Tuesday, 16 December 2014

2014 In Review: Garment Sewing Outcomes

Although any meme that goes the rounds too extensively does tend to get annoying, one thing I like about the end of year posts is that people talk about how things they made really worked (or didn't work) for them once they started wearing them for real rather than just to take blog photos. I'm going to co-opt that part of it only for my post and screw this whole "pick your top 5!" nonsense as well. You all know I'm bafflingly long-winded, so you've only yourselves to blame for being subjected to the whole lot. Of course, I am not done sewing yet for 2014, but anything I make between now and the actual end of the year won't really get worn enough for me to form an opinion. I therefore decided to make my review of the year include only the things I made up to now in mid-December, all of which I've had the opportunity to wear and wash several times each.

In numbers

So far this year I've made 48 garments, of which:

28 of which were, by my standards at least, successful or very successful
11 more I've got at least a reasonable amount of wear from but have some problems
2 unworn, but mainly, I think, because of lack of opportunity rather than sewing failure
7 epic fails

I am still MUCH nearer the beginner than the expert end of the sewing learning. Thus, while my "problematic" garments are more numerous than I'd like, I feel like that is probably par for the course for my skill level. Plus, several of the more problematic things were great learning projects so they served some sort of purpose even if the outcome wasn't great.

I'm in the midst of writing/posting lots of (also long-winded) wardrobe planning posts. One thing I am very happy to say is that with only one exception, none of the things I made failed because I found I didn't need them or they didn't work in outfits. Obviously, some things get worn more than others, especially since I had to give up work and don't wear the more formal end of my wardrobe much at present, but pretty much everything I've made works for my life and with the things that I already own.

It's interesting, I think, to think about how successful/unsuccessful the RTW I've bought in the same period has been. I'm not going to post photos/details because that would be even more boring than this post, but for comparison purposes, I bought (or was given) a total of 30 items of RTW this year of which I would say that 19 were successful/very successful, 6 were somewhat problematic, and 5 were fails, to the point where 2 of them I have already sent to recycling. In percentage terms, that's really not that far off my clothes making experiences. I am actually kind of stunned by that, especially when I take into account that most of my successful RTW buying comes from buying direct replacements for pretty basic garments from shops where I already know the sizing, fit and fabric quality works for me. I feel like sewing has many more variables to success than that, yet the outcome this year was about the same.

Two of my hit pattern sources this year: Ottobre 02-2013 and 02-2014 (I used 3 patterns from each issue)
For my 48 garments, I used 35 different patterns from 14 different companies/pattern creators. Only 3 patterns were repeats from previous years. Of the patterns I used, 12 were from Ottobre and 8 from Burda. The rest were made up of: 4 from Big 4 envelopes, 2 from other magazines (My Image, Patrones), and 9 patterns from 7 different indie pattern creators (Maria Denmark, Kitschy Coo, Cake, Pauline Alice, Grainline, Swoon and Silhouette). I'm actually surprised by how many indies there are in that mix, since I don't think of myself as the biggest supporter of the over-priced indie pattern movement.

Now, on to my review of the actual garments:

The Hit Parade - 10 of 48 garments

All of these are things that I made that I love, and that I consider the best sewn and best fitting of the garments I've made this year. Some got more wear than others just because of the nature of the garment, but all of them are things that I reached for whenever it was suitable. Some of these projects represented a little incremental increase in skill or a new technique that I learned as well, so it's fair to say I probably also have kind of an irrational emotional attachment to these things for that reason.

Hits: Tops and Dresses
1 & 2. Chambray and blue sateen Ottobre 05-2012-07 shirts. The blue version of this shirt (bottom left) was the first collared, button-down shirt I attempted, and while I like it a lot, it does have a few little sewing problems and some minor fitting problems. However, the chambray version (main image) is without a doubt the best sewing I have done this year in terms of sewing technique, fit, and matching fabric and pattern. It comes out the wash perfectly every time and I get compliments every time I wear it, plus it's just a great wardrobe staple.

3. Purple Swoon Scarf Neck Cardigan (top left) I adore this. It is a free pattern and incredibly easy to make and it's another thing that collects compliments whenever I wear it. I love the curvy shape it creates when worn and the expensive fabric I used is some of the nicest knit I have in my wardrobe. I'd like a million of these in different colours.

