Thursday 21 December 2017

2017 reviews: resolutions

Final review post ahoy! We're back from Belgium now, full of hot chocolate and croquettes. Bruges is super expensive but also absolutely beautiful, and we had a lovely time. We even did the horse-and-trap city tour, which I know is a stupid overpriced tourist thing, but apparently under certain circumstances two people who aren't even remotely horsey can enter this strange place of "omg it's a HORSE! And it's pulling us along the street! And it's wearing a special horse Santa hat!" Once we got out I spent five full minutes trying to get a selfie with the horse, then immediately ceased to give a shit about horses again.

This is literally my best attempt. It was a really uncooperative horse.

Anyway, resolutions! Last year's were kind of a mixed bag in terms of results; I was certainly better at sewing more varied and complicated things and at trusting my own experience with the patterns I use, I entirely failed to sew fewer things or work from sources of inspiration, and fitting and finishing are very much still works in progress. I'm quite happy with that - demanding perfect results from my resolutions is never going to get me anywhere.

Here's what I'm thinking for the coming year:

1. I will plan and make two time-consuming projects. The idea of this one is to learn a bunch of new skills and produce some professional-ish grade work that I can be proud of. Currently I have a shortlist of four pieces - trench coat (techniques), black skinny jeans (fitting), leather jacket (materials), insane ostentatious ballgown (because) - and I'll pick two nearer the time. I'll put the first one on my spring plan.

2. I will work out a better way to organise my patterns. I currently have them all in plastic wallets in a stack of plastic drawers and it just isn't working. It's really hard to find what I want, I keep losing and/or ripping random pattern pieces and I'm sure I'm hoarding things I don't need.

3. I will find at least three new go-to patterns. It's great having TNTs, but a bit more variety in my TNTs wouldn't go amiss at all. I want to have at least one new bodice I can whack onto dresses so that everything isn't an Anna, and at least one skirt pattern I'm totally comfortable with. (Also trousers, but that's a bit more complicated since I don't know what I'm looking for and don't know how big a role I want trousers to play in my wardrobe. I'll experiment with it, though.)

4. I will learn at least three new techniques to make my projects look more professional. I would like to feel better about the overall quality of my work and I'm sure there must be numerous ways of going about this. The only thing I already know I want to learn is how to install hardware into clothes because I haaaaate sew-on press studs (it literally only occurred to me this weekend that there must be another way to go about it).

5. I will make some more fun things. I think I can get overly bogged in a level of practicality which doesn't actually benefit me - "well, I should make this knee-length with a sensible neckline so I can wear it to the office job I do not currently have", sort of thing, and then I end up dressed over-formally for running errands and not quite feeling like myself.

6. I will make some more aspirational things. Aspirational in the style sense rather than the complicated-sewing-beyond-my-level sense. I lurk a couple of style communities and often see things I LOVE but convince myself I can't pull off. (Note to self: you thought the Kielo was something you couldn't pull off.)

7. I will use all three pieces of expensive fabric that are currently sitting in my stash. From left to right in the below picture, I have: a light, floaty, semi-sheer silk which will definitely need lining (three metres narrow width), a medium weight barkcloth (two metres wide width, in two lengths of 1.5m and 0.5m) and a completely beautiful silk double crepe that is the one I'm most terrified of messing up or doing the wrong thing with (three metres narrow width, in two lengths of 1.5m each). As it currently stands I have no ideas for any of them, but I want them all to become dresses this year. I feel like if I sit on them for another complete year the occasion of cutting into them will have become too momentous and I'll never persuade myself to do it.

Now it's time to get ready for Christmas, and I'll be back next year with some Christmas presents. a set of vague plans for next year, and whatever I've managed to make for myself while everyone else is napping. Happy general celebration time to you all!

Monday 18 December 2017

2017 reviews: my least favourites

Alright, here comes the fun bit. I actually didn't have too many unmitigated disasters this year, especially compared to last time, but that doesn't mean I don't have stuff to complain about. Most (though not all) of the below fall into one of two categories: "the pattern's alright but this garment sucks" or "this garment's alright but the pattern sucks". Ready? Let's go!

