Sew tall

P1090254
My back waist measurement is 17.5″.

I’m 5’10”. Not exactly Olympe Maxime, but definitely on the tall side of average for a woman. In fact, 5’10” is the average height of men here in the UK – but that’s a whole other story… (and completely unrelated to sewing)

If you’re tall too, then you’re probably familiar with the usual tall-person grumbles: people making the same stating-the-obvious comments about your height; never having enough legroom on planes, trains and buses; and how hard it is to find clothes to fit.

Like me, perhaps you took up sewing partly so you could recreate your favourite RTW clothes for longer arms, a longer torso or longer legs.

So what does it mean to be a taller sewist? Well, you know you’re taller than the average when:

  1. You view yardage charts with scepticism. Ms Average may be able to squeeze a summer dress out of 2m of linen, but you’re definitely going to need at least 2.3m.
  2. You get irrationally angry with pattern companies that don’t include lengthen/shorten lines and a back waist length measurement as standard. And don’t even mention those patterns with ‘no provision for above the waist adjustments’!
  3. You can slash and spread a pattern by 1/2/3″ in your sleep, and you buy masking tape in bulk.
  4. The pattern says you need a 4″ zip, so you buy a 6″ zip.
  5. You’ve been coveting one of those Simflex buttonhole gauges for all your shirts and shirtdresses – you always have to shift the buttons around.
  6. You have no fear of large, bold prints. Sunflowers? African wax print? No problems.

What have I left off this list?

And is it the exact opposite if you’re petite, or are there different things to consider?

 

 

My first me-made jeans

P1160184

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.

P1160203

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.

P1160201
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.

P1160186
I didn’t much feel like being photographed today, but Wispa wanted to put her bottom on the internet – even from this angle.

#sewtallandcreative 2017: inspiration

So a couple of weeks ago, a box of fabric arrived in the post…

P1160117

These are the four fabrics for the MARGE/Tall Guides design challenge – all remnants from the MARGE clothing range. Left to right, they are:

  1. A polyester stretch lace with a dark green leafy print, as used in the JORGINE wrap dress
  2. A dark purple, very sheer silk chiffon, which was used for the *gorgeous* INGA dress
  3. An embroidered, sheer-ish pale pink and white silk, as used in the ADA top
  4. A coral, acetate/viscose mix crepe, originally used for the LIV slip dress.

There’s between 2 and 3m of each one, and MARGE also included plenty of delicious Bemberg rayon lining in ivory and black.

The guidelines for the challenge are:

  • Each of the four tall ladies (the other three are Allison, Beth and Tiffany) must make a summer dress
  • We have to use at least two of the four fashion fabrics.

Clearly time for a rummage through my pattern library and Pinterest for some inspiration!

So many possibilities, and I expect I’ll probably change my mind about eleventy billion times between now and the next stage. I think the trickiest part for me is the idea of combining two fabrics. I don’t often colour-block or use multiple fabrics in the same make, so it’ll be good to expand my horizons.

So (or should that be ‘sew’?), what would you make? Which two fabrics do you think would combine most successfully?

Other posts about #sewtallandcreative2017

  1. A tall order – the challenge launch
  2. (This post)
  3. Design process and choosing a pattern
  4. Construction
  5. The finished dress…

 

A tall order – the MARGE/Tall Guides sewing challenge

LargeHeaderDesignChallenge

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.)

I love meeting other taller-than-average women who sew, so I’ve signed up to take part in the MARGE/Tall Guides #sewtallandcreative2017 design challenge. Alongside three inspiring tall sewists – Allison, Beth and Tiffany – I’ll be using leftover fabrics from MARGE’s most recent collection to create something new.

(If you haven’t heard of MARGE before, it’s a high-end US clothing brand, specifically designed for taller women.)

If you’re tall, was it part of the reason you wanted to learn to sew? And for you, what’s the best thing about being tall?

Other posts about #sewtallandcreative2017

2. Inspiration

3. Design ideas and choosing a pattern

4. Construction process

5. The finished dress…

 

Bar tacks – denim v machine

P1150994
After – one good, one a bit messy

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.

Nothing to do with the Dior Bar Jacket, or this rather stylish eatery in Amsterdam (which is pretty much all you’ll find if you search Instagram for #bartack).

How do you do a bar tack?

It’s a lot like a buttonhole stitch – a short, narrow zigzag stitch. For jeans, it’s usually done with the same topstitching thread as the other decorative stitching.

This Seamwork feature shows you how and when you might use a bar tack, and some more decorative variations.

The Closet Case fly front zipper post in the sewalong for the Ginger jeans has tips on achieving the perfect bar tack on stretch denim.

Sadly, my machine didn’t want to follow the instructions.

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 20.56.04
This was my machine’s initial reaction to be asked to sew a bar tack

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.

After a cry for help on Instagram, some helpful suggestions came back. (Thank you @liwarlin, @heatherarnatt and @penguinandpear.)

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.

 

 

Knitted mittens

P1150947

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!

p1150865
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…

 

Sewing in snippets

p1150800

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

Tips from Craftsy, Melly Sews, Tilly and the Buttons and Lladybird on sewing more quickly.

What sorts of sewing tasks do you tackle if you only have five or ten minutes? And am I the only person left in the entire sewing community who still uses pins?

 

 

Wedding planner

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.

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.

p1150685
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.

p1150690
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…

p1150674
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.

p1150668

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?