Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Epic Fail: Ladybug Lab Coat

Paging Dr Dotty! Dr Dotty, your patient's taste level is hanging by a thread!
It may be fatal.

Oh, dear. It seemed like a good idea and yet it went so wrong. Worst of all? The loss of some great fabric and almost my entire sewcation.

Oh well. Live and learn. I share my story in that spirit.


Our Story Begins...

Do you remember last May when Margy and I were participating in a sew-along using a gorgeous black and red Japanese brocade? Margy made a wonderful denim-style jacket with her fabric.

(I might resent her if she weren't so darned wonderful.)

Actually, I didn't complete that particular challenge. I just could not decide on a pattern for the interesting fabric and I didn't want to make something I wasn't excited about. I wanted to mix my fabric with solid black, but I just could not settle on a design, despite making muslins of three different patterns - I wasn't happy with any of them.

I knew I would get back to this fabric eventually. It was too nice to let it marinate in the stash forever.


My inspiration for the final jacket came from Nancy M, a friend of Marcy's who helps out in her booth at the sewing Expo in Puyallup, Washington. (If you don't know, the Expo at Puyallup - pronounced "pew all* up" - happens every March, and is billed as the biggest sewing expo in the U.S. I hope to make it there one of these days, but probably not until both kids are through college.)

I've never met Nancy in person, having never been to Puyallup, but I have seen some of the wonderfully creative clothing she has made on Marcy's website and Facebook page.

For last year's Expo, Nancy made an unlined linen jacket with circles in different sizes and using several neutral colors. (I thought I had a picture of it, but I can't find it.) She used the OOP Sewing Workshop Mission jacket pattern and her circles were edged in bias strips. It was wonderful and very lagenlook.

For my version, I used a color palette of red and black, a Butterick blouse pattern, and Marcy's Holey Moley technique to create the inset circles, so the resulting effect is quite different. Then, while working on my jacket, I saw a Kate Spade coat with a similar motif, which encouraged me to forge ahead and be even more bold with my own design:

It was after seeing this coat that I grabbed my salad plate to make even larger circles.

Mine, unlike Nancy's, is not wonderful.

Fabrics Used

As I mentioned, Margy first found the beautiful red Japanese brocade with black dots on the Gorgeous Fabrics site. It is very 3-dimensional and you can use either side, to a slightly different effect. The fabric has a sprongi-ness to it. But I found that with the judicious use of steam and a clapper, that it behaved very well.

Last winter I also purchased a very fun fabric from Marcy, called Captain Midnight Black Italian Knit. This double-sided fabric consists of one layer of wool knit and one layer of cotton knit. When you throw it into the washer and dryer the wool shrinks, but the cotton not so much, turning the once-smooth fabric into a riot of wrinkles:

I washed and dried my yardage fairly aggressively and it shrank like crazy. I had only purchased 2 yards to begin with, and the resulting yardage wasn't big enough for a garment on it's own. I didn't mind because I knew it would be great paired with another fabric. I had the idea of using it for the inset circles on my red brocade jacket. I wasn't sure how well the stretchy black fabric would work with the sproingy red brocade, but I think it works quite well.

In addition to the inset circles and the semicircular pockets, I also used the puckered black knit for the standing collar and at the sleeve hems.

The final ingredients for my jacket stew: a wonderful black silk charmeuse that came pre-fused with interfacing from FabricMart, black textured buttons from Stone Mountain, and Pam Erny's fusible interfacing.

Interfacing the hem.

Grade A ingredients. Nothing but the best. sigh

Alterations and Modifications

I am not sure why I used this pattern for this jacket. I do know that I bought Butterick 5526 because Margy had used it very successfully to make several tops. That's fine, but why I decided it was right for a lined jacket... I can't remember the thought process and it now baffles me.

As you might expect, I had to make loads of modifications. I'm not sure I can even remember all of them:

  • Started with View C, and straightened the hem.
  • Lowered the bottom of the armscye, which was fairly high, by about 5/8".
  • Narrowed the shoulder. I can't remember by how much.
  • Added a bust dart.
  • Removed about 4" from the side seams, beginning below the bust and continuing down to the hem.
  • Lowered the neckline (which was very high) by 5/8".
  • Omitted the collar and re-shaped the collar stand. I squared it off and made it a bit taller. Also, I had to widen it to accommodate the increased neckline.
  • Drafted facings.
  • Drafted a lining.
  • Added semicircular side seam pockets.
  • Cut out a number of holes and inset circles of contrast fabric.

