Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Made: Embellished tote bags and quick knits

I have finished up my sewing/knitting year with a pile of little hand-sewing and knitting projects, probably because they're all the kind of thing you can do while sitting on the sofa watching Christmas TV and hanging out with family.

There's been a bit of a trend in some of the (many) blogs I read of people trying out the Alabama Chanin books and methods this year. Normally I'm not very excited by a lot of embroidery or embellishment, but something about the AC garments I've seen appeals to me and I really wanted to make something similar. I ordered one of the books just recently, but while I was waiting for it to arrive I decided to take a detour from the actual AC project suggestions from the books (which mainly use knits and involve hand stitching the whole project) and try out some simple reverse appliqué by hand on a woven fabric that I then constructed (by machine) into a tote bag.

Tote bag embellished with "Bloomer" stencil reverse applique and running stitch
For the first bag, I slightly modified one of the simpler stencils that I downloaded from the Alabama Chanin website (this stencil is "Bloomer") and then added in a circular "frame" in running stitch. The bag is a very simple box bottom tote bag with a separate lining (so where the reverse appliqué is there are three layers of fabric -- calico outer, mustard appliqué layer, mustard lining). From a distance I really like how this bag turned out, but the close up view of my hand-stitching/reverse appliqué is, alas, extremely unimpressive. It was immediately obvious why the AC projects tend to use knits, because it is definitely much harder to do reverse appliqué when you have to worry about turning under the fraying edges as you do the appliqué. Getting the edge turned over properly at any kind of point or corner turned out to be pretty much beyond my skill level.

Book bag embellished with Alabama Chanin "Anna's Garden" stencil

Nevertheless, I decided to make a second calico bag using the same technique but with a different, more complicated stencil ("Anna's Garden"). I left this one as a book bag (also lined, in the same green sateen as I used for the reverse appliqué) rather than a boxed base so that I could fill the whole of one side of the bag with the stencil. However, I realized almost as soon as I started stitching the stencilled section that some of the shapes in the stencil were just totally outside of my ability level with reverse appliqué if I was going to turn the edges under. I decided therefore to just outline many of the smaller and more complicated shapes in running stitch. The kindest thing I can say about the quality of the actual reverse appliqué bits is that I was probably slightly better at it by the end than I was at the beginning of making this. Very slightly.

Overall, I feel like the second bag did not live up to the image in my head at all, mainly because of the amount of running stitch I ended up doing. If I were to do it again, I'd probably do something different with the parts I couldn't appliqué and/or try to get a different balance of reverse appliqué vs. stitching for a better outcome. However, you know, it's a tote bag that cost me about £1 to make in materials, I am not going to cry over it not turning out quite as well as I hoped.

In conclusion, although my outcomes from these Alabama Chanin inspired projects were not very good from a technical point of view, I found the process of stitching these bags very enjoyable and I do like the outcomes aesthetically. I definitely want to have a go with (hopefully much more forgiving!) knits in the very near future.

Yoyo bags: version 1 with lines of yoyos; the interior with dancing hippes; version 2 with a heart and silver beads
The third and fourth bags I could possibly have included in my recent finishing-up-WIPs post as they're partly made from a very old project. However, that would suggest that I have any idea whatsoever why I (a) originally made 50 red and white yoyos back in 2011 and then (b) put them in a sealed plastic bag, inside another bag, inside a box where they then stayed for two and a half years. I am pretty sure I had some sort of plan, but whatever that plan was I evidently didn't follow through and it didn't stick in my memory; when I found them again the other day, I honestly couldn't bring to mind a single clue what it was I thought I was going to do with them. Lacking any specific purpose for them, I decided that I might as well sew them onto some basic white cotton twill tote bags that I made. The lining in each bag is Dancing Hippos from Ikea. I'll probably fling these onto my Etsy shop eventually.

Gap-tastic Cowl in blue and grey aran weight
I have also been knitting furiously and over the last couple of weeks I've made two easy cowls. The first is another Gap-Tastic cowl (Ravelry link) which I previously made in September 2013. This time I used two very light aran weight yarns held together in two different colours, which is the first time I've tried this technique. The yarn is Aldi's 'Rustic Aran', which I got several enormous skeins of while I was living in Ireland. The pattern actually called for chunky (bulky) weight and working with two light aran yarns made for a very dense knit. I ended up finishing up about 10cm short of full pattern width because it was turning out so very heavy. I do like the finished product though, especially the grey/blue colour mix from using the two yarns. I'd like to make a hat to go with it but I am struggling for the perfect slouchy hat pattern for this yarn weight. In the meantime, my mum has requested a cowl of her own to this pattern for her birthday (in January) so I have more yarn on order for that already.

Seriously Chunky Christmas Day Cowl
The second cowl is in cheap and cheerful Cygnet Seriously Chunky (in the Nightjar colourway). I just did a very simple 18-stitch wide moss stitch scarf on giant 15mm needles and then seamed it together at the end as I have done before with similar yarn from Aldi. I started knitting this on Christmas morning after we had all settled down post-present opening in the morning, and I finished it up in the early evening just before I went home, to the amazement of my little niece. She was quite taken by the idea of knitting. I actually got her started for herself with a stocking stuffer gift that my mum had coincidentally bought her, a knitting dolly (also called a knitting nancy, or spool knitting or French knitting). She did also ask if she could have my scarf when I finished it, but I am sorry to say I told her no as I wanted it for myself!

Monday, 22 December 2014

UFO sightings

I am not normally one for leaving projects unfinished. I like to either finish things, or else I get to a certain point and go: nah! and bin it or disassemble it immediately. However, for most of this year I've had a handful of things lurking around that for one reason or another had ended up as a UFO (unfinished object). Last week, I decided to dedicate some time to a kind of Work In Progress (WIP) Week, during which I've been making a concerted effort to figure out what I wanted to do with those projects and, where possible, finish up. This post is therefore full of a miscellany of finished objects, abject failure and future plans.

1. Turquoise pigskin suede Kindle case

Finished Kindle case, mainly delayed by construction problems
At some point earlier this year, I can't remember when except for "sometime between January and July", I decided I needed a simple cushioned envelope case for my Kindle. I decided to try to squeeze a case out of the scraps of pigskin suede left over from my silk and suede wedding clutch I made in mid-2013. The pieces I had left were of such a size and shape that I was unable to avoid a small flaw in the suede (which you can see in the right hand photo, next to the corner of the Kindle) although I was able to hide it under the flap.

I got about 80% of the way through, having made the exterior and a lightly quilted lining, and ground to a halt for two reasons:

1. Most importantly, I could not get any kind of reliable stitch through the layers of suede, quilting batting and fabric to do the final construction; and

2. I felt certain I was not going to get a good finish on the flap because of an (unfixable) error in the way I'd constructed my lining and was discouraged.

These problems were resolved very simply by buying some heavier leather needles (I was using Leather 90s and ended up needing Leather 110s) and reminding myself that perfect is the enemy of good, or, at least, the enemy of having a completed Kindle case. It took less than half an hour to finish this project up, and no, the flap does not look at all good. However, it is finished, and it will save my Kindle from being scratched, so it's fine.

