Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns

When choosing the right fabric makes all the difference

I wonder if you’re ever like me. Do you ever find a piece of fabric that you really, truly love but after you buy it, you can’t seem to find the perfect project for it? Or maybe you have leftover material (from that sale where you buy one metre and get two metres free. Who needs three metres as a general rule?). These are dangerous situations for me to find myself in. The reason is that I then look for a pattern or design that I could use just because I like the fabric. However, not all fabrics work well for all projects.

There was a time in my life when I always started with the pattern and/or design idea then sought out fabric that would work afterwards. Although I realize that fabrics can be the inspiration – the starting point – that doesn’t always work out for me – which is, of course, one of the reasons that I refuse to have a *shudder* stash of fabrics. In fact, I’m beginning to think that I ought to go back to my original approach – design first, fabric later.

Case in point.

I thought it would work really well. The pattern suggested that the T-shirt needed to be made with a moderately stretchy fabric – you know the ones. They have that little ruler on the back of the pattern that says you have to be able to stretch a double crosswise fold of the material from here to there.

Vogue 8536 – published in 2004. Not sure why I still own it!

All I can say is, ignore this direction at your peril! In my defence, I thought it was close enough. And, by the way, while we’re on the subject, if it stretches much further than the “suggestion” put it down and find another pattern. Anyway, I’d made the pattern before from fabric with only a hint more stretch and it worked better at that time.

I didn’t topstitch it the first time. Shouldn’t have done it this time. (PS This top is jet black. Too much light in the photo!)

So, why did I even try? This was leftover fabric from a recent dress project that I did for Fabricville’s blog. I have not, however, been able to access that blog yet to post it so I haven’t been able to write about it here. I will in due course.

The dress in question.

Anyway, I had a whole lot of leftover fabric and since it’s a very stable knit I’d already worked with, I thought I was safe. To say the project is hideous would be an understatement. Just look at how awful the topstitching is around the neck.

It has nothing to do with tension and everything to do with the weave of the fabric. Since I had yet more left over, I tried again.

This time I used a pattern dated 2012 that I found in a discard bin when we were on a road trip last year.

Vogue 9004. This is the one I decided to make since I didn’t have enough fabric for the one with sleeves.

It’s actually designed for woven fabric, not stretch, but before you begin to think I’m truly daft and never learn from experience, I did mention I’d worked with it before and to tell you the truth, it’s so stable that it might as well be a woven.

I liked the way the design lines permit so much tweaking. And did it ever need tweaking although I cut the same size as I usually do.

After much fine-tuning, I have a summer top that, because the fabric content includes some natural fibre (why is that so hard to get sometimes?), I have a new summer top.

Although I could certainly get along this year without any new summer clothes, isn’t it nice to have something new to wear for a new season? With all this COVID-related isolation, I haven’t been able to enjoy a shopping experience thus it’s back to shopping my closet as they say– with a few pieces from my own sewing machine added in for good measure.  

Posted in Pattern-drafting, Style

A New Pant Sloper: My new and unconventional method

Let’s get one thing straight up front: I wear pants almost every day of my life. I didn’t always. I, however, love the idea of wearing dresses. And I love to wear a dress to a cocktail party, a wedding (although I have been known to wear a beautiful ivory crepe pantsuit with a silk blouse), and on a hot summer day.

The fact remains that the dresses I have in my closet – of which there are probably too many – don’t get nearly enough wear except when we’re on a cruise somewhere wonderful. I love the freedom of pants. Why then, do I not make them? I make dresses but I don’t make pants. The answer can be summed up in one word: fit.

As far as I’m concerned, pants (trousers for anyone in the UK) like all other pieces of clothing, should fit well. No gaping waistbands, no baggy seats, no draglines. After years of trial and error, I’ve discovered several brands that fit me well. And the idea of making my own jeans? Not ever going to happen. I have found my jean heaven.

Paige jeans fit me very well and although they’re expensive, I’m sticking with them. However, I do like the idea of adding a few pairs of well-fitting pants to my personally-designed and sewn wardrobe. I’d like to take a crack at designing some interesting pant styles. With this in mind, I decided to do some research on different pant styles for women over the years. And those years don’t go back as far as you might think. Women haven’t always worn pants.

Even as recently as 2019, a school in North Carolina (USA) declared that their female students would no longer be permitted to wear pants citing “traditional values” as the reason.[1] Apart from how obnoxious this is on so many levels, it does point our the fact that the wearing of pants by women and girls hasn’t always been acceptable – and still isn’t in some cultures. Historically, pants have been male attire and evolved to meet a need for simple practicality: horse-back riding, ease of movement, warmth in cold weather. These, of course, are all reasons that women wanted to wear pants as well. And let’s not forget comfort and how terrific they can look when they fit well.

You might recall how the Greeks and Romans have always been portrayed in terms of their dress. Everyone, men and women, wore some version of a tunic, or a toga. These were simple garments from a construction perspective: usually swaths of cloth wrapped artfully around the body or in the case of a tunic, a square-shaped piece of cloth with an opening for the head that fell between the waist and the thighs. Sewing would have been so simple in those days! (If it had existed at all.)

