Posted in sewing, Style

My commercial sewing pattern nightmare: The continuing search for the elusive perfect fit

I love to create clothing pieces that fit my lifestyle at this point in time. Really what I mean is that I love to create clothing pieces that fit. Period. I know I continue to beat this drum – and will continue to do it until everything I make (or buy off the rack for that matter) fits me like a glove, which brings me to the subject of this week’s rant. Let me take a step back for a moment.

I’m fascinated by the extraordinary cottage industry (and in some cases far beyond the cottage stage) that has sprung up for indie pattern designers/producers.

It boggles the mind of a sewer who had, for many years, slavishly followed the instructions on the patterns from the big commercial manufacturers, which these days seems to consist of the McCall’s company (one that seems to own Vogue and Butterick and be the distributors for a few other line such as Marfy – one of my sewing goals for 2017) and Simplicity. I’ve turned with delight toward many of these independent pattern designers only find fit issues there as well. There are so many swingy, baggy tops and dresses.

bolero-pattern-indie
This indie pattern may be the exception to the fit problem rule. It has funnel-neck darts, proper set-in sleeves, back shaping. I got it free as a PDF and plan to make it. Hope I can get it to fit! It will be my first experience with a PDF pattern.

 

I understand this interest in comfortable, easy-wearing, easy-sewing clothing, and I like a loose-fitting top as much as the next woman (as you’ll see below) but it just isn’t always for me, and truthfully, I think that clothing with more ease has to fit, too. My own pattern-making education is taking me ever closer to being able to design this kind of pattern for myself without the help of anyone else. But what I also perceive is that designing these kind of patterns is a lot easier than designing patterns for garments that are fitted or even semi-fitted.

Excluding pants patterns (one of which I have and will try in a few months to see about fit), so much out there seems to be tent-like, flowing and generally loose-fitting, and if it’s not, it’s not as tailored a style as I like. So where does that leave me while I learn to do it myself? Back to McCall’s patterns and the like.

img_0969I recently decided to complete what I thought would be a sort-of-at-least-partly-fitted tunic that otherwise flows. I chose McCall’s 7247 because I had it in my pattern file and I liked the cross-over front.

Right out of the envelope it is already clear to me that I will need to do some alterations to the pattern. That accomplished, I cut and sew and fit the bodice before moving on to the neck band and sleeves. A perfect fit! I am in heaven. So, I adhere strictly to the pattern and its instructions for the insertion of the neckband. When in, it looks great. I’m happy. Then the sleeves (I set in a mean sleeve, so the finished product looks pretty darn professional). It’s now almost finished; I just have to find the perfect length for the sleeves – so try it on me (Gloria junior doesn’t’ have arms) –which is when the problem becomes apparent.

The pattern instructions clearly state that you need to stretch the neckband while sewing it in. I dutifully stretch as I go although I do think that it is requiring more than the usual amount of neckline stretching even for a knit fabric. Well, I was right. Now that the neckband is in, finished and edge-stitched into place (permanently affixed as it were), all that requisite stretching was too much. Now it pulls from the shoulders and isn’t perfect across the upper chest any longer.

Damn! See those little wrinkles under the neck band? They weren’t there when I did the pre-neckband fitting. Oh, I’ll probably wear it but it will never feel as perfect as it did when fitting it before the neck band went in. My lesson here: if something seems wrong, it probably is. So on to the next commercial pattern.

Enter Vogue pattern 8886 – a “very easy Vogue.”

vogue-8886-sleeve-variations

I love it because it has a slightly funnel-shaped, collared neckline and well-fitted princess lines. If I can get this one to fit, I’ll be laughing. But this time, I’ll do a muslin.

So, first is sort-of tissue fit and based on this and my sloper, I make a few tweaks. Then I decide to cut the D-cup pattern because this is a “perfect fit” pattern and I wear a D-cup bra. However, I wear a 32-D and when I have done the princess seams in the front of the muslin, it’s so big for me that it’s laughable. I guess they meant 38-D or bigger! I should have cut a smaller cup size, but how was I to know?

Oh. My. God. Just look at it.

Well, the good news is that now I have all this extra fabric on the seams to get it just right. I think I’ll sew it with a machine-basting stitch in case I have to make any more adjustments after the sleeves are in. So another “very easy” pattern that isn’t! But that’s just me!

