Wednesday, 30 December 2020

A Wardrobe Review: 2020

For the last three years at least, I've written one of these wardrobe reviews and said something like "this has been the best year ever!" at the end of every year. Truthfully though, every year since I started this process has genuinely been a little better than the last from a wardrobe perspective, and despite everything bad about 2020, this year is no exception.

For most of this year, due to the whole 2020 thing, I've really stuck to my casual/at-home wardrobe, and tried to maintain and/or refine that. I've broken it out here into: (a) continuing to work on refining my colour choices; (b) making good functional choices for the life I actually lead and making sure my wardrobe is the "right size"; and (c) working on durability/reducing discards.

(a) COLOUR: My colour palette is basically navy, grey and white neutrals, with other shades of blue, turquoise, green and patterns that mix these colours for accents. Over the last few years I have gradually discarded, mainly through wear, garments that don't fall into those categories in my main, everyday wardrobe. At this point, I have just 3 older, non-compliant garments left. I still wear them because I like them and they still fit into my wardrobe quite well, so they'll stay in until they wear out.

I've been near this stage for a couple of years, but I really am now at a point where, in theory at least, there are nearly endless combinations of outfits in my wardrobe, and I have no orphans and very few outliers. In practice, sometimes there is still a clash of shapes/styles, and I don't always love every single shade of my chosen colours next to every other. Those are pretty much insurmountable problems unless I were willing to get even more restrictive with my wardrobe and either limit the shapes of the garments I wear or be more strict about colour, and I am absolutely not willing to do either. 

My future plans on this front are therefore mostly just maintenance -- I love these colours and see no reason to change anything at this point. My fabric stash is nearly 100% in line with my colour palette, so really this should be very easy to accomplish. When (if) I get to make my work wardrobe in 2021, it will follow exactly the same colour scheme -- the aim is to make my whole wardrobe completely cohesive and work together seamlessly.


By functionality, I mean: does my wardrobe contain the right clothes for the climate I live in, the day to day activities I actually perform, and the life I actually lead in general? My biggest, dumbest breakthrough on this front was asking myself: what if I didn't pretend to myself I am ever going to wear a lot of skirts or dresses at home as casual wear? I'm not saying there's no place in my wardrobe for skirts or dresses, especially at work, but in my casual/at home wardrobe I basically never choose to wear a dress, and only wear skirts a few times in high summer. I needed to abandon the idea that I'm suddenly going to find the perfect style that is going to change my mind about skirt/dress wearing: it doesn't exist. I wore the skirts I already owned on a few very hot days, just like I do most years, and that was fine.

Size: Overall this year my wardrobe decreased in size by 11% this year. There were a handful of extras throughout my whole wardrobe that I got rid of for various reasons and didn't replace. If 2021 is the year I go back to work, I anticipate that this number will grow again quite significantly. This year I only added 20 items -- the smallest number since I started planning -- 15 of which were made by me. My RTW purchases were knitwear and activewear, neither of which I want to make myself.

One completely new functionality/size statistic I thought up this year was looking at how many things I wore at least once this year. Initially I thought this was an obvious and easy calculation: if you count every unique garment I wore at least once, I wore 95 different things in 2020. On average I wore each of these items just under 10 times (9.6, to be exact), with a range of 1-55 wears.

However, this overlooks the fact that some of those unique garments were direct replacements that I wore consecutively, not concurrently. So, if you pick a garment type, like "navy short-sleeved t-shirt" where I had one, it wore out part-way through the year, I recycled it and then started wearing a completely identical new one, and count those two things as a single garment, I wore 85 garments at least once, and the average wear number shifts upwards just a bit to almost exactly 10. 

The thing about this is: is 85 a good number, is 10 wears a year a good number? Who knows! Given the seasonality I experience where I live (about 20 weeks of summer, 20 weeks of winter and 12 weeks of mid-season split between the two changes of season) it means on average I wear anything seasonal about once every two weeks. That seems pretty reasonable given my laundry cycle.

Beyond the average number though, there are an awful lot of things that I actually only wore 1-3 times this year on that list: 19 things, to be precise. And there's another 12 things in my "casual/at home" wardrobe I didn't wear at all this year. How many of those 31 items would I even miss if I didn't have them?

Looking at what those 31 garments actually were, there's a mix of reasons I didn't wear them. Some are down to the 2020 effect: there are some things that I just didn't need this year because lockdown was a whole new level of not going out, even for me. A second category is garments that I keep for rare periods of very hot and very cold days: by design I don't have frequent opportunities to wear them, and that's OK. I definitely have too many hot day items, due to an excess of enthusiasm for sewing them a few years ago, but I like them all and they don't take up much space so I live with it. These and other excuses take my "why do I own this" list down to 11 items. Would I notice if I didn't have those 11 things? I think I would notice if I didn't have ALL of them, but I could probably consolidate my numbers. If I own 4 woven summer tops that I collectively wear 8 times in total, could I have just one that I liked much better and wear 8 times?

Overall I tend to think the problem with most of those 11 less-worn items -- and actually this is specifically the case for those 4 woven tops -- is that I like them least of everything in my wardrobe. That's not to say I don't like them at all, because then it would be easy and I'd just get rid of them. I just like them a lot less than other choices. In a few cases this is because there is a good reason to prefer and reach for other things -- mainly that they have small fitting and sewing flaws that annoy me just enough to put me off wearing them.

On the one hand, since I am not, and will never be, an absolutely perfect fitting master, and I'm human and I'm going to make mistakes, there's probably always going to be something in my wardrobe that isn't 100% right and that I like least. On the other hand, I probably could stand to be more ruthless about getting rid of things I don't like enough to wear but that I'm hanging on to for some reason, probably because I liked the idea so much and/or it represents hours of work.

Another function/wardrobe size issue I have though is that I definitely got very bored and annoyed of my summer wardrobe by the late summer this year, even with all those tops I didn't wear, and I am already sick of my winter wardrobe with most of the winter still to go. But again, that could just be a 2020 problem. Am I bored and annoyed by my wardrobe or just generally fed-up? Would making my wardrobe even smaller make me more bored and annoyed, or just the same amount of bored and annoyed (since last time I was apparently not bored or annoyed enough to wear little worn items or buy/make anything)?

