#sewtallandcreative2017: design

For the next part of the MARGE/Tall Guides sewing challenge, each of us now has to decide what we’re going to make, and which fabrics we’re going to use.

Getting down to practicalities, I started by measuring the four fabrics. With between 2m and 3m of each, this ruled out some of the floaty maxi-dress options that had been running through my mind. Sigh.

Incorporating two different fabrics, getting a good fit, and working with drapey fabric was going to be enough of a challenge for me so I wanted a pattern with a simple silhouette to exploit the drape, without fiddly closures or lots of darts.

I also needed a pattern that could be easily lengthened above and below the waist without disrupting its style lines. So I’ve settled on View B from B6169, using the coral crepe and the spotted pale pink silk fabrics.

It’s a pull-on sleeveless dress with a tie belt and a high-low hem by Liesl Gibson for Butterick. The princess seams should make fitting easier and I can alter the skirt shape and hem if I change my mind. I can’t find many in-the-wild examples of this dress (overshadowed by the jacket, I suspect), so I’m intrigued to see how it’ll turn out. The examples I have found so far are:

Liesl Gibson’s own version in specially dyed silk

Helena’s dress with pom pom trim

Elise’s denim version

I’m planning to cut the main body of the dress in the coral crepe, using the spotted silk for the yoke pieces and the tie belt. I’d love to layer the two fabrics over each other, but there isn’t quite enough of either to make this work.

I’ll use french seams on the yoke pieces to give a neat finish and perhaps play around with different options for the neckline binding. But first, I’m going to make a toile to test the fit in some polyester crepe de chine. I’ll let you know how it goes.

You can see the dresses Allison, Beth and Tiffany are planning to make over on their blogs. I have a feeling they’re going to produce some real showstoppers…

Other posts about #sewtallandcreative2017

  1. A tall order – the challenge launch
  2. Inspiration
  3. What it means to be a tall sewist

Cosy Astoria sweatshirt

So the Astoria is possibly the second most popular sweatshirt pattern in the sewisphere, after the Linden. It’s definitely less sculptural than the Talvikki, but I really wanted a workhorse, fitted sweatshirt with a set-in sleeve, so this was the pattern for me.

The sample images for this Seamwork pattern are gorgeous in sweater knit, but I also really love Rachel’s scuba version. To make it up, I used some pale pink flecked sweatshirting I’ve been hoarding for almost a year. It’s soooo snuggly. I realised afterwards that I must have subconsciously copied Lauren’s version!

Fit and fiddle

My back waist measurement is 17.5″ so I added two inches to the length so that the hem band seam would fall at my natural waist. For me, this is more wearable than the original cropped length (I have a small child – I can’t go a whole day without bending over or reaching up). I also added 1cm to the sleeve length, but ended up cutting this off again.

Size wise, I was hovering between the M and the L, and ended up making the M but grading it out to an L from the armpits down to the waist. It’s ended up a little too tight at the bust and on the arms. This is the first pattern ever to decree I have fat arms, so I’m sulking a bit about that. The fit is good across the back, but I can’t really assess the fit at the armscye properly because my bust is dragging the whole thing forwards. My full bust point is usually on the high side, so perhaps I should have cut the L and then narrowed the shoulders and the neckline instead – but then potentially ended up with an oversized armhole? Or cut the M, but added an FBA, graded out to the waist and added width to the sleeve? I don’t know which would have been the best solution on this one.. . Any advice?

Construction

Seamwork says that this pattern sews up in under an hour. Perhaps. If you don’t count cutting and sticking together the pattern, cutting out, faffing with a twin needle or umming and ahhing over any fitting alterations. I’d say the whole thing actually took me three hours.

The instructions are clear and easy to follow with links to helpful posts on Colette’s blog if you need more help. The sleeves are set in flat, so it’s easy to do all the main seams on an overlocker/serger.

I had a few issues with my overlocker (more on that another time), so I couldn’t use it to attach the neckband or the hem band. In this fabric, I found the neckband was too long and stood up when I basted it in, so I unpicked it, trimmed it by 2cm (1cm on the folded pattern piece) and it was much better second time around.

I opted for the full-length sleeves, figuring I could always cut them off to 3/4 length if I changed my mind later. The sleeve circumference at the wrist is a tiny 17cm, and although it goes over my hand it wouldn’t go around the free arm on my sewing machine. This made hemming the sleeves with the twin needle a nightmare. In the end I turned the sleeve inside out and did it from the inside, as I’d normally set in a sleeve, but because the cuffs are so much smaller than an armhole this was close to impossible and the stitching isn’t very neat. How do people who make the size XS manage?!

That said, I love the fabric, and I figure the British weather isn’t often all that warm – even in summer – so I’ll get plenty of wear out of this. I love that it coordinates with my favourite wardrobe singleton, the green lace skirt in the picture.  And I’m hoping to get round to a second version with an improved fit.

