If you sew, chances are it’s because it’s hard to find the clothes you like in the shops. I enjoy being tall, but at 5’10”, I usually find most high street clothing is just too short to fit my frame. Sure, I can buy a pair of trousers with a 34″ inside leg fairly easily, but they won’t also come with another 1-2″ added to the crotch depth. And woe betide the tall woman looking for a one-piece swimsuit or a jumpsuit…ouch!
My height was an important part of what drove me to learn to sew my own clothes. These days I love being able to create a fit and flare dress where the waistline lands actually at my waist, or where the sleeves are just the right length. (Ever wondered why rolled up sleeves are so popular in fashion photography? It’s because clothing models are usually tall, and rolling the sleeves up disguises the fact that the garment sleeves are too short for them.)
You might have noticed I haven’t finished my Ginger jeans yet. As well as the epic (and still ongoing) fitting process, I’ve been struggling with the bar tacks. So in case sewists of the future are also battling bar tacks, I thought I’d jot down what I’ve learnt.
Back up a minute – what’s a bar tack?
It’s a really dense stitch that you use to reinforce areas that undergo a lot of stress when you wear the garment. For example, you might use them to secure the edges of your pockets, or in the case of the Ginger Jeans, to strengthen the fly front.
Sadly, my machine didn’t want to follow the instructions.
My Janome DKS30 even has a specific bar tack stitch, but each time I tried a test tack, it jammed up and almost broke the needle. I fiddled with the tension, the presser foot pressure and tried four different presser feet but nothing was working.
I switched back to a regular zigzag stitch, swapped my denim needle for a topstitching needle and things improved a little. I swapped the bobbin thread for a slightly thicker sew-all thread (still nowhere near as thick as topstitching thread), and opted for the buttonhole foot with the stabiliser plate. Lastly, I lowered the needle using the wheel rather than the button, and when it began to look like the whole thing was going to jam up again, I used the handwheel to finish the stitch instead of the pedal.
They’re not the neatest, but at least I didn’t ruin the whole front of the jeans. Thinking I might go for rivets elsewhere though…
I’m still not sure my machine is supposed to behave like this, so I’d be interested to know if you’ve had similar problems – and whether you’ve solved them.
So Broadchurch is back on ITV, and it seems to be more or less back on form. Half-decent TV means I like to have something to knit, and it’s still pretty cold on the pre-school run at the moment, so I thought I’d have a go at some mittens to match my pink hat.
I used another pattern from the Knitty Gritty book, and the same merino wool as for the hat. Using 5mm needles, as suggested in the book, they’ve come out fairly narrow. But they are stretchy, so I can get them on, and the snugness should help keep my hands warm while we see out the last of the winter weather.
If I were making these again (there’s no gauge guide in the book – the author thinks beginners wouldn’t be bothered with swatching, or that their tension wouldn’t be consistent enough for it to help much), I’d size up to a fractionally larger needle, and I wouldn’t make them quite as long as suggested by the measurements in the pattern. (Really unusual for me – my hands are fairly large, and I always buy a large in Marigolds!)
They knit up quickly on straight needles, and my sewing up has improved a bit so the side seams have come out quite tidily this time. The book also includes pattern variations for children and babies (the babies’ mittens don’t have a thumb section.) And if you’re looking for an alternative mitten pattern, I’ve also spotted this free one from Tin Can Knits.
So it’s World Book Day today and my son’s pre-school has decided to take part in the dressing-up charade parade. So, what to go as? Father Christmas – in March – obviously!
After a brief flirtation with making a complete costume from this Butterick pattern, I opted to do more of a quick and dirty re-fashion – which wouldn’t take long and wouldn’t involve buying lots of fabric specifically for this project.
Instead, I bought:
one pair red jogging bottoms
one plain red sweatshirt
1.5m of 10cm-wide white fur fabric for the trim
a novelty hat and beard set – we must be the only family in the land without random Santa hats lurking in a drawer anywhere.
And from my stash, I used:
50cm of 5cm-wide black felt for the belt
a scrap of yellow felt for the buckle
The fur has dropped fluff absolutely everywhere, so it looks like someone’s tried to murder a cat in my sewing space! (To limit this, cut through the backing fabric only, trying not to cut the fur itself.)
Sadly the cuffs on the age 5-6 sweatshirt and trousers turned out to be too narrow to fit around the free arm on my machine, so I had to hand-sew the fur onto those. The felt belt and buckle were sewn on with a quick zig-zag stitch. I kept all the stitch lengths fairly long and I deliberately didn’t use any iron-on applique paper for the belt buckle as I’m hoping to take it all off afterwards.