As you can probably tell, I have no answers at the moment for these questions, but I will possibly report back at the end of 2021 with further thoughts.

(C) DURABILITY: This is the big one! For the last few years I've talked about discards in my end of year summaries a lot. As I've said frequently in the past, when I first saw the statistic that women in the US/UK throw away 65 garments on average per year, most of which went goes into landfill, I truly believed  that I could not possibly be one of those women. In 2016 I decided to track what I discarded to prove it to myself. I was then suitably horrified to discover that I was, in fact, absolutely average, if not worse, and had discarded almost 90 garments. I've been trying for several years to try to reduce the numbers of clothes I discard each year, but this is the first year I've really seen a big impact of the things I've been trying to do on both the numbers of things I've discarded, but even more importantly, how many times I wore things before I discarded them.

The reason for this is that most of the effort goes in at the acquisition stage, and only a little bit at the point of discard, and as a result I'm only just now seeing the effect of changes I made 2-3 years ago as those are the things that are finally wearing out. I worked on making sure I never bought or made things that really didn't fit or work with my wardrobe, to reduce the numbers of things I discarded almost unworn. When I made things I tried to pick construction methods that would be sturdy and long-lasting. I tried to choose better quality fabrics for both RTW and handmade, especially knits. I tried to look after my garments more effectively, particularly in the laundry, and tried to repair things and/or remove marks and stains more. The only thing I did at the latter end of the process was try to see if something could be worn some more e.g. as active wear even if it was no longer suitable for everyday wear. 

In 2020 this all seemed to bear fruit: I discarded a total of 42 garments which is the smallest number since 2016 (last year was my previous low, at 59 items). Of these just under three quarters (30/42) were discarded because they were worn out or, in the case of 4 of these items, damaged beyond repair (3 wool items that had been eaten by moths D: and a cardigan that was smeared with tar). 

Of the 26 things that I discarded because of wear, I had worn them on average 46 times, with a range of 22-130 wears (both ends of the range are outliers -- the 22 wear item was a poor quality knit that pilled and faded horribly within the first 5 wears, the 130 wear item was a pair of ponte knit trousers apparently made of iron that I only discarded because the seams at centre back and inner thigh went shiny). Without the highest and lowest values, the average number of wears was 43. Even at the lower level, this is another big improvement on last year, when the average number of wears was 33. I previously said I wore my clothes on average 10 times per year, so in effect I got an extra year worth of wear out of my clothes compared to last year.

The other 12 items were: "Size/Fit Problems" - 8 garments; and "Why Did I Ever Own This?" - 4 garments, which I wore on average 5 times each. I'm disappointed I had any of these, but again these are my lowest numbers ever in these categories and hopefully they will continue to decrease over time.


1. I'm a giant nerd with a lot of spreadsheets. 

2. I like my wardrobe so much more than I did 5 years ago, and if that took being a giant nerd with spreadsheets, then so be it.

3. It would be hard for me to go back to not having a plan for what I want my wardrobe to look like. I really considered if 5 years of tracking my wardrobe etc was enough and if I should go back to "normal", no-spreadsheet life and call my experiment over. However, I feel like my wardrobe spreadsheets give me so much discipline, they are worth the minor hassle of keeping them updated.

4. I'm probably going to go round and round the problem of "what is the right size for my wardrobe" forever and never reach a conclusion.

5. There is one elusive thing I wish for my wardrobe, and that's for the kind of X-factor that would take me from "has a plan" to "has a style". I do think quite often that there's a danger that my kind of planning makes for a very bland and conservative wardrobe, and I wonder how I could add some really one of a kind pieces it, probably things I make myself. That is one of my 2021 goals, in fact, to try to add just a few really interesting things to what I own, although it's hard to get enthusiastic about it in the short-term because we're all going to be locked down here until spring by the looks of things. :|

6. If you have any questions about anything I've written about, please ask, I love this stuff and nobody in the real world would listen to even 1 minute of me talking about it. :D

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

2020 Roundup & 2021 Plans

Hello! Hope everybody reading this is enjoying the end of year festivities as well as they are able this year! After almost 6 months I am back again to tell you about how the rest of my year of sewing, and to recap 2020 from a sewing perspective. 

Truthfully, it's not been a great year for sewing for me. In addition to the limitation of just really not needing very much variety in my clothes this year, I also really didn't feel like making anything for long, long stretches of time. I had basically zero creative spark for most of the year, and when it did strike I either (a) sewed things I knew would work out and that I could wear immediately, which, because I was at home and not doing anything, meant I wasn't sewing anything very interesting; or (b) did something completely different with that energy (mostly drawing and baking). The only good thing was that, unlike in other years where the sewing enthusiasm failed me, I didn't keep buying fabric. Although my stash is still larger than I'd like, it hasn't doubled in size or anything, which is a genuine risk at times. I don't feel bad that I wasn't particularly creative in my sewing in 2020: I think we can all agree that it was a tough year to live through, even if you've not been directly affected by the very worst things it has throw at us.

Sewing Output 2020

I sewed 20 garments in 2020, 2 of which were gifts for my mum.

Of the 18 things I made for myself, 3 were wadders -- one Burda magazine pattern sweatshirt (I had MAJOR fabric problems and am inclined to think nobody would have been successful using it) and 2 simple knit tank tops (I really messed up the bindings at the armholes on BOTH of them). 

Of the remaining 15 items, 10 fall into the category of "easy and/or TNTs": t-shirts, simple casual trousers, a caftan, pyjamas, and -- the most complex but in this category because at this point I am so familiar with the pattern -- a couple of pairs of my favourite stretch woven trouser pattern, Jalie Eleonore. 

I think it's worth saying that I actually love all 10 of the easy/TNT garments I made. I know a lot of people don't bother to make their own basics because they find it dull, but I find it exceptionally rewarding that so many of my staples are handmade. A highlight for me in this category is a pair of ultra-lightweight stretch denim Jalie Eleonore trousers that I made late summer that I ADORE and wore constantly in the late summer and autumn. I never took a photo of them though because truly, nobody cares about a pair of plain blue stretch woven trousers made with a pattern you've used several times before!

