Winter Blahs

My wardrobe lacked a transitional coat. I’ve got plenty of jackets, one heavy-duty winter coat, and nothing in the middle. I also wanted a nice coat. A “nice coat”, in my mind, is a tiny bit dressy but also timeless. I had hoped this pattern/project could be both – a simple clean silhouette in a classic color with a few details that caught my eye – but unfortunately, I think it looks like I’m wearing a crumpled brown paper sack.

But for good or ill it cost a fair amount, it’s the exact right weight for the tepid gloomy winter this year, and I don’t need two transitional coats, so I’m stuck with this disappointing bag for who knows how long. Its soul is beige. Blah.

The pattern is the Bamboo coat from Waffle Patterns. They offer many more exciting pattern options and have a great reputation for cool outerwear, but I was a little nervous about the directions, so I picked simple. I liked the length of this pattern, the back shoulder darts, the back vent, and the hidden button placket. After comparing the sleeve and hip measurements to the Yates coat I made in late 2019, I cut size 40 sleeves, a 42 bust dart, and a 46 everywhere else. The largest available size is a 48. Looking at these photos, I wonder how many of my issues could have been solved by cutting a 48. Certainly some!

The directions are indeed really uneven. The hidden button placket? Perfectly clear, piece of cake. I really liked this detail because I doubted my ability to sew perfectly neat buttonholes (and was not motivated enough to bind them, frankly) and because I could use cheap buttons while I figured out what I really wanted. In fact, I used buttons leftover from the very first project I posted on this blog! I also found this purrfect coordinating cotton for the hidden placket innards (color matching is my favorite sport).

The welt pockets did me in, though! I sewed both at once and my final results were so warped and tortured-looking that after trying all evening to steam and press the coat fronts flat, I ultimately unpicked the welts, interfaced the backs of the openings, and patched over the snip lines with more of that cotton. I had to cut patch pockets from my scraps and hike up their placement to conceal the cotton patches after that. It’s better, but not best.

I also struggled with aspects of the lining. What, praytell, is the lower of the inset boxes meant to illustrate? Because it’s certainly not the arrangement of lining/shell that the black arrow indicates.

I fudged some sort of pleat there, as shown. At least pleating-to-fit covers a lot of sins.

But my biggest issue was the collar. It wasn’t so much how they described the collar application as the application itself, which resulted in BY FAR the thickest and most strained arrangement of seam allowances possible right where the collar and the lapel were supposed to meet in a neat corner. It was deadly! Actually unwearable, in my opinion. I attempted to fix it by unpicking the top collar from the facing and the bottom collar from the outer, re-sewing the collar as a single piece, and then sandwiching the collar piece between the neckline edges and sewing them down by hand. No pictures of the before, but this lumpy zone constitutes a vast improvement.

You might think at this point I knew the coat was going to be a flop, but I didn’t! I was still kind of excited about it! The drafting was consistently good, with lots of notches that matched well, some interesting new-to-me techniques (like snipping thick darts open), and plenty of pattern markings. So I had faith in the pattern, which, alas, I allowed to replace my own judgment.

This coat is ‘tailored’ with fusible interfacing, same as the Yates coat I sewed several years ago, but by comparison this one calls for way too much interfacing. Also, take a peek at the Yates interfacing guide, in particular the diagonal slash through the upper front/lapel interfacing. That’s the roll line! In this coat, the interfacing made no accommodation for a roll line, and I didn’t think to add one! No wonder it’s bulky and graceless. I’m just kicking myself. By the time I noticed I would have had to undo a huge amount of stitching, including my weird collar surgery, and I wasn’t sure I could finagle that again.

But none of this would really matter if I loved the finished coat, which I don’t. It doesn’t love me either. It’s just so blah. By the time of the final try-on I was so over it that I didn’t even blind-stitch the cuffs in place – I just tacked them down in one or two places each and called it a day.

This sadsack of a coat would probably drape better if I had used a traditional slippery lining fabric, but the lining is the one thing I’m willing to go to bat for.  

It’s Lady McElroy cotton lawn and it’s smooth and crisp and beautiful and it’s squandered here, though just as I hoped and expected, the camel linework on the dogs plays so nice with the outer fabric, and if this was indeed a nice coat I would be so excited about that. Oh, and I added a hanging loop.

Cool.

The fabric for this project came from Minerva, except for the interfacing and coordinating cotton, from my stash and Gather Here respectively. I mentioned a couple posts ago that I probably wouldn’t order from Minerva again. This is the perspective of an American, so take that into account! As I see it, the Minerva pros include: a large selection, a decent search filter, and pretty good user buy-in, so that you can often see a fabric and a finished garment immediately below. I also love that you can order fractional yardage (or I guess more accurately, meterage!). My personal cons: a long shipping time (for obvious reasons), higher prices (I spend dollars, and the fabric is priced in pounds), and – and this could easily have happened in shipping, not packaging, and not be Minerva’s fault at all – a strong bad odor when I unwrapped the fabric. My wool and cotton lawn both smelled powerfully of cigarette smoke. I washed the cotton lawn in the washer and aired out the wool, and luckily both are now odorless, but I’m still feeling gun-shy. Especially because of the wool! That could have gone really, stinkily wrong!

Of course, I’m not going to have to get wool from anywhere for ages, because this coat is going to last for a really long time. BLAAAH!

Pattern: Waffle Patterns Bamboo coat

Pattern cost: $13.59

Size: sleeves 40; bust dart 42; otherwise 46

Supplies: 2.5 meters of Minerva Core Range Melton Wool Blend Coating Fabric in Camel; 1.7 meters of Lady McElroy Marlie Cotton Lawn Fabric in Navy, Minerva; 1/2 yard of Kona Cotton in Biscuit, Gather Here, $103.99; thread, Michael’s, $2.09; buttons, interfacing from stash

Total time: 19.75 hours

Total cost: $119.67

Chambray Mojis

It’s January, and in my house that means lounge pants! It also means split pea soup, sweeping up pine needles, and at least this year, bizarrely mild New England weather. I haven’t seen a single snowflake yet so these particular lounge pants have been suitable indoors and out.

