Thursday, 30 June 2016

Notes from mid way through the year

June has been a very mixed month. I started off blazing through my sewing queue and feeling full of ideas, and then spent the second half of the month in a total slump. The slump is mainly due to (tediously renewed) illness, as well as the distracting (and distressing) political situation in the UK right now. It didn't help that after a couple of weeks of nice weather at the start of June it has done nothing but rain and be decidedly chilly for the last fortnight, with more of the same forecast for at least the first third of July. It's hard to feel excited about making summer clothes when you're huddling into your winter cardigans. For sure it put me off making any more sundresses!

While it might not look like it outside, it is in fact almost the start of July. As we're somehow therefore halfway through the year(!) I should report the following progress on my goals for the year:
  • I struggled a bit with my budget through the first half of the year, but I'm back on track now -- at halfway through the year, I have precisely 50% of my budget left. I've also successfully curtailed a lot of my pattern buying, so I'm well on track with my specific budget for patterns this year.
  • Stash-wise, I am somehow more or less at parity compared to 1 January. That is not at all what I intended, of course. My goal was to be approximately -45m for the year overall and it would have been nice to be half way there by now. Unfortunately, I stress bought a lot of fabric at various points of this first half of the year instead. The only good thing is that I've also had an extremely productive six months, so while I've bought 57m of fabric in the last six months, I've used 57.4m. To put this on context: this is about the same amount as I bought and used in the whole of 2015. I've also been doing a lot better with using fabrics I've bought recently, rather than buying for stash -- I've already used about a third of my new purchases and have immediate plans for most of the rest. I have to admit that sometimes the battle to reduce my stash doesn't seem worth the effort. I've still got ambitions in the direction of an overall decrease this year, but as long as I don't end the year with more than I started with I'd probably still consider it an overall success.
  • I always have a few specific skills and garments on my list of Things To Do This Year as well. I'd already checked off outerwear on my list for 2016 when I made my red raincoat by the end of the first quarter (although I also anticipate making more outerwear in the fairly immediate future). This quarter I can also put a tick in the boxes next to making a woven dress (I actually made two: 1, 2); making something with contrast top-stitching (twice, again, both of them skirts: 1, 2); finishing one of my planned knitted objects (a sweater); and making one of my planned bags.
I think that's a pretty good result for the first half of the year, and I'm actually pretty excited to get on with some of the other goals I set for myself this year, like making a lined blazer, once I roll into sewing for the autumn.

More immediately, I still have the ends of my summer sewing to complete. I have two major outstanding summer sewing projects: to (finally!) get on with my unlined jacket made with the linen I dyed back in February and to make a pair of woven, fly-fronted trousers.

The jacket has still not materialized because I just couldn't figure out what pattern to use. I kept picking out patterns and then changing my mind before I even got to the point of making a muslin. I think I've finally, truly, honestly picked a pattern this time, so I plan to try to move ahead with that shortly. (Maybe.)

Trousers are another big project. You may vaguely recall that earlier this year I tried out a trouser fitting exercise. I did learn a huge amount from that experience but it was also frustrating and exhausting. Since then my measurements have changed enough to mean that if I try again I'll need to start with a different size. Hopefully the difference is small enough that not all my hard-won observations in Trousers: Round One will be nullified. I just need to find a good pattern and get started again, I guess. I'm a bit nervous about the fly front as well. It's something I want to conquer, and at the same time I really struggled with it the two times I've tried it before on skirts so I know it's not straightforward.

Around the larger projects, I have plans to make some fairly easy woven tops and one or two other little things that have rattled to the surface of my sewing queue. I just need to feel a bit better and be less slump-y before I start anything.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Wardrobe Planning IIId: In which I conclude (for now) my thoughts about wardrobe size

Previously, on Writing in a Bafflingly Long-Winded Way About Wardrobe Planning:
Wardrobe Planning I: In which I talk about the reason I am interested in planning my wardrobe
Wardrobe Planning II: In which I digress into discussion of the role of sewing in my wardrobe plan
Wardrobe Planning IIIa: In which I ponder what the 'right' size of wardrobe should be
Wardrobe Planning IIIb: In which I count up all my clothes 
Wardrobe Planning IIIc: In which I count up all the things I threw away

As I've discussed extensively in my last three posts on this topic, one of the most enduring concerns I have about the wardrobe I own is how big it "should" be. This is (for now) my last post on the subject and I'm going to talk about the wear statistics I've gathered over the last year on my existing wardrobe and what I've learned from doing that.

Wear Frequency

One of my concerns, right back in the beginning in 2012 when I first started to think about wardrobe planning, was that I felt I owned a lot of clothes but only ever seemed to wear a small subset. Since then I've gone through several cycles of identifying and discarding unworn clothes, trying to get my wardrobe down to just the things I need and want to wear. It's meant several years of pretty substantial discards, sometimes of clothes I had very rarely worn, which is a sort of waste I really dislike and to which I wish I were not contributing (more so every time I read things like this recent BBC news article). I dislike it even more now that "not wearing things I own" more often than not means "not wearing things I've worked hard to sew/knit".

