Posted in fabrics, Pattern-drafting, sewing, Style

Love the design, hate the quality: Copying ready-to-wear (Part 2)

I think it’s safe to say that the part I like best about recreating ready-to-wear is the pattern drafting step. When I was in high school, I loved geometry, and what’s more, I was good at it. I also loved analytical trigonometry and got a mark of over 90% in grade twelve. Just as a reminder, trigonometry is “… a branch of mathematics that studies relationships between the sides and angles of triangles…” Flat pattern drafting requires all that on top of the creative aspect. I suppose all those angles and calculations are right up my alley!

In any case, as I move into part 2 of my recreation of a low-quality-but-interesting-design shirt, I am moving from design copying to pattern drafting to fabric cutting and beyond.

When we last talked (okay, I did most of the talking), I had slapped a few grainlines on the pattern pieces, trued up the seams and began to think about the fabric.

The original (cheap) shirt was made from polyester, as is the usual fabrication for Light-in-the-Box online offerings. Although it looks relatively good at the outset, these knit polyester garments quickly develop those little pills that we all hate so much. In truth, taking out that battery-operated lint remover that our son likes to call a “sweater muncher” and applying yourself to the removal of said pills, can be rather meditative. And who doesn’t like the finished product? The problem is that with these cheap fabrics, the pills just keep coming back.

Then add on the problem of breathability, or in the case of the top in question, lack of breathability. What you are left with is an interesting, summer-worthy top that I can’t even consider wearing here in Toronto. It’s been over 27 Celsius (80 for the Fahrenheit people among us) for weeks and is only getting hotter, where it will stay until late September or thereabouts. The goal, then, is to reproduce the design in a better fabric.

Forced into online fabric shopping by the virus-that-shall-not-be-named, earlier in the season, I ordered a length of a linen-blend jersey in a cosmetically-enhancing pale peachy-pink.

I had this project in mind for it, and when it arrived, I was a bit hesitant because of how thin it is compared to its original version, although I realized that if I tweaked the sizing downward, it just might work. This, of course, is my main objection f online fabric shopping. I do it, but I always recognize its limitations. I would always prefer to take a walk downtown to the fabric district than shop online, but I’m happy I have the option of online!

As a result of the fabric’s weight and stretch factor, I decided that it was best to cut it out in a single layer.

I know so many people who sew avoid this like the plague, but it is truly the only way to come close to staying on grain with these kinds of fabrics. And I’m sure we’ve all experienced a cheap T-shirt or two that went all wonky after a wash or two. This is usually because it wasn’t cut on the straight of grain.

After cutting and marking, I had the good sense to stabilize the entire dropped shoulder seam with knit-n-stable tape. I also stabilized the portion of the side seams where the ties would be enclosed.

I whipped on my favourite sewing machine piece – my trusty walking foot – and got started. The original had serge—and-turned hems. I decided to take it up a notch and double turn all the hems. I didn’t go all the way to double-fabric-turned ties, though. In a future project, however, I might go the extra mile.

Well, she’s finished now. It had its first outing yesterday as we wound our way through downtown and the University of Toronto campus on our daily 5-7 km walk.

I think it worked out well – at least well enough that I created a final pattern to keep among my collection of GG originals!

This is the second such piece I’ve recreated, and I’ll probably do it again. How about you? Any design copying in your future? Stay safe!

Posted in Pattern-drafting, sewing, Style

Love the design, hate the quality: Copying ready-to-wear (Part 1)

One of the most attractive aspects of making some of my own clothes has always been the opportunity to copy fabulous couture pieces at a fraction of the cost. This was my thought when I embarked on the creation of my first Little French Jacket (LFJ). I loved being able to select some bouclé fabric and silk charmeuse lining, then create a reasonable facsimile of a Chanel-style jacket that cost so much less than an investment in an original.

I loved this process so much that I did it again.

And even Chanel herself was in favour of people copying her pieces.

That being said, there’s another reason for copying ready-to-wear: creating a similar design that I love in a higher-quality fabric. And finding the right technique for creating the pattern is the first challenge. Let me back up for a minute, thought to let you on a dirty little secret.

I actually enjoy browsing on the Light in the Box (LITB) web site and even making a purchase from time to time. Not familiar with LITB? Oh, let me help you with that.

LITB is a Chinese-based web site that sells all manner of objects including thousands upon thousands of pieces of clothing. Think of it as Asian Amazon on steroids with scads of merchandise pieces of often questionable quality. Headquartered in Beijing, it was formed in 2007 and now has web sites in 26 languages and delivers to over 200 countries. So it’s a major player in online retailing.

A screen capture from today on Light in the Box

When we asked our 30-year-old son if he’d ever heard of it (he hadn’t) he spent a bit of (quality?) time on the site after which he said, “I felt as if I’d fallen down a rabbit hole…” That about covers it. If you’re bored and want to lose a bit of time, scroll on over and see how long it takes for you to be swallowed up! Anyway, if you do that, you’ll see why I noticed a few pieces that looked interesting.