They’re the Seamwork Moji pants, a now-discontinued pattern that I downloaded in the early days of Seamwork. I actually just peeked into my Seamwork library and discovered that it also includes digital versions of patterns I bought paper copies of through the erstwhile Colette website – is it just me or is that very classy? I’m no longer a member because I find subscription models overwhelming & demotivating, but props, team!

When Professor Boyfriend and I were in Portland, Maine, this fall, one of the shops we visited (in addition to just…so many used bookstores) was Z Fabrics, which combines a small footprint with an impressive selection. Professor Boyfriend picked out some Ventana twill and I was thrilled to find an in-person selection of Brussels Washer Linen. After a whole lotta waffling I got 2 yards of Chambray.

I wasn’t sure exactly what pants I would make; I considered woven Hudsons, but I hadn’t used that pattern for a while and I didn’t feel like increasing the rise. The pattern was updated to be mid-rise, but I got my copy back when it was looow. Plus I don’t like patterns sitting unused, even in a digital file, so I gave Moji a whirl for the first time. I’m glad I sewed these now and not in 2015 or whatever because I did a much better job picking my size!

According to the chart, I should have used a size 12, because of my 42” hips. However, the finished garment measurements for a 12 are only 42 ¾” at the hip. I wouldn’t consider ¾” ease to be the “relaxed fit” the pattern describes. So I decided on size 16, with a 46 ¾” finished hip.

However, my test square printed up a little small – 1/8” shy of the correct 4” measurement, which doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up (simplest math: over a 32” inch span that’s a whole lost inch!). So instead I cut an 18, which would have been 48 ¾” at the hip, except when you reduce that according to the slightly-too-small test square is more like 47 ¼”. Call it a size 17. No further decision-making or grading necessary after that point, though.

The fabric requirements for a size 16/18 are 2.5 yards of 60” wide fabric, and I had 2 yards of 52” wide fabric. I was perfectly willing to piece a crotch extension as needed, but actually I was able to fit every piece entirely on my yardage by placing one front leg off-grain. And not a single useable full-width inch remaining. My leftovers box is glad!

I made one more trivial change, which was squaring the curve of the front pocket, Battlestar Galactica-style.

This was because I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t initially realize the pocket was designed to be fully lined. I feel more confident that I can make a smooth, neat, small curve with a lining than with a folded-over seam allowance, but I’d already cut the fabric, so I went ahead and lined my no-right-angles version. I also had already cut bum pockets as large my leftover fabric allowed, so I lined those too for consistency.  

I placed the back pockets unsuccessfully – the height is okay (4” down from + parallel to the waistband), but they’re centered on each leg piece, and since the center back doesn’t gather as much as I expected when wearing these, the pockets look too far apart. I assumed the back leg would scrunch evenly, but the pants gather more to the front sides. Wider pockets would have helped, too. They’re not Godawful or anything; they’re just not ideal.

On the other hand, my cool smart move was combining elastic with the drawstring. I installed eyelets and sewed the channel as directed (with the addition of some interfacing to back the hardware) before cutting my 1 yard of drawstring in half.  It’s not as obvious as the ends fray, but the string is actually a tube – I grabbed a piece of ¼” elastic I had kicking around, tucked its ends into the tube, and topstitched the heck out of it. Then I fed the combination elastic-drawstring through the channel.

The drawstring is still functional while the elastic stays hidden, so it’s comfortable and flexible, if a tad inclined to droop. I don’t really like the skinny channel in this average-width waistband – it makes the top edge a little frilly – but that’s easily changed if I make another pair.

My final quibble is the faux cuffs. I know I was playing the fool with grainlines and this fabric can easily change shape, but they didn’t match my on-grain leg either. Both cuffs were much too wide at the top edge. I narrowed them on the fly and topstitched them in place, but I don’t love the finish.

I’d much rather have a hem or a proper cuff. I also French seamed everything so I’m not ashamed for my side seams to show if I fold cuffs up for real!

Quibbles and all, though, this project was worthwhile! These are comfortable and casual and so far have stood up to the weather. If we ever got properly wintery, I wouldn’t mind a second pair in something like black velvet. Ideally, exactly like black velvet. Where are you buying your velvet nowadays?

And if I haven’t said it yet: happy new year!!

Pattern: Seamwork Moji pants

Pattern cost: $5.00 (estimated)

Size: 17 (around 97% of a size 18)

Supplies: 2 yards of Robert Kaufman Brussels Washer linen/rayon blend in Chambray, Z Fabrics, $27.41; drawstring, Gather Here, & thread, Michael’s, $4.38

Total time: 6.5 hours

Total cost: $31.79

Time and Money 4

I’m here to calculate my time & money expenditure for 2022, and at a guess: a lot, and a lot? I definitely made some big purchases this past year, though usually not indulgences – this hobby (lifestyle? Eww. Lifestyle-hobby? Eh,) feels noticeably more expensive lately compared to other years. Heck, it was never cheap, but this has been the steepest jump in the cost of patterns and supplies I can think of. Or more accurately, that I can vibe on, because I’m just about to run the numbers! We’ll see if my hunch is correct!

Also, I sewed one major project that hasn’t hit the blog yet. It’s a coat; I’ll photograph and write that up soon, but it’s definitely going to weigh on the numbers.

So let’s bake a data pie. Yes let’s!

Awesome. Right off the bat, my OOP costs are up a lot (from $441.57 last year to $695.73 this year). About 60% higher. That said, my total costs (including gift cards, materials by/for Professor Boyfriend, etc.), are pretty close – $911.88 last year to $949.04 this year, which is a 4% increase. That’s lower than inflation right now.

Fair enough: hunch wrong! I seem to have a natural governor that keeps my spending pretty stable from year to year, though keyed to a simple number and not actual buying power.

One more year of tracking this stuff should give me enough information to really figure out my own purchasing trends/habits, or at least make charts of them! And of course no single chart tells the whole story; if I’d spent those totals on two or three garments, this set of numbers would feel very different. That $28.49 wedge for patterns does represents just one purchase: I used a gift card to buy the Olya shirt paper pattern, and I feel like a stranger to myself every time I think about it! Moneybags over here!

I bought (or sewed for the first time) 19 new-to-me patterns this year, 2 of which I’ve yet to make. This includes my copycats and a fair few freebies. Even counting in the Olya, I only spent about $5.00 per pattern. Well, that’s not absolution, but it’s not bad.

