new process and forward motion

It’s been almost two months now since I instituted my new approach to finding time for sewing. Because there are always lots of little decisions to make when sewing, and I’m generally tired and indecisive in the evening, I prefer to sew with “morning brain”. That means that weekday evenings are out. Also, I always feel like there’s something else I should be doing on a Saturday morning, like cleaning or provisioning. So I’ve assigned sewing to a three-hour slot on Sunday morning (I give myself 3 hours from whenever I get started, even if it’s after 10).

I’ve assigned other weekend tasks to other time slots, so not only do I allow myself to sew during sewing time, but I also don’t permit myself to do the other stuff. I don’t have to worry about spending too much time on sewing either, since I have a “budget”; if I want to come back sewing after I’ve done my other tasks, I can, though I haven’t yet.

This system has been working well for me so far. One thing I’ve noticed is that once I start sewing, I don’t want to stop. I originally assigned the slot to sewing and laundry, but I’ve been noticing that I haven’t wanted to count laundry time against the total. It’s is a bit of a surprise for me, since my prior routine was: think about sewing, decide I was too tired, don’t bother starting.

I’m also getting a better idea of how much time I spend on projects. (A lot.) Research often takes a lot of time, and I take my sweet time cutting too. I could speed up if I wanted to, but I don’t think I want to. This isn’t a race, and it isn’t an attempt to create a vast, teetering pile of stuff. I have no desire to transform the stash (which is by definition essentially unusable as is) into a pile of garments that I don’t like enough to actually use. Why waste my time? Sometimes my research crosses the line into agonizing, but as long as I’m learning and moving forward I think it’s all good. If I keep working on a particular fit or skill, eventually I’ll get there and I won’t agonise any more.

Actually, a nice side effect that I wasn’t anticipating is that when I have three hours to fill with sewing, I agonise a little bit then get bored with it, which seems to push me to make a decision faster than I would have if I’d completely changed gears. This is good.

I have two current projects. One doesn’t look like anything yet. The other one is almost there so I think I’ll wait for the big reveal. However, to pique your interest, here are the fabrics I’m working with.

Top: medium weight linen in “wisteria”. Bottom: polyester knit, background is plum.

grey trousers revisited

I made these trousers shortly before I started blogging and never posted about having made them as the intention of the blog was to encourage me to make new stuff, rather than talk about old stuff – not that I’ve stuck with that religiously or anything.

This was the first pair of pants that I made using the fitting shell that I got help with. I was excited to use a pattern that was properly fitted to me, so when it didn’t turn out very well, I was disappointed.

As I mentioned elsewhere, the fabric (a light to medium weight linen-cotton blend) is rather lighter and has a different hand than the fabric of the fitting shell (medium weight poly-cotton twill). I made up the trousers according to the pattern and found them big, but I figured that the problem was that I was using the “wrong fabric” and I hoped that a belt would more or less fix things. Umm, no. Of course, I could only find this out after having put on a waistband and belt loops. Sigh.

A bit shapeless, and excess width is apparent at waist. Belt loops and waistband have been removed.
Excess width is apparent at waist. Otherwise, not horrendous.
Excess width still apparent at waist. Wrinkling at back crotch and upper thigh points to insufficient length at back crotch point, I think.

I had thought that, because the fabric was linen-cotton and fairly lightweight and thus summery, I should make the trousers on the wider side. However, I’m now starting to think that unless the fabric drapes like mad, wide trousers and I shouldn’t mix. In preparation for this revision, I compared the recommended minimum wearing ease for waist, hip, thigh (1″, 2-3″, 2-3″) to the actual ease of the trousers (3″, 5″, 3″). By any account the waist ease is excessive, which I somehow hadn’t noticed before. The reason for this, I suspect, is that trousers that fit my bottom and thighs are always way loose in the waist. In other words, I likely didn’t spot the problem right away because all my pants do this!

Took off the belt loops and waistband, then sewed a new outseam a whopping ½” from the old, which took off 2″ from the waist and hip but only 1″ from the thigh. Way better, but still a touch loose at the waist. Took it in a smidge more at the waist tapering to nothing by the hip.

