13 August 2009

165. Revisiting the Nurse Ratched Shirtdress

The last post and a few of the comments got me thinking about why I haven't blogged more about sewing projects gone wild, i.e. the "failures". I certainly don't feel any shame in sharing the questionable along with the experiments that work. I guess I've been doing a lot of work and volunteer stuff in Excel lately, so I put my thoughts into a little worksheet, and look at what came out of that private brainstorm:

Note that these percentages are not calculations -- they are guesses, though I bet they are pretty accurate. And I purposely didn't pick round numbers like 10% and 25% because I like to counterbalance my obvious geek tendencies with a good dose of snarkiness.

Also note that a personal decision when I started blogging was to only show finished projects, not works-in-progress. The purpose behind that decision was to increase the number of finished projects, as the other goal was to blog twice a week.

So check out those numbers:
  • Most of what I sew gets finished, and the results are "good". I wear these clothes.
  • There is a tiny percent of clothes that are really perfect the first time out. Put them on and it's instant magic.
  • Only a small percentage of the clothes are so "tragedy in the making" that I throw them in the UFO pile before they're actually done. It's good to see that I'm doing this a lot less. These are the projects that I would deem the "failures", and I am not used to blogging them because I typically don't blog unfinished projects! (Mystery solved.)
  • Maybe 8% of the projects are in good functioning condition but I am always messing with them. I might wear them, but I feel when I wear them like they are not complete. Usually the clothes that land here are really simple styles need some embellishment.
One of the projects in that always-messing-with category that I wore today is the Nurse Ratched Shirtdress. This was my sixth refashion from almost a year ago, and was a white shirtdress made of two men's shirts. I took some reader suggestions as to what to do next, and ended up dyeing it a teal blue from Rit or Dylon, can't remember now.

The original dress was white, and I thought it had looked like a nurse's uniform. I laughed after I dyed it, threw it in the laundry, and took it out of the dryer: It was the color of medical scrubs!

Picture taken today. I remembered one of my little secrets, that there are two patch pockets, one from each original shirt -- so one pocket is in a herringbone-weave like the shirt that the skirt is made from:

And the other pocket is in a regular twill weave, so it doesn't match the skirt fabric:

And this surprised me -- the serger thread (yes, the serger was broken when I sewed this so it is wonky) did not dye teal like the thread I used on all the seams. It stayed white, even though it has a hint of blue in it:

So do you think this dress looks too scrubby? Do you blog about the projects that don't go well? What do you do when it looks like a garment is headed for a sewing train wreck? Do you build little secrets into your clothes as you sew them?


  1. i think it's super cute, but if you feel that it looks like a scrub dress, then clearly it's not making you happy. What about a darker blue? or overdye it in purple to make a new and exciting color? Are you unhappy with the serging adventure on the pockets? Because that would be easy enough to fix (I say with no knowledge of sergers...).

  2. OMG, your pie chart is perfect!
    I was thinking mine would be 50% failures, 45% wearable and 5% perfect out of the box, er, hot off the machine.

    I made a blue dress one time that one of my friends said made me look like a hot nurse. So now I don't make dresses in light or medium blue anymore....

    The word verification is "muser" hee!

  3. That's a very impressive success rate. I think it's good to blog about wadders. We all have 'em - keeps it real.

    I find it difficult to read smug sewing blogs (here look at my beautiful seams, here I am looking stunning again in my back garden etc) long term. Is it jealousy or boredom? May be a bit of both.

  4. I had a bad wadder last week,but when D1 could see some potential I had to re fashion it some to save it and give to her.But this was a lucky outcome. I sold one wadder that I made a month ago,at a garage sale today........It happens.

  5. I love the pie chart!

    I just lurk and I'm SO not an accomplished sewer but I think a little hand embroidery could rock that dress right into next week. Or, if you're not into handwork, maybe some applique. The color in the picture might not be true so take this with a grain of salt but I'm picturing a yellow bird with a long sweeping tail somewhere, with scattered fuschia flowers (large and small.) Maybe a tiny yellow flower on the collar just as an accent. Too much? What do you think? It would look very boho which is not exactly your style but you could sell it!


  6. @Columbia Lily - I thought once about dying it darker. A deep purple sounds pretty but I am not sure how my skin tone would appreciate it... My bad -- the serger thread in the photo is from the bottom hem, turned up for the photo. I'm not actually bothered that the serging is wonky, just surprised that the serger threads didn't take the dye as well as the machine thread.

    @Kyle - I wouldn't mind looking like a nurse if I looked like a hot nurse. ;)

    @Mary Nanna - It's sort of an artificial success rate in a way. I guess I used my blogging goals to drag my sewing projects across the finish line. I don't think about it anymore, as I guess after 18 months it's just the way I do things. Like the way you finish one project completely before starting the next (which is something that might be a good habit to form, too).

