Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Three quarters of the year

I had sort of hoped that September would be a much less sickly and more productive month all round, but alas, it mostly wasn't. In fact, parts of it were supremely grotty. However, I did manage to do a little something sewing or knitting related most days, even if it was just ten minutes here and there.

Sewing wise, this month I made two Estelle cardigans that I've already worn loads and love and an Ottobre faux wrap knit top (wear update: very nice indeed to wear, no serious problem with the facings except one little section at the neck that I think is due to bad sewing more than anything). I have another knit top (Simplicity 1063) in pieces on my sewing table but haven't actually started sewing it yet. I have a tiny logistical problem that I can't seem to bend my mind around and figure out, so I'm just... stalled.

Since I could my fabric use from when I cut it out, however, I am able to report that unfinished top in my fabric usage numbers and say that I have used almost 8m of fabric this month. This is a pretty decent outcome from the point of view of my stash reduction plans, especially as I have not bought any new fabric since JUNE! I am feeling so smug and virtuous right now, pardon me while I wreck my shoulder muscles by vigorously patting myself on the back.

Wanderling progress in October (not shown, the THREE attempts it took me to get as far as the second photo on the left)
If you follow me on instagram you'll already know about my latest knitting project, which I started on the last day of August.  I charged through the body of a Wanderling (Ravelry link) by Isabell Kraemer and managed to get it done in about three weeks (after several, very painful, restarts). I cast off the hem on the 19th and was quite pleased with the fit so far. Since then all I've done is put one sleeve back on the needle and get to where it's just a case of setting off and knitting it. However, I then decided to take a little break from it, and put it away for a week or so. I plan to start again this week, with the intention of finishing it up in October. It's a nice lightweight sweater  -- 4ply with a loose-ish gauge -- and it would be great to have it available when the weather cools down properly in the second half of the month.

Since it's three-quarters of the way through the year, before I talk about this month here is a tiny update on my overall progress towards my 2015 sewing goals:
  • Stick to my 2015 budget. I am 5% over, which is fine, especially since I was 10% over at the mid-year point. I should be more or less on budget at year end. I also wanted to spend less on patterns this year, but while I am below my planned expenditure on envelopes/PDFs, I bought a lot of magazines instead. As of right now, my overall spending on patterns is pretty much a wash compared to 2014. Apparently pattern buying is an obsession I just have to feed. /o\
  • Sew more fabric than I buy, reduce bag stash by 20m, garment stash by 50m. Let's all laugh hysterically at the idea I could reduce my garment stash by 50m, shall we? HAHAHAHA. Ahem. A very (very) small positive: thanks to my unprecedented streak of not buying fabric and this month's sewing, I am currently about 3m down from January 1st. That is better than being above, or at par, I guess. If I managed a 20m reduction overall by the end of the year at this point I would think that was a job well done, though, and even that seems quite ambitious (over 6m out a month for the next three months). On the other hand, I have very successfully sorted through my bag stash for culling and I'm down by 27m. I listed the excess on eBay and am in the process of selling it. I won't get much for it but it's better than fabric I am just never going to use lurking about in my sewing room.
  • Reduce my yarn stash by half (by weight). Totally successful! I decided to sell several yarns I bought in a fit of early knitting enthusiasm and then came to realize I was unlikely to use. I dithered about selling because I knew I wouldn't make back what I paid for them, but in the end I decided it was better to get a little money back and send the yarn out into the world to someone more likely to use it than just sit on it like a dragon with a hoard. My knitting stash is therefore down to: my current projects; my next major project; enough sock yarn to make three pairs of socks; some leftovers and scrap. My dream stash level is basically that minus two pairs of socks, so I feel I've made massive progress. I'm also way ahead of schedule and have already completed SEVEN knitting projects compared to my goal of "Complete 6 knitting projects", and I have two WIPs (Wanderling, described above, and a lace-weight project) that I should finish this year. I've also made a couple of things this quarter that are noticeably more complex than anything I attempted in 2014 so I am calling my overall knitting goals well and truly a win at this point already!
  • Maintain and stick to my wardrobe plan. I have SO MUCH to write about wardrobe planning and sewing. I haven't done it because I feel like there are so many OTHER people writing about it at the same time, and why would anyone care. I mean, not that I won't write it anyway because I am not sure that I care that people don't even care, but that's the reason why there's been a lengthy pause in my wardrobe planning posts. However, in the background, I've been really working the wardrobe plan thing, and I am really happy with how it is working out for me. More on this soon, I hope.
  • Various skill-building goals: I have achieved nothing against any of these, and am not sure if I will in 2015 no matter how much I want to. :( This is this saddest admission.
As for October, well, in addition to finishing up my jumper knitting WIP, this month I'm planning to sew some more knit tops -- once I figure out my problem with Simplicity 1063 that will be the first thing, probably in the next dew days. Thanks to the kindness of fellow sewing people, I also now have StyleArc Issy to play with (thank you, thank you, thank you Nakisha! :D) and I also want a boring basic top as well. I also want to make my autumn weight Lekala hoodie, and something new I've added to the list: a quilted knit bodywarmer thingy.