The last five items consisted of 1 fancy peplum jacket (for a wedding that has been postponed into 2021 and that I probably won't be able to attend) and 4 woven tops, which were varying degrees of successful. Sometimes I think I enjoy the sewing challenge of making woven tops more than I like actually wearing them. I wouldn't call any of the tops an outright failure, but definitely I wore them less frequently and overall enjoyed them far less than I expected.

My highlights of the year are the un-photographed Jalie trousers I've already mentioned, and these two garments, at wildly different ends of the complexity spectrum:

2020 Highlights

On the left, the McCall's 7513 blazer I made from a turquoise brocade fabric that mimics sequins, intended to be part of a Wedding Guest outfit at Easter that was, of course, cancelled. I've never worn it, but it's still a highlight to me because it turned out exactly the way I imagined it would and I love it.

On the right, the back view of a pair of StyleArc Anna trousers in a grey pin-striped linen-mix trousers. This is an incredibly simple 2-piece pattern -- I've made more complicated pyjama patterns! However, this is the first pair of trousers I've made where I am genuinely proud of the fit that I achieved, after YEARS of struggling with the pattern pieces for the back of the body in particular.

Spending & Stash

This was probably the lowest spending year I've had for sewing since I started back in 2011 -- about 60% of a typical year --  and that decrease is down to the fact that spending in my biggest category, fabric, was very restrained this year. Most of the money I spend this year on fabric was in Feb/early March, mainly buying in anticipation of sewing a work wardrobe. After it became clear that 2020 was not going to go according to anyone's plan, I basically stopped buying, making only a handful of purchases thereafter and mostly for immediate use. After fabric, my biggest purchase was my magazine subscriptions, although I also went on a weird cross-stitch kit spending spree mid-year.

In total, I spent 43% of my total sewing budget this year on fabric, adding 50.40m of fabric to my stash. Of this, 44m was purchased in February and early March before the coronavirus implications really hit home. I've only used 26% of the fabric I bought in 2020, which is much lower percentage than usual, but like I said: I bought fabrics for workwear, not for spending the vast majority of my time in the house.

Over the year I used 38.8m of fabric, meaning my stash increased by 15.6m to 214m, which is... not a number I like! After years of goal-setting around stash reduction, however, I have given up. I won't make a dent in the size of my stash until I start making my extremely-long-planned work wardrobe and I'm not spending all day every day in the house. Some huge percentage of my stash is intended for smart casual/business casual/business formal wear, including a lot of fabric I bought for that very purposes even before I initially became ill in late 2013. I'll use it one of these days, but for sure 2020 wasn't the year for it!

Planning ahead

Looking ahead, well, I think like most people I'm very hesitant to say what 2021 is going to look at from any perspective, sewing included, and any plans I have are at best tentative! I have just a couple of gaps/replacements in my "depths of winter" wardrobe I'd like to fill in the next few weeks, and looking further ahead I have a few gaps in my spring and summer wardrobes too, mostly because I discarded some things at the end of last season that I'll need to replace. Making those replacements, keeping my wardrobe at my preferred level, and maybe making one or two more interesting extras is my "nothing changes", minimal 10-15 garment sewing plan for 2021. On my "interesting" list is something to commemorate to myself that this will be my 10th year of sewing, and I am going to try to make something quite complicated to mark that mini-anniversary.

Let's also try to be optimistic for a moment! Maybe things will get a lot better, and plans I had at the start of 2020 can be resurrected. I have a whole plan (and associated fabric/pattern stash) just waiting in the wings for the day when it seems like I need to pull together a whole new work wardrobe. Also, if things go back to anything like normal, I think like many people I'm planning to make the most of it and go out and about doing things as much as I am able, and that will require some subtle wardrobe changes and therefore some fun sewing. 

I'm not giving up on blogging about sewing, and though I'm unlikely to ever go back to my once-a-week posts from back in the day I would like to aim for a little more frequency than I managed this year. I barely even used Instagram this year, though I look at it everyday. I am good at liking things (which of course people never see, especially those of you who are super popular) and I comment only occasionally. Still, one of my goals next year is to try to reconnect a bit with the sewing community online, so if you follow me on Instagram you might see a bit more activity. I also have another Insta account (@calathea.draws) where I post drawing stuff, which is also very low volume at present. I am absolutely NOT good at drawing, but apparently I enjoy being mediocre in public. :D

I'm going to talk about my overall wardrobe in another post including what I wore, how my tracking project is going, my general thoughts on the subject of planning my wardrobe, so look for that tomorrow if you're interested.

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Summer sewing, part II: Trouser victory (at last!)

Hello again sewing friends! :D

The last time I posted was in early April, and at that point I quite genuinely planned to binge sew my way through the quarantine blues. It didn't really turn out that way because.... I don't even know how to describe it. Because of the howling pit of despair created by Covid-19 on top of the ordinary, horrendous state of the world right now? Something like that, anyway. At any rate, I did drag myself out of my funk occasionally over that period, and feel somewhat less like howling along with the void at present, so I have finally started making some progress on my summer sewing.

My most notable success since my last post is that my many MANY attempts to figure out how to make trousers that actually fit (mostly) wrinkle free suddenly and wholly unexpectedly bore fruit!

On this occasion, I started with the StyleArc Anna Pant pattern, an extremely uninteresting wide-leg, drawstring waist trouser. This simple style (loose fitting, wide-leg, linen or linen/blend) is my preferred type of light weight trousers, and I wear trousers of this type frequently on warmer summer days. I have several similar RTW pairs and they tend to get a lot of wear each year. Since linen is not the most robust fabric, I also replace them fairly often (historically, I have discarded similar garments after 50-60 wears). One of my preferred RTW shops for these trousers recently changed their design very much for the worse, in my opinion, and this created the impetus for me to try (again!) to make my own.

As far as design changes go: I do not like drawstring waists because I always feel as if I am one snagged tie away from being de-pantsed in public, so I replaced it with elastic. I also stole an in-seam pocket from a similar Ottobre pattern because no, really, who doesn't put pockets in a trouser pattern?! And then I made so very VERY many fitting adjustments.

