Friday, 25 April 2014

Not (quite) dead

As you might have gathered from my frequent references to illness recently, I am actually pretty sick and have been for months and months now. I've been trying to kind of keep off the topic on here, since this blog is part of the cheerful crafting corner of my life that I like to keep separate from the grind of being ill, and keep my whining to a minimum. However, basically, I have a pretty serious illness that is causing me to have to change big things about my life while I deal with it.

Tomorrow I teach my last class of the semester here at my university in Ireland. On the one hand, this will be a HUGE relief as it's been an incredible struggle to get through the term. However, on the other, I'm a bit sad because it'll also be my last class ever at this university, as I am leaving the job, and the country, in order to move home to the UK while I get some treatment and try to get better. This is really not what I wanted for myself or my career or my life, but then, I don't suppose anybody ever wants a serious illness.

But let's talk about the impact on my sewing plans. No, seriously, if you think that this hasn't been a topic of concern to me you are VERY WRONG. At the moment, I am basically not well enough to sew very much or in fact do very much of anything. I do my actual work I am being paid to do in whatever moments I feel well enough or when I absolutely have to because I have teaching hours scheduled, and the rest of the time I lurk about in my apartment either reading stupid ebooks, thinking about sewing, or sleeping. Shortly I will have to add "packing up all my stuff" to that list, although for various reasons I am not actually leaving Ireland for a couple more months even though my teaching commitments will be done after tomorrow.

Buda 08-2013-136
The biggest impact is that with no job to go to, I also don't need to make any further progress on my work wardrobe this summer. This is good to know, because my summer work wardrobe at my current size/weight is basically a void that I had BIG PLANS to do a ton of sewing this summer to fill. However, as you are all aware at this point, I like to make things to wear immediately and don't see any point in making clothes I either won't wear or don't need. So, I went through my summer plans and scratched out everything that was really intended for work, and ended up with not very much left. I also put big questions marks next to some much more complicated projects.

I'm still not sure what I'm going to make instead, though. One thing I've anchored on making is some loose summer weight trousers, but I'm struggling for a pattern I like. The best I've come up with is this plus size pattern from Burda 08/2013, although I would make mine without the crotch vortex print, of course, but I'm not totally convinced by it yet. I want something wide-legged and suitable for a very drapy and floaty pair of trousers.

I also want to make some shorts. My shorts situation is sort of annoying actually. I own multiple pairs of perfectly nice shorts and they are all, without exception, either far too big or half a size too small. The half size too small are the most irritating because of course I can get them ON and even do them up, but they are really not comfortable to wear. I don't have any pattern ideas at all at the moment -- I don't even really know what fabrics I have that I could use for shorts. I might end up supplementing my shorts plans with some fly front casual type skirts, because I got loads of use out of that one beige casual skirt I made last year. That would mean mastering the fly front, though, which is a mildly alarming prospect.

Finally, way back in November I bought some gorgeous shirt linen from the Dublin Knitting and Stitching show that I wanted to use to make some casual tops for summer. I definitely want to make up that fabric, but there's a lot of work to be done before I cut into my very expensive linen metreage. I'll have to see if I have a spell of feeling well enough to work on upper body fitting (again). At the moment, the thought of going through multiple muslins working on darts fills me with horror, but you never know, I might start to feel better later in the summer.

Other than that, my half-formed plans involve various instant gratification knit tops, maybe a sundress, and maybe a jersey maxi skirt. I really liked the stripy skirt in view D of a new McCall's pattern (McCall's 6966) which reminded me a bit of a Long Tall Sally skirt I mooned over neverendingly but never bought because they sold out of my size in the colour I liked almost instantly (the colour I liked was blue and black, rather than the camel/black combo). However, I can't really justify buying a full price McCall's pattern AND 3m of stripy fabric to make a maxi skirt, so I will probably end up making a really simple no-pattern gathered maxi with 2m of solid bright red jersey that I have that has been lurking in stash for a long time now.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Works in progress