The first historical evidence of pants emerging tells us that they were initially developed in China around 3000 years ago to make it less cumbersome to ride a horse.[2] We have to jump almost 3000 years to the nineteenth century to find women wearing pants. Rebellious women in both Europe and North America would take to wearing trousers when they could get away with it, however, it was illegal to do so. And it has to be said that the men made the laws at that time.

The fight for pant-wearing started in earnest in the 1850s – not that long ago. In the 1930s Marlene Dietrich sported pantsuits and got away with it although she was occasionally denied a restaurant table because of her attire. The second World War made pants a practical alternative to skirts in many occupational fields that women had to take up at the time.

Pants didn’t really ever appear on fashion runways until French couturier Paul Poiret designed what we would now call harem pants in 1911.[3] Although that predated Dietrich and the second world war, only very bold fashionistas wore them.

Paul Poiret’s “pants”

When Christian Dior pioneered his “New Look” in the 1950s, pants lost their new-found prominence that had emerged during the war. He set pant-wearing among women back several decades.

Dior’s “New Look” didn’t leave any room for trousers!

It was the rebellious 1960s when pants came to the fore and we never really looked back (save for those cavemen running the aforementioned school in North Carolina and others like them).

These days, most of us couldn’t function in our daily lives without them, not to mention having the choice to do so. Which brings me to my current project. The perfect pant block upon which to base some future well-fitting designs.

Two years ago, I thought I’d developed one. There were one or two details I was never really happy with but since I’d used the traditional approach to developing it and put the work in, I kept it. But never used it.

My original pant block

Since then, I’ve wanted to copy a pair of comfortable Eileen Fisher pants that I wore to death and are long since gone from my closet as a result. So, I thought I’d revisit the pant block. This time I started with a simple commercial pants pattern that I thought I could adapt.

So, I did some initial tissue fitting then cut them out from a left-over piece of rayon-blend ponte fabric from a dress (another dress) I had recently made. I started by sewing them together completely with a 5 mm stitch in red thread – my all-over machine basting. After the first try-on, it was clear that they were miles too big everywhere but this is where the fun began.

I then started taking them in, one seam at a time starting with the crotch line. Then I tried them on again. Another tweak, this time with a different colour of machine basting until they were darn near perfect. Of course, by this time I had really wide seam allowances which I left in place until I took out the machine basting.

I kept tweaking with different colours of machine basting.

I did the permanent stitching along the final basting lines. Before I removed the basting lines, I transferred all the seam lines to the pattern I had traced out. These seam lines would be the dimensions of the sloper. Of course, I then removed the basting, serged the seams, lowered the waistline (which I then transferred to the pattern) and added a wide, inside elastic band to finish them I generally dislike anything with an elastic waistline but this is wide and subtle and after all, these are really yoga pants. As far as I’m concerned, they’re still a bit wide for ponte knit but this width should work well in a woven. I can always remake the pattern for a narrower stretch fit.

I can’t say picking out the basting was fun but my trusty tools got the job done!

The final step was to transfer the pattern (without seam allowances) to poster board. I then measured for the high hip, low hip, thigh, knee and centre front and back, measurements I’ll need in future pattern-making. When I compared this block to the one I created using the more conventional measurement-to-math-to-pattern approach I learned two years ago, it was close. This time, though, I had corrected the issues I’d had with the original one.

My new sloper/pant block!

I was anxious to make them up in leftover woven material to check the fit and tweak the back darts but the piece I planned to use wasn’t big enough. I guess I’ll just have to wait until I can pick up a piece of fabric from one of my favourite fabric stores. I just hope they’re still in business when all this COVID stuff is over. Not long now!

Stay healthy!

Source: WW II photo: https://aeroflite.com/the-often-forgotten-role-of-women-during-wwii/


[1] https://qz.com/quartzy/1597688/a-brief-history-of-women-in-pants/

[2] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/worlds-oldest-pants-were-developed-riding-horses-180951638/

[3] https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/women-and-pants-fashion-liberation_l_5c7ec7f7e4b0e62f69e729ec

Posted in Fashion Blogs, sewing, Style, Stylish Books

Four Years on a Fashion/Sewing Blog: What’s changed over time

I just realized that I totally missed my four-year anniversary of starting this blog. It was last week—April 16 to be exact. I started this online journal with the idea that I could document the journey through my interests that I now had time to pursue. When I look back on that first post, I realize that despite the fact that I had planned on a variety of topic areas, I seem to have veered in one direction.

I had thought that anyone who stumbled over this online space might be a bit like me:

  1. Be woman of a ‘certain’ age (it can be whatever you want it to be),
  2. With an interest in fashion but mostly in style,
  3. And interests in other things other than fashion & style – things like travel, wine & reading,
  4. And above all, past caring what everyone else thinks.

That hasn’t changed – or at least I haven’t changed but I now realize that I welcome both men and women of all ages who share an interest in the things I’m interested in, or just find me entertaining (I love that!). This makes the experience of writing for you all that richer.

I also realize that although I planned to write more widely on subjects such as “fashion journalism, what I’m learning about style throughout my life, fashion and style-related books I love, my pet peeves about fashion, how travel is a style statement…” I also said that I’d write about my Coco Chanel obsession and my journey to recreate her Little French Jacket introduced in 1954. I’ve done that and so much more.

My first LFJ – you can’t see the silk charmeuse lining or all the hand-stitching but, trust me, it’s there!