This week marks the anniversary of my "what I wore" spreadsheet -- a document I set up to keep track of how many times I wore each garment that I own over the course of a year. Although I, like most people, could very likely intuit what garments I wear most frequently, my feeling was that it was harder to get a real sense of how my total wardrobe broke out in terms of wear without actual data.

This sounds like a crazy amount of work to do just to assuage what is actually only mild curiosity, but it was not at all onerous. Since I already had a spreadsheet containing a list of all my clothes, all that was involved was a few minutes of work to set up a second spreadsheet where I could capture what I wore, and then about 10 seconds each morning to actually record the information.  In terms of the data I collected, I recorded all the main parts of my daily outfit (trousers/skirt, tops, top layers i.e. cardigans and jumpers, and shoes), but not outerwear, underwear, nightwear or clothes I wore for exercise. I started tracking on 21 June 2015, and thus I now I have a whole year of data, through all four seasons. (I have to admit, even though it's something that takes very little time, I probably wouldn't have done it if I had been gainfully employed and had a life over this past year. Since illness precluded either work or life-having, however, I had the free time.)

I mentioned in my last post on this topic that there's definitely been a Hawthorne effect going on, by which I mean, my behaviour clearly changed in response to the fact that I was analyzing it. The very fact that I could see as the year went along that I had clothes I hadn't worn much made me try to wear them more often. I am not sure that my year of wear therefore represents a "typical" year for me as a result. I don't really mind that my numbers were potentially a bit skewed -- this isn't a scientific study, after all, and my goal was to make better use of my wardrobe, not simply to create a record of what I wore. Plus, I think that while I probably wore my least favourite things a few extra times as a result of this effect, proportionally I still wore them much less often than my favourites.

Initially, as an arbitrary benchmark, I decided that I would be satisfied if I wore every garment at least once a month on average over the course of the year. In practice about two thirds of my wardrobe is seasonal (either summer or winter) and any given seasonal garment spends about six months of the year tucked away unworn. My actual wear pattern is therefore not nearly so evenly distributed as "one wear per month".

After a year of data collecting, I know that I wore about 65% of my useful wardrobe (that is, the part of my wardrobe that is suitable for my current lifestyle, excluding things in storage and garments like suits and formal blouses that I presently have no use for) at least once a month on average. I wore about 25% of my wardrobe at least twice a month on average, and about 15% of my wardrobe three or more times a month, which means I wore it more weeks than I didn't.

The garments I wore most frequently of all are really not interesting or surprising at all. For one thing, it's not like I don't know that I wash and wear those items a great many times a year. They are also, without exception, very dull: more or less invisible outfit building blocks like white tees, dark wash jeans and the like.

More interesting is the question of the 35% of my wardrobe that I wear less often than once a month.

About 15% of my useful wardrobe falls into a category of "I don't wear this often, and that's OK". Mainly, these are garments that fall at the extreme ends of weather-appropriate dress. Where I live I do not frequently require clothing for either very cold or very hot weather. It is rarely warm enough here that I want to wear shorts, for example. However, I am quite happy to continue to own two pairs of shorts for those few days a year when I want them. The most striking thing, looking at the list of these items, is that I've owned a lot of these garments for years -- my heaviest winter sweater, for example, has been in my wardrobe for something like 6 years, far longer than my sweaters usually last. This is actually a problem with the two pairs of shorts that fit me right now. I've owned them since 2006 but I've only worn them a North-of-England-typical handful of times each year. They're in good condition still, but I'm aware they are quite dated and probably more suited to my age in 2006 than my age in 2016.

The remaining 20% of my everyday wardrobe I just apparently don't want to wear that frequently. I would say about a third are a problem because the fit is off or I don't like the fabric. Another third are orphaned or difficult to fit into outfits, often because they just aren't a good colour match for the rest of my clothes. The remaining third, I genuinely just don't know. I don't have any sound or logical reason not to wear them. In fact, in some cases I am really surprised that I wore them so infrequently -- without data in front of me, I would have sworn they made it out the closet much more often than they actually did. I think given the choice, I just tend to choose to wear other, similar things that I like more. This seems particularly true of woven tops, which has the most obvious hierarchy of favourites: from my chambray and gingham shirts that I wear very regularly, to (mostly older, RTW) non-favourites that rarely make it out the wardrobe. Since I have (too many?) alternatives, I am never forced to wear any of these items, so I just don't.

Generating an "ideal" wardrobe size from from wear statistics

The obvious problem with this discussion so far is that I've made a blanket assumption that wearing a garment 12 times a year is a "good" level of wear. This is always going to be a sticking point, because there is not and never can be a universal "right" number of wears per year. My initial guess was that wearing something once a month on average -- and in practice, for the two thirds of my wardrobe that consists of seasonal garments, this means wearing something twice a month over 6 months -- was probably a low to moderate estimate.

I soon realized though that I actually have different expectations of different parts of my wardrobe. In particular, I expect to wear pairs of trousers many more times a year than tops. In fact, this proved to be exactly the case: I wore my most worn trousers exactly twice as many times as my most worn top, and almost all my most frequently worn garments are trousers. The few heavily worn items that aren't some kind of trouser are cardigans.