This was the outcome when I made the much-adjusted pattern up in grey pinstriped linen:

Just for context, let me remind you what my attempts at fitting had produced previously:

I took these photos over a year ago (April 2019)  At the time, I was absolutely delighted at the improvement I'd made moving from the version on the left to the version on the right. However, my new StyleArc Anna trousers are a whole new level of wrinkle free. There are, to be fair, some differences between the patterns that affect fitting success: the pattern I was using at that time has a slimmer leg and closer fitting patterns tend to show up more flaws. I also still haven't got the shape of the centre seam quite right even on my most recent trousers. However, the clear and obvious improvement is that the ALL wrinkles running from below the butt to above the knee are GONE.

I knew from recent attempts to improve my previous fitting pattern that the fish-eye dart was the answer to this wrinkle problem. However, although I figured out how much I needed to sew out in a muslin I had never successfully managed to integrate it into a pattern, and this is not an adjustment you can make after cutting out. This time I made a specific effort to look for a clear explanation of how to adjust the paper pattern and found this ultra-simple photo tutorial. Hey presto! Less than 5 minutes of pattern work and my trousers now look astonishingly smoother and nearly wrinkle-free!

The less obvious improvement, or the improvement only obvious to me, is that my new pinstriped trousers are so much more comfortable than the similar RTW pairs I have been wearing up to now. I have always joked that people who say you should disassemble well fitting garments you own to use them as a pattern have an altogether different set of problems to me: I've been sewing for 9 years this year, and I've not owned a single pair of RTW trousers in that whole time that I could honestly say fit well.

For a while this lack of experience of a well-fitting trouser made me think that the pursuit of (relatively) wrinkle free fitting was more about aesthetics and, I don't even know, earning some kind of sewing merit badge, rather than really being necessary for comfort. I don't know that the fish eye dart specifically contributes massively to comfort level, but I am absolutely certain that changing the height of the rise, the shape of the crotch seam and side seams, and the width at the upper thigh to accommodate my actual body shape, rather than some designer's idea of what the "average" body looks like, produces life-alteringly more comfortable clothes. (And also, I do like knowing that my trousers look really good!)

It also just goes to show that sometimes you just have to keep going with fitting. I have been trying, off and on, to make trousers that fit well and are a genuine improvement on RTW, for FOUR YEARS. Sometimes I gave up in disgust for months at a time and declared that I would only ever make e.g. joggers and PJs and rely on RTW for everything else. Sometimes I made a little progress but I was still disappointed by the final project as well as completely exhausted by the process. This time, however, I seem to made some genuine progress. Let's hope it's not an isolated outcome!

Other clothes I have made since my last post include:

1. This wacky top from Burda (04-2020-121), which I affectionately call a Tentacle Monster top because the single pattern piece looks more suited to a kraken than a person.

2. View B of Vogue 9360, a super dramatic shirt with a long tail. I like this somewhat but I regret my fabric/view combination. It's made of a navy polyester with a tiny white polka dot. Ordinarily I steer clear of polyester altogether, although I am willing to wear a very limited amount in winter when it's cold. I don't tend to wear it in summer at all because it's too sweaty. To get maximum enjoyment from this top I should have made either this short-sleeved view in a different fabric for summer or else made a long-sleeved version in this fabric for winter. That said, I have worn it, sweatiness notwithstanding, because I enjoy swooping around in it dramatically. If you plan to make this pattern I recommend using something drapey for maximum swoopability.

3. The StyleArc Jules tunic in white cotton sateen. This is MUCH more ruffly than my typical choices! I saw someone else's version of this on... idk, Instagram probably, and thought it looked so good on her I had to get the pattern even though it's not my usual sort of thing. I really like my summer cotton version and I'm glad I made it, but I do NOT know how people who do bridal sewing keep anything white looking good. I swear mine looked like a chimney sweep had worn it by the time I was done sewing, despite all my best efforts!

4. Another pair of Jalie Eleonore trousers (no photo). I made them before I had the fisheye dart epiphany, so the fitting quality is at best okay. I love them anyway, though. It's one of my favourite patterns. I've made it three times in under a year and plan to make a fourth pair very soon.

Next up for me: a couple more pairs of trousers (do we sense a theme?!), one knit and one woven top. The weather here is super cold (truly: it's like 14C (57F) here today) and I am at the point of the summer where I feel like anything I don't have now is not going to get enough wear to make it worth sewing this year, so that's likely to be the last of my summer sewing. I do have a bigger project in mind for August in preparation for autumn, so depending on the state of the pit of despair, I will come back to talk about that soon. :D In the meantime I hope everyone is keeping safe and well despite the increasingly trying circumstances in which we live. ❤️

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Spring and summer sewing #1: Caftan and stripes and a failure, oh my

Hello again, how is everyone coping? I feel like everyone I know had a really tough week this week, now that the novelty of working at home (or trying to) and kids being off school unexpectedly has worn off and the reality of the lockdown has really set in. Plus I have several friends who are sick/have sick family members, and many many friends who are facing serious economic uncertainty. Times are very hard, friends. Take good care of yourselves, whatever that means to you right now.

On a more positive note, spring is finally here in the northwest of England! I broke out my spring wardrobe last weekend and put a lot of heavier clothes away until winter rolls around again. I'm also sewing up a storm here in anticipation of warmer weather and sunshine. Bizarrely, despite the constant flow of grim news and ever-present anxiety, I am having a pretty creative period. The big tension right now is between my goal to keep control of the overall size of my wardrobe and my desire to distract myself from the news by sewing ALL the things. At the moment, wardrobe control is losing that battle.

Thus, after finishing the Not-Wedding Guest Jacket, I immediately decided I wanted to make several easier garments. Here are 4 successful easy garments and one sad failure from the last couple of weeks.

1. The Umbrella Caftan

Decades ago, when I was a kid in the 80s, my mum made me a really simple caftan style dressing gown that I ADORED and wore until it was quite literally threadbare. I decided now is the perfect time for a caftan revival. (And I'm not alone: I've seen one or two other people on Insta who obviously had the same thought!) My specific version was made with the intention of using it as a sort of throw-it-on house-dress/cover-up/dressing gown for the summer.

Burda 03-2011-12 pattern technical drawing
I used Burda 03-2011-12, a pattern in the great tradition of Giant Rectangles in Burda magazines. I actually had several possible patterns to choose from in my Burda stash, but I rather liked that this one is not quite as Giant-Rectangle-y as some, and has the placket feature (although that actually disappears into the print fabric in my finished garment).

