simple sewing

Through one of Hanne‘s regular link round-ups I stumbled upon this piece at Sewing on the Edge. Lots of food for thought there. Certainly, the more pattern pieces and seam lines, the more control over shaping we get… And yet there’s something about simple sewing — sewing simple pieces with minimal seaming and shaping — that is really, really exciting.

(my two Scout tees)

Simple sewing makes for a great break from more complicated projects, those you need to slow down on and take breaks from to think the details and fit through properly. And it makes for probably the best way to learn to sew and motivate yourself further. The Craft Sessions has a great series on simple sewing and Felicia’s tip on finding the right fabric is pretty crucial for success, I think.

Loose-fitting tees in nice fabrics are great addition to your wardrobe, at least to what you wear at home, if you’re not confident about this fit. Woven tees are a new thing for me and I’m still figuring out how I feel about them, though I can’t deny they’re growing on me.

My usual fabric choice for them is rayon — the drape makes them look less boxy  despite the simplicity of their shape.

Apart from the Grainline Scout tee (which is the only pattern so far that was a “straight out of the pattern envelope” make for me), I’ve tried Marilla Walker’s Maya top (that one took some modification) and the tee from Simplicity 1366.

(Maya top and Simplicity 1366)

As a break from the Peony dress, I whipped up another Maya:

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(Maya 2, still unfinished in this photo)

Polka dot overkill? I’m not sure how I feel about this tee yet…

What about you? Do you like simple sewing?

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works in progress

 [1]           [2]

[1] Peony by Colette Patterns. As you can probably notice, I played with the pattern a little bit. I changed the shape of the neckline… and a few more details. Specifics to follows when it’s finished. The fabric is cotton sateen from Gertie’s collection for Joann Fabrics. Usually her fabric designs are really not my style but I actually really like this one.

[2] A simple raglan-sleeve cardigan. My gauge matched Stefanie Japel’s Shapely Boyfriend, so I used it to set things up and then did the opposite of what the pattern promises: I skipped the shaping in the body for a looser fit. I still need to decide how long I want the bottom ribbing and then I need to knit the button band. I think a shawl collar might be nice.

What are you working on?

inspiration: completely hand sewn

Image sources (clockwise): [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6]

Hand sewing isn’t easy: it challenges your ability to judge proportion, it tests your patience, and makes you question your endurance as well as your eyesight. It makes your hands hurt. But its rewards are uniqueness and a precision that the sewing machine can’t achieve in difficult areas. At its finest hand sewing is art as well as a detailed document of the moment of the sewing hand’s relationship with the fabric.

I’m working on my hand sewing, growing its scale slowly from small repairs through hand-picked zippers to careful almost invisible hems. I’m trying to build up my skill to one day dare to sew up a whole garment by hand.

It became an aspiration when I first saw Marilla Walker’s completely hand sewn jeans (read about the project on Marilla’s blog and see more images here). I keep coming back to these jeans, admiring all the details that set them apart from… all the other jeans in the world.

There’s also Natalie Chanin’s Alabama Studio Sewing + Design calling to me from the bookshelf. I’ve seen lots of great outfits from this one and the other books pop up online. And the embroidery is incredible.

Finally, writing about these sources of inspiration, I have to mention the Machineless Sewist, whose blog I discovered just a few days ago and quickly read through all the posts. Her machineless sewing is motivated in large part by necessity but looking at the garments she’s made by hand I kept thinking that once she’s reunited with her machine she might be tempted to still come back to completely hand sewing the odd piece now and then. The wardrobe she’s blogged about makes for a unique journal of her time in Angola.

I will continue looking for the right candidate for a completely hand-sewn garment.

three Laurels

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I’ve made three blouses from the Laurel pattern so far, out of which two keep defying the camera. The photo above is the only one I’ve been able to take with a modest success. You still can’t really make out the details. In all the other photos the black and navy blouses came out as spots of color, basically.

So I drew them. Here’s a glimpse into my sewing notebook. I’m still trying to figure out the best approach to taking notes on my projects.

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And here’s what they look like in greater detail:

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The absolutely camera-resistant black top. And one that helped me understand what a sway back adjustment entails in solid, practical terms (thanks to this incredible tutorial).

My one serious mistake with this top was ignoring what I saw on my first Laurel (the dress) and doing a “pre-emptive” adjustment to the bust darts based on what I was reading online. A lot of sewists commented on how high the bust darts were. The original placement, while it does look pretty high indeed, works for me, and the lowered bust darts pull on the fabric in a strange way. Don’t make my silly mistake — it’s important to collect helpful  information about a pattern you’re making but it’s even more important to remember just how different bodies are. An adjustment that works for many other people might be just not right for you at all. Lesson learned here, and, luckily, the blouse is in spite of this minor problem.

