Monday 29 February 2016

SNYPH part four: Holly

Check it out! Sensible New Year Pattern Haul not only all made before the end of February, but all posted before the end of February too! Probably best you don't get used to that.

It's taken me a long time to get round to making my second pair of trousers. I've basically stopped wearing them, except my one pair of jeans and my comfy around-the-house trousers, because fitting trousers is a nightmare and buying them is even worse. It is something I promised I'd get my head round this year, and the By Hand London Holly pattern was as non-threatening a place as any to start. The BHL blog assured me that these were about the easiest things to sew in the world, and they haven't lied to me before.

This fabric is a black stretch suiting that I got in John Lewis. Part of me feels a bit bad that it's just plain black fabric and it doesn't photograph that well for sewing-blog purposes, but I do want to make things I'll actually wear. I have a pair of navy polka-dot cropped trousers for the summer and a couple of black and white patterned jersey pairs, but I am not going to be wearing orange bulldog-print cotton on my lower half. I'm just not. Black trousers. Deal with it.

The fabric is stretchy enough that I can get them on without bothering with a zip. I did actually put a zip in, but it kept getting stuck (I bought a bunch of concealed zips from a market stall and that was not a good idea), so I took it out. I also let the seams out around the hips, and if I make these again I'll grade out two sizes in the hip instead of one. Because I didn't have a zip, I also needed to nix the waistband. What I've basically ended up with is a pair of trousers halfway between workwear and pyjamas. Which is great.

These trousers are designed to completely cover your feet, but I've tried that kind and they are not for me. I trip over, I step on the hems. I know people who've tried to explain to me that I just haven't got the length exactly right, that there is a magic length where they cover your feet and you don't trip, and I totally believe that they have foot-covering trousers that don't trip them up. Me? Nope. I am really good at tripping up, and my trousers will not be covering my feet. I left a fair amount of fabric in the hem, though, so if I end up wearing these with higher heels I can take them down a little bit.

I'd like to make another pair of these properly (i.e. with the zip and waistband and all the stuff that makes it not just two great big tubes sewn together), but I'll need to go back and adjust the pattern, especially if I decide not to use stretch material. These are super-comfy, but they would NOT be super-comfy if they didn't stretch. I'd also like to make a couple of tops that go with high-waisted trousers, since I have at most three tops to wear with trousers right now. 

And finally, a pose that made sense at the time: idea. Not a one.

Thursday 25 February 2016

SNYPH part three: Appleton

So, I may have mentioned that I was hoarding some abstract aubergine-print jersey. I bought it last year, and it was basically the first time that I spent more than a few pounds on a piece of fabric. I waffled for nearly a month about whether I could justify dropping £36 on a bit of jersey, until it was pointed out to me that if I saw an aubergine-print dress in a shop for twice that much I'd have bought it without a second thought (I would then have spent a month dealing with the guilt, but I really like aubergines).

I wanted it to be a wrap dress. I'd not long made my Sew Over It wrap dresses, but I hesitated about using the pattern again. While I still wear the second dress fairly regularly (I wore it last night, in fact), it doesn't lend itself to everyday wear. Even after adding length to the pattern it's still quite short, and the neckline is low and a bit gapey. It doesn't bother me if I'm going out, but it's not a day dress. I tried another wrap dress, the test of which was not particularly successful, and the fabric continued to sit in my cupboard. It almost became a Moneta or a Wren, but I held back because this fabric had always said "wrap dress" to me. So it continued to sit in my cupboard. Then last month I decided that any fabric not used by August would get thrown out, and that was enough of a kick up the bum to get me cutting into the damn aubergines already.

Presenting the transformation of my long-unused jersey, the Cashmerette Appleton dress.

This pattern ended up being the chosen one for a few reasons: one, it was specifically designed for bigger busts so I assumed it would have a less revealing and therefore more versatile fit; two, I'd seen a ton of other versions and it appeared to look amazing on everyone; three, I panicked at the thought of having to get rid of this fabric and just started ordering stuff. Sometimes ordering in a panic really works; I think this dress is great. Worth dithering over.

