Thursday, 27 February 2014

The last failure of February and plans for March

Burda 06-2013-113
February has been kind of a mixed bag from a sewing perspective (and every other perspective, actually). On the one hand, I made some things I really like and with which I'm really pleased -- my Paula Pleat skirt and my "flowers or explosions?" dress are top of the list. On the other hand, I did an awful lot of other stuff that was a dead loss. The latest was a tiny project I decided to cut out for ridiculous reasons a couple of nights ago (more on this below), a princess seamed tee from Burda (06-2013-113 to be exact). It actually went surprisingly well initially. I cut a 44 straight from the pattern, even though I knew the princess seams would probably in the wrong place without at least a little tweaking for my bust size and shape. In fact, though they weren't quite right, they were close enough that I could have lived with it on a casual tee for around the house. However, I won't get the chance because for the third project in a row I had a problem with the neckline. It stretched so far out of shape when I was stitching down the binding that I could fit my shoulders through it. I'd like the blame the fabric -- it was a very soft, very very stretchy cotton tee shirt knit with basically zero recovery -- but three projects in a row means it is probably more likely to be my fault. :|

Some other positives though: even though I tripped, fell on my keyboard and ordered a box of fabric from Croft Mill in January, all my mad sewing in February, and in particular that last little 1m t-shirt project, means I am actually exactly back to where I started at the beginning of the year, hurray! My fabric fasting goal for March is to end up below that number, so I am into a net reduction of my stash. I do have some planned fabric purchasing in mind, but probably not until later in the spring when I need to start filling some spring/summer wardrobe gaps.

In the meantime, my plan for March is all about woven tops -- partly because I am fed up with knits, partly because it's time to embark on round 9490583 of Trying To Get Stuff To Fit. How much of this plan I get done is anyone's guess, especially with everything else going on right now (work drama, PhD drama, endless bloody health drama that just won't do the decent thing and stop). Still, I like to have my grand plans!

My exemplar blouse from M&S; McCall's 5522
The March PR competition is a Fitted Blouse competition aimed at different skill levels. To be honest, I don't see a lot of point in doing the competitions -- I entered a couple last year and found it mostly unrewarding. However, this just fits so perfectly in with what I want to do that I figure I might as well. Above, the photo on the left is a (terrible, so much for my better photography resolution) shot of my all-time favourite blouse. It's nothing special, it's just from M&S and it's years old. However, even though it's really never fit properly (too small at the bust even at my lowest weight, too short overall, sleeves too short) it's somehow still the most incredibly flattering shirt I've ever owned, mainly because of the way the front panels are set on the bias in this stripy fabric. Next to it, McCall's 5522, a near perfect match, except that the pattern has gathering not darts below the bust (which yuck, no). Assuming I can figure out how to change the gathering into darts, it could be a way to have an ACTUALLY perfect version of my all-time favourite shirt. I just need to figure out, you know, collars, cuffs, buttonholes, fitting, turning gathering into darts, et cetera in the next four weeks (minus the week I am spending at home in the UK). Expect a lot of shirt-making blithering, at any rate, along with probably a random assortment of others things that grab me as the month goes along.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

A shoulder revelation, or New Look 6150 View A, and why it has (temporarily?) defeated me

I shall subtitle this top: The Top Where I Attempted To See How Many Times I Could Re-Sew The Shoulders Before The Fabric Utterly Shredded.

At the weekend I made that black wrap cardi, and I mentioned when I posted about it that I had cut a second New Look pattern at the same time. Emboldened by my extreme level of success with using View D to try out my knit bodice sloper last week, I had decided to embark on View A, which is the ruched wrapped bodice with plain sleeves. This is the reason I bought this pattern -- it's a really pretty pattern and there have been loads of successful versions of it on PR, so I thought it would be easy. Ha. HAHAHA. Oh dear.

I JUST managed to squeeze this pattern out of the remainder of the black knit fabric, albeit with elbow length rather than three quarter length sleeves. When the time came to sew it up, though, I immediately had concerns because I really didn't enjoy sewing with this fabric for the previous Burda top. It was flimsy, didn't like being handled and stretched out horribly as I was sewing it. I might have been all right making a simple, limited-handling-required top, but this fabric with a pattern with loads of gathering and ruching and basting, ugh. Not a good match.