My finished Umbrella Caftan

For fabric, I used this block printed super light-weight cotton I bought in 2018 mail order from India, with an umbrella and rain motif. (And yes, I did spend the whole time I was sewing singing Rihanna's Umbrella under my breath.) I made one adjustment: the stitching lines (shown above as a dotted line) as written were perfect if I planned to wear this as a dress or over e.g. just a swimsuit, but as I want to use it as a cover-up over PJs among other things, I added some extra width between the two lines so I could throw it on as a outer layer. The big down-side of this pattern is that the hem is about 30 miles long. I did a rolled hem using my rolled hem presser foot because trying to turn and press it all would have ended up with me losing my mind.

Umbrella/raindrop pring close up and the "wings" of the caftan
I really like this caftan. Actually, if I were in the habit of buying massive pieces of fabric I'd probably have made a dozen more of this pattern, I like it so much. (This particular version took 4.5m of 110cm wide with almost nothing left over, and even if you used 150cm wide fabric you still need 3.5+m)  Alas, I rarely buy huge pieces of fabric, and the few pieces I do have are not right for the pattern. India is on total lockdown right now, of course, but if/when my favourite Indian cotton print vendor returns to selling, I will be ready and waiting with my credit card so I can make at least one more.

2. The Multi-Direction Stripe Shirt

This is honestly my favourite thing I've made in a LONG time.

My new multi-direction striped shirt using a vintage pattern (Vogue 9906) and striped linen

I am having a love affair with stripes at the moment, and just keep buying and buying striped fabrics. This shirt and the t-shirt below are just the START of the stripes I have planned for this year. However, in some cases I bought the striped fabric ahead of any kind of sensible plan for what I was going to do with it, and I have therefore been searching for inspiration images on and off for a few weeks on Pinterest.

Inspiration image

This particular garment came about like this: late Thursday night I was scrolling through Pinterest in an insomniac haze when I saw this photo and really liked it, although it wasn't really right for the linen striped fabric I had earmarked for my next project. I saved it and carried on looking at other images.
Pattern envelope for Vogue 9906 -- though not my personal pattern envelope (which is a size 14 and also much more beaten up!)
On Friday morning, I woke up with a Eureka moment. My subconscious apparently put together linen striped fabric + contrasting directions + ??pattern?? and came up with: Vogue 9906, a vintage pattern I have pulled out of stash about 20 times since I bought it back in 2014. Every time I'd look at this 1970s pattern and think: I love this, but I don't know how that centre front seam is going to work out. Except now I had an idea that NEEDED a centre front seam as a feature. I decided I would look at making View A (top left in the pattern image -- short sleeves, no drawtring at the hem). (I left off the pocket, because I never add bust pockets.)

Very dubious attempt to see what a contrast stripe front would look like
On Friday I did a dodgy "test drape" on Flossie to see if I still liked the idea, pulled out the pattern and did some fitting adjustments (square shoulder, forward shoulder, rounded back, added 5cm to the overall length), and cut it out. Not on that list? An FBA, even though my copy was a single size 1970s size 14 and I am not a size 14, at all. This was meant to be a very over-sized top. However, on one of the previous occasions I tried to use this pattern, I did an FBA and added a side dart to adjust the pattern to the size it "should" be, in terms of ease, made a muslin and: NOPE. This time I just made the smaller version that fits totally differently to the way the designer planned but which I like a lot. The other change I didn't have to make was to narrow the shoulder, which is a constant refrain most of the time. I could maybe have shaved off another 0.5cm from the shoulder, but it's fine.

Back of shirt, and the collar/shoulder detail. The photo on the right is actually a better colour match to the real thing

And then Saturday, I sewed non-stop and got it done.

Finishd shirt on Flossie. I actually like how the collar looks when it's popped like that.

I love how this turned out. Seriously. LOVE it. And I really REALLY love the contrast/multi-direction stripe on the front. The hidden joy this project was that the sewing went really well also. I didn't sew much at all for the second half of 2018 and most of 2019, and so I felt pretty rusty when I started again this year. This shirt felt like the project where my skills came back to me and everything just flowed. This is not one of those things where I look at it and think "I love this in spite of all the pain it caused!" for once!

3. Loose Fit Tee x 2

Every couple of years I pick a new looser-fitting tee pattern and make a couple of them. This time I decided to use a pattern from the book The Maker's Atelier (Amazon UK link, but I'm not an affiliate or sponsored, also, I did NOT pay that much for it!) produced by the pattern company of the same name. I'm not sure what I was thinking to buy the book because it's really not all that exciting, pattern content-wise, but since I already own it and I liked the look of the slightly shaped t-shirt pattern called The Oversized Tee, I decided to give it a go.

2x Maker's Atelier Oversized Tee
I made two tees, one striped, one plain. The only change I made is that the patttern calls for a turn-and-stitch neckline, which: no, absolutely not. I bound mine the way I usually do instead, which also gave me the opportunity to contrast-bind the striped version. I don't mind the higher-than-I-usually-make neckline but I think if I made it again I'd scoop it a little bit. I've already worn both of these and I really like them.

4. A failed sweater

Burda 04-2020-116 garment photo and technical drawing (from
I picked out a few patterns from the most recent (04/2020) issue of Burda, among them this simple sweater with a collar detail (04-2020-116), for future use. I hadn't really thought to make it immediately, but on a whim, I decided to use it with a piece of medium weight royal blue fabric. It was one of the very first fabrics I bought when I started buying knits back in 2012, but somehow I never got around to sewing it up.

Look how much that neckline GREW D: The one fitting measurement Flossie and I are identical on is shoulder width, so you can see how this would be a problem!!
I am really not sure how to apportion blame for the disaster that followed. Part of the problem is the unwise combination of a fabric that slowly relaxed more and more as I sewed and did not bounce back AT ALL, and a pattern with a fussy neckline that required me to perform multiple passes over the neckline seams. I also made a mistake early on in the neckline sewing and had to unpick, adding to the stress along that seam. Also the pattern did not call for any kind of interfacing and I thought of adding it in far too late for it to be any use. No matter why it happened, the end result is the same: beautifully sewn neckline, but twice the width that it was when I originally cut it out. :( Shame, because I loved the colour!

