blog break

I wouldn’t want to disappear without a word, so here’s a post that’s bound to disappear once I’m back in the lovely realm of blogging. I’ll be away until the later part of June and not sewing (ha!) but I’ve a bunch of me-mades packed to go with me.

Happy making! ūüôā

Me-Made May 2017: Days 15-21 and new makes

Another week, another roundup. Again, there were repeats. But there were also two new garments, which I sewed frantically, stabbing my fingers and going slightly insane with all the tubes of fabric that needed to be turned out (belt loops are not my friends).

 

May 15 was one of those days that forced a costume change. I spent the first half of the day working from home. So first I tried the nightwear-as-daywear trend, donning an Almada robe over a Scout tee sewed in the same fabric (a really lovely rayon from Joann fabrics, which I bought a lot of last year).

Later on I changed into my beloved wannabe ’70s pants and I added a cardigan I knitted a couple of years ago (wool/silk, so pretty warm weather friendly).

May 16-18:¬†a repeat vortex. I wore that¬†Laurel dress¬†on May 16 and again on the 18th, which was a Thursday, so I decided I’d say I did it as a throwback to Tuesday — ha! I have no excuses for the 17th when I wore the Scout tee yet again, but this time with the Beignet skirt.

… And that skirt reminded me of the Beignet skirt I vowed to make right after I finished¬†the first one.¬†I ended up cutting the second one out bit by bit over several months — first the lining, then, eventually, the shell. I had project resistance, which I couldn’t quite explain until I dove into actually making the skirt. It’s not the easiest skirt.

This time I chose to add a lining (thrifted poly print). The belt and shell fabric is a black cotton twill, the pockets are from some sort of a wool/poly remnant.

Excuse the water stain visible in the photo below… and the black on black. Not all photo shoots are inspired, what can I say. I was trying to clean a persistent chalk pencil mark that just didn’t want to go away. I thought it had dried by the time I took the photos but, clearly, it had not.

I still like this pattern a lot. I find it flattering, I love that it has pockets. What I dislike are the belt loops which still this second time around feel like they’re drafted slightly too short and too narrow, like it’s a matter of 2-3 milimeters, but these feel pretty critical.

Another gripe is the belt because, in contrast, it seems too wide. After turning it out I turned it back inside out (ouch, my hands!) to shave off about 1/4″. That’s it for the gripes, it still deserves a thumbs up.

I’m not sure you can spot it in these photos (unlike the highly visible water stain) that my buttonhole luck left me on this one. The fabric wasn’t¬†that¬†bulky, but it was a bit tricky for my sewing machine, whose one-step buttonhole is usually a smooth job. There was some thread bunching on at least two of the buttonholes, which led me to wrangle the fabric from under the foot and push the fabric along. One buttonhole got placed wrong for reasons that escape me. It took some unpicking and creative work with satin stitch to rescue it. It helps that the fabric is black.

Back to the roundup:

On¬†May 19¬†I wore the new Beignet skirt with¬†finally a different¬†Scout tee (in a lovely Cotton and Steel rayon). And on¬†May 20¬†I finished McCall’s 6885 and put it on as soon as it was done and pressed. It was sewn concurrently with the skirt — something I do very rarely.

This dress is my second #sewtogetherforsummer project and an ode to shopping the stash. I had a big remnant of that cotton sateen print left since having to buy extra for the first dress I made from it. The gray fabric was a remnant left from this dress.

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It would have been a perfect combination if I hadn’t underestimated the stiffness of that tightly woven linen. The dirty secret of this dress is that I can’t button the collar stand: it’s too stiff and the buttonhole doesn’t have enough flexibility. I think I’ll live with that but I’d prefer to avoid it in the future…

This pattern has received some love online. And it’s pretty good but do I have some reservations. Some of them fall into the category “I don’t know if it’s me or the pattern.”

First in that category: the button placket. The overlap is way longer than the underlap and I don’t know what other purpose it served beyond annoying me. Maybe I’m misunderstanding the instructions but I guess you’re supposed to just attach that bottom floppy part to the front of the dress with a mere two horizontal seams and just let it flop about?… Hell no. I just stitched it down around the arrow part… which came out uneven! (Insert your favorite swear word here.) Maybe it’s me, I don’t know…

So I guess it’s just the placket that’s in that category, but that’s not the end of my dislikes.

At the top of my list is the damn tall and narrow sleeve cap.

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I couldn’t help myself. I hate that slim sleeve cap so much.