Mistake Alert: I did not make a muslin. Oh, the hubris! The unbridled vanity!

Inset Circle Technique

I learned this great technique (which I have used before), called Holey Moley, from Marcy's Inspiration Paris CD. I had to modify it slightly, to accommodate the sproingy woven brocade and the extra large circles, by basting the seam allowances of each hole. It slowed me down a bit but I was very happy with the result.

My circles are a variety of sizes. I used a salad plate and saucer from my dish set, as well as a roll of duct tape, a mug, a teacup, and a candle, to create the various circles.

I spent what felt like hours playing with the placement of the holes. This was definitely the most challenging aspect of the project. I cut "audition" circles out of black ponte scraps. I would pin on the circles, try on the jacket, which was sewn only at the shoulders, and tweak the circles (their size, number, and position), endlessly. I took many cell-phone-in-the-mirror pictures to see how it looked. (It would have helped a lot to have a dress form for this part of the process.)

Eventually I would get one circle in a position that seemed right. I would cut out the hole, and sew in the shrinky dink fabric. I would then move on to tweak the next circle. Repeat ad infinitum.

It was during this process that I alternated between loving the project, hating the project, and feeling complete ambivalence. I eliminated circles, I changed the size of the circles, I added circles back. In fact, when I had only one circle sewn, I threw the whole thing into a corner and let it sit for weeks. I despaired of finishing it.

When I picked it up again after Christmas, I had trouble remembering what pattern I used. I had also lost a bit of weight in the interim and had to take several inches off the side seams.

I forced myself back to it, because I thought if I didn't work on it over my Christmas break, I probably would never complete it.

(In hindsight, maybe not such a bad thing.)

Semicircular Pockets

I wanted to keep the circular motif going with semicircular pockets in the side seams. I quickly drafted up a pocket using a saucer for the semicircle. I used a piece of lining to create the semicircular hole and the shrinky dink fabric for the part of the pocket that is exposed.

Side seam pocket, before basting was removed.

Epic Fail

So, where, you might ask, did I go wrong? I can only partly answer that question. Not being more alert to the problems in the pattern draft is a big one. I noticed, the first time I tried on the jacket with a sleeve pinned in, that it didn't fit quite right - there were lots of drag lines in the sleeve. But it didn't really register in my brain what was going on. Later I realized what the problem was. Look at this picture of the sleeve:

Note the shape of the sleeve cap. There is a very slight curve. This is fine if you are dealing with a dropped sleeve, but this is a set-in sleeve and you need more of a rise in the shape of the curve. This is what caused the drag lines in the finished sleeve:

Furthermore, the fit just feels "off" through the shoulder/upper chest area. I noticed things weren't right when I tried it on, but I was too busy being distracted by the creative aspects of the project.

In truth, I can't blame all of Dotty's problems on the atrocious sleeve draft. I think it would have been more effective if I had made the jacket shorter. But, for some inexplicable reason, I wanted a longer jacket.

This was just one of those times when my idea just didn't pan out.

It happens.

To be honest, I'm not all that bummed out. I wish it had been successful, but oh well. I immediately dived into the flannel lined pants, which you've already seen. I'm not completely sure what is next on my plate, but I have ideas. And fabric.

I am a bit bummed that my sewcation is over and it's back to the salt mines. And I have so little to show for it.

Ta Da!!!



  1. We've all had great plans that didn't materialize as visualized even after all the planning and execution. Could you save this by adding godets in the side seams making it a swing jacket? Inserting underarm gussets would help the sleeve tightness and fit.

    1. Thanks, Terri. Godets wouldn't help as there needs to be more fabric at the sleeve cap. Also, Swing jackets look atrocious on this busty lady. But thanks for the good thoughts!

  2. Oh gosh. This may be one of those projects that could benefit from the "more is more" approach - Big flowy ruffles down the front? If you can stand to work on it even more....I would let it simmer in the closet awhile & see what happens..... I like Terri's thoughts as well.

    That said, I love the pockets and the use of the shrinky dink fabric! I still haven't figured out what to do with mine, and like you, I only bought 2 yards. And thank you for the detailed circle technique!

