Thursday, 20 August 2015

Knitted: Backshore sweater

Finished jumper, hurrah!
Among previous (mis)adventures in knitting, I'd made only one attempt at a jumper, back in 2013. This resulted in a Purple Monstrosity of a (partial) sweater: too big, tons of horrible mistakes (holes!) in the fabric, cheap acrylic yarn that felt really soft and nice as a skein but turned plasticky and started to bobble while I knitted with it, etc etc. I unofficially gave up on it some time in ate 2013, officially abandoned it in March 2014 then eventually threw it away and sold off the remaining yarn at the end of last year. In the meantime, I retreated to scarves, socks and shawls as being much easier to knit and more likely to be successful. This year though, I found though that once I started to have some success with the slightly more complicated sock and shawl patterns I tried I felt suddenly a lot more enthusiastic about the possibility of trying to knit a jumper again. (My Nurmilintu shawl in particular was a big confidence booster for some reason, even though in fact there are loads of mistakes in the lace!)

Front and back views on Flossie. I don't know why the back hem is crooked, it isn't really.

Enter Backshore( Ravelry link). I actually don't really remember how or why I settled on making a one-colour version of a striped sweater pattern, out of all the million similar basic patterns that are on Ravelry. I am quite happy that I did though. It's a very straightforward sort of pattern, especially if you skip the stripes, it seems reasonably well-written to me (although I am not really experienced enough to say), and produced more or less exactly what I expected. I did have to learn a few more basic stitches as I worked through the pattern, but nothing proved especially difficult. I really like some of the little details on the sweater a lot as well, especially the woven stitch hem and cuff bands, though I have to admit I hadn't even really noticed that they were part of the pattern before I started knitting.

Woven stitch detail on the hem band
The one supremely useful lesson I learned from the Purple Monstrosity was this: buy better yarn! I didn't exactly go wild with the cost of my yarn but I did spend about half as much again as for my first jumper attempt. More importantly, though, I went for a fibre I thought I'd be much happier to work with and wear: a cotton merino blend, Drops Cotton Merino DK (in Storm Blue), which several previous knitters on Ravelry had used for this pattern. This turned out to be a very good choice. It was super easy to knit with, I had no problem at all getting gauge and I love the texture and feel of the fabric it produced.

Eyelet detail (totally intentional holes!) from the raglan "seam" and down the inner sleeve
My finished sweater is by no means perfect, although it's about a million times better than my last attempt. There is just one unintentional hole  in the fabric, happily enough hidden among intentional holes, but there are some patches where the stitching is uneven even after blocking. If I have a big complaint about the finished item, it's that I blindly followed the directions with regards to the sleeve length: the pattern has three quarter sleeves which is not my favourite sleeve length in a sweater. I should really have kept going and made full length sleeves as it turned out that I had plenty of yarn left over -- in fact, frustratingly, I have one entire skein untouched and more than half of a second skein unused. I am also not in love with the wide rolled neckline, and I'll be sure to pick patterns with more finished necklines in future.

Backshore sweater as modelled by yours truly

Fit-wise, I am quite happy with how it turned out. I wasn't really sure what size to choose and ended up knitting a size that is the same size as my bust, although actually I should have factored in that a sweater is a top layer rather than using my usual in-my-underwear measurements. That is less ease than the pattern creator envisaged I think, but works for me.

In conclusion: successful sweater is successful! I am fired by enthusiasm to make more jumpers now that I have managed to finish this one :D I am amazed how much I could accomplish by setting myself the goal of knitting at least a little bit every day. In total it took a month and a half to make the sweater, which I started as a summer project on 1 July, including a brief hiatus towards the end of July while I was feeling too ill to knit. It helps of course that I was using DK weight yarn and so I did get much more visible return for my knitting time compared to e.g. 4ply. Still, I really enjoyed taking daily photos for Instagram and actually being able to see so much progress from relatively little time spent knitting.

