Monday, 30 November 2015

The passage of time

Well. I guess November happened without me feeling any need to blog about any of it. It was a somewhat terrible month, to be honest, despite containing my (very pleasant) birthday (though it was a Birthday With A Zero At The End, which is always mildly horrifying). The upshot of my month was that I spent most of it sick, and when I wasn't sick I was miserable, and quite often, just for a really fun time, I was both sick and miserable. None of this was conducive to sewing, or blogging, or anything else, really.

However, although illness was the main stumbling block, another reason I haven't really been sewing is that I didn't really need to make anything. Although this is unfortunate from the point of view of enjoying my hobby, in intervals of misery I have, in fact, been smugly patting my own back quite extensively over this. As the season changed into late autumn/early winter it became cheeringly apparent that my wardrobe planning efforts are finally starting to pay off. Right now I have more or less the right amount of just the right things for the weather, my current lifestyle and I also like (almost) everything I own. This has been the wardrobe holy grail I've been working towards the last few years so: yay! I am going to write some more about this soon, because no, really, this is the first time I've felt like everything has come together.

Hanging handtowels for my mum's kitchen
Almost perfect wardrobe aside, I do still have a list of sewing projects. As I've felt a great deal less sick and at least somewhat less miserable in the last few days, I decided to start with something small: a request for my mum for hanging hand towels for her kitchen. I actually bought the towels for this about 3 months ago, and the fabric and buttons were pulled from my stash. I adapted this pattern in order to make four in total as requested (I had already delivered two of them to my mum when I took this photo). Not very exciting, I know, but my mum was pleased! These account for the meagre half metre of fabric that I managed to take out of stash this month, though happily I didn't buy anything at all so at least the numbers moved overall in the right direction.

I have no concrete plans for December as it all depends on how well I am. Nebulous ideas if I have days where I feel like sewing include working on the Please Stop Talking About It And Just Make It Already winter jacket, and maybe a Lekala hoodie thing, and maybe, possibly, something specific for Christmas Day. The only thing I'm really determined to do is finish my Wanderling jumper (last mentioned at the end of September) which has stalled out because I felt rather unenthusiastic about knitting long boring stocking stitch sleeves. I am sure I can plough through them fairly quickly though if I knit a bit every day, so if possible I will try to do that over the next couple of weeks. I hate having WIPs lurking about never-endingly and it would be good to get that jumper finished before the end of the year.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Pyjamas, plans and a couple more Craftsy mini-reviews

October started out pretty positively, but alas, the second half went rapidly downhill and for quite a lot of the time I've been too ill to really do anything, even watch Craftsy videos. Most days I wasn't even up to posting on Instagram, which is about the lowest bar for activity I can think of. My grand plan to really burn through a lot of video instruction while I had the all-access pass was thus foiled! I did get through a couple more classes (reviews at the bottom of the post) but not nearly as much as I wanted. I also didn't sew at all for most of the second half of the month. On the days when I did feel well, I used the time to do all the mundane household/life things I hadn't done on the bad days and didn't have the energy to do anything more. I can't begin to tell you how bored and fed-up I am with all this illness, or how frustrated I am with the slow-grinding wheels of bureaucracy that stand between me and actually being treated for it. One of these days though I'll report that I'm getting better and we'll all pass out with shock.

I also broke my fabric drought this month -- after abstaining for MONTHS I broke down and ordered a 2m cut of a fabric I just couldn't resist! Despite this, however, I am actually finally making some downward progress with my stash -- right now I have 12.5m less garment fabric than than on 1 January, which is about as good as my stash statistics have looked all year. I also did an epic sort out of my bag-making/other fabric. I sent some fabrics to recycle and sold some other pieces on eBay, with the end result that I've manage to cull over 25m from that part of my stash in total so far this year.

On the actual sewing front, though, other than that StyleArc Issy top (wear update: fabulous, love this top) and some easy knits at the start of the month, the only other thing I managed to make successfully in October was an unexciting but subsequently very welcome pair of pyjamas. This is my old favourite Butterick 5704 (a pattern that I've made several times now) and a no pattern (or, at the risk of sounding extremely pretentious when describing a garment than is basically a rectangle, a "self-drafted" pattern) baggy t-shirt that I first made earlier this year.

My fuzzy October pyjamas
I'm not sure I really needed these, but I actually really love the PJ bottoms in particular, which are made in a slubby, slightly fuzzy cotton/viscose blend. I originally bought it for a shirt but when it came to it I didn't like the idea of the fuzzy texture -- I like my shirting smooth and fine. However, it made up into lovely PJs, which have been warm and comforting while I've felt so rotten.