Moreover, I had MAJOR concerns about the shoulders of the pattern. According to the back of the envelope I am a size 14 at the upper bust and a size 16 more or less everywhere else in New Look. I planned to blend sizes accordingly. However, on the pattern sheet, size 16 and 14 aren't nested. I therefore traced a 16 and the overlaid it on the 14 pattern intending to fix the shoulder and discovered... it's the exact same size from the neck to armscye. All the difference in the pattern is in the width of the pattern below the armscye. That's useful to know, but unhelpful from a blending perspective and also unhelpful from a size perspective.

Also, because the shoulder is pleated and ruched, I couldn't get a sense of how wide it was really going to be when done, so a straight comparison with my knit bodice sloper was not as helpful as I hoped. I was left thinking that it was most probably going to end up too big at the shoulders and that the armholes were probably going to be a bad fit for me, at least compared with the previous, successful knit bodice sloper adaptation of View D. In particular, it was really clear to me that there was just going to be too much fabric across my upper chest, because the armscye/shoulder was so relatively wide compared to the sloper. Mistake #1: I carried on anyway, and cut a straight 16.

I actually think this top looks better on me than on Flossie, for once (although, why I left it draped at the hem in the shot on the left is anyone's guess. That's a proper straight hem, honest). When I wear it, the top pulls in below the bust so I get a pretty nice ruched look over the abdomen. I really love the way the ruched side of the wrap looks and actually love where my sleeves finish as well. It clearly has promise as a top! However, the shoulders and neckline are a total mess. I can live with this particular top as a casual, wearable muslin, but it's really not entirely satisfactory and I would have to do a lot more work on this pattern before I'd make it again.

Mistake #2 is that there's meant to be a pleat in the neckline, except for the life of me I couldn't make sense of what the instructions wanted me to do to make the pleat. I put something in and unpicked it like, four times, and in the end I had messed with it so much all I could do was sew it up as best I could because the fabric was starting to look like mice had been chewing it, sans pleat. The other issue was that the fabric, just like with the wrap top, stretched out when I was sewing, so I had to do crazy emergency surgery to try to get the fabric to fit together. (I also don't understand either how you are supposed to stop the top edge of wrap parts from flipping over -- which, since I left those edges raw because I was worried about stretching out the fabric horribly by sewing a narrow hem on the bias, is kind of ugly.)

And then there's the shoulder problem. OK, so first, a stupidity confession, which is that, Mistake #3, I sewed the shoulders up, said "That looks wide!" to myself... and then kept sewing. For ages. Until I was basically 99% done with the top. And then I tried it on. I mean, there's a reason why I did that (the way you construct it makes mid-construction fitting difficult) but still, why did I keep going like that when I could clearly see there was a problem? It was so dumb. When I eventually tried it on, I could immediately see there was a HUGE problem with the shoulder, namely that the shoulder seam was fully 5cm over the edge of my shoulder and down my biceps. UGLY. Plus the armhole was too low and completely the wrong shape for my actual body, so I ended up with bat wings that sagged out from above the bust to halfway down my bicep. I don't mind intentional batwings, but this just looked terrible. Part of the problem with the shoulder/neckline was the lack of pleat/stretching out issue, clearly, but partly, this shoulder width was just too wide!

This morning I spent my breaks in my work unpicking the sleeves, recutting the armholes, reshaping the side seams to be less batwing-y and sewing it all back up again. One side worked out well but even after copious steaming over a ham, I haven't been able to get a really nice seam on the back of the other shoulder.

This is all really frustrating, on the one hand, because I JUST had so much success with that knit sloper. I wore the top I made with it yesterday and I LOVED it (though I need to tweak my neckline to prevent bra strap showage). This top, and to a lesser extent the cardigan I made at the weekend felt like a big step backwards.

On the other hand it's really made me stop and think. One of my most certain statements about my body shape has always been: I have broad shoulders. Except, increasingly as I sew, I don't think I do have broad shoulders. I know from adjustments I have had to make before that I have slightly square shoulders. I have quite a strong shoulder line, in that my bone structure is such that my collar bone is visible and prominent. But I don't think my shoulders are actually WIDE. I think what I've been mistaking for a wide shoulder fitting issue is actually a large upper bicep fitting issue which makes my sleeves pull and be uncomfortable, and the always annoying large bust fitting issue, with maybe a smidgeon of a broad mid-back. If anything, it seems like my shoulders are at the narrower end of the range, and that is why I am continually struggling with wide necklines showing off my bra strap and/or falling off my shoulder.

