Monday, 29 January 2018

The Liberty print Christmas present of doom: my MANY THOUGHTS on Butterick 6837

ALRIGHT. Welcome to the most expensive and time-consuming project I have ever embarked upon.

I've been promising Patrick this dressing gown for at least the past two years. I don't make many things for him because everything he likes to wear is super-complicated and his standards are pretty high, but I thought this would be much closer adjacent to my wheelhouse. The reason it's taken this long is that it was impossible to find the right fabric. Patrick has extremely specific taste in prints and there just didn't seem to be anything that was right for him. After scouring Goldhawk Road, Shaukat, the Liberty website and anywhere else that claimed to sell Liberty silk, we concluded that silk just doesn't come in the kinds of prints he likes, and picked this Tana lawn instead.

That's some print, right?

The pattern is Butterick 6837. I'd never made it before, so I decided to make a toile out of an old duvet cover that had fallen apart in the wash. It was a nice soft duvet cover, so I had in the back of my mind that I could claim it for myself once the final version was finished. Sadly it was not to be; the toile was enormous, fit completely differently on each shoulder, and was generally unwearable for either of us. Assuming it was a cutting error on my part (which at least some of it must have been), I bought some cheap silky fabric and tried again. The second toile definitely helped me see where the errors were much more clearly, and having finished it I felt confident enough to move on to the proper expensive fabric. I learned a lot from that toile, most notably that this dressing gown looks horrendous on me. Turns out that "unisex" means "for men". It comes in men's sizes, is designed to fit a man's body, and in some cases makes design decisions which make the thing unwearable for women in ways that really wouldn't be the case the other way round.

Let's start with: it's giant. I started out making the L, but for the final version downsized to an M, and it's still pretty huge. I, with my gigantic hips, have plenty of room in this thing (I tried it on several times during construction, mostly for pocket placement things). I've never worked with a men's pattern (sorry "unisex pattern") before so I don't know if this is normal, but all the reviews of the pyjamas included in this set mentioned similar things. I did have a go at the tank top, which is the only thing in the envelope sized for women, and that definitely did NOT go over my hips, FYI.

Second: all the details are positioned very strangely. On the second toile I initially placed the belt carriers as I was told to, and was basically belting the thing over my ass. To get the belt to sit at the waist I had to yank the entire dressing gown up in a very ungainly fashion. I know I'm short-waisted, but I've never had this problem with dressing gowns before and also have never met a woman whose waist is where my ass is. I then discovered that this doesn't even work for men, because when I tried the toile on Patrick the first thing he said was, "Can you move the belt loops up? This is kind of uncomfortable." He's the exact height Butterick men's patterns are allegedly drafted for, so this is nonsense really. I moved them up two inches, which he said was much better. (For the final one I made my carriers by folding the raw edges into the middle, folding in half and edge stitching rather than making a tube and spending ages trying to turn it the right way round.)

According to the illustrations the pattern is designed to hit somewhere around the calf on the body they've drafted for, so I added several inches to the length. Based on the fabric guidelines and what I had I was expecting to be able to make a pair of matching shorts, but that turned out not to be the case, so I made a longer dressing gown and a nice work tie instead.

I also felt the pockets were placed way too low, and for the final robe I dispensed with the markers altogether and positioned the pockets directly on the finished garment as I was wearing it. That didn't make for the easiest pocket-attaching experience, and I still don't really like the way they look, but I do think this is an improvement. All of the detailing seems to have been designed for a man with a crazy long torso and crazy short legs. I put strips of contrast fabric across the top of the pockets because I felt it needed it, but since it was just me making things up the execution isn't great. It's the only thing I'm displeased with, though, which is quite a relief for a project this size.

I used a raspberry-coloured crepe-back satin for the contrast, and I'm very glad I did. On the toiles I used the same fabric for both the main and the contrast, and honestly it didn't look great. I also think using a slightly heavier fabric for the collar helps it to sit better. I know there's a kind of edging of the self fabric around most of my contrast pieces; that wasn't deliberate at first, but when I tried pressing it away I decided I didn't like that as much and left everything as it was. I also used some of the satin to make a spare belt (which I forgot to photograph, soz) since I'm fairly sure that the Tana lawn belt will be pretty disgusting after a few months of hard wear. It's already impossible to press the creases out.