It was looking pretty bare, so I decided to experiment with drafting a collar. I followed the instructions from Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing. They’re good, overall, but I couldn’t — and still can’t — find any tips on determining the correct grainline for your self-drafted collar. I wish I had done more research instead of improvising because Gertie actually talks about it in the videos from her two-part online tutorial (part 1, part 2). If there’s a new edition of the book, I really hope that crucial bit of information makes it into it.

Finishes (my favorite topic): the seams are just overcast with mock-overlock on my machine, the hems are turned twice and sewn by hand for an almost invisible finish as is the bias binding on the collar.

For this blouse I used the original pattern for the blouse version, where the front shoulder section is drafted differently than the dress. I would have liked the slightly roomier fit from the dress better (it still fits, though). For the other versions, I redraw that part from the top based on the dress pattern.

The second Laurel was a bit of a fortunate accident. It was cut from an already cut and basted top, McCall’s 6927. I fell in love with Maya’s version of that top, but I just wasn’t able to figure out how to fit it. The day I figure out how to fit Big 4 patterns will be historic. After many attempts and lots of research, I’m still clueless. (Any tips?)

Anyway, the accidental Laurel actually doesn’t seem to mind getting photographed:

 

The fabric is a mystery thrift find. It feels like it might be rayon but it might not be rayon… It has much more drape than the crisp cotton lawn I made the other two blouses in, so I skipped the back darts. The back seam on the McCall’s top was slightly curved (that’s another way of making a small sway back adjustment) and I kept that curve.

The neckline finish was inspired by the York blouse from Seamwork. I pieced the bias binding together from fabric scraps. There was enough left for a Hong Kong finish on the central back seam. All other seams are French seams. All the hems are narrow hems — a technique I learned from Collete’s free e-book of hem finishes.

The third, and last to date, of my Laurel blouses was the most challenging. It demanded the most attention to detail.

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The inspiration for the neckline cutouts came from the Datura blouse by Deer and Doe. I wanted to try my hand at this tricky detail.

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modest success photographing the neckline detail

I drafted facings from the front and back pattern and added the triangles. Clipping the seam allowances was very important, especially on the points of the triangles. Understitching wasn’t possible, so I topstitched the neckline instead. The key was working slowly and marking the pivot points on the fabric.

The bias tape finish for the neckline was, again, taken from the York blouse. This time I used pre-made bias tape, because it was stiffer and so it holds up the shape of the neckline well over the cutouts.

Voilà. The Laurel blouses so far. There will likely be more since this pattern makes a good blank canvas and since I’ve already fitted it (the value of that in time and potential tears cannot be overstated).

wear report: handknits

About a year ago I gathered my handknits and put together a “wear report,” trying to distinguish between what was fun to make and what I actually ended up wearing the most.  I decided to repeat the exercise this year. The blog gives me a place to share it.

I’ve been knitting for a few years and there have been periods in that time when I was knitting up a storm. I’ve made several sweaters, socks, and accessories for myself and others. Planning is sadly not my strong suit. For me to knit something, the process and techniques involved have to be exciting at that time. What that means is that when I feel like knitting colorwork, I’m not going to enjoy knitting cables, and when I want to have the freedom of ignoring swatching I will happily cast on a shawl but won’t be up to making myself swatch and figure out measurements for a fitted sweater.

In addition to these changeable preferences, there’s also the influence of other knitters and images from Ravelry… In short, I’ve had my share of impulse knitting, and a lot of it didn’t work out well. So I’m trying to be a bit more thoughtful about my knitting choices. Taking an honest look at what I actually end up wearing the most is helpful.

I decided to spare myself a round-up of the least worn items this time, but I know which ones those are and some of them are already set aside for frogging. I’ll focus on the most worn items. (By the way, I’m excluding socks because: a) they all get worn a lot, b) I only knit and wear fairly plain socks, which would be pretty boring to share.)

Cardigans

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The patterns are: [1] Oblique, by Veronik Avery (a free pattern, btw!), [2] Celery, by Veera Välimäki with a lace insert on the back borrowed from Norah Gaughan’s Nidden, [3] slightly modified Coraline, by Ysolda Teague, and [4] Deco, by Kate Davies.