This prompted me to set up another little equation, this time with rather more variables. My goal was to create something up that took into account the applicable number of days (I wear casual all the time at the moment, but one day I will be well again and I'll have a workwear/casualwear split); the fact that I don't wear a cardigan or jumper every day (I now know I wear one about 85% of days) and I do wear more than one layer of top on a not insignificant number of days (about 25% of days in total over a year). Then I just play with the details of how many times a year I expect to wear different types of garment, and what this means for overall wardrobe size. Inputting "12 wears per year" for each category immediately shows how poor a measure that actually is -- I'd need twice as many pairs of trousers as I own right now if I were to wear them only 12 times a year. While I do think I have a few little gaps in my wardrobe as it stands, I don't think doubling the size of my trouser collection would produce any overall improvement to my wardrobe.

On the other hand, a more interesting question was what a good number would be if I wanted to go more minimalist. For a first run at this, I picked as my preferred wear count per year the frequency with which I currently wear my "favourite" items in each category. My reasoning for this was that I wear my most favourite, highest rotation items of clothing exactly as often as laundry logistics and, rather more subjectively, my preference for variety permits. It's not likely that I'd wear anything more frequently than I already wear my most favourite item in each category, but I wondered how many garments I would need if I wore everything with exactly that same frequency.

The answer to this question is that my minimalist wardrobe for a full year of casual wear would be 30 garments in high rotation, including 5 cardigans/sweaters, 8 pairs of trousers, and 17 tops. When you take seasonality into account, that would mean something like 18-20 garments in constant high rotation at any point in the year. In practice I'd probably also have to throw in a scant handful of things I wear less often but consider essential, like a pair of shorts in summer and an extra heavy sweater in the depths of winter. (Note that all these numbers exclude coats and other outerwear.)

There would be absolutely no slack in that wardrobe for me, from a laundry logistics point of view, and even as a mental exercise I recoil from the idea of having a wardrobe so limited that a laundry crisis looms every week. As a second run at minimalism, therefore, instead of taking my highest rotation garment, which in some cases I wore very much more often than anything else, I looked at the average of the second and third most frequently worn items, which added an extra 10 garments to my list for a total of 40 high rotation garments: 1 extra sweater, 1 extra pair of trousers, and 8 more tops. When you take seasonality into account, probably at any given time there would still be only about 25-30 garments in my wardrobe.

What's interesting to me about this is that it immediately brings to mind several of the minimalist wardrobes I looked at right back at the beginning of my musing about numbers. At the time I wrote the first of these numbers posts 18 months ago, I found it quite difficult to imagine how I would put together a wardrobe that small, or what it would mean to do so. This has given me a much clearer grasp of what a very small wardrobe would look like for me. Probably the most important thing for me is the idea that I'd need a wardrobe full of "favourites" -- things that I love and want to wear as often as specific things I already have in my wardrobe. Even if the strictest of minimalist wardrobes doesn't really appeal to me, that aspect of it does, because it would mean an end to that waste I described. Yes, of course I'd still need to replace things as they wore out, but I'd hopefully avoid owning things that just never worked to start with.

The idea of cost per wear

Another thing I toyed with calculating over the course of the year was cost per wear. In the end, however, I haven't found this at all useful as a concept, so I'll just touch on this briefly. Cost per wear, of course, is very simply calculated as the amount it costs to buy/make something divided by the number of times you wear it. The idea is that if you are buying something that has the potential to be durable, like say a winter coat, or a watch, then you can justify buying a higher quality, higher price item because over a long lifetime, the cost per wear would be the same as if you had bought a cheaper, lower quality version that fell apart after a year.

The problem I have with this is twofold:

1. How do you even start to pick your target/preferred cost per wear?

The biggest stumbling block to this whole idea is that you've basically got to pull the critical number straight out of thin air. Is £1 per wear low enough, or does it have to go under £0.20?  If I buy or make a £100 coat, do I have to wear it 100 times to make it a good buy, or 500? Without some idea of what cost per wear "should" be -- and I honestly have no idea what it should be and nor does anyone else, seemingly -- all you can do is a comparison. I'd have to wear a £500 coat five times as many times as a £100 coat for it to be worth the extra, you could say, but then you run into the counterfactual problem: you will never know how long the £100 coat would have lasted or how much you would have worn it because you didn't buy or wear it. If you sew, you also have the problem of deciding what you're going to count as part of your costs in the first place - do you estimate labour? Do you add in the patterns you bought and considered but ultimately rejected? My "number of wears per year" thing is also arbitrary, but at least I can sort of see some practical way of estimating a reasonable number for me personally and proceeding from there. I can't really even guess at how much I think my daily outfit should cost on a per wear basis.

