Sunday, 30 June 2013

A mid-year goals update

At the start of 2013 I gave myself some sewing goals to aim for. Well, here we are, slightly shockingly, already at the mid-point of the year. Here's how I'm doing:

  • Spending allowance. I gave myself a fixed (but generous) budget for the whole year to spend on all and any crafty stuff. I should, theoretically have exactly half left. I have, er, rather less. I've spent about 60% of it so far. Oops. On the plus side, after my why do I own this much?! shock when I packed my stuff in Cumbria getting ready to move, I am really, seriously determined to buy as little fabric as possible for the rest of the year. Exceptions: possible trip to London fabric shops with my friend B, which will DEFINITELY involve fabric buying, plus linings and the like, plus, let's be honest, fabrics that I see that I just have to have because they're really special and amazing.
  • Relatedly, fabric destash. My goal is to use more garment fabric than I buy, and my "stretch" goal was to use 25% of my stash. Excuse me while I go roll around laughing for a while at that stretch goal, because wow, no, that's not going to happen. So far this year I've bought 71m of fabric and used 51m, so I am net right around +20m, which, again, not really going according to plan. However, given what I wrote in the previous bullet point I am pretty sure I'll use more than I sew overall this year, even if there's no way I'll hit the 25% reduction.
  • Sew 24 items of wearable clothing. My goal was to sew 2 things per month. I'm waaaaay ahead of target on this, even though it gets a little definitional. I've made 18 garments so far this year, or about three a month. Of those, two were what I'm going to call Finished Wadders. That is to say, I finished them and took photos and even wore them out the house. However once I wore them a couple of times I was like: no, this is not working for me. In one case I tossed it into the recycling and in the other it's still lurking about as I am undecided what to do with it. The other 16 items though are doing well. There's two I haven't worn much yet, but that's a weather issue more than anything. Overall: definitely on track here. (However, it gets much less impressive when you realize that fully 5 of my 18 finished garments are made to one ultra-simple knit tee pattern. Never mind, though, complexity wasn't the goal, and I've worn those tops more than anything else I've made.)
  • Make my whole outfit for N&L's wedding in June. Done! \o/
  • Sew (a) one dress; (b) one buttoned blouse with collar; (c) one jacket. I haven't done (a) at all, but it's in the plan for as soon as I am settled in a long-term place and I have my sewing stuff back. I have a pattern traced and fabric picked for (b) and it's in the plan for July, so watch this space. I have actually made TWO jackets, so (c) is done. \o/
  • Finish 6 knitted items. So far I've finished 3 simple scarves. The less said about the purple jumper I started out so enthusiastically knitting the better. More on that soon. I do want to do this, but summer is not the best knitting time, really, even in chilly Ireland.
  • Keep Etsy bag shop stock at 15-20 items. My shop is offline right now because my inventory is still in the UK, but there's 19 finished items in stock, and I haven't dipped below 15. \o/
  • Enter 2 Pattern Review contests. Done! \o/ I entered the Handbag contest at the start of the year, and the Natural Fibres contest with my jacket for the wedding (which got 9 votes, including mine, and came in something like 60th!) Still, the objective was not really to win (...which is probably just as well) but just to participate in the community.
I'm also sort of trying to do a "sew your whole wardrobe" thing, but clearly I just don't have the actual skill level to do that right now. My modified version was that I want to make things that I can, and gradually develop my skills so that one day I have a majority hand-made wardrobe. That's actually going well so far. I'm also trying to work on figuring out TNT patterns. In one case I've been wildly successful (Ottobre 02-2013-02, which I finally think I've perfected after making it 5 times -- and I have a plan to make a whole clutch more of them once I have my overlocker/fabric with me.) but other than that I haven't made anything often enough to really call it a TNT.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

On bitchy reviews and out-of-the-norm clothes

I was reading the comments (despite my cast iron resolution not to read the comments on things on the internet because of the likelihood of a red mist of rage descending, I often find myself reading the comments. Fail, self, fail.) on this post about sewing magazines at Male Pattern Boldness. The blogger was questioning whether people used magazines or found the tracing/seam allowance work that has to be done made it too much like effort. I have loads of magazines, as you all know by now, and although I also have loads of envelopes overall I prefer pattern magazines for both price and style reasons. Let me tell you, live in Europe and pay $15+ for a single envelope pattern and you would prefer it for price too, which Americans living in the land of $2 pattern sales I don't think can really appreciate.

There were a lot of comments to that post though saying how much commenters hated the bitchy reviews of Burda that bloggers write and now I feel kind of guilty. I don't think I'm the bitchiest reviewer on the internet, but I do laugh at Burda's styling, and I laugh A LOT at some of their wackier designs, and their Giant Rectangles. However, I also know I can be proven wrong with Burda: sometimes I look at a pattern and just go "Crazypants!" and move on, but then I'll see it made up and think, no, wow, that's actually really great on her. I kind of want to be proved wrong on this month's Ghengis-Khan-as-diner-waitress dress, for example, though I'm reserving judgement on whether that is even really possible. I also cringe when I see reviewers just outright call a pattern hooker-wear, or critique the model's body. There's a line I try not to cross between amused aesthetic critique, which I don't represent as anything other than my actually very shallow and unfashionable opinion, and sort of contemptuous commentary that would make me angry if I read it.

