Tuesday, 31 March 2015

One last quick repeat for March, plans and progress

Red and white tee based on New Look 6150
I made one last super quick garment to finish up the month, another simple t-shirt based on New Look 6150 (like the navy one I made earlier in the month). This is version number 5 of this pattern, though I did make a couple of tiny changes this time -- shorter sleeves (kind of middlingly short-sleeved length rather than the elbow length tops I've been making up to now) and I also decided that the basic pattern I've been using is just a smidgeon too long, so I lopped about 2cm off the hem.

For this version, I used the remaining 1m-ish piece of a fabric I first used almost exactly 2 years ago to make up favourite Ottobre tee pattern. It was not one of my more successful 2013 creations -- the binding on the armholes dug in horribly and the neckband was dreadful, so I didn't really wear it all that often. The original tee was thus long since demoted to the pile of old tees I wear as PJs, so I felt it was safe to make another despite the rather wild and distinctive print. In the eventuality that we get some warm weather this summer I thought it would look nice with white trousers or white shorts.

Speaking of summer, or the possibility of it at least, I have just one more month of spring sewing left before my sewing queue has me scheduled to burst into full Summer Sewing Mode. I have quite a variety of things left on my spring list though, and I imagine I won't get to all of them before the weather moves me on to other things.

I am carrying one WIP into April -- the faux suede/faux leather bag I am in the middle of making. I have hit a fairly major snag in construction and don't quite know what to do to fix it, but hopefully some thought over the next few days will get me underway again. I am also going to cast on a new knitting project later this week (I decided to take knitting break after I finished my Groovy scarf), and I have some little embroidery plans/projects in motion as well.

As far as garment sewing is concerned, near the top of my list is to play with the HotPatterns Weekender Sunshine tee pattern. This is one of those patterns I have earmarked for use over and over for YEARS and yet never got around to making. I bought it way back when, long before I'd ever "spoken" to her on blogs/PR, I saw Michelle recommend this pattern as being great & particularly flattering if you have a larger bust. It's the only HP pattern I've ever bought (although like everyone else in the sewing world, I have about 20 of their free e-patterns) and I think it's about time I try it out.

Based on my wardrobe plan, I also know I could do with making a white buttoned long-sleeved shirt or blouse -- I'm still deliberating the details of this as I'd like to make something with pintucks but I'm being indecisive between a couple of different patterns.

The bigger projects for April, though, are that I'd like to at least get started on one or both of a simple ponte knit jacket (I have more or less settled on Kwik Sew 3334, an unlined jacket with shoulder princess seams and a simple shawl collar) and some kind of rain jacket.

The ponte jacket is exercising my mind because I feel like I need to do a bit of digging to research how best to actually sew an unlined ponte jacket. Do I just overlock seams like I would any other ponte garment? Or should I be sewing them on my regular machine and then overlocking? Plus, I will need to do some fitting work with the princess seams, I am sure. The fabric I've earmarked for this project is really nice, so I'm hoping I can do a decent job with the pattern.

The rain jacket has me more perplexed. If I'm honest it is the thing I am mostly likely not to get around to, no matter how urgently required it is as I have no lightweight raincoat and live in one of the rainiest parts of England! I have the fabric -- a very nice red shower-proof treated cotton. It's allegedly ex-Burberry, but whether it really is or not I couldn't say. I even have a LOT of it (4m), so it's not like the problem is squeezing a coat out of too little fabric. What I don't have is really a single idea for what I want the finished garment to look like, which is unusual for me. I will probably post more about my pattern deliberations if I actually get to that point this month.

Finally, as we are now a whole quarter of the way through 2015, I thought I would (very briefly!) consider how I was doing on my overall goals for 2015. Alas, the answer is: quite badly! I am over budget on my spending, I actually have MORE fabric than I started the year with rather than less (although admittedly only 1.5m more, so it's not like I've added more than a tiny molehill to that particular mountain) and of my more specific sewing goals, only my quilt has been completed. On the other hand, I've done really well with my knitting goals and decreasing my yarn stash so far, so it's not all bad news. In fact, although my "Completed Projects 2015" page to date is rather thin and lacking in really anything one might call a challenging project, I am actually pleased the sewing I've done this first quarter, given the circumstances of how ill I've felt over the last three months and how much family drama has been going on behind the scenes here at Casa de Sewing Novice.

I'm not overly concerned about how far adrift I am from my goals as there's plenty of the year left. However, I'm definitely going to have be a bit more strict with myself about buying stuff generally and fabric in particular. I keep doing that "Oh, a couple of metres won't hurt!" thing, which is how you get to having bought 18m in three months without really even trying to buy fabric. /o\

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Butterick 5826; Or, Mediocrity All Round

Butterick 5826 in blue paisley viscose print
I am not very excited by the outcome of my sewing time this week, and I don't quite know whether to blame mediocre sewing on my part, a mediocre pattern to start with, or a combination of the two.

