Mamarlo

This is the third of the gift items I made recently, and the one that really confirmed I don’t like sewing garments for people who aren’t within hollering distance. I have a little mother – one of those teacup mamas, high energy and very small – and I wanted to sew her a True Bias Marlo for mother’s day. This wasn’t a surprise gift (I had her choose the color) but I couldn’t get her to slow down long enough to send me her measurements, so I crossed my fingers and relied on our 35 years’ acquaintance and my wobbly ability to estimate sizes. I spent the whole prepping, cutting, and sewing time alternately convinced this sweater was too big or too small.

No modeled shots, since my family doesn’t know I have a blog (and my blog doesn’t know I have a family!), but it fits okay. The width is good, but I think the length is still a little much for her petite frame. I reprinted the pattern and cut view B in a size 6. I shortened the sleeves 1” and the body 1.5” on the lengthen/shorten lines, but I wish I had shortened the sleeves 1.5” and the body 2”. Ideally I would also have raised the neckline point, probably by using the view A neckline. This might have called for a 5th button, but that’s fine by me, because I am still into making my own and not sick of lasers yet!

I designed this set of homemade buttons with my mom in mind. These are 1” wide, and unlike my first batch, they actually have holes that an average sewing needle can fit through. Progress! I like how the laser engraving shows the warmth inside of the maple wood. You can also see the ‘dithered’ texture here; engraving is accomplished similarly to printing the comics section of a newspaper, lots of little dot-dot-dots. But with FIRE* (*mainly light, occasionally very small spurts of fire).     

Otherwise I sewed this up exactly as my most recent Marlo, except I used this waffle knit in Rose from The Fabric Snob instead of iseefabric for a change! They’re definitely not identical, so I cut a 4” square from each of my scraps and did a little side-by-side for the interested shopper. Neither is cheap, so if you’re considering ordering one or the other, hopefully this will be helpful.

Iseefabric’s square is ‘Pistachio’; Fabric Snob is ‘Rose’. My mini cutting mat is ‘unfortunate yellow’.

First, price (in USD). Iseefabric costs $17.50/yard; the Fabric Snob costs $19.37/meter (about 3 more inches). However, you can order half-meters from the Fabric Snob, so my ideal order of around 1.5 yards costs $29.06 from the Fabric Snob, and $35 from iseefabrics, since I have to round up to 2 yards there. I haven’t accounted for shipping, but it’s about even to my location.

For some reason I thought iseefabric’s waffle knit was pre-laundered, which I don’t actually see written anywhere; so while I had assumed it was zero, I’m actually not sure of their shrinkage. I did measure the 1.5 meters I ordered from the Fabric Snob after washing and the yardage was slightly over, so either the fabric grew in the washer or they cut generously! Fabric Snob waffle is 57” wide; iseefabric waffle is 51” wide.

Both waffle knits are certified organic cotton. Iseefabric is 95% cotton/5% spandex. Fabric Snob is 100% cotton. They’re both available in multiple colors with coordinating rib knits; iseefabric skews pale/beachy, and Fabric Snob has some brighter colors and good dark basics.

From my first fabric impression, iseefabric is loftier, warmer, and more relaxed, while Fabric Snob is brighter and springier. Iseefabric has 8 ‘ribs’ (waffle rows?) to the inch, Fabric Snob has 12. I folded each square to make four layers, and could compress each folded piece easily to 3/16” thick.

These are the selvedges – the iseefabric looks like it has two layers joined together, and the Fabric Snob looks like one. Neither fabric rolls at all, which is lovely for marking and cutting.

The iseefabric square showed 50% stretch parallel to the selvedge (widthwise), and slightly less than 50% perpendicular to the selvedge (lengthwise).

The Fabric Snob square showed more like 40% stretch parallel to the selvedge (widthwise), and functionally none perpendicular to the selvedge (lengthwise).

The iseefabrics waffle, which stretched more easily, also had better recovery. It grew lengthwise by less than 1/8” (less than 3%). The Fabric Snob waffle grew ¼” in width, and likewise shrunk ¼” in length (6.25%).

That said, there’s no bad choices here! I’d be happy ordering from either shop again; they both regularly have sales, so it’ll probably depend on which is cheaper when I next need a waffle knit. I ended up with 18” of this Rose leftover due to the wee-ness of my gift recipient, so I still haven’t broken the extra-half-yard-waffle curse. I have a feeling I’m going to end up with some mighty warm tank tops.

This sweater pattern continues to carry a rating of GOOD BUY, in my opinion. At some point I want to try cramming the sleeves and body of view A of the Marlo onto 1 yard of fabric, and if I can, then maybe I’ll spring for a coordinating waffle + rib knit combo. Or theoretically I could make a Marlo sweater out of non-waffle fabric. But I mean. Will I?

She won’t.

All the best!

Pattern: True Bias Marlo sweater

Pattern cost: NA

Size: 6; shortened sleeve 1″; shortened body 1.5″

Supplies: 1 1/2 meters of Organic Cotton Waffle in Rose, The Fabric Snob, $35.60; thread, Sewfisticated; tailor’s tape, Gather Here, $3.49

Total time: 3.75 hours

Total cost: $39.09

White Olya

This is my second Olya, in my second batch of Stylemaker Fabrics fabric. I’m always chasing a big white shirt ideal so I resisted the beautiful colors on offer and ordered this crinkle cotton in white. I thought it would be a safe bet. To my surprise, I prefer the softer, thinner yellow I used last time – both the color and the final shirt.

That said, there’s nothing actually wrong with this cotton and it sewed like a dream. I was just anticipating something both fussier and finer – more see-through, and with some unwanted-but-expected stretch from the crinkles. Actually this has the dry, stable, semi-crisp hand of a paper towel. I ordered 2 yards as directed and used every inch of length, leaving just some funny-shaped large scraps that will make terrific interfacing for a future project.

I shortened the sleeves of this Olya by 1”.

