Monday 22 March 2021

just make something: Wanted top

 Two weeks in a row! And they're both actually things I've made! 

Today is Patrick's birthday (his second lockdown birthday, poor guy) and it marks only one remaining week of waiting until a) our bed arrives and b) restrictions are lifted sufficiently to allow us to have other humans in our garden. I cannot wait. Sleeping on the floor is ruining both of us and extreme introvert though I might be, I really miss people. I think it'll take me a while to remember how to socialise, and it'll be a long while yet before I'm prepared to deal with a crowd again, but one or two humans? Yes please. 

On to the thing I made! It's a top which wouldn't ordinarily be something I'd bother to post. There's rarely much to be gained by writing about the same knit top pattern more than twice and if I were making things at a normal rate, you'd see this in a month's time being photographed with whatever new pair of trousers I'd made with a short single-paragraph aside of "oh, also I made this."

But I am not making things at my usual rate. This is the first thing I've made in months. So we're going to talk about it. 

As you almost certainly know, this is the Vanessa Pouzet Wanted top. I've made this many times and used it as the bodice for a summer maxi dress many times more. It's a particular favourite of mine because it's both a very simple knit top and a bit more interesting than a basic T-shirt, and I thought making it now would let it serve as a good transitional piece between "I'm inside all day, nobody is going to see me" and "oh, humans again" without too much culture shock. 

The fabric is a piece of sweater knit from the Abakhan bins that my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas in 2019. I've been hoarding it mostly because of the sheer novelty of someone else giving me fabric I didn't pick. But when March rolled around and I decided this whole no-sewing thing had outlived its welcome, this fabric was a no-brainer to start me going again. It's knit, it's nice quality, it's a good colour, it can become a simple top and get worn regularly and immediately. And so it was. For a while I was considering trying to make a dress out of it, but seeing how clingy it is I'm very glad I didn't! It did not enjoy being hemmed, and there's a chance I might try to piece together enough scraps to make bands so I can unpick the twin needle stitching. 

The first time I made this top I did so out of jersey with basically no recovery, and it started falling off my shoulders pretty quickly. I made the assumption that the neckband was too long and so not holding everything where it should, and for my next several attempts I shortened the band considerably. This time I went back to the original length and I have to say I prefer it. So far it hasn't threatened to fall off my shoulders at all. I also made the decision not to adjust for my quarantine boobs or quarantine biceps, in hopes that I can continue to wear it when all returns to normal. I'm fine with it being a bit tight, but it is quite noticeable in these photos. 

I cannot imagine how irritated Past Jen would be if she found out that she did all that work to whittle down and clear out her stash only to have Present Jen whine that now she didn't know what to make and this is why people have a stash. (Past Jen was correct, I don't like a big stash, but we are in very particular times right now.) 

I'm happy enough with this as a project to get things moving again. There are things I would, in better times, have paid more attention to, but the most important job this top has is reminding me that sewing is good and fun, I can make things I like and I should do it more often. Though I still might replace that bottom hem with a band if remnants allow,

Since Walthamstow is still a little while away, I've ordered myself a McCalls maxi dress pattern (8174) to try out with one of my experimental pieces of jersey. It's yet another triumph-or-disaster sort of project, so you may or may not be seeing that within the next week or two. The test jersey I've picked is bright red because I absolutely intend to overcompensate for the past lost year by showing up to everything bigger and louder and brighter and fancier than anyone has any right to be. 

Back soon, with a new dress and another background option! 

Tuesday 16 March 2021

toile talk: the never ending leather jacket quest

Last week was rougher than I'd anticipated. Partly for good reasons - I got a last-minute appointment for my first dose of the Covid vaccine and spent the following couple of days cycling through extremes of temperature and trying to sleep it off. I am incredibly grateful and relieved to have some protection for my asthmatic self and hope it'll ease some of the anxiety about the world opening up again. But the latter half of the week... I've tried several times over the past few days to write something about Sarah Everard's murder and the horrifying range of responses to it, and I just can't. It makes me too sad. But I will say that she was kidnapped fifteen minutes from my house, and the proximity of it all has made everything hit me a little harder than it should. 

All of which is to say, I did not have it in me to take any photos last week. But now I have! What I'm about to show you is one of the items from my autumn plan six months ago (I am Good at Things), and it is yet another attempt at having a stupid biker jacket. This one is McCalls 8121, the Nicole Miller pattern from last year. I did in fact make this last year, in an attempt to use up some stuff before moving. I didn't photograph it at the time, thinking it hadn't worked that well, but coming back to it three months later I like it a lot more and I have a lot to say about it. 

New garden! No more palm tree! I don't know if this snail wall here is going to be my new permanent photo background (I'm going to try a few different things), but it has the distinct advantage of being right next to the kitchen door and affording much less interaction with the cold and wet and drizzle that is March. 