    I'm glad you at least got great pants from your sewcation :)

    1. LOLOL. Big flowy ruffles, that's the ticket!

      I should add, the sleeves are not too tight on me. They just need more fabric at the top of the cap. Imaging pulling down on the sleeve hem to remove the wrinkles - it would open up the top of the cap, if it could.

      Yes, the magic closet may help. But I doubt it. ;)

  3. Oh Shams...I'm sorry this didn't work out for you. I think it looks pretty good from the bust point down, but you are right...the fit, or the style or something is off in the shoulder and sleeve. I think the pockets are great, and I love the way the inset shrinky dink fabric looks in the red. Can you save the good stuff (show off those inset circles and pockets) and make a bag?

  4. It was a good idea actually..

    I bought a fairly large thick jersey remnant recently, that had circular holes in it (someone had cut them out i.e. it wasn't 'special fabric') hoping I could use the spaces in between-but they're too narrow so I was going to sew some circles of another colour into the holes and see how I went.. will do that and ping this post when done XD

  5. What a blow, but I look at the jacket and LOVE IT! I understand your feelings about the uncomfortable fit in the upper sleeve (I have terrible troubles in the neck/shoulder/upper chest area myself). Could you undo the sleeve head, try on, letting the sleeve drop to where it wants, and add some black shrinky dink to the sleeve head, shaping the base to a half-circle shape in keeping with the rest of the jacket? The jacket is so worth saving IMHO.

  6. Oh it's not so bad, really it's not. The insets are perfect. Dr. No you aren't.

  7. Put this aside for now. I think you will be able in time to bring it back in another garment. So all may not be lost. That sleeve is peculiar. It is a dropped sleeve. I wonder if the wrong sleeve was added to this pattern

  8. Oh, what a pity after all that creative effort! Can't remember the last time you didn't love one of your outstanding designs.
    Don't know if you have this saying, but it could always become a 'car-coat' - stays in the car for emergency cold snaps, or one to lend to others, and then they just admire and gush praises all over your creativeness...

  9. I agree with PamelaartsinSe, Looks great to me. But you are the on that has to wear it.

  10. This was an epic leaning curve and although is not wearable for u it show how clever on techniques you are...

  11. Oh Shams - it is really not an epic fail. I can see how it does not live up to your expectations, and your normally awesome creations - but it really is not an epic fail. I think if you let it marinate a while in the closet you may find a way to salvage it. Maybe a vest/tunic sort of thing? Maybe a bit more detailing? More insets, or maybe some other element. You are so creative I know you will get inspired to make something beautiful out of this garment. In the meantime - onward! And Happy New Year!

  12. A dirge for sorry you spent your precious sewcation on something you're not happy with. I think you will find a way to "save" Dotty...the fabric combo and the circles are just too cool. You are a creative risk-taker, my friend, more so than most of us, and I for one am very impressed!

  13. Do you ever wear tunic/vest type garments? Might that be a possibility? (Remove those troubled sleeves). I like the way the body of the coat looks on you and your workmanship is just wonderful.

  14. Shams, ordinarily I don't comment here because your eye is so much wiser than mine - but here is what I see.

    I think it would be fine to have the jacket be shorter - to shave an inch or two off the bottom edges of the two southernmost circles. This would also make them less - um - round. Less repetitive in shape.

    I'm not feeling the love with the black buttons. Too sedate.

    I've seen custom athletic wear with a contrast-color inset at the sleeve head. That might be a way to play with your sleeve problem.

    Thanks, thanks, thanks for all your sharing!

    Bloomington, Indiana

  15. I understand. I had a similar experience, wherein a well-crafted project became a well-crafted wadder. I seem to learn these lessons the hard way.

  16. "...and I have so little to show for it."

    Education never shows on the outside, does it? But it can make a tremendous difference in our lives. You still have a discerning eye, abundant talent and skill, and an enviable stash. This blip doesn't change that. Your stash includes some black knit with large holes in it, doesn't it? Why that popped into my head I don't know. There is a quilt artist who inspires people who have boring quilt blocks to slash through them, rearrange them, join them to unexpected partner fabrics, and the results are often exciting!

    That being said, I've had my share of wadders. If it distresses you to have it around, I say donate it, but give it a chance first to redeem itself.

