Monday 14 November 2022

unnecessary versions of necessary things: Audrey cigarette pants

So once again, my health has not been great, and I need to stop coming here and making pronouncements that I'm totally fine now, guys. I am not totally fine, I still don't know exactly what's wrong, and I can't really commit to regular posting at the moment. But I did take some photos the other week, so I'm going to jump on the okay day I'm having to share something.

I've said on my last couple of planning posts that I need more trousers, and that becomes truer with every passing day. My waist is now eight inches smaller than it was this time last year and there comes a point where you can't feasibly take a pair of trousers in any more and have them still look okay. The trousers in this post are none of the things I suggested I might make and I'm honestly not sure how much wear they'll get, but they are trousers nevertheless, so let's review. 

(Also I dyed my hair black, which so far almost nobody has noticed. I'm thinking I might keep it for a while, though.)

This is another pattern I got from Gertie's Patreon, the Audrey cigarette pants. I hadn't had any immediate plans to make these, but then I was in a fabric shop after having a really shitty day, saw some fuchsia ponte, message Patrick asking if I wanted a pair of stretchy fuchsia trousers. And if the answer you want to that question is "no" then Patrick is not your man to go to for advice. So I bought it. 

This was a quick enough sew that I managed it on a day of 32 degree heat (with a break in the middle to stand by a fan). Elastic waistband, pockets, pocket stay made of power mesh. I like all these details, though I will say that anything put into these pockets is extremely and immediately visible so I would probably only use them for holding my phone as I wander round the house. This particular waistband is one of those where the elastic is the same length as the fabric so there's no gathering, and I strongly prefer that. 

(Also, check me out having visible muscles! This photo is the first time I've really seen it.)

The main problem I have with these trousers is the fit. I have the problem I always have with more fitted trouser legs, which is that they look too big and wrinkly when I make them in my usual size, but taking any fabric out makes them too skintight for me to want to wear in public. I also clearly need some sort of alteration in the front crotch but I'm not exactly sure what. Any advice on what I might need to do there would be very welcome! 

I'm interested to see whether I'll feel able to wear these. So far I've only found this one way to style them that I like, and given that this is just a literal bra there aren't going to be many occasions for dressing like this. Which is a shame, really, because this is some amazing 80s trash right here. I can't really tuck things into them because you can see the lines, though I might get away with a bodysuit, and I just can't see myself becoming a tunics person. I'm definitely down to try things out (as long as they're not tunics, or really anything where the goal is to cover up most of the trousers). 

I am planning to have another go at this pattern. In September I got to go back to Abakhan for the first time in ages (I used to go with my mother-in-law when we visited Patrick's family, but they've moved several hours further away so it's very rarely an option anymore) and I picked up some green ponte which is much thicker, and thus maybe more forgiving, than this pink stuff. I really like the idea of the silhouette and would like to find a way to make a pair that feel a little more wearable for everyday. It's definitely the fit not the colour that's giving me pause, obviously - I never met an obnoxious trouser I didn't like. 

I do have another couple of sets of pictures taken, so hopefully I can get my head round another write-up or two this week. If not, I'll be back when I can. Sewing is still happening on and off, though not quite to the degree I might have liked, and I have made some stuff I'm genuinely pleased with. Fingers crossed I'll post again very soon! 

Charm Patterns Audrey cigarette pants

Fabric: Fuchsia ponte from Fabrics Galore
Cost: £24
Pattern details: Cigarette pants in two lengths with slash pockets, mesh pocket stay and wide elastic waistband. Capri length comes with optional grommets and lacing
Size: 10 waist, 12 hips
Alterations: None
Would make again/would recommend: Maybe/Maybe

Monday 19 September 2022

sewing plan: autumn 2022

Hi! It's been kind of a rough month. We've been incredibly busy, my health crashed again because of course it did, and I also got the worst haircut of my entire life so I really didn't want to take any photos. (It's been fixed now.) We're off on holiday in two days so I won't have the time to try and back into the groove until October. I'd wanted to have this plan properly thought out, all fabrics acquired and photographed, but I haven't got round to it and if I don't post it now I will probably end up not doing it at all, so here, have some half-formed ideas! 

This is another super-short plan, and it's actually even shorter than it looks since I'm only planning to do one of my two challenges, but hopefully that will enable me to get everything done in the time I have. In addition to this stuff I want to make a couple of basic tops - we went back to North Wales for a bit earlier this month and I was able to raid the Abakhan remnant bins again - but I don't think it's worth making them an item on the plan when I won't have a single useful word to say about them beyond "they exist now". 

Here's the abridged project list: 


I had decided originally to set myself two challenges for autumn, but given how September has gone so far I think it's not too likely I'll manage both. I'm going to put them both here anyway, with the expectation that I'll do one out of two. If both happen, that's a nice bonus. 

A corset

I started this literally a year ago and it stalled, first because of my mental health and then because I was changing size too rapidly, but things seem to be sufficiently stable now that I could get on with it. I have a semi-completed mock-up that I'm going to continue with, though I'm expecting to need to do a second one given size changes. 

