Don’t. Be. Nice.*

It’s such a truism that people have made fun of us for it, at least twice.

So this ancient article finally made its way through the blogosphere to roll across my FB feed this morning, and you’ve probably seen it already, but I’m going to share it with you anyway:

Psychologists Find That Nice People are More Likely to Hurt You (from

People who are agreeable are also more likely to make destructive choices, if they think doing so will help them conform to social expectations. That’s the finding of psychologists, who suggest that disagreeable, ornery people may be more helpful than we think.

Being me, I followed the link back through other, earlier reports, including Psychology Today:

Are Polite People More Violent and Destructive?

Now a new study using a variation of Milgram’s experiments shows that people with more agreeable, conscientious personalities are more likely to make harmful choices. In these new obedience experiments, people with more social graces were the ones who complied with the experimenter’s wishes and delivered electric shocks they believed could harm an innocent person. By contrast, people with more contrarian, less agreeable personalities were more likely to refuse to hurt other people when told to do so.

If this is a complete shock to you, there are two possibilities:

  1. You are not Canadian. Canadians have a reputation for being “so nice!” and polite to the point of utter pointlessness. But if you are Canadian, you will know that it is entirely possible to be a very Nice, extremely Polite Asshole. It’s a national speciality. You smile and nod a lot, say sorry, please and thank you every third word, and treat people like crap while claiming to do it all for them because you care so much. It’s effective, if you’re looking for a strategy that lets you get away with murder for a long time.
  2. You are Canadian but are not possessed of critical thinking skills. Sorry.

But let’s keep working our way back to the original research:

Personality Predicts Obedience in a Milgram Paradigm

Say, are you in the holiday spirit right now? All in a warm and fuzzy glow over peace on earth and the essential goodness of people? Right. Then get yourself a drink or a xanax, or stop reading until you’re in a less rosy frame of mind, because the Milgram experiments show a pretty grim side to human nature.

Extra-super-duper-short version:

The reportage of Hannah Arrendt on the Nazi war crimes trials, and her observations on the “banality of evil,” got Stanley Milgram wondering about what would make a person do something they knew was wrong and would kill people.

In his original experiment, participants were asked to deliver what they were told were potentially lethal electric shocks to someone else (who they were told was another participant, but was actually an actor) if they answered questions wrong. The actor was instructed to answer most of the questions wrong, and would then begin to scream convincingly as the “shocks” became stronger, and beg the person to stop. Eventually the actor would stop responding, simulating death.

Everyone in the original experiment (where the actor was in another room, and the participant could hear but not see him) went all the way to delivering severe shocks. No one stopped delivering shocks before 300 volts. (And 26/40 went all the way to maximum.)

Almost everyone delivered potentially lethal shocks to an innocent person because someone in a white coat told them to.

The experiment yielded two findings that were surprising. The first finding concerns the sheer strength of obedient tendencies manifested in this situation. Subjects have learned from childhood that it is a fundamental breach of moral conduct to hurt another person against his will. Yet, 26 subjects abandon this tenet in following the instructions of an authority who has no special powers to enforce his commands. To disobey would bring no material loss to the subject; no punishment would ensue. It is clear from the remarks and outward behavior of many participants that in punishing the victim they are often acting against their own values. Subjects often expressed deep disapproval of shocking a man in the face of his objections, and others denounced it as stupid and senseless. Yet the majority complied with the experimental commands.

In fact, it was so close to universal that in order to get usable data, they had to alter the experiment–bring the actor into the room, close enough to touch the participant, with the participant required to grab the actor’s hand and force it onto a plate to deliver the shock, before enough of the participants would refuse to continue that they could properly analyze the data.**

I won’t blame you if you need to stop, breathe deeply, get some chocolate and alcohol, and continue after a short break.

In this recent update to the Milgram experiments, they replicated the original structure in the format of a game show. The white-coated authority figure of the original was replaced with a broadcaster on a stage with a microphone, but the rest of it–questions, electric shocks, actor pretending to be shocked to death–remained the same. What the researchers did was look at both the personality traits and political leanings of the obedient vs. the disobedient.

I’m finding it hard to write this. Do you find it hard to read?

As with Milgram’s original experiments, the majority of participants shocked the actor to death, with the twist that all it took was a person on a stage with a microphone. That’s some pretty flimsy authority by which to murder someone, but it was sufficient for approximately 80% of the research subjects.

As expected, Conscientiousness and Agreeableness predicted the intensity of electric shocks administered to the victim. Second, we showed that disobedience was influenced by political orientation, with left-wing political ideology being associated with decreased obedience. Third, we showed that women who were willing to participate in rebellious political activities such as going on strike or occupying a factory administered lower shocks.