To sew on the fur trim around the tummy, I used my walking foot and a zig-zag stitch to attach the fur from the wrong side. The walking foot kept it fairly stable, and it wasn’t as hard to sew as I’d expected even though I was attaching a stretch fabric to a non-stretch one. I used a denim needle, because that was in my machine already and I couldn’t be bothered to change it didn’t really know what to use and it seemed to work fine, so you might like to try that. The best thing about fur is that your stitches don’t really show through it – at least not once you’ve fluffed up the sewn-down fur with a pin to cover it.
After today, I’m hoping I can unpick the stitches, de-fluff everything and return the jogging bottoms and sweatshirt to something like their original state – so they can then be worn and torn into oblivion as part of his ordinary wardrobe!
Before my son was born there was a lot more time to sew. Mr Wardrobe would go out to play club cricket on summer Saturdays, and I’d have a lovely long sew-in all afternoon and half the evening, immersing myself in fabric and fitting for the day, half-listening to TMS. And one evening a week I used to go to a sewing class at my local FE college for a full three hours of sewing with like-minded ladies. Bliss.
These days, as I scurry between work, childcare and chores (to a soundtrack of ‘Mumh-maaaaay’ rather than cricket commentary) I now have what’s described as ‘time confetti‘: unpredictable snippets of five minutes here and ten minutes there in between conference calls and pre-school pickups.
And my dedicated sewing space that used to be in what’s now my son’s room has upped sticks to the home office, so I have to pack my machine and fabric away after each session.
If your sewing time is similarly fragmented, here are some things I find I can still do even when time is short.
If I’ve only got five minutes
Start a project bag or box to collect all the things to make my next project
Go through my notions and choose the buttons and thread
Neatly cut out one pattern piece*
Load a bobbin
Stitch or finish a seam, or two or three if they’re short
Sew on a button
Descale the iron
*Once I’ve laid out and pinned my pattern pieces to my fabric, I cut around each one roughly with my shears so I can stack them on top of each other and pack it all away quickly if I need to. I then come back to the stack and cut each one out neatly, adding the markings for that piece before I move on to the next one.
If I’ve only got ten minutes
Go through a sewing book or magazine to look for a pattern
Cut out interfacing or lining pieces
Fire up the iron and press as many seams as I can
Try out different stitches on some scrap fabric and perfect the tension – then write the settings down in case I forget later
Try on a toile and snap some quick mirror selfies so I can assess the fit later
Clean the lint out of my machine and cuddle oil it
I can’t say I’m managing a garment a week (I can still dream!) but I am spending more time sewing and less time just wishing I was sewing.
Interested in speeding up the sewing itself? There are some great posts out there by other sewists with tips for sewing faster.
Advice from Colette on what we can all learn from industrial sewing
One of my sisters is getting married this year – hurrah! And she’s asked me to be a bridesmaid. Eeek. After getting over the initial wobbles (I definitely feel too old to be a bridesmaid), I said yes.
I get to pick my own dress, and the wedding won’t be all that formal or traditional, so I can probably choose something that I’ll be able to wear again as a guest at future weddings. My other sister is going to be a bridesmaid too, along with a friend of my sister’s partner – and we don’t all have to wear the same dress, just fit with the colour scheme.
Basically I think that means I can wear whatever I want as long as it’s bridesmaid-appropriate, weather-appropriate for August in England, and blue. So I’m very tempted to sew my outfit – although a bit worried that I might leave it too late and end up stitching the hem while walking down the aisle.
I’ve started a Pinterest board with some initial ideas for patterns and fabrics:
Is swallow print ‘appropriate’? Would silk crepe de chine be too much of a challenge? Would cotton look too casual?
Pattern-wise, it’s almost certain to be a fit-and-flare dress on the grain, in a woven fabric. I’m open to a maxi length, but realistically I’ll probably get more wear from a knee-length dress.
All ideas and suggestions welcome… have you sewn a great bridesmaid’s dress pattern for yourself or someone else? Which fabrics would look smart, stylish but also stand up to wearing and resist creases – I’m likely to spend a fair amount of the wedding with a four-year old sitting on my lap.
Finally! After what seems like an age, I’ve cast this little jumper off my WIP list and into being – just in time to get some wear in this final month of winter.
[Note: I’ve made the decision not to share identifiable pictures of my son online, so although his face would definitely enhance these pictures, I’ve deliberately cropped it out here.]
It’s a petrol blue colour, which I love, and which my littlest man seems to like too. I wanted to steer clear of the colours you see all over the shops like navy, scarlet and charcoal grey and knit something I couldn’t have bought. The yarn is Rico essentials soft merino aran superwash in colour 025, which is soft, not itchy, just about machine washable and suitably snuggly.
