Thursday, 20 August 2015

Knitted: Backshore sweater

Finished jumper, hurrah!
Among previous (mis)adventures in knitting, I'd made only one attempt at a jumper, back in 2013. This resulted in a Purple Monstrosity of a (partial) sweater: too big, tons of horrible mistakes (holes!) in the fabric, cheap acrylic yarn that felt really soft and nice as a skein but turned plasticky and started to bobble while I knitted with it, etc etc. I unofficially gave up on it some time in ate 2013, officially abandoned it in March 2014 then eventually threw it away and sold off the remaining yarn at the end of last year. In the meantime, I retreated to scarves, socks and shawls as being much easier to knit and more likely to be successful. This year though, I found though that once I started to have some success with the slightly more complicated sock and shawl patterns I tried I felt suddenly a lot more enthusiastic about the possibility of trying to knit a jumper again. (My Nurmilintu shawl in particular was a big confidence booster for some reason, even though in fact there are loads of mistakes in the lace!)

Front and back views on Flossie. I don't know why the back hem is crooked, it isn't really.

Enter Backshore( Ravelry link). I actually don't really remember how or why I settled on making a one-colour version of a striped sweater pattern, out of all the million similar basic patterns that are on Ravelry. I am quite happy that I did though. It's a very straightforward sort of pattern, especially if you skip the stripes, it seems reasonably well-written to me (although I am not really experienced enough to say), and produced more or less exactly what I expected. I did have to learn a few more basic stitches as I worked through the pattern, but nothing proved especially difficult. I really like some of the little details on the sweater a lot as well, especially the woven stitch hem and cuff bands, though I have to admit I hadn't even really noticed that they were part of the pattern before I started knitting.

Woven stitch detail on the hem band
The one supremely useful lesson I learned from the Purple Monstrosity was this: buy better yarn! I didn't exactly go wild with the cost of my yarn but I did spend about half as much again as for my first jumper attempt. More importantly, though, I went for a fibre I thought I'd be much happier to work with and wear: a cotton merino blend, Drops Cotton Merino DK (in Storm Blue), which several previous knitters on Ravelry had used for this pattern. This turned out to be a very good choice. It was super easy to knit with, I had no problem at all getting gauge and I love the texture and feel of the fabric it produced.

Eyelet detail (totally intentional holes!) from the raglan "seam" and down the inner sleeve
My finished sweater is by no means perfect, although it's about a million times better than my last attempt. There is just one unintentional hole  in the fabric, happily enough hidden among intentional holes, but there are some patches where the stitching is uneven even after blocking. If I have a big complaint about the finished item, it's that I blindly followed the directions with regards to the sleeve length: the pattern has three quarter sleeves which is not my favourite sleeve length in a sweater. I should really have kept going and made full length sleeves as it turned out that I had plenty of yarn left over -- in fact, frustratingly, I have one entire skein untouched and more than half of a second skein unused. I am also not in love with the wide rolled neckline, and I'll be sure to pick patterns with more finished necklines in future.

Backshore sweater as modelled by yours truly

Fit-wise, I am quite happy with how it turned out. I wasn't really sure what size to choose and ended up knitting a size that is the same size as my bust, although actually I should have factored in that a sweater is a top layer rather than using my usual in-my-underwear measurements. That is less ease than the pattern creator envisaged I think, but works for me.

In conclusion: successful sweater is successful! I am fired by enthusiasm to make more jumpers now that I have managed to finish this one :D I am amazed how much I could accomplish by setting myself the goal of knitting at least a little bit every day. In total it took a month and a half to make the sweater, which I started as a summer project on 1 July, including a brief hiatus towards the end of July while I was feeling too ill to knit. It helps of course that I was using DK weight yarn and so I did get much more visible return for my knitting time compared to e.g. 4ply. Still, I really enjoyed taking daily photos for Instagram and actually being able to see so much progress from relatively little time spent knitting.

