Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Bits and pieces

  • Knitting update: I am CRAZY proud of my sweater so far! I had to take a brief hiatus from my Knit Every Day In July plan for reasons of (same old, same old) illness, but happily I managed to get the whole body done and cast off before I downed tools. \o/ I started again yesterday and so far I have picked up the first sleeve but I have yet to start knitting it. I am not anticipating the sleeves taking all that long given how quickly I progressed through the main body of the jumper.
The jumper before I knitted the hem band; close up of the pretty woven stitch hem band; trying on the finished body section
  • The summer dress thing: I have such ~~~issues about wearing dresses, it's nuts. I wear skirts a lot more often these days than I was ever comfortable with before but dresses, I don't know, somehow I just can't wrap my mind around wearing them or even making them despite owning, at a conservative estimate, a million dress patterns. This summer, in an effort to get over myself I promised myself I would make and wear a summery dress, but... yeah, not so far. I have traced a pattern out of an old issue of Burda but then, fatally, I paused, unsure if this was really the right dress/fabric combination and promptly stalled out entirely. If I want to get any use at all out of a summer dress I need to make it soon, so, I don't know, a swift kick up the backside is required I guess.

The dress I may or may not be making (from Burda 05-2011) although definitely not ever in orange
  • One of these days I will make a coat: I am also inching towards making my first muslin of piece of outerwear, mainly as a result of finding the actual perfect pattern for a coat I want to make, Burda 6772. The only thing I am not sure about is the side panel/Dior dart thing, because I can find only minimal information on where the seam is supposed to fall if it's not a princess seam (beyond "to the side of the bust"). More on this eventually, I am sure.
Burda 6772
  •  Bias binding the edges of sleeves/armholes has to be one of my least favourite things to do. This realization is brought to you by three separate (as yet unblogged) garments that required bias binding and how little I enjoyed the process for each of them.
  •  I just recently received a plaintive message from a former colleague, enquiring what I thought a suitable outfit would be for the social event at the academic conference I would normally (if I weren't sick, out of work and otherwise exiled from my chosen profession) be attending with her later in the year. The conference is in Texas and the social event is at "the world's largest honky tonk bar", which, no offence to any Texans reading this, sounds like a living nightmare when combined with several hundred academics from my field of study.  At any rate, I e-mailed her back and suggested jeans were the safest option, and we got into a 10 e-mail discussion about the ridiculous double standards for dress for male vs. female academics, her loathing of the conference's stated "anything goes" dress code as it provides no actual useful indication about what she should wear, and the fact that the men in her department (which is to say, fairly typically for our field, everyone in the department that isn't her) compete over how little luggage they are taking, as if the size of their carry-on bag is inversely proportional to the size of their dick. This was all very amusing, but I was also relieved to find that my very erudite former colleague also has similar concerns to me, because I was starting to think I was the only one!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Longevity and sewing my wardrobe

The other day as I was wandering around the sewing blog world I read something, somewhere (and I genuinely can't recall where it was) where someone was talking about how their goal is make clothes that have the potential to last for 5+ years. From what I recall, she seemed to be making an argument, as many people do, for using higher quality fabrics, sewing more slowly and using good finishing techniques in order for things to last even if they're in regular high rotation.

This came to mind again yesterday evening because I spent the day wearing a blouse I made last month (with New Look 6407). I felt at the time of writing about the shirt in question that my finished item was exceedingly mediocre at best and since then I've only worn in twice, including yesterday. At the end of yesterday, however, I almost ripped it off my body, cut off the buttons and flung the remains in my bag to go to fabric recycling because NO. AWFUL. GET RID OF IT. NOTHING about it worked for me except for, for once, the fit through the bust. Other than that, the shoulders pulled, the lower back was tight, the various little sewing flaws bothered me, and that gaping neckline that didn't seem to come near my neck drove me more and more insane as the day went on. Life is too short to wear clothes that drive you mad (unless you HAVE to, of course, because it's a work uniform or something) so: death to the navy blouse of doom!

Of course, the reality is that this was always a "wearable wadder" (TM on this term to L, who as it happens coined it as a result of an experience with the same pattern although I know she ordinarily really likes it) and really never should have made it into my wardrobe. It's still rather annoying to me to discard something I made after only a month and two wears. Certainly I've failed to reach that forgotten blogger's lofty aims of making things that last half a decade!

It then occurred to me to wonder how much of a change it would be for me to own the same clothes for five years. As is well-documented, I am a data nerd. One of my more nerdish endeavours is that I keep a spreadsheet with my entire wardrobe listed on it, along with when I bought it and how much it cost to buy or make. (You can think what you like of my spreadsheets; I long ago learned to accept my obsessive data gathering habits.)