The pattern is the (free) Flax sweater from Tin Can Knits in age 4-6, since Mr Mini Wardrobe is a very tall 3 1/2. This is a pattern that gets a LOT of love on Ravelry. Ah Ravelry, how I love perusing the endless possibilities you offer. But how easily I forget that virtually every other member is a more experienced knitter than me… Which is probably why it took me so long to finish this jumper. I chose the pattern because it’s graded ‘easy’, and suggested as an ideal first sweater project, and also because I wanted to have a go at knitting on circular needles. I just neglected to practise anything other than a swatch on circular needles or double-pointed needles (DPNs) first…
Circulars I found OK once I got going, but it took two surgeries with my Mum (who lives 160 miles away!) before I worked out how to use DPNs successfully. And after I’d frogged the first sleeve eight times I couldn’t face doing it for a ninth, so it’s a bit wonky in places. I’m calling it characterful. By the time I got to the second sleeve, something had clicked, so that’s come out much neater and more even. If you’re a fellow beginner, this pattern also includes ssk decreases, kfb increases, 1×1 rib, pick up and knit, a backwards loop cast on, and some fiddling around with stitch markers to keep track of the garter panel.
I blocked it before I took these pictures and the fit is not bad, as you can see. Like his Dad, he has narrow shoulders, so the almost-boat-neck design means it’s a little too wide in that area. I added an inch to the body length to make sure it wouldn’t be too short, and (given how long it took me to knit), I think this was a good idea.
Now I’ve got the hang of it, I’m tempted to cast on another one straight away for my son in the next size up, and also the version in 4-ply yarn (Flax Light) for me. But realistically, I should probably try a different sweater pattern where the width of the neckline/shoulders wouldn’t be so critical to the fit.
I’ll have a rummage around on Ravelry, of course, but can you recommend any simple sweater knitting patterns I could try next – for children or for adults? And should I ditch DPNs and learn the magic loop method instead?
Update: Since I first published this post on 21 January, I’ve made two sets of adjustments to the original fit. I’ve added pictures and info from the second and third fittings to this post, to keep all the fitting info together.
Earlier this week, I finally got around to cutting out my first ever pair of handmade jeans. I ended up crawling around on the floor underneath our dining table because I had to cut in a single layer, and that’s the only place I could lay the whole thing out. My knees haven’t forgiven me yet.
Then I almost ran out of fabric because I’ve already made a few flat alterations to the pattern. I used the tutorial in the Closet Case Files E-book on sewing jeans to convert the original skinny/stovepipe leg pattern into a flared version. (You can now buy the flared version as a pattern expansion, but I opted to save $7+printing+sticking hassle and do it myself – it wasn’t tricky.)
I graded from a 16 at the hip to a 14 at the waist, and added 1″ to the crotch depth. Lastly, I enlarged the inseam and side seam allowances by a further 3/8″ to give me a full 1″ of wiggle room for adjusting everything.
I cut everything out and basted the basic pieces together using a really long stitch length (5.0 on my Janome). Special thanks to Alex, who reminded me to staystitch first. This is mentioned in the pattern, but not in the part about basting/fitting, so I would definitely have forgotten otherwise.
So, onto fitting. Jeez, this might turn out to be a long haul. (Front, side and back views in the picture right at the top – please excuse the poor lighting, it’s been so gloomy in Worcestershire recently!) I figured I might as well share the fitting process in all its gory detail.
Problem number one is that they’re too narrow through the thigh, so the crotch of the jeans can’t currently sit in the right place. In the back view you can see the horizontal wrinkles across the back of my thigh and knee area, showing it’s too tight here, so I’m going to let the inseams out from just below the knee up to the crotch seam. And from the side, you can see the side seam is pulling towards the front at mid-thigh level, which I *think* means I should let out the front thigh a little more than the back.
After this first fitting, I let out the front and back inseams by 1/8″ each. That wasn’t quite enough so I also let out the side seams by the same amount – just from crotch level down to the hem.
That gave me a better fit on the legs. However, the crotch seam still wasn’t sitting quite high enough and after some wriggling around I determined that the thing dragging it down was my bottom!
To fix that without liposuction, I lowered the back crotch only by 1/4″. This also increases the overall length of the back crotch seam so it’s sitting better all the way up to top hip level now. At the front there were some weird horizontal lines appearing, and there seemed to be too much room in the lower front crotch area, so I also straightened the front crotch seam – making it shorter in the process. (In one fitting guide, this is labelled a ‘receded pubis adjustment’ – which sounds like a really painful operation but it’s actually pretty easy to do if you left enough seam allowance.)