Posted in Couture Sewing, sewing, Style, Stylish Books

Sewing in the “Olden Days”

home-ec-class
Not my home economics sewing class, but it brought back memories – found on the web.

I remember it as if it were last month – and not decades ago. I can feel myself walking into the Home Economics sewing room at Prince Arthur Junior High School. It was like a kind of playroom for a certain nerdy young woman who was struggling with the relative importance of trigonometry versus Home ‘Ec.’ The priority that should be given to passion for mathematics and science was in direct competition with an infatuation with style and fashion. I was in grade nine and this was the last year I could take Home Ec sewing before I had to get serious. “A” students simply didn’t take Home Ec in senior high. [You remember Home Ec? Sometimes called domestic science – now in the twenty-first century has morphed into something called “family and consumer sciences.”]

The room was large and airy with the requisite wall-to-wall windows that are the hallmark of traditionally designed schools. Home economics students who were in the cooking class (and by “home economics students” I mean girls) had to walk through the sewing room to get to that even larger room: the kitchen. Sewing students also had to take cooking – a situation that I fervently lamented, although nowadays I really do love to cook. I can’t remember learning much else than how to make a white sauce then, though. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what one would do with this sauce. I have since learned…but back to the sewing room.

1960s-jumper-pattern
I’m fairly certain that this is the pattern we used. I see that the alternate style has a square neck! I also remember being proud of myself for managing pockets!

 

The walls were lined with Singer sewing machines. In the centre of the room were two large cutting tables. I have little memory of anyone else in the class, but I do remember cutting out my very first sewing project: a blue corduroy, V-neck jumper. It was a plain A-line with a back zipper (!) and facings. I remember feeling proud of myself for having chosen the V-neck version rather than the round neck when I heard the teacher say that it was, in fact, more difficult to construct the V-neck with facing, and get the point of the V precisely correct than it was to sew in the round-neck facing. When I did get that point exactly right, I think it was then I knew that I had to learn more.

And I learned so much in those classes. I had three years of junior-high school sewing classes, then I was on my own. There was certainly no time in the academic schedule to take anything extra – and in any case, as awful as it sounds now – the smart kids just didn’t take home economics. No matter. I continued to make my clothes for years after that until a time when I got too busy with career and family and had more disposable income. One of the reasons I sewed my clothes as a teen-ager and young adult was so that I could have better and more clothing: it cost less. I also sewed for my sisters and occasionally my mom. Here are two patterns I whipped up then.

Just this past week I read something online from a sewer-person who opined that it was now more expensive to sew clothing these days than to buy it. There was much commiserating and sighing about this one. I respectfully disagree.

Okay, if you’re satisfied and happy with fast-clothing made in sweat shops of questionable fabric and mediocre-quality finishing, then go for it. But you might do yourself a real service and consider reading the book Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.  When I reviewed this book on my writing blog some time ago I said this: “…The author, Elizabeth Cline is an American journalist whose commitment to the investigation of the North American penchant for disposable fashion resulted in a story that had my head spinning – although much of it did not come as a surprise – and I avoid disposable fashion like the plague, given my penchant for quality…”

photo-3
Three books I highly recommend.

 

Sewing on the other hand provides me with the kind of quality fabrics and finishes that might otherwise be out of reach. Take my passion for the Chanel-style “Little French Jacket.” With price tags in the multi-thousands of dollars, they’re out of the question. But I am now able to create a reasonable facsimile with hand finishes and silk charmeuse linings that feel divine and that I love to wear. They’ll be in my closet for a long time. That’s value you just can’t get with fast-fashion.

There is also something about knowing that you created it. The piece you sew is never quite the same as someone else’s even if you use the same pattern. I just have to go on the Craftsy site to see other versions of my Little French Jacket made following the same course. Lordy they vary!

Then, of course, there’s the fit issue. My obsession with getting the fit just right has already taken me through learning about creating my own sloper. And I thought it fit so well. Well, for those of you who think I was gloating about my perfectly-fitting sloper/bodice block, you can start gloating in earnest now. I have had to tweak it.