This confirms to me that I REALLY need to start picking smaller sizes for the shoulder line and living with the fact that I'm going to have to blend/do a super-charged FBA to get anything to fit. I mean, I know that, but my nervousness about cutting a MUCH smaller size for the shoulder than the rest of me has been putting me off. One of the things I want to do next is look at woven tops again, though, and I really think I'm going to have to bite the bullet and try a much smaller neck/shoulder size than I have been and see how it works out. I don't know why it worries me so much to contemplate cutting a 40 or a 12 through the shoulder. It's not like I'm in denial that the rest of me is a 16/44!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Reviewed: Burda 01-2013-130

Continuing my theme for February of everyday basics, the next thing on my list was a black wrap cardigan. I thought about a couple of different options but eventually settled on this month's Burda Challenge make -- unfortunately not from a February issue, so strictly it's not a very good fill for the challenge but whatever, it's still a Burda, I'm going to count it. I picked out a pattern from the Plus section of 01/2013, pattern number 130. I don't even know that I noticed the pattern when the magazine came out, but that's probably because the model wearing it is also wearing a jacket made of the pelt of a Fraggle she previously skinned and ate. That sort of thing distracts me.

Burda 01-2013-130 Wrap top. Images from Burda.

At any rate, this is a pretty basic wrap top, although I intended to use it as a top layer more than as a top on its own.

My version of the top, as modelled by Flossie. Observe the wrinkles :(

Pattern Description: From the magazine: "This is a comfy and body-hugging wrapped top. There is something seductive about this wrap-around shirt in super soft lightweight jersey, with its low-cut neckline and its neat fit around the waist."

Pattern Sizing: Burda European sizes 44-52. I made a 44. I am somewhere between a 42 and a 44 according to measurements in Burda. I made the larger size without alterations because I wanted to use it as a cardigan more than as a top on its own. This is probably just as well since it would be awfully low cut as a top.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes, for the most part, although mine is not as smooth (my sewing error rather than a pattern problem).

Were the instructions easy to follow? Yes. This is a two-dot pattern and therefore straightforward. It's probably only two dots rather than 1.5 because Burda suggest you use two layers of the fabric, which I didn't do. The instructions are typically terse but I didn't think anything more was required.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? This was one of those pattern choices where I had a specific thing in my mind's eye and had to go hunting for a pattern that would produce it. I was just happy to find something so close to the idea I had in my head. I liked the shape and length of the pattern (which I didn't have to alter). I am not entirely thrilled with the length and width of the ties, which I feel are too heavy for the garment.

Fabric Used: The Burda fabric guide is unusually unhelpful for this pattern. They chose to sew the sample in a double layer of a very fine knit in a narrow width, and so they suggest you might like to buy 3.5m to make this top in the smallest size, which is incredible for such a tiny item. Unfortunately I can't be precise on how much you need if you cut from a single layer because I cut two patterns at once from a large piece of fabric. Something closer to 1.75m than 3.5m, at any rate. I used a viscose jersey.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: I really dislike darts in knits, so I took them out. I shortened the ties by about 20cm as they were rather too long for my preferences and to be honest even then they were still kind of too long for my preferences. If I were to make this again I would shorten them further and also taper the ends of the ties more.

I had to do surgery in the middle of making this top on the back neck of the garment. When I first tried it on after sewing the band on I found the back neck was a total mess, flopping over awkwardly. I think this was due to accidentally stretching out the neckline as I sewed. I unpicked the band and back bodice, ran some easing stitches along the seam to reshape the neckline,  removed about 6cm in length from the band and ran a seam in the centre back. It's unobtrusive and hidden by my hair, and it fixed the sagging back neck problem by about 90%.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I would make it again! I am not sure I need another just like it at the moment, but I would definitely sew another one at some point. Yes, I'd recommend it to others, though I would suggest that they might want to think about the length/taper of the wrap ties.

Conclusion: I wanted a top just like this so I am thrilled to have one.

Additional wibblings:

Fabric: This is a light/mid weight jersey from Croft Mill that I bought in January and that arrived in Ireland on about 16 February, which probably makes this the fastest turnaround stash-to-garment item I have ever made. This was quite deliberate -- I refuse to stash plain black viscose jersey when I can buy it so easily. I only bought it from Croft Mill on this occasion because it was cost effective to do so while I was buying other, more distinctive, fabrics. I actually did not love this fabric all though. It's thinner than I wanted and also it stretched out horribly while I was sewing. I don't hate it or anything, but it probably wasn't worth as much as I paid for it, not compared to previous, less expensive viscose jerseys I've bought from Tissu.