4. Blue blobby polka dot top (Ottobre 02-2014-05) (top right) I loved this top when I made it back in June and wore it loads through the summer and autumn. This was my first real win for fitting a woven top at the bust. If it has a negative, it's that it's made from a synthetic fabric that doesn't breathe at all well in hot weather. I do need to adjust the neckline of the pattern as I've found it's just a tad too wide in normal wear.

5.  Black and red Kitschy Coo Lady Skater dress (bottom right). I am not normally a big wearer of dresses, but this dress turned out to be my Platonic ideal of what I want from an easy dress for work.  I was dubious when I finished it as to whether the fabric/pattern suited me, but once I started wearing it it was a struggle not to wear it all the time.

Hits: Skirts and Shorts
6. Black and white linen skirt (Ottobre 02-2007-12). (large image) This was the centrepiece of my very fast Mini-Wardrobe I made for the PR competition this summer. For a super simple little skirt, I spent a lot of time on making it as beautifully as I could and with as much care on the inside as possible. I feel like the extra effort really paid off in terms of how the finished object looks and wears after repeated washes.

7. Beige pleated skirt (Burda 03-2010-123). (top left) This was my first ever attempt at a fly front on anything. I cut this skirt a bit too short and it has a small sewing flaw at the waistband that drives me mad. However, the finished item otherwise perfectly matched the image in my head and is a shape and style I really enjoy wearing.

8. Purple skirt (Burda 02-2014-109). (bottom left) A surprise hit! When I made it I was very discouraged by this garment. However, I found it really functional and I love the colour, and also got a ton of compliments on it when I was wearing it. I'd still want to do some major pattern revision before I made this again. I had to do so much improvised alteration to get the back waist to fit that it's no wonder I hated it by the time I was done.

9 & 10. Turquoise and white shorts (Ottobre 02-2014-06) (top and bottom right). These were my first ever attempt at a woven trouser/shorts pattern and they were a big success for me. I wore the turquoise linen version in particular as often as the weather permitted this summer, and the white pair only slightly less frequently. However, even though I liked these particular shorts, I probably won't make this pattern again as overall I probably prefer shorts with a fly and pockets. Still, making these and finding them so wearable is a huge confidence builder for future woven trouser fitting.

Functional Favourites: 18 of 48 garments

I'm a very very functional sewer (by which I mean: I make a lot of very boring everyday basics). None of the items in this next category are exciting but they all turned out to be very wearable and are in constant rotation in my wardrobe. For me, these are garments that provided massive value for sewing time and effort, because they were mostly easy to make and I got tons of wear from all of them.

Functional Favourites: Skirts, yoga pants, sweatshirts and PJs

1. Refashioned maxi skirt (top left) I never really talked about this skirt on my blog. I made it in the summer from the remains of a disastrous attempt at a Washi Maxi dress made from a duvet cover in 2013. This is a truly unflattering photo of it (why, self, did you pull your skirt almost up to empire line to take this photo? D:) but this throwaway project turned out to be my most comfortable summer skirt, and I love the bird print fabric.

2 & 3. Wide-legged yoga pants (top middle and right). I made up Simplicity 2369 in red and purple, and the results are exactly what I was looking for in a yoga pant.

4 & 5. Grainline Linden sweatshirts (middle left and right). I have worn these turquoise and stripey tops every single week since I made them. I am only sad that the stripy white version is made of a cheap fabric that I am loving to destruction.

6. Black pleated skirt (middle middle). The Maria Denmark Paula Pleat pattern I used to make this basic black skirt is a really great, easy pattern. The fit is a little lower on the hips than I strictly like and gets even lower as the fabric stretches during the day. When I make this pattern again I will definitely make it a size smaller than measurements suggest and wear it higher up my body.

7, 8, 9. PJs. (Butterick 5704 bottom left and middle, Ottobre 05-2011-02 bottom right) If you want maximum wear for your sewing time, pyjamas are the thing to sew. Plus, I get great satisfaction every time I wear them from the fact that I took the time to sew both the long versions and the pair of PJ shorts really well, with French seams and the works, so they should last for a good long time.