Result: one finished Kindle case with an imperfect (but entirely serviceable) flap. \o/

2. Purple Jumper Of Doom

The purple jumper of doom in March 2014
When I first started knitting my ambitions were all centred on making jumpers. In early 2013, I therefore found a simple pattern (Classic Raglan Sweater - Ravelry link) and bought some inexpensive, acrylic, DK-weight yarn in vibrant purple, and started knitting. Alas, it turns out I am not well suited to making jumpers at all, and when I posted this last March about my half-finished jumper, after over a year of half-hearted on-and-off knitting, my hand-knitted-jumper enthusiasm had waned considerably. More importantly, my enthusiasm for this particular jumper now approached zero, due a combination of poor knitting (actual holes in the fabric in places), poor quality yarn (bobbled while I was knitting it), and poor fit. I decided, with encouragement from the peanut gallery, to abandon it for the time being and shoved it in the UFO box.

However, I disliked the idea of it lingering forever as a WIP, so I decided this week to try to think of something to do with the jumper. My options seemed to me to be:
1. start knitting it again, which, no, because I felt no more enthusiastic about the yarn or fit than I was in March;
2. frog it for the yarn, except the yarn was a big part of the problem in the first place and also cheap originally, so frogging seemed like a lot of effort for little reward;
3. toss it out without further thought, which just seemed wasteful; or
4. somehow make use of the knitting I had done.

I decided I would try 4, and cut the jumper up into the largest pieces I could to use it sort of like a a knit fabric. I decided to make a slouchy hat from a pattern in Ottobre 05-2009 that called for a small amount of a wool knit. Actually slicing my scissors into my knitting was an interesting experience.... especially when I realized ten seconds later that I had managed to cut it out completely incorrectly and there was no way to recover from my error with the amount of fabric I had left. Oops. /o\ A somewhat promising idea ruined by an embarrassing cutting mistake with a very simple 2 piece pattern! In the end, therefore, I was forced to go with option 3: toss it out without further thought.

Alas, the mangled remains of my jumper, destined for the rubbish
Result: one dead purple jumper, only fit for throwing away. /o\

3. "Cape Disappointment"

In October/November 2013 I became briefly obsessed with the idea of making a cape. I eventually chose (to my later regret) to buy an expensive indie pattern, the Liesl + Co Woodland Stroll Cape pattern, and set about making one with some rather nice plaid wool and a fancy blue tulip lining which I chose while out fabric shopping in London with my friend B, and to which I developed a sentimental attachment. Alas, all did not go well and I ended up abandoning it unfinished. I was subsequently infuriated by a comment left on my PR review by the pattern creator, which made me even less inclined to finish it.

Normally, I'm pretty sanguine about my sewing failures. I usually try to see if I can salvage the fabric or notions, bin anything I can't rescue, bitch about it on this blog, and then I move on. However, at the point of abandonment I was about 95% done with this cape and I found myself dithering between taking it apart to salvage the fabric (especially the lining) or finishing up the cape, which literally only needed finishing touches. In the end I just bundled it up, stuffed it in my WIP box and tried not to think about it. To be honest, I couldn't even really decide what to do with it when I got it out to look at this time. In the end I was rescued from indecision by my mum, who happened to come round to my house while I was examining the cape and encouraged me to finish it.

Completed Liesl & Co Woodland Stroll Cape
Positives: it only took a little bit of time to hand stitch the opening in the lining where I'd turned the cape closed, put snaps (for the actual closure) and buttons (for decoration) to create the "sleeves", and buttons and button-holes on the front. Also, my plaid matching across both the side seams and the two front pieces was A++ and looks great. I still love my lining fabric and more than half wish that it was the exterior fabric. I am surprised by how good my sewing of this garment was originally and I think it actually looks pretty good.

The big negative: I still really don't like the way the cape looks on me. The proportions just look wrong, far shorter than the pattern envelope picture looks even AFTER I added 5cm in length, and it is too close a fit for a cape (and yes, I did make the right size according to measurements no matter what the *&!@*!@ing pattern creator wants to write in comments on my review. In fact, right now I am at the BOTTOM of the range of measurements indicated for the size I made, so ugh, whatever).

Since it's entirely the wrong time of year for a little wool cape anyway I have put it in my closet for now. Maybe I will gradually come to love it by the time the spring rolls around.

Result: one completed cape \o/ that I still don't like /o\

4. The Bird and Rose Quilt (a.k.a. The World's Slowest Quilt)

I feel like it is almost inevitable that every sewer, no matter how much she/he is normally interested mainly in clothes or bags or home dec or whatever, will eventually want to give quilting a try just for the heck of it. Personally, however, I seem to be making my (first? only?) quilt at a pace a self-respecting snail would be ashamed of.

Test piece of Turning Twenty pattern from April 2012
I first decided to make a quilt in April 2012. I made a tiny, not-to-scale test piece of an ultra simple quilting block called Turning Twenty using a fabric pack I got free with a magazine. As I quite liked how my test worked out, I cut out some pieces of the quilt top from a gorgeous William Morris print that features birds and roses (hence the quilt name). I later decided to make the quilt using Quilt As You Go methods and at some point in early 2013 I cut out all of the required pieces of batting, backing, sashing, and binding. Then just before I moved to Ireland in May 2013, I packed all the pieces I had so far in a bag and sealed it... and then didn't open it again until this week.

Pile of quilt pieces
I knew that there was a limit to what I could with the quilt this week because I've actually never gotten around to buying the additional fabric needed for the quilt top. I decided that this was once again a major case of perfect is the enemy of good. The reason I had been procrastinating is mainly that I had somehow convinced myself I was going to do a shit job of finding co-ordinating fabrics. This is clearly highly unproductive, and the only way to get past it seems to me to be to just buy some fabric and give it a go. Thus, my major progress on this quilt for now has just been to get over myself and trawl for suitable co-ordinating fabrics. I think I've found the fabrics I want, but alas, as described in my money and sewing review post, I am now also all out of sewing money for the year.  It will have to wait until January for me to buy them. Hopefully I will make some actual concrete progress early in the new year.

Result: No visible progress as yet, but some decisions have been made. \o/

And that concludes my WIP Week, with nothing left in my UFO box at all since I moved my quilt pieces into my box of "Active Projects". Yay! \o/

Saturday, 20 December 2014

2014 in review: Good and Bad Ways To Spend My Money

It's probably best to start this post by admitting that I am really really into tracking my finances, and always have been. At the end of every year I tend to look at what I spent in every part of my life, from the essentials like food and car maintenance, to the minutiae of my discretionary spending on clothes and entertainment, and try to figure out what worked for me or where I need to cut back or change my spending habits next year. Taking up sewing has been quite a novelty for me because it's the first time I've had hobby with such a consistent level of spend attached -- most of my hobbies before have been free or inexpensive (e.g. reading, because I used libraries, and writing) or else there's been one big up-front purchase and then you're done (e.g. gym membership). With sewing though, there are always new patterns, new notions, and of course, there is always new fabric to acquire, and so working out where the money went and whether it was worth it is useful to me.

I give myself what I consider to be a generous but pretty rigid budget to work with for all my sewing and knitting endeavours. At this point in December, I am done buying for this year. After running a little under budget all year, I finished up December with a bit of a buying splurge, mainly on fabric, and exactly hit my budget for the year (I was £0.10 short of the exact figure :D). I say "knitting and sewing" but actually it's almost all sewing -- I spent just about 5% of my total budget on yarn, knitting needles and a couple of knitting patterns. I have nothing really to say about my knitting spending. It's proportionate to my level of interest in knitting and I'm generally happy with the things I acquired and used in 2014.