I also cut the pocket pieces as one piece each, with the fold at the bottom of the pocket bag. Those were my only adjustments this time, though commenter M-C suggested a forward shoulder adjustment, which I’m sure I’d benefit from. Unfortunately, given the odd shape of these pattern pieces, I found that adjustment intellectually intriguing but practically, beyond me. I’d like to try it on a more traditional shoulder seam first!

The finished shirt is okay. I’m having trouble styling it at the moment – surprising for such a basic piece – but I think it’s because it’s such a summer fabric. I’m hoping it will come into its own with shorts. I really want to like it, mainly because I like the buttons. Which I made!! With a laser!!!

Our local public high school has a fabrication space open to city residents in the evenings. It’s called Fabville and it’s terrific in every way! It’s actually one of the many available in our area – Somerville (soon Allston) also boasts the dazzlingly complete Artisan’s Asylum, and the Cambridge Public Library hosts The Hive, but Fabville is free, friendly, nearby, and open after my workday, so it’s obviously my favorite. I strongly recommend checking out a space like this if your town has one, or several (how many is probably a function of proximity to MIT, ha).

I wasn’t really sure how to take advantage of this kind of tech until I realized I could make buttons. I got a piece of maple 1/8” thick by 1.5” wide by 24” long from Rockler Woodworking and Hardware (another high recommend, if you have one handy). So far I’ve used it to cut 5 dozen buttons and I have about 1/3 of the piece left. Fabville has a two laser cutters; I used the Epilog Mini 24, which is smaller but more precise. I set up my files in Illustrator, though they were ultimately opened in Inkscape and converted to PDFs.

This isn’t a tutorial (I’m assuming design software competency), but here’s some spec-y stuff if you have access to a machine and are interested:

I work with vectors so I can resize elements without changing the stroke width. Please note, though, the printer calls the cutting/engraving lines “vector” and the etching lines “raster”, regardless of the file type. The cut lines should be strokes, ideally .001 mm but allowably as thick as .004 mm. The etched areas are fills (without strokes!). For the densest, darkest etching, set the fill to black (#000000) with a 0% tint. For shallower, lighter etching, change the percentage of the tint of black, but don’t touch the opacity. You can use both vector and raster cuts in one file, or just one kind; either is fine. All cutting and engraving is perfectly vertical, so there’s no beveled cuts, but it’s beautifully precise.

And a final tip: double-check your measurements in the real world. My first set of buttons was very, very small! They’re functional, they’re adorable, but getting a needle through those wee holes was dicey. After cutting this first batch I belatedly took some measurements and observed that the holes within the button should have a diameter of 1/16”, and be placed anywhere from 1/16” to ¼” apart (that second number is my aesthetic opinion).

Luckily, once attached, these hand buttons actually go through the buttonholes pretty well. I thought the bitty fingers might get snagged, but if I push them through with the heel of the palm first there’s no trouble. My buttonholes are sized for a 3/8” button – just over the width of the hand, not the length.

They’re subtle but I love them anyway! I tried resizing and cutting another batch of hand buttons to have functional holes, but it turns out their tininess is also their strength; when these hands are sized up, the fingers break off. Sad face. I’ve been experimenting with other button designs (beyond symbols carved into a circle, though those are cool too), and so far my best one is below!

Jaguars can represent protection, transformation, and power, plus those big kitties are stylin’ as hell. I don’t know if there will be any interest in this, but: if you donate to a pro-choice advocacy group, an abortion fund, or a pro-choice care provider like Planned Parenthood, contact me and I’ll send you four laser-cut jaguar buttons. If you make that donation recurring, I’ll send you eight. The jaguars are maple, 0.75″ wide x 0.6″ tall x 1/8” thick.

I’m also interested in learning about new-to-me ways to protect and defend reproductive freedom (or more impactful places to give money or time), so please recommend those if you’ve got them!

See you soon, stay mad!

Pattern: Paper Theory Olya

Pattern cost: NA

Size: 14; shortened sleeve 1″

Supplies: 2 yards of Washed Crinkle Cotton Solid White, Stylemaker Fabrics, $29.00; thread, Michael’s; 1.5″w x 24″l by 1/8″ thick maple, Rockler Woodworking, $10.58

Total time: 6.5 hours

Total cost: $39.58

Witch Hazel Olya

Might as well rip off the band-aid: $28.49. This pattern cost $28.49. It was only last week that I complained about a $16 pattern, so if you’re thinking “well well well” and “the worm has turned” and “la-di-DA”…you’re not alone. I’m a 1%er! I’m gentrifying my own pattern collection! I get targeted ads for yachts now! Also, I used a gift card!   

This pattern and party-I-am-late-for is the Paper Theory Olya shirt. For a while I’ve been been casually searching stuff like “Olya sewalike cheap Reddit”, but it’s been a no-go, so finally I took a deep breath and bought the OG. At the same time, I bought two lengths of fabric from Stylemaker Fabrics with my annual birthday coupon, both intended for this pattern (I was banking on liking it). Today’s version is made from this yarn-dyed cotton.

First, I loved this fabric. That shininess in the sample photo washes right out, and it’s beautifully soft with little wrinkling. Also, the color isn’t solid, but super-thin green and orange stripes. The result reads as a slightly sickly yellow which I can actually wear. I adore yellow and I think it’s finally having its day – not just that one foot-in-the-door mustard yellow, but a whole buffet of yellows seems to be arriving. I love most yellows, to be honest, but butter yellows are often nude against my skin tone and rich mango yellows tend me wear me, so I’m crossing my fingers for more acid and old-honey hues!

Second, I used every last bit of it! I’d read in various places that the Olya fabric requirements are extremely accurate – my size, a 14, calls for 2 1/4 yards of 45” wide fabric, and I bumped that up to 2 1/3” because why not. And I’m glad that I did, because even with my extra 3” I couldn’t fit the pattern pieces according to the lay plan (though it was AGONIZINGLY close) and I had to rearrange the cutting on the fly. So while I can’t promise I was the most efficient cutter, the remaining scraps *do* fit in the palm of my hand, which is fun. To be fair I cut my collar and collar stand ‘interfacing’ from those scraps first. And I cut my undercollar on the bias with a center seam, and reshaped my collar stand ends – pretty routine for me.

