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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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

Posted in Style

Adventures in fitting the bust: Or why commercial patterns don’t fit (me)

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At least the back fits at the muslin stage!

It occurs to me that a bodice that fits like a glove across the bust is the holy grail of fitting (of course, I have yet to properly create a pant sloper, so I might stand to be corrected). As I make my slow and not-so-easy way through another so-called fast-and-easy pattern, I realize that I just have to suck it up: a perfect-fitting bodice takes time. It further occurs to me that bodice fitting has been important throughout the history of women’s fashions, even if the shape has changed often dramatically over the years. (I write historical fiction in another life so historical research is kind of my thing!)

Take for example bodice fitting in the time of Henry VIII. In those days, women were made to fit into the clothing rather than having clothing made to fit the woman. Just imagine having to get up in the morning and be laced into your corset so that your waist was tiny, your bust smashed flat and your back kept so ramrod erect that you could hardly move let alone breathe. Only then would you be able to fit into the dress you were required or wanted to wear. And never mind the health impacts of fitting into your clothing rather than the other way around. There’ a fascinating history of corsets on the web site Fashion in Time – which I love for its insights into how far we’ve come in fashion.

 

The truth is, though, that this fashion was a regression of sorts if you consider the functionality of the looser, more flowing clothing sported by both men and women in ancient Rome and Greece. It was during the medieval period that clothing began to have a lot more structure, but there is structure – that terrific fit we all seek – and there is prison.

Bust lines seem to have been important to women for centuries. I always thought that the bra was a nineteenth century pheonomenon, but it seems that we’ve been wearing them for much longer in one form or another. Early bra-like garments date back to ancient Greece when women tried various kinds of strapping to hold up the girls. But in an even more fascinating discovery, it seems archeologists have unearthed what appear to be 600-year old bras with cups and straps and the whole nine yards![1] So I know that I’m not the only one who cares about this fit issue!

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A 600-year-old bra! [photo credit “Fashion in History” see footnote]

Fashion in the twentieth century waxed and waned between loose (the flapper dresses of the thirties) and the structured (Dior’s ‘New Look’). That Dior-esque silhouette influenced much of the mid-century clothing until Gabriel Chanel’s approach to design gave women back their comfort along with beautiful tailoring. The 1960’s brought a revolution in dressing: all those shift dresses that fit everyone. For me, though, the Chanel look is the holy grail of fit that I seek since it is based on individual proportion, coupled with ease of movement. It is tailored clothing with ease. So that’s where I begin.

At the end of last week’s sewing and fitting adventures I was the midst of creating a muslin/toile/calico fitting garment for Vogue 8886, a design I loved mainly because of the lovely boat neck band which turned out to be an enormous collar – but I digress. I’m focusing on bust line fitting here.vogue-8886-sleeve-variations

I was a bit irritated by the fact that this pattern is supposed to be a “perfect fit” pattern that includes separate pattern pieces for A-B-C-D cups. So, as I already mentioned, I cut for the D and found that it was HUGE! Of course, it had never occurred to me to put together a whole lot of sewing and fit intelligence to conclude that this wasn’t really what they meant. Let me go back.

Since returning to sewing, I had stumbled upon the FBA (AKA full bust adjustment) on more occasions than I can count. Evidently, it’s a general secret of the sewing intelligentsia that if the potential wearer of the garment is more than a B cup, then said wearer needs to have the pattern adjusted for that larger cup size. Indeed, the scoop is that commercial patterns are drawn for a B cup regardless of size. Okay, I thought. I need to learn to do this. Not so fast.

As I perused the online instructions (there are many very good ones) it began to dawn on me that I my over-bust measurement being only 2 inches smaller than my full bust one (not to mention that the under-bust measurement is way smaller) the FBA instructions didn’t seem to apply. It never occurred to me that this might also be the case with the pattern that offered several cup sizes. I simply recognized that I wear a D cup and cut that one. After doing many adjustments to approximate perfection, I went back to the pattern instructions which is when I found this:

perfect-fit-not

 

But even if I had read this before I started, I would likely have thought that it must be wrong. How in the world could a B-cup pattern fit me? It seems that if I’m 32-D and not 40-D, that’s different, but no one told me. I should have followed the FBA instruction advice from the outset and simply left the B-cup pattern as is. I don’t qualify for the FBA. You live and learn I guess.