A pair of jeans

I mentioned this as a possibility in my summer plan, and I do think I'd like to try it. I'm still thinking of the Charm Patterns Marilyn jeans - I'm just not a jeans-and-a-T-shirt kind of woman and if I'm going to have jeans they need to be a bit more... something. So vintage style jeans might be the way to go. Mostly this will be a skill and confidence building exercise rather than a means to an end of owning a pair of jeans. I'm quite certain I can make a pair of jeans but because it's something I've never done it's been filed under "Scary Thing" in my brain. I'm sure it doesn't belong there, so I'm going to make some jeans. 

Easy wardrobe fillers

The rest of the plan is intentionally fairly straightforward. I don't want to have to think too hard about these projects, I don't want to have to learn any other new skills, and I want to be able to use these projects as palate cleansers for the more difficult stuff, or as a way to get my motivation back if (when?) the more complicated things prove too frustrating. Two of them are things I need, and the other is joyful nonsense that I'm very much looking forward to. 

A trans-seasonal jumpsuit

I love wearing jumpsuits, and I have more than half a dozen I love, but they're all either strictly for summer or evening wear. I would love to have one or two that would work for cooler weather. Honestly I'm still chasing the high of the blue M7626 in this post - I loved it so much but I never got it to fit me properly. I also ran into problems with the more wearable olive version, ie. the layers of corduroy made everything super bulky and there wasn't really enough room in the crotch area for me to sit down comfortably in it. Nevertheless, option one is still to just try that exact same thing again. Option two is a Deer&Doe Sirocco in something a little more casual than black velvet. I may do both. 

A pair of trousers

I'm at the point now where very few of my old faithful pairs of trousers fit, and as we go into autumn (and I get more interested in trying to pair separates together) I'm going to need to start replacing them. Having already given myself one difficult trouser project, I don't want to reinvent the wheel here. I want something pretty simple, wide leg but not too wide leg, hits my natural waist, has decent pockets. What I do not have right now is a go-to pattern for this, so this is probably my most complicated "easy" project because it will involve me trying some stuff out. I'm going to see if I can size down my block before I go buying any new patterns or anything. 

The Murder Dress

I'm going to do it. Raspberry leopard print velvet off-the-shoulder wiggle dress. I am not going to make it floor length (though I'm not promising I won't make a floor length one the next time I see some exciting-looking velvet), I may or may not make the skirt a little more fitted, and in order to actually wear it I will probably have to find some sort of performance opportunity. It is going to be one of the least wearable things I've ever made, but I have concluded that anything else would be kind of a disappointment next to the vision of the Murder Dress. 

That's as much as I'm prepared to commit to for now. We're away for a week so I won't be posting next Monday, but I hope to be in a better place for photography when we come back so that I can get on with posting the rest of my summer projects! 

Monday 15 August 2022

a deeply unseasonal sweater knit dress (and bonus top)

 In surprising New Silhouette news, I'm considering becoming a shoulders person. 

I've been in and out of Gertie's Patreon a few times now. I don't love all the patterns she puts out there - I'm not particularly into vintage cosplay these days and I was never into the cutesy stuff - but they usually have interesting details, and a good chunk of it is stuff that I can make up in a not-so-vintage style. This one is the Joan wiggle dress, and this version is a trial I made to see if I a) liked the style in general and b) wanted to use my raspberry leopard print velvet on this pattern. (answers: a) yes and b) jury's still out.) I always loved the idea of this kind of dress but shied away because of potential stomach clinginess. And, as you may be getting bored of hearing me say, my concern about that sort of shit has been rapidly on the decrease. It was time. 

The fabric is a purple and black marl sweater knit from Fabric Land, which I bought three metres of initially and then found myself with more than half of it left after deciding to make another version of my Named Ruska hoodie hack with it. I never bothered posting it, I don't think, but I made it in January and it gets a decent amount of wear when it's colder. I'd assumed that the leftover fabric would have to be a top or jumper of some kind and was originally only going to make the top version of the Joan rather than the dress, but this is not a fabric-hungry pattern and I thought, fuck it, sexy sweater dress in the middle of summer, why not. 

Construction-wise this is pretty straightforward; the biggest problem I had was that the fabric kept breaking my overlocker (inexplicably, it instantly unthreaded one of the loopers every time I tried to put this fabric under it) so I had to sew it all on the regular machine. I used a scrap of black viscose jersey to line the bodice and sleeves and get a nice finish. It's meant to be longer than this, but I didn't quite have enough fabric for the full thing. And, if we're honest, I would have ended up cutting it above the knee anyway. 

Visually, I'm super into this. I think it looks great. Both the silhouette and the neckline are pretty new to me, so it's cool to see myself in something so different. Obviously it's extremely off-the-shoulder and there's no way to cheat wearing a regular bra with it (I mean, in these photos I am wearing a regular bra with the straps pulled down, but I wouldn't want to spend an entire evening like that). So the amount of wear this gets depends on whether I can find a longline strapless bra that comes in a G cup, which I honestly didn't think would be that difficult. I was wrong. I am actively on the hunt as we speak. I think it says a lot about how much I like this exposed-shoulders thing that I'm willing to entirely throw out my longstanding rule about clothes you have to wear special bras for.

I also don't really have shoes that go with this. I picked these because I'm six foot one in them and I feel like this is a dress that one takes up more space in, but for real life I probably need something else. 

(I took all these photos while listening to burlesque music. This may or may not be apparent.)