Cost: I bought 3m of this fabric and the other part of that length is about to be turned into another top. I actually can't really tell how much I used for this Burda pattern vs. the New Look pattern that I cut out at the same time, so for the sake of argument I am going to say that it was about half. Total cost was therefore around £11, including p&p on the fabric & sewing overheads but not including the pattern.

Sewing: The sewing on this is actually not great. The problem was that you had to ease all the front bodice and then sew the band on, but all the gathering meant that I really struggled to avoid getting little tiny pinches in the fabric. It's one of those things where you can't see it from a metre away, so my instinct is to ignore it. The fabric really wouldn't have held up to being unpicked and massaged back into shape so I actually have no choice but to ignore it. It's still annoying though. Between that and and the problem with the back neck, there are lots of little wrinkles in this top. I'll probably like it more with a little more time and distance from the frustration of putting that band on, and in the meantime I'm hoping I do a better job on sewing the New Look top that I cut from the other half of the fabric.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

On using my knit bodice sloper

This is a totally unplanned make from the New Look 6150 pattern.

I bought this top pattern when the recent PR Best Patterns of 2013 list came out. Most of the patterns I either have, don't want or are long-standing entries on my wish list (wishlisted: By Hand London Anna dress, which I have not bought so far because as much as I adore the versions I see around the net I'm not sure it would suit me, and the Grainline Archer shirt, which I might buy in March as I embark on a Month of Blouses). Only one of the others jumped out at me as something I instantly needed to acquire and that was New Look 6150.

Mainly, my interest is in view A, the faux wrap top with 3/4 sleeves, and I fully intend to make that later this week. However, in the meantime I had a sort of serendipitous moment and today I ended up making a version of view D, the basic boat-necked top.

I was tracing out some patterns and thinking about the success of the bodice portion of the Lady Skater Dress and how I might use it as a sloper. I've mentioned before that I'm a big wearer of layers, and one of the things on my "Find a TNT" list is a simple long-sleeved tee type of knit top, the kind I wear under a cardigan, jumper or blouse all the time in colder weather. I have historically bought them from Long Tall Sally (expensive, but look OK for a reasonable amount of time) or the Next Tall (cheap, don't last very long) range because it's the only way to get the body length I prefer -- most chain store tops are cut too short to start with and then shrink in their first wash to boot. However, then the sleeves are often too long and the armscye too low because even though I'm tall enough (5'8") most tall ranges are really sized for women at least 5'10". I figure it's not the most exciting garment to sew but it's the kind of every day basic that I am really keen to stop buying.

I'd been sort of thinking to myself that I'd trace something basic from Ottobre and adapt it but somehow, despite the fact there are tonnes of basic knit tops in my Ottobre back issues, I couldn't find anything specific that grabbed me. As I was thinking about it, my eye fell on the New Look 6150 envelope sitting on my pile of things I want to make soon and I thought, well, I don't like the wide boat neckline, but since I like the Lady Skater neckline that's an easy fix.

No really, what kind of animal print IS this?
When I laid the sloper out on the pattern it was pretty clear it wouldn't be too hard to adjust, so I traced out the New Look pattern, traced out the Lady Skater bodice/sloper over the top, cut out a hybrid paper pattern and then went looking in my stash for a little piece of fabric for a test. I came up with this rather peculiar animal print from Fabrix in Lancaster. It wasn't enough to make a long-sleeve tee, but I could make an elbow-length sleeve tee. I paid £4.37 (weird price) for this 1.25m piece on their remnant rack in May 2013. I was seduced into buying it by the gorgeous texture of the fabric, which is lovely and soft and stretchy, but realized when I got it home that the print was going to be ridiculous when actually worn and pattern placement was going to be a nightmare. So, no loss if it didn't work out, and a bonus if I managed to make something wearable from it.

There is no purpose to this photo except to show you that I CAN match my side seams sometimes.
I think I just about managed to avoid making it looking my boobs have eyes (In The New World Order, Breasts Will Look At YOU) but there was really no good way to cut this fabric around those giant circles in the fabric so that they entirely missed my bust. More importantly, though, the sloper approach totally worked, hurray! I'm really happy with the fit of this top. There are some little problems here and there, some of which are explained by things I decided to do, some of which I need to figure out from a sloper improvement perspective.

The hybrid pattern ended up being the Lady Skater bodice from shoulder to the bottom of the armscye of the front bodice. This was wider at the base of the armscye than a size 16 in the New Look pattern, so I blended to the size 16 through the bust, waist and hip on the front bodice piece. On the back bodice, again I used the sloper through the neck and shoulders to the base of the armscye, but this weirdly turned out to be closest to a size 14 at the underarm. I blended out to a 16 through the waist and hip. If I had wanted a skin tight top, it seems based on my sloper I should have cut a 14 through the waist and hip on the front bodice and a 12/14 on the back bodice, but I wanted a top with a comfortable looseness over the hip and abdomen so I cut a 16.