Where to put the waistband? In other words, should I put the waistband on so that the trousers sit on the body the way they do now, or should I hike them up a smidge?

1. As is, they look pretty good from the back, although there is evidence that they have become a little short through the back crotch extension/back inseam. The front, however, makes a little fold across the crotch, which seems to indicate excessive crotch length.

2. If I pull the trousers up a touch, they look good in the front, as this gets rid of the fold. But this exacerbates the short back-crotch-extension issue.

Down a little – nice(ish) in the back. Up a little – nice in the front. The crotch curve on the trousers is at the same height in front and back, so this suggests to me that I need to change the angle so it’s higher in front and lower in the back. (And throw in a slightly longer back crotch extension while I’m at it.)

However, I got a bit of help from a skilled seamstress-friend of mine. We made up a new muslin/toile from the altered fitting shell pattern. This muslin had the same crotch weirdness although she said it looked fine in the back. She opened up the inseam at the top, made the seam allowance on the front crotch a smidge (like 7mm) wider, sewing along the original stitching line along the back crotch. This got rid of that irritating little front fold. I’ll file that tidbit away for future reference.

Made a waistband (inside and outside, one piece each) using my draped belt pattern and tried interfacing one side with denim from salvaged jeans. This… didn’t work. I had to rip it all out because the denim was too thick, and thus the seam allowance inside the waistband was lumpy. Also, the turn of cloth didn’t work properly and nothing really fit nicely.

I had to eyeball the placement of the waistband in relation to the top edge of the pants as I knew the top edge was all wrong for me. This required a lot more work than I want to put in on a regular basis. Getting the flat pattern right has now come up in my list of priorities because I do not want to have to do it this way again.

Trundled along at a snail’s pace attempting to get everything as right as I could make it. Immediately after finishing the waistband, I discovered two irritating things: (1) the waistband at CF wasn’t matching up evenly on each side (despite the pains I took), and there’s a little more zipper exposed on one side than the other; and (2) because I didn’t do a zipper shield, the width of the back part is narrow, which leaves very little room to attach a closure. Seriously, I noticed these things within 2 min of finishing, and to correct them requires a lot more effort than I’m willing to put into them now.

Oops, you can't see the waistband under the T-shirt. Fit is closer and better.
More wrinkling evident from side - I assume because I took out width.
Wrinkling from back not much worse. Left crotch point as is.

Conclusion: wearable, if not the most appropriate fabric for early winter when I finished them; looks better on me than any store-bought pants; flaws are rather minor and as irritating as they are, I think I can live with them though I do hope not to repeat these particular errors. However, I do not love these pants and I probably won’t wear them much. Meh. But a learning experience, right?

purple trousers revisited

I hadn’t been wearing these trousers lately, as I found them uncomfortable. But I recently started thinking that they might be salvageable.

The problem

After I wore them a few times, I knew they were uncomfortably snug through the thigh. I was recently reminded that you should measure the thigh while sitting, which I hadn’t done. I researched wearing ease, and then compared the recommendations for waist, hip, thigh (1″, 2-3″, 2-3″) to the ease present in these trousers (1″, 2″, ½”). Aha!

Reviewing my original post about these pants, I note that I recorded the thigh ease as 1½” at that time. While that’s still low, it’s more than what I have now. Why the difference? The only thing I can think of is that I walk more and climb more stairs than I did when I made them. I guess I wore them so rarely that I didn’t notice the change in my shape (none of my other pants fit this closely, so they weren’t giving me the message) and put it all down to having done a poor fitting job in the first place.

The attempted fix

I let the thighs out at the side seams to provide the recommended ease and they felt way better. However, they looked worse and the alteration seemed to create more wrinkling at the back crotch. OK, so something is going on there.

I let out the inseams at the crotch. I had to patch in a small piece on back right and left to make a longer back crotch extension (added about 1½” in length). This now gave me loads of room, so I brought the side seams back in.

The change to the back crotch negatively affected the front crotch (as predicted) by causing a ‘bubble’ below the zipper. I tried to fix this by straightening the seam below the zipper (as per Pants for Real People), which brought the front curve down a little. It still looks odd and I don’t think I can fix it given that the zipper is in already; perhaps if I make these corrections at the outset rather than as a later alteration, I’ll have more success. I hope.

before: definitely pulling at back crotch

How did I get here?

