Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Finished knits & cross-stitch progress

I have finished not one but two knitted items so far this month! Sadly, one of them is very disappointing.

First, a moment of deja vu, in that I made a cowl for my sister-in-law in December for her birthday and now I have made an absolutely identical cowl for myself this month. I was able to do so because I had a total comprehension failure over the description of the yarn and bought twice as much as I needed for her gift by mistake. Luckily for me, her cowl turned out so interesting and striking that I immediately wanted one for myself anyway. It was absolutely no hardship to knit another, especially as the pattern (the free Gap-tastic Cowl pattern on Ravelry) is one I have now used many many times and could most probably knit in my sleep.

Deja Vu Cowl (pattern: Gap-tastic Cowl on Ravelry, Yarn: Universal Felicity in colourway Open Meadow)
Second, my latest jumper is finally finished... and I don't love it at all.

Finished Il Grande Favorito jumper in Drops Paris Recycled Denim, Dark Wash
The pattern is actually pretty great. It's Il Grande Favorito, by Isabell Kraemer, which can be found on Ravelry. I love IK's patterns -- this is my second of hers and I will probably use more -- because the knitting process is very clearly described and they seem to be very consistent in terms of the outcomes, as the many hundreds of very similar jumpers produced by Ravelry knitters to this particular pattern confirms. I have to admit is a very simple and straightforward pattern to begin with (much more so than my last jumper, the Wanderling, was). It's a stocking stitch jumper in the round, so once the initial complications of all the increase rows for the neckline and sleeves were done, it was just endless rounds of knit knit knit knit knit knit knit. It sounds dull but it's quite a heavy yarn and it's mindless, so you can make a surprising amount of progress with very little mental energy expended. I made two tiny changes to the pattern -- I added a couple of cm in length, and I made a small change to the cuffs by decreasing two stitches to make them narrower

Front view of jumper

Side view of jumper -- you can just about see that the back is slightly longer than the front (deliberately, I should add!)
The problem with the finished sweater is the yarn. I chose to use a cotton aran, specifically Drops Paris Recycled Denim, in the Dark Wash colourway, and I had no problem at all getting gauge.  In a skein, I liked the yarn very much -- it was soft and squashy and I liked the colour. However, I think yarn is already looking very jaded even before I've worn the sweater, which is not what you want at all from a jumper you've spend ages and ages knitting. It looks pilled and tired. The yarn is very splitty as well, and it's hard to keep it twisted together properly if you have to do so much as tink a few stitches, let along rip back anything significant. Cotton yarn always shows every flaw anyway and adding this splittiness on top makes it look a real mess in places. Ugh. Luckily it was inexpensive, but as with all knitting the real cost is the hours and hours of work that went into it!

I tried to photograph the pilled/fuzzy finish, but this is the best I could do

The other big problem is that in the time between casting on and finishing it my ever-fluctuating weight changed by about 1 size. This is, frustratingly, entirely my own fault, because I always seem to stall out at the sleeve stage. It took almost exactly a month to knit the body and neckline -- from the very end of July 2016 to almost the end of August -- and then it hung about sans sleeves until I worked up some enthusiasm to start up again in late December. If I had cast on in December I would have made it a size larger. If I had finished the sleeves in a more timely manner I could have worn it before my weight hit a peak (from which it is now declining, sadly never as fast as it goes up.) That said, the fabric also has that cotton yarn tendency to grow when it warms up, so maybe if I wear it it won't be so bad. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I am pleased with how even the stitches appear to be after blocking, which was not the case as I was knitting it!
I am really disappointed overall. It's only my third completed sweater so I know I shouldn't expect it to necessarily turn out brilliantly, but knitting anything is such a long-term investment of time that it really annoys me when it's very much less than successful.

Lace-weight scarf in progress -- Pattern is Groovy (sock & lace weight), yarn is Drops Silk & Alpaca Lace in black
However, I am not entirely ready to give up my needles, so next up for knitting I'm going to try to finish the lace-weight shawl that is my oldest (and now, only) knitting WIP. Lace-weight knitting is such a black hole though. I did two solid hours on the shawl last night and as far as I could tell I achieved absolutely nothing in that time. The shawl didn't seem to get any bigger and the skein of yarn never seems to get any smaller. However, the yarn is silk and alpaca and it makes the most delightful fabric so I do want the finished product! I think I'll soldier on with it for the rest of January but plan to cast on something new on the 1st of February if I don't finish the shawl by then. There's only so much time I can spend on the lace-weight black hole before it gets too much.

Time lapse embroidery! From left to right on the 3rd, 11th and 18th of January
Meanwhile, I have also been working on my new cross-stitch kit. I really enjoyed the two kits I bought and finished over Christmas and decided to buy a harder/larger project to work on more slowly the next several weeks/months. It was actually quite difficult to find a larger kit that was aesthetically interesting to me to the point that I would be willing to e.g. frame and hang it at the end of the project. I eventually found one that I liked, a Dimensions kit called Mason Jar Line-Up, and it's going pretty well so far!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

My 2017 challenge rationale

When I posted my goals for 2017, one of the things I said was that I was setting myself the challenge of making twelve things off my Wishlist this year, as well as twelve things from my various magazines for my 2017 Magazine Challenge. I know a lot of people do the Magazine Challenge thing, or some variation thereof, just as a way to make sure they actually use their magazines. I have to admit that, rightly or wrongly, whether I use my magazines immediately is not really a major concern to me, and therefore I wanted to write about why I picked these challenges for myself.