When I first started making this dress my new sewing machine was misbehaving (hey, I broke the thread! hey, I broke the thread again! hey, I did it again! look at what I can do!) so after sewing up the shoulders and part of the neckband it sat untouched for a week. When I went back to it, the Gnome was in a better mood, and I got the dress completed in a few hours. I've now used both Cashmerette patterns and they are incredibly user-friendly. Beyond the Gnome throwing a strop - which is hardly the pattern's fault - I've not had even the smallest stumbling-block with either of them. The instructions are great, the patterns are simple but well-designed, and it's really easy to get a clean finish. Overall I think this is my preferred pattern of the two; it fills a need and I can imagine having a million of them. Well, maybe not a million. Four, maybe. If nothing else, I will definitely be making a black one as soon as I find some really nice black jersey.

It's funny - even though I loved this fabric so much I was too afraid to cut into it and ruin it, I'm still surprised that I like this dress as much as I do. To me it looks more traditionally feminine than I will ever usually go. Looking at the fabric close up I just think "aubergines!", but looking at it as a dress, especially in that first shot, it reads as a white and lavender dress with quite a delicate print and looks a bit like I'm preparing to host a garden party. I would never have thought of that as an aesthetic I would ever like on me, but I do think it works. It's nice to expand my own perceptions a little bit. I'm not saying you're going to start seeing delicate pastel ditsy florals here or anything, mind. 

This is a really easy thing to throw on when I need to look presentable. Work, dinner, visits to relatives, when I'm hosting a garden party (which I may end up actually doing now, even though I'm sure I don't want to). Thumbs up for the dress, the pattern, and finally using this bloody fabric. Three thumbs! 

But this still happens when you get hit by a gust of wind. Oh, how I love you, lycra shorts. 

Saturday 20 February 2016

SNYPH part two: 1940s wrap dress

In the latter half of 2014, I started to consider taking up sewing. There are loads of places in London offering beginner sewing classes, but I went with Sew Over It basically because they dangled this dress in front of me as something I could learn to make. I took their introductory class in January, their beginner dressmaking class in May, and just as I was starting to consider wrap dress-level skills within my sights, they removed it from the website entirely. I got a bit cross.

But then, in November, they put it back up and advertised a class for January.

Me: They're doing the class again! But's £150 and I just quit my job.
Boyfriend: Yeah, but that dress is basically why you started sewing in the first place.
Me: ...good point. Excuse me while I go and give them my money.

The pattern is based off a vintage 1940s pattern, so it has lots of little details - back neck darts, shoulder tucks, puffed sleeves, gathers at the collar and small gathered points along the waistline. Most of the things I've made so far have been pretty simple in design, so even though sewing these details is well within my skill set, it felt like quite a departure from the norm and I really enjoyed it. It's even made me consider busting the Vintage Vogue dress pattern out of my stash.

I made a size 14, grading out slightly at the hips. The dress is fastened with two poppers along the waistband, so there wasn't a whole lot of fitting to be done, but the one criticism I have of the class is that there wasn't enough time to get the poppers positioned correctly. It's actually really hard to do by yourself, and though the way I have them now still isn't quite right, I'm not going to attempt to re-do it until I have some help. The fabric is a crepe I bought in the Sew Over It shop - it drapes really nicely and I love the colour so, so much, but the static is INSANE. I've never come across anything quite like it. It sticks to everything and makes the most horrendous ripping noises when I take the dress off. It's annoying, because I have so many patterns that call for crepe and they sell so many strong solid colours (given the option I would cheerfully sew with nothing but strong solid colours), but I just don't think I can wear this stuff. Gah. I'm going to try running it through the wash a couple of times before I give up on it entirely. I will report back.

The instructions called for hand-finished hems on the skirt and sleeves. I did the sleeves by hand, but decided to try out my new blind hem foot on the skirt. Which sort of worked. I don't think I've got the technique quite right yet, and this fabric really does show stitching, but on darker or thicker fabrics I will definitely be doing machine-stitched blind hems again. I'm not a patient person, especially not when it comes to hemming, and I always feel like my hand stitching isn't particularly secure on longer lengths of fabric.

I will probably make another one of these if I can find a fabric I'd like to make it in, but what I'm more likely to take from this project is that sewing garments with details is actually really great and I'd love to do more of it. I'm not particularly interested in ransacking eBay for vintage patterns in my size (HAH) or spending hours grading them up once I've learned how to grade things (I think it's awesome that people do, but it's not for me), so quite how I'll go about it I'm not sure, but I'll be keeping my eye open for patterns and opportunities.

Yes, yes, I really like this dress. If only the static wasn't so bad. Is there a way to get rid of static in clothing other than rubbing dryer sheets all over it every time you want to wear it? 