The remainder of my budget, though, went on sewing in the following order: fabric (35%), patterns (19%) sewing magazines (18%), notions and hardware (13%), books (4%) and other stuff (6%).

I also made one major purchase this year which I didn't include in the budget because I bought it for myself with money given to me as a Christmas gift in 2013: my coverstitch machine.

The Janome CoverPro 1000DX

I bought the Janome CoverPro 1000DX (a.k.a. the cheapest coverstitch on the UK market at the time when I was buying it) in January this year. I can't say I found it at all easy to use initially, despite reading my way through hundreds of pages of tips and hints before I started. The first few things I hemmed with it ended up with badly tunneled hems and a couple of them the stitching completely unravelled after a couple of washes (this particularly affected a turquoise knit top I made early in the year, which I hemmed about four different times in the end).

After making a LOT of knit garments this year and using the coverstitch on quite a few woven garments as well, I now feel really competent with the machine and generally get a good result using it first time, every time. (I do always do a test and adjust my settings before I hem, though!) I found the machine very easy to thread and very easy to use once I got the idea of how it works and what I need to do, and I love the finish it gives me on knit garments. However, there's no doubt that it really was a luxury buy and I could have lived without it. I can't imagine that I'll want or need to replace it for a very long time, barring catastrophic failure, so I suppose it will pay its way eventually, but it's never going to be a high utilization machine. Also the needles are stupidly expensive when you have to replace them. Luxury or not, though, if I were making the buy/don't buy choice again based on what I know now, I would definitely still buy it.

In the other categories:

FABRIC: I was semi-seriously "fasting" all year on fabric purchases, which is an amusing thing to say when you consider that I bought just over 70m and spent 35% of my budget on fabric. That's still a great deal less in metres and money terms than the previous two years. Also, on the plus side, I've used almost all the fabric I bought early in the year, and I know nearly everything I bought recently in my November/December budget splurge will be used in the next few months because it was bought with purpose. I feel like I bought more useful fabric with better understanding of what I was buying this year, which is mainly just a result of having more sewing experience, I think. I do have to be careful not to fall into the trap of buying fabric just because it's beautiful -- my mantra is still there will always be more fabric.

One big negative for my fabric spending is that in January I placed a big order with one particular fabric shop, Croft Mill. I have use CM before, even though it tends, in my opinion, to have slightly higher prices than other internet only vendors. This time I was not all that impressed with the service. They charged me an arm and a leg for postage as I was living in Dublin, which is fair enough, but then took nearly a month to deliver. More damningly though, when I was doing my review of all the garments I made in 2014, I suddenly realized that three of the garments that ultimately failed in large part because of fabric issues came from that order, and I was at best indifferent to the fabric quality/outcomes from other purchases from there. I probably won't use them again.

One of many envelope patterns for a dress that I have bought this year ... and not made
PATTERNS: The nicest thing I can think of to say about my envelope and PDF pattern buying habits, which account for about 20% of my spending, is that they would be EVEN WORSE if I lived in the US, home of the Big 4 patterns sales. As it is, even in the relatively unpromising UK market, I buy WAY too many patterns, especially when you consider that I have a strong preference for actually using pattern magazines (see below). My absolute worst vices are the instant gratification PDF patterns (which I then fail to print and stick because I hate it) and buying dress patterns. I already have loads of dress patterns. I am actually very ambivalent about wearing dresses. In my whole sewing career to date I have made just one successful dress. And yet, every new pattern release I ogle all the dresses first and I just keep buying them. Such a waste of money if I never use them, and honestly my conversion rate for ALL envelope/PDF patterns is beyond terrible. The only possible redeeming feature of my pattern buying is that it is extremely rare for me to buy full price -- I wait for sales/discounts and buy (cheap) vintage whenever possible. Even so, I definitely need to think about limiting my pattern buys in 2015.

SEWING MAGAZINES: In 2014, I had four active subscriptions and I bought two others occasionally as well. My active subscriptions were: Burda Style, Ottobre Woman, Patrones and Patrones Extra. I bought MyImage and Burda Style Special as individual issues. I also bought quite a few back issues of Burda when I saw them for sale at a reasonable price, though not as many as in previous years (mainly because I have many of the issues I want at this point).

Ottobre Woman 05-2014
I think it goes without saying that I consider my Ottobre subscription to be among my best purchases, ever. I used loads of the patterns this year and have many more of them in my sewing queue. Although I use Burda Style less and, since I stopped doing the monthly reviews (because I felt like I had nothing to add to the many people already reviewing it elsewhere), talk about it far less, I actually also love my Burda subscription and wouldn't give it up. Yes, Burda is full of photos where you can't make out the garment details, It's A Giant Rectangle! patterns, weird sartorial choices and crafts that would not look amiss in an elementary school classroom. However, it's also full of gorgeous, well-drafted patterns that I really do want to make, which is why I also buy back issues when I see them for sale. My sewing queue is stacked with Burda patterns as well.

I'm more ambivalent about MyImage and Burda Style Special, my two occasional buys. This year I bought both issues of MyImage and didn't use them or add any to my sewing queue, and I bought the two Burda Style Special: Easy issues and the Vintage (1950s) issue and also haven't picked any patterns from them. That said I decided just the other day to put a pattern from a 2013 issue of Burda Easy in my sewing queue and I have made a couple of successful MyImage garments in the last 18 months, so I guess there's always the chance I'll come back to it.

Patrones: not my best buy
Definitely my worst buy was my subscription to Patrones and Patrones Extra. On the one hand, there are a few really nice patterns that I've earmarked for future use in the magazines I received. However, I found the content overall to be extremely repetitive over the course of the subscription, far more repetitive than Burda despite a similar issue frequency and number of patterns, and I found the style choices were in general a poor match to my age and aesthetic preferences. Patrones Extra included far too many special issues in which I had no interest (Kids, Plus, the summer issue full of teeny tiny shorts and tops, etc). I cancelled my subscriptions after a year and can't imagine that I'll re-subscribe in the future.

NOTIONS AND HARDWARE: Above all, I'm glad to be back in the UK because even simple notions like buttons and invisible zips were stupidly expensive in Ireland. My spending on notions dropped off a cliff when I moved back here this summer.

One buy I have been disproportionately pleased with is my large (60cm long, 15cm wide) metric marking quilting ruler. It took me ages to find a metric version and then I hemmed and hawed for like, 6 months over whether to fork out quite so much money for a ruler, but I've found it INCREDIBLY useful. I am sure I am the very last garment sewer in the world to realize that quilting rulers are good for more than just quilters, but just in case I'm not, I do highly recommend owning one. If you work in imperial measures you have lots of choice but you can get metric if you look for them. I'd like to buy some additional rulers next year. Also in my weird fandom of rulers, I think I bought it in 2013 but I only started using my seam allowance ruler this year for real and it's one of my most favourite things ever (I have the now defunct metric version though).

Other lessons learned this year: good pins are worth it (learned by buying horrible, cheap, non-pointy pins and then having to throw them all away and start again with good ones). On the other hand, the pound shops (Poundland (Dealz in Ireland) in particular) have loads of useful little things for sale that aren't sewing tools precisely, but that I use for pattern work. I like their cheap packs of glue sticks for PDF patterns, masking tape for taping and adjusting patterns and plastic table covers for transferring patterns I want to keep in a more durable form onto.

