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.

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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).

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… 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:

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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.

pants #3, or, what I’ve learned so far and why I’m venturing on

Dear readers, my adventures in the scary land of pant/trouser making continue. I’m extremely grateful for all the encouragement I’ve gotten on my previous pants-making posts. Thank you all for your kind words! I’m happy to hear that I’ve also managed to get some of you encouraged by my dive into this intimidating area of garment sewing.

I think it’s worth the risk even if you fail. For one, I’ve been learning just how little I understood about the fit of pants when my choices were limited to ready-to-wear. And even though I haven’t had a “it fit straight out of the pattern envelope” experience with any of the pants I’ve made (well, I basically never do with any pattern), with some patience and basting, I ended up with wearable pants every time. So as I go along I’m learning about fitting and — more importantly even — I am really enjoying clothing my bottom half.

The third pattern I tackled from my sketched list came from Burda 8/2016. The photos from that issue (scroll through these posts for exhibit #1 and exhibit #2) didn’t give me a clear an idea of what those might end up looking like — more like an alluring suggestion. I’m somewhat surprised by where I arrived, though in a good way, I should add.

Today I take you to my messy sewing nook to meet my less-than-clean mirror in these very candid and completely unstyled shots of the new pants:

Totally unstyled but completely me-made: Plantain tee ans stripey socks by yours truly

Gah! That mirror desperately needs cleaning. But the pantsL I’m extremely pleased with them after wearing them out a couple of times and I’m liking them more each time I wear them. But I’m not going to lie to you: it took quite a few rounds of basting and fiddling with the fit before we got there.

Here are some slightly clearer photos. And details.

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I’d say they ended up looking like I imagined the Thread Theory Lazo Trousers would. Or maybe how the Lazos do on the figure type for which they are drafted. I’d say that if you have a flat tummy and a derriere that is not quite as pancake-like as mine, you’re bound to get a lovely result with those. Morgan’s own samples look great, so do Meg’s Lazos (and she has a neat post about them). I’m kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum and the muslin turned out hilarious. I’d show you if I were less self-conscious. The crotch length for which they’re drafted was all wrong with my body proportions and I decided to end it on that one muslin and just shelve the project. Please don’t take my experience as a criticism of the pattern. Morgan’s posts about fitting these helped me diagnose what didn’t work for me, and I can definitely see myself returning to both the pattern and her posts to do some altering that would make these work for me.

Okay, but back to the Burda pattern. Running to Burda from an indie pattern that had a sewalong and fit advice is not a move I can explain logically. And I didn’t follow the instructions for the pattern because I didn’t get most of them. I’m definitely not fluent in the super laconic language of Burda instructions.

Here’s what I did instead, in case you want to follow my path but don’t speak Burda-ese:

  1. I cut out the size according to body measurements, to be on the safe side, and I basted the pants together, leaving the waistband off for that first try-on. (I slipped a length of elastic over the top to hold the pants up.) These pants have slash pockets, which I did not cut out yet; in fact, I superposed the pocket over the cutout and just chalked the spash pocket line in on the inside, so I could baste to fit without worrying about pockets at all.
  2. That first try on gave me some insight (the size I cut was too big, especially in the hips). I recommend basting in the waistband and pinning it closed to get a better idea of the fit. That’s what I did next.
  3. I’m not going to give you my fit adjustments in excrutiating detail since your needs might be very different from mine. I worked with Pati Palmer and Marta Alto’s book Pants for Real People to figure those out. Most importantly, I took the inseam in to accommodate as per the “pancake butt” adjustment (many thanks to Melanie for introducting this phrase to my fitting vocabulary). I also ended up shaving quite a bit off the outseams, especially on the hips. At this stage, I merely chalked in the new seam lines, didn’t cut anything out just yet.
  4. I determined the pocket placement using my new seamlines and cut out the pocket slash line. Then I made the pockets (the pattern instructions didn’t mention stabilizing the pocket openings but I did, with some lightweight fabric selvedges I had kept from an earlier project).
  5. I sewed the darts on the back (they needed some altering after the try on) and the pleats on the front, sewing them down partly, as was suggested in one of the comments to the pattern photos (but not in the pattern instructions, gah!).
  6. Next I tackled the fly front following Sandra Betzina’s tutorial. I’ve watched a few different tutorials for this step, and this one I find the clearest and easiest to follow, hands down. I second the advice on interfacing — I’m glad I stabilized the zipper area.
  7. This pattern didn’t have a fly shield but I added one. Make sure you cut out the waistband long enough to accommodate this if you also want to add one.
  8. Inseam, then crotch seam (where I did a double line of stitching once I was happy with the fit), basted outseam. There was some basting and ripping here before I felt comfortable with the fit, so I’d recommend not rushing this part.
  9. Sew the outseam, add waistband (I recommend interfacing if you’re working with a streth suiting like I was), hem pants.

