Monday 31 December 2018

sewing resolutions for 2019

We're back from Nice! I'm putting off the post about my velvet Magnolia til next week, as I haven't managed to take proper pictures yet. For some reason Patrick and I both had massive skin problems as soon as we got to France and haven't quite recovered; all pictures of me at the moment look quite a bit like someone smeared melted brie on a Sticklebrick. So for now, resolutions!

In all honesty, I did not do well with my resolutions for this past year. Partly for mental health reasons, partly because I'd not thought through the issues I was trying to solve before writing the post, but mostly it came down to a simple point: I wasn't specific enough. I've been making and writing down non-sewing-based resolutions every year since 2001 and I KNOW I have to be as absolutely specific, concrete and measurable as possible for these things to work, but apparently I thought that sewing-related resolutions might be different? I don't know. Anyway, it's not, and I'm not going to do that again.

Here are my extremely specific plans for next year:

1. I will at least make a toile of the ridiculous 1920s ballgown pattern I bought two years ago. A few weeks after I started sewing I saw a picture of this dress, pined after it for a year, finally decided I was sufficiently committed to sewing to be permitted to purchase it, and it's sat sadly in my stash ever since because I'm worried it'll look terrible. It's a reasonable worry; it's a 1920s dress designed for 1920s bodies, i.e. the exact opposite of my body. But I do need to try it, and this is the year I will do that. I will buy some cheap fabric, treat it as a sewing challenge, and not expect it to look amazing.

2. I will plan and make one fun piece every season. I've been much better this year about not getting bogged down in practicality, and I want to make sure I continue that by actively making space for the fun stuff. I've found an occasion for every ridiculous dress I've made thus far, and I also have a guarantee from Patrick that whatever I make, he will find somewhere I can wear it. I don't intend for it to all be OTT dresses; variety is good. I'd very much like one of them to be a crazy print coat.

3. I will be much stricter about planning and purchasing. Another thing I already KNOW doesn't work is writing in my plans "so I don't know exactly what this will look like yet, but I want this vague kind of thing" and yet I continue to do it. Going forward I am not going to put anything on my list if I don't have either fabric or pattern for it, and for at least three quarters of each list I need to have both. If that means the list has to be smaller, so be it. I'm going to start keeping a separate running "Vague List" of ideas I've had, but I can't put it on a plan until a) I know exactly what it looks like and b) I know the means for making this exact thing exist.

4. I will take some kind of course or class in fitting and/or sloper making. This is something I'd really like to get a handle on - I've got to the point where I can, for example, adjust a bodice so that it's the right size for my shoulders and bust, but not necessarily the right shape for my shoulders and bust, and I think if I could understand what pattern pieces need to look like to fit me properly, it would make a huge difference to the overall appearance and feeling of the things I make. I have three different avenues I might take depending on finances: the London College of Fashion course in making all your own slopers; a couple of smaller-scale fitting/sloper evening classes; or the Suzy Furrer Craftsy classes. I will do one of these three by the end of the year.

5. I will make a pair of black jeans. I haven't worn jeans in years, but I have one specific outfit rattling around in my head that requires black jeans. Also I think it would be good for me to have a go at it and stop thinking of it as a giant scary complicated thing. Where one acquires acceptable quality black denim in this country I have NO idea, though. I'd love some suggestions from UK people.

6. I will learn to make shirts. This is something I never thought I'd do because I do not like buttons and I never have. I don't like the way button-ups look or feel on me, I have never once wished to wear a shirtdress, and I deeply dislike the idea of adding decorative buttons to things. I took off my last school-uniform shirt in 2001 and vowed that I would never wear buttons again, and so far I have not. In the sewing community, Land of Shirtdresses, I'm aware this makes me a tremendous weirdo. I've made all sorts of complicated garments, but I literally made my first and only buttonhole a few weeks ago (and I spent some time thinking about whether I could get out of it first). However, recently Patrick has started making noises about me abandoning my no-shirts rule; he really likes shirts and has very specific taste that literally nowhere is currently catering for. I'm nervous about it - it's a LOT of new skills and he's used to spending fair amounts of money on very high-quality shirts, but he doesn't ask me for much so I'm going to try. Also, there are some times when it would be easier to just sew a button on a pair of trousers instead of going to huge lengths to work around it.