BOOKS: My best book buy this year was definitely Shirtmaking by David Coffin. I don't think I made any terrible book purchases this year, although I did buy several books on tailoring and jackets that I haven't really thoroughly used yet as I didn't get to any of those planned projects this year. My worst purchase about was probably this one random basics book I picked up on impulse in a discount bookseller called The Sewing Book. It just duplicates other books I have, but luckily, as my purchase location suggests, I didn't really pay much for it. I tend not to think money spent on books is ever wasted, though, and most of my purchases this year were investment buys of technique books that should come into their own in the future.

OTHER: Other covers a lot of ground and 6% of my budget. It includes stuff like postage for things I've sent to people, my PR membership and Etsy fees for my little bag shop (In the latter case, I sold all of two bags this year so whatever, not exactly a thriving concern. In fact, I'd forgotten it was live and was entirely taken aback to get an email to say I had made a sale this month.)

Craftsy: I am not a fan
However, the largest line item in "other" is Craftsy classes, and I have to say that overall, after buying multiple Craftsy classes over the last couple of years, I've found it to be a nearly total waste of money for me personally. I've bought a total of 10 classes (!) including two this year and of those I've watched two of them through from beginning to the end, six I've dipped in and out of (including one from this year), and two I have never watched any of at all, (including one of the ones I bought this year). I just don't find it to be a learning platform that works for me at all, and I struggle to watch the videos all the way through. I have also had little luck with the PR online class platform, which suffers from having significantly lower production levels as well, with one exception: I actually did watch the "sewing an unlined jacket" PR class quite extensively in 2013 and found it useful. I definitely don't need to buy any more online classes though, and in about June I unsubscribed from all 8 million emails Craftsy send in order not to be tempted and haven't bought any since.

Overall, I'm not displeased with my spending. My biggest areas to work on are continuing to make better fabric choices and I think also cutting down on buying patterns, though I admit I feel kind of whiny about that because I LIKE buying patterns. I think it will make me grumpy to cut back, but I should probably still make the attempt!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Made: Pink socks, stripy PJs and yoga pants, oh my

Since I finished up my gift sewing last week I've been working on finishing a whole pile of different small and/or easy projects.

Hermione's Every Day Socks, in pink and blue yarn
I finally (FINALLY) managed to get my third pair of knitted socks finished up! I cast on the first sock of this pair way back on the 11th of July and initially made really good progress. Then for various reasons, but mainly that I screwed up massively on the gusset and couldn't work up the enthusiasm to rip back to where I could fix it, the first sock ended up lying around untouched for months. I can never bring myself to have more than one knitting project on the go at any given time so I just... didn't knit, I guess, for several months. I eventually did do the ripping back (not nearly as painful as I feared), managed to finish up the first sock, and cast on the second sock on 3rd December. This time it took me exactly two weeks from cast on to toe graft, which is probably a more reasonable estimate of my knitting speed.

The pattern is called Hermione's Everyday Socks (Ravelry link), which is the most popular 4-ply sock pattern on Ravelry. It's the TINIEST of steps up in complexity from the previous two pairs of socks I've finished this year, insofar as the leg and upper foot use a simple texture pattern rather than straight stocking stitch. I freely admit that there's about a hundred mistakes in my knitting in these socks, but I don't care even a little bit! In fact, I am actually really proud of them because even unblocked they looked like ACTUAL SOCKS rather than the weirdly shaped monstrosities that I produced the first time I knitted socks. This yarn is from a pack from Lidl that I bought when I was living in Ireland, called Nina Sock Yarn. You get 200g, enough for 2 pairs of socks, and I think I paid about €5. It's not the greatest yarn (it's a wool, cotton and nylon blend) but it's fine for the price. For my next pair of socks -- and for all I'm so slow, I do love sock knitting -- I've already bought a much nicer cashmere and wool yarn and I'm going to try out a slightly more complicated texture pattern. Baby steps in increasing complexity seems to be what works for me with knitting! However, before I cast on another sock project I'm going to knit some easy big yarn/needle projects as a chaser after weeks of knitting with what feel like toothpicks.

On the sewing front, I made another pair of Butterick 5704 pyjama bottoms, which I previously made two pairs of in very nice 100% cotton shirting. I was all gung ho to make to make this pair as a kind of present to myself (because I'm still sick enough that I'm spending a lot of time in pyjamas) with some really nice fabric. I started trawling my usual sources for a premium cotton or silk/cotton blend. In the end I decided on a really crazy bright floral -- something that I'd never wear out the house but thought I would enjoy wearing as PJs. I snaffled the last 2 units that the vendor had in stock thinking that 2m would arrive and all would be well. Except no, because stupid me, I didn't read the description properly and it turned out it was being sold by the half metre. Since 1m is not nearly enough, that fabric had to just go into stash. I'll make summer PJ shorts from it next year, I guess.

Butterick 5704 PJ pants in a crazy stripy floral. Sorry about all the crap in the shot, I was fed up with them when I took it and couldn't be bothered to take a better photo!
Then I went trawling again, and made mistake number two, which was trusting a description written by a clearly mostly illiterate and/or non-English-speaking eBay seller. The fabric was supposed to be 2m of a premium cotton lawn 140cm wide in this sort of funky floral stripe. In fact when it turned up it was 2 YARDS (1.8m, ugh why, this country is metric) of a weirdly rigid seersucker-ish cotton with a texture strongly reminiscent of the cheap paper towels stocked in the loos at my secondary school, and only 115cm wide. Argh :( I decided I was just going to have to live with it and just BARELY squeaked the PJs out of the fabric I was sent. I had zero hope of matching the side seams with the stripe because I had to put the two pieces going in opposite directions to fit them on the fabric (which, I know it's stupid to worry about side seam matching in PJs, but it would have looked so cute if it had worked). Despite not really feeling like it, I did my usual overkill on construction, including French seams, so at least the sewing on them is good and should last. I just hope the fabric softens up after being washed a few times, though, because ugh, I don't love it. Overall result: disappointing.

Black yoga pants (Burda 11-2005-127)
Next: Yet more yoga bottoms. Previously I have made Silhouette 3400, a straight-legged yoga pant which I like but only in spite of what I find to be an annoying waistband, in purple, and Simplicity 2369, a VERY wide-legged knit trouser pattern, also in pale purple as well as in red. These have all worked out fine, but there's no denying that purple or red trousers have limited wardrobe versatility, even when I mostly only wear them when I'm lurking on my sofa at home all day and care relatively little about being colour-coordinated. I therefore picked up some very rather nice ponte in black and decided to try out a pattern from an old issue of Burda, 11-2005-127. It is a really basic bootcut knit yoga pant that I reduced to an even more simple pattern by omitting the piping on the side seams and the pockets (I hate pockets in knit/elasticated waisted pants, because it makes them sag/fall down if I put anything in them) and simplifying the waistband. As usual with Burda, these went together beautifully. The only thing I have against them is that they are maybe a little bigger than I like through the waist and hip. I made a 44, which is my current Burda size based on measurements, but I'll make a 42 if I make them again.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

2014 In Review: Garment Sewing Outcomes

Although any meme that goes the rounds too extensively does tend to get annoying, one thing I like about the end of year posts is that people talk about how things they made really worked (or didn't work) for them once they started wearing them for real rather than just to take blog photos. I'm going to co-opt that part of it only for my post and screw this whole "pick your top 5!" nonsense as well. You all know I'm bafflingly long-winded, so you've only yourselves to blame for being subjected to the whole lot. Of course, I am not done sewing yet for 2014, but anything I make between now and the actual end of the year won't really get worn enough for me to form an opinion. I therefore decided to make my review of the year include only the things I made up to now in mid-December, all of which I've had the opportunity to wear and wash several times each.