I do have LOADS of other things in my queue, but I feel burned out on making ambitious plans and then being too sick to do actually get started on anything. If I get my handful of knit tops done I will consider myself to have been really quite successful this coming month!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Wrapped (Ottobre 05-2011-11 "Romantic Notes" Top)

Ah, the wrap top. It's probably the most commonly recommended style for those of us who are large in the mammary region and yet not a style I wear very often at all, despite being abundantly blessed in the bosom department. Partly this is because I have a pathological fear of becoming unexpectedly unwrapped during the course of the day. Mostly, however, it's just that I haven't got around to attempting to make something in a wrapped style since my last, mostly failing, attempts in early 2014. (Why I never bought any RTW is another question altogether. I don't remember it really ever being an option, if I'm honest, particularly when I wore plus sizes. Too fitted, I think, compared to the "tent with a hole for your head!" aesthetic that plus-size clothes manufacturers seem to think everyone over a UK size 16 should choose).

New Look 6150, a previous fail
Back in 2014, I made two black wrap tops from a single 3m piece of viscose jersey. I made a (mostly succesful) wrap cardigan/top layer using Burda 01-2012-130, and also made a (mostly failing) attempt at New Look 6150 View A, a.k.a That Faux Wrap Top That Everyone And Her Sister Made In 2013. Alas, the fabric choice was ill-fated, as it was both hard to sew and looked decidedly jaded after only a couple of washes. I wore the Burda top several times until the fabric started to look so dreadful that I had to get rid of it. The NL 6150 View A top was an unmitigated disaster. I did think about revisiting it as, when successful, it's a really lovely pattern. Even my failed version clearly had potential. However, eighteen months and a lot more experience of reading pattern instructions later, I still don't understand the pattern instructions for the shoulder pleats. Maybe if I were 100% healthy I would have approached it in a spirit of adventure and tried again. Since I've felt like death warmed over for most of this month I decided to make my life easier and pick another pattern!

For this attempt I therefore decided to try Ottobre 05-2011-11, the "Romantic Notes" top. I made my version in a navy on ivory print from Tissu. I think it's a viscose jersey, though I've lost the official description. It's a nice weight for autumn and sewed up without any problems. The print is a little loud and busy compared to my usual boringly subdued taste, but I quite like it. It obscures almost all the sewn details (and mistakes!) though.

Ottobre 05-2011-11 "Romantic Notes" faux wrap top, images from Ottobre

The pattern itself is actually very similar to the New Look top, down to the pleated shoulders and the shape and style of the collar, but with the major advantage that I found the instructions perfectly comprehensible. The main differences are the degree of gathering on the low side of the wrap (a very small area with only light gathering in the Ottobre top vs. a lot of gathered fullness in NL6150) and the depth of the "scoop" of the wrap, which, per the images above, is intended to sit below the bust in the Ottobre top and over the bust on NL6150. Of the two, I probably prefer the positioning of the wrap on the New Look top, but I don't find the Ottobre top unflattering at all.

Ottobre 05-2011-11 faux wrap top, as modelled by me
Overall, I think that this top is more of a success than when I made NL6150 (not hard) but still not extremely successful. Part of this is the circumstances in which I sewed it, alas, and is therefore entirely my own fault. Even when I'm feeling really very ill, as I have been the last couple of weeks, I still always try to do just a few minutes in my sewing room every day -- mainly because I feel like even a little time being ~~creative goes a long way to keeping me sane on more trying days. However, as I got more and more frustrated by how long it was taking me to get to the actual MAKING part of making this simple knit top, I ended up taking a bunch of short-cuts, particularly when making adjustments, which I have subsequent cause to regret.

