Monday, 25 July 2016

Finally, a jacket! (Simplicity 2209)

Before I start, a big thank you to commenters on the post about the trousers I made last week -- loads of good suggestions/advice, all of which I really appreciated. I have already followed up on a few of them and will be doing more work on trousers now that I've got some new ideas. More about this soon, no doubt!

In the meantime, as a break from the horror of fitting trousers, I decided to make an easy unlined jacket.

Back in mid-February I had a mini brainwave about what to do with a piece of linen/mix fabric I'd bought back in 2012 that I didn't really like and couldn't imagine using. I threw it in the washer with a box of navy blue Dylon dye and the result was actually very good. The fabric didn't take the full colour of the dye, coming out a sort of denim blue rather than true navy. Most interestingly though the green lines, which are woven into the fabric, must be some kind of polyester or other synthetic because they didn't take the dye at all. As a result, the fabric ended up a really interesting mix of blue and green, with quite a lot of texture. I earmarked it for a lightweight summer jacket and added the project to the queue.
Pre- and post-dye fabric
Then, however, it took me absolutely ages to settle on a pattern. Although I had a good length of fabric (2.7m, or 3 yards) it was vintage and quite narrow -- something like 105cm (about 41"). I must have gone through my magazine and pattern collection about 20 times before I found a pattern I liked that would also fit on my fabric. (In the end I had about 50cm left over from making this particular pattern.)

Simplicity 2209

Somewhat unusually for me, I eventually settled on an envelope pattern. This is an OOP Simplicity pattern that I got on the front of a magazine when I first started garment sewing. It's one of the Lisette patterns from before the designer moved over to Butterick, Simplicity 2209, and both dress and jacket have been widely and mostly positively reviewed. I chose view C, which has a flat collar, little pockets set into the princess seams, and, as written, 3/4-length sleeves.

I made a size 16 based on the finished garment measurements. It actually felt quite risky because I didn't muslin (bad sewer! no biscuit!) and I don't make enough Simplicity to have a sense of how they fit me. The fit isn't TOO bad, but if I were to make it again I'd do a few things differently.

Simplicity 2209 in blue/green linen-and-something mix - front
First, some things I actually did change: I dislike 3/4 sleeves on jackets so I lengthened the pattern to full length sleeves. I added 2.5cm to the width of the bicep to accommodate my large upper arms. I also turned smaller hems on the bodice than written to give myself an extra ~1.5cm in length. I didn't do my usual square shoulder adjustment but I did leave out the shoulder pad, which has the same overall effect. Other than that though, I pretty much stuck to the pattern as written.

Simplicity 2209 in blue/green linen-and-something mix -back
Things I should have done: I think I need to look at doing some kind of high round back adjustment more regularly. It's not TOO bad, but the hem definitely rises at centre back which indicates some extra length is needed. Either that or I need to fix my posture radically.

By far my biggest problem is/was the armscye/sleeve. I had SO MANY problems getting these sleeves to look reasonable. As written the sleeve caps were very tall and pointy. I struggled to get the sleeve in at all without puckers because there was a lot of sleeve cap ease. I finally managed to baste one sleeve in neatly but when I tried it on, the point of the shoulder was fully 3cm down my arm. The shoulder position hadn't looked quite so bad when I measured the flat pattern, so that was a bit disheartening.
Better photo of the colour/texture of the fabric plus the button detail

I ended up doing multiple rounds of basting and stitching trying to get the shoulder in the right place and re-shape of the armscye. I took somewhere between 2.5cm and 3cm out of the shoulder width of the bodice, took in the back armscye and flattened the sleeve cap significantly. The outcome is... wearable? I mean, I'm happy enough with it, if I'm honest, even if the fit isn't brilliant.

As modelled by me -- note the twisty sleeve issue!
The other sleeve issue I have (and this is a recurrent problem, but clearly visible in this jacket) is that everything I make seems to end up with the sleeves twisting inward from shoulder to bicep. I can't quite work out if this is a fitting problem (from my reading, maybe a forward shoulder?), something to do with how I am doing my bicep adjustment, or something about the way I'm setting the sleeves. Or some combination of all of the above. Or something else entirely that I don't know about! At any rate, I've added shoulder/armscye/sleeve fitting to my very long list of Things I Need To Learn About. I feel like what I might need to do is develop a really good set of sleeve/armscye combinations for different situations and just over-write any pattern that is too far out from them with my preferred shape.

As modelled by me from the back -- rising back hem issue also visible!

Other than the sleeve/sleeve cap ease, this was a very easy jacket to sew. Originally I planned to Hong Kong finish all my seams, and I even bought some bright emerald green bias tape to do so. However, I did half of one seam and realized that though I loved the colour combination, the bias tape I'd bought was too stiff for the fabric, so I unpicked it and decided to just overlock all the seams instead. It's a shame because I think the bias tape finish would have looked nice, but it did speed up the construction process a lot.

View of the innards -- all the edges are just overlocked
Overall, I am quite happy with my little jacket and it will no doubt get plenty of wear since it fits in so well with the rest of my wardrobe now the fabric is this colour.

Next up: I made a double gauze top earlier in the year that I love to bits. I almost immediately I bought another piece of double gauze and my next plan is to turn that into an easy late summer blouse. :D

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Imperfect trousers are better than no trousers (Burda 01-2007-108A)

On my list of things to do this year was work on fitting trousers. I gave it a go back in February, but though I spent what felt like a huge amount of time and effort on it, it wasn't overly successful. After four muslins, I hadn't really improved the fit significantly from the first muslin, and I never moved on to making an actual pair of trousers because the whole fitting experience was so exhausting and all I had achieved was trousers with pretty indifferent fit.

This month, however, I really needed to acquire at least one new pair of trousers. I'll admit it: I fully intended to just buy some. However, when I had a day when I felt quite well, I went out shopping and after rifling through the stock in multiple shops, it seemed like nearly everything available was tapered or skinny leg, neither of which I am keen on. I only found two of pairs of straight leg trousers that seemed like possibilities. When I tried them on, though, one pair really didn't fit at all no matter what size I tried, and although the second pair fit more or less okay they were ridiculously expensive. I'd run out of both steam and local shops to investigate at that point so I went home to sulk about it.

