Monday, 15 May 2023

spring sewing: a red velvet Society dress

So, I'm very aware that I posted a spring sewing plan and then just didn't update here for basically the whole of spring. It's not that I haven't been sewing; I've either completed or attempted the majority of my plans. It's just that almost all of them involved new-to-me patterns and my success rate has been very sadly low. I hate the maxi skirt, the trousers are unwearable, I can't get the bodysuit to sit right for photos, the zip broke on the shorts the second time I put them on. It's been really discouraging. (Also I've discovered that despite what it says on the envelope, the slip dress that comes with M6696 does not, in fact, have cup sizes, so I don't know if it's worth bothering with now.) I am in active need of things to wear and nothing is working, and motivation is now in short supply. 

But amongst all this, there has been one single success story. 

And of course it's one of the impractical things. Saying that, I have actually worn this one out already, within 24 hours of finishing it, and while it's obviously very fancy I also didn't feel uncomfortably overdressed in it. Even though it has a massive cowl hood. I think more overtly vintage-looking things like this give me a bit of leeway in this area; the style is specific enough to convey "this is just what I look like" versus "I have seriously misjudged the dress code". Which is not to say I'll be returning to overtly vintage styles generally, but it is useful when you want to go out for dinner on a Thursday night wearing a red velvet dress with a giant hood. 

This is the Society dress from Gertie's Patreon, and it has a view different options: shorter A-line skirt or floor length skirt with godets; short puff sleeves or long bishop sleeves; massive hood or no massive hood. Obviously what I immediately wanted was the most dramatic version possible, but that's a lot of fabric and I didn't know if I was going to like it. So to test it out, I made the A-line skirt and short sleeves. I was not prepared to give up the hood, even for a test (plus I wanted to know how it would sit on me). 

I made a straight size 8, H cup. By shortening the skirt a couple of inches and taking about an inch of width out of the hood, I managed to fit it onto three metres of fabric. Incidentally, I still ended up putting quite a wide hem on this one to get it to sit above the knee and I'm 5'8'' with long thighs, so I think "knee-length skirt" might be a bit of a misnomer. For the most part it fits me very well, though it doesn't quite sit under my bust the way I think it should. I would add a small amount of length to the bodice for any future versions.

I found this to be a fairly simple project in terms of construction, and I did most of it in one afternoon. The instructions as written for almost all of Gertie's knit patterns seem to preclude the use of an overlocker (all seam allowances are directed to be pressed open) but I ignored that because I refuse to return to the tedious days of the zig-zag stitch and did almost all of it on the overlocker except the neck facing. I hemmed the skirt and sleeves and secured the neck facing by hand, and that bit took many hours and was not completed in the same afternoon. 

Something that surprised me was that I didn't end up shortening the sleeves. I almost always do when they come out boob length like this, but when I pinned them up they just looked weird (I think because of the puff at the shoulder) and I ended up doing a very narrow hem to keep as much of the length as possible. The style of the bodice seems to be enough to prevent the Massive Boob Shelf look I usually get. 

I'm really pleased with this dress and hope I can find ways to wear it semi-regularly. I do intend to try the full ridiculous version at some point, and if I were more of a vintage person in general the base dress would be amazing for everyday wear. I keep thinking about trying it, but I know it wouldn't work for me - this dress is me because it's wine-coloured shiny velvet with a massive hood, super glamorous and unnecessary, and a version meant for daywear would just make me feel kind of dowdy. Shame, really, because it's so comfy. But at least now I'm ready for any future parties that require me to come dressed as Vintage Red Riding Hood. 

I'm not sure yet what's happening when it comes to posting the rest of my spring projects. Ideally I would still put them up here in some form because reviews of patterns you didn't entirely get on with are often the most useful ones for other people (and for Future Jen who comes across one of the patterns in two years and wonders why she hasn't made another), but we do run into the age old dilemma known as Putting Pictures of Myself I Don't Like on the Internet, and I'm just not sure I'm in a place for that right now. But we'll see. 