I used fusible tricot on the button bands and just the short edges of the cuffs. I also interfaced 1” wide sections of the sleeve plackets, avoiding the seam allowances. I’ve never sewn a tower placket in two pieces like this before but it’s so tidy, I love it.

And this is the sewing on the side I couldn’t see! I mean!!

Unfortunately you won’t see either side much because a shirt this light is going to be worn in rolled-sleeve weather, and also my sleeves are an 1” or so too long.

You can of course see my serger thread with the sleeves up. Even if I can figure out how to French that front yoke/sleeve seam in the future, I had to fundamentally understand it first, which meant sewing it straight the first time.

I think a lot of attention is paid to the sleeve/yoke inverse corner. In terms of difficulty, though, if you’ve sewn a banded V-neck, you’re golden. I interfaced the snipped corner and added a line of staystitching just barely inside the seam allowance, which I don’t think was recommended, but it’s easy to do and in general that step is very well-supported.

Actually where I think the directions let me down was at the far end of the seam – the armpit end. It’s not clearly marked that the sleeve piece needs to overhang the body by one seam allowance to match the front yoke seam later, and because it’s a bias curve you can make it meet or overhang pretty easily. Plus, that area isn’t photographed/illustrated in the photo sewalong or the paper directions. Once I read ahead a bit I understood how I was going wrong, but if you’re like me and you often take new processes one step by one step it might throw you off.

I wasn’t wildly jazzed about the pocket directions either. I don’t need a decorative pocket to have relatively bulky French seams when an actual construction seam is just getting the ol’ sergeroo. Instead, I ignored the booklet and attached the pocket front to the front body, then the pocket back to the pocket front, then the whole body/pocket unit to the yoke. That way I didn’t have to line up the little pocket rectangles and the major seams simultaneously. Something went a bit awry with the width of the opening but the pockets are gewgaws anyway, so I’m not sweating it!

I now call them “PITA pockets” because I am very, very funny.

Originally I hoped to find small bronze metal buttons, but I couldn’t. The wooden ones at least capture the warmth I wanted, if not the shine. They’re quite lightweight; I think metal (or just heavier) buttons would help prevent the shirt from slipping backwards, since I find myself tugging it forward every so often. But the big question: do I like it?

Yeah! I’m not like OMG SQUEE but it’s serviceable and I really like the fabric. The pattern is a fun sew too. Most other indie patterns have doppelgangers in other indie lines, or in the Big 4, but this one doesn’t seem to, so that offers unique value. My biggest concern is that I broke the seal – now that I’ve spent silly money on one pattern, what prevents me from doing that again? Specifically on yet another jeans pattern?

I’ll just be over here, resisting. Have a beautiful day!

 Pattern: Paper Theory Olya shirt

Pattern cost: $28.49

Size: 14

Supplies: 2 1/3 yards of Grainline Yarn Dyed Woven Shirting Citrus, Stylemaker Fabrics, $27.39; thread, Michael’s; buttons, Gather Here, $8.39

Total time: 8.5 hours

Total cost: $64.27

Noa shirt

I have an oversized double-gauze men’s Steven Alan shirt that has survived almost a decade of RTW culls, and I eventually figured out that I love it. Since then I’ve had an eye out for a sewing pattern that would allow me to replicate it. Around the end of last year I found the free Noa shirt pattern from Fabrics-Store.com. I thought this could be the one – per to the website, it’s got “classic tailoring”, a “relaxed silhouette”, and plenty of comments saying “watch out, it’s BIG”. Hello, sailor!

I chose to sew a 12/14 because the approximate finished chest measurement of 49” matched my existing RTW shirt, but my finished Noa shirt actually has a 46” chest so they’re really getting their money’s worth out of the word “approximate”. On the other hand, the pattern cost me approximately $0.00, sooo. And it’s a very functional pattern. The Noa is a nice professional-looking conventional button-up for people who prefer a dartless fit, but alas, it is not my dream shirt!

Sorry to spoil the ending, but the fact that I lopped the arms off probably gave you a clue! In large part my ambivalence is due to the fabric. This crisp yarn-dyed striped cotton grabbed me in the store, and I thought I could make something that was kind of winking at the idea of a business guy’s dress shirt, but I accidentally made a straightforward, non-winky, business guy’s dress shirt. A perfectly nice one – the fabric is stable, on-grain, and it pressed like a dream – and I enjoyed sewing it, but wearing it? I don’t know.

I used the Fabrics-Store blog to find out the seam allowance (3/8”) but otherwise sewed everything in my usual mish-mashy way, lots of techniques from different patterns all smooshed together.  I used the asymmetric back pleat from the Willamette, Archer’s burrito yoke, this collar, and Sewaholic’s continuous bound sleeve placket. Because OH YES, I sewed the sleeve placket. I sewed BOTH sleeve plackets, AND I added the cuffs, for all the good it did me. Even though I’m not scared of bias bound sleeve plackets anymore I realized that they’re not totally suitable for vertical stripes – by design, you sew on a slight diagonal, so the finished placket will never be parallel to the stripes.

Do I lie?!

This shirt looked so dang office-ready with the pleated full-length sleeve. If that’s what you’re looking for, vaya con Dios, get thee some sharp cotton and sew the Noa. I wanted something relaxed, more like this breezy Coco’s Loft edition, but it was clearly too late for that. It’s never too late to grab a pair of scissors and chop your sleeves off, though! I thought this baseball length looked sort of wacky and modern (finished length 6 ¾”) but mostly I wear it with a rolled cuff. Also, rolling the sleeve up hides the fact that I ran out of thread and hemmed the sleeves (truly, widely, deeply) with the only nearby shade in my house.