I also had about 50% of the tiger print fabric left over from my Nettie (which is done and photographed and I will post at some point, but I have zero things to say about it so I'm waiting until I have a post I can tack it on the end of), so I decided to use it to make a top:

Which I'm also kind of into. Is it a bit much for everyday? Sure. Do I often enjoy being a bit much? I mean... you've all seen the stuff I make. It's going to have to be a really comfortable strapless bra, though. For the dress version I lined the bodice, but I decided that was an extra layer I didn't need in a top, so I just cut an extra strip of jersey to use as a facing and topstitched it down. It could probably do with some elastic in the neckline, so I will probably go back and put that in before it stretches out much more. 

(The trousers are Victory Patterns Esther. I made them in 2020, they didn't fit me at all until a few months ago. I'm glad I was pleased enough with the construction to stubbornly hold onto them because they're currently my best-fitting pair of trousers.)

I would absolutely make this again, after I have acquired this mythical strapless bra. I've rarely done exposed shoulders at any point in my life and I'm extremely here for the way it looks on me. I'm still undecided about the raspberry velvet, though. I really wanted to make something that I might be able to wear semi-regularly, which this absolutely wouldn't be, but maybe there's something to be said for making a very occasional dress to just straight up murder people with. Technically this pattern would only use about half the amount of velvet I have, so I would have the option to also make something a little less... specific, shall we say, with the rest of it. But I don't know what that something would be, and the temptation to just make this dress but floor length might be too great to resist. I'm really not sure. 

Up next: either a pair of trousers, or several things I can't stretch out to their own individual posts, depending on which one I finish writing first! 

Charm Patterns Joan wiggle dress (Patreon)

Fabric: sweater knit from Fabric Land
Cost: approx. £7.50
Pattern details: Close-fitting knit dress (and top) with either a high slash neck or off-the-shoulder sweetheart neckline
Size: 10 H cup
Alterations: Skirt shortened by several inches
Would make again/would recommend: Yes/Yes

Monday 8 August 2022

summer sewing: vogue 8814

Alright, we're a fair way into August, better post the first one of my summer sewing projects! I'm actually not progressing too badly with them, but the finishing and photographing has been a real pain. I got four things off my WIP pile on Saturday and photographed a bunch of stuff yesterday, when it was way too hot and sunny for such things. First up, one of my experiments. The one I was 95% sure was going to fail miserably.

I will freely admit that I had to put this on in front of the mirror a fair few times before I adjusted to what I was seeing, but now that I have? I'm actually quite pleased. I think this sort of works. It certainly isn't the number one most flattering thing I've ever put on my body in my life, but it's substantially better than I expected. 

I've had this fabric for well over a year now. You may recall it from this post, which is now finally almost done with except that static-conducting microfibre crepe. I bought it without a plan assuming it would have a million uses, but I got completely stuck trying to pair it with a pattern. There's something very bridesmaid about the sheen, and I couldn't shake the idea that if I made one of my go-to dresses from it, I would just look like I got lost on the way to my best friend's wedding. I really wanted it to be something good because the colour is incredible, but nothing seemed right. Eventually I got fed up with it, decided it was going to be used for toiles instead, and cut this out fully expecting it to be hideous.

It's true that if I was suddenly urgently required for bridesmaid duties this weekend, this would not look out of place. But I do think it's different enough to allow me to wear it as just a dress, too. I haven't yet fully decided if I will (mostly because I'm not sure what level of formality and versatility it's at), but I am pleasantly surprised by how this looks on me. 

This pattern - Vogue 8814 - has been in my stash for years and years. I've picked it up and put it down again many times. I love 20s and 30s style but have never really felt comfortable in the silhouettes because I don't have that body type, so my insistence on keeping a quasi-flapper haircut is the only way you'd really know. As I've said several times this year, I've been getting more confident generally recently, which has led to a desire for variety greater than my desire to style myself in conventionally flattering ways at all times, and it seemed wise to jump on that to finally try this pattern.

I did make a couple of changes. This fabric has enough stretch to let me just pull it on, so I dispensed with the zip and made the bodice lining in a stretch fabric as well. The pattern comes with cup sizes but I found that I still had a fair bit of excess fabric at the armhole, so I put a dart in to get rid of it. It's also intended for much lighter fabrics than this one. For me personally, starting off with a heavier and thus slightly more visually forgiving fabric was the correct thing to do. It certainly does lose something in the way of movement and delicacy and general slinkiness, and maybe that will come another time, but for my very first fabric arrow pointing directly at my stomach, something with a bit of a smoothing effect did not go amiss. I also shortened it a couple of inches from the knee-length version, as I usually do. I keep trying below the knee styles, and the consensus is always "that looks odd". 

Construction was pretty easy, though I had moved myself down a few difficulty levels by not picking something super shifty that would have been deeply annoying to sew in bias-cut pieces. I will say this fabric didn't exactly cover itself in glory - it was functionally impossible to press and thus incredibly difficult to sew a decent circular hem. For any future versions of this dress, I would want to do a swayback adjustment and add in a bit more space at the bust. The pattern comes with cup sizes up to D, and I could have done with one or two more. 

This dress and I have a deal that I will, at least once, wear it out of the house. I'm not yet sure where. I'm also not yet sure about the styling - I went full Art Deco for the photos but it's possible I'd find it more wearable if I modernised the shoes. I do think, though, that I actually kind of like this, and I'm quite looking forward to an opportunity to go out in it. 