I recently bought a pair of chocolate brown cords, which is a slight deviation from my usual colour choices. I therefore decided I also wanted to add another top to my wardrobe specifically to go with them. I tend to wear either red or blue with brown, so when I ran across this viscose (a.k.a. rayon) print with a blue ground and brown paisley pattern I snapped up a couple of metres of it. I knew I wanted some kind of top and after some deliberation decided to make a pullover type blouse.

I looked at a few patterns, and I was going to use a recent Burda pattern that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago (Burda 12-2013-108) but in the end I landed on a recent Butterick pattern, Butterick 5826. Quite a few people have made up version C/D but I fixated on version B, which is very similar to a RTW top I used to own and wore to death.

Line drawing Butterick 5826
As my fabric has a definite wrong side, I decided against the sleeve tabs to roll them up, although in fact this top does in fact look a lot better with the sleeves rolled up, not least because of the uninspiring turned-and-stitched hems on the sleeves. I entirely meant to replace these with a proper cuff but then it went totally out my head when I was cutting out so I ended up with the sleeves as written.

After looking at the pattern (can I just say that I hate Butterick's decision to print the finished dimensions on the pattern itself? Ugh. Though, my inconsistency in finding that really annoying when neither Burda nor Ottobre give any finished dimensions at all is really dumb.) I decided to make more or less a straight 16 from the envelope with only three changes: I lowered the bust dart, I did a square shoulder adjustment and I shortened the top by 5cm. Unfortunately, all of these went very slightly wrong -- my bust dart ended a fraction too low, my shoulder adjustment a fraction too square, and somehow I managed to shorten the back slightly more than the front so the front hem dips just a bit -- it's the sort of dip you'd only notice if you were looking for and I stood still while you inspected it, but still: ugh. This is all extremely annoying as the last thing I needed to do was make the pattern worse by adjusting it.

Unsatisfactory details: neckband end botch job and awkward collar
The main issue, though, with the finished garment is the way it is put together as per the instructions. I absolutely hate the way the neckband and collar are sewn onto the garment in the instructions, and I really dislike the collar and the awkward way it fits into/over the neckband. The collar folds over at the back but it's as if the curve at the back is too tight for the fold, so the collar ends up sitting up unevenly, showing the neckband at the back but not at the sides or front of the top. My neckband ended up too short to do the little square of stitching to keep it in place -- frankly, the whole end of the neckband where it meets the shirt at centre front is total botch job that does not pass any kind of close scrutiny. Or even distant scrutiny. Or really, any scrutiny at all. The nicest thing I can say about it was that the botch job is not so awful that I can't wear the top, which is better than I hoped for when I was struggling to sew it into place. I also found the instructions for some other parts of the construction to be poorly and/or confusingly written, and couldn't help but notice that they didn't include an instruction to sew the side seams at all. (For reference, I sewed the side seams once the collar and neckband were completely finished, before starting on the sleeves.)

The problem is I can't really tell whether the problems I had were mainly due to user error or a poor pattern. Did I make a mistake cutting/sewing, and that's why the neckband pieces were too short? Or are the pieces just too short? Is the awkward collar because of poor sewing or poor design? Other reviewers around the internet seem to have experienced a mixed bag of outcomes (though people sewing view C/D seem to have had a better time of it overall and I can't find anyone else who made the collared version) so I can't really reach any conclusion from that either.

Although there are details I do like (the general shape, the fabric, my rather nice French seams and other finishing, the actual fabric and the way it looks as an outfit with the trousers I bought, which is exactly as I imagined) I don't feel at all enthusiastic this top, or more generally, about trying this pattern again. This is a shame as I really liked the idea of it and hoped it might be something I could make a few times. Still, I have a couple of other possibilities for similar pullover tops and so I think I will move onto those and abandon Butterick 5826.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Alabama Chanin Samplers

At the end of last year/start of this year I picked up the Alabama Chanin books after thinking about them for quite a while. There were quite a few bloggers doing AC type clothes and other projects last year and I thought it might be interesting. I first used the templates back in December to make a couple of embellished woven tote bags, just as a trial of the ideas (although all the AC book projects and recommendations involve using knits, so I used slightly different techniques for the reverse appliqué).

At the moment, I am not keen to embark on any actual AC style garment sewing. This is not because I dislike the sewing part of it -- except for that squares appliqué, see below, which drove me bonkers -- but for two reasons: first, I have to admit to a reluctance to make anything takes a really long time to make when my weight is changeable. I am all for sewing for the body you are in right now and not delaying sewing things until you're some mythical "right size" to make something you want. Plus, even when my weight is in flux, it doesn't swing too hugely. In the normal course of things, therefore, when most garments only take a week or maybe two at most to finish, I don't let my changeable weight worry me too much when I am sewing (though it does deter me from sewing much more than a few weeks ahead of the next season). However, given that there seems to be an overall direction to my current changeableness, starting something that takes ages that will fit when I start and might not remotely fit when I finish seems pointless.