Next up on my needles: first, I have already cast on a scarf that my mum requested I make for her (and bought yarn for me to knit as well). It should be a quick little project because I've picked a very easy pattern and it's a super-chunky yarn. In fact, I'd be astonished if I don't end up finishing it this week. Second, though, I am planning my next sweater! I plan to start it September 1 and try to do the "a little every day" approach again, as it will hopefully be a good weight for late autumn, so it would be nice to have it ready to wear six or eight weeks later. For reasons, I also bought the yarn for a scarf, despite swearing up and down I wasn't going to make any more this year. /o\ So I have a whole knitting PLAN for the rest of the year, really.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Sewing for autumn

Although I am hopeful of a few more weeks of at least moderately pleasant and warm weather (she says, hollowly, looking at a weather forecast full of rain...) I have decided I am done with summer sewing for now. As usual, I am just going to feign amnesia about whatever it was I said I was going to make at the start of the summer and thus whether or not I achieved it. Lalala, new season, new plan!
Ottobre 05-2012-05 a.k.a the jacket I swear I am going to try to make this autumn
For the umpteenth time, at the top of my list is outerwear. No, come back! I promise I am really truly going to make a jacket this time! No, really! I have the pattern out ready to trace already! /o\ (Ahem, not that tracing the pattern got me any closer to making outerwear on previous occasions...) 

Seriously though, I swear I'm going to try to at least make a muslin of this Ottobre jacket over the next few weeks. There's some degree of urgency, even, to this plan as we approach the autumn, because my actual outerwear wardrobe situation is becoming dire. I've been holding off on acquiring a new jacket in the hopes that I could make one myself. This means, basically, that I don't have one right now at all. If it turns out that my muslin is a hot mess then I'll probably have to give in and buy something. It would be very sad to have to stoop to RTW, especially since anything I buy would probably last for years and then I wouldn't get to use the fabric I've been hoarding keeping for this very purpose for at least two years. On the other hand, this encourages me to set the bar pretty low for a good jacket outcome: I can make one and even if it's not great, it's better than no jacket at all, right? So: Operation Jacket is a go, and provided my (presently suboptimal, unfortunately) state of health permits, I hope to be able to show off SOMETHING tangible soon.

Operation Jacket aside, while thinking about what else I want to make this autumn I made the mistake of spending some quality time last week while feeling too ill to do more than sit around on my sofa going through all of my (MANY) back issues of various magazines, my envelope pattern collection, my PDF files, and so on. At any rate, as a result I was (as always when I undertake this exercise) overwhelmed with a burning desire to MAKE ALL THE THINGS, but more specifically decided that this autumn I want to sew a bunch of new patterns and some slightly different styles than I have been sewing for the last year or so. As a result, there is SO MUCH pattern tracing and sticky taping PDFs together in my future, you wouldn't even believe it.

From left to right: Lekala 4341; Burda 07-2010-137, Simplicity 1063, StyleArc Demi-Drape; Ottobre 05-2011-11

First, I want to make a handful of knit tops that aren't intended for layering. As previously discussed, I am really very consistent in liking to wear outfits with visible layering. As a result, I do love the many basic tees/long-sleeved tees that I've made that fit smoothly under other layers. In fact, I will also need to make a couple of basic tops to replace some that have worn out over the next couple of weeks, not pictured above. However, I also like the idea of making some tops with more visible design features that I can wear on their own in the autumn or under an open cardigan rather than as a layer. I've picked out four patterns and matching fabrics: a deep cowl neck w/ fake layering, a faux wrap, a layered multi coloured top and a draped front top. I also want to make a knit hoodie, and I'll be using a Lekala pattern for the first time to do that.

Stylish Dress Book. Why do the models always look so desperately glum? Is that just the Japanese aesthetic?
Second, digging through my wardrobe, I came across some leggings I haven't worn in a while. I am not a huge wearer of leggings but I do like to wear them now and again on days when I'm not leaving the house instead of yoga pants. I haven't worn the pair I own recently because the tunic top I liked to wear with them is long gone, so a replacement longer woven top/tunic went on my list.

