Monday 28 November 2016

VACC part 4: Thurlow

Yeah, it took me a while, but I got them done eventually.

At the beginning of the year I said I wanted to find my trouser pattern this year, and I pretty much assumed it was going to be this one. The Sewaholic Thurlows are designed for a small waist, larger hips and larger thighs, and they come with a special back extension gizmo to help get the fit right. There didn't seem to be any way this wouldn't work for me. And because of that, I was incredibly nervous about starting them and didn't get round to it until November.

I had never done a front fly zip before and my only previous attempt at welt pockets didn't go very well, so I followed Lladybird's Thurlow sewalong from 2012, which was incredibly helpful. Despite all the various bits and pieces of this pattern, with some in-depth instructions it was actually quite straightforward. I think my nerves probably helped here, because I was too anxious to marathon my way through making something like I usually do and split it over three or four days instead. I left off the belt loops because I have never owned a belt that goes through loops in my life, but I made up everything else as instructed.

I got this material in Fabric Land. It is a super soft suiting and was named "Cods Wallop Herringbone" so I don't see how I was supposed to resist buying any. It was great for a first attempt at these trousers - it behaved exactly as I wanted it to and gave me a finished pair of trousers that are incredibly comfortable to wear. Yay!

WELT POCKETS. Thanks to a super useful tutorial, my second attempt at these has gone from "they may not look like welt pockets, but they look like pockets" to "they may not look like perfect welt pockets, but they look like goddamn welt pockets". For my second ever attempt, I will cheerfully take these.

The front fly had a bunch of steps but was much less difficult than I was anticipating. Much to my surprise I didn't have to redo any of it. It's slightly more visible than it should be in these photos because my hook and bar needs shifting across a bit, but I can and will do that later. I switched out the inside button for a popper - I still haven't done buttonholes because I literally never wear anything with buttons and I wasn't prepared to learn for something that would be completely hidden, or mess up the whole thing at the last minute.

Having the back extension is a small piece of genius. My trousers are always too loose in the waist if they fit through the hips, and on both my Chataigne shorts and my Ultimate Trouser-shorts I had to take a big wedge out of the waistband to get them to fit properly. Having that built in as part of the pattern was amazing, and I don't know why more patterns don't use that. It's possibly my favourite part of the whole thing. This fit is straight out of the envelope with a bit of playing around with that back seam. I am thrilled.

(I'm sorry all my pictures cut the hem of the trousers off. I didn't notice my frame was wrong until I got back inside, and you couldn't have paid me to go back out and reshoot everything. My apologies.)

I consider these trousers one of my biggest accomplishments yet. They're not perfect, but for a year and a half of sewing experience I think they're pretty damn good. They feel very much like work trousers, though, so I'd love to make another pair for daywear, possibly in some kind of tartan. I'm also wondering how easy these are to make style adjustments to - I don't have a huge amount of call for flared-leg trousers in my non-work life, but these fit amazingly well and I'd much rather alter these than buy a different style and make eight million increasingly frustrating toiles. More research required. 


Thursday 24 November 2016

VACC part three: 1940s wrap dress

So, first things first. I made a commitment to myself to be honest about the things I make, and sometimes I'll need to do that retroactively. I learn more, I get better, I understand more about fit, I become better able to evaluate my projects, and some things just cannot go unremarked upon. With that in mind, let me say: my first 1940s wrap dress was one of the worst things I've ever made.

Even at the time I knew it was pretty bad, but it was the reason I started sewing and I was not going to allow it to be terrible. In a way I was quite grateful that the static was so insane and made the dress unwearable, because it meant I didn't have to confront how uncomfortable I felt in it. Nothing about it worked for me; it didn't fit me anywhere (though some part of this was probably the stupid static cling), I thought it made me look frumpy, and while I loved the colour in theory, when combined with the collared style it made me feel like a dinner lady or a travel agent in the early 90s. It was a terrible, horrible, no good very bad dress and I was glad to see the back of it. I wrote fairly positively about it at the time, because I wasn't prepared to accept that after all that fuss I didn't even like the dress. Ah, denial. 

However, it was also my original sewing goal, and I didn't really feel I could consider that goal met unless I had an actual wearable version of the dress. Sew Over It have said that they're releasing it as a commercial pattern next year, and I felt that I ought to make a proper version before then; I didn't really get that much out of the class and if I didn't make the dress until the paper pattern was released I might feel like I'd wasted my money. Let's not look too deeply into that one.

The fabric is an actual crepe, as opposed to the previous static polyester they sell as "luxury crepe", but it's not like any other crepe I've worked with. That's not a compliment.  It is not at all static, but it feels really quite harsh and also it does not iron even the tiniest bit. The collar in particular was a massive pain in the ass - I would put a steaming hot iron on it and it would just bounce back up like nothing had happened. This is my second attempt at photographing this dress, which I actually finished over a month ago. I decided I could deal with how it looked, took photos, realised all the problem areas looked eight times worse on camera, and hung it up until after my holiday, when I pressed the shit out of it again. It's still not perfect, but it's less embarrassing.

