Posted in sewing, Style

Commercial or self-drafted pattern duel: We have a winner!

I can’t remember exactly when it was I decided that I wanted – no, needed – to learn to draft my own patterns. In my past sewing experiences, I confined my own designing to making changes in commercial patterns. You know: you change a sleeve, or tweak a collar, you make creative fabric selection, or ditch a zipper. In the end you believe it is truly yours. Well, that’s okay, but it does limit creative expression, and when I found myself continually having to tweak commercial patterns for fit, that’s when I realized I really needed to create my own patterns. So I started the courses to learn.

After a year of following several courses, creating a personal bodice sloper from a personal moulage, then learned a thing or two about operations necessary for creating patterns from that sloper, I finally created my first pattern. By the end of my last post I had completed the final muslin for my first totally self-designed pattern, and was ready to embark on creating a muslin for the commercial pattern that was also in contention for a particularly nice piece of shirting fabric. Here’s how that process went.

When I first clapped eyes on McCall’s 7546 earlier this spring, it was the sash that drew me to it. I like the idea of tailored shirts with body-conscious shaping. My own design this spring incorporates that idea, but does it differently.

First, my own design has princess seams.

first pattern

Although 7546 looks as if it has princess seams, it really has slashed darts from the armholes that end some distance above the hem in both front and back.

line art

The sashes are also different. The one I designed is sewn into the side seams leaving the back unencumbered. The McCall’s pattern has a wider sash that originates in the back seam resulting in a bit of a bulge – at least it was in unbleached cotton. I could only hope that it would be smoother in a smooth shirting fabric.

The necklines are also quite different as you can see. My own design has a mandarin collar – a design I love. The commercial pattern has an open collar with a collar stand. And of course, the sleeves in the dueling designs are so very different: my own is sleeveless, while the McCall’s has full-length sleeves with a cuff – one version with a so-called cold shoulder, the other without.

chicos cold shoulder
My ready-to-wear cold-shoulder…

It was not in any way the cold-shoulder sleeves that attracted me to this pattern. This design feature is certainly ubiquitous in spring/summer 2017 ready-to-wear, and I have to say its popularity puzzles me a bit. Maybe it’s the Toronto weather: too cold in winter for cold-shoulders, too hot in summer for any sleeves at all. Anyway, I did buy one this year, but I’m not really sure where I’ll wear it other than on a cruise through the Panama Canal this fall. I never wear prints, and on pain of death avoid the “boho” look. Wonder what got into me? Anyway, I decided that I’d make up one of those sleeves when I created the muslin. Hmm. That was interesting.

 

So many sleeves, so little fabric! I decided that in the interests of making a decision, and the fact that I was unconvinced about the cold-shoulder, I should cut and sew two different sleeves for this test garment.

I first cut and sewed the cold-shoulder with the cuff, then drafted up a three-quarter length sleeve using the armscye of the pattern and my own sleeve sloper – since the sleeve from the pattern seemed a tad wide for my arms in any case. So here’s what I got on the first try.

The cold-shoulder sleeve was hideously large, gaping even more than the photos show. My own ¾ sleeve, on the other hand, wasn’t so bad. But it didn’t seem quite finished. So I unpicked them both and cut the commercial sleeve without the cold shoulder. I also re-drafted my own slightly shorter and a tad wider to accommodate an external facing. Here’s what these two looked like.

 

So here I am, having to make a decision before cutting into the Mood fabric. I really loved my own design – the look and the fit. But I realized that the fabric might not be the best for it. So the winner is: the commercial pattern. But I’m making it with my second three-quarter length sleeve. So, I guess it’s my own design? Not so much.

IMG_1935

I have cut it out and begun to sew, but I’m off to the Toronto garment district this week to find the perfect fabric for my own design!

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Dueling patterns: Commercial or my own design?