Whenever I see this sleeve cap shape I want to run screaming. I don’t know who is able to wear these comfortably. I definitely can’t: they turn things into the opposite of secret pajamas. A secret straightjacket.

Rather than spend time altering the sleeve cap I just Frankenpatterned the modified sleeve cap from the dress that taught me so much. It went in woderfully, with minimal easing.

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Here’s a detail I like: the buttoned tab that keeps the rolled sleeves in place.

Apart from that: No pockets, so I added some at the side seams. The collar was really big so I shaved off a centimeter. I moved the waist ties up about an inch — they fell too low according to the pattern, at least on me.¬†I added my usual 3/4″ to the bottom of the armhole on the back piece and did my usual forward-shoulder adjustment and square shoulder adjustment.¬†Not sure how I feel about the shirt-tail hem. I think I’d opt for a straight hem next time.

On the upside: I didn’t need an FBA. The fit in the bust is fine. The fit in the hips is okay, too, though if I make this again I might grade up to the next size.

Last day of my roundup: May 21¬†and some ’90s inspiration with an Adelaide dress over a black tee (RTW, this one).

MMMay21

So moving on to the last full¬†week of Me-Made May. This one may be my¬†last blog roundup because I’m traveling at the end of the month and will be offline in early June. I plan on wearing me-made clothes but I know I will be away from the blog and IG for a while, so¬†most likely won’t document any of that. And apologies in advance for the silence.

How is Me-Made May going for you? Are you in the no-repeats camp or, like me, going with whatever calls to you?

dark and stormy

Homage to the sky before a storm with these fabric choices. My shirtmaking adventures continue, still with the Helmi pattern from Named Clothing. Stormy skies but still none of those trench elements… Those may not be for me, but this pattern is easy to pare down and that basic version is a gift that keeps on giving. I needed to stop myself from cutting out yet another one in favor of catching up with other projects, and blogging these two ūüėÄ

helmi2-5

My first Helmi was a good trial run. Here, I opted for a single-fold button placket. My fabric was narrow and I wanted to squeeze out the pattern pieces as efficiently as possible. (That strategy isn’t always smart, by the way.)

The fabric is a buttery soft rayon. It’s a light and somewhat tricky fabric. I stabilized both the front and the back of the placket, and both parts of the collar and collar stand. I wanted these to be stable and durable but not too stiff, so I used a lightweight fusible interfacing.

French seams on the shoulders and sleeves, bias-bound side seams (you can see the side seam in this post). The eagle-eyed among you may be able to tell that the sleeve seam is almost off-the-shoulder. Not the pattern’s fault — all mine. I cut a slightlylarger seam allowance for easier French seams… and then forgot about that when I was sewing those sleeve seams…

The photos, while not perfect, convey the color quite well. It’s an intense cool blue with subtle purple undertones.

The second shirt takes the storm theme further.

The fabric is a Liberty of London Tana Lawn — a fabric that’s usually decidedly out of my price range. Miraculously, this print was discounted by 50% at Fabric.com when I bought it (ages ago, I’d been too scared to cut into it before Helmi came along!). And, luckily, it’s probably my favorite Liberty print.

 

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This is what a shirt squeezed out of 1 yard of a wide (60″ maybe?) fabric looks like. I improvised the kimono sleeve after studying McCall’s 7387, drafted cuffs, et voil√†! Again, there was no way I could have squeezed out the double-fold button band, so I simplified it. I think these buttons were a great match (if I do say so myself).

liberty-helmi1

The inspiration came from that coveted pattern, Melilot from Deer and Doe. Alas, that shirt didn’t make it into their new PDF selection, so I’ll keep coveting it… I’ve loved basically all the versions I’ve seen of that pattern so far.

liberty-helmi3

Helmi is boxier than Melilot, which is especially visible in a crisp fabric such as cotton lawn… but only when I raise my arms. It doesn’t strike me as particularly boxy otherwise.

What else is there to say… I think I’ve made my affection for this pattern abundantly clear. And, really, I’m just thrilled to be finally making shirts rather than just¬†hoping to make them.

This is probably not the last time you see Helmis on this blog, but I also have a couple of Burda patterns lined up (specifically, this one and this one). Knowing that I need to make a broad back adjustment is really the key thing for me. All the other work I might need to do with a pattern is small beer in comparison, so I’m optimistic about those future shirts.

What have you been up to? Drop me a line below.