Next up on my needles: first, I have already cast on a scarf that my mum requested I make for her (and bought yarn for me to knit as well). It should be a quick little project because I've picked a very easy pattern and it's a super-chunky yarn. In fact, I'd be astonished if I don't end up finishing it this week. Second, though, I am planning my next sweater! I plan to start it September 1 and try to do the "a little every day" approach again, as it will hopefully be a good weight for late autumn, so it would be nice to have it ready to wear six or eight weeks later. For reasons, I also bought the yarn for a scarf, despite swearing up and down I wasn't going to make any more this year. /o\ So I have a whole knitting PLAN for the rest of the year, really.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Sewing for autumn

Although I am hopeful of a few more weeks of at least moderately pleasant and warm weather (she says, hollowly, looking at a weather forecast full of rain...) I have decided I am done with summer sewing for now. As usual, I am just going to feign amnesia about whatever it was I said I was going to make at the start of the summer and thus whether or not I achieved it. Lalala, new season, new plan!
Ottobre 05-2012-05 a.k.a the jacket I swear I am going to try to make this autumn
For the umpteenth time, at the top of my list is outerwear. No, come back! I promise I am really truly going to make a jacket this time! No, really! I have the pattern out ready to trace already! /o\ (Ahem, not that tracing the pattern got me any closer to making outerwear on previous occasions...) 

Seriously though, I swear I'm going to try to at least make a muslin of this Ottobre jacket over the next few weeks. There's some degree of urgency, even, to this plan as we approach the autumn, because my actual outerwear wardrobe situation is becoming dire. I've been holding off on acquiring a new jacket in the hopes that I could make one myself. This means, basically, that I don't have one right now at all. If it turns out that my muslin is a hot mess then I'll probably have to give in and buy something. It would be very sad to have to stoop to RTW, especially since anything I buy would probably last for years and then I wouldn't get to use the fabric I've been hoarding keeping for this very purpose for at least two years. On the other hand, this encourages me to set the bar pretty low for a good jacket outcome: I can make one and even if it's not great, it's better than no jacket at all, right? So: Operation Jacket is a go, and provided my (presently suboptimal, unfortunately) state of health permits, I hope to be able to show off SOMETHING tangible soon.

Operation Jacket aside, while thinking about what else I want to make this autumn I made the mistake of spending some quality time last week while feeling too ill to do more than sit around on my sofa going through all of my (MANY) back issues of various magazines, my envelope pattern collection, my PDF files, and so on. At any rate, as a result I was (as always when I undertake this exercise) overwhelmed with a burning desire to MAKE ALL THE THINGS, but more specifically decided that this autumn I want to sew a bunch of new patterns and some slightly different styles than I have been sewing for the last year or so. As a result, there is SO MUCH pattern tracing and sticky taping PDFs together in my future, you wouldn't even believe it.

From left to right: Lekala 4341; Burda 07-2010-137, Simplicity 1063, StyleArc Demi-Drape; Ottobre 05-2011-11

First, I want to make a handful of knit tops that aren't intended for layering. As previously discussed, I am really very consistent in liking to wear outfits with visible layering. As a result, I do love the many basic tees/long-sleeved tees that I've made that fit smoothly under other layers. In fact, I will also need to make a couple of basic tops to replace some that have worn out over the next couple of weeks, not pictured above. However, I also like the idea of making some tops with more visible design features that I can wear on their own in the autumn or under an open cardigan rather than as a layer. I've picked out four patterns and matching fabrics: a deep cowl neck w/ fake layering, a faux wrap, a layered multi coloured top and a draped front top. I also want to make a knit hoodie, and I'll be using a Lekala pattern for the first time to do that.

Stylish Dress Book. Why do the models always look so desperately glum? Is that just the Japanese aesthetic?
Second, digging through my wardrobe, I came across some leggings I haven't worn in a while. I am not a huge wearer of leggings but I do like to wear them now and again on days when I'm not leaving the house instead of yoga pants. I haven't worn the pair I own recently because the tunic top I liked to wear with them is long gone, so a replacement longer woven top/tunic went on my list.

The biggest departure here is the pattern source: I will probably have a go at a pattern from Stylish Dress Book: Wear With Freedom, which is one of those Japanese pattern books with the miserable looking models standing around in many voluminous layers of cotton holding various unrelated objects for no apparent reason (a purse! a vase full of flowers! some kind of beverage and a ladle! WHY.) It's not my usual aesthetic, and I have to admit I still don't find the books super appealing in either format or presentation. However, I discovered, through Pinterest, a lot of versions of the patterns that were much more appealing to me, and that prompted me to pick up a copy second-hand. It will be an interesting experiment, anyway, and since it's all intentionally for stuff to wear around the house it's pretty low risk.

McCalls 7193, which I hope to buy in a sale since LOL NO to full UK prices
Third, I want to make some more woven tops that aren't classic button-fronted. Not that I think I'm expert at button-fronted yet or anything, but I don't need every woven top in my wardrobe to be a classic shirt so it's time to branch out. I've made a shortlist of options from Burda back issues, but I'm also waiting (and waiting, and WAITING) for McCall's patterns to go on sale in the UK again so I can pick up one of the new season's patterns.