McCalls 6442 coat

This one is very definitely a case of "the pattern sucks". The coat is cute and I've worn it a lot, but now that it's been my main winter coat (for "winter" read "three out of four seasons") for almost a full year I've found numerous problems with it. Even if we leave aside the fact that the pattern instructs you to piece the lining together, it's riddled with issues: there are no closures and the flouncy skirt just doesn't lend itself to being wrapped, it doesn't come with belt loops (I added my own), hand sewing huge chunks of the lining just doesn't work for something as hard-wearing as a coat, and all in all I wouldn't recommend the pattern to anyone. It's a shame, because it does look good (people still compliment it), but from a wearer's perspective it's really annoying and I'm looking forward to making a less troublesome winter coat. 

Papercut Patterns Yoyo dress

This, on the other hand, is very much "the dress sucks". I made the Yoyo skirt and I wear it all the time, but this just does not work. At the time I was just thrilled that the shape worked on me and didn't make me look deformed, but this fabric is irredeemable. It wrinkles like crazy if you so much as breathe in its general direction. I didn't realise quite how bad it was until I saw a photo of it after I'd been out and sat down for half an hour, and I've never worn the dress since. I'm considering having another go next year, though.

Sew Over It Eve dress

I just plain don't like this. It doesn't look too bad in photos, but I haaaaate how it looks in real life. I wore it to take these pictures and then never again. The bodice gapes, the length is weird, I don't like these sleeves, and overall there's something really matronly and unattractive about the way it looks to me in the mirror (not in photos. This photo is fine and I don't think I look matronly here, but in real life something about the proportion of neckline and sleeves is upsetting to me). I don't think I can give you a fair assessment of how good this pattern is, because I can't see past OH GOD I HATE IT. I'm holding onto it until I can think of a way to reuse this amazing fabric. 

Named Anneli dress

This dress looks nice but the pattern is stupid. There, I said it. My stance on the whole thing has hardened considerably since June and whatever lovely movement you get from wearing this dress does not make up for the fact that it is just not functional. It's a cape, and will billow out embarrassingly behind you given the slightest opportunity to do so. Named patterns aren't cheap and I would not recommend anybody pay £16 for a pattern you'll have to logic-puzzle into keeping you covered to the acceptable societal standard. 

Papercut Patterns Kobe dress

This one falls into the third category of "everything sucks" (despite the back looking nice here). The dress does not suit me and the pattern is photographed and marketed in a really misleading way. In order to get the aforementioned nice-looking back view, you have to make the pattern in a sheer fabric, and the slip dress pictured on the packaging is an entirely different pattern you have to pay for separately, meaning the pictured dress is £30 worth of pattern AND you still have to draft yourself a belt and belt loops. I'm still pretty cross about this, in case you couldn't tell. 

Also, while I'm here, I'd like to mention McCalls 7591, which I made several months ago and looks SO bad on me I couldn't bring myself to put the photos on the internet. I made the version with the keyhole and it is not designed for anyone with even a suggestion of bust. The crossover flops open every which way and the bust as a whole has exactly the wrong amount of ease, so the overall effect is that I have replaced my boobs with two halves of a beach ball placed somewhere on my rib cage. It was bad enough that even Patrick told me it looked awful. Because I am a committed blogger, here is a small piece of photographic evidence:

NEVER DO THIS TO YOURSELVES. I'm sorry I couldn't muster a full review, but there was no way I was putting half a dozen pictures of this monstrosity anywhere they could be seen by humans. 

So that's my worst of the year, and there's not much here I've changed my mind about, which I think is a good sign. The odd disaster is inevitable, at least if you're trying new things and buying fabric from different sources, so none of this really feels like failure to me. I've learned something from every one of these unfavourites, even if that thing was "trust your instincts in future". 

Next up: resolutions! 

Thursday 14 December 2017

2017 reviews: my favourites

So it's December, the tree is up (and covered in gin baubles), homemade advent calendars are underway (and largely filled with booze), we've been for our annual Muppet Christmas Carol singalong (accompanied with booze), and I am working my way through a shit-ton of homemade Christmas presents (and no booze, because that's a bad idea). Since I can't really post any of that yet, it's end-of-year review posts ahoy! I'm going to follow the same format as last year, because that seemed to work. First up, my favourites! 

Named Olivia dress

Pattern of the year, to the surprise of literally nobody. This is my perfect wrap dress. High wrap so I don't have constant Excess Cleavage Paranoia, tulip shape to the skirt to give my hips some space, pockets, and zero wardrobe malfunctions in nearly a full year. This first one is still my favourite, but I've made five other versions this year and they're all fabulous. Favourite pattern.