I’ve begun learning about design by creating a variety of necklines. As I mock them up from my sloper, I’ve found a tiny problem that pushes its way into each project like a kind of virus. Every time I create something, it seems that the shoulders are just a tiny bit high and a tiny bit long – and it’s driving me crazy. So, what’s my current project? Starting over with drafting my sloper! Yes, I started again at the beginning and am close to a newly, well-fitted bodice block.

They never really taught me about fit in Home Ec class. Slavishly following the pattern was de rigeur and got us high marks. Good thing I was pretty tall, slim and straight in those days! Things fit, but now it’s not so simple.

My design ambitions will have to wait. Fit comes first!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket, Style

Little French Jacket #2: Finished in Time for New Year’s!

happy-new-year

 

And so 2017 begins! And it seems as if everyone who designs and makes self-styled wardrobes whose blogs I follow is writing about what every news outlet does at this time of year: a look back at the year that has just ended. Looking back isn’t my style: I’d rather look ahead. It’s not so much that 2016 was a bad year – it most assuredly was a good one in our corner of the world: no one we know was killed or maimed in a terrorist attack, we live in a beautiful city where [most] people still have manners, we have plenty to eat and a comfortable home, the stock markets are on the rise and we don’t live in the UK or US where uncertainty seems to reign these days. So looking ahead is easy! That’s the end of my political diatribe – now on to what I’ve been up to in the creative wardrobe development realm…

I received a few wonderful sewing/designing/creating related presents for Christmas and I’d love to share what I have planned, but before I can get to that, it’s time to tie up a few loose ends. Of course I refer to my LFJ #2. Yes, I finished my second little French jacket in time to wear it to dinner on New Year’s Eve.

img_0942When last we talked, I had completed adding the two trims to the front, neck, hem, sleeve and pocket edges and was ready to give it a bit of a steam before moving onto the final step: sewing on the chain at the bottom of the hem.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with this style of Chanel-type jacket, please note that this finishing touch is de rigeur. Designed to help the jacket maintain its shape and drape on a moving body, depending on the fabric of the particular jacket these days, this chain might be decorative only, but even as an embellishment, it lends an air of luxury that can’t be duplicated if you leave it out. I would never omit this important finishing touch in a jacket like this, and especially in the case of my latest creation. The bouclé even quilted to its lining is so lightweight that this trim piece is actually functional: it helps the jacket fronts to hang straight.

When I was looking for this chain to finish off the jacket I thought I might look for a silver-toned one to compliment the silver and black external trim. It’s difficult to find silver-toned chain (unless you go to Canadian Tire!), but what I found in any case when researching insides of authentic Chanel jackets was that the chain is almost always gold regardless of the tone of the embellishment on the outside. I have occasionally seen a photo of one with a silver chain, but it’s rare. So I opted to continue with the gold one.

img_0943
There’s something very beautiful about having this gold chain in the hem.

 

What I like to do is pin a few inches at a time, ensuring that the chain sits just below the lining. The pinning helps to ensure that the chain doesn’t twist as I sew. Then I sew it on with a double strand of silk thread using one stitch in each link – yes, you heard that right. One stitch per link. And if you use a stitch that goes slightly back on every move forward, the thread will be completely hidden by the next link. I also sew it in short sections; this really helps if the chain happens to come loose at some point in the future. Only a small section will be affected and fixing it is a breeze.

img_0944
LFJ #2 Finished and on Gloria Jr.

I also don’t cut the chain to length until I’m about three or four links from the end. This way I can be sure I haven’t measured incorrectly. Imagine doing all that hand-stitching only to get to the end and find that your chain is too short! Anyway, when I get there I usually ask my dear husband to get his needle-nose pliers out to remove the unneeded links. Then he knows I’m well and truly finished the project!

 

 

I wore the jacket to dinner on New Year’s as I mentioned. On this occasion it topped a dress which is a real occasion for me since I so rarely wear a dress. It’s such a versatile style, though. I’ll wear it with leggings and boots and with jeans. I also think it might look good with a pair of white jeans on a cool, early summer evening.

I’m delighted with the fit and finish of the piece and look forward to LFJ #3. Oh yes, I already have the tweed. I’m still on the hunt for printed silk charmeuse for the lining, though. I’m going to try to get to Mood Fabrics when we get to LA next month! That being said, I have a few other things up my sleeve for next projects before I get to that one. Have a good one!! ~GG