simpler still

Too hot for many things: sewing among them, and when there isn’t much sewing, what is there to write about?

The unblogged.

I had 0.7 yard of this unusual (to me at least) denim look rayon fabric, which I found in a remnant bin. This is what I made out of it, with some “creative” fabric cutting decisions along the way:

helmi-bluefilter

Disclaimer: this image has been slightly dramatized with the use of a color filter for the purposes of this blog post.

The eagle-eyed among you might be able to tell that the base pattern is, again, Helmi by Named Clothing. I can’t stop making these. If I manage to get some sewing done in the coming weeks, I should be able to show you another one.

This one… had to be cut shorter than the pattern pieces (sorry, can’t remember how much shorter anymore — I was figuring it out and matching side seams on the fly). I didn’t want to sacrifice even more of the length, hence the bias tape hem.

(I used my kimono sleeve hack of the front and back pattern pieces as you can tell.)

The collar stand was cut on the cross grain because there was no other possibility unless I’d piece it from the fabric fumes I had left. And there weren’t enough of those fabric fumes for cuffs, so I went for bias tape again. Unlike the premade one I used on the hem this one was made by me, and softer because I cut it from a rayon remnant. You can’t see it when the blouse is worn, so I’m not particularly bothered by this mismatch.

The buttons were a lucky second-hand find. I’m glad I only had seven because with the top button-free, the blouse has a slightly softer, more fluid look that I think is better on me than a fully buttoned version would have been.

Helmi-blue1

Awkward modeling is an innate skill; the heat isn’t at fault.

I’ve been wearing this Helmi a lot. Hurray for remnants! They make for some creative, and fairly stress-free sewing.

What has everyone been up to?

sewing for kids you can’t measure

That was the task I gave myself before the trip. My unsuspecting gift recipients were three children: one about 2.5 years old, one a newborn, and the third one still on the way.

Here’s what I made for the two tiniest ones:

birdie-set

tiger-set

It would probably help to have my cat to pose alongside for scale but it was one of those rare occasions when he didn’t want to take a nap on the cutting mat.

Both patterns were free. The pants are from Made by Rae. The raglan tee came from this blog. I’d definitely sew the pants again but I think I’d like to check out other tee patterns, possibly with a different sleeve construction. The cuff details on the sleeves were very fiddly. I don’t want to blame it on the pattern because it’s possible I might have made them fiddlier than necessary as I rushed to finish up before the trip.

That’s not all. I also made bibs (using this free template).

bandana-bibs

Sewing them was quick and fun until it came to inserting the snaps. This time I just reached for the snaps from the kit included with the snap setter. Success rate: 3 out of 4, meaning — one of the bibs has an unexpected duet of snaps on one side. Snaps are just not my friends. In things I make for grown-ups I am thereby sentenced to always laboring over buttonholes. But buttonholes wouldn’t have worked here, so maybe this is the last of bibs for me unless I find a snap-setting partner?…

Finally, here’s what I made for the bigger kid, though with her I had a tougher nut to crack since she’s at that stage where she gets to grow more or less, or differently, than your standard sizes. She’s in the age of unpredictability to my untrained eye.

She seems tall to me, but then I haven’t known that many two-and-a-half-year-olds and she’s also one of my favorites, so I’m likely to attach whatever superlatives I can find to how I see her.

I ended up making one thing that might fit her soonish (a tee), and one that will have to wait:

birdie-tee

Here‘s the tee pattern, another free one.

The pants are probably my favorite item. I made them from Butterick See & Sew 3889, and they will have to wait a longer while to fit. I hope hipster foxes don’t go out of style before then!

fox-pants

fox-pants-back

The sassy pocket is my addition. I hope the parents don’t come to curse me for creating this convenient hiding place for random wonderful and horrifying “treasures.”

Will I sew more clothes for kids? Likely! Even likelier if I find a sneaky way to get the recipients measured. So many free patterns and tutorials tell you to either measure the kid or trace their existing clothes. That’s not really an option for an aunt who lives far away. Unless Skype gets into VR mode.

