Monday, 29 August 2016

What is actually wrong with me (a non-sewing post)

I guess we're all all too aware these days of how many scammers there are on the internet, lying about fake illnesses that they have out of some desire to feel special or to get money or something. So, I feel like I should say first and up front that I didn't write this post to scrounge for sympathy or anything else. I've never really tried to hide the fact of my illness on this blog, and obviously (as seen yesterday) I do whine about the impact of my illness quite regularly, but in general I don't want this to become a blog about being sick. Recently, however, I've had a couple of questions about why I am stuck at home/unable to work/talk about being sick so much, and so just out of the knowledge that it's irritating to be cryptic all the time, here is a brief explanation. I imagine most people will just skip the rest of the post, and that's perfectly OK with me.

Over the last few years I've been struggling with an illness that I came to realize I had had for a while. From 2012 -- oddly enough, from right about the same time I took up sewing -- onward it escalated significantly but it wasn't correctly diagnosed until after I ended up in hospital a couple of times in mid-to-late 2013. I bounced around a lot of different specialists until finally I was told that I have a very rare genetic condition of a type known as an auto-inflammatory disease. The type I have (not listed on that website) causes acute pain by causing chronic inflammation of my major internal organs (heart, lungs, liver, stomach). Sadly, I don't respond to the main drug that works for many people in my situation, and I have been trapped in bureaucratic wrangling with the NHS for over eighteen months now trying to access an alternative (expensive) treatment instead, which may or may not help if I should ever be given permission to try it. This situation is of course very frustrating.

In the meantime, I take steroids, which prevents about 90-95% of the inflammation. Like most people I get heavy duty side effects to go along with my heavy duty steroid dose. Over the last two years or so I've mainly learned to ride the line between how much pain I am able to tolerate and how many of the steroid side effects I am able to tolerate. When I have bad weeks, it tends to be because one or other of these (pain or side effects) slipped past the toleration point. In general, I've found the best way to keep myself stable is not to try to do too much. Sadly, "avoiding doing too much" has turned out to include avoiding doing almost everything I previously took for granted about leading a normal life. I am very very fortunate that my family have been able to provide endless emotional, financial and practical support to help get me through this period of my life.

To circle back round to my actual sewing: as I've mentioned before, the biggest effect has been that my life is pretty limited -- I don't leave the house much because too much exertion triggers the inflammation -- and so the range of things I sew is a bit limited. The most aggravating thing about my illness from a sewing perspective is the constant weight fluctuations. Many people gain very significant amounts of weight when they are on steroids at my dose level for as long as I have been on them. I have been fortunate to avoid that, although "fortunate" is a funny way to put it because it's partly because I feel so violently ill most days that I don't even want to look at food. However, my weight has bounced up and down quite a lot, and unfortunately when you gain weight on steroids it all goes on (a) your abdomen ("steroid belly"); (b) your upper back ("buffalo hump") and (c) your face and chin ("moon face" or chipmunk face) and then it STICKS THERE, even if you lose weight again! I can't say any of this makes me happy, especially the chipmunk face thing, but there's nothing I can do so I am just... I don't know, working on cultivating something like a zen attitude about it all?

I guess that's my de facto way of dealing with the whole thing, really. Mostly, I just try to get on with whatever facsimile of my life I can have right now. Sewing has been a great plus in my life. When I am well enough to be up and about around my house, it gives me something to do. I'm able to buy almost everything I need on the internet, so the fact that I can't go out to the shops doesn't really matter. When I am less well, it's something think about in the many empty hours that I would otherwise spend staring at the walls. From the outside, I can see it probably looks a little obsessive at times, but in the grand scheme of things I'd rather have a few strangers on the internet think I'm, for example, weirdly over-invested in wardrobe planning than give up on a major source of amusement.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

In which I complain a lot

The last week and a half has been very frustrating. I have been ALMOST well enough to sew, but not quite. As a result I kept starting to work on things and then having to keel over in a heap for a while to recover when I suddenly felt horrible. This is not an optimal way to actually get anything done.
Jalie 2908 on my cobalt blue fabric
I did mange to get a couple of things cut out by working in short bursts, but they are now both lurking in a pile of pieces waiting for me to get on with the actual sewing. One is just a basic knit top, very dull, but I am also working on is a pair of Jalie 2908 stretch bootcut jeans (a.k.a that pattern everyone and her little dog too made circa 2009/2010) in a cobalt blue stretchy twill. Unfortunately, I can't seem to muster the concentration span to start sewing, particularly since the early stages are all fiddly things like the pockets and the fly. Hopefully I'll have more success with that this week.