I'm dismayed that I failed so hard on such a easy pattern but... I'm actually not sure that anything I tried to make with this fabric would have been successful, so in that sense I am glad that this was an on-a-whim project rather than something I had really planned and looked forward to making.

So that's my recent sewing round up. Next time on my sewing table: more stripes! even MORE stripes! and also me vs. trouser fitting, round 87.

Stay well everyone!

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Sewing In a Time Of Epidemic, or, The (Not-)Wedding Guest Jacket Completed

Is this the most "fiddling while Rome burns" thing I have ever written? Possibly. Truthfully, though, for most of us there comes a point when you have done all the things you CAN do that will actually make a difference to the current situation, and then you are left with too much time on your hands. At that point, you can either use that time to work yourself up in a frenzy of anxiety over the things that are happening that you CAN'T change or affect, which will make you feel awful and yet also not improve the situation in any way; or you can distract yourself at least some of the time. My second favourite distraction (nothing will ever beat reading to first favourite) is of course sewing. If I end up documenting sewing my way to a whole new wardrobe over this spring/summer and burning through half my stash in the process: well, so be it.

So, let me kick off with a completed project I've talked about before: the (Not) Wedding Guest Jacket. I last posted about it at muslin stage as I prepared to make it to wear to a family wedding in April. Alas, by the time I was even halfway through construction it already looked unlikely I'd be able to attend, and at this point the wedding has been postponed until 2021.

Nevertheless, I decided to keep going to finish the jacket, partly for the distraction, but mostly because I'm not someone who keeps a pile of part-finished sewing projects: I tend to work on things consecutively rather than concurrently. I really wanted to finish this before I moved on, and I wanted to finish it as nicely as possible, because I do think it is still a fun garment and a useful addition to my wardrobe.
McCalls 7513 cover art. I made the modelled version (A) with the pleated peplum.
As I described in my last post, I had decided to make McCall's 7513, a semi-fitted jacket with a peplum, with the variations in the pattern being mostly in the length and style of the peplum. I made the version in the modelled image, A, with the shorter, pleated peplum, although I left off that little band you can see on the back. I made no other significant changes to the design that weren't about fit or comfort. However, I did make a great many adjustments, after running through multiple bodice muslins, as described previously, and then subsequently many, MANY sleeve muslins.

Front view of my version of McCall's 7513 on my tailor's dummy

As far as the fit adjustments go, I started with the things I now tend to do automatically: rounded back, squaring and narrowing the shoulder, and adding length to the bodice. As I mentioned in my last post I also changed the front waist darts to shoulder princess seams, matching the construction of the back, because I thought this fit better and was more aesthetically pleasing.

Side view, which shows the peplum a little more clearly

I have to admit I struggled more than usual with adjusting the waist. As you can see on the envelope cover, the jacket is intended to be very nipped in at the waist. Great theory, shame about my actual waist measurement! I ended up grading out from the smallest size in my pack (14) at the shoulder and neck to the largest (22) at the waist, which is ridiculous and produced some wacky looking pattern pieces. Also, the front and back are supposed to ease together, and on my tailor's dummy this makes it look weirdly blouson at the waist seam -- it's not in real life!

Back view

After my last post I also spent a LOT of time figuring out the fit of the sleeves. Although this turned out to be a lot of effort, I learned a huge amount from doing so.

I had started out by doing my ususal large bicep adjustment without thinking too much about it. I have always historically done this adjustment using the pivot and slide method. If you've ever used this method, you'll know that if you make more than a tiny adjustment, the pivot/slide process of making the sleeve wider also results in a much flatter sleeve cap. After a lot of googling (and seam ripping), and some helpful advice from online sewing friends, I discovered that I was to a very large extent creating my own sleeve twist problems by not restoring the height of the cap after the adjustment. The shortened length of the cap drags the sleeves askew in wear. The fix is luckily really simple: stop doing that! On the plus side, I've got a fix now for a sleeve problem I've had in nearly every woven long sleeve garment I've ever made. On the minus side, it's galling to realize that it was always entirely a problem of my own creation. Oops!

I would say 80% of the twist was resolved by re-doing the bicep adjustment so I got the extra width but kept the original sleeve cap height. I then got another 10% by attempting a forward shoulder adjustment for the first time. I want to refine how I use this adjustment a little more but the 1cm adjustment I did on this occasion seemed to make a visible difference. And finally, I added just a tiny bit of extra room at the elbow (because apparently I have big elbows, who knew) and that resolved the twist another percentage point or so more. I still feel like the sleeves want to twist a tiny bit, but nothing like they did before, and only in the way that a straight, undarted sleeve will always want to twist a bit with the more complicated shape of an arm inside.

A close-up of the fabric. The shiny part is created by the silver thread in the brocade catching the light.

I also want to talk more specifically about the fabric. The pattern I ended up with was all curves and angles, because of the aforementioned fit adjustments and princess seams. I made some limited effort to pattern match when I was cutting out, but I definitely did not have enough fabric to really make a solid effort at it, and also, frankly, pattern matching perfectly across curved seams often feels beyond my spatial reasoning capabilities.
On the left, one of the few places the "stripe" actually lines up. Not going to lie, this does look better, certainly in close up. Most of the rest of the garment, the seam "matching" looks like the image on the left. /o\
But why am I pattern matching, you might be thinking? Well, that's because when you're up close to the fabric, it's a stripe. About a quarter of the way through construction, I panicked. As I was sewing, the fact that the stripe matching was terrible seemed really glaring and I felt like the jacket was going to look hideous. But then as soon as I stepped back from the sewing to look at the jacket from a normal viewing distance, I calmed down again, because I don't think the overwhelming impression at a normal viewing distance is of a badly matched stripe. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most people wouldn't consider it a stripe at all at a glance from normal viewing distance.

Would the overall finish of the jacket have been better if I'd done a better job of pattern matching the stripe? I mean, maybe? If I'd had a lot more fabric and spent more time on it, and above all else if I had cut the fabric out single layer, I might have produced something a bit more stripe matched, and maybe the jacket overall would have looked just a little more beautiful and better made. As it was I had to do some pattern tetris just to get the pattern onto the fabric I had, and I am not sure that I cared enough about this particular garment to go to all that effort. This feels "good enough" for this project.