  17. I hold out hope that you'll find the answer to saving poor Dotty! I like the insert more fabric at the sleeve head idea myself.

    And you're not quite right - it's "pew-AL-up". I'm hoping to make it down this year. Hope. Hope. See? I'm nothing if not full of hope! LOL!

  18. Those circles are a good idea. Koos new coat has circles down the front. I wonder if you have any black fabric left--just a little bit? If so, you could remove the sleeve, add the black at the cap, making it a half circle coming down onto the sleeve and it would look intentional. I think this is worth saving, if you can.

  19. Shams, this is a nice jacket, and worth saving, imo, if you are not too tired of it to try. Other changes to consider: random red embroidery lines across the circles, or red and metalic. Shorten the jacket, or visually shorten it, while lengthening it with a black band. (On the Kate Spade jacket, many of the circles are interrupted.) PS, I too love the lined jeans, very attractive AND useful!

  20. Honestly, it doesn't look bad in the photos. I hope you can apply this concept to another garment, because you're off to a good start. Here's hoping "son of Dotty" will be a raging success!

  21. Perhaps a remedy is to fill in the larger dots using smaller circles of your design fabric. But I quite like it as is.

  22. Shams, I read a few of the comments, and like some others, I really feel like you can remake this into something you feel good about. You put so much into it, such cool techniques! I love the pockets. Love the idea of a bag, or incorporating pieces of it into another garment. To the magic closet, yes?

  23. And don't forget: your Style Arc Grace coat is absolute sheer perfection!

  24. I completely agree that time, the magic closet, and some minor alterations can fix this, and it's worth it. I'd make it shorter, trim the tops of the sleeves with black, and maybe trim the bottom of the body with black to match the cuffs--you could mock that up and see if it sings to you.

  25. Bummer. I feel your pain.

    Set it aside for a while and perhaps you can think of a way to save it later. Or ship it out to the world to be someone else's problem.

  26. I agree that a little marinating may turn this into a great piece, and that the suggestions are worth exploring: sleeveless with some of the black in a crescent around the upper part of the armholes, or with the sleeves removed and reattached with the black shaped in a section of circle to give you what you need at the cap. I think the idea of shortening it, with the lower circles interrupted is worth exploring too.

    It has so many wonderful elements--and I think still has epic potential once you can stand to mess around with it again.

    I'm always inspired by your creativity and push to expand limits.


  27. Well, you are probably just over it!. looks fine. What about a black scarf to break it up. For me the worst thing is you have it so buttoned up to your chin and I don't think that suits you. It is a beautiful piece of art but IMHO styled incorrectly for you. Try it unbuttoned, try a scarf - perhaps in a more flattering shade of red for you (or a contrast or black). Don't give up, you have created a masterpiece. PS, nobody else in the world will notice the sleeve heads :)

  28. I'm glad that you have a positive perspective on this! It's so easy to get bummed out when time and supplies seem wasted. However, I agree with others who suggest that this project deserves a second look, maybe after a few judicious weeks in the closet. I hope then you'll see what I see- a creative success.

  29. Epic fails are just learning experiences. Been there, done that. Why I haven't sewed much in over a year. Because learning experiences SUCK! I feel your pain. And this was SUCH a great one! All those circles! So YOU! and it didn't fit right. BOO. - Heather

  30. I love the concept and the the Kate Spade coat is just to die for. Could you add some black fabric to the sleeve head to keep with the colour theme while increasing the size of the sleeve head (similar to the Kate Spade coat).

  31. Your technique is truly impressive! It's a shame that the final result just doesn't feel quite right. I agree with other commentors, a little time in the "magic closet" might help. Perhaps with a break, and a little tweaking, it could be turned into something that you like.
    Happy 2013!

  32. You know, it doesn't scream fail to me. I think worn open, ruffly blouse, perhaps a little have an intriguing pop piece-

  33. I think it looks great. But only you knows what feels right on you. Thanks for all the details.

  34. Love the jacket and the techniques, but I can see why you are hating the sleeves. I agree with another commenter--how about making it into a vest to wear with a black top? Maybe the neckline could become more open? But heck, it sounds like you'd most enjoy putting it aside and not thinking about it anymore right now. The smoothness of those inset circle is a thing of beauty.