Construction was fairly simple, aside from the shawl collar, which I'd never done before and was completely perplexed by. There are a million sewing tutorials on the internet, but none that were prepared to explain shawl collars to me in idiot-proof language. This was my third go and it didn't get less perplexing, but I think I managed it okay. I'm not in a hurry to do it again though.  The Tana lawn was wonderful to work with as always, the satin somewhat less so, but we got through it with only minimal threats directed at inanimate objects.

EDIT: I'm coming back to this a year and a half later to add something about the shawl collar. I didn't write about this at the time because I assumed that was just what shawl collars were like and I was an idiot, but I've now discovered that no, this pattern is weird. When I tried to pin the collar to the back shoulders I was absolutely convinced that the collar piece was way too long. I'd clipped into the corners but that wasn't making too much difference. What I eventually discovered (through a long and confusing internet rabbit hole that I can't even remember now) is that the point you have to clip to is WAY into the garment. The clip circles were so far in that I didn't realise that's what they were. I actually think calling it a "clip" is misleading, you have to chop into that corner to get the back shoulders to match up with the collar piece. At the time I assumed I just had an embarrassing gap in my knowledge, but it turns out that no, other people have been confused by this too. So if you're reading this because you're trying to make this pattern and got stuck at the collar, this may be what's throwing you!

All of the exposed seams are French seamed, and I finished all the unattached raw edges with Liberty bias binding. I'm not going to come anywhere near the expense level of this project for quite some time.

Overall I'm really pleased with this. Making it was kind of a fraught experience (stupidly expensive materials + unreliable pattern + intended for somebody else = ARGH) but I'm glad that I've done it and he really likes it. This style of dressing gown is exactly right for him, so from that angle I'm happy that I used it, but as a pattern I was not impressed at all. The next project in my queue is a dressing gown for myself using Vogue 8888, and I pray that goes more smoothly than this one did. Still, it's done, and I'm happy. And so is he. 

Before I wrap up, I'm going to share my tip for taking photos of camera-shy boyfriends: shout out a string of really terrible dad jokes. 

His favourite: Doctor doctor, I think I'm a bridge. What's come over you? Two cars and a lorry.
My favourite: Why is a duck in a microwave like an old soul singer? Because its bill withers. 

Goodnight, folks. I'm here all week.

Monday, 22 January 2018

a ridiculous melon dress

So originally, there was a point behind the making of this dress.

A few months ago I got Butterick Retro 6318 free with a magazine, and despite it being absolutely nothing like my usual style I was beguiled enough by the illustration to want to give it a try. I bought this citrus-print stretch cotton from Fabric Land so that the toile could plausibly be a "wearing to Lindy Hop events" dress (even though I haven't been to a lindy hop event in about two years) and sat down to cut out the pattern.

Then I stopped. And then I reconsidered.

The pattern for the skirt was literally a rectangle intended for heavy gathering, and I discounted it as soon as I realised. One, I'm not toiling a rectangle. Two, I can handle a little bit of gathering at the waist in light fabric, but because of the way I'm shaped (my high hip is very wide) I turn into a shelf if there's too much bulk there. I decided to find a different skirt and put that onto the bodice. Then I looked at the bodice, and it made me nervous. I couldn't work out how I was going to do an FBA on a pattern piece that was basically a square. The shoulder sloped straight down from the neckline creating pointy triangles, and extended into grown-on short sleeves that weren't very short-looking. Maybe pointy triangle shoulders are a legitimate thing, I don't know, but based on literally everything else I've ever made I couldn't see how it would be comfortable. And by this point, I really liked the idea of the citrus dress.

So I wussed out.

What this dress actually is is an Anna/Hollyburn mash-up. Yes, another Anna bodice, I'm sorry. But it's so quick to make and fits so well! Also it was actually the closest approximation to the original dress - high neck, grown-on sleeves, no extraneous pattern pieces. I chose the Hollyburn for the skirt because it was a level of "fuller skirt" that I knew I'd be comfortable with and I wanted to try the slash pockets on a dress (for possible future transferring onto everything). Looking at it now it doesn't even remotely give off the vibe of the original,even with the couple of pleats I added in the front, and I probably needed to go longer and fuller, but that would run the risk of turning into a dress I'd never wear. Originally I intended to use the sash from the original dress, but after cutting it out and mocking it up I decided I didn't like that either. The sash is single-layer so the wrong side shows and it just looked sad and sloppy. At some point I might try it again, in a thinner fabric, doubling up the sash so there is no wrong side on show. But for this one, I just threw the idea out.

