know thyself

Why didn't I think of this before? A collection of swatches on a corkboard means I don't have to retrieve fabric from the basement to remind myself what it looks like (and then have to put it away again).
Why didn’t I think of this before? A collection of swatches on a corkboard means I don’t have to retrieve fabric from the basement to remind myself what it looks like (and then have to put it away again).

Going through some Shitty Stuff last fall and winter, decluttering, and getting some sewing done over the summer. The connection? I learned some things about myself and began to apply them.

The Shitty Stuff led me to be more introspective, or rather, “more introspective than usual”. (Given how introspective I already am, being more introspective is something of an accomplishment.) I realised that, although I already knew myself pretty well, there was still a lot to figure out.

First, the physical. I already knew that my colouring is soft summer (cool and muted/dusty). As for build, I’m short and slim. My horizontal measurements make me look a little broader than I like, even though my side view is narrow (I’m elliptical, using the terminology on Inside Out Style), and I’m short-waisted. Thus, waist seams bad, princess seams good. But then I got stuck trying to figure out style because in some ways I didn’t know myself well enough.

As an introvert, I will never be the life of the party, and I’m not an attention-seeker.

I recently discovered that I’m a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). Now some traits that I was already aware of began to coalesce into a pattern. Interestingly, many of these traits align well with my physical characteristics (colouring and build):

  • I’m very tuned into subtlety > soft summer colours are considered subtle and elegant; I prefer solids, but subtle stripes could work
  • sharp contrast is too “loud” > I prefer monochromatic or analogous colour schemes; I’ll take a low-contrast stripe – no black and white
  • I have a good eye for proportion
  • I like clean lines rather than fussiness > accords with advice I’ve heard for petites; I prefer to keep accessories to a minimum
  • I’m sensitive to texture > I prefer natural fibres, smooth textures (not chunky, some sheen is OK but not shine)
  • I’m graceful and quiet when I move (I keep accidentally sneaking up on people!) > this might be considered elegant
  • I like harmony, not drama > my style will be understated, not dramatic
  • my clothes have to be comfortable
  • I can easily see or feel when clothes don’t fit well (though how to fix it is a separate issue!)

Feeling out of step with the rest of the world is also pretty common among HSPs. Story of my life! Maybe this is why I can’t relate to any of the predefined styles out there. I’m petite and have a pixie cut, but I strongly dislike most things considered “feminine” (including most pinks, pastels, frills, lace and crochet, flounces, most florals, bows, blouses, blouses with bows [shudder], anything that can be described as sweet or cute). I definitely have edge and opinions; I don’t relate to much in the dramatic style but I do like garments with some structure (if I can get them to fit). I like an ethnic/worldly flavour, which suggests bohemian, but I don’t care for the fussy prints, crochet and fringe that tend to go with it – odd and authentic silver toned jewelry is better. I’m too unconventional to be “classic”, but perhaps my unconventionality is subtle. I tend to go for a uniform.

I recently did a little some image searches re basic styles. Most resources seem to focus on a handful of styles, but there isn’t a lot of consistency in which styles. International resources offer different viewpoints and different terms.

At this point, I’m investigating “Parisian chic” as a base style. Some of the premises resonate with me: invest in a capsule of good quality basics in neutral colours and natural materials; basics include a motorcycle jacket (aka moto, aka Perfecto) and well-fitting T-shirts; it’s not an overtly sexy look and always has a bit of edge; err on the side of under-dressed (although with strong basics you’ll never look schlumpy); use accessories to change up your look.

(I’ve never been huge on accessories, but I’ve got a little collection of scarves now (started as dance costume and now expanded to “real clothes”), and since I’ve organised them I’ve been playing around with them more often. They’re also make for an interesting experiment in this not particularly stylish corner of the world. No one looks twice at my muted gunmetal and purple leopard-spot pashmina, or the slightly-less-muted beige, deep pink and berry ikat cotton scarf. But a narrow, predominantly red and pink, boho-ish printed silk scarf flutters in the wind and I get Looks.)