Functional Favourites: Simple knit tops

10-18. Simple knit tops and tees These are from a variety of patterns (top row New Look 6150/personalized sloper versions 1, 2 and 3); turquoise Maria Denmark Kirsten Kimono Tee (middle left), Kitschy Coo Trifecta Tee middle middle and middle right), Ottobre 02-2012-02 (bottom left and middle) and red Burda 11-2014-113 (bottom right)). All of these tops, without exception, have been in constant rotation ever since I made them. I know a lot of people who sew decide not to make easy knits because they are so cheap to buy and aren't very interesting to sew. However, I get so much wear from mine and they are so much nicer than most of my RTW knit tops that I can't personally imagine going back to buying.

OK but...  11 of 48 garments

Now we get into the sharp and pointy end of my review. All of these items basically fall into a category of "meh". I like them enough that I still have them in my wardrobe and they're still in low rotation, but they either started out with a problem or developed a problem in wear that makes me less enthusiastic about them overall.

OK, but... Skirts and blouses
1 & 2. Black, and white floral Pauline Alice Carme blouses. (main image and top left) Main problem: Fit issues. I am really sad to include the Carme tops in this section, but even though I love the idea of them I don't find myself wearing them too often. This is mainly because there are just too many small fitting issues for them to be totally comfortable. The back is too narrow across the shoulder blades. The sleeves are too short and too tight through the elbows, and the shirts need to be just a tiny bit longer (it has a very exaggerated shirt tail hem that ends up being too short at the side on me). I really love the pleated placket and the overall look of these shirts, but the pattern needs a lot of small adjustment work before it's a really good fit on me, despite the alterations I already made between the first black version and the second white floral version.

3. Red corduroy Cake Hummingbird Skirt. (bottom left) Main problem: Stupid sewing decisions. Why did I never believe the stupid, overly didactic sewing instructions that said not to interface the waistband when I know better? Ugh! I was angry about this when I made the pattern up, and have been angry about it ever since. This skirt fits straight out the dryer and then stretches sadly larger and larger and LARGER at the waistband all day long. Luckily I have more of this fabric and can make a similar skirt with a different pattern (and interface the waistband next time!)

4. Navy polka dot Burda 02-2007-113 skirt (top right). Main problem: Poor fabric choice. I actually like this twirly skirt a lot, but I used a non-shiny polycotton lining under a polyester crepe. The lining clings to my tights annoyingly when I wear it in cold weather, and in summer with bare legs the high poly content of the skirt and lining makes me feel hot and sweaty.

5. Navy ponte Burda 01-2004-121 skirt (bottom right). Main problem: Fit issues/fabric choice. I actually loved this skirt and wore it in high rotation for a couple of months, but the waistband has been a problem from the very second I finished it and has only gotten worse with time and wash/wear. This was a sort of experiment using a woven pattern with ponte knit and I didn't really get the fit/fabric combination right.

6. Black zipper hoodie (main image) Main problem: Fabric problems. I'm also really sad to put this Ottobre 05-2013-03 zipper hoodie in the "OK, but..." heap, especially when I only finished it in November. It wouldn't be in this pile at all as the actual pattern is a total hit for me, but the fabric, despite being among the most expensive I have ever bought, is the WORST THING EVER. It constantly gets pulls, and I don't even know what it is I am catching the fabric on. It's also bobbling really badly after what I consider to be an unacceptably low number of wears. Ugh.

7. Burda 01-2013-130 wrap cardigan (top right) Main problem: fit issues plus fabric problems. I made this at the start of the year and actually wore it quite a lot at first. However, it's very frustrating to wear because of lots of little fitting issues: the sleeves are a weird 7/8ths length on me, which I hate; the bodice length is just a little too short on me; the shoulder seams are just a little too wide. Also, I made it in a black viscose knit that puckered and wobbled and was generally a nuisance when I was sewing, and continued to be disappointing by fading and bobbling after I washed it.

