Friday, 9 October 2015

Craftsy Mini-Reviews (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Techniques/Tips/Reference Classes:  

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

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

Pattern-making and Adjustments

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 4 October 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the positive side, some things did go well:

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

That lasted until I tried to finish the neckline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still though. Not a good weekend for sewing.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Three quarters of the year

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Wrapped (Ottobre 05-2011-11 "Romantic Notes" Top)

Ah, the wrap top. It's probably the most commonly recommended style for those of us who are large in the mammary region and yet not a style I wear very often at all, despite being abundantly blessed in the bosom department. Partly this is because I have a pathological fear of becoming unexpectedly unwrapped during the course of the day. Mostly, however, it's just that I haven't got around to attempting to make something in a wrapped style since my last, mostly failing, attempts in early 2014. (Why I never bought any RTW is another question altogether. I don't remember it really ever being an option, if I'm honest, particularly when I wore plus sizes. Too fitted, I think, compared to the "tent with a hole for your head!" aesthetic that plus-size clothes manufacturers seem to think everyone over a UK size 16 should choose).

New Look 6150, a previous fail
Back in 2014, I made two black wrap tops from a single 3m piece of viscose jersey. I made a (mostly succesful) wrap cardigan/top layer using Burda 01-2012-130, and also made a (mostly failing) attempt at New Look 6150 View A, a.k.a That Faux Wrap Top That Everyone And Her Sister Made In 2013. Alas, the fabric choice was ill-fated, as it was both hard to sew and looked decidedly jaded after only a couple of washes. I wore the Burda top several times until the fabric started to look so dreadful that I had to get rid of it. The NL 6150 View A top was an unmitigated disaster. I did think about revisiting it as, when successful, it's a really lovely pattern. Even my failed version clearly had potential. However, eighteen months and a lot more experience of reading pattern instructions later, I still don't understand the pattern instructions for the shoulder pleats. Maybe if I were 100% healthy I would have approached it in a spirit of adventure and tried again. Since I've felt like death warmed over for most of this month I decided to make my life easier and pick another pattern!

For this attempt I therefore decided to try Ottobre 05-2011-11, the "Romantic Notes" top. I made my version in a navy on ivory print from Tissu. I think it's a viscose jersey, though I've lost the official description. It's a nice weight for autumn and sewed up without any problems. The print is a little loud and busy compared to my usual boringly subdued taste, but I quite like it. It obscures almost all the sewn details (and mistakes!) though.

Ottobre 05-2011-11 "Romantic Notes" faux wrap top, images from Ottobre

The pattern itself is actually very similar to the New Look top, down to the pleated shoulders and the shape and style of the collar, but with the major advantage that I found the instructions perfectly comprehensible. The main differences are the degree of gathering on the low side of the wrap (a very small area with only light gathering in the Ottobre top vs. a lot of gathered fullness in NL6150) and the depth of the "scoop" of the wrap, which, per the images above, is intended to sit below the bust in the Ottobre top and over the bust on NL6150. Of the two, I probably prefer the positioning of the wrap on the New Look top, but I don't find the Ottobre top unflattering at all.

Ottobre 05-2011-11 faux wrap top, as modelled by me
Overall, I think that this top is more of a success than when I made NL6150 (not hard) but still not extremely successful. Part of this is the circumstances in which I sewed it, alas, and is therefore entirely my own fault. Even when I'm feeling really very ill, as I have been the last couple of weeks, I still always try to do just a few minutes in my sewing room every day -- mainly because I feel like even a little time being ~~creative goes a long way to keeping me sane on more trying days. However, as I got more and more frustrated by how long it was taking me to get to the actual MAKING part of making this simple knit top, I ended up taking a bunch of short-cuts, particularly when making adjustments, which I have subsequent cause to regret.

Front and back view, as modelled by Flossie
This top is a size 40 shoulders, and then a sort of cheater's FBA to a size 44 at the armscye down to the hip. The sleeve is a size 40 sleeve with a particularly stupid sizing fudge, which I shan't even describe, and is a little too tight as a result because, no, I do not in any way have a size 40 arm, even with a stupid fudge. The problem with the cheater's FBA is that it gives you extra space, for sure, but not entirely in the right place. I need extra fabric where my bust is, not under my arm. Add in the overly tight sleeve and it's a recipe for the top pulling weirdly through the bust. Note to self: next time, just suck it up and do your adjustments properly.