To briefly explain what the Wishlist even is: this is a literal list of dream projects that I've been keeping for a few years. I started it when I bought my very first issue of Burda, 06-2012, because I saw this jacket and instantly wanted one exactly like it:
Burda 06-2012-121 a.k.a the reason I started buying Burda magazines & started a wishlist
Unfortunately for me, when I bought that first issue of Burda I'd been sewing garments for about a month and was barely competent enough to make pyjamas. A four-dot Burda fitted jacket? There was not even a single chance I'd be able to make it successfully any time soon. However, never being anything but ambitious, I decided that it could go on a brand new list of 'things I would make one day when my skillset had developed some'.

Since then that list has gotten longer and longer. That jacket is still on it. I keep an actual text list of the patterns I am most drawn to in my magazines (because it's very easy to lose track of them if you have a big enough magazine stash) but I also have numerous Pinterest boards full of images I've pinned of RTW garments, things made by other people, even vintage and museum pieces that have something about them that catches my eye. I've also got a few things on my list -- and my January Wishlist entry is one of them -- that harken back to garments I once owned and loved and would like to own again, in some form.

The critical thing with the Wishlist though, is that pretty much everything on it is eye-catching -- distinctive, interesting, the sort of thing you ever only own one of -- and that's what I'll be trying to focus on when I pick my projects this year. It's also what I'll be trying to pick from my magazines for my magazine challenge. This is entirely due to how I assessed my wardrobe at the end of 2016. Although I think I've got to grips very successfully with right-sizing my wardrobe over the last couple of years, and with my colour choices for my wardrobe (about which latter more in a forthcoming post), I feel that my wardrobe overall has got a case of the blahs at the moment. I've been thinking since about November about how I could get rid of the blahs, while also working on my sewing skills, and continuing to put together a wardrobe in a somewhat co-ordinated and size constrained way.

What I've concluded is that I've been concentrating hard on having the right wardrobe staples and being able to make many of them for myself, at the expense of making the kind of one-off, unique garments that would actually make my wardrobe interesting. I have a horror of wardrobe orphans and/or making things that I never wear, but I think I've swung too far in the other direction and have been making things that yes, do all fit together nicely for the most part, but actually also don't really add up to a very interesting wardrobe. It's noticeable to me that when I did make things that were more interesting/different, they tended to rocket to the top of my "best things I've made" list and stay there. I also think a lot of my sewing choices have not been very stretching from a technical perspective. Since I've also been sick and not really able do everything I wanted the last couple of years I'm not too concerned with this latter, but I'm determined to try to forge on and learn new things if I can this year.

I guess that is what to expect then from my challenge patterns: more technically challenging, hopefully somewhat more interesting from a design perspective at times, sometimes more "inspired by..." things that I've seen and loved, or owned previously. I'll be trying to pick patterns, styles, fabrics and colours that fit in with my actual life and existing wardrobe, but that also have some kind of star quality to them -- the sorts of garments that really make an outfit, I guess, rather than just blending in to the background. With any luck, that Burda 06-2012 jacket will be one of them! But I've also got all kinds of ideas just waiting to be put into action. Sadly, though, January's entry though is rather tame, for reasons I'll explain when I post about it.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Goals for 2017

Welcome to 2017! :D

I know that a lot of people hate New Year's resolutions and honestly, I totally get that. Who wants to take up running or give up long-held habits or go on a strict diet of lettuce leaves and cottage cheese in January, when the (northern hemisphere) weather is horrid and everyone is grumpy anyway? Ugh! And then often you end up having to listen to other people's horrible New Year resolution plans. Is there anything worse than the kind of griping, miserable smoking cessation/crash dieting talk that happens in workplaces in January? Even more ugh!

That said, as you've probably realized if you've been reading this blog for more than about a minute, I'm really into making plans and setting myself goals. Despite my sympathy for anti-NY-resolutioners there's something about the blank slate of the first of the year that I can never resist. Fortunately, there are no lettuce-leaf-and-cottage-cheese resolutions here!
First, a couple of targets to keep me on the straight and narrow with my spending and stash:

1. Money: (a) Stick to my 2017 budget. Last year, as I've described, I went over budget by quite a bit, which was disappointing. This year I've given myself the same absolute value to play with, which hopefully I can stay within. I'm going to try to be really careful about not buying fabric to soothe myself when I feel stressed as that was really the root of my overrun in 2016. I'd like also to (b) keep my envelope/PDF pattern spending at the same level as it was in 2016. I feel like the limited budget for patterns I gave myself really made me think about how I spent it, which was all to the good.

2.  Fabric Stash: For the last few years I've picked an arbitrary, much-smaller-than-my-actual-stash-size number as my ideal stash size, with the plan in mind that one day I'd reduce my stash to some glorious, minimalist level. Then every year I've totally failed to get anywhere near that number. Clearly that's a complete waste of energy, plus it just makes me cross with myself for totally manufactured reasons. Moreover, I am not even sure any more why I became convinced that having a minimal stash was intrinsically better, other than that I moved house twice in 12 months in 2013/2014 and got really fed up of carrying the boxes around. I'm sure there are people who love their minimalist stash and have excellent reasons for having one, but at this point I don't think it's for me. So this is my official notice: I'm giving up that whole idea. At the same time, though, I am starting the year with 217.8m of garment fabric and I do think that's a bit too much. I spent most of last year at or around 200m and I was pretty comfortable with owning that much. So, my main stash goal for 2017 is a simple one: (a) reduce my stash to under 200m and then stay at or under 200m for the rest of the year. 

