Sunday, 29 January 2017

2017 Challenges: January

Just under the wire, here are the garments I made in January for my two little 2017 challenges.

1. Magazine Challenge: Burda 01-2017-119 Draped front knit top

This month I had the least choice that I'll have all year for this challenge, since I only had my January Burda and Knipmode magazines to choose between. As it turned out, I was spoiled for choice as I liked several of the patterns in each issue. Eventually I settled on Burda 01-2017-119, a knit top with a deep cowl neck. There must have been something similar released somewhere by a designer because oddly enough Knipmode had a nearly identical top in their January 2017 issue. I went with the Burda top because I didn't like the waist on the Knipmode version and also because I preferred the neckline/shoulder on the Burda top.

Burda 01-2017-119 -- Draped front knit top (images from Burda magazine)

As you can see, the pattern includes a little camisole top to go underneath the main top, which I must tell you is 100% essential as the drape is VERY low. However, I didn't have enough fabric to make the camisole, plus I already own about 6 camisoles that I could wear with it, so I didn't bother with it. The camisole with my finished garment is just a plain RTW one I have owned for a while.

My finished top, on Flossie
I really liked the idea of the draped neckline coming from those shoulder yokes, and in theory I still do. In practice, ugh, this was so fiddly to actually do, with a lot of sewing to which my very drapey, very slippery poly/viscose knit was not well suited. It turned out OK in the end, but it's not the best sewing I've ever done and I had to do all kinds of little hand-sewn bits to keep the whole thing neat. Definitely not a knit top pattern for the novice with knits -- it's quite hard to make it look nice.

Other than the neckline, however, this was a straightforward sew. I made my usual straight size 44, and found it to be true to size. My fabric was a slightly weird width (about 140cm) and I got the top out of 1.8m with not quite enough left over for the camisole (though I didn't try very hard -- maybe I could have if I had juggled the pattern around a bit more).

In conclusion: Remember when I said that when I was stress buying fabric I ended up (a) buying some near duplicates and (b) buying a lot of blue and navy? This fabric is the perfect example of this problem. I already have a blobby blue dot top in my wardrobe! Still, I really like the colour and there is no doubt that the style with the deep drape is a bit different from the many plain knit tops in my wardrobe, so I am quite pleased with this as challenge garment and as an addition to my wardrobe.

February's pattern for this challenge might be a bit of a problem. I could use another January pattern, of course, and I may have to because I am not wildly excited about either Burda OR Knipmode for February. Burda 02-2017 in particular seems to be full of sundresses, which, no, it's February and I live in Manchester. Not going to happen. I might see what Ottobre 02-2017, which if Ottobre run true to form should be arriving in the next couple of weeks, has to offer.

2. Wishlist Challenge: Indulgent Purple PJs (Burda 01-2017-124)

Having described my Wishlist challenge in rather grandiose terms, my first actual Wishlist project is rather tame. The entry on my list was  for "indulgent PJs", a nostalgic recreation of a garment long since discarded. Many years ago I owned a pair of stupidly expensive wide-legged silk PJ trousers that I loved and washed/wore until they were literally threadbare along the entire inner thigh seam. I have been planning to recreate those PJs for ages, but never got around to it until now.

What makes my new PJs indulgent is mainly the fabric, and this is an extra win for me in that one of my other goals in 2017 is to use some of my older fabrics that I've been hoarding because they are "too good to use". I made these PJs from one of the oldest garment fabrics I own. It's a medium-weight, very drapey silk/cotton blend shirting (with a high silk percentage, I think 60%) in a shade of purple, and I bought 3m of it in April 2012. The photos below make it look quite shiny but that's quite misleading -- it has a very subtle sheen/changeant effect from the way it's woven but it's very soft to the touch and not slippery like silk satin at all.

The fabric was moderately, though not outrageously, expensive, and for years I have been pulling it out of my stash, petting it, and then putting it away again until I found the "perfect" pattern for it. I suppose I could have sprung for a piece of pure silk, but this fabric has such a wonderful texture and drape that once I thought of using it for this wishlist item, I couldn't resist the idea.