The lining fabric, the faux Hong Kong seams (bottom) and the bias edged hem (on the right)

One final change I made to the pattern that was also driven by the fabric was that the pattern calls for the bodice and sleeves to be fully lined while the peplum is left unlined. I picked a white lining with a subtle circular jacquard for the bodice/sleeve lining, which I like a lot. Initially I was enthusiastic about leaving the peplum unlined because the wrong side of this fabric is even more startlingly shiny than the right side because of the silver embroidery thread. I thought flashes of that would be fun.

However, as I was constructing and periodically trying on the shell, I realized the wrong side of the fabric was HORRIBLY itchy. Just the thought of the unlined peplum accidentally coming into contact with bare skin for an instant was appalling. The right side is fine -- the wrong side is death by a thousand prickles. So I interlined the peplum using the fake hong kong finish edges (where you cut the lining a little wider and fold it over the cut edges of the main fabric) and added a bias tape edge to the hem to finish it.

And then I pranced around the room in my jacket with my camera clicker taking a million photos. Truly awful.
Overall, I am pretty pleased with this jacket! I think it looks great with jeans so I am not sorry I own it as an option for any future going out sort of occasion, even if the original event I made it for did not go ahead. And who knows, maybe it can be part of my outfit for my family member's wedding when she eventually ties the knot next year.

Next up in my sewing room: a super easy summer dressing gown, which I have actually nearly finished already.

In the meantime, I hope everybody reading is well and stays well, and that you all find your own healthy distractions to keep your mind occupied while we all struggle through this period of our lives.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

The Wedding Guest Outfit, Part I: Fabric and jacket muslin

It's March, and I have PLANS for the month, mostly to do with the outfit I am wearing to attend a wedding in April. I have been trying to decide what to make for a while now, with only partial success.

I feel like I should point out that this is a wedding where literally nobody cares what I look like. I'm a member of the bride's extended family but she's a lot younger than me (9 years) and our families aren't close. I'm not in the bridal party, I'll only know a handful of people, and just. Nobody cares. If I'm honest, the only reason I am focussing so hard on this stupid outfit is because, you know, the world is on fire (metaphorically) and I need the distraction. Also the first two months of the year have been appalling, weather-wise, and just the thought that it might one day be spring wedding season was something to cling on to through all the rain and (thankfully not directly affecting me) flooding.

What I'm trying to say is: my life does not actually depend in any way on making a successful wedding guest outfit, but you'd be forgiven for not realizing this based on the amount of mental effort I've put in so far.

At any rate, I have three well-defined priorities for the outfit:

1. It has to be suitable for the actual event: a spring wedding (late April) in the far north-east of England. There's always a chance that the weather might be nice, but it's statistically more likely it will be relatively cool and possibly wet. The wedding venue is indoors, however, so I don't need a full on coat. The wedding dress code is "dress to impress" which is.... not enormously helpful, but definitely made me pull out everything I own in the way of fancier fabrics -- lace, brocade, etc -- to consider. I naturally gravitate to darker colours, but I think a spring wedding calls for something at the lighter end of the range of colours I normally wear.

2. I'd like to be able to re-wear the components of the outfit at a later stage. I really don't go to a lot of weddings, or a lot of formal occasions in general, so ideally I don't want to make garments that I only wear once.

3. I want to be at least mostly comfortable, and to feel like I dressed appropriately. This is harder to pin down, but you know, when you look for images of spring wedding guest outfits you get basically pretty little floaty chiffon outfits as worn by 25 year olds and, at the other end of the spectrum, mother-of-the-bride outfits, and I am in neither camp!

In the end, after running through Plans A to Z and then back again, I have settled on a combination of two turquoise fabrics for my outfit:

Wedding guest outfit fabrics
The details of these fabrics do not photograph at all well in winter light!

The fabric on the left is a glazed linen. You can sort of see that it has an almost silvery sheen on top of the turquoise when the light catches it from the glazed effect. The fabric on the right is a brocade embroidered to look like darker turquoise and silver/pewter sequins. I actually bought these fabrics something like 3.5 years apart and with no intention of putting them together in an outfit, but they look great put together. I have 2m of the brocade and just over 3m of the glazed linen. However, I stored the linen badly and as a result I have a narrow section of sun damage running in a horizontal line about 1m into the fabric -- so I have 1m on one side of the line and 2m+ a bit on the other.

I waffled even more over patterns than fabrics, and I am not done with that part of this drama AT ALL. However, I have made one definite choice, which is to pair the sequin fabric with McCall's 7513.

The pattern I plan to use
 More specifically, I decided to use the cover model, view A, the shorter length with the pleated back peplum.

Muslin v 3 with shoulder princess seams on me and on Flossie

I have not used too many McCall's patterns, so I knew I definitely needed a muslin. In fact I needed three muslins to get to a fit level I like, and I made a whole laundry list of adjustments. The first muslin was a disaster (started from too large a size, then wondered why it fit at the bust and waist but the shoulder points were literally 6cm past my shoulder. Duh.). Version 2 was improvement (started 3 sizes smaller at the shoulder plus an additional narrow shoulder adjustment, with width adjustments for my bust and waist). The third muslin has a single but very significant change compared to muslin 2: I just don't like the combination of waist darts and my large, low bust, so I tried converting the darts to shoulder princess seams to match the way the back is constructed. I am really pleased with the final muslin, although I have one fit problem outstanding that I want to try to fix before I cut out the final version: my sleeves tend to twist towards the front.

My to do list for this week therefore looks like this: try to fix the sleeve issue; cut/trace/adjust the pieces of the pattern I didn't address in the muslin (lining, collar, facings); then cut out and interface where necessary. My goal is to set myself up to spend next weekend actually doing jacket construction. (Which I will doubtless document on Instagram, if you're interested!)

The elephant in the room is that I still don't know what to wear WITH the jacket. I thought I had setttled on a plan of a plain-ish darker teal silk blouse and a circle skirt with the glazed linen, but I keep being drawn to other options, including possibly making a dress, even though I am least likely to wear a dress again in the future. I think I will end up experimenting with some muslin options to see what I like best once the jacket is done.