The other reason I am hesitant about making an actual garment at the moment though, is that I am undecided about the Alabama Chanin thing overall as a look. I have loads of AC stuff pinned on my Alabama Chanin Pinterest board, and every time I go through the pins I find the garments I've chosen to save really appealing and desirable. But then I think about the actual clothes I wear on a daily basis and the overall aesthetic I like to present the most... and I'm not really sure how the AC clothes would fit in at all. Sometimes the AC thing looks kind of "suburban art teacher living up to a mild reputation as an eccentric" which apart from the suburban part is so very not me. I feel like I still need to work out what it is about the things I've saved that I find so interesting and appealing, and then, I guess, try to spin it into something I would actually wear.

In the meantime, however, I wanted to have a go at some of the the actual sewing, all my doubts and queries notwithstanding. The books suggest making samplers of some of the techniques using scraps of appropriate jersey fabric, and since I had a couple of pieces of cotton jersey in my pile of scraps, I did precisely that. I made a long list of the techniques, ideas, whatever that are in the AC books and also that are represented in other photos of AC clothing/accessories that I've seen, and I planned out five different samplers, pictured below along with some of the garments/inspiration photos that I used to help me pick out samplers to try.
Classic reverse appliqué using "Falling Leaves" template
The first sampler is kind of classic Alabama Chanin and therefore not really all that interesting. The Falling Leaves template is one of the least complex in the books, and it's done here in reverse appliqué, with running and backstitch in various different colours. This was quicker to stitch than I expected, but the cutting away of the inner pieces was more awkward and fiddly than I anticipated (and resulted in me forking out for a proper, pointy and very sharp pair of embroidery scissors later on). My main discovery from this was that I prefer the low contrast stitching to the high contrast, and that mixing high and low contrast stitching makes it hard to see the actual stencil pattern -- your eye is drawn to try to make sense of a pattern in the similarly outlined leaves (there isn't one) rather than seeing the shape of the stencil.

On the left: an AC polka dot blanket from their website; on the right, my sampler of the same technique using the Medium Polka Dot template
The polka dot template is very basic (and it comes in three printable sizes on the AC website). The AC books call this particular look "3D appliqué" because it mixes classic appliqué (on my sampler second row down), reverse appliqué (1st and 4th row) and stitching on the flat (3rd row). To do this properly you should use a stencil and paint the fabric as well (as you can see in the image on the right, where the grey circles are), but I did not. It would definitely have been more interesting if I had. I actually quite like how this looks, but again, cutting away the reverse appliqué neatly proved to be difficult (as you can tell from the photo!). I definitely feel like more interesting colour choices plus the stencilling would improve the outcome, and I'd kind of like a massive polka dot blanket for my bed.

A photo of a coat in the AC shop (stolen from somebody on Pinterest, sorry for the lack of attribution); my sampler of the same square appliqué
The next one wasn't in the books but it was pretty clear from the various photos I found on Pinterest, what the basic approach was to make this appliqué with a million tiny squares. Again, my own version is considerably less visually interesting because it has no colour contrast or variation. I tried two different methods of attaching the squares as you can see. Both methods are painfully slow and tedious, and I was profoundly aggravated throughout by my inability to (a) cut perfect squares out of cotton jersey; (b) sew them into anything like straight lines; and (c) prevent the corners from curling. It looks awful close up as in this photo, but it also, to be fair, looks pretty dire in the close-ups of authentic AC garments as well -- I am not the only person who can't cut squares perfectly or sew them in perfectly straight lines (though of course the actual AC garments are much better than my sampler!). However, it actually looks surprisingly good from a distance. My willingness to ever make anything with this particular appliqué method though is pretty limited. I cannot even begin to describe to you how boring and fiddly it is to appliqué even this relatively small numbers of squares.

Image from AC website of ruffle stripe wrap; my stripes sampler
One of my favourite items in the books is a cream-on-cream wrap with strips of fabric appliquéd into place with what the books call the "random ruffle" method. I also really like a couple of other garments I found through Pinterest that have been embellished with simple stripes. I had a go at a few of the different methods of attaching the stripes on my sampler -- two different stitches for attaching it (bottom and second from top), plus the "random ruffle" (second from bottom, harder than it looks!), twisted stripe (middle stripe, also harder than it looks and probably more interesting if, as the book suggests, you use two different colours on top and bottom so the twist has a colour contrast), and a gathered ruffle (top) which surprisingly I decided I liked most in the end. This whole sampler was quick and easy to stitch once I got the hang of the embroidery stitches used to attach the stripes.

Relief appliqué: on the left, a garment from the AC website; on the left my sampler using the Anna's Garden template
The last sampler I did, which too the longest time for me to finish for some reason, was the relief appliqué. This is classic appliqué, but the pieces you cut are 15% larger than the spaces they are intended to fill, so you sort of squish and pinch the extra fabric as you appliqué it into place, creating the 3D effect. From a purely tactile perspective, this is the nicest and most interesting of the classic applique I did. I am not sure it's enormously attractive though, having squished up little shapes sewn on to your clothes. After I made this I also wondered if it would look better if the individual applique pieces were larger (the Anna's Garden template has a lot of relatively small elements).