In numbers

So far this year I've made 48 garments, of which:

28 of which were, by my standards at least, successful or very successful
11 more I've got at least a reasonable amount of wear from but have some problems
2 unworn, but mainly, I think, because of lack of opportunity rather than sewing failure
7 epic fails

I am still MUCH nearer the beginner than the expert end of the sewing learning. Thus, while my "problematic" garments are more numerous than I'd like, I feel like that is probably par for the course for my skill level. Plus, several of the more problematic things were great learning projects so they served some sort of purpose even if the outcome wasn't great.

I'm in the midst of writing/posting lots of (also long-winded) wardrobe planning posts. One thing I am very happy to say is that with only one exception, none of the things I made failed because I found I didn't need them or they didn't work in outfits. Obviously, some things get worn more than others, especially since I had to give up work and don't wear the more formal end of my wardrobe much at present, but pretty much everything I've made works for my life and with the things that I already own.

It's interesting, I think, to think about how successful/unsuccessful the RTW I've bought in the same period has been. I'm not going to post photos/details because that would be even more boring than this post, but for comparison purposes, I bought (or was given) a total of 30 items of RTW this year of which I would say that 19 were successful/very successful, 6 were somewhat problematic, and 5 were fails, to the point where 2 of them I have already sent to recycling. In percentage terms, that's really not that far off my clothes making experiences. I am actually kind of stunned by that, especially when I take into account that most of my successful RTW buying comes from buying direct replacements for pretty basic garments from shops where I already know the sizing, fit and fabric quality works for me. I feel like sewing has many more variables to success than that, yet the outcome this year was about the same.

Two of my hit pattern sources this year: Ottobre 02-2013 and 02-2014 (I used 3 patterns from each issue)
For my 48 garments, I used 35 different patterns from 14 different companies/pattern creators. Only 3 patterns were repeats from previous years. Of the patterns I used, 12 were from Ottobre and 8 from Burda. The rest were made up of: 4 from Big 4 envelopes, 2 from other magazines (My Image, Patrones), and 9 patterns from 7 different indie pattern creators (Maria Denmark, Kitschy Coo, Cake, Pauline Alice, Grainline, Swoon and Silhouette). I'm actually surprised by how many indies there are in that mix, since I don't think of myself as the biggest supporter of the over-priced indie pattern movement.

Now, on to my review of the actual garments:

The Hit Parade - 10 of 48 garments

All of these are things that I made that I love, and that I consider the best sewn and best fitting of the garments I've made this year. Some got more wear than others just because of the nature of the garment, but all of them are things that I reached for whenever it was suitable. Some of these projects represented a little incremental increase in skill or a new technique that I learned as well, so it's fair to say I probably also have kind of an irrational emotional attachment to these things for that reason.

Hits: Tops and Dresses
1 & 2. Chambray and blue sateen Ottobre 05-2012-07 shirts. The blue version of this shirt (bottom left) was the first collared, button-down shirt I attempted, and while I like it a lot, it does have a few little sewing problems and some minor fitting problems. However, the chambray version (main image) is without a doubt the best sewing I have done this year in terms of sewing technique, fit, and matching fabric and pattern. It comes out the wash perfectly every time and I get compliments every time I wear it, plus it's just a great wardrobe staple.

3. Purple Swoon Scarf Neck Cardigan (top left) I adore this. It is a free pattern and incredibly easy to make and it's another thing that collects compliments whenever I wear it. I love the curvy shape it creates when worn and the expensive fabric I used is some of the nicest knit I have in my wardrobe. I'd like a million of these in different colours.

4. Blue blobby polka dot top (Ottobre 02-2014-05) (top right) I loved this top when I made it back in June and wore it loads through the summer and autumn. This was my first real win for fitting a woven top at the bust. If it has a negative, it's that it's made from a synthetic fabric that doesn't breathe at all well in hot weather. I do need to adjust the neckline of the pattern as I've found it's just a tad too wide in normal wear.

5.  Black and red Kitschy Coo Lady Skater dress (bottom right). I am not normally a big wearer of dresses, but this dress turned out to be my Platonic ideal of what I want from an easy dress for work.  I was dubious when I finished it as to whether the fabric/pattern suited me, but once I started wearing it it was a struggle not to wear it all the time.

Hits: Skirts and Shorts
6. Black and white linen skirt (Ottobre 02-2007-12). (large image) This was the centrepiece of my very fast Mini-Wardrobe I made for the PR competition this summer. For a super simple little skirt, I spent a lot of time on making it as beautifully as I could and with as much care on the inside as possible. I feel like the extra effort really paid off in terms of how the finished object looks and wears after repeated washes.

7. Beige pleated skirt (Burda 03-2010-123). (top left) This was my first ever attempt at a fly front on anything. I cut this skirt a bit too short and it has a small sewing flaw at the waistband that drives me mad. However, the finished item otherwise perfectly matched the image in my head and is a shape and style I really enjoy wearing.

8. Purple skirt (Burda 02-2014-109). (bottom left) A surprise hit! When I made it I was very discouraged by this garment. However, I found it really functional and I love the colour, and also got a ton of compliments on it when I was wearing it. I'd still want to do some major pattern revision before I made this again. I had to do so much improvised alteration to get the back waist to fit that it's no wonder I hated it by the time I was done.

9 & 10. Turquoise and white shorts (Ottobre 02-2014-06) (top and bottom right). These were my first ever attempt at a woven trouser/shorts pattern and they were a big success for me. I wore the turquoise linen version in particular as often as the weather permitted this summer, and the white pair only slightly less frequently. However, even though I liked these particular shorts, I probably won't make this pattern again as overall I probably prefer shorts with a fly and pockets. Still, making these and finding them so wearable is a huge confidence builder for future woven trouser fitting.

Functional Favourites: 18 of 48 garments

I'm a very very functional sewer (by which I mean: I make a lot of very boring everyday basics). None of the items in this next category are exciting but they all turned out to be very wearable and are in constant rotation in my wardrobe. For me, these are garments that provided massive value for sewing time and effort, because they were mostly easy to make and I got tons of wear from all of them.

Functional Favourites: Skirts, yoga pants, sweatshirts and PJs

1. Refashioned maxi skirt (top left) I never really talked about this skirt on my blog. I made it in the summer from the remains of a disastrous attempt at a Washi Maxi dress made from a duvet cover in 2013. This is a truly unflattering photo of it (why, self, did you pull your skirt almost up to empire line to take this photo? D:) but this throwaway project turned out to be my most comfortable summer skirt, and I love the bird print fabric.

2 & 3. Wide-legged yoga pants (top middle and right). I made up Simplicity 2369 in red and purple, and the results are exactly what I was looking for in a yoga pant.

4 & 5. Grainline Linden sweatshirts (middle left and right). I have worn these turquoise and stripey tops every single week since I made them. I am only sad that the stripy white version is made of a cheap fabric that I am loving to destruction.

6. Black pleated skirt (middle middle). The Maria Denmark Paula Pleat pattern I used to make this basic black skirt is a really great, easy pattern. The fit is a little lower on the hips than I strictly like and gets even lower as the fabric stretches during the day. When I make this pattern again I will definitely make it a size smaller than measurements suggest and wear it higher up my body.