So, overall, an excellent start to my silhouette experiments. I'm genuinely surprised by how this turned out and I think it'll spur me on to try more new stuff. I don't know if I'll make this exact thing again - I don't think my wardrobe needs two of these - but I'm open to the idea somewhere down the line. 

And now, a few pictures of me trying to remember how to do the Charleston:

Up next will either be something else from my plans or something deeply unseasonal, depending on which post I finish writing first. But the photos are taken, so there will be one! 

Vogue 8814

Fabric: medium weight stretch crepe from Walthamstow
Cost: £10 (I paid £20 for 4m and have about half of it left)
Pattern details: Bias cut 1930s dress with dropped waist, full skirt, and back zip. Alternate view with a lower cut front, cross-back straps, and longer skirt
Size: 16 D cup
Alterations: Zip omitted due to stretch fabric, skirt shortened, extra dart added at the bust
Would make again/would recommend: Maybe/Yes

Monday 25 July 2022

story time: my first terrible dressmaking class

(There has not been sewing or photos this week. Have a story instead.)

I've been thinking lately about the perils of writing reviews as a beginner (and as a non-expert in the subject matter in general). I started writing reviews and posting finished garment photos from the very beginning, with my first ever project, and I have not the smallest regret about doing so - my learning experience was so much better because I could see everything I made and read my own notes on each project so easily. It was inspiring to see clear evidence of the progress I was making, and most importantly (for me), I could see my own struggles and style ruts and traps I was prone to fall into, which enabled me to course correct away from them without getting bogged down in self-criticism. I also know that my personal experiences and photos of patterns on my specific body type have been useful for people. Sharing the experiences of a beginner has a lot of value. 

But it is difficult, when you don't know a lot. You blame yourself for things, gloss right over mistakes because you don't even realise they are mistakes, and you don't direct criticism towards the people you've paid for the fabric or the pattern or the class because you don't know how much it's warranted. I knew at the time that I'd had a bad experience with my first dressmaking class, but I was so overwhelmed with all the new stuff (and also very ill at the time) that I never made a complaint about it. 

(Small note: I'm not going to mention the company in this post. Since I wrote about it at the time it's extremely easy to find out who I'm talking about, but I really don't want this to be a call-out or a bad review or something they have to answer for. These classes don't even run anymore, and the teacher I'm about to talk about had been completely erased from their website the very next time I went to look for a class there. This is just an anecdote, not a drama post.)

The story unfolds like this:

It was 2015. I (not far off a complete mental breakdown) had signed up to a beginner dressmaking class with my friend Anna. We'd been talking about it for a while, with the intention of someday actually being able to own trousers that fit, and we were excited to finally get started. I was also extremely insecure about my size at the time, and was very nervous about getting measured and picking a size in front of other people, which will become relevant very shortly. 

We bought our fabric in their shop before the class. I didn't really like any of their regular cottons, which were all very pretty florals or novelty prints and thus not me at all, and asked if the much thicker stretch cotton they were also selling would make the project more difficult for me. The woman on the register told me to go for it in a way that, in retrospect, meant "this is not a good idea but I don't want to say no to a customer". So I bought that, and I should not have. 

The teacher introduced herself. I legitimately cannot remember her name now, so for the purposes of this story I'm going to call her Kara. Kara told us that we were making a circle skirt over the course of two evenings, and that circle skirts were the best beginner project because you only needed your waist measurement. She measured her own waist to demonstrate, and read her measurement out loud multiple times. She read it out in centimetres, and I don't think she or anyone else in the room had any real concept of what size that was (one of the stupidest things about being British is that for any given type of measurement we've picked metric or imperial at random, and the other is complete gibberish to us). There was a size chart on the table; as she was speaking I looked down at it to see that said waist measurement was towards the very top end of the pattern's (very small) range. In a room full of otherwise extremely thin women, I felt temporarily reassured. 

"So," said Kara to the class, "that waist measurement would put me in a size..." 

She looked down at the size chart to complete her sentence, and I could see her balk at it. She took the size chart away from view, and started talking about something else. Several minutes later she came back to the topic at hand, and said "so for my waist measurement, which is... you know, I'm going to be kind to myself and say [number literally seven centimetres smaller] which puts me in a size 12!" 

Side note: I hate that I remember so vividly that it was seven centimetres smaller. But my relationship with my body at the time was so bad, and the experience of thinking I might have an ally and then finding out that she just was not prepared to be that size was such a slap that it has been seared into my brain ever since. There are a lot of stupid things like this seared into my brain. It takes up all the space that's supposed to be for things like "where did I put my headphones". 

Kara did not give us back the size chart. What she did instead was send us away to our individual cutting tables and had us hold the tape measure up to the waistband piece. I can see that this is a thing that technically works, but I have never seen it since and don't see any reason to do that when you have a size chart. She then came around to all of us individually, asked us to show her where the tape measure landed, and told everyone they needed to go up two sizes "for wearing ease". Having literally never used a sewing pattern before in my life I assumed she must be right about how this worked, but because she'd made it so clear that she found it shameful to be a "big" size (lol) I lied about my waist measurement when she got to me. And that's how I got the best fitting - but still too big - skirt in the class. 