At that point a little lightbulb went on for me: if my choice is between indifferently fitting expensive RTW trousers, and indifferently fitting sewn trousers, why not just sew? Of course it would be better if I were able to make well-fitting trousers. However, as long as the fit of these early attempts isn't WORSE than the store-bought alternative the overall outcome is probably neutral. Also, one thing for sure is that I'm not going to get any better at making trousers by not making them.

So that was my goal this week: make some trousers, no matter how imperfect, because imperfect trousers are better than not having trousers.

Imperfect trousers: complete! (Burda 01-2007-108A in navy twill)

After my experience starting from a Burda pattern in February, I decided to see what happened if I started this time with a customized sloper pattern from Bootstrap. Bootstrap uses the same underlying pattern-making system as Lekala, which I have used with some success this year as a way to short-circuit some fitting issues in top patterns. Lekala is cheaper (if you buy in the frequent $1 sales) so I hadn't really bothered with Bootstrap up to now. However, more recently Bootstrap has started to offer some extra "indie" patterns, including some pants slopers, that are not available from Lekala. These patterns allow you to customize some additional trouser fitting details such as thigh width and butt shape.
Bootstrap CustomFit Classic Pants Sloper With Facing
I bought the CustomFit Classic Pants Sloper With Facing (NOT an affiliate link), and made up a muslin. As I sewed I was sort of day-dreaming that I'd put them on and miraculously they'd look amazing and I'd only have to make some minor alterations to make them fit me perfectly.

Ha. Hahaha. Ha.


I mean, obviously no. I was aware even while I thought about it that was not going to happen, but I admit I did hope for better initial fit than I got. I put them on and the fit was in fact pretty horrible, just like the first muslin I made previously from a similar Burda pattern. Depressingly, it was also horrible in more or less exactly the same ways: huge amounts of excess fabric pooling below the butt, huge diagonal lines radiating from my large upper thighs. I'd hoped that using my actual thigh measurements to produce the sloper would make a difference to the thigh problem, but this was not the case at all. This is because the extra width at the thigh is evenly distributed between the seams on the pattern, but not on my body (my inner thigh is where all the extra room is needed). I realize this is perfectly reasonable as generalized customization method, but it didn't help me. More concerning is that the waist fit was not only not better, it was significantly worse than the Burda pattern I tried previously -- I took out multiple centimetres to get it to fit. I triple checked and my measurements were both accurate and input correctly, so who knows what went wrong there.

My overall impression of the Bootstrap CustomFit sloper then is not very positive. Mostly it looked like the straight-off-the-pattern sheet Burda pattern, and none of the things it was meant to customize actually customized it in a useful way. It is entirely possible I picked the wrong customizations for e.g. butt shape, but at $7 for the pattern I can't afford to keep buying repeats to see if that makes a difference. That said, I definitely think for someone who has struggled to find ANY base pattern from which to start -- and in particular people who are sized out of Burda/Burda Plus or the Big4, since this can be customized up to a 56" hip -- this might be a way to get a basic sloper pattern. For me though, since I am actually a pretty average size and shape, it was kind of a waste of money.

At any rate, since I have some experience of fitting these problems from last time, I made some adjustments (one of them extremely technically dubious) to the Bootstrap pattern and after some effort I ended up with a basic pant sloper that I think more or less worked.

Key words: More or less. I am not going to pretend that I achieved anything like good fit! However, the fit I achieved is not worse than the expensive pair I tried on the shop. It's not any better, either, but it's at least at parity.  I could definitely have gone through several more rounds of muslins (and probably driven myself up the wall with frustration in the process) but for now I ran with "good enough!" and moved on to the actual trouser pattern I wanted to make.

Burda 01-2007-108A
(This was the point that I realized that I had really picked the wrong Bootstrap sloper for the trousers I wanted to make. I should have bought/used the version with a waistband.)

This is Burda 01-2007-108A. I picked this pattern because it's straightforward and has all the key features I wanted: straight-leg, with a waistband, a fly, rear darts, and front pockets with a horizontal opening. This pattern is written for a non-stretch woven, which matched the inexpensive navy cotton/poly twill fabric I had on hand for this pair of trousers. I had 2m of this fabric but I only really needed 1.5m.

I traced the new pattern and then overlaid the Bootstrap pattern I'd worked on over the top. This would have been easier, of course, if I'd picked the right sloper, but it was just a case of pinning together the waistband and leg pieces as if they were a single piece and then drawing the new pattern over. I'm pretty sure I introduced some stupid mistakes in the process -- definitely I screwed up the rear dart placement -- but I did manage to put together a working pattern.

Fly front. Actual fly: good! Pocket bags that peek out: not so good!
A good thing about my pattern choice, which I actually didn't realize when I picked the pattern, is that this was this issue's "Sewing Course" pattern and therefore came with extensive, illustrated instructions. Most of trouser making is not actually at all challenging if you've made anything at all with a waistband before, but the only previous times I made a fly front (two summers ago, on some skirts) I really struggled and they looked rubbish. The instructions for the fly for this pattern were really good though and I am very pleased with how it turned out. I made a couple of goofs -- somehow forgot to understitch the pocket bags so they pop up annoyingly! -- but overall I'm happy with the sewing on these trousers.

Trousers on me from the front
From a fitting perspective, the front looks pretty good, and the side seams are nice and straight. My main problems have always been at the back, though. When I look at these trousers on me, it's clear to me that there was extra width added at the outer thigh by the Bootstrap sloper (where I don't need it) as well as the inner thigh. I ended up adding yet more width to the inner thigh to eradicate drag lines, but I didn't take it off the other side. There's this empty, saggy line to the outer thigh as a result. The back darts are in the wrong place because of the way I merged the two patterns, and they look rubbish besides.