Other than all of that, I have vague plans to make a zippered tote bag, and a couple of other little non-garment things. I have a BUNCH of plans for embroidery and fabric manipulation experiments, but I imagine that if I get to them at all in the next three months or so it'll just be to make samplers.

Finally, I have already picked out a winter sweater to knit over the next few months, fired up by my continued success at knitting my Backshore sweater (latest update: half-way through sleeve two, will probably finish this week, in LOVE with it). I also promised a scarf to my mum, which will actually probably be my next project since I need a quick and mindless knit after working on the Backshore sweater.

Phew. That's a lot of plans. I wasn't kidding when I said I felt FIRED with enthusiasm to make all the things at the moment. I feel like if I were actually healthier I'd be on an absolute creative rampage at the moment. As it is, since I've had a bad couple of weeks health-wise I've apparently channelled it all into wildly ambitious sewing plans. :D I hope I do get to do SOME of it at least!

PS. Did everyone see the new Ottobre magazine is out? My copy (on subscription) came earlier in the week. Nothing is jumping out at me as a MUST MAKE, unfortunately, although I find that Ottobre tends to be more of a sleeper hit for me. I'll think there's nothing in it and then three months later half the issue is on my wishlist.

PPS. Speaking of which: I LOVE the new Burda (September 2015), which arrived at my house this weekend. That is the first time I've said that about Burda ALL FREAKING YEAR. Unfortunately, the stuff I am completely nuts over is nothing I need for my current boring lifestyle, so I won't be making any of it soon, but omg, so happy that ONE issue this year excites me after months of just side-eyeing every issue going "really? no, I mean, but REALLY?"

PPPS. OK, terrible admission time: I was feeling really fed up with Burda and after I picked up a recent issue of Knipmode, the Dutch pattern magazine, I was impressed enough to struggle through the subscription-from-outside-of-the-Netherlands process. It starts this month -- in fact, I should get the September issue this week, all being well. I... really don't need any more magazines, but it's a sickness, apparently. /o\ I'll report back!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

My 4th Sewing-versary, and a sleeveless shirt (Ottobre 02-2006-4)

Today is the 4th anniversary of the day my shiny new sewing machine arrived on my doorstep! Whee!

I do know, of course, that it's a stupid milestone to celebrate, even in the mildest sense of "celebrate" where I mean "compose a rambling blog post on the topic". However, sewing has been such a rewarding hobby to have picked up that I do like to reflect on it a little bit. Since 2011 I've sewn a lot of bags, clothes and sundry other things, replaced that original basic sewing machine with something a bit more sophisticated, bought an overlocker, a coverstitch, far more fabric than I ever thought possible, more books, patterns and pattern magazines than I'll ever use, and a million other things. Who knew that first purchase was the gateway to a life-ruiningly expensive hobby that I would nevertheless love to pieces and get a huge charge from every single day? I seriously think that there isn't a day that goes by when I don't either sew or think about sewing in some way.

Unfortunately, since I've continued to be so ill for the last year I have not really had the ability or need to level up on the sewing front over the last 12 months. The fact of the matter is that my lifestyle has been very limited since my last sewing-versary. I'd love to be making outfits for work and parties and holiday capsule wardrobes, I really would, and not least of all because it would imply I was working, going to parties and able to go off on holiday. One day soon, maybe! In fact, let me just cross every finger, toe and other appendage I have that this time next year it's a whole different story and I'm talking about the new things I've had to learn to sew to fit in with a new, less sickly lifestyle.

That said, mainly-pyjama-wearing lifestyle notwithstanding, I have moved on a BIT since this time last year. The biggest stride forward, when I look at the things I've made since August 2014, has been an increasing level of comfort with working with woven fabrics for my upper body. Shirts and shirt-making were a big sewing ambition for me from the start of my garment sewing adventures and since last August I've made really quite a lot of different woven tops. They haven't all been wholly successful, but there's definitely been a learning curve I've been climbing up this last year that seems to be working for me.