My first me-made jeans

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This has been a long time coming, but my first-ever pair of Ginger jeans is finished. And boy, am I pleased with the results!

I’ve been after a pair of high-waisted flared jeans for ooh, about forever. And I finally gave in and decided I was going to have to make them myself.

The fabric is a lovely, soft, true blue stretch denim that I bought from Guthrie & Ghani last year in just the right weight/stretch combination for this pattern. One word of warning – if you’re long-legged, want to try the flared adaptation, or are planning to use extra large seam allowances to help with fitting, then buy more fabric than the skinny-legged Gingers pattern suggests. The cutting layout isn’t all that flexible because the denim has to be laid a certain way to prevent the legs twisting. I had 2.5m of 60″/150cm wide denim and that was only just, just enough.

For the pocket stay and waistband facing I used a polka dot Sevenberry cotton lawn in teal, also from Guthrie & Ghani, leftover from these Thurlow trousers.

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Fitting alterations

The fitting process has turned into a real quest for me. I began sewing all those years ago because high street trousers didn’t fit – and having gone through this process I now know why! I must have taken them on and off at different stages of construction at least twenty times, so if you can spend a whole day sewing in just your underwear (!) you’ll probably get them finished a lot faster than I did.

I started with the size 16 to fit my 43″ hips, and graded down to a 14 at the waist at the same time as flaring the legs from the knee. I then lengthened the crotch depth by 1″ and also checked the total inside leg against my own measurements. These are my standard alterations for any pattern, and I usually find it’s fine to make these straight on the pattern without doing a toile/muslin first.

Taking a tip from Pants for Real People, I also enlarged the seam allowances to 1″ rather than 5/8″ at the inseams and outseams before cutting out to give me plenty of room for alterations. This was a complete lifesaver – and you should absolutely do this if you’re about to cut into good fabric for your first pair.

The first, second and third fittings showed up lots of issues, so I then also made the following adjustments, one at a time:

  1. Let out the inseam and outseam along the thigh by 1/4″
  2. Lowered the back crotch only by 3/4″ (in 3-4 stages)
  3. Made the front crotch seam shallower by 1/4″
  4. Let out the inseams from the knee downwards to make room for my large calves
  5. Re-cut the yoke with more curve (effectively putting darts in the pattern to make it narrower at the top)
  6. Steamed the waistband like crazy with the iron to give that more curve and trimmed it shorter (I’d run out of fabric by this point and was trying to avoid piecing it)
  7. Sewed the back leg/yoke seam with a wider allowance at the centre back, reverting to the ordinary seam allowance at the side seams – this helped deal with my swayback
  8. Took a big wedge out of the side seams at the top hip, effectively grading down to a size 10 there.*
  9. Yanked up the centre back so it sits further into the waistband, and the same with the centre front
  10. Oh, and I fiddled endlessly with the back pocket placement to see if I could manage to disguise my low seat!

I discovered I have what Pants for Real People creepily describes as a ‘crotch oddity’, in that I’m low in the back and high in the front. If this is you, you’ll notice that your RTW trousers always seem to either drag down at the back or disappear into your bum crack, yet you might also have some weird puffiness in the front crotch.

I didn’t have wide enough seam allowances to make the front crotch seam as shallow as I wanted, but it’s good enough – and I’ll know for next time.

*You can’t really tell in these pictures, but my right leg is around 1.5cm shorter than my left, and my pelvis is also smaller on the right side. This means I make side seam alterations unevenly, taking slightly more from the right side than the left. Plus I ended up placing the back pockets by eye, rather than using the pattern markings, so that everything looks more balanced and even.

Construction

Compared with the fitting, construction was – almost – a breeze. Heather’s instructions (I used the E-Book) are clear and logical, so it doesn’t feel as daunting as you might expect. You absolutely can make jeans.

My Janome DKS30 didn’t much like doing dense stitching with topstitching thread through multiple layers. It really hated backstitching and bar tacks through more than 3 layers. If you have the same problem it’s worth buying a regular thread in the same colour as your topstitching thread and trying the bar tacks with that instead. I did this on the belt loops and it made things easier – it worked better than switching stitches, or changing needles. I also did a fair amount of the backstitching using just the hand wheel, and avoided the automatic thread cutter. Next time I might get my vintage Singer 201K out for the topstiching, although she doesn’t have a zig zag stitch, so I won’t be able to use her for the bar tacks.

What my machine does have that helped a lot, is a small black button on the presser foot which fixes the angle of the presser foot, even when you’re starting at a thick edge. This meant I got away without using a hump jumper.Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 12.18.28

You press the black button as you lower the foot (it does help if you have three hands), and then begin sewing as normal. The presser foot will stay level even if you go over a hump, and *should* hold a fairly even stitch.