I still don't know why she told us to do this. It could be that she was insecure about most of the women being so small like I was, but I think the most likely explanation is that when she made things for herself she preferred the mental gymnastics of "I'm really a size 12 but I make an 18 for wearing ease" to the more straightforward "my waist measurement corresponds with a size 18 for this pattern so that's what I'm making" and it just didn't occur to her that everyone else didn't operate this way. 

We cut out our skirts and started sewing them. It was all completely uneventful until we had to put the zips in. Kara had all sorts of "techniques" that often made whatever we were trying to do more difficult, and if you chose not to use them she would stand over you and glare. I was using four different "techniques" to get this regular-ass zip into a skirt - back seam basted shut, zip both pinned and hand-basted in, pins marking the bottom of the zip, stitching line drawn on the fabric in disappearing pen even though both the pen and my skirt were the exact same shade of purple - and I could not do it. I couldn't get it started. I spent an hour doing this. Kara kept coming over but could provide no assistance except to keep suggesting I draw the purple line on the purple skirt as though that were the real problem. 

I took the skirt home. I spent the entire week trying to get that zip in with no success. I came in super early the following week (super early even by sewing class standards - is it just in London where you can walk in fifteen minutes early to a full room and have the teacher say in a put-upon voice, "well, now that everyone is finally here we can make a start"?) to work on it. I was in a bit of a panic at this point, wondering how I could be this bad at sewing that I couldn't even make a basic skirt in the most beginner class. I'd been trying this for a few minutes when another teacher noticed there were people here for the class inconceivably early, and shouted through from another room.

Second teacher: Are you alright in there?
Me: Yeah, sorry, I came in early to try and get this zip in. I've been trying all week.
Second teacher: What's the problem?
Me: I can't get started.
Second teacher: Oh, that's probably because your fabric's thicker. Just start sewing a bit further down the zip and backstitch to get it sewn up at the edge. 
Me: Oh. [does exactly this and gets the zip sewn in one go in twenty seconds] Thanks, I've done it now.

I spent a week on that goddamn thing because Techniques Kara didn't think to mention that the fabric should be far enough under the presser foot that the needle can actually sew rather than just bumping into the edge. Graaahhh. 

(My friend Anna, by this point, had given up and insisted that Kara insert the zip for her. On our way out of the class she said thoughtfully, "I would have expected that getting the teacher to do it for me would give me a perfect zip. And, you know, it really isn't.")

Then came hemming. I'm glad the era of Circle Skirts for Beginners seems to be over because it really is a stupid idea. Nine thousand miles of curved hem is a skill that takes time to get the hang of, and also when you're in a class you don't have time to let the bias drop so your skirt ends up looking wonky even if you somehow managed to sew the hem perfectly. My fabric did not want to press, and Kara had a full zero techniques for dealing with this. I spent about two hours pinning the shit out of it, and my final hem, even to my complete beginner eyes, was atrocious. I am not even close to a perfectionist when it comes to my sewing, but I barely wore that skirt because I was embarrassed by it. The skirt I keep as my "sentimental first project" skirt is the second one I made by myself. 

With all the skirts finished, everyone tried them on. And surprise, none of the skirts fitted. Mine fit the best, because I lied to her. I had yet another mild self-esteem crisis watching a roomful of tiny women pull their waistbands far, far away from themselves and say things like "I'm so relieved, I went home crying to my boyfriend about being a size 12". Kara attempted to fix one person's skirt by just... overlocking a random amount off the side, waistband and all. She offered the same to Anna, who said very politely that she'd much rather take the waistband off and cut fabric from both side seams, so that said seams would be in the right place and there wouldn't be giant overlock lumps in the waistband. Kara nodded, turned away, and gave up on her. 

Nearly seven years later Anna has not finished that skirt, so nice work there, Kara. In fact it was only last month, after years and years of my offering, that Anna came to my sewing room and made her second ever garment. The pattern she picked happened to be the first jersey top pattern that I ever made, and it was quite a trip going through the instructions now and thinking, "wait, but why are you doing it like that?" over and over again. 

In retrospect, I find the whole thing hilarious (in a sad sort of way, because there's all sorts of insidious societal stuff represented here). A sewing teacher who could not instruct a beginner to put in a zip, insisted the entire class make the wrong size, confiscated the size chart, and tried to fix her mistakes by making the skirts lopsided. It's very funny to me, now, that it didn't occur to her not to measure herself in front of everyone and to just say something like, "If you have, for example, a 30 inch waist, you'd be size X. If you have a 31 inch waist we recommend you size up to size Y." It's not like she was making a skirt along with us! We would never have known! 

I wonder sometimes if anyone else who was there still sews, or even made anything else at all after the class finished. I'm still going, but if I hadn't been ill and stuck at home instead of going out dancing four or five nights a week as I had been, I can't imagine I'd have bothered. I had to get a lot better at sewing to realise just how bad Kara was at teaching, and if I hadn't bothered to continue I would never have known just how little of the whole experience was down to me fucking up. I would have thought the size thing was stupid, but I also would have thought I was just bad at sewing, and it wasn't for me. 

