Thursday, 31 March 2016

Next up...

I can't believe it's April tomorrow! The weather has been quite spring-like here, where by spring-like I mean so changeable that it frequently pours with rain while being blindingly sunny at one and the same time. My daffodils are out in force though and things are generally looking a bit more green and cheerful, so I don't mind too much.

It's also the end of the first quarter of the year, so I had a squint at my sewing goals for the year to see how I'm doing.
  • Budget: Uh, well. /o\ I am about 20% over right now. At least there is plenty of year left to claw that back. On the plus side, I have been super careful about my pattern buying so far this year and have managed to keep spending on them to a bare minimum.
  • Reduce garment stash to under 150m. I mentioned at the end of February that unfortunately in the middle of a really terrible couple of weeks I went kind of mad on the fabric buying. I mean, I don't really regret it, precisely, because there are much worse ways to relieve stress. However, it does mean that even though I've done quite a lot of sewing (by my standards) over the last three months, I haven't made that much of a dent in my stash -- I am a mere 3.75m down on where I started the year. On the other hand, nearly everything I bought is for use in the next few months, so that's an improvement on last year. My 2016 stash reduction AND use-what-I-buy-in-2016 goals are definitely still achievable with 9 months to go and a sewing queue that mostly uses stash.
  • Among my specific skill-building type goals, I actually ticked one off! I made a piece of outerwear, my red raincoat, and after 2 weeks of wear I can report I am still thoroughly delighted with it.

New Look 6251 -- I am making view B
My plans for March start out pretty specific and then get all vague. I am in the middle of making New Look 6251, a knit bodywarmer type thing -- I guess Americans would say a 'vest', though that means something entirely different to me! - with a zip. When I say "in the middle of making", I mean I cut it out last weekend but then so far have had a week of total sewing apathy so it's still just in pieces on my cutting mat. I have barely walked into my sewing room this week, let alone got around to re-threading my serger in suitable thread. Some weeks are just like that.

Once that is done, I have another shirt on my list (using my old favourite Ottobre 05-2012-07) but it's a plaid so of course I've been putting off cutting it out because urgh, plaid matching. I also want to replace some of my older and more worn t-shirts before summer arrives. I'm planning to make four in total in a mix of patterns, some of which are new and some of which I've used before.

After that, there are more question marks than firm plans. I want to make some kind of cardigan with the expensive striped knit that didn't (and won't) end up being a Grainline Morris, but I am not at all sure what pattern to use. I'm also sort of thinking about making a grey denim jacket, or working on the unlined jacket I'm planning to make with the blue/green linen I dyed in February, but I also can't decide what patterns to use for either the denim or the linen or which I want to make first. I urgently need a tote bag with a zip but I need to resize the pattern I plan to use, and I'd like to make a new handbag for this summer but have so far no opinion on fabric, pattern or anything else.

Friday, 25 March 2016

This is my homage to Clint Barton (Burda 03-2012-127)

Finished Burda 03-2012-127 in cream and black arrows fabric
This finished Burda shirt from the 03/2012 issue comes at the end of a sad series of failed plans.

Actually, let me pause here for an aside. I was back-reading my blog a few days ago and realized I seem to write a lot about all the (many) times everything has gone pear-shaped when I sew. This is especially noticeable when I compare what I write to a lot of the blogs that I read, which are often all "here is my 86th gorgeous and successful project of the year!". I'm pretty sure I must come across as utterly incompetent by comparison. I suppose I could only tell you about my successes, but (a) uh, I'd have to post a lot less /o\ and (b) that was never the point of this blog, which was mainly about me documenting my sewing learning curve and only secondarily about entertaining other people. For me, there is no point in even talking about the learning curve if I leave out the bad days where everything goes wrong or if I stop being constructively critical of the things I make -- even when they went mostly right. That's my excuse, anyway.

Back to my failed plans. I started out with Plan A: Make a complete set of woven PJs including a top with a shirt-collar, using one of my TNT PJ patterns, Burda 8271. I've made the bottoms from this OOP envelope pattern on several occasions now, but the top part was new to me.
Plans A and B, and the only thing that resulted from them, a measly pair of PJ pants
I cut everything out of a large piece of inexpensive 100% cotton fabric I bought last year, with floral contrast fabric for the sleeve cuffs of the top and everything. I started out, successfully enough, by making the PJ bottoms. These of course took no time at all even if I do insist on french seaming every seam in PJs (90% for laundry longevity, 10% for reasons of Being Pointlessly Fancy About My Seam Finishes). However, I started to have doubts about the fabric as I worked with it. It's a very lightweight white cotton with a self-stripe and it frayed and pulled and definitely demonstrated the perils of cheap fabric.