Ottobre 02-2006-04 Sleeveless blouse in red polka dots
As it happens, the latest garment I finished precisely exemplifies where I think I am with my sewing compared to my last sewing-versary. This is a simple little sleeveless blouse from Ottobre (more specifically, it's Ottobre 02-2006-04). I don't wear too many sleeveless tops due to an (annoying, I'm-such-a-tool-of-the-patriarchy-ugh) lack of confidence about showing off my upper arms, but I decided I wanted one in my wardrobe for this summer. I used 1m of crisp red polka dot cotton for the fabric. Something about red polka dots always screams retro!! to me, which isn't my style at all, but I bought it on a whim and I am quite pleased with how the combination of fabric and pattern worked out.

Little details: satin bias tape, collar points, contrast top stitching
On the one hand, there were aspects of construction that, in my opinion, really show the difference between now and a year ago. I've continued to really work on my seam finishes and my overall finish generally in my sewing over the last year. When I was making this shirt there were things I did almost automatically that improve the quality of the finish: flat-felling all the seams, making sure I got nice sharp points on my collar, working my seams and top-stitching so that it rolls slightly over to the underside of the collar, and so on. Nobody will ever notice those details except me, but I really am quite proud of them.

But what is causing that little wrinkle on my shoulders? So annoying!
On the other hand, there are a few things that are not quite right with this top, and all of them come down to that perpetual sewing bugbear: fit. The bust darts are just a little too high and a bit too long. I could have done with an extra 1-2cm at the rear hip. There's something not entirely right through the shoulder but I'm damned if I know what the problem is or how to fix it. I like my shirt, but it's imperfect, to sat the least. Still, an imperfectly fitted shirt is better than I managed last year, when shirt-making was still an optimistic dream of a project rather than any kind of reality!

I make a lot of resolutions and plans on this blog (not many of which I actually carry out!) so I don't feel any need to do any more of that here except for one: I really hope that in a year's time I am still saying how much I enjoy sewing and how glad I am that I suddenly decided, back in August 2011, that it would be a fun thing to do.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

This isn't the summer I ordered, I want a refund >:(

Ah, the end of July/beginning of August. The height of summer!

The week of weather I have just endured
Or, you know, day after day of rain and well-below-average temperatures that made it cold enough that I've been wearing a sweater most days. On top of that, the last ten days or so I've been sick as a dog with a relapse of the same stupid illness. As an added annoyance, there is no sign of anyone making a decision about when/if I get the treatment that will (hopefully) put a stop to these constant relapses, even though I was promised by several different people that I would definitely hear in July. So, ugh, I am glad to see the back of last month, and I am going to be optimistic that the weather will improve (this week is meant to be less cold, at least, if not significantly less rainy) and that when the Powers That Be said "July" they actually meant "early August". Fingers crossed, anyway.

In sewing news, let me sum up my achievements in July:



Well, I did make a maxi skirt, as well as one sleeveless woven tank wearable muslin and 1 unsuccessful sleeveless tank. I also knitted approximately half a jumper, and I've been posting photos on and off of it here and on my Instagram. My July fabric stats: I used 1.1m of fabric in total (plus some scrap which didn't count) which is not a very helpful stash reduction. On the positive side, I didn't buy any fabric at all, so at least it WAS an overall stash reduction, if not precisely an impressive one.

The only project I haven't previously posted about is playing with the Wiksten Tank pattern. I started out by making a wearable muslin from olive green cotton voile:

Wearable muslin Wiksten Tank
I made a size Medium, with a 1.5cm FBA that required the introduction of a side bust dart, lengthened the top overall by about 2cm, and did a 1cm square shoulder adjustment. The fit is OK -- good through the bust, at least, and the right amount of floaty and loose at the waist for the look I wanted. (Apologies for photos on Flossie only, which make any discussion of fit kind of pointless, but I haven't really felt up to taking a photo on me.)

The big fit problem I had is the neckline, which isn't quite right at the back neck though I don't know how to fix it either. Actually, the whole neckline is a problem. As you can see, it's faced with a bias strip. Almost all the versions of this that I've seen online have the same problem: the neckline wants to curve out from the body at the bottom of the U of the neckline. I also don't think I'm alone in struggling to get a really flat, unwrinkled finish with the final round of topstitching. I read a couple of things on how to fix this (mainly: steam your bias strip into an appropriate curve before you sew) but I was stymied in execution by the fact that the contrast bias strip I used was just a little bit heavier than the (very) lightweight voile I was using for the top itself. By the time I'd stitched and folded and stitched again, the difference in weight was very pronounced, even though I trimmed out the excess from the seam after the first pass. It ended up feeling really quite bulky and thick. My recommendation is that you use a MUCH lighter fabric for the bias strip than the main fabric AND pre-steam the curve in order to get results better than mine.