So that’s my blueprint for sewing these. Pardon me if I dumbed it down inadvertently. Feel free to correct me or add steps I might have forgotten about here.

As you can tell from the two photos above the list, these don’t necessarily look fantastic from all angles. I definitely fretted about the fit and my understanding of how pleats play into it… But the final test for me is not my dubious photography skills but the wearing. These feel comfortable. Not perfect maybe but definitely good enough to fill a woeful wardrobe gap for me.

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Hand sewing: waistband on the inside, hook and eye closures (well, obviously), and hems.

And that’s a milestone for me. So if you wear pants a lot, dive into making them. I’m glad I did. I wish I had more time so I could get on with the next pair, but that will have to wait.

More from me soon. As always, I’d love to hear from you. What are you working on or planning to make?

culotte coward

Post updated: Some photos replaced to distract you with additional cat cameos and a snazzy door knob.

Culotte coward, that’s me. Twice I started working with a culotte pattern, and twice I chickened out and lengthened the pants. Exhibit A (from this pattern).

And fresh off the machine, exhibit B:

pattern v. reality

Why the culotte avoidance yet again? Well, the right footwear from culottes seems to be either heels or ankle-length boots (and, no, I’m not just saying that because that’s what the ladies on the pattern envelope have). Neither of those are among my top footwear choices, to be honest. When I’m not barefoot and throwing myself off chairs for blog purposes I mostly wear ballet flats.* Not particularly culotte friendly.

Maybe my relationship with culottes is destined to be about sighing from afar and then lengthening the legs? Time will tell.

Bonus photos: welcome to the home of cat toys and shiny door knobs.

I fished this pattern out of my stash after reading Katie’s post about her first pair of these. Katie has no culotte cowardice and has found yet another type of shoe that looks good with the length. I, on the other hand, cut my pants as long as the available fabric allowed.

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“Get off my chair, human. What even are ‘pants’?”

So, dear readers, my pants-making odyssey continues. I can’t say I’ve even come close to cracking pant fitting, but I do see it as an achievement that I haven’t totally succumbed to the fear of failure. I’m trying things out and moving along.

These didn’t go without challenges. As you can probably tell even from these photos that leave a lot to be desired, these are pretty loose-fitting. And that’s after I went down two sizes from the his down. Partly it’s the fabric, which is “corduroy” according to the label. I think a slightly more accurate description would be “rubbery corduroy imitation.” This thing is very stretchy and somewhat cool to the touch. I think it has some rayon in it but it  definitely has a lot of polyester. Bought at Joann because I got a gift card from loving family members.

Any advice about how to best photograph new pants while keeping your identity secret greatly appreciated.

Let me tell you a little bit about the waistband. I’m proud of myself for being cautious enough to cut it according to my waist measurement and not smaller. Fitted at those two sizes down that I fitted the hips it was absolutely suffocating.

It’s a bigger topic than this post but Big Four sizing continues to mess with my mind. In a body-shaming kind of way when it comes to the waist. The distribution of ease in these patterns makes my brainbox overheat. I just don’t get it. According to the body measurement chart on the pattern envelope I’m all in one size bracket, in reality that never ever works. Liza made me feel a bit saner when I confessed my waist-fitting woes in the comment thread to the post on her new stunning ’70s pants. Thanks again!

I seem to be neither hip-ful (yeah, not a word) enough nor wasp-waisted enough for these patterns. Sadly, though I try to be body-positive not just in theory but also in practice, I still get pretty self-conscious. Especially about my waist. So I got stuck on the waistband for a while. And, in the end, I fitted it with too much ease. It gaps on the back and pants ride down slightly.

Sigh, work in progress…

Inside details: pocket lining in a precious remnant, bias-tape hem facing from another precious remnant

Imperfect as these are, they will still get a lot of wear. I’ve never had much luck with RTW pants. I seem to only ever see ones I like on other people and never in stores. So this is sewing for the wardrobe gap and for that seasonal list that is bound to work for a chunk of spring. Dress season seems very far off still…

What have you been up to?

*I vaguely recall a romantic comedy with a character played by Rose Byrne snarking on a woman in ballet flats as being “so 2008.” I’d give that character a serious injury from all the eyerolling.

 

the velvet bandwagon & all the Plantain dresses

Hello in 2017! 😉 I hope the year’s started off well for you. I’m starting by playing catch-up with what I made during my holiday frenzy.

I hopped on the velvet bandwagon. I’ve been seeing so many beautiful velvet dresses in very different silhouettes. This one, sewn up by Elisalex from By Hand London, has been a long-time favorite. It’s lovely but I did know I wouldn’t be going the copycat route because I could not survive a moment in a sleeveless dress in winter.