For November I have a few plans but nothing too concrete -- it depends how well I feel as to how ambitious I get with my sewing for the next few weeks. At the moment too the weather is so warm that I've not really felt very excited about making anything intended for wear in the dead of winter. I may regret this, since the doom and gloom merchants are talking hysterically about the "worst winter in 50 years" that's allegedly going to hit us at some point. That prospect does provide me with a little encouragement to try to make some progress on Operation: Outerwear (a.k.a my long-discussed but never realized coat project). If we do have a dreadful winter I am woefully ill-equipped for it, as far as coats are concerned. On the other hand, the idea of trying to do anything as ambitious as fitting and sewing a coat if I carry on feeling as ill I did for most of October is risible, and so I'm leaving it there as just a possibility rather than a plan for now. Less interesting but probably more achievable are a couple of knit garments I have it in mind to make, and maybe a woven shirt if I feel up to it. I also want to get back to knitting my Wanderling jumper. I meant to get restarted on in October but again: too ill most days, too busy when I wasn't ill.

As far as the Craftsy thing goes, I did get through three more classes (here also is Part 1 of my mini-reviews, with some general blather at the start). The main thing to come from watching these classes is actually that I added something to my "vague future plans for when I am well again and working and have an income and stuff": I really want to go do one of Alison Smith's classes at her School of Sewing down in the Midlands. In the meantime, I watched:

Couture Finishing Techniques by Alison Smith
I don't really aspire to sew ~~couture but I do enjoy getting a really nice finish on garments that I make, so I was quite keen to take this class. I've also heard really good things about Alison Smith, so I wanted to try at least one of her classes. Definitely a good plan -- I loved this class! It covers seam and hem finishing, a fancy buttonhole, a zip guard and waistband finish for a skirt, various kinds of corded closures and some hand stitching. Although the class is billed as "couture" and there are some bits I was like "yeah, no, I won't be hand whip stitching my seam allowances any time soon, who has time for that", I can easily imagine including many of the other techniques in my own extremely prosaic and everyday sewing. (In fact, I was delighted to discover she suggested using several techniques I have already tried to use e.g. in a black and white linen skirt I made in summer 2014 -- I loved how that skirt came out and the finish I got.). Presentation wise, Alison is another very clear and precise instructor, very like Suzy Furrer in her presentation style (and also a professional teacher -- there's a trend here). This was DEFINITELY worth my time.

Couture Dressmaking Techniques by Alison Smith
Having taken the finishing techniques class first, I expected to like this class, and indeed I did really enjoy it. It covers a lot of the same ground as the The Couture Dress by Susan Khalje, which I've owned for a very long time -- I think it was the first class I ever bought -- but of which I've only ever watched about half. There's a lot of the usual hand-work, silk organza underline everything type of thing, but there's plenty of technique in here done at the machine that I can see myself using in my everyday sewing. Again, really enjoyed Alison's delivery of the material, took a million notes, definitely worth my time. I did skip the section on boning entirely, because I foresee no boned dresses in my immediate (or even in my distant) future.

Decorative Seams: Techniques and Finishes by Katrina Walker
I chose this class because it demonstrated a particular technique (open slot seams) that I have picked out as something I want to do with a specific pattern and fabric in my stash. Of course I have written instructions in one of my sewing books, but I thought since here was an opportunity to see it demonstrated, plus some other things like faux tucks and piping, I would take advantage of it. As it turned out, I did watch pretty much the whole of the rest of the class as well as the slot seam section, except for two longer sections on prairie points and Seminole piecing -- they were a little too Look, Ma, I'm Wearing A Quilt! for my taste. The instructor, Katrina, is quite good -- very clear and although a little nervous in the earliest segments, she settles down into a very approachable and pleasant teaching style quite quickly. Unfortunately she wears probably her own hand-made clothes and I was distracted by how poor the fit was sometimes. This is slightly unkind of me, but she is being sold to me as a sewing teacher so whatever. Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed the class and very usefully there is a sampler/instruction worksheet provided for each of the techniques which I think will come in handy. I don't think I'll want to revisit this class but I don't feel I wasted my time flipping through the parts that interested me most.

Overall, the all-access pass was great. I'd definitely buy one again if it were at the right price, and I definitely feel like, in spite of the fact I didn't watch even half the classes I targetted due to illness, I got really good value for money from it.  I wish I'd gotten to more of the Suzy Furrer classes, and the Allison Smith tailoring classes as well, but I just couldn't.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Baffling neckline is less baffling than expected or, more prosaically: StyleArc Issy, a review

StyleArc Issy
The StyleArc Issy pattern came out some time ago now as one of StyleArc's free patterns of the month. I really REALLY wanted it when it first came out, not least because many months earlier I had I seen a photo of a really similar top in a slinky, shiny navy knit that I loved and really wished I could own. The original top was by some fancy designer and so stupidly expensive that buying it was 100% out of the question even when I had a job and an income. However, although I dithered for ages about buying the pattern, in the end I was too cheap to cough up for a single-sized paper pattern + postage. When I saw the first made up versions surface in reviews/blogs I regretted that decision, and as I mentioned in my StyleArc Estelle review, I have therefore been waiting (im)patiently for StyleArc to release it as a PDF ever since. However, never underestimate the kindness of sewing strangers around the world! After I said that, Nakisha offered to mail me her paper copy of the pattern that she didn't want! :D I immediately moved it right near the top of my sewing queue when it arrived. After my confidence rebounded from the drubbing dealt to it by Simplicity 1063, I decided to tackle it this weekend.