(Also, in defence of the horribly wrinkled condition of the top in this photo -- I ironed this top for TEN MINUTES before I took the photos. This fabric wrinkles if you LOOK at it. I was planning to make a shirt with the rest of my piece of this green voile but I don't know if I can bear to as clearly it would be a wrinkly mess the whole time I wear it!).

I was pleased enough by the muslin to attempt another version. My original goal was to make a colour-blocked light blue/dark blue tank based on a RTW top I saw recently in a catalogue. I did a little bit of experimenting using Pixelmator (inexpensive OSX drawing/Photoshop type tool) and the Wiksten Tank technical drawing and decided I wanted to split the top approximately 2/3rds of the way down for the most aesthetically pleasing colour blocking.

Colour-blocked tank idea (uses the Wiksten tank technical drawing as a base)
I ordered some pale blue silk/cotton for the upper part and planned to use a scrap of light-weight navy blue cotton sateen left over from my very first button-front shirt for the bottom part. However, when the silk/cotton arrived, it was barely opaque and I decided I couldn't use it for the upper bodice. I eventually cut the top in reverse: dark blue at the top, light blue at the bottom.

Melted seam :(
Alas, at this point everything went wrong. I sewed the bodice pieces together and overlocked the seam, but when I went to press it the lighter blue fabric MELTED under my (relatively cool) iron. It was a total mess, and the worst of it was, of course, on the front where it was very very obvious. I bemoaned this on Instagram, and Sew Crafty Chemist suggested that maybe I could take a bit out the length to recover, which I tried this morning. I took out about 1cm, and the worst of the melty bit was gone. It wasn't great but it definitely looked a ton better. However, then I managed to sew the front and back together the wrong way and had to unpick 2 French seams, and then I cut a hole in the fabric unpicking, and then I caught the fabric on my (much cooler, but evidently not cool enough) iron AGAIN and melted it and in conclusion: I am SO VERY DONE with this failure of a tank top, and I have tossed it. I think I'll pretend that whole thing never happened and just move blithely on to my August plans.

Those August plans are a bit nebulous, as it depends a lot on how quickly I recover from my current round of illness. I am hoping to finish knitting my jumper. I have a couple more woven tops that I want to make, including one Ottobre sleeveless shirt that I cut out this morning. The big dramatic project though is that if I am feeling very well and brave, I intend to muslin my Burda rain coat later this month!

Speaking of Ottobre, one good thing about August is that it's time for the new magazine! They put the covers on Facebook at the end of last week with an announcement that the magazine had just gone to be printed, so it shouldn't be TOO long before the previews go up on their website and then the magazine itself should be in my hot sticky hands soon thereafter. I found myself less inspired than I hoped by the Spring/Summer 2015 issue, so I am hoping this issue really speaks to me, especially as Burda continues to be very disappointing for me this year.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Bits and pieces

  • Knitting update: I am CRAZY proud of my sweater so far! I had to take a brief hiatus from my Knit Every Day In July plan for reasons of (same old, same old) illness, but happily I managed to get the whole body done and cast off before I downed tools. \o/ I started again yesterday and so far I have picked up the first sleeve but I have yet to start knitting it. I am not anticipating the sleeves taking all that long given how quickly I progressed through the main body of the jumper.
The jumper before I knitted the hem band; close up of the pretty woven stitch hem band; trying on the finished body section
  • The summer dress thing: I have such ~~~issues about wearing dresses, it's nuts. I wear skirts a lot more often these days than I was ever comfortable with before but dresses, I don't know, somehow I just can't wrap my mind around wearing them or even making them despite owning, at a conservative estimate, a million dress patterns. This summer, in an effort to get over myself I promised myself I would make and wear a summery dress, but... yeah, not so far. I have traced a pattern out of an old issue of Burda but then, fatally, I paused, unsure if this was really the right dress/fabric combination and promptly stalled out entirely. If I want to get any use at all out of a summer dress I need to make it soon, so, I don't know, a swift kick up the backside is required I guess.