All the versions I've seen used very low contrast or the same colour for the applique as for the base fabric, so perhaps that is why it doesn't look too good in my contrasting blue fabrics. This highlighted another thing I learned from this sampling: how important picking the colours is going to be. I never liked either of these two fabrics all that much from a colour perspective, which is why they were still lurking in my scrap bag, most likely. As I was stitching the relief sampler, I really noticed how much I didn't like the contrast between the two fabrics, and wished I had done a same-fabric applique as in the inspiration photo. Based on my pins, I tend to prefer AC garments that are either subtle tone-on-tone or same-colour (especially white-on-white) garments or else really vividly high contrast (like black on white or vice versa) mixes. My less subtle blue-on-blue really didn't do much for me at all.

In conclusion: I am mulling over what to do next. I don't think I will be producing my own wardrobe of AC garments any time soon (though I am lost in admiration for CoreCouture, who is doing precisely that for SWAP 2015). However, I'm not ruling out making one or more garments later in the year when (if) my weight settles down and I think of something I really want. In the meantime, I'm going to move on from this to a bit of embroidery for my on-going hand-sewing project.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Kwik Sew 3555; Or: Why I Am Now Regretting The Number Of Striped Fabrics In My Stash

Kwik Sew 3555 in purple and grey striped polycotton
So far, though I've only made just three such garments, I find the detailed work of making button front shirts quite rewarding but also quite frustrating. You can be sewing along merrily, smugly patting yourself on the back for how well it is all going, and then argh, disaster, some little tiny detail goes awry and suddenly it seems like a whole part of the shirt looks like a mess. I probably experienced fewer overall such disasters in this third shirt than in the previous two, but it's not problem free by any stretch! Some of the trickier parts still took me a while (collar & collar stand, in particular) and have pretty obvious, visible imperfections, but other parts I felt like I had got the hang of this time. The sleeve and cuff, for example, I was still very slow at making but more in an "enjoyably taking a while to get it right" sort of way than a "wait, how do I do this bit?!" sort of way.

Both of the previous shirts I've made used the Ottobre 05-2012-07 "Gardener shirt" pattern, and despite their problems I still wear them pretty much every week after more than 6 months in my wardrobe. (I suspect, however, I may have to cull the original navy version from my wardrobe at the end of the spring as the (cheap) fabric is really not holding up to such frequent laundering.) For this shirt, however, I chose to use a different pattern, Kwik Sew 3555. This was mainly because I wanted to try a pattern with a back yoke. There are also some other differences between the two patterns: the Kwik Sew pattern has no dart or other bust shaping as drafted and the bodice is overall more boxy in shape; the button band on the Kwik Sew pattern is cut on and folded under rather than separate as on the Ottobre shirt; it has a squared edge, one piece cuff rather than a shaped two piece cuff; it has a forward shoulder seam; and the shape and width of the collar is slightly different.

I hadn't used a Kwik Sew pattern before now and I found the breadth of the XS-XL sizes rather unhelpful, but the good news was that since I know the Ottobre shirt fit reasonably well, I was able to use those pattern pieces to help me choose a size and make some adjustments. I ended up with a rather strange medium/large hybrid: the back, collar and cuffs (I have big wrists, apparently?) are a large. The front and sleeves are a medium.

On top of my combination of sizes, I also did a 3cm FBA on the front bodice and introduced a side bust dart, added some length to the bodice and then, uh, cut some of it off again because I'd made it too long (that part of the process was a bit of a mess!), and lengthened the sleeves for my monkey arms. The adjustments I didn't do were my usual square shoulder adjustment (which I should have done and left off only by accident) and a large upper arm adjustment to the sleeve, which I didn't need for once (which, as I know for a fact I have proportionately large upper arms, suggests to me that the pattern is probably excessively generous in this respect).

As modelled by yours truly
 As far as fit of the final garment goes, well, it's an intentionally fairly boxy and unfitted style, so the fitting challenges were fairly limited. I am pretty happy with the fit at the bust (courtesy of a small-for-me FBA) and across the back. If anything, I have a little too much room at the front at hip level, and I probably should have tapered out a little of the extra width provided by the FBA. The big fit problems are all at the shoulders and armhole -- in addition to not being square enough for my body, the shoulders are too wide and the armhole too low. As the shoulder seam hangs off my actual shoulder, the sleeves are therefore too long.