I made 44 items this year, including gifts and muslins. Average OOP per item, $15.81; counting gift cards etc., $21.50. I bought some socks and underwear this year, but as usual sewing represents the lion’s share of what it costs to clothe an average human me.

I spent 223.5 hours actually making stuff – that’s just over 4 hours a week, about 5 hours per garment. Just for fun, using the total cost number, it cost me about 4 bucks an hour to sew. That number is essentially meaningless and reflects nothing useful, but it made me laugh to find out!

But *what* did I pay 7¢ a minute to create?

Skirts have been creeping up (in my spreadsheet, I mean, MIND LIKE A SINK), as have knit tops, but in general the distribution is as always towards everyday garments. More tees than dresses, etc. Also, note the lack of a ballgown wedge. This is relevant because one of my two newly-bought unsewn patterns is for, you guessed it, a ballgown. Um. Self-knowledge is never going to be perfectly complete, I guess.

5 of the 44 items were for Professor Boyfriend; 7 were gifts or experiments that I didn’t plan to keep; 3 were bellyflops. My most expensive failure was this Patina blouse, which I hated. I eventually cut it up and reassembled it plus the relevant fabric scraps into some shorts, which I made well, peacefully disliked, and released into the world as someone else’s problem. That’s a not-quite 7% rate of failure. I love my new-to-2022 “planned giveaway” categorization. It makes me look so darn successful!  

Fabric type fabric type, let’s talk about fabric type!

It was a year without rayon! Well, that’s not entirely true, one of the poly blend knits had some rayon in the mix, but mostly I avoided it! I just don’t like sewing rayon very much. I also didn’t particularly enjoy the tencel twill or the polyester blends (different ends of the virtue barbell, both alike in dignity (by which I mean I don’t like either of ‘em, so nuts to those)). Anything wool or linen or cotton though, including velvet, which I treat exactly like corduroy, which I treat exactly like any cotton – yes please! I like sturdiness.  

Fabric for 27 of the 44 items was purchased in person, reclaimed from an existing garment, or scraps from my stash. I’m calling that “local” even if the original buy was online, which is some REAL sneaky accounting. Local sources: Gather Here, Sewfisticated, Z Fabrics, clothing swaps, and stash. The remaining 17 projects were made from fabric I ordered online, from 8 different sources. Those were: Hawthorne Supply Co., etsy, Style Maker Fabrics, The Fabric Snob, Girl Charlee, Fancy Tiger Crafts, Snuggly Monkey, and Minerva. Some are spendier than others, though often with a commensurate bump in fabric quality (Fabric Snob knits > Girl Charlee knits, for example). I probably won’t order from Minerva again. More on that in the future coat post!

12/44 projects were made from leftovers, by the way (27%, just over a quarter)!

We’ve had the what and the how-much. Here’s the when:

Not quite the wild variation from years past, but you can probably tell good hibernating weather came fast and hard this fall (not to mention last January). Plus my employment changed – if anyone needs an illustrator, please feel free to refer them to me!

My leftover boxes are definitely running a bit lean this winter. I’ve done a good job using up or rehoming scraps, so I’ll need to get my hands on some real yardage soon. Happily I’ve got a couple garments already in mind. Let the fabric hunt begin!

I hope your last year lived up to your expectations, and your new year surpasses them! And also how much money did you spend? It’s okay, you can tell me. 😀

Oh and, my full spreadsheet is available here!

Varm Vinter Vest

Well, we didn’t get re-infected by the ’rona, but our recent trip was a bit terrible in new, exciting ways! Including:

A 2.5 hour delay plus 3.5 hour sit on the tarmac for a 1.25 hour flight

An AirBnB reservation cancelled at a quarter to midnight

A replacement AirBnB with a nonfunctional shower

–  AND  –

Rail strike!!

But! BUT!! We’re home now! PHWEW. You’ll have to pry me out of my apartment with a crab fork before I go anywhere again for a really long time. But at least the fancy Winter Garden tea was a luxurious respite from our…uh…I wanna say…vacation?, and I got to spend the whole meal looking across the table at this dapper guy.

It’s a bit cute but we agreed that a vest made from the same fabric as my skirt would be cozy, seasonal, and not too cartoonishly Dickens- or hobbit-ish (though let’s be real, it’s a little bit of both and nobody’s mad). Thanks of a grateful nation to Mainely Menswear’s vests (here and here) for convincing Professor Boyfriend that waistcoats can be both stylish and warm!  

We picked the Wahid waistcoat pattern from freesewing.org, my first time using that service. OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS WEBSITE. It’s an amazingly powerful tool and so generous. I’m not sure I would have appreciated it as a beginner, but not only does it draft patterns to a user’s measurements, it does so in a way that’s transparent and adjustable. Like, there’s a slider for chest ease! You can reset to the automatic chest ease or choose your own! I AM THE MASTER OF MY (PROF. BF’S) CHEST EASE! You can choose which file format to download! You can edit the flippin’ code directly! And all this expertise and control is a volunteer-run gift! IT’S XANADU.

I was so thrilled by freesewing.org that I jumped into a wearable muslin even though my measuring was a little slapdash.

I think sewing for myself has made me less careful, since I can refine the fit on my body indefinitely. Professor Boyfriend very patiently allowed me to do the same but this first version is just okay (and given the amount of user control, that’s DEFINITELY because of user error). Most of the problems have to do with the back fit, which has major buckling, and a little in the front, where his manly bosom needs more space. And interfacing.

Plus the pockets were too low and wee for my taste.

Professor Boyfriend, master of etiquette, has asked me to say that he knows you don’t do up the bottommost button on vests. I think it looks weird undone on this version and mercilessly required him to button it.

I tried to fix the back by taking an extra-large seam allowance at the lower back of the center back seam. It helped but didn’t fix the problem, so I determined the next version’s back would have fish-eye darts, instead of the narrow straight-leg darts used here.

Anyway, this was a fun experiment, but not yet ready for the big time! At this point it occurred to me that a muslin doesn’t actually need welt pockets and buttonholes, and can be made of, y’know, muslin. So I created another Wahid in the freesewing software with adjusted measurements reflecting these desired changes – you can make and save infinite versions –  and cut a muslin (from muslin) from the new pattern. I made a few small tweaks to this; reshaping the back darts as planned, and also making the shoulder slope steeper, grading the side seams 1/8” at the waist, and raising the pockets. I didn’t touch the armscye curves except for at the shoulder seam. I also didn’t modify the front hem, front darts, or center back seam, which is the bulk share of the pattern. After a few rounds of adjusting and fitting we were pretty happy with the fit!