Despite these doubts, I started the next day on the top, which should have been straightforward. The pattern is just a pullover shirt with a placket very similar to the grey and white Knipmode shirt I made recently. However, right at step one of the placket insertion I had a moment of really intense left/right right-side/wrong-side confusion and did something wrong. By the time I realized what I'd done, many steps later in the pattern, it had all gone completely and utterly wrong. I could possibly have fixed it, I think, though only with a great deal of effort. However, by the point I had to decide whether to unpick 90% of what I'd done so far, my doubts about the fabric had become much more serious. I really wasn't sure it would survive that much unpicking, it was NOT fun to work with, and I'd found a proto-hole in the body of the garment. After taking a break from the problem, I eventually decided it wasn't worth continuing and binned the PJ top (I kept the completed bottoms, of course). I then moved on to:

Plan B: Make a Grainline Morris jacket, the PDF pattern for which is visible in the photo above. Having seen many cute versions of this pattern made up recently, I was excited about this right up until I decided to flick through some reviews before I cut into the rather expensive striped cotton pique knit that I had been planning to use. It seems people who use soft, lightweight knits with this pattern routinely have a problem with the fabric sagging under the weight of the facings and were disappointed by the outcome they got. My striped knit is very soft and lightweight. Foiled again! I didn't have a backup pattern in mind for the fabric (and still don't! What will you become, expensive stripy knit?) or a suitable sturdy knit fabric in stash for the Morris, so I sighed, rolled up the pattern, and moved on entirely again to:

Plan C: Make a 70s raglan sleeved top pattern I own up in a drapey white viscose shirting fabric.
This was scuppered by discovering a flaw that runs right through my 2m of fabric and that I couldn't find a way to cut around. Eventually, I consigned the fabric to a pile ear-marked for lining and stuffed the pattern back in the envelope because I was beyond fed up of the sight of it it after playing pattern/flawed fabric Tetris for-freaking-ever. Ugh. Moving on again, I dejectedly got started on:

Plan D: Make a shirt using Burda 03-2012-127. And finally, a project on which I got some traction!

Burda 03-2012-127 Blouse with gathered collar
I would like to say I was personally able to look past Burda's styling (what is that shiny silver fabric, Burda?) and the uninspiring technical drawing to see that this pattern had some potential. However, in reality, I discovered it after I fell in a link spiral via Pinterest that led me to two really nice versions posted to here and here and hence to this pattern. Ah, the joys of having a Burda magazine collection! (This does makes me wonder though how many other Burda (and other) patterns are actually really great but I have recoiled from/overlooked them because of the horrible sample image.)

Burda 03-2012-127 Arrows shirt, front
I made a straight 44 with only my normal square shoulder adjustment for fitting changes. I feel like I need to also investigate and start doing a routine high round back (because of my hideous posture) and/or forward head adjustment (ditto) and that is something I plan to look at very soon.

As far as design changes go, this pattern is written with 7/8ths sleeves, of which I have an absolute horror. I like my sleeves elbow length or full length, but despise anything in between. Happily, Burda's instructions included the information that the sleeves were "10cm shorter than normal" so I just adjusted the length by 10cm. As I tend not to tuck shirts in, I also copied a moderately curvy shirt-tail hem off another pattern as I think they look nicer untucked than straight hems.

Burda 03-2012-127 Arrows shirt, back
This fabric is really great. It is 100% cotton and very easy to sew. It's from a relatively new online shop called Fabworks Online that I heard about on Instagram. They have a really great range of 100% cotton shirting fabrics, which is something I have often struggled to find online. I ordered three pieces of fabric, including this one, in a fit of retail therapy at the end of February, and I was really pleased with my purchases and the customer service.  (I am not in any way affiliated to the shop, just a happy customer.)

Front of the shirt, including my hilarious (to me) choice of heart buttons!

As much as I really like this fabric, however, it is not really the perfect match to this pattern. The instructions called for "lightweight blouse fabrics" and while it is indeed quite lightweight, this fabric is rather too crisp to really produce the best result with this amount of gathering. The gathers over the shoulders sit a little stiffly and the gathers at the back neck poof up a bit. I like the shirt very much despite this problem, but it's a useful lesson about patterns with a lot of gathering and using crisp vs. drapey fabrics. On the other hand, can we take a moment to admire my exceptionally good pattern matching across the front, with the arrows marching in nice diagonal lines across the shirt? I'd love to tell you I was 100% sure that was going to work out as it did, but, uh, I'd be lying. Also, I amused myself entirely too much by using little heart buttons (because arrows and hearts, get it? :D? :D? /o\ It is just as well I find myself funny, really.).

As modelled by yours truly
Finally, if you are wondering why I say this is my homage to Clint Barton (or you are even wondering who Clint Barton is) this might help:

Clint Barton a.k.a Hawkeye from the Avengers movies (as played by Jeremy Renner, who, alas, is evidence that just because you like a character, you should not ever listen to a word the actor says, since he's an ass)

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Ways to drive yourself loopy

1. Attempt to look at anything on the internet about body types and recommended ways to dress those body shapes. I have read a great deal of this sort of nonsense (for reasons that do not merit exploration at this juncture) over the last few days and I feel none the wiser except that most people seem to agree that if you have wide, square shoulders, spaghetti straps are not a good idea. Since I have never in my life worn anything with spaghetti straps other than like, a camisole, this single piece of consistent advice is basically useless. Other than that, literally every piece of advice I saw was directly contradicted elsewhere. Do wear [garment shape]! Don't wear it! Only wear it in plain colours! Only wear it in patterns! Only wear it on Tuesdays in a month with an R in it! Ugh.