A couple of months ago I found myself with a free hour to wander by myself up and down the aisles of Mood Fabrics in Los Angeles. I perused all the aisles first, then zeroed in on the two or three that were home to the fabrics I was actually on the hunt for. I am not a fabric hoarder in any way. The mere thought of a so-called “stash” makes me gag. (As I’ve said before, that’s just me – no judgment – I know others feel differently, very differently!). This stems from my and my husband’s inclination for quality over quantity in as many aspects of our lives as we can manage. That means fewer clothes, a little less wine and even fewer pairs of shoes – but every one of better quality than we might otherwise accumulate. This philosophy even governs our travel: we travel less often than many of our friends, but always in style – no economy seats on long flights, that’s for sure! Well, this is how I shop for fabric.

Anyway, as excited as I was about the surfeit of wonderful fabrics – there were dozens of silks, linens and wool bouclés I adored – I stuck to my little pink book where I had specific patterns and their requisite yardages. I only buy when I know I have a project. One such project was a bit hazy, though.

theory blouse
The Theory blouse at Saks, summer 2016 collection that inspired me

I had a picture in my mind of a sleeveless Theory blouse that I had considered last summer at Saks. It was, however, a whopping $385.00 CDN which, even for someone obsessed with quality, is a bit steep for a blouse. So, I reluctantly put it back on the rack, concluding that given what it was and its potential price-per-wearing, it was past my point of diminishing returns. But I never forgot it.

 

With the concept of the blouse still in my head, I searched the shelves for white, textured shirting to see if anything caught my eye. It did. So, against my own rules, I bought it without an actual pattern in mind. When I got home, though, I found what I thought might be the perfect pattern.

McCall’s 7546 isn’t even sleeveless, but it has of-the-moment- bare shoulders at the top of its long sleeves. It does have that tie, even if it is a bit wide and long, sewn as it is into the back seam. So, I prepped the fabric by washing, drying and ironing, then began to think about tissue-fitting and cutting a muslin. But there was something nagging at the back of my mind.

I’m ready to design my own blouse, I was thinking. I had learned to draft a bodice for a blouse, how to draft necklines and collars, how to create button plackets, and I was certain that drafting a tie that was set into the side seams would be a piece of cake. I was ready. So I started sketching.

My own version of the sleeveless, tie-front blouse has that front placket, but it also has princess seams in the front and back and a mandarin collar. I just love a mandarin collar (and have a plan to draft myself a cheongsam someday). Anyway, I thought why not draft the pattern then cut and sew muslins for both of the patterns? Why not make it a bit of a competition (where I get to be the judge and decide which one will have the privilege of being cut from my Mood fabric)?

So, I started drafting a pattern then cut out both patterns in muslin. Then I started sewing.

Of course, with my own pattern, I knew I’d likely need at least two test garments to get it just right. I needed two. The second one fits perfectly, and although the muslin is stiffer than the fashion fabric, the tie isn’t bad. However, I actually think I like it better without the tie at all! I guess that’s part of the design process.

IMG_1061

So, here’s where I am in the duel of the commercial versus self-designed patterns: I have now completed a muslin for my own design and it’s ready to rip apart to make the final pattern. But before I do that, I’m working through the muslin for the McCall’s pattern. I want to see the two of them side-by-side. At this point, I do have a contender in mind for the prize fabric, but I’m not quite there yet.

Next week!

Posted in sewing, Style

In praise of (sewing) button-front shirts

If I had to describe my personal fashion style in one word, I’ve always immediately jumped to “tailored.” When I met my husband just over 30 years ago, he commented on the number of suits hanging in my closet (with shoes in labeled shoe boxes lining the upper shelf). In fact, he had the audacity to remark that they all looked the same. The nerve! I of course pointed out that they were indeed all quite different. Several, however, were from the same two designer – Montreal designer Simon Chang and Alfred Sung to be specific – so, I suppose to the style challenged they must indeed have all looked very similar.