Naff selfie to show that it does actually fit! Obviously the one-arm-in-the-air-with-a-camera bit isn't too impressive
Since I was using such a wildly patterned fabric, I cut this particular version with the back on the fold. The real back bodice piece is actually shaped, though. I think that would eliminate a little of the pooling in the back that I got, but for this top, with this print, I really didn't want to mess with a centre back seam.

The big remaining problem I have with the sloper is with the armscye/sleeve fit. Some of the extra width under the arm is not quite in the right place, which leaves me with a bit of extra fabric there. I need to look at reshaping the area immediately at the bottom of the armscye to get better fit, but I need to think about how that will affect the sleeve as well. I feel like the sleeve is just the right size, but the armscye is not. I will have to put my spatial reasoning brain in to figure out how to keep the sleeve shape while eliminating that wedge of fabric under the arm.

Overall though, as an attempt to use the Lady Skater bodice as a sloper, this was pretty awesomely successful AND I have a slightly ridiculous new top to wear as a result. It didn't take too long to make this top -- a couple of hours, including everything, and really only that long because this was horribly curly fabric. It wanted to roll itself up in a tiny little tube when it was cut. The binding was an absolute pain in the ass as a result.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Reviewed: Lady Skater Dress by Kitschy Koo

Having now fully replenished my winter skirt wardrobe with my last three sewing projects, I decided to face the horror that is fitting anything to my upper body and work on seeing if I could figure out a simple knit dress TNT. Actually, saying that I want a simple knit dress TNT is not really a good description of what I want. What I really want a set of simple knit dress components that work together: some skirt options, some bodice options, some sleeve options. My idea is that I'll figure out a few such basic components using various patterns, and then see how frankenpatterning them together works out for me.

I decided to start with the Kitschy Koo Lady Skater Dress, as previously made by oh, half the internet. This is really the most basic knit dress imaginable. It's fundamentally a tee with a skirt attached. It has a close fitting bodice and an overall fit and flare shape with a waist seam. Since I want to be able to swap in different skirts/bodices later on, I really wanted to start with a basic dress with a waist seam.

Lady Skater Dress in floral print, as modelled by Flossie. I am so much taller than Flossie that her hip is my waist.

Being really basic does not necessarily mean easy for me though. A recent (depressing and therefore unblogged) failure of an apparently easy knit top pattern from Ottobre made me really reluctant to get started on this dress. I had started to feel like I would just never get anything to fit my bust ever. I eventually, grumbling to myself, printed it out and stuck it all together, and spent a LOT of time measuring and being unkind to myself about the size I needed (why do I do this to myself? who gives a damn what size I need?). I eventually cut a muslin to a very very weirdly shaped pattern because I span like, four sizes between shoulders, bust and waist, sewed it up dubiously, and then was like: oh! oh! THIS WORKS! :D! So, I'm writing this up as a WIN, even though I am less than 100% sure this printed fabric really works for me. The actual dress is maybe not so much as a win as an 'um, OK, but the next one is going to be AWESOME". Plus, with this being the most basic of all basic close-fitting knit bodices, the fact that I have something that works so well means that I also, essentially, have a knit bodice sloper now. And it took one muslin with a very few little tweaks to get there. I am sure I will refine it a bit, but for now I almost feel like I cheated my way to a sloper. Bad sewist, finding something that works so quickly. No biscuit. Get thee back to blood sweat and tears and thirty-eight muslins.

As modelled by yours truly. Why is there always a thread you only notice AFTER you've taken photos?

Pattern Description: From the website: "This funky yet functional knit dress has a fitted bodice, scooped banded neckline, a curved flared knee-length skirt, and options for trimmed cap sleeves, or banded ¾ length sleeves or long sleeves."

Pattern Sizing: Sizes 0-8 (pattern creator's own sizing system) which relate to upper bust sizes 30"-44". The pattern is written with negative ease through the bodice for a close fit. I ended up with a hybrid size that was somewhere between a size 4 (shoulders) and a size 7 (bust).

