Monday, 26 June 2017

Personal fitting challenge: Butterick 4443, part one

So back in December I made a fitting-based resolution, felt very virtuous, and then ignored it, because fitting is hard. But I've had a couple of mishaps lately, and I need to start making fitting a bigger part of my sewing routine. With that in mind, I decided to set myself a challenge: to get one woven dress pattern to fit perfectly.

The pattern I've decided to use is Butterick 4443, aka the very first dress pattern I ever used. I made three versions one after the other, and they all fit badly in very different ways: version one was pushed and pulled and hacked at and randomly sewn down to within an inch of its life and the inside was a somewhat uncomfortable fitting war zone; version two (the only one that still survives in my wardrobe) was way too big but also made of viscose so it was less of an issue, and version three was so big in the shoulders that it practically fell off and I never wore it outside my back garden. I thought returning to that pattern and trying to get a good fit would be a nice way of demonstrating to myself how much I've learnt.

Spoiler: fitting is hard.

Before we get to that, I made another version that I never got around to blogging:

I made this using the same sizing as my previous attempts because I get a lot of wear out of that orange viscose one. I cut the back pieces on the fold to make it a pullover dress, and I really like it. It looks good, it's comfortable, it's a summery floral dress that isn't overly girly, and it's one of my go-to dresses when it's hot out.

It's also enormous.

Look at the back of that. I could be smuggling oranges.

Here is version five, or my first proper fitting attempt:

You will note that is definitely not a perfect fit, and also that the neckline seems to have risen several inches. We will get to that. But you will also note that there is no orange smuggling and I am not wearing a box anymore.

I bought a second version of the pattern and traced it off like a sensible person. I traced a 16; my previous versions were all somewhere between a 20 and a 22. My measurements when I first started sewing put me into the size 20, but I was terrified of my first dress not fitting so I sized up. In a big 4 pattern. It's fine, you can laugh.

I did an FBA of an inch and a quarter on the 16. Quite naively, I thought that once I'd done that, most of my fitting issues would be solved. I got my boyfriend to pin me into the dress before I put the zip in because I often have gaping at the back neckline, and sewing the zip with a 4cm seam allowance at the top tapering into the regular seam allowance at the bottom. Having done that, I did indeed have room for my boobs and no back neckline gape. However, I also discovered the following:

- the 16 was still too big a size for my shoulders, and since I'm working from the 16-22 pattern I'll need to grade it down
- my waist is higher than the pattern's waist, which I hadn't noticed before because the waistline was being hoicked up by my boobs
- I still had a ton of excess fabric in the back (not smuggling oranges, but still noticeable bagginess)
- the neckline was doing this weird cowl neck-looking thing that my orange one also has, but because of the way that fits it looks deliberate, whereas this didn't
- there was excess fabric between my bust and my waist, creating some awkward blousing

Some of this was fixable. I really like this fabric (the same fabric as my Eve dress in another colourway) and I wanted a wearable dress, so I did what I could. By taking in the back princess seams I got the back to lie flat, and by taking a bigger seam allowance at the waist I got that sitting in more or less the right place. I also got most of the blousing out of the front by taking the front seams in a bit.

It was less easy to fix the shoulders, and basically impossible to fix the neckline. It's now much higher than it should be because I had to take it up at the shoulders, and it's still doing a tiny bit of the weird cowl thing. I'm guessing it's because the neckline is too big a size for my high bust, but I'm not completely sure. There's also still a bit of weirdness going on across the bust; I couldn't find a way to get rid of the excess fabric in the centre without making it slightly too tight. More research needed.

All this aside, I have a finished dress that I'm totally happy to wear. The waist is right, I have zero underarm gape (which is a novelty), and after about six alterations the back now fits beautifully. I'm going to have a few more goes at the same pattern, and by the end I want to have a flat pattern that I can make up into a well-fitting dress. Phase two is to try the same thing on a different pattern, and phase three is to attempt something with sleeves. Erk.