I don't know. I like writing my Burda reviews and I know there are people reading this blog, but with all due respect, I'm really not writing this blog for an audience. I just needed somewhere to put all the non-stop sewing thoughts and commentary that run through my head, and I have literally nowhere else. I am happy to know that there are people reading and sometimes commenting, but I wouldn't stop writing even if you all vanished overnight. The truth is, I'm not ever going to be a a big name blogger. I can't really imagine how I'd ever monetize this blog. I feel bad enough linking my Etsy shop (currently down, as my inventory is, like everything else fun in my life, all in a box in Cumbria), to be honest. Does it matter if someone, or even several someones, I don't know thinks I'm kind of a bitch for suggesting that one dress pattern looked like it had a deconstructed kangaroo pouch buttoned to the front?

So there's that. On the other side of the coin, I was thinking last night about clothes I would make for an imaginary life in which I was not myself excessively self-conscious about my body and my clothes. This was brought on by the fact that I was looking at some of the things I've pinned to my Outfits I Like board on Pinterest and observed to myself that quite often these are of outfits that are just slightly different than the norm. Not like, way out there, crazy artist style, but just a bit different. I keep hoping I will suddenly grow into the sang-froid that many women seem to acquire with age, where they just go, no, I WILL wear my [insert oddball garment here] and screw you if you think I look weird. However, I'm creeping up on 40 and I've not achieved it yet. Alas. Part of the problem with sewing though it's that it's hard to just try something out. Like, if I wanted to try a style of dress, I could notionally just go try on loads of dresses somewhere and see what looked good (in practice, I don't do this because I have so many sizing problems with dresses and I hate shop changing rooms with their lighting tricks and their mirror games). With oddball garments, you have to make them to try them because you CAN'T buy them anywhere.

At any rate, let me show you the photo I am currenly OBSESSED with. It's not really all that oddball, but I also don't think I've seen a pattern for it anywhere. I really love this lady's oufit, but what really catches my eye is that drapy kimono sleeved cardigan thingy over a 3/4 sleeved dress and the toning colour. I don't wear that shade at all (skin is too yellow-y in tone, that mid-brown colour next to my face makes me look like death) but I could imagine this is toning shades of colours I do wear (like green, maybe. I just don't know whether I'd wear it if I made it.

On a similar theme though, I have this great vintage pattern for a really long sort of waistcoat thing:

I go back and forth between OMG CUTEST and BUT WHEN WOULD I WEAR IT. Alas, probably doomed to never be made up.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Made: Summer-y Maxi skirt (for the summer we're not having)

Maxi skirt: Front and back view

As always, sorry for the terrible photos. I think this is about the best spot inside the house for light and it's still not great. I went outside to try to take photos but first I was investigated at length by the neighbourhood cats, and then the small boy who lives next door came and heckled me, so this is the best I could do.

So, this skirt.  I have been planning this skirt FOREVER, but it only made sense to make it when summer was actually upon us (or, as much upon as the summer ever is in the British Isles). I bought a HUGE piece of this border print from eBay back in November 2012 and immediately went: maxi skirt! The fabric is about 115cm wide, with the border print running along the selvedge. By purest happenchance, I picked probably the prettiest bit of the border print (which changes all the way along) to make the skirt. It's incredibly light weight, probably a polyester georgette, and it snags and runs at the slightest provocation. According to the label that was printed on the fabric (which washed off) it was a "Sari length", which seems to mean 5.25m in length, and it was from India. I bought it on eBay for the princely sum of £7.50, including p&p, for the whole piece and I have half of it left.

To make the skirt I used this free tutorial/pattern-ish thing: Lorenna Buck Maxi Skirt. I don't really know how much of this is me just not wanting to really engage with her instructions, but I didn't really get on with her tutorial/pattern at all, and pretty much went off-piste immediately, which is why this is not a proper pattern review.

It didn't help that the pattern is not graded to my size, so I had to make a new waistband from the start. Then I wanted a wider waistband. Then I decided to use a waistband from a skirt I had made before that I liked, except I also ended up making THAT wider. And so on. In the end I basically ignored the tutorial except for a couple of ideas about the general construction, and I found I disagreed with a couple of things there (mainly the shape of the lining, which she draws without a bottom curve, but this looks uneven when you're wearing it -- I cut a curve into the fabric at a later stage). Still, unless it's your first ever skirt, I don't think you really need more than general pointers anyway, because at heart this is the simplest pair of layers imaginable: the top is a gathered dirndl skirt, the bottom layer is a simple A-line skirt.
Showing off the (wow, I need to press it) lining /o\

Making this was actually no pleasure at all. I'm not really sure why. I think some of it was keeping going when I really didn't feel like sewing. Some of it was, OK, remember the wedding outfit skirt? The one where I was all NEVER AGAIN to sewing with georgette because it's terrible? Yeah, apparently I have the memory of a goldfish, but I am ready to swear that ALL OVER AGAIN. The general horror of sewing georgette was compounded by slight new machine issues, in that I knew on my old machine what tension to sew georgette at to prevent puckering, but there was a little bit of trial and error (and unpicking) involved in working out the tension on the new machine, and it caused some irreperable problems on one the waistband pieces. Luckily, I'm unlikely to tuck my top in, but the waist band is really not great. Also not great: pretty much every other construction detail. I tried to do something clever with bias binding on the opening of the top layer (where you reach through to get to the zip, but, uh, no. So it's just a mess on the inside. The invisible zip is highly visible (but luckily hidden from view). The less said about the waistband overall the better. In general, it's best if everyone admires this skirt from a distance because it doesn't really bear any close scrutiny.