This toile is made out of one of the first fabrics I ever bought. I'm not exactly sure what it is - it's cotton, but it's also been treated with something to make it stiffer and and possibly slightly water-resistant. When I bought it I had only made one dress pattern ever, bought this to make it again, and quickly realised it wasn't going to work. It sat in my cupboard until Patrick and I moved to a flat that had no fabric cupboard and I began using it to line the wooden box I stored my fabric in. When we planned to move again and regain a Jen cupboard, I thought I might as well use it up. I think it photographs much better than it looks in person; it has gold butterflies on it that very much have the look of "five-year-old doing potato prints", which will absolutely stop me wearing it, but they're not so noticeable in the photos and just blend into a general impression of colourful and shiny. I think it looks particularly nice in the photo below and I will probably keep an eye out for sunset-evocative fabric that I could use to remake this in a wearable way.

First off, the design of the jacket is really great. It has all the biker jacket details I've been coveting: asymmetric front, collar, zipped sleeves. It also has welt pockets, which I didn't put in the toile but would in a real version. It's lined, and the design is such that you have hidden pops of lining fabric on the outside - the under collar is cut from the lining fabric, and my personal favourite detail, a lined back shoulder tuck which is almost entirely hidden but gave me a tremendous sense of satisfaction. I got super excited when I discovered it and I really wish it was more common for patterns to include things like this. A patch pocket does NOT count as a "beautiful detail", please try harder.

What I liked less were some of the construction methods. To construct this jacket, the directions have you completely finish the body before you even start on the sleeves. Lining and hem and everything. You then sew each sleeve and lining up as one piece. It's very weird and I'm not at all sure why they do it that way. At first I thought it might be to eliminate the need for slipstitching the sleeve lining to the zip tape, but nope, you still have to do that. There is a baffling amount of slipstitching in general given that a jacket should be a pretty hard-wearing item and faux leather is an explicitly recommended fabric. The hem is slipstitched (despite the fact that the armholes are still open and the jacket could be turned through them), and then the sleeve lining is slipstitched to the armhole as a final step. I had this on a coat pattern once before, years ago, and it was the worst idea. I swore I would never do it again. If I were to remake this properly I would want to change all of this to eliminate as much of the hand sewing as possible, but I haven't yet worked out what I would do instead. 

As this was a toile I made it up as is, and we're going to look at some of my fit issues:

First and most obvious: FBA very much needed. I knew this was going to be a thing but after so many failed jackets I wasn't prepared to put the work into something I might have hated. I don't think I need masses of room but an extra couple of centimetres would go a long way. It's a princess seam jacket so that should, I hope, be fairly simple. I also think I could do with a little more room in the bicep.

Second and also fairly obviously: the back doesn't fit properly when the jacket is zipped. I either need to shorten it so it stops before it meets the Butt Shelf or widen it so it hangs straight down, and I'm leaning towards the former. I think that will look a little more even overall. Also I apologise for the quality of this particular photo - I only realised later that I was standing mostly out of shot every time I turned around. I miss having a very specific stone to stand on under the tree (that is the only thing I miss; in every other way my living conditions have upgraded substantially. Well, apart from the lack of doodle puppy living next door, but at some point in the next couple of years we will get a dog of our very own to remedy that).

In conclusion: not bad! Promising! Best result so far! I might even allow myself a tiny sliver of optimism! I will probably attempt another test run with fitting adjustments/pockets/different construction method before going anywhere near another piece of faux leather, but since I'll soon be able to go to the markets again and get decent quality fabric for cheap I'm going to aim for a test that I can and will wear. This one is too potato-print (and the wrinkles look so much worse and more obvious because of whatever the stiffening treatment is), but the fact that it photographs well means I can look back at this post and feel encouraged, which is more than any previous jacket has given me. 

Up next will be the first and only thing I've made this year! Yes, it's a basic knit top I've already made several times, but it's a thing and I made it, which for a little while there I was worried would never happen again. It might be a literal year to the day since I first went into quarantine and I might be full of feelings about that (most of them are exhaustion), but things are moving, I made a thing, and I've remembered how to write. It's okay. 

Wednesday 3 March 2021

sewing plan: spring 2021

 I was absolutely certain that this season was going to be a great one for sewing. I didn't make a winter plan so wouldn't be rushing to finish anything, and I would have lots of time to plan and workshop and come up with a dozen or so projects that would really work for me and my wardrobe. Finally, I would succeed at spring. I even wrote a whole introductory paragraph in advance for this post about how great the plan I hadn't yet come up with was. 