I'm also going to try to buy-to-use more than buy-to-stash (even though I also failed at this last year). This is really about making sure I'm mainly buying fabric I can actually use right now, for the life I really have, and not being tempted into buying e.g. velvet and chiffon. My goal is therefore to (b) use two thirds of what I buy in 2017 during 2017.

Finally, I am not a dragon, or a magpie. I do not need a hoard, nor do I need to collect shiny things for the sake of it. Therefore, my last goal is to (c) use some of my older "favourite" fabrics and try not get so hung up on whether my sewing is good enough to do them justice. I have some great fabrics that I love -- surely though it would be even better if I turned that fabric into garments, no matter how imperfect, that I could actually wear rather than just folded fabric I pet every so often.

My other plans for 2017 include two little challenges I'm setting myself. I was really pleased with my 2016 wardrobe but I think that if it had a shortcoming it was that it shaded towards the bland. I feel like the last couple of years I've spent a lot of time working out how to sew some of my wardrobe essentials, but it's not left much time for projects that are more about personal style, wardrobe accent pieces or things that capture current trends that I like. So, these challenges are both intended to give me room to experiment a bit more in that direction:

3. 2017 Magazine Challenge. In my review of 2016 I said that I'm pretty relaxed about the fact that I have a lot of magazines in my collection that I haven't used, and that is still true. However, I thought it might be fun to try to use the magazines that arrive during 2017 more actively. I often really like, for example, some of Burda's more complicated, trendier or wackier patterns, but it's easy to just think "I'd like to make that one day!" and then forget about it. Not this year! From a pure mechanics perspective, I'm going to go for a very casual version of this challenge, aiming to make one thing each month from any 2017 issue of any of my magazine subscriptions (Burda/Knipmode/Ottobre). I'm not going to lock myself to the using the specific issue of the month because both Burda and Knipmode sometimes gallop ahead of the season (see: the February Burda previews, which seems to be full of sundresses!). My guideline for myself is that I want try to pick the kind of patterns that are quite different from my wardrobe staples, and/or that involve me trying out a new skill or technique.

4. 2017 Wishlist Challenge. For the last few years I've been rather casually maintaining a list I titled my Sewing Wishlist, where I've tried to keep track of ideas that I've had for things I really want to make "some day". A lot of this list is made up of patterns, RTW garments, and ideas from my occasional Pinterest pinning sprees that are, I think, quite interesting and different from my wardrobe staples. While I've been concentrating on building up my wardrobe to its current state the wishlist ideas have, with one or two exceptions, for the most part stayed just that: ideas. This challenge is about making 2017 "some day" for at least some of those ideas. I am therefore going to try to make at least 12 things off my wishlist in 2017.

On top of these grand schemes, I've re-organized my usual sewing queue for the start of a new year. I've quite a list of necessaries slated to sew in the early spring, as well as one or two wardrobe holes that I already know I'll need to plug later in the year (I'll be making shorts for sure this summer, for example). However, in this current mid-to-late winter period there are only a couple of little things I need to make to maintain my wardrobe. I've therefore got my January/February queue stacked with all kinds of non-garment things. I'm still infatuated with cross-stitch and I bought a (terrifying!) new kit to start soon. I've got a whole list of bags I want to make that I've been putting off for ages that I want to get started on. I've also several knitting projects on the go that I want to finish, including my Il Grande Favorito jumper. I tried hard to finish that by the end of 2016 but I was stymied by a last minute series of disasters (had to rip back the second sleeve, broke my circular needle and had to order a new one, etc etc). Plus, of course, I'll also be making my magazine pattern and wishlist challenge projects as soon as I decide on them.

As usual for this time of year then I have big big plans! :D How successful I am will depend in large part on how everything else in my life is going, and on this subject I have major news. I am going to start a trial of a new medication in February that may (or may not) improve my health situation very significantly, albeit probably quite slowly, over the course of 2017. If it works -- and it's a big if, unfortunately -- it could mean I will be able to pick up many of the threads of what I considered my normal life that I had to let fall 3.5 years ago when I first became ill. I'm starting this year crossing every digit and appendage that I have, hoping that in a year's time I'm writing about sewing for a very different life than I am now!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

2016 In Review: Wardrobe Outcomes (inc. What I Made And How It Lasted)

Overall, I think 2016 was a successful year as far as my wardrobe is concerned. I don't think my data & spreadsheet intensive way of keeping track and planning a wardrobe would work for everyone -- or maybe even for anyone who isn't me! -- but I feel like it really worked for me this year.