By the time I finished I actually hated the skirt and was all >:( over the whole thing. Normally looking at photos makes me hate things any more, especially if I have to "model" the item in question but weirdly, from the flaw-obscuring distance of the camera I find I really like how this looks! I thought it might be a hair short for a proper maxi and yes, it could maybe do with just a smidge more length -- 2cm at most -- but I didn't have enough fabric as I precut the 2.5m I thought I needed and left the remainder with the rest of my sewing gear in Cumbria. I could only have this much length if I was going to squeeze the waistband out of the remainder at the top. I also wish I'd got the gathering on the back of the skirt a little more even. It's not too obvious when I'm in motion though and also, I can't see my back so I can pretend that flaw is not there.

However: one useful new thing I learn was how to use my new stitch-in-the-ditch foot that came with the machine. Initially I did some TERRIBLE top-stitching on the bottom edge of the waistband which wandered all over the damn place, and I kept looking at it and going augh, augh, that's just HORRIBLE. So finally I unpicked it, and then remembered that my new machine, being intended for a quilting audience, included the stitch-in-the-ditch foot that I could use to keep my stitching at an even distance from the lower edge of the waistband. It didn't come out perfectly even but actually still SO MUCH better -- definitely a foot to keep in mind for future reference.

Total costs: About £3.50 for the top layer, another £4.50 for 2m of turquoise polycotton from Tissu for the lining. A CRAZY expensive zip from The Cork Button Factory here in Ireland (why are invisible zips so EXPENSIVE in Europe? If anyone in America wants to buy a present, buy me a pile of cheap invisible zips!) for another €3, plus thread and a skirt hook, for a grand total of about £12-ish, which is not bad for a maxi skirt when you think there's 4.5m of fabric in there.

Now, all I need is some actual summer so I can wear it (or lottery win, so I can go somewhere warm!)

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

On independent envelope pattern makers

I must confess that the majority of the envelope patterns I've bought are Big 4 envelope patterns (a majority of them Simplicity). I do have a few independent vendor patterns: two from Cake, one from Deer & Doe, a couple of My Image envelope patterns (though one of those I won rather than bought). I also allegedly have two StyleArc patterns but alas they are caught in a vortex somewhere in my sister-in-law's handbag and I may never actually have them in my possession (I've been waiting for her to send them for over six months now). Also in my stash: a couple of Silhouette patterns, some e-patterns from Grainline and Dixie DIY, a couple of free patterns from Colette and Maria Denmark, the famous Weekender Sunshine tee from HotPatterns and the Jalie pattern for jeans, and finally, the Colette book which contains several patterns. In total, including the Colette book, I have about 20 patterns from independent vendors, from a pattern stash (excluding magazines) of 114 single pattern envelopes.

What is remarkable about this list is not the sheer number of patterns I own (though, that's quite remarkable as well, in a bad way!), it is that it seems like every sewing blogger and her little dog too makes up garments from two sources that I own exactly none of: Colette envelope patterns, and Sewaholic.

I've mentioned before that my main problem with Colette boils down to the fact that I just don't like her patterns with a more vintage aesthetic -- too fussy, too girly, too costume-like for my tastes and my lifestyle. This is also why I've not made any of the patterns in the book either. I have to be honest, I'm always kind of amazed that sewers who make up loads of those patterns up find any place to wear them because no, really, I've never worked anywhere where people wouldn't have side-eyed you for wearing most of the Colette catalogue. I do just wonder how much mileage most people really get out of the clothes they make to those patterns. On the other hand, the patterns she makes that don't have that aesthetic (e.g. the wide-legged trousers and the most recent Laurel dress) are a total snooze -- pretty enough, for sure, and I know people buy them as much for the quality of the instructions as for the pattern, but I am certainly not going to spend €20 to acquire one pretty bland and ordinary pattern.

Plus, I don't know about anyone else, but when the pattern reviews are about 75% "It took eight muslins and I ended up doing this whole shopping list of adjustments to get it to fit but the final dress is awesome, A++ pattern!" I have serious concerns about, well, everything. How is it an A++ pattern if it took you 300 hours to get it to fit? Especially if I'm looking at the photos silently observing all the ways it doesn't really fit. I mean, I am the last person who should make any comment about other people's fit problems, but I have to wonder, if it fits that badly after multiple muslins, what the hell did the first muslin look like? I am probably jaundiced though by my one attempt to make up a muslin of a Colette pattern, the ubiquitous Sorbetto, which was a complete and utter waste of time -- so much so that you'll note that I've never made up an actual garment, so appalling was the fit even after three attempts at a muslin.