Some Parisian basics don’t grab me quite as much: white shirt (shirt yes but white not so much, though maybe I haven’t found my best tint yet); basics in black or navy (again, perhaps a mere colouring issue – instead of black I’ll try charcoal, and instead of a deep navy maybe a medium one); trench coat (but if it fit well and wasn’t beige…).

More thought and exploration is required…

Does style spill over into other areas of your life? What sorts of style struggles do people have – especially if you sew your own clothes and theoretically have absolute control?


IMGP0670So far so good with these fabrics. The one on top I’d describe as a fine sweater knit – black and grey, with silver threads that turn into glitter and get everywhere when cut. I scored 4m for $10, 100% unknown fibre. The one on the bottom is a very plain poly knit, to be used as lining. I’d bought it a while ago with a different project in mind; I’m glad that it’s not quite as icky as I remembered it. I usually avoid synthetics like the plague, but this is for costume and I’d be surprised if I spend more than 10 hours wearing it over the course of a year.

I’m working on getting the main piece (and, with some luck, a secondary piece) done by June 22, when I have a solo at our student show.

Berroco Captiva yarn (label says the colour is 5507, but it may have recently been renumbered 7507 – Polished Iron), sequinned fabric in a stormy grey, liquid metal fabric in straight up silver.

I have some ideas for some coordinating costume pieces that I’d like to make out of this stuff, but they may or may not happen. My solo is in a style other than my usual, and our studio has no other performers and no classes in this style. If I don’t get my ideas made before this show coming up, there’s not much reason to make them afterward – unless I go out of my way to look for more opportunities to solo. The costume for my usual style is very colourful, so it could be hard to integrate any of these ideas into regular rotation. Still, I’d like to see them take form.

hello stranger!

looking south at about 4pm, the sun is already below the rooftops
looking south at about 4pm, the sun is already below the rooftops

Hello and Happy New Year! It’s been fairly quiet around here for a while now.

Blogging about my sewing (or not blogging about my sewing, or not blogging because I’m not sewing, as the case may be) has made me sufficiently mindful that I now at least have some insight as to why I’m not sewing (and/or blogging).

It turns out that the number 1 issue that I’m dealing with is a subtle fatigue. This seems to be a health thing but I don’t have any conclusive info. The wheels of inquiry have been set in motion at least: blood tests reveal nothing of interest; sample meds for one possible issue have had little or no effect; and I’ll be having a test for sleep apnea, probably in May.

So how is this relevant to sewing? As a P (as in INTP), I tend towards being indecisive at the best of times, and fatigue takes that to a whole new level. I find that there is generally no point trying to do any kind of problem-solving in the evening. Therefore, fitting (for example) can only be accomplished during daylight hours, which limits me to weekends and holidays. Further, I tend to be unproductive in the evening because I’m already wiped out.

Another, blog-specific, difficulty is getting decent photos. Indoor photos are a challenge: in this rather dark house, that activity too is limited to prime daylight hours. Outdoor photos are impossible: I might try it around 0°C, but at -20°C it’s a firm No. (At this moment, it’s -32°C, and feels like -50 with windchill.) For one thing, you wouldn’t be able to see my makes under my parka.

But I have success to report! I have managed to fit a T-shirt pattern to the dizzying standard of Good Enough! At the moment, all I have to show for it is a pile of mock-ups, but production versions are forthcoming.

So here’s a random photo of my cat instead:


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.

sorry for all the crappy photos

Problem #1


When I get home after work, it’s already dark. No outdoor photos. We can have snow for about 5 months of the year.

Problem #1a
No landscaping

Even in the summer, outdoor photos are a bit of a no go. The back yard is a bunch of dirt, a space where a deck used to be, and aged, falling-down fences on three sides. Not pretty. The front yard is small, just grass, with the only view being neighbours’ houses.