Above all I am really happy with how my wardrobe planning helped me pick things to make/buy and put together something resembling a coherent set of clothes. I didn't make or buy a single thing that went unworn because it didn't fit into my wardrobe -- everything slotted neatly into one or more outfits as soon as I finished/bought it. Some things of course got worn less than others, but if something was neglected it was really never because I couldn't find a way to wear it. This feels like a big improvement on my past wardrobe history when I always had a lot of orphans, often felt like I only had one way to wear specific garments and that I only wore a small percentage of my wardrobe. I also don't have any unnecessary duplicates, which was something I was very prone to doing before. Over the last three years my wardrobe has decreased in size every year, but it feels both more diverse in colour and design than it ever has previously. So, eccentric though my wardrobe planning efforts might be, they are working well enough for me to feel very enthusiastic about continuing to pursue them in 2017.

Another couple of wardrobe goals for 2016 were to make about two-thirds of my wardrobe additions this year, with only one third coming from shops, and to thrift about half of what I bought. By the end of the year I'd made about 57% of the new additions to my wardrobe, which is close enough for me.  On the other hand, I didn't thrift as much as I had planned. However, I did plan my RTW shopping really carefully to take maximum advantage of sales and discounts. I feel like I actually did a really good job managing my RTW expenditure so I'm not concerned that I bought new rather than thrift. 

Numbers: Garments sewn

This year, I attempted to make 49 garments. Of these, 4 were immediate wadders and another 5 I discarded after relatively few wears. As of today, I therefore have 40 garments in my wardrobe that I made in 2016.

Including the wadders etc, I used 40 different patterns in total, of which 9 were repeats from a previous year. My pattern sources run true to previous years, which is to say just about 60% magazines, mainly Ottobre and Burda, and then the remainder from all kinds of other brands and companies from across the spectrum from Big4 envelopes to a PDF from a teeny tiny blogger/pattern maker. More specifically, this is my breakdown:

Magazines: 24 in total, split between Burda (12); Ottobre (10) and Knipmode (2)
Big4 envelopes: 9 in total, split between New Look (4), Butterick (3), Simplicity (1) and Burda (1).
Indies: 7 in total. StyleArc (3), Silhouette (1), Grainline (1), Cozy Little World (1) and Jalie (1)

Numbers: Garments purchased

This year I also bought 36 items of clothing, of which 5 didn't make it to the end of the year (mainly my discards shrank in the wash, which is my personal pet peeve with RTW). My purchases fall entirely in three categories: trousers/jeans; t-shirts; and knitwear. I am working on making more of my own trousers, but there are some kinds of t-shirts, sweaters and cardigans that I am very unlikely to make, and I am fine with that. I have no intention of (or really even interest in) going 100% handmade.

Numbers: Discards

I discarded a hideous amount of clothes this year, as part of my long-running campaign to "right-size" my wardrobe. Over the last few months I've finally gotten rid of the things that were basically useless as clothes but in which I had some kind of strange emotional investment. On the minus side, so much waste this year -- I discarded 105 garments in total! On the plus side, I think that's it for the big numbers of discards as I think I am now more or less "right-sized". I'm for sure not a minimalist (and I don't want to be) but I think I have a very well-sized wardrobe just now. Overall, my wardrobe is about 10% smaller than at the start of the year, but the number of clothes in daily wear hasn't changed much. The 10% decrease really just came from shedding things I had packed up into storage for one reason or another.

Garment/Sewing Technique Goals

I had a little list of garments and techniques I wanted to try in my set of goals for 2016, and I did manage a good number of them:

Garments etc: I made two woven dresses and had several attempts at woven trousers. I made a piece of outerwear (mentioned further below!). The only thing I didn't have a go at this year that was on my goal list is a lined, tailored blazer. Knitting-wise, although I didn't do quite as much knitting as I'd hoped I'm particularly pleased with my Wanderling sweater. I also made a few tote bags, which isn't quite the bag-making outcome I was looking for, although the ones I made are nice enough.

Techniques: I did some contrast top-stitching (on a polka dot skirt) and several attempts of varying success at fly fronts. On the other hand I didn't try either bound button-holes or welt pockets mainly just because I didn't really make the kind of garments that called for either. I also wanted to try out some Alabama Chanin embellishment but only managed a stencilled scarf.

The Verdict On The Things I Made

In previous years, I've categorized everything I've made at the end of the year. I made too many things to do that this year, and a lot of them just fell into the category of "fine!". Really, they're fine -- those garments were competently made, I like them, I wore them, it's all good, and I have nothing more to say about them. You can see them all on my Completed Projects 2016 page, which has every garment I made this year and links to the relevant blog post.

However, I have picked out 5 each of: the best things (for various definitions of 'best') I made this year; my "if only!" garments -- things I almost love, if only they didn't have one or more problems; the serious workhorse patterns/garments; and selected disasters. 

Category #1: The Best Things Since Sliced Bread

Best of 2016
  1. Burda 02-2009-133 Red raincoat. The fit is not perfect. Also, the fabric creases like CRAZY in wear. I'm still super impressed with myself for making this coat and love & wear it a lot.
  2. Jalie 2908 Bootcut Jeans in cobalt blue twill. I love the pattern, I love the colour. I don't love how the fly turned out and I wish they were just a tiny bit bigger, but these are still by far the most successful of my (mostly sad) attempts at trousers in 2016.
  3. Cozy Little World Jasmin in navy polka dot viscose/lycra. This is a simple pattern that cost 3 Euro and was worth every penny. This polka dot version is my favourite and I wore it constantly this summer. I just really like the shape and the fit, and also the fabric.
  4. Burda 07-2011-116 (a.k.a. the flying squirrel top) in floral viscose. I have a perverse love of Burda's wackier patterns and this one is just great. It was a fun sew being both weird and well-constructed. I didn't wear it a million times because it's too distinctive to have massive wear frequency, but I loved it every time.
  5. Grainline Linden striped sweatshirt. I am no great fan of Grainline, whose patterns I mostly find boring and boxy. Somehow, though, the Linden has become a TNT. This stripy cotton pique version in particular, but also a black version with a crochet overlay I made later in the year, have both been in heavy rotation ever since I made them.
Category #2: If Only!