Trousers on me from the back :( I have very little idea how to fix any of this and believe me I've tried!
There are obviously still other fitting issues at the back overall, not all of which I understand or have any idea how to fix. Also, wow, the photos look 100 times worse than when you see the fitting problems in the mirror. /o\ This is where I really do have to remind myself that imperfect trousers are still better than no trousers! Also: this is not worse fit than I achieve from RTW. I just don't worry as much about RTW fit.

The problem I think overall with trouser fitting is one of the uncertainty of time/effort vs. reward. I feel like I could easily spend another 100 hours on muslins and fitting and the outcome could be anywhere from "amazing trousers that fit perfectly" to "no change from what I've achieved so far: still pretty rubbish" to "I might as well wear these like a bag over my head because it's such a disaster".

I also feel like I just don't GET trouser fitting in some fundamental way, probably because spatial resasoning has never been my strength. (It pains me to admit this -- I wish I were good at everything! But spatial reasoning and I have never been the best of friends.) I really struggle with the logic behind the pattern changes required to change the fit, and I don't really understand why some changes work (or don't work). Plus, trousers seems to be such a shifty mess of "change one thing for the better, everything else gets worse!". Argh. In a perfect world, I'd go do a trouser fitting course, but that's only going to be possible when (if) I get better and can leave my house for more than half an hour at a time!

In the meantime, I am not entirely sure how to proceed with my next pair of trousers. The fabric I bought for them is quite stretchy, which means finding a Burda pattern written for stretch and seeing if I can translate some of the adjustments I made into that new pattern. I might take a break from trousers and make something else easier first though!

Friday, 8 July 2016

Bits and pieces

  • Finally crawled out of my lengthy (mainly illness related) slump and decided to sew something easy and small. I cut out this green tote bag a few weeks ago but then left it to lurk in pieces in a corner for a while. The pattern is the artyscraftsybabe Lily Beth bag, which I have made once before in pink. I like the size and shape of the bag because my laptop fits in it nicely. Here is the finished article:

  • I am excited for my magazines arriving this month! With Burda, August is very often my favourite issue of any given year, though that could be just out of relief at being past the Burda summer silly season. That said, I actually think Burda this summer was way less peculiar than usual. I hope they've not just delayed their more baffling issues to later in the year. At any rate, based on the August preview there's a couple of things I want to make immediately from the August issue and a couple of patterns I definitely want to have on my radar for future use. I am also excited for Knipmode this month based on the preview. Last month was a bit of a disappointment as there really wasn't much I was interested in, so I was feeling lukewarm about it. My Knipmode subscription is up for renewal this month and sadly the sinking value of the £ vs. well, every currency ever, but specifically the Euro, is going to kill me when it comes to pay for it. I did debate whether to cancel because let's be honest, I've not used it a lot and it's not cheap or, since it's in Dutch, especially easy for me to use. However, even though there are arguments against it I think I am going to renew. There have been lots of patterns that I really liked and have ear-marked but that won't be suitable until I am working again. Plus, I've really cut down on my other pattern buying very significantly in part because I get my pattern fix from my magazines. That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it. :D
  • Speaking of Burda, I was so sad to see Burdavisor is kaput after being C&D'ed. I can understand why Burda went after them, I guess, but it was such a mind-bogglingly useful tool that I am really bummed about it all the same. 
  •  I urgently need to make at least one, but maybe two pairs of trousers. Weather-wise, after a brief spell of warm and sunny weather at the very start of June it's been distinctly cool and wet here -- well below average temperatures and sunshine for the whole of June/early July and there's no real sign of improvement. Unfortunately all my sewing at the start of the summer was to fill "hot weather days" gaps in my wardrobe and it's mostly been too cold to wear any of it! My wardrobe planning has not stood up to this test, and I don't have enough of the right kind of trousers for weeks without end of this summer-but-not weather. On the other hand, the very thought of doing more trouser fitting after my exhausting and only partially successful efforts in February fills with me with horror. D:
  • Actually everything left on my summer sewing list fills me with at least mild trepidation. Typically, I have left all the more difficult things I want to make until last! My list is a sea of "can't decide on a pattern", "fitting nightmare", and "pattern has 88 pieces that all need to be traced and adjusted". D: Remind me again why this is my hobby that I do for fun?

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Notes from mid way through the year

June has been a very mixed month. I started off blazing through my sewing queue and feeling full of ideas, and then spent the second half of the month in a total slump. The slump is mainly due to (tediously renewed) illness, as well as the distracting (and distressing) political situation in the UK right now. It didn't help that after a couple of weeks of nice weather at the start of June it has done nothing but rain and be decidedly chilly for the last fortnight, with more of the same forecast for at least the first third of July. It's hard to feel excited about making summer clothes when you're huddling into your winter cardigans. For sure it put me off making any more sundresses!

While it might not look like it outside, it is in fact almost the start of July. As we're somehow therefore halfway through the year(!) I should report the following progress on my goals for the year:
  • I struggled a bit with my budget through the first half of the year, but I'm back on track now -- at halfway through the year, I have precisely 50% of my budget left. I've also successfully curtailed a lot of my pattern buying, so I'm well on track with my specific budget for patterns this year.
  • Stash-wise, I am somehow more or less at parity compared to 1 January. That is not at all what I intended, of course. My goal was to be approximately -45m for the year overall and it would have been nice to be half way there by now. Unfortunately, I stress bought a lot of fabric at various points of this first half of the year instead. The only good thing is that I've also had an extremely productive six months, so while I've bought 57m of fabric in the last six months, I've used 57.4m. To put this on context: this is about the same amount as I bought and used in the whole of 2015. I've also been doing a lot better with using fabrics I've bought recently, rather than buying for stash -- I've already used about a third of my new purchases and have immediate plans for most of the rest. I have to admit that sometimes the battle to reduce my stash doesn't seem worth the effort. I've still got ambitions in the direction of an overall decrease this year, but as long as I don't end the year with more than I started with I'd probably still consider it an overall success.
  • I always have a few specific skills and garments on my list of Things To Do This Year as well. I'd already checked off outerwear on my list for 2016 when I made my red raincoat by the end of the first quarter (although I also anticipate making more outerwear in the fairly immediate future). This quarter I can also put a tick in the boxes next to making a woven dress (I actually made two: 1, 2); making something with contrast top-stitching (twice, again, both of them skirts: 1, 2); finishing one of my planned knitted objects (a sweater); and making one of my planned bags.
I think that's a pretty good result for the first half of the year, and I'm actually pretty excited to get on with some of the other goals I set for myself this year, like making a lined blazer, once I roll into sewing for the autumn.