Named Kielo dress

...but this is also kind of my favourite. I was so sceptical about this dress, right up until I first saw myself in the mirror and went "...oh." I made two of these for me (and one as a present) and they were the centrepiece for my whole summer wardrobe. The dress is simple and interesting, chic and comfortable, and manages to disguise my least favourite body parts while looking like an effortless drapey goddess dress. This pattern is absolutely worth the hype it gets. 

Deer & Doe Lupin jacket

I wore the shit out of this. I think I wore it nearly every day until mid-November, when I finally had to admit it was too cold. It looks great with almost everything and the pattern is still absolutely fantastic. I've never owned a denim jacket before in my life, but making it up a less traditional style made all the difference for me. 

Vogue 9199 dress

While I admit my two subsequent versions haven't quite lived up to this one, this one still makes me so happy. My busty, giant-hipped self gets to be the chill girl strolling along in the T-shirt dress and it looks like neither a box nor a nightie! Score. 

Deer&Doe Givre dress

So I feel a bit weaselly about putting this on here because I got it for free, but it's the truth. I would never, ever have bought this pattern, but a) look at me actually looking good in a bodycon dress and b) by some small miracle, this is my perfect shoulder fit. Once I'd made this I realised why I didn't like most of my tops. I'm planning to make myself a knit top block next year, and I'm just going to steal the neck and shoulder from this one wholesale because I cannot improve upon it. I'm not saying I would recommend buying this pattern unless you're specifically looking for a knit bodycon dress with some actual shaping in it, but I am thrilled that I have it. 

Sewaholic Minoru

Biggest accomplishment of the year. I MADE this. I still can't quite believe it. This is gorgeous, practical, unique, and beyond the occasional wonky stitch I cannot find ANY part of the construction I'm displeased with. This is still a huge rarity for me because I tend to rush my finishing, but not here. This is as close to perfect as I'm likely to get any time soon, and I'm over the moon with it. Also this is one of the most thoughtful patterns I've ever had the pleasure of working with and it's almost a shame I don't need another three of four anoraks. 

By Hand London Anna

I mean, I've not had the opportunity to wear this once yet, but look at it! 

Kommatia Patterns J005 bomber jacket

So this is an odd one, because it's basically the least popular thing I've posted either here or on Instagram since I started getting more than seven hits per post, but I love both my versions, and in real life everyone else does too. They're some of my best work and have prompted several "you made that? No way" conversations, including with my own actual live-in boyfriend. I love the hell out of them even if the internet doesn't.

Up on Monday: failures and bitching! Everyone's favourite!

Monday 11 December 2017

Mild Experimentation Series: revisiting the fuller skirt

Back in my first few months of sewing, I made two versions of the Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt. I was thrilled with both of them until I realised I'd made one way too heavy and one way too light, and they both went the way of the recycling bag some time ago. The pattern has sat untouched since then, as I decided I didn't actually like full skirts anyway.

In August I did a mini-project where I took a selfie in the mirror by the front door on my way out every day to get a sense of what I was actually wearing and what I felt good in, which was fairly successful (I'd like to do it again, but now there's a lime tree in front of the mirror because my boyfriend is obsessed with plants), and it included one day where I wore my cherry print circle skirt, the oldest handmade in my wardrobe and the one I choose to keep for sentimental value as it's much better constructed than my actual first skirt was. It's not so much my style these days, but I do make a point of wearing it at least once every summer. Looking back on the picture I took that day, I found myself thinking "OK, that actually looks great," and then everything I thought I knew was called into question. Yes, I'm being dramatic. It's allowed.

This thought combined with my desire to find a cute skater dress to wear to dance events made me reconsider my anti-full skirt stance, and I decided to experiment with my Hollyburn pattern again.

This burgundy cord is the final part of my Goldhawk Road corduroy spree. I had two metres, so I knew I'd be able to squeeze a miniskirt out of the remnants and therefore if I ended up not liking the skirt I'd still be able to have something wearable in this fabric.

Construction was incredibly simple. It's quite funny coming back to a pattern I'd only ever used as a rank beginner and had thought of as quite an involved project because it had proper pockets, and realising just how simple it is. Except for the hemming. I still hate that. I'm having a bit of an argument with myself at the moment because on the one hand I think this would be a great skirt to use for a party dress, but on the other hand that hem is a pain in the backside. One day I will find a hemming method that looks good and I don't hate, I'm sure. 