With Sewaholic, I do love her patterns. I follow her blog. I love the clothes other people make. I think if there is a indie company I yearn to give my money to, it's Sewaholic. But I have the exact opposite of the body shape she drafts for -- and while that's 100% fine and I wouldn't want her to stop drafting for that body shape, it means that even contemplating her size chart makes my head ache. I was very taken with the Robson coat, but I just couldn't face the adjustments. To get shoulder fit, I'd just barely get into the largest size plus a massive FBA, but then I'm at least two and maybe three sizes smaller at the hips than her sizing and that's BEFORE the extra waist and hip volume provided by the FBA. In the end, her patterns are just not unique enough or killer enough for me personally to get into that level of adjustments before I even start normal tweaking for fit. If you're a pear-shape I can totally see that Sewaholic is a godsend. For me though, I was trying to think if I could see myself ever buying a Sewaholic pattern, and I have to say although I would never say never, it would have to be a pattern that was just beyond amazing and utterly unique, just because the sizing is so epically wrong for my body.

Of course, none of us have to justify why we make up the patterns that we do, and I am 100% not saying that if you love Colette and get perfect fit straight from the envelope that your experiences are not valid. Really this post is because I'm super tired of seeing, and being given, the advice that as a relative beginner, all else being equal I should learn to prefer either Sewaholic or Colette patterns  because Big 4 patterns are horrible and won't fit. I really think that's super discouraging when Colette has such a specific aesthetic that, newsflash, not everyone likes and moreover seems to have some epic fit issues for a lot of body types, and Sewaholic is drafted for a specific body type that not everyone has, AND when they represent such a small number of patterns and come in so very very expensive compared to the Big 4, even if you're paying European rather than American prices.

I don't think Big 4 are perfect either -- far from it -- and you've all seen me fall about laughing at Burda's idea of what we should be wearing before now. So I'm not really picking on the indies, particularly, so much as trying to suggest that they are not as far above reproach as we sometimes seem to suggest. I get wanting to support indie designers, I really do. They are One Of Us, very often -- women like us who were bloggers and sewers who have transitioned from sewing for themselves to designing for themselves to designing patterns for general use. I just don't get why we're so insistent as a community that because they are One Of Us their patterns are beyond reproach, the best choice for beginners, or even, really, necessarily something special (Colette Laurel, I am looking right at you right now).

Monday, 17 June 2013

Wedding outfit post mortem

Finally, after months of looking forward to seeing my friends get married (civil partnershipped, whatever, I will be glad when we stop this equal-but-different nonsense and I can just say "married" no matter the gender of the participants) and to the chance to get together with the whole group of friends who were attending, this last Saturday was the wedding! I managed to leave both my camera AND my phone behind so I don't have a single photo to show for my attendance, alas, so you'll have to take my word for it: both of the brides looked beautiful, and the rest of us all scrubbed up very nicely indeed for the event (understatement, all my friends looked stunning!)

My own outfit survived the day quite nicely. The skirt was exactly as twirly and frothy as I wanted it to be and was comfortable all day (in spite of the fact that I basically didn't stop eating for the entire day. Hobbit-like, I had about 7 meals on Saturday and not many fewer on Sunday.) The ruching came undone on one side of the skirt at a late stage but to be honest that was my fault for fidgeting with it all day long. The little white top was great though I wish I had worked out my new neckband attachment trick for THAT top, rather than the next one I made. It wasn't too bad but it had stretched out just enough to be awkward.

The jacket was mainly great. I was comfortable in it all day and the gaping at the upper bodice that I noticed when I was trying it on wasn't something that bothered me while I was wearing it. However, I did feel like at certain points I was having to fidget and wriggle and adjust to prevent the bust from gaping, which is the number 1 thing I did NOT want from a home-made jacket since it's the biggest aggravation with my RTW jackets. I was honestly kind of disappointed in it as a consequence on the day itself. However, since then I've been thinking about it a lot and these are the conclusions I've reached:

1. I wore it for a long time, and I was flailing about enthusiastically for quite a lot of that time. I was much more flaily than I would be at work, I think, because I was, idek, jumping around and applauding and getting up and down and generally being excitable. (It was that kind of wedding/group, I wasn't the only person flapping about like a loon.) So the jacket was bound to shift around a bit and my bustline is always going to be a faultline for awkward gaping in any woven garment.

2. A lot of the problem fidgeting I was doing was pulling the jacket down. I had already noted that the armhole was low, and fixed it on the next version. The effect of a low armhole is that when you flail about and raise your arms, the jacket creeps up your body and, in the case of a fitted princess seamed jacket, this pulls the jacket out of shape.