In other words:

  • Nice, reliable people delivered the strongest electric shocks.
  • People with strong-right wing values delivered the strongest electric shocks.
  • Women with a history of participating in left-wing activism delivered lower electric shocks. (There was no significant difference for men re: whether or not they had a history of political activism.)

There was NO relationship to emotional sensitivity. An emotionally highly sensitive person with low conformity values would not deliver the shocks. A very nice, very reliable person with low sensitivity would.

This is a subject I’ve written about many times over the years. Nice is not GOOD. Nice can be a good thing in some contexts, but it is not inherently good. Nice is a social strategy. GOOD is good, and good requires bravery–the willingness to be unpopular, to stand out, to do things other people don’t approve of, to take flack, to speak the truth when no one else is saying it. Highly sensitive people are just as capable of this as anyone else. Don’t blame your thin skin or weak stomach. If you can’t speak up, stand out, or take a risk of being unpopular for an opinion or point of view in the society we have right now–the safest one for dissent in the history of humanity, where the strongest penalty you’ll receive for most disagreement is an upset stomach and some broken weekend plans–you may be Nice, but mostly, you’re a coward.

It’s agreeable, conscientious people–nice, rule-following people–who merrily followed an authority figure down the path to murdering an innocent person, for no reason or reward at all. So if you take pride in how nice you are, how popular, etc., and like to upbraid people who are less conventional, who won’t go along to get along, who are NEGATIVE, heaven forbid, or CRITICIZE, or aren’t NICE–maybe entertain the idea that it’s those people who will risk their necks one day by sticking them out for you.

*Yes, that’s a needlessly provocative attention-seeking headline. Go ahead and be nice. Just don’t get it mixed up with being good, and don’t use it as an excuse for being a coward.

**Yes, I’ve heard the criticisms of the Milgram experiments. What they don’t explain to my satisfaction is how often the results have been replicated around the world since the 1960s. Sorry. Human beings are not a noble race, and blind obedience to authority and social convention is surely behind some of our worst atrocities.

Blazer! Prequel

So. I made a blazer!

Such is my dedicated to my blog, Dear Readers, that I took these pictures outside in the dark and the cold.
Such is my dedicated to my blog, Dear Readers, that I took these pictures outside in the dark and the cold. Oh, and yes, that is my silk-cotton blouse underneath

It is not perfect (and this is where you will come in), but I did make it, and it is not completely embarrassing.

I used Style Arc’s Sara jacket pattern, with some modifications: widened the hips by about an inch, and broadened the shoulder by half an inch on each side.

I used fusible cotton interfacing, with the seam allowance snipped away first.

I also watched this Craftsy class–the whole way through, twice–in order to get a solid grasp of what I was about to do. And just in case you’re wondering, which you probably aren’t, I’d been tackling cutting out the jacket, lining and interfacing pieces over about 6 weeks.

One thing I learned from Ms. Howard was that fusible interfacing is not suited (ha!) to suits made from finer materials, and that I could expect bubbling or separation if I used a wool. This is a poly-wool, and there is definitely some separating, which is irritating. So next time, with the wool, I’m going to go for the full pad-stitching-with-hair-canvas approach.

My Blazer! has welt pockets.

Very bright welt pockets.
Very bright welt pockets.

It has an ease pleat in the back.

You can't see the ease pleat, but it's there!
You can’t see the ease pleat, but it’s there! Also, please excuse the weird colour change. It’s the camera, not the blazer.

It has jump hems.


It has vents on the sleeves.

The pattern calls for three buttons, but I'll be damned if every store I looked in failed to have more than four buttons in an appropriate size and colour.
The pattern calls for three buttons, but I’ll be damned if every store I looked in failed to have more than four buttons in an appropriate size and colour.

The shoulder seams sit on my shoulders. The waist and hips fit fine–and the waist would have fit better if I hadn’t mistakenly placed the buttonholes too far from the placket edge. Oops.

Accidentally super serious suit pose, in the dark. I figured if it's getting dark early this time of year, I'd just go with it.
Accidentally super serious suit pose, in the dark. I figured if it’s getting dark early this time of year, I’d just go with it.

The sleeves, however, are too long. Next time I’d have to take 1.5″ out of the sleeve length. How do I have such short arms?

And the bust is too snug.

See that pulling? Yeah. Not ideal, really.
See that pulling? Yeah. Not ideal, really. Also not comfortable.

Now this is where my Dear Readers come in:

HOW do you do a full-bust adjustment on THIS?