Here is the skirt in question, by the way, on 2015 Jen (who hadn't worked out how to frame her project photos yet) in her back garden in Tottenham. It doesn't look like the worst thing in the world in photographs, but oh the pain it put me through:

2015 Jen in her unfortunate purple circle skirt

Sometimes I even wonder what became of Kara. As I said at the beginning, the next time I went to the website her name was nowhere to be seen on the list of teachers. I wonder if someone else complained. I wonder if she's still trying to teach sewing. I wonder if she moved on to a different subject and is out there somewhere giving piano lessons by staying, Marge Simpson-style, one lesson ahead of the kid. 

Monday 11 July 2022

fail: Vogue 8825

So I've not yet got round to taking pictures of my newer projects yet, but I did remember that last time I did a mass photoshoot I did document a failure that might be useful to share. I made this dress back in February and it's already gone - I tried wearing it and it just did not work for me at all. 

This pattern is Vogue 8825, and I've owned it for years. I went through a phase of buying big 4 patterns on sale thinking it would help get me out of a sewing rut and losing all drive to experiment by the time they arrived. I've given away a chunk of those patterns and it's been a low-key goal of mine to eventually try out all the ones I liked enough to hold onto. I do think a big chunk of the reason I held onto this one is because there's a green version on the pattern envelope and I am obsessed with green stuff to a degree I probably shouldn't be. But it also seemed like it wouldn't be the most taxing or time-consuming to try out, so I gave it a go. 

The problem I was expecting to have with this dress was that it would look too secretarial. I've only seen a couple of people review the pattern and I remember one of them in particular saying "it's nice enough, but I look like I'm going to an office job I don't have". As I also do not have an office job (though I'm hoping that may change soon), I was discouraged from trying it out myself. When I bought this sweater knit from Fabric Land I had the idea that the dress might look less corporate made in a more casual fabric... and yep. That worked much too well and I just look like I'm wearing a giant cardigan. For a while I considered keeping this as a house dress, but the neckline isn't secure enough to slob around in. 

I cut between a 16-18 and that was too big. Without the ties this thing is enormous and too hideous for me to put on the internet. That's certainly at least in part down to my choice of fabric and my playing it safe with the skirt size because I really didn't want it to cling. I cut it slightly shorter than directed so it would hit just above my knee. 

The pattern has wide cuffs to gather the sleeve into, but when I first tried it on I didn't like that at all so I took them out again. I like the idea but it looked super weird on this particular dress. 

My biggest problem with this dress is the top, which looks fine in these pictures but that's because I spent some time carefully arranging it for decency's sake. It's a mock-wrap with a grown on facing and if I were ever to make this again I would need to go in and re-engineer the whole thing. Undeniably I needed a smaller size, but if there's one thing I have learned again and again it's that a wrap bodice needs a finishing method that makes it sit right. Because the front extends into the back collar I wouldn't just be able to swap the facing out for jersey bands, but some elastic at least is needed to stop this just flopping open every which way. Honestly if I did want a dress that looked like this I would probably Frankenstein it together from other patterns rather than try to make this one work. This isn't wearable and I don't like it enough to pour a bunch of effort into retroactive fitting. 

(also the hem looks like shit, but I was past caring by that point)

So this dress is gone, never to be seen again. As is the pattern. The fact that it's still available implies to me that it must be popular, but I don't recommend it, especially if you have a lot of bust. If you have the skills to get this to fit then you have the skills to bodge together something very similar from patterns you already have. I just did not get on with this at all and didn't find either the sewing or the wearing experiences to be enjoyable. I knew this would be an experiment, and it turned out to be a failed experiment, but I am pleased nevertheless that I'm starting to get into my ancient stash of patterns and try some new stuff out. 

I did have a ton of this fabric (it was the end of the bolt so I just took the entire thing) and had enough to make yet another Named Kielo, which you don't need me to say a single word more about ever but here is a six-month-old picture of it:

I wore this constantly for four months until it got too hot. I love the colour of this fabric and am really glad I've been able to get some of it into my wardrobe. Also when I have my glasses on I look like Velma from Scooby Doo and that brings me joy. 

I continue to hope that I'll be in a place for photoshoots this week, though temperatures of 30+ don't usually bode well for productivity. It is 31 degrees Celsius today and I am going to a gig. Assuming I manage not to die there I will be back again with something or another next week!

Vogue 8825 dress

Fabric: Lightweight mustard sweater knit from Fabric Land
Cost: about £10
Pattern details: Mock-wrap dress with grown-on facing extending into back collar, cuffed sleeves and wide waist ties. Pattern also includes tunic version and elastic-waist trousers
Size: 16 out to 18 at the hips
Alterations: Cut shorter length, no cuffs used
Would make again/would recommend: No/No

Monday 4 July 2022

you picked a fine time to leave me (Lucille trousers)

Updated State of the Jen: everything is still not sorted, but possibly in a completely different way now? I don't even know what's going on anymore. I'm very tired at the moment, but I do have a new doctor and some social plans and a couple of low-key creative challenges for the month, so I'm hopeful things will start to look up soon. It's our anniversary today (eight years!) which is a decent excuse to a) not worry about stuff for 24 hours and b) go out to dinner twice in one week. Casual today, fancy on Saturday, which is how I live my life if you ignore the 'casual' bit. 

Let's get on to the trousers, shall we? 