    @JoanneM - Wow, nice on both counts! That pintucked shoulder shirt I blogged last will probably get made into yet something else. I don't like waste!

    @Flicka - True confessions: I have wanted to applique this dress but all the designs I considered felt so cliche... Also bought Doodle Stitching, hoping it would inspire me to embroider something cool, but that didn't work... Thought about painting or silkscreening a design... I like your idea for the bird and flowers but getting up and doing making it happen might take another while. I'll keep you posted. Thanks for de-lurking; hope you do it more often. :)

  7. Oh my Mum and I are the opposite sort of sewers - my Mum is a perfectionist and I am a hash sewer. However - I finish and she has so many zillions of unfinished things that I guess my strategy is a reaction to hers. i am always nervous showing my mum my results but actually in recent years she has been far more pleased than scandalized! I have lots of secrets hidden in my sewing as I am self teaching all the time - oh so many secrets!

  8. You know, Ombre dyeing is a fabulous trend right now. Have you thought about "dip dyeing" it into maybe 3 gradually darker colours?

    Here's a link to the method -- I've seen it everywhere, but I loved Trudy's reference to it in a HotPattern YouTube clip --

    Thanks for the visits to my blog! I always love hearing your opinion; you're one of the experts!

  9. I think the dress is just fabulous and doesn't look at all like a scrub...
    Maybe you could embroider a little nurse (hot or not) on one of the pockets?

  10. The dress is nice and your blog too. Loved your fish messenger bag. I m a fan of handbags too. I haven't yet tried to make dresses but will do it very soon when I will bring kilos of cute fabrics from India.:)

  11. I don't think it looks like scrubs at all, I just think the dress is adorable and that color blue looks great on you!

  12. Yes, I do discuss projects that don't go well. Could be on my blog, could be on a mailing list, and will definitely be talked about in person with others who might be interested. Less than 100% success with something isn't a defeat. It is a learning experience; if others didn't share theirs with me I'd know so little. And let me say that sewing for 20+ years I still consider myself a novice to intermediate at best.

    If YOU like the piece wear it. If you're not comfortable in it that will show, so better to repurpose the item than be visibly uncomfortable in public.

  13. Antoinette, I love how intentional your blogging is. Like, how you deliberately decided to only blog finished projects so that it would motivate you to get more accomplished, wanting to blog on a regular basis, etc. I'm certainly not half so together, and am always using "in progress" whatevers to fill in the embarrassingly long stretches of nothing getting done. So I say stick by your original guiding principles, but we wouldn't mind an outtake or two every now and again :-).

    OK. The dress. Personally, I love the color and it would never make me think of scrubs. It would probably cause me to secretly stalk you because I think the dress looks cool instead. So luckily we live far apart! I think your skin tone could take a purple or a purply-blue. Or some bright yellow or orange accents somewhere?

    The secrets I build into my projects are 1) really crappy workmanship I wouldn't put anybody through but myself, and generally the type that makes me laugh whenever i think about it, and 2) waistbands in bright fabrics! Always cheerful.

  14. First of all, love your geek side and the pie chart. That just made my day... second, I don't think the dress looks like a scrub uniform bec it has more style. but I wouldn't be opposed to say embroidering the pockets or adding some top stitching in a different color (brown?) to highlight the lovely seam work. :)

    and in answer to your questions... I don't blog about failures... I cut them up and start over until I get it right. I have, however, tossed out some half completed things because I decided halfway through I did not like how the fabric felt after working with it for a few days.

  15. Yes, I include my failures too in my blog. If I did a pie chart I'd have to add a category for "technically a success but never worn." I have two of those so far this year.

  16. I love the pie chart! HAHA!
    I like the dress too. The color is great on you and in this photo doesn't remind me of scrubs, but I agree with the others that it could use some embellishment to make it totally fabulous.
    The thing that comes to mind about the serger thread is that it might be 100% synthetic so wouldn't take dye?

  17. To teal to look like scrubs, I think. But then, all the scrubs I tended to see were pretty faded from being worn constantly.

    I think it's darling but if you can't be comfortable in it, it is what it is.

    For me, I definitely document the failures. Not that I think of any other sewing blogger this way, but for me, learning is part of the process and I want to document that--what went well, what didn't & that includes the total rejects. I actually have one slated to write about this weekend!

  18. @Umatji - Isn't it funny to think about how much our sewing might be influenced by our mothers? I bet she is really impressed with your ingenuity.

    @Jen - I did consider dip-dyeing it! And chickened right out! I will check out that YouTube clip - thanks for leaving it. And I am def. no expert, just learning every day and trying to get better. :) Thanks.

    @Anonymous/ Iris - That is a really cute idea!

    @Creative Cotton - Thanks. Cute fabrics from India sounds incredibly inspiring! If you post pictures, please let me know.

    @Sandy - Thank you, all the color confidence helps!