First, I want to talk about Little French Jackets. When I started sharing my interests with you, I had no idea that there were so many others who had already gone on this journey to create their own homage to Coco. I found their work inspiring and instructional. I’ve since created three of these jackets (I had planned on one but they are addictive) and I realize that my posts just might be inspirational or instructional to others. These projects led me to several other long-term ones like my little black dress project and my cruise collection project…

This means that this looks like a sewing blog. I enjoy sharing my sewing, but I also enjoy sharing my research that I always do before and during a project. For example, who isn’t interested in how the little black dress evolved over the years, or the history of mannequins. You’ve probably also noticed that I tend to tell you my story rather than giving instructions. I’m a story-teller (in my other life I write books) not a sewing teacher.

The original Chanel LBD.

I have also written about fashion journalism (and my peeves about it) as well as about what I call stylish books – and I plan to do more of that in the future. There are so many good ones.

But these days I tend to focus on my design and sewing projects. I wanted to learn fashion design and have made my way through a variety of online classes to learn flat pattern making. This led me to create my own bodice sloper and a number of my own patterns. I also dipped my foot into computer assisted design but I have to admit I find Garment Designer, the program I chose to begin with, to be a bit limiting. Maybe next year I’ll ask for Wild Ginger for Christmas!

My original sketch

I have a few more projects up my sleeve. I’m learning tailoring as we speak and if this pandemic ever gets over and my favourite Toronto fabric stores ever open up again, I’ll get right on it. I also want to deconstruct my husband’s old tuxedo – I made him keep it when he bought a replacement a year or two ago – and then reconstruct it to fit me.

I’ve also been working on a sewing notebook/journal thing that I’ll share in a month or two.

I’m working on a notebook that will be able to replace this and several others I keep.

In the meantime, my main focus right now is using up leftover fabric. It’s quite gratifying to be able to use it up since I do not have a “stash” *shudder* of fabric but I do tend to buy more than I need for any given project and have substantial pieces leftover. I sometimes lay out a few pieces and use this as a way to inspire interesting designs.

Now back to current projects!

Looking forward to being able to travel again and to sharing my travel wardrobe plans with you…I might not get back to the Great Wall of China but I’m sure there will be more terrific adventures!

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

COVID Couture: Designs for Lockdown Life

At this very moment, I should be writing about a project I’ve been looking forward to for some time. I should be sharing with you the colour palette and design inspiration for my Fall 2020 European Travel Capsule – a plan I have for a tightly edited group of travel-worthy clothing (including both ready-to-wear and my own design-sew plans) for an upcoming adventure to Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Sadly, however, the moment we arrived home from our winter getaway, we saw the handwriting on the wall and cancelled the fall holiday. I’m not going to be needing that capsule this year. Maybe next year. So, where did that leave my project plans?

[Yes, that’s Ines de la Fressange, my inspiration for the European capsule!]

Well, I could begin my tailoring adventure. There are two problems with the timing of this project: first, I don’t want to buy the fabric for my new blazer without actually seeing and feeling it so that’s out of the question at the moment (truthfully though, I might relent here at some point in the next two months if things don’t change); second, I have absolutely no place to wear a bespoke blazer at this time.

Taking into consideration the events that fill my days at present and the places I’m going (or to be more accurate places I’m not going) I need to rethink the whole design and sew aspect of my life. That’s where COVID Couture comes in. Let me start by reminding myself of what, exactly the term couture means.

Although the term might conjure images of models sauntering down runways in the latest Dior, Chanel and Dolce and Gabbana, it really is simpler than that. The term couture should not be confused with haute couture, the word that you would, in fact, use to describe the aforementioned Dior etc. Couture is a French word that translates into English as “sewing” in its most literal sense. Haute couture translates literally as “high sewing” and that’s what they do in those fashion houses (although the term haute couture can be legally applied to only a handful of houses that have achieved that designation).

The online dictionary defines the word couture as “…the design and manufacture of fashionable clothes to a client’s specific requirements and measurements…fashionable made-to-measure clothes…” Okay, that’s what I do. I design and create made-to-measure clothes for myself. And the fact that we are in the middle of a COVID pandemic and require different kinds of clothes at this point in our lives, any clothes I make for use in the short term are, by definition, COVID couture. So, here’s how I’m going to define COVID Couture:

…the design and creation of fashionable, made-to-measure clothing that makes the wearer feel comfortable, relaxed and calm while still being presentable enough for a Zoom meeting…

Enter the perfect fabric. It so happened that I had bought two lengths of complementary striped bamboo knit with a brushed back. What could be more comfortable and relaxing than the softest bamboo fabric you could imagine? I wish you could reach out and feel this fabric. Then all I needed were two or three patterns to choose from.

I first created a tunic with a wide cowl neckline from Kwik Sew 4189. I liked the cowl neckline and the tunic length.


The fabric is quite fine and very stretchy so I had to first, cut it out in a single layer, and second, be very careful about not stretching it even more as I sewed. I ended up stabilizing the side seams with Knit-n-Stable™ tape which was a great decision. Putting it in the hemline might not have been such a good idea as you can see from the photos – it remains a bit wavy. In my defence, the stretchy fabric with a bias hemline is a recipe for waves under any circumstances!

I used the two different stripes for what I think is an interesting effect. The piece is beyond comfortable to wear, but now that the spring has arrived, the cowl neckline doesn’t seem right to me.