The pattern calls for a "soft knit", so I chose a very floppy black and blue viscose knit I bought earlier this year. I'm not sure it'll have great longevity, as it's rather thin and not fantastic quality. Inexpensive viscose knits are never the longest lived garments, but it was by far my best stash option for this pattern as nothing else I have is nearly so drapey and the drape is absolutely vital. My fabric was moderately stretchy, but I bet this top would be even better in something with a lot of stretch as well as a lot of drape.

StyleArc Issy in blue and black viscose knit, as modelled by Flossie
I am still finding my way with StyleArc's sizing. According to the StyleArc size chart, I am pretty much perfectly a size 10 upper bust, size 14 bust and size 12 for both hip and waist. That size distribution (n, n+2, n+1 for upper bust, bust and hip) is pretty much the norm for me across all the size charts of the pattern companies I use regularly, although, as we all know, how those size charts relate to the actual patterns is an entirely separate problem.

When I made the Estelle cardigan, I started with a 10 and did an FBA up to the stated measurements for a size 14, and left the width in through the waist and hip. Since it's a loose, draped cardigan I couldn't see any benefit to tapering back in to a size 12 at the waist and hip. That seemed to work quite well, but then it's hardly a fitting challenge to get a cardigan with no closure or shaping to speak of to go around one's body. Really, the most I could say about the size I prefer in StyleArc as a result of making my two Estelles was that the shoulder fit of the size 10 seemed reasonable.

Back view on Flossie
This time, since StyleArc paper patterns are single sized and the copy I had was a 12, that was what I started from. I have no idea how you'd grade this pattern -- not only do I not really know how to grade a single-size pattern (I'm taking that Craftsy class this week!) but the front bodice piece is so very weird looking that it seemed unnecessarily complicated to even try. I therefore decided that the 12 would most likely be "close enough" through the upper bust in a close-fitting knit top and gave it a try.

Based on the pattern illustration/notes, reviews and measurements/comparison to my sloper, it seemed to me that this pattern is intended to be quite close fitting more or less everywhere except the bust where the drape is, where there is a lot of room. Many of the reviewers said they thought that there was too much drape at the bust, or at least very plentiful drape, and several people said they'd done an FBA and then wished they hadn't. I therefore decided to proceed with the size 12 almost intact, except for a small square shoulder adjustment that I always do, just to get a feel for the fit as is.

The feature cowl neck, which I love. Note, that central, slightly diagonal seam is the one you are instructed to "neaten" right at the start
For essentially an out-of-the-envelope garment, the fit is pretty much what I would expect, i.e. not very good. The biggest problem is the bust. There's enough room with the drape feature that my bust fits into the top reasonably well. However, I've clearly stolen a lot of volume from the cowl neck for my bust so it looks a lot less dramatic and visually interesting than the pattern illustration or even as it appears on Flossie, who is only an approximation of my size, and some of the examples I've seen on the internet. When I make this again I will definitely do an FBA.

When I first tried it on I posted a shot to Instagram and I was all like, uh, I REALLY should have gone up a size through the waist and hip. There's a LOT of negative ease in this pattern through the waist and hip so the problem isn't so much that it doesn't fit, it's that it fits a little too well for me! 

Sorry about the weird colour -- to get any detail to show I had to really mess with the exposure/light in my editing tool. It's true I'm at the very pasty and pale end of the white skin spectrum, but not actually as ghostly as I seem here.

This photo suggests that the outcome is even more unflattering than my mirror suggested (hello, muffin top!) so whereas previously I was kind of on the "close-fitting" side of the is this close fitting or just way too small?  debate, now I am pretty much in camp Actually Just Way Too Small. Some of the wrinkles and bulges on the side are from the ruching, honest, but, uh, most of it is my stomach. When I make it again and do an FBA, I'll leave the extra width in through the waist and hips for sure. It will still have negative ease if I do so but rather less of it.

