Saturday, 30 January 2016

Can January be over already?

I don't know about anyone else, but my January seems to have been about three million years long. Plus, most of it was rubbish despite starting reasonably well. Most recently I've spent the last 8-10 days first feeling distinctly under the weather, and then succumbing entirely to an absolute monster of a winter bug. I abandoned any hope of doing anything that wasn't sleeping or coughing for a full week and I'm only just starting to pick the threads of normal life again now.

Any summary of this month's activities is therefore going to be very feeble. I only managed to finish one thing, a cardigan for my mum, which on the plus side she likes very much and which used up 2m of otherwise unlikely-to-be-used fabric. I did make some small progress on my knitting as well, and I'm probably half way through the first sleeve of my Wanderling jumper. Sleeves are so boring though, I really have to MAKE myself keep knitting.

As I mentioned in that cardigan post, my other sewing project for January was to make some kind of progress on my winter jacket. I actually did start! I traced out all the pattern pieces in size 42 (my normal Burda upper body size starting point), did various little adjustments I knew I'd need but not the big FBA I thought would be likely (because I was struggling to get a sense of how it would fit from the flat pattern), cut a muslin and sewed it together.
Jacket muslin and an attempt at a flat pattern FBA that went wrong, wrong, so very very wrong
My first realization was that the size 42 is the wrong size. There are two really big problems I already knew I was going to have: it doesn't fit at the bust, and the dart placement is totally wrong because my bust is so low. For the rest of it though -- shoulder, back, waist & hip, it actually doesn't fit too badly... over a t-shirt.This is a winter jacket, however, so I need to be able to wear it on top of at least a couple of layers including a sweater. Over a more typical-for-me winter outfit, the muslin fit across the shoulders and back was very tight and of course the bust fit, already bad, got much worse. I let out a few seams in my muslin, looked at the flat pattern again and concluded that the easiest thing to do would just be to go up a size and start again with a size 44 before I did anything else. Unfortunately this means re-tracing the entire pattern from the Burda pattern sheet, which, ugh, tracing is not my favourite thing to start with, let alone tracing the same pattern twice.

Rather than jump back into tracing, I decided to have a go at getting the size 42 to fit at the bust. This might sound like a waste of time, but I have never worked with french darts before and I figured it would be useful to get the flat pattern practice. So off I went, normal FBA procedure that I've done a million times now: 4cm (1.5") FBA, opening a side dart, then closed it, rotating the extra into the existing French dart and ... holy CRAP, somehow, I ended up with a dart approximately the size of Mars. I mean, seriously, the dart take-up went from about 6cm to 30cm. I have NO FREAKING IDEA what I did wrong. I obviously screwed up somewhere because I've done a lot of 4cm darts before and I've never ended up with anything quite as ridiculous as that!

Overall, I definitely feel very discouraged by this experience: I have no idea how to fix the FBA, and I am not convinced that I know how to fix the dart placement problem with this french dart either. Since then have made no progress at all apart from a very half-hearted start at tracing at size 44.

Maybe it's just being even more ill than usual talking, but working on this jacket sent me into a real slump as far as sewing confidence and inspiration is concerned. About the middle of this week, when I was in the depths of this winter bug thing, I convinced myself I was completely useless at sewing and would never be able to make even one of the things that I had admired on Instagram/blogs/whatever that day. I wailed to myself self-pityingly about how I never wear or make or own anything interesting or fun, and so I should just sell up all my sewing stuff and go back to buying RTW.

It was mostly the fever and nose-blowing misery talking, but still: slump of EPIC proportions. A lot of it, if I'm honest, is also just misery and impatience with my long-term illness situation. 99% of the reason I don't get to make or wear anything "interesting" is that even when not hacking and wheezing with a winter bug, I am still not well enough to work or have a normal life and there's still no end in sight. In fact, I am not even well enough to leave the house very often at the moment, which, as I have mentioned before, makes for a very restricted set of wardrobe needs. My sewing slump is indicative of a much bigger slump.

However, I am not going to let it beat me. For now I've decided to mothball the whole question of the winter jacket. I'm not going to pursue a project that's making my miserable right now so I'm not even going to think about it in February. Realistically, there's no point in making a winter coat once we're into March, so really, I'm pushing the whole idea of my moleskin jacket to next autumn. I'm not giving up on outerwear for the year, but, whatever, it's not worth making myself unhappy over this particular jacket for a minute longer.

For February itself, I've got some nice easy little knit top projects lined up that should hopefully restore some of my confidence, and I've got a couple of slightly harder woven top patterns in mind that should still be well within my capabilities. I'm toying with half a dozen other possibilities as well, several of them non-garment (mainly bags). Plus I'm determined to keep making progress on my Wandering sweater, even though sleeves are dull. So, hopefully I'll have more cheerful and productive sewing and/or knitting news to report here over the next few weeks.