This experience does give me an excuse to post this Gemma Correll cartoon that I love, however:

2. INFINITELY worse was my attempt to Google something like "shorts length for over 40". I mean, not that I think my recent 40th birthday pushed me over some invisible line for how long I should wear my shorts. However, I was planning to make some shorts this summer but couldn't find any images of shorts I liked that weren't on ultra skinny late-teens-early-twenties women. This sucked me into a black hole of reading "Style for the over 40s!" blogs, which I have to tell you is a niche heavily colonized by women whose lifestyle is very unlike mine. It's a lot of "I like to wear this look to the country club/church/our annual trip to Bermuda!". I thought the whole Country Club thing was only a punchline to a joke in American 80s movies, but no, apparently it really is a thing for some people.

At any rate, I can inform you that the most common refrain among You Can Be Stylish At 40! bloggers is that shorts length depends entirely on the answer to the question of whether your knees are "still good". At no point does anyone define "good" vs "bad" knees. Personally, I can honestly say I have never looked at anyone's knees and thought "she should really not be showing those off, those are BAD knees". I am not trying to be holier-than-thou on this, I just... don't look at other people's knees in a judgmental sort of way? I'm not even sure what there would be to object to. Maybe you get issued with knee-related standards when you join the country club, I don't know.

For myself, I have concluded that my knees are fine, for both moral and aesthetic definitions of "good", but yet I am no further on in determining how long my new shorts should be.

In which I model my one pair of leggings and a dress I have belted strangely in order to approximate a tunic length top
3. I recently unearthed a pair of leggings from a drawer. I am not a big wearer of leggings -- by which I mean, I own this one pair and I don't think I've ever worn them except to try them on. Actually, my original purpose in putting them on was to decide if I wanted to buy some skinny jeans. About two years ago I bought a pair but the fit at the waist and hip was so appalling I got rid of them about 3 weeks later -- they were basically unwearable -- and went back to wearing all bootcut, all the time because that is what I owned in abundance. These thick leggings, being form fitting, are the closest equivalent I had in my wardrobe already to skinnies. Perhaps unsurprisingly I also became distracted by the question of whether I could become a leggings wearer. My conclusion on the skinny jeans was: I still don't know, I probably have to go try some on somewhere. My conclusion on the leggings was that yes, I might, if and only if I could find patterns for short dresses or tops of suitable length. In the process of determining this though I seemed to empty out half my wardrobe trying things on, and then had to put it all away again. So much mess and all I have to show for it is this one ridiculous selfie!

4. Someone explain to me why I chose to work on a shirt using a pattern full of gathering when I dislike gathering (the action of, rather than the outcome) so much.

5. Do you ever get absolutely caught up in the idea of buying totally unsuitable fabric? I have put 2m of a blue and white floral viscose print in my online shopping basket and taken it out again about 10 times in the last two days. The sensible half of me is all it's a floral! you won't wear it! it's VERY BRIGHT! you won't wear it! but the rest of me just wants it, OK, shut up sensible half.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Wardrobe Planning IIIc: Discardia

 Previously, on Writing in a Bafflingly Long-Winded Way About Wardrobe Planning:
Wardrobe Planning I: In which I talk about the reason I am interested in planning my wardrobe
Wardrobe Planning II: In which I digress into discussion of the role of sewing in my wardrobe plan
Wardrobe Planning IIIa: In which I ponder what the 'right' size of wardrobe should be
Wardrobe Planning IIIb: In which I count up all my clothes

Discarded clothes in bales (source)
The flip side of the enjoyment of acquiring clothes is, of course, the less entertaining task of discarding them. There are many fairly horrifying numbers thrown around about this topic: the numbers of football fields worth of clothing discarded per year, the tonnes of textiles dumped in landfill per year, the half-life of polyester and the amount of damage it causes as it decays etc etc. The one specific number that stuck in my mind though is the estimate in Overdressed that on average an American woman discards 65 items of clothing per year. I am in the UK rather than the US, but I can think of no compelling reason to believe that a similar number would not apply here.

When I first saw that number, I immediately imagined I would be in the virtuous low side of average. I struggled to think that I could throw away 65 items of clothing in a single year, more than 5 items per month. However, never let it be said that I am not thorough in my collection of data: at the start of 2015 I decided to track my discards as well as my purchases/makes. Every time I discarded an item of clothing, I moved it from my main wardrobe inventory spreadsheet to somewhere I could count it, and added a reason why I had discarded it. I included all garments, from coats to PJs, but not e.g. socks or underwear. By 'discard' I mean: putting in charity boxes for donation; disposal in fabric recycling for items of insufficient quality for charity collection; and selling via eBay (though this was limited to a small number of originally expensive but extremely painful shoes).

It turns out that last year at least I was most certainly not on the virtuous side of the average. I discarded 89 items of clothing and 9 pairs of shoes in 2015. So far in 2016, it doesn't look like I'm likely to do much better. I've already discarded 18 garments and 1 pair of shoes. I should aspire to be average, apparently.