So, I looked to another pattern for a piece I can wear under a little jacket on cool spring days and at home.

I had picked up McCalls 7975 a few months ago because I liked the front twist and the sleeve variations. I thought it had possibilities. Again, I had to cut it out in a single layer which wasn’t really a stretch (sorry about the pun) in this pattern since the whole front is one piece anyway.

Leftover fabric!

Because I was using leftover material, I knew I wouldn’t have enough of either stripe to do the whole thing but not to worry: I simply put the variation on the back. I do like how it turned out.

This time, I stabilized only the shoulder seams. And rather than serge the hem before turning it, I turned it twice and this seemed to give the hem more stability. Overall, the fit is generous – I had to take in the side seams twice and probably could have done more. That being said, this is another wonderfully comfortable piece that I will certainly wear on Zoom for my next board meeting.

I also took another piece of bamboo knit – this time French terry – and made myself a new bathrobe. I think this qualifies as COVID Couture as well!

Okay, time to get serious – I only need so many comfy tops and robes (what I really need is a silk robe). I’ll have to start thinking about re-entry into a more normal life. Or at least something I can wear to the grocery store on a summery day! Stay safe out there!

Posted in sewing, Shirt-making, Style

The “Perfect Shirt” Project: Finished at Last!

There can be no doubt about it: I take longer than anyone on the face of the earth to complete a project. But, in my defence, I’d like to think that the project teaches me lots along the way and the final product is one that meets my initial objectives. Well, this one does!

I started this project in search of the perfect, perfectly-fitted shirt. My personal style runs toward the tailored and since I no longer need suits for my day-to-day life (actually, the last two decades of my career needed them less and less), tailored shirts with crisp collars are a nice, more casual alternative (sans jacket). And they look equally great with dressy pants and jeans.

I began this project in January before I left for vacation, before we all faced what is turning out to be some kind of existential challenge around the globe. But throughout it all, some things provide stability and meditative equanimity. For me, that’s a long, involved design and sewing project. This one was perfect for that.

When I first began exploring this project, I said the following:

“…A shirt can say corporate meeting. It can say casual Saturday. It can say sexy Saturday night. Youthful, put-together, classic, chic, tasteful, refined and classy – these are all words that come to my mind when I think of a classic shirt…”

And I hold to that. It all depends on the fabric and how the shirt is styled. Anyway, I then created a test shirt that was a kind of “frankenstyle” mash-up of fabrics that allowed me to test the fit, design lines and a few techniques, like sleeve plackets.

Then I loosened up the pattern, removed the waist darts and the back yoke and whipped it up in a light-weight, summery fabric that took on the flavour of a “blouse” rather than a traditional mens-wear-inspired shirt. I really loved that one – alas, it still has no buttons since the button stores are all closed (see above our existential crisis at the moment).

Then it was on to the final design.

I brought the fabric home from my Florida vacation and I must say it was wonderful to work with and it feels extraordinary. I think that even my Brooks Brothers shirts are not as comfortable.

By the time I got to this one, I could have made it with my eyes closed. I even finished the side seams and the sleeve seams with French seams but I still find it best to serge the armhole seam. I once again tried to use the rolled hem foot to complete the hem, but I have to say that it’s a bit too tricky. I can get a few inches on the sample but more than that and it’s a hot mess. So the hem is turned twice as usual.

When it came time to do the finishing touches, it suffered from the same problem as in the last version: no buttons! Button stores closed! I have so many buttons but not the nine or so matching, navy blue ones that I so needed. That’s when I got creative.

I have a well-loved Diane von Furstenberg silk twill blouse that had developed a very nasty tear along its piped armscye. And since it had always been rather generous on me (my husband says I buy many of my clothes too big), I had decided to recycle the silk which is lovely into a smaller top. That sucker had buttons — buttons that I was not likely to use in the new project. So, of course, I cut one off and voila! I had buttons to complete this project. And don’t you love the look or pristine machine-made buttonholes before you cut them open?

The shirt is finished and ready for its first outing. The only problem is that it seems a bit much for wearing from the dining room to the living room to the kitchen, don’t you think?

Oh well, the restaurants and the shops and the offices will re-open some day and I’ll have plenty of opportunities to wear it. Stay safe everyone! Now , let’s all go wash our hands again!

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Shirt-making, Style

The Perfect Shirt: Why it isn’t a blouse

Image by Karen Arnold from Pixabay

The good news: today is the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. The bad news: covid-19. The less said about the latter the better. So, I’m moving toward my holy grail: the perfect shirt. I have the perfect fabric and I’ve created a pattern for a shirt that fits me perfectly. What more could I want? Isn’t it time to make that final shirt? Not quite. I have one more avenue of research to pursue. I’m making one final test shirt with the pattern edited to accommodate a finer, drapier, dare I say blousier fabric. This is in case I think my first-pass perfection isn’t quite perfect. So, is it still a shirt?

I need to back up in my research a bit. What are the characteristics of a shirt that makes it a shirt? The word shirt is used as a catch-all to describe any kind of garment one wears on top. However, this isn’t precise enough. A T-shirt, while being a kind of shirt, isn’t really a shirt. It’s, well, a T-shirt. A halter top can be described generically as a shirt, but it’s, well, a halter-top!

So back to my definition of the perfect “shirt.”