For my second go at fitting this pattern, I'm going to try the following:

Making the dress in cotton/other less drapey material to see if I can work out what that neckline thing was
Grading the pattern down a size or two at the shoulders
Either a narrow back adjustment or cutting the back pieces in a smaller size
Taking the waistline up

Not perfect, but a pretty good start.

Note: The number one goal of this series of posts is for me to learn and improve. If anybody has advice or suggestions, has spotted an issue I haven't spotted, or anything else which would help me get a better fit, I would welcome it gratefully.

I won't be posting next week because Patrick and I are going to Portugal. It's our third anniversary on the Tuesday, which is definitely why we're going on holiday and not because we just booked our next free week and then remembered we were having an anniversary. We're going to eat seafood, sit on a balcony, and drink a lot of port. I am very excited.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Named Anneli dress, or Flasher's Delight

SO. This post has had its fair share of rewrites over the last couple of weeks, because this dress and I have been on what I can only describe as a journey together. My initial thoughts were fairly scathing, but now I've reached a point of "yes, this dress is nice IF", or alternatively, "if you want to make this dress, do, BUT". Now I'm going to attempt to guide you through my various mistakes and problems so you don't have to go through the nonsense I went through.

Let's start at the end. Here's the dress:

Nice, right? It's light and comfortable, it drapes beautifully, it's an interesting and different style I haven't seen before. I like this. HOWEVER, this is actually my second version, made from some super-cheap fabric of suspect quality that I bought a while ago as toile fabric. I did this because my first version was SO bad that I needed to make it again to find out whose fault it was. My first version was made out of grey jersey (my second attempt at a grey jersey maxi dress and my second failure. I've decided it's just not meant to be and I'm going to go back to bright colours for my summer dresses), and it seemed like a very simple make from a pattern company I trusted. What could go wrong?

What could go wrong, it turned out, was that I could make myself look like that scene in The Little Mermaid where Ariel comes out of the water naked and the seagull wraps her in a sail and ties it with rope. 


Point number one: because this dress is so simple it lives and dies by the fabric choice. My grey jersey was fairly lightweight, but not lightweight enough, so when cinched in with a belt it looks super bulky and weird. The second one is made of a slinky jersey so lightweight it's semi-transparent, and it drapes and cinches in nicely with no extra bulk. And also was an utter pain to sew, but let's not dwell on that.

This is how it looks unbelted. Were I to wear it like this, I'd probably fold the belt back and tie it behind me, because there's a lot of fabric back there and I don't have the body type to wander around in some kind of fabric tunnel like an Olson twin or some shit. There are reasons not to wear it unbelted, and we will get to that in a bit.

Point number two: don't do what I did the first time and try putting long ties in at the side seams. You probably wouldn't do that anyway, because you're not as stupid as me, but just in case: it's a bad idea. It's too much bulk. Do the belt loops and make a belt out of the self fabric if you don't want to wear a piece of cord as a belt (I do not want to wear a piece of cord as a belt).

Point number three: check the length. I had to add about three inches to the hem, which is not normally something I have to do. I couldn't hem my ugly-ass sail dress because that would have brought it to a very strange not-quite-mid-calf length that I do not recommend. Worth noting if you're a bit taller.

To my mind, this dress has one major pro and one major con. The pro is that it moves beautifully. It wafts and flows gently around your ankles as you walk, in a way that's both very subtle but very noticeable to the person wearing it. I still haven't stopped noticing it. It's fabulous.

The con, and it is a MAJOR con, is that the two front pieces aren't connected anywhere below the neck. The dress is held closed with the belt at the waist, and for the smaller-busted that might be enough. For me and my ilk, not so much. I found that both the front pieces shifted towards the centre of my chest because of physics, by which point you haven't so much got a wrap skirt as you have a pair of easily-disturbed curtains. If you don't have that issue then it's probably not quite so bad, though it still might be worth bearing in mind that I went for a very short walk to the supermarket and back in this dress and all of the following caused me to have a wardrobe malfunction:

1) A light breeze
2) Climbing stairs without due care and attention
3) Walking slightly too forcefully in the presence of air conditioning
4) Attempting to squeeze past people on a crowded pavement
5) Static
6) Mild surprise
7) Standing in the vicinity of a closing door (house, car or otherwise)
8) Apparently walking past people in general, because the gods think it's funny to embarrass me

On the plus side, this will teach you how to effectively hide your whole face behind quite short hair.