What I had in mind was something slightly Goth-y, definitely long-sleeved, and simple enough that I could wear it out to a restaurant rather than to a ball (no balls in my calendar). Fabric aside, the true inspiration for this dress was Jeska’s Winona dress.

And here’s the end result. You will have to use your imagination looking at the photos because Santa didn’t bring us much sunlight:

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New spot for photos: the only one that had some light that day.

I was incredibly cautious sewing this stretch velvet, anticipating all sorts of disasters. To my great relief, the fabric didn’t shift around too much when sewing two layers of it together with a walking foot. But attaching a lining was difficult, even with careful basting. Go slow — but that’s what I always say, regardless of the fabric, don’t I?

I read everything I could find online about working with velvet and stretch velvet. The best pieces of advice:

  • keep track of the pile and cut your pieces all with the pile running in the same direction
  • use weights and a rotary cutter when cutting out the pattern pieces, lay the fabric right side down on the cutting mat, trace off whole pattern pieces (i.e. no cutting on the fold) — that last bit of advice is what I always do with knits anyway
  • press sparingly and gently, on a fluffy towel or piece of the velvet fabric so as not to crush the pile
  • baste where necessary
  • test out neckline finishes: binding in self-fabric was coming out too bulky, a turned and stitched down neckline would have been a disaster, lining the bodice worked best for me (I tested these out on scraps before committing to a neckline finish)

One untested piece of advice that I’m still mulling over: apparently fusible interfacings are not suitable for velvet. I only have fusibles and not even a scrap of  silk organza, so I did not stabilize my neckline. Now I’m just hoping it doesn’t stretch out too badly.

I lined the bodice in a lightweight rayon knit. I sewed the lining in by hand at the waist and armholes, and, yes, that did take a while.

The pattern: a mashup, which is becoming very much a regular feature of my sewing. The bodice is a slightly modified Plantain tee and the skirt is the top half of the Winona skirt from Seamwork.

Why a combination of these two and not, say, the Winona in its entirety? I’ll save that story for another time. For now I’ll just state the obvious: sewing with a tried pattern that you know works well in the type of fabric you’re working with saves a lot of time and worry about fit. And it gives you more time for sewing itself, and so I made another version of the dress in a black interlock knit (the photo is comparably blurry, you’re welcome):

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My thoughts on the Winona pattern, in a nutshell: thumbs up for the skirt (and I wish there was a way to print out just the top half of it without printing the whole mammoth 52-page PDF of just one of the two versions of the pattern), thumbs down for the bodice — at least for this broad-backed sewist.

I don’t know what body type Colette Patterns/Seamwork is drafting for these days, but it’s not the broader backed lady of yore (i.e. the earlier days Colette Patterns). From what I can tell, it’s someone with a tiny waist (maybe tinier than the measurements from the chart, but I can’t tell for sure) and a narrower back. And someone who likes the armholes to fall low? More to say on that but just not today.

The skirt is a keeper for me. I like that the seams don’t intersect with the side seams of the bodice — less bulk! I have a thing for gored skirts, it seems. I can definitely see myself re-using this one yet again.

The true hero of this story is, of course, the Plantain tee pattern from Deer and Doe.

It’s the one pattern from that company that I’ve tried so far simply because it’s the only one they offer as a PDF. At one point I was on the verge of buying the Melilot shirt but it was temporarily sold out. And I really wasn’t too keen on having a paper pattern shipped all the way from France. They released an end-of-year survey about PDF patterns and I hope it means they will offer at least some of their catalog in that form.

I love the Plantain pattern. I’ve made it straight-up, mashed it up with the Tonic tee from SBCC Patterns (I got it when it was a free pattern) with a good outcome, and I’ve made four dresses from it so far. Not all of these have made it on to the blog. The first two dresses predate the blog and were my first attempts at knit dresses and elastic insertion.

Both were made some time in the fall of 2015. The one on the left was the first one. I followed Anna’s tutorial but lengthened the bodice piece for a less babydoll silhouette. The second one, in navy and gray knit fabric remnants, got an empire waist and a skirt from Simplicity 1325.

This pattern has served as the perfect canvas for learning and experiments. I’ve played with the fit but it’s that ultra-rare pattern that actually fit me okay sewn up as is.

My own experiments with the pattern have been modest so far in comparison with this really great adaptation of the pattern.

I’m not one to commit to resolutions, but in 2017 I’d like to try doing more with patterns I have already tried and fitted, and sew completely new to me patterns sparingly. I guess if I were to pick a theme or motto it would be pragmatism with a bit of experimentation. What are your sewing plans for 2017?

 

Top 5 of 2016: the misses

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This is probably everyone’s favorite roundup. Let’s see if this one yields any helpful insights, shall we?