My busy February and March spilled over into April as well, so it's only this past week that I've finally had a bit of breathing time. Next week is also chill and I'm hoping to use it to pair patterns to fabric and find the motivation to try out another pair of trousers. I cannot possibly stress enough how much I need another pair of trousers. What I need to do is bribe myself to properly refit and redraft my trouser block, but I just so fundamentally don't want to do it that the usual bribes (ie fabric, cookies, nail varnish) don't work. To the point that I end up convincing myself I don't even like the bribe thing that much. Sigh. But somehow, some way, there needs to be trousers, and hopefully that will be my next post. Fingers crossed for next week! 

Monday, 13 March 2023

sewing plan: spring 2023

Hello! Life got away from me! You could probably have predicted! You probably couldn't have predicted that I would end up enjoying the improv course so much that I signed up for another one, but that is what's happened. It turns out I really like being able to say random shit in a scenario where everyone else just has to go with it. 

Anyway. Spring. If you've been here a while you're probably sick of me saying that spring is the hardest season for me sewing-wise, but it's still true. Spring is essentially meaningless here in terms of type of garment - winter coats and tights are equally as likely as sleeveless dresses - so historically where I've got tripped up is thinking that I ought to have a 'spring palette' in terms of colour and print. Even though I dislike the way spring colours and prints look on me. 

What I'm going to try this time is a small plan, using fabric and patterns I already own as far as possible. As you will see, it's surprisingly purple. I'm not sure why this is. 

Practical things

A maxi skirt

I currently own three maxi skirts, all of which are the same pattern (the Deer&Doe Fumeterre, one actual version and two of my modified versions), and I'd quite like to try something else. I have the Sew Over It Haxby pattern from when I signed up to their Stitch School for a month and harvested all the patterns, and some extremely busy purple viscose, and we're going to see how it goes.

A pair of trousers

I have been sitting on 2m of lavender wool crepe forever, knowing it needs to be a pair of trousers but never finding the right pattern. I have two patterns I want to try out: the Sew Over It cigarette pants and Vogue 9181 Custom Fit bootcut trousers. I'm going to make trial versions of both before I risk cutting into the lavender. The trial fabric for the cigarette pants is also purple. 

Shorts to wear over tights

I mentioned in this post that I was planning on making some Chataigne shorts for colder weather, and I'm considering two different fabrics. My mother-in-law sent me 3m of bright mustard suede for my birthday and I am thinking about using half of it for the shorts and half for an as yet unidentified skirt (see below). I also have 3m of this black check 100% wool that I got from Walthamstow; I bought it to make trousers but it was the end of the bolt so I have more than I need, and I have to decide if I'm making one wider leg pair of trousers or narrower leg trousers and a pair of these shorts. 

A shorter skirt

This is the one item on the list I don't have a pattern in mind for, but it is something I've recently found a need for. Partly because I now have a knee-length winter coat and the maxi skirts look silly under it, but also because I've really been feeling the need to switch things up. I've been scratching the itch with one of my old mini-length tulip skirts, but I'd like something a bit more tailored to my current preferences. I'm after something reasonably fitted that doesn't look like office wear, preferably with some kind of interesting design detail, and if I've not found such a thing by next month I'll go with my backup option of a Cashmerette Ellis skirt. 

Impractical things

A hooded velvet dress

The January pattern on Gertie's Patreon was this insane velvet witch dress and I love it. I'm not going full witch for my first attempt (though you know I will eventually if I like the result), but it is still very silly to make a wine-coloured velvet dress with a hood for spring and that will not stop me. I'm going to make the knee-length version, probably with short sleeves, so I can get a sense of how the bodice and the hood will look. 

A slip dress

This isn't necessarily impractical, but it's not quite practical either, so I'm putting it here. About a month ago I made a trial run of a silk cami top, the now-unavailable free Pauline Alice Bailen, and while I don't like it very much because I think it sits weirdly on me, it did get me to a place of feeling a bit more confident with the bias cut silk. I started looking for a simple bias-cut slip dress pattern with cup sizes and found almost nothing (apparently pattern companies would rather just all offer the exact same things and not try to fill gaps in the market?), but when I asked for suggestions on my Instagram stories someone told me that the ubiquitous M6696 shirtdress pattern also includes a slip with cup sizes. So I have bought a shirtdress pattern, much to my amazement, and I will be trying out the slip. Not the shirtdress. Never the shirtdress. 