On my ugly-ass sail dress, I attempted to sew the front pieces together along the edge, but that doesn't really work because while it keeps the top layer in place it does nothing to secure the bottom layer. So either you sew down the bodice and it doesn't make much of a difference, or you sew all the way down to mid-thigh or so and end up taking away a lot of the movement and ease of the dress (for my money, its best feature). What I ended up doing was hand-sewing anchor points on both edges at the bust, waist, and hip, which seems to be enough to keep the dress closed without losing any of the movement in the skirt. It does mean that I have a couple of visible stitches on the left side securing the inner layer, since the fabric is so thin it's more or less impossible to do totally invisible stitching, but the dress is black so eh. 

Point number four (the most crucial point): if you want to make this dress, do, BUT it might to decide to become a cape instead. I imagine this is one of those things that's different for different body types, but there is potential, especially if you're large-busted, for the dress to be quite indecent in the wrong conditions. You can certainly work around it, so it's just a case of body type, priorities, and inclination. But it annoyed me.

I don't have much to say about the construction; the dress is just two fronts, a back, and bands for the neck and armholes, so it makes up very easily and within a couple of hours. Named's drafting is on point as usual, everything matches up and all the notches are in useful places. Had the design not been so... unusual, shall we say, this would have been a very short blog post. 

In conclusion, I totally get what this dress is going for. It's simple and interesting with beautiful movement, and I will absolutely wear it all summer, even if I'm just wafting about the house feeling the skirt swish around my ankles. There are just some practicality issues that I hadn't anticipated and I would have preferred some kind of inbuilt solution (I know the Named designers are both tiny so it's quite probable that it just didn't occur to them). You might fall on the "will happily make a couple of modifications for a dress with fabulous movement" side or you might fall on the "what the hell kind of dress doesn't even CLOSE this is high-order bollocks" side, and whichever it is, I'm there with you. Having both feelings at once. And being annoyed about that, too.

This is what we call "conflicted while posing". 

Monday, 12 June 2017

Eve: the jury's out

So a little while ago I went to a party at one of the Sew Over It shops for the launch of their new pattern. This was a free thing you could put your name down for; I didn't get invited for being an extremely small-time blogger or anything. I went because I was promised free booze and discounts on fabric within a 20-minute walk from my house. The pattern was half price that night, so I decided to buy it and give it a try. 

What did I think? I'm not sure. 

I think a large part of the problem is that most Sew Over It patterns just aren't my style anymore. This is pretty, but I'm not really aiming for "pretty". Trying to find a fabric that was a) appropriate for the pattern, b) summery and c) not excruciatingly girly was quite a challenge, but the good people at Rolls and Rems with their excellent colour sense came through for me. I feel like this fabric would be an amazing summer shirtdress, and someone who likes shirtdresses should get on that. 

The dress has flutter sleeves, a gathered yoke for bust shaping, and a dipped hem at the back. There's also another version with long fitted sleeves and a straight hem. I think the hem is cute, the gathers are nice but maybe not for a bust as big as mine, and the sleeves suck. Not because of the drafting or anything, I just don't like them. Extra fabric in the armpit area isn't my bag. 

The biggest problem I have with my dress is that the neckline is hugely gapey. I used stay tape on it so it hasn't stretched, there's just too much of it. I probably should have done an FBA and gone down a couple of sizes, but I... didn't. So there's that. For this to be wearable I'm going to need to alter it; whether I do that with elastic or tucks I haven't decided yet. 

On the plus side, this will be a really useful dress in the summer if I can sort the neckline out. It's super light and breathable so it'll be comfortable if it gets really hot here (which does occasionally happen). So I will wear it. I also like it a lot more having seen photos of it than I did when I was looking at it in the mirror. I just can't get over the thought that it's a less interesting version of the Victory Patterns Trina, with the wrap and the yoke and the sleeve volume. 