In retrospect, an actual contrasting thread color might have been fun, especially because my topstitching is pristine (I know I’m not supposed to say that, but it is). A couple more details I enjoy: I sewed the hem inside-out because when I attached the sleeves, I loved the candy-stripe effect of the seam allowance.

Also, this button-up is a button-*down*, because I sewed some wee little buttonholes into the collar points and buttoned those fellahs down! I copied a technique I saw in a RTW shirt to reinforce the button area, using fusible hem webbing like double-sided tape to attach a scrap of self-fabric to the inside of the shirt. All edges pinked, of course.

I thought about not opening the buttonholes and sewing the buttons through the collar, but I’ve done that to one other shirt and it makes ironing the collar a pain in the neck.

Not that this fabric needs a ton of ironing. It gets some wear wrinkles, but nothing too severe. If it weren’t for the hand, color and pattern – you know, its characteristics – I would probably really like it. I actually sewed this Noa at the end of December (strangely right before Very Peri got announced as the color of 2022) and so far, the weather hasn’t been such as would let me wear it, so I’m not sure I’m avoiding it for practical reasons or prejudiced ones.

I feel like lately whenever a project doesn’t quite live up to my hopes, I gaze out the window and whisper in a melancholy voice “ah, but ‘twere it linen…”, but…what if it was linen? Black linen, or sand-colored maybe? In any case, I’m not recycling this pattern quite yet. Or giving the shirt away either, though if summer comes and I’m still not wearing it, I’ll dump it like some shorted stock (that’s business talk, right?).

Buy, buy! Sell, sell!

Pattern: Fabrics-Store Noa shirt

Pattern cost: $0.00

Size: 12/14

Supplies: 2 yards striped cotton, Sewfisticated, $7.98; thread, Sewfisticated, $2.49; buttons from stash

Total time: 7.5 hours

Total cost: $10.47

#2 Toaster #2

I recently ordered fabric while chilly.

I’m henceforth going to make all my shopping decisions while chilly. I’m not saying the cold makes my brain work better, just that 4 yards of Kaufman Trainers French Terry Fleece was EXACTLY what I wanted to sew with in January. I got two lengths, one for a sweater and one for sweats. This first one is called Woodrose. After 4 years, it finally kicked my butt into gear to make another Toaster #2 sweater!

I sewed my original 2017 Toaster from soft, drapey modal French terry. While it didn’t exactly work, I could see it had potential. By the way, Sew House Seven is steadily + reliably updating their catalogue to add sizes up to 34, and I believe the Toaster will be included soon.

When browsing cold-weather fabrics, I saw Kaufman does a French terry now. I picked this color to go with the skirt I made recently. I’m trying to add more variety/warmth/elegance/overall oomph to my winter wardrobe, but even so my clicking-finger hovered over my typical Sienna for a while; maybe next time!

Hawthorne Supply Co. sells fabric by the 1/8 yard, which is terrific, because the pattern calls for 1 5/8 yards; half-yard cuts would have left me with an awkward amount leftover, guaranteed. I shortened the body of the sweater 1.5”, and I have 6” extra selvedge-to-selvedge. I like the finished length, so next time I can order 1.5 yards. Climb back into my pocket, sweet little $1.70! You’re safe now.

I haven’t been working on anything madly complicated lately but this still seemed like a luxuriously tiny number of pattern pieces. Front, back, sleeve, badda-boom. I compared the front and back armscyes, and they are shaped differently as I hoped/expected, but the sleeve itself is vertically symmetrical. What’s that about? It doesn’t affect comfort, so maybe it’s a knit thing.

When I make another Toaster #2, I’ll extend the width of the grown-on neck facing to reach the shoulder seam. It’s like an inch away anyway, max; may as well anchor it there. Missed opportunity. The split mitered hem is a quick, clear, fun part to sew, though! I added a sassy little triangular fold before topstitching the top of the vent allowances.

Construction went quickly, but I spent a solid hour or more at the end of the process just futzing. The front funnel neck looked odd. There seemed to be too much fabric above the bust, or maybe too much width? Maybe some combination of those? I did my usual ‘tug tests’ – pulling the fabric tighter, looser, forward, back, etc., and have concluded that I don’t know much about history biology what a slide rule is for fitting the upper bust, but I know how to show a sweater a good time.

I tried stitching in the ditch to keep the neck facing in place, by hand and by machine; topstitching along the long front and back edge of the facings; making the front neck deeper and shallower; pressing in a crisp edge, pressing it out again; and finally, topstitching a few random sigils to keep everything in place in the best arrangement I could manage.

After a day of wearing, I realized moving my head around an average amount crushes the front funnel neck anyway, and the fit wrinkles either hide inside of the use wrinkles or merge into mega-wrinkles. It’s moot.

Somewhere there’s a fabric with enough body to stand up at the neck and enough drape to move gracefully across the mysterious hinterland of my upper chest, but is it 95% cotton, fleece-lined, and $13.50/yard? Probably not. Weird neck aside, I loved sewing this fabric. It was so cooperative and just beefy enough (also, beefiness will never not hit me as the most hilarious sewing qualifier). I used a stretch stitch on the shoulders, sides, and cuffs, and a straight stitch on the hem, and it was fine with both.

The fabric is quite malleable, but it has a low recovery. This pattern actually calls for 5/8” seams throughout, but I used ¼” seam allowances on the sleeve and side seams, so my S bust graded to a M waist might be more like an M graded to L when all is said and done. I like the balance of the width and the length and I really appreciate that it has a set-in sleeve, as I’m feeling distinctly cool towards drop shoulders lately. I asked Professor Boyfriend what era he thought it was referencing and he Zoidberg-scuttled away because he thought it was a trap, but it’s an honest question. I definitely feel a bit past-y, but I’m not sure when!

I’d love to learn how to read and fix these wrinkles before I make another Toaster #2, but I still like this one. It’s fuzzy inside, actually warm, and the color is different enough from the rest of my wardrobe that it goes with practically anything. You’ll probably see it again in a week or two!

