Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015 in Review: Goals; and 2016 Goals

Last, and by far the shortest of my 2015 review posts (previously: How I Spent My Money and Things That I Made) is this one about goals last year and this year.

My goals and ambitions for 2015 and the outcomes I actually achieved are as follows:
  • Stick to my 2015 budget. This includes a resolution to spend less on patterns as a % of total than in 2014. DONE and DONE. \o/ (See the Money post for more details)
  • Use more fabric that I buy, and reduce my overall garment stash by 50m and my bag stash by 20m by the end of the year.  Partial \o/! I did use more fabric than I bought and my total stash decreased. However, this was by a rather more modest total of -33.1m, with the majority being a reduction in my bag stash (-28.55m) rather than garment stash (-4.55m). I need to do better on the garment side of things this year.
  • Reduce my yarn stash by at least half. DONE \o/ My yarn stash reduction is a definite win. I sold a lot of yarn I was never going to use, used a bunch and refrained from buying too much. Not only is my yarn stash considerably less than half what it was before, it also presently conforms to my ideal stash: it contains only my current projects, some defined future projects and a small amount of scrap.
  • Maintain and stick to my wardrobe plan. DONE \o/. I am very happy with my wardrobe planning efforts.
Sadly, I didn't achieve even one of my new technique/new garment type ambitions in 2015, mainly due to illness making it very difficult for me to start or complete complex projects. However, they all hold true as things I want to do so I've just copy & pasted for 2016.

More pleasingly, I also aimed to:
  • Finish the Slowest Quilt In The World. \o/ DONE!
  • Make 6 knitted items (1 sock = 1 item) and increase the complexity of patterns I'm using. DONE \o/. I actually made 7 items and none of them were socks, and I significantly increased the complexity of my knitting during the year from only ever knitting simple scarves to trying out lace and successfully completing a sweater.
A couple of little blog plans:
  • Continue to try to improve my photos. Well, I tried? I'll give myself a \o/ for trying.
  • Finish the wardrobe planning series of posts. I didn't finish, but I did write one more and I have another half done. \o/
 As for 2016, these are my practical goals:
  • Stick to my 2016 budget and reduce my spending on patterns compared to 2015
  • Reduce garment stash to less than 150m (from ~193m at the end of 2015).
  • Use at least two thirds of 2016 fabric purchases within 2016.
Some specific ambitions:
  • Make: woven trousers (with or without fly); a woven dress; a piece of outerwear; a lined tailored blazer
  • Try: welt pockets; bound buttonholes; contrast top-stitching; fly fronts
  • Make: 2-3 really great bags
  • Make: an Alabama Chanin style embellished item
  • Complete: 6 knitted items completed
  • Sew and buy according to my wardrobe plan -- two-thirds of new clothes handmade vs RTW, half of new RTW thrifted.
And as always, my biggest goal is to enjoy my sewing! :D

Monday, 21 December 2015

2015 In Review: Things That I Made

This is part of my 2015 in review posts, which started with How I Spent My Money.


First up, some numbers, because it wouldn't be me if I didn't lead with the numbers.

This year I acquired 57 garments in total (compared to 78 in 2014). I discarded 86 garments, so overall my wardrobe shrank by just over 10% compared to 01/01/15.

Of the 57 garments added to my wardrobe, I sewed 34, knitted 1 and bought 22. My goal this year was to make (rather than buy) about two thirds of my wardrobe acquisitions, and I am going to call it good enough that I made just over 60% of them. This is about the same proportions as last year, and I am quite satisfied that that is a sewing/RTW mix that suits me for now

My RTW purchases were mainly trousers -- linen trousers for summer, cords and jeans for winter --  a handful of knit tops in styles I don't want to sew or fabrics that I can't source (especially wicking fabric for active wear), plus a couple of other random things, plus also lingerie.

Of these, the thing I'd at least like to have the option of making is trousers. I haven't really worked on fitting trousers yet though and a major fitting project like that is outside of my capabilities at my current level of health, so for the time being RTW is really my best option. Luckily, I don't find it overly challenging to buy stuff that fits at least reasonably well and this year I was also able to get some new-with-the-labels-still-on thrift buys that worked out really well. I did discard one thing I bought this year due to poor fit.

Of the 35 things I made over the course of the year, I discarded 4 more or less immediately due to poor fit (2) or poor fabric choice (2), and another 2 after about 6 months worth of wear. I'm not super excited by my attrition rate among my hand-made garments, but on the other hand I'm not going to keep something in my wardrobe if it doesn't work for me or looks ragged just because I made it.

Patterns used

I used 24 different sewing patterns to make my 34 sewn garments this year. Of those, 18 patterns were completely new to me this year, and I made 23 garments from them. The remaining 6 patterns (11 garments) I had used in previous years.

My 24 patterns came from 10 different pattern sources. Half my patterns came from issues of my two favourite sewing magazines: Ottobre (7 patterns) and Burda (5 patterns). I made up 7 traditional envelope patterns (3 New Look, 2 Butterick, 1 Kwik Sew, 1 Burda envelope. (I also produced a total wadder with a Simplicity pattern). From the indies, I made 2 StyleArc, 1 HotPatterns and 1 Wiksten. I also drew up one (extremely simple) pattern based on a RTW garment. This distribution between the types of pattern sources is pretty consistent to last year.

Garment outcomes

You can see everything I made in 2015 by category here on my completed project page for the year.

FAVOURITES: 3 garments
Favourites: Burda 03-2014-124, StyleArc Estelle, Burda Classics 2013 005B

My absolute favourite thing I made in 2015 is my Burda 03-2014-124 rolled-cuff blue gingham summer blouse. If I regret anything it's that I didn't have enough fabric or the foresight to make proper long sleeves with cuffs so I could wear it year round. I love it partly because I really like the fabric (an inexpensive but extremely nice 100% cotton gingham) and partly because I really like the design, especially the shape and fit of the collar and the spiffy button placement. I plan to use this pattern again for sure. This was my most-worn woven top this summer.

I also really love my black and white lace print StyleArc Estelle cardigan. I made a blue one as well that I also like but overall I like the black and white fabric more. This was the first StyleArc pattern I tried and it went together beautifully and it is very easy to wear as a layering piece.

My third favourite garment is another Burda pattern, this time the only skirt I made this year: Burda Classics 2013 005B. I had SO many problems sewing the hem on this full skirted maxi and it's very far from perfect if you look at it critically, but it's still lovely to wear. I made it from a very lightweight green paisley fabric that floats and twirls perfectly. I wore this skirt frequently through the summer months.


StyleArc Issy, Ottobre 05-2011-11, Ottobre 02-2006-04: Good, but not quite favourites

The black and blue StyleArc Issy top might not have a huge longevity -- after a few washes the inexpensive viscose fabric is already not looking great, which is why it's not in the favourites section -- but it's a lovely top to wear and I love the cowl neck design, which I think is highly flattering.

I've worn the blue and white blobby Ottobre 05-2011-11 top less because it's not such a great layering piece, though I'll get more wear out of it in spring I hope. It misses on being a favourite because of the problems with the facings that persist in wear (they tend to pull just a little), but it's still a really great top.

Another top I really liked was a red sleeveless blouse I made using Ottobre 02-2006-04. I only wore this twice because we didn't get the weather for sleeveless shirts after I made it, which is why it's not in favourites -- it hasn't quite stood the test of time or washing yet. However, I really like the way it turned out and the fit is surprisingly flattering for a shirt that looks so boxy on my tailor's dummy.


Three of my five uses of a modified pattern based on New Look 6150 this year
A lot of people say they can't be arsed to make t-shirt type knit tops, and I can definitely see that if you can buy inexpensive, moderately good quality tees that fit you then it's probably pointless to make them. However, I like my tees a very specific length and shape that I find difficult to find in shops at a good price. Thus, I have made my t-shirt sloper based on New Look 6150 (link to tag) eight times now, including making five this year, and it comes out perfectly every time. I wear these tops constantly and I love them. Tragically my favourite from this year, the navy stripe in the middle above, has gone saggy and sad as the fabric was poor quality and I washed it a LOT this summer.

Also boring but incredibly useful: I made a TON of pyjamas this year with various patterns, but most notably Butterick 5704 (PJ trousers), Burda 8271 (PJ capris), and Ottobre 05-2011-02 (PJ shorts). These are all workhorse patterns for me that I will continue to use every time I need PJs. None of them are at all glamorous but they work really well and I love them.

