Saturday, 27 April 2019

An update, and the on-going trouser fitting saga

I have been absent from this blog for a while, but I am back, and here to talk about my early summer sewing plans and my continued Troubles With Trousers.

First, a brief recap of what I have done, sewing-wise, since I was last here on 1 January, talking about my exciting plans for the year:

*crickets chirp*

Well, it's not quite a void. I finished one gigantic purple scarf I have been knitting on and off for a couple of years (see below), and I made 1 (one) sewn item: a pair of PJ shorts with a remnant left over from another project and a TNT pattern. This latter took me all of an hour and is so uninteresting even to me that I refuse to consider taking a photo of it. That's really not much for a 4 month period, given that most years I average about 1 completed item per week!
Giant seed stitch wrap in two shades of purple (Purl Soho Worst Twist Seed Stitch Wrap)
Why have I accomplished so little? Partly it's down to the usual reason (ill health). Partly though, I just didn't really need or want any more winter or early spring clothes.  Since this coincided with a total lack of enthusiasm for sewing, I just... didn't sew. I did read 130 books in the same time period (I will typically read about 40 in a four month period) so you can understand where my extra time went.

However, as we come into late spring/summer, I have mustered quite a lot of enthusiasm for getting started sewing again. I have definite gaps in my wardrobe for the coming season, and we have already had some good weather for which I was not entirely well-prepared. (Of course, the Easter weekend having been 25C and sunny, it is now much more April-in-northern-England typical, which is to say: heaving rain, 8C. But the good weather will come back eventually. I hope.)
Trouser plans for spring/summer 2019. Why yes, I am reaching FAR back in my magazine stash to the mid 00s.

My immediate plans include making trousers. Now, if you have been reading a while, you may recall that my previous experiences of trouser making are (a) moderately successful when confined to simple knit trousers and PJs, and (b) otherwise, when it comes to woven trousers, pretty terrible. (See here and here for examples of how well my previous efforts at woven trouser making didn't go.)

However, I am determined to conquer trousers this year!

My mantra for trouser making in 2019 is: good enough is definitely good enough. Yes, there are people who achieve the perfect, wrinkle free trouser fit, but while I can admire their work, I can't start with the expectation of emulating it. When it comes to tops, last year I felt like I made a lot of small, incremental fitting improvements over the year. It didn't always work, but lots of little changes added up to some quite significant improvements in fit. This year I am going to try to do the same with trousers (and skirts, if I should happen to make any), as well as continuing to hone my upper body fitting. One thing that is certain is that I won't get any better at making trousers if I pursue my current path of never making trousers. However, I am prepared for the reality that the first few pairs will not turn out brilliantly. Previously I tended to feel completely paralyzed when things went wrong with trouser fitting, and I am determined not to do that this time.

The Bluprint (Craftsy) class I used to make a pants sloper
Although I haven't been sewing,  I didn't entirely stop thinking about sewing, and one of the things I have been chewing over mentally is how to get started making trousers that fit. Previously, I attempted to use a basic commercial pattern and modify it to fit. I have no doubt this can be a very successful approach for many people, but I didn't seem to learn much from it myself. I decided that my problem was that I didn't really understand how trouser patterns were put together, nor how they are meant to fit. As a result, I spent a lot of time reading my fitting books (I have many), looking at how my existing (mainly RTW) trousers fit me, and looking at how other people resolved fitting problems. In the end, I decided that the way forward was to try drafting my own pattern, as a way to become really familiar with how body measurements and pants patterns match up.

I have to admit that for the most part I have less than zero interest in designing or drafting patterns, so this is a departure for me. To get started, I therefore looked at a couple of options in books, but the texts I found seemed rather inaccessible in writing style, were very expensive, and contained a huge amount of information  about adapting the basic block into various other forms, which does not interest me. However, I also remembered that I previously watched a Craftsy class about drafting skirts led by Suzy Furrer, and enjoyed it. I was very happy to see she had done a trouser drafting class as well. The majority of the class is about the pattern drafting, and she only really briefly considers variations at the end. I highly recommend this class whether you want to draft your own patterns, or if, like me, you just feel like it would help you understand how trouser patterns work. I thought that it was very clear, accessible, and well-presented, and well worth the time and effort.

It's worth knowing what you will get out of the class, and here's a spoiler: it absolutely will not result in a perfectly fitting pair of trousers from the first muslin. Here is my personal muslin #1, in natty blue gingham:

Back view of muslin 1
I never seem to have any major issues with the fit at the front of my trousers, but the back is a different story.  This isn't the worst fit I've ever seen, but it's not good. I've been at this point before, several times, and I can't say that in the past I've ever managed to really improve anything much from this point.

 However, at this point all my reading about fit and my improved understanding of the assumptions that are made when trouser patterns are drafted actually paid off. I did a second muslin and tried to address some of the issues above the knee, and then third muslin where I looked at knee level and lower. This is how the third muslin looks side by side with the first (yes, sorry, my feet are a little bit further away from each other in the second photo, which makes the second photo artificially better, but it's still a reasonable comparison):

Muslin 1 (left) vs, Muslin 3 (right)
I've really learned a LOT from doing these three muslins. Obviously muslin 3 is still not perfect, but I think I have an idea how to resolve the remaining problems. One issue is a product of my "upper leg then lower leg" approach. I did a small knock knee adjustment in muslin 3, but I put it in at knee level because I thought of it as a "lower leg/knee" problem. This is obviously stupid -- if the problem is with my knee, I need to address it ABOVE the knee, not AT the knee. I think when I move the adjustment up, those diagonal lines pointing at the knee will go away. It may also resolve some of the continued inner thigh draglines. I also still have some work to do on the crotch curve.

The most important thing I learned from drafting the pattern myself was that the distance from where I want the waist of trousers to sit to the same point at the back, via the crotch, is much shorter in vertical length and much longer in horizontal length than my self-drafted pattern (or commerical patterns) assumed. As a result, when I make the pattern actually fit me, it works out that the rise of my trousers is quite short, and the crotch points are ultra long. My actual personal pattern therefore looks a bit bonkers. When I made previous attempts at trouser fitting, and even in the initial stages of improving the fit of my self-drafted pattern, I really resisted making those changes to the pattern because I thought it couldn't possibly be right: the pattern just looks so strange in comparison to most commercial patterns. I assumed I must be doing something wrong if I was getting results that varied so wildly from the norm.