The top is another Papercut Coppelia, which I've been planning since about five minutes after I published my autumn plans post. I ordered this jersey online and wasn't sure about the colour at first, but it's actually great - it's muted enough that it looks more autumnal than Christmassy when worn with reds and greens, but I'm also pretty sure I can get mileage out of it as a festive top. It does feel slightly weird, though, and I don't think it photographs very well.

Overall, I think this was a successful experiment. I've been wearing this skirt - and this outfit - pretty regularly since I made it,and the fact that the skirt is fuller than I'm used to hasn't made me feel any less like myself. I don't expect this to start a revolution in my wardrobe, but I have been craving a few more frivolous dresses lately (ridiculous emerald maxi dress aside, my projects tend to be really quite sensible and practical, and I'm feeling in the mood for a bit of nonsense) and this would be a really great skirt to add to my favourite bodices. If nothing else, a dance dress where I could securely keep my phone with me all night wouldn't go amiss. 

What am I giving the side-eye to? I've no idea. But I'm sure one of you must have done something. 

This is going to be my last completed project post of the year. Starting this Thursday I'm going to be putting up my 2017 review posts, and once those are done I'm going on hiatus until the new year. Patrick and I are going to the Christmas markets in Bruges for a few days and then we'll be hosting Christmas here for the first time. It'll actually be the first time we've spent the 25th together because we've been putting off the "who gets who for Christmas" negotiations as long as possible. But no more! We are adults, and we can handle this shit.

Up on Thursday: my favourites from 2017!

Monday 4 December 2017

autumn sewing: my very unseasonal Shakespeare dress

So this took me quite a long time.

There are several reasons this fairly simple dress took me three months to make. First, I didn't want to cut the fabric. This is a bit of a recurring theme for me, and I'm currently holding onto three lengths of slightly higher-end fabric that I'm reluctant to take the plunge on. Up until this dress, I thought I was just being a giant fraidy-cat. I kept looking at the fabric and the Cambie pattern I planned to use, feeling slightly dizzy and promising myself I'd cut into it next week, honest. It took two months of this before I realised the reason I was putting it off: this wasn't the right pattern and I didn't want that dress.

I still like the Cambie pattern and want to make another one. But it is a bit, well, sweet. Since "sweet" is not in any way part of my personal style, I made my first version in a dark green crepe which took the edge off the cutesiness a bit. I don't wear it that much because it is very much an office dress, but it's also an office dress that got an unprompted compliment from a billionaire, so it's earned its place in my wardrobe. I kept picturing the same style in this whimsical cotton, and it just wasn't working for me

What I ended up with is my old faithful combination of Anna bodice and Butterick 4443 skirt. Yes, I know, I make too many Anna bodices and I should branch out a bit. I do try. But it's so simple to make, and it actually fits me well because of the waist pleats. I have never been able to work out how to get a proper fit in the bust without them. Next year I will find at least one more go-to, I promise. For now, it's the one bodice I know fits very well, so I was less terrified about messing up expensive fabric.

I got the main dress all French-seamed up and looking fairly nice when I ran into problem number two. I'd always planned to fully line the dress for a neater appearance at the neckline and safeguard against how thin the fabric is, and I'd bought some white cotton for the lining ages ago. However, when it came to actually cutting it out, I realised it was about three times as thick as my main fabric and would probably do weird things to the hang of the dress (and look strange and be uncomfortable). The dress then hung on a hook waiting patiently for several weeks while I procrastinated over going lining shopping. I hate lining shopping; I find it to be such a crapshoot. Needs to not be too annoying to sew, needs to feel nice against the skin, needs to be synthetic so it doesn't stick to tights but also needs to not be incredibly static. I found what I thought was a decent fabric but sadly it turns out not to be. It is extra static and was a complete bitch to sew with. The dress feels much tighter than it did before lining it, so I think I lost a bit of ease while I was wrangling with it. Ugh.  For now it'll do, but going back and doing the lining again is not out of the question.

The truth is that I'm not as happy with this dress as I could be. It's slightly too tight (though I don't want to alter it yet as I've put on a fair bit of weight this past year due to a birth control I've just come off; I want to see where my weight is when my body gets used to itself again), the lining is terrible and because it's so cold in London right now I don't know when I'm going to wear it. And also the fabric still has text from the wrong play printed on it. I do think it's pretty though, so I'm going to put it away for a month or so, get all my Christmas sewing done (ever tried to make a Pokémon hat? Me neither, but I'm about to), and re-evaluate it in 2018.

Next week: a different skirt shape? Surely not.