More immediately, I still have the ends of my summer sewing to complete. I have two major outstanding summer sewing projects: to (finally!) get on with my unlined jacket made with the linen I dyed back in February and to make a pair of woven, fly-fronted trousers.

The jacket has still not materialized because I just couldn't figure out what pattern to use. I kept picking out patterns and then changing my mind before I even got to the point of making a muslin. I think I've finally, truly, honestly picked a pattern this time, so I plan to try to move ahead with that shortly. (Maybe.)

Trousers are another big project. You may vaguely recall that earlier this year I tried out a trouser fitting exercise. I did learn a huge amount from that experience but it was also frustrating and exhausting. Since then my measurements have changed enough to mean that if I try again I'll need to start with a different size. Hopefully the difference is small enough that not all my hard-won observations in Trousers: Round One will be nullified. I just need to find a good pattern and get started again, I guess. I'm a bit nervous about the fly front as well. It's something I want to conquer, and at the same time I really struggled with it the two times I've tried it before on skirts so I know it's not straightforward.

Around the larger projects, I have plans to make some fairly easy woven tops and one or two other little things that have rattled to the surface of my sewing queue. I just need to feel a bit better and be less slump-y before I start anything.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Wardrobe Planning IIId: In which I conclude (for now) my thoughts about wardrobe size

Previously, on Writing in a Bafflingly Long-Winded Way About Wardrobe Planning:
Wardrobe Planning I: In which I talk about the reason I am interested in planning my wardrobe
Wardrobe Planning II: In which I digress into discussion of the role of sewing in my wardrobe plan
Wardrobe Planning IIIa: In which I ponder what the 'right' size of wardrobe should be
Wardrobe Planning IIIb: In which I count up all my clothes 
Wardrobe Planning IIIc: In which I count up all the things I threw away

As I've discussed extensively in my last three posts on this topic, one of the most enduring concerns I have about the wardrobe I own is how big it "should" be. This is (for now) my last post on the subject and I'm going to talk about the wear statistics I've gathered over the last year on my existing wardrobe and what I've learned from doing that.

Wear Frequency

One of my concerns, right back in the beginning in 2012 when I first started to think about wardrobe planning, was that I felt I owned a lot of clothes but only ever seemed to wear a small subset. Since then I've gone through several cycles of identifying and discarding unworn clothes, trying to get my wardrobe down to just the things I need and want to wear. It's meant several years of pretty substantial discards, sometimes of clothes I had very rarely worn, which is a sort of waste I really dislike and to which I wish I were not contributing (more so every time I read things like this recent BBC news article). I dislike it even more now that "not wearing things I own" more often than not means "not wearing things I've worked hard to sew/knit".

This week marks the anniversary of my "what I wore" spreadsheet -- a document I set up to keep track of how many times I wore each garment that I own over the course of a year. Although I, like most people, could very likely intuit what garments I wear most frequently, my feeling was that it was harder to get a real sense of how my total wardrobe broke out in terms of wear without actual data.

This sounds like a crazy amount of work to do just to assuage what is actually only mild curiosity, but it was not at all onerous. Since I already had a spreadsheet containing a list of all my clothes, all that was involved was a few minutes of work to set up a second spreadsheet where I could capture what I wore, and then about 10 seconds each morning to actually record the information.  In terms of the data I collected, I recorded all the main parts of my daily outfit (trousers/skirt, tops, top layers i.e. cardigans and jumpers, and shoes), but not outerwear, underwear, nightwear or clothes I wore for exercise. I started tracking on 21 June 2015, and thus I now I have a whole year of data, through all four seasons. (I have to admit, even though it's something that takes very little time, I probably wouldn't have done it if I had been gainfully employed and had a life over this past year. Since illness precluded either work or life-having, however, I had the free time.)

I mentioned in my last post on this topic that there's definitely been a Hawthorne effect going on, by which I mean, my behaviour clearly changed in response to the fact that I was analyzing it. The very fact that I could see as the year went along that I had clothes I hadn't worn much made me try to wear them more often. I am not sure that my year of wear therefore represents a "typical" year for me as a result. I don't really mind that my numbers were potentially a bit skewed -- this isn't a scientific study, after all, and my goal was to make better use of my wardrobe, not simply to create a record of what I wore. Plus, I think that while I probably wore my least favourite things a few extra times as a result of this effect, proportionally I still wore them much less often than my favourites.

Initially, as an arbitrary benchmark, I decided that I would be satisfied if I wore every garment at least once a month on average over the course of the year. In practice about two thirds of my wardrobe is seasonal (either summer or winter) and any given seasonal garment spends about six months of the year tucked away unworn. My actual wear pattern is therefore not nearly so evenly distributed as "one wear per month".

After a year of data collecting, I know that I wore about 65% of my useful wardrobe (that is, the part of my wardrobe that is suitable for my current lifestyle, excluding things in storage and garments like suits and formal blouses that I presently have no use for) at least once a month on average. I wore about 25% of my wardrobe at least twice a month on average, and about 15% of my wardrobe three or more times a month, which means I wore it more weeks than I didn't.

The garments I wore most frequently of all are really not interesting or surprising at all. For one thing, it's not like I don't know that I wash and wear those items a great many times a year. They are also, without exception, very dull: more or less invisible outfit building blocks like white tees, dark wash jeans and the like.

More interesting is the question of the 35% of my wardrobe that I wear less often than once a month.