I did not include unfinished and abandoned projects here. I don’t usually bother taking pictures of those (not just because I’m too upset). Let me note that in addition to the misses I’ve also had quite a few failures: fabric wasted or destroyed, false starts, unwearable results. Most of those got recycled somehow or at least thrown at the bottom of the ever-expanding scrap bag.

The projects featured here weren’t necessarily complete misses but their flaws have sent them to a dark corner of the closet.

#1 Polka dot Maya top with lots of unnecessary and distracting tweaks

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Those polka dots hate me. It took me surprisingly long to see that, even though I’ve never been all that fond of polka dots… I definitely don’t dislike them on others but in my own case I really need to stop trying to make “fetch” happen.

The pattern itself — Maya by Marilla Walker — is fine. I made a top from it earlier that I like and wear pretty often; I’d definitely like to make another one. The fabric is fine, too: it’s rayon.

The jury’s still out on those pants (New Look 6459). Right now there’s just one top I like them with. (And it’s definitely not the one in the photo!)

Possible solution to my woes: dye it solid black.

#2 Plantain/Tonic tee in a fabric that’s too thick for a short-sleeve tee

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That’s the problem in a nutshell. I wore that top once and realized that the fabric is really better suited either for a long-sleeve winter tee or a pullover.

Sadly, I only bought enough fabric for a short-sleeve tee.

I’m wondering whether there are any solutions for this one. The one that comes to my mind is cut it up and see if I can sew up a tee for a friend’s kid.

This is the only photo I have of this top. It’s from Me-Made May (that’s why there’s a number in the corner). The skirt is the Veronika circle skirt from Megan Nielsen, sewn in 2015. I still like it but, unfortunately, I’ve um, filled out a bit too much to wear it.

#3 Mesa knit shift from Seamwork, or, the learning curve of adjustments

mesa4This one is a mix of good things and bad things. I do wear it — usually with black tights and a long cardigan — but the fit issues do bug me.

As a muslin of sorts I made a top version that was an utter failure (and did not get photographed). That one helped me discover that the neckline was too wide and droopy to be wearable. I redrafted it.

What it did not let me discover — probably because I didn’t yet know enough about fitting my back –were the issues on the upper back and overall back length. I also missed the fact that the armhole needed raising by at least 1.5 cm.

On the dress version I was able to take out some length on the back by adding a central back seam, which I curved at the small of the back. But there’s still some excess fabric pooling there. The back ended up too narrow for comfortable movement. This ponte is fairly stretchy but not I would really need to redraw the armscye to give myself more fabric on the back.

Lessons learned: It’s a wearable dress, just not as pleasant to wear as I’d wish. And, yes, while I’ve had several great makes from Colette and Seamwork patterns, this is a pattern I’m not likely to make again. The unusable (for me at least) neckline and too big armscye bug me too much. The result of issues like those is that I’m using the Plantain tee pattern as a block for knit tees and dresses rather than giving other patterns a try — more on that soon.

#4 McCall’s 6891: a milestone project with a questionable fabric choice

m6891-3This was a very important dress for me, not just because I cried a lot while making it, which is documented on this blog.

I’m glad I stuck with it and kept hacking away at the pattern until I altered the back to fit me. It’s not exactly fun to discover how much your shape differs from the one that the pattern was drafted for. It is, in fact, similar to the discomfort of not fitting into an RTW size that you think should work for you. The redrawn lines of the pattern take some getting used to.

Being able to move your arms in a dress definitely makes up for all that.

So what’s the real “miss” in this one?

For one, I left myself very little ease in the waist. So when I gained a little weight and effectively went up a clothing size, the dress no longer fit comfortably.

But the more serious problem is the poly/cotton I made it in. The cheap fabric choice was intentional — this was my first stab at the pattern and I did anticipate fit issues. The interfaced buttonholes on the skirt never pressed well, unfortunately, and I think this design really calls for a softer drape, though with some body. I think it would work really well in a crepe.

Solutions? I could let out the side seams a bit, but I think I’ll leave it as is.

Resolutions? Make again, in a crepe, and size up.

#5 Abstract Anna dress, or, the trials of a bias-cut neckline

stripeanna3

 

Again, that’s the issue right there. I did wear this dress a lot in the summer, probably exacerbating the neckline problem.

But I like that I let myself make it roomier — this dress has helped me rethink ease and room for movement in garments even further. And it’s a fun dress in this unusual print. The fabric, by the way, is one of the good ones from Joann Fabrics.

Solutions? Well, I stabilized that neckline with some fusible tape in a desperate attempt to stop the drooping. Too little, too late, not a real solution but will have to do in a pinch.