A couple more views on me. I hate side views in close fitting clothes, my body shape is basically the prow of a ship :|
Sewing-wise, the existing reviews are pretty much divided between "utterly confused, is this even right?" and "much easier than I expected". I fall into the second category. Initially, the pattern pieces and some of the instructions are pretty baffling, but I found once you get underway with construction it all makes sense. The two problem areas for me were:

1. The second instruction calls for you to "neaten" an edge between two points. At the time, I had no sense of where that edge would end up (would it drop into the cowl neck like other tops I have? would it be visible at centre front?) and therefore no idea what level of "neatening" was called for. Annoyingly, several other reviewers mentioned this but then didn't go on to say what they did or where the edge falls on their finished garment. So in case you're in the same situation: this is a REALLY VISIBLE edge. It's front and centre as the flat diagonal line in the cowl neck and lies against your skin with the right side clearly visible. Luckily, I decided when I couldn't figure out where it would end up that I would go for possible overkill and make it as "neat" as possible. I therefore coverstitched a narrow hem. Since it ended up front and centre, I am very glad I made that decision and didn't just overlock it or leave it raw.

2. The instructions tell you how to catch the edges of the cowl into the armhole seams. The pattern is actually really cleverly designed and notched so that when you stop going "what? WHAT?" in a confused sort of way after reading the instructions and actually try lining up the fabric to fit together it all becomes very obvious what you should do. Alas, this did not stop me accidentally tying one side into the back armhole rather than the front, but I fixed it easily enough a couple of minutes later. The moral of this story is: sometimes it makes no sense in the instructions but perfect sense when you look at the fabric.

I must also just pat myself on the back for my much improved gathering. Earlier this year I was like argh, gathering, why do people say it is easy, this is a hot mess with my first HotPatterns Weekender Sunshine tee at the front neckline. This time I felt like the gathering on the side front of the bodice turned out really nicely and it was actually very easy to do. I credit most of the improvement to a tiny change in technique prompted by a book I read. It suggested that rather than using a long basting stitch as is usually recommended, on knits try using a smaller stitch for gathering. It's a little more difficult to gather it, but once gathered it stays put much more reliably.

In conclusion: Although I've bitched neverendingly about the fit in this review, I actually still really love the design of this top and I don't think it will take much to get the fit more to my taste --  basically just an FBA and leaving in the width. Also, making it was another good antidote to the Simplicity 1063 debacle. I definitely want to make it again, and if I find a really nice slinky, stretchy, drapey navy knit, you bet I am going to make a version of that original designer top I coveted so hard. :D

Next up, I have one last easy knit top to make for autumn, this time a Lekala pattern (my first!).

Friday, 9 October 2015

Craftsy Mini-Reviews (Part 1)

I mentioned that I bought the recent Craftsy October deal, which is a month "all-access pass" to all of the courses on the platform. I paid about £8, though I know other people have paid everything from US$20 to US$10. I decided it would be worth doing if I really ploughed through a lot of classes quickly on topics that interest me enough to be curious about the content but that I don't think I'll use enough to consider paying for the class individually.  I am basically house-bound by illness at the moment and have nothing better to do with my time, so I've already gotten through quite a few classes.

There are no links in this post, by the way, because generally there's a lot of paid-for-shilling and affiliate linking for Craftsy going on in the SBC attached to what I therefore consider to be highly dubious "reviews". Nobody pays me to do or say anything about sewing (since I'm the minnow-iest minnow in the blog world I doubt anyone ever will) but to remove all doubt I just won't link at all. You all know how to get to their site.

I'll also just note before I start that I'm not the hugest fan of the Craftsy platform overall and I'm therefore not the easiest sell on the classes and quite critical of them. Previously, I ended up with some classes I bought and never really watched or finished, plus a couple I bought and did enjoy and find useful. Often the difference between watching and not watching was how annoying I found the instructor.

More generally, very little about the way Craftsy is put together works for my personal learning style, and the interactive elements with the teachers and other people have zero appeal to me. This is totally subjective, of course -- if you learn well from videos and enjoy the community aspect then I think Craftsy can be a really great tool. I just don't, personally. At the end of last year I concluded that, overall, putting a lot of my crafty budget into buying classes was not a good investment for me personally.  Thus, so far in 2015 I've only bought one new class (the Alabama Chanin class, of which I've watched maybe a quarter because I find her annoying) plus this all access pass.

To take advantage of the all-access pass then, because I know I don't learn well from just staring at video, I've been taking a lot of hand-written and hand-drawn notes while I watch as that is how I learn best. Since I know I'm only going to have access to the classes for a few weeks, however, my learning preferences and the situation actually marry up pretty well -- the fact I like to write and draw to integrate new information means I'll also have a record of the classes I've taken even after my access to them is revoked at the end of October. Even though my reviews below are a bit mixed, I'd say that so far I'm really happy with the all-access pass deal.