I've mentioned before that for three years from 2008-2011 I bought almost no new clothes and just wore what I already owned to the point of extinction. I then did a fairly epic wardrobe purge in 2012 just before I started sewing. Since 2012 I've gone through multiple size changes both up and down from where I started (my weight, never stable, has been wildly volatile for the last 3 years for reasons related to my various health issues and medications/treatment) and I started sewing for myself. So, I went into this exercise fully aware that most of my wardrobe is of very recent date, which is in fact the case: almost half my clothes (46%) were made or bought in the last 18 months.

However, despite size changes and ruthless culls of the worn out, decrepit or badly fitting, about a third of my clothes (35%) are 5+ years old. Of those, I have a handful of things that are truly elderly (about 5% of my clothes are 10+ years old, with the oldest thing I own dating from 1986). The more interesting part I suppose is what those clothes actually are:
  • Jeans;
  • "Investment buys", e.g. my winter coat, which cost me me much more than I usually spend and which I have looked after pretty carefully;
  • Sentimental clothes, a.k.a. "I don't care what this looks like, I love it/wear it anyway" (e.g. ancient t-shirts with peeling logos, threadbare along every seam, that I wear to sleep and do yoga in at home);
  • Rugged/hard-wearing garments that are intended to survive a lot of abuse (e.g. my Gore-tex anorak);
  • Things that hardly ever get worn (e.g. a beach cover-up, which I've owned since 2000 and worn about a half a dozen times. I don't do beaches that often, but when I do, I need a cover-up);
  • Things that probably wouldn't have survived this long if they'd been in high rotation, but they fell out of rotation because my size changed and they therefore spent some of those 5+ years in a storage box under my bed. Noticeably, however, there's nothing really sentimental or special about these clothes. They are mainly just things I think of as wardrobe staples -- I have one pair of black work trousers in each of 3 different sizes that don't currently fit me, plus a pair in my current actual size on my spreadsheet, for example.
It's all RTW, of course, since I only started making clothes in 2012. Noticeably NOT on this list: any tops, any sweaters or other knitwear, any non-jeans trousers unless they've been in store. In a way, this is a relief. I've been kind of annoyed with myself over the last three years of making clothes that so many of them haven't really lasted that long (some of this is due to poor sewing and fit, but a lot due to fabric deterioration), but then clearly the same categories of RTW clothes didn't survive either.
There aren't too many knit or woven tops in my wardrobe that are more than three years old, and those that are older are on their last legs.

I'm not saying that RTW longevity is anything to aim for, at all, but at least I don't seem to be doing worse than my pre-sewing RTW purchases. Realistically, unless I radically change my laundry habits (unlikely) the fact is that lightweight cotton and knit clothes just won't survive the kind of wear/wash/tumble dry abuse I put them through, whether I make them myself or buy them. I'm not saying I won't continue to try to make better fabric choices and use better sewing and finishing techniques to give them as long a life as possible, but I think it's reasonable to assume that I'm going to discard and replace those type of items more frequently than others.

When it comes to the things that clearly do survive, and that, on reflection, I would expect to survive, I can definitely see myself replacing the "investment buy" with the "investment sew" in the future. For sure any outerwear at all is on that list of both "spend more to get a good outcome" and "it should last a really long time if I take care of it appropriately", whether it's RTW or hand-made. I do plan to start sewing some coats and outerwear so that fits in well. On the other hand, it's almost impossible to source specialist fabrics for things like Gore-tex jackets, so I'll probably continue to buy those. I'll also probably keep buying jeans, at least for the time being, for various reasons. On the other hand, if I need any random one-off items like a beach cover-up, I'd be reaching for my pattern collection first, not a RTW catalogue.

My big conclusion though is that what I really need to do is learn to make my wardrobe staples really well, and consider them to be investment sews, even though a lot of my wardrobe staples depend on good fit. If I'm honest, I haven't delved into making some things because my weight has been so incredibly up and down the last three years that it hasn't seemed "worth it" to work on e.g, fitting tailored trousers when it's quite likely that I'll be in a different size 6-12 months later. I am annoyed to realize that I've been embracing this off-shoot of the irritating "I'll deserve this when I'm thinner!" thing that I so very much dislike and heartily enjoin others to ignore. In reality, clearly even if I do size out of clothes, if I like them and they're in good shape I can just put them away until I need them again.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Epic paisley twirl (a.k.a. Burda Classics 2013 005B maxi skirt)

Sorry about the colour/lighting. I thought "yay, summer! outside photo!" and didn't realize it would wash everything out.
I seem to have been working on this skirt forever, and yet the results are... not that spectacular.

On the plus side, I legitimately really like this skirt. It's made from a light, crinkly cotton/viscose blend and it is the most floaty, most twirly, most rippling-gently-as-you-walk kind of maxi skirt imaginable. The shot above was taken with the slightest of breeze making my skirt move. I love that about it. I also like the paisley-ness of the fabric. I had some ridiculous quantity of it bought from eBay in 2012. I used a metre or so previously to make a woven tee last summer, which I have not worn that much (for no very good reason as I do like it). Why I bought such a huge piece of fabric when I don't wear prints all that much , I do not know. At any rate, it was cheap and I had a lot of it, which is just as well because this pattern, from Burda Style Special: Classics 2013, is a fabric hog of epic proportions.