A velvet bodysuit

When I decided to make the Murder Dress, I convinced myself it was okay to make something spectacular and very impractical because I would still have half the fabric left and I could make something a tiny bit more wearable with it. I am not doing that. Instead I am making Vogue 1923, which is another fancy off-the-shoulder garment. I'm now working on convincing myself that it totally is practical because I can wear it with trousers and that will somehow dress it down several notches. Because we're nearly halfway through March I'm already almost done with this one (of course I started with one of the impractical projects) and I'm really pleased with how it's looking. 

This is as much as I'm going to plan this time. I have several other things in my head, but either they don't have a fabric/pattern match or they're quite involved, and I don't want to commit to things like that when I've been struggling for time and motivation. It's a seven-item list, and with the need to make trial versions and a potential second pair of shorts it's almost a regular length of plan for me. I've also decided that I don't have enough to say about the rest of my unposted projects to give them their own posts, so expect a random assortment of stuff in one scattergun post within the next couple of weeks! 

Monday, 13 February 2023

the fabric found its pattern: a circee maxi skirt

So, we have entered Busy Times. It's usually Busy Times at this time of year anyway - it's my birthday this week, and and once we get through the various things we have planned we start doing things for Patrick's birthday - but now I'm currently on two evening classes per week plus my singing lessons, we've booked a couple of city breaks, and also a bunch of one-off events happened to get scheduled between now and the end of March. And I really need to find time to sew because it turns out you can't safely do improv classes in skirts, which I hadn't anticipated so all the things I made this winter were absolutely not geared to my current needs.

Case in point: 

This is the Deer&Doe Circee, maxi skirt version. My original intention was to make the dress version as well before posting about it, but I ran into a slight mishap where I cut out my trial version and then promptly lost half the pieces. I don't seem to be able to get that fabric again, either. I will still have a go at it at some point, but it's going to take me a bit longer. In the meantime: extremely dramatic maxi skirt. 

I've had this fabric for a while (you may remember it) and could never work out what to do with it. It's a super-large border print, each panel is two feet long, and there's barely a sliver of a gap between each one. I really didn't want to chop up the print too much, and my original thought was a wrap dress where the bodice is made of the plain black section and the skirt has the border print. In retrospect I'm glad I didn't - I would only have had enough fabric to make a knee-length dress and the print is so large-scale that I would have had to cut it down to get a length I was happy to wear. A maxi length wrap skirt with no back seam is the perfect thing. 

Construction was very simple and I didn't run into anything awkward or confusing. The skirt is designed to close with two visible buttons at the waistband, but I switched them out for press studs because I am weird and dislike buttons on my clothing. Immediately after making this version Patrick gave me a proper hardware press for Christmas, which I'm delighted with and I hope this is the last thing I ever make with sew-on press studs. It does mean I'll have to fit things properly before I sew down any waistbands, but I haaaaate hand-sewing fastenings onto my projects and I think slightly less convenient fitting is a very small price to pay to dispense with that for good. 

It also has enormous slash pockets, which is much appreciated. 

I am pretty pleased with this and would make it again. What I will say is that I used a very stiff fabric here that isn't super inclined to blow about in the wind, so I can't say for certain what level of wardrobe malfunction might result from, say, a more lightweight viscose. Chances are I will give it a try at some point, and when I do I'll report back. This version is obviously not for everyday wear and I'd quite like one that's a little more versatile, but this was absolutely the correct thing to do with this fabric. I'm delighted it's finally in my wardrobe and I will more than likely be wearing it for my birthday dinner on Friday. 

I have two more winter projects photographed to post about, both of which use patterns I've already tried. I've made but not yet photographed the Murder Dress - I wanted to do a proper photoshoot for it, but there's a decent chance that I will just never get around to that, so I'm going to try to at least take placeholder photos sometime soon. I don't know how much I have to say about any of them, but they will be posted over the course of the next few weeks, by which time I will hopefully have got my head around my spring plan. Too many ideas, not enough time!

Deer&Doe Circee (review of skirt only)

Fabric: Heavyweight satin viscose from Walthamstow
Cost: £30
Pattern details: Wrap skirt in two lengths with large slash pockets and button closure at waistband (also a wrap dress with dramatic split sleeves)
Size: 44
Alterations: Buttons swapped out for press studs, two inches of length added to hem
Would make again/would recommend: Yes/Yes

Tuesday, 31 January 2023

orage and chataigne

Guess who forgot to schedule this post for yesterday? January has somehow lasted a million years and I'm really not on top of the little stuff right now. It's not all bad, though -  for Christmas my in-laws got us a voucher for a really nice Andalusian restaurant so we had a lovely dinner last week, improv week two was way less nightmarish than improv week one and I actually quite enjoyed myself, and my singing teacher made the rash decision to let me pick a Skunk Anansie song to learn. So I'm having a lot of fun when life isn't being a dreadful slog. 