Burda 01-2017-124 (Plus) PJs
Pattern-wise, I wanted to make something with at least a tiny bit of trim and more swish than my standard Butterick 5704, which are plain, quite straight and, compared to this pattern, rather narrower. I had actually picked out an older Burda magazine pattern but when my January 2017 issue arrived I noticed there were a couple of PJ patterns to choose from in that issue. Since I already had the pattern sheet out to trace my January 2017 magazine challenge pattern I decided to just use one of those. Of the two patterns available in this issue, I picked the Plus pattern (01-2017-124) because I preferred the waistband. It is a simple, wide-legged, elasticated waist trouser with a piped cuff detail. I haven't put in any piping on anything for years, so this was also a teeny tiny piece of skill practice. I bought white satin piping rather than make my own as I only needed a small amount.

Purple cotton/silk PJs with white satin piping
I am always a bit fussy/over-the-top in my PJ sewing because I find that's the way to ensure they survive very frequent laundering. This pair was no different in that respect -- I french seamed every seam and I've got my preferred waistband treatment down to an art at this point.

White satin piping at the cuffs
As I had a good 3m of fabric, I did consider going the distance and making a matching top but I couldn't quite squeeze the pattern I wanted on to the fabric despite really playing pattern tetris for a while. The fabric was again relatively narrow -- about 135cm -- and so although the PJ trousers fit on fine there wasn't really room for the full width of a top. In the end, to get the most use of the fabric, I doubled up on the pyjama opportunities by also cutting out my TNT PJ shorts pattern as well (Ottobre 05-2011-02).

Ottobre 05-2011-02 "Sweet Dreams" PJ shorts
In conclusion: I said in my last post on the subject that my goal with my Wishlist Challenge was to make "star" garments. Well, maybe nobody will see or appreciate them but me but these are most definitely the new stars of my pyjama drawer! :D

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Finished knits & cross-stitch progress

I have finished not one but two knitted items so far this month! Sadly, one of them is very disappointing.

First, a moment of deja vu, in that I made a cowl for my sister-in-law in December for her birthday and now I have made an absolutely identical cowl for myself this month. I was able to do so because I had a total comprehension failure over the description of the yarn and bought twice as much as I needed for her gift by mistake. Luckily for me, her cowl turned out so interesting and striking that I immediately wanted one for myself anyway. It was absolutely no hardship to knit another, especially as the pattern (the free Gap-tastic Cowl pattern on Ravelry) is one I have now used many many times and could most probably knit in my sleep.

Deja Vu Cowl (pattern: Gap-tastic Cowl on Ravelry, Yarn: Universal Felicity in colourway Open Meadow)
Second, my latest jumper is finally finished... and I don't love it at all.

Finished Il Grande Favorito jumper in Drops Paris Recycled Denim, Dark Wash
The pattern is actually pretty great. It's Il Grande Favorito, by Isabell Kraemer, which can be found on Ravelry. I love IK's patterns -- this is my second of hers and I will probably use more -- because the knitting process is very clearly described and they seem to be very consistent in terms of the outcomes, as the many hundreds of very similar jumpers produced by Ravelry knitters to this particular pattern confirms. I have to admit is a very simple and straightforward pattern to begin with (much more so than my last jumper, the Wanderling, was). It's a stocking stitch jumper in the round, so once the initial complications of all the increase rows for the neckline and sleeves were done, it was just endless rounds of knit knit knit knit knit knit knit. It sounds dull but it's quite a heavy yarn and it's mindless, so you can make a surprising amount of progress with very little mental energy expended. I made two tiny changes to the pattern -- I added a couple of cm in length, and I made a small change to the cuffs by decreasing two stitches to make them narrower

Front view of jumper

Side view of jumper -- you can just about see that the back is slightly longer than the front (deliberately, I should add!)
The problem with the finished sweater is the yarn. I chose to use a cotton aran, specifically Drops Paris Recycled Denim, in the Dark Wash colourway, and I had no problem at all getting gauge.  In a skein, I liked the yarn very much -- it was soft and squashy and I liked the colour. However, I think yarn is already looking very jaded even before I've worn the sweater, which is not what you want at all from a jumper you've spend ages and ages knitting. It looks pilled and tired. The yarn is very splitty as well, and it's hard to keep it twisted together properly if you have to do so much as tink a few stitches, let along rip back anything significant. Cotton yarn always shows every flaw anyway and adding this splittiness on top makes it look a real mess in places. Ugh. Luckily it was inexpensive, but as with all knitting the real cost is the hours and hours of work that went into it!