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Well, the drawing is a bit basic, but yes. It also looked just like the samples shown on the pattern creator's website.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Yes, and I appreciated the fact the author provided both very detailed instructions for beginners and a cheat sheet for those who'd worked with knits before. This would be an excellent pattern for a beginner or beginner with knits who wants her hand held through every step.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I was drawn to this pattern by how simple it was after I saw other people making it around the sewing blog world, and by the fact that it didn't take too much fabric. Having made a muslin, including a little peplum skirt just to see how and where the waist seam would fit, I found I really liked the fit straight off the pattern sheet. The pattern all fit together beautifully along every seam, which I also really appreciate, and it was even really very painless to stick together the original e-pattern. I heartily dislike that the pattern author includes NO metric measurements at all. This is marginally forgiveable when indies are American, where inches and yards are the norm. It is not at all forgiveable when the pattern creator is British, as this one is, and metric is the norm. Overall, though, this was just a really easy, simple make that lived up to all my expectations.

Fabric Used: I just BARELY managed to squeak a three quarter sleeved dress out of this 1.75m remnant of a lightweight printed black jersey. It has plenty of horizontal stretch and a little more vertical stretch than I was entirely expecting. Mostly though, I am impressed with myself that despite my fabric shortage, I didn't end up with a flower right over a nipple. Go me!

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: I did a cheater's FBA to accomodate my enormous bust and blended across multiple sizes from shoulder to hip. I lengthened the skirt by 7cm (which really didn't help my I-have-barely-enough-fabric problem) as I am rather taller than the pattern creator's model (the instructions say it should hit the knee at 5'4". I am 5'8"). The extra vertical stretch in my fabric meant I ended up turning up a little extra hem in the end because I maybe only needed to add 6cm to the length.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I will definitely sew it again, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a very simple dress pattern. It's not a world-changing design, but if you're looking for a simple, easy to make basic pattern, it's great.

Conclusion: I've seen this pattern described by several people as the closest a dress can get to pyjamas, and that is exactly what it is: easy to make, easy to wear, and really comfortable. Basically my perfect jersey dress.

Additional wibblings

Side-seam pattern matching FAIL

Fabric: This was a random remnant of probably polyester jersey that I got from eBay in December 2012. It's actually a really nice fabric, in the sense that I love the texture and it's really drapey and stretchy. I definitely didn't have enough fabric to try to match the print at the seams anywhere, especially given how big the print is. In fact, to be honest I never even thought about it. It was only when I was pinning the side seams that I was like, oh, hey, maybe I should have worried about matching this! I don't think it really matters. The print was honestly too big to even try.

I have to admit though that I am not actually super excited by the print overall. I am not a big wearer of prints to begin with, or florals, and there's a part of me going ... uh, really, is this my style? I'm not sure. Still, it's a really nice floaty, drapy jersey and I love how the full skirt drapes on this pattern, so I'll probably get some wear out of it even if I don't totally love it.

Cost: Luckily, even if I'm not WILD about the print I paid £5 including p&p for this piece of fabric, which, plus overheads means I spent definitely less than £6 for this dress (not including the price of the pattern). I definitely call that a win for a first attempt at this pattern and I'll use a fabric that I like a little more for my next version I think.

Sewing: I spent more time laying the pattern out on the fabric than on the sewing. I constructed it using my overlocker and I was actually struck as I whizzed along the long side seams by how much my overlocking skills have improved. I think because it's incremental, you don't really notice how much easier you find some of the little sewing stuff, but I really had no problems with any of the sewing elements I've struggled with historically, like putting on the neck band. I did the hems and neckband with my coverstitcher, and that was more awkward -- I'm not quite at the level of expertise I want to be with my new machine, though I did a decent enough job I guess.

Remember how one of my resolutions this year was to take better photos. I went for an artistic "posing by looking pensively downward" shot. Outcome: I look surprisingly good when I'm this blurry!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Reviewed: Maria Denmark Paula Pleat Skirt

I'm still working my way down a list of gaps in my wardrobe, which as I mentioned before includes an awful lot of what are probably pretty unexciting garments. However, sometimes you really do just have to make a black skirt because you need one. Hence: I made a black skirt. And, OK, it's just a pretty basic black skirt, really, but I absolutely love, love, LOVE it. \o/

Black Paula Pleat skirt front and back, as modelled by Flossie (please pardon the wrinkles!)
For such a simple garment I dithered a surprisingly long time over what pattern to use. I was really stuck on the idea of using this bias cut flouncy skirt from the recent Burda Classics issue, but when I looked at my wardrobe spreadsheet (shhh, don't laugh) I realized that actually I already have a couple of floucy-type skirts, including one in dark grey, and there's a limit to how much one woman can flounce. However, I didn't have anything with pleats and only one A-line skirt, the blue one I made last week. If I'm only going to make one black skirt this winter, it made sense to do something that gave me some shape variation as well as colour, I figured, and I went with a recent e-pattern I bought, the Maria Denmark Paula Pleat Skirt (her shop, or also for sale on PR).