This is where the drafting class was super helpful to me, because I was able to put together the problems I was having with fit and the problems I had trying to make sense of the measuring process before I started drafting the pattern. That made it clear to me that the problem was not with my weirdly shaped final pattern, but with the difference between the assumptions about body shape baked into the way the pattern is drawn and the actual body I am trying to fit into the trousers.

For example, at the start of the process you identify where you want your trousers to sit -- at the navel, in my case, because I have a natural "crease" exactly at my navel -- and then you measure down so many inches for the high hip, low hip, crotch level, etc. The class notes suggest if you are tall or petite you may need to adjust this. Well, I am 173cm tall (about 5'8") so I went into it thinking I might need to make a "tall" adjustment. Except as soon as I started measuring, it because clear to me that this was not AT ALL the case. The distance she suggested for an "average" person from waist to low hip was below my crotch line. I ended up taking the measurements as if I were petite. Then my low hip, supposedly the largest measurement, turned out to be smaller than my high hip.

This all explains SO MUCH about my previous experiences with both patterns and RTW, and just this insight alone made it worth my time to do the drafting class. So many pairs of trousers I've owned, and most of those I've made, have ended up either (a) with me having the pull the waistband up to my ribcage in order for it to be seated properly, and/or (b) the waistband rolls over constantly at the waist every time I bend or move and/or, probably worst and most common, (c) the waistband drops to my natural waist and I end up with a saggy butt and my back pockets half way down my thighs.

With all this in mind, I find I am way more comfortable creating a pattern block that looks really quite different from the way I expected it to when I started, if in doing so I eradicate all of those problems. It seems almost miraculous to contemplate: imagine if trousers didn't fit that badly all the time!

My next steps are as follows:

1. Muslin 4: Fix the knock knee problem, work on the crotch curve a little more, and make what is hopefully my final muslin to test it.
2. Transfer the "finished for now" pattern onto something more durable than tissue paper.
3. Make trousers!!

The end of the pattern drafting class moves on to making variations on the basic block for various different types of trousers. I am not at all interested in doing that. What I would like to  be able to do is take my self-drafted basic block, slap it on to a commercial pattern and see what changes I need to make.

I have had a go at this already, with mixed results. Good news: simple patterns in Ottobre and Burda seemed to be a pretty good match from the outset. I'll have to change the crotch curve and the height of the rise is going to be a consistent issue with every company I've checked so far. Overall, though, I think I'd probably be able come up with a common set of adjustments that I'd need with their patterns. It helps that I already know how consistent those two companies are. For the most part my experience with Ottobre and Burda is that you can make yourself a little "routine adjustments" list, and just work through it with any new pattern.

I also compared my block as it stands to a couple of very simple New Look patterns that came in wardrobe patterns (you know the kind: two tops, a jacket, and then a very boring skirt and a very boring pair of trousers as filler) and it was a surprisingly close match. I find New Look patterns a bit blah but it's useful to know.

Of the bad: I have a couple of those Simplicity Amazing Fit trouser patterns and they are just not at all Amazing for me. Whereas it's really obvious to me what size(s) I should use with the other companies, the difference between the Simplicity pattern and my block are so extreme that I can't even work out where to start, size-wise, and the level of changes I would have to make would really mess with things like pocket placement. Probably easier to just not use those patterns, I think!

I haven't had a chance to look at other pattern companies yet, but honestly, if I only had Ottobre and Burda patterns available to me, I'd have patterns enough for the rest of my life.

Barring disaster, I'll hopefully be back again in a much shorter space of time to share successful trousers with you :D

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

2019 Goals + Magazine Challenge

Welcome to 2019! Look away now if you're at all opposed to the idea of goal-setting at the start of a new year -- I'm obviously not, especially when it comes to sewing.

Without further ado, here are my goals for this year:

1. Stick to my 2019 sewing budget. I've actually done a pretty good job of this most years, so really this goal is here just to remind me to stick to my financial discipline for another year. It's not super onerous because I give myself a generous budget, plus I have a substantial gift card for a sewing shop that was given to me for Christmas still to spend.

2. Use the things I already own & keep new acquisitions in check by:

a. Decreasing my garment stash by 50m. Okay, bear with me a second, because I know I've said I'm going to do this a million times already and yet, no, I have never come near achieving it. However, I have good reason to think it will work this year. Basically, this whole time a big chunk of my stash has sat there unused because it's most suitable for clothes for work, not for the chronic-illness-rarely-leave-the-house lifestyle I've been forced to adopt the last several years. This year is the first year I've truly believed there is a realistic chance that at some point in the next 12 months I'll be back at work and living a much more normal life. This presents a wardrobe problem. Right now, if you asked me to produce my work wardrobe, I'd be able show you a few random items that wouldn't even make a single outfit, and also an entire organized, colour-coordinated professional wardrobe... in flat fabric form. The idea is, therefore, that I will not only rebuild my work wardrobe over the next 12 months, but in the process I'll use up a big chunk of my stash that I've bought specifically for that purpose over the last several years. Well, that's the theory, anyway.

b. Using at least 50% of the fabric I buy this year. Hopefully I won't actually need to buy that much this year, but, fellow fabric-aholics, you all know it's not really about need.

c. Reducing the number of unused envelope and PDF patterns I own. As of 1 January, I have used 22% of my paper patterns, and 22% of my PDF patterns. (I may sell some of my paper patterns, if I don't think I'll use them at all.)

3. Look for ways to make incremental improvements in quality, longevity and fit. There is one big "fit" thing I desperately need to work on, and that's fitting trousers. I have a fairly immediate plan for that, though heaven only knows if it will actually work! In general though, I want to keep finessing fit, figuring out how to make things last longer, and where to buy quality fabrics. That's not a proper goal, as it lacks measurements or whatever, but eh, it's my goal list, I do what I want.