Lessons learned: Stabilize bias-cut necklines at the cutting stage. Stay-stitching is not enough. I should write that down in all caps and put up on the wall above my sewing machine.

All these misses and hits have led to some deep thoughts about what and how I want to sew in 2017, which I hope to write up next week. As you can see, resolutions are not exactly a priority. And don’t let them drive you crazy either.

I wish you all a great 2017 with a fantastic beginning. Cheers!

the unphotographable dress and some thoughts on wardrobe planning

burda-black-12

I promised better photos of this dress but this is all I got. Would you believe that one was taken on a sunnier day? The clearest thing I can give you is that title and an overexposed flat shot of the bodice:

burdabutterick_dressThose cuff and neckline bands: I naively hoped the instructions would guide me through the construction but all they offered was one sentence simply telling me to sew them on the outside and topstitch.

Let’s do this in a telegraphic style and with more blurry photographs.

Fitting woes

I’ve written about them in the first post about this dress. In short, the Burda bodice doesn’t fit me. Can’t breathe freely, can’t move my arms. So I swapped it out for the bodice from Butterick 6086, which I had to modify further. I slashed the sleeve to get more width on the biceps and I lowered the sleeve cap; I also made a 3/4″ broad back adjustment (while keeping the shoulders narrow, so lots of fun); plus the usual Big Four navigation between sensible ease at the bust and a realistic width at the waist.

It took ages and three muslins but even these photos tell me it was worth the work. I can flap my arms like a crazy bird and the dress still retains a decent shape.

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what passes for arm flapping among existentialists

Fabrics

Lightweight black polyester crepe from Fabric.com and leftovers of a more stable polyester crepe from this dress for the neckline and cuff finish.

This project marks the beginning of my love affair with spray starch. I could not have done it without the stuff. It helped me cut the black crepe without losing my mind and kept it decently stable for sewing.

Construction notes

Bust darts and seam finish: Those were some big darts, since all the intake went into the lone horizontal bust darts. I trimmed them, pressed them upwards as both the Burda pattern and my sewing guru Sheryll advise, and bound them with Hug Snug. I Hug-Snugged all the seams, possibly because I wanted to risk the sanity I had saved thanks to the spray starch. It was not quick, to put it mildly, but turned out okay.

a dramatization of okay, with modest means

Zipper: invisible, sewn under the neckline finish, with a hook and eye on top. I sewed the zipper before sewing the side seams, thus completely putting the order of construction on its head.

That neckline and cuff finish you might be wondering about: I drafted these pieces from the sleeve and bodice pieces (it’s also what I always do with facings because I never sew anything without alterations). I stitched a line between the piece and seam allowance, trimmed the seam allowance to about 3-4 mm, and pressed the seam allowance under the pattern piece carefully. I’d say that’s a better strategy than notching the curves — it makes the curves smoother. And then I edge-stitched very, very slowly.

Pleats on the skirt: I stitched down the first inch of the pleats and on the back I converted the darts into pleats and aligned them with the vertical back darts.

what kind of dance is this even?

Hem: double-turned and hand-stitched.

And that would be all about this dress if not for a special issue of Burda I got as a gift when I started sewing this.

It was an issue devoted to simple sewing projects that make good wardrobe builders. It left me thinking intensively about my own sewing planning, which often gets overambitious in terms of both difficulty of the projects and their potential for getting worn on a daily basis.

Francesca at Atelier Vicolo N. 6 can give you a better insight into that issue with her two gorgeous dresses from it — they do not defy the camera while devouring light.

To cut a long story short, since first leafing through that issue my plan has been, well, not to make all of those Burda patterns but to simplify my sewing plans.

My first steps toward that coming to the blog soon. Flap, flap.

veni, vidi… vici

My rusty Latin has failed me (and so has Google Translate). I spent a while trying to figure out how to insert “I cried” before “I won.” I’m not Julius Caesar, so a lot happened between the seeing and the victory.

Let me skip to the victory for a moment and then walk back:

m6891-3

This is McCall’s 6891, my nemesis for the past several weeks. (I almost said “years.”) I think it might be better to sometimes just throw things in the corner or even the trash angrily and move on. But that’s not really in my nature. I tend to just doggedly pursue the problem until I exhaust all options. And sometimes myself.

(Looking at these photos I realize the dress would have benefitted from ironing before I put it on. It was a very hot day when I took these, so I hope you can forgive me for choosing not to iron.)

But I’m definitely not planning on exhausting you, so I’ll try to make the weepy parts telegraphic rather than descriptive.

Let’s break it down:

Veni

I wrote about how I got the pattern and realized how different the dress could look from the one on the pattern envelope. I blame Kirsten Dunst for what followed.

Vidi

Seeing what I needed to attend to in order to fit this pattern wasn’t easy. So, Ceasar, this is where we part ways for a while.