At last I cut the fashion fabric. A few style choices: we adjusted the neckline height to look appropriate when worn without a tie, opted for 5 buttons/buttonholes, and omitted a back belt. We also decided to use the outer fabric for the back, since this wouldn’t be worn in combo with a jacket. Was this also because I hate sewing satin-weave fabrics? Maaaybe.

Instructions are available on the freesewing website, but my sewing relied mainly (if guiltily) on the Thread Theory Belvedere sewalong, except for the welt pockets, which I drafted following this YouTube tutorial. I feel like a fraud whenever I say “drafted” to mean “drew a couple rectangles on computer paper”, but whatever. I liked the generous seam allowances given in that tutorial, though I skipped some of the topstitching.

I remembered to interface the center fronts this time. Professor Boyfriend picked his lining and buttons, and they look darn cute!

Festive without being inappropriate at other times of year. The lining is quilting cotton, which might be why the vest still rucks up a little in back, though when tugged smooth it fits really nicely, in fact!

I’m kind of loving this new waistcoat life. A vest like this doesn’t take much fabric, but it’s a surprisingly satisfying sew, with plenty of fun details and lots of room for customization. I want to try a shawl collar one next like in the Belvedere tutorials! And – this is all upside for me – waistcoats require slightly higher pants, so I’m going to be on the lookout for a vintage-inspired high-waisted pants pattern for Professor Boyfriend, or I’m going to try to adapt one I already own. Which is exciting! Let the trouser journey begin!

I hope you had a relaxing Christmas, or if Christmas isn’t your bag, a really juicy long weekend! And if you want to treat yourself to a gift that costs nothing, check out freesewing.org. It’s really marvelous. See you next year!

Pattern: Wahid waistcoat

Pattern cost: $0.00

Size: custom (38.5” chest, 35” waist)

Supplies: scraps of Robert Kaufman Shetland flannel + shirting cotton; thread, buttons from stash, $0.00/1 yard of muslin, Gather Here, $7.60; 1 yard of Robert Kaufman Shetland flannel in Basil, Snuggly Monkey, $13.25; 1 yard of Speckled cotton in Metallic Pine, Gather Here, $13.60; buttons, Gather Here, $3.60

Total time: 5.25/2.5/6.25

Total cost: $0.00/$7.60/$30.45

Comfy Cozy

Some combination of the weak pound, the not-yet-Christmas season, and international family with spare bedrooms made a makeup holiday to repeat but improve our rona’d summer plans financially feasible this December. One of the things I was sorriest to miss during our plague trip was a celebratory tea at the Winter Garden restaurant – so we booked another! Only this time, with a reasonable expectation of getting to enjoy it!

Obviously a festive tea calls for a festive outfit. I considered really swinging for the fences (sour gold full-length velvet evening gown, anyone?) but unfortunately my unyielding practicality intervened, so I decided on separates that could also be worn with lots of other tops and bottoms. I also only bring a carry-on whenever possible, so everything in there has to be a team player. The desired vibe: comfy-cozy. The budget: haha. The patterns: repeats, of course!

The top is a yet another Marlo sweater. This pattern is a winner. I struggled to find fabric for it, though; I adore the weight and drape of the sweater knit in the view A sample, but despite my fairly broad remit (mediumish weight! Soft! Brightish white!) I just couldn’t find what I was looking for. Even when I pretended money was no object, I ended up with a bunch of theoretical carts of not-quite-right fabric. One problem was the prevalence of “natural” white: I adore creamy/ivory/shortbread whites, but we do each other no favors.

Ultimately I bought 1.5 yards of winter white ponte de roma at Sewfiscated. This particular blend was 60% rayon, 35% polyester, and 5% spandex. Some post hoc Googling implied that this is considered “nice” ponte, and it served its purpose, but it’s still not my favorite.

I probably should have cut somewhere between the low-stretch and high-stretch neckband + waistband lengths, but I opted for high-stretch – technically correct, but there’s puckering.

The buttons are also from Sewfisticated, by the way, and they’re solid dupes for the fancy beautiful version sold by True Bias directly!

Anyway, I tried to steam out the puckers, which is a cool way to discover I should really use distilled water in my iron. The steam function spat out a constellation of rust water. This isn’t even the first time! Combined with the peanut butter I got on the wrong side (point: don’t eat a peanut butter sandwich while cutting white fabric. Counterpoint: I love peanut butter sandwiches), I gave this the washing of a lifetime and it survived without pilling. Which is, indeed, nice.

One benefit of the high-stretch neckband; this is the closest I’ve come to a result that actually hugs my neck. Also nice.

The bottom piece is my second M8248 skirt.

The Robert Kaufman Shetland flannel in Basil I used is probably heavier than the pattern wants, but I wear my existing winter wool version for stylish warmth and I knew I’d grab for this over rayon or something similar. I ordered it from a new-to-me fabric store, Snuggly Monkey – OUTSTANDING price (several dollars cheaper per yard than what I saw elsewhere!) and super-speedy shipping. They’re definitely one of my routine online stops now when I can’t find something locally.

Unlike my first M8248, I actually cut out all the pieces this time. AND I didn’t get peanut butter all over the fabric. So beat that with a stick!

Otherwise I sewed this the same way, but with greater accuracy since I thread-tacked all the pleat markings ’cause rules are cool. I also gave myself the screaming jeebies by pulling out a bunch of those tacks under the impression that they were stray threads and then realizing instantly that I was a dope, so that was fun! But the finished skirt is comfortable and warm, and I like this subtle grey-green.

I applied the same modified button closure (it’s just the pattern waistband, extended) so the invisible zipper wouldn’t have to cross the waist seam. The single button is left over, tum te tum, from another Marlo.

I serged the vertical seams to finish and hand-sewed the hem.

That hem is the single longest part of this project. It’s barely curved so I could have topstitched it no problem, but I’ve got the vague notion that hand-sewn hems are more fluid and flexible than machine-sewn ones, and with all this pleated fabric I didn’t want to lose any movement.