7, 8, 9. PJs. (Butterick 5704 bottom left and middle, Ottobre 05-2011-02 bottom right) If you want maximum wear for your sewing time, pyjamas are the thing to sew. Plus, I get great satisfaction every time I wear them from the fact that I took the time to sew both the long versions and the pair of PJ shorts really well, with French seams and the works, so they should last for a good long time.

Functional Favourites: Simple knit tops

10-18. Simple knit tops and tees These are from a variety of patterns (top row New Look 6150/personalized sloper versions 1, 2 and 3); turquoise Maria Denmark Kirsten Kimono Tee (middle left), Kitschy Coo Trifecta Tee middle middle and middle right), Ottobre 02-2012-02 (bottom left and middle) and red Burda 11-2014-113 (bottom right)). All of these tops, without exception, have been in constant rotation ever since I made them. I know a lot of people who sew decide not to make easy knits because they are so cheap to buy and aren't very interesting to sew. However, I get so much wear from mine and they are so much nicer than most of my RTW knit tops that I can't personally imagine going back to buying.

OK but...  11 of 48 garments

Now we get into the sharp and pointy end of my review. All of these items basically fall into a category of "meh". I like them enough that I still have them in my wardrobe and they're still in low rotation, but they either started out with a problem or developed a problem in wear that makes me less enthusiastic about them overall.

OK, but... Skirts and blouses
1 & 2. Black, and white floral Pauline Alice Carme blouses. (main image and top left) Main problem: Fit issues. I am really sad to include the Carme tops in this section, but even though I love the idea of them I don't find myself wearing them too often. This is mainly because there are just too many small fitting issues for them to be totally comfortable. The back is too narrow across the shoulder blades. The sleeves are too short and too tight through the elbows, and the shirts need to be just a tiny bit longer (it has a very exaggerated shirt tail hem that ends up being too short at the side on me). I really love the pleated placket and the overall look of these shirts, but the pattern needs a lot of small adjustment work before it's a really good fit on me, despite the alterations I already made between the first black version and the second white floral version.

3. Red corduroy Cake Hummingbird Skirt. (bottom left) Main problem: Stupid sewing decisions. Why did I never believe the stupid, overly didactic sewing instructions that said not to interface the waistband when I know better? Ugh! I was angry about this when I made the pattern up, and have been angry about it ever since. This skirt fits straight out the dryer and then stretches sadly larger and larger and LARGER at the waistband all day long. Luckily I have more of this fabric and can make a similar skirt with a different pattern (and interface the waistband next time!)

4. Navy polka dot Burda 02-2007-113 skirt (top right). Main problem: Poor fabric choice. I actually like this twirly skirt a lot, but I used a non-shiny polycotton lining under a polyester crepe. The lining clings to my tights annoyingly when I wear it in cold weather, and in summer with bare legs the high poly content of the skirt and lining makes me feel hot and sweaty.

5. Navy ponte Burda 01-2004-121 skirt (bottom right). Main problem: Fit issues/fabric choice. I actually loved this skirt and wore it in high rotation for a couple of months, but the waistband has been a problem from the very second I finished it and has only gotten worse with time and wash/wear. This was a sort of experiment using a woven pattern with ponte knit and I didn't really get the fit/fabric combination right.

6. Black zipper hoodie (main image) Main problem: Fabric problems. I'm also really sad to put this Ottobre 05-2013-03 zipper hoodie in the "OK, but..." heap, especially when I only finished it in November. It wouldn't be in this pile at all as the actual pattern is a total hit for me, but the fabric, despite being among the most expensive I have ever bought, is the WORST THING EVER. It constantly gets pulls, and I don't even know what it is I am catching the fabric on. It's also bobbling really badly after what I consider to be an unacceptably low number of wears. Ugh.

7. Burda 01-2013-130 wrap cardigan (top right) Main problem: fit issues plus fabric problems. I made this at the start of the year and actually wore it quite a lot at first. However, it's very frustrating to wear because of lots of little fitting issues: the sleeves are a weird 7/8ths length on me, which I hate; the bodice length is just a little too short on me; the shoulder seams are just a little too wide. Also, I made it in a black viscose knit that puckered and wobbled and was generally a nuisance when I was sewing, and continued to be disappointing by fading and bobbling after I washed it.

8 & 9. Ottobre 02-2013-13 Draped Tee and Ottobre 02-2012-02 Paintbrush tee (middle left and middle bottom row). Main problem: fabric deteriorated rapidly on wear. I bet you thought my problem with that diagonal striped draped tee was that it was just WEIRD, because it is, but I actually LOVED how it looked on. Sadly, both it and the paintbrush print top were both victims to fabric that started to look shabby after what I consider to be an unacceptably low number of washes.

10. Cowl neck My Image M1152 top. Main problem: Annoying to wear. I always WANT to like cowl necks, and then I made this one and rediscovered that I then spend the ENTIRE DAY re-arranging the cowl to stop the facing edge flipping up and/or worrying whether my bust is properly covered when I lean forward. Irritating!

11. Purple yoga pants. Main problem: Annoying to wear. I was dubious about the waistband in these Silhouette 3400 Three Piece Yoga Pants when I made them, and they have indeed proven to be irritating in practice.

Made But Never Worn: 2 of 48 garments

My goal, really, is to only ever make things that are a useful addition to my wardrobe. Obviously, some things are always going to get worn more than others, but I am quite embarrassed that I made a couple of things that I consider to be potentially successful, but that I have never worn since I took photos for this blog.

1. Green pattern woven tee (left). Since the other version of this pattern (Ottobre 02-2014-05) is in my hit parade, it's odd that I never wore this even though I was pleased with it when I finished it back in June. I did make it to go with the green linen culottes/shorts that were an epic fail, and I think the main problem was that it didn't look quite right with other things I tried it with -- the colours or the proportions were always just a bit off. This will stay in my wardrobe for now -- maybe I'll wear it next year.

2. Chambray Ottobre 05-2008-13 skirt (right). I really liked this when I finished it (not so much while I was making it due to fabric issues with the lining) and I still really like it now. So I'm kind of at a loss to explain why it's hung unworn on a hanger ever since I finished it in October. I am sure I will get some wear from it eventually so it will stay where it is.

Epic fail: 7 of 48 garments

Alas, this category contains those things that just didn't work at all, in any way. First of all, without photos because I did not take any, this year I made three wadders that never made it out of my sewing room at all: a Burda tee that I had major fabric problems with; a Patrones blouse made with the worst polyester fabric ever; and an Ottobre knit top so depressing I never even blogged about it.

I also made:

1. Black New Look 6150 faux wrap top. I actually wore this twice, in spite of the fact that it was obviously a disaster when I made it. The second time I wore it I looked in a mirror when I got home and realized it actually looked a TOTAL mess and threw it away immediately in a fit of horror. I really love the idea of this pattern and many other people have made gorgeous versions of it, but mine was completely unsuccessful because my sewing on it was just plain bad.

2. Green linen culottes. I hated these Ottobre 02-2014-04 culottes as soon as I finished them and never wore them. You know that a garment is unsuccessful when you would rather stay in PJs and do some urgent laundry rather than wear the perfectly clean, weather appropriate item already in your wardrobe, which is precisely what I ended up doing one hot day this summer with these culottes. Really annoyingly, I actually sewed these culottes really well, which is the only thing that has prevented me from throwing them in the recycling bag already. The problem was that I made culottes when I don't like them, and the fabric/pattern match was poor on top of that.