Actually, this last point relates to the best news I have, which is that my long dormant -- or at least frequently napping -- sew-jo has roared back in full force, and now I want to Make All The Things and experiment with all kinds of stuff. I'm really looking forward to refreshing my wardrobe for spring and summer this year once the Wedding Guest Outfit is done.

Some of that will have to wait a bit though as my last update for today is that I managed to break my overlocker making a gift for my mum. :(

A "twin set" of cardigan and t-shirt, both using Ottobre patterns (tee & cardigan on left; t-shirt only on right)

My parents are off on a trip and as they will be away during UK Mother's Day (22 March -- don't panic, North Americans, we celebrate Mother's Day on a different day than you!) I decided to make my mum a gift before she left that she could take with her. I therefore made this t-shirt and cardigan set using a black polyester knit that has a floral design picked out in small silver plastic spots on the surface. The fabric is totally uncrushable and doesn't wrinkle, so it's perfect to stuff in a suitcase, and the pieces are really simple but the colour/fabric make them perfect to wear to dinner. I used two easy patterns from Ottobre, specifically 02-2012-09, a short-sleeved waterfall cardigan -- I made elbow length plain sleeves rather than the split sleeves in the pattern; and 02-2019-13, a simple square neckline tee -- I opened up the neckline a little by turning the binding to the inside, so it would fit in a way that showed off a necklace.

I'm going to be honest: they look really pretty in the photos, and in theory I like them a lot. In practice, that surface detail of little dots crunched a needle in my overlocker in the first 10 minutes of sewing and the broken needle killed my machine (temporarily I hope, I am waiting for a part) and it all went downhill from there. I made mistake after mistake, struggled with the fabric, managed to leave a (small, hard to see) scorch mark on the fabric and the silver smeared off one of the dots along one of the side seams of the t-shirt. I had to do two thirds of the construction on my regular machine so the inside of this garment looks utterly amateur, and I was overall embarrassed to give them to my mum as a gift! :( I am banking on maternal affection and the fact that it actually does look good from a few meters away to make it a worthwhile gift. /o\

Thursday, 2 January 2020

2020: Plans for the year

Hello to everyone at the start of 2020!

At the start of the last few years I've made detailed lists of goals for my sewing, but I'm abandoning that this year. Some of the things I previous set goals about (being careful with my spending, tracking what I wear and discard, managing my stash) are now established habits, and I don't need to really focus more than minimal attention on maintaining those things.

I've also decided that the Burda challenge that I've often tried to do in the past just isn't a useful organizing principle for me or my wardrobe so I won't be trying to do that this year.

Overall this year, I am really committed to continuing to sew the wardrobe I want to have and will most enjoy, for the life I actually lead. I feel more confident than ever in 2020 that I know what that means and what I want to own and wear. I know it's not for everyone, but having an actual written wardrobe plan, a set of colours I (mostly) stick to, and even a set of expectations/guidelines for how long I can expect different garments to last, in terms of number of wears, has been transformative for me. So really, all I want for 2020 is to keep doing all the things that I already do, and continue to see some incremental wardrobe improvements.

(I will definitely also keep blogging even though I know it's fallen out of fashion these days. I didn't blog much in 2019, but that is not down to me switching to a different platform or anything. (I am on Insta, but I didn't even do the "Top 9 posts" meme for 2019 because I am not convinced I posted more than 9 times!). The dearth of blog AND Instagram posts just reflects that I didn't really make all that much and the things I did make (PJs, easy repeats) were not really very interesting to write (or read!) about.

That said, I still have plans for the year! I wouldn't be me without a whole BUNCH of plans.

I am pretty set for clothes in the first quarter of the year (Jan-Mar). I had a small but significant set-back in my return-to-work plans, so I am holding off on making an officewear wardrobe until that is resolved. I therefore don't have a flurry of new things to make for immediate wear.  However, thinking ahead:

The Wedding Guest Dress: My fabric, a navy stretch lace with a scalloped selvedge (left); an inspiration image of a lace dress with a contrast under layer (centre), and a dress patttern inspiration photo (right)

The Wedding Guest Dress: I have zero pieces of occasion wear in my wardrobe, and a family wedding to go to in April. It's the perfect excuse to make something out of the ordinary for me that is hopefully suitable not only for that event but that I can pull out in any situation that calls for a nice "special event" dress.

My current plan is to use this navy stretch lace (shown here over a white background) that I bought a couple of years ago. I'll wear it with a separate underdress -- part of me wants to go for contrast and wear it with turquoise or mint green, but maybe navy would be better, I'm not sure yet. I am also not sure about the patterns to use but for the lace dress I do know I don't want anything more complicated than a simple dress with a full skirt. I want to use the scalloped slevedge for the skirt, so I may need to do a pleated skirt rather than a circle skirt.

The Wedding Guest Coat. My fabric (left, looks a little yellow in this shot but that is the crappy after-dark photo. It's a silver/blue combination). Some inspiration images: the style I want with a full skirt (middle), a style I probably actually could make with the amount of fabric I have (left).
The Wedding Guest Coat. The wedding is at a venue further north than I live, at a time of year when the weather is... variable, at best. It could be quite chilly, so I am going to indulge myself by making a long-planned (LONG planned -- I've had the fabric since 2012) coat to go over my dress that can have a subsequent life as my "fancy" coat for any suitable occasion. My ideal is a knee length coat with a wide hem, but I don't know if I have anything like enough fabric to make that (I only have 3m and it's vintage so I can't get more). I need to figure this out SOON because I want to start making it pretty soon.

In the second quarter of the year, I know for sure I have a couple of wardrobe replacements and additions for summer, and so I already have some plans in varying degrees of vagueness: I want to do some more work on trousers; I want a casual summer blouse in white; I need to replace some t-shirts that I discarded at the end of last summer, and so on. And I do have pretty specific plans in mind for a work wardrobe (The Suit I talked about but didn't make last year, lots of tops and blouses, skirts and trousers, and so on) but until I am less sick again it seems premature to really start binge-sewing officewear.

I'll be back with updates as and when, but in the meantime I hope everyone is having a great start to the New Year and may you all have a wonderful 2020. :D