As my career evolved, and dress codes changed, sadly I wore fewer and fewer suits. But what never changed was my attraction to sleek lines, button-front, collared shirts, blazers and great shoes. Even today, with my current casual lifestyle, I wear a blazer with jeans and I have a favourite Brooks Brothers cashmere one that is one of those pieces that transcends fashion and trends. It will always be in style!

All of this got me thinking about the sewing patterns and styles that I’m drawn to these days. Why is it that I so often create for myself those soft knit pieces? Of course they, too, have a place in my life, but there is little doubt that they are a bit less complicated to fit and sew. This from the woman who delights in those couture sewing techniques that require so much time and attention. I think I always hesitated to tackle a real “shirt” for example, because I so love. Brooks Brothers shirts where the workmanship is without equal for the price point. Not cheap, but certainly not the most expensive you can buy. I love that attention to quality and my question to myself is would I be able to produce something I’d be prepared to wear. Well, this is my year and I’ve just finished the first of at least two shirt type garments that I have planned.

Before I reveal my latest project, though, I was interested to find out when and where we actually started wearing this particular style that seems to transcend fashion. Where did these collared shirt designs originate and, even more interesting, when did women begin to embrace them – because to be sure, they did begin as men’s fashion. So, I did a bit of digging.

DSC05153First, I need to clarify a bit of terminology. My well-dressed son who loves his Armani tux (which he bought on sale ten years ago and still wears) as much as he loves his jeans and sneakers, loves a button-front shirt. However, he and his friends all call them “button-down” shirts. This had always bugged me since my understanding was that only shirts whose collars actually button down were correctly called this. It turns out that I am, indeed, right. So much for the millennials and their terminology!

It seems that collared shirts have been a part of men’s wardrobes for centuries. In fact, the terms “white collar” and “blue collar” actually do originate in the difference between the colours of the collars worn by men who worked in more clerical, office-type and executive-type positions versus those who toiled as laborers. As you may be aware, before the early 1900’s men’s shirt collars were not, in fact, attached to the shirts at all. It was only after laundry became more accessible and clothing manufacturing became more sophisticated that different fabrics and colours and attached collars became a fashion item for men.[1]

mens collars

The actual button-down collar has an equally interesting history. In 1896 Brooks Brothers started producing soft button-down collar shirts inspired by the shirts worn by polo players at the time. These days we tend to think of the polo shirt as having a collar that flops around, but it seems that polo players back at the end of the nineteenth century didn’t’ like those floppy collars and began buttoning them down. Still these days the buttoned-down collar is considered to be more casual than one that is not: a button-down is likely to be considered to be a sports shirt while the non-buttoned collar may be on a dress shirt – but as you know, everything is changing in our casual world!

So, when did women start wearing this style? Just last week I received a catalogue from Brooks Brothers. It seems that in 1949 they began to notice that the smaller sizes of their famous button front shirts were selling much faster than the larger sizes. When they tracked down the cause of this they found that women were buying them! It was that year they introduced what is now their iconic button-front shirt for women and so many others have followed suit. So, what am I going to make?

IMG_1772
Butterick 6376 and my fabric from Mood Fabrics LA. I’m making view B

I happened on Butterick 6376 before I landed at Mood Fabrics in LA in February. While I was there, I swooned over their array of shirting fabrics and found a winning combination for me: black and white stripes and black contrast. I then scoured the Toronto garment district for buttons when I got home and plunged in.

 

What I liked about this particular pattern was that it’s not a simple white (or even coloured) shirt, rather it’s a tunic with interesting sleeves. I know that in my distant sewing past I constructed a variety of collars, but I could not remember ever making a collar with a stand. It looked a bit daunting, but it turns out it’s so easy.

The fabric was so easy to work with, but I wanted it to look great on the inside so decided to flat fell as many of the seams as it would work for and I do love the interior finish.

I haven’t had a chance to wear it yet – still not quite warm enough – but I do know that I need to make another button-front shirt. I have an idea of what’s next, and this time it includes a design of my own that I’ve been working on and all that entails: making the pattern is up first. I’ll let you know what’s happening next!