I made a bit list of the classes I'm interested, and split it into five categories: Techniques/Tips/Reference Classes; Pattern-making and adjustments; Fitting; Tailoring; and Knits. I'm watching them in no particular order, just what grabs me at the moment I log on, so I have to admit the classes I'm reviewing are kind of all over the place. This is what I've watched so far:

Techniques/Tips/Reference Classes:  

20 Things To Know Before You Sew by Janet Pray. This is really aimed at the very beginner sewer but I watched it on an afternoon when I was feeling really ill and just wanted to have something easy to distract me on screen. It was quite good although I am not at all the intended audience so I did skip over large-ish sections that I didn't think I needed to listen to. Janet is a confident lecturer and she presents the material clearly. I picked a couple of little tips on marking and thread tracing that I kind of knew but that were nice to see demonstrated, and one handy marking tip I'd never seen before that I actually loved and plan to use from now on -- it was almost worth watching the class just for that. I would never have bought the class as a stand-alone because it's not really my level, and I don't plan to revisit it.

Choosing and Using Your Favourite Fabrics by Sandra Betzina. I have very mixed feelings about this class, which I watched straight through with no skipping. In terms of the material, a lot of the information was familiar to me, but I picked up a really good handful of tips for specific fabrics that I think are going to come in very useful in the future. There's also a useful handout you can download that has recommended needle sizes etc for lots of common fabrics. It's nothing you can't find on the internet, but the sort of thing that is handy to have on one sheet. My mixed feelings really come from the instruction. As a presenter Sandra is very enthusiastic and kind of charming and witty at times, but at times she is scattered and breathless and disorganized, which annoyed me as a viewer. She also has some really aggravating verbal tics (she says "Now, do you see?" over and over, and "Now, do you understand?" as well) that really grated by the end of the class. She shows off a lot of garments, but they're all such a specific, self-styled-eccentric-suburban-art-teacher style that it got a bit dull (although, kudos to her for wearing and discussing her overly tight knit dress in such a charming way). Again, this is not a class I ever would have bought as a stand-alone, and not one that I feel any need to revisit now I have my notes, but I did think it was worth a few hours of my time overall.

Pattern-making and Adjustments

Pattern-making: The Skirt Sloper by Suzy Furrer. This class has been discussed by quite a few people in various places I frequent, generally positively. I absolutely loved it. Suzy is an exceptionally good instructor - probably because she is an instructor as her day job - as she is very clear and precise in the way she describes what she is doing and why. I have been interested in this class for a while because it's the first in her sloper series and also the easiest. I am definitely going to try to draft a skirt sloper based on this class later. However, I have very little interest in ~~~designing my own skirts. I want the sloper as a basis for a straight skirt patterns, and to choose sizes and adjust commercial patterns, so whereas I took masses of notes and spent ages watching the first half of the class, I skipped gently through sections on drafting variations (except for the sections on drafting waistbands, facings and linings, which I also watched straight through, as they will also come in useful, in my opinion, when changing commercial patterns). I hadn't bought the class as a stand-alone for precisely this reason, knowing that fully half or more of the content was not interesting to me. With good notes (and a reference book) I shouldn't have any problem making the straight skirt sloper without revisiting the course, but in my opinion if you DID want to draft lots of different skirts yourself, it would almost certainly be a good investment so you could revisit frequently. I am planning to watch all of Suzy's other classes on Craftsy while I have the all-access pass.


Pattern-making for Knits: The Essential Slopers by Judy Jackson I watched this after the Suzy Furrer class, but I was a little disappointed because it didn't match my interests nearly so well. Whereas Suzy's class is all based on flat pattern manipulation, Judy's knit class is based on draping on a dress form that matches your body measurements, which I do not have and do not anticipate obtaining any time soon. (I love my inherited dressform, named Flossie by my mum, her original owner, when she was brand new in 1964, but she's at best a rough approximation of my size). I did get some useful information here and there in some sections that interested me, but the main point of the class -- making knit pattern slopers -- didn't work for me because of the draping. However, I thought Judy was a really good, clear and personable instructor and if you do have a dressform that would allow you to drape fit a knit sloper, I think it would be a great class. I have thought about buying this class before so I was glad I hadn't paid for it, and now I know that it wouldn't be worth revisiting for me.

Sewing Knits That Fit by Dyanne Marte  Definitely the worst of the classes I've watched so far. The instructor is very glamorous (though I hate some of her clothes) and probably has a lot of knowledge but she's not the best at transferring it. I found her explanations generally poor and often unclear. She seems very nervous throughout and she has lots of verbal tics that drove me up the wall, the worst of which is a tendency to draw out her vowels a really long time if she's talking and doing something at the same time, e.g. pinning, which is almost all the time. ("There's a looooooot of eeeeeeeeeease"). I also found the content really suspect at times -- increase the bust size of a t-shirt by adding an inch to the side seams! Make the shoulders wider by adding an inch at the shoulder seam! Um. I definitely didn't need to pay for tips like that, thanks, and I definitely won't be going back to revisit that course.