Anyway, I'd like to introduce you to my new favourite top:

This is the Deer & Doe Orage. I bought both of their most recent releases, and you'll be seeing the other one next week (or on Instagram a couple of weeks ago). I wasn't sure about the Orage as a dress - the skirt is midi length and dips lower at the front and back, which seems like the worst possible style and shape for me - but I thought the top part looked cool and if it didn't work for me, there were two other top variations that almost certainly would. So I tried all three of the tops, of which you will be seeing two because I used the wrong fabric for the third and it looked like ass. 

I got this fabric in the Abakhan remnant bins in September. It's a lightweight textured jersey with a lot of stretch, and I bought it entirely for the colour with zero idea what I was going to do with it. It didn't feel at all like a sacrifice to use it as a toile, even though I was pretty convinced it wasn't going to work. I was absolutely delighted to be wrong. I love this. I don't normally like high necks, but somehow this one really suits me and doesn't itch. The boob window sits nice and flat in exactly the right place and doesn't gape when I bend forward. I'm thrilled with the way the colour looks on me. I'm constantly searching for comfortable jersey tops for daywear with some level of interest to them, and this one ticks every single box for me.

Within the pattern this view is only intended to be the bodice for a dress, so it's quite cropped. I like crop lengths as I'm quite short-waisted and tend to prefer high-waisted trousers, but this was still a tiny bit short so I put a wide hem band on. I will mostly likely do this for future versions too, because I like the symmetry with the wide neck band. I also put cuffs on it, after trying to hem the sleeves and discovering that the fabric really did not want to do that. Again, this is something I will probably repeat in future. 

The trousers are the Victory Patterns Esther Pants, which I think I showed in passing in a post about something else. I made them about three years ago and they didn't fit me then, but I had spent so long getting every single thing right and sewing them as well as I could that I refused to get rid of them. They even survived the house-moving cull, despite me being no closer to fitting into them at the time. I'm now delighted I stubbornly held onto them, as they've been my best-fitting pair of trousers for the past eight months and I wear the shit out of them. This outfit is my current favourite and I wear it constantly. 

In standard fashion, I immediately wanted to make another version of this top and bought some quite pricey bamboo jersey to do so. This turned out to be a mistake. 

Other than the obvious Much Smaller Boob Window, which I don't fully understand and don't like (I think the lower part of the bodice is cut too high), version two looks basically okay in these photos. Let me assure you that it is not. The mock neck is not fitted enough to be made in this kind of jersey, and it looks like shit. Also if I move around too much it gets all distorted and weird-looking around the shoulders. I have thrown this version out, and am on the lookout for a jersey that's less... floppy? I'm not sure what the correct fabric word is here. But I will be making another, as soon as humanly possible.

Before I get on to the shorts, I will quickly mention the scoop neck view, which doesn't really merit much analysis. It's a nice top, it fits me well because Deer & Doe's knit block always fits me well, I will make it again, I have very little to say about it. Here it is:

(Fabric is a remnant from a sweater knit Kielo I made back in the autumn and never got around to posting because I absolutely cannot justify any more standalone posts about the Kielo. There's probably an incoming post of "stuff I have literally nothing more to say about" that's almost entirely pictures, or another story post broken up with pictures of random shit I made.)

The shorts are the Deer & Doe Chataigne. I bought the pattern in 2016, made it once, immediately sized out of the extremely limited range. But I kept the pattern because I liked it, and now I'm within that size range again I thought I'd have another go and see how it was fitting me these days. 

You may recognise the fabric as a leftover from this dress. You also may remember that the fabric is stretchy, so I didn't bother putting a zip in either the dress or these shorts. For the actual pair I eventually make (in a nice wool, to wear over tights) I will put the zip in, but this was only intended as a quick toile. I'm surprised by how much I like them, actually. Under normal circumstances bright blue shorts would never have occurred to me. I made size 46, which is what was already cut out and in retrospect absolutely did not fit me at all at the time. For my current size it works pretty well, though I will probably go down a size in the waist for my real pair. 