IMG_1036

[1] A Brief History of Men’s Dress Shirts. https://www.pacificissue.com/the-blog/a-brief-history-of-mens-dress-shirts

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Style inspiration: The 1960’s in the 21st century

I’m not sure why, but I’m really inspired by the styles of the 1960’s. I’ve been collecting inspirational vintage patterns on a Pinterest board for some time, and when I look at them I’m struck by a few design elements that seem to emerge again and again.

As I examine these shapes, I see that there is a certain neckline style that immediately appeals to my personal aesthetic. So, it isn’t at all surprising that I was attracted to Vogue 8886 on a recent online pattern-buying spree. It has that very retro feeling without being truly vintage – I’m not a vintage kind of gal in any way, shape or form. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t swoon over clothing from earlier eras from time to time. I just like to think that I can take elements from them and make them contemporary. So, I embarked on this sewing project hoping it would be just that kind of outcome. Well, it is – sort of.

First, this was the subject of my rant about fitting the bust. I made the mistake of thinking that I had to cut the larger cup size (which Vogue handily made available in the pattern envelope). Never again. I had to do a bit of research to understand that even if I measure a D- cup, the fact that it is a 32-D and not a 38-D makes the need for that fuller bust change entirely moot. *sigh* Well, I’m now over it.

I actually finished the top. It now fits quite well (although as usual it is probably not quite form- fitting enough since I tend to be frightened of the possibility of anything being too tight), and it is divinely comfortable. The problem is – if you must know – that the very thing that inspired me to buy the pattern and sew it up is the very thing that bothers me. It’s about the neckline.

When I first laid eyes on the pattern, it looked to be a raised boat neckline. A bateau and the Sabrina, a variation on the bateau, is probably my very favourite neckline.

sabrina neckline
Audrey in that Sabrina neckline first designed just for her!

I think it is über flattering on most women, and especially on me. I thought that the banding just made it even nicer. The problem is that the band isn’t a band at all – it’s a large, fold-over collar.

 

vogue-8886-sleeve-variations

Right from the cutting out, this surprised me, but I thought, how big can it be? When I made up the toile, I had my answer: big. But I decided to persevere. It didn’t look too bad on me, I thought. In fact, I thought it might be quite nice. So I completed it as designed. But now I’m left wondering where and when I’ll ever wear it.

At this time of year when it should be the most appropriate kind of thing to wear, it occurs to me that it doesn’t fit well under a coat or blazer (it’s really bad under a blazer), and it’s too cold to go without a coat yet. Once it’s warm enough to go without a coat, it will be too wintery to wear.

My lesson here is that I need to examine the line drawing on the patterns I buy more carefully before putting my money down. I worked hard to get this pattern to fit and thought I’d make it again as a dress, but there is still that collar. I might try making it up without a collar at all, but I might as well draft my own boat neck that is ideal for me and not take a chance on this commercial pattern again. You live and learn!

I still think I can make some 1960’s style elements work in the twenty-first century, though!

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing

A sleeve sloper at last: May I begin designing now?

With a well-fitting bodice sloper for woven fabrics (OK the first well-fitting one wasn’t so well-fitting after all, but the current one is!), enough dart manipulation and neckline knowledge to be dangerous, and a passing familiarity with creating front closures for blouses and jackets, I should be ready for my first major design project. Well, not quite. Sleeves, I need sleeves.

vintage sleeve pattern 1950s
Vintage McCall’s pattern featuring so many sleeve variations. I think they should come out with a modern one!

So after my vacation and the thrill of planning new projects that I’ll get to over the next few months, I had to get back to my basic sloper work and draft a woven sleeve sloper. But before I get to that, I thought it would be fun to look at some interesting tidbits about sleeves and their history.