I enjoyed the outcome of last year's magazine challenge so much that I feel I absolutely must do it again this year, so:

The Magazine Challenge: Make 12 patterns from any 2019 magazine issue I buy. Includes Burda, Ottobre, anything else I acquire of a similar nature.

Everything else I want to do is really a "keep going" sort of thing: an intention for the year rather than a measurable goal. I want to keep on working out what my personal style is and how I want to dress; keep tracking what I wear and what I discard and why; keep working on improving my technical skills in sewing; keep enjoying the process of making things; keep participating in the online sewing community as best I can; just keep doing all the things that have made sewing one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling hobbies I have ever had (it's never going the be THE most, as nothing will ever surpass my love of reading!)

I want to put together some images and whatnot of what I want to make in the immediate future, so I'll be back with that in a few days time. In the meantime, I'm off to read everyone else's end of year/start of year posts. :D

Sunday, 30 December 2018

2018 In Review: Wardrobe & Sewing Outcomes

Yesterday's post related to the financial and organisational aspects of my plan for 2018, and how they worked out for me. Today I'm going to cover my wardrobe and sewing in 2018.

My Wardrobe in Numbers

I finished this year, unintentionally, with exactly the same number of garments as I started the year, though there was some redistribution among categories.

I made 37 finished items this year. Of these, two were rescued from being wadders because I was able to recut the fabric and made a (successful) alternative garment. I made 3 pieces of outerwear, 7 cardigans/jumpers, 16 tops and tunics inc both knit and woven, 1 pair knit trousers, 3 skirts, 2 dresses and 5 pairs of PJ shorts/trousers. You can see most things here (I don't have photos of the knit trousers or 2 of the pairs of PJs, because they were too boring to photograph).

I bought 20 items in total, including: 1 fleece jacket, 5 jumpers and hoodies, 4 pairs trousers/jeans, 9 basic t-shirts and 1 woven shirt.

I discarded 57 items, including 23 items I made myself.  This was my lowest number of discards per year since I started recording what I got rid of a couple of years back.

Of the 57, I sold 4 items. I also did a very long overdue overhaul of my activewear wardrobe, which I hadn't touched at all in years due to illness. I looked through it all when I started to exercise again a couple of months ago and got rid of 11 items, many of which were 10+ years old. I don't intend to replace any of those items as they were all just dead weight.

As a reminder: as I did last year, I'm going to talk about the "30 wears" test for longevity. This is based on a campaign that was intended to encourage people to behave in a more sustainable way by asking them to question whether each new item they buy is something they will wear 30 times. Thirty is a totally arbitrary number, of course, and it's not like I get 30 wears from something and then go oh well, that's done, and throw it away. However, my experience over the last few years has been that it's a actually a pretty useful and realistic guideline. I like to think of it as a minimum standard. If something I discard falls short of 30 wears, I ask myself why it didn't last at least that long and whether there is anything I could do differently to avoid similar little-worn discards.

Of the remaining 42 items I discarded, they fell broadly into 3 categories:

1. Things that wore out: 25 items (60%) of which 13 were hand made. On average I'd worn everything that wasn't a t-shirt around 36 times, and the t-shirts around 23 times each. That is pretty typical on the t-shirt side of things: getting 30 wears out of a t-shirt has proved difficult whether I make or buy them. Of the 13 things I'd made that wore out, 10 had good longevity (a range of 35-61 wears). Three handmade things died before their time: a viscose woven top that shredded along every seam and two knit tunics. I am inclined to blame the (cheap) fabric in all three cases.

2. Things that just didn't work out: 12 items (28%) of which I had made 7 items. My code for this in my spreadsheet is "disliked" but this actually covers a multitude of sins: wrong colours for my wardrobe, hated the facings on a top I'd made, hated the sleeves on another item, poor fabric choice on a couple, a couple of gifts I disliked and couldn't return, that kind of thing. I think this category is always going to skew to the handmade, because you can't get it home and be like: on further consideration, no, and return it. Once you've made it, you're stuck with it.

3. Things that didn't fit: 5 items (12%). Of these, 4 were very old "maybe one day I'll fit into these again..." garments that I finally let go of, and 1 was a thrifted item that I wasn't able to try on or return.

Quality and Longevity

Another goal I had this year was to try to make sure anything new I bought or made in 2018 had at least the potential to last for 30 wears and make other changes to make sure all my existing clothes lasted longer.

Probably the best change I made this year was due to something I identified in last year's analysis. In the past I made too many woven shirts and other tops that fit poorly and were annoying to wear as a result. Eventually these turned up again as discards in the "didn't work out" category having been worn relatively little. I did a LOT of work in the first half the year to work out what shoulder, armscye and back pattern changes I needed to eradicate at least some of those problems, with a lot of success. The exception proves the rule: I made a tunic in a boat print in November without doing some of the shoulder and armscye changes I've been doing all year and while it's not terrible, it's noticeably less well-fitting and therefore more annoying than other things I made in 2018.

On the construction side, I made an effort this year to do the kind of invisible work that ought to make my garments more hard-wearing. I used techniques that I know extend the life of garments like flat-felling or doing french seams, sewing double rows of stitching in pockets and key seams and so on. I also upped the quality of some of my fabric purchases, although not all of those purchases actually became garments. Knits, both RTW and hand-made, remain a problem on the quality side of things.

I also changed my laundry routine. Despite pre-washing/tumble drying all my fabric, in previous years quite a lot of things shrank or were destroyed in the wash after construction. This year I started to hang dry almost all my woven tops to prevent shrinkage and seam shredding. I still tumble dry knits and I machine wash everything, but I've nevertheless had many fewer laundry disasters this year than in previous years. In fact, I didn't lose any of my hand-mades to laundry problems this year.

So far, everything I made in 2018 is still in my wardrobe -- only time will tell how successful these changes have been.

Handmade review

Patterns Used

To make my 37 garments, I used 30 different patterns in total, 21 of which were new to me. Of the 30 patterns, 12 were from Burda, 6 from Ottobre, 10 from Big 4 envelopes inc Burda envelopes, and 2 from StyleArc. No other indies were in the mix at all this year: I mostly replaced the occasional indie pattern I used before with Big4 envelopes.