Summary: just because you wear a bra cup size above a B does not necessarily mean you need to do a FBA. Nor do you need to cut the appropriate cup size in a sized pattern. What it means is that if you (I really mean I) want a well-fitting bodice, I’ll have to use my—a personalized sloper to fit the commercial pattern and do a mock-up – every time. Which brings me to my understanding of why commercial patterns don’t fit. Everyone’s body is different.

Taking measurements around a body does not in any way account for the differences of how those circumferences are distributed. It doesn’t account for the fact that someone with a narrow back and large bust can measure the same as someone with a wide back and not much in the way of breasts at all. Those two women could hardly be the same size. So, commercial pattern companies have their work cut out for them. And that’s why many of the designs are loose and unfitted. General results with those pieces will be better. At least if you like loose clothes all the time. I don’t so I continue to take the slow and methodical way forward!

[Getting closer to what I want – shoulder fitting fine; left side of the princess line coming – one more tweak and I can use this side to make the pattern. But those sleeves! Too long to really be 3/4,and I think I’ll add a turn-back cuff if the fabric can handle it…but all of that will have to wait. I’m off to LA & Phoenix next week to escape the Toronto weather for a bit. Hoping to make a pilgrimage to Mood Fabrics! PS Anyone know a terrific fabric store in Phoenix?]

FYI: I love this fascinating web site on fashion history: Fashion in Time.

http://www.fashionintime.org/fashion-history/

 

 

[1] Medieval “Lingerie” From 15th Century Castle Stuns Fashion Historians http://www.ecouterre.com/medieval-lingerie-from-15th-century-castle-stuns-fashion-historians/

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

Finding Inspiration: My second “little French jacket” project begins

I just knew it. When I finished my first homage to Chanel’s “little French jacket” (little black jacket) I felt that it would never be behind me. I knew that it was only the first of several (many?) that I would be inspired to make. The reason is that it is endlessly versatile, unbelievably comfortable, and exceptionally useful. Yes, I’m on to LFJ #2. And I’m inspired to make it slightly different than LBJ #1.

So, where am I finding inspiration to create the same but different jacket?

Here’s what my internal eye is seeing:

Fabric texture: This time around, I wanted a boucle in the truest sense of the word. Chanel made her originals in boucle tweeds. My first jacket was in a bouclé tweed that was a bit less bouclé (“… yarn with a looped or curled ply, or fabric woven from this yarn…”) and a bit more tweed. It had that loose weaving that hinted at authenticity, but it was missing serious bouclés.

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Fabric & lining from my first jacket.

 

Fabric content: My first jacket was a wool blended with a number of other fibres, which is typical of a Chanel jacket. I see other fibres in future – mainly cotton or linen bouclés for summer jackets. I still want a winter-ish jacket, though, so will be happy enough with another wool blend.

Lines of Chanel jackets since 1954: I’m inspired by the myriad ways that the real Chanel jackets have reimagined Coco’s original 1954 design. Every season Chanel has models strutting down the catwalk wearing versions of the jacket or other types of garments where the jacket’s influence is subtle but no less present. So I look to these variations for the inspiration to know that there are many ways to make the same piece so very different. The truth is, though, that I really don’t want this piece to be that different from the original vision; nor do I really want it to be so different from the first one. What I want it to be is to incorporate all the lessons I learned from doing it the first time and maybe going a step beyond.

Colour combinations: I’m a neutral-loving kind of dresser. I’m especially interested in garments that are expensive – either in monetary terms or in this case in terms of time – to work with a lot of other clothes in my wardrobe. I’d still like to see this n a neutral colour, but I don’t want a black jacket. I’m seeing the Chanel jackets in light colours with dark trim. That’s the look I’ll go for.

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A really loopy texture this time!

 

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Printed lining – because I wouldn’t have it any other way (at least for now!).

