Leather Again

One of the things I really, really wanted to do during my Day In Toronto was stop in at Perfect Leather.

After my bag-making adventures, I wanted to expand my leather sewing experiences, but with softer leathers made for different kinds of garments, and I knew that I was not likely to find them close to home. Actually when I bought the bag leather locally I was directly told by the store owner that if I wanted a good garment leather selection, I should go downtown to someplace like Perfect Leather, and with that kind of inside information all you can really do is nod and agree.

So imagine my disappointment to learn that Perfect Leather is not open on Saturdays.

At all. Period.

Boo Perfect Leather! Most people aren’t available for shopping M-F 9-5:30. What are you thinking?

However … King Textiles also has a garment leather selection, as well as fabric and notions and a good reputation. And they’re open on Saturdays. So that’s where I spent my money.

And did I ever. I bought  wool and a lining in there to make up that suit I was talking about, but there is also this:

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A very soft taupe-y lambskin suede, picked up for less than $1/square foot, coming to about $10 total. Ten square feet is just about what I used for the work bag I made previously, so I know it’s enough for a decent sized purse or tote. And just imagine: it will cost less than the equivalent bag out of cotton canvas. Now THAT is a good deal.

And this:

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A gorgeous plum/maroon lambskin leather with a lovely sueded back, a birch-tree print, and an absolutely fantastic silky drape. It was more expensive, at either $4 or $5/square foot–I forget–but still a very reasonable price for such a nice leather, and I bought enough for a good pencil skirt for about $100. (Incidentally, while their selection is I’m sure more restricted than Perfect Leather’s, it was still pretty decent and a lot of fun to look through. There were a few pieces of metallic gold calf skin that I am still thinking about. Not enough to make the trip back to buy it, but enough to think wistfully of the Projects That Might Have Been). While $100 is a lot to pay for fabric for a pencil skirt, when you think about buying a leather pencil skirt with a lovely drape in a beautiful colour with a nice print, it looks a lot more reasonable. This is how I rationalize my purchases.

However, there’s some internal pressure now to make this the Most Perfect Pencil Skirt of All Time, and this is where you come in.

Yes, you!

I need a pencil skirt pattern.

For those of you newish to leather sewing, here are things I keep in mind:

1. Generally, you don’t want too many darts. Leather is not like fabric. It doesn’t press, you don’t iron it, and there’s bulk. It’s possible to deal with this, but the fewer and smaller darts, the better.
2. You also generally want patterns that use lots of small pieces rather than a few big pieces. Yes, bigger pieces are easier to sew together, but they are harder to cut out in leather because it has irregular edges and may have imperfections from the skin of the animal. I mean, if there’s a mark or a small hole smack dab in the middle of the hide, it’s hard to work around when you have big pattern pieces. Small pattern pieces can just be placed around it.

So I’m looking for a pencil skirt pattern that has a fair amount of structure, and where the shaping comes from the construction rather than darts. I’ve googled for inspiration, and was gratified to see that most RTW leather pencil skirts are both a) insanely expensive (cheapest I saw was $400, and that was on sale; there were a number well over $2k) and b) boring as sin. Lots of black. Some brown. One orange, one red, and two bright yellow (encouraging). $100 for this particular leather pencil skirt is looking better and better. However, this didn’t help with inspiration.

But, ok, patterns. Current contenders include:

Vogue 8750
Nice seam details and few to no darts. I think if I used lapped seams and let some of the suede from the back show through, it would add a really nice detail.
Vogue 7937
I love the flouncy bits at the back of the skirt on the left, but I’m not entirely sure how the leather would handle them. I’m also not entirely sure that I have enough leather for it.
Butterick 6060
Kind of bland, but it’s an option.
Butterick 5566
The yoke’s cool, isn’t it? I’m not sure about those big pieces in the front and back, though.
Style Arc Etta skirt
Flounces (cute!) and lots of nice, narrow pieces. This might work.
Style Arc Zoe skirt
I love the shaping on this and think it would look fantastic in leather, but I’m not at all sure that the hides are long enough to accommodate the pattern pieces.