Very satisfyingly jigsaw-like front jacket piece, all interfaced and everything
Very satisfyingly jigsaw-like front jacket piece, all interfaced and everything

Bottom slit is for the welt pocket. You don’t want to change that at all. Top slit is the dart. This is where I need to add space. But where do I cut it too, and how do I remove the excess from elsewhere? Do I just turn the upper part of this into a princess seam so I can adjust that fit?

I also did not add shoulder pads. I hate shoulder pads, and normally they make me look like a linebacker. But I think it did affect the fit in the shoulders a bit. It all looks a bit more gathered than it would have with some stuffing in there. That’s ok; I can live with that. Or if it comes down to it, I can open it up and put in a shoulder pad. No biggie.

The pattern also suggests that you sew the entire jacket together rather like a large purse–lining to body all the way around, leave a small gap, and then turn it inside out and close up the hole. This I did not do. I followed along with the lining installation on Modern Jacket Techniques, which worked just fine. This means I ignored the part of lining sleeve construction where it tells you to leave a gap in the seam.

There’s only one thing I must complain about on this pattern, and that’s the notches on the sleeve lining pieces. They  make no sense.

There’s a notch on the lining undersleeve pieces that says “to side seam.” Dandy. But which side seam? There are two of them on each side. In another spot, there is a double notch that corresponds to nothing, as there is no double-notch on the armscye opening at all. I did my best to install the sleeve lining in a way that made sense, but it was still puckered in spots. It doesn’t affect the way the jacket fits or feels, though.

Everything else on the pattern worked out really well. All of the other notches lined up; the cut-out darts shaped things nicely; the welt pocket pieces all matched up well.

Overall, though, the bust fitting issues and the way the pattern is constructed leave me thinking that I may be better off starting over with a new pattern for jacket #2. The Sara jacket is really innovative and it was a fun puzzle to put together, and it works so well, but it’s not as adjustment-friendly as a princess seam. And sadly, I need adjustment-friendly.

Sewing Steak

It used to be that Frances and I would take the GO train downtown and stay overnight before the Santa Claus Parade, so we could get up early enough to get a good seat. Because if you’ve never been to the Toronto parade before, be forewarned: you need to stake out a curbside seat at least 3 hours before the parade begins.

But Frances has learned that Santa Claus is not, strictly speaking, corporeal. So she was not so keen on sitting on cold concrete for three hours waiting for the parade to begin, and then another two hours wait to spend one minute waving madly to the man in the big red suit. Though I will always treasure our parade memories, I couldn’t really blame her.

Instead, we went down for a night in a fancy pants downtown hotel to celebrate her birthday a few weeks early, over a Sunday night, taking Monday off. And while I could gush (more) about the fantastic weekend we had and how much fun it is to travel with my girl, I’ll instead say that we ended up packing a bunch of handmade clothes for our weekend–both for our days and for sleeping–and it was a matter of course. They’re just comfortable basics that we wear a lot. Neither cake nor frosting–they are whole wheat bread.

Sugar-free. Staples. Delicious, toasted with butter.

No, wait. Scratch the toasting. Though whole wheat bread, if it’s nice, doesn’t have to be boring or invisible. Believe me, if you ever get the chance to have toasted walnut-and-honey bread with butter, it is delicious and you should not pass it up. A thousand times better than some frozen frosted grocery store cake.

We did have a fantastic time, of course. Frances loves clay and pottery, so we went to the Gardiner museum and they just so happened to have a kid’s xmas activity involving clay, christmas cookie cutters, texture tools and lots of slip. So that was fantastic. Then we checked out the Eaton Centre and all of the unbelievably overdone christmas lights and decorations Toronto does so well. We had our obligatory run-ins with Toronto assholes who were much, much too busy and important to allow a young girl visibly struggling to go ahead of them through various doorways, and instead pushed her aside to preserve those crucial 145 seconds of their one precious lives. This served only to remind us how glad we are not to live in TO anymore, though it is fun to visit.

Plus decadent meals. Fancy hamburgers. Room-service chicken noodle soup and french onion soup. Fantastic chocolate chip cookies made by a friend. Perfect bacon, hash browns, sausages and french toast for breakfast.

Which would be the sewing equivalent of … what? Blue jeans? Cozy sweaters? Bathrobes? A warm winter coat? A soft t-shirt? I see no skirts or dresses in that menu. Comfort food = comfort wear, no?

I’ve stretched that analogy as far as it can go, and then some, I know. It probably hit someone in the eye when it snapped, and for that I apologize. tl; dr–We went to Toronto and we wore mostly the clothes I’ve made for us and it was nice and cozy and no one asked me if I’d made those clothes because they are so utterly unremarkable, which is what makes them perfect.