I've mentioned a couple of times that I've lost weight recently. My weight and measurements have always fluctuated and usually it doesn't warrant more than a passing mention, but things are a little different this time. For many years now there has been a very specific upper and lower threshold that my measurements fluctuate between, but now I'm underneath that lower threshold and some of my clothes are noticeably not fitting anymore. For example, here's the pair of Lucille trousers I made last year:

This was the first of my regularly-worn items that I noticed a problem with. I wore these trousers more or less constantly throughout last autumn and winter, and when I made them they fit like this:

You will observe that the waistband used to provide some sort of definition and didn't just... hang there. I was increasingly often putting the trousers on in the morning, looking at myself in the mirror and taking them straight back off again because they felt so schlumpy. I started wondering how annoying it would be to alter them when I remembered I actually already had a pair of almost-finished Lucilles in a smaller size, sitting at the back of my fabric cupboard. I'd written about my incompetent first attempt, but hadn't specified that I had managed to work around most of my mistakes and get the trousers to the point where they just needed the waistband attaching. And then found out they were way too small. For whatever reason I hadn't thrown them out, so I went back to them and put the waistband on. 

When I first tried these on last year and they didn't fit, I had assumed I'd put more weight on and I made the second pair one size up. When I was finishing them a couple of months ago I compared the waistband to the pattern piece and realised it was two sizes smaller than I thought I'd cut (so three sizes smaller than the second pair). Even though I've lost more than 20lb since I first tried this pair on, I still couldn't eat a big dinner while wearing them. They do, however, look a million times better and I'm assuming some more weight will come off. I don't have a goal in mind or anything and I'm not even tracking outside my hospital appointments, but my habits are so fundamentally different now that it would be a surprise if things stopped here. 

I may still need to do some work on these. I put in a zip of unknown origin that I found in my stash, and it does not function like any zip I have ever known. The pull has a mind of its own and will often not stay up, sometimes the teeth pop open but not in a way that stops the zip functioning, and I just do not understand anything about it. When I get to the point of wearing these regularly, I will probably go back in and switch it out for one that doesn't do any of this stuff. This truly was one of my most incompetent projects, I'm amazed it resulted in something I could even photograph. 

Because this pair is still a little tight to just generally exist in, I decided to make some more:

(Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage Glasses Jen, whom you almost never see because I don't wear them most of the time and thus have no idea how to photograph myself in them without getting weird reflection stuff.)

Size-wise, the larger pair of purple trousers were somewhere between a 14 and 16, and the smaller pair very wonkily between 8 and 10. Based on current fit of both I decided to cut between 10 and 12 for this pair, which has worked very well. They're super comfortable for just splatting in without sacrificing any waist definition. 

The fabric is a viscose twill with a bit of stretch that I got from Fabrics Galore, and I will be honest and say that this choice was a bit of a whiff. Don't get me wrong, I wear them all the time and I like them, but I would not make the same decision again. In close-up the fabric is dark pink and two different shades of bright teal, and I was excited about having a pair of very loud trousers, but it just doesn't read from a distance. The teal is barely noticeable, and they're just not the statement piece I pictured (I am aware there will be many people out there who would laugh pretty hard at the idea of this garment being not enough of a statement, but I am a very specific person). And yet although, in my opinion, they are not that loud visually, they are literally, sonically, really quite loud. They make an astonishing amount of noise as I walk, and I'm not even sure why. It is odd. 

With that said, I am happy enough with them to wear them, and they are currently my go-to trousers. I am wearing them as I write this. They are comfy and at least a little interesting and appropriate for most non-rainy weather we're likely to get in this country. I will now probably put this pattern away for a little while; they're comfy and fun to wear but I cannot convince myself that I need more than two pairs at any given time. I'm really keen to have a few slightly different silhouettes in my wardrobe, and this one is so specific. I will probably return here eventually though (most likely when I find some actually decent soft crepe, which I swear used to be abundant and is more or less non-existent these days. What gives?).

Up next will either be something I've made very recently (if I get round to taking photos this week) or a couple of slightly older garments that don't warrant an individual post each (if I don't get round to taking photos). I'm working on a lot of experiments at the moment and some of them are definitely turning out better than others, but I'm quite enjoying that. I get to learn and discover things! Some of those things are going to result in my having to resume my search for a strapless bra that isn't utterly bog useless, but we all have our trials in life. 

Monday 27 June 2022

spring sewing: a wedding guest dress (and bonus very similar dress)

I said in my last post that I'd had a pretty heavy week, and the week following was somehow even worse. I have a massive amount of shit to sort out and I feel incredibly lucky that I happen to be in a place where I'm healthy enough to advocate for myself right now. I don't want to think about what might have happened to Past Jen in this situation. (I'm being vague on purpose, but please be assured that I'm going to be OK, my partner and family are supporting me, nobody else has died since last Friday.) Things are pretty tough, there's a lot of work to do, the news from the US is utterly horrifying, and I just have not had the mental space for sewing. Fortunately I'd already written the rest of this post, so here it is. 

This dress was made for the wedding of a relative of mine (I think the technical term is first cousin once removed, but we've always spent a lot of time with them). They are not well off at all and were determined to only invite people who were a genuine presence in their lives regardless of what etiquette would normally dictate about inviting person X and not person Y. I honestly didn't expect to be invited at first and wanted to show that I appreciated the significance of it. When I put the project into my plans, I had no fabric and no real idea of what I was looking for. I don't normally allow myself to do that because it usually leads to never finding anything and not even getting started, but the fact of having an occasion and a deadline, I thought, would add enough pressure to make sure things actually happened. For once, I was correct.