About 15% of my useful wardrobe falls into a category of "I don't wear this often, and that's OK". Mainly, these are garments that fall at the extreme ends of weather-appropriate dress. Where I live I do not frequently require clothing for either very cold or very hot weather. It is rarely warm enough here that I want to wear shorts, for example. However, I am quite happy to continue to own two pairs of shorts for those few days a year when I want them. The most striking thing, looking at the list of these items, is that I've owned a lot of these garments for years -- my heaviest winter sweater, for example, has been in my wardrobe for something like 6 years, far longer than my sweaters usually last. This is actually a problem with the two pairs of shorts that fit me right now. I've owned them since 2006 but I've only worn them a North-of-England-typical handful of times each year. They're in good condition still, but I'm aware they are quite dated and probably more suited to my age in 2006 than my age in 2016.

The remaining 20% of my everyday wardrobe I just apparently don't want to wear that frequently. I would say about a third are a problem because the fit is off or I don't like the fabric. Another third are orphaned or difficult to fit into outfits, often because they just aren't a good colour match for the rest of my clothes. The remaining third, I genuinely just don't know. I don't have any sound or logical reason not to wear them. In fact, in some cases I am really surprised that I wore them so infrequently -- without data in front of me, I would have sworn they made it out the closet much more often than they actually did. I think given the choice, I just tend to choose to wear other, similar things that I like more. This seems particularly true of woven tops, which has the most obvious hierarchy of favourites: from my chambray and gingham shirts that I wear very regularly, to (mostly older, RTW) non-favourites that rarely make it out the wardrobe. Since I have (too many?) alternatives, I am never forced to wear any of these items, so I just don't.

Generating an "ideal" wardrobe size from from wear statistics

The obvious problem with this discussion so far is that I've made a blanket assumption that wearing a garment 12 times a year is a "good" level of wear. This is always going to be a sticking point, because there is not and never can be a universal "right" number of wears per year. My initial guess was that wearing something once a month on average -- and in practice, for the two thirds of my wardrobe that consists of seasonal garments, this means wearing something twice a month over 6 months -- was probably a low to moderate estimate.

I soon realized though that I actually have different expectations of different parts of my wardrobe. In particular, I expect to wear pairs of trousers many more times a year than tops. In fact, this proved to be exactly the case: I wore my most worn trousers exactly twice as many times as my most worn top, and almost all my most frequently worn garments are trousers. The few heavily worn items that aren't some kind of trouser are cardigans.

This prompted me to set up another little equation, this time with rather more variables. My goal was to create something up that took into account the applicable number of days (I wear casual all the time at the moment, but one day I will be well again and I'll have a workwear/casualwear split); the fact that I don't wear a cardigan or jumper every day (I now know I wear one about 85% of days) and I do wear more than one layer of top on a not insignificant number of days (about 25% of days in total over a year). Then I just play with the details of how many times a year I expect to wear different types of garment, and what this means for overall wardrobe size. Inputting "12 wears per year" for each category immediately shows how poor a measure that actually is -- I'd need twice as many pairs of trousers as I own right now if I were to wear them only 12 times a year. While I do think I have a few little gaps in my wardrobe as it stands, I don't think doubling the size of my trouser collection would produce any overall improvement to my wardrobe.

On the other hand, a more interesting question was what a good number would be if I wanted to go more minimalist. For a first run at this, I picked as my preferred wear count per year the frequency with which I currently wear my "favourite" items in each category. My reasoning for this was that I wear my most favourite, highest rotation items of clothing exactly as often as laundry logistics and, rather more subjectively, my preference for variety permits. It's not likely that I'd wear anything more frequently than I already wear my most favourite item in each category, but I wondered how many garments I would need if I wore everything with exactly that same frequency.

The answer to this question is that my minimalist wardrobe for a full year of casual wear would be 30 garments in high rotation, including 5 cardigans/sweaters, 8 pairs of trousers, and 17 tops. When you take seasonality into account, that would mean something like 18-20 garments in constant high rotation at any point in the year. In practice I'd probably also have to throw in a scant handful of things I wear less often but consider essential, like a pair of shorts in summer and an extra heavy sweater in the depths of winter. (Note that all these numbers exclude coats and other outerwear.)

There would be absolutely no slack in that wardrobe for me, from a laundry logistics point of view, and even as a mental exercise I recoil from the idea of having a wardrobe so limited that a laundry crisis looms every week. As a second run at minimalism, therefore, instead of taking my highest rotation garment, which in some cases I wore very much more often than anything else, I looked at the average of the second and third most frequently worn items, which added an extra 10 garments to my list for a total of 40 high rotation garments: 1 extra sweater, 1 extra pair of trousers, and 8 more tops. When you take seasonality into account, probably at any given time there would still be only about 25-30 garments in my wardrobe.

What's interesting to me about this is that it immediately brings to mind several of the minimalist wardrobes I looked at right back at the beginning of my musing about numbers. At the time I wrote the first of these numbers posts 18 months ago, I found it quite difficult to imagine how I would put together a wardrobe that small, or what it would mean to do so. This has given me a much clearer grasp of what a very small wardrobe would look like for me. Probably the most important thing for me is the idea that I'd need a wardrobe full of "favourites" -- things that I love and want to wear as often as specific things I already have in my wardrobe. Even if the strictest of minimalist wardrobes doesn't really appeal to me, that aspect of it does, because it would mean an end to that waste I described. Yes, of course I'd still need to replace things as they wore out, but I'd hopefully avoid owning things that just never worked to start with.

The idea of cost per wear

Another thing I toyed with calculating over the course of the year was cost per wear. In the end, however, I haven't found this at all useful as a concept, so I'll just touch on this briefly. Cost per wear, of course, is very simply calculated as the amount it costs to buy/make something divided by the number of times you wear it. The idea is that if you are buying something that has the potential to be durable, like say a winter coat, or a watch, then you can justify buying a higher quality, higher price item because over a long lifetime, the cost per wear would be the same as if you had bought a cheaper, lower quality version that fell apart after a year.