In the first iteration of these pants, I raised the CB for my full bottom. (I think I also added to the hip at the side seam, or took away from the waist at the side seam for much the same result.) I don’t recall adding much, if any, at the back inseam. But these wrinkles at back crotch look like what Pants for Real People calls “smiles”; they recommend letting out the inseam (making a longer crotch extension).

Having researched the “protruding buttocks adjustment” (how clinical that sounds) during this process, I discovered that it requires:

  • more height at CB
  • more width at side seam at hip level, and
  • longer back crotch extension

Why didn’t I just do the complete PBA in the first place? I thought my pattern was pretty close, since I had had help with it. I guess it wasn’t as close as I thought, and it needed more significant surgery than a tweak here and a tweak there. In future, I would probably benefit from doing another muslin or two (ugh), taking my existing pattern and applying the PBA. I’ve found a couple of methods, so in the spirit of scientific inquiry, I should reduce the variables (same pattern as a starting point, same fabric), and try every method to see which works best for me.

Current status

after: slightly less pulling? or is that wishful thinking?
after: looking a little odd in front because of the changes to crotch length

I think the patch job helped the wrinkles at the back, which encourages me to try a proper PBA. However, the patch was at the top of the inseam only (not right down to the knee), so they get weirdly snug at mid-thigh. Sigh. Not comfy to sit in, and not flattering. The best I can hope for is that this was a learning experience.

What I learned from this revision

  • the pattern that I had help with is still far from perfect
  • the PBA has 3 elements (CB, side hip, back crotch extension) and you have to do them all
  • what “smile” wrinkles look like in fabric (as opposed to in a drawing), what a too short back crotch looks like
  • when adding to the crotch extension, you need to let out the inseam to the knee (at least)
  • fit problems in homemade garments look different from fit problems in RTW – not because RTW is better, but because they make different ‘mistakes’ than I do
  • pants are difficult to fit, and even people who do lots of sewing are sometimes intimidated by sewing pants

Intellectually, I’m certain that I’ve made some progress with fitting. However, I’m still far from being confident in my ability not to mangle good fabric irretrievably. I’m going to need a project where the fitting is less miserable so I can have a tangible accomplishment and not be tempted to give up on sewing completely.

a simple dressy top

I’ve been looking over the body shape analysis over at Inside Out Style, and I figured that I was likely an X (hourglass) or A (pear). If I’m an A, then the wisdom would be to keep hips free of ornamentation, show the waist, and add fullness at the shoulders to balance out the hips – so I bought this pattern:

Butterick 5497

But then I kept reading the blog and found other body shapes, like the 8 (similar to X but carrying weight higher on the hip). I then looked at how she measures shoulder width, and I think my shoulders may actually be wider than my hips. So I’d be a V (inverted triangle). In short, I have no idea, so I’ll just have to make up the damn thing and see how it looks.

I picked up some interesting black synthetic knit with silver thread in it. I don’t expect it to be particularly comfortable (I rarely wear synthetics) but that’s OK because it’s meant to be a special occasion top.

Black sparkle knit. In real life, it reads much more black. The sparkle is silver - not sure where the aqua tone came from.

I didn’t make a muslin but started mucking with the pattern right away. I’m doing the long-sleeved version (view C) and I noticed that the sleeve is drafted at a rather low angle for being so loose at the top of the sleeve and so narrow at the wrist. My worry was that this would constrict the range of motion.

Butterick 5497 diagram

Because I can’t leave well enough alone, I redrafted it so the top of the sleeve is on the horizontal. Hey, while I’m at it, why not put that horizontal on the fold? The shoulders are supposed to get some ruching by means of short lengths of elastic stitched into the SA. Only I don’t have an SA there now. Not sure exactly how this will play out, but I’ll think of something when I get there.