Tuesday 16 February 2016

Jen attempts to develop style: wardrobe corrections and commitments

Yesterday was my birthday, so I didn't post even though Monday is a post day. Happy birthday me! I am now thirty-one, and therefore very sensible and grown-up. With that in mind, some practical analysis!

Having spent some time thinking about the way I want my wardrobe to look, I now need to deal with why it doesn't currently look that way. I went through all my clothes, both handmade and shop-bought, and I found four main problems, which I am now going to analyse and make commitments to fix, because I am a massive bore. Here we go!

Issue one: Reluctance to throw out stuff I made

I have got rid of maybe two things I ever made. I think part of me is worried that I've wasted time, money and effort if I get rid of something I made, and I'm reluctant to give any of it away because I don't feel the construction quality is high enough.

Me-made things I would get rid of if I had the balls:

- Dance Party Hollyburn (not substantial enough. Should recycle for lining. Shame, because I love that set of photos and Dance Party Hollyburn is the best name for an item of clothing. Maybe I should have a dance party wearing something else)

- Red Vogue 7910 (this is a great colour and a great shape, but it wrinkles SO. EASILY. I am not and will never be the kind of person who irons her clothes every morning, so it just doesn't get worn anymore, especially now that I have another red skirt)

- Teal kimono jacket (exactly the same as above)

- Green Butterick 4443 (never worn because it needs serious altering, and I just don't know if it's worth it)

- Floral wrap top (this goes with absolutely nothing, but I can't bring myself to get rid of it because it's so damn photogenic)

- 80s Wren (I will never wear this, and I should just take the top part off and recycle it into a skirt)

- Black floral Vogue 1395 (I love the idea of this dress so much and I really want to be able to wear it, but if I lift my arms the whole thing ends up round my ass)

There are also a few things I don't wear right now, but might do if I got around to fixing them. My stripy flared skirt with the broken zip, my purple circle skirt with the fucked-up-even-for-me hem, and my red Butterick 4443, which is as full of errors and weirdness as one might expect of a first dress.

I am making a commitment that this stuff won't come with me in August unless it's wearable, by me, in whatever its current state is.

Issue two: None of my stuff goes together

Buying separates as outfits is something I always mean to do and then forget about when I see something I sort of like. I managed it once a little while ago - I bought navy and white spotty cropped trousers and a navy and white stripy T-shirt - and it was great. I always had a summer go-to that I knew looked good and I'd feel happy in. Then I ruined the T-shirt in the wash, and I had no outfits. That was a sad day.

I am making a commitment that from this point on, any separates I make will have an intended partner separate in mind, either that I already have or already have the fabric, that is not a black top or pair of jeans. I am going to go through all the separates I currently own and work out what needs partner pieces (don't worry, I promise not to subject the blog to this one).

Issue three: Too many things not appropriate to wear to most of the places I regularly go

Here are the main things I do:

Go to work (hopefully)
Go dancing
Lounge around the house
Potter about running errands
Go out to shows, dinners, cocktails
Go on random three-night holidays with only hand luggage

I've made a lot of things I can't really wear to any of those. Too showy for work, too restrictive for dancing/eating/lounging, not versatile enough to take on holiday. It's also not fabulous enough that I can say, "well, yeah, but I made something UTTERLY FABULOUS" and prance around my room in it feeling smug.

I am making a commitment that 80-90% of everything I make will fit into my regular day to day wardrobe and I will know which category (or categories) it fits into.

Issue four: Making or buying things based on bad criteria

A lot of the reason my wardrobe has been so disjointed is that I don't have the right things in mind when I'm shopping. I think about things such as what I liked four years ago, things I wish I liked, and wanting not to wear things that get me noticed. I'm starting to get over this, by virtue of really paying attention to what's coming into my wardrobe, but there's still some older stuff - and older attitudes - in there that needs to get gone.

I am making a commitment that if I haven't worn something between now and August, it can't come with me (notwithstanding swimsuits if I haven't been on holiday yet and other such occasion-specific stuff).

I've said these things in public, so now they're real. Next step: working out what gaps there are in my wardrobe as is, and ways to make getting dressed easier for someone who is bad at getting dressed. Yay!

Thursday 11 February 2016

Creative Sewing: Vogue 7910, experimental version

Hey look, the start of my series! Remember when I said "I'm going to start off small-scale, probably by using a fabric not specifically recommended by the pattern envelope"? Well... yeah.