So, a mixed bag, you might say. If this kind of thing is your style it's a nice pattern, though there is no avoiding the FBA if you're curvy. I will almost certainly not make another, but I will probably get some wear out of this one.

Next up: the Named Anneli dress, which I have THOUGHTS on...

Monday, 5 June 2017

summer sewing: Papercut Yoyo dress, and also Yoyo skirt

Me Made May has left me feeling, for the first time in ages, that I really know my style. Not in the sense that I could distil it into a concept with a snappy title, but in the sense that I just know now. Inspired by this new and unfamiliar confidence, I've been itching to try new things. If I like something, it has to be worth a go, even if it ends up not suiting me.

The Papercut Patterns Yoyo dress is one I've been looking at for about a year. I bought the pattern six months ago, then sat on it because I couldn't find any examples of the dress on curvy women, and assumed that was probably because it was only designed for slim figures. Stupid assumption, I know, but there it is.

For my first attempt I bought myself some denim from Rolls and Rems in Lewisham. I hadn't been there before and it's great. Good prices, well organised, and whoever orders their fabric has a good eye for colour. I will be going back. It almost made me wish I still lived in Lewisham, but then I had to walk through the rest of Lewisham to get back to the bus stop and that cured me of my misplaced nostalgia pretty quickly.

I know everyone has made this dress in denim, but I wanted one too, dammit. (Please excuse the wrinkles, I'd been wearing it all day.)

I cut a size M in the shoulders, L in the bust and waist, and XL in the hips. I probably could have gone down a size in the waist, but as it's a summer dress I quite like that it's a bit looser there. 

The dress has bust and waist darts on the bodice, darts in the back and pleats in the front of the skirt, and one continuous facing to finish all the edges, like so:

(I finished the edge of the facing with bias binding. You will note that I ran out of the yellow about two thirds of the way round. I might be slightly more picky about my finishing these days, but I will never stray so far from my slapdash roots that I'm prepared to make a whole extra shopping trip just so the insides of a dress are uniform.)


My first attempt fit perfectly... except that it was almost indecently short in the front. I spent some time being quite grumpy, wondering who on earth this was drafted for and why anyone would recommend such a short zip. Then something prompted me to measure the zip, and that's how I discovered that John Lewis labels its open-ended metal zips by the length of the zip tape and not the length of the zip. This is a bad policy, John Lewis. I went back to the shop armed with a tape measure (much to the amusement of a couple of women in the haberdashery department) and got the right length. Having remade it, it's still pretty short, but that doesn't bother me if I'm not in danger of flashing anyone.

 I really, really like this dress. It's got a relaxed sexy vibe that I appreciate, and it fits my body shape without being tight or restrictive in any way. I'm also pretty sure I can wear it with tights when it's a bit colder so it won't be a hot-weather-only dress.

I also made the skirt version (worn with bonus black Coppelia for an accidental all-Papercut outfit):

I bought this fabric ages ago intending to make a tulip skirt, but then just sat on it because (ssshhhh) I don't really want another tulip skirt. I still love the pattern, but I have about eight of them in current rotation and that's quite enough. Based on the dress I decided to make the skirt two inches longer so it would be a bit more versatile. 

The pattern comes with a separate curved waistband for the skirt, and I fully support curved waistbands wherever I can get them. Next time I make the skirt I'll go down a size in the waist; the extra ease works for the dress but not so much for a waistband. 

(The sun went in between shots, because the weather is EXTREMELY co-operative right now.)

In conclusion, I really like and will make more of both the skirt and the dress, though I'll make any subsequent versions two inches longer than the pattern dictates.When I first bought the pattern I also bought some quite expensive fabric to go with it, and I'm now in the process of convincing myself that it's OK to cut into it. Gah.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Lessons from Me Made May 2017

Overall I really enjoyed my second year of Me Made May. I decided I was going to try and wear only handmade clothes this time (except underwear, shoes and accessories) with no full outfit repeats, and it worked surprisingly well. I also promised myself I was going to make a pair of trousers and a cardigan during the month, which I also did. I've posted the trousers but not the cardigan, as it's a black Coppelia that looks exactly the same as my red one. I'll probably wear it next time I need to blog a skirt or something.