I'm also thinking about making another version, in a low-stretch black ponte, to be my new pair of shorts for burlesque classes. The pattern has a second view with a high waist and scalloped hem, which seems like exactly what I want, but I will definitely want to practice the scalloped hem a few times first. 

I'm making the most of a couple of fairly quiet weeks. Once we hit mid-February my schedule is nuts for about two months straight, and I'm both excited about it and dreading it. On the one hand, Things are good. On the other, Things are exhausting. But I'm hoping to still carve out time to sew, and ideally make a proper plan for spring. Not promising anything, of course. But I hope so. 

Up next: a DRAMA SKIRT

Deer&Doe Orage (review of top versions only)

Fabric: Green textured jersey from Abakhan // black bamboo jersey from Fabrics Galore // black and white sweater knit from Fabric Land
Cost: can only meaningfully cost the bamboo jersey, which was £24
Pattern details: tops, dress and skirt. Tops are: long sleeves, mock neck, cutout bodice; squared scoop neck and 3/4 sleeves; short sleeved crop top. Skirt is midi length with curved hem
Size: 44
Alterations:  Cropped the cutout bodice version, added cuffs and hem band
Would make again/would recommend: Yes/Yes

Monday, 23 January 2023

very complicated random sewing: style arc ormond designer coat

Over the past month or two, I've been doing quite a lot of sewing. I've not been especially good at sticking to my plans, but I have made a bunch of things from fabric I already had in my stash, and the majority of them turned out surprisingly well. Then they all sat around in my wardrobe because I couldn't be bothered to photograph them. Last week, on the day I finished the project you're about to see, I was suddenly hit with a bolt of motivation and photographed half a dozen things. It was below freezing outside at the time, which was fine for this specific garment but not so much for everything else. But the upshot is, I now have several posts scheduled and will be a slightly more reliable blogging presence for at least the next couple of months. 

With that said, here's a surprisingly complicated project to have made at random:

I made a coat! Which, also unusually for random sewing, is a thing I actually needed. My Rumana coat is now five years old and not holding up as well as I'd like, and though it still functions as a coat it's beginning to feel a bit shapeless and sloppy. In the December round of sub-zero temperatures I became deeply irritated with the fact that I had to hold my winter coat closed and was spurred on to finally make a new one. 

The fabric is a cashmere-effect wool mix that I bought from Fabric Godmother at the end of 2021. I've always wanted a green coat and snapped up the last 3m they had, and then spent months trying to find a pattern. I knew that it had to be at least knee-length (hip-length coats don't suit me and a jacket made in fabric this thick would be functionally useless), and for ages the only pattern I could find that would give me that much length out of 3m or less was the aforementioned Rumana, which I'm pretty sure I'm done with. Eventually I found and bought the Style Arc Ormond Designer Coat, which seemed to tick all the boxes.

I'd never used Style Arc before, and my first impressions were not the strongest. It's mostly silly stuff - the pattern is fine - but there were several things I wasn't a fan of. The layout of the PDF, for a start. The instructions were part of the pattern sheet, meaning that they had to be printed with the A0 file, and also that they come up on the screen sideways. One of the pattern pieces is split into two on the layout and has to be taped together. I don't know enough about things to know if this was unavoidable, but it just irritates me when I pay to have an A0 pattern printed and am then forced to tape shit anyway. The instructions seemed to have not been proofread, which bothers me more than it should. They were fairly minimal, which is not a problem for me personally, but the bits I found most confusing were the bits where they attempted to explain a step in more detail, and that absolutely is a problem for me personally. But as I say, the pattern itself is fine, so overall I would neither gravitate towards nor specifically reject another Style Arc pattern in future. 

(Here's the lining fabric, which is a silky viscose from Walthamstow. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to put a plain lining in a coat, unless the outer fabric is crazy.)