Here are a few that I found interesting this year…

Anyway, last year, I actually ordered a piece. Since the site is Chinese, the sizing is a bit different from what I’m familiar with and, in fact, the sizing varies from one piece to another depending on the manufacturer. You really do have to look at the size chart for every piece. But what rarely varies, is the fact that most of the pieces – especially the ones that are so very cheap, which is most of them – are made from polyester. Now, I respect polyester as much as the next person for the characteristics that make it useful – doesn’t wrinkle, endlessly versatile, can have a nice drapey hand, cheap (I did mention cheap, didn’t I?), blah blah blah. And when it’s mixed with other fibres, it can add some value. However, one of the characteristics it decidedly is not is breathable. And this kind of breathability in my wardrobe is essential in summer clothing. So, when I received the top I’d fallen for, I was not at all surprised by its quality. I was surprised that I could have ordered a smaller size. And I especially loved its clever design. So, I decided I’d make a pattern from it and recreate it in a higher-quality fabric.

First up: what technique would I use to copy the pattern?

Last year when I first copied a favourite ready-to-wear piece, the tank top was past its best-by date so I was able to cut it apart and use the fabric as the basis for the pattern.

This time, despite the fabric, I still liked it and wasn’t prepared to cut it apart. Enter the pin approach.

I saw someone do this on a video somewhere along the line but had never tried it. Now was my chance. I took out my old straight-pins that I rarely ever use these days preferring longer pins with ball heads, some banner paper I use for pattern-making and got started.

I laid the top out flat on the paper and began the somewhat laborious task of putting pins in all around the edge of what would constitute the bodice front. These pins went through the edge of the fabric, through the paper, and into the cardboard cutting mat below. You need to have something for the pins to stick into to stay upright. Once I had that piece “pinned”, I took the pins out and was left with the pinholes that formed the basis of the pattern pieces’ edges (without seam allowances of course).

Then it was a matter of connecting the dots and moving on to the next piece.

Fortunately, I selected a design that has only four pattern pieces. This is what I’d recommend you start with if you descried to do this.

Once I had the pattern pieces, I slapped on a grainline and any markings I thought I’d need on them, trued up the seams and was ready to find some fabric. I decided on a linen-blend jersey that I’ll show you in part 2. Stay well!

Posted in Little Black Dress, sewing, Style

Always closet space for a new ‘Little Black Dress’

Anyone who knows me knows that there is nothing I like better than an LBD. Simple and unfussy, the LBD is one of the most versatile pieces of clothing a woman can own. There are so many places to wear one: dinner out, cocktails at a favourite watering hole, under a jacket when giving a lecture, a funeral and just lately it seems it’s acceptable to wear black to a wedding. Well, that’s where I wear them. What’s not to like?

A year or two ago I embarked on my LBD Project which resulted in me testing three different styles – two commercial patterns and one of my own designs. In the end, I made the one I designed myself but along the way, I fitted two others. When I had the opportunity to write a blog post for Fabricville’s blog I thought it would be fun. [For non-Canadian readers: Fabricville is the one ‘big-box’ fabric chain in Canada. The stores are sometimes called Fabricland depending on where you live across the country but their online service is fabricville.com.]

I didn’t realize when they asked me to do it that I’d be getting my fabric choices for free. This has never happened to me before. So, there it is.

To tell you the truth, I might have made different choices for this one, but I had to choose fabrics that were available online from Fabricville.com so I was limited. What I really wanted was a silk dress but they didn’t have much of that on offer.

In the end, I came up with a dress that will probably come in handy although, to tell you the truth, at this  point in 2020, and the way things are going, I don’t see where I’m going to wear it unless there’s an unexpected funeral in my future. Anyway, here’s what I wrote for them…just click on the image…

Posted in sewing

My holy grail of sewing journals: Could this be the one?

A couple of years ago, I wrote about my obsession with finding the perfect sewing journal. You know the kind: a place where you can write about sewing plans, sketch designs, keep fabric swatches, muse about how well (or not so well) a project progressed. And, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that in my non-sewing/designing life, I’m a writer. In the early part of my career, I was a health and medical writer and then moved onto corporate communication so most of my early magazine articles and books fall into those categories. Lately, however, I’ve been writing women’s fiction but that’s a story for another day. What this means is that journals are very important to me.

I keep a journal for every long-form writing project. In fact, I’ve just bought a new one as I begin a new project. But what does all this have to do with sewing and sewing journals?

Here’s the new one with a sketch from Alfred Sung. It just happens to evoke some of what this book will be all about!

I’m a big fan of Moleskine notebooks – the kind the likes of Ernest Hemingway used to keep notes on new novels but they aren’t really amenable to the kinds of things I need to keep in my sewing notebook. And I’ve tried lots:

Well, after the last time I posted about my search for the holy grail of sewing journals, someone suggested I create one. It’s taken several years, but I’ve finally done it. I’ve created a journal that might be able to take the place of several journals that I use regularly.

I decided that I would make it available for others if they want to try it out. But before you consider trying it (and telling me what you think) here’s me telling you about it…

The coil-bound version is the better of the two in my view but it’s more expensive especially for those of us in Canada since I wasn’t able to have it distributed on Amazon with that binding. It’s only available from Lulu.com. (They do list it in Canadian dollars which is a bit daunting and they do ship to Canada and other countries.) So, I made a less expensive one available with a non-coil binding available on Amazon worldwide. On the upside, it’s cheaper; on the downside, it doesn’t stay open quite as well as the coil-bound one.

Anyway, if anyone out there decides to try it out, I’d eventually like to get your feedback. What other kinds of things would make it perfect for you?

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 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…