My first draft is not made of win. The measurements suggested that the length would be fine from shoulder to below bust. Not so much. It looks sloppy and dumpy, but if I hoik it up an inch or two, it’s not bad. And then I could just shorten it using… that seam I just drafted out of the pattern. Oh well. I guess I’ll have to rip out the under-bust seam. There’s a funny curve on the front seam, which bows up towards the bust. I’m sure this is supposed to have some practical application, but the effect is to create an extra flap for drooping. Not good. Since I’m ripping that seam out anyway, I’ll straighten it out like I wanted to when I first eyeballed the shape.

As this top wasn’t going terribly well, and because I’d like to make a pair of pants/trousers by early May, I thought I should put this project down and start on the trousers. Was going to get rolling on it last night, but oops, somehow this fabric escaped the pre-wash. Washed it and hung it up to dry this morning, and thought I should at least pull out the pattern pieces and see about marking the fabric. Oops, I have no idea where that pattern is après move.

T-shirt 2

After the heady success of making a T-shirt that I actually want to wear, I decided to have another go using another piece from the stash.

While making t-shirt 1, I added the adjustments to the pattern as I went along so I was able to cut t-shirt 2 with the knowledge that it was going to more or less fit. What a treat that is!

I did the shoulder seams, stabilizing with scraps of the same fabric cut on the straight grain, as per my inspiration shirt. (I hate the idea of having to buy all kinds of notions for a project. I particularly hate the idea of buying plastic for the purpose.) I stalled until I could have a look at the neckline tutorial again. I only had to put the binding in once this time, although I did have to go back to remove a pucker. It was a snug fit over my head, but close enough. Now I think I may actually prefer it this way – I suspect it’ll help prevent the neckline from stretching out of shape.

I topstitched the neckline with the double needle, which seemed to work rather well. Then in a (for me) fit of productivity, I sewed the side seams (leaving a little extra room at the  hip to try to address a fit issue at the back waist), trimmed the seam allowances, pressed the hem and cuffs, and sewed them up. Bang – wearable – just like that! (Yes, for me a week is “just like that”.)

black t-shirt
I get wrinkles across the small of my back. My thought is that the waist could be taken in and the hip let out, both on the back piece. Not sure.

I’m sure I’ll make more of these. I have one more piece of fabric in the stash to get through before I’ll permit myself to buy anything else. The neckline takes a bit of finessing and while not difficult, is just tricky enough to make me think twice about getting out my scissors right this moment.

Finally! Free of the shackles of the callous t-shirt overlords!

stash: -1.5m

T-shirt win!

Well, it took a month and a half, but I finally have a wearable T-shirt! Not much of a sweatshop at this rate 😉 I tried to ignore the fact that the pattern is described as “very easy”, because I expect it to be fast. But it’s only fast once (if!) the fitting is sorted out.

100% cotton rib knit (red) for my first T-shirt

I rarely have time for (or interest in) an all-day sewing binge. I figure that if I do a little sewing here and there, it’ll eventually all add up to something. Like trying to break out of prison using a spoon, I’ll eventually get where I’m going, and with sewing I don’t even have to worry about the guards noticing what I’m up to.

RTW T-shirt that I used for inspiration. I have a total of 4 of these in different colours.

1. Neckline

After accomplishing a neckline that wouldn’t admit my head, I redid it using the method shown here: And it worked! It’s just what I was going for in look and fit. I topstitched with a zigzag to keep the seam allowance in place. It looks a little odd to me since I’ve never seen ready-to-wear (RTW) finished this way, but it does the job and doesn’t look bad.

2. Sleeves & body

I inserted the sleeves flat, leaving the side seam/sleeve seam for last. Why do the instructions always insist you insert them in the round? RTW sleeves aren’t done that way, and I figure they probably know what they’re doing.

I easestitched the sleeve caps as per the instructions, the first iteration (at 4/8″ SA) working better than the second (at 5/8″). I pin basted it together to try on and the sleeve caps looked really odd: too much height and no obvious need for easing. The body was loose as well; while it resembled the drawing on the front, it’s not what I wanted.

I took it apart, narrowed the high bust by shifting the armscyes inward, and at the same time made them smaller. I also narrowed the body by taking in 1″ (4″ all around!) at the waist and below (after I had sized up at the hip for my pear shape), and tapering to ½” (2″ all around) at the bottom of the armscye.