PS: Check out Joann’s blog A Metre Of and #ametreofproject on Instagram. I was happy to add the Liberty print Helmi to that hashtag ūüôā

 

Me-Made May 2017: days 7-14 and new makes

Hello, everyone! We are getting to the mid-point. So far I’m feeling good about the discipline of documenting the¬†wearing¬†part of Me-Made May, though I know I likely won’t be able to catch the final days of the month… But so far, so good. You can find my first week roundup here.

Here’s my second week (plus one day):

From left, clockwise:¬†May 7:¬†very blue in a Scout tee in¬†that ubiquitous rayon print¬†and RTW pants;¬†May 8:¬†those Burda pants I wore a lot the previous week with the cardigan I also wear very often and a RTW tunic;¬†May 9:¬†one of my newer Plantain tees, my beloved Oblique cardigan, socks I knitted while reading Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer¬†(a personally significant detail), and RTW pants that were a lovely hand-me-down from a friend.

May 10: Burda pleated pants and Helmi blouse in buttery soft blue rayon (post coming up!); May 11 (the two smaller photos): working from home meant too much indecision and PJs, then a Maya Top (pattern by Marilla Walker) with the RTW pants I wore on May 9.

May 12:¬†Rooibos dress in a¬†great fabric from Cotton and Steel (a quilting cotton print called Sprinkle) with a¬†green laceweight cardigan (the pattern is Oregon Coast by Jenise Hope) and a black short-sleeve Plantain tee you can’t see;¬†May 13:¬†my favorite version of the Laurel dress from Colette Patterns in a blue poly crepe that turned out unexpectedly pleasant to wear; May 14:¬†McCall’s 7445 pants in “corduroy” fabric (ekhm, not really corduroy), Laurel blouse in another great Cotton and Steel fabric (rayon poplin) and same cardigan as May 12.

As you can see, I’m not afraid of repeats. I actually wish there wasn’t this invisible pressure on women to always try to wear something new. I had a friend who tried to avoid wardrobe repeats for the longest periods of time and counted on other people noticing that. It was the opposite of my aspirations. Just thinking about it makes me tired on her behalf. If only everything went with everything… but that’s taking it too far, I guess.

Here’s a sneak peek of what I’ve been working on in the past weeks:

a third Helmi blouse, which needs a post of its own and a second #sewtogetherforsummer dress. This time I reached for McCall’s 6885 and at this point I have very mixed feelings about this pattern…

How are you finding Me-Made May so far?

book review: The Curated Closet

 

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Anuschka Rees, The Curated Closet
Ten Speed Press, 2016 (U.S. edition)

I tend to read with rapt attention everything I can find about wardrobe planning. If you are undertaking the Wardrobe Architect challenge, I will likely wait for every post as if it were a new episode of a hit TV series. But my passion for reading about wardrobe planning is matched by my strong resistance to commit to any wardrobe planning program fully and faithfully. I refuse to be diligent and orthodox in favor of gradual changes.

So I’m not going to tell you that I’ve conscientiously worked through every step¬†from¬†The Curated Closet.¬†But I am going to tell you that I’ve read the book with great pleasure, paused, took notes, tried out a few things, and am definitely returning to the book.

Anuschka Rees is throughtful and sensible in her approach to wardrobe planning and — perhaps more importantly — in her approach to giving advice on this loaded subject. Now, if¬†The¬†Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up¬†has indeed changed your life, you might want to skip to the section of my review below the next photo, because you might not like what I’m going to say. While I’m all for keeping a good cleaning and de-cluttering routine, the tyranny of “sparking joy” that’s spread over the Internet thanks to Kondo’s book has really¬†worried me. The Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh observed long before Kondo’s book came out that Westerners appeared to him “enjoyment-challenged,” and in teaching Western students to meditate, he focused on helping them¬†find joy in the practice.¬†For the students that¬†meant finding¬†out¬†what joy is through mindfulness.

Maybe if Kondo’s book took a detour into Eastern thought before sending readers on a purge of epic¬†proportions, I’d have ended up less worried about its impact. But without this more philosophical training prior to throwing out everything that’s not immediately running away from you, we got a lot of talk online about joy, a lot of yard sales happened, and then, inevitably, a lot of shopping. I wrote this earlier in a comment thread elsewhere, but I hope you won’t mind me repeating myself: I bet a lot of toilet brushes got thrown out and then, quietly, bought. I don’t know of anyone who’d describe them as “sparking joy” but a house is miserable without them.