So, if you were two pieces of lovely soft lambskin in a deep maroon with a birch print on you, which of these skirts would you most like to become? Or none of these? Right now I’m thinking the first one way up at the top is my best bet: lots of smallish pieces, a good shape, good seaming details, and calls for less than 1m of fabric, which is about equivalent to how much leather I have. But I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise.

V2532: in which I inflict my unsightly legs on unsuspecting readers

“You don’t want big, tight, ropey muscles when you are in front of a camera,” says Grace Lazenby, who has taught Wright and a hose of other actresses in her Rockin Models class at Equinox in West Hollywood. … “You can love SoulCycle,” explains Lazenby. “But you can’t go to SoulCycle five times a week and do squats and lunges and expect to go on a camera, ever.” “Forever Young,” Alex Kuczynski, Vogue Magazine, August 2014, p. 134 *

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Me and my legs right where we belong: with the trash, which I will carry to the curb later this week.

Dear Readers, I must apologize in advance.

I have inflicted grevious harm on any viewing audience this blog has by putting my legs–which have seen bicycles, squats, and lunges, and plenty of them, not to mention step-ups, dead-lifts, jump squats, burpees, froggers, runs and jogs, and endless hikes, for years. Years! If I’d known what this would do to the camerability of my legs, I’m not sure I would have had the guts to put myself out there this way.

I'm sorry. I should have cropped out my legs.
I’m sorry. I should have cropped out my legs.

But here we are: I am reviewing a shorts pattern. Shorts mean that your legs are visible. I can’t show you the shorts without showing you my legs, and as you can see, all of those lower-body muscle-building exercises have left me with enormous, He-Man thighs. It’s a tragedy.
The shorts aren’t. A tragedy, I mean. I’m just lucky that they fit at all, I guess, given my entire lack of willowy-ness. I cut them out in a size 16 (16! Six! teen!) for the hips and a 14 (sobs) in the waist. They’re a smidge snug in the waist area, despite that I sewed them up with 3/8″ seams instead of 5/8″. It’s true, I guess. I’m too fat for public viewing.**

The fabric is a blue viscose/cotton blend I picked up at Fabricland for a song. Mock fly zip, side seam pockets. It was easy to put together and worked out well. Of course, now I learn from Vogue Magazine that I really should only wear these outside of the house if I know for a fact that there will be no cameras lurking anywhere.

I’ll bet her trainer warned her off of squats and lunges years ago

(In all seriousness, the side seam pockets were not my favourite. I prefer front pockets, both for comfort and because that bit of added bulk on the side seam is not my friend. I feel a bit like I’m wearing a Victorian corset with this silhouette. And you can see that the model on the pattern envelope in this length, with her hands in her pockets, has got some of the same thing going on.)

Cycling, lunges and squats can create bulky muscles, unless you’re six feet tall and weigh 120 lbs. Avoid heavy weights or risk looking like a quarterback. … “Nothing more than two or three pounds. Ever,” says De La Rue.

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Dear god, the shame! And also the sides of the shorts.

Oh my god! I’m only 5’8″! I weigh something like 145 lbs. (Honestly not entirely sure.) How did no one warn me before that unless you are taller than most men and thinner than most teenagers, heavy weights will make you look like a 20-year-old man on steroids?

It’s true. I lift heavy weights, sometimes. My god, what have I done to myself? I mean, sure, it’s good for your brain, your mood, your heart, your lungs, and your bones, but how could I have prioritized all that over shrinking myself into Flat Stanley so I could be mailed to Australia with a regular postage stamp? (Sigh.)

How many squats with 3 lbs each will it take to burn off my last 1,265 meals?
How many squats with 3 lbs each will it take to burn off my last 1,265 meals?