The biggest departure here is the pattern source: I will probably have a go at a pattern from Stylish Dress Book: Wear With Freedom, which is one of those Japanese pattern books with the miserable looking models standing around in many voluminous layers of cotton holding various unrelated objects for no apparent reason (a purse! a vase full of flowers! some kind of beverage and a ladle! WHY.) It's not my usual aesthetic, and I have to admit I still don't find the books super appealing in either format or presentation. However, I discovered, through Pinterest, a lot of versions of the patterns that were much more appealing to me, and that prompted me to pick up a copy second-hand. It will be an interesting experiment, anyway, and since it's all intentionally for stuff to wear around the house it's pretty low risk.

McCalls 7193, which I hope to buy in a sale since LOL NO to full UK prices
Third, I want to make some more woven tops that aren't classic button-fronted. Not that I think I'm expert at button-fronted yet or anything, but I don't need every woven top in my wardrobe to be a classic shirt so it's time to branch out. I've made a shortlist of options from Burda back issues, but I'm also waiting (and waiting, and WAITING) for McCall's patterns to go on sale in the UK again so I can pick up one of the new season's patterns.

Other than all of that, I have vague plans to make a zippered tote bag, and a couple of other little non-garment things. I have a BUNCH of plans for embroidery and fabric manipulation experiments, but I imagine that if I get to them at all in the next three months or so it'll just be to make samplers.

Finally, I have already picked out a winter sweater to knit over the next few months, fired up by my continued success at knitting my Backshore sweater (latest update: half-way through sleeve two, will probably finish this week, in LOVE with it). I also promised a scarf to my mum, which will actually probably be my next project since I need a quick and mindless knit after working on the Backshore sweater.

Phew. That's a lot of plans. I wasn't kidding when I said I felt FIRED with enthusiasm to make all the things at the moment. I feel like if I were actually healthier I'd be on an absolute creative rampage at the moment. As it is, since I've had a bad couple of weeks health-wise I've apparently channelled it all into wildly ambitious sewing plans. :D I hope I do get to do SOME of it at least!

PS. Did everyone see the new Ottobre magazine is out? My copy (on subscription) came earlier in the week. Nothing is jumping out at me as a MUST MAKE, unfortunately, although I find that Ottobre tends to be more of a sleeper hit for me. I'll think there's nothing in it and then three months later half the issue is on my wishlist.

PPS. Speaking of which: I LOVE the new Burda (September 2015), which arrived at my house this weekend. That is the first time I've said that about Burda ALL FREAKING YEAR. Unfortunately, the stuff I am completely nuts over is nothing I need for my current boring lifestyle, so I won't be making any of it soon, but omg, so happy that ONE issue this year excites me after months of just side-eyeing every issue going "really? no, I mean, but REALLY?"

PPPS. OK, terrible admission time: I was feeling really fed up with Burda and after I picked up a recent issue of Knipmode, the Dutch pattern magazine, I was impressed enough to struggle through the subscription-from-outside-of-the-Netherlands process. It starts this month -- in fact, I should get the September issue this week, all being well. I... really don't need any more magazines, but it's a sickness, apparently. /o\ I'll report back!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

My 4th Sewing-versary, and a sleeveless shirt (Ottobre 02-2006-4)

Today is the 4th anniversary of the day my shiny new sewing machine arrived on my doorstep! Whee!

I do know, of course, that it's a stupid milestone to celebrate, even in the mildest sense of "celebrate" where I mean "compose a rambling blog post on the topic". However, sewing has been such a rewarding hobby to have picked up that I do like to reflect on it a little bit. Since 2011 I've sewn a lot of bags, clothes and sundry other things, replaced that original basic sewing machine with something a bit more sophisticated, bought an overlocker, a coverstitch, far more fabric than I ever thought possible, more books, patterns and pattern magazines than I'll ever use, and a million other things. Who knew that first purchase was the gateway to a life-ruiningly expensive hobby that I would nevertheless love to pieces and get a huge charge from every single day? I seriously think that there isn't a day that goes by when I don't either sew or think about sewing in some way.

Unfortunately, since I've continued to be so ill for the last year I have not really had the ability or need to level up on the sewing front over the last 12 months. The fact of the matter is that my lifestyle has been very limited since my last sewing-versary. I'd love to be making outfits for work and parties and holiday capsule wardrobes, I really would, and not least of all because it would imply I was working, going to parties and able to go off on holiday. One day soon, maybe! In fact, let me just cross every finger, toe and other appendage I have that this time next year it's a whole different story and I'm talking about the new things I've had to learn to sew to fit in with a new, less sickly lifestyle.