7. I will make a list of things that bug me about the quality of my work and actively practice/research and experiment with ways to improve. I haven't got very far with the list yet but two things I definitely want to work on are the quality of my twin needle stitching on thinner jerseys and better finishing on waistbands with a zip. I want to have the list written by the end of January and have solved or noticeably improved at least six of the things by the end of the year.

8. I will only buy fabric if I can visualise what I'm going to do with it. Last year I resolved to use my three most expensive pieces of fabric and I didn't use any of them. I realised this year that the problem wasn't fear (I have cheerfully cut into fabric at least that expensive before), it was that I'd bought them without a plan because they were beautiful and expected the plan to present itself later. It has not. I have neither the stash space nor the bank account to hoard fabric, so if I don't know what I want it to be I can't buy it no matter how pretty it is. I will also actively look for patterns for the three pieces I already have, but I don't want to make using them an actual goal again. If the match isn't there it's not there.

I'm going to leave it at that. Three specific item goals, three planning goals and two technique goals seems like a decent spread and not an overwhelming amount. Some of it feels a bit intimidating right now, but I'm pretty sure that there's nothing here I won't be able to handle when I get into it.

We're off to a New Year party tonight, and the host has requested I turn up in my velvet Magnolia. I'm pretty sure nobody else has been asked to wear an evening gown, so it'll just be me sitting there on the sofa demanding that people in jeans fetch me Negronis. But at least it's getting a second outing. Happy New Year, everyone, and thank you for sticking around. Here's to more pretty things!

Monday 24 December 2018

winter sewing: Nettie bodysuit

My winter sewing plans stated, with complete confidence, that my first attempt at the Closet Case Patterns Nettie bodysuit would be plain black, for maximum utility.

However, sometimes you're in Fabric Land searching for a plain black four-way stretch that isn't also obvious swimsuit fabric and you walk past something that's matte, super-soft and super-stretchy, and you can't pass it up even if it is tiny black and white cheetah print layered over unidentified black blobs. I'm certain that I will make a plain black one at some point when the right fabric comes into my life, but this substrate is so perfect for a bodysuit that I will cheerfully make new clothes to go with it if I have to. 

This pattern is mostly super-simple. I chose not to put the shelf bra in because a) I wasn't making the low back version and b) there is zero chance that a shelf bra would do anything at all to support 34G boobs, so it mostly makes up like a standard T-shirt with a couple of pieces of binding round the open leg holes. If you don't put in the snap crotch this is about an hour's worth of work. But I did, because why be half-naked in a public loo if you don't have to? Also, I wanted to do the version with the high back to start off with and I wasn't sure whether that would give me enough stepping-in room.

I used scraps of black silk and hammer-in press studs. I struggle to hand-sew things securely enough and I didn't want my bodysuit randomly coming undone in public, but it did make it that much more annoying to redo everything when I realised I'd done it wrong. The instructions for this bit lost me (as instructions sometimes do) and I'd have been better off pinning and experimenting to get it right. The second time it worked... and then one of the hammer-in studs fell out. But I put it back in, and now I have a functional snap crotch! I was worried it might be uncomfortable, but I literally forget it's there.

As you can see, the legs are cut super-low. In many ways this makes absolute sense; you don't get any weird VPL, it's guaranteed to provide total bumcheek coverage with no fear of awkward wedgie situations, and given that the lower half will be covered in almost all instances it's right to prioritise comfort and practicality. But at the same time there is no denying that this is not the most flattering cut in the world. It is very much lump-emphasising. This may or may not bother you, but I thought the record should reflect.

Because this pattern is drafted with negative ease and thus super close-fitting, I used about five different sizes (ranging from a 12 in the neckline and shoulders to a 20 in the hips and upper arms) and added an FBA by just cutting some boob-shaped lumps into the front side seam at chest height. This fabric is stretchy enough that I probably didn't need to go to a 20, but I wanted to play it safe. For any future versions I'll keep the variation in sizes but choose the sizes themselves based on the fabric stretch.

I did debate making scoop front and scoop back, and I'd still quite like to try that, but I do worry that it wouldn't stay on my shoulders. I know I could add bra carriers, but I don't want to add bra carriers on something that's meant to be super-easy and casual. If I can find a suitable fabric at a cheap enough price, I think I will give it a go for science. Either way I'll definitely make another one (probably two). I will definitely not make the dress, because that level of bodycon is beyond me.