My first test shirt reviewed.
  • First, there is the design. Shirts, by definition, have a crisp, tailored style with buttons down the front. They have collars, although the style of the collar can vary. They are traditionally closely tailored (which as far as I’m concerned is a characteristic of a “perfect” shirt) but they can also be over-sized. I have room in my wardrobe for these over-sized shirts, but they’re not “perfect” shirts for me.
  • Second, there is the fabric as I discussed previously. In general terms, “shirts” are made from woven fabrics. That being said, we now find shirts made from stable knits. These are garments that are shaped like what we know as a shirt, but the fabric stretches. They’re often a bit like a hybrid between a T-shirt and a shirt.

What, then is a blouse? A blouse is a type of upper-body garment that can be rendered in a variety of styles (even styled like a shirt) but is fabricated from a softer, drapier fabric that is more forgiving to the body. It has the added characteristic of being able to “blouse” over a waistline if you choose to wear it like that. In fact, the dictionary defines a blouse as a “loose-fitting garment resembling a shirt that is usually worn by women…”

Before I settle on a final design for the pattern, I need to make a few edits and create one final test. Here are the changes I make to the pattern to turn it into more of a blouse:

  • I omit the waist darts. Taking these out is taking a chance. However, I’ll mark them and put them in at the time of the final fitting if it doesn’t work.
  • I manipulate the yoke out and into shoulder darts. Yokes scream “shirt” and are a men’s design detail that one generally does not find in a blouse that doesn’t need that extra support (unless it’s used as a design feature).
  • I should probably lengthen it an inch or two but in the end, decide to leave the length as is.

I also need different fabric. I fell I love with a gauzy cotton embroidered with turtles. Yes, turtles! I rarely wear patterns of any kind – they are so not me – but this one looked like it could make a cool, airy summer blouse/shirt.

So, I ordered it, washed and dried it (after doing a 4-inch square test piece), ironed it and laid it out. I even decided to ensure that there is one turtle at the to of each sleeve placket. Cute, no?

Without a yoke or waist darts, the sewing is quick and easy. I finish it in no time. There is just one problem. I have two sets of buttons I could use but neither one really does it for me.

neither of these buttons is really right.

So, I decide we should take a nice spring walk downtown to the fabric district where my favourite button store is located. There is only one problem: everything is closed. Can you say covid-19?

Oh well, I’m not going to be wearing it any time soon, so I’ll wait rather than using second best.

If you look closely, you can see that I’m wearing it with pins! Buttons to come.

My conclusion is that I now have a great pattern for a silk blouse but I’m going to stick with the yoke for the final perfect shirt – and probably the waist darts. I can’t wait to get to the final shirt. I just love the fabric!

Posted in fabrics, sewing, Shirt-making

The Perfect Fabric for the Perfect Shirt (the “perfect shirt” project continues)

What is the perfect fabric for the perfect shirt? That is the question. Late last year when I was searching for the perfect fabric for my husband’s shirt, the answer was “expensive”! I think my hand shook when I cut into that $80-a-metre Italian cotton shirting fabric that he had chosen for his perfect shirt. But, I wonder, is it possible to find the perfect fabric for my perfect shirt without breaking the bank? Yes, I believe it is.

Let’s start at the beginning. One of the things that makes a shirt a shirt (and not a T-shirt, sweater or blouse for example) is the kind of fabric it’s made from. When I think of men’s shirts, my mind goes immediately to plain, striped and checked cottons…

Propercloth.com sells beautiful and very expensive shirtings. Can you see the $145-a-yard pricing?

…but these days even men’s shirt-makers are branching out into wilder territory. Have you seen Robert Graham or Ted Baker shirts lately?

Then there’s the actual type of fabric. The web site Real Men Real Style is a great reference for shirting weaves. There are Oxford, poplin, twill, broadcloth and end-on-end the main (read about it here) – all 100% cotton and then there are the more modern blends of cotton with polyester (not as nice but fewer wrinkles) and cotton with a hint of stretch which sounds so much nicer. There is even linen.

Of course, shirts can also be made of flannel (no, everyone in Canada does not wear flannel shirts. My husband wouldn’t be caught dead in one).

[Bob & Doug MacKenzie aka Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas of Second City comedy fame notwithstanding, most Canadians do not wear flannel shirts!}

The theme throughout is that shirts are made from woven fabrics that have some body and a stiffer hand than, say, silk charmeuse. This crispness is part of what makes a shirt, well, a shirt. Even a woman’s shirt that is shaped and curved should have a degree of crispness or veers into blouse territory! So where does that leave me?

One of the things I don’t like about online fabric shopping is the lack of the touch factor. I’ve ordered several shirting pieces online but doing so doesn’t really let me feel the fabric. A great cotton shirting should feel silky to the touch and is probably going to set me back more than $15 a metre. In fact, I see lots of shirt fabrics online for well over $100 a metre as you can see above. I’m not going that high for this project.

I could take a walk downtown to Queen Street West here in Toronto, home to my favourite independent fabric stores, but that’s usually a walking destination for better weather (but before tourist season. God help me if I find myself on Queen West at the height of tourist season in the summer!). Lucky for me though, I’ve just returned from a winter getaway in Florida.