Overall, I think I need to do quite a lot more work to properly tailor the shoulder/upper front/upper back of shirts to my body. It seems like I must be a really eccentric shape -- square shoulders, wide neck, average-to-narrow shoulders, hollow-chested above the bust at the front, and then wide through the upper and upper-mid-back. Getting it right might result in some really funny looking pattern pieces, but it would be worth it not to have the shoulder seams of shirts perpetually hanging down over my biceps. I'm just not quite sure where to start in terms of getting to those pattern pieces: with something that fits at the shoulders and then adjust the back? Or find something that fits across the back/armhole and adjust the shoulders? I'll have to do some reading and experimentation I think! I know a seamed back (either shoulder or armhole princess) would be easier to fit in this respect, but I do love to wear casual, unfitted/menswear style shirts. I figure if I can get to the point where I have a pattern piece that works from the shoulders to just below the armhole, I'll just copy that onto every subsequent pattern I use!

For this shirt, construction-wise, I used the Kwik Sew instructions for the parts that were new to me, i.e. the folded button-band and the clean-finished two piece yoke, and then ignored the rest as I wanted to construct it in a different order for purposes of trying on/fitting and/or use the methods from the Shirtmaking book for the cuffs and collar. On the two previous shirts I made I flat-felled my seams, but this time I just overlocked. It's not as pretty, but it's perfectly serviceable.

Interestingly, the KS instructions have you set the sleeves in flat -- I set mine in the traditional way because of changing the construction order for fitting. Alas, I continue to be rubbish at setting sleeves in -- I don't know how it is that I'm not improving at it even though I've now done so many sleeves. The first sleeve went in lovely, but the second, argh, non-stop unpicking/sewing/unpicking/sewing for over an hour. My apparent skill plateau in setting in sleeves is my number one concern about moving on to making outerwear, I have to admit.

This is one little detail I did pick up from the otherwise tedious Craftsy class -- stripes in every direction at the cuff, including cutting the sleeve vent facing on the bias. I don't know why the cuffs look uneven in this shot, I swear they aren't in reality.

Overall, compared to the Ottobre pattern, I don't think I like this pattern quite as much. There is some subtle shaping to the bodice of the Ottobre shirt that I think is more flattering than the Kwik Sew. I also I don't particularly like the cut-on/folded-under button band. I don't hate it, but it's not interfaced and it feels insubstantial. I think I might have liked it better if it had been folded onto the top as I've seen in other patterns. I think I like having the definition of the ridge of seam visible. However, I do like the look and fit of the yoke very much, and I love the clean finish of the yoke inside and out compared to the shoulder darts the Ottobre pattern uses.

In conclusion: it was definitely useful to make this up this pattern, but it is not really a contender for "The Perfect Shirt" pattern that I am in search of and I am not sure if I will make it again.

I have to talk about the fabric and the eye-searing nightmare it proved to be. I pulled this fabric from the "inexpensive shirting" part of my stash. It's hard to get an accurate photo of the colour, which is purple and grey, but it seems to look more blue in some light. It was cheap-ish (about £3.50/m) because it's a polycotton, with rather heavy emphasis on the poly, and I bought it on Goldhawk Road in London when I went on a shopping trip with my friend B in late 2013. It takes a crease beautifully and is mostly well-behaved under the needle, so it was actually a good choice for this pattern. Weirdly, however, it didn't seem to take being top-stitched very well, and I am disappointed with the top-stitching on the whole shirt.

Some details I am pleased with -- pattern matching across the bodice pieces and side seam, my nicely curved hem
However, when it came time to cut out, I unfolded it and immediately thought: this is going to give me a headache! Not only was it a pain in the ass to match the seams,  I also can't look at it for very long before my eyes start to feel funny. I actually did have to take frequent breaks from close work on it because no, really, it's like staring at one of those ridiculous optical illusion images that have something hidden in it, it makes my brain go bonkers. As predicted, though, the main problem was the pattern -- and it's actually a subtle check, not a stripe, just to make my life harder. It made it exponentially more of a faff to sew than the solids I've used before for shirts. I had to cut out on the single layer, I had to press and re-press every single fold and seam to get it to run evenly along the stripes, and let's not even talk about the seam matching. I also had to re-cut the collar because I realized, belatedly, that striped shirts usually have the stripe running horizontally across the collar rather than vertically.

Less pleased with: crinkly looking unmatchable shoulder seams due to easing, the mess I made of the "nose" of my collar stand (but my collar point is nice and pointy!)
My biggest seam matching fail was the result of using different sizes for the front and back. There was only 1cm-ish difference at the shoulder seam so I was all lalala, I'll just ease it. Which, yes, that would have been fine except: you can't stripe match an eased seam, dummy. In the end I did what I could to deal with the stripes, and in some places I did a decent job. In others, meh, there is room for improvement.

The whole striped shirt experience made me look at one or two fabrics in my shirting stash with a very jaundiced eye. Now I know that whatever I make with them I will need to budget LOTS of extra time for stripe/check/pattern wrangling. I have one utterly gorgeous shirt-weight linen in white with a bright green and blue check that I was looking forward to sewing up this summer, but now I am kind of dreading it!