 

Trims: Oh, this is a good one. There is nothing better than going out to search for beautiful trims and being richly rewarded not only in finding just the perfect one that catches my imagination, but by finding a new store that sells all manner of wonderful trims. In the case of Mokuba which I discovered in the garment district in Toronto, this is really a hat-making store, but their trims are to die for – and they have so many it boggles the mind.

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Have you ever seen anything like this? This shows only a fraction of the trims on offer at Mokuba. [Photo credit: House & Home Magazine online] 
Scale that works for me: I like a short jacket to wear over all manner of slim pants and pencil skirts. The original jacket I made for LFJ (LBJ) #1 will work just fine again and has the added benefit of already having a pattern made for me (by me) from a fitting toile (muslin). But this time, I like the idea of full-length, rather than bracelet-length sleeves. After all, it supposed to be a winter garment.

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Long sleeves this time: Vogue 7975.I did a fitting muslin the first time around. Tis time I have only to cut the long sleeves instead of the bracelet-length ones.

 

 

I was wondering throughout all this where Fashion designers look for inspiration. It seems almost everywhere (Yes, we all know they now use ‘street’ fashion as inspiration, but I’m never really sure how this works. Usually that cool, creative street style is inspired by designers, or fashion magazines or peers – so it seems like a circular process somehow.)

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I’ll put the braid over the tiny ruffle edge.

 

Anyway, it seems that some designers believe that “…vintage shops hold the key to design for many bona fide a fashion designer. “a print, a cut, an embroidered pattern…” http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/features/fashions-undercover-experts-searching-for-inspiration-designers-send-spies-to-scour-vintage-a6732531.html

Other look to architecture. I love some of the photos in this web site. http://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/fashion-designers-architecture-inspiration

Others are inspired by travel – especially the cultural differences between us. http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/travel-inspired-designers

So, I visited my favourite fabric store Affordable Fabrics and found that, true to their word earlier in the summer, they had a new selection of tweeds and bouclés in time for winter creations. I also like a print for a lining, but they didn’t have any printed silk charmeuse that day so I opted for a silky satin. I hope I’m not going to regret that it isn’t 100% silk, but it does look divine with the fabric.

I put these together with my trim choices, and I’m off to the races. See you when I get it going.

 

Posted in Couture Sewing, sewing

My personal sewing epiphany: From fast sewing to slow

slow-downThere has always been fast food – or so it seems. More recently we have slow food. But fast versus slow sewing? Evidently it’s a thing, too. I used to be firmly in the fast sewing lane. Always a deadline. Always feeling hemmed in by the hemming – by hand. Wow, have I ever changed my tune.

Modern definitions of slow sewing seem to focus on hand sewing, but for me that’s only a part of what it takes to slow me down.

For me it’s about taking the time to plan a project; taking the time to think it through before plunging in, shears at the ready. It’s about considering the best rather than the fastest way to finish a garment. It’s about taking to heart Coco Chanel’s admonition that the inside of a garment should be as beautiful as the outside – and taking time to get it that way. It’s about the process as much or even more, than the outcome.

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Taking the time to make the inside of my most recent Little French Jacket project beautiful was a labour of love. When I wear it now, it’s my little secret!

 

Something called the slow stitching movement suggests that learning new techniques[1] is part of what we know as slow sewing. I agree wholeheartedly. I returned to sewing not to simply reuse the old techniques I had learned as an adolescent, but to learn new ones, and learning takes time. This slow stitching movement also suggests it’s about immersing yourself in the creative process – I’m totally loving the immersion. Developing excellent techniques? Completely agree. My slow sewing focus is on getting it right.

V9184 pattern package
I was even able to make this so-called “very easy” project “very slow” when I made it last summer: fitting muslin, darts transformed into princess lines, finished seams, hand-stitching…

Fast and easy used to be my watch words when looking for patterns. These were often garment patterns that required very little in the way of close fitting. And there are still many of these available. They are a bit like one-size-fits-almost-all, and this is not what I’m about these days. These days I’m more interested in the fit of clothing, the quality of the fabrics and the design details that place them a cut above the rest. When I shop now, I find myself in Saks feeling fabrics and examining the finishes – the seam finishes, the buttonholes, the top-stitching etc. I’m not the only one who believes that slow sewing is focused on quality over quantity.