In defense of what seems to me like a staggering amount of waste, 2015 was a year of deliberate shedding of excess for me, and I did an additional, planned purge right at the start of the New Year. Much of what I have discarded since January 2015 came from dusty corners of my clothing storage, rather than my every day wardrobe. Still, it's a lot to have thrown away.
What was I throwing away, and why? Overall, discards fell into three categories:

1. Discards due to size and fit

Of the 89 items of clothing I discarded in 2015, 40 of them came out of storage and/or were unwearable because they were the wrong size, fit so badly I found them unbearable to wear, or were otherwise so uncomfortable that I rarely took them off the hanger. Six of the nine pairs of shoes went for the same reason. In 2016 so far, 15 of the 18 items came from storage. 

By far the largest proportion of the clothes were the wrong size. Like many women, my weight and therefore size does fluctuate, a tendency presently much worsened by the many and varied side effects of the medications I take. Most of the clothes I own, make and buy are in styles that are deliberately more forgiving of moderate weight change rather than closely fitted.

However, I also had quite a lot in storage from the extreme ends of the weight range I have experienced over the last ten years. Wearing these clothes would involve a fairly dramatic change in weight and size. It is quite likely that this will happen to me, so I am reluctant to discard everything, as is often recommended. However, in some cases the clothes I had were several years old and this showed: these were clothes that I wouldn't choose to buy or wear if I were that size again tomorrow. In the end, though I did it in stages as I became more critical about what I was keeping, I found I shed almost everything that wasn't a good quality basic. This turned out, in fact, to be a very small number of items.

When it comes to fit for reasons other than size, the problem is a little more complicated. My initial purge of ill fitting clothes was easy, because I knew exactly what garments just didn't fit at all and discarded them with relief. Most of the time though, the fit is just a little bit off. For example, I rarely wear the two Carme blouses I made in 2014 because (a) I am still working on fitting now and back then I was in the very early stages of making woven tops, and so the sleeves are a little short and the fit isn't quite right across the back and so on and so forth -- a litany of small fitting problems; and (b) by strange coincidence, both of them shrank in length in the wash (despite pre-shrinking), the black version more than the white. As a consequence, the fit of both of them isn't terrible but it isn't good either.

It has taken me a long time to come to the conclusion that if I don't wear something because the fit is just wrong enough to be uncomfortable, it has the same net effect as it having HORRIBLE fit. I'll almost always choose something more comfortable and my limited wardrobe is still large enough that I am never forced to wear something -- it is never a case of "wear it because you've no other clean clothes". In other words, a miss is as good as a mile when it comes to fit bad enough to cause a garment to be uncomfortable.

2. Discards due to condition

The next category of discards (in 2015: 45 items of clothing, the 3 remaining pairs of shoes; in 2016: 2 garments, 1 pair of shoes) were things that wore out or otherwise deteriorated: jumpers that pilled, t-shirts that stretched out of shape, some things that shrank horribly in the wash, a few items that acquired a stain or mark I couldn't shift, shoes that developed irreparable wear damage.

This sounds fairly straightforward -- and when it comes to a giant indelible grubby mark on a white tee, it is straightforward -- but in lesser cases I actually find determining whether something is worn out very difficult. In particular, I sometimes find it tricky to tell if a garment is actually worn out or if it has just worn out its welcome in my wardrobe. More recently I've found that taking a break from the garment for a while helps me to figure out if it I am genuinely concerned about the condition it is in, or just filled with ennui at the thought of wearing it again. I don't think of myself as enormously novelty seeking when it comes to clothes, but apparently it's more of a thing for me than I suspected.

I have written before about the problem of longevity as it applies to sewing our own clothes. The reality is, sewn or RTW, there are some things that are just not going to last very long when subjected to my normal wear/wash/dry regime. There is always going to be considerable churn in short-lived, frequently-laundered categories like t-shirts, and some churn in every other category too. My "condition" discards are never going to be zero, but I find I don't mind this so much as long as I feel I got a decent amount of wear from a garment.

The one thing I take comfort in is that among relatively recently sewn items that I have discarded, it has almost always been because the fabric deteriorated and not the sewing. Some of my early sewn garments did not hold up to wear and wash but nothing I've made in the last couple of years has ever fallen apart. This may sound obvious, but it was something I really worried about when I first started sewing, that I would be walking around and my clothes would suddenly drop into pieces!

3. Discards due to being unworn

The final group of items, a mere 4 items in 2015, could best be described as "why do I own this?" -- clothes that are unloved and unworn. I am glad this number is small, but I would much rather it were zero, especially when it comes to clothes I have made myself. To be clear, these are not garments that are gathering dust because I just don't have occasion to wear it (as with my handful of evening wear and currently irrelevant work wardrobe). These are things that could be in every day rotation in the right season, but aren't for some reason. I haven't made any of this type of discard so far in 2016, though I am likely to do so when I put away my winter wardrobe.

In order to spot which items of clothing fall into this category I actually needed to know what I wear and how often. Halfway through 2015 I therefore started to track what I wear every day because I found I couldn't reliably estimate how often I wore the garments I own. This sounds like a ridiculously high maintenance thing to do, but in fact because I have a numbered inventory in a spreadsheet, it was very easy to set up and takes about 10 seconds a day to fill in. (I number crunched in Excel for a living for several years, so this sort of thing is very straightfoward for me.)