The dress I may or may not be making (from Burda 05-2011) although definitely not ever in orange
  • One of these days I will make a coat: I am also inching towards making my first muslin of piece of outerwear, mainly as a result of finding the actual perfect pattern for a coat I want to make, Burda 6772. The only thing I am not sure about is the side panel/Dior dart thing, because I can find only minimal information on where the seam is supposed to fall if it's not a princess seam (beyond "to the side of the bust"). More on this eventually, I am sure.
Burda 6772
  •  Bias binding the edges of sleeves/armholes has to be one of my least favourite things to do. This realization is brought to you by three separate (as yet unblogged) garments that required bias binding and how little I enjoyed the process for each of them.
  •  I just recently received a plaintive message from a former colleague, enquiring what I thought a suitable outfit would be for the social event at the academic conference I would normally (if I weren't sick, out of work and otherwise exiled from my chosen profession) be attending with her later in the year. The conference is in Texas and the social event is at "the world's largest honky tonk bar", which, no offence to any Texans reading this, sounds like a living nightmare when combined with several hundred academics from my field of study.  At any rate, I e-mailed her back and suggested jeans were the safest option, and we got into a 10 e-mail discussion about the ridiculous double standards for dress for male vs. female academics, her loathing of the conference's stated "anything goes" dress code as it provides no actual useful indication about what she should wear, and the fact that the men in her department (which is to say, fairly typically for our field, everyone in the department that isn't her) compete over how little luggage they are taking, as if the size of their carry-on bag is inversely proportional to the size of their dick. This was all very amusing, but I was also relieved to find that my very erudite former colleague also has similar concerns to me, because I was starting to think I was the only one!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Longevity and sewing my wardrobe

The other day as I was wandering around the sewing blog world I read something, somewhere (and I genuinely can't recall where it was) where someone was talking about how their goal is make clothes that have the potential to last for 5+ years. From what I recall, she seemed to be making an argument, as many people do, for using higher quality fabrics, sewing more slowly and using good finishing techniques in order for things to last even if they're in regular high rotation.

This came to mind again yesterday evening because I spent the day wearing a blouse I made last month (with New Look 6407). I felt at the time of writing about the shirt in question that my finished item was exceedingly mediocre at best and since then I've only worn in twice, including yesterday. At the end of yesterday, however, I almost ripped it off my body, cut off the buttons and flung the remains in my bag to go to fabric recycling because NO. AWFUL. GET RID OF IT. NOTHING about it worked for me except for, for once, the fit through the bust. Other than that, the shoulders pulled, the lower back was tight, the various little sewing flaws bothered me, and that gaping neckline that didn't seem to come near my neck drove me more and more insane as the day went on. Life is too short to wear clothes that drive you mad (unless you HAVE to, of course, because it's a work uniform or something) so: death to the navy blouse of doom!

Of course, the reality is that this was always a "wearable wadder" (TM on this term to L, who as it happens coined it as a result of an experience with the same pattern although I know she ordinarily really likes it) and really never should have made it into my wardrobe. It's still rather annoying to me to discard something I made after only a month and two wears. Certainly I've failed to reach that forgotten blogger's lofty aims of making things that last half a decade!

It then occurred to me to wonder how much of a change it would be for me to own the same clothes for five years. As is well-documented, I am a data nerd. One of my more nerdish endeavours is that I keep a spreadsheet with my entire wardrobe listed on it, along with when I bought it and how much it cost to buy or make. (You can think what you like of my spreadsheets; I long ago learned to accept my obsessive data gathering habits.)

I've mentioned before that for three years from 2008-2011 I bought almost no new clothes and just wore what I already owned to the point of extinction. I then did a fairly epic wardrobe purge in 2012 just before I started sewing. Since 2012 I've gone through multiple size changes both up and down from where I started (my weight, never stable, has been wildly volatile for the last 3 years for reasons related to my various health issues and medications/treatment) and I started sewing for myself. So, I went into this exercise fully aware that most of my wardrobe is of very recent date, which is in fact the case: almost half my clothes (46%) were made or bought in the last 18 months.