Also, I need to make french onion soup very, very soon.

The blazer post is coming. I just need to upload a few more pictures. What would the food equivalent of a suit be, I wonder? Maybe a steak?

(Yep, this was a boring post. But I would love to hear about your own personal sewing/food analogies. Do you sew breakfast cereal–clothes you don’t have to think about and that don’t cost a lot of money? Or how about cheese soufflé–clothes that look incredibly impressive but are maybe not as hard as they look? Four course or fast-food? Is a steady diet of cake-and-frosting making you at all nauseous?)

Postcards from the Island of Muslins

It was super exciting when I managed to finally finish the muslining/underlining/fitting/french seaming adventure that was the floral shirt. I celebrated bursting out of my self-imposed prison with a couple of speedy makes, including the beaded shirt (yes, in comparison, that was speedy), a long-sleeved shirt for Frances out of the same fabric, and some fleecey pajamas for Frances which she had been bugging me for for weeks. Both together–shirt and pajamas–took a day. And she likes both of them and wears them regularly. This is the pinnacle of mom-sewing–making things you do not need to force your children to wear.

However, I’ve made progress on the muslins:

The leather skirt.

I sewed up a test garment in old cotton/poly twill to test for fit, basted in bright yellow thread to make the seamlines extra visible. It’s a size 16, and it’s loose. Only a bit at the hips, but quite a bit at the waist, and the waist isn’t even at my waist. So for the next muslin, I’ll cut a size 14/16 at the hips and grade to a 12 at the waist, and raise the waist/hip line by about 1.5″.

Yes, that is my not-yet-decorated tree in the background.
Yes, that is my not-yet-decorated tree in the background. Also, that is me pinching out a couple of inches at the side waist, but you can’t see them because I’m pinching them out. Well done, me.

I really like all of the seamlines. It’s an interesting skirt to put together.

I got some super shiny copper faux-leather to sew the second muslin out of. It doesn’t fray, so I can experiment with some of the leather finishing techniques and practice on something less high-stakes. Should be fun.

Oh, and I got the faux leather half-price. It’s pricier than the cotton-poly twill, to be sure, but still not expensive and hopefully I’ll get something wearable out of this one.

The Suit: Pants.

I started with a muslin in bright purpley indigo poly-wool twill (not a heavy twill; a suiting weight) of Style Arc’s Willow Pants.

Yep, they're really that bright.
Yep, they’re really that bright.

They were much, much too tight.

Not the pattern’s fault. Apparently my hips are two inches bigger than I thought they were when I bought the pattern. Oops!

So I added some ease to the hips. And as with the skirt, I raised the waist by 1.5″. This may necessitate nipping it in a bit as well; I’ll have to measure and see.

I also added the pockets from the Jasmine pants to these (the Willow pants do not have pockets in their natural state), which worked out pretty well and I’ll do that again.

Otherwise, this was another successful Style Arc pattern for me. One of their differences from other pattern manufacturers is that all of the notches, match points, dart marks, etc., are done as clips in the seam allowance. There’s very little to transfer to the fabric in terms of markings afterwards. And all of the marks lined up well; it came together quite easily. I just can’t sit down in the muslin and breathe at the same time.

Fortunately I had enough of the fabric left–even after cutting out and sewing a Blazer!–that I could make another pair of pants slightly bigger. And I did. I’ll do a separate post about them later.

The Suit: Blazer!

This needs its own post. Making this muslin was a three-day undertaking, and even though it’s “just a muslin” there’s too much to pack it into a postcard. So more soon. I used Style Arc’s Sara jacket pattern and two watchings of Craftsy’s Modern Jacket Techniques class, copious pots of Dorian Grey tea, many many chocolate coated cookies, two spools of thread, and approximately half of my monthly wireless download allowance. But it ended up in this:


with welt pockets! An ease pleat! A jump hem! Sleeve vents!


And that’s all right.

Goddammit. The roof.

For recent folks, a short recap:

Mid 2012, I bought a house. And then got a lawnmower, bbq, etc., to go with the house. As one does.
End 2012, the old car fell apart on the highway and I had to buy a new one, and my bike was stolen.
In 2013, my cell phone, laptop, printer all died. A birch tree in the backyard died and had to be taken down. And I lost my job. I found a new one by the end of the year, but still.
And in 2014, my 60-foot retaining wall rotted apart after our very snowy winter and needed to be replaced.