On the plus side, I actually really like this. Novelty print cotton dresses are not my style at all, but something about the colour combination of dark and lurid makes this work for me. It's incredibly comfortable and rather than just being a dance dress, I've been wearing it all the time. More of these!

I will say, though, that I totally didn't realise how the straight edges of the citrus slices would break up the print. I almost threw out all my back shots because I thought my skirt was hitched up and the zip was super wonky, and had to look quite closely to realise that everything was fine. Also it looks like there's a huge bust dart or fold of fabric on one side, and I swear there's not. Stupid optical illusions.

I will definitely be repeating this one, though almost certainly not in novelty-print cotton (unless I find more fruit I like. Turns out I'm not as averse to fruit print as I am to most others). Even in the winter I get tons of wear out of it with a jacket and/or a wrap top over it, and it's nice to know that a dress doesn't have to be jersey to be super-comfy for day to day wear. And I will be putting these pockets on basically everything. I've been realising lately that I rarely use in-seam pockets because I'm worried about stuff falling out, but these? CARRY ALL THE THINGS.


Next up: the expensive and time-consuming paisley dressing gown which I have THOUGHTS about...

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Knitted hats, sewn hats, hats that look like Pokémon

Hey, a Thursday post! I'm doing this for two reasons: one, this is a not-particularly-in-depth post illustrated with photos from my phone that I want to have here but doesn't really merit being my one weekly post, and two, I am having severe difficulty getting my sewjo back after Christmas. I've switched my machine on exactly once in the last four weeks, and I don't think I like the dress I started making. I'm hoping that getting through my backlog of posts and spending a bit more time actively thinking about sewing will get my brain back into gear. At this rate most of my winter plan will go unfinished, and I really don't want that. So: hats!

About this time last year, Patrick and I decided we were going to learn how to knit. I'd tried once before and not got on very well with it (that was ten years ago, and I discovered shortly before she died that my grandmother still kind of thought I was incompetent because I'd had to call her and get her to talk me through casting off. The fact that I finished my first hat a week before she died and didn't call her to tell her is one of the things that still really nags at me. Gah.)

Anyway, I made a hat and a scarf:

We signed up to an Intro to Knitting class at Sew Over It, and it was terrible. I wish I'd said something, but the problem with being a complete beginner is that you have no way to judge how terrible something is. Patrick and I came out of that class thinking we'd never be able to make anything else ever because we were so bad at casting on, and then a couple of weeks later I watched a five-minute Youtube video and realised it was actually really easy. I have no idea what kind of complicated shit she was trying to get us to do, but it so nearly put me off for good. (As an aside, I feel like Sew Over It classes in general are such a lottery when it comes to teacher quality that I don't think I'd ever go to another unless the only teacher listed was Julie, who is magic.)

Our first hats were more or less write-offs, so I bought us some more wool and we tried again, more successfully this time. Then we decided to knit matching scarves, without looking up how many stitches we should start with, and spent the next several months knitting enormous five-ball blanket things. I actually really enjoyed that; no pattern, no need to count stitches, just sitting next to each other on the sofa and peacefully knitting away. Shame I don't have much use for multiple giant blanket scarves. 

A couple of months ago, Patrick left his hat on the bus (I'm pretty sure I still have mine, but I couldn't tell you where or anything) and bought us a ball of Wool and the Gang super-chunky each, because colours. 

This photo is from Bruges, and it's one of my favourites because if you look at his front eyebrow he's kissing me on the cheek, but if you look at his back eyebrow he's stuck to my face and is quite annoyed about it.

Suffice it to say you won't see a lot of knitting here. So far it's been this and a baby hat each (for other people's babies, let's be clear), and while I like the thought of knitting, mostly because it's portable, I'm just not sure I have the patience. Maybe I'll try and find something else small to have a go at. If anyone has any great beginner knitting patterns, I'm open to suggestions. 

So back to sewing. I made hats for both my father and brother for Christmas this year, and we'll start with the simpler one:

I used the Named Delia beanie pattern for both these hats. I've had it sitting on my computer for a while because they tend to put it on sale for a euro every now and then, but this was my first go at it. It was a pretty straightforward make, the only issue being that the sweater knit I bought probably wasn't quite stretchy enough for the pattern. It fits Dad though, and Mum tells me he's worn it every day since Christmas despite being given three other winter hats on the same day. (Dad has a tendency to lose hats.)