Front and back view, as modelled by Flossie
This top is a size 40 shoulders, and then a sort of cheater's FBA to a size 44 at the armscye down to the hip. The sleeve is a size 40 sleeve with a particularly stupid sizing fudge, which I shan't even describe, and is a little too tight as a result because, no, I do not in any way have a size 40 arm, even with a stupid fudge. The problem with the cheater's FBA is that it gives you extra space, for sure, but not entirely in the right place. I need extra fabric where my bust is, not under my arm. Add in the overly tight sleeve and it's a recipe for the top pulling weirdly through the bust. Note to self: next time, just suck it up and do your adjustments properly.

When I saw this pattern had non-topstitched facings I almost backed out of using it. I am no fan of unstitched facings as they seem to lead inevitably to frustratedly flipping pieces of fabric back inside your top and rising levels of irritability as the day goes on. On the other hand, the facings make the collar/neckline arrangement possible, and that was a design detail I really liked a lot, so I decided to go with it despite my misgivings.
Just about visible design detail of the pleats at the collar, plus a view of the facings/innards
When I was mostly done with the top I tried it on as instructed and instantly hated the facings. HATED. I couldn't see how the top would be wearable without constant facing-related aggravation. The last few pattern instructions, however, are all about the facings, and so really I should have just trusted Ottobre and not become despondent. After stitching them down in various places (and also, I must admit, unpicking and re-sewing two inches of side seam because it turned out one of my facings hadn't caught properly in the overlocked seams) hey presto, I would say 90-95% of my facing related annoyance had faded. I still have some problems on one side of the neckline but most of that is, to be quite honest, bad sewing on my part. I had problems attaching the facings to the bodice at that point of the neckline and tried to hurry through a fix rather than sort it out properly.

Close up of the wrap, and also, I read somewhere that people are really annoyed by garment photos where the model has her hands on her hips because it's a more ~~flattering pose than standing in a more neutral. So, here I am standing somewhat normally/neutrally as well, for completeness. "Normally". As normally as I ever stand in front of a camera, anyway.
In conclusion: I have yet to wear this top for a full day, so I am not totally certain how much I like it. It remains to be seen if this is a top that you have to faff with constantly to make sure it's lying right. Even without wearing it though I am am pretty sure this is not my Perfect Faux Wrap Top pattern -- I love the collar and shoulder details, but I am not entirely convinced by the positioning of the wrap itself or the facings. When I make another version, I think I will try a different pattern (I have several available -- there's another in a different issue of Ottobre, and then a good handful in various other magazines I own).

More generally, today's lesson is that even when I get super impatient with being ill and taking FOREVER to finish even a small and easy project like a knit top, it's not worth rushing. So many of the problems I had with this top are because I tried to hurry through to the actual sewing part of the sewing, and then tried to hurry towards actually having a finished garment. Yes, the part where I actually sew is the most fun part of sewing to me, but it's pointless if it doesn't actually produce the outcome I want!

Monday, 7 September 2015

Another Estelle and Operation: Outerwear

StyleArc Estelle, version 2
I decided after the success of my previous StyleArc Estelle at the weekend to make another almost immediately.  The only change I made was a small square shoulder adjustment. It's not obvious from this photo, but that has reduced the wrinkliness around the shoulder substantially.

I kind of went back and forth on using this black and white floral lace print ponte. I'm not, generally, a big wearer of prints, or florals in particular, but I nevertheless bought this fabric right at the beginning of the year with some plan in mind (I forget what now). However, when it arrived I decided it was not quite the right weight or texture for whatever Plan A was. Plan B was always a cardigan, although originally I thought to make more of a jacket type thing. I had nothing definite in mind though and was happy to divert it into my second Estelle. The problem with using it with this pattern was that the wrong side -- which is plain white -- shows, and I wasn't entirely sure it would look okay. As it turns out, I kind of like the wrong side/right side contrast in the waterfall collar especially when it's sort of neatly falling as in my photograph above. However, on evidence of wearing it today, sometimes it flaps open in movement and it's all a bit glaringly wrong-side-on-show. So, I am still a bit undecided about what I think of that.