Before we left on this holiday, I did a little bit of online research and found that there was an interesting fabric store in Sarasota that just happened to be on the route we would be taking from Naples to downtown Sarasota. So, we plugged it into our GPS and set out.

We were almost into Sarasota. I was the passenger for this segment so I was looking feverishly at the GPS map and the surrounding roads. We were getting close but the area didn’t look at all like a place you’d find a fabric store. Finally, we were right on the place and I spotted the sign. Pennie Fabrics. An unprepossessing house-plus-garage kind of arrangement, the store looked a bit odd. But we turned quickly and pulled into the small parking lot.

I gingerly opened the door to find myself in a room crammed with bolts of fabric. The proprietor who introduced himself as Nasir bade me welcome with a smile. “Please come in. Look around. There’s lots to see,” he said as he gestured around the store. And was he right!

The place was, indeed, a repurposed bungalow with every room crammed with bolts of fabrics – silks, jerseys, tweeds, cottons, knits, and yes, some shirting.

As I made my way from room to room (including the garage which doubled for a fabric room as well) touching as many of the fabrics as I could, I fell in love with two pieces.

The first one is a swath of printed silk charmeuse. The muted pastel pink and mint green are not colours that usually attract me but there was just something about this one. I didn’t know exactly what I’d do with it, but I had to have a piece. I will use it for the lining of a tailored jacket, one of my planned projects for later this year. Now all I need is the outer fabric! It will be fun to move from lining to the outer fabric rather than the other way around as I usually do when creating a lined jacket.

Then I found it. The perfect piece of shirting. Many shirtings scream “menswear” to me. Now, I have no problem with wearing menswear as a style, however, for this one I wanted it to be menswear with a feminine edge. You might not agree but when I saw this fabric it said that to me. And the feel! Such a silky, fin cotton. And just look at those selvages! I have to use them but I’m not sure a tailored shirt is the place. We’ll see.

While we were at Pennie Fabrics, women started arriving for a sewing class that’s held in the light-filled back room evidently on a regular basis. A kind of local community of women, the group was gathering that day to celebrate the results of a recent challenge. They had been challenged to each use the same fabric to create different garments. They arrived that day wearing their creations. One of the most striking was this one. And she even agreed to pose for me while Nasir held up a length of the fabric behind her. What a wonderful find this was! You really must visit this store if you’re anywhere near Sarasota, Florida!

So, I’m home now and have cut my four-inch square and put it in the washing machine for its test today. I will wash and iron the fabric to prep it (probably won’t put this one in the dryer) but I have one more piece to make from my newly-created pattern before I cut out the perfect shirt. It’s yet another test. Soon to come…

Posted in Style

“The Perfect Shirt Project”: My “frankenstyle” test shirt

It’s always wonderful to be able to take a break from winter! I’ve just spent a couple of fantastic weeks doing a “road trip” that my husband and I took starting in Key Largo, through the everglades of Florida to the west coast then up to the northeast coast ending in our favourite Florida city, Fort Lauderdale. A few of my GG Collection pieces made their way into my suitcase and served me well but now I’m back and ready to complete my perfect shirt project. But Florida will return to the discussion since I actually visited a fantastically quirky fabric store and found the perfect fabric for the perfect shirt. But more about that later.

Now…back to the frankenstyle test shirt!

My overall plan for creating this test garment that might be able to appear in public on my back was to purchase no new fabric. And since I am not a fabric hoarder (stasher if you prefer) I have only left-overs. However, I have to admit that I do tend to buy more fabric than is really required for any given project so that I can recut if necessary. Anyway, as I mentioned in the last post, I found a few pieces that I thought I could make work together.

I put a lot of thought into the placement of the fabric. This was good design practice for me and might make it wearable as I mentioned.

Layout was key to the design.

The purpose of a test garment (toile, muslin) for me is to work out fit issues in the main but I also sometimes use it to practice techniques. The fit was the most important aspect of this one.

Problem #1: the collar turned out to be two inches too large for the neckline! What the…? So I had to redraft the pattern pieces, then I recut the collar and the undercollar using a seam at the back. Remember, I have no extra fabric here so I have to use what I have. Anyway, it turned out quite well and it occurs to me that I might use this on the bias for undercollar of future designs. So I have a one-piece collar-band pattern and a two-piece collar-band pattern.

Other fitting concerns that I’ll change in the final pattern: I think that the cuffs could be a minimum of ½ inch smaller and I need to back off the bust darts a full inch for perfection.

As far as techniques are concerned, I decided to use Angela Kane’s approach to creating a sleeve placket.

The pattern looks a bit like this…

This was a new technique for me and it worked out beautifully.

She provides a terrific template on her web site and has a very useful two-part video tutorial.

Here’s part 1…

…and you’ll need part 2…

I finished off the front with a series of not-quite-matching buttons I ordered from China on eBay and in the end, I have a tailored-meets-funky kind of shirt that I actually might wear in public!

The fit in the next one should be better but I’m going to do another test in a finer fabric that could become the basis for a “blouse” because they’re not the same thing at all!

Posted in fabrics, sewing patterns, Shirt-making, Style

The “Perfect Shirt” Project Continues: Enter the planning of the “frankenstyle” test shirt

The quest for the perfect shirt has to be taken seriously, one step at a time, perfecting each component: style details, fabric and possibly most important of all, fit. At least that’s how I’m approaching this project.