8 & 9. Ottobre 02-2013-13 Draped Tee and Ottobre 02-2012-02 Paintbrush tee (middle left and middle bottom row). Main problem: fabric deteriorated rapidly on wear. I bet you thought my problem with that diagonal striped draped tee was that it was just WEIRD, because it is, but I actually LOVED how it looked on. Sadly, both it and the paintbrush print top were both victims to fabric that started to look shabby after what I consider to be an unacceptably low number of washes.

10. Cowl neck My Image M1152 top. Main problem: Annoying to wear. I always WANT to like cowl necks, and then I made this one and rediscovered that I then spend the ENTIRE DAY re-arranging the cowl to stop the facing edge flipping up and/or worrying whether my bust is properly covered when I lean forward. Irritating!

11. Purple yoga pants. Main problem: Annoying to wear. I was dubious about the waistband in these Silhouette 3400 Three Piece Yoga Pants when I made them, and they have indeed proven to be irritating in practice.

Made But Never Worn: 2 of 48 garments

My goal, really, is to only ever make things that are a useful addition to my wardrobe. Obviously, some things are always going to get worn more than others, but I am quite embarrassed that I made a couple of things that I consider to be potentially successful, but that I have never worn since I took photos for this blog.

1. Green pattern woven tee (left). Since the other version of this pattern (Ottobre 02-2014-05) is in my hit parade, it's odd that I never wore this even though I was pleased with it when I finished it back in June. I did make it to go with the green linen culottes/shorts that were an epic fail, and I think the main problem was that it didn't look quite right with other things I tried it with -- the colours or the proportions were always just a bit off. This will stay in my wardrobe for now -- maybe I'll wear it next year.

2. Chambray Ottobre 05-2008-13 skirt (right). I really liked this when I finished it (not so much while I was making it due to fabric issues with the lining) and I still really like it now. So I'm kind of at a loss to explain why it's hung unworn on a hanger ever since I finished it in October. I am sure I will get some wear from it eventually so it will stay where it is.

Epic fail: 7 of 48 garments

Alas, this category contains those things that just didn't work at all, in any way. First of all, without photos because I did not take any, this year I made three wadders that never made it out of my sewing room at all: a Burda tee that I had major fabric problems with; a Patrones blouse made with the worst polyester fabric ever; and an Ottobre knit top so depressing I never even blogged about it.

I also made:

1. Black New Look 6150 faux wrap top. I actually wore this twice, in spite of the fact that it was obviously a disaster when I made it. The second time I wore it I looked in a mirror when I got home and realized it actually looked a TOTAL mess and threw it away immediately in a fit of horror. I really love the idea of this pattern and many other people have made gorgeous versions of it, but mine was completely unsuccessful because my sewing on it was just plain bad.

2. Green linen culottes. I hated these Ottobre 02-2014-04 culottes as soon as I finished them and never wore them. You know that a garment is unsuccessful when you would rather stay in PJs and do some urgent laundry rather than wear the perfectly clean, weather appropriate item already in your wardrobe, which is precisely what I ended up doing one hot day this summer with these culottes. Really annoyingly, I actually sewed these culottes really well, which is the only thing that has prevented me from throwing them in the recycling bag already. The problem was that I made culottes when I don't like them, and the fabric/pattern match was poor on top of that.

3. Turquoise Kitschy Coo Lady Skater dress. I LOVE my black/white/red version of this pattern, but I hated this version as soon as I made it. I subsequently unpicked the horrible cap sleeves shown here, added elbow length sleeves and played with the waistline to improve it, but even after all that I still never wore it. Ultimately, I just don't think it was a good fabric/pattern match because the fabric is too clingy and thin and I don't think the print suits me at all. At present this dress is still hanging in my wardrobe but doubt I'll ever wear it. I may cut it down to a skirt. Tellingly, this is the most spur of the moment garment I made this year rather than something I really planned. Spontaneity doesn't work for me, apparently.

4. Purple tie-dye Burda 07-2012-114 blouse. The fabric and the pattern combination just didn't work out the way I wanted at all and makes it look like I have a weird bulge in my side. I never wore it and can't imagine that I ever will. I will probably take this apart and see if I can re-use the fabric for something because I still kind of like the tie-dye, even if it's kind of loud.