Whyyy can you see my hand stitches like a burning ring of fire, though? Girl, you tell me.

So, I’m content with this outfit, but I’m not thrilled. There’s elements of compromise. An evening gown would have been a lot more fun, but I didn’t want to overdress, and I didn’t want to end up with a one-trick pony in my closet and clogging up my carry on (ain’t no popcorn popper in my kitchen!!). That said, if I feel the same way this time next year:  EVENING GOWN. You’ve heard it here first.

By the time this posts I will be very happily outside some scones, mousse, and champagne, to name a few, and on my way home from a 🤞 vigorously 🤞 healthy 🤞 trip. Stay well! Drink tea!

Pattern: True Bias Marlo sweater

Pattern cost: NA

Size: 10, view A

Supplies: 1.5 yards of ponte de roma (60% rayon, 35% polyester, 5% spandex), Sewfisticated, $7.49; buttons, Sewfisticated, $3.60

Total time: 3 hours

Total cost: $11.09

Pattern: M8248 skirt

Pattern cost: NA

Size: 16, view C; lengthened waistband to overlap 1″

Supplies: 3 yards of Robert Kaufman Shetland flannel in Basil, Snuggly Monkey, $33.25; thread, Sewfisticated + 10″ zipper in Slate, Gather Here, $3.99

Total time: 6 hours

Total cost: $37.24

Calling It

The first knitting pattern I ever bought was Byway by Jared Flood (Rav link), for $8.00. I didn’t know then what I didn’t know – I just liked the photo of the wrap, thought the cables etc. pattern was pretty, and assumed that a shawl/scarf would be achievable.

After download, it dawned that the recommended yarn for the wrap view would run me ONE HUNDRED AND ALSO TWENTY-SIX DOLLARS for a piece of neckwear knitted by a rank amateur (me! I’m the amateur!) and require 40x times longer than a sewing project to finish. So I buried the pattern in a bad-decisions hole and moved on, eventually knitting a sweater instead. The sweater took a long time but also motivated me to figure out yarn substitutions. This past spring, I exhumed the Byway pattern and decided it could actually be a good way to work on some new-to-me skills, like cabling, moss stitch, and the decorative slipped-stitch edge.

I hopped on WEBS with some pretty specific criteria in mind – affordable yarn, all or mostly wool, and in a perfect world, a dark blueberry color. Surprisingly easily I found Cascade 2020 Superwash in Midnight Heather (now sold out on yarn.com). As an aside, it’s amazing how nuanced and specific a yarn purchase can be – if I had gone looking for dark blue fabric, I would have had one choice per garment substrate; it would be whatever the manufacturer called “navy” and I would have to like it.

But as much as I like this shade of blue, I did not like my developing wrap – my own fault, not the pattern’s. The big issue was fabric density. My yarn substitution wasn’t 1:1, and even sizing down to size US 8 needles (instead of the recommended US 10 ½), it felt a little too lacy. To be fair I hadn’t “bloomed” the stitches by blocking yet (is that a yarn word, or just gelatin?), but the final wrap was clearly going to be narrower and holier than the wrap of my imagination.

I didn’t like the wrong side, either.

The product photos can be as idealized as they like, but both the scarf and wrap views are arranged carefully not to show a single hint of the wrong side. I, as the end user, would never be that careful, and the back would show for sure.

I became increasingly sure I wouldn’t like the finished wrap, and my progress slowed to a crawl. I made it to the 63rd row of the second cable block of 3 and then pronounced this project dead.  

Separately – the pattern was poorly written. This could have been avoided if I read charts, but I don’t (yet!). The cable blocks went: Row 1, Row 2, Row 3, Row 4 (redirects to Row 2), Row 5, Row Six (actually Row 2), Row 7 (Row 3), Row 8, Rows 9 – 12: Repeat Rows 7 and 8 twice (7 redirects to 3), Row 13 (Row 5), Row 14 (Row 8), Row 15 (Row 3), Row 16 (Row 8), Rows 17 – 18: Repeat Rows 3 and 4 twice (4 redirects to 2), Rows 21 – 116: Repeat Rows 5 – 20 six times (and all the redirects nested within them!!). Parentheticals are mine. There are only 5 different kinds of rows, I shouldn’t have to flip through a Give Yourself Goosebumps story to figure out what comes next!

I’m not an experienced knitting pattern consumer, but I was unimpressed.

It wasn’t a wasted experience, though: I tried a handful of new stitches (Slip 1 wyib, KFB, 3/3 RC, 3/3 LC) and I got far enough into the project to perform them comfortably.

I also learned that I can’t pick up a dropped slipped stitch worth a damn, which led me to the discovery and enthusiastic application of lifelines. Also, because it’s yarn, I can reuse the fiber, which is cool! In fact I’ve already ripped the wrap back to balls of yarn, and cast on my next project.

Which is another one of these! This blue yarn will be my third No Frills sweater. If it ain’t broke…

My first No Frills was a fun tour of beginner errors, but I got lots of great advice and so made new, fresh mistakes this time. They’re almost all on the back, which is frankly kind of ideal! Somehow I got it into my head that closers don’t rewatch YouTube videos about joining in new yarn (???) so those areas are a bit funny. Closers LOVE helpful videos, by the way.

My more worrying error is this funny little hole in the bottom edge – I’m not sure what broke or what I missed or dropped, but I’m a little worried that a sharp tug will render this sweater back into 7 skeins of affordable Cloudborn Highland DK in Autumn Heather (also from yarn.com, also sold out).

I chose to knit the ribbing as twisted rib this time, which is as easy to accomplish as the regular kind but a little visually punchier, I think. I just had to remember to switch to regular purl stitches for the short rows. Turning short row ends still isn’t perfect, but they’re coming along!

It took me over a year to knit my first sweater. This second edition took me just over a month. It was also the first project I had stitch markers for – definitely an improvement on found objects (paperclips are a particular no-no). I doubt the blue sweater will whiz up as quickly as this orange one, but I’m looking forward to it!