 

Did you know that during the middle ages sleeves were cut straight out from the main bodice of the garment with a triangle of cloth added as a kind of gusset underneath for ease of movement? It seems that sometime in the 14th century the rounded sleeve cap was developed paving the way for our modern notion of set-in sleeves. Just as an aside, I think that in sewing, learning to set in a sleeve to perfection is one of the first things newbies ought to get. I mastered that one many years ago but I still find setting in sleeves in my test garments in muslin annoying. The fabric I use is so unforgiving even the slightest hint of a pucker shows! But I digress…

Sleeves are functional: they protect our arms from sun, wind and cold weather. But they are also fashionable. When we see clothing from the 1920’s it’s clear to us that it’s actually representing that era, for example. But if you look at the sleeves on their own, you can see how these sleeves might be incorporated into a modern design aesthetic.

sleeves 1920s

On the other hand, sleeves that were clearly in style during the Renaissance, for example, might have a harder time finding their way into twenty-first century clothing. Although, maybe someone might like a medieval-looking wedding gown? Sleeves have come a long way I think.

 

I used what I have been learning from Craftsy’s Suzy Furrer as I continue along this pattern-making learning path. She provides quite a detailed, professional approach to drafting and so I dutifully measured the arm elements – with a little help from my husband who is a meticulous measurer.Then armed with pencils (erasers), rulers, curves and all manner of other drafting tools, I set about following her instructions.

First, though, I had to draft a blouse/dress template from my bodice sloper since ease has to be added for this kind of garment. I was very pleased with the fit of the mock-up I created with this new template and actually deiced to put it on poster board for blouse creation in future. That way I won’t have to begin with my sloper itself – I already have a template with that ease – and which has the sleeve sloper fitted.

suzys perfect sleeve sloper
Suzy Furrer’s perfect sleeve sloper from my course notes. It illustrates the drafting points but doesn’t include the forward slope for the elbow that has to be added.

 

The first mock-up of the sleeve was, to my great distress, not perfect. It had a great fold of fabric at the front while the back fit perfectly. I had the sense to set in only one sleeve so was able to mark the changes on the first sleeve, cut it out of the bodice and use it to redraw the second sleeve (which I had already sewn together – seam ripper to the rescue). My plan at that stage was to suck it up and start the sleeve sloper draft all over from the beginning if the second one wasn’t perfect. But it was! Advice for sleeve sloper development: test slopers one sleeve at a time.

sleeve progression
From toile to draft #2 to final sloper on poster board.

 

With that done, I cut apart the entire toile and used it to create the blouse/dress/sleeve sloper set. I’m closer to designing my first blouse or dress than I have ever been!

IMG_1787
My final set of blouse/dress template and sleeve sloper.

 

[PS I highly recommend the pattern drafting classes offered online by Craftsy.com. And I don’t get paid to endorse them. I just think they offer a good product at a very reasonable price.]

Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion, sewing, Style

In the ‘Mood’ for Inspiration: A fabric store mecca and other sewing muses

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

I’ve just returned from a three-week sojourn that took us from cold Toronto to sunny Los Angeles and onward to San Diego, Yuma, Tucson, Phoenix, Scottsdale and finally Vegas. The minute we determined that we’d begin in LA this year, I began thinking about Mood Fabrics and wondering how I could wangle a solitary hour there. Well, I did. And I came away inspired. Before I left, however, I had to figure out how I’d best use my hour alone in fabric heaven.

First, if you’ve come along with me on any of my previous sewing adventures, you know that I don’t “stash” fabric (how I hate that very idea), rather I concentrate on quality over quantity and really dislike the idea of hording cheap fabrics. (No judgment here: it’s just not for me.) I love the idea of choosing quality fabrics and taking my time to complete projects in a way that ensures a garment I’ll love for a very long time. Mood Fabrics is just such a store to find those treasures. So, I first thought I’d take my list of planned 2017 projects and focus on finding just the perfect fabrics. Then I thought if I do that, I’ll miss seeing everything else. So I took Proust’s advice and stepped away from the seeking just to look.

mood fabrics la
The Mood Fabrics first view is of bolt after bolt of bridal silks, satins & laces!

