Monday, 27 February 2017

winter sewing: the trials of coat making

I have had the same coat for several years. It's light grey, with an asymmetric zip, a tie belt, and a faux fur collar. I still love it to death and have no intention of getting rid of it, despite the fact that it has literally NEVER fit me properly. I loved it so much that I bought the last size they had; one size too small for me at the time, two sizes too small for me now. The coat does not do up. So when I was thinking about winter sewing, the one thing I knew I needed more than anything else was a functional coat that will close when I need it to do so.

Finding a coat pattern was the biggest pain in the arse. I thought I'd found it in Leanne Marshall for Simplicity 1254 before I looked it up and realised it looks terrible in real life. Then I thought I'd try the Waffle Patterns Pepernoot coat, but that wasn't really what I wanted either. I also considered the Closet Case Patterns Clare (mostly because I already own it), but nice as that looks on most people, I don't want an A line coat. What I wanted was a knee-length zip-up coat with waist shaping, a tie belt and a hood, but as far as I can tell this pattern literally does not exist. Eventually I bought McCalls 6442, which still isn't quite right because it's not a zip coat and it's not long enough, but was closer than anything else I'd found and I'd already decided I wasn't comfortable spending silly money on five or six metres of wool for my first ever coat. I bought some dark blue boiled wool to make it with and was all ready to get started... until I tried laying everything out, when I discovered that the boiled wool was narrower than expected and the pattern didn't fit on it. ARGH. Finally I bought some purple melton wool in a normal width and got started.

Here is my coat, and I'm actually quite glad that illness forced me to postpone writing about this one. My original draft of this post said "eh, it's fine, it was a good practice coat", but after wearing it for a week I've decided it's actually a pretty great coat. My initial view of it was clouded by two things: first, that I had a extremely specific vision in my head when I was planning this, and second, there were several issues with the pattern. Now that I've been able to step back a bit, I can appreciate this coat as its own thing rather a subpar rendering of a picture in my head. I really like the overall silhouette of this coat; I would hate this shape in a skirt but for outerwear it really works for me. The fitted waist and the length work well with the kind of things I'm wearing at the moment (the main reason I decided against making the Clare was that I thought it would look weird with the short tulip skirts I wear most of the time), so it's a very practical addition to my wardrobe that I will get a lot of wear out of. People have actually stopped me on the street and asked where I got this coat. HOWEVER, there are several points about the pattern itself that I think warrant addressing.

The biggest problem, from my perspective, is that this coat is designed to have no closures at all. The belt is the only thing you're supposed to use to keep this coat closed, and yet the pattern does not come with belt loops. I think that's ridiculous. Even if we set aside the fact that I am constantly losing things and would drop the belt on the street somewhere within minutes of wearing it outside for the first time, it just doesn't make any sense to have a belt without belt loops. I made and added some belt loops based on the Thurlow instructions, and I really don't think it would have taken much to include that in the pattern. I also added a press stud at centre front because for me, a coat that doesn't actually close up is just silly. I will probably add another press stud nearer the neck for when it's cold and I want to wear the coat fully closed. Also for when I need the hood. When the coat is open at the neck and the hood is up, it looks weird. It's neither drapey nor shapey enough to work.

The construction of the coat is not quite what I was expecting. I was expecting to make a coat, make a lining, sew together, bag it out. This pattern has you attach the lining to the bodice, lower section, and sleeves separately and then handstitch all three parts of the lining together when the coat is constructed. This is obviously a valid way of doing it, but I would personally prefer not to have a load of amateur handstitching on something as hard-wearing as a coat. The shoulder pads are covered with lining fabric and hand-sewn in too, and it turns out I am REALLY bad at that. I've had to redo one of them already (I don't want to say I'll practise, because I can't imagine I'll be putting covered shoulder pads into a lot of things). Curiously, the lining pattern pieces don't fit on normal width lining fabric and the instructions tell you to piece it together. Which, you know, is not a big deal to do, but I do find it confusing that a pattern would tell you to buy 45" lining fabric while knowing the pieces won't fit on it.

I made the lining all green and shiny, though, because why not.

Also, in quibbles: the pockets are too small and I don't like that. They seem to be a similar size to the tulip skirt pocket that I use on most skirts and dresses, and that is not what I want in a coat. If I can't put a pair of gloves in my coat pockets and then forget they're there until it's cold enough to need gloves, then I might as well not have coat pockets. Also the pocket opening is at the waist, and while I understand why that is, it's also slightly too high and makes walking along with hands in pockets quite awkward. Which I wouldn't need to do if the pockets were big enough to accommodate gloves. You see my problem.