This is what I learned this year:

1. I have a strong preference for a streamlined silhouette.

The conventional wisdom I've always heard is that women with larger hips should wear more voluminous skirts to disguise them, but looking at my photos it's very clear that I don't actually like that. With the exception of my grey Tiramisu (which I thought was going to serve as the starting point and inspiration for a whole new wardrobe, but is turning out to be something I love despite the fact that it doesn't really fit my overall style), everything I wore this/last month is fitted fairly close to my hips and emphasises my natural body shape. This was something I'd started to figure out last year, but I was still making and wearing floof because I thought I liked it under certain circumstances, or because there was such a fuss generally about certain patterns. I'm not saying I'll never make a flouncy skirt again, especially if I do persuade myself to go back to lindy hop, but for day to day wear it needs to fit my hips.

2. My interest in looking vintage has plummeted.

The circle skirts and tea dresses and retro silhouettes I wore last year were nowhere to be found in my outfit choices this time. I wore short skirts, cropped jackets, shorts over tights, interesting wrap maxi dresses, bright colours and neutral prints. There's probably still a few vintage ideas in there (especially with my current hairstyle), but I don't think anyone would look at my month's photos and think, "ooh, she's got a very vintage aesthetic". Similar to above, it might be a well I'll dip into for dance dresses, but they would be costumes and I would be treating them as such. In the future I'll be looking out for patterns and companies with a more modern aesthetic and nice details.

3. I actually like layering and need to think about it a bit more critically.

I have spent the last year or so looking for a completely basic, no closure, cropped cardigan pattern. I've never found one and I actually bought a cardigan last year. I wear it a LOT and one of the things I worried most about doing an entirely-handmade Me Made May was how I'd cope without that cardigan. What I discovered fairly quickly was that I was dressing much better; the cardigan is so black and boring that it takes away from an outfit rather than adding to it. I'm not going to throw it out or anything, but I am going to take the opposite approach and try to find patterns for really interesting layering pieces that are going to make my outfits look more pulled together.

4. My wardrobe and style makes way more sense to me this year.

Don't get me wrong, I wore a lot of nice things during Me Made May last year and I discovered a lot of new outfits I wouldn't otherwise have thought of. But stylistically I was all over the place and by the end of the month I was mostly wearing things I'd panic-sewn because I didn't have enough stuff (I did have enough stuff, I just didn't want to wear most of it). This year I have a clear sense of what my style is, I was making clothes at my normal rate, and though I did start to panic about not having enough stuff two thirds of the way through, it was baseless. Most of the non-occasion-specific stuff in my wardrobe got worn, and making enough outfits for thirty-one days with no complete repeats was much easier than I thought it was going to be.

5. I don't have any style-breaking holes in my handmade wardrobe anymore.

The only thing I really could have used and didn't have during Me Made May was a jacket in another colour. Everything I've made goes with at least one other thing I've made, it was easy to put things together, and I didn't feel like I was missing anything. My wardrobe doesn't feel broken without my black jumper anymore. I mean, I still love that jumper and I still want to make one at some point, but I can easily do without it now. Obviously this will change when my circumstances do, but right now I can stop overthinking about what I "need" and start focusing on things I'd like to try.

6. I can look good even when I don't like the way I look.

My self-esteem is in the pits right now, and it's been difficult to make things, photograph myself wearing them, and put those photos on the internet. This month I've had to do it every day, and sometimes I've hated it. Don't want to be seen, don't want to put make-up on, quantifying my self-worth in Instagram likes stresses me out, etc. But I did it, and now my Instagram has 31 photos of me looking cute and stylish for a whole month straight. I've gone out in bright colours and eye-catching patterns when I just wanted to hide under a blanket, and as the month went on it got easier and easier.

All in all, a successful month. Next up: something new! Yay!