It’s like everything in my house is determined to break all at once. With the exception of the bike (I still haven’t replaced it), nothing could wait. The consequences of not replacing whatever it was was always more costly and difficult than going ahead with it. This is not to say that I could, by the time the retaining wall gave out, actually afford it. Single mom–one income–seriously depleted bank account thanks to house and car downpayment–ongoing mortgage and loan rendering it difficult to rebuild savings–all equals some debt for the retaining wall. Curses.


If you’ve known me for longer than fifteen minutes, you’ll likely have heard me compare the costs of climate change to a roof on your house. Yes, if the roof leaks, it is expensive and a total PITA to repair it. Maybe you can’t afford to fix it right now. You’re still better of fixing the roof, because if you don’t, you’ll end up losing your house to rot. Go into debt if you need to.

Well, guess who found shingles on her lawn this morning.

Yep. This person.

There was a massive windstorm Monday night this week, and it apparently did more damage than I was really, really, really hoping it would do. I was really, really, really hoping that the roof would last through one more winter, and I could replace it in the spring after paying down the retaining wall.

I so can’t afford to fix my roof right now. But I guess I’m going to have to.

If only I could sew a new roof … but no. What this does mean though is that my current super-strict sewing budget will need to be both stricter and in place for longer. Sigh.

I love it when I become the living embodiment of my own analogies.

Shirt Making Adventures III

And then I added buttons, and then it was done.

Mostly. I swear I followed the directions for the cuffs to the millimetre, but somehow they still ended up backwards. In that the continuous lap/placket looked beautiful, and everything on the cuff matched up gorgeously, and then I followed the directions for which side got the buttons and which side got the buttonholes, and now it is reversed. It’s not a big deal. Definitely one of those “no one else will ever notice it” things (except now that I’ve told all of you, all of you will notice it) but it irked me just the same.

so spoofable

And here are the requisite silly pictures, this time spoofing off of single working mom stock images. They all looked much too perky and well-rested. I also couldn’t help but notice that the eldest child featured in such a stock picture was six, and most of them ranged from infancy to three. Apparently once the child of a single working mom reaches the age of seven, they become completely self-sufficient, and we go back to our regular lives. Someone needs to tell Frances that.

So. Tired. As well as a 3/4 view of the shirt, tucked in.
So. Tired. As well as a 3/4 view of the shirt, tucked in.

None of the pictures really turned out very well. The shirt is so light and my house is so dark this time of year, that they just show this white floral blinding object in the middle surrounded by sharp shadows. You can’t make out any details. These are the best of the lot.

At any rate:

A really terrible side view. It gets dark here early now, Dear Readers.
A really terrible side view. It gets dark here early now, Dear Readers.

What I Like

The fabric. Holy cow. Incredibly soft to wear. Has a slight silky sheen and feels like silk, but presses and sews like cotton, so it’s really the best of both worlds. Plus the many, many colours means I can wear it with everything AND clash, at the same time! Brilliant.

The shoulder seams hit right where they should. The bust seams are just what I wanted; not too loose, but loose enough that the front plackets fall to the centre and stay there all by themselves. No gaping and no straining.

The sleeves are the right length. The collar looks ok, even though I mucked it up.

The underlining: the fabric is no longer sheer, but it’s still incredibly lightweight and the fabric layers work together as a single piece.

When no amount of caffeine is enough.
When no amount of caffeine is enough.

What I’ll Fix Next Time

Next time I’ll take the length out of the sleeve before cutting, and ignore the pattern directions for which side gets buttons vs. buttonholes on the cuffs.

I may change the angle of the sleeve head to give me slightly better range of motion. As is typical for tailored shirts, arm movement isn’t really great.

The front waist is a bit baggier than I’d expected. I may fix this at some point. In the meantime, I put a note on the pattern that the front seams should be taken in 1/4″ on each side below the bust. At the same time, I want just a bit more room in the back, so I’ll add a 1/4″ there.

SO. DARK. So few visible details.

Overall, though, it’s just what I wanted: a very colourful but still practical work shirt with buttons that close and stay closed. All of the pictures above were taken after wearing the shirt to work. The underlining is preventing it from wrinkling even with the cotton content. It’s comfortable all day. Huzzah!

B5354 again: once more, with feeling

Detail shot of the beading: navy, light blue and light purple beads, with the star-stitch and french knot in grey and black blending filament. The straight stitch at the top got stitched over during construction, so you won't see it again.
Detail shot of the beading: navy, light blue and light purple beads, with the star-stitch and french knot in grey and black blending filament. The straight stitch at the top got stitched over during construction, so you won’t see it again.

One of the most fun things about making your own clothes, to me, is being able to dress them up or down, however you like. It’s not shopping. You are not limited to the presentation on the pattern envelope.