Yet another of my goals this year was to use more of the PDF and envelope patterns I already owned. I did make a special effort to use more of my envelope patterns: by the end of the year I'd used 22% of the patterns I owned compared to 18% at the end of last year, in spite of buying several new ones.

However, my dislike of PDF patterns is pretty intense. I always think I like the idea, but in practise I hate everything about putting them together. I nevertheless bought 5 new PDF patterns, but used exactly zero new-to-me PDF patterns this year, so my utilisation actually decreased. I need to figure out a way to use the PDF patterns I've bought in 2019, even if it means paying for large format printing.

The Magazine Challenge

Magazine Challenge garments, bottom right corner is the pattern that failed & had to be recut.
 At the start of the year I challenged myself to make 12 items from this year's Burda, Ottobre and (while I was getting them) Knipmode magazines. I managed 8, plus one wadder. Of the 9 patterns attempted, I made 6 successful (and 1 unsuccessful) Burda patterns, and 2 successful Ottobre patterns.

From left to right in the image above, starting in the top left, I made: a draped back tee from Burda 01-2018, a short jacket with piping detail from Burda 02-2018, a gathered sleeve blouse from Ottobre 02-2018, a pleated skirt from Burda 05-2018, a striped t-shirt from Burda 05-2018, a shirt with a pleated placket from Burda 06-2018, a pair of t-shirts from Burda 01-2018, and a knit tunic with puffy sleeves from Ottobre 05-2018. I also attempted a knit top from Burda 02-2018, but it failed and I ended up recutting the fabric into this basic tee (bottom right).

Although I didn't get to 12 items, this challenge was actually a major success as far as I was concerned. I definitely went outside my comfort zone to make some of these, and others were patterns and garments that I might not otherwise have made without the impetus of this challenge but that I absolutely loved when completed. I fully intend to pursue this challenge again in 2019!

Hits and Misses

My top 5 favourite things I made this year are:

Five Hits
In no particular order:

Left: A moleskin coat from Burda 11-2015. I LOVE this coat. It's far from flawless in the sewing, but it's so warm and cosy and comfortable! I still think my flower poppers were a genius find, and I am so happy to have finally made this coat, YEARS after I first bought the fabric and lining.

Upper middle: Black and white piped jacket from Burda 02-2018. This was a total throwaway project that I did for the Magazine Challenge, with a barely-big-enough scrap of fabric I bought for peanuts. It was super challenging working with the patterned fabric, the piping, etc etc, and I love the outcome.

Lower middle: Navy/white striped tee from Burda 05-2018. I never would have made this except for the Magazine Challenge, and I love the stand-up collar and the contrast sections. I paid a lot for this lightweight sweatshirt fabric and it was so worth it. I wore this every cooler day in the summer.

Upper right: Put a bird on it shirt from Burda 06-2018. Again, a pattern I liked when I saw it in the magazine but might not ever have gotten around to making except for the Magazine Challenge. I got so many compliments on this shirt! I'm really pleased with the match between the Indian cotton fabric and the simple boxy pattern, which has just enough sewing detail to be interesting.

Lower right: Turquoise gingham shirt from Burda 04-2010. I have been wanting a turquoise gingham shirt forever and I've worn this one so much since I made it (and got so many compliments on it). I made two shirts with this pattern this year, and the other one is in my 'misses' section. I am glad I got it right second time around.

My top five Misses from 2018:
Five Misses

My top 5 disappointments, in no particular order:

Left: Navy raincoat using Burda 6772. The fit of this is just not quite right. I didn't get much wear from it before the season changed and perhaps I'll change my mind about it when raincoat weather rolls around again, but I was really disappointed with how this turned out as I worked really hard on it.

Upper middle: Draped back top from Burda 01-2018. I love a wacky Burda top, and this draped back top looked like so much fun in the magazine. In reality, it's just nowhere near as interesting as it seemed in the photos. I still wear it, but that flap of fabric on the back is sort of weird and lumpy rather than a flowing drape.

Lower middle: Popover plaid shirt using Burda 6457. This fits well enough to keep wearing but the dropped shoulders irritate me. There are some annoying sewing flaws in it (especially on the cuffs) and the mother of pearl buttons I put on keep breaking. And yet, I have worn it quite regularly since I made it. It just seems like it could have been even better, I guess.

Upper right: Navy shirt from Burda 04-2010. First attempt at the pattern I used for the turquoise gingham "hit" shirt. Despite being in this disappointment category, this is actually one of the things I made in 2018 that I've worn the most! I think it's the knowledge that this could be a really great shirt that makes me dislike it somewhat. I used the wrong interfacing, which has wrinkled and bubbled in the wash, and there are some other little sewing problems. I don't hate it, but I love a plain navy shirt and this one just isn't as good as it could be.

Lower right: Boat print tunic using Butterick 5203. I made this tunic in November and I've worn it every week since because I love the pattern and the print on the fabric. I don't love the crappy fit I got on the shoulders or the fact that I didn't raise the armhole and I needed to. If only I had worked on it a little harder it could have been a really perfect tunic!

Overall, the weird thing is how some of my favourite things are really quite flawed, sewing wise, and some of my least favourite things are the garments I've worn over and over since I made them, flaws and disappointment and all!

My Wardrobe Plan 2018

I've really settled into my wardrobe plan this year. In 2017, I felt like I'd had a breakthrough year and was like, yes, this is working, things are fitting together really well, I actually feel like my wardrobe makes sense. This year was just a refinement of that experience. I did a lot of "what do I really need? what do I actually wear?" checks on my wardrobe plan (which is, inevitably, kept in a spreadsheet) throughout year. Part of the reason I stopped sewing much in the second half of this year was that actually, I have everything I need right now. My wardrobe is completely functional, and I like everything in it, even the things that are not perfect (see the "Misses" above: I still wear them, even if they sometimes annoy me). This is actually a very liberating feeling for me.