Problem #2
Dark interior

I like my house, but it’s quite dark inside. It’s pleasant for being in but crappy for photos.

Problem #3
Computer issues

My laptop isn’t working. (I’ve done precisely nothing about it, yet it’s still broken.) I’m stuck using the camera on the iPad.

Problem #4

No comment.

So yes, I’m aware of the issue, but no, it’s not likely to change any time soon!

technical difficulties are (hopefully) temporary

I haven’t posted for a while, for a few different reasons. First, I was just busy. I figure if I have limited time, my first priority is actually sewing. Blogging about it comes second.

I don’t remember what all I was busy with throughout August, but September was spent preparing for my husband’s move to England to do a PhD in history. I knew that there was going to be a black tie event to attend, and I didn’t have anything appropriate to wear. My first choice was to make something from scratch but that didn’t come together, so I refashioned a dress I had made some years ago. It began life as a very long sheath dress, but I concluded that the proportions just weren’t doing me any favours, so I whacked it off at about knee-length. Simple job (aside from the slitheriness of the silk) that updated the dress nicely. Photos? Ah, well, I’m getting to that issue.

The last week of September and the first week of October were spent in England. My husband was being a new student and doing new-student-in-a-new-country things. I was being a tourist sometimes and pit crew the rest, which made for a slightly odd and hard-to-plan-for trip. I wore the dress to the event and it worked nicely, though much was concealed due to the fact that (a) we were in a chilly 14th c chapel and so I had a shawl on most of the time, and (b) it became quite packed so no one could see below about the waist anyway. Waste of some perfectly lovely and rather uncomfortable shoes.

Since my return, there has been a major change in day to day matters, as you might expect. For the first time in about 13 years, I am responsible for all groceries, cooking and dishes. (I bake regularly, but seriously have not made supper for that long. My husband is a bit more of a picky eater than I am.) While I am eating quite a bit better than I did last time (when I was in Japan, was buying Japanese food, and didn’t have a proper cookbook), it does take up time. I now have evenings where this is all I manage to do. While I don’t mind the odd recipe on a sewing blog, it’s just not quite what I want for this blog, and my accomplishments are rather mundane. Add to that the fact that I’ve been going to bed earlier and I can’t sew when I’m tired…

In recent weeks, I’ve been trying to develop a TNT pattern for T-shirts. I know, aim high, right? I’ve got good fit to about the bust level, but I’m getting looseness and pooling around the back waist and have been unable to correct this so far. I don’t expect perfection (I don’t think I do anyway – it’s sometimes hard to maintain perspective), but there’s something odd going on. I can’t narrow down the issue – it could be swayback, or simple shortness, or improper use of a multisize pattern, or using the wrong kind of knit for my test shirts (I know it’s the wrong knit, but I’m not sure if that’s responsible for the particular issue). So this is stalled.

A few weeks ago, my laptop screen decided to stop working. It’s getting power but there are no images, so the photos that I already uploaded from the camera are trapped in  purgatory, and I’ve been too busy to try to get this resolved. I can take photos with my iPad, but it won’t load the WordPress site. Foo.

So I’m still here, still sewing (occasionally, though not really producing anything at the mo), still following other blogs, still having ideas.  My husband will be back for the Christmas break in a little under 2 weeks (!), which will shake things up again.

Are sewing blogs without photos a complete waste of everyone’s time? How do you feel about non-sewing stuff on a sewing blog?

exercises in frustration

Lo and behold, a month since my last post. What have I been up to? Lots of stuff I suppose, but precious little sewing. I started feeling like I was spinning my wheels and all I was accomplishing was getting more and more frustrated.