 

According to blogger Paula Degrand on the blog Getting Things Sewn:

“Slow sewing recognizes a superior result and pursues ways to attain it. It has standards and aspires to mastery. Slow sewing requires investing time, money, space and abilities, but the reward is exceptional quality. Slow sewing takes nothing for granted. It understands materials and processes, but always asks questions, tests, analyzes, and problem-solves for particular figures, patterns, and fabrics. [Blog: Getting Things Sewn][2]

So, in the interests of pursuing my slow sewing mojo, I’ve started another homage to Chanel: I’m creating another Little French Jacket. However, I find myself a bit at odds with my slow sewing mantra just a bit. I’ve started logging the time it’s taking me to do go from beginning to end since the first one took me upwards of 100 hours – although I didn’t actually keep a time log. I’ve rationalized to myself that keeping a log is so that when people ask me how long it takes I can provide an accurate accounting. But I think on some level I’m interested in getting this one done faster. Good lord! I hope it’s going faster only because I have not had to do as much unpicking of seams and quilting lines, nor listen to an online instructor telling me how to do something – having the instructor in yrou ear as you go along does slow down the process, and not in a really mindful way.

Anyway, I’m moving forward. Ironing the pattern pieces (seriously)? Check. Cutting out? Check. Marking? Check. Stabilizing the underneath parts? Check. Quilting of the lining to the jacket pieces – about to begin.

[1] https://theslowstitchingmovement.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/welcome-to-the-slow-stitching-blog/

[2] http://gettingthingssewn.com/slow-sewing/

Posted in sewing, Style, Stylish Books

Shaping my closet – one sewing & design project at a time

img_1523A few years ago I stumbled on a book that I found so useful (and entertainingly written) that I bought it in hardcover and have actually read at least three times (something I almost never do). It even survived the great purge of 2014 when we sold our large property and moved to a downtown condo!

The book is called What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life – and I’m rereading it yet again. Written by former fashion editor Kim Johnson Gross, it’s unlike most other books out there purporting to be the final word on what we should appropriate fashion style for women of a certain age. Instead of trying to tell us what we should be wearing, Kim commiserates with us about the kinds of changes in our lives that necessitate a bit of a re-think about our closets, then uses her considerable experience to help the rest of us see how to move forward. There are no all-encompassing platitudes that suggest, “Women over a certain age should never wear…” No, none of that. She does, however, believe that we are influenced by our closets!

Early on in the book she says, “Closets are powerful. They contain the power to make us feel fat, fit, frumpy, or fabulous.”

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She also reminds us that our closets hold memories, dreams, frustrations etc. They tell the story of our lives. Sometimes I wonder what story mine tells – I do a complete clean out twice a year. Anyway, last week when I was learning dart manipulation and discovered that I owned very few pieces of clothing with darts, it occurred to me that I had been shaping my closet for a while now. My sewing and design projects reflect this.

img_1427Along with learning to design, I’ve been playing around with various types of knit fabric since my reshaping suggests that these will continue to play a large part in my wardrobe life. To that end, I finished a tunic that I’d been eyeing in my pattern “stash” (I really hate that word – going to find a new one!), so when I found some lightweight knit I liked, I thought I’d embark on this “fast & easy” project. As anyone who has been reading along with my musings knows, I don’t seem to know how to do “fast & easy.” [See my last fast & easy project.]

This cutout-then-whip-up tunic took hours and hours of pinning, sewing unpicking, seam stabilizing, and yes, even hand-basting. Oh, and let us not forget that I cut out the sleeves for the view I selected only to discover (after hand-basting them in) that I hated their floppy bell-like shape and had to remove them and re-cut the narrower one!

Along the way I also learned how to use the double needle in my sewing machine! I know everyone else probably already uses this on a regular basis, but it was a new experience for me and I think I got it!