2. It's hard to know ahead of time that product A is going to be more durable/wearable than product B.

If the main use is in comparison (will I wear this five-times-as-expensive coat five times as often?) then in addition to the problem of the counter factual (you'll never know the answer to that question) you also have the problem that most of the time you can't determine longevity ahead of time based on price. It's maybe a little easier with buying fabric than buying clothes because the brand thing doesn't play into it quite so much (Liberty cotton and the like notwithstanding) but then you have the problem that you still don't really know if you'll love it and wear it constantly just based on the fabric you used.

In the end, I wiped out that column in my spreadsheet because I found it completely unhelpful. Of course, I want everything I make or buy to work out to be good value for money, but I can't see how cost per wear tells you anything when you can't even guess at what benchmark to use.

In conclusion

This has been a lot of words, and is based on an awful lot of numbers, but the important question is did I actually learn anything from all of this? Here are my thoughts at this conclusion of all this thinking:

1. There really isn't a right number, but you can probably use these mathematical approaches to figure out a good mix of garments and total size for a minimal or starter wardrobe.

I mean, this is obvious, but there are just too many variables to pick a "right" number. I can't even pick a right number for me, let alone pick a right number that has any kind of universal claim to usefulness. For me, I seem to have a seasonal minimum of about 25-30 items. I tend to wear an average of about 32 different garments in any given month. As you might expect I wear the least variety in the most temperate months, and the most in months where we have the local version of "extreme" weather -- a few days of unusually hot or cold temperatures. I do think that all of these blog posts and spreadsheets and calculations have given me a good idea of what I actually need and want from my wardrobe, in purely numerical terms, which is something I never really had before.

I also think that my current equation is helpful because it's helped me divide my clothes into useful categories and sketch out how many garments I want to own in each category, as well as picking out what rarely used but still useful things I want to have available. After that, I use more qualitative judgement to try to make sure I have a range of different colours, styles and seasonally appropriate clothes in the mix. I've definitely minimized the number of duplicates or near-duplicates in my wardrobe, and I think overall my wardrobe is more diverse and interesting as a result of my efforts, while also being overall much smaller than it has probably ever been in my adult life. I've never had a lot of laundry crises, but I've had basically none since I started trying to be more organized with how many things I own, but I also think in the last 18 months in particular I've been much less likely to feel that "I have nothing to wear!".

It's also really helpful to use the minimalist wardrobe ideas -- the wardrobe made up of "favourites" -- to figure out exactly what my core wardrobe looks like and what I can't live without. If nothing else, it helps set priorities and helps me set up my sewing queue, as well as informing how I spend my clothes and fabric budget.

Finally, this whole exercise has given me a much better sense of what a starter/rebuild capsule sort of wardrobe would need to look like for me. This is extremely useful, because when I (eventually) go back to work I'm going to be starting almost from scratch to rebuild my work wardrobe. This will give me a much better starting point to systematically create a really useful work wardrobe than the last time I tried to rebuild, post-PhD, hopefully with a minimum of waste. I also think it's useful for future travel wardrobe planning and the like, assuming that's a thing I get to do again some day.

2. Some things I'm just not going to wear that often, but that's OK.

I could just decide not to own, for example, any shorts at all, because I don't wear them that often, but it seems a sort of needless martyrdom to do so. My main constraints are money and space. Money-wise, because I have a wardrobe plan that feeds into a sewing/RTW-to-buy queue, I am pretty good at budgeting ahead for what I need to make and buy. I don't have cubic miles of storage space, but I do have more than enough to cope with owning a handful of garments that I wear less often.

However, what I have realized is that if I'm going to own, for example, a couple of pairs of shorts that I don't wear very often, they're potentially going to lurk about in my wardrobe for a decade. For those sorts of garments, I think I want to make sure I am picking patterns and styles that are very classic and won't date as badly as my 2006-called-and-wants-their-shorts-back shorts that I have right now. The same is true of anything I replace or add knowing that it's in that "rarely worn but that's OK" category: it's likely to be around a while, so it's worth picking a timeless style and probably a neutral colour. If I decided to make something more trendy or colourful, it's basically got to be cheap enough that I don't feel bad about ditching it if it's out of style or I no longer like the colour a year later.

3. I haven't figured out how to deal with the unworn 20% of my wardrobe

One of the outstanding questions from my data analysis is that I legitimately don't know what to do with the garments I identified that I just don't wear. (Bear in mind, 20% of my current everyday wardrobe is only about 18 garments total, so at least we're not talking about great bagfuls of clothes.)

At the moment, my approach is to just keep trying to make it work, trying to push some things, especially the things I don't have any real reason not to wear, into higher rotation. Of course, in theory, I could also just put all of the non-worn 20% in a bag and donate/recycle them tomorrow and it would have, overall, little impact on my life. For all practical purposes I probably wouldn't even notice the difference. I don't wear those items very often and in some cases only wore it this last year because my tracking exercise showed me that I 'ought' to. I am far enough over the minimum numbers I've figured out that I could easily have worn something else on those few occasions without prompting any kind of laundry crisis.

But... I'd feel bad about actually doing that, because in some cases there's nothing really wrong with the garment in question. Some of them are things I've made myself, and, even though I know all about sunk and unrecoverable costs, I feel like there is a lot of time and effort that has gone into those garments that I am reluctant to "waste". Again, if I were struggling for storage space, I'd probably bite the bullet and purge, but it's really not that much of a problem to house those extra garments, at least for now.