Almost the best, but not quite of 2016
  1. Burda 03-2016-104 polka dot double gauze woven tee. Love the fabric. Love the shape of the hemline and of the top as a whole. Love the way it looks with half my summer wardrobe. It should have been my favourite garment of the year, but it's weirdly tight at the upper back. I can't even do the obvious and release the pleat at the back because the (fragile) double gauze fabric pulled a little at the stitching line of the pleat and would show marks. So frustrating!
  2. Knipmode 02-2013-35 grey/white checked viscose popover shirt. I wanted this to be a favourite so much, but a combination of irritating user error when making it (two left sleeves=cuffs upside down on one arm, problems with the collar) and then weirdly late-in-the-day shrinkage in the laundry have left it a lot less loved than I think it should have been.
  3. Butterick 6388 knit dress with lapped collar. Love the distinctive collar of this knit dress/tunic, and I wear it a lot. I made the wrong size though and despite trying to fix it it's just that little bit wrong, fit-wise. It'll still get plenty of wear I am sure.
  4. Simplicity 2209 blue/green jacket. This is a lesson in why I should make a muslin. I love the fabric and the style of this jacket but the fit is just that bit off. I didn't wear it as much as I thought as a result. But I still love the idea and I'm glad I rescued the ugly fabric with a box of dye to make it.
  5. Butterick 6270, tunic in black and ivory checked viscose. I would 100% love this tunic top, which has been in very high rotation since I made it in September, if only I didn't hate the facings! As it is, I wear it really regularly and every time I do I curse the way the neckline is constructed.

Category #3: Let's Hear It For Workhorses

Workhorses of 2016

  1. StyleArc Barb black knit trousers. I was dubious when I made these trousers, and there's no doubt that from the back there are some definite fit issues, but wow, they are comfortable and ultra easy to wear. I'm thinking about how to fix the back fit issues so I can make more. I've worn this pair almost to the point of death -- the fabric is lasting less well than my enthusiasm for the trousers.
  2. New Look 6150 in black and white stripe. This is my workhorse, much adapted t-shirt pattern. I've made a ton of them over the last three years and it's just consistently worked. This is my favourite of the 5(!) I've made this year.
  3. StyleArc Estelle in black jacquard. One of these days the waterfall cardigan trend will end, but it is not that day yet. This is my third Estelle and I've worn it, and the two previous versions I made in late 2015, in very high rotation. For sure they're going to get too tatty to wear long before I am ready to get rid of them.
  4. Ottobre 05-2015-01 dress in black and white bark pattern. This is my favourite of the knit tunics/dresses I made this autumn/early winter. I've worn this version in high rotation so far. I have a real appreciation for a simple pattern that really works. It looks like nothing in the technical drawing, but so great in person.
  5. Butterick 5704/Burda 8271/Ottobre 05-2011-02 Various PJs. (not pictured) These are all my workhorse PJ patterns and they're, in themselves, boring as anything. But they're also great, easy basics that I'm happy to make over and over. I LOVE my hand-made PJs all year every year.

Category #4: Disaster, Darling!

Disasters of 2016
  1. Ottobre 05-2012-07 navy viscose shirt. I really wanted a drapey blue button front shirt. Instead I got a mess. I couldn't sew this fabric together in a straight line for love or money due to shifty fabric that I cut badly. Then the fit, despite this being a shirt pattern I had made successfully twice before, was horrendously awful. I tried taking the sleeves down to short sleeves, and then down to sleeveless, and then I gave up and abandoned it after wearing it only once.
  2. Burda 06-2016-101 t-shirt in fuschia knit. I liked this wacky looking Burda pattern a lot! But I made it from the worst fabric in the world, a very thin viscose knit that ripped along half the seam lines the second time I washed it. Sorry, t-shirt, you were a great idea but my execution didn't work out.
  3. Silhouette 511, Angie's blouse. I made this with gorgeous, expensive white double gauze. I picked the wrong size using the (STUPID) sizing method Silhouette insist on, had to cut the sleeves off to get it on at all. I wore it once but although it's a nice idea, especially that unique collar detail, I hated everything else about it. I am still furious every time I think about the waste of my nice fabric and I got rid of all three Silhouette patterns I owned as a result.
  4. Burda 06-2012-130 dress in navy/star print viscose. Nothing about this worked for me in the end. I wore it once and it fit so horribly, looked so grim on me, and had so many sewing problems that I'd half-assedly tried to fix, I felt awful in it all day. Bye-bye, dress!
  5. Burda 03-2016-118 'the trashbag top'. Not all wacky Burda patterns work out, though to be fair this one is the fault of my fabric. It was a crinkle viscose and between making it and the following morning it uncrinkled in such a way as to make it closely resemble a hospital gown designed by someone in a high fever. Nope! Straight in the recycling. 
In conclusion: Overall, I think my wardrobe had a good year, and I definitely sewed a lot of things I am pleased with and proud of. I have Grand Plans for what I make in 2017, of course, of which more in my third and final post on this topic. :D