When I saw this pattern had non-topstitched facings I almost backed out of using it. I am no fan of unstitched facings as they seem to lead inevitably to frustratedly flipping pieces of fabric back inside your top and rising levels of irritability as the day goes on. On the other hand, the facings make the collar/neckline arrangement possible, and that was a design detail I really liked a lot, so I decided to go with it despite my misgivings.
Just about visible design detail of the pleats at the collar, plus a view of the facings/innards
When I was mostly done with the top I tried it on as instructed and instantly hated the facings. HATED. I couldn't see how the top would be wearable without constant facing-related aggravation. The last few pattern instructions, however, are all about the facings, and so really I should have just trusted Ottobre and not become despondent. After stitching them down in various places (and also, I must admit, unpicking and re-sewing two inches of side seam because it turned out one of my facings hadn't caught properly in the overlocked seams) hey presto, I would say 90-95% of my facing related annoyance had faded. I still have some problems on one side of the neckline but most of that is, to be quite honest, bad sewing on my part. I had problems attaching the facings to the bodice at that point of the neckline and tried to hurry through a fix rather than sort it out properly.

Close up of the wrap, and also, I read somewhere that people are really annoyed by garment photos where the model has her hands on her hips because it's a more ~~flattering pose than standing in a more neutral. So, here I am standing somewhat normally/neutrally as well, for completeness. "Normally". As normally as I ever stand in front of a camera, anyway.
In conclusion: I have yet to wear this top for a full day, so I am not totally certain how much I like it. It remains to be seen if this is a top that you have to faff with constantly to make sure it's lying right. Even without wearing it though I am am pretty sure this is not my Perfect Faux Wrap Top pattern -- I love the collar and shoulder details, but I am not entirely convinced by the positioning of the wrap itself or the facings. When I make another version, I think I will try a different pattern (I have several available -- there's another in a different issue of Ottobre, and then a good handful in various other magazines I own).

More generally, today's lesson is that even when I get super impatient with being ill and taking FOREVER to finish even a small and easy project like a knit top, it's not worth rushing. So many of the problems I had with this top are because I tried to hurry through to the actual sewing part of the sewing, and then tried to hurry towards actually having a finished garment. Yes, the part where I actually sew is the most fun part of sewing to me, but it's pointless if it doesn't actually produce the outcome I want!

Monday, 7 September 2015

Another Estelle and Operation: Outerwear

StyleArc Estelle, version 2
I decided after the success of my previous StyleArc Estelle at the weekend to make another almost immediately.  The only change I made was a small square shoulder adjustment. It's not obvious from this photo, but that has reduced the wrinkliness around the shoulder substantially.

I kind of went back and forth on using this black and white floral lace print ponte. I'm not, generally, a big wearer of prints, or florals in particular, but I nevertheless bought this fabric right at the beginning of the year with some plan in mind (I forget what now). However, when it arrived I decided it was not quite the right weight or texture for whatever Plan A was. Plan B was always a cardigan, although originally I thought to make more of a jacket type thing. I had nothing definite in mind though and was happy to divert it into my second Estelle. The problem with using it with this pattern was that the wrong side -- which is plain white -- shows, and I wasn't entirely sure it would look okay. As it turns out, I kind of like the wrong side/right side contrast in the waterfall collar especially when it's sort of neatly falling as in my photograph above. However, on evidence of wearing it today, sometimes it flaps open in movement and it's all a bit glaringly wrong-side-on-show. So, I am still a bit undecided about what I think of that.

As documented for the previous version of this cardigan, I did a handful of not-especially-complex fit adjustments to get the pattern to work for me, and while I was working on them I found myself wondering why, when I am actually now reasonably competent at some of my key fitting adjustments, I am so hesitant to get started on my big autumn project, Operation: Outerwear, or, wanting to sew some kind of coat or jacket.