I tried to photograph the pilled/fuzzy finish, but this is the best I could do

The other big problem is that in the time between casting on and finishing it my ever-fluctuating weight changed by about 1 size. This is, frustratingly, entirely my own fault, because I always seem to stall out at the sleeve stage. It took almost exactly a month to knit the body and neckline -- from the very end of July 2016 to almost the end of August -- and then it hung about sans sleeves until I worked up some enthusiasm to start up again in late December. If I had cast on in December I would have made it a size larger. If I had finished the sleeves in a more timely manner I could have worn it before my weight hit a peak (from which it is now declining, sadly never as fast as it goes up.) That said, the fabric also has that cotton yarn tendency to grow when it warms up, so maybe if I wear it it won't be so bad. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I am pleased with how even the stitches appear to be after blocking, which was not the case as I was knitting it!
I am really disappointed overall. It's only my third completed sweater so I know I shouldn't expect it to necessarily turn out brilliantly, but knitting anything is such a long-term investment of time that it really annoys me when it's very much less than successful.

Lace-weight scarf in progress -- Pattern is Groovy (sock & lace weight), yarn is Drops Silk & Alpaca Lace in black
However, I am not entirely ready to give up my needles, so next up for knitting I'm going to try to finish the lace-weight shawl that is my oldest (and now, only) knitting WIP. Lace-weight knitting is such a black hole though. I did two solid hours on the shawl last night and as far as I could tell I achieved absolutely nothing in that time. The shawl didn't seem to get any bigger and the skein of yarn never seems to get any smaller. However, the yarn is silk and alpaca and it makes the most delightful fabric so I do want the finished product! I think I'll soldier on with it for the rest of January but plan to cast on something new on the 1st of February if I don't finish the shawl by then. There's only so much time I can spend on the lace-weight black hole before it gets too much.

Time lapse embroidery! From left to right on the 3rd, 11th and 18th of January
Meanwhile, I have also been working on my new cross-stitch kit. I really enjoyed the two kits I bought and finished over Christmas and decided to buy a harder/larger project to work on more slowly the next several weeks/months. It was actually quite difficult to find a larger kit that was aesthetically interesting to me to the point that I would be willing to e.g. frame and hang it at the end of the project. I eventually found one that I liked, a Dimensions kit called Mason Jar Line-Up, and it's going pretty well so far!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

My 2017 challenge rationale

When I posted my goals for 2017, one of the things I said was that I was setting myself the challenge of making twelve things off my Wishlist this year, as well as twelve things from my various magazines for my 2017 Magazine Challenge. I know a lot of people do the Magazine Challenge thing, or some variation thereof, just as a way to make sure they actually use their magazines. I have to admit that, rightly or wrongly, whether I use my magazines immediately is not really a major concern to me, and therefore I wanted to write about why I picked these challenges for myself.

To briefly explain what the Wishlist even is: this is a literal list of dream projects that I've been keeping for a few years. I started it when I bought my very first issue of Burda, 06-2012, because I saw this jacket and instantly wanted one exactly like it:
Burda 06-2012-121 a.k.a the reason I started buying Burda magazines & started a wishlist
Unfortunately for me, when I bought that first issue of Burda I'd been sewing garments for about a month and was barely competent enough to make pyjamas. A four-dot Burda fitted jacket? There was not even a single chance I'd be able to make it successfully any time soon. However, never being anything but ambitious, I decided that it could go on a brand new list of 'things I would make one day when my skillset had developed some'.

Since then that list has gotten longer and longer. That jacket is still on it. I keep an actual text list of the patterns I am most drawn to in my magazines (because it's very easy to lose track of them if you have a big enough magazine stash) but I also have numerous Pinterest boards full of images I've pinned of RTW garments, things made by other people, even vintage and museum pieces that have something about them that catches my eye. I've also got a few things on my list -- and my January Wishlist entry is one of them -- that harken back to garments I once owned and loved and would like to own again, in some form.