Finished body of Il Grande Favorito minus the neckband; with the neckband that I knitted on today
One thing I have managed to get on with is the sweater I am knitting, mainly because knitting mostly involves copious amounts of sitting still, and my pattern requires almost no concentration, being mainly stocking stitch. The pattern is Il Grande Favorito, which is perpetually at the top of the "Hot right now" list on Ravelry and deservedly so. I recommend it highly, especially if you're looking for a low stress sweater pattern. So far, I am reasonably happy with the actual jumper, although I feel like my knitting overall still looks really clunky and Happy Hands At Home. Some of that though is that I keep choosing to knit in cotton which I'm now informed tends to show (bad) stitch definition much more clearly than wool. I've therefore decided to buy a wool yarn for my next sweater though I'm going to make some socks first I think.

The other reason I am frustrated is that I have been planning my autumn sewing. Ordinarily, as anyone who has read this blog will be aware, planning what I am going to do brings me great satisfaction. However, combined with not actually being able to get on with anything, it's mostly just been a source of disgruntlement this last week. Here are some reasons for my frustration:

1. My inability to spend all of my time sewing. I just want to SEW ALL OF THE THINGS! I have 100s of patterns earmarked to use! I have 200m of fabric, give or take, lurking about in my sewing room! Curses on the necessity of doing other things like sleeping, eating, housework, and (one day I hope again) earning a living! Every time I flipped through my patterns this week to pull ideas for the autumn I seemed to see a dozen more things I'd like to make and found myself whining but whyyyyyyyy can't I just sew all the time :( :( :(

2. Why did I ever start trying to plan a wardrobe and keep the size down to a reasonable number? You can't make all of the things if you also have a ceiling on how many things you own. This restriction is so frustrating to me some days and the biggest irritation is that it's entirely self-imposed. I wibble constantly between telling myself it is OK to go over my self-imposed limits (which I know it totally is -- nobody is going to come and arrest me, or even frown at me, even if I own twice as much as I do right now) and remembering why I decided on a generous-but-consciously-limited wardrobe to begin with (many reasons, enumerated at extraordinary and tedious length in my wardrobe planning posts).

3. Why do I not have a more varied life that I can sew more varied things? This is actually mainly frustration with being sick. I just hit the three year anniversary of the first time I was hospitalized with my present illness and everything started going downhill, so this annoyance developed extra force and drama this last week. I am sure I hardly need to inform you that it is very boring to sew for a frequently-housebound way of life. I don't really get to go anywhere or do anything even when I'm moderately well and there's only so many different types of outfits you need when your main activities in life are sitting on your own sofa, sitting on your mum's sofa, and going to the grocery store once a week.

Burda 09-2010-120 -- one of my more ambitious plans for this autumn!
4. Why am I not a better sewer? I have a couple of projects in my plan that I really want to try that are probably above my skill level. I mean, it won't stop me trying them, but I dislike having to brace myself for failure.

5. Why do I own the stash I own? I am frustrated that I own: fabrics in fibres I do not like (polyester chiffon, eek, the horror) even if I like the print; fabrics in colours I like in the abstract but in practice never wear and that go with nothing else in my wardrobe; fabric pieces in lengths that are either too long or too short for their most likely use (too long meaning I would end up with an unusable scrap at the end); fabrics too precious to use (why?!); and fabrics I just outright do not like.

6. Why am I such a stick-in-the-mud about what I'll actually wear? I made two summer dresses earlier this year and we've had some actually nice days of weather this summer. I could have worn my sundresses, but in fact I only wore one of them once. I sort of thought that might be the case, which is why I didn't make more than two. I feel so self-conscious in dresses even though I know that no, really, other than my mum, nobody gives a single damn what I am wearing, or even often sees it (see above re. my rather restricted life). I just don't reach for dresses, it seems. I've been sort of planning to experiment with some very slightly different trouser shapes and top lengths, and also with making slightly different loungewear this autumn, but now I am second guessing myself as to whether I'll actually wear it.