Ottobre 05-2012-05 jacket that I am planning to make (but not yet)
In fact, I have always planned to make TWO pieces of outerwear in what remains of the year: a corduroy blazer, for which I had identified an Ottobre pattern from 2012, and a more casual jacket in cotton moleskin to wear with jeans in the winter, for which I had picked out a pattern from a 2010 issue of Burda. Originally, I was going to make them in that order, and indeed I have previously mentioned the Ottobre blazer as part of my autumn sewing plans. However, after really thinking hard about what is holding me back from starting that project, I've decided that it would be better to reverse my plans, and possibly also do a third project in between.

The main thing that has been slowing me down is worrying about fitting. The thing with fit is that it is ostensibly why I sew: I hate coat shopping because my upper body is a poor match to most RTW standards and I really struggle to buy coats that work for me unless I look at specialist "large busted" manufacturers like Pepperberry, who I find to be largely overpriced for the quality of the goods. However, I feel like if I am going to sew for fit, I actually have to do a REALLY good job of it before I can really justify the effort/expense/learning curve of sewing outerwear.

Burda 08-2010-110, or the jacket I am planning to make next

This is just dumb. There are no sewing police going to come take my machines away if the fit I get is no better than the fit I get from RTW. Then, the fit of, for example, my current formal winter coat is TRULY awful. I mean, it's actually one of the most uncomfortable items of clothing I own. I put up with it because, to be honest, it was the best of many similarly or more uncomfortable coats that I tried on at the point when I was comparison shopping for a coat. So, I am pretty sure the bar for good fit is tragically low in the case of outerwear and I should worry less about it. Worse case scenario I just don't improve on the horrible fit I get from RTW, as I can't actually see how it could get worse. I don't think I'll even have to do that good a job at fitting to get a much better fit. Also, I need to START somewhere in order to get better. So what if I make an ill-fitting jacket? I walk around in an ill-fitting coat all the time at the moment, so that won't change, and I certainly won't get to the point where I can make an actually well-fitted jacket unless I try to make one and improve from there.

As to the expense and time, well, it goes without saying that I could get a coat for less money and effort than it will take for me to make one -- such is the way of our fast fashion dominated world. It occurred to me as I was adjusting my cardigan pattern that actually it would be a favour to myself to acknowledge that I don't really sew just for fit or utility. I actually do sew because I like it. I think it would be kind of fun to put together a casual winter coat this autumn, and I am therefore going to do it because at the moment joy is in rather short supply around here as this long boring illness continues to take a toll on my morale.

All that said, I have been put off making up the Ottobre pattern first because I think there's probably a more sane learning curve to follow -- the Ottobre pattern has this three piece princess seamed front bodice that I couldn't 100% figure out how I was going to FBA, plus a waist seam with darts that all needed to line up, all on top of the the basic things that I haven't done before that I'll need to learn to make a lined jacket/blazer like, oh, putting a lining in, just as an example. Plus I was planning to make it from cord, which hates being pressed. By contrast the other jacket I'd picked out has a lot fewer pieces and is less complex overall, so I think it makes sense from a sewing perspective, if not from a seasonal wearing perspective, to make it first.

I think I might also make a quick unlined knit blazer with a princess seam in between the two woven jackets so I can get some of the fitting issues with the princess seams nailed down as well in a separate step. I have made an unlined, princess seamed jacket before -- more than one, in fact. However, that was the summer of 2013 and I was wearing quite a different size at that time. It will help I am sure that I have some idea of the alterations I need to make, but I can't just slap the old pattern pieces on top of a new pattern the way I do with more recent projects. I want a black knit jacket and I happen to have a suitable pattern, so it makes sense to throw that into the pile of outerwear projects.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that having allowed amorphous trepidation put me off even starting my outerwear project for ages, I have now talked myself into a state of some excitement about making my winter jacket, and will be hopefully make some more progress in the next couple of weeks. First up: tracing the pattern and some initial adjustments before I make a muslin.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

A very quick cardigan (StyleArc Estelle)

When StyleArc announced that they were going to start selling PDF patterns through Etsy I was genuinely excited. I had been so tempted on many occasions by their patterns but put off by the combination of single sized patterns, long distance mail costs and the lack of finished garment examples. At the time I concluded that my bank balance would quickly empty out into StyleArc's coffers as they release new patterns every month.