I definitely think that my wardrobe has been significantly improved by the process of planning it, and I am perfectly willing to keep planning if it reaps these kinds of returns. That is not to say that it is perfect. While I have my colour scheme mostly ironed out and am very happy with it, I have not entirely got my proportions/silhouette right on everything. I'd made some things that, in my head, I thought would go together really well, like a top and a skirt for example. When I tried it on though, while the colour scheme was great, they sometimes just didn't look good together as an outfit. In 2019 I'm going to be rebuilding a work-appropriate wardrobe nearly from scratch, so this silhouette/proportions issue is an important lesson to carry over.
One minor epiphany I had this year was that I was definitely being unduly influenced in my planning by a somewhat hidden commandment of the online sewing community: Thou Shalt Like Dresses. It turns out that I mostly only like dresses on other people.

The sewing world at large is incredibly into dresses and I feel like there is an expectation that we should all regard dresses as the perfect garment. I bought into this so much that from the very outset of my garment sewing life that I bought loads and loads of dress patterns, even though prior to starting sewing I last wore a dress in about 2001. In this fantasy world, just buying the patterns and looking at all the gorgeous dresses other people make and look fabulous in would make me want to make and wear them too. Unsurprisingly, It hasn't worked like that all. I can't make myself like dresses just because everyone else does, and I don't really know why I thought I could.

Here in the real world, I very strongly prefer separates. I have come to love the long-tunic/short-dress-and-leggings look, but really only as almost-pyjamas outfits to wear around the house in winter. I did also make a couple of summer dresses this year. I like them, but I just don't feel like me in them and I didn't reach for them when I was getting dressed.

I'm not never going to make dresses in the future, but I will probably do so only at very infrequent intervals. I definitely think if I had a special event I would probably make a dress, and I would like to have a couple of classic dresses in my wardrobe -- the proverbial Little Black Dress, for example.  Overall, though, dresses are just not an integral part of my present or future wardrobe plan, and you know what? That's perfectly OK.

In Conclusion

I definitely think 2018 was a successful sewing year for me. I made a lot of things I liked. I learnt some new skills. I challenged myself in various ways. I like the collection of clothes I've put together more and more and I feel like I am creeping ever closer to my goal of having a sense of my personal style and the wardrobe to match that style. I also think I've seen some things I need to work on next year, and some ways to be more creative, and in general ways to enjoy my sewing hobby more and more all the time.

I'll therefore be back on 1 January with my thoughts and goals for the sewing year ahead in 2019. :D

Saturday, 29 December 2018

2018 In Review: How I Spent My Money

I have been very quiet, as far as sewing is concerned, through the last quarter of 2018, and not wildly active for really the whole second half of the year. As we approach the very end of the year, though, I feel like my enthusiasm about my sewing has been rekindled a bit, and so I am here, as always, with my thoughts about the sewing year that has just passed, and the sewing year ahead of me.

My planning for 2018 revolved around the central idea of using and organizing things I already had. I wanted to finally make some of the garments I've had in the planning stage for years. I also wanted ensure that my wardrobe was full of things I wanted to wear, that my pattern and fabric stashes were full of things I wanted to use, and that any new purchases fit in well with my existing resources. I'll deal with the questions of what I chose to make and how my actual sewing and my wardrobe as a whole worked out for me in 2018 in my next post. This post is mainly about the money and organization side of things this year.

Some general thoughts

Not too many sewing bloggers talk about the cost of our hobby, and I know some people would just really rather not think about and/or don't care about how much they spend, beyond a general outline. Or some people might be interested, but they don't want to do the kind of daily financial tracking that would allow them to analyze their spending in detail at the end of the year.

I have to stress that I completely respect all of those positions. I am absolutely not here talking about this because I think other people should do as I do, nor because I think it makes me appear virtuous. I do it because, well, for better or worse, this is apparently just a thing I do: I track my spending in meticulous detail. It's something I've done for years, ever since I was a teenager. And because I can talk about it in this kind of detail, I figure why not talk about it.

For me, I think one of the most interesting things is how my spending has changed over the years I have been sewing. For example, I'm spending more on fabric, not because I'm necessarily buying a tremendous amount more (though there have been some big years) but because I'm buying more expensive fabric. I find I'm worrying less about screwing up with "precious" fabric and much more about making the most of the fabric I use, in terms of making it last and look good after wearing and washing it.

At the same time I'm spending less and less every year on patterns because now I want any new pattern to add something unique and interesting to my existing pattern/magazine library. This is much harder to do after several years of pattern and magazine purchasing than it was in the beginning. I've also gradually changed my ideas about what I want my wardrobe to look like and therefore what I want to sew as I've developed my wardrobe plan. That's had an effect on the types of patterns, fabric, and even notions that I've been buying lately.

The Budget

My Budget goal for 2018 was: Stick to my 2018 sewing budget.  (Done.)

Budget-wise, I actually spent about 10% less overall this year than I had budgeted. I also hit my target elsewhere in my budget for what I spent on RTW clothes, so it's not just that I shifted my spending between the categories, as has happened in previous years. Most of this reduction in spending comes from the simple fact that I didn't renew my Knipmode subscription this year (discussed further below). That was a huge chunk of money that I didn't spend as I expected, and then I chose not spend it on anything else either.

I also recouped some money by selling a few things this year (including patterns, my old overlocker, and some fabric). About 15% of my original sewing budget this year was therefore funded by these sales, rather than "new" money allocated to sewing.

How my spending added up:

Pie chart of my sewing spending in 2018
Major purchases

I didn't buy any new machines or make any other major purchases this year. I did have to replace my regular iron, because I dropped the old one and it started leaking rusty-coloured water on everything, ugh. My new one was not super expensive (about £30) and it is great, much better than my old one, so I am not displeased by this outcome even if I wish I hadn't dropped it in the first place.

Fabric - 60% of spending

Goal: (a) Use 50% of new fabric bought in 2018. (I used 49%, close enough!)

No surprises here, the bulk of my money went on fabric. 60% of my total spending bought me 82.75m of new fabric. The good news here though is that I turned around and used 49% of that fabric immediately, and I regret nothing at all about the fabric I bought in 2018 that is still in stash. A lot of it should end up being used in 2019.

Goal (b) Reduce my total garment stash by 50m to less than 150m.  (Nope - I reduced it by 10m)

Overall, I used or otherwise disposed of 92.75m of garment fabric. This means my stash is exactly 10m smaller than at the start of 2018, at 190.65m total. This is very noticeably not the overall garment stash reduction of 50m that I was hoping for, but at least it is in the right direction!