I don’t want to use that book as a punching bag. I genuinely believe a lot got lost in translation and in the deep forest of substitutes for joy that capitalism has readily provided for us. One of such substitutes is the illusion¬†of control that comes with these epic purges. It’s an illusion that disappears as soon as we stock up anew.

There’s nothing easier these days than getting rid of your old wardrobe and completely replacing it in a very short period of time… And that’s part of the larger problem.

What I really appreciate about The Curated Closet, beyond the practical tips and the clarity of their presentation, is that Anuschka Rees is not afraid to spend time on describing the substitutes for joy offered by fast fashion.

I’ve found the section on analyzing the connection between your lifestyle and your wardrobe particularly helpful for understanding¬†why clothes shopping has typically been an exasperating experience for me.

Take a look at this pie chart:

rees-idealwardrobe

Source: The Curated Closet

It’s witty — and how often do we think of pie charts in those terms? — and it makes me think of what happens when I go shopping for clothes. Unless I’m at a thrift store, I feel like I’m walking into a story about an aspirational life, which is also decidedly not my life. “Here’s the kind of top you should be wearing to work this season”; “pair it with these pants, or these skirts, and just the tights in those specific colors,” the racks and shelves call out. The design details are very specific, and there’s often quite a bit of embellishment to contend with. Every section of the store corresponds to an area of such a lifestyle pie chart — it seems to be set up for particular (and often idealized) life situations. It’s easy to leave the store equipped for this unlived, surreal life.

That’s where the minimalist argument from the book comes in. Our real lives are both simpler and more complicated. The embellishments and details can’t be too uniform or overwhelming if we are to transition between areas on our real¬†pie charts. At the same time, our tasks and life situations will be more real and concrete than the drinks at the rooftop restaurant scenario some clothing brand has aspirationally planned for us.

Not wanting the readers to lose our minds over this conundrum, Rees gives us some real pie charts to look at (and make ourselves):

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Reality check courtesy of The Curated Closet.

The pie chart exercise has helped me think about the discrepancy between “want to sew” and “need to wear” that inevitably sneaks into my sewing plans. I’m not trying to weed out all spontaneity from my sewing choices, rest assured. But I really like the idea of not letting an imagined life gleaned from different sources overshadow the real life, and the real need for nice clothes for the non-glamorous moments.

I also really love the explanation for why it’s worth to resist the urge to do a complete “clean out” and just buy a new wardrobe that the book offers. I’m slowly phasing out some of the more worn RTW items. Many of them never “sparked joy” but I try to appreciate how well they’ve served me and understand the role they’ve really been playing. And to mend whenever possible, which Rees also advises.

In a nutshell, I highly recommend this book both to those who like to be more orthodox in their planning efforts, and those who like to read, take their time, and don’t mind making up the occasional pie chart.

And if you’d like to know more about the author and her approach before investing in the book, you can find her blog here. This post is one of my favorites, and has been one of the most practical aides I’ve found for defining and actually wearing a “style.”

(PS: This isn’t a sponsored post. I bought the book myself, having enjoyed reading the author’s blog, and I’ve offered my genuine opinion above.)

Me-Made May 2017: days 1-6 and first discoveries

First off, a big heartfelt thank you to everyone who’s commented on the previous post both here and on Instagram. It took me time and brainpower to write that one up. I wanted it to be clear and helpful. Thanks again for the lovely response, and I’ll be sure to follow up on that post when I learn something new about fitting.

Me-Made May is here! And it caught me in a shirt-making frenzy and already showed me another serious wardrobe gap: clothes for the home.

Here’s a quick roundup of what me-mades I wore on the first six days:

Top row, left to right:¬†May 1:McCall’s 7387,¬†May 2:¬†Plantain tee and denim Rooibos dress,¬†May 3:¬†Laurel blouse and pleated pants from Burda 8/2016
Bottom row, left to right: May 4: Plantain tee and handknit cardigan (pattern is Walnuss by Ankestrick), May 5: Floral Menace Helmi and my last handknit cardigan, May 6: Mesa knit shift and my favorite handknit cardigan (pattern: Oblique by Veronik Avery)

I decided to take as much pressure off as possible when it comes to photos. If it’s easier to snap a quick photo before getting dressed, I do just that. No repeats, no posing. I’m treating these as documentation rather than a photography challenge.

Thoughts so far: my work wardrobe is finally taking shape. The pants I made this year and the new shirts are really filling an important gap. Hurray!