Overall, though, I'm really pleased with this coat. The colour and shape both work well for me, and aside from the whole shoulder pad thing, I think my construction is pretty competent. Assuming we don't get any blizzards or below freezing temperatures, it'll probably see me through most of the year in London. It's not a big protective layer, but it's warm enough and versatile enough for at least three of the four seasons we tend to get (those three seasons being "drizzle", "it's a bit nippy out", and "").

Apart from anything else, this was a good confidence builder. I was pretty sure that the last purple coat I tried to make went wrong because of the pattern, but there's always a small voice saying maybe it was you being a dumbass, and this seems to me to be fairly solid proof that it wasn't me being a dumbass. This was a lot more involved than the things I usually make, but I wouldn't say it was that much harder to do. The wool was much easier to work with than a lot of fabrics, everything went together in a fairly logical order (lining aside), and there wasn't a lot in terms of new techniques I had to deal with. Instead of thinking oh, I've never made outerwear before, this is a big new scary thing, I found myself thinking of course I can make a coat, I CAN SEW. 

And that's a good feeling.

This marks the end of my winter sewing, minus the black dress which went a bit weird and is going to take me a while to salvage. On Thursday we move onto spring sewing, which will be... well, very similar, if I'm honest. Dammit, London. 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Giant Grey Cardigan day: McCalls M6844

So, I went from a manic birthday week (including three cocktail bars in two days because cocktails) straight into a raging bout of flu. I really wanted to post about my coat this week, because it's finally done and I have a lot to say about it, but there's been no way for my red nosed, dry skinned, cough-filled face to take any photos fit for publication. So here's something I made and photographed a few weeks ago, and seems fitting for my current state.

This is McCalls M6844, a consistently well-reviewed pattern I bought last year when I realised I needed more layering pieces. Then I didn't use it because reasons. However, I've decided that this year I want to get through the majority of patterns in my stash, and I am still in dire need of layering pieces. So on an especially balls cold day, I cut it out and went to work. The fabric is the same light sweater knit I used for my grey wrap dress - I had enough left over to make this cardigan and another top, which won't get its own post because it's another Cashmerette Concord and I don't really have anything left to say about it. 

This pattern is well-reviewed for a reason. It has four different versions (longer and shorter, with or without the peplum thing; this is the shorter, peplummed version. Yes, that's a word now) and it's an excellent staple pattern if you're a wearer of this kind of cardigan. It came together within a couple of hours and presented me with zero problems, except the one where I forgot to cut out the second pair of collar pieces and had to do some weird piecing with my remnants, but that really can't be blamed on the pattern. The instructions are good and it's easy to alter should you need to.

There is no denying that this is a giant grey cardigan that can very easily look like the sartorial embodiment of depression. But goddamn, is it comfy and useful. I wear it at home basically every day. Sometimes I wear it with the top I made in the same fabric, which looks slightly more pulled together, but mostly I don't even care because LAYERS. LAYERS FOR EVERYONE.

(I tried to go outside earlier to get some more flu drugs and almost got knocked over by the sheer force of the wind. Maybe if I wear enough cardigans I can become large, stone, immovable by storm. Or maybe I'm just mildly delirious.)

I will definitely make this again. I'd like to try it in a slightly livelier colour, assuming I can find a suitable fabric (all sweater knit in this country is grey! WHY is all sweater knit grey?), and I think I recall seeing a belted version somewhere that I'd like to imitate. I'm not going to make hundreds because that's not what my wardrobe is set up for, but there's definitely a gap for another one or two.

Next week: coat! Promise. 

Monday, 13 February 2017

got to Turner round

(Yes, that is the almost exact same pun as last time. But I thought of it and then I got Phats and Small stuck in my head and I shall not suffer alone, goddammit.)

This is my second Turner dress. It fits well, is made of nice-looking fabric, and is generally suitable for most of the things I do in my daily life. And yet I'm just not quite sure about it. I don't know exactly why, because there really isn't anything wrong with it.

At least part of it is probably annoyance; I made fitting notes on my first Turner and applied them to this pattern (going up a cup size, lengthening the waist by a couple of inches), then bought what I thought was the same type of fabric in a different print. While making this dress I noticed the fabric seemed to have a lot less stretch than last time, so what I've basically ended up with is the exact same fitting problems I had with the first one. I used a thinner, stretchier jersey for the lining this time, and this dress would have been super uncomfortable if I hadn't. 