Maria Denmark's patterns are mainly straight-forward basics. I made the (free) Kirsten Kimono Tee pattern a couple of times back when I first started sewing knits and liked it a lot. One of them disintegrated pretty quickly (fabric problem), but the other I still wear quite regularly. I really want her Birgitte top pattern as well but can't really justify buying it when I already have, conservatively, 8 million simple knit top patterns.

I freely admit I haven't got the patience to add sticking together complicated patterns to the already lengthy process of tracing, cutting, etc etc before I actually get to sew, so this sort of e-pattern, which prints on 15 pages, is about right for me. The only problem I had on the e-pattern side of things is that (total user error) I managed to print it TWICE at 97% scaling. Why, self? What subconscious hatred of trees was I channelling at that moment?

Pattern Description: From the website: "The knee length (but easy to lengthen to the very trendy midi length!) Paula Pleat Skirt features back darts, center back inverted pleat, front side pleats and center front inverted pleat - giving the skirt fullness without adding bulk to the tummy area ('cause we don't want that!). It has a curved waistband and a side seam invisible zipper and can be made with facing or with complete lining."

Pattern Sizing: European sizes 34-46. I made a 42, based on the match between my hip measurements and the pattern. According to a blog post by the pattern creator, she designed the skirt to sit low on the body and mine does indeed sit right above the hips. If I had wanted to wear it at the waist I would definitely have had to play with the sizing.

When making a plain black skirt, might as well have a CRAZY LOUD lining!

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes, just like, although I used a somewhat more drapy fabric that the instructions suggested.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Extremely easy, and interspersed with colour images. A beginner would have no problem at all following these instructions.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? When I saw the pattern (and, on Maria Denmark's blog, images of tests of the pattern) I was really taken with the shape and positioning on the pleats, which seemed particularly flattering on the models. In real life, I actually like this even more than I did from photos. I feel like it's just a really great shape for my body and I love how it looks and how well it fits and how twirly it is. It was well drafted, the page count was kept to a minimum for printing (15 pages) and the instructions were great. The pattern doesn't have separate pieces for the lining but it's very easy to adjust the skirt front and back using the instructions. I really had no dislikes at all.

Fabric Used: The fashion fabric is a mystery suiting remnant with just the tiniest bit of stretch. The very loud floral lining is another mystery remnant, probably a polycotton.

As modelled by yours truly

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: None whatsoever. I didn't even add any length.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I am definitely going to sew it again some time. I think this could be my pleated skirt TNT. I definitely recommend it to others.

Conclusion: Making this skirt was a pleasure and I love, love, love the outcome.

Additional wibblings

Fabric: The main fabric was from the MichaelH stall at the Dublin Knitting and Stitching show back in November. They have a Facebook page and a shop in the city as well, and I keep really wanting ALL the fabrics that they post, but hi, could they have less convenient opening times? Weekday afternoons from 1:30 to 5:30. I guess they don't think anyone with an actual job might want to ever go in. The lining was from a bundle of fabrics I bought to use as muslins. This one had quite the sheen on it so I decided it would do for a lining. It's outrageously bright, but I think it's fun for a skirt lining that nobody will ever see.

Costs: Black fabric: €9 for a slightly mis-shapen ~1.4m piece, I used all of it. Lining, £1.61/m on eBay, and I used 1m. Stupidly expensive invisible zip: €3. Total cost: somewhere around €15 excluding the pattern. Again, I had priced up similar skirts in M&S and they were somewhere around the £25-30 mark for a simple, knee length flared or A-line skirt, so I am happy with that.

Sewing: This was such a smooth easy sew, but I also took it very gently. I didn't rush over any of the steps I usually rush over. I dug out my invisible zipper foot (LOVE my invisible zipper foot) and managed to put in a really great zipper (by my standards, at least). I love how it fits and that was straight out of the envelope. I really feel like I did a great job with this skirt and even though I know that's because it was a really easy pattern with a really easy outcome, I feel filled with confidence as a result of having made it.

Overall, yes, though, I just LOVE this skirt. I wore it to lecture in today because I wanted to wear it the first chance I got after finishing it.