What's up next: My next garment project is definitely another woven top, but as a little breather after making this one, I'm going to work on my Fake Everything Bag next (so called because it's made of fake leather and fake suede).

Wednesday, 18 March 2015


At Christmas, I was sitting with my mum, knitting one of the many cowls I made around that time, and she said a fatal phrase: "Hmm, the way you purl is odd."

For the last two years I had been wrapping the yarn the wrong way when I purled. The way I was doing it is, it turns out, actually a real stitch just not the stitch I was trying to do. On the one hand, this does explain why I found knitting into purl rows so difficult/tight, and why my fabric never looked quite right. On the other hand, I now had to correct a two year old habit in order to start purling the correct way. I tried for a bit kind of half-heartedly on some minor projects, but then I knitted my Nurmilintu scarf (which has no purl stitches at all) and when I came to gauge swatch for something else I found I had regressed and was still purling incorrectly out of habit. I decided the only thing to do was to brute force a change in habit by knitting something with masses of purl stitches and making sure that every single one was purled the right way. I have therefore been knitting the Groovy scarf (Ravelry link), which is pure stocking stitch and thus includes many many thousands of purl stitches.

Groovy scarf in fingering (4-ply) weight cotton/wool yarn
By the end of this scarf, victory was mine! I think I have successfully changed the way I purl. Initially, my purl rows took FOREVER while I tried to break and relearn the muscle memory of how I've purled up to now, but by the end I was whizzing along just a little slower than on the knit rows. My fabric looks much better (no more weird little twist) and I found it MUCH easier than I ever have before to knit into the purl rows when doing stocking stitch (which, uh, probably should have told me I was doing it wrong before, maybe? I just thought I found it harder than other people seem to because... the knitting gods did not gift me with great knitting prowess. I don't know.)

As far as the actual scarf goes, apart from my own personal agenda: the pattern is fine, and I got exactly what I expected to get from it after all that knitting. It was a great knitting-while-watching-TV sort of project and good for picking up and putting down on and off all day if I wanted.

The actual scarf, though, eh, not my favourite thing I've made, mainly due to the yarn I used. I chose to knit with this very basic cotton/wool/nylon mix that I bought from Lidl (a discount supermarket) when I was living in Ireland. I've used other colourways to make two pairs of socks and probably I should have stuck to using it to make socks, because it's SUPER ITCHY when it's up against the rather more tender skin of my neck and face. I hoped, rather optimistically, that the blocking process would soften it up a bit, but NOPE. SO ITCHY. I don't hate it, but it's reinforced my intention to buy much less yarn of much higher quality from now on.

Next up on my needles: I am knitting a very boring rectangle for felting & bag making purposes next, though that should be a relatively short project.

Friday, 13 March 2015


Farewell, former jacket
I am not, in fact, afraid of Friday 13th, I just like the word. If anything, I had my dose of bad luck (or more likely, bad judgement) last night as I ended up discarding a minor sewing project unfinished. About a million years ago (or: late 2013) I decided to deconstruct this leather jacket and make a bag with the leather. I took it all apart and then it lurked in a bag forever until I fished it out again to look at it last week. Yesterday I tried to construct a simple tote bag with the pieces, but I don't know, I was Sewing While Tired and I basically managed to wreck the only sizeable bits. That, combined with the fact that the leather situation (it was very badly discoloured, and not in a cool "this is vintage" sort of way) hadn't improved with storage, and I ended up deciding that I was unlikely to carry the bag, and tossed the whole thing. Ugh. Serves me right for keeping going when I knew I was too tired to be sewing, I guess. Luckily I have another bag project I am actively working on, so my minor hankering for a new bag will be fulfilled anyway.

I'm a nerd with a stopwatch
One of my other tasks this week was making a boring but necessary knit top, which I had been procrastinating on for aaaaaaages for the simple reason that my overlocker was threaded in the wrong colour. I can't think I'm the only sewer who acts like this is an Insurmountable Obstacle. I regularly delay sewing stuff because it would mean changing the thread, even though (and yes, I timed myself, because I'm a nerd) a leisurely paced re-thread PLUS test on a new fabric and setting adjustment takes me less than 5 minutes. I don't know why I continue to behave like rethreading is a labour of Hercules despite all the evidence to the contrary.

New Look 6150 (modified) top in Navy
Once I got over myself and actually changed out my thread, though, I was able to whip up a very simple navy knit top in no time at all. I used a heavily modified version of New Look 6150 View D, which is a pattern I spent some time working on around this time last year to develop a basic knit TNT. In fact, the three versions of this top I made in 2014 are still in constant rotation, particularly the original black and white version, which is kind of funny since at the time it was a total throwaway, wearable muslin type of project. My only change this time was to cut the back piece with a centre back seam, for reasons of fabric use efficiency. I was vaguely concerned that the lump of the seam down my spine might annoy me in wear, but in fact I don't notice it at all. I wouldn't do it with a printed fabric because matching an extra seam is a pain, but in a solid fabric it means I can get a good length, elbow sleeved top out of a single metre of fabric, which is great. Overall, I am pretty confident my boring but necessary navy top will also get plenty of wear.