Here are the projects that I’m not on speaking terms with at the moment:

  • linen drawstring pants – seasonal and would be useful in my wardrobe, but I can’t decide whether the crotch curve is so off or the fabric so see-through that I shouldn’t bother finishing; seriously, the last time I picked this project up, I felt paralysed
  • Minoru jacket – too hot to be particularly useful right now; cut the front placket pieces according to the pattern but have decided midstream to make the jacket proportionately longer (hopefully more flattering) and now these pieces are too short, am agonizing whether to recut (which means buying more interfacing) or piece in patches at the bottom (which means adding a couple of thick seams – interfacing and corduroy – and deciding whether to cut on-grain or otherwise)
  • black corduroy jeans, green T-shirt – I have stalled so early on these projects that I haven’t done anything beyond washing the fabric, but at least I haven’t ruined anything
  • grey tote bag – something I’ve been designing in my head and would like to have; I pulled out some scraps to make this but just felt completely meh about actually working on it

My wardrobe needs lots of work and I had hoped to make rather than buy. I’m now willing to buy, but then I remember that nothing in the stores fits, which is a whole other frustration. Other than the tote bag idea, I note that all of these UFOs are stalled because of fit issues. Anyway, other than add a couple of tassels to my fringe belt, I’ve been on a hiatus rather than beat my head against that particular brick wall any more.

On a whim, I recently picked up a book at the library about procrastination. I found some reassurance in the early chapters, which discussed anecdotes of people causing serious problems in their lives because of procrastination, like losing jobs and marriages. If that’s professional grade procrastination, I’m a rank amateur – thankfully. But I do notice some patterns; for instance, I have paper clutter and my basement is still filled with lots of crap to get rid of. Clutter is procrastination is physical form. The paper sits because I don’t know whether I should keep it and if so where. I’m not attached to the crap in the basement but I struggle to figure out how get rid of it without (a) tossing it in the garbage or (b) having a garage sale (which to me is a form of torture). Theme: not knowing what to do, not wanting to do the wrong thing, with a dash of “I can’t just give this away – it’s worth something!”.

By and large, not a huge impediment to me, but procrastination does flare up with my sewing. I have plenty of UFOs: I get to a stage where I don’t know what to do, so I stop. I also feel I need a certain level of mental acuity to be able to make the infinite little decisions that are necessary when sewing, and when I’m tired I just can’t do it. I’m often tired. Tired + sewing = blood and/or tears, which is not a good scene. I suspect that one of my major  reasons for sewing – getting a better fit than I can buy – exacerbates my selective perfectionism, which translates into procrastination when it’s not clear to me how to address the problem I’m facing.

I’ve had a couple of ideas lately that I’m hoping will help me accomplish something (even if I continue to avoid my stalled projects), although I admit I don’t feel particularly optimistic about anything right now:

This is as far as I’ve gotten with the shirt project – taking the pattern out of the envelope. Not pictured: I’ve also calculated how much to shorten the bodice for my short waist.
  • draft a basic skirt block – on the theory of “begin at the beginning”; I rarely wear skirts, but I’m willing to give it a shot – maybe I’ll surprise myself, and I can see some applications for the waist to hip portion of the block
  • make up McCall’s 5138, a basic shirt pattern – there are a couple of details that I’m not crazy about; trying to resist the urge to change details before making it up the first time – usually a sure recipe for UFOdom in my world
  • ordered Sewaholic Cambie dress and Thurlow trousers – really hoping that the fit out of the envelope is closer than what I get from the big pattern companies

Do you get mental blocks about projects? How do you decide whether to power through for good or ill, or just give up? Is perfectionism an issue for you?

“It’s all right”

During my recent spate of organising, I ran across an interesting item, which I inherited from the previous owner of a place I used to live in. The building had commercial space on the main floor, where this fellow ran his tailoring business (well, alteration business, at any rate), and an apartment upstairs. When he left, this box (filled with miscellaneous little bits) was one of the few things behind.

Loopdeloop drawer supporter – “It’s all right”

There weren’t any of these supporters left in the box, but from what I can make out from the image and the text on the box, I think they would have been little lengths of twill tape with snaps on. You sew one end to the inside of the trousers, then feed the other end through a loop on the underwear, then snap it to itself to keep the underwear up. Keeping clothes on without elastic and lycra is a rapidly dying art, it seems.