That said, mainly-pyjama-wearing lifestyle notwithstanding, I have moved on a BIT since this time last year. The biggest stride forward, when I look at the things I've made since August 2014, has been an increasing level of comfort with working with woven fabrics for my upper body. Shirts and shirt-making were a big sewing ambition for me from the start of my garment sewing adventures and since last August I've made really quite a lot of different woven tops. They haven't all been wholly successful, but there's definitely been a learning curve I've been climbing up this last year that seems to be working for me.

Ottobre 02-2006-04 Sleeveless blouse in red polka dots
As it happens, the latest garment I finished precisely exemplifies where I think I am with my sewing compared to my last sewing-versary. This is a simple little sleeveless blouse from Ottobre (more specifically, it's Ottobre 02-2006-04). I don't wear too many sleeveless tops due to an (annoying, I'm-such-a-tool-of-the-patriarchy-ugh) lack of confidence about showing off my upper arms, but I decided I wanted one in my wardrobe for this summer. I used 1m of crisp red polka dot cotton for the fabric. Something about red polka dots always screams retro!! to me, which isn't my style at all, but I bought it on a whim and I am quite pleased with how the combination of fabric and pattern worked out.

Little details: satin bias tape, collar points, contrast top stitching
On the one hand, there were aspects of construction that, in my opinion, really show the difference between now and a year ago. I've continued to really work on my seam finishes and my overall finish generally in my sewing over the last year. When I was making this shirt there were things I did almost automatically that improve the quality of the finish: flat-felling all the seams, making sure I got nice sharp points on my collar, working my seams and top-stitching so that it rolls slightly over to the underside of the collar, and so on. Nobody will ever notice those details except me, but I really am quite proud of them.

But what is causing that little wrinkle on my shoulders? So annoying!
On the other hand, there are a few things that are not quite right with this top, and all of them come down to that perpetual sewing bugbear: fit. The bust darts are just a little too high and a bit too long. I could have done with an extra 1-2cm at the rear hip. There's something not entirely right through the shoulder but I'm damned if I know what the problem is or how to fix it. I like my shirt, but it's imperfect, to sat the least. Still, an imperfectly fitted shirt is better than I managed last year, when shirt-making was still an optimistic dream of a project rather than any kind of reality!

I make a lot of resolutions and plans on this blog (not many of which I actually carry out!) so I don't feel any need to do any more of that here except for one: I really hope that in a year's time I am still saying how much I enjoy sewing and how glad I am that I suddenly decided, back in August 2011, that it would be a fun thing to do.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

This isn't the summer I ordered, I want a refund >:(

Ah, the end of July/beginning of August. The height of summer!

The week of weather I have just endured
Or, you know, day after day of rain and well-below-average temperatures that made it cold enough that I've been wearing a sweater most days. On top of that, the last ten days or so I've been sick as a dog with a relapse of the same stupid illness. As an added annoyance, there is no sign of anyone making a decision about when/if I get the treatment that will (hopefully) put a stop to these constant relapses, even though I was promised by several different people that I would definitely hear in July. So, ugh, I am glad to see the back of last month, and I am going to be optimistic that the weather will improve (this week is meant to be less cold, at least, if not significantly less rainy) and that when the Powers That Be said "July" they actually meant "early August". Fingers crossed, anyway.

In sewing news, let me sum up my achievements in July:



Well, I did make a maxi skirt, as well as one sleeveless woven tank wearable muslin and 1 unsuccessful sleeveless tank. I also knitted approximately half a jumper, and I've been posting photos on and off of it here and on my Instagram. My July fabric stats: I used 1.1m of fabric in total (plus some scrap which didn't count) which is not a very helpful stash reduction. On the positive side, I didn't buy any fabric at all, so at least it WAS an overall stash reduction, if not precisely an impressive one.