I also cut into fabric for the classic woven shirt I am making, using Kwik Sew 3555. I suddenly remembered that the reason I have this pattern is that once upon a time I bought a Craftsy class about tailored shirts, and the pattern came with it. I have never watched the class all the way through and, alas, revisiting the class on Craftsy reminded me why. The teacher is a woman called Pam Howard, and she may be absolutely lovely in person and I am sure she really knows her stuff but dear god, she has the on-screen charisma of a log. I don't need people to be all non-stop smiling and faux-excitement, but she is so flat and monotonous that the videos are a bit like watching paint dry. Instead of following her instruction therefore, I shall continue to make my blouse using the techniques in Shirtmaking. The only issues I've had so far in making this first version is that my fabric has a pronounced vertical stripe and a sort of shadowy horizontal stripe, meaning I had to really faff about doing single layer cutting and trying to match seams. Not sure how successful I was -- I guess I'll find out today when I start sewing...

Burda 12-2013-108

In the meantime I'm also mid-trace of another pattern, Burda 12-2013-108, which I've been planning to make ever since the magazine came out. It was widely agreed on the PR thread at the time that it was a nice pattern, but alas, nobody much seems to have made it or the minor variant (109, with a tie neck). I'm a little concerned about the seam across the bust and where it's going to fall on my (low, large) bust. I'll have to see how it compares to other patterns once I have it fully traced.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

When the going gets tough, the tough... make multiple pairs of polka dot PJs?

Uh. I think maybe that's not a phrase that's going to catch on. Nevertheless, I had a fairly glum few days due to several things sending me down a spiral of the dismals. I had been planning to make some woven blouses/shirts next, but I couldn't really face the lengthy production process that is involved in doing so. Thus, I scanned through my spring sewing queue for the easiest and most straightforward project I could find and thus hit upon: polka dot spring PJs.

Burda 8271 line drawing
With nightwear, I feel very little urge to do anything other than sew the same functional patterns over and over, and thus far I've settled on Butterick 5704 for full length woven PJ trousers and Ottobre 05-2011-02 for woven PJ shorts. To round out my collection, I made the trouser part of view C of OOP envelope pattern Burda 8271, which is a pair of mid-length PJ trousers that are hemmed just below the knee. I originally bought this pattern because at the time I thought making a woven nightshirt, as in view B, would be a good way in to making woven tops generally. (I later totally forgot this plan, of course.)

PJ bottoms made with Burda 8271

At any rate, I made two pairs of PJ bottoms from this pattern.  It is meant for lightweight woven or knit fabrics, and thus I made one pair in a woven (pale blue polka dot cotton) and one pair in a cotton knit (cream polka dots). The pattern does not have much ease at all compared to the other PJ patterns I've used, and while the blue woven pair is perfectly wearable and fine, it is on the fitted end of the scale, whereas the knit obviously has more give and is maybe a tad more comfortable as a result.

Pleasingly, both of these fabrics came from the deepest darkest recesses of my fabric stash. The cream spotty fabric, originally bought for t-shirts way back when I first started sewing with knits, turned out in fact to be far too yellow for me (my skin tone + wearing anything on the yellow end of the colour spectrum = concerned enquiries as to whether I feel well). Since I had a bit left over and no desire to use it for something to be worn in public, I decided to make a matching sleep tee.

Basic crew neck t-shirt based on a pattern I "made myself" sort of thing

Up to now, I've mainly made close-fitting tees so I didn't really have a suitable pattern to hand to duplicate my usual men's-size-large shapeless tees I like to wear to bed. I briefly considered obtaining from somewhere a commercial basic men's t-shirt pattern but then decided instead to just make my own. I hesitate very much to say that this tee is "self-drafted", which I think sounds (a) like I put some actual pattern drafting knowledge to use, which is wholly untrue as I have no such knowledge; and (b) pretentious for a t-shirt that is basically a big rectangle anyway. However, it is actually created by me, by dint of combining a tracing of my favourite sleep tee with another pattern for the sleeve and armhole. Given these rather dubious origins, I am quite happy with the outcome. It may not be very exciting or flattering, but it's precisely what I wanted and I am sure I will use it again as I gradually replace my current collection of ancient t-shirts with naff logos.