The instruction sheet I was given in class is fairly bare bones, and when making the first dress we didn't actually follow it. One of the things they don't include is a pattern layout diagram, and for this reason I initially only cut one pair of collar pieces misremembering the collar to be much narrower than it is. Gah. Other than that, I'm at the point now where I can get through most things as long as I have a vague construction order and some idea of what to Google.

Something else I hadn't remembered was how bulky the dress gets around the neckline. There are seam joins and pleats and collar pieces AND bias binding to finish the seam, and since it's self bias binding which needs to be folded in, there are a crazy number of layers at certain points. The Gnome handled it all with good grace, but it's something to bear in mind. 

I switched out the gathers at the sleeves for pleats (I will always switch out gathers for pleats if I can because few things make me more reluctant to sew than knowing the next thing I have to do is a bunch of gathering, and also I don't like puffy gathers at the shoulder). If I'd remembered that the sleeves were this slightly awkward length I'd have made them a bit longer.

When I tried the dress on looking to sort out my popper placement (something else that went wrong with the first dress) I realised I didn't really like the shape the dress was giving me. For something with all these tucks and gathers and waistbandness, it was curiously lacking in waist. I was worried I was going to completely hate this version too, but after taking the bodice in about an inch on each side and raising the hem to knee length, I felt much better about it. I do think if I were to make it again I'd take out some of the gathering and blousiness from the back piece, and cut smaller front pieces with a bust adjustment.

Getting the poppers in the right place was actually fairly easy this time, which I must attribute to a combination of improved skills and less awful fabric. There's a tiny bit of stretch in this crepe and I think that helps a lot with the comfortable fit. If I ever decide to make another one I will definitely use something similar. Though preferably something that irons better.

I now consider my original goal achieved. Even if I don't wear it very often, this dress is actually nice, and has an elegant vibe that may come in handy every now and again since I do move in the kind of circles where someone occasionally says "Come to this thing, and do so in 1940s drag". I think my next goal is going to be a particular vintage evening gown, but I'll write more about that once I've had a look at the pattern. 

I was in a hurry to take these photos (because end of November), so this is more amputee than land girl. Eh. 

Monday 21 November 2016

holiday sewing: ultimate trousers, except not

A couple of weeks before we were due to leave for our holiday, I was looking at the list of activities on offer from the hotel (rainforest tours, zip lining, hiking in the Pitons, all sorts of terrible stuff) and it occurred to me that I had literally nothing practical to wear for that kind of thing. My long skirts would be too cumbersome, my short skirts wouldn't protect against chub rub, and my culottes are too floofy and don't go with anything else I own. Sigh.

I decided I needed a pair of shorts. I still hadn't got round to making my Thurlows so I thought I might try a shorts version out of denim. When my denim arrived in the post, I realised I'd been looking at the fabric requirements for the lining and not the actual shorts, meaning I didn't have anywhere near enough. I considered buying more denim, but money is a bit of a thing right now so instead I dug out my Sew Over It Ultimate Trousers pattern.

Please allow me to apologise for how terrible I look in these photos. This was the wettest day of our holiday but also still stupid hot, so make-up wouldn't stay on my face and I was feeling a little, shall we say, harassed, by a combination of personal and world events. These are not attractive pictures. Please try to ignore that.

This is the pattern I used to make the only pair of trousers I've so far made, and I've almost excised it from my pattern drawer several times. I really liked the trousers I made, but I definitely had to do a lot of bodge work to it to make it fit. It's not designed for my body shape, I didn't like the lack of waistband, and overall I thought I could do better with a different pattern. Something told me not to throw it away, though, and I managed to get a pair of (lengthened) shorts plus a waistband out of the metre of fabric I had. I wanted them specifically for doing a lot of walking in, and while I understand that some people can prevent chub rub by wearing a tiny pair of delicate hot pant things, my thighs are a bit more substantial than that. This is definitely longer than they need to be, but also in lengthening them I tapered in where I shouldn't have so if I'd shortened them again I wouldn't have been able to cuff them comfortably.

I did my first exposed zip on these shorts, because why not. I followed the Papercut Patterns tutorial because that's what came up in my search, and it was all pretty straightforward.

I already know that I don't get on with straight waistbands, but I didn't have enough fabric to make a curved one, so I made it straight and put a dart in the centre back. Not the most elegant solution, but hey, it worked for what I needed less than 36 hours before flying out (procrastinate now!).

I also made this T-shirt last month based on the Anna bodice. I've got and will continue to get wear out of it, but I won't be making another one. It's just a bit weird.

I'll tell you now, I was SO GRATEFUL for these shorts. I knew we were going to do at least one walking tour and that's what I made them for, but little did I know that "guided tour round a rainforest nature reserve" actually meant "hiking a steeply sloping barely visible trail during a pissing thunderstorm". We made it about eighty per cent of the way before I insisted on turning back (back the way we came, UPHILL) and we came out of it soaking wet, ankle deep in water and mud, hair plastered to our faces and blisters on our hands from the hiking poles. At least we weren't the other couple who'd chosen to do this for their honeymoon. 