So, I decided to jazz up one of my favourite t-shirt patterns with a bit of beading, worked into the pleats and tucks on the neckline.

This was made with fabric remnants after using the light grey cotton jersey to make two shirts for Frances, so there wasn’t enough left to cut my pattern out with full-length sleeves. I added a bit of width to the shoulders and bust point to deal with the snugness on the short-sleeved yellow one I made in the summer, and shortened the waist by 1.5″. Otherwise it was the same as before.

The finished neckline, plus the top of Simba, who has never yet met a lap he didn't own.
The finished neckline, plus the top of Simba, who has never yet met a lap he didn’t own.

After marking out the pleat spacing on the neckline, I added bits of Sulky iron-on stabilizer to the reverse side so it could support the beading. Then I just got out my beads and kind of messed around to find an arrangement that seemed like it would work with the fabric and spacing: I wanted something that would be a little bit sparkly but subdued overall so I could wear it with whatever colour I wanted on the bottom.

Once I had an arrangement that seemed like it would work, I marked the centre of each upper pleat, down through the middle in a straight line, marked 3/4″ of an inch from the cut edge (to account for sewing on the facing plus turn-of-cloth), and then marked in the lines for the long beads and the spots for the seed beads. They were sewn down using a single strand of gray cotton embroidery floss to match the shirt. Afterwards, using a single strand of the grey floss again plus a strand of kreinik blending filament in black, I added a star stitch and a french knot to each motif.

At least you get a front view. Plus a dog.
At least you get a front view. Plus a dog.

Altogether, from measuring to finishing, the beading probably added about four hours to the shirt construction time. But it worked out pretty well, and it’s now a light grey goes-with-anything shirt that manages to be a little bit special at the same time, plus one-of-a-kind.

Next time I decide I want to bead a neckline, I’ll start it more then 3/4″ from the edge. The seam is awfully close to the beads in a few places. (I sewed the facing to the front with a zipper foot so I could get super close without crushing or sewing through them–they’re all glass.) And if you are looking for any bead embellishment inspiration, this is the book I pulled out to get ideas: Bead Embroidery Stitch Samples.

Not a lot of photos on this post. I figure you got the 360 view last time I sewed this one up, and the only thing that’s really changed is that this one is a bit looser, and has beads on the front. So.

The sleeves have a few draglines going on; I think the armhole is possibly a bit on the low side, which drags up the whole sleeve as soon as I bend my shoulder or elbow. It doesn’t bother me enough to keep me from wearing it, though.

Sorry for the complete lack of eye contact in this post. It wasn’t intentional.

comic relief this post provided by Simba, who spiked the photo shoot with a howling session. Yes, I look ridiculous. And so would you, if a 7 lb wolflet started baying on your lap.
comic relief this post provided by Simba, who spiked the photo shoot with a howling session. Yes, I look ridiculous. And so would you, if a 7 lb wolflet started baying on your lap.

Shirt Making Adventures II

Which begins with restocking the thread, and ends with running out of buttons.

The sleeves is underlined; the cuff is interfaced; the ruffle is neither. You can see the colour variations of each.
The sleeves is underlined; the cuff is interfaced; the ruffle is neither. You can see the colour variations of each.

My daughter had a girl guides field trip last week which was a 30 minute drive from our home, and only ran for 1 1/2 hours. Rather than drive home to sit down for 30 minutes, stand up and drive back again, I figured I would do what any sane, sensible person would, and I hung out in the closest Fabricland instead. I’m very proud of myself: I bought the thread I needed and 1m of xmas tree fabric for making gift bags, and that was it.

Thursday, I prepped the sleeves for underlining.

Friday, I underlined one sleeve.

Saturday morning, I underlined the other sleeve, and then in the afternoon I assembled the cuffs, ruffles, and sleeves.

Then I experimented with sleeve length. See, along with this strangely short torso of mine, I also have strangely short arms. So I’d cut out the size 16 of the sleeves, and figured that would give me some wiggle room to shorten them. I pin-basted the sleeves to the blouse, tried it on and yep, too long. You could see the ends of my fingers under the ruffle, but that was it. So I cut off about 1 1/2″ from the sleeve head, retraced the curve, and re-cut the notches. They’re still a bit on the long side but really not bad.

Then they were attached to the bodice with a french seam.