In the meantime, I might go use my actual toaster and make some hot buttered toast. Mmm. Always a good idea!

Pattern: Sew House Seven Toaster #2 sweater

Pattern cost: NA

Size: S bust, M waist, with ¼” sleeve and side seams

Supplies: 1 5/8 yards Kaufman Trainers French Terry Fleece in Woodrose, Hawthorne Supply Co., $24.92; thread from stash

Total time: 3.75 hours

Total cost: $24.92

Something Unexpected

So, I knit a sweater.

Did I knit it particularly well? No. But did I knit it *quickly*?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

I cast on in early November 2020, mindful that we might be going into another lockdown (we didn’t, but I tucked away a couple hobby-acorns for quarantine winter just in case) and I finished it last month, late November 2021. Most of the sweater took me that first year (extremely non-continuously); the sleeves took me the last two weeks. By then, I was VERY ready to be done. I spent 54 weeks as an auto-hostage, but now I am freeee and I’ve learned a lot! These were my starting assets:

Your brains I could knit and purl (in the simplest sense)

Fezzik’s strength YouTube, baby

My steel Access to skilled knitters

Particularly Eloise Narrigan – will it surprise you to hear that in addition to being the toppest-notch illustrator and a brilliant friend, she’s also a meticulous and amazing knitter? I picked the No Frills Sweater pattern for my first project after running it by her. She mentioned that the short rows on the back neck were a promising sign that the pattern would be solid, and I immediately formed a religion around that casual comment and now judge all sweaters by whether or not there’s short rows, and nothing else. Actually, the part of the directions that challenged me the most were those about shaping the short rows, but she did some invaluable translating from knitting pattern to plain English and it turns out it was a simple idea expressed in a way I found confusing (basically, make each row longer than the one before).

I was frightened of reading the knitting pattern, but it was okay. The hardest part was working out which yarn to buy. After lots of back-and-forth math between grams and yards I decided that instead of using two strands of madly expensive yarn, I could use one strand of nice in-budget DK yarn, and I bought 8 skeins of Cloudborn Highland DK (100% wool) in Ocean from Webs. I knit a size M and I have a full skein leftover.

I very nearly bought cute stitch markers, too, but I stifled the urge. In the meantime I used jewelry jump rings. My first, shockingly basic piece of learning: the marker goes on the knitting needle, not the stitch. So that’s roughly the level of ability I started at.  

I want to talk quickly about the two kinds of skills I used during this process, ‘learned’ skills and ‘loaned’ skills. The skills I actually, thoroughly learned while working on this sweater include: the magic loop method. How to join yarn. The inscrutable K2tog tbl. How to weave in ends. How to block a sweater. How to get your boyfriend to help you wind yarn into a ball by telling him it’s what a courtly gentleman would do.

My loaned skills, skills I could perform after (or while) watching a YouTube video, but not on a permanent basis, were a cabled cast-on, joining in the round, left- and right-leaning raglan stitches, German short rows, a backwards loop cast-on (I honestly don’t remember what this one was for), a tubular bind-off, and what ‘pick up and knit’ meant. All those linked videos are novice-recommended – clear, performed slowly, not too chatty.

My missing skills, which are still missing, not available in video format, and pretty fundamental, are: reading knitting. As in, looking at a loop on the needle and understanding whether it’s a knit or a purl stitch, and any other information contained there. And possibly more importantly, ripping out mistakes without going all the way back to the beginning. I can just about pick up a dropped stitch, but that’s it. Often I found my mistakes by knitting past them, then looking at the formed fabric and realizing “that’s a funny spot”, at which point it was already too late for my butterfingers to fumble back. This is why I have one lumpy learner’s sleeve and one pretty good sleeve.

It took me ages to realize I was getting yarn caught on the needle while magic-looping and then knitting the decoy stitches as though they were real ones. Definitely a rookie mistake. On the other hand, knitting anything was going to be a challenge, and I’d rather sail out of a challenge with a lumpy sweater than a lumpy scarf.

Here is my not-so-good armpit! Here’s my better one! Capital ‘I’ for Improving, Lia!

Maybe some wiser eyes can help solve some lingering knitting mysteries. For example: why do the short rows have this feathery texture, and the body of the sweater doesn’t? Knitting is knitting, surely?

Also, how did I manage to switch the ‘right’ side and ‘wrong’ side of the collar halfway through, and how is that a k1/p1 rib HAS a right side and a wrong side? Shouldn’t they be the same? Yet I have tight braids on one side and open braids on the other. I prefer the look of the ‘wrong’ side, unfortunately. Actually I find this k1/p1 rib to be a bit thready and wimpy looking but I’m definitely not at the stage where I can change a pattern. HAHA no no no.

Mysteries or not, it’s done! Finishing was a rush (and also about damn time). I thought weaving in ends was going to be a pain, but I realized triumphantly ‘this is just sewing!’ and it felt quick to me. This sweater had no seams to sew, so once I was done, I was done – except for the 48 hours of cold wet sweater taking up my table, but you’re s’posed to, so I did.

So, like, do I knit now? Um…this is comfy, this is warm, this took me a year and much woe and it made my brain and my fingers creak and it’s a ridiculous way to form a garment and it takes far too long and I’m free now and oh yes I bought more yarn. So, I guess, sort of.

Look for another in about a year!

Pattern: No Frills Sweater pattern

Pattern cost: $6.61  

Size: M

Supplies: 8 skeins of Cloudborn Highland DK in Ocean, $35.71; needles (US 3 16″ + 40” circular, US 6 16″ + 40” circular), $27.52, WEBS

Total time: 11/12/2020 – 11/27/2021 (no way I recorded hours)

Total cost: $69.84

Ivory Patina

As per my plan, I’ve made the short-sleeve view of the Friday Pattern Company Patina blouse.