What did change in terms of stash was that I organized the heck out of it. I now have a much more consistent set of colours and styles and fabric types, and a much better idea of how I'll use everything I have. At the start of the year I had a number of large pieces of fabric that I bought, mostly very early on in my garment sewing career, that I liked but couldn't imagine how I would use. Originally, I thought my task was to work out how I could use them. In the end, though, it was quite easy to let go of those pieces altogether, mainly by selling them on eBay. I haven't regretted that decision at all. My still-too-large stash is at least now made up only of things that I definitely want to use and that, when made up into garments, will fit in with all the other things I already own and wear.

A more dramatic change is that I did get rid of two thirds of my non-garment stash, around 65m in total. I had a huge amount of mainly bag-making and craft type fabrics that I finally admitted, six years after I stopped dedicating 90% of my sewing time to small items and bag sewing, that I wasn't going to use. I sold a lot of it for very little money in a big job lot, but it got it out of my stash and out the door, and again, I haven't regretted it. I still have more than enough to make plenty of handbags, totes or small craft items if the mood strikes me over the next few years, but it's a much more manageable stash now.

Magazines - 13%

As I've already mentioned, I spent a lot less on magazines this year as I didn't renew my Knipmode subscription. I subscribed for 3 years but while I did enjoy it initially, I found it overall quite repetitive and bland after a time. When the bill arrived this summer it was even higher than last year, plus the exchange rate was against me, plus they didn't deliver or replace one issue in 2018 despite me e-mailing them over and over and never getting a response, so I cancelled. I've barely noticed it being absent from my mailbox, which reassures me that this was a good decision.

I have just renewed my Burda subscription for 2019, and I'll also get Ottobre Woman in 2019. I honestly wouldn't go without these subscriptions at this point. Even though there have definitely been months in 2018 where I've glanced through Burda and thought nothing but NOPE, I still prefer Burda magazine to almost every other pattern source.

Patterns - 8%

Goal: Stick to 2018 pattern buying budget. (Done!)

I bought only 10 patterns this year (5 PDFs, and 5 paper patterns) and I bought all of them on sale. I only spent 60% of the budget I had set myself for patterns in total. A lot of this is just having a lot of patterns already, and not really seeing anything unique or exciting in the categories of patterns than I am open to buying. I did see some gorgeous patterns that I didn't buy; I just don't need, for example, any more dress patterns when I already have so many and rarely make or wear dresses.

Notions, Embroidery, Other - 19%

The rest of my money went on all the little stuff that goes along with sewing (notions = 11%): thread, elastic, interfacing, zippers, buttons, etc etc etc. My notions spending tends to be really lumpy because I buy in bulk. So I did spend a bunch on, for example, big reels of elastic for waistbands on PJs, but on the other hand I shouldn't have to replace that for a considerable period of time.

I also bought an embroidery kit (2% of my spending) and the remaining 6% of my spending was on some random little things that don't really fit anywhere else (fabric organizing software for my phone, my PR membership, etc.). I spent nothing on knitting this year, because I've felt indifferent to the idea the whole year and I'm not a yarn stasher, and nothing on books related to sewing or my other fibre arts hobbies.

In conclusion...

In financial terms, I think my year was pretty successful, except for my perennial stash reduction failure. Next year, I am going to stick to the same broad goals about how much I spend overall. I don't feel like pattern buying needs a separate goal any more, so I won't bother with it for 2019. And yes, I will probably still aim for a significant stash reduction, no matter how unsuccessful I was last year, and all the previous years, for reasons I will go into in my final of three posts early in the new year. In the meantime, in the next post I will discuss what I made and how my wardrobe worked out this year.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

A Boat Tunic

Hello all! There's been quite a gap since I last posted, but to be fair, there's been quite a gap since I sewed.

My sewing slump is down to a couple of things. As I continue to taper one of my medications two of the side effects are "sleep disturbance" (a.k.a. insomnia) and extreme fatigue. I have spent a lot of the last six or eight weeks in a puddle of tired, is what I am trying to say here. Doing just about anything other than staggering from nap to nap has just seemed too exhausting to contemplate.

The second reason is that my wardrobe for this season is pretty complete, so there was nothing I really needed. And I haven't felt inspired to make anything just because I wanted it. There has really been no impetus to break my sewing drought.

However, I did, at some point in November, make one thing: a super easy tunic in a sail/boat print. I did that stupid thing where I didn't photograph it before I wore it, and thereafter on days I felt energetic enough to take a photo, it was either in the wash, in the ironing basket, or being worn. I guess that says something about how much I like it? At any rate, I JUST ironed it from the last time I wore it so I immediately slung it on Flossie to take some crappy photos just so I could finish up blogging the things I made this year.

Boat tunic (Butterick 5203)
The pattern is Butterick 5203, which is a See & Sew envelope and presumably therefore exists/existed as some other number in the Mcvoguerick catalogue at some point. I made the long-sleeved version, B, and is very easy to make. It only has three pieces, it is very loose and voluminous so there is no fitting, not even darts, and I went even further and didn't bother with the opening at the back neck.

Butterick 5203

My envelope contained sizes... I think 16-22? Something like that. I made a size 16 neck and shoulders and an 18 bodice and sleeve. I probably could have gotten away with the 16 for the whole body and there wasn't actually much difference between sizes 16 and and 18 in the sleeve. It's super drapey and loose, so it's ridiculous to say that it "fits". The one place fitting is important on such a garment is the shoulder, and the fit on me is.... not great. I don't know what I was thinking not to do a narrow shoulder adjustment (other than "I'm so tired, I need a nap."). I also need to raise the armhole for the next version. It pulls a little across the top of the bicep.

It went together very easily, except for my usual incompetence with that type of bias bound neckline. I don't why I'm so bad at them, but I always really struggle to find the right line between "the seam allowances are so wide that the bias binding is really puffy and bulky" and "I have trimmed the seam allowances down but the fabric is fraying and the neckline is unraveling".