The second hat, mind you:

You may not know what this is. This is a Nosepass hat. Nosepass is my brother's favourite Pokémon purely because of how stupid it is. I don't think Nosepass is anyone else in the world's favourite Pokémon, meaning that when I got a stupid idea and searched Etsy for "Nosepass hat" there were none to be found, excepting one person who would make it to order and charge £70 for it. Which is a fair price, but I didn't have £70 lying around and so decided to make one myself. 

The hat is made of fleece and has a panel inserted in the front, partly for the look of the thing (Nosepass is carved out of rock) and partly because the fleece didn't have enough stretch and I wasn't sure how to size the hat up. The eyes and nose are made of fabric scraps and felt, both glued down and sewn on. It took me FOREVER to work out sizing and scale, and the whole process deepened my respect for competent pattern-makers. The end result is not the most shining example of my work, but James is pleased enough with it to wear it out in public, which is about as much as you can ask when you make someone a Nosepass hat. 

Now to try and persuade myself to get started on my coat. Wish me luck! 

Monday, 15 January 2018

winter sewing: several long-sleeved Kielos

So the main reason I put this dress on my winter list is because I wanted to make one for my mother for Christmas. I already had the idea of a burgundy dress in my mind, and decided to make it another Kielo when I found out that she was still trying to wear the sleeveless one I made her in November. In England. There's only so much work a cardigan can do.

I went to Fabric Store in Walthamstow and bought three metres of burgundy jersey and three metres of some random stuff to make a test version. I found it hard to imagine how the sleeve add-on would work, so I was a bit nervous about launching straight into a version for someone else.

Here's my test version:

It's great. I hadn't been at all sure that this would work, but I should have trusted that Named knew what they were doing in the sleeve department. 

As well as the sleeve itself, the add-on comes with new armholes to trace onto the original pattern. They're not that different, but they do reshape things slightly so that there is, y'know, an actual armhole there. It remains an incredibly simple dress to cut out and make. 

This version is longer than I had figured it would be, but I deliberately cut it a lot longer than I thought I wanted it so I could experiment. I'm glad I did; when I pinned it up to the length I thought I wanted, the dress lost a lot of its drape and just looked a bit odd. I actually really liked the way it looked at midi length, but my wardrobe just isn't set up for that. I'd never have found an occasion I'd be comfortable wearing it. This length is a bit more versatile without losing the drape. 

I've worn this dress for a New Year's Eve party and also for a day touristing around Belgium, and it works equally well for both. I'm really pleased with it.

Here's Mum's version:

I think she likes it. 

This is almost exactly the same as the first one, except that it's longer (Mum is generally not here for short dresses, but also isn't here for ones she might trip over either, so there's a sweet spot region somewhere between the calf and the ankle), and also it looks like I made the sleeves shorter, though I don't remember doing that. Looking at all three dresses in this post, I think I must have made the sleeves longer than the pattern on the first dress and slightly shorter than the pattern on this one. I did not like this fabric at all and I'm quite glad you can't really see how bad the twin needle hemming looks on this. Mum assures me it doesn't bother her, but it bothers me. Stupid twin needle. I WILL master you, dammit.

After I'd made those two, I decided that what I needed most in life was a long-sleeved, maxi length sweater knit Kielo. I once bought a winter maxi and never wore it because I was too busy trying to disappear at the time, but I think about that dress regularly and it's one of the few things I regret getting rid of.

BEHOLD. I have managed to create a slightly stylish wearable blanket. 

For some reason I'd got it into my head that it had to be white, which is very unlike me. I found this stuff in The Textile Centre; it's quite thick, very stretchy, and unbelievably soft. It's also really annoying to work with, but ain't that always the way.

(Sorry these photos are so overexposed. The weather changed dramatically in between outfits and I didn't notice until I came to edit them.)

I put pockets in this one, but not in the other two. My thought was that winter Kielos are more likely to be worn with jackets and thus less in need of pockets, but that this one will probably be worn mostly around the house and it'd be handy to have a place to keep my phone. This turned out to be exactly the case; I tried wearing this out of the house once and it didn't go well. Partly because I was wearing boots with buckles and they ripped away at the bottom of the dress, but also because this dress is way too warm to actually be worn outside. I was too warm going for a walk in this on Christmas Day. I put this dress on for these photos, stood still in front of a camera for two minutes in a house where the heating was off, and then had to take it off because I was sweating. It's a ridiculously warm dress. It's going to be great for sofa days, though. 