But on days I’m working from home and on weekends getting dressed is not so easy if the plan is just to stay in. I need some nice clothes for that time at home. I’d better stop trying to “save” knits for dresses and make more tees and pants for lounging. Step away from the shirt patterns…

How is May going for you? Are you taking part in Me-Made May this year? Any discoveries?

fitting: McCall’s 7387

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Fitting woes: I have lots of those. I’ve also struggled for a long time to find the right starting size in patterns from the “Big Four” companies: McCall’s, Butterick, Vogue, and Simplicity.

For the longest time I felt like I was the only one out there completely confused what size to start with in these patterns. The size indicated by body measurements completely swamped my shoulders and bust, with the waist coming in. What was supposed to be one size bracket didn’t resemble that remotely in practice. I was seeing advice online to just try going down a size, or even two sizes, but it seemed to me from what I was observing that the answer might be actually a bit more complicated than that.

And it was. I’ll talk you through both my solution to finding a good “starting size” in these patterns, and through fit alterations that I typically do from there, using McCall’s 7387 as my example.

1. “The secret handshake”:¬†find your size

The game changer for me was finding Susan Khalje’s video on choosing the right pattern size (find it on her homepage).¬†I find Liza’s comparison of this bit of knowledge to a secret handshake really apt (can’t find our conversation where that popped up so here’s a link to Liza’s awesome blog). Why isn’t this tip anywhere on the pattern envelopes???

Basically, you measure above your bust from arm crease to arm crease, and take that number as a starting point. Here is the rule, as laid out by Susan Khalje (and not the pattern companies — again: WHY?!): if you measure 14″ -> size 14, 13.5″ -> size 12, 13″ -> size 10, and so on, in half-inch¬†increments.

Bam! I could end the post here because that’s the starting point that gets you the size you want to cut out. At least for me it was — this is how I finally found the size that fit my¬†shoulders, which are really hard to fit if you’re not sure where to start. So many variables…

And that’s the next thing I want to talk about.

2. Shoulder slope and forward shoulder

Soon after I started sewing it hit me that that unassuming seam at the top of the shoulder is critical for me. I’m one of those modern-day hunchbacks shaped by computer work, and the shoulder seam in most patterns sits too far back for me, pulling the garment in uncomfortable ways. In knits, that’s survivable, in wovens it can make a garment unwearable.

Making a muslin really helps to determine the right seam placement. If you really want to skip muslining, I recommend cutting out the shoulder area with extra fabric (especially on the back pattern piece) and pin- or baste-fitting the garment before committing to a definitive shoulder seam placement. You might be surprised. I noticed that some patterns from the Big Four are drafted to accommodate the modern-day hunchback, while others were not… M7387 was, but then my shoulder shape is¬†also different than the one they draft for, which brings me to the next issue.

m7387-frontpiece-top

The top part of the front pattern piece with all my fit alterations. Note the changed shoulder slope.

Most of the McCall’s patterns I’ve looked at (and that goes for other Big Four patterns, too, I think) are drafted for shoulders with a pronounced slope. Mine are more “square” with almost no slope to them. In order for the garment to sit right, I need to “square off” the shoulder. Here, I added a wedge from the shoulder side. (Sometimes it might also be worth raising the armhole accordingly. With the kimono sleeve on M7387 it didn’t matter.)

And, not to throw a wrench in all this, but bear in mind that the shape of the shoulder seam might differ between the back and the front piece (e.g. a sloped front piece paired with a very square back piece). If you see such a pair, test it out to see how that shoulder seam sits on your body before attempting to alter it.

3. Back width and range of motion

If you have a good range of motion in Big four patterns with sleeves, then disregard this section. I have a broad back and in order to be able to move my arms comfortably I need to make a pretty significant broad back adjustment while keeping the shoulders as narrow as my “starting size.” So going up a pattern size or two on the back wouldn’t work for me. I also found that blending between sizes isn’t the answer. It’s this alteration:

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Now, M7387 has either a kimono sleeve (the view I made) or a drop-shoulder sleeve. The kimono sleeve gives you a bit more room by default, but I wanted to be sure I’d have enough room, so I altered the back as I would have for a back with a set-in sleeve.

Here’s the redrafted back piece (not pictured: the back yoke, on which I redrafted the sleeve seam so as to fit this piece).

m7387-backpiece-underyoke

… and that tissue-pattern addition at the bottom is what I arrived at after trueing the side seams (the front side seam was longer).