Now that I've kept track of what I've worn for a respectable period of time (9 months and counting) I've got enough data that I can see patterns in what I wear. I have to say that there is a Hawthorne Effect going on: the act of tracking what I wear has made me much more aware of what I am wearing and has increased the variety of my choices overall. I have definitely made an effort sometimes to wear less-worn items rather than following my natural inclination to reach for the same favourites over and over. It skews the data, of course, because even my least loved items have a few wears as a result, but I don't regret it overall. However, Hawthorne Effect notwithstanding, I can now also see at a glance what I've worn and in the case of rarely worn items, this has prompted me to think about why I don't wear it, what would make me start wearing it, and whether it is time to get rid of something.

I've already moved one or two things into more active use by realizing that a garment was essentially a wardrobe orphan, and by making or buying something that made an outfit I have successfully started wearing those items more. However, I still have a couple of orphans that I haven't really been able to integrate into my wardrobe, in both cases because the colour is just not quite right. Since I am not necessarily in love with these pieces, I'm starting to think it would be more efficient to dispose of them rather than create a whole outfit around something I don't care that much about to begin with.

Other items are trickier. I've worn this striped shirt I made almost exactly a year ago only four times, and then only in a grudging "I should really wear that more" kind of way. On the surface, this is baffling. I did a good job with the construction, it fits comfortably, it's a multi-season garment and it's in colours that are a staple in my wardrobe. I actually quite like it... on the hanger. Why don't I wear it? Well, because it's made of a polycotton with a high percentage of polyester, and every time I've worn it I spent the day feeling too hot and revoltingly sweaty. There's no way to fix that or work around it. It turns out the main purpose of this shirt has been to be an object lesson: polyester is not for me. (Luckily, my fabric stash is very light on pure polyester and polycotton anyway, and I am being very careful now to buy only cotton or viscose shirting, which I much prefer for their breathability.)

For the moment, I am still wrestling with the idea of discarding a perfectly good shirt for the trivial seeming reason that it makes me hot. This is where the sticking point of the wardrobe plan occurs. In the accumulative wardrobe, i.e. the one I used to have, I'd have been oblivious to the problem of this shirt. It just would have been pushed to the back of my closet and forgotten until some future epic aaargh, I have too much stuff wardrobe purge.

However, I'm trying to work with a generously sized but still restricted wardrobe (as I said in the numbers post, about 40-50 seasonally appropriate garments seems to work for me at the moment). Therefore I look at a shirt I like in the abstract but don't actually like wearing and think: this shirt is taking up a space in my wardrobe that could contain something I actively like and choose to wear. A part of wardrobe planning I hadn't really anticipated is this ongoing editing. It turns out this editing will sometimes include admitting that something you added was a mistake for some reason and discarding it.

Overall, what did I learn from tracking my discards? Well, first, that discarding 65 items of clothing is an embarrassingly easy number to achieve. Looking at my wardrobe plan, I know I want to make quite a few things over the remainder of 2016, and although I am filling in holes in my wardrobe in some places, more often I'm planning to take an item out and discard it as I add another in. Given I'm already at 18 garments this year it's more than likely that I'll hit 65+ again in 2016. I've actually started to wonder who the women on the lower end of the bell curve were, and what their wardrobe looks like -- are they all minimalists? never-throw-anything-away hoarders? Thrifty people who refashion, sell on or otherwise avoid straightforward discards? I also wonder at the validity of the 65 item number to begin with. I deliberately tracked what I discarded and I was still shocked and surprised by how many clothes I discarded in total in 2015. If I'd been asked for a guess at my total by a researcher, I would have sworn up and down that I had discarded maybe half my actual number, and I doubt I'd be alone in that underestimate.

The remedies for my particular corner of discardia are quite obvious. True, I can't do anything about my weight fluctuations and the effect they have on my wardrobe -- believe me, if I could hit a stable weight and size and stay there over five or more years, I would! However, I can definitely work to avoid making clothes that don't fit in ways that are uncomfortable, which is more than I ever managed when I was 100% dependent on RTW. I'm not talking here about "wrinkle-free" levels of fitting prowess, but like, "can I raise my arms comfortably to drive my car while wearing my coat". You wouldn't think that would be a problem, but it's a level of fit I was apparently unable to achieve when I bought my last RTW formal winter coat.

I can also try to improve the longevity of some of my clothes by how I sew them, the quality of fabrics I use and/or the quality of RTW I buy for those categories of things I don't plan to make myself. And I should be able to gradually refine and edit my wardrobe so that I don't have too many items hanging in the closet that I like in theory but in practice never wear, though that trial and error process is likely to be on-going for some time. Over the last 9 months or so I've definitely been making a big effort to ensure I don't make or buy orphans or near-orphans, which in practice means I only make/buy things if I can think of at least four separate outfits I can wear that include it. I won't achieve perfection and mistakes are inevitable, but it would be nice to keep them to a minimum!