Oblique is on top of my list again and on a path to getting worn to death. This sweater took me ages and I wouldn’t describe the process of making it as easy, to put it mildly. From the unreliable gauge swatch that lied (well, didn’t quite manage to reflect the dimensions of the final sweater, maybe I shouldn’t assign blame) to the difficulty of sewing it up, it was a demanding cardigan. But, clearly, I need to bite the bullet and make another one. Oblique is both classic and modern, and the natural color goes with everything. The yarn is also my all-time favorite, Ultra Alpaca from Berroco.

What the other cardigans share with Oblique is that they all took a pretty long time to make. Some of them have shaping, they don’t all have the same construction, but they have important similarities: they’re either finer gauge (or lace) and they’re all one color.

Pullovers

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The patterns: [1] no pattern: improvised set-in sleeve sweater inspired by The Black Sweater I Never Had In High School But Always Wanted, [2] Hela, by Védís Jónsdóttir (a free pattern!), [3] Vormorgunn, by the same designer, from her book Knitting with Icelandic Wool[4] no pattern: improvised pullover with a lace yoke, [5] Sibella, by Carrie Bostick Hoge.

In a nutshell, round yokes rule, as do Icelandic patterns, I’m glad I jumped on the bandwagon with Sibella, and knitting with black yarn is a nightmare worth suffering through.

Accessories
wearreport-accessories2015

The patterns: [1] Echo Flower Shawl, by Jenny Johnson Johnen (free!), [2] Give a Hoot, by Jocelyn Tunney (also free!), [3] Spruce Forest, by Nancy Bush, [4] Skeleton Key Slouchie Tam, by Simone Van Iderstine, [5] Heartbreak, by Lisa Mutch.

More difficult to draw conslusions here but neutrals and triangular shawls dominate.

Lessons learned

First of all, I won’t be frogging everything else any time soon, or remaking most of these patterns in natural-colored alpaca yarn (though the latter sounds good!). But what I will likely do is slowly remake some of the items that don’t get worn much.

Some of the wardrobe gaps I’m aware of are not so obvious from this round-up, actually. Sewing is slowly changing my personal aesthetic. For example, I now have more skirts I really like, but no cropped pullovers to wear with them in the winter. That’s one wardrobe gap I really want to address.

But the wear report really helps me understand the difference between what I enjoy knitting in terms of the provess and what I enjoy wearing in a way I can translate into future projects:

  • I really like colorwork, but clearly it’s best place in my wardrobe is in the Icelandic-style yoked pullover (try it cropped, and with a color palette matched to a skirt or two?). Colorwork or striped cardigans don’t get much wear; colorwork in neutrals might perhaps be a good idea for new accessories.
  • Oblique is a design I can learn a lot from in terms of what I recognize as a desirable combination of classic and modern: the cardigan has a fairly simple shape, but the lace creates interest without looking very feminine or vintage (not that these are bad traits — but they don’t necessarily seem to be what I want from a cardigan). I need more cardigans like Oblique.
  • When I’m in the mood for a somewhat challenging lace knit, a triangular shawl with nupps seems like a good idea because I get a lot of wear out of both Spruce Forest and Echo Flower (these are actually both feminine and traditional).
  • I seem to be wearing increasingly more neutrals. (Does it mean I’m growing up?)

That’s all the soul wardrobe searching I — and probably you, too — can deal with right now. If you care to comment, tell me if you do a “wear report” too sometimes. And do share yoru favorite knitting patterns.

the future of clothes?

(Image sources, clockwise: [1], [2], [3], [4]

When we talk about the future of clothes, we mostly focus on design. A futuristic style proposes a vision of the future, one that is usually optimistic about technological advancement even when it seems inadvertently funny or carries strange totalitarian overtones. The shininess of the fabrics suggests reaching out to the stars, and the regular geometry tries to take us to the sub-atomic level.

But apart from futuristic design there is also the question of how the clothes of the future would be made and that one is usually treated as a fairly straightforward one. The answer seems to be: almost entirely without human labor.

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Image source [5]

Oh hi, Mr. Robot. Did you make those ladies’ dresses?

Here are two examples from two science fiction novels written fifty years apart: Leviathan Wakes (2011) by two authors writing under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey and Stanisław Lem’s 1961 novel Return from the Stars.

Leviathan Wakes mentions clothes only briefly. All we learn, really, is that clothes can be a status symbol, as in the scene the clothes communicate the wearer’s wealth:

He wore a good suit, linen and raw silk, without the lines and folds that spoke of computer tailoring. (Leviathan Wakes, Orbit Books 2011, p. 408)

It’s very little to go on, but it seems like the alternative to “computer tailoring” would be tailoring done by a human hand, able to reach the folds and corners that machines can’t easily access? I can only speculate. We learn, though, that the norm is “computer tailoring.” Whatever it entails specifically, it doesn’t seem like there is any human work involved.