3. Turquoise Kitschy Coo Lady Skater dress. I LOVE my black/white/red version of this pattern, but I hated this version as soon as I made it. I subsequently unpicked the horrible cap sleeves shown here, added elbow length sleeves and played with the waistline to improve it, but even after all that I still never wore it. Ultimately, I just don't think it was a good fabric/pattern match because the fabric is too clingy and thin and I don't think the print suits me at all. At present this dress is still hanging in my wardrobe but doubt I'll ever wear it. I may cut it down to a skirt. Tellingly, this is the most spur of the moment garment I made this year rather than something I really planned. Spontaneity doesn't work for me, apparently.

4. Purple tie-dye Burda 07-2012-114 blouse. The fabric and the pattern combination just didn't work out the way I wanted at all and makes it look like I have a weird bulge in my side. I never wore it and can't imagine that I ever will. I will probably take this apart and see if I can re-use the fabric for something because I still kind of like the tie-dye, even if it's kind of loud.

In conclusion:

I don't know that there are any easy conclusions, actually. I am either working from too small a sample size or else there are just too many variable to discern any useful trends. However, on the positive side, clearly making my own clothes hasn't been a total waste of time and money, or at least no more of a waste of time and money than buying RTW. From a future improvement perspective, I would say that many of the problems and even some of the outright disasters are things that I can potentially avoid in future either by just getting better at sewing (I can only hope!) or fitting (already a goal) or being more fabric savvy (ditto). Other problems were less avoidable, and I tend to think that everybody, no matter how experienced, is occasionally going to have some things they make where the fabric just doesn't hold up to wear the way it ought to. Even pre-washing can only give you an inkling of how something is going to behave when it's been washed a half a dozen times.

I can't say there are any generalizable insights about patterns or pattern makers -- my fails were spread out among indies, Big 4 and magazines. Not even Ottobre worked for me every time. Not even repeats of highly successful patterns worked for me every time! I probably won't use a couple of specific indies again (Cake, in particular, I wouldn't touch with a 10 foot bargepole) or only very cautiously (Pauline Alice, because I think her draft may be just too far from my body shape) but I'm not put off continuing to try indies if I like a specific pattern.

Overall, my main conclusion is actually that I am ALL IN for another year of sewing my own clothes in 2015. I definitely had a lot more fun, despite the failures, making these clothes than buying RTW.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Wardrobe Planning II: In which I digress into discussion of the role of sewing in my wardrobe plan

My last post about wardrobe planning was really just setting out a bit of my history with clothes and being bad at wearing them, which is rather emotionally fraught. The tl;dr summary up to this point is this: having felt I had few good choices in clothing for a very long time for various reasons, and experiencing some negative work consequences as a result of being badly dressed, when I started sewing garments I decided that the answer to suddenly having almost completely free choice was to begin to plan my wardrobe. In this post, I mainly want to talk about why starting to sew prompted a mini revolution in the way I think about clothes and why this lead me to try to plan a wardrobe.

For me, personally, I feel that sewing and wardrobe planning are inextricably linked. To a large extent, this is because sewing represents a significant investment of money, especially initially, but also time and energy and above all, creative thought for me. This might come as a surprise if you read this blog as my 2014 sewing has hardly produced a scintillating array of outstandingly creative garments. However, no matter how modest my claim to interest and originality in my actual output is, the fact remains that for me at least, sewing a garment involves a whole slew of decisions and choices and time investment that I didn't have to make before when acquiring clothes. I suppose my natural inclination is to make all that effort really count, and the way I have hit upon to do that is to have some kind of over-arching direction to my efforts. As a result, I don't have a sewing plan that is in any way distinct from my wardrobe plan.

Almost as soon as I first started sewing garments in 2012 (having initially made nothing but bags and other accessories for about 9 months) I decided that the most critical thing a sewing/wardrobe plan could achieve would be to help me to figure out a way to make more deliberate clothing acquisition choices that somehow add up to a more organized and cohesive wardrobe than the hit-and-miss hodge-podge that I tended to accumulate in the past. Partly, this is about getting the most from my efforts in some kind of value terms, but partly this is about wanting to have a wardrobe that says something about me in a more general way.

Quite often, I think that the idea of being deliberate in my clothing acquisitions is the best thing that taking up the old needle and thread as a hobby has given me, the other pleasures of sewing notwithstanding. For me, the idea of being deliberate becomes important mainly because of the relatively arduous nature of sewing vs. buying combined with my own cheapskate thrifty, personal-time-valuing habits. Even though I seem to sew relatively quickly (which is probably more a product of the amount of my leisure time I dedicate to it than actual speed) sewing is still a slow and not necessarily inexpensive way to acquire clothes compared to the alternatives. Every time I choose to make a garment I am really choosing to invest quite a lot into the whole process of producing it: far more time and effort and probably far more money than I would need to buy something similar. Since my time and money is limited, it makes sense to me to pick projects reasonably carefully, to get the maximum value from what time and money I do have.

The question of what makes a project have the right might amount of value though isn't entirely straightforward or objective. I tend to describe myself as a utilitarian sewer: more inclined to cake, in the popular sewing phrase, than frosting. Regular readers will know that I tend to make mainly (very boring to read about) everyday basics. But my reasons for doing so are only partly classically utilitarian. I genuinely enjoy the actual process of sewing (except for cutting out, which, yuck) and since I dislike shopping there is some immediate value to making ANY clothes compared to buying. I also find wearing hand-made clothing more rewarding as well. In fact, I make everyday basics in part because in doing so I make sure I get a tiny little frisson of happiness every day from wearing things I've made. I can't buy that one second hit of joy, and I like it too much to restrict it to the vanishingly rare occasions when I wear a party dress. I certainly can't put any kind of objective value on the fact that putting on something I made myself makes me smile in a morning.

The smile comes mainly, I think, from the opportunity provided by sewing for creativity and self-expression. I am surprised by, but totally accepting of the fact that I love wearing the things I make, the products of my own brain and hands and labour. I feel like every time I put on something I made, I am shouting at the world: I like this! I made this! This is an example of my taste and my eye and my skills and how I spend my time! This is who I am!

Of course, anyone who gets dressed every day could make precisely the same claims. However, as I described in my last post, for most of my life so far I would say that clothing and clothing choices were very far from a source of joy and very rarely a means of creative self-expression for me. Clothes were mostly the subject of pragmatic concerns (is it clean? am I covered?) and sometimes of anxiety and sadness (is this appropriate? why can't I find anything that fits?). Being creative and self-expressive in this way, using clothes to shout This is who I am! was something I felt was more wisely left to other women: thinner women, prettier women, younger women, and above all, women who perform their femininity in more socially acceptable ways. Women who weren't me, in other words.

The fact is, of course, that if people are trying to interpret who you are through what you wear (or more generally, how you present yourself visually) they are going to be doing so anyway, no matter whether you declare yourself loftily above fashion or simply pretend that it isn't happening. I was already saying something about myself with what I wore, although probably more at a whisper than at a shout, and perhaps not with any great precision or comfort with the language. Pre-sewing, I felt that most of the time the degree of control I had over that message was very limited, particularly when I was in the largest sizes I ever wore. My choices narrowed with every size I went up. "This top, or no top at all" means wearing butterfly tunics to work, no matter my feelings on the subjects of butterflies, whimsy in the workplace, and the appropriateness of long flowy tops in a job when I might have to go walkabout on the factory shop floor. In more mainstream sizes, I still found myself confined to someone else's message: someone else's idea of how long or short my skirt should be, someone else's idea of what colours should be available this year. I was at the mercy now not of the desire to drape fat women in metres of fabric in the name of concealment, but of fashion instead.