But this isn’t the slubby rich recycled mahogany silk I had my eye on at all! It’s old rayon!

Ah, old rayon. As shifty as new rayon, but with that classic I-lived-in-your-scrap-box-for-four-years flavor. We’re still without a washer; I was fine casually pre-washing my first Patina blouse’s poplin in the bathroom but my respect for silk might cross the line into fear of silk, and I just couldn’t see myself throwing it into the tub and hoping for the best. So I raided my scraps for something! Anything! pre-washed to sew, which is how I ended up using such an unfavorite fabric here (the unfavorite-ness is also why the scraps have lasted this long).  

This was made from two different rayons – one length was leftover from a blouse I made from fabric purchased at Walthamstow in 2017, and the other length *may* have come from a fabric swap around the same time. They’re not a perfect match, but they’re not bad. The yoke and the undercollar are a slightly brighter shade of ivory, but I can live with that, especially for the price tag (my favorite, the bubble).  

I’d mentioned wanting to take pictures of an alternate facing/yoke construction, but in white fabric without an obvious wrong side, that seemed like a fool’s quest. Luckily it turns out Peter of Male Pattern Boldness has already done it! The neckline of the Negroni shown there is a different shape, but it’s the exact same technique. Here’s the first part, assembling the shirt body and inner yoke/facing unit; and the second part, putting it all together with some very fun and satisfying burrito sewing. I left the small part that I couldn’t sew by machine unsewn, so you can see how small it really is.

See that fingertip-sized gap next to the facing/yoke seam? That’s it.

And using this technique means no visible topstitching on the yoke, though it’s ordinarily covered by the collar anyway.

I absolutely prefer this method. It’s easy to reshape the facing pattern piece, too; just overlay with the shirt front and trim as shown, below.

That little leftover can go right into the recycle bin. Huzzah.

This is the ‘lowered neckline’ variation, 1” lower than the standard draft. I find this depth a little more becoming than the standard. The pattern also has instructions for lowering another inch, or raising the ‘v’ neck higher, but this is about right for me. The collar is wobbly though! Oh woe! It’s not the draft, it’s the rayon. I interlined it with white linen, but that was shifty and grow-y too, and even though I moved the collar pieces carefully and sewed them first, the long outer curved edge stretched out pretty badly.

There was a ruffly clown-collar vibe to the finished shirt. Based on hope, not science, I plugged in my iron and chuffed steam at the collar in hopes of shrinking the edge. I don’t use the chuffer often though so I actually just sprayed the whole thing with surprise brown spots. WHAT FUN. Since a new washing machine didn’t magically appear as soon as I flavor-blasted a white shirt, I stuck it under a cold shower with some dish soap then threw it in the dryer. And, um, something along the line there worked, because the collar is definitely improved. I feel like a very lucky bunny.

The dart is a little low. Also, I realize now, the tip needs pressing. Next time my ironing board is out I’ll gather my courage, roll up a towel, and go for it.

I forgot to take pictures of my first version untucked, but here’s some of this one. Wrinkly, because my go-to is tucking in, and also because I’m tireless in my quest for gritty realism or something. The untucked silhouette is actually not too godawful!

I’m feeling good; I got to sew, and I got some aged fabric into use, even though it was kind of a pain in my neck. The rayon really can’t support the weight of the collar that well, even with my interfaced v-neckline, but it does gather nicely. And you can’t go too far wrong with a white blouse! After all that monkey business with the steam, I like it. It’s a bit everyday-pirate, but that’s not necessarily a problem.

If I kind of blur my eyes and blend the collar into the shirt, the Patina looks like a decent plain v-neck woven blouse base. I bought it for its slight costume-y elements, but I might keep making it for relentlessly sensible reasons. Two steps forward, one step back!

We took these pictures on an unseasonably warm day in November, by the way – it feels like another universe now. I don’t do much Christmas-specific sewing, but Christmas BAKING is very much on. Cinnamon & chocolate! See you soon!

Pattern: Friday Pattern Company Patina blouse

Pattern cost: NA

Size: M, lower neckline

Supplies: scraps of rayon, from stash; thread, Michael’s, $2.39

Total time: 5.5 hours

Total cost: $2.39

Common Quail

Heyyy, I actually sewed a new pattern while it was still new! I really enjoyed dressing as a vaguely interwar pseudo-intellectual for Halloween, to the point where I’ve decided to start layering some more vintage-inspired pieces into my wardrobe. When I saw the Friday Pattern Company Patina blouse I pretty much went “that’ll work!” and mashed the buy button.

This was my first time sewing a Friday Pattern Company pattern. You’d have to force me kicking and screaming into their breakout hit gown but I’ve only heard good things in general. I was surprised, though, that this pattern used 3/8” seam allowances throughout, since this is a blouse that calls for fine lightweight fabrics. I added ¼” to the side seams and shoulder seams, so I could French seam those later, but otherwise cut a straight size M.

Right off the bat I was impressed by the accuracy of the fabric requirements! I like that it didn’t overspend my money or generate much waste. I needed every inch, as in I had about a fingernail-clipping’s worth of excess length after laying out all my pieces. The layout would have been a little more flexible if I hadn’t increased the seam allowance, but no regrets. My only scraps are funny shapes and sizes. I spent more than I intended to on fabric, by the way; I went looking for quilting cotton to make a wearable muslin before investing in cotton lawn, and came home with this gorgeous organic poplin. Oops not oops.

Ch-ch-changes: I staystitched the front neck as directed, but also applied this tricot interfacing along the edge. I wanted to make sure it would support the weight of the collar. I’m in love with that 1” roll; it makes it so much easier to do the right thing.    

However, instead of using interfacing in the collar, I cut another layer of fabric from my scraps. I pinned it to the wrong side of the top collar and treated them as one piece until it was attached to the bottom collar. Then I trimmed the extra layer of fabric ‘interfacing’ to right beside the stitching line. When turning right-side-out, that teeny-tiny overhang of fabric helps push the seam to roll to the underside. That’s my theory, anyway. 