EDIT: I need to a link to another resource. I just discovered the blog¬†Pattern and Branch, and the author, Lisa, has fantastic fitting tips. Here’s a post about altering a pattern with princess seams for a broad back, and her newest (when I’m writing this), with links to posts about several of the beautiful shirts she’s made. Highly recommended reading ūüôā

4. Back length and other alterations

I didn’t like the deep pleat in the original pattern so I redrafted the back. In the process, I discovered that the original pattern gave me a pool of fabric resting unflatteringly (and heavily: so much fabric in that pleat!) on my derriere. In short, the center back was too long for me. Burda resolves issues like that very nicely in their patterns with a center back seam: they make that seam shaped, curving it in at the small of the back. Very clever.

After redrafting the back with a smaller pleat (or gathers) I noticed the issue remained. In the photo above you see my solution: I straightened out the seam at the top. Here’s what the original looked like:

m7387-backpiece-pleat1

With the smaller pleat, I needed to swing out the side seams to give myself enough room on the hips (I repeated this adjustment on the front piece).

5. Bonus adjustment: dartless FBA

McCall’s Patterns are usually drafted for a B cup, which is not my size, so I knew a full-bust adjustment would give me more breathing room. I could have chanced it in this pattern but I was curious what an FBA would look like in a piece without any darts. I learned all about it from this great¬†Threads¬†tutorial¬†by Louise Cutting.

Here are my notes on it:

dartlessFBA

And that’s it… In the end I shortened the front piece a bit and reduced the curve of the hem, but that was a style choice, not a fit alteration. Here’s the post about¬†the finished shirt.

Since I’m definitely not an expert, I recommend using my notes just as a springboard to researching the fitting alterations that you think will work for you.

Apart from the resources I’ve linked to here I also recommend Kathleen Cheetham’s course on shoulder, neck and back fitting on Craftsy, and — of course —¬†Fit for Real People, whether you want to tissue-fit or not.

What are your best fitting tips? And, by the way, if you disagree with anything I’ve written above, feel free to let me know in the comments, too. I’m always happy to learn and adjust (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) my ideas.


PS: One more alteration I mentioned in the previous post about this shirt but didn’t discuss here (because it’s not fit-related): I simplified the button placket construction by incorporating the placket into the front piece.

hello, Helmi!

And, suddenly, all plans got moved aside and I went down the rabbit hole of the Helmi pattern from Named. I’ve almost finished the second blouse (shirt? — I need to resolve this) from that pattern and I’m actually pretty tired from the marathon sewing I’ve put myself through. When you dream of sitting down with a book and a cup of tea while at the sewing machine, you know you’re not doing a hobby right…

helmi2-1

So I sat down with a book and a cup of tea to take this photo of the almost-finished Helmi blouse. Note the bias-bound side seam. I made the bias tape from fabric scraps. Needless to say, those side seams took ages. 

Maybe this kind of sewing trance is just to be expected when you finally feel up to making a more challenging type of garment that also happens to be a crucial wardrobe gap… I’m on my way to doubling the number of shirts in my wardrobe, and they are my favorite thing to wear to work.

The photo above somehow does the fabric color justice: it’s a beatiful blue somewhere between the blue of violets and that of cornflowers. It’s a rayon — somewhat unruly but manageable with a little bit of help from spray starch. Nothing like the menace that was the fabric I used for my “test” Helmi (there was a muslin before that but the muslin didn’t have all the details).

helmi1-2

I call this one the Floral Menace Helmi.

If cutting and sewing the blue rayon was at times like trying to make a piece of clothing out of water, this lightweight floral polyester crepe (I think) was like water with patches of ice. The starching helped only a bit.

Because both of these fabrics are lightweight, I was worried about making the right choice with interfacing. My choices were actually very limited, so I settled on knit interfacing on the Floral Menace to keep things naturally floppy but capable of supporting buttons and buttonholes, and on the blue rayon blouse a combination of knit interfacing and lighweight non-woven fusible (i.e. basically, the two kinds I have in my stash right now).

Let’s talk fitting…

I am definitely not in the position to judge pattern drafting, so I’ll just share a few observations. One: all notches matched up beautifully. Two: the sleeve was drafted differently than I’m used to, with a pronounced curve on the back of the sleeve head and not much ease. That meant two surprises: I didn’t have to add ease stitches to ease the sleeve head in nicely, and the sleeve didn’t fit tight at all. Magic! Three: the shoulder seam is drafted to accommodate the 21st-century computer hunch — the slope of that seam is different on the front than on the back piece. For this hunchback it meant a forward shoulder adjustment of a mere 14″, and I would have survived without it. Magic again!