4. It's pointless to make anything in a fabric I don't like, a colour I am unlikely to wear, or that doesn't fit.

On the other hand, for those items where the problem is that I don't like the fabric or fit, in particular, well, that's pretty insurmountable. Time is not going to change my dislike of those garments, and it makes no real sense to hang on to them. It's not worth hanging on to anything if I don't like the fabric or the fit is that far off. Since fit remains one of my biggest problems with sewing, this is a rather depressing conclusion to reach, because it's likely to recur rather frequently as I continue to try to sew for myself in the future.

Moreover, apart from the problem of the finished garments I don't wear, this conclusion also poses a challenge for my fabric stash. I've mentioned before that in the early days of my fabric buying I made numerous ill-conceived purchases, many of which unfortunately still linger in the lowest archaeological layers of my stash. I've been trying to make use of some of it, but it's really depressing to use fabrics you're at best indifferent to all the time, and so I keep skipping over them to use nicer, new fabrics instead. Plus, why bother making things if they're going to end up in the annoying 20% anyway?

5. If I really wanted to go minimalist, sewing would be my downfall.

The reality is that I think I would be a lot closer to the "minimal" wardrobe camp if I didn't sew my own clothes and enjoy it. While I'm by no means the most prolific sewer I know, I sew quickly and am inclined to spend a lot of my leisure time on it. I therefore have to put deliberate limits on how much I make. I could easily make two or three times the number of garments, and some days I really kind of want to do that. There is definitely a tension between my inclination to sew, sew, sew and my preference not to end up inundated with clothes, especially when some of the things I want to make really don't suit my current very restricted semi-invalid lifestyle. Some days I swing rather wildly from "it doesn't matter if you have more clothes than you strictly need, it's better to have the distraction!" to "but why make stuff if you won't wear it, it's so wasteful, you're a terrible person!" and even though that sounds ridiculous, it's actually stupidly stressful.

Next time:   I think I've finally exhausted the topic of numbers for now, and therefore the next thing I am going to talk about in this on-going occasional series is the problem of "style".

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Flying Squirrel (Burda 07-2011-116)

Ages ago, someone doing a review of an issue of Burda magazine referred to one of the tops as a flying squirrel top. It wasn't the pattern I used for this new top (in fact, I think the pattern in question was this plus-size tunic top) but ever since that has been how I mentally labelled all voluminous Burda batwing tops. And now, I have made a flying squirrel top for myself!

Burda 07-2011-116A (images from
This is by no means a rare shape of pattern for Burda, so when I decided to make one I considered a handful of flying squirrel patterns from various issues. In the end I chose Burda 07-2011-116A (link goes to where it is for sale, note that I do NOT do affiliate links) mainly because I thought the seamline positioning and the asymmetric neckline were interesting. (The difference between 116A and 116B is a matter of the hem finishing only -- A has a folded hem and sleeve hem, where B uses bias binding.)  I also liked how the top narrows to fit more closely at the hip and then blouse over -- the mannequin image is misleading in this respect, as both the modelled versions clearly show this in the magazine. This catch-at-the-hip thing is something I like a lot: previously I made about a million iterations of a t-shirt with a similar feature from Ottobre 02-2013.

The gigantic back bodice pattern piece -- it's about a metre square
The pattern has only three pieces -- a very (very!) large back piece that wraps to the front at the top and sides, a front piece and a facing. The pattern goes together absolutely beautifully. Seriously, it's a lovely, quick, well-designed piece of sewing. I am not normally a fan of facings, but I do appreciate the facing in this pattern that finishes this neckline so neatly, and the way the asymmetric neckline goes together. The most time consuming parts of this pattern were in fact (a) tracing out the enormous back pattern piece and mirroring it, and then only because the pattern was too big for my cutting/tracing table so I had to clear my kitchen table to trace it out and (b) positioning the pattern on the fabric so that I didn't have any of the giant circular features directly over my bust.

Burda 07-2011-116A - front

This pattern is actually a Tall pattern, the first I've made. It was available in a size 76-92, which translates to a Tall 38-46. After measuring up the pattern to get a sense of finished size, I ended up making pretty much a straight 84 (Tall 42). Mostly I've been making 44s recently, though I'm actually exactly mid-way between a 42 and a 44 at neck/bust/waist. On this occasion I felt like the smaller size would fit better through the neckline than the 44, and there is a lot of design ease through the bust so I wasn't worried about fit. My hip measurement is a solid size 40, but I didn't taper. I maybe could have sliced off a tiny bit at the hem to have it fit more closely, but my feeling was that after I turned the hem and accounted for the extra bulk of wearing the top over trousers, the 42 would also be a decent fit through the hip. Finally, though I'm theoretically too short for Tall patterns -- I'm 172.5cm tall vs. the Tall draft being for women 176cm tall -- as written this top is actually almost exactly the normal length I make my woven tops and I therefore made no length adjustments.