 

As I walked in the store I thought I’d died and gone to fabric heaven. I was immediately surrounded by quality silks, linens, shirting, tweeds – in short all the fabrics I love to work with and wear. It was a bit like stepping into my own favourite Toronto garment district fabric store, but on steroids. No vestiges of the chain-store fabrics anywhere in sight. I loved it. So I meditatively walked all the aisles looking, feeling, enjoying.

Once I had navigated the store this way, I then decided to take out my notebook and go back to a couple of aisles that had really caught my imagination. [Anyone who knows me realizes that I’m a digital person for most of what I do, but Moleskine notebooks are part of my life all the time!] The first stop was the silk aisles where I bought some beautiful silk organza to underline a couture dress project in an as-yet-unselected fabric (I’m going to take Susan Khalje’s course).

[My little Moleskine notebook was ready to serve!]

Then I went back to the cotton shirting aisle where the choices were almost overwhelming. I knew I needed two fabrics that could go together, and that I wanted black and white. I also hate most prints unless they are geometric, so zeroed in on stripes. In addition, I wanted a tone-on-tone white cotton shirting for a new spring project. I came away delighted with my purchases (I also picked up a new awl for my pattern-making and a bias tape maker because I’ve always wanted to use one!).

Later on the trip my husband and I wandered into the Phoenix Art Museum (like you do) without especially high hopes only to discover a true treasure: the most fascinating contemporary art collection we had ever found, the world’s largest collection of extraordinary southwestern American art (as you would expect), and an unexpected treasure: the last day of a fashion exhibit. I was so excited.

“Eye on Fashion: The Kelly Ellman Collection” was a room full of extraordinary vintage clothing donated to the Museum’s archives by collector and museum supporter Kelly Ellman. There were over 600 pieces representing many eras of twentieth-century fashion from Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel to World War II fashions with a bit of the 1960’s in between (including a display of those notorious paper dresses from the 60’s).

I find these kinds of exhibits truly inspiring. I look at the overall design – what I like about it, what I don’t – then move in to see details of design and construction, always considering how I might incorporate these into future projects.

[Details, details!]

A few years ago I attended a Valentino retrospective at Somerset House, a small museum near the Thames in London. At the end of the runway portion there was a video exhibit of a variety of couture techniques employed in the couture house and that was really an eye-opener.

valentino

[The Valentino exhibit. Of course, I didn’t take it. We weren’t permitted to take photos 😦  Photo credit: http://www.ella-lapetiteanglaise.com/valentino-master-of-couture-at-somerset-house/%5D

Well, now that I’m truly inspired, it’s time to get back to my two unfinished projects (including completing my sleeve sloper). Won’t be cutting into the new fabric for a while yet! Is that a stash? Yikes!

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 Little Black (French) Jacket, sewing

Following Coco’s Advice: Making the inside of the Little French Jacket as beautiful as the outside

according-to-cocoCoco Chanel knew a thing or two about elegance. Most of us have an innate sense of what it means to be elegant (whether or not we aspire to it – I do), but if pressed to define the term—well, that’s a bit more elusive. Since one of my objectives in paying homage to Chanel’s aesthetic by reproducing a few pieces inspired by her approach to design is to create elegantly wearable pieces, I thought it might be informative to look it up.

Most definitions of elegant use words like, graceful, stylish tasteful, luxurious, sophisticated and chic, all of which I like the sound of, but my favourite definition is this: “…someone or something luxurious in a restrained manner or something that is very well-thought through yet simple.”[1] Oh how I wish every piece of clothing in my closet held to this standard. And how I aspire to be elegant as I age. Anyway, what does this have to do with my current sewing project? Well, lots.