In conclusion: I am in such a whiny mood at the moment, and I've achieved very little, sewing-wise. I will be back in a more cheerful state of mind AND with finished garments soon, I hope!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Little repeats for the end of summer

My sewing time for the last week or so has been dedicated to tidying up the loose ends of my summer sewing queue. A few things never made it out of the planning stage, but it was actually a pretty successful season of sewing for me overall. I did have three little easy projects that I wanted to finish up before I officially called time on summer sewing for 2016.

Very easy repeats: Liberty print PJ shorts and a white tee
The first two are multiple repeats and very dull. I made a pair of Liberty cotton print PJ shorts using my TNT (tried 'n true) pattern Ottobre 05-2011-02. Using Liberty cotton for PJs probably seems decadent, but I actually bought the fabric for £5/m at the factory shop in Lancaster.

I also had already cut out a plain white tee (using my basic tee pattern based on New Look 6150) but I was being lazy about re-threading my overlocker & coverstitch machines. Since I happened to have re-threaded for the white blouse I made last week, I got my t-shirt pieces out and ran it up quickly. I don't know why I always act like re-threading my machines is this terrible onerous chore that takes hours of my sewing time. I've timed myself before and it rarely takes more than five minutes.

Some pins from my Pinterest board that inspired my last project
The last thing on my list is one of those "inspired by my Pinterest board" projects. I like to scroll through some of my boards sometimes and see if I can spot any trends or patterns in what I'm pinning. I noticed I'd pinned a lot of lightweight woven or woven/knit mix raglan tops with patterned or textured body pieces and plain sleeves (or occasionally vice versa). It struck me that it would be useful to figure out a nice TNT pattern for that kind of top because it could potentially be a good way to use a small piece of fabric and/or tone down a really dramatic print.

I picked out a plain white and a white/green patterned viscose from my fabric stash to try this out and then I went pattern hunting in my stash. Can I just say again how much I love my magazine collection? If I'm looking for a straightforward pattern I'll always find one somewhere in my magazines.

Burda Plus S/S 2013 #433 Raglan sleeve tunic -- images from

As it turned out, I had actually totally forgotten about this pattern, from Burda Plus S/S 2013, that I tried out once waaaaay back at the beginning of my garment sewing adventures. I think it might have been the first thing I ever actually finished from Burda. At the time I did all sorts of wacky adjustments, about which the less said the better, and I think I only wore the top about twice.

Burda Plus S/S 2013 433 in green and white viscose with white viscose sleeves
On this occasion I made more or less a straight size 44, as is my current wont with tops in Burda. It's a long top as written -- 76cm at the centre back. I cut the length much shorter and also drew in a shirt-tail hem, very slightly longer at the back than the front, which I stole from a shirt pattern I made some ago, the Pauline Alice Carme. I almost never tuck any of my tops in so my hems are always visible. I've taken to using shaped hem patterns or drawing my own in almost every time because I think it looks more interesting (and probably more flattering) than a straight horizontal hem. I'm pleased with my fabric combination and I do think the top as a whole is quite pretty.

However, overall I don't think the shape of the neckline is particularly flattering to my shoulders -- too wide and shallow -- and I don't especially like how the fabric drapes around my bust. A lot of the alternative woven raglans in my stash have a ton of gathering and are very voluminous, in the peasant-blouse style, and I liked that this particular pattern is more streamlined. However, I've found a sort of middle ground pattern that I might try next, Burda 10-2014-135. The neckline is more of a scoop and has a couple of small pleats at centre front. I really like the way the sample blouses (there are a couple of variations in the magazine) drape at the bust on the models, and while I do know that relying on the modelled images is a fool's game, I think I might give it a go anyway.

If I do, I'll be making my top long-sleeved, as I am now going to embark on my autumn sewing. My sewing queue for this autumn is heavy on outerwear because I still don't have much and I am determined to fill that gap with sewing rather than RTW. I'll also be going back to work on trousers imminently, this time armed with the world's largest supply of gingham fabric and hopefully some new ideas on how to approach my fitting problems.

Friday, 12 August 2016

A sewing-versary

Five years ago today my first ever sewing machine arrived on my doorstep! I couldn't have picked a better, albeit life-ruiningly expensive hobby to try out. And now, on to the next five years -- I might even be a marginally competent sewer by the end of them! :D

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Something of a disaster (Silhouette 511)

I almost don't know where to start with this top.