As documented for the previous version of this cardigan, I did a handful of not-especially-complex fit adjustments to get the pattern to work for me, and while I was working on them I found myself wondering why, when I am actually now reasonably competent at some of my key fitting adjustments, I am so hesitant to get started on my big autumn project, Operation: Outerwear, or, wanting to sew some kind of coat or jacket.

Ottobre 05-2012-05 jacket that I am planning to make (but not yet)
In fact, I have always planned to make TWO pieces of outerwear in what remains of the year: a corduroy blazer, for which I had identified an Ottobre pattern from 2012, and a more casual jacket in cotton moleskin to wear with jeans in the winter, for which I had picked out a pattern from a 2010 issue of Burda. Originally, I was going to make them in that order, and indeed I have previously mentioned the Ottobre blazer as part of my autumn sewing plans. However, after really thinking hard about what is holding me back from starting that project, I've decided that it would be better to reverse my plans, and possibly also do a third project in between.

The main thing that has been slowing me down is worrying about fitting. The thing with fit is that it is ostensibly why I sew: I hate coat shopping because my upper body is a poor match to most RTW standards and I really struggle to buy coats that work for me unless I look at specialist "large busted" manufacturers like Pepperberry, who I find to be largely overpriced for the quality of the goods. However, I feel like if I am going to sew for fit, I actually have to do a REALLY good job of it before I can really justify the effort/expense/learning curve of sewing outerwear.

Burda 08-2010-110, or the jacket I am planning to make next

This is just dumb. There are no sewing police going to come take my machines away if the fit I get is no better than the fit I get from RTW. Then, the fit of, for example, my current formal winter coat is TRULY awful. I mean, it's actually one of the most uncomfortable items of clothing I own. I put up with it because, to be honest, it was the best of many similarly or more uncomfortable coats that I tried on at the point when I was comparison shopping for a coat. So, I am pretty sure the bar for good fit is tragically low in the case of outerwear and I should worry less about it. Worse case scenario I just don't improve on the horrible fit I get from RTW, as I can't actually see how it could get worse. I don't think I'll even have to do that good a job at fitting to get a much better fit. Also, I need to START somewhere in order to get better. So what if I make an ill-fitting jacket? I walk around in an ill-fitting coat all the time at the moment, so that won't change, and I certainly won't get to the point where I can make an actually well-fitted jacket unless I try to make one and improve from there.

As to the expense and time, well, it goes without saying that I could get a coat for less money and effort than it will take for me to make one -- such is the way of our fast fashion dominated world. It occurred to me as I was adjusting my cardigan pattern that actually it would be a favour to myself to acknowledge that I don't really sew just for fit or utility. I actually do sew because I like it. I think it would be kind of fun to put together a casual winter coat this autumn, and I am therefore going to do it because at the moment joy is in rather short supply around here as this long boring illness continues to take a toll on my morale.

All that said, I have been put off making up the Ottobre pattern first because I think there's probably a more sane learning curve to follow -- the Ottobre pattern has this three piece princess seamed front bodice that I couldn't 100% figure out how I was going to FBA, plus a waist seam with darts that all needed to line up, all on top of the the basic things that I haven't done before that I'll need to learn to make a lined jacket/blazer like, oh, putting a lining in, just as an example. Plus I was planning to make it from cord, which hates being pressed. By contrast the other jacket I'd picked out has a lot fewer pieces and is less complex overall, so I think it makes sense from a sewing perspective, if not from a seasonal wearing perspective, to make it first.