I also made a couple of pairs of loungewear type knit trousers using Burda 11-2005-127 that I've worn and washed to the point of extinction. I actually don't know if I'll make the pattern again because I fancy using a different pattern when I make some replacements early next year, but these have been wardrobe staples for days at home in cool weather.


Butterick 5826, New Look 6407, Ottobre 02-2010-17, Kwik Sew 3555
I really wanted to like my blue and brown paisley pullover top made with Butterick 5826, and I actually did wear it several times early in the year because I liked the fabric so much. However, I fought with the pattern the whole time I was making it and would never voluntarily make it up again. It's also really not great to wear: the fit is off and the sewing problems I had with the neckline don't look any better for the top having been washed a few times. It did not survive the most recent wardrobe cull.

New Look 6407 was another disaster throughout when making it. I struggled with the vertical darts, fit and facings. I tried wearing it once only and halfway through the day I ripped it off and put something else on because I hated it so much. It went straight in the bin and I have no plans to revisit this pattern.

Another 'I wore it, but..." garment is this white pin-tucked blouse I made using Ottobre 02-2010-17. I really liked the idea of this but the pattern was much more oversized than I anticipated and although I wore it a few times I never liked how it fit. The fabric is so very sheer and lightweight that it doesn't hold the shape of the shirt at all and after a couple of washes it turned into a rag. It too went in the recycling when I last reviewed my wardrobe.

Most disappointing of all though is the short-sleeved shirt I made with Kwik Sew 3555 in green checked linen. Earlier in 2015 I had made the long-sleeved version of the shirt in blue polycotton quite successfully, although the high poly content of the fabric makes it sweaty to wear. For this version I used this (very expensive) fabric that I bought while I was living in Ireland. I really thought it would make a great shirt. However, the hand of the linen turned out not to be ideal for a shirt and after I first wore it, it shrank in the wash despite two pre-washes. Even more disastrously, one of the yoke seams unravelled horribly as well and I had to do a very ham-fisted patch job. I am so reluctant to discard this shirt after only wearing it a couple of times because I loved this fabric, but I am not sure I will ever wear it much as it's too short and the yoke seam is a mess. I've left it in my wardrobe for now but I may well discard it when summer 2016 rolls around.


A selection of indifference, failures and other stuff
Unwearable muslin, then wearable but indifferent version 2: I made two versions of the HotPatterns Weekender Sunshine Tee. The first, a turquoise "wearable muslin" was, in fact, an unwearable muslin as it was entirely too low cut. I think I wore it twice before I discarded it. However, the second version, in grey animal print, while still lower in the neckline than I like, turned out much better and I wore it a good number of times through the summer. The neckline is too chilly for me in the autumn and winter though.

Indifferent: Boob vortex tee (Ottobre 05-2012-11) -  I wore this a reasonable number of times this summer but the fabric shrank a bit in the wash despite pre-treatment and the pattern never 100% worked for me. I'll replace it next year. Also indifferent: New Look 6890 nightdress.

My choices are baffling: Backshore sweater (knitted). But WHY did I knit a 3/4 sleeve DK sweater? If it's cold enough for a DK weight sweater then it is cold enough to need warm arms! I did wear it a few times in the autumn but it's a sweater of limited use.

Why did I make this?: Wiksten tank in green cotton voile. I hate tank tops and can't think why I made one, especially of this nearly see through cotton voile. It is no longer in my wardrobe. 

Worst fabric ever: Green flames top - surely the itchiest fabric in the world. I wore this Ottobre "Summer Basics" top once and then got rid of it after spending the whole day feeling like I was wearing a hair shirt. Dreadful.

Adventures in Extreme Wadders: I reviewed, even though it was never finished or added to my wardrobe, a dreadful knit top wadder made with Simplicity 1063.

OVERALL, I'm not sure if it was it a good year or a bad year for sewing outcomes. I (mostly) enjoyed myself making everything that I made, which included some other random things as well on top of the garments described here -- I sewed a quilt, blinds, some tote bags and a handbag, and I knitted scarves, shawls and a hat. I very often think that the pleasure I usually get from the process of sewing outweighs the outcomes anyway. So I am willing to call 2015 a good year for sewing, even if not everything turned out well, and nothing at all turned out perfectly (not that it ever will). :D

Saturday, 19 December 2015

2015 in Review: How I Spent My Money

I love annual review posts, both writing them and reading them, and last year I did three: one about how I spent my money in 2014, one about the things I made and how they worked out for me in the longer term and one briefly reviewing the goals I tried to stick to over the course of the year and thinking about goals for 2015. I'm going to use the same format this year, and start with How I Spent My Money.

Being a giant nerd and currently on a fixed budget, I track all my finances pretty closely. Although I give myself a generous budget for my sewing, knitting and other crafty activities I'm also pretty concerned to make sure I stick to it, so I keep a close eye on my spending through the year. This year, I had to be stricter with myself the second half of the year because I overspent by about 10% in the first half. However, I ended up spending in total just a hair under my planned budget -- and I mean a HAIR, I was under by just £5.

I made no major one-off purchases for my sewing room this year; all my machines and my sewing setup are the same now as they were at the end of 2014. All my spending this year therefore fell into the following categories:

I am a giant nerd, so here is a pie chart of my spending

FABRIC: This year I spent 22% of my budget on fabric, buying a total of 54.8m of fabric. I used 18.1m of my 2015 purchases during the course of the year and the rest is gracing my stash. I am not particularly happy to have sewn barely a third of the fabric I bought during the year, as I originally planned to try to move to much more of a "buy mainly for immediate use plus a little stash" model. In fact, I probably reversed the ratio that I was hoping for -- I would have been quite pleased to have used two thirds of my purchases and stashed a third.

Looking at what I have left in stash from this year's purchases, the reason for this is immediately clear to me: I bought fabric for a fantasy life where I was not ill and needed to sew smart clothes. I can't even say I got better at this as the year went on and I realized I wasn't going to get better any time soon: my most recent purchase of this type of fabric was only last week. /o\ Since I vehemently resist sewing for a fantasy life, I have just ended up with a pile of fabric I didn't use, much as I like it. When (eventually) I do have to rebuild a work wardrobe I am going to be spoiled for choice with nice fabrics for work appropriate clothes. However, since that day is still an indeterminate distance away, it's a little frustrating that most of the things I stashed in 2015 probably won't make it out of stash for a while yet.

On the plus side, however, this year's total is the smallest value AND volume of fabric I've purchased in any year since I started sewing. Also positive: my leftover 2015 purchases are mainly things I still like and want to use, and overall there's very little "what on earth was I thinking?" from this year in stash. (I do have two pieces of fabric where I go back and forth between "This is so great!" and "What was I thinking?". I don't think I'll decide which it is until I actually try to use it.)

MAGAZINES: My biggest purchase category, at 28% of total budget, was pattern magazines.

Knip: My big pattern magazine innovation this year was subscribing to Knip (formerly Knipmode), the Dutch sewing magazine. I've received 5 issues so far, having started my subscription with the September issue (plus the June issue, above, that I bought as a one off to see what I thought of the magazine). Unfortunately, I haven't really done much sewing since I started my subscription because of illness. All I can say right now is that I am very pleased with the magazine from a content perspective -- I find a lot in the magazines I'd like to sew and wear -- but I can't say anything definitive about the patterns, sizing, etc. or working with the Dutch-only instructions, because I've yet to make anything. I will report back on this when I do in more detail.

Burda: I went Burda back issue crazy this year again and bought a ton of them. (This is in spite saying at the end of last year that I had all the back issues I wanted. I lied.) To be honest, I regret nothing about these purchases. I am thrilled with my Burda library and whenever my enthusiasm for sewing wanes a little I find that flipping through a few past issues makes me desperate to sew all over again.

I was sadly less excited by my subscription to the 2015 issues of Burda. I tend to blame that on not being super excited by the broader 2015 fashion trends, which Burda seemed to reflect quite faithfully. I have continued to subscribe though because there are always just enough good patterns for me to decide I don't want to miss an issue. Plus sometimes Burda is a real sleeper thing, and I'll realize 2 years later that I love something and need it immediately. I also bought the two Burda Easy and one Burda Vintage (The 1960s) magazines this year from the Style Special issues. I'm dubious about these purchases but got sucked into it somehow anyway.