The print on my Seasalt fabric. It's a sort of abstract sail/boat thing.
My fabric is really great. It's from Seasalt, who make nice casual clothing with a very nautical theme. They print their own fabrics and I guess they routinely sell off the roll ends. I got this and two other prints in 3m cuts earlier this year. This sail themed fabric is a very soft but fairly robust viscose twill, and I like it a lot.

In conclusion: Despite the shoulder fit problems, I've actually worn this tunic a lot already. It's so floaty and loose and easy to wear. I definitely need to make some adjustments, but I think the sleeveless version would be pretty for summer.

And that wraps up my posts on Things I Have Sewed for the year! I'll be back next week some time to talk about this year overall and what I plan on doing next year sewing wise.  :D

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Catching up

It's been a while since I last posted -- since mid-August (which is somehow 11 weeks ago already!!) . Last time, I said I had few easier things on my autumn sewing list left to make, and also I was about to start a major project: a raincoat using a Burda pattern.

In the eleven weeks since then, I have: (a) been away on vacation for a week; (b) suffered a major sewing mojo deficit on and off ; (c) spent a couple of weeks feeling extremely unwell (just for a change); and finally, (d) moved on from autumn into winter sewing.

My sewing apathy is still hanging around. I just feel kind of unexcited about everything. Tracing patterns seems exhausting, cutting fabric out seems exhausting, and sewing stuff up seems exhausting. I guess even writing a blog post seemed exhausting, so I didn't do that either. I am feeling a little less apathetic this week though, so maybe my positive sewing energy is coming back. In the meantime, I am going to catch up this blog up on a few things I did manage to finish during this extended period of blah.

Grey spotty 3/4 sleeve tee
First up, just to mention some little stuff: I made one spotted three quarter length t-shirt, one pair of my go-to ponte trousers using the StyleArc Barb pattern in navy and two pairs of PJs using my new favourite PJ pattern from Burda 01-2017. I didn't take any photos of any of them except for this t-shirt, because nobody cares about PJs or plain navy trousers except for me, and I can see them any time.

On the list of things that people might care about more is this knit tunic from Ottobre 05-2018, pattern #14. It is a raglan dress with cuffs and (although I didn't put one on) a bottom band, but more to the point, GIANT BALLOON SLEEVES.

The magazine page showing the dress (left) and the sweater version, taken from the Ottobre website
I was entirely taken with the dress in the magazine, and I think the model looks adorable in it. However, for me personally, I felt like the fabric they chose to make the samples, especially for the sweater version on the right, did this pattern no favours. I absolutely do not want a sweatshirt with balloon sleeves in a pastel colour. She looks like a children's TV presenter from the 1980s. NOPE.

Ottobre 05-2018-14 raglan dress technical drawings

The pattern actually comes with both the two-piece sleeve with pleats, and also a normal one piece sleeve, in case you want to opt out of the pleated version. For my version though, I thought just making the pattern up in a soft, drapey knit would make the sleeves look full and flowing without making my sleeves look so balloon like. Also, the pattern calls for ribbing which (a) I just don't generally like when I've had RTW garments with ribbed knit bands; and (b) don't know where to buy anyway even if I loved it. I left off the bottom band altogether as I was making this as a tunic and wasn't worried about the length, and made the neckband and cuffs in self fabric. It was very straightforward to trace and cut, and it's loose-fitting so my usual size 44 worked out perfectly, even maybe a little too big.

My version: on the right is the pleated sleeve detail which you can't see at all, really, but it's there, honest!
One problem I had with it was the pockets, and this was mainly down to my fabric. Originally I put the pockets in, but when I tried it on: NOPE. In this light-weight knit, the pockets dragged horribly and the whole dress looked mis-shapen around the hip area. I ended up cutting them off. If you made it in a more stable knit that probably wouldn't be such an issue, but I think you'd want to be careful about how much bulk you were adding.

I've worn it loads since I made it which is always a good sign. In this fairly light-weight knit, it's very drapey. Yes, there's a lot of sleeve, but it just looks like a full sleeve rather than like "And now I will pull an ENTIRE FAMILY OF CHINCHILLAS from up my sleeve! TA-DA!" I would definitely make it again, but if/when I do, I need to make the neckline quite a lot narrower. It's wide enough on me that it tends to slide around and even off my shoulder at the end of a day of wear (not helped by the not-entirely-brilliant recovery of my knit).

Pattern envelope and technical drawings of Burda 6772

Finally, the BIG thing I made back in September but never blogged, which took just about 10-14 days at the start of September, was a navy raincoat using Burda 6772. I made view B, with the fake pocket flaps, wrist and back details, and the longer length skirt with an inverted pleat. I used the pointy collar from view A because I have an irrational horror of round collars. Don't ask why, I just hate them.

Finished navy raincoat - front view
To make this I used a "shower proof" cotton that was (allegedly) a factory over-run for a famous designer. It's actually a great fabric, in the sense that it sews and presses beautifully, and the colour is my favourite neutral of very dark navy. I originally planned to make it with a violently green lining, because I had an inspiration navy coat image with a green lining that I loved. Then, as I was scrolling around a favourite fabric shop I saw the patterned lining fabric and immediately bought that to use instead because I loved it so much.

Problem one with the coat: in practice, this fabric CREASES. I already knew that from the red version I made from the same fabric in another colourway, but somehow the navy fabric is SO MUCH WORSE, or so much more obvious at least.

Finished navy raincoat - back view
It's a while since I made this coat so I don't remember all the details of construction, but I know it was very Burda typical in the sense that the pattern went together as you would expect, and it was an excellent match to the technical drawing. Fit-wise, I am very comfortable now with what I need to do with Burda patterns (rounded back, square shoulder, narrow shoulder, raise the armhole, lower the bust, lower the waist) so the adjustment process was pretty straightforward.