Pattern: Byway by Jared Flood

Pattern cost: $8.00

Size: wrap

Supplies: 6 balls of Cascade 2020 Superwash in Midnight Heather (1320 yards), $56.75, WEBS

Total time: Cast on 4/15/2022; ripped 11/20/2022

Total cost: $64.75 (yarn will be re-used)

Pattern: No Frills sweater

Pattern cost: NA

Size: M

Supplies: 7 skeins of Cloudborn Highland DK in Autumn Heather, $30.42, WEBS; stitch markers, $10.00, WEBS

Total time: Cast on 3/9/2022; ripped 4/12/2022

Total cost: $40.42

Squash Pinnie

More bibbed corduroy? More bibbed corduroy!

I feel like I’ve spent a lot on patterns this year (am I haunted by what I learned about myself by forking over $30 for a single pattern? Maaaybe), but I’ve also reused or outright copied a fair few, including the Pauline Alice Turia dungarees. These are a reuse AND a copy, since I based my modifications heavily on photos of Tilly and the Button’s Cleo + this tutorial.

I wasn’t too direct, by which I mean I didn’t bother with a front or back seam – why cut apart and then try to reattach and topstitch perfectly parallel corduroy wales, y’know? – but the general notion of a shortie dungaree dress with no waist seam agreed with me, and ’tis the season. By the way, I completely failed to notice I already have pants made from this exact same corduroy until I got it home. It cost $12.75/yard not quite three years ago; this time I paid an eye-smarting $17/yard. Eek. 

But I guess I know what I want! This is useful, when I can find it. It’s a little trickier when I can’t. Specifically, I struggled to buy traditional overalls buckles, even for ready money.

I could only find the hardware locally at Gather Here, and only in a Merchant & Mills pack with two buckles and a handful of rivets for fifteen extremely bold-faced dollars. My money’s not that ready! I don’t care if the buckles were forged in the fires of Mount Doom – I’m not paying $15 for $4 – $6 worth of hardware.

Then I remembered the extremely ragged pair of Turias in my mending basket. They’re not getting used any time soon, so I stripped the brassy buckles from those. Then I re-remembered ANOTHER pair of Turias, pristine in my giveaway box, so I swapped the brass buckles for their nickel set. And happily this shell game resulted in my ideal outcome, a nice cool silvery finish against the warm corduroy!

I’m pretty jazzed about all my finishes, in fact. This project was so fast and straightforward, and the sides so relatively short, that I decided to bias bind the seams. I think they’re just plain handsome. I left the top ¼” and the bottom 1.25” of the side seams unbound to reduce bulk when turning those edges.

I could have bound a little closer to the bottom hem, since I elected not to take that full allowance. But I bridged the gap with yet more binding so everything is still sealed and pretty. I did baste the sides together pretty early in the sewing process since I wasn’t sure if I was even in the ballpark of a reasonable hem length; I had already added 3” to the Turia shorts length, but I was prepared to use either a facing or extension as needed. In the end 3” was enough, but since I like sewing turned hems better than faced hems, another 1” of turning allowance wouldn’t go amiss.

Also, this basting check also confirmed what I had hoped – I wouldn’t need a side seam opening. It’s a wiggle in/wiggle out situation.

I’m really happy with the binding/corduroy combination! I couldn’t find a perfect match to the Kaufman corduroy color (Russet), but this Kona cotton in Roasted Pecan was darn close and it rang my tonal bell. I used bias binding to face the curved pocket openings and the side seam curves, following as always this Grainline technique, which wildly requires no ironing.

I pinned estimated pocket placements when I basted the front and back together, but ultimately moved them all a bit anyway. The original Turia bum pockets are small – these are a good 1” wider on each side, plus I only folded over ¼” before topstitching, and they’re still not huge. I widened the front pockets a smidge too, but just a little and on the fly.

My first needle broke when I was topstitching the patch pockets in place, specifically where the bias facing folded back over itself, but after that I switched to a fresh 90/14 needle and had no more issues.

I did a little sneaky Googling to figure out how the TATB Cleo dungaree dress was finished and found this very helpful blog post from Thread Carefully. One of the nice details of the Turia, though, is how the top edges of the front and back bibs are faced for a couple inches. It’s a stable finish that uses fabric efficiently. The Cleo facings looked like a fabric hog, so I stuck with what I knew. I also triple-layered the top front edge by folding the facing extension twice to support the rivets, and skipped interfacing.

By the way, have you ever had the experience of doing something you know to be correct and still being surprised at a successful outcome? That was me, lining the straps with quilting cotton instead of self-fabric. I trimmed a scanty 1/8” from one long edge of each quilting cotton piece and sure enough, the corduroy rolls to the back! It’s like…there’s a good reason I’m supposed to do stuff like that!

Anyway, I’m 1. Generally self-aware and 2. Specifically self-aware that I look like a butternut squash while wearing this, but I like it and it’s cozy and I’m happy and it all came out according to plan. With one exception: I have such a weird amount left of the corduroy – a full foot selvedge-to-selvedge, and a large additional rectangle. No clue how I’m gonna use it!

Luckily I love butternut squash! 

Pattern: Pauline Alice Turia dungarees

Pattern cost: NA

Size: 44 bust/48 hip (estimated); merged bibs and bottoms; cut as skirt, 3″ longer than shorts; cut on fold; used 3/8″ seam allowance on side seams

Supplies: 1.5 yards of Robert Kaufman 14 wale corduroy in Russet; .5 yards of Kona cotton in Roasted Pecan, $29.30, Gather Here; thread, $2.39, Michael’s; hardware from stash

Total time: 6.25 hours

Total cost: $31.69

Plaid Flannel Tova

This dress had a long walk to the short drop. It’s lasted a couple extra years because I kept noticing it in, say, spring, and thinking “Well…of course you’re not wearing it now. Wait and see in the fall”, and then forgetting it existed in the fall, etc. I finally fished it out this fall and thought “Honey, you are never going to wear this”. I was surprised that it was less short and puffy than I remembered. But I’m still not going to wear it.

This is the Wiksten Tova dress, and if I remember correctly I got it as one of the patterns in a Perfect Pattern Bundle, a bygone fundraiser for charity that was similar to the Humble Indie Bundle. A handful of debut and early-career indie designers would each contribute a PDF pattern and you could get like 5 random PDFs in exchange for a donation. Usually there were one or maybe two I wanted, a couple I felt neutral about, and a real clunker I’d download just ’cause. That said, what do I know, because one year I considered the runt of the litter to be an oddly-proportioned pants pattern, and in hindsight those were the fashion-forward True Bias Hudson pants!