The problem I have with this is twofold:

1. How do you even start to pick your target/preferred cost per wear?

The biggest stumbling block to this whole idea is that you've basically got to pull the critical number straight out of thin air. Is £1 per wear low enough, or does it have to go under £0.20?  If I buy or make a £100 coat, do I have to wear it 100 times to make it a good buy, or 500? Without some idea of what cost per wear "should" be -- and I honestly have no idea what it should be and nor does anyone else, seemingly -- all you can do is a comparison. I'd have to wear a £500 coat five times as many times as a £100 coat for it to be worth the extra, you could say, but then you run into the counterfactual problem: you will never know how long the £100 coat would have lasted or how much you would have worn it because you didn't buy or wear it. If you sew, you also have the problem of deciding what you're going to count as part of your costs in the first place - do you estimate labour? Do you add in the patterns you bought and considered but ultimately rejected? My "number of wears per year" thing is also arbitrary, but at least I can sort of see some practical way of estimating a reasonable number for me personally and proceeding from there. I can't really even guess at how much I think my daily outfit should cost on a per wear basis.

2. It's hard to know ahead of time that product A is going to be more durable/wearable than product B.

If the main use is in comparison (will I wear this five-times-as-expensive coat five times as often?) then in addition to the problem of the counter factual (you'll never know the answer to that question) you also have the problem that most of the time you can't determine longevity ahead of time based on price. It's maybe a little easier with buying fabric than buying clothes because the brand thing doesn't play into it quite so much (Liberty cotton and the like notwithstanding) but then you have the problem that you still don't really know if you'll love it and wear it constantly just based on the fabric you used.

In the end, I wiped out that column in my spreadsheet because I found it completely unhelpful. Of course, I want everything I make or buy to work out to be good value for money, but I can't see how cost per wear tells you anything when you can't even guess at what benchmark to use.

In conclusion

This has been a lot of words, and is based on an awful lot of numbers, but the important question is did I actually learn anything from all of this? Here are my thoughts at this conclusion of all this thinking:

1. There really isn't a right number, but you can probably use these mathematical approaches to figure out a good mix of garments and total size for a minimal or starter wardrobe.

I mean, this is obvious, but there are just too many variables to pick a "right" number. I can't even pick a right number for me, let alone pick a right number that has any kind of universal claim to usefulness. For me, I seem to have a seasonal minimum of about 25-30 items. I tend to wear an average of about 32 different garments in any given month. As you might expect I wear the least variety in the most temperate months, and the most in months where we have the local version of "extreme" weather -- a few days of unusually hot or cold temperatures. I do think that all of these blog posts and spreadsheets and calculations have given me a good idea of what I actually need and want from my wardrobe, in purely numerical terms, which is something I never really had before.

I also think that my current equation is helpful because it's helped me divide my clothes into useful categories and sketch out how many garments I want to own in each category, as well as picking out what rarely used but still useful things I want to have available. After that, I use more qualitative judgement to try to make sure I have a range of different colours, styles and seasonally appropriate clothes in the mix. I've definitely minimized the number of duplicates or near-duplicates in my wardrobe, and I think overall my wardrobe is more diverse and interesting as a result of my efforts, while also being overall much smaller than it has probably ever been in my adult life. I've never had a lot of laundry crises, but I've had basically none since I started trying to be more organized with how many things I own, but I also think in the last 18 months in particular I've been much less likely to feel that "I have nothing to wear!".

It's also really helpful to use the minimalist wardrobe ideas -- the wardrobe made up of "favourites" -- to figure out exactly what my core wardrobe looks like and what I can't live without. If nothing else, it helps set priorities and helps me set up my sewing queue, as well as informing how I spend my clothes and fabric budget.

Finally, this whole exercise has given me a much better sense of what a starter/rebuild capsule sort of wardrobe would need to look like for me. This is extremely useful, because when I (eventually) go back to work I'm going to be starting almost from scratch to rebuild my work wardrobe. This will give me a much better starting point to systematically create a really useful work wardrobe than the last time I tried to rebuild, post-PhD, hopefully with a minimum of waste. I also think it's useful for future travel wardrobe planning and the like, assuming that's a thing I get to do again some day.

2. Some things I'm just not going to wear that often, but that's OK.

I could just decide not to own, for example, any shorts at all, because I don't wear them that often, but it seems a sort of needless martyrdom to do so. My main constraints are money and space. Money-wise, because I have a wardrobe plan that feeds into a sewing/RTW-to-buy queue, I am pretty good at budgeting ahead for what I need to make and buy. I don't have cubic miles of storage space, but I do have more than enough to cope with owning a handful of garments that I wear less often.

However, what I have realized is that if I'm going to own, for example, a couple of pairs of shorts that I don't wear very often, they're potentially going to lurk about in my wardrobe for a decade. For those sorts of garments, I think I want to make sure I am picking patterns and styles that are very classic and won't date as badly as my 2006-called-and-wants-their-shorts-back shorts that I have right now. The same is true of anything I replace or add knowing that it's in that "rarely worn but that's OK" category: it's likely to be around a while, so it's worth picking a timeless style and probably a neutral colour. If I decided to make something more trendy or colourful, it's basically got to be cheap enough that I don't feel bad about ditching it if it's out of style or I no longer like the colour a year later.

3. I haven't figured out how to deal with the unworn 20% of my wardrobe

One of the outstanding questions from my data analysis is that I legitimately don't know what to do with the garments I identified that I just don't wear. (Bear in mind, 20% of my current everyday wardrobe is only about 18 garments total, so at least we're not talking about great bagfuls of clothes.)

At the moment, my approach is to just keep trying to make it work, trying to push some things, especially the things I don't have any real reason not to wear, into higher rotation. Of course, in theory, I could also just put all of the non-worn 20% in a bag and donate/recycle them tomorrow and it would have, overall, little impact on my life. For all practical purposes I probably wouldn't even notice the difference. I don't wear those items very often and in some cases only wore it this last year because my tracking exercise showed me that I 'ought' to. I am far enough over the minimum numbers I've figured out that I could easily have worn something else on those few occasions without prompting any kind of laundry crisis.