I can end on a BIT of a cheerful note, because even while I've been really struggling with sewing, I do think I have made some progress with drawing, which I mentioned I recently took up in a further attempt to fill the empty hours stuck at home while I'm sick. In the last month I've worked through another "learn to draw" type book, (if you want to you can read all about it on my other blog). I guess I'm far enough into the experience of learning to sew that I can't see progress as clearly any more, but since I'm right back at "absolute beginner" in drawing, I really can see what difference my efforts at learning and practicing have on my skill set. To prove it, here is the difference between the "pre-test" self-portrait I drew on 20 December 2015, and the self-portrait I drew on 19 January 2016 when I finished the book:

Maybe it's ridiculous, but I do think seeing evidence that yes, working on a skill by practicing and trying to learn new things DOES WORK really helps keep me on a more even keel about my sewing, mid-week drama notwithstanding. I know I'll get better at making the things I want to make if I just keep plugging away at it and trying my best. Sure, I'm never going to be an artist. I'm never going to be a designer or even probably more than a competent seamstress. But I can get to a point where I can do the things I want to do, for sure.

I've been taking a break from drawing too while I've been coughing and sneezing my way through this week, but when I'm being rational I'm looking forward to putting both sewing and drawing back into my daily routine --- just as soon as my daily routine stops including blowing my nose every 2.3 seconds!

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

A quick repeat and the return of Operation: Outerwear

I have kicked off my sewing this year with an easy project made as a gift. The fabric for this was a total purchasing error on my part. Suffice to say that to my dismay in December I accidentally ended up with 2m of very light, slubby knit in a shade of pinky-peach that I despise and never wear. However, my mum does like and wear this colour, so when I was whining to her about my fabric-buying idiocy, she said she really liked it and I should make something for her with it for her birthday later in January.

I decided to use a pattern I've made up a couple of times before, the free Swoon Scarf Neck Cardigan, as my mum always liked the two previous versions I made in late 2014 (one for me, one as a gift for my sister-in-law). My own version of it is still in rotation, although I wore it so much the first 6 months I owned it that it looks a little shabby these days.

Pale pink Swoon Scarf Neck Cardigan. It's a little oversized on Flossie and therefore doesn't hang too well.
Inevitably, my mum needed a different size than the two previous versions I've cut so I had to print out the pattern and stick it together again, which was no more fun than the previous two times I've done it. I also glanced over the instructions because I wanted to double check the order of construction and was reminded all over again of the hilarity of the pattern creator thinking I am going to French seam a knit. Just. What? Why would anyone ever do that?

It's so weird that the actual cardigan is so great but the pattern instructions and some of the details of the pattern pieces are so peculiar. Why is the crosswise grainline given and not, you know, a grainline I can actually use? Why would you EVER suggest French seaming a knit?! Why are you given a half a sleeve piece and told to cut it on the fold? (Not that I put the sleeves on the fold, I've made an actual sleeve pattern piece every time.) And other burning questions.

At any rate I do like the outcome, it's a free pattern so I am not going to bitch all that much about the peculiarities of it all, and more importantly my mum really liked it once I took 8cm off the length of the sleeve, which I hemmed on myself in her absence, for her little short T-Rex arms. (Her interpretation of the same requirement: I have monkey-like long arms and hers are the normal length! :D) In fact she liked it so much she told me I could make her several more, which, no. I love my mum very much and I was happy to make her a gift but I am not a cardigan factory. D:

Burda 08-2010-110
Meanwhile I would currently describe myself, rather cautiously, as being in a reasonable state of health. Also, the weather here has swung from unseasonably warm in December to record-breaking levels of wet over Xmas, and now, finally, to something approaching normal for the time of the year, which is to say, moderately cold and wet. This inevitably leads me to the thorny problem that I STILL don't own a casual winter jacket. Thus, since I am well enough to get things done at present, I have kicked off Operation: Outerwear, and started tracing the pattern today. Hopefully I'll get to the point of a muslin over the weekend.

The pattern I'll be working on is this lined, rather boxy jacket from Burda 08-2010, pattern number 110. My biggest concerns at the moment are doing my normal bust size manipulations (FBA and also lowering the bust point) on that French dart as I've not worked with one before. I need to check with my fitting books on how best to proceed. Other than that I'm mostly trying to convince myself that making a jacket like this is really not that much worse than making a woven shirt. If I can make a decent shirt, I can make a jacket, right? And three of my favourite and arguably most successful things I've ever made for myself have been woven shirts! So it'll all be fine, right? :D? :D? D:

The other thing I keep telling myself is that it really doesn't matter if the fit is only mediocre. Sadly, my existing RTW coats are all varying degrees of appalling in how they fit me, so nearly anything is going to be an improvement on the worst of them, and I don't have to achieve very good fit to have produced something that is about as good as the best of them. I realize this is a rather low bar to aim for -- "not worse than a really terrible thing" -- but it's a starting point!

My last line of internal pep talk is to remind myself if I'm going to start sewing the things I really want to sew (more structured clothes, more fitted clothes, outerwear, blazers, fewer easy knits) then I just need to start somewhere. Best case scenario: I end up with a jacket for whatever remains of winter! Worst case scenario: I never manage to make a wearable jacket, I'm down by some fabric and other bits and pieces but have learned lots of really useful things. That is not a great outcome, but I could live with it.