I’m so sorry, Dear Readers. I have let you down terribly, I know. Not only have I inflicted upon you the sight of legs on camera that have done an awful lot of heavy lifting, without even doing you the courtesy of photoshopping them, but I am so completely addicted to strength that I don’t think I could stop even if I wanted to. God help me, I like opening my own jars and being able to run up the stairs. It feels really good. I could have decided to atrophy myself down to a level of photogenic weakness, but instead I chose to be a strong, capable, competent woman. It’s unforgivable, I know. And unphotographable, more to the point. And yet, here I am! Photographing myself! Putting the photographs in public!

No wait, I know what I'll do! I'll fix it just like Vogue magazine does: photoshop!
No wait, I know what I’ll do! I’ll fix it just like Vogue magazine does: photoshop!***

I was doomed, of course, the moment I had a child. I mean Frances was born quite small, but she definitely weighed more than three pounds. And then there’s the car-seat and the diaper bag …. Hell, even my work bag weighs more than 3 lbs fully loaded. I should have thought of this in advance. I should have avoided motherhood with all its unsightly lifting and carrying, or hired a nanny to do it for me, and I should have known better than to carry hardcovers with me on the train to work. I don’t know how I live with myself.

I do know that I will live with myself in more comfort if I make the waistband a smidge looser the next time with this pattern. If I were a real woman, I’d just lose five pounds, but alas. Maybe the serging on the inside to finish the seams and the careful pressing of the hems will make up, at least somewhat, for my many sins.

I can only hope that in time you will all find it in your hearts to forgive me.