I’ve vented about the sizing in these patterns a lot already (maybe too much?). Trying to crack the logic behind it is like a new hobby at this point. Fit for Real People, as great a book as it is, tries to convince you that Big Four sizing is the best and most sensible. I understand that the sizing is supposed to somehow magically end up working for all figure types, hence the 4″ of unnecessary ease slapped on the shoulders and bust area. Figuring out which size to actually cut out for the shoulders is a quest for secret clues (my own favorite clue comes from Susan Khalje). But I’m still not convinced that grading wildly between three sizes (which is what I apparently have to do) is such a great way to arrive at your size.

Bullet points from here on:

  • the straightforward alterations: forward shoulder adjustment, square shoulder tweak, and a pretty significant sway back alteration (the back is drafted looooong)
  • some of you might remember that after attaching the sleeves I couldn’t move my arms in this dress. I did a broad upper back alteration, following Sunni Standing’s excellent advice. That involved cutting out a new back bodice from leftover fabric.
  • After attaching the sleeves to the new bodice I still couldn’t move my arms. So I took a closer look at the sleeves. Thanks to Kenneth D. King’s  video and article in Threads
    I was able to redraft the sleeves to give myself room for movement. I don’t think I arrived at a perfect sleeves, but I can move, so VICTORY!

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The skirt was a straightforward circle skirt, so no challenges there. That concludes fitting. But sewing held some surprises as well.

Edit: Oh, hot tip for hemming the circle skirt — while I was struggling with the bodice, I hung up the skirt on a hanger. It ended up hanging for about two weeks, after which I marked a new hem, evening it out where the bias dropped. Measuring was a bit easier on the unattached skirt.

Before vici, the collar

The pattern envelope claims it’s an easy pattern to sew, but I don’t think that sewing within a millimeter of a pattern mark from two opposite directions falls into that category, McCall’s. And that’s what you have to do to get the collar right. If you end up too far from the mark, you get a hole. If you accidentally sew through the mark, you can’t turn the collar pieces.

The instructions for the collar are sparse. But I haven’t found anything that helpful online. Jane has good tips on navigating another tricky point in this collar style. What was most difficult for me, though, was figuring out how the collar and facings move when you flip things to hide the wrong sides. The pattern doesn’t tell you that, so for my first try I set out to follow the instructions with a handsewing needle. That was helpful. Once I understood that the collar and the facings move independently (don’t sew through those pesky dot marks!), I was on the right track. Trimming the seam allowances exactly to the pattern’s specifications helps very much as well.

Vici

I like this dress. I like it a lot. I think I might make it again, now that I’ve fitted it and drawn up new pattern pieces that work. Getting through all the fitting and redrafting really did give me a sense of accomplishment. It was learning the hard way, without the certainty that I’d get a wearable garment out of it at the end. But I did! And I’m also feeling a bit more confident about fitting Big Four patterns.

That said, would I recommend it to others? Yes and no.

NO:

  • if you’re not obsessed with this style but rather looking for a fairly easy shirt dress, I’d recommend looking for a different pattern
  • if you don’t want to make a muslin and you haven’t yet figured out what your typical adjustments are in Big Four patterns
  • if having to potentially redraft a sleeve is a deal breaker for you

YES:

  • if you’re in love with this style and really want to make it
  • if you don’t mind spending time fitting
  • if you don’t mind potentially having to redraft pattern pieces

Case not settled. The jury is split between “Recommend, with modifications” and “Try to look for a shirtdress pattern with clearer instructions, clearer sizing, and more movement-friendly sleeves before you try this one.”

Verdict: Case not settled. The jury is split between “Recommend, with modifications” and “Try to look for a shirtdress pattern with clearer instructions, clearer sizing, and more movement-friendly sleeves before you try this one.”

Over to you: I’d love to hear from you if you have any pattern deal breakers and how you decide how to rate a pattern.

 

 

 

the long journey to Anna

anna5a

Oh, Anna. You eluded me for a long time. First there was the hilarious failure from last summer, when I naively dove in with a completely wrong fabric and merely a vague conception of fitting. Then there was a long period when I played hard to get, jealously watching the International Anna Dress Party from a dark corner, telling myself you were not a pattern for me.

But you kept calling from the box of patterns, Anna. I stalled all winter and spring, but when the sunny days returned, I knew you were right. So I caved and muslined.

My alterations ranged from the standard (forward shoulder adjustment, sway back adjustment, scooping out the neckline a bit) to the unexpected. I found Neeno’s detailed fitting notes helpful in figuring out what to pay attention to.

The first bodice muslin came out pretty… saggy. Camille mentioned having a similar issue in her review of the dress, which got me thinking. I turned to the trusted unscientific method of pinching out the excess, ending up with about 3/8″ (1 cm) thus pinched out above the bust on the front and on the upper back.