Clothes are a bigger deal in Return from the Stars. Lem’s protagonist is an astronaut who returns to Earth after over a hundred years of space travel in faraway galaxies. The world he returns to has changed significantly in many respects. Apart from new technologies, one of the first things he notices is how different the clothes are. He spends quite a lot of time trying to understand how the tight-fitting garments are produced and why they are so different from his old clothes, which he desperately tries to keep for as long as possible. Hal Bregg’s observations on clothes of the future he’s come to live in are very interesting and they crop up throughout the book. For brevity’s sake I’ll just cite a fragment of dialogue between Hal and a woman he meets early in the book. She works on an aspect of garment-making that Hal  can’t completely make out for lack of a shared vocabulary:

“Wait… then what exactly do you do?”
“Plast. You don’t know what that is?”
“No.”
“How can I explain? To put it simply, one makes dresses, clothing in general — everything…”
“Tailoring?”
“What does that mean?”
“Do you sew things?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Ye gods and little fishes! Do you design dresses?”
“Well… yes, in a sense, yes. I don’t design, I only make…”
I gave up.
(Return from the Stars [1961], Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1980, pp. 30-31)

I guess that a reader in 2016 can understand the woman’s work as a form of 3D-printing, but imagine reading the novel in 1961 when it came out…

Why I’m sharing these quotes — apart from the fact that these images of clothes-making are interesting and the novels are worth reading — is because despite their differences they share a similar vision of making that is mostly mechanized, where a human maker (if there is one) is either an artist (Leviathan Wakes) or a person whose work does not involve great exertion (Return from the Stars).

That’s very different from today’s garment production, which involves a lot of physical labor… but it’s actually pretty much how most people imagine things are today. And it’s not so much a result of thinking about it intensely but, in a way, of the opposite. It’s not knowing much about how clothes are made that leads us to imagine large complicated machines with skillful robotic limbs and long assembly lines…

The reality, though, is neatly conveyed by Elizabeth Cline in Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, for example, here:

Clothing, even when produced in a factory, is really a handmade good broken down into assembly-line steps. The sewing machine is more a tool than a machine, as it really just facilitates and speeds up manual work. (42)

I’m not going to pretend I was very insightful before reading Cline’s book. No, in fact, I had a very vague idea of what garment production was actually like. I didn’t exactly imagine it as purely mechanized with people just supervising production, but I didn’t realize just how manual the work is.

And while I love how much discussion there is about garment production in DIY circles, I wish that discussion made it out into the world more often. Maybe then we wouldn’t think the future is already here. And maybe we would imagine the future as having more tailors?

What do you think? How do you imagine the future of garment-making?

I’m no Phryne Fisher but here’s my new robe

 

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I’m one among many captivated by the luxurious loungewear on Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I’ve seen several mentions of that particular “Fisher effect” online: sewists becoming obsessed with luxurious robes, slips, and pj’s. With good reason, I think.

I’ve often wondered why we tend to think of the home as a site of accidents and wear and tear — drinks spilling, knees and other spots getting visibly worn as we sit around, cat hair everywhere. Not that these things aren’t true, but they’re equally menacing outside the home when you’re in your “good clothes.”

And if you add up the time spent in the old clothes that you wouldn’t wear out but end up wearing at home… it’s a lot of time in clothes that you don’t particularly like.

I’ve seen some interesting answers to this dilemma cropping up online, from glammed up sweatpants to silk robes. They’re all fine, of course, depending on what your budget considerations are on the one hand and, on the other, what fits your life.

I guess for me it’s neither silk nor sweatpants. But I can’t pretend I had a plan.

What really happened was the February issue of Seamwork came out, I saw the Almada robe, and after a few days of looking at the pattern photos and line drawing I realized I was becoming pretty obsessed.

The simple cocoon-like shape was the selling point for me:

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Image from Seamwork

Below, my brief review of the pattern. That simple shape seems to have raised a lot of questions from sewists about the comfort and wearability of the robe, so maybe my brief overview could be helpful if you’re trying to decide whether to give the Almada a go.

Pattern description: kimono-inspired robe of a very simple shape; pattern includes both a body measurements chart and a finished measurements chart so you get a good idea of the intended fit

Instructions: very clear and easy to follow as I find all Colette/Seamwork patterns tend to be — detailed enough for beginners to follow.

