Friday, November 12, 2010

Nightie Nightmare

Are you familiar with the frustration of a finished garment that looks great but doesn't fit?

Then you know something I've experienced many times. I've learned that this is part of learning to be a good seamstress. Nobody gets it right 100% of the time. The key is to know what to do about it when it does happen.

My case in point is my search for a comfortable, modest nightdress design, one that I could wear confidently around the house during summer without needing a dressing gown. (Don't ask me why I don't just get dressed, because if you don't understand that, my explanation won't help!)

A confirmed pyjama afficionado, I discovered to my surprise that nightdresses are even more comfortable than pyjamas. I'd worked out how to make pyjamas modest (apply interfaced patchpockets), but I didn't have a nightie pattern that had a plain, button-up bodice like my pyjamas. I decided to be clever. I would gather a simple, full-length skirt onto an underwear bodice with sleeves.

This first nightie effort was two layers of cotton topped with a confection of lace and ribbon. Very pretty. Very soft. Terrible fit. That bodice almost gave me nightmares. Why didn't I know there is a good reason why nighties are baggy?

1. It wasn't wide enough across the back to allow me to lie comfortably on my side.
2. It was too wide across the front. The square neckline, despite modification to the scoop, gaped whenever I shrugged my shoulders or leaned forward.  That's not a problem in bed, just out of it. (Like at the bathroom sink with a mirror in front of me, or the kitchen sink with a window in front of me.) I don't like having to remember to place my hand on my chest when I lean, plus what if I need both hands for my task?

1st remedy: I tried pinching a double pleat on each side of the neckline, right on the sleeve seam. Result: better at the front but not at the back.

2nd remedy: I inserted a complex concertina diamond, using as much bodice length as I could without cutting into lace or ribbon. This certainly made a difference, allowing me to sleep in peace -- some of the time.

Positive Points:

a) I liked going to bed in something so girly, a style I wouldn't wear in the daytime; and
b) the dobby cotton lining was a raving success. I adored the luxurious softness of it against my skin, and found that on the hottest summer nights when I couldn't bear any bedcovers over me, I was happy in my cotton 'sleeping bag' nightie, yet didn't get chilled once the night air cooled.

I cut my next nightie bodice a size larger. You'd think it would have been a happy affair, given the fabric I used, but I quickly realized that the bodice was too short. This was a problem on the first nightie, but I was so focused on fixing the other problems that I forgot about this one. Now I woke every morning with the waistline two or three inches higher than it should have been, and I'd have to haul the whole garment downward to get comfortable again.

My realignment of the neckline would have worked well but for that nightly rise. I was modest out of bed, but choking in bed! My solution: wear the top button undone when in bed.

After such failures, would you give up making your own nightwear? I nearly did. I bought a few flannelette nighties for winter, but they wore thin after one season plus I was frozen from the knees down. After another summer of sleeping with my beautiful nightmares, I knew I'd have to figure something out.

This is the result. I used a zipped dressing gown pattern -- the option without a waistline. I made the pink one first, raising the neckline of the pattern, adding patch pockets, and applying a placket to keep those cold zipper teeth away from my warm skin. I also added length to the sleeves (for my long arms) and gathered them onto narrow bands to keep out sneaky drafts.

Victory! I actually made a comfortable, modest nightdress! And the embroidery was so pretty to look at in the cold darkness of winter. I loved wearing it...and hated having to make do with something else while it was being laundered.

My second one was even better. I added extra width to the hem with a godet [a triangular piece of fabric sewn into a skirt or sleeve for extra fullness; pronounced “go-day”]. That worked well, so I'll include that fullness in the skirt of my next nightie.

My first nightie nightmare is being pulled apart -- I'm going to use the skirt fabric to make a summer sleeping bag for my 1 year old niece. I'm sure I'll create a happy use for the smiley faces as well. I've found a nightie pattern that works and I hope to have one or two new ones ready for next summer.

Now you know one of the sea-storm processes I went through on the journey toward becoming a competent seamstress. What have we learned from it?
  1. Compare the size of similar garments you wear with the size of what you're making. If you're not using a stretch fabric, pay attention to shrug allowance.
  2. Try fixing what you have before contemplating a replacement.
  3. Don't give up. Try again, but remember, doing the same thing the same way will get the same results, so look for another way.
  4. When you find something that works, keep doing it!

All the best with turning your own nightmares into victories!

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