The shortened bodice really fit much better. I also shortened the back darts about 1″, newly schooled by my troubles with upper back tightness on McCall’s 6891. It was a good idea. I know lots of people have written about issues with the upper back fitting too loosely — especially at the top of the zipper — so I recommend you think about what kind of fit you want and need there. I can move in my dress without any problems, and while in certain body positions you could say there is a little bit of excess fabric up there, my unscientific wiggle-and-jiggle test showed me that when I raise and stretch out my arms, I have enough but not too much fabric up there.

I didn’t need to tweak the skirt apart from sway back on the back waistline seam. I also — unusually for me — decided against adding pockets. So far, I’m not regretting it.

Here’s a few more sewing details if, like me, you happen to enjoy those:

  • French seams everywhere apart from the waist seam and the central back seam. I bound the central back seam with Hug Snug
  • I also Hug-Snugged the sleeve hems, making the sleeves longer, which I think looks good in this drapey fabric
  • I followed Anna’s tutorial for finishing the waist seam.  It was hot, I was lazy, and so I reached for Hug Snug again, but bias binding would have been the better choice. It would have been stretchier, not so… snug. Go figure. (The dress fits nonetheless, I just felt that seam after the big dinner to which I wore it right after I finished it.)
  • no invisible zipper here — I substituted a hand-picked lapped one. If there is a next time, I’ll do that again, just with a tiny bit more generous seam allowance
  • and no contemtuous facings either — bias facing instead. (Looking for a good tutorial? I really like this one.)
  • I tried out hemming with a walking foot. I don’t know how I feel about it — it took some effort to keep the fabric from dancing around underneath.

The fabric is a rayon print I picked up at Joann’s last winter… on two separate occasions, so it added up and this is the third garment in it, and I promise that’s finally it.

So, Anna, you win. You are a great dress. You are also my third make for May, so whew!

not my Eureka but I’ll take it!

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Image found here.

Hello! Fitting quest week continues. Before I went on a long ramble about tape measures, I left my recent dress fitting mishap unresolved, with two potential ways forward. Those were: (1) go sleeveless, or (2) figure out how to get more room on the back and recut the back.

The first one is obviously the saner of the two. But the second one is as appealing as it is masochistic. Why?, you might ask. Because not being able to move my arms in McCall’s 6891 scared me like the ghost of Christmas future. Regardless of what I do with that particular dress, I’m now pretty obsessed with getting at least an estimate of how much width I need on the upper back.

Luckily, when I was done crying about this newly discovered fitting challenge, I remembered that I had actually read a really good description of it. Sunni Standing writes about fitting clearly, and with encouragement, which is exceptional. This post about her own fitting process for extra upper back width is really illuminating.

This is also a lesson about the different silhouettes for which pattern companies and designers draft. I didn’t have this issue show up in the Colette patterns I’ve sewn so far. And, trust me, after last week’s fiasco I did put several of those clothes on wondering (half-crazed) whether I somehow ignored not being to able to move my arms in them. And I learned that I didn’t dream it, I can move my arms in them.

A lot of work left on this one. How’s your sewing going?

fitting: where to begin

Fitting often gets left out of otherwise great sewing books, leaving us with the advice to “take a class with an expert,” “get fitted by someone,” “buy a book specifically devoted to the subject.” I firmly stand by that last piece of advice, but the other two options are unrealistic for me. I’m going to assume they might be unrealistic for you, too. And that, in spite of that, you do want to learn to sew clothes that fit you.

I’m not a fitting expert. I’m in the process of figuring out how to fit myself and what I want to offer here is some resources I’ve been finding helpful, as well as my own continuing fitting questions, possible answers, and more conversation in the comments.

In my everyday life I don’t really meet garment sewists. I do, however, often meet sewists who’ve given up on making clothes because they’ve found fitting arcane and just too difficult. If you’ve felt that way, too, maybe some of the links and books I’ve listed below will help you give fitting a second chance. And if you’re out of the fitting woods, please share some of your tips and tricks!

***

I want to talk about three things: (1) ditching perfectionism, (2) measuring, and (3) additional resources for measuring your body and working toward figuring out a good fit on that basis.

ChineloBally-measurements

Photos from Chinelo Bally’s Freehand Fashion, which has very detailed instructions for taking your measurements. I talk about the book below.

Thinking about fitting as a process can be encouraging and discouraging at the same time. Just like that oft-cited nugget of insight from Kenneth D. King that in order to improve your sewing you will inevitably mess up many, many yards of fabric.