Black and white infinity scarf. You can JUST see my fancy decorative stitching!
A second little make to tag on the end of this post: this black and white gingham infinity scarf. I made this because I saw a Pinterest pin with a scarf like this in an outfit that I thought looked really striking. I didn't have one that was the same, but I did have this totally random 1m piece of black and white gingham fabric. An hour later, I had this scarf! I actually don't love it because the fabric is too crisp for a scarf, really. I needed something drapier. However, I did like how it looked when I copied the outfit and I liked using one of the otherwise little-used decorative stitches on my machine when I was hemming it. I also liked that I used up this piece of fabric that was so random it wasn't on any of my spreadsheets and for which I had no purpose whatsoever. (And it cost me £1.45 from the Fabrix remnant bin at least a year ago in Lancaster, so even if it's not exactly what I wanted it wasn't a big deal to use it!)

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Socks of Terribleness!

The reality of being a novice knitter is that most almost all of what I make is completely terrible. I mean, COMPLETELY terrible, wouldn't be seen dead in it outside of the house, dear god why am I so bad at this TERRIBLE. Somehow though I find this to be a weird source of joy with little knitting projects, even though it drives me mad with that one partially completed jumper that I'm (still) knitting a year after I started. This perverse delight in imperfection is the reason I am actually quite delighted to show off the Socks of Terribleness (SoT).

Behold the Socks of Terribleness!
The SoT started life as an actual sock kit from Lidl (a discount supermarket type place) and set me back about €5, give or take. In the pack, I got four balls of 4 ply (fingering) yarn and a totally incomprehensible sock knitting pattern that seemed to have been translated ineptly from [language unknown] to English and various other languages. I have to be honest, I couldn't make head or tail of the pattern that was provided at all, and decided to use a free pattern I found on Ravelry instead, the Lion's Brand Basic Sock (Ravelry link; Lion's Brand direct link). As it turned out, I needed less than 2 balls of yarn for this particular pair of SoT. In theory, therefore, the kit could easily spawn SoT: Son of SoT, although I think I want to give myself a break from socks for now.

I used the magic loop method of sock knitting, mainly because I don't own double pointed needles and I do have circular needles. Plus, a friend mentioned it in passing as her preferred sock knitting method and as she is an actual Good Knitter I decided she must be on to something. Never having tried DPNs I can't speak for whether magic loop is easier, but it definitely seems to have some advantages when you're an inept novice, in terms of stitches not falling off the ends of needles. I wish I could say I could remember how I figured out the basics of actually doing it, but as far as I can recall it was just a case of a series of sketchy Google searches. One resource I did find particularly useful was this lady's YouTube channel, which has really easy to follow little tutorials for key parts of the sock, like turning the heel and the sock gusset. I watched each of them at least twice for each sock.

One thing that amuses me is that not even all Socks of Terribleness are made equal. I know in this shot they look like they are even different sizes, but this is not actually the problem with them. In fact they are more or less identical from a dimension point of view (except for the ribbing) they just don't straighten out the same way to lie flat on my cutting board. However, Sock 1 (on the left), i.e. the sock I made first, is perhaps inevitably orders of magnitude more terrible than Sock 2 (on the right).

Sock 1 has some serious, SERIOUS problems at the cuff with the ribbing. It also has a problem all along the bend in the magic loop, which you can see as a sort of line of flaws in the knitting down the centre of the leg part of the sock. I wasn't pulling the stitches tight at the end of one side of the loop or the start of the next, so I ended up with a column of loose stitches along the sides of the socks. When I started Sock 2, I decided that although the pattern doesn't mention it, I should go down a needle size for the ribbing, and as I was knitting I made sure to pull each of those end stitches on either side of the bend in the loop tight up to the previous stitch. As a result, Sock 2 has a cuff that fits my leg and no loose stitch column. Other than that, my biggest failing was picking up stitches along the sock gusset. On Sock 1 I have one horribly lumpy pickup seam where I went too far into the fabric of the sock to pick up stitches, and on Sock 2 I did the opposite and I ended up with a section with loose, laddery pick up stitches. One bit I did do really well on both socks was the grafting of the toe. Perhaps that's not surprising: it's the most sewing-like part of knitting a sock!

Do I care about any of this though? Not really! My socks are terrible, and I love them unironically. The floors of my apartment are very cold and I normally wear socks and slippers all the time. Now for particularly cold days I add the SoT over my regular socks for an extra layer of insulation and admire them every time I look at my feet, comfortable in the knowledge that they are uniquely awful and I made them all my very own self.