I'll be back with more mini-reviews when I've watched a few more :D

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Simple (successful!) sewing and some thoughts on longer term projects

I decided at the start of the week I needed to do some certain-to-be successful sewing to make up for the weekend's failtastic efforts and to reassure myself that it is worth keeping on sewing through the disappointments. I've therefore made two very quick repeats of easy knit patterns: one black t-shirt in my super reliable scoop-neck TNT pattern with three quarter sleeves, and a pair of dark purple yoga pants using Burda 11-2005-127. I've worn/laundered the other two pairs I made about a year ago with the latter pattern to the point where fabric destruction is pretty imminent but happily, construction destruction is not. Always good when your sewing outlasts your fabric! I'll probably find a new and different yoga pants pattern when I come to replace the original two pairs later this year but I was quite happy to use this one a third time.

There's absolutely nothing interesting about these garments except that I made them successfully, so all I really have to say about them in conclusion is: \o/

I'm posting these photos not because the garments are in any way interesting, but just to prove to myself that I did make something!
Both of these easy garments were in my sewing queue and in my wardrobe gap fill list, but I have to admit I changed up the order of my queue in order to sew them immediately. The rest of my queue is a mix of: knit patterns I am using for the first time and that therefore could potentially go wrong; woven tops and shirts that are more time consuming and fiddly; and outerwear. None of those were really good for basic confidence boosting sewing, so they got shoved down the list temporarily.

My queue, overall, is actually pretty short at the moment, mainly because of my wardrobe planning efforts. I am not really trying to have a minimalist wardrobe by any stretch of the imagination, but after spending all this time really thinking about what I wear every day, what kind of activities I do and what I want to sew vs. buy I've ended up with a pretty short list of things to add to my wardrobe in the immediate future. In some ways, the realization that I just don't need too many more garments is quite aggravating, because I do love sewing and pattern browsing (and pattern buying) and putting  limits on how many clothes I make/own is obviously in direct conflict with my frequent desire to Sew All The Things and own all the patterns and also my intention to sew up a lot of my fabric stash.

However, I've decided to view the shortness of my queue as an opportunity to develop some of my plans into longer and more complex projects. For example, I mentioned I have some woven shirts in my queue, at least one of which is going to be a casual button-front shirt. I had been vaguely thinking I would just pull out the Ottobre 05-2012-07 pattern I've used before. I like my two shirts from that pattern a lot and I'd probably end up with a perfectly serviceable shirt. However, I think I might get a better result if I start completely fresh with a new base size. Previously, I've made a size 44 with adjustments. More recently, however, I've been experimenting with starting from a size 40 in Ottobre patterns and finding it to be a much better fit through the shoulders at least, though requiring much more adjustment lower down the bodice. As I've become more confident in my FBAs recently, though, I feel like I am happy to do more pattern work and not just fudge it by starting with a larger size. It does mean though that rather than jump straight to cutting out, I'm going to have to start again from scratch with tracing out a new size, adjusting it and making a muslin etc.

I also bought (despite my general aversion to Craftsy) the all-access Craftsy pass for October. I'm planning to blitz my way through some of the pattern-making and construction courses, particularly the sloper classes by Suzy Furrer that seem to get good reviews everywhere. In the past, I've kind of shied away from those sorts of projects because it's a lot of effort without a specific result, but I feel like now is a good time to give it a try. So, I might be reporting more of a mix of my efforts in those directions and finished garments for a while (and since I was encouraged by a couple of comments, probably more detail about my wardrobe planning stuff as well).

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Captain's Log, Supplemental: Failtastic top, red alert!

The title of this post is because the top I failed to sew successfully this weekend turned out to look pretty much like what I imagine Starfleet issue to pregnant crew members. I am sure it's possible to make many pretty variations of this top, but between my slightly shiny tactel knit and the black and white colour blocking, and then the way the weird drapey bit at the front hung on me: weird Star Trek pregnancy cosplay look is a go!

Or, rather, it's not, because this top is a big old FAIL! in all-caps and I won't be wearing it anywhere.

Fail: Simplicity 1063 in black and white
The pattern is Simplicity 1063, in which I was absolutely RAPT when it first came out back in August or thereabouts. Admittedly, I was never going to wear views A and B with the weird back cape swoopy thingymajig, but I was mad keen on views C and D. I was so keen, in fact, that I got someone in the US to buy this for me and mail it to the UK so I could make it as soon as possible rather than wait the 6 weeks until UK pattern sellers get the new catalogues. Of course, I then got sick (again, still, whatever) and I had to shelve the immediate make, but it's been right at the top of my list nevertheless. This week I decided to get stuck into the pattern and decided to make view C with the sleeves from view A.

I am kind of overwhelmingly disappointed with how it turned out.

Simplicity 1063
What was my problem? It's a bit hard to tell from the photo above -- or, you can only just see the problem -- but basically, EVERYTHING about the neckline is FUBAR.