Ottobre and MyImage: I bought both the S/S and A/W issues of each of Ottobre and MyImage magazines this year. Funnily enough, there was a real surge in interest and enthusiasm for Ottobre in the sewing blog community this year, right when my own enthusiasm diminished quite a lot. I wasn't overly struck by either of this year's issues and haven't made anything from them. That's not to say I won't in the future, but there's nothing from either 2015 issue in my sewing queue right now. This is a big change for me as I usually stack my queue with recent Ottobre patterns. I won't unsubscribe, but I am hoping 2016 is more to my taste as I do love Ottobre's style and drafting.

MyImage I am just about ready to be done with. I got both issues this year while they were on sale but my enthusiasm is very low indeed. I will only buy them next year if I feel really very struck by the content, because I feel it's very same-y and tedious at this point.

I bought so many coat patterns this year. If I keep buying coat patterns, a coat will magically happen, right?
PATTERNS: In 2014 I spent a stupid amount of money on patterns and I resolved this year to try to cut down on pattern buying. Outcome: I spent 20% less this year in absolute terms compared to 2014, and about 15% of my total budget compared to 19% in 2014.

I feel I've been garment sewing long enough now that I've become a lot less interested in new pattern releases. I already have a great selection of patterns between my existing pattern stash and my Burda library, so it wasn't hard to cut down a bit on my pattern spending. I can still see an obvious problem with my 2015 purchases: even as I restricted what I bought, I still kept buying things for that same fantasy life I'm not actually leading. Not only do I not really need work dress, party dress or tailoring patterns right now but I already have SO MANY of them. I really just need to stop.

One very noticeable trend in my pattern buying: I bought very few patterns from the indies this year. I bought a couple of StyleArc patterns, a handful of inexpensive knit top PDF patterns, and the Grainline Morris jacket in PDF which I have printed out but can't be arsed to stick together. There just hasn't been much to tempt me coming from smaller pattern makers this year at all.

I am not at all sure what I was thinking buying this book. Is the M&M style really me, I have to wonder.
 BOOKS: This year I spent 12% of my budget on sewing books. These included: The Shirtmaking Workbook by David Coffin; The Merchant and Mills Workbook; three Japanese sewing books; Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns (the latest Alabama Chanin book); several tailoring reference books, and several fabric and sewing reference books. I love books and it's not really in me to regret buying anything book-shaped, but the most notable thing about these purchases is that, of those that came with patterns, I've yet to make up a single pattern.

OTHER: Last year I spent way too much in the "Other" category on Craftsy classes I never watched. This year, I spent only 4% of my budget on "Other", mainly because my Craftsy purchases were limited to the Alabama Chanin class (while on super duper sale) plus the all-access pass in October, which I thought was great value. Also in "Other" is my PR membership. I had actually decided not to renew it and then I won a year's PR membership recently, so that charge won't be in there next year and after the free year ends I will probably cancel.

KNITTING & NOTIONS: Each of these was about 10% of my budget, and I have nothing to say about either. I didn't make any major or significant purchases in either category. For notions, my total reflects a fairly consistent and low-key monthly spend on little necessary items like zippers, buttons, elastic and thread, that sort of thing. Knitting spending is more lumpy as I tend to spend nothing for months and then buy patterns, yarn and notions for my next project as I approach the finish of the current one. I have basically no knitting stash, which is exactly how I want it.

In 2016 I resolve to only buy fabric and patterns I want to use immediately, plus Unicorn Fabric and Patterns because I admit that I am weak (This is Pusheen the Cat being a unicorn, by the way)

OVERALL: I feel pretty good about my spending overall. The main thing this review highlighted for me is that some of my spending was maybe a bit misdirected: too much fabric and pattern buying for a life I'm not actually living. I'd like to try to avoid that in 2016, or at least until my real life catches up to my fantasy life and I am able to leave the house more!

My 2016 fabric buying plan is therefore to buy fabric only if I'm going to use it more or less immediately and I don't have anything suitable in stash, or if it really and truly is Unicorn Fabric. (Unicorn Fabric is fabric so perfect and magical and amazing that I just HAVE to have it and be hanged to everything -- it is definitely a rare thing!). I'm not really planning to fabric fast in any severe way because I know for a fact that I'll need to buy knits on several occasions this year. I need to replace multiple knit garments in my current everyday wardrobe and I have nothing suitable in my stash.

As far as patterns are concerned, I know I now have SO MANY patterns that I will never be able to use all of them, and that annoys me. My plan is therefore to really only buy Unicorn Patterns in 2016, as far as possible, and to try to get a lot more use out of my magazine library, subscriptions and existing envelope and PDF patterns stashes. I think when you've been sewing a certain amount of time and accumulated a certain number of patterns you begin to realize that Unicorn Patterns are actually even more rare than Unicorn Fabric, so maybe my pattern buying will fall off a cliff this year.

I have no goals with regards my other spending categories. Magazines will always be quite a big category for me but I like my subscriptions and don't plan to change them unless I decide against renewing Knip once I start using it.

If I am going to spend less on patterns and potentially less on fabric then in theory at least I could reduce my overall budget for 2016. However, at this point I will put my hand up and admit that during my recent sewing hiatus I picked up another hobby. For reasons, I started drawing, painting and doing a little papercraft in the last few months, and I'm really enjoying it and plan to continue. If you felt so inclined, though why you would be I do not know, you can read about it on a blog I decided to set up: And Then I Absent-Mindedly Ate Half My Still Life. My artistic endeavours so far have not had quite the initial upfront costs as sewing, insofar as you don't need much to get started and most individual items are quite cheap, but it will probably eat up any surplus from (hopefully) spending less on sewing.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Wardrobe Planning IIIb: My wardrobe by the numbers

This is a return to a series of posts I started writing more or less this time last year. Previous entries:

Wardrobe Planning I: In which I talk about the reason I am interested in planning my wardrobe
Wardrobe Planning II: In which I digress into discussion of the role of sewing in my wardrobe plan
Wardrobe Planning IIIa: The numbers game

The TL;DR of these posts -- and if you're new or didn't read them the first time, you should note that I took my normal baffling wordiness to extremes with these three posts, and likely will again with all subsequent posts -- is as follows:

I have, over the years, had a difficult time with clothes and my wardrobe and fashion, for reasons (Part I). When I started to sew my own clothes a couple of years ago, this unexpectedly improved a great deal, but also made me want to make sure that I kept making the right things -- things I would wear and love and enjoy frequently. This in turn made me more and more interested in planning what I made or bought in a more deliberate and thoughtful way (Part II). Once I started to think about planning to make sure I made only the most useful and delightful clothes, I found I fell down a rabbit hole about overall wardrobe size. I started to ask myself a lot of questions how many clothes I really needed, and what social forces and ideas might affect how I perceived that number, and what other people have said about it all. (Part IIIa)

The last post, IIIa, was written in January of this year. Since then, I have been quietly doing all sorts of things in the background around wardrobe planning, sewing and yes, tragically, also some numerical analysis in Excel spreadsheets, for lo, I am the nerdiest nerd of all. This post and the next in the series are therefore the outcome of a year's worth of experience, 6 months of the most mind-bogglingly ridiculous data-gathering on my actual clothes-wearing habits, and general thought about the numerical requirements of my wardrobe.

But first, I have to say this as a  preface to the whole conversation:

I don't care what your actual number is, or what your opinion is of mine (and nor should you)

There is this thing I see people do that I really don't like: someone with some size of wardrobe -- and most often I see this among people working a minimalist thing, although sometimes also from the highly fashionable with a huge trendy collection -- will try to make everyone else feel bad about whatever it is they have. In the grand scheme of possible interpersonal conflicts, I hope this is a tiny blip for most of us. However, it does grate on me a little when I see people acting as though they are approaching sainthood for either their conspicuously anti-consumerist wardrobe or their devotion to and enjoyment of fashion. Ultimately, my take on the whole numbers game is this:
Whatever number of clothes makes you happy with your wardrobe with is a good number.
I am thus not here to tell you that either (a) I have struck upon the One True Number, to which all people should now conform; or (b) that the number you have decided would make you happy is in any way wrong. I also do not care if you think that the number of garments I have is too many/too few, or that the underlying reasons I have for choosing those numbers are faulty. I am not the gatekeeper of your happiness; you are not the gatekeeper of mine.