I used my overlocker (serger) to finish the seam allowances for speed, but it protested at anything more than three layers of denim, so I also employed the overedge stitch on my ordinary sewing machine. This is a really secure way to finish fraying fabrics, and it comes into its own when you don’t want to cut anything off – for example if you’re going to use that edge to line up something else.

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They’re wearing well so far – this was after I’d had them on for a few hours

The Prym rivets and jeans button kits I bought did turn out to be partially plastic, but they’re holding up well so far. (I’m probably going to live in these jeans for the next month or so, and the proof will be in how much pudding I can eat in them!)

The rivets were really fun to put in, and the only casualty was one of my thumbnails which accidentally took a battering when I got distracted by the doorbell…Can any UK sewists recommend a good source of metal ones for me?

If you’ve been hesitating about sewing jeans, I’ll be honest with you. No, it’s not as quick as a skirt or as easy as a jersey top.

It’s way more satisfying.

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I didn’t much feel like being photographed today, but Wispa wanted to put her bottom on the internet – even from this angle.

Knitted mittens

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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.

 

 

A super-speedy reusable Santa suit

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!

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The trainers really make the outfit, don’t they?

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
  • thread.

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!

Did you make a spectacular costume? If not, you’re in good company – and you might enjoy this post from parenting blog Hurrah for Gin about the tyranny of World Book Day…

 

Knitted Flax jumper

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.

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Mr Mini Wardrobe doing a spot of modelling. He’s styled it with his favourite ‘dogs on the bus T-shirt’ and pull-on denim joggers. I sometimes wish I could have his wardrobe.

[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.

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I like the garter stitch panel detailing that runs across the shoulders and down the sleeves, although he says he prefers the stocking stitch pattern on the body!

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…

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It’s knitted top-down, in the round, and those increases that form a raglan sleeve shape at the shoulders were the fun bit.

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.

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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?

 

 

Children’s pyjama bottoms – with added Christmas puddings

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This is the only Christmas make I attempted this year, because I couldn’t face that awful situation when you’re rushing out to buy things on 23 December in lieu of the planned handmade presents that you haven’t finished in time. Even so, it still wasn’t finished quite in time for Christmas!

Back in the autumn, just before I began my stash diet, I spotted some reduced Christmas pudding fabric in Doughty’s in Hereford. At only £5/m I couldn’t resist enough to make a quick pair of pyjama bottoms for my 3-year old son. It’s quilting cotton, rather cotton flannel, but I thought it would be fun anyway.

The pattern is my trusty pyjama pants pattern Simplicity 2290 (other versions here and here), which includes children’s sizes from age 4-5 upwards. My 3-and-a-half-year old is a giant among his classmates at 110cm, so I traced the smallest size for him. Because they’re loose fitting trousers with an elasticated waist, there’s not a lot of fitting to do – just shortening the elastic to size and turning up the hem.

They’re a little on the large side at the moment, but I think they’ll be perfect for next Christmas. Although obviously, the proof will be in the pudding (groan…)

 

The final Fairfield button-up shirt

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Seeing as it’s Christmas, my last post before the holidays is a spot of unselfish sewing. Many, many months ago I snapped up the Fairfield button-up shirt pattern from Thread Theory, thinking it would make a good birthday gift for Mr Wardrobe. His birthday was in August, but I didn’t actually finish the shirt until Christmas Eve…

There were several reasons for this. Number one was that I didn’t notice when I measured him up that his chest is wider around the shoulder area than under the arms. So my first toile (muslin) turned out too small and I had to start again. Then I got sidetracked by blackout curtains,  my jumpsuit and all kinds of pyjamas. But we got there in the end.

(Mr Wardrobe prefers to keep a low profile on this blog, so you won’t be seeing his rather attractive face in these pictures.)

He chose the slimmer fit version of the pattern and the option with back darts to give more shape. There were a few alterations to get a better-than-RTW fit. Working from size L, I added 1″ extra width at the hip so it could be worn untucked; subtracted 1″ from the shoulder length on each side; and I used the XL sized collar pieces to create more room at the neck. You can see there are still a few diagonal drag lines from the shoulder to the neck at the front – I’m not quite sure what’s causing these but if I ever make another version I’ll try to fix this. And I’d also take a teensy bit off the length as it’s rarely going to be tucked in.

It’s not a quick or straightforward sew, especially when you know the recipient is a perfectionist. The 3/8″ flat-felled seams require lots of finnicky pressing and there’s an awkwardly large amount to ease in at the sleeve cap. The sleeve placket and the point where the corners of the collar stand join the collar both need a steady hand and some very precise stitching to get a neat finish. But if detail and finishing is your thing, then you’ll enjoy getting stuck into this pattern. Thread Theory also offer lots of (free) variations with different collar shapes, cuffs and pocket styles to suit even the pickiest man in your family, and there’s a detailed sewalong which comes in handy if (like me) you’re attempting a shirt for the first time.