On the positive side, some things did go well:

  • After measuring everything and doing a certain amount of baffled approximating on the pieces of the front drape, I decided to make a straight size 14 with basically no alterations except my standard square shoulder adjustment. There is a LOT of room in this top because of the bust and the "finished bust" measurements on the pattern are a GIANT lie. I got to the point of having the bodice done, pinned the sides and put the top on and I was, well, I was taken aback by how much I looked like I needed a Star Trek insignia on my shirt, but I was actually quite pleased! The fit was really nice, even though theoretically a 14 is rather too small for me.
  • Despite the fact that the front drape does make me look kind of pregnant I actually really like it. It's quite cunningly constructed as well, and so the major feature of the top was a win for me.
I got to this point and went to bed patting myself smugly on the back.

That lasted until I tried to finish the neckline.

See how Simplicity have a big old dramatic KNITS ONLY text on their pattern envelope? Doesn't that make you think, oh, this will be a really modern knit pattern? Except no, not so much. At various points in the pattern the instructions are all about finishing all your edges with zig zag and setting in the sleeve woven style with easing, which is so VERY VERY far from what I think of as modern knit garment construction for home sewers.

The instructions for the enormous facing
The big, BIG problem though is that the neckline is finished with a HUGE interfaced facing that flaps about in the neckline like a mad flapping thing. It's at least 5cm wide, and you sew it on as a single pieces around the neck and down into the V of the neckline and it's HIDEOUS.

I absolutely HATE facings. HATE THEM. I especially hate them in knits, and I triple hate them when they are ENORMOUS. So really, I was not at all excited to see that I was going to have to sew one. However, I felt like I liked the top enough to risk it, and also, OK, I am willing to admit I can be wrong about facings! I just made a knit top with a facing and it was well-designed enough that it worked out fine! So, I was going to give this a chance.

I genuinely don't know at this point whether the result I obtained was more because of bad design or more because of bad sewing on my part or some non-replicable combination of the two. I really REALLY tried to sew the neckline/facing seam perfectly, and then I trimmed it and understitched as suggested. HIDEOUS. It makes for such a horrid lumpy finish all the way round the neckline and then again 5cm out from the neckline where the facing ends. It also does NOT stay put, even with the understitching. I put the top on and the facings puffed out of the neckline like I was wearing a ruff. I fiddled with it to get it all nice and lying flat, went downstairs to look in the better lit mirror in my hallway and by the time I had ambled from my bedroom to the front door, the facing had rucked up and popped out of the neckline again. ARGH.

Taking a hint from my recent Ottobre top I therefore stitched the facings down. This made them stay put but UGH, the seam remained lumpy, prone to flipping up a bit and overall ugly, and the facing edge is visible where it ends over the shoulders (not helped by the fact my facing was black and my shoulder yoke fabric is white). It was basically unwearable for me. I therefore decided to take the facing off around the actual neckline, even though this meant unpicking black thread from a slippery black knit that absorbed stitches beautifully -- a big plus until you have to unpick -- and decide then what to do next.

Today I sat down again and tried to decide how I could fix it. I decided to leave the facings on for the V, and bind the neckline by attaching a normal binding strip, turning it to the inside and then coverstitching. This does look a LITTLE better than the faced version, but the process of sewing, unpicking and then binding stretched the back neck all out of shape, and it gapes away from my neck horribly. This looseness at the neck has the overall same effect as the original facing: the edge of the neckline flips up and looks lumpy. I'm not saying it wouldn't have worked if I'd done it that way the first time, but as a second fix: no.

I can't think of a single other way to fix the neckline and I've overworked the fabric now to the point where I think it's unfixable, so I have given up and trashed the whole thing. I am really very fed up about this. I hate throwing perfectly good fabric away, I hate that a pattern I was really excited about sewing turned out to be such a dud, and I am currently questioning whether I should even bother to TRY sewing my own clothes since I have started to think I can't sew anything successfully!

This despondency is not helped by the fact that I then trashed another 2m of fabric trying to cut out a very simple pair of PJ bottoms. To be fair to myself, the fabric was so horrendous and off-grain that it's no wonder I struggled to cut it properly. I ended up with pieces that bore no relation to the pattern pieces they had allegedly been cut to, and that I would have to be suddenly HIGHLY asymmetrical to wear. I am not sewing with fabric that ridiculous, and I didn't like the print much which was why it had been relegated to PJs, so whatever, good riddance to bad rubbish.

Still though. Not a good weekend for sewing.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Three quarters of the year

I had sort of hoped that September would be a much less sickly and more productive month all round, but alas, it mostly wasn't. In fact, parts of it were supremely grotty. However, I did manage to do a little something sewing or knitting related most days, even if it was just ten minutes here and there.

Sewing wise, this month I made two Estelle cardigans that I've already worn loads and love and an Ottobre faux wrap knit top (wear update: very nice indeed to wear, no serious problem with the facings except one little section at the neck that I think is due to bad sewing more than anything). I have another knit top (Simplicity 1063) in pieces on my sewing table but haven't actually started sewing it yet. I have a tiny logistical problem that I can't seem to bend my mind around and figure out, so I'm just... stalled.