The only thing I can think of is that it's too heavy. It's black with long sleeves and a decent amount of volume in the skirt, and the jersey is quite thick and wool-like. All these things should be positives for a winter dress, and I have worn it several times during the recent cold snap because it's probably the warmest thing in my wardrobe. But wearing it with the thick black tights and boots which are currently necessary because it's decided to snow (not proper snow, stupid English snow which never settles but just evaporates into slipperiness the second it touches anything) feels a bit oppressive. Like I'm a little black raincloud. Yes, a Winnie the Pooh reference. Because I am an adult.

I don't hate this dress or anything, it's just not really what I want at the moment. I've been making and wearing a lot of practical black and grey clothes, and I suspect that what I need is a month or two of utterly frivolous shit. And given that Wednesday is my birthday, this would seem like the time for it. Today's task: make a leopard print dress for drinking cocktails in. Oh yeah.

(Still twirling. Always twirling.)

Monday, 6 February 2017

Olivia, or orange issues

So, here is one of the dresses I was freaking out about last week.

I was looking forward to making this dress. I wanted to try out Named because their reputation seems impeccable, but a lot of their stuff isn't really designed for my shape and I don't think I'm cool enough to pull off most of their patterns. I went for the Olivia because it seemed classic and wearable. The Kielo is definitely the more interesting of Named's wrap dress patterns, but I cannot find any photo examples of that dress on my body type (or on any body type that isn't tiny, really), so I wasn't prepared to risk it.

Pictured: far more orange than I'm used to. 

I bought the pattern and the fabric during a sale at The Splendid Stitch. I hadn't planned on using the two together; the fabric looked much brighter on the website and I'd intended to make it into the skirt part of a dress with a black bodice. When it turned up I decided that wasn't going to work, but it was still quite a lot of print and making it into a wrap dress seemed like the best way to break it up slightly. I got slightly more fabric than I'd ordered because I got the last of it and it had to be sent as two separate lengths. It's lucky that happened because this pattern actually did need as much fabric as it claimed to need, which basically never happens.

The pattern pieces were printed on one sheet of paper, all overlapping each other, meaning that the pattern has to be traced. I don't normally do that despite knowing all the reasons it's a very good idea, so I grumbled a bit. They also don't come with seam allowances, which was a new experience for me. Again I know the benefits of drawing stitch lines onto fabric and cutting a seam allowance on, but I tend to go on autopilot when I cut fabric so before I got started I spent literally an entire day instructing myself to remember seam allowances over and over again. I mostly managed it, though due to fabric constraints my seam allowances were pretty skimpy in places. Apart from the bit where I cut the top pieces out backwards because it was Shit January and I was doing that a lot, construction was fairly straightforward and I didn't run into any issues with either the drafting or the instructions.

When I first put the dress on, I hated it. Hated it. I hated it enough that it prompted my minor crisis.

Boyfriend: What's the matter?
Me: I don't want to make clothes. Everything looks bad on me. Skirts hang weirdly, nothing suits my shape, I have weird shoulders, I hate everything.
Boyfriend: Don't be ridiculous.
Me: [puts on dress]
Boyfriend: Well, it's... hmmm. I see what you mean.

The skirt as drafted was too long for me, which I'd known was likely going into it (I'm not short, but I'm definitely not the 5' 10" that Named drafts for either), but it was also heavy. It pulled the waist into a place that was slightly too low for me and made the whole thing look strange and disproportionate. And while one of things I'd liked about the design of this dress was that it had a full-coverage wrap and full-length sleeves, when it was on my body in a bright orange print, I was less keen. It was just too much.

The next day, I hacked about six inches off the skirt and three or four inches off each sleeve. It's still extremely orange but it's less overwhelming and much more wearable now.

It's growing on me, slowly. I hated the first set of pictures I took so much that I thought the dress would never see the light of day, but I put it aside for a week then wore it for a day, and I feel much better about it now. I'm still not completely convinced about the print, but the fit is great (I traced it in a mix of five different sizes, so the back pieces are smaller than the front, the waist and hips are a couple of sizes different, and the sleeves are bigger at the upper bicep). The actual design of the dress is fantastic - it's the most secure wrap dress I've ever tried by quite some way. There's no gaping at the neckline, it wraps over far enough that I'm not concerned about accidentally flashing people in a passing breeze, the waist is elasticated so the ties aren't doing all the shaping work, and it has pockets. I can't fault the design or drafting at all. I will probably try making another one later in the year, and in the meantime I'll let this one continue to grow on me some more.

(Also, I bought the Kielo. I'm going to try being cool.)