As soon as I saw this fabric in one of the Walthamstow shops I knew it was right. It's not something I would have otherwise bought (this is extremely not my usual style of print) but it has the exact vibe I had in mind for this wedding and is also vibrant enough to still feel somewhat like me. The substrate is viscose, light enough for a summer wedding but not so light as to be see-through. 

I also knew as soon as I saw the fabric that it called for something a little... swooshier than I'm used to making. I haven't made a skirt fuller than an A-line in five years and had fully assumed I never would again. If a quick scroll back through my blog post list is to be believed, I've only made one woven dress that wasn't either a maxi or a wrap (or both) in the last four years and I didn't even like that one. I think my assumption when I wrote my plan was that I would use the knee-length version of the Anna skirt, but I was extremely uninspired by the idea of an Anna dress in this fabric. So I went trawling through my pattern boxes and found the Sew Over It Doris dress, which I made exactly once in my first year of sewing and never wore. The skirt pattern has more exaggerated gores than any other I've owned, so it's quite fitted over the hips but provides a decent amount of swish at the hem. I ran up a quick toile (which you will see shortly) to make sure I didn't hate it, and decided to pair it with the Cashmerette Upton bodice. 

Originally I had intended the sleeves to be flutter sleeves, and that's what I cut, but I ended up chopping them right back when I tried the dress on. Every now and then I have another go at flutter sleeves and I always end up cutting them back because they look really matronly on me. I went somewhere in between the two skirt lengths the pattern provides to get it to hit just above my knees (I'm just over 5'8", for reference). I put in my standard side seam pockets and they worked amazingly well. My phone stayed securely in my pocket all night despite many hours of overly enthusiastic wedding disco dancing. 

There is one problem, and it's the back. It was fine when I finished it, but it's now bagged out of shape around the zip. I'm not fully sure why this is or how I would fix it, but the biggest obstacle to my keeping this dress for future family events is that it now looks quite unsightly from this angle and I would need some kind of cover-up for it. If I had any leftover fabric I would just recut the back panels, but because of the fuller skirt I had to do some quite complicated pattern Tetris to get this dress out of 3m of fabric and there are only the tiniest scraps left. 

Having not made or worn this type of skirt since 2016 I wanted to make sure that it would work first, so I decided to make a wearable toile out of another piece of viscose I bought at the same time. I ran out of time to get it completely finished before needing to start work on the real one, so I got it to the stage where the skirt was attached to the bodice and I could pin it onto myself and make sure I liked the style enough and then put it aside to be finished after the wedding. 

This one is the darted Upton bodice rather than the princess seam one I ended up using for the blue dress, and there's not much reasoning behind that other than that I'd decided I wanted sleeves on the actual dress and couldn't be bothered printing out the darted bodice with sleeved armscye when I had the princess seam one ready to go already. Other than that it's the same - same skirt, same pockets, same neckline. I did topstitch the neckline here to try and make it feel a little more casual. The way that I want to wear this dress is as an everyday no-thought-required sundress and not as something that needs an occasion. 

This quite standard summer dress is way out of my comfort zone these days. Almost all of my skirts are maxi length and the few outliers are all autumn/winter dresses designed to be worn with thick tights. I never pick sleeveless if there's an option for a short sleeve and I tend to prefer a higher neckline for summer. I just don't own anything remotely like this and up until now hadn't missed its absence. But to my pleasant surprise, I've been really enjoying wearing this one over the past couple of weeks. It's easy to wear, the skirt length works perfectly, I don't feel particularly dressed-up in it even though it's bright red. I feel comfortable. 

On both dresses I took the time to do the hems properly, and on the red one I did a narrow hem, which I'm honestly not sure I've ever done before. The skirts I make rarely have much of a curve to the hem so I've never really thought it necessary, but I gave it a go here and I'm pleased with how it came out. I would certainly do it again on any curved-hem skirts I make in the future, and time will tell how often that might be. At present, I'm really not sure. As I've said many times recently, I'm a bit bored with my current limited range of silhouettes, and I've been surprised by how much I like these two dresses. I think I'll want to spend a bit more time reflecting on whether it's the garments themselves or simply the fact that they're different before I go making any more, but it's not out of the question that this could become a more prominent style in my wardrobe. Hemming remains my very least favourite sewing task, so there will probably always be a bit of reluctance towards massive skirts that take large amounts of time and effort to achieve a nice finish for, but I do now know that I can and it's not a guaranteed waste of said time and effort. And that might help. 

(The back has not bagged out on this one.)

That's everything from my spring plans posted! I've made a start on my summer projects already, though nothing is actually finished yet, and I've also cut out several quite unseasonal experiments in an attempt to get some remnants out of my stash. So those may or may not be coming your way depending on how they turn out. I'm obviously expecting that my sewing will slow down until I can get all my life shit sorted, but I am hoping that I won't need to stop entirely and that I can continue to blog regularly. I quite like having this Monday morning anchor point and I would like to keep it up if I can. 

Up next: trousers! For real this time.