3. It was still better than any RTW jacket I have owned. I mean, that's a depressingly low bar, unfortunately, but it's worth repeating. I don't think if I'd worn a lightweight linen blazer from a shop that I would have had any better an experience in terms of fit, fidgety re-adjustments or anything else. It is totally artificial to pretend like my jacket should have lived up to some impossibly perfect standard that nothing I have ever owned has ever lived up to. If I had, at some point, owned The Perfect Jacket that never gaped or pulled or needed adjusting, that would be one thing, but actually all I've owned is a non-stop parade of blazers and jackets that didn't fit. Yes, I've had stuff that didn't gape at the bust at all, but that was because I sized up 1-2 sizes, so I ended up with poor waist and hip fit. I've never ever had a jacket that fit neatly over the bust and ALSO over the waist and hips.

Overall, I am pleased with my handmade outfit. It wasn't perfect. It wasn't anywhere NEAR perfect, either in terms of the sewing or the fit or anything else, but it wasn't bad at all! :D

Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Wedding Belles 5PAC overview

Since I've decided to scratch making another skirt, I thought I would summarize the Wedding Belles 5PAC as well. This is where I finished up on the plan:

And this is the final set of clothes I made:

The World's Slowest Buttons for the jackets I've made did finally arrive yesterday but I was out late with work and haven't had a chance to do anything with them yet.

I will wear all of the first three items (jacket, skirt, white top with lace insert) for the first time on Saturday to my friends' civil partnership ceremony. And I've worn both of the other two items already as well and they are both really nice to wear (my skirt-wearing issues notwithstanding). I really love the light blue top in particular. It's nothing special either sewing or fabric-wise, but it's the fifth time I made that Ottobre basic top pattern and by far the best version I made. I am pretty sure from now on I'll be making every iteration of that top with sleeve bands and the neck band application method I figured out.

Compared to the Earth & Spring collection, this is marginally better co-ordinated. Both skirts go with both tops, but the jacket can't really be worn with the turquoise skirt because of the difference between the shades of turquoise. However, there's definitely a life for almost everything mingled with the rest of my wardrobe, especially the two tops. Probably the least useful generally is the wedding skirt but then a georgette and taffeta white and floral skirt was never going to be the most practical or frequently worn garment in my wardrobe. Wedding wear isn't really MEANT to be day-to-day wear.

Having finished as much as I am going to of two of them, I'm torn on whether I like doing these 6PACs/5PACs/sewing plans/capsules. I love the idea of making things that are deliberately connected to one another, I really do. I'm not sure I've really got the process figured out for how I want to use that idea. With making 6PACs very very roughly in line with the original Stitcher's Guild conception of it, I keep getting hung up on numbers of outfits created and types of garments and sometimes felt kind of stifled by it. It's been difficult to put together things that actually went together -- for evidence see, well, everything I've made so far. I finished both 5PACs feeling kind of a failure because not everything co-ordinated with everything else, and I didn't get all that many outfits out of the capsule wardrobes on their own. This in spite of the fact that actually making anything that deliberately co-ordinated with anything else is actually kind of a step up from my usual "buy some things almost at random in a very limited colour palette and hope for the best" or "buy the whole outfit as shown in the shop" approaches.

The other thing about the 6PAC approach as I initially adopted it was that it didn't leave a lot of room to think about how to incorporate things I already own or categories of items I don't (yet) sew but could easily buy. (For example: my Earth & Spring collection also really includes a pair of dark beige trousers I bought at Next. In fact, those trousers are pretty key to the whole thing, but I never really acknowledged that. The hidden component of the Wedding Belles collection is a pair of RTW French navy linen trousers.)

Overall, I think this 6PAC thing has been useful as a way of structuring some of my sewing so I don't just make stuff completely at random that then hangs, unloved, in the wardrobe, which is what I felt like I was starting to do. However, I do feel a bit like most recently the plan has been organizing me, not always totally functionally, rather than me organizing the plan. I think I need to figure out something looser that combines some planning but also more "this is my hobby, I do what I want".

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Clothes Maketh The (Wo)Man

I've been here ten days and I'm pretty sure I've got the dress code just slightly wrong at work.

To be honest, it's hard to tell what I should be wearing. First we had some unusually sunny, warm weather (I am able to say "unusually" despite my short tenure because Irish summer weather is not really significantly different from British, which is to say: mostly wet, not very warm) and so everyone broke out their summer wardrobes briefly. Second, the real problem is that there are so few women in the building, even though I'm actively looking for them. I'm mostly left trying to parse what the men are wearing, which seems to vary more with age than anything (the common factors: tweed jackets with elbow patches among the older men; scruffy khaki trousers among the younger), and not-too-obviously subject the few women I run across to close scrutiny.

At the moment I'm probably dressing too formally and too... corporate, for want of a better word. That makes sense, because most the days I've worked in the department rather than at home I've resurrected my old work uniform: tailored plain-coloured trousers, a smart top or blouse and a cardigan on days cool enough to need it. The women I've seen are definitely dressing just a step down from where I am right now: more khakis and smart almost-jeans (jeans cut trousers but not in blue denim) than tailored trousers, more knit tops and layering than formal blouses, more knit dresses and shirtwaist dresses than fitted sheath dresses. There are some women who are wearing what I consider to be conservative office wear (knee length pencil skirt, blouse) but they are obviously senior administrative staff, not faculty. Weird how that works in academia, but if you're support staff you're almost certainly better dressed than the academics. However, that said, the female faculty I've met are definitely better dressed, more put together and obviously careful of the image they're presenting with their clothes than the men, which is presumably at least in part the rotten old double standard in operation.