As I painstakingly complete the internal workings of the Little French Jacket, I’m always bearing in mind that Chanel truly believed that the inside of finished clothing (she wasn’t just referring to the more esoteric internal beauty of individuals if that was even a part of her thought process), ought to be as beautiful as the outside. And that means that taking particular care to get it right even in the parts that no one will see is important. Whenever I wear my first LFJ it makes me feel elegant just to know that the inside is beautifully finished. It doesn’t hurt that this type of construction is sublimely comfortable either (if you choose your fabrics carefully).

IMG_1131
The inside of my first LFJ.

 

I’ve stabilized all of the edges of the bouclé by hand-sewing twill tape as I did before. Many expert sewers who teach about this type of construction will tell you to put selvedge from silk organza. That’s terrific, but I felt that the edges of this bouclé which has quite a bit of give to it and is floppy, required a bit more stability. Now that I have the basic construction completed, I know that I was right in my selection. You can’t be too wedded to rules, I think.

Quilting the lining to the jacket body pieces was a bit trickier this time around. The last time I made one of these jackets I had a kind of plaid design in the tweed which gave me straight lines on the outside of the jacket to follow when machine quilting. Since it does have to be quilted from the outside, it occurred to me that this might be tricky. To be fair, it would be tricky even on the inside since the lining has no lines either. So, I decided to take a page out of Claire Schaeffer’s instructions and thread baste the pieces together as well as adding a straight line of basting down the centre of each piece to follow for the first line of quilting on each piece then use that line as the basis for straight lines for the rest of the stitching (always using a 3.0 mm stitch length and a walking foot).

img_1528
Basting the lining to the fabric – and using a ruler to get the centre line straight. It will guide the first line of quilting done by machine from the outside.

 

After quilting the pieces, I started on the side and shoulder seams. The pressing of the seams is critical. In my view, pressing (or lack thereof) is one of the sure signs of an amateurish, home-made piece of clothing (notwithstanding some of the new designs on runways that look like they were done in old home economics sewing classes without benefit of a steam iron). Pressing technique is so important.

I now know to press the seam flat in its closed position before attempting to press it open. I used to do that all the time. I also know to then press with only the tip of the iron on the outside to finish. So three passes at the ironing board.

I also know not to trim the seam before pressing. No wonder it was so difficult to open them! Anyway, I also now know to use small scissors to trim the seams after – I have so much more control this way.

img_1531
I used grey thread in the spool and black in the bobbin so that the quilting would blend in to the different colours of the outside versus the inside. I also knew to leave very long threads at the end this time since they have to be pulled inside and knotted – backstitching here!

 

The next step is the sleeves which are always a treat since there are so many layers that have to be carefully put in their correct location. I never have trouble setting in sleeves, but making sure that I haven’t caught up a piece of lining where lining ought not to be caught is the real challenge for me. But once they’re completed and the lining is hand-sewn inside, it looks like a real jacket whose simple exterior belies the work done on the inside. I love knowing that!

I’m very happy with the progress so far. Christmas is just about upon us and I do hope to have the jacket ready for New Year’s Eve. Here’s hoping!

[1] http://www.yourdictionary.com/elegant#IoW3DtTDrD0Tklhy.99

Posted in sewing, Stylish Books

My obsession: Seeking the holy grail of sewing journals

notebook-clipartIn another life, I’m actually a writer. I’ve written magazine articles, corporate materials, online courses materials, blog pieces of various sorts and even a dozen or so books. Throughout my writing career I’ve always been obsessed with notebooks – and this obsession has spilled over into my sewing mania. I have a sewing notebook (or three) but have yet to figure out precisely the right one for me on an on-going basis. For me to be able to do this I need to do two things: first, I need to research what’s available and what other sewers use (for ideas), and second, I need to figure out exactly what I’ll use the notebooks (journals) for. Maybe I should start there.

img_1544
My current sewing notebooks: unsatisfactory!

 

For me as a writer, those notebooks /journals are largely for capturing ideas. They’re a kind of creative repository that I can access any time. I turn to them whenever I have an idea or a part of an idea or an idea of an idea. Later I turn to them when I have no ideas at all and need to be prodded into coming up with something new. Then I use individual notebooks to capture ideas for individual projects. I have a lot of notebooks!

img_1545
This is what the inside of the notebook for my current book-length writing project looks like at present.