Anyway, however this pattern landed in my lap, I can see now I picked the wrong fabric for this project. The sample top in a thin crisp plaid is actually still adorable to me; my version might be plaid, but as much as I love Kaufman flannel, it’s not necessarily the right choice for a dress with gathers and lightly puffed sleeves and, ideally, sharp little bib corners. The combination of heavy flannel and this pattern makes for a doughy yet stiff finished garment.

The Tova dress did mark some meaningful firsts for me though! This bib was the first time I ever sewed inset corners; I certainly didn’t understand what I was doing, so that fact that I ended up with a halfway decent result is a credit to the instructions.

It’s also one of the earliest projects where I was aware of pattern matching as a possible choice, let alone a desirable one, so I did myself a favor and cut the bib on the bias. By the way, I guarantee you this happenstance was just luck!

I remember sewing the plackets in place and being startled and relieved that the plaid was level across the two – I had forgotten to plan for that, but luckily fabric stinginess had caused me to cut the placket pieces butted up against each other side-by-side!

I also remember trying on the dress the first time and feeling like a great big toddler. My mysterious attempt to fix this took the form of shortening and elasticizing the sleeves. Maybe I meant the dress to appear longer by comparison?? I didn’t do a great job at this. At a guess, I sewed the elastic into a loop, stretched it and attached it to the inside of the sleeve with a straight stitch, then folded it over to the wrong side once more to hide the raw fabric edge and topstitched it in place with a zigzag stitch. I guess I hadn’t learned about channels yet.  

I also zigzagged within the seam allowance to finish these seams, and while it’s not the most beautiful technique, it’s actually lasted!

Frankly I bodged it – I probably should have pinked as well as, or instead of, zigzagging – but in many ways that matter, this finish is actually…fine!

So I’m coming out in defense of bodge jobs, especially for early projects. I remember helping a friend sew her first garment a couple years ago. Looking back, I was too enthusiastic about stuff like French seams and understitched bias facings. I should have emphasized flexibility over finish. Unpicking perfect narrow French seams to adjust a garment’s fit is a pain for anyone regardless of experience! It’s not a reasonable expectation for a beginner that a new pattern/garment is going to fit correctly without tweaks, but I think my focus on polish implied that expectation. Anyway, today I would advise a new garment sewer to cut a little extra seam allowance and pink the edges when they’re happy enough. Heck, anyone can! There’s nothing wrong with a classic!

That said, if I can use French seams I probably will because they are beautiful and sturdy and je les aime.

It’s sort of fascinating to see my own development tracked inside this thing! Most of the older garments I’ve kept I’ve kept because I thought they were still acceptable, which meant they were most likely above-average in the era I made them. But this dress, not so much! I feel like it’s helping me remember what it’s like to be a beginner. Obviously I prefer to feel proud of the clothes I’ve made and finish them nicely and get a lot of use out of them, but there’s something valuable about revisiting this new-learner feeling within sewing too, possibly because I’m only ever going to get further away from it.

I’m still not going to wear this dress though. So toodle-oo it is!

Pattern: Wiksten Tova dress

Pattern cost: ?? obscured by the sands of time

Size: all we are is dust in the wind

Supplies: all we are is dust

Total time: in the

Total cost: wiiind

Shorteralls

A bunch of things recently happened simultaneously:

I’ve always had what a certain era of crime fiction describes as “the body of a well-nourished female”; this continues to be true if not truer, and all at once my years-old Morgan jeans were too tight on my thighs.

Two of my three remaining pairs of Ginger jeans gave up the ghost. These were also several years old, so not too surprising. One gave out at the inner thigh (classic) and the OTHER ONE’S ZIPPER EXPLODED.

And finally, my dear mummy mailed me a care package of several pairs of brand-new tights. Um, ka-CHING.

So I’m channeling my 2016-era Phoebe Waller-Bridge and wearing shorts over tights this season, plus relying more on skirts and tights for warmth (my lesson from last year), and the upshot is I rediscovered some stuff in my closet, including this old pal. This is my first-ever pair of Pauline Alice Turia dungarees!

One of my clearest memories of sewing this pair was that the fabric smelled baaad. Why? I still don’t know. But the smell persisted after several vinegar washes, especially when I heated the fabric, like with an iron. Based on the many search results for “how to get smell out of new jeans” it’s a not-uncommon denim thing! It’s totally faded away now, but these dungarees are five years old.

One thing I didn’t remember is that I apparently bought 1.44 yards of denim for this project. It had to be a remnant, right?! There’s no other possibility for getting that length, unless fabric was sold by the 4%-of-a-yard back in 2017. Anyway, apart from the odor and the oddly specific yardage, this is a classic 6.5 ounce black denim (not true black, but it never was!), and I heartily endorse this weight for short-eralls. It’s a little light for full length pants, but feels just right for a little shortie layer that I used to wear bare-legged in the summer (scandal!) and now enjoy over tights in the fall.

I didn’t record my starting pattern size back then (HONEY) but at a guess: 46. I did record the following changes: reduced front leg width 5/8″; reduced back leg 1 5/8″ at waist, blending to 1 1/4″ at leg; changes reflected in paper pattern. That last bit is crucial, and should have informed me going forward not to expect packet measurements from my altered pattern copy. However, since I am a ruthless doofus, I usually write that sort of thing on the pattern paper too (plus a date, in case of future changes), and I failed to do so on this one. At least it explains the problems I’ve had with fitting this pattern more recently!

The hardware came from a short-lived shop on Beacon Hill called Mercer’s Fabric; I bought a three pack of buckles in 2017 and have not had to buy them since. This is the only set still attached to its original garment, though – the other two have been recycled forward a couple times each.

I bought two zippers as directed but only sewed one. It’s nominally an invisible zipper, and I just about can’t think of a worse idea than two invisible zippers. I didn’t get the installation quite right so the zipper tape top doesn’t meet the overalls edge; instead I added a little button and loop to hold the very top closed. I’m waiting with a kind of morbid excitement for my fraying beginner button loop to fail. But it’s still here.

I goofed on the envelope pocket too. When sewn correctly, the flap is attached right-side-to-wrong side of the main pocket piece and then flipped forward to enclose the top edge. Alternatively, you could do what I did, fully misunderstand, and topstitch every edge to the bib including the top one, so what you have is not a patch pocket but a patch.