Anyway, the style and fabrication are two parts of what I’ve been thinking about in terms of what’s in my own closet. Neither of these elements – no matter how right they seem to me – can exist independently. The right style constructed from the right fabric for that style is an absolute requirement for my clothes. Add onto that the element of fit, and what I have are the three essential components to having a closet full of clothes that make me feel wonderful. Although Kim Gross doesn’t offer all-or-nothing rules for our evolving closets, she does give us a couple of guidelines that I think are especially important:

  • “Fit is critical to looking your best.” This is why I wanted a personal bodice sloper – and why creating a persona pants sloper is on my to-do list.
  • “Don’t follow fashion trends. Wear what looks good on your body.” This is why I’m learning to design my own clothes!

Well, I’m going to take these guidelines to heart as I move onto my next project – which is a new Chanel-style Little French Jacket! I have found some new bouclé that I love, and already have a well-fitting muslin of the pattern – so off I go!

 

Details on Kim Johnson Gross’s book: What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life: Ageless Secrets of Style. New York: Springboard Press, 2010.

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Learning to manipulate darts

I’ve been thinking a lot about darts this week. That’s likely because now that I have a well-fitting bodice sloper, I need to start learning what to do with it if I want to design a few of my own creations. I could just do a bit of online research and plunge in head first, using trial-and-error to guide me, but I prefer to begin with another course from an instructor who knows what she’s doing and is willing to answer questions: I signed up for Suzy Furrer’s course on dart manipulation. So, I started the course and sewed up a few of the mock-ups for practice (I’ll get to that in a bit). As they sat there on Gloria junior (my dress form), I stared at them and began to wonder if darts were actually a part of my life. To find out, I rummaged through my closet.

What I discovered was quite eye-opening for me. Darts and I hardly ever co-exist! Try as I might, I could find very few items in my closet that have darts. I seem to be a no-dart-knit-wearing woman. What I found was that I had a few tailored jackets with darts and little else.

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One of the few pieces in my closet that actually has darts: front French darts, back neck and waist darts. Fits like a glove!

Over the years I have always thought that if I had to describe my personal style in a single word it would be “tailored.” My go-to work clothes ran to tailored suits with structured jackets in the early years when we were much more formal in our work attire, to more recent years when those jackets gave way to crisp white shirts from Brooks Brothers with jacket-style sweaters. So, would I actually use these dart manipulations I’ve been learning? First, a history lesson, since the evolution of textiles and style have played a part in my own personal style evolution – and my use of darted clothing (is darted a word?).

As we all know, we think of darts as those funny little triangles on patterns that are sewn into garments as a kind of pleat to make flat fabrics bend to fit round bodies. Darts were, in fact, one of the first sewing lessons that I can remember in home economics classes back in the day. They were crucial to getting a bodice (and later skirts and pants) to fit. The technical skill required to sew a really fabulous dart cannot be overemphasized – although it has to be said anyone can learn it! The truth is that poorly sewn darts are a dead giveaway to a home sewn garment that looks amateurish. Anyway, back to the general history. Who actually realized that these little darts would be needed?

Who actually invented the “dart” is a mystery, but it seems clear that by the Regency period (which began in 1811) garments worn by people in the western world had darts. It does seem to be a western thing as far as I can figure out. For example, consider the Japanese kimono – no darts. The Indian sari – no darts. But the modern Chinese cheongsam? Well, this little piece of fabulous clothing is the real reason I want to learn to manipulate darts – so that I can design a well-fitting cheongsam for myself. So, I take the course.

The technique I’m learning is what is referred to as the slash-and-spread method. From the bodice sloper that fits me, I can manipulate out the various darts into design lines. I mean – who wants a dart in the armhole?? Well, maybe someone does, but I don’t. So I learn to decide where I do want the dart or seam, then cut that dart or line, then cut a leg of each of the darts I don’t want and slide them closed. As the unwanted darts slide closed, another space opens and voila! A seam or BIG dart (or two) where I do want it. What fun!

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Three of the manipulated dart patterns: (l to r) French, armhole 9!), and neckline.