I have a finished thing! But this is not a review because it's officially just a wearable muslin.
Purple spotty Trifecta Top

This is a wearable muslin of the Kitschy Koo Trifecta Top, which is a raglan top/tee pattern released recently by the pattern maker who made the Lady Skater Dress pattern, which you may remember I made an explosion/floral black/white/red dress from quite successfully. I REALLY don't have any excuse for buying this because I have, conservatively, three million raglan tee patterns between my various magazines and whatnot and really didn't need another. However, the fit I got from the Lady Skater bodice was so good with only minimal adjustment, I decided when the Trifecta Top came out that since her drafting seems to work so well for me it was worth buying (I have her other grown-up sized pattern, which is a princess seamed knit top/tunic/dress, for the same reason).

Despite the appearance in the photo (and why do I never notice when I am taking the photos, only afterwards?) my hem on this tee is actually straight and not wildly asymmetrical, honestly. I used this 1m piece of spotty purple jersey because it's one of my last pieces of cotton jersey with poor recovery, which I've now swore off buying any more of after multiple failures. I sort of expected it to turn out badly, and to have my usual problems with the neckline. Ironically, however, the whole tee turned out really really well -- I got the best neckline finish I've managed in ages, the best coverstitch finish I've managed so far, my very basic adjustments to the bodice worked out perfectly, and in fact, the only thing wrong with this "wearable muslin" is that the sleeves are just a bit too tight so I get a lot of drag marks around the biceps and underarm. Not worse than many a RTW tee I have bought though.  So, it's worked out not so much as a wearable muslin, but a pretty good finished garment.

The reason for making this wearable muslin was because one of my next projects is a knock-off of this INSANELY expensive JCrew top (cost to buy in Euros: €113 + p&p. FOR A LITTLE RAGLAN TOP. OK, admittedly, it's silk and wool, but STILL. €113 + postage? No.) :

Very expensive JCrew top
I wanted a blue and white (rather than ecru) top, so I've bought a really nice white jersey, and then I bought a blue and white print for the front panel. I don't love huge florals so I went with something described by Tissu as a "Japanese Garden" print. Other changes: I don't love horizontal contrast bands across my hips like that, so I am going to have the front panel run to hem length, and I'm going to make the top have elbow length sleeves in order to be more useful to me for immediate spring/summer wear. I just have to work out the best way to adjust the sleeves for additional width and I will be making that forthwith. (I have sort of thought about putting it in for the current PR comp, which is, idk, Bargainista something or other, but I doubt I can be bothered.)

Meanwhile, my other WIP is a purple skirt to go with my surprise!not-muslin purple dotty top. It is my feeble Burda challenge item for April, and I am using Burda 02-2014-109 (mostly -- I am adding some details like the topstitching and belt-loops from the variations on a theme of this skirt that appeared in the same magazine). The big thing here is the fly front. I feel like it's probably useful to do a fly front on a skirt before I try to do a fly front on a pair of trousers, so this is my practice fly front project! The fabric for this is kind of both awesome and not awesome. It's a purple sateen and it's SUCH a great colour, but it wrinkles like CRAZY so I bet it's going to be a pain in the ass when I wear it.

Burda 02-2014-109

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

GBSB and Any chance to talk about myself

First, to avoid spoilers in the main body of the text, I will just say: the Great British Sewing Bee finale! What did you think?

Second, Michelle at Happily Caffeinated and Nakisha at Sew Crafty Chemist both named me for a Liebster Award! Thank you both, ladies! :D I am not super excited about naming additional bloggers, because, frankly, most people whose blogs I read do not read mine and I have no way of knowing how many followers they have anyway. However, since I never pass up an opportunity to talk about myself, here are some answers to their questions (there was some overlap between them).