However, despite size changes and ruthless culls of the worn out, decrepit or badly fitting, about a third of my clothes (35%) are 5+ years old. Of those, I have a handful of things that are truly elderly (about 5% of my clothes are 10+ years old, with the oldest thing I own dating from 1986). The more interesting part I suppose is what those clothes actually are:
  • Jeans;
  • "Investment buys", e.g. my winter coat, which cost me me much more than I usually spend and which I have looked after pretty carefully;
  • Sentimental clothes, a.k.a. "I don't care what this looks like, I love it/wear it anyway" (e.g. ancient t-shirts with peeling logos, threadbare along every seam, that I wear to sleep and do yoga in at home);
  • Rugged/hard-wearing garments that are intended to survive a lot of abuse (e.g. my Gore-tex anorak);
  • Things that hardly ever get worn (e.g. a beach cover-up, which I've owned since 2000 and worn about a half a dozen times. I don't do beaches that often, but when I do, I need a cover-up);
  • Things that probably wouldn't have survived this long if they'd been in high rotation, but they fell out of rotation because my size changed and they therefore spent some of those 5+ years in a storage box under my bed. Noticeably, however, there's nothing really sentimental or special about these clothes. They are mainly just things I think of as wardrobe staples -- I have one pair of black work trousers in each of 3 different sizes that don't currently fit me, plus a pair in my current actual size on my spreadsheet, for example.
It's all RTW, of course, since I only started making clothes in 2012. Noticeably NOT on this list: any tops, any sweaters or other knitwear, any non-jeans trousers unless they've been in store. In a way, this is a relief. I've been kind of annoyed with myself over the last three years of making clothes that so many of them haven't really lasted that long (some of this is due to poor sewing and fit, but a lot due to fabric deterioration), but then clearly the same categories of RTW clothes didn't survive either.
There aren't too many knit or woven tops in my wardrobe that are more than three years old, and those that are older are on their last legs.

I'm not saying that RTW longevity is anything to aim for, at all, but at least I don't seem to be doing worse than my pre-sewing RTW purchases. Realistically, unless I radically change my laundry habits (unlikely) the fact is that lightweight cotton and knit clothes just won't survive the kind of wear/wash/tumble dry abuse I put them through, whether I make them myself or buy them. I'm not saying I won't continue to try to make better fabric choices and use better sewing and finishing techniques to give them as long a life as possible, but I think it's reasonable to assume that I'm going to discard and replace those type of items more frequently than others.

When it comes to the things that clearly do survive, and that, on reflection, I would expect to survive, I can definitely see myself replacing the "investment buy" with the "investment sew" in the future. For sure any outerwear at all is on that list of both "spend more to get a good outcome" and "it should last a really long time if I take care of it appropriately", whether it's RTW or hand-made. I do plan to start sewing some coats and outerwear so that fits in well. On the other hand, it's almost impossible to source specialist fabrics for things like Gore-tex jackets, so I'll probably continue to buy those. I'll also probably keep buying jeans, at least for the time being, for various reasons. On the other hand, if I need any random one-off items like a beach cover-up, I'd be reaching for my pattern collection first, not a RTW catalogue.

My big conclusion though is that what I really need to do is learn to make my wardrobe staples really well, and consider them to be investment sews, even though a lot of my wardrobe staples depend on good fit. If I'm honest, I haven't delved into making some things because my weight has been so incredibly up and down the last three years that it hasn't seemed "worth it" to work on e.g, fitting tailored trousers when it's quite likely that I'll be in a different size 6-12 months later. I am annoyed to realize that I've been embracing this off-shoot of the irritating "I'll deserve this when I'm thinner!" thing that I so very much dislike and heartily enjoin others to ignore. In reality, clearly even if I do size out of clothes, if I like them and they're in good shape I can just put them away until I need them again.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Epic paisley twirl (a.k.a. Burda Classics 2013 005B maxi skirt)

Sorry about the colour/lighting. I thought "yay, summer! outside photo!" and didn't realize it would wash everything out.
I seem to have been working on this skirt forever, and yet the results are... not that spectacular.

On the plus side, I legitimately really like this skirt. It's made from a light, crinkly cotton/viscose blend and it is the most floaty, most twirly, most rippling-gently-as-you-walk kind of maxi skirt imaginable. The shot above was taken with the slightest of breeze making my skirt move. I love that about it. I also like the paisley-ness of the fabric. I had some ridiculous quantity of it bought from eBay in 2012. I used a metre or so previously to make a woven tee last summer, which I have not worn that much (for no very good reason as I do like it). Why I bought such a huge piece of fabric when I don't wear prints all that much , I do not know. At any rate, it was cheap and I had a lot of it, which is just as well because this pattern, from Burda Style Special: Classics 2013, is a fabric hog of epic proportions.

Burda Classics 2013 005B -- images from
I don't think it's immediately apparent from the technical drawing or the modelled image that this is actually a full circle skirt below the yoke. To get a maxi length skirt I therefore needed every centimetre of 3m of fabric, although if I'd got the length right (i.e. hacked a great deal off the hem at the point of using the pattern) I might have gotten away with a smidgeon less. As it was, I had to move all my furniture around in my living room so that I had a big enough floor space on which to lay out 3m of fabric as a single layer and cut out it out.