To be honest, I do not even think I have hit upon a permanent One True Number for myself, because I think it could easily change as things in my life change -- the job I do, the climate I live in, and so on. What I do think is that I have some better idea of my current baseline, and how it might be adjusted.

The number to be happy

Even if we all agree that our ideal numbers are (should be!) all different, we still all need to determine individually what a happy-making wardrobe would look like in size terms. After thinking about it on and off for about a year, this seems to me to come down to the answers that we each choose to a mix of practical, aesthetic, lifestyle and even moral questions. (For example: How often do you feel comfortable wearing the same thing and how does your job/living with a sticky fingered toddler/laundry routine/whatever affect the frequency with which you wear things? How much storage space do you have? How much seasonal weather variation do you have to deal with? How much would you value being able to mix and match 90% of your wardrobe vs. having a lot of colour choice and/or the option of many striking-and-distinctive garments? How many different sorts of events and activities do you have going on that require significantly different types of dress? What level of consumption and discards can you afford and how much can you live with as an educated consumer aware of the social and environmental impacts of the clothing trade?)

Some of the more practical questions are quite easy to answer. For me, the very tiniest minimalist wardrobes are just not workable because I am, I am sorry to inform you, grubby and sweaty. I always end up with mud on my trouser cuffs, gravy on my cardigan sleeves and I perspire inelegantly on everything. I sort of always hoped I'd grow out of these unfortunate tendencies, but: no. I just turned 40 and I am as grubby and sweaty as I have ever been. Laundry frequency is therefore a significant constraint for my wardrobe because I cannot go to work with last night's gravy on my jumper.

My current laundry/ironing routine works very well for me, involves exactly the level of effort I am willing to put in and no more, and has endured for many years. I have almost zero interest in changing it. I can't say laundry ever precisely makes me happy, but I would definitely be annoyed if I had to suddenly change my routine. Thus, I have an automatic, practical constraint on the size of my wardrobe: at an absolute minimum, I have to have enough clothes to last between laundry cycles, with a little bit of wiggle room for safety (in case I am sick on the day I usually do the laundry, etc). The tiny minimalist wardrobe would be a source of laundry-based irritation, and thus won't work for me.

Other sources of happiness are less easy to quantify. There is a point of having belongings when I start to feel uncomfortable, and I get this visceral reaction: argh, I have too much stuff. It feels out of control, oppressive, and annoying. By contrast, I quite enjoy having the right amount of things. For me, this means being able to see all my choices, nothing being crushed or lost in a crowd, nothing falling out of the cupboard when I open the door. I like to know I've used the things I own and am pleased when I feel I have had value for money. I don't mind a bit of visual clutter when I look at my belongings, but too much and I feel overwhelmed.

When thinking about your wardrobe on a purely numerical level, I think recognizing if you have a specific comfort level is key. Maybe it delights you to open a closet door and see a space packed with clothing choices. Maybe you like to open your wardrobe and see three pairs of black skinnies and six stripey black and white t-shirts (each with different stripe widths, naturally!) and nothing else at all. Those two people might accumulate past their comfort level and hit argh, this is too much stuff on the exact same day, but it is going to be at a very different actual number of items that prompts it.

I don't think there is a "right" number for that discomfort to hit, but I actually do think most adult women have probably experienced it at least once -- we've all done that frantic, cathartic wardrobe purge at least once, right? -- and probably have some idea where their preferred comfort level is and how strongly they feel about it. Getting to grips with this was important personally because until I thought about it I kept getting stuck in a loop of regretting that I wouldn't be able to have shiny new things all the time if I set limits on the size of my wardrobe. Now I remind myself how very much I disliked having too much stuff vs my relatively fleeting moments of dislike of a lack of novelty.

I do think people who sew have a double problem here, because if you feel like you've hit your ideal wardrobe size and don't need anything new at the moment then you've unfortunately engineered yourself out enjoying of your hobby. In my case, I am again still more uncomfortable with owning an excess of stuff than annoyed by having to take a break from sewing until I need something. I know for sure that other people I know find their equilibrium on this swings much more towards making sure they have a constant flow of sewing projects and never mind the accumulation of clothes that results -- and that's fine, too, as long as you take into account your preferred sewing output when you make your wardrobe plan.

At any rate, as I've thought through some of these questions over the last year or so, and come up with ways of working out what it means in concrete terms, I've started to reshape my wardrobe to the size (and distribution among garment categories) that makes the most sense to me. Hence:

My current wardrobe by numbers
Since I am a giant data nerd with a wardrobe spreadsheet I can tell you exactly how many items of clothing I own. Thus: if you include every single thing I own except the contents of my sock-and-lingerie drawer (I do not keep track of these, though I have a one-in-one-out policy for all my lingerie etc because I feel like whatever I own right now is the right amount of stuff and I want neither more nor less).

In total, therefore, I own 216 garments, from winter coats to swimsuits, from t-shirts for bands that broke up two decades ago that I wear to sleep in, to formal evening wear.


However, not all garments are actually available to me. My weight fluctuates a lot (in 2015 it has wandered up and down an 18lb range, which is pretty typical for me). Most of my wardrobe copes reasonably well with that level of weight change but I have some things that only really fit at the top and bottom of the range. Right now I'm more or less dead centre of my normal weight range and thus I have 29 garments that live in storage boxes under my bed that don't fit me, pretty much an even too big/too small split.


I have 2 pieces of evening wear in my wardrobe, which I don't wear much, obviously. I also have 33 items of nightwear/loungewear and 39 items of active/gymwear/swimwear, etc. These numbers are very stable and again, the right amount of stuff,  so I mostly also manage these with a one-in-one-out policy. I always take these out of my "everyday" clothing numbers because although I do wear some of it every day, I don't wear them out of the house (or outside of the gym in the case of activewear) and I don't plan how they go together in any way. (As a result I always look like I chose my PJs with my eyes shut because absolutely nothing matches anything else, but I quite actively don't care -- comfort trumps all aesthetics in PJs.) Once you exclude evening-, active- and nightwear, I have:


As much lamented, I have had to take an extended break from my career due to chronic illness. When I work, I'm a university lecturer and work in business schools. This requires something akin to a business casual wardrobe with some more formal business wear for some situations. I was in the process of rebuilding this part of my wardrobe following my (jeans-and-a-sweater) PhD years when I became ill and had to give up work.

My current, mainly house-bound, miserable sick person lifestyle only requires a wardrobe that varies between "pyjamas", "almost but not quite pyjamas" and "casual/jeans" for when I do go out anywhere. I have 26 items of clothing (tailored trousers, blazers, skirts and formal blouses) that,  while they fit, are not useful, and just hang about waiting for the glorious day when I get to go back to work.


It is December right now. I live in the UK and while we don't have massive seasonal weather fluctuations (compared to other places I've lived, at any rate) the winter is colder and wetter than the summer. There are 40 useful, everyday, current lifestyle appropriate garments in my wardrobe (shorts, summer skirts, short-sleeved tops, linen trousers) that I don't wear in the dead of winter, and are currently tucked away until next year.


Thus, it turns out that for my current lifestyle 40-50 garments in my everyday wardrobe is actually an extremely practical number that also makes me happy for other, less quantifiable reasons. It feels like this is the number where I have the right level of repeat wears vs novelty for me, the right amount of mix-and-match vs. this-top-doesn't-go-with-much-in-my-wardrobe-but-I-don't-care, the right amount of variation for the range of things I have to do day-to-day, and feels like the right amount of stuff.

The big caveat here is that 40-50 active garments works for me right now because of my lifestyle, and it might not have worked at other points in my life and may not again in the future. I don't need separate work and a casual/at-home wardrobe, because I'm not working. I don't need clothes to go out in the evening or beach holiday clothes because, alas, these are activities currently conspicuous for their absence from my life. So, my happy equilibrium at 40-50 garments that I can wear right now is (hopefully!) a temporary one, that I will need to revisit again in the future as circumstances change. I think that is always true, though, for everyone.