Burda 07-2011-116A - back

I used more or less all 2m I had of this rather narrow (about 135cm wide) Korean dandelion print viscose to make it. I realized, too late of course, that the way the shoulder yoke is constructed means the print is upside down at the front shoulder, but fortunately I had managed to position the pattern piece such that the print, while legitimately directional, isn't too obviously directional in the sections that are wrapped over from the back. (This was totally due to luck, not good judgement.) The fabric is rather more see-through than I like, so I will definitely not be wearing it without a camisole underneath.

Crappy Instagram photo on me. I planned to take more photos today but then I wore it out shopping and got rained on
Overall, I am really pleased with this top. After I finished, I immediately imagined using this pattern for a top for work, done in colour block. I think it would be really pretty in crepe-de-chine with a darker colour back/shoulder and a lighter front piece. So, while I probably won't use this pattern again for a casual top while this floral viscose version is in my wardrobe, I can definitely see myself using it again someday. :D

Next up: I'm just about to start tracing another simple woven Burda top, but this time a more recent pattern.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Dress #2: StyleArc Mila (and a quick repeat top)

Thank you to people who left kind words in comments about my first dress this month, which I was not very excited about. I continue to not be very excited by it, in all honesty, although I am actually wearing it today and there's no denying it's very light and comfortable in the current very warm (for the North of England, feel free to laugh if you're in a place that actually gets properly hot) and humid conditions.

Since then I've been battling pretty epic insomnia due to medication change, and as is often the case when I am awake at 3am, I made a series of buying decisions I might not have made if it had been a more sensible hour. Most of the purchases were harmless enough (although why I bought Simplicity 1616, surely the world's least exciting maxi skirt pattern, is anyone's guess. It turned up in the post and I was like... Well, OK then. I guess this seemed like a good idea at the time, or something? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) but one purchase, at least, turns out to have been inspired.

StyleArc Mila
Ages ago, when it first came out, I said how weirdly attracted I was to this StyleArc pattern, the Mila dress. The line drawing is actually not super exciting, but the modelled sample on the StyleArc Etsy shop site was very cute. However, I wanted to wait and see how it worked out for a wider variety of body shapes, since the StyleArc model was quite small-busted and I worried this would hang unflatteringly from my much larger bust. The other night I was trying to think what direction I could take with my dress-making experiments, remembered this pattern and decided to buy it and forge ahead even though I could only find a couple of reviews.

StyleArc Mila in black linen and black cotton sateen, front view
I decided on the fabrics in the middle of the night as well. The bodice is in a lightweight cotton shirting with a slightly shiny finish. The skirt is in black linen. Of course this means the entire dress wrinkles if you so much as breathe near it, but I quite like that "lived in" look that linen and cotton get in the summer, so that's OK. It is exceedingly difficult to photograph black dresses, so please forgive how over-exposed my photos are as I was trying to show the two fabrics and the seam lines. That said, to be honest the variation in texture between top and bottom is a bit subtle even in person. I did consider doing a proper contrast bodice with a black and white floral I have a small piece of, but I decided in the end to go for straightforward all black. I am so dubious about florals, I just wasn't sure I'd get the same wear out of even a partially flowery dress as I would from a plain black.

StyleArc Mila side and back views (see what I mean about the wrinkling? I pressed this and put it straight on Flossie but: wrinkles!)
I made a size 12 straight from the PDF based on full bust. In theory, I am a size 10 hip in StyleArc but I did not attempt to adjust for this, and in fact I am very glad I did not adjust it! The dress looks great when you're standing up but it's certainly not got a ton of ease in it, which you REALLY notice when you sit down.

The actual sewing was very easy. It took me basically just a single morning to make after cutting out just 5 pattern pieces yesterday (including switching over my overlocker thread, doing a blind hem by hand, and doing three loads of washing in breaks!). Given all the very curvy seamlines, I was happy enough to just overlock my seams, which of course is a big time saver compared to e.g. french seaming or flat felling.

I did have three very minor difficulties in sewing:

The centre front pointy bit
1. The neckline/neck facing are sewn with a 6mm (1/4") seam and I had a bit of a problem wrangling the fabric when it came to understitching. However, the actual finished neckline looks quite good. If I make it again though I'll give myself a bit more of a seam allowance and trim it -- not the most efficient, but I have fewer problems that way.

2. I was sewing together two somewhat different fabrics and I got a little wrinkling and stretching as I stitched them together on the bias curve at the front. It mostly pressed out, but it's not perfect.

3. The pointy bit at centre front. Oh dear. Well, it's not perfectly pointy, but it looks OK, I think? I didn't do myself any favours by using a shiny fabric which really shows of any flaw right there. I don't know whether I am being too critical (nobody is looking at my clothes that closely except for me, seriously) or not critical enough (bad seamstress! Strive harder!) of it, but I think I can live with how it turned out. I have to admit that after a couple of attempts, I actually hand-stitched this part of the seam, because I just couldn't get the control I needed with the machine.

StyleArc Mila, as modelled by me
More importantly, I do really like how this dress looks on me, and I don't think the photos really do it justice. It skims the body nicely and I really like the shape of the skirt and side seam.