The coat is a raglan, and has a front panel, a side panel, and a back made up of three pieces including a waist insert. The ties are sandwiched in between the waist insert and the side panel, which I strongly prefer to a loose belt, but it does mean that the waist is in a very definite place, and on me that place is the wrong place. I have a very high waist and am much wider immediately below it, so in order to get the coat to stay comfortably closed I have to hitch the whole thing up. Were I to make this again I would take an inch off the upper back bodice and add an inch to the lower back, keeping the length but moving the waist to the right place for my body. It also has in-seam pockets. The pockets are between the front and side panels rather than attached to the back panel, so they are in a practical place for a coat, but having worn this coat for a week I still don't like them and would have been better off switching them out for welts. Honestly I still like the Rumana pockets the best and since this coat has a side panel, it might have been worth making a mock-up out of an old duvet cover to see if I could get a similar thing going here. But this was random sewing, and if I'd tried to do something like that I don't believe I would have made anything at all. 

The upper back has a pleated detail into the waist, which I like in theory, but in practice (and certainly with this very thick fabric) it creates a lot of bulk that I'm not here for. The side silhouette especially is quite Notre-Dame. Were I to make this again, which is unlikely, I would definitely want to take some of that volume out. While I'm quibbling, the coat is hand-hemmed (though the sleeves are done by machine, thankfully) and I object to that on principle. Having only made a couple of coats I wasn't sure how to alter things for a machine hem, so I have hemmed it by hand, but a coat is a hard-wearing item and I don't think you should have to do large amounts of hand sewing. I'm also surprised at how little topstitching there was on this pattern - it's basically only the back of the collar, which you don't see. On a hypothetical second coat I would do a lot more, if only because I feel that a pattern specifically called "designer coat" should have a bit more in the way of details. 

In terms of construction, my biggest issue was the sheer amount of bulk my machine had to sew through. Sewing the facing to the coat at the collar area - especially where I'd put in a hanging loop because I don't understand why sewing patterns don't have those - was a proper chore and my machine did not like it at all. Obviously this was exacerbated by my fabric choice, but if your machine isn't a workhorse it's probably going to be a bit of a struggle with any kind of wool. 

My second biggest issue was the lining. Once I'd sewn the lining to the facing I realised there was too much lining, and when trying to cut it down I made a major miscalculation and ended up with not enough lining. So I had to sew about two thirds of the piece I cut off back on again, and as a result there's a horizontal seam line running all the way across the lining. Which is not a big deal, but it is a thing. 

The third issue was that whatever percentage of not-wool there is in this fabric made pressing much more difficult than I'd anticipated. I'm aware that it looks a little off in places and would like to assure everyone that I am regularly going back in with the iron and trying to make it behave itself. 

On the whole, I'm pleased with this coat. I started sewing it just after the first cold snap and mocked myself for my poor timing, but it ended up being ready just in time for the second cold snap, and it is WARM. Once the temperatures go back up at the end of this week I suspect I won't actually be able to wear it closed without overheating (but I can tie the ties behind me and it'll be fine). Is it my favourite thing I've ever done? No. Will I use this pattern next time I want to make a coat? No. Will I wear my new green coat constantly? Absolutely. 

In terms of whether I'd recommend this pattern, I would say that if you're in the situation I was in - need a knee-length coat, only have 3m of fabric and can't get any more of it - this is a decent shout. If you're in a position to be pickier, you can probably do better. There is nothing wrong with this pattern, and it's entirely possible that I was expecting a little too much of it because it's specifically named "designer", but my final impression is definitely "it worked for my specific circumstances" and not "you must all get yourselves one of these". But if it's already in your plans, I certainly wouldn't discourage you. 

As a brief life update, things are still pretty up and down and there doesn't seem to be any logic as to what's making me better or worse. Sewing is happening but not consistently, writing is happening but not consistently. Last week I started an improv course, which is basically my worst nightmare and I signed up for it precisely because it was my worst nightmare, and then went all shocked Pikachu face when I took the first class and found myself in my worst nightmare. I'm determined to continue, though. It will not defeat me. 

Up next: my new favourite top, and a bonus toile or two! 

Style Arc Ormond Designer Coat

Fabric: Cashmere effect wool mix coating from Fabric Godmother // silky viscose from Walthamstow
Cost: £60 for everything
Pattern details: Raglan sleeve lined coat in two lengths, with one-piece front and side panels and waist insert in the back, four pleats in the upper back and inverted pleat in the skirt. In-seam pockets and sewn-in ties
Size: 14
Alterations: Added a hanging loop
Would make again/would recommend: No/Maybe