I mainly enjoy the blog Inside Out Style, which is written by an (American) image consultant. It doesn't all work for Europe, but it's not radically out of step, in my opinion. Anyway, she provides a really good pictorial illustration of what I mean in her Polyvore pictures where she defines three levels of business dress. Nothing I've seen suggests I need to get anywhere near Level 1 but I'm pretty sure I've been dressing at Level 2 in a Level 3 environment:

LEVEL 2 BUSINESS DRESS (from Inside Out Style via Polyvore and Pinterest)

LEVEL 3 BUSINESS DRESS (from Inside Out Style via Polyvore and Pinterest)

I kind of think of it as half-smart outfit. Women seem to be either wearing a smart part of trousers or skirt with a soft knit top and layers, or else a pair of khakis or almost-jeans but with a button blouse and a blazer. Or they're wearing a dress, either more casual with a blazer, or more formal but with a cardigan or a denim jacket. It's both interesting to observe -- and I've never spent this much mental energy on this exercise before now -- and frustrating, because I don't have the right mix of clothes with me to match any of this, really. Yesterday I dressed up too much -- tailored navy trousers and a navy buttoned blouse. In addition to the fact that the blouse, which seemed to fit fine at home, turned out to gape at the bust and I spent all day fighting it and feeling self-conscious, it was just too much for the environment. Today though, I think I went the other way. I'm wearing almost-jeans (heavy grey ponte knit trousers from Land's End that I LOVE LOVE LOVE) and a black and white checked knit top that I made and I feel like I dressed too far down. So I'm kind of frustrated. For all my wardrobe planning and shopping and sewing the last 3-4 months, I've still not got the right wardrobe. Some of it is just that I couldn't know until I got here how I needed to dress, but still: frustrated.

One break from my uniform is that I did wear a skirt last Friday. I have... issues, with wearing overtly feminine clothes in work situations that I am determined to get over because I want to have more options in what I wear. So, I wore the turquoise skirt I made with a blue RTW top and a blue RTW cardi. It looked fine, I think, although I really don't have the right shoes for the outfit, and I felt good about right until I walked in the door of the building. Suddenly, I felt like I was wearing a costume, or like I was wearing drag, and I spent the whole day feeling more and more uncomfortable. It wasn't that I felt like people were responding negatively to what I was wearing -- in fact, I bet nobody could have said what I'd been wearing two seconds after I'd left the room -- it was all some kind of internally generated discomfort. I've started to think I should put off my skirt wearing plans more until the autumn/winter, when I can legitimately wear thick tights and boots and feel more covered up and sensible than I did in sheer skin-toned tights and shoes. There's a part of me that wants to keep grinding away at wearing skirts, in a kind of fake-it-til-you-make-it, gritted-teeth-determination approach to life but I honestly don't know if I have the mental energy to deal with my self-esteem problems on top of starting a new job right now.

One thing about that experience is that I decided that I need to make sure I don't make too many skirts. I had three on my list to make this summer: a maxi casual skirt, which I think I will make anyway because it is not meant for work attire and maxis don't seem to set off my alarms the same way; a rip-off of that blue and white Nordstrom skirt, which I am going to hold off on making any decision about for now (helped by the fact that I have literally not even one of the component parts, not even a pattern, in my possession and needed to shop for all of them); and finally a linen skirt in the same fabric as my turquoise linen jacket, which I have definitely scratched.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Made: New Look 6911 (again) and the Earth & Spring collection is DONE

New Look 6911 in beige embroidered linen: front, buttoned up; back, inside out to show the bias taping
This little beige embroidered linen jacket is what I made this weekend. Again, sorry for the extra-awful photos.

The pattern for this is the same as I used for the wedding outfit jacket, New Look 6911, with basically only one change to how I made the last one: I fixed the problem with the armhole being too low. I took some time over it because I chose to bias tape all my seams again and there is a good couple hours of handwork in the hem, sleeve hem and slip-stitching the front facings to the princess seam at the bust. The latter is not mentioned in the instructions, but when I made the first one I decided it was absolutely essential if I was going to avoid great flapping facing problems. Even so, I started and finished this over the weekend. There is one thing left to do: the buttons and buttonholes. I'm stymied at the moment because I'm waiting for the World's Slowest Buttons which have yet to arrive. Since I bought two sets and the other set is supposed to go on my turquoise jacket which I am meant to be wearing for the wedding THIS SATURDAY, all I can say is that the World's Slowest Buttons had better hurry the hell up.

The fabric of this jacket is a beige/natural coloured linen with little embroidered swirls. You can't really see from this photo, but they're in a mix of red, orange and purple. It came from eBay and I had about 2.4m of it. Like last time, I found the linen incredibly easy to work with and a joy from that perspective, but I was actually really disappointed when it came to cutting out. The fabric had huge margins, for a want of a better word, where there was no embroidery so even though the actual width was around 140cm, it was more like a 110cm wide fabric.