The idea I've come to embrace, that clothes are a legitimate source of self-expression, even for me (not thin, not pretty, not young, often not performing anything like traditionally feminine characteristics in my behaviours or interests or work, not "fashionable") is in some ways a quite radical outcome of something as seemingly trivial as starting to sew. My sense of control and personal investment is much greater than when I am buying. I see a value in clothes that I didn't before in expressing to others who I am.

I think a great deal of that value, for me, comes from the fact that the things that I make are an opportunity to be unique. If you buy RTW, even beautiful, well-made RTW, ultimately you are wearing someone else's good idea. When I wear things I've made myself, I smugly congratulate myself on my own good idea. Of course, in reality, my garment is from a pattern that untold numbers of women have access to, from a fabric that came in a many-hundreds-of-metres roll from a factory. Though I try my best, I am hardly an expert seamstress so my efforts rarely rise above the standards of fast fashion in terms of quality. However, all these limitations aside, the fact remains that the likelihood that anyone will create exactly the same thing as me is vanishingly small. Whereas as a non-sewing person my options for self-expression were limited to the assembling of outfits, as a sewer everything about my hand-made garment, down to the positioning of individual threads holding it together, is all my choice and it all says something -- not necessarily anything very interesting, but still something -- about me.

Perhaps my new-found interest in what my wardrobe says about me boils down to this: I feel in control of it in a way that was more nebulous or unacknowledged when I was simply choosing between the same garments in the same High Street shops as every other woman in Britain. I would say overall it's more of a source of entertainment and happiness to me than buying clothes has ever been, even with the added stress of wondering if my clothes look "home-made", rather than "hand-made". It is also, of course, to some extent a new source of anxiety as well. My concern has shifted more specifically to what I am saying about who I am, and whether these are consistent with what I want to say, and whether the conversation I have with my clothes is coherent. I find myself wanting to develop something like a consistent personal style, something that is identifiably me even though the individual garments change.

Wending my way back to the topic at hand, then: because of these factors, it has come to seem perfectly natural to me to pick my sewing projects very deliberately and in line with a larger plan. I choose to make things that I know I will wear often, just because I want to wear my hand-made clothes often. From a wardrobe planning perspective, to maximize wear, it helps if any new garment fits in with what I already own. And the things that I make need to say something, to me at least, that I interpret as meaning "This is who I am!", and to do so in a way that is moderately coherent.

Thus, the last philosophical step in my wardrobe planning process has been to figure out how it is I want to dress, and that is what I will probably talk about next.

ETA: Part IIIa is now available to read, and is on the subject of wardrobe size.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

More gift sewing: Creeper backpacks

My nephew and niece (aged 9 and 6) are OBSESSED with Minecraft. They are in the UK on holiday for the festive season and I decided back in about October that I wanted to make them something Minecraft related for their gifts. Honestly, if I'd known I was going to have a major illness relapse in November and feel horrible as a result this last month, I probably would have opted to buy them something instead. However, since I'd already acquired all the bits I needed it seemed a shame not to at least try to make the things I had planned in whatever time I felt well. Luckily, I've had a run of partial good days lately and I'm pretty efficient at making bags, so I managed to get them done!

Creeper backpack (front closed, side showing side pocket, and front open to show eyelets)
I make no claim to substantial knowledge about Minecraft. Creepers, however, are little green and black bad guys that roam around the Minecraft universe and explode upon the unwary. They are quite an iconic little symbol and the colours -- vivid green and black -- are nice and graphic (if hard to photograph). There's a surprising dearth of nice Minecraft merchandise, especially patches, but I happened across Barefoot Sewing, which stocks all kind of superhero and tv-show-related patches, including a Creeper patch. The prices and shipping were pretty reasonable, even shipping to the UK. (I am not affiliated, just a one-time customer.) For the main body of the bag I used 1m of an inexpensive plain black heavyweight polycotton twill per bag. I pulled the zips and other hardware from my stash. There's no difference at all between the two bags except that I made the straps shorter for the younger of the two children and they have the first letters of their name embroidered on them to identify them.

Burda 08-2014-153
The pattern is actually a first for me in that I took it from Burda. More specifically, it's Burda 08-2014-153, which is shown in the magazine in a rather nice blue and white striped version. This is the first time I've used a Burda bag or craft pattern -- frankly, it's the first time a non-garment pattern from the magazine has stayed in my memory long enough for me to even think of it. I usually skim past all the crafty/non-garment pages without much interest. I'll be paying more attention in future to the bags at least, since I quite enjoyed making this pattern up and I'm very pleased with the results. It is a simple unlined bag with one big main pocket, two side pockets with flaps, and a front pocket with a zip. It's closed at the top under the top flap with eyelets and a cord.

You have to draw a few of the pieces (the main flap and side pocket flaps, and the front pocket piece) using a little diagram in the pattern instructions text. This was very straightforward since the shapes are all quite easy. Other than that, the bag, fairly typically, is just made up of a number of different rectangles that you cut according to a text description. The construction method is also explained in Burda-typical text only, but I actually found it well explained and easy enough to follow. The only bit that I thought was a bit tricky is the corners of the front pocket -- not helped by the fact that my zips are rather substantial chunky metal things that were quite heavy and difficult to manoeuvre -- but that is more a sewing issue than an instruction issue.

I did make a couple of tiny changes: I added some magnetic snap fasteners to the side and front flaps as I thought they were necessary and left off the hanging loop. I also used the main bag fabric rather than using twill tape wherever indicated for straps etc. -- I've made a LOT of bag straps over the years so this was kind of a no-brainer for me. Only one skill was new to me with this pattern, and that was the installation of the eyelets, which were of a type I have not used before. I always like the way bags look when I use this kind of hardware but ugh, the little tools you get in the packages of those eyelets are basically useless. You're much better off with a seam ripper, a pair of very sharp pointy scissors and a little hammer.

If I have a complaint about the pattern, it's that I don't love the strap arrangement. I don't really hate it either, though. Probably if I were making the bag for myself I'd do something with different, probably adjustable straps as I tend to prefer them on backpacks. However, I ran out of time to buy additional hardware for adjustable straps and so the kids got the unaltered version. To be frank, the kids will get many, much more interesting presents on Christmas day. I very much doubt these bags will get more than a glance or two, but hopefully they'll find them useful a few times once they get home, at least.

In conclusion: Creepers! :D And that's my gift sewing done for the year, well ahead of schedule and despite my concerns that illness would result in me handing out IOUs rather than gifts this Christmas.

Next up on my sewing table... actually next up is a profoundly tedious alteration project I am doing for my mum, which I won't be posting about, but after that, I have a whole pile of different things that are competing for my time and attention: a vintage blouse pattern, another knit trouser pattern, and some more bags and stuff. I'm hoping to get quite a bit of sewing done over the holidays. Meanwhile, I have a STACK of posts in draft about wardrobe planning and reviewing the things I've made this year, etc, which I am looking forward to finishing up writing.