By the way, I placed the cost of my free-floating button purchase on this make, because I ended up really liking them together. These are the same buttons that saved my bacon when mending my Halloween skirt. I’m learning all the wrong lessons about buying notions without a plan!

I also removed about 5/8” of fullness from the sleeve at the front shoulder.

Doesn’t that sound wonderfully deliberate and official? Actually what happened is that I traced the sleeve piece the same way twice, but luckily caught my mistake before cutting. I retraced one of them flipped over and was still congratulating myself on my perspicacity when I cut on my new line to the shoulder point and on my old line away from the shoulder point. Yeeks. I noticed before I got to the single front notch, so I was able to compensate slightly, and my mess-up would (hopefully) be hidden in the gathers. I cut the second sleeve the same wrong way because I thought it was important that they match.

It’s a full sleeve, so it’s still perfectly comfortable to wear, but if it looks off at all that’s why. I can’t really tell. There’s one strange function of this shirt which is that my sufficiently long, loose sleeves ride up to my elbows at the slightest movement; possibly because of my front shoulder ‘adjustment’?

Also, the universe decided I should eat my words on the subject of continuously bound plackets, since this pattern calls for them. Plus I don’t mind not doing a thing, but I don’t like feeling like I can’t do a thing.

I was a little confused by the official directions, which tell you to press under both edges of the bias piece, but then only show one edge pressed, so I turned to the internet. I followed this Sewaholic tutorial and uhhh…I think I made this kind of placket into a boogeyman. At least in crisp, stable cotton, they’re actually fine.

I think I even have them opening the right way (50/50 chance)! I’m calling that a win!

In general the way the directions are expressed and the accompanying illustrations are good and clear and easy to follow. (The encouraging clip-art on the pattern pieces gave me a jolt though. “WHAT IS THAT PATTERN PIECE FOR?! Oh it’s a cartoon sewing machine.”) However, I sometimes disagree with what the directions actually say to do. Most notably, I hate the facing finish on the back neck. It’s hard to sew well and I firmly believe there’s a better way. If/when I sew another Patina blouse I want to try using the Negroni directions, which join the front facings to the inner back yoke. I’ll try to take pictures if I do.

The drafting, however, seems spot-on. My collar is sitting a little higher than the sample because I thought I was sooo smart and I understitched the curved part of the neckline seam, instead of just the straight vertical parts as directed, so it’s being tugged up a little. But the collar still curves really nicely. And most impressively to my mind, this shirt stays put! I can raise my arm parallel to the floor before the hem even starts to rise. And the neckline doesn’t budge. It doesn’t gape at the back, it doesn’t pull to the front. It parks! I’m impressed. 

I’m not really sure what era this top hails from, style-wise – the 70s do the 30s? But I dig it. I wouldn’t mind giving that deeper neckline a whirl. There’s some $$$ recycled silk I’ve had my eye on for a while, and though I don’t think I’m owed a new holiday outfit every year, it would be pretty ideal.

I’ve been making fewer items this year, so while my cost-per-item is definitely up (gosh this blouse cost a bit), my overall spending is down. Which sounds like a possible excuse for silk to me…

Pattern: Friday Pattern Company Patina blouse

Pattern cost: $11.20

Size: M

Supplies: 2.25 yards of Charley Harper organic poplin in Sierra Range, California Quail, Gather Here, $37.15; buttons, Etsy; thread, Michael’s, $11.86

Total time: 8.75 hours

Total cost: $60.21

Plaid Granville

I’ve been meaning for a while to add a home-sewn plaid flannel shirt to my closet. This isn’t the shirt of my dreams, but it’s going to get a lot of wear.

This is a Sewaholic Granville with the same fit modifications as my other Sewaholic Granville. It’s a little less successful in this thick fabric, as it’s kind of occupying an awkward middle ground between indoor shirt and overshirt; in retrospect, I’d push it wider. I love the fabric though, a black-and-ivory Kaufman flannel. This may have wet my whistle for sewing an actual overshirt. Kaufman does staggeringly beautiful speckled flannel solids now!! I saw the olive in person and it’s gorgeous, plus this substrate is so satisfying to sew. Even though this Granville isn’t perfect, it’s cozy and I enjoyed the process.

I mostly rolled right along and followed the directions with no wacky diversions. As they were last time, the sleeves are really too long. Excellent for tucking cold fingers inside but not so good for washing dishes. This was a bright-but-cold finger-hiding day. I’m wearing them unrolled as a rule, partly because this is a heavy flannel for chilly weather, but also because I feel I earned it. I put in the time to get those sleeves right!

Slightly embarrassing after my recent tough talk about tower plackets, but I messed these up. Or not these, precisely, but their predecessors. I attempted to pattern match and got it exactly reversed – an ivory stripe on black, and a black stripe on ivory. I finished the shirt and actually wore it a couple times that way. Then because new sewing is on pause (I can’t pre-wash fabric right now) but that sewing mojo has to go SOMEWHERE, I sat down on a quiet Saturday morning and did it all again.

Luckily, because I sewed the cuffs in this way, I could unpick them without removing the button or worrying about the buttonhole. I unpicked and discarded the old placket pieces, and whip-stitched the cut line on the sleeve shut. I also unpicked the sleeve seam to just above the elbow (twice, because it’s French seamed) so I could spread the cuff end flat.

Time to cut a new, hopefully matching placket. Obviously my original system didn’t work, so I did the one thing I skipped amid all my mental contortions of figuring out the plaid the first time: I Googled it. It’s actually pretty simple. This tutorial is even from the Granville sewalong. I probably should have done that earlier! This time it went smoothly, though this fabric is a little too bulky for a pristine finish. The little buttons at the top are just for show.