Since I could my fabric use from when I cut it out, however, I am able to report that unfinished top in my fabric usage numbers and say that I have used almost 8m of fabric this month. This is a pretty decent outcome from the point of view of my stash reduction plans, especially as I have not bought any new fabric since JUNE! I am feeling so smug and virtuous right now, pardon me while I wreck my shoulder muscles by vigorously patting myself on the back.

Wanderling progress in October (not shown, the THREE attempts it took me to get as far as the second photo on the left)
If you follow me on instagram you'll already know about my latest knitting project, which I started on the last day of August.  I charged through the body of a Wanderling (Ravelry link) by Isabell Kraemer and managed to get it done in about three weeks (after several, very painful, restarts). I cast off the hem on the 19th and was quite pleased with the fit so far. Since then all I've done is put one sleeve back on the needle and get to where it's just a case of setting off and knitting it. However, I then decided to take a little break from it, and put it away for a week or so. I plan to start again this week, with the intention of finishing it up in October. It's a nice lightweight sweater  -- 4ply with a loose-ish gauge -- and it would be great to have it available when the weather cools down properly in the second half of the month.

Since it's three-quarters of the way through the year, before I talk about this month here is a tiny update on my overall progress towards my 2015 sewing goals:
  • Stick to my 2015 budget. I am 5% over, which is fine, especially since I was 10% over at the mid-year point. I should be more or less on budget at year end. I also wanted to spend less on patterns this year, but while I am below my planned expenditure on envelopes/PDFs, I bought a lot of magazines instead. As of right now, my overall spending on patterns is pretty much a wash compared to 2014. Apparently pattern buying is an obsession I just have to feed. /o\
  • Sew more fabric than I buy, reduce bag stash by 20m, garment stash by 50m. Let's all laugh hysterically at the idea I could reduce my garment stash by 50m, shall we? HAHAHAHA. Ahem. A very (very) small positive: thanks to my unprecedented streak of not buying fabric and this month's sewing, I am currently about 3m down from January 1st. That is better than being above, or at par, I guess. If I managed a 20m reduction overall by the end of the year at this point I would think that was a job well done, though, and even that seems quite ambitious (over 6m out a month for the next three months). On the other hand, I have very successfully sorted through my bag stash for culling and I'm down by 27m. I listed the excess on eBay and am in the process of selling it. I won't get much for it but it's better than fabric I am just never going to use lurking about in my sewing room.
  • Reduce my yarn stash by half (by weight). Totally successful! I decided to sell several yarns I bought in a fit of early knitting enthusiasm and then came to realize I was unlikely to use. I dithered about selling because I knew I wouldn't make back what I paid for them, but in the end I decided it was better to get a little money back and send the yarn out into the world to someone more likely to use it than just sit on it like a dragon with a hoard. My knitting stash is therefore down to: my current projects; my next major project; enough sock yarn to make three pairs of socks; some leftovers and scrap. My dream stash level is basically that minus two pairs of socks, so I feel I've made massive progress. I'm also way ahead of schedule and have already completed SEVEN knitting projects compared to my goal of "Complete 6 knitting projects", and I have two WIPs (Wanderling, described above, and a lace-weight project) that I should finish this year. I've also made a couple of things this quarter that are noticeably more complex than anything I attempted in 2014 so I am calling my overall knitting goals well and truly a win at this point already!
  • Maintain and stick to my wardrobe plan. I have SO MUCH to write about wardrobe planning and sewing. I haven't done it because I feel like there are so many OTHER people writing about it at the same time, and why would anyone care. I mean, not that I won't write it anyway because I am not sure that I care that people don't even care, but that's the reason why there's been a lengthy pause in my wardrobe planning posts. However, in the background, I've been really working the wardrobe plan thing, and I am really happy with how it is working out for me. More on this soon, I hope.
  • Various skill-building goals: I have achieved nothing against any of these, and am not sure if I will in 2015 no matter how much I want to. :( This is this saddest admission.
As for October, well, in addition to finishing up my jumper knitting WIP, this month I'm planning to sew some more knit tops -- once I figure out my problem with Simplicity 1063 that will be the first thing, probably in the next dew days. Thanks to the kindness of fellow sewing people, I also now have StyleArc Issy to play with (thank you, thank you, thank you Nakisha! :D) and I also want a boring basic top as well. I also want to make my autumn weight Lekala hoodie, and something new I've added to the list: a quilted knit bodywarmer thingy.

I do have LOADS of other things in my queue, but I feel burned out on making ambitious plans and then being too sick to do actually get started on anything. If I get my handful of knit tops done I will consider myself to have been really quite successful this coming month!