I was originally planning a fourth sleeved Kielo in black sweater knit, but now I'm thinking that might be one too many and I should try something else instead of getting stuck in an endless loop of repetition. I will certainly revisit this pattern at some point, but I think I'll put it away for now. 

(Also, nope, I didn't tidy up for these photos, and nope, we still hadn't taken our tree down. There's a reason I'm not a lifestyle blogger, alright?)

Next up: if I can get photos of my boyfriend's dressing gown, then that's next in the queue. If not, it'll either be hats or melons. Heh. Melons. 

Monday, 8 January 2018

dream projects for 2018

Happy New Year, lovely humans! So far 2018 has been grey and windy and wet and dark, which is not great, but I've also had Patrick home all week before he starts his new job, which means last minute matinee Hamilton tickets (people are correct, it's really good). For both those reasons, I haven't managed to take any project photos. I have a bunch of things to share so I'll get on that this week. In the meantime, I am in MAJOR planning mode for both sewing and life in general, so here's a very specific type of forward planning I've been working on.

I know a lot of people do Make Nine at the beginning of the year, and that is just not for me at all. Picking nine specific patterns at the beginning of the year would go one of two ways: I choose well, and everything's finished by March (making it just an extra seasonal plan), or I choose badly, and none of it gets made at all. It's just not worth it to me, even if it means missing out on hashtags and whatnot.

However, there is a type of year-long plan that might be of some use to me. I have a few ideas in my head, ranging from the quite vague to the extremely specific, that aren't tied to any pattern or fabric I've seen and thus can't really go on my three-month plans because three months is usually not enough time to find the right components. But then they're not on my list, so I tend to forget about them when I'm shopping and never get any closer to making them. If I put them on their own separate list, so that they're on my mind when I'm shopping but not tied to a time limit that might make me panic-buy stuff that isn't quite right, there might be more of a chance that I can make at least some of them.

So here is my list of "things I'm actively seeking to make this year, but might not happen because I'm not prepared to compromise and make something that's only sort of what I wanted". Snappy title there, Jen. Anyway:

- A leather/faux leather jacket. This is one of the time consuming projects I've resolved to make this year, and while I'm pretty sure there are loads of patterns for biker-style jackets, I haven't decided exactly what I want yet. I'm probably going with classic black, but am prepared to be swayed by an interesting bronze or similar if it comes my way.

- A black jumpsuit for eveningwear. I was heavily anti-jumpsuit until about four years ago, when I tried on a low-cut black surplice jumpsuit and realised it was the best thing I'd put on my body in quite some time. I bought that jumpsuit and still have it, but it doesn't currently fit. I'm not looking to clone it, but I would like to make a jumpsuit that's more on the sexy side than the casual side.

- The perfect "going away for three days" bag. Patrick and I quite often do short breaks, and I never know what to pack. I feel ridiculous taking a suitcase, but the couple of shoulder bags I've bought for the purpose have been way too unwieldy. I don't have a clue what style I'm looking for here, but I'd like to find it before the year is out.

- A pair of high-waisted trousers. I actually only realised as I was writing this one that I've internalised something I read as a rank beginner which said you only need one decently-fitting trouser pattern. Since the Thurlows fit me I haven't really looked at other patterns, even though honestly they're not really the vibe I'm going for. I would love a pair of high-waisted swishy trousers, and I think I'd wear trousers a lot more if I had some.

- A form-fitting dress. I want a dress that fits my hips but doesn't cling to my stomach, and I don't even know if that's possible. I'm pretty sure it isn't right now because yay medication-related weight gain, but even after I (hopefully) get that sorted out a bit I am never going to have a flat stomach. I don't even know where to start on this one, but it's something I want to bear in mind.


I was browsing the Diane von Furstenberg website looking for inspiration, and after a few "oh cool, that's something I could think about" pieces, I stumbled upon this sea green suede trench coat and I WANT it. Since I could never actually buy it (£1000 in the half price sale and sold out in every size except extra small, hah), I want to copy it. I want this shape, this collar, these pockets, this waist tie, and most importantly I want this fabric. Basically my year's mission is to find this shade of sea green suede, or failing that, this shade of sea green fabric that can reasonably be made into a trench coat.

Those are basically my dream projects for the year, and I hope I can make at least one or two of them. For now, I'm going to return to making my camel coat and trying to force myself to get some pictures taken. Finished garment post coming next week, I promise.