The seams of these overalls are finished with a combination of flat-felled seams – center front and center back; bias tape – back bib; serging (using what was then my brand! New! Serger!) – front bib and side seams; and the pocket openings – just clipped and turned once. At the time I felt some doubt about the clipped curves, but they’ve maintained just fine!

And honestly even if they hadn’t I can’t see lightly getting rid of these because one time I wore them to work and a sixth-grader suspiciously asked if I was cosplaying as Lenny from Legion. FLIPPIN’ I AM NOW.

It’ll be interesting to see how much longer I fit into these. They would have been loosy-goosier and more casual five years ago (I recall I once wore them to go hiking) but I think this fit is pretty cute too, especially over my new mock-neck shirts. (I’m finding these so useful, not least because they make me feel like an X-Man (an image search reveals no visual correlation between X-Men and mock necks, but I still feel like one)).

These will probably be a remake-and-replace when the time comes. The fabric is easy enough to source, and the utility is high. Annoyingly, due the above-mentioned recent fitting struggles with this pattern, I threw out my printed copy a few weeks ago, so I’ll have to reprint.

But I think these are worth the tape!

Final PSA: these shorties are SHORT!

Pattern: Pauline Alice Turia dungarees

Pattern cost: $9.00

Size: 46 (estimated); reduced front leg width 5/8″; reduced back leg 1 5/8″ at waist, blending to 1 1/4″ at leg

Supplies: 1.44 yards Black Washed Denim 6.5 oz, $17.08, Gather Here; zippers, $2.50, Gather Here; buckles, $3.75, Mercer’s Fabric; thread from stash

Total time: 9.75 hours

Total cost: $32.33

Navy Corduroy Roberts

I wore holes into my PA Turia dungarees (pattern here), so they’ve taken up semi-permanent residence in my mending basket until (I’m guessing) I’m snowed in with no projects, at which point I might dabble in life-saving surgery. In the meantime I find it hard to picture going through life without immediate access to navy corduroy overalls, so I turned around and made some more.

Since I was deeply unwowed by my last PA Turias I pulled out Marilla Walker’s Roberts collection. I’ve made the MW Roberts dungarees once before with a pile of changes, chronicled here, but I wanted to play it straight this time, inspired by Fabric Tragic’s black pair. I think there’s something insouciant about the Roberts silhouette! I want strenuously to be insouciant!

Plus I laid out my pattern pieces to check and the Frugal Dougal (some kind of budget-conscious magical miniature Irishman, I guess?) on my shoulder whispered that I could probably get this pattern out of two yards of 54” wide fabric. And praise Enya, I could!

There was one compromise I had to make if I wanted to use corduroy and fit the pattern into two yards: the nap would have to run in opposite directions on the front and back, but as long as I walked forcefully into every interaction and moonwalked out again, nobody would have to know. Also, the front bib is lined in self-fabric; to save fabric, I had to cut the lining upside-down relative to the front nap, but I labeled the wrong side of the upside-down bib “FACING” and considered the problem solved.

Obviously I forgot I had done this, and also that there was a need to do this, and the next time I saw that “FACING” label was when I was sewing the FACING piece as the outer and the outer piece as a FACING, but by then I’d already hard committed by sewing the side button openings which overlap that seam, so ship = sailed.

I would classify the mistake as “visible but unimportant”. As are my other, more deliberate changes to the pattern. First, I drafted out the tucks on the front leg below the waist, and I even edited my ‘master pattern’ – the printed version that I return to, and that I expect to reflect all necessary changes. The top edge of front leg now has a slight dip in the center instead of being perfectly level across, but I once saw a video (I wish I could find and link it) where a designer showed an edge like that, and how when you force it into a straight line, it pops out the volume into the fabric below. And that volume is perfect for my rounded stomach! I adjusted the front pocket pieces to match.

I also sewed two hip openings instead of one. It turns out the necessary number of hip openings to pull these off and on is zero, but at least they’re useless AND symmetrical. This took a bit of doing – after sewing the front and back facings, I realized one side was misaligned by a healthy ¾”, and did a fair amount of unpicking and easing to get it to match the other. Unlike the facing/outer conundrum above, this was absolutely worth the time.

I’m going to eat a quick bite of crow and mention that I wasn’t very flattering about the Roberts directions for the hip openings when sewing my heavily edited version – but actually they’re totally fine, provided I follow them! The diagrams are clear and the order of operations makes sense.

For my last barely-a-change, I extended the straps so I could feed them through buttonholes on the front bib and knot them. I liked the idea of being able to wear these overalls snug or loose, depending on the shirt. That works fine. But I discovered too late that I really should have sewed the buttonholes horizontally, as the straps have to do a little half-twist to orient to the holes.

I have another category of changes, which is “invisible but important”. This includes adding interfacing to the button extensions (I keep saying buttons, but I used jean rivets) and to the top edge of the front bib. Because the side buttonholes go through two layers of corduroy and their seam allowances, I forewent interfacing there. My favorite neat little addition, though, is an extra step when sewing some seam allowances.

When using heavier fabric or lots of layers, I think turned corners can look a little soft/mushy, but I discovered that if I pre-fold the seam allowances in one direction and stitch them down, I get a much crisper result. This was especially useful on the back bib.

There’s no before image, but I’m very happy with the after!

In the category “future changes”, I’d like to make my next pockets deeper. These feel a little chancy. Otherwise, these dungarees are completely comfortable!

They’ve passed a series of tests – the crawl-around-the-floor-doing-a-project test, the curled-up-with-a-book test, even the I’m-doing-laundry-but-don’t-have-a-hand-for-the-wooly-dryer-balls-so-carry-them-in-my-bib test.

I anticipate getting lots of use from these, and hopefully will be able to use the scraps to repair my old Turias, too! I love corduroy season.

Pattern: Marilla Walker’s Roberts dungarees

Pattern cost: NA

Size: 5; drafted out tuck; applied side placket to both hips; lengthened straps

Supplies: 2 yards of Robert Kaufman 21 wale corduroy in Navy, $35.45, Fancy Tiger Crafts; thread, Michael’s, $3.59

Total time: 6 hours

Total cost: $39.04