But... I'd feel bad about actually doing that, because in some cases there's nothing really wrong with the garment in question. Some of them are things I've made myself, and, even though I know all about sunk and unrecoverable costs, I feel like there is a lot of time and effort that has gone into those garments that I am reluctant to "waste". Again, if I were struggling for storage space, I'd probably bite the bullet and purge, but it's really not that much of a problem to house those extra garments, at least for now.

4. It's pointless to make anything in a fabric I don't like, a colour I am unlikely to wear, or that doesn't fit.

On the other hand, for those items where the problem is that I don't like the fabric or fit, in particular, well, that's pretty insurmountable. Time is not going to change my dislike of those garments, and it makes no real sense to hang on to them. It's not worth hanging on to anything if I don't like the fabric or the fit is that far off. Since fit remains one of my biggest problems with sewing, this is a rather depressing conclusion to reach, because it's likely to recur rather frequently as I continue to try to sew for myself in the future.

Moreover, apart from the problem of the finished garments I don't wear, this conclusion also poses a challenge for my fabric stash. I've mentioned before that in the early days of my fabric buying I made numerous ill-conceived purchases, many of which unfortunately still linger in the lowest archaeological layers of my stash. I've been trying to make use of some of it, but it's really depressing to use fabrics you're at best indifferent to all the time, and so I keep skipping over them to use nicer, new fabrics instead. Plus, why bother making things if they're going to end up in the annoying 20% anyway?

5. If I really wanted to go minimalist, sewing would be my downfall.

The reality is that I think I would be a lot closer to the "minimal" wardrobe camp if I didn't sew my own clothes and enjoy it. While I'm by no means the most prolific sewer I know, I sew quickly and am inclined to spend a lot of my leisure time on it. I therefore have to put deliberate limits on how much I make. I could easily make two or three times the number of garments, and some days I really kind of want to do that. There is definitely a tension between my inclination to sew, sew, sew and my preference not to end up inundated with clothes, especially when some of the things I want to make really don't suit my current very restricted semi-invalid lifestyle. Some days I swing rather wildly from "it doesn't matter if you have more clothes than you strictly need, it's better to have the distraction!" to "but why make stuff if you won't wear it, it's so wasteful, you're a terrible person!" and even though that sounds ridiculous, it's actually stupidly stressful.

Next time:   I think I've finally exhausted the topic of numbers for now, and therefore the next thing I am going to talk about in this on-going occasional series is the problem of "style".

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Flying Squirrel (Burda 07-2011-116)

Ages ago, someone doing a review of an issue of Burda magazine referred to one of the tops as a flying squirrel top. It wasn't the pattern I used for this new top (in fact, I think the pattern in question was this plus-size tunic top) but ever since that has been how I mentally labelled all voluminous Burda batwing tops. And now, I have made a flying squirrel top for myself!

Burda 07-2011-116A (images from
This is by no means a rare shape of pattern for Burda, so when I decided to make one I considered a handful of flying squirrel patterns from various issues. In the end I chose Burda 07-2011-116A (link goes to where it is for sale, note that I do NOT do affiliate links) mainly because I thought the seamline positioning and the asymmetric neckline were interesting. (The difference between 116A and 116B is a matter of the hem finishing only -- A has a folded hem and sleeve hem, where B uses bias binding.)  I also liked how the top narrows to fit more closely at the hip and then blouse over -- the mannequin image is misleading in this respect, as both the modelled versions clearly show this in the magazine. This catch-at-the-hip thing is something I like a lot: previously I made about a million iterations of a t-shirt with a similar feature from Ottobre 02-2013.

The gigantic back bodice pattern piece -- it's about a metre square
The pattern has only three pieces -- a very (very!) large back piece that wraps to the front at the top and sides, a front piece and a facing. The pattern goes together absolutely beautifully. Seriously, it's a lovely, quick, well-designed piece of sewing. I am not normally a fan of facings, but I do appreciate the facing in this pattern that finishes this neckline so neatly, and the way the asymmetric neckline goes together. The most time consuming parts of this pattern were in fact (a) tracing out the enormous back pattern piece and mirroring it, and then only because the pattern was too big for my cutting/tracing table so I had to clear my kitchen table to trace it out and (b) positioning the pattern on the fabric so that I didn't have any of the giant circular features directly over my bust.

Burda 07-2011-116A - front

This pattern is actually a Tall pattern, the first I've made. It was available in a size 76-92, which translates to a Tall 38-46. After measuring up the pattern to get a sense of finished size, I ended up making pretty much a straight 84 (Tall 42). Mostly I've been making 44s recently, though I'm actually exactly mid-way between a 42 and a 44 at neck/bust/waist. On this occasion I felt like the smaller size would fit better through the neckline than the 44, and there is a lot of design ease through the bust so I wasn't worried about fit. My hip measurement is a solid size 40, but I didn't taper. I maybe could have sliced off a tiny bit at the hem to have it fit more closely, but my feeling was that after I turned the hem and accounted for the extra bulk of wearing the top over trousers, the 42 would also be a decent fit through the hip. Finally, though I'm theoretically too short for Tall patterns -- I'm 172.5cm tall vs. the Tall draft being for women 176cm tall -- as written this top is actually almost exactly the normal length I make my woven tops and I therefore made no length adjustments.

Burda 07-2011-116A - back

I used more or less all 2m I had of this rather narrow (about 135cm wide) Korean dandelion print viscose to make it. I realized, too late of course, that the way the shoulder yoke is constructed means the print is upside down at the front shoulder, but fortunately I had managed to position the pattern piece such that the print, while legitimately directional, isn't too obviously directional in the sections that are wrapped over from the back. (This was totally due to luck, not good judgement.) The fabric is rather more see-through than I like, so I will definitely not be wearing it without a camisole underneath.