In fact, however, although I've picked up two of my most wanted patterns from their back list as the company gradually digitizes their pattern collection, this year's offerings so far have mostly left me cold. StyleArc, like Burda, seems to be highly trend conscious and therefore, also like Burda, if you don't like the current trends then you're just not going to be into the patterns. The result of this is that although I am waiting for one more historical pattern release (the StyleArc Issy, which I desperately want) I've really not found myself yearning after any of the new StyleArc releases particularly... until last month, when the Estelle ponte jacket came out.

StyleArc Estelle

This actually shows the power of the finished garment photos for me. I feel like if I made the effort I could almost certainly find a similar magazine pattern -- in fact, I know there is at least one in Ottobre and several variations on the waterfall cardigan theme in my Burda collection. However, as soon as I saw the modelled white version on the StyleArc newsletter, I wanted THIS pattern, immediately.

This is my first actual attempt to sew from a StyleArc pattern. I bought the package with size 10/12/14, and chose my base size (10) from upper bust measurements. Assembling the PDF was straightforward enough -- there are plenty of easy to follow markings -- but as usual before I got started I behaved like it was a task of monumental proportions. PDF assembly is easily the worst part of sewing from digital patterns, although it's never quite as bad as I build it up to in my mind!

StyleArc Estelle in blue pinstripe ponte
I am so used to blending sizes when I'm working in knit fabric rather than doing "proper" adjustments that I bitched to myself the entire time I was preparing a straight size 10 pattern, since I know I am very far from a straight size 10. I am definitely not willing to print out 2-3 versions of a single pattern, stick them all together and then compare them, but it would have been SO MUCH easier if I could have done.

Luckily, I have become pretty efficient at figuring out how a knit garment compares to my knit block so once I had the size 10 assembled I quickly pinpointed my main adjustments: a large-ish bicep adjustment and a 5cm FBA. I rotated the side dart the FBA produced out of the side seam and into the hem, and then redrew the side-seam to eliminate the tent-like flare this produces. The end result of that manoeuvre is a front piece that is basically a size 10 until the bust point and then blends to a size 14 from the bust point down. If I made it again I would probably do a small square shoulder adjustment. This is my most common adjustment that I make to patterns but the the nature of this particular pattern, with the big shawl collar etc, made it difficult for me to assess how far off StyleArc's shoulder shape was from my body shape, so I left it as is.

The fabric I chose is a lightweight blue ponte with a faint ultra-skinny stripe. It was inexpensive and I am not convinced it'll have great longevity -- cheap ponte bobbles and bags out so quickly! -- but it has great drape.

As far as sewing goes, StyleArc's instructions are brief and to the point, with some illustrations for key parts of the construction. They were very easy to follow, all the notches and seams matched beautifully and overall, it was an extremely pleasant experience to go from pattern to finished garment. I sewed the whole thing on my overlocker, ignored a couple of suggestions for seam finishing, left the hems and edges raw as suggested in the pattern (not my usual choice, but I genuinely think it looks good with this particular very stable ponte that I used) and, in fact, sewed the whole thing in an under an hour including futzing with a tension problem on my overlocker.

I don't think this photographed well at all (but this might be just that I am struggling with taking photos of myself when my body is very drastically showing the toll of my most recent bout of illness). I actually LOVE how it looks on, and the first time I tried it on I instantly though about making it again in another piece of ponte that I've been hoarding for a while. I like the shape of the angled hem and the way the waterfall section falls over my (larger than average) bust. I could live without the many and varied wrinkles through the shoulder, but that's mainly the square shoulder problem -- it's amazing what even a tiny adjustment will do for that.

In conclusion: This was a really fast project and I LOVE the outcome. It was also an interesting introduction to actually making up a StyleArc pattern for me. There was certainly nothing about the experience, other than my irritation that I couldn't do a straightforward size blend, to put me off buying or making more StyleArc patterns (if and when the trends that they follow swing around to things that are more my style, of course!)