Anyway, I decide to do a few of the mock-ups (BTW if you do this, you’ll want a bolt of muslin fabric!), and find that I need to further manipulate them for them for a really good fit.

For example, as it turns out I really like the look of the front neckline darts (the shoulder, armhole and waist darts were all closed to open up these style lines radiating from the neck – and I could do 2 on each side if I want. Such fun!), but because I’m a bit concave in the upper body, I need to bow out the darts 1/8 inch at about the 4-inch down mark to get the proper fit. As I stand back and look at this ugly little toile, I can see various iterations of it in dresses, tunics and tops. I can see a cheongsam-inspired top for example.

So I guess that on balance, I will, indeed be using these dart manipulations at least on woven fabrics, but also on stable knits. I just need to learn how to draft collars and sleeves.

I have a long way to go in this journey to learn to design a few pieces for myself!

Some resources I found useful:

Pattern Making Fundamentals: Dart manipulation and pivot points. Isn’t that sew? Blog. http://isntthatsew.org/dart-manipulation/

Dart manipulation slide show. http://www.slideshare.net/thyrine/dart-manupulation

Posted in sewing

Memories of sewing Hallowe’en costumes

For years when I was a young working mother I put away my sewing passion to focus on other things – husband, baby, household, work I loved. But once a year I’d dust off the old sewing machine and start a project. It began in August and often ended on the afternoon of October 31. It was, of course, the inevitable Hallowe’en costume sewing.

It always began on a hot day in August when I’d take my little guy’s hand and head to a local fabric store. Our search started with those massive pattern books– those long ago days when you couldn’t wait for an online sale and order a bunch at seriously reduced prices. Sometimes Ian, my little guy, would have an idea of what he wanted to be; other times, he was open to finding a surprise idea in the pages of those books. Either way, I sat him on the chair as we poured over the patterns. That was also long before I took a notion that I might like to design my own patterns. Now that would have been fun!

Anyway, we would always find something that he’d get excited about. The first year he was a little tiger, then he progressed to clowns and of course eventually a little red devil. It was Hallowe’en after all.

One year he had been mesmerized by Disney’s Fantasia so was anxious to be a wizard for his annual trick-or-treat. (I think this may have been the most prescient costume: classical music has been a large part of his adolescent and adult life – he’s eventually graduated from Canada’s National Ballet School and has danced with the National Ballet of Canada & Les Ballets de Monte Carlo in Monaco for some years!).

Anyway, he also sported a scarecrow costume the year he saw The Wizard of Oz, and of course, being a Trekkie, the last year he actually went trick-or-treating he had to have a Star Trek uniform of course.

All through the years we were able to find patterns that suited us both – he the wearer and me the maker.

The fabric selections were guided by a couple of what I consider to be basic Hallowe’en-costume-sewing-and-wearing rules.

  • The fabric has to be easy to sew.
  • The fabric has to withstand a bit of rain (I remember one year as a child myself we wore paper costumes – big mistake.)
  • The fabric has to look good when layered over the inevitable warm jacket and even sometimes winter pants. (We do live in Canada.)
  • The fabric has to be cheap. Oops, not cheap. Well-priced!

These days there is an incredible selection of costume patterns, and it seems to me more and more moms (and even some dads) are choosing to make their own costumes. There is little doubt in my mind that sewing these costumes is a lot more memorable than throwing on an inner tube and calling your child a do-nut!

For me, this process was actually a project that Ian and I could do together. Of course, I was the one cutting out the pattern and sitting at the sewing machine, but he was there all along the way, giving advice, keeping me company and showing his delight at the finished product. It was a fall ritual. I kind of miss it now. I wonder if 27 is too old to want Mom to make you a costume. I guess so! Back to couture sewing for me.

Next up: learning to manipulate darts as design features, then time to cut out my next Little French Jacket.

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing

A knit sloper that fits to perfection! And my advice on learning to make slopers

img_1412When I finished my bodice sloper designed for woven fabrics (A bodice sloper at last!) I looked at it closely, examined my current lifestyle and considered the kinds of fabrics I love to wear. I concluded that a bodice sloper/block that will be the basis for my design ambitions (designing my own capsule wardrobe – oh, yes, that’s the plan!) has serious limitations if it’s only to be used for woven fabrics and looks like the bodice of a dress with a waist seam.