(Also, you see that bruise on my leg? A waterfall knocked me over. I shouldn't be allowed out.)

You know those inspirational memes that people share that go on about the wild romance of walking through the jungle in the rain, kissing under a waterfall, communing with the elements and your lover at the same time? I have now tested these things, and I can officially confirm that they're not romantic, they're rubbish. Soaking wet shoes and almost falling over on a muddy slope and water literally battering you down do not make you feel closer to God and the earth and mankind, they make you feel clammy and grumpy and in need of a lie down. You saw that post with the pool, right? That's much better. Try that instead.

These shorts aren't going to have much to do in a British winter, but I'm incredibly glad I made them and will be breaking them out again next year. I also think I might have another go at the Sew Over It trousers - having a waistband makes a huge difference and I felt much more comfortable in these. If I can draft a curved waistband for them, so much the better. 

(I saw a hummingbird, which we then failed to take a picture of. These was a running theme of the trip, because it turns out hummingbirds are bastards.)

Thursday 17 November 2016

holiday sewing: my first swimsuit

I'm back! I had a wonderful, ridiculous time in St Lucia and I'm about to show you some photos that might be upsetting on a miserable day in November. I'm sorry, but not that sorry.

So at the start of the year when I was thinking about new things I'd like to try sewing in 2016, the one thing I said I definitely wanted to do was to make a swimsuit. Swimsuits are the absolute worst thing to shop for, for me; worse than jeans, worse than bras, worse than all of it. There are so many things that can be wrong with a swimsuit, and usually if one of them is wrong then all of them are, and I come out of changing rooms feeling demoralised about holidays and my body and the concept of being seen. If I could make my own, everything would be so much better. I was going to make one over the summer, which seemed appropriate, but then the whole house move drama happened and I never got around to it. When we booked our holiday I revised my goal, but kept putting it off due to scarcity of all the necessary bits and eventually finished it about nine hours before we were due to leave for the airport. Oops.

My original plan was to make a Bombshell, but I eventually came to the conclusion that I'd prefer a bikini. During the course of my life I've had one-piece swimming costumes that I was OK with, but bikinis have always been wrong. Once I had a bikini top I really liked, but the bottoms were super low rise and I ended up wearing shorts over them unless I absolutely had to have my ass in the water. So when I saw a half-price Simplicity pattern while browsing through a sale at 12.30 am, I bought it and made plans to get to work.

So this is me standing in our pool. The hotel's gimmick was to have an open wall in every suite with a pool at the edge overlooking the Pitons. I loved it SO MUCH. 

Mistake number one: I looked at the bust size and just cut the one that corresponded to my bust measurement, reasoning that since there wasn't any shoulder fitting to worry about, it should be fine. What then happened, obviously, was that when I tried my first attempt on, the entire band was swallowed up by the underside of my boobs and it looked really weird. I tried to graft on a separate band and it looked even weirder. I decided the day before my holiday to start the top all over again. I was expecting it to be a bit amateur, but not quite that amateur.

Based on the first attempt, I downsized the top by two sizes, did an FBA on the cups, and shortened all the pieces of elastic except the one ruching the front piece. I tried on Bikini Top Mark II and didn't really like that either. It looked less amateur but more frumpy. I spent a couple of minutes messing about with it in the mirror and eventually decided to sew the top edge to the midpoint along the ruching in the middle. Having done that I found the whole thing a LOT more tolerable.

I thought the elastic guides provided by the pattern were way off. They seemed to be more or less the same length as the piece they were to fit, which is very much not the point of elastic. After trying to bodge close my first extremely gapey top, I cut three inches off the piece for the waistband bottoms and six off the pieces for the legs (a quick try on of the bottoms pre-elastic insertion revealed a LOT of excess fabric round the bum).

Shortening the elastic made for a better fit on the bottoms, but I felt a bit duped by the illustrations. It gives the impression of a ruched band at the top, when the whole thing is actually one piece ruched at the sides. The fabric doesn't stay ruched at the top/smooth at the crotch, so what quite often happens without continual readjustment is a pair of oddly saggy-looking bottoms. And nobody wants a saggy bottom.

I have every intention of making more swimwear in the future. Much as this was kind of a pain, it was still notably less awful than trying on bikinis. I probably won't be using this pattern again - I still really like the idea, but the illustration is misleading and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to make something that looks like that from this pattern. I'll be on the lookout for another one for next summer, though. Possibly something with actual cup sizes.

Yes, I know I'm not Eva Herzigova, but I've got as much right as anyone to give it a try, OK?

Ugh, this holiday, you guys. I genuinely don't know how anything is going to top this ever. 


Thursday 3 November 2016

blog note

Barring some sort of terrible disaster I will be on a plane to St Lucia right now, so I'm taking a break for a couple of weeks. At first I had it in my head that I was going to queue up content over the time I was away, but then I decided I couldn't be arsed. We will all cope quite adequately if I don't post pictures of my amateur sewing while I go on holiday.

Normal service will resume on the 17th, with a 1940s wrap dress, various holiday pieces, and my first ever swimsuit, which I finished last night because my planning skills are exemplary. See you later!