The critical thing with the Wishlist though, is that pretty much everything on it is eye-catching -- distinctive, interesting, the sort of thing you ever only own one of -- and that's what I'll be trying to focus on when I pick my projects this year. It's also what I'll be trying to pick from my magazines for my magazine challenge. This is entirely due to how I assessed my wardrobe at the end of 2016. Although I think I've got to grips very successfully with right-sizing my wardrobe over the last couple of years, and with my colour choices for my wardrobe (about which latter more in a forthcoming post), I feel that my wardrobe overall has got a case of the blahs at the moment. I've been thinking since about November about how I could get rid of the blahs, while also working on my sewing skills, and continuing to put together a wardrobe in a somewhat co-ordinated and size constrained way.

What I've concluded is that I've been concentrating hard on having the right wardrobe staples and being able to make many of them for myself, at the expense of making the kind of one-off, unique garments that would actually make my wardrobe interesting. I have a horror of wardrobe orphans and/or making things that I never wear, but I think I've swung too far in the other direction and have been making things that yes, do all fit together nicely for the most part, but actually also don't really add up to a very interesting wardrobe. It's noticeable to me that when I did make things that were more interesting/different, they tended to rocket to the top of my "best things I've made" list and stay there. I also think a lot of my sewing choices have not been very stretching from a technical perspective. Since I've also been sick and not really able do everything I wanted the last couple of years I'm not too concerned with this latter, but I'm determined to try to forge on and learn new things if I can this year.

I guess that is what to expect then from my challenge patterns: more technically challenging, hopefully somewhat more interesting from a design perspective at times, sometimes more "inspired by..." things that I've seen and loved, or owned previously. I'll be trying to pick patterns, styles, fabrics and colours that fit in with my actual life and existing wardrobe, but that also have some kind of star quality to them -- the sorts of garments that really make an outfit, I guess, rather than just blending in to the background. With any luck, that Burda 06-2012 jacket will be one of them! But I've also got all kinds of ideas just waiting to be put into action. Sadly, though, January's entry though is rather tame, for reasons I'll explain when I post about it.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Goals for 2017

Welcome to 2017! :D

I know that a lot of people hate New Year's resolutions and honestly, I totally get that. Who wants to take up running or give up long-held habits or go on a strict diet of lettuce leaves and cottage cheese in January, when the (northern hemisphere) weather is horrid and everyone is grumpy anyway? Ugh! And then often you end up having to listen to other people's horrible New Year resolution plans. Is there anything worse than the kind of griping, miserable smoking cessation/crash dieting talk that happens in workplaces in January? Even more ugh!

That said, as you've probably realized if you've been reading this blog for more than about a minute, I'm really into making plans and setting myself goals. Despite my sympathy for anti-NY-resolutioners there's something about the blank slate of the first of the year that I can never resist. Fortunately, there are no lettuce-leaf-and-cottage-cheese resolutions here!
First, a couple of targets to keep me on the straight and narrow with my spending and stash:

1. Money: (a) Stick to my 2017 budget. Last year, as I've described, I went over budget by quite a bit, which was disappointing. This year I've given myself the same absolute value to play with, which hopefully I can stay within. I'm going to try to be really careful about not buying fabric to soothe myself when I feel stressed as that was really the root of my overrun in 2016. I'd like also to (b) keep my envelope/PDF pattern spending at the same level as it was in 2016. I feel like the limited budget for patterns I gave myself really made me think about how I spent it, which was all to the good.

2.  Fabric Stash: For the last few years I've picked an arbitrary, much-smaller-than-my-actual-stash-size number as my ideal stash size, with the plan in mind that one day I'd reduce my stash to some glorious, minimalist level. Then every year I've totally failed to get anywhere near that number. Clearly that's a complete waste of energy, plus it just makes me cross with myself for totally manufactured reasons. Moreover, I am not even sure any more why I became convinced that having a minimal stash was intrinsically better, other than that I moved house twice in 12 months in 2013/2014 and got really fed up of carrying the boxes around. I'm sure there are people who love their minimalist stash and have excellent reasons for having one, but at this point I don't think it's for me. So this is my official notice: I'm giving up that whole idea. At the same time, though, I am starting the year with 217.8m of garment fabric and I do think that's a bit too much. I spent most of last year at or around 200m and I was pretty comfortable with owning that much. So, my main stash goal for 2017 is a simple one: (a) reduce my stash to under 200m and then stay at or under 200m for the rest of the year. 