Crappy Instagram photo on me. I planned to take more photos today but then I wore it out shopping and got rained on
Overall, I am really pleased with this top. After I finished, I immediately imagined using this pattern for a top for work, done in colour block. I think it would be really pretty in crepe-de-chine with a darker colour back/shoulder and a lighter front piece. So, while I probably won't use this pattern again for a casual top while this floral viscose version is in my wardrobe, I can definitely see myself using it again someday. :D

Next up: I'm just about to start tracing another simple woven Burda top, but this time a more recent pattern.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Dress #2: StyleArc Mila (and a quick repeat top)

Thank you to people who left kind words in comments about my first dress this month, which I was not very excited about. I continue to not be very excited by it, in all honesty, although I am actually wearing it today and there's no denying it's very light and comfortable in the current very warm (for the North of England, feel free to laugh if you're in a place that actually gets properly hot) and humid conditions.

Since then I've been battling pretty epic insomnia due to medication change, and as is often the case when I am awake at 3am, I made a series of buying decisions I might not have made if it had been a more sensible hour. Most of the purchases were harmless enough (although why I bought Simplicity 1616, surely the world's least exciting maxi skirt pattern, is anyone's guess. It turned up in the post and I was like... Well, OK then. I guess this seemed like a good idea at the time, or something? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) but one purchase, at least, turns out to have been inspired.

StyleArc Mila
Ages ago, when it first came out, I said how weirdly attracted I was to this StyleArc pattern, the Mila dress. The line drawing is actually not super exciting, but the modelled sample on the StyleArc Etsy shop site was very cute. However, I wanted to wait and see how it worked out for a wider variety of body shapes, since the StyleArc model was quite small-busted and I worried this would hang unflatteringly from my much larger bust. The other night I was trying to think what direction I could take with my dress-making experiments, remembered this pattern and decided to buy it and forge ahead even though I could only find a couple of reviews.

StyleArc Mila in black linen and black cotton sateen, front view
I decided on the fabrics in the middle of the night as well. The bodice is in a lightweight cotton shirting with a slightly shiny finish. The skirt is in black linen. Of course this means the entire dress wrinkles if you so much as breathe near it, but I quite like that "lived in" look that linen and cotton get in the summer, so that's OK. It is exceedingly difficult to photograph black dresses, so please forgive how over-exposed my photos are as I was trying to show the two fabrics and the seam lines. That said, to be honest the variation in texture between top and bottom is a bit subtle even in person. I did consider doing a proper contrast bodice with a black and white floral I have a small piece of, but I decided in the end to go for straightforward all black. I am so dubious about florals, I just wasn't sure I'd get the same wear out of even a partially flowery dress as I would from a plain black.

StyleArc Mila side and back views (see what I mean about the wrinkling? I pressed this and put it straight on Flossie but: wrinkles!)
I made a size 12 straight from the PDF based on full bust. In theory, I am a size 10 hip in StyleArc but I did not attempt to adjust for this, and in fact I am very glad I did not adjust it! The dress looks great when you're standing up but it's certainly not got a ton of ease in it, which you REALLY notice when you sit down.

The actual sewing was very easy. It took me basically just a single morning to make after cutting out just 5 pattern pieces yesterday (including switching over my overlocker thread, doing a blind hem by hand, and doing three loads of washing in breaks!). Given all the very curvy seamlines, I was happy enough to just overlock my seams, which of course is a big time saver compared to e.g. french seaming or flat felling.

I did have three very minor difficulties in sewing:

The centre front pointy bit
1. The neckline/neck facing are sewn with a 6mm (1/4") seam and I had a bit of a problem wrangling the fabric when it came to understitching. However, the actual finished neckline looks quite good. If I make it again though I'll give myself a bit more of a seam allowance and trim it -- not the most efficient, but I have fewer problems that way.

2. I was sewing together two somewhat different fabrics and I got a little wrinkling and stretching as I stitched them together on the bias curve at the front. It mostly pressed out, but it's not perfect.

3. The pointy bit at centre front. Oh dear. Well, it's not perfectly pointy, but it looks OK, I think? I didn't do myself any favours by using a shiny fabric which really shows of any flaw right there. I don't know whether I am being too critical (nobody is looking at my clothes that closely except for me, seriously) or not critical enough (bad seamstress! Strive harder!) of it, but I think I can live with how it turned out. I have to admit that after a couple of attempts, I actually hand-stitched this part of the seam, because I just couldn't get the control I needed with the machine.

StyleArc Mila, as modelled by me
More importantly, I do really like how this dress looks on me, and I don't think the photos really do it justice. It skims the body nicely and I really like the shape of the skirt and side seam.

One thing to bear in mind if you're interested in this pattern is that it's very strange to put on. It's a pullover dress but the hem is pegged... but pegged front and back, so it sort of curves in towards the back of the calves, rather than curving in at the side like a pencil skirt. Anyway, that makes for an interesting experience pulling it over my bust and hips and there's a certain amount of wriggle-hopping required. If you're very top heavy or very pear-shaped or have a pronounced butt, it might actually be entirely unworkable without some kind of vent at centre back (as written, the pattern does not have one). The finished hem circumference is therefore something to maybe keep in mind if you are particularly curvy.

Overall, I am really happy with this dress and the pattern, and actually with the overall experiment of making a waistless shift type dress. Definitely a style I want to pursue further. Moreover, I am much more pleased with this dress than the previous one. Middle of the night inspiration FTW, apparently. \o/

Very briefly, also, between the two dresses, I made one quick little summer weight sweatshirt with some cream and black stretch cotton pique. I used the Grainline Linden pattern, which I have used a couple of times before, and I also really love how this came out. The modelled shot is from Instagram, and I am sorry for, among other things, the weird perspective that makes me look like I have a giant hand.

Striped Grainline Linden
I made the same size I made previously (14) because I forgot my bust size has changed in the intervening time (current bust size, according to the chart: 12). More radically though, and the reason I can't be bothered to make up any of the other Grainline patterns I have, in theory my hips are currently between a size 6 and 8 in their draft (and closer to a 6 than an 8). As you can see, the size 14 therefore leaves me with acres of ease at the hip! I don't care, I like how it looks baggy like this but yikes, 12 top, 6 bottom is a bit of an epic differential, even for me.

Next up: this is apparently my week for making "interesting" patterns, as I will be following the Mila up with a pattern from Burda that is definitely at the more peculiar end of their spectrum. I also have a tote bag cut out and ready to sew. :D