My next post on this topic is the last about numbers, and it is about the variables that go into my wardrobe equations for lo, I am determined to out nerd the world on this topic.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Bits and pieces

  • I spent my sewing time this weekend preparing things to sew rather than actually sewing. This involved: cutting one envelope pattern to size and then using it to cut two garments out of 3m of fabric; tracing one Burda pattern and one Ottobre pattern; and sticking together and cutting out one PDF pattern. I've got my next two garments all ready to sew and will get on with both of them this week. They are both easy little things, so it won't take long -- I wanted something quick and uncomplicated after finishing the coat!. Then I am moving on to the March woven shirt wardrobe replenishment plan, since those take a little longer and with collars and cuffs etc take more careful sewing.
  • This weekend's activities also mean I am in an ideal position to weigh in on the "Which is worse: flailing about with flimsy tissue paper; tracing patterns from drunken spirograph pattern sheets; or endlessly sticking together PDFs?" debate. Personally, I definitely dislike PDFs the most because ugh, the lines never perfectly match when you stick together, and it's all so much printing/sticking/taping/cutting/flailing. Next worst is tissue patterns in my opinion. So convenient to just cut them, and yet so flimsy and liable to rip if you even look at them funny, and so impossible to ever fold back into the envelopes! It's not that enjoy tracing, exactly, but since I have developed an efficient tracing method it just feels easiest. Where do you stand?
    Simplicity 8014
  •  I have had my eye on Simplicity 8014 since I saw SewCraftyChemist's gorgeous version. Between envelopes, Burda, Ottobre and other sources I already own approximately half a million shirtdress (and other dress) patterns. Yet you'll notice that my tally of successful dresses in the years I've been sewing still stands at the unimpressive count of ONE and it was a very basic knit dress, plus I made one very unsatisfactory woven dress that I wore maybe three times total. So, my half a million dress patterns thus far have mainly just languished unused and I probably didn't have grounds to buy yet another. Nevertheless, when Simplicity 8014 came up as "Pattern of the Week" online I had to have it. I really love view B with the full skirt (which is not gathered as so many shirtdress patterns are) and if it this pattern works for me I will definitely make that at a future date. However, more immediately I am determined to make two very casual woven dresses for this summer, and one of them is going to be a modified view D (because no, 90cm long dress, I don't think so) in black linen.
  • The other shirtdress pattern I have that I love is this 1970s Vogue with pleats that release into the skirt. The skirt itself is wow, so very very short, but that's extremely easy to amend and it's such a cute pattern. It's also complete and still in factory folds and I paid so much more than I ought to have done for it. /o\ One of these days I'll make it, right? /o\ I won't post all my other shirt-dress patterns because I'd be here all day doing so. /o\

  • Do you have fabrics you just don't know what to do with? I have a pretty good idea what I want to do with almost all my stash, although sometimes only at the level of "make a blouse" rather than any specific pattern. However, I also have fabrics that I like, but everything I think of for them just won't quite work: either I don't have enough fabric, or I have way too much and I'd have a very awkward remnant left at the end, or the weight or drape of the fabric is just not quite right. It's very aggravating. My current dilemma is 2.5m of gorgeous but awkward Irish linen in blue and white stripes. I bought it when I was living in Dublin, and it is gorgeous stuff, it really is... and yet. I made a shirt from the other piece of fabric I bought at the same time and the result was most unsatisfactory when I started to wear it -- the fabric just doesn't have the right drape for a casual boxy summer shirt at all, it hangs much too stiffly. Making something more tailored where the stiffness would matter less is difficult because of the stripes. So I don't know at all what to do with it, and yet I love it and it was expensive (by my standards) so I can't possibly get rid of it.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Operation Outerwear: VICTORY \o/ or, more prosaically, Red Spring Raincoat Part II

Red Spring Raincoat (Burda 02-2009-133) is FINISHED \o/
When last seen on Sunday, my red spring raincoat (using Burda 02-2009-133) had advanced as far as the outer shell being mainly finished. I originally planned to finish it up this coming weekend, but I had more time for sewing (and felt rather better) than I anticipated at the start of this week and so I quickly worked through the remaining tasks: making a lining pattern from the main pattern pieces; cutting out and constructing the lining; putting together lining and outer; and doing the final finishing.

The completed black and white lining (right side out) waiting to be attached to the outer
The outer fabric was, as I mentioned last time, beautifully behaved. It's a treated,"shower proof" 100% cotton, and I bought it in two colours (this red and also navy) from an online vendor back in early 2013. Allegedly it's ex-Burberry fabric, though who knows whether that's true. Regardless of pedigree, it really is a very nice fabric: it's extremely easy to sew and when I tried spraying water on the surface it beaded and rolled off. It probably won't stand up to really intense rain, but certainly it could cope with light drizzle. On the (minor) negative side, being cotton it will crease quite a lot -- I kept having to press it over and over to make it look even remotely nice in photos. I suspect if it were used by a manufacturer they'd have treated it with some kind of crease-proofing chemical.

The lining I bought in late 2013 on the Goldhawk Road in London. It's a black and white shiny something or other -- synthetic obviously, but fibre content is unknown to me. I was absolutely dreading sewing with it because my experiences with shiny, shifty fabric have not been particularly happy. However, with a few little tricks in my arsenal (505 adhesive spray; cutting out on top of fabric and with shears for once rather than rotary) it actually cut out nicely, and I also had relatively few problems with sewing it. In fact, the whole lining process went much more smoothly than I anticipated, and I am really pleased with the results.