I mean, I cannot remember the last time I willingly wore a dress made from a woven fabric (with absolutely no lycra) that was designed with a sewn-in waistline and darts of one sort or another. First, I wear dresses only to weddings and funerals (and even then I’ve been known to choose a beautifully cut jacket with equally well-cut pants and pumps), on cruises (and then they have to be the kind that can withstand packing – so no wovens), and on hot summer days (linen please, with no waistline). With all of this in mind, I began to wonder what precisely I might do with the sloper.

Well, I do like what is called “stable knit” fabric. Some sewers ridicule the very idea of a stable knit, believing that a knit by definition isn’t stable. But I do recognize that some knits are more stable than others and I like the stable kind. So, I suppose I might be able to use the block to fit stable knits that might have princess seams or French darts. And I think I know how to get rid of that waist seam. God, I hope so, because I can’t see when I’m going to need it. Peplums are out of the question in my wardrobe! If I can master that, then it’s likely that I can design myself some tops and tunics – once I learn how to draft necklines and sleeves, though. So, it will have that usefulness. However, it’s best use seems to me to be as the basis for making a knit sloper, which is what I did this past week.

The Suzy Furrer Craftsy course I’ve been using to learn to fit moulages and slopers concludes with a piece on design options for slopers, and a section on using my sloper to create a knit sloper by getting rid of darts and waist shaping. It focuses on adding negative ease to the sloper meaning that the body would fill out the knit and then some. I decided that since I don’t really like my knits skin tight I would err on the side of less negative ease than she suggests. Big mistake.

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A well-fitting knit sloper? I think not!

 

The first attempt at the sloper resulted in a sloppy mess. I had bought some cheap (and it has to be said supremely ugly) knit fabric at the moving sale at Fabricland in Toronto. It’s not my favourite store in which to buy fabrics since they tend to stock so many less expensive synthetics and I like natural fabrics or at least blends. But they do have a terrific selection of notions and threads all of which are currently on sale, and very cheap remnants. But I digress.

My husband often tells me that I tend to buy my clothes too large, seeming to have an inflated notion of how big I am. He was entirely correct in the case of fitting my knit sloper. Since I had only this piece of fabric in which to make up the proto-type before putting the final sloper on poster board, I went back to the drawing board and re-drafted the sloper from the beginning using the instructor’s directions this time, and tweaking a bit based on my own observation of shoulder slope issues (yet again). Then I unpicked the first sloper and hoped I could re-cut the same fabric smaller. It seemed to work.

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Seam ripper at the ready! (It is a hideous colour, n’est ce pas?)

 

When I whipped up the second sloper I was delighted with the fit. All that was left was to put the sloper on poster board. As I hung the it in the closet with the woven one, I realized just how much I had learned about the process of fitting and pattern-making. After so many years of slavish devotion to commercial patterns and continual moaning about fit issues, I believe that I have the basis to move forward to better fitted garments – both from commercial patterns and ones I plan to create!

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My six best pieces of advice for learning to make slopers/blocks:

  1. If you’re taking an online course, using a textbook, or following someone’s online tutorial, watch, listen to or read the entire process before starting anything. Get an idea of the overall process.
  2. Assemble the equipment you’ll need: a flexible ruler, a curve, tape, fabric shears and scissors to cut fabric, a good pencil (and eraser), a roll of pattern paper (lots of it), a bolt of muslin or other cheap, plain fabric. I noticed that many of the students taking my course used left-over quilting material etc. with patterns on it. It’s difficult to see details of problems/issues and how to fix.
  3. Prepare yourself mentally for doing it again and again until you get it right.
  4. Keep your eraser and seam-ripper handy and use them often.
  5. Focus on the process rather than the outcome. If you can’t do this, the process will soon drive you crazy. The process can be very meditative.
  6. When you’re finished, take stock of all of the elements of fit and pattern-making that you now know that you didn’t before you started. You’ve come a long way, baby!

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