Where I definitely needed a fit adjustment was my broad back, but at this point that’s very obvious to me. I also raised the bust dart slightly, and I’m not sure whether it was a good or a bad choice… I need to wear these blouses a bit more to determine that.

Now… I’m not crazy about the 1 cm/ 3/8″ seam allowance. With the madly fraying polyester it just didn’t feel like enough for French seams, so I overlocked the seam allowances (which will do, but I’m not loving it). For the second blouse I added a 1/4″ to the side and sleeve seams.

So that’s easily fixed if you don’t mind taking the time to redraw the pattern pieces (which is what I did) or remembering to add to these seam allowances when cutting your fabric.

The instructions are clear and succinct. I can’t really evaluate the “trench inspired” elements of the blouse, since I skipped them.

Verdict: definitely recommend and will sew again!

In other news, I really loved following #fashrev and #fashionrevolutionweek on Instagram. I especially enjoyed the validation I got reading others’ washing tips. When I moved to the US it seemed to me people around me were doing laundry all the time, and no one was hanging out any clothes. I quickly discovered that the dryer was shredding my t-shirts at an alarming pace and got a drying rack. I’d always hand-washed quite a lot of my clothes, and while it’s not the must enjoyable activity, I’m glad I’ve stuck with it.

I also liked seeing people’s happy “I made my clothes” photos, though, to be completely honest, I liked the photos of garment workers with “I made your clothes” signs even more. I’m hoping that more awareness about who the majority of the world’s garment workers are, where they live, and how little they get paid leads to fairer compensation and decent working conditions. That’s the change we need the most.

As for making your own clothes… Me-Made May starts tomorrow! I can’t say I’ve filled my wardrobe gaps, but I’ll do my best to wear at least one me-made item every day.

What have you been up to? Are you excited for #mmmay17?

nonrequired reading: the master herself

… And now for something somewhat different. Yesterday was World Book Day, today is the beginning of Fashion Revolution Week, and I found myself at a crossroads. Reading is one of the crucial ways we have available for thinking and feeling our way into the lives of others. The Rana Plaza disaster from April 24, 2013 did not get adequate coverage in the news (that’s one thing) and outside of online sewing circles I don’t hear it mentioned, to be honest. What we can do is keep remembering it and letting others know that it happened and trying to make sense of what it means not just in terms of global economic ties but also in terms of human life, labor, and what we think of as the right to happiness — or the right to a decent life.

I’m still trying to understand the impact of the Rana Plaza collapse — the impact of how we consume fashion in general — and the consequences of our responses to it all. So this post is not about that.

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You don’t know this, but I have several overgrown unpublished posts¬†sitting in my blog’s draft box. They are all about books. I’m better at pumping the writing brakes with sewing, and each one of those posts kept growing, making me less confident in my ability to shrink them down to size — and into a usable shape.

I could let it go, but I really like reading about reading, and I really appreciate any mention or review of a book that crops up on the blogs I follow. I don’t think writing about books belongs solely on book blogs. I think books belong anywhere they want to wander in. I have one sitting on top of the blouse I just finished.

It’s a copy of Wislawa Szymborska’s book reviews¬†New Nonrequired Reading.¬†I’ve had this particular copy since I was a teenager. It’s been on trains and planes with me. At home, at work, and on vacation. It’s moved with me between several countries and many apartments and houses. ¬†You don’t have to read Polish to enjoy it, now you¬†can read it also in English. The cover of the American¬†edition, I’m happy to say, looks very inviting.

The book that’s moved with me so much is the second volume. I did read the first one (Nonrequired Reading) at some point but, somehow, I only have this second one. I’ve read the witty reviews in it¬†numerous times. Some of them are at this point like a lullaby for when I struggle to fall asleep.

Out of the books reviewed by the poet I’ve maybe read a couple. In a way they don’t even matter that much. The anecdotes about her reading them is what really makes this volume worth throwing into your suitcase to take it wherever you go. It’s the experience of reading more than what was¬†read, and it’s how it was read, and how that is shared that makes it cool and delightful years later. You read it for the image of Szymborska, slight lady that she was, trying to run out of a burning museum with one of Klimt’s¬†Birch¬†paintings (a hypothetical she closes with when talking about a biography of Klimt — written by whom? I don’t remember), for her heartfelt defense of smoking (even when you don’t buy it, like I don’t), her long ironic look at new linguistic developments¬†(I wonder what her take would be on the word “selfie” and its really nasty but poignant Polish some-time equivalent…). You read it because it’s like a great conversation in which you don’t need to say a thing. I’d say it’s a lot like¬†Before Sunrise¬†without needing to bother¬†with a romance plot.