The pattern made the sleeve cap way too high, so I faked it: I trimmed ¼” off each side of the sleeve (using my existing shirt as a model), then pinned the sleeve to the body so that it seemed to lie nicely. I didn’t make any effort to maintain the apparently excessive ease. Using this method, I took 1″ off of the height of the sleeve cap! But it works.

3. Sleeves and body part 2

I put everything back together and found it was still a little loose. Referring to the existing shirt that I was trying to replicate, I ended up narrowing the sleeve another ¼” per SA (½” total), and the side seams another ¼” per SA (1″ total).

4. Hemming

I thought I’d try a double needle. Lo and behold, they were even on sale! It was tricky to do the (narrow) cuffs, but I just went slowly and it turned out surprisingly well.

Of my photos of the shirt, this one sucks the least.

Sewing with a knit was new for me, as was the double needle. It was also a novelty to make something so, well, ordinary. I haven’t made a lot of “real clothes”. The delightful upshot was that the next morning I put it on and wore it all day – and was comfortable. That’s not something you can easily do with medieval costume, dance costume, or special event fancies.

How cool is it to make your own wearable clothes? How odd is that I’ve been sewing for years and I’m only figuring this out now?

stash -1.5m

attempt at a T-shirt

Inspired by Tanit-Isis, like so many others, I decided to try something out of my comfort zone. For me, this was knits.

I wear a lot of long-sleeve T-shirts, so I thought this would be the place to start. It also has the benefit of being a bit of a stash-buster: I had the same bright idea a number of years ago but didn’t get beyond “step 1. buy some fabric on sale”.

I was looking for plain, long-sleeve, crew-neck, fitted. View B of Butterick 5386 (leopard) was the closest I got, and the only thing missing is the crew neck. This one is more of a scoop. And it was cheap.

I traced the pattern pieces, shortened the torso by an inch, and redrew the neckline smaller. The shoulders looked way too sloped, especially compared to the T-shirt I have that I was using for inspiration, but I figured I should at least try to make it according to the pattern, so I left it as is. I sewed the shoulder seams, tried it on, and ended up with flaps near my ears. Then I angled the shoulders down so they looked right. And they were. Lesson learned: I have a fairly good eye for proportion and angles; I should learn to trust it.

I then cut the neckline (having just cut straight across at first). I’ve actually done a number of simple necklines, so getting the right shape wasn’t too hard. I was extra pleased when, after I’d already cut it out, I folded the shirt-to-be in half along the CF-CB line and found that the two sides matched pretty much perfectly.

I didn’t want to finish it according to the instructions. In fact, I’m doing very little by way of assembly according to the instructions. It calls for the neckline to simply be turned under and stitched. At first I was going to attach a band (so that the folded edge of the band is the inside circumference of the neck), but then I decided to bind the edge the way my inspiration T-shirt is done. (This is basically the same as binding with bias tape, only because it’s a stretch you don’t need to cut the tape on the bias.)

I stitched the band to the wrong side using a shallow zigzag for some stretch. For the right side, I couldn’t figure out what stitch, if any, I had on my simple machine that would look decent and maintain the stretch. So I decided to hand stitch it. Looks not bad. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be able to get my head through it now.

This will slow things down a bit. Some possible ways of getting past this issue:

  • give up on my method and do it according to the instructions
  • use a double needle (which involves walking 20 min to the fabric store, buying a double needle, 20 min back [for a total of 40 min of winter] and figuring out how to use it)
  • go with my first thought of how to apply the band

However, I’m busy with work these days (and teaching my first dance class tonight!), so it’ll have to wait.

red linen skirt progress

I’m pleased to report that the red linen skirt project is proceeding nicely.

I last made one in 2008, and I seem to recall thinking at that time that I wouldn’t want to make more than one per year because of the labour involved. I doubt it’s gotten any easier in the interim, but somehow it seems like much less of a chore this time around.

Perhaps that’s because I spent as much time dicking around with the fit on a couple of recent and theoretically straightforward projects (the purple trousers, and an earlier iteration of that same project) as it takes to construct a whole pleated skirt.

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