The only project I haven't previously posted about is playing with the Wiksten Tank pattern. I started out by making a wearable muslin from olive green cotton voile:

Wearable muslin Wiksten Tank
I made a size Medium, with a 1.5cm FBA that required the introduction of a side bust dart, lengthened the top overall by about 2cm, and did a 1cm square shoulder adjustment. The fit is OK -- good through the bust, at least, and the right amount of floaty and loose at the waist for the look I wanted. (Apologies for photos on Flossie only, which make any discussion of fit kind of pointless, but I haven't really felt up to taking a photo on me.)

The big fit problem I had is the neckline, which isn't quite right at the back neck though I don't know how to fix it either. Actually, the whole neckline is a problem. As you can see, it's faced with a bias strip. Almost all the versions of this that I've seen online have the same problem: the neckline wants to curve out from the body at the bottom of the U of the neckline. I also don't think I'm alone in struggling to get a really flat, unwrinkled finish with the final round of topstitching. I read a couple of things on how to fix this (mainly: steam your bias strip into an appropriate curve before you sew) but I was stymied in execution by the fact that the contrast bias strip I used was just a little bit heavier than the (very) lightweight voile I was using for the top itself. By the time I'd stitched and folded and stitched again, the difference in weight was very pronounced, even though I trimmed out the excess from the seam after the first pass. It ended up feeling really quite bulky and thick. My recommendation is that you use a MUCH lighter fabric for the bias strip than the main fabric AND pre-steam the curve in order to get results better than mine.

(Also, in defence of the horribly wrinkled condition of the top in this photo -- I ironed this top for TEN MINUTES before I took the photos. This fabric wrinkles if you LOOK at it. I was planning to make a shirt with the rest of my piece of this green voile but I don't know if I can bear to as clearly it would be a wrinkly mess the whole time I wear it!).

I was pleased enough by the muslin to attempt another version. My original goal was to make a colour-blocked light blue/dark blue tank based on a RTW top I saw recently in a catalogue. I did a little bit of experimenting using Pixelmator (inexpensive OSX drawing/Photoshop type tool) and the Wiksten Tank technical drawing and decided I wanted to split the top approximately 2/3rds of the way down for the most aesthetically pleasing colour blocking.

Colour-blocked tank idea (uses the Wiksten tank technical drawing as a base)
I ordered some pale blue silk/cotton for the upper part and planned to use a scrap of light-weight navy blue cotton sateen left over from my very first button-front shirt for the bottom part. However, when the silk/cotton arrived, it was barely opaque and I decided I couldn't use it for the upper bodice. I eventually cut the top in reverse: dark blue at the top, light blue at the bottom.

Melted seam :(
Alas, at this point everything went wrong. I sewed the bodice pieces together and overlocked the seam, but when I went to press it the lighter blue fabric MELTED under my (relatively cool) iron. It was a total mess, and the worst of it was, of course, on the front where it was very very obvious. I bemoaned this on Instagram, and Sew Crafty Chemist suggested that maybe I could take a bit out the length to recover, which I tried this morning. I took out about 1cm, and the worst of the melty bit was gone. It wasn't great but it definitely looked a ton better. However, then I managed to sew the front and back together the wrong way and had to unpick 2 French seams, and then I cut a hole in the fabric unpicking, and then I caught the fabric on my (much cooler, but evidently not cool enough) iron AGAIN and melted it and in conclusion: I am SO VERY DONE with this failure of a tank top, and I have tossed it. I think I'll pretend that whole thing never happened and just move blithely on to my August plans.

Those August plans are a bit nebulous, as it depends a lot on how quickly I recover from my current round of illness. I am hoping to finish knitting my jumper. I have a couple more woven tops that I want to make, including one Ottobre sleeveless shirt that I cut out this morning. The big dramatic project though is that if I am feeling very well and brave, I intend to muslin my Burda rain coat later this month!

Speaking of Ottobre, one good thing about August is that it's time for the new magazine! They put the covers on Facebook at the end of last week with an announcement that the magazine had just gone to be printed, so it shouldn't be TOO long before the previews go up on their website and then the magazine itself should be in my hot sticky hands soon thereafter. I found myself less inspired than I hoped by the Spring/Summer 2015 issue, so I am hoping this issue really speaks to me, especially as Burda continues to be very disappointing for me this year.