When last we spoke (okay, I did all the talking) I had taken a trip down memory lane to view the iconic appearances of the button-up shirt on iconic twentieth-century women. From there, I reviewed the finer points of where and how a shirt like this ought to fit. Now it’s time I got started on one of my own.

As I mentioned, I had a look at the commercial patterns I already owned. On final consideration, I decided to use McCall’s 7575 as a starting point.

I begin with design details.

As I look more closely at the pattern, I realize that the first change I have to make is a basic style one: I want a clean front on my perfect shirt pattern. A clean front is more European. This means I have to get rid of the band running down the front and rework the pattern accordingly. I can always add a band for future designs.

Original line art

The next design detail I examine is those breast pockets. Can we talk about pockets for a moment? I’ve noted that many women say they love pockets but what they really mean is that they love pockets in a skirt (and trousers and jackets perhaps). The question I have is this: do they really like pockets in shirts where said pockets are essentially useless and often serve only to increase the visual aspects of one’s chest? I think not. I think that they haven’t thought their general love of pockets through. I’m not a big fan of breast pockets on women’s shirts or blouses in general. I certainly put one on my husband’s perfect shirt because he uses it to stick his glasses in and won’t actually buy a shirt that doesn’t have a left-sided breast pocket (except for the odd dress shirt). But what about me? No. Uh-uh. No breast pockets for me. So, I ditch the breast pocket – at least for this go-around.

Another design detail: Go back up and have a close look at the original line art. It shows a little bias strip as a placket thingy on the sleeves. I feel that this is a bit of a cop-out. There are so many wonderful shapes and types of plackets. I think I’ll change this.

Finally, still with those sleeves, I’m not a big fan of the one-pleat-on-one-side-of-the-placket (and the other one on the other side of the placket) design. This was the approach that I used on my man’s shirt project but it looks a bit odd to me on a women’s shirt. I could use gathering, but I think that style is more for flowing blouse fabrics rather than crisp shirting. Anyway, I prefer pleats – so much cleaner and crisper in general. I will also put both of the pleats on the front of the sleeve.

I think I’ll go with the shape of the collar for this first draft but I’ll revisit it later. And I’m keeping the yoke – for now. It’s a design feature that I like in some, but not all, shirts.

Here’s my cleaned-up line art:

So, now it’s on to the fit issues!

Still with those sleeves. Dear god – why do commercial pattern companies (and the indie pattern-makers are no better) seem to think we all need sleeve bicep measurement that would fit a Sumo wrestler? So, it’s onto the drawing board to recut the sleeve pattern to more suit my style – and size.

With the sleeve pattern recut, I just need to tweak the waist darts and I’m ready to move onto consideration #3: fabric.

Let’s face it, the term “wearable muslin” is a bit of an oxymoron – either it’s a muslin that you’re willing to cut apart and use for the final pattern, or it’s a wearable shirt that you construct from some kind of fabric you’re willing to be seen in in public. That’s my usual approach. So I’m going to call this a “test garment” rather than a toile or muslin. That gets me off the hook in case it is actually wearable. But I’m not willing to spend any money on this kind of test. Enter the remnant box.

I’m not a fabric stasher (*shudder*) but I don’t throw out reasonably-sized pieces of leftover fabric – that is, of course, unless it’s hideous to work with like the scuba fabric top that I never even wrote about in this space. I should since there’s much for me to learn, but I probably won’t because then I’d have to think about it again and that would seriously hurt my head. I digress. I need fabric for my test shirt.

So, as I examine the remnants I have I’m looking for pieces that have some kind of compatible aesthetic and that have compatible fabric content. I have to find a few pieces that are cotton or at the very least cotton with a touch of spandex (I happen to know that I have only one such piece). This is the fun part of the test shirt.

I love the idea of creatively putting the pieces together. This is the perfect opportunity to practice this kind of aesthetic exercise as I look for pieces of fabric for the body, the collar, yoke, undercollar, sleeves, cuffs and placket.

Remember Frankenstein’s monster? This is not to be confused with dear Dr. Frankenstein himself. He created the monster that was composed of pieces of other bodies. So, I plan to create “frankenstyle” garment.

I decide to use the following pieces:

I have a largish piece of cotton sateen that has a touch of lycra for a soupcon of cross-body stretch. It’s little enough that it passes for a non-stretch woven.

Blue cotton sateen from the sloper in progress

I have a very small piece of leftover Italian cotton from my husband’s shirt and since it cost $80 a metre, I kept it anyway. I will use this for small parts.

I also have some black and white-black striped shirting from a previous shirt-type project.

It’s a very interesting exercise to think about which fabric will be the body – front and/or back. Which one the sleeves, which one would look best as the collar? Undercollar?

Old line art!

Well, I figured it out and proceeded to cut and sew. I’ll reveal the final result next time! Now I’m off to warmer climes for a few weeks!

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Shirt-making, Style, Stylish Books

The “Perfect Shirt” Project Begins

There’s not a single style manual on the planet that doesn’t suggest to all of us that among the essential wardrobe staples we should have in our closets is the button-up shirt (as opposed to the button-down shirt which I’ve discussed before!).

American “style expert” Lloyd Boston lists “the white shirt” number one in his book The Style Checklist: The Ultimate Wardrobe Essentials for You. He specifically suggests that this fashion must-have should be white. And I’m sure that we all have a few white button-up shirts in our fashion arsenal, but I think it’s safe to say that we also need other colours.