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

2016 In Review: How I Spent My Money

Previous years: 2014; 2015

Although this post is ostensibly about my sewing budget for 2016, there's a big overlap between my money management and how I manage my fabric stash. These, therefore, were my three money and fabric stash related goals for 2016:
  • Stick to my 2016 budget and reduce my spending on patterns compared to 2015:
  • Reduce garment stash to less than 150m (from ~193m at the end of 2015).
  • Use at least two thirds of 2016 fabric purchases within 2016.
Tragically, this is a post full of how I failed to realize any of these goals! /o\

In both previous years of reviewing how I spent my sewing budget I started out by patting myself on the back for being at or very near what I'd planned to spend for the year. Not so much in 2016 -- I went over budget by a pretty epic 18%! D: I gave myself the same amount of money as last year, so that's a big overspend. I should note that it's not really a problem, exactly. My budget in this case is self-imposed rather than being about hitting the limits of my resources -- I'm not over here choosing between buying food and buying buttons or anything! However, I know that when I overspend compared to the (generous) budget I set myself it often turns out I've bought things I didn't really need, which is indeed the case this year.

Here's how my spending broke down:

Major purchases: 0%

My sewing set up didn't change this year and I made no major purchases like machines or other hardware of that type. I'm not really expecting to make any in 2017 either -- all my machines are in good shape and do everything I need. The only possible big ticket item is a tailor's dummy. Flossie (my tailor's dummy that my mum bought (and named) when she started teacher training college in the late 1960s and that she has passed on to me) will need to be replaced at some point as she's ever more rickety, but I don't think her demise is quite imminent.

Fabric: 40%

I'm over budget this year because, frankly, I bought entirely too much fabric. In 2016, I bought 120m of fabric, which, to put it into context, is my second highest total ever and just over twice what I bought in 2015. (The only year I bought more was 2012, or, as I like to think of it, that year when I didn't know what I was doing and sent my credit card into melt-down buying mostly the wrong things.) In the out-going column, this year I've used 98m of fabric, just under half of which (47m) was purchased during 2016. That's probably the most I've ever used in a year, so at least I had that going for me to counterbalance my over-purchasing. I finished the year on 217.8m in stash, so absolutely nowhere near my 150m goal. :(

Some thoughts on my fabric buying this year:
1. I did a lot of stress fabric buying this year. I did a lot of stress everything this year -- stress eating, stress fabric buying, stress cleaning, you name it. 2016 was just a really stressful year. On the whole I'm not a big believer in distracting myself from stress by buying stuff, as much as anything because I don't think it works, so I'm kind of peeved that I did so this year. I apparently don't make terribly good decisions when I stress buy either, though on the whole I don't think I bought anything too outlandish in the way of fabric. What I did do was did buy some quantity of things that are not duplicates, precisely, but are certainly no more than variations on a theme. Apparently in times of stress I particularly like to buy navy/blue patterned shirting fabrics.

2. I had a goal this year to buy-to-use rather than buy-to-stash, and I legitimately did use, by my standards, a lot of fabric that I had just recently bought in the course of the year. However, because I bought so MUCH fabric, the numbers didn't really work out overall. Last year I used about 32% of the fabric I bought in 2015. This year I used about 40% of the fabric I bought in 2016. So, a small improvement, but not quite as much of one as I'd hoped.

3. On the other hand, I did do a better job this year of buying fabrics that are suitable for my current lifestyle. Almost all of the fabric 'left over' from 2016 is the sort of thing I could easily use tomorrow rather than being useful only in some fantasy life when I need a lot of work or going out clothes.

4. Obviously, I failed at my goal to reduce my overall stash, since I bought more fabric than I used. This is my third year in a row where I haven't managed any significant reduction in overall stash size. Maybe I am not made to have a small(er) stash. Every time I make a deliberate attempt to reduce the size of my stash, I seem to end up back where I started. However, I'm pretty much at the limit of my storage space and comfort level with what I have right now. I definitely need the general 2017 stash trend to be downwards, or at worst neutral.

5. I have a real 'keep this in stash because it is too nice to use' problem. This isn't a case of owning fabric that is too fancy for the easy-to-launder casual/smart-casual clothes that make up most of my wardrobe right now. I mean, I have some of that too, but it's not the main problem. The bulk of my issue is owning fabric that I have arbitrarily decided is somehow too good for me. One of the reasons I have so many navy/blue shirting fabrics is that I keep buying it, and then going oh this is so great .... I can't possibly use it! and then buying more in the hope I find one I am willing to use. This is ridiculous, so I'm going to have to get over it.
Pattern magazines: 25%

This year I had subscriptions to Burda, Knipmode and Ottobre.