Front and back view of coat
I know it's fashionable in the SBC to bitch and moan about Burda's instructions, but while I don't always love them I don't find them as impenetrable as some seem to. I mean, sometimes reading the instructions on their own without the garment pieces in front of me baffles me entirely, but normally I can figure out what it's asking me to do. For all of the outer and the lining construction, I followed along dutifully and had no problems at all. However, at the point of inserting the lining I departed from Burda's instructions entirely because Burda use a modified hand-sewing method of lining insertion. There are circumstances in which I would definitely choose to do a lot of hand-sewing to insert a lining, but this casual raincoat project just wasn't one of them.

Luckily, I own an extremely useful little e-book called "Easy Guide To Sewing Linings" by Connie Long, which I highly recommend. It is quite expensive for such a small book (about £9.50 on Amazon) but it is a well-organized book with plenty of pictures and useful information in a concise format. Most of the book is, as you have probably guessed, about inserting linings into jackets, coats, skirts, dresses, trousers, etc and it describes various hand-sewing and machine-sewing methods and techniques. However, I wish I had remembered before I cut my fabric that it also contains instructions on how to make lining patterns using your main garment pattern pieces. I did what Burda told me to do, which turned out to be more or less in line with the book's instructions, but I wished afterwards I had made some of the refinements to the sleeve/armhole recommended in the book that Burda do not mention at all.

Side and inside out view of coat -- you can see the vents on the sleeves and hem, and the long sleeve facings on the inside
My main use of the book on this occasion was to use it for instructions on how to bag (mainly machine sew) the lining. I am extremely happy with how it came out! I did have a couple of problems. I had some problems visualizing how the hem/lining/facing would come together in the corners, a problem exacerbated by the fact I had to deal with the side vents as well. In the end I had to do a little hand sewing to get the corners to look OK, and they are not quite as perfect as I would like (though, really, who is going to inspect my lining at the hem? Nobody, that's who.) I also didn't give myself enough length in the sleeve lining and had to unpick everything and re-sew with a tiny little seam to attach it to the sleeve facing so that the lining wasn't pulling at the sleeves, which was an enormous nuisance. (I also had to unpick a few stitches in one place because I accidentally left a pin on the inside when I'd closed the lining up. At least I found it before I sat on it or something.)

Coat as modelled by yours truly. Not sure what all those wrinkles are on the front shot since they only appear in this one image, but I definitely have some shoulder fit problems at both front and back
The biggest problems with the finished product are, of course, related to fit. I am reasonably happy with the fit, which is definitely not worse than my existing RTW coats (faint praise as all my RTW coats fit hideously badly and/or are two sizes too big for me) and I think it's entirely wearable despite the imperfect fit.  There's definitely room for improvement, however, particularly at the shoulder/upper arm/upper back. It was a mistake to do a single sleeve muslin -- I really needed both sleeves to get a sense of whether the coat would tug across the back when I raise my arms. While I do wish I had done a little better job on fitting this coat, I am OK with the results I got.

I really liked how the pockets were constructed on this coat
Overall, though I could continue to pick out many small faults in my sewing and fitting, I am absolutely delighted with this coat! I have been whining talking about wanting to make a coat or jacket for approximately a geological age, but kept chickening out. I am so glad I finally just got started and made one. I really enjoyed working on this over a period of ten days or so. I had wondered if I had the patience to work on long projects and the answer is apparently: yes! I'm also kind of in love with Burda as a result. Everything just fits together so well, and it seems like every pattern I make up from the magazines is well-designed, in terms of how things are constructed. In this case, it was the way the pockets and collar went together that really impressed me on this coat.

In conclusion: I am the happiest owner of a new red coat! :D Also, I think you can expect to see a lot more Burda and a lot more outerwear this year now that I've made a start. :D

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Operation Outerwear: Red Spring Raincoat (Part 1)

Previously, on coat-making I said I had put together the PDF for Lekala 4182, a short coat with an interesting sleeve detail. However, I was extremely unimpressed by the fact that (a) the welt pockets aren't marked on the pattern; and (b) the sleeves are totally unlike the pattern/technical drawing in terms of length and fixing them was not going to be straightforward. These are not insoluble problems but I didn't really feel like expending the effort to solve them (and I actually don't think I should have to in the case of the welt pocket thing). Also I have to admit that these problems/differences made me have doubts about the pattern overall.

In the end I went with a resounding nope! on the Lekala pattern, and then immediately pulled out my original list of coat pattern possibilities. Top of the list was Burda 02-2009-133, and I duly got on with tracing it out on Wednesday evening and Thursday.

Burda 02-2009-133, images from
(Is it weird I have favourite issues of Burda? Because 02-2009 is an AMAZING issue, I swear I want to make about half the patterns in it. This one wasn't even in my top 3 on the list of Must Makes from this issue!)

OK, I admit it's not the most exciting coat in the world when seen on the mannequin but the pattern met my requirements in that it's a straightforward sew with some nice little details like the splits at the side and wide sleeve facings so you can wear the cuffs folded back. Also, not that it's ever a good indicator what with all the pinning of garments and airbrushing that Burda does to the models, but I really like how the coat looks in the modelled shot.