This is the most accurate version for the colour
In theory, this coat had everything going for it, but I have to admit I am not wildly enthusiastic about tit as a finished garment. Normally, a couple of months after I've made something, I've forgotten why I disliked it when I finished it and/or discovered something is so catastrophically wrong with it in wear that it's essentially useless. With this it's just... it's not the best coat. There are loads of little fit issues. I made my usual size (44) and the fit is OK provided I do only wear it in the way I originally planned, which is to say, over a shirt or top without a sweater. I rarely wear fitted tops but when I do I usually add to the width of the pattern at the waist as I don't really have a waist worth mentioning. I thought when I muslined the bodice that the waist fit was going to be OK but now it's finished, it fits but it JUST fits, and for sure I couldn't wear it over a sweater and do it up without straining the waist button.

Lining, pre-insertion. I love this so much as a contrast to a plain navy exterior!
The whole fit is like that: I should have raised the underarm just a little bit higher; I should have lowered the waist just a little bit less. Also, and this is not the fault of the pattern so much as a failure of expectation, the skirt is not as wide and swingy as I really wanted. I don't hate the width of the skirt, but in a perfect world I'd have made something less straight below the waist. None of it is BAD, but nothing about it GREAT either.

The finished inside of the coat
The sewing is the same. There's a lot that went well, but there are loads of places where the sewing is just a little bit wrong in an annoying sort of way. The worst problems I had were with the darts, which I just couldn't seem to sew or press nicely, and also the collar. The collar comes as two separate pattern pieces -- upper and under -- and the under collar is, as is usually the case, just a little bit smaller. I always do this with shirt patterns and typically the difference is very minimal, like 3mm all round. On this pattern piece though, the difference was much more substantial, more like 6mm, and I really struggled to stretch the fabric to fit it together. The end result is that the collar is kind of wrinkled/warped. As I was making it I debated whether or not to re-do the collar but I thought I had steamed into submission. Once it was on the coat and it was too late to fix I realized that was only a temporary fix. Annoying.

In conclusion: this is not a bad coat, it really isn't, but it was enthusiasm sucking. I wanted so much to make a really great raincoat and I got a long way towards that goal but not quite there in the end.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that my worst sewing projects are always the ones I've had planned a really long time and feel very invested in. Nothing ever quite lives up to the mental image I have!
Terrible mirror selfies... and I'm wearing a sweater underneath so it's too tight. I know, it's dumb, what can I say.
Next up: I am not sure. I have some plans for winter but also I am ready to admit I am not super excited by anything. I don't really NEED anything right now, so I might wait to see if the blahs recede rather than force myself to make something and not really enjoy it. When/if my enthusiasm makes a reappearance, I have a few ideas for what to make, but nothing I am really committed to.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Autumn Sewing #1: Easy & Repeats

As usual I am sewing a little ahead of the season so that I have clothes ready in my wardrobe when the weather turns. Also as usual, I've started off with some of the easiest items on seasonal sewing queue.

First, a couple of easy three-quarter length sleeved knit tops. For a while now I've been using a knit top pattern that I adjusted from a very basic New Look pattern back in 2014. It's worked reasonably well but when I was thinking about sewing some new tops I knew I wanted to incorporate the extra shoulder and rounded back adjustments I've started to make this year. I was also slightly concerned that there were some peculiarities in my pattern arising from the many adjustments I've made to it over the past few years. I therefore decided to start afresh with a new basic pattern. I picked out the knit top variations in Ottobre 02-2007 as a starting point.

Ottobre 02-2007 knit top variations. I made pattern 2, except not the split cuffs.

The good news was that there wasn't an enormous difference between my previous top pattern and the Ottobre pattern. The sleeve I was using had gone a bit wonky, and at some point I ended up with a strangely long and pointy curve at the lower edge of the back bodice armhole. These anomalies aside, it wasn't a million miles away. Also, happily for me, it turned out that there was a really close match between the Ottobre pattern and my very favourite RTW t-shirt. I was glad I had compared the old, new and RTW, however, because whereas normally I find a 44 is a good size choice for me in Ottobre, my preferred size/ease is much closer to the 46 in this particular pattern, which, after my fit adjustments (square shoulder, rounded back, overall bodice length) I duly cut.

Versions 1 & 2 of Ottobre 02-2007-02, in white and stripes.
I made two versions, each of these from a single metre of fabric. In the case of the plain white version, I didn't even quite have a metre, more like 90cm and mis-shapen to boot, which is why it ended up with contrast binding and cuffs on the sleeves, and also with a centre back seam. The striped fabric was extra wide (180cm rather than the usual 150cm) so the pattern fit on with no problem even after I stripe matched the sleeves.

Burda 04-2010-114 in turquoise gingham
Next, I repeated a shirt pattern I used earlier in the year, Burda 04-2010-114. This may be surprising because I didn't have the best time making that first version of the shirt and it isn't anywhere near my list of favourite garments for the year so far. In addition to my everything-that-could-go-wrong-went-wrong sewing experience, it's worn much less well than I would like, mainly due to interfacing problems. I used too much of the wrong sort of interfacing and this made the collar and cuffs too stiff. Then the interfacing bubbled in the laundry after about the third wash. That said, all the problems I have with that shirt are really down to sewing error: the actual fit of the shirt is the best I've achieved in a woven top so far. The pattern really only needed one minor adjustment (shortening the bust dart) before I made it up again.
Some details: finished collar (much better this time!) and the bias yoke
I made the same minor construction change as before and did a doubled yoke because I love the clean finish that gives you on the inside. I cut the exterior yoke, as seen above, as well as the cuffs on the bias for a little visual interest (and to save me from having to pattern match at the yoke seam!). The sewing went so much better this time, and I absolutely LOVE my finished shirt. At some point I will have to buy some more plain navy fabric and redo the first shirt.

Latest of many StyleArc Estelles, and a close-up of the fabric (right side = navy/grey stripe, wrong side = plain navy)
Finally, I swore I was going to retire my StyleArc Estelle pattern but when I bought this navy striped ponte I couldn't imagine making anything else with it. I loved my previous Estelles literally to death: two of them finally went into the recycling just last week when I had to admit that they looked absolutely worn out.

My next project: dark navy raincoat fabric, green crepe de chine lining & Burda 6772 view B
I've still got a couple of easy-to-sew wardrobe holes to fill before autumn arrives but next up is a more complicated autumnal garment: a raincoat. I'll be using Burda 6772. If you follow me on Instagram, be prepared for the deluge of posts about it! :D