Silhouette 511 "Angie's Top" in white double gauze front and back

On the one hand, on Flossie, I actually think the top looks actually pretty good. The main feature of this top is the front collar/placket piece, which is a nice feature that I still like tremendously. I actually didn't sew the collar in perfectly, but even with my somewhat substandard execution I genuinely think the collar is very cute.
The top is made in white double gauze, which I purchased at vast expense (by my standards) earlier this summer after I made a blue polka dot double gauze top. I agonized for ages over what pattern to use with it. Double gauze is lovely but it feels really fragile -- it's very easy to snag and stretch. I wanted to avoid anything that involved working the fabric hard, like a shirt with a button placket and collar or anything like that. My original instinct was to make another woven tee pattern from Burda, and really, I should have stuck to that instinct instead of going off-piste with Silhouette 511, a pattern from the very darkest depths of my pattern stash. 

Line drawing of Silhouette 511, from the Silhouette website
I bought this pattern right back at the start of my garment sewing adventures and it's lurked about ever since. At the time, I was drawn to it by the line drawing of the top and by the way that Silhouette advertise their patterns as having cup-sizes.

Front cover of the pattern
If you were buying this, wouldn't you assume that the big banner "with EXCLUSIVE B, C & D cup sizing" on the front of the envelope meant that the pattern would have cup sizes? That was for sure what I assumed. Well, you'd be wrong -- despite the princess seams, which would have made for ideal cup sizing -- there are no cup-sized pieces for this pattern. This false advertising has annoyed me every time I thought about this pattern for the last several years, and frankly I am still annoyed by it now.

The other sizing thing with Silhouette is that they are like "Body measurements won't help you choose a size! You only need finished garment measurements!" Then you're directed to measure a garment you like the fit of and then pick the Silhouette size closest to the finished garment you like. I can see some validity to this argument, and for sure I've measured some favourite garments to get an idea of fit that I like. However, as a pattern company solution to the sizing problem, I can't bring myself to agree with this at all -- I want both the finished garment measurements AND some sense of how much design ease the pattern creator was imagining, even if it's just to say "the model is wearing a top with 6" of ease at the bust" or something, the way that knitting patterns on Ravelry do.

As it turns out, I chose TOTALLY the wrong size. I'm not really trying to shift the blame -- I should have known better -- but I also don't think they made it easy for me to pick the right size, so I am still holding a grudge.

Silhouette 511 on me

So first: this top is the wrong size. I made a size 2, which notionally has 3" of ease vs. my body measurements at bust, waist and hip. It doesn't NOT fit, in the sense that although there are some little drag marks they're mostly from the shirt getting caught up on the cami I'm wearing underneath. However, it's MUCH too close a fit for the design, which was intended as an overshirt.

Top pre-sleeve-surgery
I also HATE the sleeves -- I added the photo with my hands on my hips so you get some sense of how the sleeves are constructed and why there are so many vertical wrinkles around the shoulders in the other shots. You can see I ended up cutting off the sleeves, which were weirdly constructed and weirdly shaped, in favour of short-sleeves.

A great deal of my current grumpiness about this top is actually about my own mistakes. I am VERY annoyed with myself for using an expensive piece of fabric to make this and not making a muslin first. I am annoyed because I cut the pattern to size 2 rather than tracing it the way I normally do and now I have one sheet full of the pattern at sizes too large for me (5W-8W) and the pattern at sizes 1-2 and not the size I actually needed. Not that I necessarily want to make it again, because I don't think even at the right size that shoulder/sleeve arrangement would ever suit me.

My cardigan hides the things I don't like, especially those shoulders!
The only SMALL plus is that I actually do like the way the centre front of the top looks on me, even though the fit is closer than I'd like, and it's therefore possible that I'll salvage some wear from it by wearing it under a cardigan. I feel like if I were a different sort of sewer I'd try to frankenpattern the collar, which I really do like a LOT, onto a different pullover shirt that worked better for me. However, I have to admit that I am not at all sure I am that kind of sewer or that I will ever be.

On to more cheerful things: my new Ottobre magazine just turned up in the post, so I shall be perusing that (images and line drawings for the 05/2016 issue are here if you've not seen them yet). I have a bunch of things in mind for the rest of this month but nothing concrete for my next sewing project quite yet.