I also sewed the hem a few times. First I sewed it exactly as written, but that left just an awkward flash of white at the center front, and I’d prefer to end on a dark horizontal stripe. So I unpicked the hem, straightened the front curve so no ivory would show when folded, and sewed it again. Then I realized I had cut one of the fronts slightly askew and the plaid was asymmetric. So I unpicked the longer side, trimmed it, and hemmed it again. Then I decided I didn’t like the look of cream thread topstitched on the black front edge there, so I hand-picked the hem with grey thread and unpicked the machine stitching. And here it remains!

If I get seized by another re-sewing mania, my next target would be the collar. I folded the button bands a little too much, so they’re wider than designed (for some reason my math was off on the day I cut). I should have shortened the collar piece slightly to compensate, but I didn’t think of it, so it ends a little too close to the end of the collar stand. This isn’t a big deal when I wear the shirt open, but if I want to button it all the way up the plaid lines diverge at the neck where it pulls apart to make space for the collar.

I’ve been considering adding flaps to the chest pockets, too. I don’t think it looks right to cut rectangular plaid on the bias, so I cut the pockets on-grain and pattern-matched the fabric underneath as far as I could. It diverges slightly because it covers the dart ends, so the bottom edge of the pocket isn’t quite parallel to the horizontal stripe anymore, but they’re still blending in pretty well. So what I have here is two fairly invisible pockets that I don’t put things in, because who uses chest pockets. Flaps would give them a little more context. On the other hand, do I need to draw focus to my invisible unused chest pockets, or am I just going loopy due to lack of new projects?

You might notice my total sewing time seems a little short for all the monkey business mentioned above. That’s because those changes were made after I wore the shirt in public, which means I mentally filed them under ‘mending’, and I don’t record mending times. If some sort of sewing authority ever audits my process I’m gonna be in trouble!

Are you enjoying our transition to long dark cozy evenings? It’s the stay-homiest time of year! I hope you’re gaining some quality sewing time. And I hope I’m gaining a washing machine soon, so I can sew new stuff too!

Pattern: Sewaholic Granville shirt

Pattern cost: NA

Size: 12, modified fit

Supplies: 3 yards Kaufman Mammoth Flannel in Ivory, Ryco’s, $33.00; thread; Ryco’s, $3.25; buttons from stash

Total time: 7.5 hours

Total cost: $36.25

Tiger Archer

Today we are going way, way back in time, all the way back to the dawn of sewing (kidding, but I did buy this pattern in 2013). You can probably tell from the date that it’s a Grainline Archer! I don’t have any specific notes on this shirt since it’s at least 6 years old, possibly 8, but it’s made from pre-rift Cotton and Steel quilting cotton and despite the kind of crunchy fit and my not-so-hot sewing I use it plenty.

I actually remember the fabric provenance pretty clearly – I bought some for pockets for Professor Boyfriend’s pants, fell in love and decided it MUST be a shirt (mine), but my local Gather Here had sold out in the meantime, so I called my mom and she found some in her local, Ryco’s (which is an awesome place but closing at the end of this year when the owner retires, unless someone wants to buy the business, which one of you should. Go do that now, and then come back here). The buttons were from JP Knit and Stitch before it was online-only. This shirt is a time capsule shirt!

Quilting cotton isn’t the most comfy-cozy fabric to wear, but it’s hard to argue with chartreuse tigers. A quick Google reveals the Archer has been made in a ton of different fabrics – and heck, everyone seems to have made at least one.

In thinking about why the Archer blew up so quickly, I have two theories. One is that it was the first buttoned shirt pattern to offer exceptional support (which is why I bought it). My second is that, for the sizes available, it fits accurately and predictably. The deliberately loose fit helps, I’m sure; my pattern is graded from a 6 bust (!!) to a 12 hip, and it fits fine now, and was presumably fine way back when, or it wouldn’t have lasted this long. That’s flexible.

The sewalong and the easy fit are both awesome building blocks for a ‘beginner’ pattern, but looking back now with all my greybeardy wisdom, the Archer doesn’t always use the easiest techniques. Most notable is probably the collar stand construction, but the technique I hate with oh such hatred is the bias bound plackets.

It’s possible that you, dear reader, find them easier than a traditional sleeve placket, but I big-time don’t. Either way you’re cutting into the sleeve piece, but when using a binding, the pieces of fabric are so much more fiddly and the margin for error is smaller. And they’re stupid and flimsy and tiny and pointless and also I did them wrong.

You might notice the lack of buttons and buttonholes on the cuff. That’s because even my beginner eyes were filled with so much blergh at the sight of this placket that I decided this shirt would only be worn with the sleeves rolled, forever, and I took steps to ensure that.

I moved the proposed cuff button to the sleeve and added a little button strap (it’s actually a bit longish, since it begins and ends where the button is stitched). I also sewed everything with French seams despite that ½” seam allowance. A ½” sa is for nobody. Nobody wants that. Give me liberty 5/8” or give me the other thing 3/8”.   

This is another shirt I wear on a perma-tucked basis, but the hem has a perfectly nice curve, which I feel proud of wee beginner Lia for handling well (even if my topstitching is a bit hideous, partly because my stitch length on this whole shirt was bonkers short – why did I sew everything with like a 1.5 length stitch?!).

You don’t need my extremely lukewarm take, but the Archer is an approachable shirt with mostly-classic details – a button band, a lined yoke and a pleat at the back, PORS (Pockets of Respectable Size). A history of indie patterns would be sure to include it (I know it’s the first PDF pattern I ever bought!). Just, for the love of Mike, use a tower placket. Any tower placket will do.

Not too much else to say about this, except a few years ago I wore it to a book signing by beloved childhood author Tamora Pierce in order to bait her into saying she liked my shirt, AND IT WORKED.

I can never get rid of this now. It’s Alanna-approved.

Pattern: Grainline Archer shirt

Pattern cost: nowadays, $16 minimum

Size: 6 bust, 12 hip

Supplies: unknown quantity of quilting cotton in two lengths, which my mom bought most of, Gather Here & Ryco’s

Total time: So unknown

Total cost: So so very unknown