Alas, this would be the point at which things sort of went a bit wrong, and thus, the minus points:

Problem 1: Quite a lot of time elapsed between me tracing the pattern pieces and making the skirt and I sort of thought I'd checked the things I normally check. Not so much. As a result, although I am more or less a perfect match for a Burda size 42 waist and hips right now according to the magazine measurements ... the yoke did NOT fit at all. The magazine image clearly shows that the model is wearing the skirt somewhere below the waist, but this was not so much "below the waist" as "clinging very very precariously to my hips". I ended up taking about 6cm out of the yoke and to be honest it's still kind of loose. Unfortunately, my belated fix of the width means that the yoke seam match up is dismal. Also, I don't know quite what to blame for this but the yoke ends up tilting on my body and being lower at the front than the back. My suspicion is that this is my fault, but I couldn't tell you what I did. The upshot of all of which is: the yoke was FAR too big and I really should have caught this at the pattern stage. That said, I find this discrepancy between size and fit unusual for Burda, which if anything errs towards less ease than more, but there you have it. If I made this again, I'd probably end up cutting 2 sizes smaller at least.

Problem 2: The length. Right, so, in Burda magazines it always says that their straight sized patterns are intended for people who are 168cm. I am 172.5cm (that's 5'8"). I always check the length, or I guess I should say that I USUALLY check, since evidently I didn't check properly this time at all, but, you know, I would assume on that basis that straight size patterns should generally be at or around a sane length for someone my height. Right?

WRONG. Here is the unaltered length -- to which I had not, through oversight, even added a hem allowance -- in a photo I posted to my shiny new instagram account. Not clear from this photo -- I am wearing 7cm heels underneath the skirt. D:

I can only assume therefore, as I said at the time, that when Burda say "168cm tall" they mean "168cm tall and wearing GIGANTIC HEELS OF GIGANTICNESS", because no. This is too long. More importantly, it doesn't even REMOTELY match what the magazine instructions say is the length of the finished garment, which was much closer to other maxi skirts I already own that DON'T drag along the floor like I'm a child playing dress up.

The real problem is that taking up a circle skirt is an absolute nightmare. I let this hang off and on for a few days to let the bias stretch out. When I then had to hack a lot off the bottom, the "easy" way of shortening it, simply measuring some amount from the hem and cutting it down the whole way round didn't work. Instead I got a ridiculous wavy edge because of course it had stretched out unevenly, and then I got frustrated and hacked at it, and then it was an epic mess and I almost gave up.

The side view demonstrates the hideously uneven hem AND the tilted yoke
However, I tried it on again last night and although the horrible uneven hem does bother me because it looks so very VERY Becky Home-Ecky, I decided I could live with it because (a) it's a casual garment that I'll mostly wear around the house and on errands, and thus I can live with amateur hour sewing levels; and (b) there's SO MUCH fullness and movement to the skirt when I'm actually wearing it and behaving like a normal person, as opposed to just standing still frowning critically at my hems, that it's actually pretty much impossible to tell that my hems are a complete uneven disaster.

For completeness, a back view, which I have to tell you was taken mid-sneeze due to the flowering plant in front of me
In conclusion: I do, genuinely, like this skirt but I'll not be making this pattern up again any time soon!

Next up: I am halfway through a wearable muslin of the Wiksten Tank (which I bought for some unfathomable reason, since I already have SEVERAL similar patterns, but whatever, too late to lament that) and will probably whizz through the finishing touches on that in the next 24 hours. After that, through the kindest of offices I have acquired Simplicity 1063 well in advance of it being available in the UK and am champing at the bit to sew it up after it arrived this weekend. :D And I am in the process of adjusting an Ottobre sleeveless top pattern and a Burda dress.

And finally, I decided at the end of last month that I wanted to get on with my next knitting project, and that in order to do so I would try to knit at least a little every day in July.

Photos taken at the end of every day 1-5 July
I started on on 1 July with literally just the cast on stitches, and as of last night (on the right) I am into the main part of the body. I think I have to grind through about 5cm of body per day this week, which will be probably kind of dull. Also, wow, lighting has a crazy effect on the colour of this yarn when I take the photos. The actual real colour is probably closest to the second on the left. (It is Drops Cotton Merino DK in Storm Blue and the pattern is Backshore (but without stripes) (link is to Ravelry).