1. How long have you been sewing and what was the first garment you made?/How did you start sewing?

I did the usual Home Economics classes at secondary school from age 11 to 13, but I have an odd learning quirk. Overall, I've always been really comfortable in traditional classroom environments, as my academic record and four degrees attest. However, I really REALLY don't enjoy learning hands-on skills in classroom settings at all, and never have. The pace is never right, or we get too much time to work on our own or too little, or there's either too much instructor led content or not enough. So, I really didn't like home economics, despite the fact that 2/3rds of the curriculum was cookery and I already liked to cook before I started classes. I ended up giving it up as soon as I could (after 2 years) and that was pretty much it for any kind of formal sewing lessons (and it's also the reason why I've not done any since. It just doesn't work for me as a way to learn).

However, both before and after that, I watched my mum sew for pretty much my whole life. She's a former home economics teacher herself, and although she didn't do all that much sewing after my childhood, she did enough that it was a pretty familiar activity, and she would always answer questions and explain what she was doing if I asked (and I am the sort of person whose every question starts with "why..."). I know watching isn't the same as doing, but there are a lot of things you learn from years of just observing that I am not even totally able to articulate. I never wondered, for example, how best to feed fabric through the machine, or how to thread the machine, because I had watched my mum do it a million times.

I didn't personally really sew again until August 2011, an interval of... well, really a lot of years. What started me off was really a combination of things. First, I'd been on a kind of interior design kick for at least a year, in terms of blogs and websites I was spending time reading, and books I was buying. I was really into thinking about mixing fabrics and colours, and yet I had no real outlet for any of this because I wasn't living somewhere that I could redecorate and didn't really have any financial resources for interior design anyway. Second, though, I am interested in issues around feminism and body image, and one thing that kept coming up was about how people whose images we see in media have all their clothes tailored, and this is why everything fits them in ways that clothes do not fit us plebeian types who buy and wear straight off the rack. I don't think the intended outcome of these articles was ever to make people want to sew, but I kept thinking well, if the fit they get is so amazing from tailoring off-the-rack clothes, why don't I do that for myself?

 And yet, once I took the plunge and bought a machine and some fabric, I did something completely different again, and started out by sewing bags and accessories exclusively. I then branched out into garments after about 9 months. The first garment I made was this black and white top using New Look 6025, which I think I maybe wore once. The progression from bags and accessories to clothes was really about need (I don't need a million bags and though I have an Etsy shop and do sell some, I don't turn over enough bags that I could keep sewing at the rate I was sewing at the time without stockpiling epic numbers) and the desire to keep learning. The reality of bags is that you hit a point on a learning curve and then there's really nowhere else to go without getting into leather, which is difficult for multiple reasons as a home sewer. Starting to sew clothes is a whole new learning curve, and a much steeper one, particularly if, like me, your ambitions frequently outrun your abilities.

2. Lately, it seems like everyone has been starting their own pattern company. If you launched your own indie pattern company, what would your focus(es) be?

Plus size! I've talked about this a lot before. If I won the lottery and could do anything I wanted, I'd start two businesses: a plus-size boutique in my home city, with really beautiful, high-quality clothes for younger plus-sized women, and a pattern company that produced similar patterns. In my life, I've been every size between a UK 10 and a UK 26, and although most recently I've settled more or less into the generally well-served UK 14-16 range, I know perfectly well what it is like to try to shop when you're in the full-on plus size range. As a young, plus-size career woman, I really REALLY struggled to find clothes, especially for work, because what was on offer was so often either overly casual (from places like Evans) or else it was too matronly (from Elvi or Ann Harvey). I think there's a huge market for the younger (say 20s/30s), professional plus-size woman who has a decent income but is struggling to find the kind of high quality clothes that she wants to invest in, especially tailoring and coats. Plus, she wants cute, trendy pieces to go with her work basics (pretty blouses and tops for example) plus she wants to be able to walk into a shop and have choices for going out on the weekend. On the pattern side, I'd definitely want to stick to that model too: a mix of classic tailoring pieces like blazers -- you'd have to do several kinds of jackets to suit the different kinds of figures that "plus-size" includes -- and things like trousers and skirts, flattering tops that aren't sacks or tents, and so on.