  35. I immediately thought of Pam's suggestion to undo the sleeve head and add in some shrinky dink, making it another dot. That could solve the sleeve problem. I would also change the buttons, not sure to what, but these don't work for some reason. You have done great creative work here and this is definitely worth revisiting after a slight marination. After having made those changes, maybe shorten it a bit. I think what I like about the original is the bigness of the dots but I like things really graphic. I know you will make this work, even if that means turning this fabulous fabric into a Koos bag at some point.

    Love that fabulous shrinky dink fabric.

  36. I love the look of it in your photo, but completely understand your feelings about the project. I've been in those shoes and hate being so disappointed in a project. Consider it a learning experience (sometimes I just hate those so much--humph, learning--- when I really wanted a fabulous garment!)

  37. Oh Shams, That was so much work! It's nice to know that even you have failures. All of your creations are so funky and wonderful. I agree with idea of making into a shorter vest and different buttons. I too spent hours on 2 Muslims over the weekend. Luckily I didn't cut my good fabric , so I guess I am learning something. The project is in the drawer for a long time.Good luck.

  38. Don't abandon this--it has so many wonderful aspects! Put it away for a while and then have another look. I think you might save it by shortening it. Just cut right through those circles. Is the pocket only on one side? Could the overlap side be slightly longer than the underlap side, with a curvy hem? Could be back be shorter, and gently curved? I do love those inset circles, don't regret your bold use of them. The sleeves are a design opportunity--if you removed them, could you piece in some fabric (think Diane Ericson here) and make them roomier? Maybe the inset could be enhanced with a wavy line of piping.

  39. I'm sorry Dotty didn't work out for you. It looks beautiful, but I know how it feels when something just doesn't fit right on your body. I think the techniques you used are fantastic -- the pockets are so cool and the circles are perfect. Perhaps you and Dotty might reunite in the future!

  40. This jacket is adorable even if it doesn't fit as you'd like it to. Can't you just wear it unbuttoned? It would feel better and no one would ever notice. ( My idea of "making it work" ).

  41. Thanks for your honesty and incredibly well-written post despite your disappointment. You've set the bar high. Know you return to the salt mines with a lot of creative sympathy for your epic. You've already learned a lot and have all these rich comments. This makes me think of Dylan's- to live outside the law you must be honest.

    Let your project have a winter hibernation. After that, I have ideas about subtraction editing. However, if you're truly done, cut it apart and reincarnate your really great fabric. I'm sure you can breathe an entirely new and different life into your yardage. Funny, your blog background is dots; for a high-wire act Shams you are so consistently spot on!

  42. Did I read that right, that you made a jacket starting from a blouse pattern? I think that would cause a lot of trouble. The fabric and the idea are so fun and attractive. My suggestion to save this project is to turn it into a sleeveless jacket. I think if you remove the sleeves and widen the armhole a bit, perhaps create a drawstring at the waist then you can wear it with an interesting black top and still get the circle effect. I think it would make a great layering piece. Also what makes the inspiration piece interesting are the circles that overlap the seams/front. Perhaps you can create another circle in this manner? Or too much work? I like the color on you and think you should try to rework to make it something you will wear. But let's say this is your oops for 2013 and you can only go up from here :)

  43. I agree with others: not a fail but a challenge for later, after it's had time to travel through your creative subconscious. So, put it away and forget about it until it calls you.
    Congrats for mastering the circle business. I apparently have a mental block against understanding it.
    BTW, I love the jacket.

  44. Whew...that was a lot of work. Sorry it didn't turn out like you'd envisioned. I do love the idea, and that Kate Spade coat is to die for! Kudos to you for giving it a try...maybe one day I'll have to skills and the gumption to go for it, too :)

    Always a learning no project is ever truly wasted :)

  45. Thank you for taking the time to photograph and explain all the process of making this. I´m so sorry you are not happy with it, and I don´t have the experience or knowlegde for being of any help here. But I do like it. I see it as a mix of russian and spanish. The russian side is the shape, collar and the black fabric, and the spanish side are the black and red colours and the dots...
    In case you are wondering, no, I haven´t been drinking :D

  46. It still looks fantastic. You are such a wonderful seamstress....and way too hard on yourself! 8-)

    I so enjoy your blog...and sew when I get out of the cattle barn!