A few months ago, I went into a fabric shop at Walthamstow Market and left my sense tied up to a lamppost outside. I bought eight metres of fabric in there that day, and that fabric sat in my stash for a long time. Every so often I would take out a piece, look at it, and go, "Nope. Still no idea" and put it away again. I'd only had a plan for one out of the four, and as soon as I got it home I realised it wasn't going to work (I'd bought enough crepe for a pair of close-fitting ankle-grazing trousers and not the enormous high-waisted swishy things I actually wanted to make), so it all just sat there, making me feel like I was rubbish at fabric shopping and should maybe just stop trying.

After a conversation with a friend who's much better at this stuff than me, I decided to make it my Experimental Fabric Pile. Since I had no idea what to do with it, surely it wouldn't matter if what I made didn't end up being wearable? I could just try random shit with no expectation that it would work, and if it did, bonus.

I have literally no idea what this fabric is. It's stretchy and it doesn't fray, but it's not jersey. It's closer to some kind of scuba or neoprene, but I'm not sure it's either of those. I am not a fabric savant. But I had a metre and a half of it, and I thought a skirt was the obvious choice. After my first successful attempt at Vogue 7910, I was curious to see if it would work in this kind of material.

Pictured: No idea.

This fabric is super-stretchy, and mistake number one was cutting the same size as I did with the red one. It was MASSIVE. I had to take in every side seam quite substantially. Having done that and finding that the skirt still pulled over my head very easily, I decided there wasn't a whole lot of point in trying to sew a zip into this thing, so I didn't. Mistake number two was getting distracted when trying to decide what to do about the waistband and sewing it up as though it were a tie closure. I had zero interest in unpicking it and not enough fabric to make another one (I had three-quarters of a metre less than the pattern called for in the first place), so I pondered for a while and eventually put a rib-knit band around the top. It probably isn't the most elegant solution, but eh. To be honest, it's still a bit big, and I'm considering taking it in again.

I also didn't hem it because I liked the raw edge, but having worn it a few times I now think it might be too long (a certain length of navy skirt can give me unpleasant school uniform flashbacks), so I will either hem it or cut it down a bit.

Whatever else you might say about it, it does great things when I move:

I will literally never get tired of doing those photos. My main problem with the skirt is finding things to wear it with - if I have anything bulky, unfitted, or long on top then I just look swamped. This top is one I got for a fiver in the Collectif sale, and it's basically fine to wear with this except on the random occasions where it decides it's going to be three inches shorter. Then it's not okay to wear with anything.

So what did I learn from this experiment?

1. Fabric recommendations on pattern envelopes are not mandates.
2. Stretchy stuff needs to be cut smaller.
3. I need to pay a bit more attention to what I'm doing.
4. This pattern is still awesome.

Monday 8 February 2016

sewing while anxious

(Please enjoy this ridiculous photo of when someone left me alone in a studio with dressmaker's mannequins)

Anxiety and depression are long-time enemies of mine, and I've been dealing with them again for the last year or so. I spent about six months of last year unable to work and basically lying in bed all the time feeling alternately hopeless and terrified, seeing an array of different doctors, taking an array of different medications (none of which worked), trying anything I could think of to make myself better and becoming increasingly discouraged as one by one, everything failed. Towards the end of the year I took the frightening step of quitting my job, and since I became unemployed things have started to look better. There's still quite a way to go, but at least I can see where the exit is.

Fortunately, just before the sequestered-in-my-room stage of depression hit, I took an introductory dressmaking class. The spark of a new interest managed to stay alight even as I stopped caring about a lot of other things, and I was able to persuade myself to move from the bed to the sewing machine a few times a week. Coming out of a period of depression with the ability to make clothes makes it easier not to beat myself up about wasting time, because I learned a whole new skill. "But I learned how to make clothes" compares quite favourably with "But I watched a truly dizzying number of episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyway?" which is what happened last time. 

Sewing is also a great thing for an anxious mind, because it's required to be completely occupied. When I have a project to focus on, there's no space to rifle through old memories and toss up a stupid thing I did/rude thing someone said once eleven years ago (why do I hold on to all this? Why do I never forget anything except where I put important documents and necessary medication?). Spending a few hours sewing is a great way to have a few hours' break from the frankly exhausting spin cycle my brain is on most of the time. Having this blog is a similarly useful thing - I've had writer's block for ages, but having a specific subject and giving myself a pretty defined posting schedule has helped keep me productive and making content of one kind or another fairly consistently. It's also a good record for me, and helps me to not to bore my boyfriend's face off talking about it all the time (I do still talk about it a lot, and he's very good at listening to me, but blathering on about a hobby to someone who doesn't share it isn't a very considerate thing to do). 