What have you been sewing?

slow everything

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Helmi tunic dress. Finally.

Hello! I’m back in the bloglands after some traveling and family time. And back with that great dilemma that every break like that brings up for me. It’s wonderful to see again what everyone’s been sewing, photographing, and writing about while I was away… But, in all honesty, it was really blissful not to keep up with it all. And not to keep others updated on what I was doing.

Thank you everyone who dropped me a line under the blog break post! Your wishes were a wonderful send-off. Here are some thoughts I’ve brought back from my trip.

When sightseeing, I would only take a few snapshots for the family, a la the limitations of yore, as if some “film” were at risk of running out in the camera. I limited texting and email to the absolutely necessary. I walked a lot. I had a notebook with me. I ended up reading a lot.

It did feel a little bit like time travel, unplugging that daily connection that we hardly perceive but use all the time. And then it stopped feeling like time travel, and I simply felt more rested, more focused, and more curious about the world. An undercurrent of mild anxiety stopped buzzing in the background.

I don’t want to be the next person preaching about the benefits of slowing down. I don’t even know how well I will be able to remember what I got out of that period of unplugging.

I’ll try. I don’t think the problem lies in not knowing that you can slow down. I think it lies in the routines that carry us through every day. We get more of a temporary pleasure kick out of scrolling through online content than sitting down quietly with a book, though the latter has a more lasting calming benefit for our mind. We cherish (and remember more clearly) photos when we take them sparingly, we forget the ones we took in quick succession. But it’s all so easy to forget. It doesn’t have a snappy acronym like FOMO or the range of other fears that, likewise, have snappy acronyms that I keep googling, and as I do so I feel old and increasingly not with that next “it” that is the “it” of the quickly fleeting moment.

I’m not about to proclaim this a new trend here. I think I’ll see how well I can keep pumping the breaks on some of my routines and if that will let me accomplish some new goals. It’s probably fair to call this modest plan my attempt at kaizenI’m not starting a business, just trying to get some of my ducks out of the woods and in a row.

In the meantime, I will have some slow-paced (ha!) catch up posts for you on things I made before the trip.

But here’s one I made when I got back, still pretty jet-lagged.

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I had this fabric sitting in my stash for over a year. I bought it at a store with second-hand fabric, yarn, and notions. It was probably donated to the store, so it was unlabeled and on the bargain fabric pile. It feels like cotton, somewhat crisp. I don’t wear stripes too often and it took me a very long time to figure out what I could use this fabric for.

I can’t remember the exact inspiration, but I think I saw a garment somewhere (on the street? on Pinterest?) that used horizontal stripes that balanced vertical stripes in this way, and that’s when I knew it would be a Helmi dress.

I went for my kimono sleeve hack first tried here. Once again I opted also for the simplified button placket. It seems to me that the buttons make a good visual interruption to all the stripes.

Since I’m quite a few inches shorter than what Named Clothing drafts for, I shortened  the bodice and skirt by 1.5 cm. And, in a bout of masochism, I finished the hem and the sleeve cuffs by hand. And that would be it. I’m wondering whether to insert elastic into the waist seam. I’m not in love with the boxy silhouette of the unbelted dress. I think it looks pretty cool on the model here but on me I feel like it completes the look of a clueless person desperately googling “FOMO.” Thoughts?

This project is my third one in the #sewtogetherforsummer challenge on Instagram. Many thanks to Monika, Sarah, and Suzy for making this such a wonderful, inspiring, and welcoming sewing challenge.

I wish you all happy summer sewing and till next time.

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! 🙂

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 😀

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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 voilà! 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).

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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.

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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 🙂

 

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 7387May 2: Plantain tee and denim Rooibos dressMay 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 cardiganMay 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:

99aa3f2e391f8232d22b3e385eaf9794

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 🙂

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.