And then I realized that I had no buttons the right size and the right shade of off-white. It is done now, but I’ve had no chances to get photos of me in the blouse, so that will be post #3. In the meantime, a few details:

Inside of the blouse showing the front placket and the narrow hem, along with the inside of the reverse fell seam.
Inside of the blouse showing the front placket and the narrow hem, along with the inside of the reverse fell seam. It is a bizarrely tidy shirt on the inside.
The slightly messed up collar. The alterations I have to make to the shoulders and back to make it fit always make the neck opening longer, so even though I cut out the largest size of collar, it wasn't quite large enough and I had to fiddle with joining it to the shirt. I've noted that I should just lengthen it by 1.5" past the size 16 for next time.
The slightly messed up collar. The alterations I have to make to the shoulders and back to make it fit always make the neck opening longer, so even though I cut out the largest size of collar, it wasn’t quite large enough and I had to fiddle with joining it to the shirt. I’ve noted that I should just lengthen it by 1.5″ past the size 16 for next time.
And the outside of one of the french seams, just for completeness' sake, edgestitched so it stays flat.
And the outside of one of the french seams, just for completeness’ sake, edgestitched so it stays flat.
Here's the outside of the reverse fell seam over the bust curve. Nice and neat and flat and not bulky at all. Definitely the right choice.
Here’s the outside of the reverse fell seam over the bust curve. Nice and neat and flat and not bulky at all. Definitely the right choice.

Another thing to feel guilty about.

Via Treehugger: Say! Did you know that laundering your synthetic clothing may be contributing to ocean pollution?

Apparently studies have found that washing releases up to 1900 microfibres from each piece of synthetic clothing per wash. These bits of plastic are too small to be removed by conventional filtres and water treatment, so the plastic washes out to sea, where it (along with microbeads) contributes to a serious ocean pollution problem.

This strikes me as one of those rare pieces of environmental news that has direct relevance to home sewers. While I prefer natural fibres myself, sometimes they’re just not available locally at a price that is reasonable. And sometimes they’re plain not available locally. I searched high and low for stretch cotton twill for my recent Jasmine pants, but in the end the only stretch twill I could find had a substantial poly content.

I’m in general opposed to lifestyle-scale solutions for global-scale problems, so I’m not going to tell you what kind of fabric you should buy. As the article itself notes, given how much sheddable synthetic clothing is already in circulation, that likely wouldn’t address the problem anyway, and what we really need are better filtration systems (though this raises the question of what to do with all those bits of plastic that would be flushed out of our domestic sewage systems).

Still, as home sewers, we have managed to create (or at least increase) a reasonable supply or organic and local fabrics; maybe, if there were enough demand, less easily shed synthetics would be created and sold.

In the meantime, this may be another good argument for laundering clothing less frequently. In addition to the waste of water and electricity and the pollution of water from soaps and detergents, we’re plasticizing the oceans. Fantastic. So how about we only wash our clothes when they’re dirty?

Shirt Making Adventures I

I know the fabric is busy, but the shirt’s lines are actually quite good. And princess seams are super adjustable for those of us without standard-issue upper bodies.

I gave up on off-the-racks button-up shirts a long time ago. Probably around the time that, wearing a light purple button-up blouse at a work meeting for my old job at CN Rail, I looked down to see that the third button (yes, THAT button) had popped open.

Clothing manufacturers typically base their products on a b-cup. Some of them will base their models on a c-cup. Generally, if you’re talking about a knit t-shirt or a top without front closures, you can work with what’s in the stores without embarrassing yourself; but the farther over the b-cup line you go, the more you will be risking with any shirt that has buttons.

A few years ago I thought I’d struck gold with a coral-red blouse. It had lovely long sleeves with lattice smocking stitches at the top. It was soft, and had a defined waist. Best of all, it buttoned up, and stayed buttoned up! Then I got more and more into sewing my clothes and realized that the front darts were so much higher than they were supposed to be, that we might as well call them shoulder darts. Or maybe armpit darts. Bust darts, they were not. Bother.

(It’s amazing how much these previously-missed details become obvious when you start paying attention to the fit of the clothes you make yourself.)

So a current sewing priority is button-up shirts I can wear to work that will stay closed without safety pins or glue. The yellow one from the summer worked pretty well, but it’s getting colder now, and I’d like to have some long-sleeved options.

See? Very work friendly. This is the view I am making: I thought the floral would look cute ruffled up at the end of the sleeves.

Enter the silk-cotton voile I bought 50% off this summer, and a stash pattern from Vogue. I muslined it in a blue poly a month or two ago, just enough to see that the fit was pretty good, but could use some more space in the bust. (sigh) So I added another half-inch to the side-front pieces at the bust point, and graded back to the 14-line at the shoulders and the 12-line at the waist. I shortened the back-waist length by 1.5″ all the way around, broadened the shoulders by 1/2″ on each side, and widened the hips. It’s basically a melange of 12-16+ at this point, with a bit of Size 4 Petite thrown in for good measure for the length. My torso is weird.