I am not someone who gets great "return" from magazines, in the sense that I have a lot of magazines and most of them I've never made anything from and have no definite plans to make anything from either. However, I find the magazines to be a source of constant interest and inspiration, and, especially with Burda, it's amazing how many times I come back to an issue months/years after it was published and suddenly want to make a pattern from it. I'm therefore fine with having a large collection of magazines and continue to feel like they are a good investment. However, I did sell many of my issues of Patrones from 2013-2014 this year as I decided I wasn't ever going to use them and wanted to free up some space on my shelves.
As far as actual 2016 subscriptions are concerned, I thought Burda in particular had a GREAT year with loads of patterns that I picked out to make at some point soon as well as a good number that went on the back burner for when I am working again and need a more diverse wardrobe. On the other hand, my picks from Knipmode seem to skew heavily towards their more smart/smart-casual patterns and so very few are making it into my "make it soon" list, which is a bit disappointing.

I feel like Ottobre is probably the weakest of my subscriptions at the moment -- I wasn't wild about either of the 2016 issues. On the other hand, I wasn't wild about the 2015 issues and several of the patterns have grown on me since, so there's definitely a sleeper effect. Plus, when I look at the patterns I've used over the course of my sewing lifetime so far, Ottobre has by far the best 'return' per issue -- I come back to those magazines over and over for good quality basic patterns. Overall, for the price they charge and for a subscription of just a couple of issues per year, I still feel I get enough long-term value from Ottobre to keep it up.

Other than my three subscriptions, I also bought a handful of Burda back issues (I'm now down to just 5 back issues that I want that I don't have), as well as Burda Plus A/W 2016, which was a stand-out issue with no re-prints from the main magazine for a change. It was also, apparently the last English language Burda Plus, which is a shame. I'll have to buy the German or French edition if they release more good issues. I also bought Burda Vintage (1970s), but as much just to read/be amused by as for the patterns as I was kind of indifferent to them.

Patterns (envelope and PDF): 10%

Some of the envelope patterns I bought this year
I had very specific ideas about buying envelope and PDF patterns this year. I gave myself a very limited budget, for one thing, which I stuck to like glue (hurray for having ONE success on the budgeting front!). Mainly, however, I wanted to be very deliberate about what I bought and only get patterns that really added something new and different to my pattern collection. I also tried hard not to buy patterns for a fantasy life I don't have, so I didn't buy very many dress patterns or patterns for clothes for the career I don't have right now. I bought Big4 only in the (relatively infrequent) half prices sales to save money. I also sold (or have listed on eBay) a lot of envelope patterns I bought right back when I started garment sewing before I really had a good handle on what I want to make. My overall paper/envelope pattern stash therefore actually decreased in size, even though I did buy patterns throughout the year.

Some of the PDFs I bought this year
Overall, I am really pleased with how my pattern stash shaped up this year. I don't think there's anything left in there I don't want to make at some point. Apart from one random maxi skirt envelope pattern I bought while in the grip of fierce insomnia, I think all my purchases this year were either interesting, different, or usefully filled a gap in my pattern collection. If I can repeat this trick next year, that would be great.

Notions (14%), Knitting (5%), Books (5%), Other (2%)

The rest of my spending is split between four minor categories, and I'm pretty happy with what I bought and how much I spent in each. I did spend more on notions this year than usual because (a) I bought a huge bulk purchase of interfacing in September and (b) it seemed like I had to replace all kinds of little things (like overlocker blades) at various points in the year and over the course of 12 months all those small purchases added up. That said, there's nothing really in these numbers that concerns me or that I think I need to address next year.

In conclusion: I need to calm the hell down on the fabric buying side of things next year. I have pleeeeeenty of fabric to start sewing up as 2017 gets under way, especially if I can get myself over my mental block about the 'too nice for me' fabric. I also need to make sure I keep up the discipline on the pattern buying front, because I feel like it worked out very nicely for me this year overall. Everything else I think is ticking along nicely at about the right level of spend.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Christmas Crafts

I hope that everyone who is celebrating the holidays this week is having an enjoyable time of it so far! I managed to have a minor flare of my chronic illness right in time for Christmas, which is just typical. Luckily, as this confined me more or less to my house and sofa, I had some projects to kept me occupied. Here is a very quick roundup:

Gap-tastic Cowl in Universal Yarns Felicity
 1. This cowl I knitted as a gift for my sister-in-law, whose birthday is few days before Christmas. The (novelty) yarn is quite weird in that it's almost like a ribbon, but it actually made up beautifully into this really simple seed stitch cowl. The pattern is the Gap-tastic Cowl, a free pattern that I have used several times before. I ordered the yarn in a last-minute rush, somehow got the quantities totally wrong and ended up with exactly twice as much as I needed. Since my SIL lives in Australia, I might well make a second, identical one for myself as at least we will never get them confused or wear them at the same time!

"Fungus" scarf in Plymouth Yarn Joy Rainbow

2. The last couple of years I've picked out a super-easy scarf project that I could start and finish on Christmas Day, and I did the same this year. This one uses another novelty yarn that makes up into a sort of ruffly scarf thing when you use the "pattern" on the label. I use scare quotes because the pattern is basically doing 6 stitches per row of garter stitch. It took less than two hours to knit from start to finish. My mother said it looked like some kind of fungus or seaweed or something as I was knitting it, and so now in my head it will always be the fungus scarf.