Here they are after those adjustments. Looking better, I hope you’ll agree.
Second fitting: side view
Second fitting: front view
Second fitting: back view
I’m fairly happy with the fit through the crotch and the thighs now, although I’m debating whether to take the adjustments from the first fitting a teensy bit further to try to improve the fit even more.
What needs looking at now is the top hip and waistband area. The front crotch depth is still a smidgen too long, so I’m going to lop a little off the centre front at the top. To fix the gaping at the back, I need to take a wedge out of the yoke piece, maybe a little out of the side seams above the crotch, and then re-draft the waistband so it fits my contours better. Phew!
So since the second fitting I’ve lowered the back crotch by a further 1/4″, let out the back inseam by another 1/8″ and added darts in the back yoke and the waistband to fix the gaping at the back. I’ve taken 1/2″ off the centre of the front crotch depth and a smile-shaped horizontal wedge out across the back – effectively a flat seat adjustment. I also remembered to put shoes on for this fitting to see how they’ll really look.
The fit across the back waist is much better, it’s not gaping or standing away from my top hip area now. The bubble in the front crotch has gone, but it’s been replaced by some diagonal lines that I thought I’d got rid of after the first fitting indicating that the front crotch is too short. The back thigh actually looks tighter than it did at the last fitting, even though I’ve let it out so that needs to come out a bit more again (which might also fix the front diagonal wrinkes, too). And the back view now also reveals a problem I haven’t talked about until now, which is that my right hip is around 1″ lower than my left due to some differences in my leg length and pelvis size. I think I can correct this with a small adjustment to the outseam and the waistband height at the final fitting.
So, armed with the knowledge on what I need to do, and running out of seam allowance to make many more adjustments, I think it’s on to the actual sewing. The pockets, pocket stay and fly will take some of the room out of the front crotch, and I can tweak the leg seams a little along the way. So my plan is to sew them up very gradually, checking the fit several more times as I go. Wish me luck!
New trouser patterns always bring out a few nerves because it can be a pretty tedious process running up two or three toiles/muslins to try to get the fit right. But here I’m working with stretch denim (2% elastane, decent quality, pre-washed twice – I’m being good). So how the heck do you successfully toile a pair of jeans without purchasing double, triple or quadruple the amount of fabric you actually need?
As far as I can tell, there are three options:
Give tissue fitting a go. (This pattern has negative ease at the hips, so I’m not sure how this works in tissue…)
Cut the seam allowances extra wide and try to pin fit the real thing
Make up the real thing and just cross my fingers it comes out as a wearable muslin rather than a complete nightmare.
Back in September, I decided my fabric stash was beginning to get out of control, and that it was time to take action. I was accumulating fabric faster than I was sewing it up and it was making a very definite hole in my wallet.
So I began a stash diet, and I made myself a promise:
I wouldn’t buy any more fashion fabric in 2016
I would sew the garments for which I already had both the fabric and the pattern.
The first thing that happened after that was that I went to #sewbrum – a sewing meet up of over 100 fabric-hungry sewists, complete with a tour of Birmimgham’s best fabric shops. Nightmare. But I stood firm and (possibly for the first time ever) didn’t succumb to the delights of Guthrie & Ghani’s shelves.
What’s surprised me is that I’ve actually enjoyed it.
It’s forced me to confront the stuff at the bottom of my stash and assess whether or not I’m ever going to use it. One or two pieces have made their way to charity shops, and I’ve spent time thinking about how I’m going to use the rest.
There’s been a psychological change too. It felt liberating to just delete all those emails that tried to tempt me with 20% off Liberty prints or 15% off wool coating. Once I’d said I wasn’t buying any more fabric , I no longer had an excuse to browse for it online. My fear of missing out began to lessen, and I stopped trying to examine and assess all the possibilities.
When you’re passionate about a particular hobby, it’s easy to fall into the trap of accumulating stuff related to that hobby rather than actually doing things within that hobby.
That hit home. I often say I’d like more time to sew. So why am I spending all this time buying fabric and browsing fabric rather than actually sewing?
So my 2017 stash resolutions are:
Not to buy fabric faster than I can use it – for me, that’s one piece a month.
To start thinking about my pattern purchases in the same way. Half price patterns, or the latest indie sensation is definitely not a bargain if I never get around to sewing it. Unless it’s a rare vintage pattern, it WILL be there in six months when I actually have time to sew it.
To spend less time browsing fabrics online and use that time to actually sew things!
Have you resolved to sew your stash this year? What’s the best approach for you?