As this post is already extremely long (bafflingly wordy, remember), I am going to stop here, and come back in Part IIIc to discuss the distribution of my garments among categories, my alarmingly nerdy data gathering process about what I actually wear and how often, the fact that I have an actual wardrobe calculation formula embedded in my spreadsheets, and my horror at my acquisition/discard numbers.

Monday, 30 November 2015

The passage of time

Well. I guess November happened without me feeling any need to blog about any of it. It was a somewhat terrible month, to be honest, despite containing my (very pleasant) birthday (though it was a Birthday With A Zero At The End, which is always mildly horrifying). The upshot of my month was that I spent most of it sick, and when I wasn't sick I was miserable, and quite often, just for a really fun time, I was both sick and miserable. None of this was conducive to sewing, or blogging, or anything else, really.

However, although illness was the main stumbling block, another reason I haven't really been sewing is that I didn't really need to make anything. Although this is unfortunate from the point of view of enjoying my hobby, in intervals of misery I have, in fact, been smugly patting my own back quite extensively over this. As the season changed into late autumn/early winter it became cheeringly apparent that my wardrobe planning efforts are finally starting to pay off. Right now I have more or less the right amount of just the right things for the weather, my current lifestyle and I also like (almost) everything I own. This has been the wardrobe holy grail I've been working towards the last few years so: yay! I am going to write some more about this soon, because no, really, this is the first time I've felt like everything has come together.

Hanging handtowels for my mum's kitchen
Almost perfect wardrobe aside, I do still have a list of sewing projects. As I've felt a great deal less sick and at least somewhat less miserable in the last few days, I decided to start with something small: a request for my mum for hanging hand towels for her kitchen. I actually bought the towels for this about 3 months ago, and the fabric and buttons were pulled from my stash. I adapted this pattern in order to make four in total as requested (I had already delivered two of them to my mum when I took this photo). Not very exciting, I know, but my mum was pleased! These account for the meagre half metre of fabric that I managed to take out of stash this month, though happily I didn't buy anything at all so at least the numbers moved overall in the right direction.

I have no concrete plans for December as it all depends on how well I am. Nebulous ideas if I have days where I feel like sewing include working on the Please Stop Talking About It And Just Make It Already winter jacket, and maybe a Lekala hoodie thing, and maybe, possibly, something specific for Christmas Day. The only thing I'm really determined to do is finish my Wanderling jumper (last mentioned at the end of September) which has stalled out because I felt rather unenthusiastic about knitting long boring stocking stitch sleeves. I am sure I can plough through them fairly quickly though if I knit a bit every day, so if possible I will try to do that over the next couple of weeks. I hate having WIPs lurking about never-endingly and it would be good to get that jumper finished before the end of the year.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Pyjamas, plans and a couple more Craftsy mini-reviews

October started out pretty positively, but alas, the second half went rapidly downhill and for quite a lot of the time I've been too ill to really do anything, even watch Craftsy videos. Most days I wasn't even up to posting on Instagram, which is about the lowest bar for activity I can think of. My grand plan to really burn through a lot of video instruction while I had the all-access pass was thus foiled! I did get through a couple more classes (reviews at the bottom of the post) but not nearly as much as I wanted. I also didn't sew at all for most of the second half of the month. On the days when I did feel well, I used the time to do all the mundane household/life things I hadn't done on the bad days and didn't have the energy to do anything more. I can't begin to tell you how bored and fed-up I am with all this illness, or how frustrated I am with the slow-grinding wheels of bureaucracy that stand between me and actually being treated for it. One of these days though I'll report that I'm getting better and we'll all pass out with shock.

I also broke my fabric drought this month -- after abstaining for MONTHS I broke down and ordered a 2m cut of a fabric I just couldn't resist! Despite this, however, I am actually finally making some downward progress with my stash -- right now I have 12.5m less garment fabric than than on 1 January, which is about as good as my stash statistics have looked all year. I also did an epic sort out of my bag-making/other fabric. I sent some fabrics to recycle and sold some other pieces on eBay, with the end result that I've manage to cull over 25m from that part of my stash in total so far this year.

On the actual sewing front, though, other than that StyleArc Issy top (wear update: fabulous, love this top) and some easy knits at the start of the month, the only other thing I managed to make successfully in October was an unexciting but subsequently very welcome pair of pyjamas. This is my old favourite Butterick 5704 (a pattern that I've made several times now) and a no pattern (or, at the risk of sounding extremely pretentious when describing a garment than is basically a rectangle, a "self-drafted" pattern) baggy t-shirt that I first made earlier this year.

My fuzzy October pyjamas
I'm not sure I really needed these, but I actually really love the PJ bottoms in particular, which are made in a slubby, slightly fuzzy cotton/viscose blend. I originally bought it for a shirt but when it came to it I didn't like the idea of the fuzzy texture -- I like my shirting smooth and fine. However, it made up into lovely PJs, which have been warm and comforting while I've felt so rotten.

For November I have a few plans but nothing too concrete -- it depends how well I feel as to how ambitious I get with my sewing for the next few weeks. At the moment too the weather is so warm that I've not really felt very excited about making anything intended for wear in the dead of winter. I may regret this, since the doom and gloom merchants are talking hysterically about the "worst winter in 50 years" that's allegedly going to hit us at some point. That prospect does provide me with a little encouragement to try to make some progress on Operation: Outerwear (a.k.a my long-discussed but never realized coat project). If we do have a dreadful winter I am woefully ill-equipped for it, as far as coats are concerned. On the other hand, the idea of trying to do anything as ambitious as fitting and sewing a coat if I carry on feeling as ill I did for most of October is risible, and so I'm leaving it there as just a possibility rather than a plan for now. Less interesting but probably more achievable are a couple of knit garments I have it in mind to make, and maybe a woven shirt if I feel up to it. I also want to get back to knitting my Wanderling jumper. I meant to get restarted on in October but again: too ill most days, too busy when I wasn't ill.

As far as the Craftsy thing goes, I did get through three more classes (here also is Part 1 of my mini-reviews, with some general blather at the start). The main thing to come from watching these classes is actually that I added something to my "vague future plans for when I am well again and working and have an income and stuff": I really want to go do one of Alison Smith's classes at her School of Sewing down in the Midlands. In the meantime, I watched:

Couture Finishing Techniques by Alison Smith
I don't really aspire to sew ~~couture but I do enjoy getting a really nice finish on garments that I make, so I was quite keen to take this class. I've also heard really good things about Alison Smith, so I wanted to try at least one of her classes. Definitely a good plan -- I loved this class! It covers seam and hem finishing, a fancy buttonhole, a zip guard and waistband finish for a skirt, various kinds of corded closures and some hand stitching. Although the class is billed as "couture" and there are some bits I was like "yeah, no, I won't be hand whip stitching my seam allowances any time soon, who has time for that", I can easily imagine including many of the other techniques in my own extremely prosaic and everyday sewing. (In fact, I was delighted to discover she suggested using several techniques I have already tried to use e.g. in a black and white linen skirt I made in summer 2014 -- I loved how that skirt came out and the finish I got.). Presentation wise, Alison is another very clear and precise instructor, very like Suzy Furrer in her presentation style (and also a professional teacher -- there's a trend here). This was DEFINITELY worth my time.

Couture Dressmaking Techniques by Alison Smith
Having taken the finishing techniques class first, I expected to like this class, and indeed I did really enjoy it. It covers a lot of the same ground as the The Couture Dress by Susan Khalje, which I've owned for a very long time -- I think it was the first class I ever bought -- but of which I've only ever watched about half. There's a lot of the usual hand-work, silk organza underline everything type of thing, but there's plenty of technique in here done at the machine that I can see myself using in my everyday sewing. Again, really enjoyed Alison's delivery of the material, took a million notes, definitely worth my time. I did skip the section on boning entirely, because I foresee no boned dresses in my immediate (or even in my distant) future.