Obviously that hasn't been the case. Partly that's because of life and the world; I'm struggling way more with the tail end of lockdown than I anticipated, we still don't have a bed (the ten week lead time has turned into four months and we still have a month left to go), the previous owners did something weird with the boiler meaning we had only lukewarm water during the cold snap, all of which has left me in a mini-depression that will hopefully start to clear up come April. But it's also because I don't know how to plan three months' sewing without being able to see and touch fabric in person. I don't mind buying a small amount of fabric online when I know exactly what I'm doing or see something that particularly inspires me, but that doesn't work for a whole season. 

I've also spent the past several months working on projects for Minerva almost exclusively, which hasn't been great for me, and as of last week I'm no longer working with them. The partnership was great for me when I was just writing blog posts for them, but their format has changed and the last thing I need right now is another social media account, particularly one I'm obligated to update and engage on. 

All of which means I don't have a complete plan yet, and I don't even have a first completed make of 2021 yet. I got most of the way through making a birthday Magnolia dress, but the fabric just isn't working for it (ordered online, wouldn't have bought it in person) and I'm not sure I can persuade myself to finish something I know I'm not going to like. Beyond that the only sewing I've done this year has been mending existing stuff and whipping up a couple of basic tote bags, and honestly it's making me quite sad. I'm really hoping inspiration strikes soon. 

On with my vague semblance of a plan:


As I mentioned in my last post, I'm planning to make all of the curtains for the new house and I want to start this as soon as possible. We haven't yet started buying fabric but we've agreed on the ones we want for three out of four of the rooms (I have something very specific in mind for the fourth and it appears to not exist, so I'm going to need some time to get over that and move on). In order of priority this is what we're looking at: 

peacock print upholstery velvet

Living room (velvet)

gold-beige chenille upholstery velvet with art deco print

Bedroom (chenille)

Sewing room (cotton)

We are not subtle people. 

I have never made curtains before in my life but am assuming that with a basic tutorial it won't be too difficult. I want to do these well because my mother-in-law will be inspecting them (not because she's awful, she just really likes curtains. And makes all hers on her hand-cranked 1896 Singer, so puts a lot of stock in precision). 

For actual garments, I have no firm plans right now. I'm dividing my thoughts into two categories: fabric I already own (that you'll have seen before if you've been reading here a while) and would like to do something with; and garments I'd like but depend on me having seen the colour/drape/feel of a fabric in person. 

From the stash

This one is driving me crazy. I've had it for so long and I'm dying for it to become something I can wear, but nothing seems right. A jacket is still uppermost in my mind, but I'm having trouble figuring out something that won't be redundant. I have a lot of jackets.

I thought I was going to use this for another trial run at modifying the Ruska dress into a cowl neck, but I've now come to the conclusion that it's too thick and not drapey enough. Plan B is a sweater of some kind, and I'm on the lookout for one that won't require a neckband (the fabric unravels easily and produces a lot of long tails). 

This one would have been the centrepiece of my whole plan had I been able to go shopping properly, and will probably be what I think of when I am allowed to return to the market. I have five metres of this and haven't decided whether I use it all for a maxi dress or divide it between two garments. If I were to make it a maxi, it would need to be one I could wear in spring/autumn without looking out of place. If I were to make two pieces, it would most likely be either a shorter dress and jacket or a maxi skirt and crop top. 

Ideas I need fabric for

A light knee-length coat

I want to try Simplicity 8554 again, but in a lighter material with more drape and with welt pockets instead of side seam pockets. This is something I would absolutely need to see in person; the colour, the weight, and the drape all need to be right. 

A pair of trousers

I have been having so much trouble with trousers. I live in my 7726s because they're the only pair of actual trousers that don't pull tight on the thighs or sit in under my belly, and I honestly just don't want to be wearing such a wide leg so often. I think my best bet here is to return to the idea of working on my block and make a few pairs in the same fabric until I get the fit down. I'm hoping this will be easier now that I have a sewing cupboard and my drafting stuff is more easily accessible to me. 

A maxi dress for spring

Regardless of what I end up doing with the linen mix above, I want to have a go at the Cashmerette Upton expansion pack and make a maxi with longer sleeves that I can reasonably wear in April. I'm most concerned with finding the right colour and print for this one; casual non-summery fabric that also fits my style has historically been a pretty tough one for me. 

Because I've had to temporarily lift my rules on planning (i.e. I need to have both the fabric and the pattern for the majority of my plans when I make them) a lot of this will be subject to change. When I can finally go fabric shopping in person again I might be inspired to make a completely different set of things, though the final three projects are legit wardrobe gaps and I will make all of them at some point when I find the right stuff. The most important thing is that I find a project I'm excited about and get things flowing again. 

I have a few posts planned for the next month: a couple of toiles (one of which is a very small dress, so I'm really hoping it warms up a bit!) and a first update on my sewing room progress. That should take us through to April when hopefully things will start to look up a bit. If anyone has any advice on how to get out of a can't-touch-fabric slump, I would be very grateful!