In conclusion:

I don't know that there are any easy conclusions, actually. I am either working from too small a sample size or else there are just too many variable to discern any useful trends. However, on the positive side, clearly making my own clothes hasn't been a total waste of time and money, or at least no more of a waste of time and money than buying RTW. From a future improvement perspective, I would say that many of the problems and even some of the outright disasters are things that I can potentially avoid in future either by just getting better at sewing (I can only hope!) or fitting (already a goal) or being more fabric savvy (ditto). Other problems were less avoidable, and I tend to think that everybody, no matter how experienced, is occasionally going to have some things they make where the fabric just doesn't hold up to wear the way it ought to. Even pre-washing can only give you an inkling of how something is going to behave when it's been washed a half a dozen times.

I can't say there are any generalizable insights about patterns or pattern makers -- my fails were spread out among indies, Big 4 and magazines. Not even Ottobre worked for me every time. Not even repeats of highly successful patterns worked for me every time! I probably won't use a couple of specific indies again (Cake, in particular, I wouldn't touch with a 10 foot bargepole) or only very cautiously (Pauline Alice, because I think her draft may be just too far from my body shape) but I'm not put off continuing to try indies if I like a specific pattern.

Overall, my main conclusion is actually that I am ALL IN for another year of sewing my own clothes in 2015. I definitely had a lot more fun, despite the failures, making these clothes than buying RTW.


  1. This was SO great to read westmoon!!! Not boring at all!

    It is totally eye opening to look back and what you made, what you wear, why you do or don't wear it, your fabric choices and even comparing to rtw!

    And I like you and am not on the Indie train (read: if I think a pattern will work for me and I like it I will sew it. I will not buy every single Indie pattern to be "supportive" and do what the rest of the crowd is doing). So I love that you showed there is no formula for success; because that's probably the case with most of us. Big 4, Indie, Big Magazine pattern co's, can all come with hits and misses. The most frustrating of ALL is when you've made a pattern and then the next time is a complete and utter fail. UGH! :)

    I am insanely crazy about your b&w linen skirt and your button up shirts. And sad that the awesome hoodie and the carme blouses are not in the top :(

    1. Thanks! :D It took ages and ages to write it and then I was like, lol, nobody cares, why are you posting this.

      I am so sad too about the Carme tops and hoodie. :( The hoodie, in all fairness, is an GREAT pattern and I wouldn't want anyone to be put off making it by my version. I really love the the design of it and I may yet make another. However, oh my god, the fabric problems have RUINED it. You wouldn't believe how bad it looks already given I only finished it a few weeks ago.

      The Carme blouses are even more frustrating because I really want to like them so much and they are ALMOST great... but not quite. The fit is JUST uncomfortable enough that I can't love them, especially the sleeve length and side seam length. It drives me mad that I am constantly pulling my shirt down or showing off the side of my abdomen (which no, nobody needs to see that). I do wear them, but just not as often as I thought I might and not without irritation. I hate being annoyed by my clothes.

    2. Oh yes. I cannot wear fussy clothes. Who wants to deal with that?!?!

  2. This was a really wonderful post--you really gave a good analysis as to what worked or didn't and why. It's nice to see other people be constructive about their sewing, because it can be so hard! You seem to have a really clear perspective, and have really given me a lot to think about when it comes to my own projects, so thanks for sharing!

    I am so bummed for you about the fabrics that have deteriorated before they really got much wear, especially that hoodie!! It's one thing when the pattern or fit just weren't quite right, but to be undone by the poor quality of a fabric (especially if it was expensive) would just be so horribly disappointing. At least you seem to have gotten lots of good pieces into your wardrobe this year, though, so there's always that!

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the post! :D I am really pleased with my wardrobe additions this year, despite not everything quite working out perfectly.

      I'm so bummed by the fabric fails myself. I realized after I posted this morning that I actually bought three of the worst performing fabrics from the same shop, which is one of the more expensive places I've shopped. I shan't be shopping there again next year, for sure! The hoodie in particular is so depressing. I really love the pattern and every time I wear it someone says what a great top it is. However, when I take it off after a couple of hours wear there are more little threads pulled and dangling, especially on the sleeves, and more horrible bobbles. It's not got the tightest weave, but it's not THAT loose, so it's baffling to me why it's performing so badly.