One thing to bear in mind if you're interested in this pattern is that it's very strange to put on. It's a pullover dress but the hem is pegged... but pegged front and back, so it sort of curves in towards the back of the calves, rather than curving in at the side like a pencil skirt. Anyway, that makes for an interesting experience pulling it over my bust and hips and there's a certain amount of wriggle-hopping required. If you're very top heavy or very pear-shaped or have a pronounced butt, it might actually be entirely unworkable without some kind of vent at centre back (as written, the pattern does not have one). The finished hem circumference is therefore something to maybe keep in mind if you are particularly curvy.

Overall, I am really happy with this dress and the pattern, and actually with the overall experiment of making a waistless shift type dress. Definitely a style I want to pursue further. Moreover, I am much more pleased with this dress than the previous one. Middle of the night inspiration FTW, apparently. \o/

Very briefly, also, between the two dresses, I made one quick little summer weight sweatshirt with some cream and black stretch cotton pique. I used the Grainline Linden pattern, which I have used a couple of times before, and I also really love how this came out. The modelled shot is from Instagram, and I am sorry for, among other things, the weird perspective that makes me look like I have a giant hand.

Striped Grainline Linden
I made the same size I made previously (14) because I forgot my bust size has changed in the intervening time (current bust size, according to the chart: 12). More radically though, and the reason I can't be bothered to make up any of the other Grainline patterns I have, in theory my hips are currently between a size 6 and 8 in their draft (and closer to a 6 than an 8). As you can see, the size 14 therefore leaves me with acres of ease at the hip! I don't care, I like how it looks baggy like this but yikes, 12 top, 6 bottom is a bit of an epic differential, even for me.

Next up: this is apparently my week for making "interesting" patterns, as I will be following the Mila up with a pattern from Burda that is definitely at the more peculiar end of their spectrum. I also have a tote bag cut out and ready to sew. :D

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Dress #1: Sack of potatoes

May was a remarkably productive month for me! I finished ELEVEN sewn items, plus I finished one knitted jumper. The fact that I'm +4m overall for the year so far in fabric stash (compared to my plan of reducing my stash by at least 50m by the end of the year, insert hollow laughter here) and am 10% over budget for the year so far is surely immaterial compared to this output! Surely? :D? :D? D:

I'm really happy with most of the things I've made this month, with my favourite thing being my dotty double gauze top. I will pat myself on the back as well for having successfully ticked off two of my "sewing skills/experiences/types of garments" plans for 2016 this month: I did some contrast topstitching using proper topstitching thread (on my polka dot skirt), and I also made a woven dress, which is the actual topic of this blog post. Sadly, the dress is kind of a down note to have ended May on, but it's still a tick in the box!

Let me first say that dresses are a real problem for me. Dress patterns make up about a third of my envelope and PDF pattern collections, and I often earmark dress patterns in my magazines or buy back issues because of specific dress patterns. I have whole pinboards devoted to dresses on Pinterest. I have several lovely pieces of fabric specifically chosen to make dresses. And this is all fine and good, but as it turns out, I don't actually MAKE dresses. In the almost-five-years since I started sewing, I had completed exactly three dresses prior to this week, only one of which I liked enough to wear more than a couple of times.

This tally is actually pretty much keeping with my history of dress ownership. Historically, RTW dresses were the very worst garment to try to buy because in RTW my top half and bottom half are 2-3 sizes apart from each other in many shops. I had horrible, HORRIBLE fit problems with dresses as a result. It's therefore always just been a lot easier for me to buy separates, if I am buying clothes. However, I always thought if I could MAKE my own dresses, that part of my wardrobe would blossom. I even went and did a Great Dress Trying-On Experiment a couple of years ago to see if I could identify what sort of dresses suited me best, and then bought/picked out patterns in my magazine collection thinking I would end up with multiple dresses I had sewn myself that would both fit and be flattering.

Er. Not so much.

I have a lot of boring practical reasons why I don't wear too many dresses at the moment, but also, I have to admit a big part of it is that I just feel weird when I wear them. At this point, I definitely could go into lengthy navel-gazing feminist rant, but I'll spare you and just leave it at: as a result of all sorts of things, I often feel very uncomfortable when I wear dresses, like I'm dressing in a costume or like my outsides don't match my insides.

I used to feel this way about wearing skirts as well, but I've found that the more I wear them, the less I feel this way (although I still sometimes have moments of discomfort about skirt wearing). I therefore decided this summer I would make an attempt to make and wear at least a couple of dresses. My practical criteria for these projects were that the dresses should be easy to wear, comfortable, and in keeping with my stay-at-home, semi-invalid lifestyle. In other words, I'm not making dresses for garden parties or weddings, as fun as that would be, but things that are basically the dress equivalents of my normal, very casual wardrobe. They also needed to be suitable for my local weather conditions. I'm most likely to wear dresses on the warmest summer days we have, but that is not saying very much in terms of temperatures -- I'm talking about low-to-mid 20s (in the 70s in Fahrenheit) for the most part. For me that means sleeves are better than sleeveless, and I want to be able to layer cardigans over the top.