Completed Vervaco "Cheerful Santas" cross-stitch kit
3. Continuing my infatuation with cross-stitch, this insanely adorable little kit I'd bought turned up on December 19th. I felt so rotten at that time I actually more or less stayed in bed sick the following couple of days, and since being in bed is very boring I got started stitching early on the 20th and worked on it quite extensively every day (and mainlined Person Of Interest on Netflix at the same time!). I finished it up this morning, the 27th, exactly 7 days later, which I think was pretty good going. There are a couple of little mistakes in my stitching, but nothing that I think is too obvious. The kit, if you're interested, is Vervaco's Cheerful Santas, and I bought it on Amazon. It's rated Easy, which I think is a fair rating, and there are relatively few colours to juggle. I really loved the extra-large chart that Vervaco supply as well. I was amused to discover that although they are called Santas in the English packaging, in the original language (Vervaco is a Belgian company) they are actually Christmas Gnomes! I know nothing of Belgian Christmas traditions, but their gnomes are cute. I'm going to frame my finished stitching and use it as a Christmas decoration in future years. :D

There are very few days left in the year. I'm going to post my reviews of 2016 this week some time, and I'm also chugging as quickly as I can through the sleeves of my Il Grande Favorito jumper, which has been lurking, sleeveless, in my knitting bag for months now. I've been making myself work on it a bit and I'm actually making pretty good progress -- I'm just a little under halfway through the first sleeve and it really hasn't taken as long as I thought it would. If I am very disciplined I might even get it finished before the start of 2017!

Saturday, 17 December 2016

So far, in December

Over the last couple of weeks I have:

So many miles of curtain and lining hems. SO MANY.
1. Hemmed all of the curtains in the world, and all of the linings. It took an unbelievably long time to get them all done, but my mum was pleased to have them finished and hung before the Hordes of House-guests arrived. (The Hordes have now arrived and are occupying a great deal of everyone's time.)

New PJs in black cotton with a ditsy floral pattern

2. Made a pair of PJs, more to get myself going again making things than because I was desperately in need of more winter PJs. The fabric is the remains of a large piece black cotton with a tiny floral that I bought 3 years ago, and which I once used to make a horribly unsuccessful dress. The print is, I realize now, really not me at all but it was a great fabric for PJs. I had exactly the right amount left to make a pair of my old faithful PJ pattern, Butterick 5704. An ideal use of resources all round!

New Look 6303 (View C) in blue floral viscose
3. Made a New Look 6303 blouse in a blue floral viscose. This is one of those draped cross-front/faux-wrap blouses everyone has been wearing for about 2 years and I've been meaning to make at least as long. I have an extended family meet-up to attend this weekend and I made this blouse in anticipation of it. On the one hand, it came out beautifully as far as the sewing and the fabric/pattern match-up are concerned. I was a little concerned that the way you construct the front would mean the flowers on one half of the bodice were visibly upside down and on the bias. Well, I mean, they ARE upside down and sideways, but I don't think really noticeable unless you know to look for it and I don't think it's visually distracting even if you know about it.

However, I didn't make a muslin and the fit is all wrong. It's tighter than I like across the upper back and shoulders. I could live with this (as I frequently do with RTW) but while the front looks actually great if I stand still, if I move my arms around at all it all pulls completely open. I experimented with safety pins but that looks worse. To get it to fit properly I probably needed to go up at least one size through the bodice and/or do an FBA.

The basic problem is that my fluctuating weight (caused mainly by changes in my medication at the moment) has shot up over the last couple of months and it was very difficult to decide what size to make as a result. I thought I'd be OK with a New Look 16 even at my current weight based on the finished measurements but I didn't make a muslin and frankly have no idea how I'd have altered this pattern anyway given the pattern pieces. So, blah, not only do I have a perfectly nice blouse that I can't wear unless/until my weight wanders downwards again, but I also have to figure out something different to wear to my family event this weekend now. This is a depressing outcome. I try very hard not to let my weight/weight changes bother me, both because it's not important compared to my overall health situation and also for Serious Feminist Reasons about body acceptance and the importance of not making weight a factor in our moral judgement of people (especially women) starting with myself. However, I do think it would be easier to achieve body acceptance if I could have more or less the same body for more than a couple of months at a time. It's very frustrating when you sew to try to fit a constantly moving target and I tend to transfer that to frustration with my body rather than with sewing.

Cross-stitch kit: Ho Ho Ho ornament
4. Since making clothes is annoying at the moment, I have been having an intense flirtation with doing cross-stitch, which is a form of embroidery I have not done much of since my very early teens. I don't have very many Christmas ornaments at all because I normally spend most of the holiday period with my family and I tend not to decorate my own house. This year I put out the tiny collection of Christmas decorations I had and was struck by the desire to have a few more. Rather than buy some finished ornaments though, I decided I wanted to make some. I started with this little Ho Ho Ho placard using an inexpensive kit. For something I haven't done in years I thought the actual cross-stitch came out quite well and I really enjoyed making it. I got a couple of other kits to play with as a result - some more Christmas ornament type things, but also a larger kit that I want to stitch starting in January.

5. Other things I have been doing: knitting up a storm (some of it Secret Gift Knitting, so I shall do a knitting round-up once the gift giving season is done); writing my end-of-year review posts for this blog (so boring for everyone to read but I love writing them so, whatever, be prepared to skip them); and thinking about what I want to do sewing-wise in 2017 and coming up with all sorts of fun ideas for myself. :D