Of course, dressmaking brings with it a whole new set of things to worry about. Here are a few things that have stopped me sewing something, or wearing something I've made:

The wrong type of needle is in the machine and my brain has become momentarily convinced that changing it is too huge a task
I paid more than £10 for this fabric, and if I cut into it I'm bound to ruin it
I'm never going to make anything that doesn't look sloppy and amateurish
What if this seemingly amazing pattern I bought is playing evil tricks on me and will make me look like a platypus when I've finished it?
Remember that random blog comment from a woman who said that thing you just did is the worst possible sewing crime and anyone who does that thing should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves?
Last time you tried this, you messed it up
I can't wear this today, someone's bound to notice I messed up the hem and it doesn't quite fit in the shoulders
Too conspicuous too conspicuous take it off NOW
See, now you're dressed just like [friend/flatmate/relative] and that's ridiculous

Some of this stuff is fairly universal, and I'm sure some of it looks straight-up nuts to people whose brains don't work this way. Mine, under the guise of being "realistic", will often tell me that if I'm honest with myself none of my garments are any good, and I don't really like any of them, and I only force myself to wear them to justify my silly indulgence of a hobby. Of course, it also tells me that I only force myself to wear a lot of my store-bought clothes to justify having bought something that was clearly a mistake, so I don't think it's especially trustworthy. 

This is where sewing is worth a lot more than just the clothes to me. That voice in my brain is always there, basically always has been, I'll never get rid of it entirely. But every so often I make something that quantifiably, demonstrably proves it wrong. I put on something like my grey Wren and it cannot argue that I'd rather not be wearing that. There is literally nothing it can say to me, and it has no choice but to shut up. The power dynamic in my own head is forced to shift and I feel strong, and free. It all comes back again distressingly quickly, of course, but the more of these moments I can string together the weaker it gets. 

Thursday 4 February 2016

da doo Wren Wren Wren, da doo Wren Wren

(First I made a terrible pun and now that song is stuck in your head. I do apologise.)

In my tea dress post I mentioned that I had to delay making that dress because of unwashed fabric, but since I had the urge to sew something RIGHT NOW, DAMMIT, I made a different dress instead.

Wren, version 1, mark 2. (I made this in December and I realise that it's now February, but I wanted to get all the October projects posted first and taking photos in winter is hard work.)

I liked the shape of my previous Wren, but I'd been wanting to make a long-sleeved (and less 80s) one that I could get more wear out of. I'd bought this charcoal jersey a few months ago, intending to make a Coco Chanel-style knit dress (from that damn Little Black Dress book which left me awash in fabric with no matching pattern when I threw it away), and had reimagined it as a Wren almost as soon as I finished Wren mark 1. I'd been holding off on making it because another blogger had promised to share her fitting adjustments and I thought they might cover the problems I had with my first one. But then she didn't, so I decided to just tackle it myself.

This was my second attempt at a full bust adjustment. For my first one I'd used two step-by-step tutorials working on the exact pattern I was making, one from the pattern's creator and one from a specialist in adjustments for curves. For this one, I used a couple of diagrams from a tutorial working on a pattern that sort of had the same kind of bodice shape maybe if you squint. So it was a bit sloppy.

I should have sized down the bodice before I made the adjustment, but I didn't, so I had to take the shoulders up and the sides in at the end. Also I hadn't touched this jersey for a while and my memory was of it being a lot thicker and less stretchy than it actually was, so I didn't need the ease I'd allowed.

I kept the same larger-sized skirt as in my first Wren, but I took the waist in a bit more, omitted the elastic and took the hem up a couple of inches (well, actually, what I did first of all was sew the skirt on inside out because I am really very smart indeed). The sleeve is the Moneta sleeve - I do have the Wren sleeves but I am still lacking a way to print PDFs, so I assumed that the Moneta sleeve would probably have a similar shape and not cause me too many problems (it did not, it was fine).

(I'm taking a burlesque class at the moment. It remains to be seen whether it will help take the awkward out of some of these photos.)

I've already worn this dress more than anything else I've ever made. I love it. It's comfortable and completely non-restrictive, the wrap front stays in place through a whole night's dancing, and people who also sew haven't realised I've made it, including a dressmaking teacher I was taking a class with. I will definitely be making more, once I find some jersey of a similar weight to this one.

Finally, here's me throwing a hat into the air.

Modelling tips!