As you can tell, I've given this a lot of thought. Sadly, where it all falls down is that (a) I know nothing about clothes retailing; (b) I can't draw a stick man without a ruler and have zero pattern drafting knowledge; and (c) I do not have all the money in the world. But yes, if I did win the lottery, I really would do this, because I would hire people to do the parts I can't who were just as passionate about serving the plus-size market and want to serve it well and positively. And I *am* passionate about it, which is why I talk a lot about plus-size patterns in the magazines and so on even when I am not, myself, at present in that size range.

3. What are your favorite projects that you've sewn?

I made this grey denim bag as a gift for my sister-in-law in December 2012. It took FOREVER, at least 25 hours, and it was incredibly hard work because the fabric was so thick. It's probably, in terms of sheer number of pieces (over 60, including interfacing), the most complicated thing I've made, even though none of the sewing was particularly complicated. I very nearly didn't give it to her because I loved it so much when I was finished. It's probably my favourite thing that I've made, although some of my other handbags from my first year of sewing run a close second in the bag category.

Garment-wise, I don't know that I have a favourite! I feel like I am such a beginner still that everything has too many flaws to really love it to the point of saying it's a favourite. That said, I'm loving the finish I'm getting on my most recent makes, particularly the Paula Pleat skirt and arched-top godet skirt I made recently.

4. What do you like the most and the least about blogging?/What do you enjoy most about blogging?

I like that blogging gives me an outlet for the things I want to talk about. The fact is that I have pretty much no real-life friends or acquaintances with whom I can talk about sewing as much as I want to talk about sewing. I do have several crafty friends, but their interests differ from mine in a lot of ways and they are perhaps not quite as INTENSELY interested in sewing as I can be. Blogging allows me to talk about sewing never-endingly and in as much detail as I want because, with all due respect to the people who read this, I don't really write for other people. And yet, that's also what I don't like about blogging: talking to the void. I'm terrible at leaving replies on other people's blogs, but at the same time I love talking to the people who comment on mine.

5. Do you have any random talents that your blog readers wouldn't know about?

I'm actually a good cook! I'm thoroughly domesticated really.
6. Stash Containment: Do you (fabric) stash and if so, how is it contained?
I do! I am a terrible fabric stasher. At the moment, I keep my stash in big plastic tubs in my spare room/sewing room, which you can see in this photo. I waver never-endingly between wanting to have a very small stash and wanting to buy more and more and more lovely fabric, just in case there is ever a fabricpocalypse and all I am left with is my stash.
7. Are you a planner or do you sew whatever strikes your fancy?
More of a planner. I spend a lot of time planning my sewing and thinking about what I want to make and do, with all sorts of criteria in mind (increasing my skills, managing my wardrobe, using particular patterns and fabrics, etc). I'm really utilitarian in some ways and that nudges me towards planning. I want to make things that I want and need, that can become a part of my daily wardrobe or fulfill some specific purpose if not a daily one (e.g I made that outfit for a wedding, and even though I never wore the skirt or jacket again, I feel like they were moderately successful). Last year, I tried out making co-ordinated mini-wardrobes, and there's a part of me that still loves that idea as well as the SWAP thing for sewing. However, I also make things occasionally on a whim, even if I do tend to post-rationalize and figure out a way that I 'needed' a particular thing I decided to make. On the other hand, sometimes I make and dismantle plans over and over and over without ever allowing needle to touch fabric.
8. Are you a "selfish seamstress" or do you sew for others?

Mainly selfish! I've made gifts, like the denim bag, in the past, but didn't find it super rewarding. I feel like I appreciate my own sewing more than other people do, and given the time constraints I operate under I'd rather sew for my most appreciative audience: myself. To be fair, I also don't come under a lot of pressure to sew for others, so I am free to be as selfish as I choose.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Stuff, and also, things

I appear to be recovering somewhat after I finally managed to get my specialist on the phone for medical advice, which is pleasing. Work is still rubbish, though, and I am fed up to the back teeth with everything and want my normal life back. In the meantime, keeping myself occupied with some general craftiness seems to be just about the only thing keeping me going.