Decorative Seams: Techniques and Finishes by Katrina Walker
I chose this class because it demonstrated a particular technique (open slot seams) that I have picked out as something I want to do with a specific pattern and fabric in my stash. Of course I have written instructions in one of my sewing books, but I thought since here was an opportunity to see it demonstrated, plus some other things like faux tucks and piping, I would take advantage of it. As it turned out, I did watch pretty much the whole of the rest of the class as well as the slot seam section, except for two longer sections on prairie points and Seminole piecing -- they were a little too Look, Ma, I'm Wearing A Quilt! for my taste. The instructor, Katrina, is quite good -- very clear and although a little nervous in the earliest segments, she settles down into a very approachable and pleasant teaching style quite quickly. Unfortunately she wears probably her own hand-made clothes and I was distracted by how poor the fit was sometimes. This is slightly unkind of me, but she is being sold to me as a sewing teacher so whatever. Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed the class and very usefully there is a sampler/instruction worksheet provided for each of the techniques which I think will come in handy. I don't think I'll want to revisit this class but I don't feel I wasted my time flipping through the parts that interested me most.

Overall, the all-access pass was great. I'd definitely buy one again if it were at the right price, and I definitely feel like, in spite of the fact I didn't watch even half the classes I targetted due to illness, I got really good value for money from it.  I wish I'd gotten to more of the Suzy Furrer classes, and the Allison Smith tailoring classes as well, but I just couldn't.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Baffling neckline is less baffling than expected or, more prosaically: StyleArc Issy, a review

StyleArc Issy
The StyleArc Issy pattern came out some time ago now as one of StyleArc's free patterns of the month. I really REALLY wanted it when it first came out, not least because many months earlier I had I seen a photo of a really similar top in a slinky, shiny navy knit that I loved and really wished I could own. The original top was by some fancy designer and so stupidly expensive that buying it was 100% out of the question even when I had a job and an income. However, although I dithered for ages about buying the pattern, in the end I was too cheap to cough up for a single-sized paper pattern + postage. When I saw the first made up versions surface in reviews/blogs I regretted that decision, and as I mentioned in my StyleArc Estelle review, I have therefore been waiting (im)patiently for StyleArc to release it as a PDF ever since. However, never underestimate the kindness of sewing strangers around the world! After I said that, Nakisha offered to mail me her paper copy of the pattern that she didn't want! :D I immediately moved it right near the top of my sewing queue when it arrived. After my confidence rebounded from the drubbing dealt to it by Simplicity 1063, I decided to tackle it this weekend.

The pattern calls for a "soft knit", so I chose a very floppy black and blue viscose knit I bought earlier this year. I'm not sure it'll have great longevity, as it's rather thin and not fantastic quality. Inexpensive viscose knits are never the longest lived garments, but it was by far my best stash option for this pattern as nothing else I have is nearly so drapey and the drape is absolutely vital. My fabric was moderately stretchy, but I bet this top would be even better in something with a lot of stretch as well as a lot of drape.

StyleArc Issy in blue and black viscose knit, as modelled by Flossie
I am still finding my way with StyleArc's sizing. According to the StyleArc size chart, I am pretty much perfectly a size 10 upper bust, size 14 bust and size 12 for both hip and waist. That size distribution (n, n+2, n+1 for upper bust, bust and hip) is pretty much the norm for me across all the size charts of the pattern companies I use regularly, although, as we all know, how those size charts relate to the actual patterns is an entirely separate problem.

When I made the Estelle cardigan, I started with a 10 and did an FBA up to the stated measurements for a size 14, and left the width in through the waist and hip. Since it's a loose, draped cardigan I couldn't see any benefit to tapering back in to a size 12 at the waist and hip. That seemed to work quite well, but then it's hardly a fitting challenge to get a cardigan with no closure or shaping to speak of to go around one's body. Really, the most I could say about the size I prefer in StyleArc as a result of making my two Estelles was that the shoulder fit of the size 10 seemed reasonable.

Back view on Flossie
This time, since StyleArc paper patterns are single sized and the copy I had was a 12, that was what I started from. I have no idea how you'd grade this pattern -- not only do I not really know how to grade a single-size pattern (I'm taking that Craftsy class this week!) but the front bodice piece is so very weird looking that it seemed unnecessarily complicated to even try. I therefore decided that the 12 would most likely be "close enough" through the upper bust in a close-fitting knit top and gave it a try.

Based on the pattern illustration/notes, reviews and measurements/comparison to my sloper, it seemed to me that this pattern is intended to be quite close fitting more or less everywhere except the bust where the drape is, where there is a lot of room. Many of the reviewers said they thought that there was too much drape at the bust, or at least very plentiful drape, and several people said they'd done an FBA and then wished they hadn't. I therefore decided to proceed with the size 12 almost intact, except for a small square shoulder adjustment that I always do, just to get a feel for the fit as is.

The feature cowl neck, which I love. Note, that central, slightly diagonal seam is the one you are instructed to "neaten" right at the start
For essentially an out-of-the-envelope garment, the fit is pretty much what I would expect, i.e. not very good. The biggest problem is the bust. There's enough room with the drape feature that my bust fits into the top reasonably well. However, I've clearly stolen a lot of volume from the cowl neck for my bust so it looks a lot less dramatic and visually interesting than the pattern illustration or even as it appears on Flossie, who is only an approximation of my size, and some of the examples I've seen on the internet. When I make this again I will definitely do an FBA.

When I first tried it on I posted a shot to Instagram and I was all like, uh, I REALLY should have gone up a size through the waist and hip. There's a LOT of negative ease in this pattern through the waist and hip so the problem isn't so much that it doesn't fit, it's that it fits a little too well for me! 

Sorry about the weird colour -- to get any detail to show I had to really mess with the exposure/light in my editing tool. It's true I'm at the very pasty and pale end of the white skin spectrum, but not actually as ghostly as I seem here.

This photo suggests that the outcome is even more unflattering than my mirror suggested (hello, muffin top!) so whereas previously I was kind of on the "close-fitting" side of the is this close fitting or just way too small?  debate, now I am pretty much in camp Actually Just Way Too Small. Some of the wrinkles and bulges on the side are from the ruching, honest, but, uh, most of it is my stomach. When I make it again and do an FBA, I'll leave the extra width in through the waist and hips for sure. It will still have negative ease if I do so but rather less of it.

A couple more views on me. I hate side views in close fitting clothes, my body shape is basically the prow of a ship :|
Sewing-wise, the existing reviews are pretty much divided between "utterly confused, is this even right?" and "much easier than I expected". I fall into the second category. Initially, the pattern pieces and some of the instructions are pretty baffling, but I found once you get underway with construction it all makes sense. The two problem areas for me were:

1. The second instruction calls for you to "neaten" an edge between two points. At the time, I had no sense of where that edge would end up (would it drop into the cowl neck like other tops I have? would it be visible at centre front?) and therefore no idea what level of "neatening" was called for. Annoyingly, several other reviewers mentioned this but then didn't go on to say what they did or where the edge falls on their finished garment. So in case you're in the same situation: this is a REALLY VISIBLE edge. It's front and centre as the flat diagonal line in the cowl neck and lies against your skin with the right side clearly visible. Luckily, I decided when I couldn't figure out where it would end up that I would go for possible overkill and make it as "neat" as possible. I therefore coverstitched a narrow hem. Since it ended up front and centre, I am very glad I made that decision and didn't just overlock it or leave it raw.

2. The instructions tell you how to catch the edges of the cowl into the armhole seams. The pattern is actually really cleverly designed and notched so that when you stop going "what? WHAT?" in a confused sort of way after reading the instructions and actually try lining up the fabric to fit together it all becomes very obvious what you should do. Alas, this did not stop me accidentally tying one side into the back armhole rather than the front, but I fixed it easily enough a couple of minutes later. The moral of this story is: sometimes it makes no sense in the instructions but perfect sense when you look at the fabric.

I must also just pat myself on the back for my much improved gathering. Earlier this year I was like argh, gathering, why do people say it is easy, this is a hot mess with my first HotPatterns Weekender Sunshine tee at the front neckline. This time I felt like the gathering on the side front of the bodice turned out really nicely and it was actually very easy to do. I credit most of the improvement to a tiny change in technique prompted by a book I read. It suggested that rather than using a long basting stitch as is usually recommended, on knits try using a smaller stitch for gathering. It's a little more difficult to gather it, but once gathered it stays put much more reliably.

In conclusion: Although I've bitched neverendingly about the fit in this review, I actually still really love the design of this top and I don't think it will take much to get the fit more to my taste --  basically just an FBA and leaving in the width. Also, making it was another good antidote to the Simplicity 1063 debacle. I definitely want to make it again, and if I find a really nice slinky, stretchy, drapey navy knit, you bet I am going to make a version of that original designer top I coveted so hard. :D

Next up, I have one last easy knit top to make for autumn, this time a Lekala pattern (my first!).

