sleeve shortened to elbow length. Check out her blog post for more details!

Made By Rae Geranium Expansion Pack - tester roundup

Made By Rae Geranium Expansion Pack - tester roundup

I love to see what people start doing with a new pattern, and now that the Geranium Expansion Pack is out in the world, I can’t wait to see what you make! Use the tags #geraniumxp and #geraniumdress so we can see your posts!

Need a copy of the pattern? It’s in my shop!

Geranium Expansion Pack: the zipper

made by rae GXP zipper

For our final installment of the Geranium Expansion Pack element series, I want to introduce you to the element I’m perhaps most proud of: the zipper. The zipper is the most difficult element in the expansion pack, technique-wise, so I debated initially whether to include it at all, but in the end I really loved how the zipper looks in the back and how it eliminates the need to sew buttonholes, something I know some people find difficult.

Geranium XP - zipper

My goal was to write the zipper section so that someone who had never sewn a zipper before could do it without tears or swears (not sure if I got there; you’ll have to let me know if you try!). I worked very hard to make this set of instructions as detailed yet clear as I possibly could. I experimented with a few different ways of attaching it before settling on this approach (there are definitely other ways to add a zipper with a lining), so I hope you’ll find this to be a great way to add your first zipper!

Geranium XP - zipper

This technique involves using a standard coil zipper (though I also wanted it to work with an invisible zipper, which it does) and sandwiching the zipper between the lining and the bodice, as you can see in the photo above. The result is a rather lovely inside finish.

Geranium Expansion Pack - collar + zipper

Geranium Expansion Pack - collar + zipper

Geranium Expansion Pack - collar + zipper

The zipper is the only element in the expansion pack that re-orders the steps of the original pattern (instead of: shoulders/lining/side seams/skirt/hems, the order for the zipper is: shoulders/skirts/zipper/lining/side seams/hems). For this reason, I’d recommend that confident beginners try other elements in the expansion pack first before tackling the zipper. Additionally, adding the fitted or gathered sleeves makes the construction a bit more intense, but never fear!! If you follow the instructions carefully, they tell you exactly what to do and when, whether you’re adding sleeves, a collar, or a neck bow to a zippered dress. The expansion pack is very much like a “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” book, truth be told.

Evidence that the sleeves and the zipper can indeed be added to the same dress:

Geranium XP - zipper

We added the zipper to the rose-colored dress for the cover shoot, which had the extended bodice, so you could see that it also works with the longer bodice. This means using a slightly longer zipper, and the longer lengths are provided in the zipper chart along with the zipper lengths needed for the original bodice.

Geranium Expansion Pack sewing pattern

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of all of the elements that make up the Geranium Expansion Pack! You can visit the Geranium Expansion Pack Page to see all blog posts related to this pattern!

Buy Now: Geranium Expansion Pack