I think I might also make a quick unlined knit blazer with a princess seam in between the two woven jackets so I can get some of the fitting issues with the princess seams nailed down as well in a separate step. I have made an unlined, princess seamed jacket before -- more than one, in fact. However, that was the summer of 2013 and I was wearing quite a different size at that time. It will help I am sure that I have some idea of the alterations I need to make, but I can't just slap the old pattern pieces on top of a new pattern the way I do with more recent projects. I want a black knit jacket and I happen to have a suitable pattern, so it makes sense to throw that into the pile of outerwear projects.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that having allowed amorphous trepidation put me off even starting my outerwear project for ages, I have now talked myself into a state of some excitement about making my winter jacket, and will be hopefully make some more progress in the next couple of weeks. First up: tracing the pattern and some initial adjustments before I make a muslin.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

A very quick cardigan (StyleArc Estelle)

When StyleArc announced that they were going to start selling PDF patterns through Etsy I was genuinely excited. I had been so tempted on many occasions by their patterns but put off by the combination of single sized patterns, long distance mail costs and the lack of finished garment examples. At the time I concluded that my bank balance would quickly empty out into StyleArc's coffers as they release new patterns every month.

In fact, however, although I've picked up two of my most wanted patterns from their back list as the company gradually digitizes their pattern collection, this year's offerings so far have mostly left me cold. StyleArc, like Burda, seems to be highly trend conscious and therefore, also like Burda, if you don't like the current trends then you're just not going to be into the patterns. The result of this is that although I am waiting for one more historical pattern release (the StyleArc Issy, which I desperately want) I've really not found myself yearning after any of the new StyleArc releases particularly... until last month, when the Estelle ponte jacket came out.

StyleArc Estelle

This actually shows the power of the finished garment photos for me. I feel like if I made the effort I could almost certainly find a similar magazine pattern -- in fact, I know there is at least one in Ottobre and several variations on the waterfall cardigan theme in my Burda collection. However, as soon as I saw the modelled white version on the StyleArc newsletter, I wanted THIS pattern, immediately.

This is my first actual attempt to sew from a StyleArc pattern. I bought the package with size 10/12/14, and chose my base size (10) from upper bust measurements. Assembling the PDF was straightforward enough -- there are plenty of easy to follow markings -- but as usual before I got started I behaved like it was a task of monumental proportions. PDF assembly is easily the worst part of sewing from digital patterns, although it's never quite as bad as I build it up to in my mind!

StyleArc Estelle in blue pinstripe ponte
I am so used to blending sizes when I'm working in knit fabric rather than doing "proper" adjustments that I bitched to myself the entire time I was preparing a straight size 10 pattern, since I know I am very far from a straight size 10. I am definitely not willing to print out 2-3 versions of a single pattern, stick them all together and then compare them, but it would have been SO MUCH easier if I could have done.

Luckily, I have become pretty efficient at figuring out how a knit garment compares to my knit block so once I had the size 10 assembled I quickly pinpointed my main adjustments: a large-ish bicep adjustment and a 5cm FBA. I rotated the side dart the FBA produced out of the side seam and into the hem, and then redrew the side-seam to eliminate the tent-like flare this produces. The end result of that manoeuvre is a front piece that is basically a size 10 until the bust point and then blends to a size 14 from the bust point down. If I made it again I would probably do a small square shoulder adjustment. This is my most common adjustment that I make to patterns but the the nature of this particular pattern, with the big shawl collar etc, made it difficult for me to assess how far off StyleArc's shoulder shape was from my body shape, so I left it as is.

The fabric I chose is a lightweight blue ponte with a faint ultra-skinny stripe. It was inexpensive and I am not convinced it'll have great longevity -- cheap ponte bobbles and bags out so quickly! -- but it has great drape.

As far as sewing goes, StyleArc's instructions are brief and to the point, with some illustrations for key parts of the construction. They were very easy to follow, all the notches and seams matched beautifully and overall, it was an extremely pleasant experience to go from pattern to finished garment. I sewed the whole thing on my overlocker, ignored a couple of suggestions for seam finishing, left the hems and edges raw as suggested in the pattern (not my usual choice, but I genuinely think it looks good with this particular very stable ponte that I used) and, in fact, sewed the whole thing in an under an hour including futzing with a tension problem on my overlocker.

I don't think this photographed well at all (but this might be just that I am struggling with taking photos of myself when my body is very drastically showing the toll of my most recent bout of illness). I actually LOVE how it looks on, and the first time I tried it on I instantly though about making it again in another piece of ponte that I've been hoarding for a while. I like the shape of the angled hem and the way the waterfall section falls over my (larger than average) bust. I could live without the many and varied wrinkles through the shoulder, but that's mainly the square shoulder problem -- it's amazing what even a tiny adjustment will do for that.