Burda 06-2012-140 (images from Burdastyle,ru)

I decided to start with Burda 06-2012-140, a Plus-sized pattern for a pullover dress with elasticated waist. The dress is just 3 main pieces (front, back, sleeve) plus neckband pieces and a strip within with to enclose the elastic. I had previously toyed with making the very similar Simplicity 1796 view A, but I found the reviews of that particular pattern rather unconvincing. As I've had such a run of good luck with Burda recently I was more inclined to try this pattern, despite knowing from the outset that I didn't like the neckline depth. I thought that would be a simple fix, though, so I went ahead and traced the pattern and cut it out of an inexpensive printed navy and white viscose fabric.

Burda 06-2012-140 in navy print viscose

I traced the smallest size, a 44, and left the pattern more or less unaltered. I based my size choice on full bust, knowing that Burda Plus patterns are drafted for a D cup. However, I am actually currently half way between a size 42 and and size 44 by full bust in Burda. Looking at the (dubious) shoulder fit of this dress on me -- and bearing in mind this was the smallest size available in this particular pattern -- I think I might need to consider using a 42 when that size is available for some patterns.

Burda 06-2012-140 Side and back views

Reducing the length of the split at the neckline was, in fact, trivial. I changed that on the pattern pieces, and also did my (standard, at this point) square shoulder alteration. My only other fit change was that I actually made a mistake on the placement of the elastic waist when I was sewing so it ended up 2.5cm lower than it should have been. However, even that feels a little high on me, so it was probably just as well I made that mistake. My last intentional change was to the length. With the original recommended hem allowance, it fell to a very unattractive mid-calf length on me. Midi length may be popular right now but I hate it and think it looks grim on me. I ended up taking off the hem allowance and turning up a total of 5cm of hem to make it more or less knee length.

Another mistake I made was that I slavishly followed the directions as far as interfacing the neckline was concerned. I knew it would be too much interfacing if I did both sides of the neckband, but I did it anyway and the result is that the neckband is overall a bit too rigid for the dress.

The finished neckline, which is nothing like the neckline that is intended in the pattern :|
More painfully, though, although reducing the depth of the neckline wasn't problematic literally everything else about attaching the neckband was. Often what I like best about Burda is that they really seem to have thought about how to put together patterns in such a way that the finish inside and out is neat. With this neckline, this could not be further from the truth. Following the instructions produced an absolute pig's ear of a mess, and while of course it's probably mainly my fault, I'm not inclined to take full responsibility. I was fine with the neckbands, but the application method with the front split bands was absolutely hideous. I did one side and couldn't get a decent finish for love or money. In the end I unpicked it all, which did my fabric no good at all, and bound it with a bit of satin bias tape in navy I happened to have in my box of bias tape. I then hand sewed in a small triangular dart to make the neckline come to a point at the bottom. I feel like this approach rescued the dress from wadder status but it's not nearly as nice as it could have been and I don't love it.

Burdda 06-2012-140 as modelled by me, a.k.a Does This Dress Make Me Look Like A Sack Of Potatoes

Overall, I have to say I don't think this dress is especially successful. I don't really like the neckline, though that may partly be due to residual frustration with how it went together. The bigger problem though, and I acknowledge that this is not the fault of the dress or pattern per se, is that I think it does absolutely nothing for me as a shape. It looks, in fact, like the proverbial "sack of potatoes tied in the middle" on me, and emphasizes (a) my lack of waist; and (b) my extremely rectangular body shape. I think if the skirt had maybe been fuller, or the top less voluminous, this might not have been too obvious.

This has strongly put me off making my planned next dress, which was a view of Simplicity 8014. This has had great reviews and I've seen some lovely versions BUT the view I was thinking of (view C/D) has everyone saying the same: it is very voluminous and looks ridiculous unless belted and worn blouson style. I think that would end up being another sack-of-potatoes look for me. I love view A/B of that pattern, which is more fitted and has a really nice skirt, and looks fab in the versions I've seen made up, but I don't know that I would find that casual/comfortable enough to wear this summer. So now I have actually no idea where to take my summer dress sewing experiment. Maybe I need to look for a similar shirt dress that doesn't have the volume problems of that Simplicity pattern. Alternatively, I could make a wrap dress or a faux wrap, or I could look for something with some extra shaping. 

At any rate, that is a problem I will be thinking about in June. Other things on the June plan are: a pair of shorts, the linen jacket for which I am very (very) slowly tracing 8 million pattern pieces from Burda, probably one knit Grainline Linden sweatshirt/top thing and possibly a woven blouse or two. I am probably most frustrated by my search for a good shorts pattern. I was hoping there'd be something in this summer's Burda or Knipmode magazines, but there's been nothing that's grabbed me so far and the last summer issue is always July (August is often a favourite month for me because it's "gorgeous autumn jacket pattern" month in Burda!). The July Burda preview came out already and I wasn't struck by the new shorts pattern. The Knipmode preview isn't out yet, though.