    @Crunchy Sews - I agree, which is why I kept putting "failure" in quotes. :) Anytime I learn it's a good thing. Yep, gotta do something about this teal dress. Glad for all the suggestions I'm getting!

    @Jessica - Sometime in 2006, I started a sewing blog. It fizzled away after a few posts because I couldn't get my act together with finishing projects and photographing them and all that. I have been so "disciplined" about my blogging process because I didn't want things to fizzle out again! I love that Heather Ross skirt waistband facing in your last skirt -- really nice touch.

    @glam.spoon - Glad the pie chart was such a positive boost. :) Topstitching sounds both visually effective and compelling. Makes sense about tossing a project if the fabric feels funky. If it doesn't feel right in our hands, it surely won't feel better on someone else's body!

    @LindsayT - I don't think I have anything in that category! I will have to search your blog archives to see if you have identified which two garments you have never worn.

    @Sarah@Neoteric.Traditional - :) Thank you. You might be right on the serger thread -- it was from thread cones that came with the serger, and I don't have clue what the fiber content is.

    @ambika - It might take another 11 months for me to get this dress in "fave" shape but I have faith it will happen. You must not have written about your "total reject" garment yet, cause that linen tunic in today's post was super-duper cute!

  19. I would definitely consider a ribcage to my corset if I had more elastic - but as it is, I've run out :( Haha - I spent my entire summer shuffling numbers around in Excel, so I have also experienced the sudden and unexplainable need to put the data of one's life into diagrams :D geekiness prevails! I recently ruined a velvet jumpsuit (no hard feelings though - it was too small to be worn in its original condition), but I think it still might have a chance to resurface as tights, so I might still post it... cute dress, too :)

  20. OK - first - I love the pie chart! I died laughing. I can't count the mistakes I've made and even though I have a closet full of successes, if anyone ever thought I got there with few or no mistakes, they are sadly mistaken.

    Next - the "nurse Ratchett" dress - how can you not resist someone who has such a dilemma!!!

    So here are my humble suggestions, please take them as heart-felt as they are meant to be that way.

    I think when you start to look at a dress as to why it doesn't work, there are several things to think about - color, lifestyle adaptability, style, fit. And if one of those don't work, the others can't make up for it.
    ***Color looks great (hospital blue/green suits you, my dear!)
    ***Lifestyle - perfect "go to" dress once we find out what's wrong - so it should adapt to your lifestyle and needs.
    ***Style - fashionable and in today's style (no overbearing shoulder pads, 60's short hem, or anything else that takes away from the style.
    ***Fit - Hmmmm - may have some issues here, and it's the only one left.

    So here's what I would take a look at. I think it needs just a little hit of shape, not skin tight, but just "shape", and I would like to see that skirt just a little more contained. How do you feel about the hem length?...cause if you're a little flexible and can stand it about 1 - 2" shorter, I would do a side bust dart and take out a lot of that rippling under the arm.

    Which one do you like?

    Please understand I'm not trying to be bossy, and I'm adamant about listening to my clients, and since I've heard nothing from you, this isn't really a fair assessment! But hope this helps clarify and turn Nurse Ratchett into Uma Thurman

  21. @Mie - Oooh, velvet tights sound luxurious! I have yet to sew the stuff but can't wait to hear how that works out for you.

    @ClaireOKC - You bring up a good point -- maybe a little more shaping would make a noticeable difference. (I am very flattered that you would go through the trouble of photoshopping or illustrator-ing some samples and throwing it up on a web page to show me what you mean!!! Thank you.)

    I guess the existing shaping is subtler than I realized -- it already has side bust darts and back fisheye darts. But I guess I could see adding some fisheye darts to the front, too. Compelling illustrations. I still think it will need more than that, but this might be a good idea for a next step.

    The dress is slightly longer than most of my dresses, but this is also one in which I can sit on the floor without worry.

    I'll keep you posted. :)

  22. Hmm...I don't think it looks TOO scrubby, just a teeny bit. It looks like it's a bit drop-waisted; have you considered adding a belt? You could find a crazy-print scarf and topstitch it on for a fake belt, buckle optional. It would be very Mod, I think.

    I don't sew much but I knit, and it always takes sooo much effort for me to finish a project that I hate to rip it out and start over. I will usually keep going, mistakes and all, to the grueling finish. There have only been a few things that were totally un-salvageable. I completely un-did a baby sweater once, after I'd 100% finished it, and used the yarn for something else.

  23. @Steph - I hadn't considered sewing on a belt/ contrast waistband but that's a good idea. When this was white I paired it with a loud belt and I liked it. Taking apart an entire sweater you knit -- wow, that's hardcore. Great that you re-used the yarn!

    @Rachel R. - Thank you. Some days it looks fine to me and others I don't think I should walk into a hospital for fear of blending in too much. :)


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