The main fabric--already underlined, but you can see what it looks like. Honestly it's got so many colours in it I'm not sure I could clash with it if I tried. Either that or it's self-clashing.
The main fabric–already underlined, but you can see what it looks like. Honestly it’s got so many colours in it I’m not sure I could clash with it if I tried. Either that or it’s self-clashing. In person, the colours are not so opaque.

This weekend’s challenge, though, was underlining.

Yes, underlining.

I bought two colours of the voile in the summer. One was this lovely off-white floral watercolour painterly print that I thought was just gorgeous, and I got 1.5m of it. And then I got 3m of a white, both to underline the floral print if needed, and to make a separate white shirt. The voile was incredibly sheer. Soft, gorgeous, drapey, and wonderful, but sheer.

I wasn’t entirely sure I would use the white for underlining the floral, though, until I interfaced the cuff, collar and placket pieces. The white interfacing completely changed the brightness of the print, making the background much whiter, not to mention changing the opacity. There was no way I could put those together with the sheer off-white fabric. So underlining it was.

White on the reverse, showing the underlining stitches. And also the sheerness of the fabrics. They have good opacity when put together, though.
White on the reverse, showing the underlining stitches. And also the sheerness of the fabrics. They have good opacity when put together, though.

This is, to put it mildly, an incredibly tedious process for a princess-seamed blouse. There are nine pieces to underline: three on the back, four on the front, and two sleeves. Each piece was cut out twice, once in floral and once in white; they were placed together and pressed, then a hand-basted line in the middle in silk thread held them together. Each piece was then smoothed around a magazine, the edges pinned in place, then hand-basted along the edges. It took about six hours altogether, just for the body pieces (I haven’t yet done the sleeves).

BUT. The floral is now brighter, a better match with the interfaced pieces, and no longer sheer. The layers are behaving very well together and now have the weight of a fairly drapey shirting fabric. And are still incredibly soft.

Look at those colours!
Look at those colours!

The second challenge was assembling the shirt, now that there were four layers (of very lightweight fabric, but still) in each seam.

The pattern calls for french seams, which if you are sewing-uninitiated, means that you sew the seam very narrowly the wrong way, trim down the seam allowance, flip it around, press it, and then sew it again the right way at the seam line. I’m not sure how easy that is to visualize, but basically you end up with a garment inside with very neatly encased seams–no edges. It’s a fabulous finish for lightweight fabrics, but with four layers–even of lightweight fabrics–which then becomes 8 layers through the magic of french seams–I know from experience, it makes a rigid seam line that stands up underneath the garment. This is especially unattractive on the princess seam over the bust (also learned from experience).

So I did some experimenting: a french seam; a clipped french seam; a classic felled seam; a faux-french seam (in which you sew the pieces together the normal way, turn the seam allowances in on the inside and press, then sew the seam allowances together). All made with scrap fabric in a fairly drastic curve to see what would be softest, most comfortable and most attractive.

From left to right: french seam, clipped french seam, felled seam, faux-french seam
From left to right: french seam, clipped french seam, felled seam, faux-french seam

The french seam turned out bubbly and rigid, as I expected. The clipped french seam performed better, but I wasn’t convinced the clipping wouldn’t fray the fabric over time, and it was still fairly rigid.

The felled seam was the softest and the least rigid, but all of the folding and pressing made for something pretty ugly on the outside. The faux-french seam would have done better if I could have managed the sewing inside the test-bit with a better curve, but I didn’t; it was still fairly rigid. But I reasoned it was probably the best bet and I’d just have to wrestle with sewing the curves.

Until I turned them inside out, and saw that the reverse of the felled seam was actually fantastic. Neat, soft, good curve, little bulk.

reverse of felled seam on the left, reverse of faux-french seam on the right
reverse of felled seam on the left, reverse of faux-french seam on the right. Which one would you rather wear?

The front seams have now been put together with a reverse felled seam, and it’s so pretty, and behaves very well. The rest of the seams are classic french seams, then pressed down and edge-stitched to keep them flat. I’ve also finished the collar and the hem, but this is getting long enough (or too long), so I’ll save that for the next post.

Which will have to wait until I get a chance to restock on thread. French seams + edgestitching = lots and lots of thread required. I’ve used a whole spool and I haven’t even gotten to the sleeves yet.

I swear, if this shirt isn’t wearable when it’s finished, I’m going to be pissed. But so far all signs point to yes.

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