In conclusion: Utterly unexciting projects, I know, but I am happy that I have now rounded out my PJ pattern library and, more importantly, I felt much less dismal at the end of a successful day of sewing.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Bits and pieces

KS 3555
  • I decided if I wanted anything new in my wardrobe at the moment, it was more classic shirts. You may recall that I particularly like (and still wear on a weekly basis) the two shirts I made last year using Ottobre 05-2012-07. However, although I like that pattern a lot I decided I wanted one specific thing -- a back yoke -- that the Ottobre pattern doesn't have. As I handily happened to have a pattern that does in my stash, Kwik Sew 3555, I am currently working on adjusting it for a first attempt. The only think KS3555 is missing that I really want to try is a tower sleeve placket. I'm going to do the regular facing for my first version, but I might look at the Shirtmaking book to see if I can copy the tower placket pattern from that and have a go with it for a later attempt. (I admit my desire for a tower placket is a little bit bandwagon-y as it's due to seeing so many contrast tower plackets on completed Sewaholic Granville shirts. I will never buy the Sewaholic Granville for myself because I am so emphatically not the pear shape that she designs for that her measurement chart puts my hips and bust 5 sizes apart from one another, which: no.)
  •  I am also enjoying knitting quite a lot at the moment, and have made loads of progress on my Groovy scarf (Ravelry link). I picked this pattern deliberately, even though, to be honest, it's a very dull stocking stitch thing, because it gave me a great deal of necessary practice re-learning to purl. This was because I discovered I was twisting every purl stitch by mistake in previous knits. I am still not as fast purling as I am knitting, but working on this scarf has really helped. I actually ripped back my alleged second project (an aran weight sweater) for loads of boring reasons, but mainly because I think I just like knitting one thing at a time. It's only postponed until a more suitable time of the year to work on a winter-weight sweater, and in the interim I have picked out my next knitting project (and of course, bought yarn).
  • The reason I would never pledge a total RTW fast: this week I bought 4 pairs (three for summer, one for now) of my favourite (well-fitting) high street shop trousers thrift, all of them brand new with tags, for less money that it would have cost me to buy one pair brand new from the shops or buy the fabric for two pairs. I will have to take a couple of them up at the hem (they are "extra-long" and I wear "long"), but that's the most trivial of alteration tasks. I totally could have sewed trousers for myself, but I don't see any reason to when the stars aligned to give me well-fitting RTW for half the price. On the other hand, I am glad that I can dismiss the minor alterations needed as "trivial" because I sew.
  •  I am experiencing uncharacteristic indecision about what bags to make for myself with the fabrics I've pulled from stash. I keep making my mind up and then... un-making my mind. Thus, I am no further on with any of my bag projects that I was two weeks ago. I think I just need to get over myself and do some cutting out!
  • I've gone a bit quiet on the embroidery/Alabama Chanin front, but it's not because of a lack of thinking about it and some activity in the background. I definitely have a lot to say about the Alabama Chanin thing in particular, but I want to finish one last little thing before I post any photos or my long-winded thoughts on the topic.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Thank goodness it's not a leap year

Hello again! I'm so relieved February is over and today is the 1st of March. I was conspicuous last month mainly by my absence, for several reasons. First, and maybe most significant, February was really really frustrating on the health front. Back in January I was promised a new treatment that could make me feel actually well again (hurray!) but so far I haven't even got an appointment to see the person who is going to prescribe it (boo!). So, the possibility of feeling better, eventually, has hung there in promise for weeks now but in actuality no progress of any sort has been made.

In the normal run of things, I try to be as sanguine as possible about my health situation, because getting worked up about it doesn't help and ultimately just makes me stressed and fed-up. This month my equanimity failed me and I ended up feeling miserable for days and days at a time. It didn't help that for most of this month I felt, frankly, like hammered shit, because I am tapering one of my medications and I go through withdrawal for three days every time I change the dose... and I change the dose every six days. That's withdrawal symptoms on top of the side effects I already get! Ugh. UGH.

At any rate, general whining aside, the sewing implication of this is that about half the time I didn't feel like doing anything at all, and the other half the time hasn't seemed to coincide with really wanting to sew. It did coincide, however, with a couple of days of wanting to plan a lot of projects and make a mess of my sewing room in the process, which hasn't helped since I haven't had a good day since to tidy it all up again!

A second reason for my silence, though is that I actually kind of don't need to make anything right now. There are three factors that determine how many wardrobe gaps I have and how urgent they are at any given time -- my current size, the current season and what my lifestyle is like. At the moment I seem to be in a sweet spot of size/season/lifestyle where I have more or less everything I need. Therefore, I have no pressing need to make anything in particular, and although I have one or two "it would be nice..." projects on my list I don't feel any urgency about getting started on anything. It doesn't help that a lot of the places where I do have gaps would involve longer and more complicated projects or require work on fitting, and I just haven't felt well enough to deal with long/complicated or fitting.

At any rate, the upshot of all of this is that other than finishing a knitted scarf, and finishing my quilt (at last!), I did next to no sewing this month. I do have a few things in progress -- two bag projects, though both of them in the very early stages; another knitted shawl that I am about a quarter of the way done; and I made a muslin of a 1970s Vogue top pattern which was semi-successful but which, for various reasons, I have decided not to pursue for the time being. On the plus side, while I seemed to buy a lot of other things, I didn't buy any fabric, so I ended February with zero fabric out but also zero fabric in. I'll take that as a win this month!