One distinguishing feature of Seamwork instructions is that the techniques they describe are meant to make the project a fast one. The Almada is supposed to require a mere 2 hours at the machine. If speed is your priority, that’s perfect, but I think  it’s sometimes worth opting for more time-consuming finishes. That’s what I did.

Adjustments/departures from the pattern: My fabric was a lightweight rayon and it frayed quite intensely, so I decided to do French seams instead of the seam finish from the pattern. I also opted for a different cuff finish: I attached only the outer layer of the cuff to the sleeve. I folded and pressed the inside cuff by 1 cm and and sewed it in by hand, encasing the seam allowance inside the cuff.

The pattern has a central back seam. I kept wondering about how essential it was. The width of my fabric allowed me to cut out the back on the fold in one piece, so that’s what I did (I eliminated the CB seam allowance).

I did not use the marked placement of the ties. I saw many complaints about it online — people were worrying about the ease of movement. I treated it as a suggestion for placement. I did mark it with tailor’s tacks but after basting in the ties I decided I would like them further away from the sleeves and somewhat higher. I really recommend giving yourself a little bit of extra time to baste or pin the ties in to find where you like them most.

What I particularly liked about the pattern: I usually have to do a forward shoulder adjustment on Colette Patterns but it wasn’t necessary here, which made me very pleased. Apart from that the shape, the fit, the ease of construction. Oh, and I love the sew-on snap — great invisible closure for the robe!

Dislikes: I think you can only talk about dislikes if you expect to follow the pattern to the letter. You really don’t have to attach the ties as marked or finish the seams as described. As suggestions, these features of the pattern are fine but they didn’t work for me.

Recommend? Oh yes! I really enjoyed sewing this robe and I love wearing it.

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inspiration: rag dolls

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Image from Amazon.com

This book has been on my radar for a while as have been rag dolls. After seeing some great dolls online and finding tutorials I’m set on making a doll or two.

I really like this tutorial, which comes with a pattern (yay!).

And here are some beautiful dolls I’ve seen online:

Sally, made by Carolyn (whose blog Handmade by Carolyn is like an amazing sewing compendium)

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Photo from Handmade by Carolyn. The original post is here.

Minirilla — a doll gifted to designer Marilla Walker. You can find photos of Minirilla on Marilla Walker’s Instagram. I’m curious to see which of Marilla Walker’s designs Minirilla will sport next!

This doll by ohhhlulu.

Finally, Jess Brown’s dolls, which I discovered through the While She Naps podcast. I really recommend the podcast, too.

Have you made any dolls? Have you spotted any great dolls recently? Please share.

 

my first dress

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The Laurel dress by Colette Patterns. Wrangled into existence by raw enthusiasm.

I rushed into making this dress after making a bag, a few pillowcases, and a skirt. I made all those things in quick succession. I was just learning how to gauge seam allowances while sewing. Sewing curves was still very challenging. I made a muslin — of the blouse version, which was slightly different from the top, but I wasn’t able to assess the muslin at that point anyway. I was clearly not well qualified but I was incredibly motivated. I bought fabric that I really liked and dove right in.

It took tears, unpicking, pinching out fabric excess, resewing wonky seams, but the dress I got at the end of that long rocky ride was worth it. I wear the dress despite its problems — yes, the sleeves fit funny because I didn’t know how to set them in properly; yes, I snipped into the bias-bound neckline in a moment of clumsiness and now there’s visible mending on that spot.

And I really love looking at it. It’s a document of what I didn’t know and tried to find out. It’s a record of improvised fixes but of patience, too. I took my time with the zipper (after all it was my first one) and it paid off. Careful pressing gave a nice shape to the darts. There’s a lot to like despite undeniable imperfections.

Do you have a favorite early project? Do you have a project that represents a record of your learning process? Please share if you do. I’d love to hear from you.

 

hello

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Hello and welcome! This is the first post, so it all begins with intentions. I’d like to use this blog to document my sewing and knitting projects, and hopefully to have some interesting conversations.

I’ve learned a lot from sewing and knitting bloggers over the years, by which I mean basically everything. The little exposure I had to crafts in school left me feeling I didn’t have what it took to learn them properly. It took a long time till I picked up knitting needles again, but once I did, I got immediately drawn into the online world of crafting. All I can say is thank you everyone who’s sharing their knowledge and skills and inviting new people to learn and discover just how fantastic it is to make things yourself.

I like to maintain a bit of distance between online activity and life and so I’ll try to keep personal photos off the blog. It’s nice to have a bit of an escape. With that I invite you to see where things go from there and drop me a line in the comments if you feel like joining the conversation.