I'm wearing it with Papercut Palisade shorts. These were actually the first ones I made; I cut the trousers out first, but then decided I really needed a pair of shorts for a burlesque class I was going to that night. Not having a go-to shorts pattern, I just cut out another pair and ran them up in an hour and a half. As a result they're not the most beautifully finished, but I do like them and I do think I'll have another go. Possibly out of stretch woven if I'm going to wear them to dance classes. 

(It's super-weird to put photos of myself in a bodysuit and no bottoms on the internet, but I feel like it would be a really unhelpful post if you couldn't see the fit below the waist. So here's me leaning into it.)

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm heading out of the country today for a few days (she says confidently, PLEASE NO MORE DRONES AT GATWICK). We're having our first Christmas by ourselves this year, and we've booked a trip to France in the hope of getting some actual sunshine back into our lives. Whatever you're doing over the next few days, celebratory or not, I hope it's joyous! When I get back I'll share the completely OTT green velvet dress I'm wearing for Christmas lunch.

I thought I'd include this photo of me reacting like an Austen heroine being spotted across the room, while also wearing an animal print bodysuit on some stairs. I don't even know. 

Saturday 22 December 2018

2018 sewing wrap-up

Normally at the end of the year, I do a bunch of review posts over the course of a few weeks. This year I don't feel like I can do that. I will still make some resolutions (resolutions are sort of ingrained into my soul at this point), but my sewing has been so erratic and so under the control of my shitty mental health this year that making favourites and least-favourites lists seems kind of unhelpful. So instead, I'm going to talk about some of the more significant things I made and some of my thoughts about next year.

My By Hand London Rumana coat was the only thing I made for almost the entire first three months of the year. It was a really nasty time for me and for a while I did not believe I could ever come out the other side. Things now are better but not better, if you see what I mean, and I'm not yet quite over the fear of ending up back where I was at the start of the year. The coat, however, has escaped being tainted by its circumstances and is probably my favourite project of 2018. I've worn it every non-summer day because it's warm and sleek and goes with everything. This lining choice - extra dramatic but not bright and distracting - was one of the best design decisions I've made and I need to remember it in the future when I'm about to get distracted by some horrendous chartreuse thing. The pockets on this pattern are amazing, because they're huge and when it's cold I can just walk with my hands in them at normal relaxed-arm height. I would definitely not be opposed to making a second. 

The award for Most Worn Garment of the Year goes to this Burda hoodie. Patrick wears this almost every day around the house (and occasionally even out of the house, which he NEVER does with tops that aren't proper shirts), and it's come with us on almost every trip we've been on this year, even in the height of summer. This is probably the most gratifying thing I've ever made, because I get to see how much he loves it all the time. 

Spring was a bit hit-and-miss for me in terms of successful garments, but my summer sewing was ON POINT. During the heatwave I wore jersey maxi dresses and floaty wide-leg jumpsuits almost exclusively, and I felt like I completely understood my style for the first time (i.e. super glamorous but also basically wearing pyjamas at all times). 

I loved all my maxidresses and most of my jumpsuits, but McCalls 7789 was the number one, partly because of how much of a surprise it was. That pattern envelope is SO UGLY. I really don't know why I even bought it. But this is so comfortable, so breezy, such a statement, and the only instance of perfect bra coverage I've ever had in a strappy top. I'm already looking forward to wearing it again. 

Things then went a bit wrong, because this happened:

This fucking jacket, man. It took me nearly two months to finish, and the rest of the year to properly get my sewjo back. I think if I'd actually been able to wear it I could have moved past it more easily, but the fabric was so thick and so rigid and so uncomfortable that I literally could not keep it on for more than three minutes. I then decided to make another TWO versions, the second of which I ballsed up at the last minute and haven't been able to face going back and fixing. The whole process was painful, the lack of a finished product was worse, and it's only in the last couple of weeks that I've felt my old sewing spirit come back. Ugh.