Friday, 9 October 2015

Craftsy Mini-Reviews (Part 1)

I mentioned that I bought the recent Craftsy October deal, which is a month "all-access pass" to all of the courses on the platform. I paid about £8, though I know other people have paid everything from US$20 to US$10. I decided it would be worth doing if I really ploughed through a lot of classes quickly on topics that interest me enough to be curious about the content but that I don't think I'll use enough to consider paying for the class individually.  I am basically house-bound by illness at the moment and have nothing better to do with my time, so I've already gotten through quite a few classes.

There are no links in this post, by the way, because generally there's a lot of paid-for-shilling and affiliate linking for Craftsy going on in the SBC attached to what I therefore consider to be highly dubious "reviews". Nobody pays me to do or say anything about sewing (since I'm the minnow-iest minnow in the blog world I doubt anyone ever will) but to remove all doubt I just won't link at all. You all know how to get to their site.

I'll also just note before I start that I'm not the hugest fan of the Craftsy platform overall and I'm therefore not the easiest sell on the classes and quite critical of them. Previously, I ended up with some classes I bought and never really watched or finished, plus a couple I bought and did enjoy and find useful. Often the difference between watching and not watching was how annoying I found the instructor.

More generally, very little about the way Craftsy is put together works for my personal learning style, and the interactive elements with the teachers and other people have zero appeal to me. This is totally subjective, of course -- if you learn well from videos and enjoy the community aspect then I think Craftsy can be a really great tool. I just don't, personally. At the end of last year I concluded that, overall, putting a lot of my crafty budget into buying classes was not a good investment for me personally.  Thus, so far in 2015 I've only bought one new class (the Alabama Chanin class, of which I've watched maybe a quarter because I find her annoying) plus this all access pass.

To take advantage of the all-access pass then, because I know I don't learn well from just staring at video, I've been taking a lot of hand-written and hand-drawn notes while I watch as that is how I learn best. Since I know I'm only going to have access to the classes for a few weeks, however, my learning preferences and the situation actually marry up pretty well -- the fact I like to write and draw to integrate new information means I'll also have a record of the classes I've taken even after my access to them is revoked at the end of October. Even though my reviews below are a bit mixed, I'd say that so far I'm really happy with the all-access pass deal.

I made a bit list of the classes I'm interested, and split it into five categories: Techniques/Tips/Reference Classes; Pattern-making and adjustments; Fitting; Tailoring; and Knits. I'm watching them in no particular order, just what grabs me at the moment I log on, so I have to admit the classes I'm reviewing are kind of all over the place. This is what I've watched so far:

Techniques/Tips/Reference Classes:  

20 Things To Know Before You Sew by Janet Pray. This is really aimed at the very beginner sewer but I watched it on an afternoon when I was feeling really ill and just wanted to have something easy to distract me on screen. It was quite good although I am not at all the intended audience so I did skip over large-ish sections that I didn't think I needed to listen to. Janet is a confident lecturer and she presents the material clearly. I picked a couple of little tips on marking and thread tracing that I kind of knew but that were nice to see demonstrated, and one handy marking tip I'd never seen before that I actually loved and plan to use from now on -- it was almost worth watching the class just for that. I would never have bought the class as a stand-alone because it's not really my level, and I don't plan to revisit it.

Choosing and Using Your Favourite Fabrics by Sandra Betzina. I have very mixed feelings about this class, which I watched straight through with no skipping. In terms of the material, a lot of the information was familiar to me, but I picked up a really good handful of tips for specific fabrics that I think are going to come in very useful in the future. There's also a useful handout you can download that has recommended needle sizes etc for lots of common fabrics. It's nothing you can't find on the internet, but the sort of thing that is handy to have on one sheet. My mixed feelings really come from the instruction. As a presenter Sandra is very enthusiastic and kind of charming and witty at times, but at times she is scattered and breathless and disorganized, which annoyed me as a viewer. She also has some really aggravating verbal tics (she says "Now, do you see?" over and over, and "Now, do you understand?" as well) that really grated by the end of the class. She shows off a lot of garments, but they're all such a specific, self-styled-eccentric-suburban-art-teacher style that it got a bit dull (although, kudos to her for wearing and discussing her overly tight knit dress in such a charming way). Again, this is not a class I ever would have bought as a stand-alone, and not one that I feel any need to revisit now I have my notes, but I did think it was worth a few hours of my time overall.

Pattern-making and Adjustments

Pattern-making: The Skirt Sloper by Suzy Furrer. This class has been discussed by quite a few people in various places I frequent, generally positively. I absolutely loved it. Suzy is an exceptionally good instructor - probably because she is an instructor as her day job - as she is very clear and precise in the way she describes what she is doing and why. I have been interested in this class for a while because it's the first in her sloper series and also the easiest. I am definitely going to try to draft a skirt sloper based on this class later. However, I have very little interest in ~~~designing my own skirts. I want the sloper as a basis for a straight skirt patterns, and to choose sizes and adjust commercial patterns, so whereas I took masses of notes and spent ages watching the first half of the class, I skipped gently through sections on drafting variations (except for the sections on drafting waistbands, facings and linings, which I also watched straight through, as they will also come in useful, in my opinion, when changing commercial patterns). I hadn't bought the class as a stand-alone for precisely this reason, knowing that fully half or more of the content was not interesting to me. With good notes (and a reference book) I shouldn't have any problem making the straight skirt sloper without revisiting the course, but in my opinion if you DID want to draft lots of different skirts yourself, it would almost certainly be a good investment so you could revisit frequently. I am planning to watch all of Suzy's other classes on Craftsy while I have the all-access pass.


Pattern-making for Knits: The Essential Slopers by Judy Jackson I watched this after the Suzy Furrer class, but I was a little disappointed because it didn't match my interests nearly so well. Whereas Suzy's class is all based on flat pattern manipulation, Judy's knit class is based on draping on a dress form that matches your body measurements, which I do not have and do not anticipate obtaining any time soon. (I love my inherited dressform, named Flossie by my mum, her original owner, when she was brand new in 1964, but she's at best a rough approximation of my size). I did get some useful information here and there in some sections that interested me, but the main point of the class -- making knit pattern slopers -- didn't work for me because of the draping. However, I thought Judy was a really good, clear and personable instructor and if you do have a dressform that would allow you to drape fit a knit sloper, I think it would be a great class. I have thought about buying this class before so I was glad I hadn't paid for it, and now I know that it wouldn't be worth revisiting for me.

Sewing Knits That Fit by Dyanne Marte  Definitely the worst of the classes I've watched so far. The instructor is very glamorous (though I hate some of her clothes) and probably has a lot of knowledge but she's not the best at transferring it. I found her explanations generally poor and often unclear. She seems very nervous throughout and she has lots of verbal tics that drove me up the wall, the worst of which is a tendency to draw out her vowels a really long time if she's talking and doing something at the same time, e.g. pinning, which is almost all the time. ("There's a looooooot of eeeeeeeeeease"). I also found the content really suspect at times -- increase the bust size of a t-shirt by adding an inch to the side seams! Make the shoulders wider by adding an inch at the shoulder seam! Um. I definitely didn't need to pay for tips like that, thanks, and I definitely won't be going back to revisit that course.

I'll be back with more mini-reviews when I've watched a few more :D

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Simple (successful!) sewing and some thoughts on longer term projects

I decided at the start of the week I needed to do some certain-to-be successful sewing to make up for the weekend's failtastic efforts and to reassure myself that it is worth keeping on sewing through the disappointments. I've therefore made two very quick repeats of easy knit patterns: one black t-shirt in my super reliable scoop-neck TNT pattern with three quarter sleeves, and a pair of dark purple yoga pants using Burda 11-2005-127. I've worn/laundered the other two pairs I made about a year ago with the latter pattern to the point where fabric destruction is pretty imminent but happily, construction destruction is not. Always good when your sewing outlasts your fabric! I'll probably find a new and different yoga pants pattern when I come to replace the original two pairs later this year but I was quite happy to use this one a third time.