I discovered the English edition via¬†Brain Pickings.¬†Here,¬†Maria Popova writes about her experience of reading one of¬†Szymborska’s essays. And to top it off, there are also links to Amanda Palmer’s reading of two of Szymborska’s poems (“Possibilities,” “Life While-You-Wait“).

My one tiny but serious reservation about the recording of “Possibilities” is how Palmer pronounces the name of the river Warta. The “w” is¬†not the “w” in “water” — it’s pronounced like “v” in “vat.” These days, it’s really easy to look that up. Wikipedia has the pronunciation right. That said, I’d want nothing more than for English textbooks that include Szymborska’s poems to get the pronunciation of her name right. I’ve seen some monstrous nonsense out there… Maybe it’s just confusion with Hungarian, but “sz” is never a “z” in Polish. It’s like “sh” in “shine,” and it’s never silent.

Okay, quagmire spotted, rant over.

Please tell me what you’re reading right now.

shirt story. chapter two: I finally made one!

It certainly took me long enough to get there! Lots of fretting, fitting, and pattern alterations. Here it is:

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Here at the House of Shiny Door Knobs we have nowhere to pose where the clothes could be the proper focus.

Fresh off the happy wave of the #sewtogetherforsummer shirt dress, this is McCall’s 7387 — a pattern I bought on impulse, started fitting, realized it had some features I wasn’t crazy about, and then discarded.

I’m writing this post after realizing that you can’t keep the momentum going¬†forever. It turns out that trying to quickly prepare another shirt pattern after a long day at work is not the best evening plan. Luckily, I stopped myself before fabric scissors came into play. Oh, wonderful wave of shirt-sewing mojo, let me do your beauty justice by giving this shirt a proper write-up.

I could call this a blouse, I guess, but I prefer “shirt” because I really like the variations on menswear in women’s patterns. You can mix and match elements and not be afraid of David Page Coffin criticizing you in your dreams. Or so I’m hoping.

Construction details aside, my primary concern is always fit. I often see photos of tissue-paper pattern pieces pinned neatly to freshly cut fabric on Instagram and I wonder — sometimes with a bit of envy — how many of you out there have the luxury of getting a good fit “straight out of the envelope.” Not me. I’ve been working pretty hard over the years on not blaming it all on my body and how it fits or doesn’t fit into some sort of “standards.” So, to be honest, what really bugs me is how much time fitting and alterations can take. Not that much time left for sewing in the end!

This one took a while from first muslin to completion. For a long time we weren’t talking because I wasn’t sure I could figure out the alterations and hack it to get the design details I wanted.

I got it at a pattern sale, where the siren song of $1 or $1.99 always lures me. I didn’t notice just how deep that back pleat was or that there wasn’t a collar stand.

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No collar stand. Even after digging through the pattern envelope for a long time. It turns out reading the pattern contents might save you some time!

I really hated the back pleat when I made up the first muslin. It felt like a heavy tail sitting atop my derriere, and the curve of the pattern piece gave it unnecessary length that made it pile up on said derriere. Not a cool look. It was the first thing I knew I needed to do away with when I eventually picked up this pattern again.

It’s the kimono sleeves that made me reach for it. And fabric leftovers that didn’t add up to much on their own but really got me fired up about this project once I realized how I could put them¬†together.


It did take some creative cutting, some plans changed along the way. The main fabric was leftover chambray from the circle skirt I made as one of my first sewing projects (you can see a photo of it here). The button placket got integrated into the fronts. I could have turned it the other way around and it would look like intended. (But I didn’t because I thought, “why not go in the opposite direction and just let it look like the continuous piece that it is?”)

I cut out the inner yoke from the last precious bits of the Cotton and Steel print from my first dress. For the outer collar and cuffs I used linen/rayon left remnants from these pants. And because the yoke and back piece were both cut out in the chambray, I decided to set them apart with some flat black piping.

I wanted slightly feminine buttons to balance out the crispness of the fabrics. And that’s that when it came to style choices. I really felt steered by the fabrics on this one and quite enjoyed the limitations of the yardage in each. I don’t know if I could have stumbled on this combination otherwise.

I’ll follow up with some notes on fit alterations.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What are you working on?