  47. I think this piece is flat out fantastic plus it looks really great on you! Like others have said, tweaking the styling may help - that buttoned up to the chin look is flattering on very few people, on those of us blessed with bust &/or shoulders it's even less successful. (remember your proportion post of early last december?) I say try wearing it open with a scarf worn loose and long, scrunch the sleeves, and wear a skinny pant.

    But maybe first take a little time off - some projects become so fraught i know i need 'space' to let things cool down before i can view things with a better perspective. aw, shams, if you haven't just sat down and bawled over a project at some point or another, i say you haven't really sewn!! ;)

    re: sleeve head fit, I didn't get if it's an 'every time i look at it all i can see are those drag lines and i can't stand thinking about it' thing or if it's a 'doing the hootchey-kootchey every fifteen seconds since the shoulders of this jacket are crawling all over due to the skeevy fit' type of thing? your answer of course will effect how you would decide to 'fix' this piece, if at all. Very very very few people will notice a couple of drag lines, especially if you're moving around and not standing stock still with your arms hanging at your sides ;)

    is the top right look on this page your Nancy Murakami inspiration?

    of course, i'm a massive Nancy fan-fiend as well! i've had my eye on that 'circle' jacket of hers, too, just haven't come across the appropriate materials and etc.

    Hang in there! & if this is the best you can come up with for an 'epic fail', well........there's no hope for me, is all i can say! steph

  48. Great fabrics superb workmanship too. However, if you're not happy with it, you might try photocopying your images and going back into it with a pen, eg draw on a few more spots in a smaller size to tie up the spaces between the bigger ones. Once you start doodling you might come up with the masterstroke that provides the missing ingredient and you'll have a superfabulous jacket instead of a merely fabulous one !!!!! X X X Maggie.

  49. We have all been here! Thank you for turning your disappointment into such a witty read. I, too, am off to the mine on Monday but I am not even half way through my latest project so at least you can say you finished.

  50. Seeing as that sleeve looks like is is the same width from top to bottom, I would take it off, re-cut the cap you wanted adding some height and then as the sleeve itself would be shorter on your arm, make the cuffs longer and more a feature to flip up or down. A 3/4 sleeve is no bad thing either. I think the whole idea and all the things you did to make it wonderful were superb! These ideas are what keep us up at night aren't they? Go Go Ladybug!

  51. You think it's an epic fail, I think it's an epic success! I love it!!! I can't sew anywhere near a good as you do, so I hate to suggest anything. That beng said, what about...taking out the sleeves and adding a cap to the top of them as a black circles? Like on one side use a half circle and on the other side a quarter of a they intentionally wouldn't match...a designer's touch??? You would have to cut away more of the existing sleeve cap, but then adding it back in as a circle???

  52. I'm so sorry you are not happy with it; of course many many people would consider completing a complicated project like this garment an epic WIN!! You set your own standards very high! Personally I love all those dots with a passion! The fabrics are just wonderful.

  53. I agree with the suggestions to add to the sleeve cap and also to wear the coat unbuttoned. You're too free a spirit to be buttoned up all the way to the neckline, IMO. Perhaps unbuttoning it and adding the scarf as suggested will be all you need to feel comfortable as you wear it and you won't have to fiddle with the sleeve caps. I love the coat. I love the length of the coat. I want it to live! :)

  54. I like the jacket- at least in the pics it looks good! I'm sorry the sewcation didn't pan out as you wanted- but still impressed with your sewing skills!

  55. Add an underarm gusset. I have done that in the past and improved the fit of a poorly designed sleeve pattern.


  56. Shams, the Burdastyle Illusion jacket may be an inspiration.

    You could take off the sleeves (or most of them)and use black knit or leather to add sleeves back on.

    I also think losing the black buttons (stay more monochromatic in your closure?) and wearing the coat unbuttoned could be a nicer look.
    Lisa of BABES

  57. Α websіtе called TheDiг poѕted
    blaсk-and-ωhite phοtоs pulled fгom the MуЅpacе account,
    iѕ evеn moгe ԁramа to Нogan аnd Beеfсаke took a lot of talking аs
    of late. Anѕωer as to why рrοfeѕsional wreѕtling back іn 1993,
    has still beеn able to fullу forgivе myѕelf for this.
    Hοgan's Grill may not have the name or brand recognition of the VH1 reality TV is Hulk Hogan.
    My web page manolo blahnik website