I made the Deer & Doe Magnolia dress as soon as it came out as a way to get some confidence back. It definitely did help with that (and this is a pretty killer photo), but I probably wouldn't have included it if it hadn't been the most popular thing I've ever put on Instagram by a long, long way. Like, more than twice as popular as anything else. I knew people would like it because I know Instagram likes fancy dresses, but I'm surprised about just how much love it got. I think the dress is awesome but the sleeve situation isn't great for me. As you'll see after Christmas, I'm working on ways to adapt it to be perfect for me, and I might have a go at a shorter version next year too. I do love a Deer & Doe bodice and if I can use it for a ton of jersey dresses then I absolutely will.

Another surprise to me is quite how much I've worn this Simplicity 1613 top. It's SUCH a pain to construct but it looks amazing, and it makes a bog-standard top and trousers look like you've put some real effort into your outfit. I really think I'm going to have to make more, even though I do not want to deal with sewing that neckline again. Next time I'll baste everything first and write myself some detailed instructions, I think. 

Honourable mention goes to this Named Asaka kimono Miss Fisher fantasy nonsense. I put off buying this pattern for so long and I was entirely wrong to do so because it is perfection. 

Despite my mental ups and downs, I've overall felt much better about the things I've chosen to make this year. I certainly made a few wadders, but I recognised every single one of them for what they were and recycled them immediately. Nothing sat in my wardrobe taking up space and making me feel vaguely dissatisfied for unknown reasons. I didn't include much of my winter wardrobe because it was tough to pick a representative example, but I now have several pairs of wearable trousers and a much improved range of tops which makes getting dressed much easier. 

For next year I want to fill out my wardrobe a bit more with a clearer idea of what I want and what style it needs to be. I've started making a list of some fairly specific gaps in my wardrobe, which I may or not post in the new year depending on how coherent it is when it's finished. I also want to balance that out with some experimenting and the odd bit of impracticality, but the important thing is to be inspired to make the things I make. I have a history of buying patterns because it seems like a safe thing to try and I know I won't be too disappointed in the end result, but those things rarely last long in my wardrobe. My first challenge will be the mustard jersey I recently bought - I really want it to be a dress but don't have a pattern I like, and I've half-convinced myself to use a pattern that I never hate the result of exactly, and maybe all the other times I got rid of the finished dresses within eight months were just flukes and it'll work this time... I need to not do that. No matter how much I want my mustard jersey dress to get me through what will definitely be a difficult January. Find a better pattern, Jen. Find a better pattern. 

Monday 17 December 2018

winter sewing: Palisade trousers

Hey! So I'm still kind of sick, but this past week has been the best one for sewing that I've had in many months. I've completed four items from my autumn sewing list (well, technically five, but the M7626 trousers do NOT look good on me and I'm throwing that idea entirely out of the window), plus a bonus item. For the first time in a while I'm actually feeling encouraged and motivated, and a good bit of that is down to these trousers.

I have to say, these surprised me. I bought the pattern because I really liked the shape of the pockets and I need more slim-fit trousers for when it rains and I don't want to drag wide legs through endless puddles, but I didn't have hugely high hopes for it. Elastic waists can so often look weird on me and I never know what tops to wear with them, and since I've never made trousers from Papercut before and thus don't know how they cut them, I thought that I would most likely end up with some unflattering things that could only be worn as pyjamas, or a pair of nice-looking trousers that I couldn't put into a decent outfit for the life of me. What I got was a pair of surprisingly smart-looking trousers that also happened to have an elasticated back. I really like these.

This fabric is, I think, a cotton-viscose blend with a nice bit of weight to it. I picked it up in a swap at last month's London Stitchers' Meetup. It was already on the table when I got there so I have no idea who the original owner was, but whoever you are, thanks! It's an unusual colour for me and I'd never wear it near my face, but I really like it for trousers (even if it does get pretty wrinkly). I especially like it with this top, and it's making me want to make another.

I cut a size L for the waistband and an XL everywhere else. Rather than grading out at the hip I just cut an XL and took the excess out at the centre back, where my trousers always gape. I think this has worked but I  may need to make the back rise a tiny bit higher to compensate. It is super difficult to fit slim trousers to a pot belly, and though I know I haven't got it 100% right, but it definitely looks wrinklier in photos than it does in real life.

(It was way too cold to keep taking photos outside, so I didn't quite have enough. Stairwell shots with the heating on!)