1. Perfectionism is what makes you quit, working with your mistakes is what keeps you going

Before we get to measuring, I just want to say that perfectionism is everyone’s worst enemy. I’m not trying to be preachy here. I’ve been fighting my perfectionist tendencies for a long time. Perfectionism looks friendly enough — you might think that it sets a “high standard” that keeps you going, but that’s really not it. Perfectionism is what makes you tear yourself down and quit. What actually keeps you going is liking what you’ve done enough to want to improve it. That, and working with your mistakes.

As wonderful as it would be never to destroy any fabric and to always get a great fit, we learn most when we make mistakes, accept them, and analyze what went wrong. Mistakes are great for learning. Initially, it sucks to admit that, but once the initial disappointment subsides and you start looking at them more closely, that’s when you are able to understand how the thing works. That’s how you get smarter and better at whatever it is you’re trying to master.

And, yeah, I’m saying this just as I’m grappling with a serious fitting setback I’m still trying to salvage. (More on that another time).

So, again, before we get the tape measures out, here’s what I like to reread every now and then: Sunni Standing’s piece “The Myth That Is Perfect Fit.” (Sunni’s blog A Fashionable Stitch has a treasure trove of fitting advice, so I recommend spending some time browsing it and bookmarking.)

2. Taking measurements

Now, finally, how to measure yourself. There’s lots of guides available online — lots of diagrams and images of ladies wrapped in tape measures. It can get confusing. Mostly, you’re told to measure your full bust, your high bust (to determine your cup size), find and measure your waist, and measure your hips at the widest point. This tutorial from By Hand London covers these.

Are these sufficient for finding your size in sewing patterns and getting a good fit? Absolutely not. They’re a good starting point, though.

I think it’s important to also gather measurements that are often NOT listed on sewing pattern envelopes. Ironically, they can be pretty crucial for fitting. What I’ve learned the hard way is that A LOT happens on the back — that part of you that is the most difficult to measure on your own.

This article from Threads has a good photo guide.

I also recommend having a click through these images and articles they link to. Put quite simply, I recommend measuring the heck out of yourself, and repeating the measuring often.

Some quick fitting tips:

  • wrapping elastic around your middle, bending and wiggling will help you find your natural waist
  • definitely get both your full bust and high bust measurements. All — or almost all — sewing patterns out there suggest you pick your size based on your full bust measurement because that’s the one they refer to explicitly, but as soon as you take bra cup sizes into consideration, you realize how pointless a tip that is
  • pay attention to your back length. It’s not the easiest measurement to take, but — as I will ominously repeat — a lot happens on the back and most of us are shaped by computer work. Tip: don’t hold the tape too snugly at the lower back, let it fall from the upper back to the elastic on your waist and record that measurement as your back length. Better yet: measure your back both ways and mark clearly which is which
  • try to take several measurements on your upper back and torso (see which online chart gives you the most accurate tips on that). This is the area that seems hardest to fit correctly if you’re not working with the pattern size closest to your measurements
  • finding a measuring buddy is not always possible, but it’s a really good idea

3. More resources:

I really recommend these books:

The measuring guide I’ve been finding most helpful is not online — it’s Chinelo Bally’s instructions from her book Freehand Fashion. (See somewhat blurry photo above.) This book is a guide to drafting your own patterns based on your measurements. I haven’t used it enough yet, but I really appreciate the diagrams for taking your measurements — they’re the clearest I’ve seen anywhere.

It’s as good as everyone says. I’m not sure how I feel about the tissue fitting technique they work with. Maybe it can work with more loose-fitting designs. It’s certainly not something I’d rely on from the get-go, when you’re still trying to figure sizing and fit. And while the book proposes tissue-fitting as a way to skip muslins, it show you some muslins in the end, offering a really great tip about using gingham fabric to check balance.

The photos are, indeed, great. I would have liked even more information on diagnosing fit issues on the upper back, but the information offered is useful. Great advice about the importance of movement and ease.

Online classes:

I enjoy working with books, but video can in certain cases be much more useful. If you find that’s the case for you, browsing the catalog of Craftsy and Creativebug class offerings is definitely worth a try. Craftsy often has sales on their courses, too, so you might be able to get it at a lower price.

One class that I haven’t taken myself but might is Linda Lee’s Fitting Solo: From Measurements to Muslin. Hanne’s review put it on my radar as a potentially helpful resource.

There are other online classes on fitting, both on Craftsy and Creativebug, so check out the preview videos and see if any speak to you.

There are also YouTube videos on fitting McCall’s patterns with the Palmer/Pletsch tissue fitting method. I enjoyed this one, though I can’t say that it answered my fitting questions about McCall’s pattern sizes.

Threads magazine — invaluable.

Here’s what you can find in their online catalog under “Fitting.” And there’s more with every issue — really worth taking the time to read and try out.

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This is obviously just the starting point. Comments and tips very, very welcome!