There's absolutely nothing interesting about these garments except that I made them successfully, so all I really have to say about them in conclusion is: \o/

I'm posting these photos not because the garments are in any way interesting, but just to prove to myself that I did make something!
Both of these easy garments were in my sewing queue and in my wardrobe gap fill list, but I have to admit I changed up the order of my queue in order to sew them immediately. The rest of my queue is a mix of: knit patterns I am using for the first time and that therefore could potentially go wrong; woven tops and shirts that are more time consuming and fiddly; and outerwear. None of those were really good for basic confidence boosting sewing, so they got shoved down the list temporarily.

My queue, overall, is actually pretty short at the moment, mainly because of my wardrobe planning efforts. I am not really trying to have a minimalist wardrobe by any stretch of the imagination, but after spending all this time really thinking about what I wear every day, what kind of activities I do and what I want to sew vs. buy I've ended up with a pretty short list of things to add to my wardrobe in the immediate future. In some ways, the realization that I just don't need too many more garments is quite aggravating, because I do love sewing and pattern browsing (and pattern buying) and putting  limits on how many clothes I make/own is obviously in direct conflict with my frequent desire to Sew All The Things and own all the patterns and also my intention to sew up a lot of my fabric stash.

However, I've decided to view the shortness of my queue as an opportunity to develop some of my plans into longer and more complex projects. For example, I mentioned I have some woven shirts in my queue, at least one of which is going to be a casual button-front shirt. I had been vaguely thinking I would just pull out the Ottobre 05-2012-07 pattern I've used before. I like my two shirts from that pattern a lot and I'd probably end up with a perfectly serviceable shirt. However, I think I might get a better result if I start completely fresh with a new base size. Previously, I've made a size 44 with adjustments. More recently, however, I've been experimenting with starting from a size 40 in Ottobre patterns and finding it to be a much better fit through the shoulders at least, though requiring much more adjustment lower down the bodice. As I've become more confident in my FBAs recently, though, I feel like I am happy to do more pattern work and not just fudge it by starting with a larger size. It does mean though that rather than jump straight to cutting out, I'm going to have to start again from scratch with tracing out a new size, adjusting it and making a muslin etc.

I also bought (despite my general aversion to Craftsy) the all-access Craftsy pass for October. I'm planning to blitz my way through some of the pattern-making and construction courses, particularly the sloper classes by Suzy Furrer that seem to get good reviews everywhere. In the past, I've kind of shied away from those sorts of projects because it's a lot of effort without a specific result, but I feel like now is a good time to give it a try. So, I might be reporting more of a mix of my efforts in those directions and finished garments for a while (and since I was encouraged by a couple of comments, probably more detail about my wardrobe planning stuff as well).

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Captain's Log, Supplemental: Failtastic top, red alert!

The title of this post is because the top I failed to sew successfully this weekend turned out to look pretty much like what I imagine Starfleet issue to pregnant crew members. I am sure it's possible to make many pretty variations of this top, but between my slightly shiny tactel knit and the black and white colour blocking, and then the way the weird drapey bit at the front hung on me: weird Star Trek pregnancy cosplay look is a go!

Or, rather, it's not, because this top is a big old FAIL! in all-caps and I won't be wearing it anywhere.

Fail: Simplicity 1063 in black and white
The pattern is Simplicity 1063, in which I was absolutely RAPT when it first came out back in August or thereabouts. Admittedly, I was never going to wear views A and B with the weird back cape swoopy thingymajig, but I was mad keen on views C and D. I was so keen, in fact, that I got someone in the US to buy this for me and mail it to the UK so I could make it as soon as possible rather than wait the 6 weeks until UK pattern sellers get the new catalogues. Of course, I then got sick (again, still, whatever) and I had to shelve the immediate make, but it's been right at the top of my list nevertheless. This week I decided to get stuck into the pattern and decided to make view C with the sleeves from view A.

I am kind of overwhelmingly disappointed with how it turned out.

Simplicity 1063
What was my problem? It's a bit hard to tell from the photo above -- or, you can only just see the problem -- but basically, EVERYTHING about the neckline is FUBAR.

On the positive side, some things did go well:

  • After measuring everything and doing a certain amount of baffled approximating on the pieces of the front drape, I decided to make a straight size 14 with basically no alterations except my standard square shoulder adjustment. There is a LOT of room in this top because of the bust and the "finished bust" measurements on the pattern are a GIANT lie. I got to the point of having the bodice done, pinned the sides and put the top on and I was, well, I was taken aback by how much I looked like I needed a Star Trek insignia on my shirt, but I was actually quite pleased! The fit was really nice, even though theoretically a 14 is rather too small for me.
  • Despite the fact that the front drape does make me look kind of pregnant I actually really like it. It's quite cunningly constructed as well, and so the major feature of the top was a win for me.
I got to this point and went to bed patting myself smugly on the back.

That lasted until I tried to finish the neckline.

See how Simplicity have a big old dramatic KNITS ONLY text on their pattern envelope? Doesn't that make you think, oh, this will be a really modern knit pattern? Except no, not so much. At various points in the pattern the instructions are all about finishing all your edges with zig zag and setting in the sleeve woven style with easing, which is so VERY VERY far from what I think of as modern knit garment construction for home sewers.

The instructions for the enormous facing
The big, BIG problem though is that the neckline is finished with a HUGE interfaced facing that flaps about in the neckline like a mad flapping thing. It's at least 5cm wide, and you sew it on as a single pieces around the neck and down into the V of the neckline and it's HIDEOUS.

I absolutely HATE facings. HATE THEM. I especially hate them in knits, and I triple hate them when they are ENORMOUS. So really, I was not at all excited to see that I was going to have to sew one. However, I felt like I liked the top enough to risk it, and also, OK, I am willing to admit I can be wrong about facings! I just made a knit top with a facing and it was well-designed enough that it worked out fine! So, I was going to give this a chance.

I genuinely don't know at this point whether the result I obtained was more because of bad design or more because of bad sewing on my part or some non-replicable combination of the two. I really REALLY tried to sew the neckline/facing seam perfectly, and then I trimmed it and understitched as suggested. HIDEOUS. It makes for such a horrid lumpy finish all the way round the neckline and then again 5cm out from the neckline where the facing ends. It also does NOT stay put, even with the understitching. I put the top on and the facings puffed out of the neckline like I was wearing a ruff. I fiddled with it to get it all nice and lying flat, went downstairs to look in the better lit mirror in my hallway and by the time I had ambled from my bedroom to the front door, the facing had rucked up and popped out of the neckline again. ARGH.

Taking a hint from my recent Ottobre top I therefore stitched the facings down. This made them stay put but UGH, the seam remained lumpy, prone to flipping up a bit and overall ugly, and the facing edge is visible where it ends over the shoulders (not helped by the fact my facing was black and my shoulder yoke fabric is white). It was basically unwearable for me. I therefore decided to take the facing off around the actual neckline, even though this meant unpicking black thread from a slippery black knit that absorbed stitches beautifully -- a big plus until you have to unpick -- and decide then what to do next.

Today I sat down again and tried to decide how I could fix it. I decided to leave the facings on for the V, and bind the neckline by attaching a normal binding strip, turning it to the inside and then coverstitching. This does look a LITTLE better than the faced version, but the process of sewing, unpicking and then binding stretched the back neck all out of shape, and it gapes away from my neck horribly. This looseness at the neck has the overall same effect as the original facing: the edge of the neckline flips up and looks lumpy. I'm not saying it wouldn't have worked if I'd done it that way the first time, but as a second fix: no.

I can't think of a single other way to fix the neckline and I've overworked the fabric now to the point where I think it's unfixable, so I have given up and trashed the whole thing. I am really very fed up about this. I hate throwing perfectly good fabric away, I hate that a pattern I was really excited about sewing turned out to be such a dud, and I am currently questioning whether I should even bother to TRY sewing my own clothes since I have started to think I can't sew anything successfully!

This despondency is not helped by the fact that I then trashed another 2m of fabric trying to cut out a very simple pair of PJ bottoms. To be fair to myself, the fabric was so horrendous and off-grain that it's no wonder I struggled to cut it properly. I ended up with pieces that bore no relation to the pattern pieces they had allegedly been cut to, and that I would have to be suddenly HIGHLY asymmetrical to wear. I am not sewing with fabric that ridiculous, and I didn't like the print much which was why it had been relegated to PJs, so whatever, good riddance to bad rubbish.

Still though. Not a good weekend for sewing.