 

Years ago in another lifetime when I was a university professor, I designed and taught a course on creativity in communications. One of the books I recommended for my students was The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by the exceptionally creative Twyla Tharp, American choreographer extraordinaire. (If you’re unfamiliar with her work, just go to Mr. Google. You’ll see that you’re not all that unfamiliar!) Ms. Tharp uses quite a different approach to gathering her creative ideas for projects. Rather than notebooks or journals, she uses boxes. Here’s what she says about her boxes:creative-habit

“Everyone has his or her own organizing system. Mine is a box, the kind you buy at Office Depot for transferring files…I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance…notebooks, clippings, CDs, videotapes, books, photographs, pieces of art that may have inspired me…The box makes me feel connected to a project…even when I’ve back-burnered it…”[1]

As I thought about how sewers could use her approach, I could see so many things in that box: fabric scraps, sketches, photos of inspirational looks from the web, inspirational buttons, samples of trims, copies of artwork, the DVD of a movie that caught my eye and whose wardrobe I loved… well, you get the picture. I love the idea of this kind of a creativity box, but I don’t really have space to store so many boxes, so I’m back to square one in my search for the perfect journal/notebook.

My favourite kind of notebook is a Moleskine™ – the brand Hemingway used to make his notes. They actually make some specialty notebooks such as a travel journal, but they don’t make one for sewers. But some sewers among us do, and others have suggestiosn about how to use a three-ring notebook. Here’s some of what I found in my research on what others do.

But the writer in me (who has a separate notebook for each book-length writing project and a couple of generic ones!), needs a notebook to fulfil a host of objectives. The first one is to keep a record of ideas that flit across my brain unbidden usually when I’m supposed to be doing something else. The second is to record project details – for example, when I do test pieces before actually sewing a seam finish or when selecting stitch length and thread – so that as the project progresses, I can refer back (only an issue for those of us engaged in slow sewing I reckon! Everyone else just remembers for a few hours!). I also need a notebook for creative organization and for the sheer joy of going back to re-visit (so it has to be more than a place to record).

I recently stumbled on a neat online challenge: “SWAP 2017” aka “Sewing with a Plan.” Such an interesting idea. The rules include the following:

 “Eleven garments divided between Upper, Lower and Over pieces. These are tops and dresses; bottoms; and layers, all defined later. There are minimums and maximums in each category, to provide balance and variety. You decide the final distribution.

  • Upper: Minimum 3, maximum 5.
  • Lower: Minimum 3, maximum 5.
  • Over: Minimum 2, maximum 5. No more than ½ may be outerwear.

You decide how many of each, within the numbers above, to total 11 garments.

Your twist: Each garment in a category must work with at least half of the garments in each of the other two categories. Example 5 Upper, 3 Lower, and 3 Over. Each upper would need to work with 2 Lower and 2 Over garments.”[2]

It occurs to me that if you want to enter this sewing challenge, you will indeed need some kind of a notebook to plan, which further leads me to believe that planning each sewing project is a good thing – at least for me. So a journal or notebook for me needs to be both a creative repository as well as a kind of sewing diary or log to return to either to enjoy revisiting a project, or to use the past experience for a future project. Of course I could research and find an electronic notebook or app for this purpose, but that’s for another time!

Am I any closer to the Holy Grail of sewing notebooks? Closer perhaps, but not there yet!

(PS you evidently have to be a member at Artisan’s Square to enter the 2017 SWAP – but you could just to the challenge for yourself – I might just do that in the new year!)

img_1543
My current stash of Moleskines — old and new. They can be expensive, so when they’re 50% off…you know!

 

 

[1] Twyla Tharp. 2003. The Creative Habit. pp. 80-81.

[2] http://ruthieksews1.blogspot.ca/2016/11/swap-2017-official-rules.html