I'm not sure how Papercut intends the trousers to fit round the thighs. I'd assumed they were meant to be fairly loose, but they certainly aren't on me and now that I look back at the product photos, they don't look enormous on the model either. I don't mind this - I fill the trousers out enough to make them look almost tailored, which is quite cool - but I do think next time I'd add a tiny bit more room for comfort. The crossover pockets look great and I like them, but they do create a bit of bulk on the inside, and with thighs like mine it is noticeable.

I will definitely be making more of these trousers, probably as soon as I'm done with Christmas things. I really like the idea of adding this silhouette to my wardrobe, and I think a black crepe pair would be incredibly useful. My yellow cord is probably too bulky for this pattern, but if I can find the right weight of fabric, a pair of mustard Palisades would not go amiss either.

Unnecessary posing in terrible light!

Up next: my Nettie bodysuit, which is totally not the plain black wardrobe staple I had intended...

Monday 10 December 2018

winter sewing: Ness skirt

If it weren't for the fact that I have been utterly deathsick for the past week and a half and haven't been able to get anything else done, I probably wouldn't be posting this skirt. I can't work out what I think of it, and I think I could do with making another version to work some of the kinks out. But this is what I have, so here we go:

The simple denim skirt has been the absolute bane of my sewing life. I have made five different ones to date, none of which prior to this one have made it to the blog. I made a Hollyburn that somehow grew three sizes within the first week of my making it, a Vanessa Pouzet Wonder skirt (without the swags) that sat weirdly, a combination of that and an old RTW skirt which didn't work at all, a Simplicity one that did deeply disturbing thing to my backside, and now this, the Tilly and the Buttons Ness skirt.

This one is certainly my best attempt yet, as you can tell from the fact that you're actually seeing it. But it's still not quite right, and I'm trying to work out why that is. I think it's maybe a bit too big - I made the hips two sizes larger than the waist as usual, but given that it's designed for to have a bit of stretch it looks a little bit weird. I also don't think it's designed to sit as high as I'm wearing it, and I might be better off making a straight version of the size in the middle of the two I tried (which I think is a 6? I found their invented number sizing to be a bit confusing).

I had to learn a lot of new tricks to make this skirt, including installing a jeans button and making my first ever buttonhole. It turns out that, once you've realised you're using the 4-step buttonhole foot from your old machine and replaced it with the proper foot, buttonholes are actually pretty easy. You just put the fabric in place and the machine does it all for you. I even made a fancy keyhole shape to accommodate the jeans button.

Installing the jeans button was kind of a pain at first, because the tack doesn't sit comfortably in the hole until it's been hammered a little way, and it's really tough to get it started without hammering your fingers. I ended up holding it in place with Blu-Tack until it was decently wedged in, and I have to say it looks rather nice.

(It's not centred, I know, but I ended up with one end of my waistband being slightly bigger than the other and this was the only way to get them to line up at the top.)

I flat-felled all the seams except the front one, which I mock-felled as the instructions directed. I only did this because I wasn't sure if a proper fell would mess with the fly in some way (of course it doesn't); I'm not generally a fan of mock-felling. The whole point of a flat-fell is that I don't have to deal with finishing raw edges and thus confront my lack of a functioning overlocker. When my mental health is in a stronger place I'll have another go at getting it to work, but for now everything is flat felled and French seamed. (I used bias binding on the front mock fell.)

I did not do any contrast topstitching. My topstitching is not good, and while I will have to start remedying that soon I was not keen enough on having a topstitched skirt that I was prepared to spend a month on getting it right.

My intention is to acquire another metre of denim and have a second stab at getting this right. In theory this is exactly what I want, but in practice it's not quite there. I think I need to make the back pieces smaller than the front, get the whole thing to sit a tiny bit lower, shorten the hem, use a slightly longer zip, make sure my waistband ends are even and work out how I did that thing with the fly that I shouldn't have done. I think it should be easier the second time, now that I know what I'm doing and not relying entirely on the included instructions (I've heard a lot about the amazing quality of Tilly and the Buttons instructions, but I felt that they used a lot of extra words to say not much more than regular instructions do. Admittedly I didn't use the video links because I wasn't confused enough to pause the thing I was already watching to look at someone putting a zip in). For now we'll call this a toile, and I'll try again in the new year. 

Next up: depends how this week goes, but I hope to have at least a pair of trousers to show you!