Originally I thought I'd figured out a way to cut the pattern and just squeeze out view A, the version with the collar, but then I found a mark right in the middle of the fabric that I had to cut around. This caused so much swearing and annoyance, you have no idea. In retrospect, maybe I could have been more inventive with my cutting. I ended up with my front facings cut partly into the blank area of the pattern and I actually really like the effect of the embroidery starting just where the buttons are, with the button section blank. By the time I thought of it, it was too late though. The other issue with the fabric was that it is actually a slightly awkward weight. It's heavier than I'd like for a shirt, but it's actually probably too light for anything but the most summer-y of jackets. I'll have to get some wear out of it while it's warm!

As before I bias taped all the seams, and I used another Liberty cotton. This time it's a purple and burgundy swirl pattern on a white background, although you can't see much of the white. I got it from the factory shop as a 75cm remnant along with the same pattern in shades of blue that I liked much better. I've used the blue one for bag making -- or specifically, for bag linings -- but I didn't really like this one as much. I thought it might make nice tape -- which it did -- but I still don't know that I like it all that much.

I'm a bit concerned by the fit of the jacket above the neck. It seems to gape a bit awkwardly as I move around, although it's fine when I stand still. I'm going to see how it wears but I have a feeling I needed a bit of a shoulder adjustment to make it fit a bit better. On the other hand, I love the bust fit, and you're never going to hear me say that about any RTW jacket EVER, so that is a definite plus! Other than that though I was pleased with how the sewing went. There are a couple of tiny pleats in one of the sleeve heads, though the other sleeve went in fine despite the fact I did nothing different, and I am not altogether happy with the rounded shaping of the front of the jacket. I've done a lot of rounded sewing for bags and I am quite disappointed with how hard I found it it get a really nice, even, consistent shape for the jacket hem. Still, it's not BAD and I can live with it.

The pattern version of the collection
And with that jacket, I've completed my first mini-collection. It started off very different -- six pieces rather than five, and I think I changed my mind on every single pattern and fabric at least twice.

The Earth and Spring Collection
I am actually pretty happy with how everything turned out, although I have to admit it doesn't really co-ordinate as well I'd like. The two tops go well with the beige Ottobre skirt but their shape is all wrong to wear with the brown full skirt -- too baggy and loose. On the other hand, the jacket looks terrible with the beige Ottobre skirt -- too much beige/natural and not the same shade -- even if it goes nicely over the two tops. Luckily, I have a few items in my RTW wardrobe that turned out to blend in nicely with what I've made, so I've not really created any wardrobe orphans, however neither can I be said to have created a mix and match capsule. Still, it was a reasonably good first attempt at one, I think. In total, I used just over 9m of fabric to make the 5 items. I've worn the red and white tee once, so far, but none of the other items yet. I think my favourite item is the pink floral top (second from the right).

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

One hundred!

Somehow, this is my hundredth post! I've actually been blogging for just over a year on this platform (but coming up on nine years altogether if you consider my other, non-sewing blog) as well. I'm celebrating these semi-significant numbers by... posting about the most boring finished garment ever! :D? :D? >:(

The reason I was making The Most Boring Finished Garment Ever was that I was doing it on my BRAND NEW MACHINE which turned up right on schedule at lunchtime today. I have to tell you, the afternoon was TORTURE. Every time I took a break from my work I'd sneak downstairs and try to get a little further into unpacking it, and then the whole last hour I was like AM I DONE YET? WHAT ABOUT NOW? OR NOW? CAN IT BE TIME TO SEW YET?

So far, I LOVE IT. LOVE. LOOOOOOOVE. I am not going to take back my statement that the Janome 2200XT I've been sewing on the last 22 months is a great beginner's machine. It absolutely is, and I am glad I bought it and got so much enjoyment out of using it. HOWEVER. I didn't realize how many annoying little things it did until I was using a machine that doesn't do those annoying things. In particular, having a needle up/down means that the thread never slides back out the needle because it's in the 'wrong' place when you finish and there's not enough of a thread tail when you make the first stitch of the next seam. You have no idea how many times in a typical sewing session I'd rethread my needle because of not remembering to pull a longer tail every single time. How many times did I thread my needle today? ONCE. ONE TIME It's a REVELATION to me. Also, the new machine is SO QUIET. I am sure there are things I won't love about it in time, but right now, I am TOTALLY ENAMOURED of this machine.

Ahem. At any rate, I will post a proper review to PR of the machine once I've been using it for a few months -- I don't think my flailing glee is really a helpful state of mind to review in. On with the Most Boring Garments In The World!

(Please forgive my even-worse-than-usual photos: I really haven't worked out a good photo situation yet in this house and to be honest, PJ shorts aren't the easiest to photograph anyway since I absolutely refuse to model them. Not that I really model anything.)

I wanted to make something really quick and easy this evening that would let me try out all the basic stuff I use on the machine, using an easy fabric (100% cotton), so at the weekend I cut out a couple of pairs of PJ shorts and tonight I sewed them up:
Ottobre 05-2011-02: the version with the border print

The pattern is from Ottobre Woman 05-2011-02, the "Sweet Dreams" PJ shorts. I've made this pattern up before, waaaaaaay back at the beginning of my garment sewing adventures and I wear those red and blue plaid PJs regularly. Nothing much has changed since my original review of the pattern itself. This time I didn't even pretend I was going to do the drawstring at the waist, though (my red and blue pair had the buttonholes for the drawstring, but never actually got a drawstring).