1. Following the discussion on my post about the purple knitted monstrosity, I took the advice of several enabling enablers and crept out of my apartment to go buy yarn for a new project. I ended up with Colinette Jitterbug sock yarn in Cinnamon, and as the next few days will be composed of various amounts of tedious sitting around in places that provide little inherent entertainment I shall probably get underway with a new pair of socks before the end of the week.

2. My sewing plans for April are quite varied. Some things are easy enough (knit PJs!), but I am also contemplating my first ever fly front skirt, and hopefully, if I start to feel better, going back to trying to fit a woven top muslin (again) so that I can make a simple woven tee. Not that I want a million simple woven tees, but I figure if I can get some kind of basic block sorted out, I can start applying it to more complicated top patterns thereafter. As always, it is my bust that is the problem. Why so troublesome, boobs? >:(

3. As if upper body fitting wasn't enough, I'm starting to think things to myself like "well, maybe it would be worth trying..." about making trousers. Up to now I've kept away because it's all terrifying scooping out this and fish-eye darts that whenever anyone talks about it. However, as I switched over from long PJs (mainly RTW) to PJ shorts (mostly hand-made) this week as the weather warmed up overnight, I realized that I have actually already made some trouser-type objects. Now, I know PJ shorts are hardly the most challenging or fitted of sewing projects, but I also know my Ottobre PJ shorts actually fit exactly the way I like PJ shorts to fit. I found myself thinking that maybe I should trace the proper woven shorts pattern from the most recent Ottobre Woman and give them a try. Or maybe I'll just ignore that little voice going "how hard can it be, really?" in my head, it's a toss up.

4. My copy of Burda Easy S/S 2014 arrived. I cannot for the life of me recall why I bought it. On the other hand, defying all previously held convictions, so far I am tentatively impressed by regular Burda 05/2014, based on the preview. As always, I await technical drawings because god knows Burda's fashion shots are almost indecipherable as to what the pattern actually is, but I will say that for a May issue, it's an unusually encouraging preview, so far.

5. One day, when I am rich and better at sewing, I am going to go on one of those Susan Khalje couture sewing weeks in the US and make a Marfy coat of such supreme loveliness that people will faint in the street at the sight of it. I'll just be over here, waiting for my untold riches to fall from the sky that will enable me to do all that.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Reviewed: Burda 02-2007-113 Skirt with round-top godets

This took me far longer than it should have because my Mystery Illness intervened and it therefore hung about with only the finishing touches left to do. Still, even though it's now (just barely) April it was mostly finished in March and I am therefore chalking it up as my feeble self-directed Burda challenge garment of the month. (All I'm doing really for this Burda challenge is trying to make 12 Burda patterns up this year, one per month.)

As we're sneaking towards spring (I hope, since I am so very over winter already! And we haven't even had it all that bad here in Ireland this year, at least compared to other countries, I'm just ready to be done with it) I decided I would make my first sort of transition item for my wardrobe. It's the sort of skirt that I can totally wear now with tights and shoes but that I hope I can wear right through summer with bare legs and sandals. It's from an older issue of Burda -- 02/2007 -- and it caught my eye originally mainly because the sample happened made up in a very similar fabric to the one I wanted to use, teeny tiny polka dots and all. It's not the most rational reason to choose a pattern, but there you have it.

Burda 02-2007-113 "Skirt with round-topped godets"
Pattern Description: From the magazine:"... inserted godets add swirl to the airy knee length skirt."

Pattern Sizing: Burda sizes 38-46. Based on my measurements I made a 42 and graded out to about halfway between a 42 and a 44 at the waist. I found the fit true to size.