This is a Plus pattern (size 44 to 52) and I am working from pretty much a straight 44 with just a few adjustments. Just to check that nothing was going too wrong, I went ahead and made a super quick and dirty upper bodice and one sleeve only muslin:

Muslin of Burda 02-2009-133 - upper bodice and 1 sleeve only. Alas, Flossie is much perkier than I, if you're wondering why the darts are so low. (She is also overall much shorter from shoulder to waist, so it's not just the dreadful effect of gravity!)
The fit seemed good for what I want in a raincoat -- I tried it on over layers including a light-weight sweater, which is the most common type of clothing I'd normally wear with it. This is a coat for spring, so it doesn't really have to go over my heaviest jumpers (though it probably would, just not as comfortably). Also, in weird related outcomes from this muslin: trying this collar-less muslin on made me REALLY want a short edge-to-edge jacket/blazer with a high round neckline, even though it's not a look I've really gone for historically. I have a couple of patterns in my collection I could try but nothing in my fabric stash is really speaking to me as a possibility at the moment.

On Friday I cut out my outer shell fabric, and on Saturday I fused interfacing for what felt like hours, ugh, one of my least favourite jobs. That left me all ready for a Sunday of Epic Sewing (with Occasional Laundry Interludes, since housework does not go away just because you want to sew all day), and here is where I got to:

Burda 02-2009-133: outer shell complete (no lining, buttons, and the hem is still down)
Basically, that's the whole outer shell done! The hem has not been turned up yet and obviously there are no buttons etc. I haven't remotely started the lining yet -- I don't even have the lining pattern pieces sorted out, let alone cutting out or sewing anything. I think I'll probably try to prep the lining this week and finish the coat up next weekend.

So far I absolutely LOVE it! I'm optimistic about the likely finished fit, the pattern went together beautifully, the fabric is ultra easy to work with, and all is happiness and joy, in short. Let's hope that the horror of working with a slippery lining fabric doesn't take the shine off!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

A quick bag and early coat progress (of a sort)

Zippered carryall
I started this little, easy zippered carryall at the end of February. It was meant as a gym bag, but then I decided not to buy a gym membership until later in the year. However, since I had already cut out and started sewing the bag I decided I might as well finish it.

Butterick 5137 Bag F
I have a lot of bag patterns but only two of them are Big 4 envelope style, mainly because most Big 4 bag patterns tend to be a series of Very Tedious Variations On A Theme Of Tote. However, back when I was buying a lot of bag patterns there were very PDF few patterns available for larger carryall/overnight bag type bags. There are lot now, but I am too lazy/cheap to buy another at this point. At any rate, at the time this envelope set -- Butterick 5137 (also known as Butterick 153), OOP and probably from the 80s (the giveaway is the cassette walkman carefully posed in the envelope image!) -- was a good alternative. This is bag F, which is the smallest of the four larger bag patterns in the set.  The pattern as written is unlined but I added a lining as I dislike taping seams. I used a heavyweight upholstery fabric for the body of the bag and a glazed cotton sateen for the lining in a rather unfortunate shade of salmon.

It took very little time at all to make this bag, even with the extra step of lining it. Hopefully when I do get back to the gym it will come in handy!

Meanwhile, I decided to crack on with the big March coat project and expended a lot of time, effort, masking tape and printers ink last night and print-glued-taped my chosen coat pattern.

Coat pattern: Lekala 4182 "Short Raincoat"
As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been playing about (at the level of throwaway muslins) with some basic Lekala patterns, just to get an impression of the patterns and how well the customized measurements approach works. My aim really was to try to short-cut some of the painful FBA/bust point lowering process I have to go through all the time by finding good basic patterns with various bust shaping features (different princess seams etc) and then using them to pick sizes and alter other patterns I want to use.

In the interim, however, I was tempted into buying this coat pattern, Lekala 4182, which I thought would look great in my red showerproof cotton (the fact that the example is in red didn't hurt my decision making process!). I really liked the collar and also the interesting sleeves. However, I've gone from quite optimistic to slightly dubious as a result of the pattern printy-sticky-tape process. The fit looks like it's going to be fine, based on comparing the pattern pieces to my bodice slopers. I've read various things where people have said there isn't enough ease in Lekala but this seems pretty consistent with coats I've looked at in Burda etc.


A) the welt pockets aren't marked on the pattern. You get all the pieces and instructions for welt pockets, but there's no marking on the bodice piece that I can see at all. Obviously I can try to figure out where to put the pockets, but yikes, that's a pretty big omission, and it raises doubts in my mind about how well the rest of it is going to go together.

B) those sleeves, eyeballing them from the pattern images above, look like they are maybe bracelet length sleeves, right? I mean, I went into this thinking those sleeves look kind of short but I was thinking they'd just need lengthening a few cm and it would be fine. But nope, the actual pattern pieces put the sleeve length somewhere around my elbow, which is hopeless for a raincoat. Nobody thinks: I want all of me to stay dry, except for my lower arm! The cute little pleated thingymabob detail has therefore suddenly becomes a problem. I'm going to have to either figure out how to alter it so it fits together with the longer sleeve (at a narrower point) or else give up on it -- and it's one of the reasons I liked this coat to begin with! -- so that I can get a full length sleeve on this coat.

So, ugh, now I don't know what to do. I spent ages printing and sticking 50 pages of pattern, and I do still really like the idea of it, but I'm wondering if this is really the best idea.