Both of the pairs of shorts I made today came from the same small remnant of border printed cotton.  It's another of my early purchases, when I bought quite a few fabrics that I don't precisely regret buying, but that I have been looking at for over a year now wondering what exactly I can do with them. I bought this vaguely thinking "skirt" but the fabric is far too thin for that without a serious lining and also, I don't know what I was thinking because I VERY much doubt I'd wear a skirt with this print on it. Also, I didn't really have enough fabric for anything interesting that you can do with a border print. I had about 1.8m of 110cm wide fabric, with the border running along the selvedge, but unfortunately that length included a repeating flaw (massive great big fraying hole) in the fabric. I considered donating it in my recent mini-purge, but then I had a brain-wave: PJs! Cotton PJ shorts are always useful, and the Ottobre pattern could easily be adapted to the border print. I get obscure satisfaction from the fact that in the end I reduced that 1.8m piece of fabric to a few tiny scraps plus two handkerchief sized pieces that included the major fabric flaw, and two pairs of PJs. Altogether, including thread etc, my PJs cost around £10, or £5 per pair. (I bought everything in sterling, so I am not converting my costs to Euros!)

The first pair is the most interesting, because I cut it from the border. I had to play with my seam allowances a little bit to squeeze all four pieces out of the border area. I absolutely nailed my border print matching horizontally (not that it was really difficult) but there was zero chance I could match properly at the side seams with this amount of fabric so I didn't even try (and also WAY too much like effort for PJs even if I had the fabric).

Ottobre 05-2011-02: The version without the border print
The second pair is from the non-border area. Originally I wasn't going to do this pair, because I couldn't work out a way to cut it out around the flaw in the fabric, but after some pattern tetris, I managed to squeeze out the second pair. They're phenomenally boring to look at, of course, though you can JUST barely see in the photo that even the non-border area has ~~sparkly bits~~. This is cute in theory but I'm wondering whether in practice it means I'm going to be washing sparkles out of my sheets constantly for as long as they are in rotation.

I did miss my overlocker when I was making these. It is with the rest of my sewing stuff waiting to come over in a few weeks. If there's ever a garment where I'd be quite happy to rapidly overlock the seams down to nothing on the machine, like you get in RTW, it's a pair of PJs. As it was I had to faff about top stitching and pinking in order to get a nice seam finish, which was frankly more effort than PJs really merit, in my opinion.

And there you have it: yes, they're very uninteresting garments, but they are the first I've made here in Ireland, and the first with my new machine. I'm pretty happy with the outcome!

Saturday, 1 June 2013


I'm now in Ireland, where I will be for probably the next 3 years or so, barring disaster! \o/

Yesterday was Moving Day (Part One). I packed up as much as I could into my car, got on a ferry, and now I am in Dublin. Today is Moving Day (Part Two) as I actually move into the house I have rented for the summer and unpack, and later this summer I will be experiencing Moving Day (Parts Three to ??) as I find a long-term place to rent, move all my worldly goods here from the UK (including the largest part of my sewing stuff) and settle in properly.

I made a big decision right before I left: not to bring my current sewing machine (a very basic Janome 2200XT that I bought when it was on sale for £89) but to bring forward buying a new machine by a few weeks. The new machine I've bought is the Janome 6260, which comes with a couple of things I've been wanting (an extension table and a walking foot) as well as various other bits and bobs. I'm super excited to get a better machine! Not that my 2200 was bad, AT ALL, in fact I would recommend it without hesitation to anyone looking for a first machine. However, I've kind of wanted to upgrade for the last six months or so for something with a little more range. Not going to lie, I really REALLY wanted a Janome 8200, and I probably could have afforded it if I waited until the end of the summer, but I have a hard time really justifying such an expensive purchase, no matter how much time I spend on my hobby. At any rate, I hope I get on with the 6260 all right. The reviews on the internet are pretty good. I guess we'll see! I should get it later this week, courier delivery permitting. In the meantime I'm going to allocate my daily sewing time mainly to tracing and adjusting patterns and cutting out, since I pretty much know exactly what I want to make over the next few weeks. I also need to do the last couple of things on my jacket for the Wedding Outfit.

Meanwhile, I've already managed to locate two of the allegedly reasonably large fabric shops in Dublin (Fabric Select in Parnell Street and the main Hickey's, which has fashion fabric as well as home dec, allegedly) although I didn't have time to do more than see the outside of each (and it was totally coincidental that I saw them at all -- I had to run into the city centre for various bureaucratic reasons and happened across both of them on my travels). They both looked pretty tiny from the outside, though. :| Requires more investigation, I think! I did manage to glimpse a reminder for the Knitting and Stitching Show that is in Dublin in early November, and which I wanted to go to in Harrogate last year but was too ill for at the time. I've noted that down on the calendar for later in the year, depending on how expensive the tickets are.