I'm also going to try to buy-to-use more than buy-to-stash (even though I also failed at this last year). This is really about making sure I'm mainly buying fabric I can actually use right now, for the life I really have, and not being tempted into buying e.g. velvet and chiffon. My goal is therefore to (b) use two thirds of what I buy in 2017 during 2017.

Finally, I am not a dragon, or a magpie. I do not need a hoard, nor do I need to collect shiny things for the sake of it. Therefore, my last goal is to (c) use some of my older "favourite" fabrics and try not get so hung up on whether my sewing is good enough to do them justice. I have some great fabrics that I love -- surely though it would be even better if I turned that fabric into garments, no matter how imperfect, that I could actually wear rather than just folded fabric I pet every so often.

My other plans for 2017 include two little challenges I'm setting myself. I was really pleased with my 2016 wardrobe but I think that if it had a shortcoming it was that it shaded towards the bland. I feel like the last couple of years I've spent a lot of time working out how to sew some of my wardrobe essentials, but it's not left much time for projects that are more about personal style, wardrobe accent pieces or things that capture current trends that I like. So, these challenges are both intended to give me room to experiment a bit more in that direction:

3. 2017 Magazine Challenge. In my review of 2016 I said that I'm pretty relaxed about the fact that I have a lot of magazines in my collection that I haven't used, and that is still true. However, I thought it might be fun to try to use the magazines that arrive during 2017 more actively. I often really like, for example, some of Burda's more complicated, trendier or wackier patterns, but it's easy to just think "I'd like to make that one day!" and then forget about it. Not this year! From a pure mechanics perspective, I'm going to go for a very casual version of this challenge, aiming to make one thing each month from any 2017 issue of any of my magazine subscriptions (Burda/Knipmode/Ottobre). I'm not going to lock myself to the using the specific issue of the month because both Burda and Knipmode sometimes gallop ahead of the season (see: the February Burda previews, which seems to be full of sundresses!). My guideline for myself is that I want try to pick the kind of patterns that are quite different from my wardrobe staples, and/or that involve me trying out a new skill or technique.

4. 2017 Wishlist Challenge. For the last few years I've been rather casually maintaining a list I titled my Sewing Wishlist, where I've tried to keep track of ideas that I've had for things I really want to make "some day". A lot of this list is made up of patterns, RTW garments, and ideas from my occasional Pinterest pinning sprees that are, I think, quite interesting and different from my wardrobe staples. While I've been concentrating on building up my wardrobe to its current state the wishlist ideas have, with one or two exceptions, for the most part stayed just that: ideas. This challenge is about making 2017 "some day" for at least some of those ideas. I am therefore going to try to make at least 12 things off my wishlist in 2017.

On top of these grand schemes, I've re-organized my usual sewing queue for the start of a new year. I've quite a list of necessaries slated to sew in the early spring, as well as one or two wardrobe holes that I already know I'll need to plug later in the year (I'll be making shorts for sure this summer, for example). However, in this current mid-to-late winter period there are only a couple of little things I need to make to maintain my wardrobe. I've therefore got my January/February queue stacked with all kinds of non-garment things. I'm still infatuated with cross-stitch and I bought a (terrifying!) new kit to start soon. I've got a whole list of bags I want to make that I've been putting off for ages that I want to get started on. I've also several knitting projects on the go that I want to finish, including my Il Grande Favorito jumper. I tried hard to finish that by the end of 2016 but I was stymied by a last minute series of disasters (had to rip back the second sleeve, broke my circular needle and had to order a new one, etc etc). Plus, of course, I'll also be making my magazine pattern and wishlist challenge projects as soon as I decide on them.

As usual for this time of year then I have big big plans! :D How successful I am will depend in large part on how everything else in my life is going, and on this subject I have major news. I am going to start a trial of a new medication in February that may (or may not) improve my health situation very significantly, albeit probably quite slowly, over the course of 2017. If it works -- and it's a big if, unfortunately -- it could mean I will be able to pick up many of the threads of what I considered my normal life that I had to let fall 3.5 years ago when I first became ill. I'm starting this year crossing every digit and appendage that I have, hoping that in a year's time I'm writing about sewing for a very different life than I am now!