I love the ever-so-slight sheen on this fabric – a deep grey/blue chambray I bought from Eme in Ilkley. It pressed beautifully and was exactly the right weight for this project. Just one word of warning though – it did show everything I unpicked! Mr Wardrobe wanted a fairly casual shirt, so I followed the pattern instructions for interfacing all the cuff, collar and placket pieces, but opted for a very lightweight fusible to stop the shirt being too stiff and starchy.

Overall, I’m really happy with the way this has turned out. But, the proof is in the Christmas pudding, so we’ll see how many times it gets worn!

 

Finished Fifi pyjamas

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I’m really pleased with the finish on this make. It uses french seams, which helps to make everything look neat on the inside. But also I made fewer mistakes than I usually do, so I only had to unpick one seam – possibly a new record for me.

The fabric

It’s Liberty Tana lawn that I bought in their summer sale, contrasting with the purple satin polyester bias binding that I found at Birmingham’s rag market during the Sewbrum meet-up in September. I love this colour combination, and the cotton lawn was perfectly behaved making it easy to sew and press the french seams. I’m itching to hunt down some more tana lawn to make another set, but that might have to wait until I’ve sewn my stash.

The pattern

This is the first time I’ve used a Tilly and the Buttons pattern, and I have mixed feelings about it. I loved the robust packaging, the clear instructions with colour photos, and the design. All of these are better than you’d get with a Big 4 pattern, and better even than some of the other indie designers I’ve tried up to now. It cost £14, so I guess you’d hope so.

I didn’t get along so well with the sizing and the fitting. Firstly, there was no information on the pattern or in the instructions about the standard back waist length or waist to hip distance. (Seriously: indie designers, this is one way in which the Big 4 still have one up on you – please can you put more info about the finished length or body measurements into your patterns?)

So I measured the pattern as best I could, added one inch in length to the camisole, and two inches to the crotch depth in the shorts. These are the same alterations I’d make to almost any sewing pattern, Big 4 or indie. The shorts came out about right, but the camisole was still on the short side.

The other problem area was – surprise surprise – the bust. I chose a size 4 + a 3″ FBA but on reflection I wish I’d made the size 5 + a 1-2″ FBA. It’s ended up a little tight along the seam under the bust (I wear a 34 bra band) and the FBA I made to the cups (using the TATB tutorial) has added too much room side-side and not enough top-bottom.

Halterneck hack

Possibly because of these fitting niggles, I could not find a way to make the straps sit neatly on my shoulders without my boobs disappearing into my armpits. After two sessions of stabbing myself in the back with pins trying to get it right, I decided to go off-pattern and convert it into a halterneck instead. Boob issue solved – hurrah! (Let’s just hope it’s comfortable to sleep in.)

As other sewists have suggested, this pattern would make a really great gift for a sister or a much-loved friend. With the bias-cut camisole and some precision stitching needed it’s not one I’d recommend to absolute beginners, but if you’re an ‘advanced beginner’ or beyond you’ll find it a very satisfying make.

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Big Alps Beanie hat

Winter’s on the way, so I’ve tucked into some knitting over the past few weeks. My first jumper is still two sleeves short of a full set, so I switched to something easier just to get something off the needles and sewn up.

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This is the Big Alps Beanie hat, made using a kit from Stitch and Story. (It was a limited edition tie-in with Icelandic film Rams, so it may not still be on sale if you’re reading this down the line a bit.)

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The 12mm needles and superchunky merino wool meant it was really quick to knit up, once I’d sussed out how to cable… (Experienced knitters look away now.) This was my first attempt at cables. I love the way cable knitting looks – simultaneously intricate, outdoorsy, mysterious and intimidating.

It turns out it’s not really that hard. This pattern’s a good choice for a beginner cabler, because you only have to do the cabling part six times. The rest is all knit, purl and rib stitches in different sized chunks.

So this is definitely the simpler end of cable knitting. Browsing Ravelry, and the blogs of experienced knitters, can make me feel a bit queasy sometimes when I realise just how much there is to learn. (If you want to see some intricate and beautiful knitting online, may I recommend Kate Davies’ blog? Her colourwork patterns are incredible, and I would love to work up to a Braid Hills cardigan. Perhaps in my dotage.)

This hat came together pretty quickly, and I only struggled with my usual problem areas – garter mattress stitch for sewing up and attaching the pom pom securely.

My gauge was spot on, and my head is definitely not small, so be warned that this pattern comes out pretty large. Were I making it again, I think I’d make the rib section two rows shorter. But it feels lovely next to the skin and it’s very warm so I think this’ll be getting plenty of wear this winter.

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Are you knitting up a storm this autumn? Or can you point me to a great tutorial on sewing up?