Dearer to our hearts perhaps (at least for those of us who create some of our own fashion pieces) Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr authors of the recent book A Stylish Guide to Classic Sewing include the shirt among their 30 timeless garments and they include both styling tips and sewing tips. They also don’t confine this classic to white and consider that we ought to have a few in different colours in our wardrobes.

Why is the shirt such a universally appealing wardrobe piece? I think because it is endlessly versatile.

A shirt can say corporate meeting. It can say casual Saturday. It can say sexy Saturday night. Youthful, put-together, classic, chic, tasteful, refined and classy – these are all words that come to my mind when I think of a classic shirt. And throughout the twentieth century, a variety of iconic women made the shirt an icon all on its own.

Who wouldn’t swoon over Lauren Bacall in Key Largo in her ever-present button-up?

See the yoke and the men’s styling features? Wonderful! And so versatile

Or the ever-chic Audrey Hepburn? Sexy and buttoned-up all at the same time!

More recently, remember Uma  Thurman in Pulp Fiction? Even if you didn’t see the movie, I’m sure you saw the stills where she is smouldering in her white button-up with French cuffs.

Then, if you still think a button-up shirt is too prissy for you, may I reintroduce you to Marilyn? You can never see a classic shirt the same way again once you’ve seen one on Marilyn.

Unmistakably Marilyn!

There doesn’t seem to be any agreement on precisely when women started wearing button-up shirts. Some sources suggest it was in the 1950s when women in movies would wear their partner’s shirt (i.e. a men’s shirt) after the suggestion that they had just had sex. But that can’t be right because women in the armed services wore shirts long before that and we’ve seen photos of women in the late 1800s wearing what appear to be collared shirts with ankle-grazing skirts.  

In the 19th century, these early women’s “shirts” were often referred to as “shirtwaists.” This is the term we now use when referring to shirt-dresses.

The problem with many of the shirts on offer to women in ready-to-wear these days is that they don’t fit very well. The darts are often in the wrong places. The fit over the bust is often a problem in general. Enter the gape! They are often too wide across the shoulders and nip in too much at the waist. Or they look like bags all over. A smart button-up shirt ought to fit perfectly, n’est ce pas?

I enjoyed Justine Leconte’s tips on how a shirt should fit and found it very useful so I’ll use her approach when I check on the fit of my own perfect shirt…

This is right up my alley, although I often wonder what women whose foundational style is artistic boho think about this. In any case, who am I to argue with the wardrobe police? I agree: everyone looks terrific in a shirt. But it has to be perfect. Enter my new project.

After I finished my husband’s perfectly-fitted (and very expensive) shirt project, it occurred to me that I ought to have a perfectly-fitted pattern that I can use for both a shirt and a blouse. And there is a difference between a shirt and a blouse in my mind. The fashion police suggest that a blouse is a type of shirt (because it blouses?) but a shirt is not always a blouse. A shirt is crisp while a blouse is drapey. At least that’s how I’m going to define them. I plan to start the project by creating the perfect shirt pattern then modifying it for blouses.

So what does my perfect shirt need?

  • It needs to be fitted either with darts or princess lines. I think I’ll start with darts because princess lines are really just a variation on that and I can always manipulate darts into a princess seam if I want to do that in the future.
  • It needs to have a collar. Kind of a no-brainer since this is part of the definition of a shirt. However, there are different kinds of collars and I want this to be a collar with a stand.
  • It needs to have well-fitted sleeves. I find that commercial patterns often have sleeves that are very large around the bicep. They seem to think we are all stevedores or wrestlers.
  • It needs to have nice cuffs with a nice placket. This is a skill I will need to learn more about since I see so many different kinds of plackets around.
  • It needs to have a back yoke. Yokes support the material in the shirt. I can always manipulate this out if I choose a blouse-type approach in the future.
  • It needs to be the right length. I’ll figure that out as I fit the test shirt.
  • I don’t necessarily want the shirt to have any breast pockets, but that’s an option I’ll keep in mind for variations.

Where to begin? I decided to start with an examination of commercial patterns. I own a couple, none of which is perfect.

McCall’s 6649 (copyright marked 2012 and now out of print it seems) seems to tick all the boxes, as does McCall’s 7575 (a 2017 addition). In fact, they are so similar as to make one wonder why they got rid of one and created another one just the same. I also picked up Burda 6908 in the discards box at a Fabricville outpost in Muskoka during our fall road trip. This pattern is dated 2014 and is a bit different from the previous ones in that it is more of a tunic style – no darts, quite long and very balloony. Not quite what I’m looking for in a basic pattern, but I do think I will make it as part fo this project.

So it does seem as if I’m going to have to really work on my own pattern. I’ll start with M7575 and modify it for fit and style. And what about fabric?

Well, these classic shirts are by definition fabricated from wovens, usually 100% cotton or a cotton blend. Obviously, they have to be fairly lightweight – just imagine what these shirts would look like made from canvas. Not the image I’m going for. Eventually, I’d love to have a fine Italian cotton, but for the first go-around, I’m going to see what I have leftover from other projects. Stay tuned for my test shirt – a kind of “Frankenstyle” design while I test out my pattern details.

I’ll give LB the final word…