The fonts and image on the box suggest an early 1900s look to me. Here’s the complete text (with a weak attempt at conveying the format by using heading tags):

“It’s all right.”





Patent Numbers – 645,624; 32,251; 594,797; 585,048; 507,928; 777,879.

[image of trousers]

These Trousers have the “Loopdeloop” Drawer Supporter attached on each side of Waistband. Open the Fastener and adjust the Loop of Drawers over same, like figure one; then press the button, like figure two, and “Loopdeloop” will do the rest.

Directions for sewing.- When Sewing to Trousers insert the Free End of Tape between the Lining of Waistband and Canvas. Stitch around the Edges and across the Tape where Creased.

The patents

645624 – 20 Mar 1900, ball and socket fastener (i.e. snap)

32251 – 17 May 1861, pump piston (not seeing the connection here – typo?; 532251 is for a “whiffletree”, 632251 is a clamp for molders’ flasks, and 732251 is pendent-lens eyeglasses, none of which seem applicable)

594797 – 30 Nov 1897, button

585048 – 22 Jun 1897, fastener for gloves (i.e. different kind of snap)

507928 – 31 Oct 1893, glove fastener (i.e. yet another snap)

777879 – 20 Dec 1904, supporter for drawers

So applying the method for dating a coin hoard, this box can’t be from any earlier than 1904 – let’s say 1905 because the latest patent was Dec 1904 and the box doesn’t indicate “patent pending” (assuming they would have noted that).

organising and a little mucking out

My basement is a bit of a disaster – too much stuff generally, plus insufficient organised storage, plus no plan on where to put anything in particular, plus a year and a half of generally shuffling stuff around and taking sewing stuff out then not knowing where to put it back (or simply being too lazy to put it back). Yeah, disaster.

The other morning, I started hauling everything sewing (and craft) related upstairs, finishing stage one while my husband was out. When he came in the door, he said, “Are you moving out?” Somehow it looked even more disastrous upstairs – probably because it gave a more accurate indication of how much crap there actually is.

I ended up with a number of cardboard archive boxes (all the same type, all new, and all sturdy – which pleases me greatly), which now occupy a contiguous block of shelf space in the basement, plus two large Rubbermaid tote bins nearby on the floor. The final tally:

  • 1 box of craft supplies – mostly medieval-ish (yarn, flowers, tablet-weaving cards and tools, crochet cotton, a shearling hide)
  • 1 box of craft supplies for dance costume (different yarn, different flowers, a magpie  collection of shell and metal buttons, coins, and ethnic goodies from a variety of places)
  • 2 boxes of fabric where the colour and fibre content are appropriate for clothes, all nicely folded, organised and listed on the outside of the box
  • 2 boxes of fabric for non-clothing projects, again folded, organised and listed
  • 2 boxes of fabric, folded and tidy but not so well organised and not listed (but the pieces are bigger so there aren’t many in a box)
  • 2 boxes of salvaged fabric, mostly denim (primarily for adding body to costume pieces like belts – as I think about it, I’m sure I still have too much of this) and T-shirts (which I might be able to use to practice sewing with knits, or maybe this is just taking up space)
  • 1 box of “reference” – a few items that I no longer wear but I’m saving as a starting point for making other things, and some non-standard patterns that don’t fit anywhere else
  • 1 pattern box filled with patterns (surprise)
  • 1 very small box of “narrow wares” – elastic, trim, bias tape, drawstrings, ribbon
  • 1 bin of fabric scraps
  • 1 bin of UFOs and overflow (i.e. anything else that has a more obvious home but doesn’t fit there)

Hmm, this still seems like too much. Part of my problem is that I hate throwing things in the garbage if they still can be used for something. I’m getting better about realising that I don’t have an obligation to remake the thing myself, but if I don’t, who will? I know these people exist – the difficulty is in connecting with them. And if the person who would use a given item lives on the other side of the world, does it make sense to burn the fossil fuels necessary to get the thing to them?