Burda Classics 2013 005B -- images from Burda.ru
I don't think it's immediately apparent from the technical drawing or the modelled image that this is actually a full circle skirt below the yoke. To get a maxi length skirt I therefore needed every centimetre of 3m of fabric, although if I'd got the length right (i.e. hacked a great deal off the hem at the point of using the pattern) I might have gotten away with a smidgeon less. As it was, I had to move all my furniture around in my living room so that I had a big enough floor space on which to lay out 3m of fabric as a single layer and cut out it out.

Alas, this would be the point at which things sort of went a bit wrong, and thus, the minus points:

Problem 1: Quite a lot of time elapsed between me tracing the pattern pieces and making the skirt and I sort of thought I'd checked the things I normally check. Not so much. As a result, although I am more or less a perfect match for a Burda size 42 waist and hips right now according to the magazine measurements ... the yoke did NOT fit at all. The magazine image clearly shows that the model is wearing the skirt somewhere below the waist, but this was not so much "below the waist" as "clinging very very precariously to my hips". I ended up taking about 6cm out of the yoke and to be honest it's still kind of loose. Unfortunately, my belated fix of the width means that the yoke seam match up is dismal. Also, I don't know quite what to blame for this but the yoke ends up tilting on my body and being lower at the front than the back. My suspicion is that this is my fault, but I couldn't tell you what I did. The upshot of all of which is: the yoke was FAR too big and I really should have caught this at the pattern stage. That said, I find this discrepancy between size and fit unusual for Burda, which if anything errs towards less ease than more, but there you have it. If I made this again, I'd probably end up cutting 2 sizes smaller at least.

Problem 2: The length. Right, so, in Burda magazines it always says that their straight sized patterns are intended for people who are 168cm. I am 172.5cm (that's 5'8"). I always check the length, or I guess I should say that I USUALLY check, since evidently I didn't check properly this time at all, but, you know, I would assume on that basis that straight size patterns should generally be at or around a sane length for someone my height. Right?

WRONG. Here is the unaltered length -- to which I had not, through oversight, even added a hem allowance -- in a photo I posted to my shiny new instagram account. Not clear from this photo -- I am wearing 7cm heels underneath the skirt. D:

I can only assume therefore, as I said at the time, that when Burda say "168cm tall" they mean "168cm tall and wearing GIGANTIC HEELS OF GIGANTICNESS", because no. This is too long. More importantly, it doesn't even REMOTELY match what the magazine instructions say is the length of the finished garment, which was much closer to other maxi skirts I already own that DON'T drag along the floor like I'm a child playing dress up.

The real problem is that taking up a circle skirt is an absolute nightmare. I let this hang off and on for a few days to let the bias stretch out. When I then had to hack a lot off the bottom, the "easy" way of shortening it, simply measuring some amount from the hem and cutting it down the whole way round didn't work. Instead I got a ridiculous wavy edge because of course it had stretched out unevenly, and then I got frustrated and hacked at it, and then it was an epic mess and I almost gave up.

The side view demonstrates the hideously uneven hem AND the tilted yoke
However, I tried it on again last night and although the horrible uneven hem does bother me because it looks so very VERY Becky Home-Ecky, I decided I could live with it because (a) it's a casual garment that I'll mostly wear around the house and on errands, and thus I can live with amateur hour sewing levels; and (b) there's SO MUCH fullness and movement to the skirt when I'm actually wearing it and behaving like a normal person, as opposed to just standing still frowning critically at my hems, that it's actually pretty much impossible to tell that my hems are a complete uneven disaster.

For completeness, a back view, which I have to tell you was taken mid-sneeze due to the flowering plant in front of me
In conclusion: I do, genuinely, like this skirt but I'll not be making this pattern up again any time soon!

Next up: I am halfway through a wearable muslin of the Wiksten Tank (which I bought for some unfathomable reason, since I already have SEVERAL similar patterns, but whatever, too late to lament that) and will probably whizz through the finishing touches on that in the next 24 hours. After that, through the kindest of offices I have acquired Simplicity 1063 well in advance of it being available in the UK and am champing at the bit to sew it up after it arrived this weekend. :D And I am in the process of adjusting an Ottobre sleeveless top pattern and a Burda dress.

And finally, I decided at the end of last month that I wanted to get on with my next knitting project, and that in order to do so I would try to knit at least a little every day in July.

Photos taken at the end of every day 1-5 July
I started on on 1 July with literally just the cast on stitches, and as of last night (on the right) I am into the main part of the body. I think I have to grind through about 5cm of body per day this week, which will be probably kind of dull. Also, wow, lighting has a crazy effect on the colour of this yarn when I take the photos. The actual real colour is probably closest to the second on the left. (It is Drops Cotton Merino DK in Storm Blue and the pattern is Backshore (but without stripes) (link is to Ravelry).