In conclusion: This was a really fast project and I LOVE the outcome. It was also an interesting introduction to actually making up a StyleArc pattern for me. There was certainly nothing about the experience, other than my irritation that I couldn't do a straightforward size blend, to put me off buying or making more StyleArc patterns (if and when the trends that they follow swing around to things that are more my style, of course!)

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Little things

August was not a good month. I spent most of it feeling quite heinously unwell, and alternated between lurking on my own sofa being miserable and lurking on my mother's sofa being miserable, which is a revoltingly boring way to spend your time. So: roll on September! My health situation is a little bit more under control right now, the next couple of weeks are allegedly going to be quite pleasant from a weather point of view, and therefore I am determined to be optimistic that September will be all round an improvement.

Apart from a sleeveless blouse (which I only wore once due to weather, but actually loved on that one wear, so that's a win) and finishing my Backshore sweater, I did manage to finish up a couple of teeny tiny projects in August.  It's heavy on the knitting side of things because knitting is something I can do while sitting miserably on various sofas with a good level of success, whereas sewing is a bit more energetic and therefore was more than I could manage for most of August.

First little knitting completed object: a sparkle scarf. Ages ago my mum bought (for £1.99) a ball of sparkly multi-coloured yarn from the reduced bin at Aldi (a discount supermarket, for those unfamiliar), and asked me to knit her a scarf with it.

Drop Stitch Sparkle Scarf
I picked and very slightly adapted the (free) Drop Stitch Scarf pattern (Ravelry link) and made her a long skinny, sparkly scarf. I can't say I loved the yarn, which is a chunky acrylic variegated with a thin gold thread, but I think it turned out very nicely for a £2 investment and a few hours of my time. At any rate, my mum really likes it and she is the one who will be wearing it, so that's a success. I like the pattern a lot: once you get the hang of the drop stitches it goes really quickly and I really enjoy the shapes it makes. I want a green scarf this winter and I am planning to invest in some nice Aran weight yarn to make up with this same pattern.

The second little knitted object I made in August was my first ever hat. Right at the start of the year, I made a cowl from some vintage DK and boucle yarns held double. It actually turned out lovely -- I love the burgundy colour and the nubbliness of the boucle and the way the two different yarns, which are slightly different shades of burgundy, combined together with they were held double. It also goes really nicely with my winter coat, which is grey. At any rate, I wore it loads and decided that when I got the chance I would make a woolly hat to go with it. I hit upon the (free) Quick and Easy Slouchy Hats (Ravelry link) pattern, which has three simple variations. My cowl is just seed stitch, so I made variation 1, a seed stitch, moderately slouchy hat (the instructions say to knit 8" above the ribbing for some slouch, and 12" for a LOT of slouch, and I chose the former).

I look like a total plonker in knitted hats, but if the weather is cold enough to need one, I prize a warm head over aesthetics. However, there will be no modelled shot! :D

And finally, I have managed to sew a TINY bit in the last few days as I've started to feel a bit better. Fortunately (or, not fortunately, but something) I had a fairly urgent need for something very simple to get me started sewing again, a basic white t-shirt, after there was an Unfortunate Incident involving my sole remaining RTW basic white t-shirt and a large pot of apparently laundry detergent resistant dark chocolate pudding.

The only remotely interesting details about this are that (a) after making a lot of tees based on New Look 6150, this is actually a new but only marginally different base pattern, Ottobre 02-2007-03. This is because that pattern has a really nice V-neck variation (pattern #5) that I plan to make next -- this round/slightly scooped neck version was a quick test of my mashup of the pattern my knit sloper before I try the V-neck version; (b) it's in tactel, which is a knit fabric I have not sewn with before, and which is remarkable only for wanting nothing to do with the iron in any way. Other than that, it's a basic white tee, surely the least interesting of sewing projects but I am happy to have finished SOMETHING, no matter how basic!

Next up: I have started a new sweater! Prepare for regular updates if you follow me on Instagram as I am once again planning the Knit A Bit Every Day approach and I enjoy documenting my progress; I will be sewing a (more interesting) knit top as I am able over the next few days, and I am absolutely, 100% determined that Operation Jacket is a go now that it's the first of September. My goal this week is to get the pattern traced.