Left: Skirt on Flossie; Right: My legs are not actually half-invisble or quite that white, I had to lighten the shot because of the sunshine

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes, just like it, especially since I used a very similar fabric to the sample in the magazine.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Yes, they were fine, if terse -- pretty normal for Burda. I've made several similar skirts before and didn't need more, instruction-wise, than the pattern provided.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I liked the twirly fullness of the skirt and the seaming interest provided by the large godets with the arched tops. Apart from the godets themselves, it was a very straightforward pattern to make up. Unfortunately my fabric really wasn't ideal for sewing the curves of the godets. There was a fair amount of unpicking involved in a few places to get the seams to lie flat and without puckering, and this involved a certain amount of patience as well. Better behaved fabrics would probably be less problematic! The actual pattern pieces fit together perfectly, as I have come to expect from Burda, so the problem was entirely down to fabric choice. The lining is a simple bias cut a-line skirt. I worried this would not be full enough with the very twirly main layer, but it's fine.

Not sure why I didn't either (a) straighten out the skirt in the shot on the left or (b) press the lining as I was showing it off on the right. Not that there is anything to show off with a blue polycotton lining..
Fabric Used: Mystery blue synthetic with white pin dots. It looks like a woven and it has absolutely zero stretch, but it's actually a knit. I have loads of it because it came cheap in a big piece, and apart from not wanting to ease around curves the main problem with it is that it does NOT want to take a crease at all, which made the hem and darts annoying. It is 155cm wide and I used 1.5m. The lining is a plain blue 110cm wide polycotton and I used 1.6m.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: Other than grading the waist up a half size, my only change was to do a hook and bar fastening at the waist rather than a button because the fabric I used did NOT want to take a buttonhole.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
I am unlikely to make another skirt just the same while this one is in my wardrobe, but there's certainly nothing about the pattern that would stop me from making another. I would recommend it to others, but with the caveat that beginners or near-beginners might find those curves at the top of the godets frustrating. They weren't terrible -- in fact they are quite straightforward if you are used to sewing curves because the pattern pieces are so well-drafted and fit together sweetly -- but they definitely need to look right for the skirt to be a success.

Conclusion: I'm very happy with this twirly skirt! 

Additional wibblings

Fabric: The outer fabric was yet another buy from the lady who was liquidating her late mother's stash on eBay in 2012. It's not actually the nicest of fabric because it's awfully synthetic. Luckily, because it's at best semi-opaque and quite thin, it's the sort of thing you'd want to line anyway. I am not overly fussy about linings and went for an inexpensive polycotton on this occasion. Despite being a bit plasticky and not wanting to sew nicely through the curves, the fabric was mostly fine to handle. I did use my walking foot on a lot of the bias curves and that seemed to help. I am not sure I did the best job handling the directionality of the pindots. I like how it turned out, but I sort of feel like I didn't spend enough time thinking about what would happen when I cut the godets in various directions on the bias. It's kind of an optical illusion skirt, however, and if you stare at it for any length of time you just go cross-eyed anyway, which hides many flaws. Unexpected bonus! :D

Cost: I got 6m of the pindot fabric (I fear I will be using it up for YEARS) for £3/m including postage and packing. I used 1.5m, so about £4.50 for the polka dots. The lining fabric was Tissu's basic quality polycotton and cost £2.25/m, for a total of around £3.50. So, plus overheads and a hook and bar fastening, my total costs were approximately £9 for this skirt.

Sewing: The most time consuming parts of this skirt were sewing the godets and the hem. I am really pleased with how the godets came out, and I don't think you can tell at all that I had to unpick and sew again a few times to take out little puckers. The fabric was very forgiving of unpicking and frankly, it was worth the effort to get those seams nice and flat and smooth. There are a couple of places where I didn't get the fabric to ease in absolutely perfectly, but it's the sort of flaw that is really only noticeable if you absolutely stare at the skirt forever, and as previously mentioned, then you'll go cross eyed from the polka dots anyway!

The hem was a whole different trauma. The fabric did NOT want to take a crease at all. I ended up sewing a line of thread right around the hem to get a fold line and then using about 3 million pins, top stitching it and then trying to press it really hard without melting the plasticky fabric. Ugh. I think it turned out OK but it took what felt like hours.