I’ve got a few boxes of crap to get rid of (by whatever means possible) still in the living room. One unexpected bonus of hauling everything upstairs to sort is that the stuff I want to get rid of is right beside the door. It seems psychologically much easier to keep it moving outwards, rather than just finding a different place to stick it in the basement.

how not to use yarn

I am not a knitter but I’ve had a couple of projects using different sorts of yarn. My experience is very limited and quite sporadic, which is probably why I’ve made inappropriate choices and had more failures than successes.

Euroflax, 100% linen, sport weight, 4-ply

Exhibit A: some undyed, greyish linen yarn with a utilitarian, minimalist feeling. I’m a sucker for linen and bought this without a purpose in mind. I had a medieval clothing project and, thinking the yarn looked handspun, decided to separate the plies and use it as sewing thread.

The lesson: Don’t. Having never handspun thread, my idea of the appearance of handspun thread was not helpful, in the same way that some costume designer’s idea of the look of medieval clothing is not necessarily useful for building actual medieval clothing. The resulting thread was nowhere near strong enough and I had to restitch everything (I chose to use cotton quilting thread the second time around).

Briggs & Little Sport, 100% pure wool, 1-ply in "red heather" (orangey-red), "bleached white" (ivory) and "seafoam" (heathered slatey-green). Not quite so yellow in real life.

Exhibit B: some nicely coordinating sport-weight, 1-ply wool. I had tried my hand at tablet-weaving on a short length of crochet cotton, which worked well and inspired me to make another piece. I wanted a long woollen belt, which would be more appropriate for medieval Europe than cotton. I worked out a pattern, cut the yarn into 4m lengths, threaded it all up, and began to try to weave, at which point it fought back vigorously. (Actually, it probably started fighting back at the threading stage or earlier.) I left it for years, because what can you do with a pile of cut yarn? I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting it, and I wasn’t going to throw it out because waste like that drives me nuts. So it sat in the basement, quietly mocking me.

The lessons: The texture of the wool is grabby, so it didn’t want to do anything but tangle. If one strand can tangle by itself by simply being dropped on the floor, imagine what mischief 100 or so strands can do. This suggests some kind of a “one-strand tangle test” before blithely cutting yarn for the entire project.

The wool is single ply, which I suspect makes it want to ply with (i.e. twist around) its neighbours. The different colours are all the same brand and type, but the off-white seemed to have a little more stretch than the other colours, which made it impossible to keep even tension.

The colours, although beautiful, are warm rather than cool and so they don’t even really suit me.

The other day, some of the folks from dance got together to discuss tassel belts and make some tassels. Aha! Tassels would be a good way to use pre-cut (i.e. otherwise useless) yarn, and if I don’t want to use what I make, someone else may be able to put the tassels to good use. I’ve finally disassemblemd the failed weaving project, which turns a UFO into materials, and that pleases me. It happens that I have another skein of the same yarn in a colour (mulberry) that works with a current project. My aversion to waste sometimes gets in the way of necessary experimentation, but I can use the pre-cut yarn to work out the kinks (so to speak) and still feel like I’m ahead of the game.

DMC Tapestry Wool, 100% pure virgin wool, 4-ply

Exhibit C: black tapestry wool. I was looking for some yarn to repair a thin spot on the elbow of a black sweater, so I went to the yarn shop and asked for advice. I wanted cotton because the sweater is cotton-like (secondhand, no label), but the cotton yarn available was rather thin. The clerk suggested wool because it was a better weight. My careful stitching on the elbow has become a felt patch. It’s not terrible, but it’s certainly not what I was going for!

The lesson: even a little bit of wool needs to be laundered in a wool-appropriate manner. Better yet, use the same fibre to patch – which is what I intended to do in the first place. In other words, trust my instincts.