Or at least be able to keep down your lunch when you see that I’ve chosen to put myself in front of a camera again.

~~~~~

* This one’s not online, maybe because they knew they’d get hate mail. So alas, no link.

** That it’s a Vogue pattern I’m reviewing along with a Vogue article is a coincidence. They’re separate entities, I imagine.

*** Wow, I was really surprised at how easy it was to erase sections of my body on the computer. It actually turned out to be harder to do a bad job of it than a good job. Still, how many obvious photoshop goofs can you see in this picture?

V8997: New Favourite Dress Pattern that I almost broke

Just look at this little bit of gorgeousness.

Wouldn’t you wear this if you could? You would. Unless you’re a boy, and maybe even then. It’s just fantastic, isn’t it? The bodice fit, the gored skirt with its lovely flares, the seam details on the front, the fact that it is adjustable for different cup sizes (aka no FBA required).

And yet after ordering it in the spring, it sat on my stash shelf, unloved.

Clearly this needed to be rectified while it was still warm enough to wear it.

This time I played with the saturation so that the yellow of the dress would stand out. It's not quite as interesting as I would have liked, but oh well.
This time I played with the saturation so that the yellow of the dress would stand out. It’s not quite as interesting as I would have liked, but oh well.

The yellow cotton fabric came from Downtown Fabric again, Queen W in Toronto ($8/m) and I lined it with yellow cotton batiste (more expensive than the dress fabric, alas, but I got it 50% off at Fabricland) because after making a nice cotton dress for the summer heat, I was not going to add a sticky acetate lining. The interfacing is cotton fusible. More on that below.

I absolutely freaking adore this pattern. I would marry it, if it weren’t illegal in all ten provinces. I would marry it and have little paper-human children. Paper dolls. I would have paper dolls with this pattern.

sleeves!
sleeves!

I’d already made a few Vogue shirt patterns with the cup-size adjustment things so I knew I could count on 14D fitting well, and so didn’t bother to muslin. And it was just fine! Really. I cut everything out in 14D and sewed it up, and once it was all together the only change I had to make was shortening the shoulder seams by 1/4″ because the bodice is so structured and my waist is a bit high so the whole thing was sitting a bit off my shoulders. It was an easy fix (and now I know for next time, only I’ll take it off the waist). All the seams lined up; the back is flat; the waist fits; the bodice is just right; the flared skirt is fantastic. It has pockets that sit at just the right place.

The gored circle skirt is by far my favourite part
The gored circle skirt is by far my favourite part. Because it’s gored, you could use a directional print on this dress and all parts of the print would be pointing the right way.

It took me all weekend, mind you. Saturday and Sunday. There are a ton of pieces (44, counting dress, lining and interfacing) so that’s a lot of seams and a lot of pressing. Still, for this, it is worth it.

I was within shooting distance of finishing the dress (hemming to go, and that was it) and had it on to test the fit, and I went outside to start the BBQ for dinner. Single mom, you know. And it spattered dark soot all over the front of my dress.

Bubbling all gone. Thank goodness.
Bubbling all gone. Thank goodness.

So the very first thing I had to do, once the hemming was done, was stain-treat and wash my new dress. Argh. All for a moment of carelessness. Which led me to wonder what the cotton fusible interfacing would do in the wash. Are you supposed to pre-shrink that stuff? I never pre-shrink interfacing but normally I haven’t fused it to the entire upper half of a dress. Crap. Is it going to wreck my dress when I wash it to remove the soot stains?

I pre-treated. I washed. I partially dried on the low-heat setting. And 95% of the dress was just fine, but the two side-back pieces on the bodice bubbled up horribly. Fortunately ironing on a very hot setting while the fabric was still damp (at almost midnight, Dear Readers, when I had my alarm set for six–but I had to fix it!) smoothed out almost all of it. Thank god it’s still wearable. If I had killed it before I even got a chance to wear it, I probably would have held a funeral for it in the backyard. I love it that much.

lingerie loop
lingerie loop

The shoulders are a bit wide, so I added lingerie loops into the seams to keep them over my bra straps. Just a hook-and-eye set, with the eye sewn to the shoulder seam below the sleeve, where it’s nicely hidden, and then the hook attached to a nice long cord. (Cord was handmade: knotted on to the hook with a good long tail, then stitched it on to the inner shoulder seam, small knot, and buttonhole stitches over the thread and tail all the way up to the hook, with another knot to tie it securely, and then partially threaded through the cord to hide the knot and tail. That probably doesn’t make any sense. I should have taken a picture of the process for a visual.)

I also fussed with the back closure, above the zipper, quite a bit. I added a hook-and-eye set facing both up and down, as the pattern recommends, but it was too visible from the outside (all the hook-and-eye sets I can find around here are black). I added a button with a handmade thread closure, and then moved the button over, but it still gaped too much and I couldn’t do it up easily. Then I added a hook to one side and a thread loop to the other. It’s not perfect but it’s the best of what I’ve tried so far. Anything snugger and I can’t get it done up by myself, which is kind of important.

And yes, I know the cords are rough. I’m not sure how other people get their buttonhole stitches on thread to lie so smoothly, but I haven’t yet mastered it. Fortunately, these are hidden, so who cares? And they’re tough and will last forever.

The only thing I’m not happy with is the zipper. I should have listened to my inner voice and gone with the invisible zipper–instead I used a regular one, which was hard to sew in properly with all the many layers of fabric at the waist. So it’s clunky. I’d also widen the inner shoulders a bit so that it doesn’t sit quite so far off.

Next: the sheath version with the colour-blocking in a nice, colourful, heavy-ish wool or wool-silk. I can’t wait.

it’s (practically) august!

So.

I swore off fabric purchases until August.

And we’ll just leave it there.

..

.

OK. I bought fabric.

But not very much. It might not have been a fast, but it was certainly a diet.

I bought lightweight denim and blue viscose (not yet blogged) for shorts. On sale, 50% off. I’ve got enough left over to make shorts for Frances, too.

I bought a few metres of a gorgeous white and an off-white floral silk-cotton blend that was soft and beautiful and 50% off.

I bought a metre of the brown-eyed susan print I was talking about before. Because it was almost sold out.

And I bought a fat quarter of a bright red print for a quilt I’m planning.

I’ve already used the first two. The white silk-cotton I think will be dandy as an embroidered blouse, and I have a test square all set up for embroidering to see what works. No idea what I will do with the brown-eyed susan print. But it’s the only stash fabric–and I sewed up almost everything I had in my to-sew pile, except for a lovely silk charmeuse that I really need to plan out and muslin the hell out of first, and a great bamboo jersey that was going to be a Moneta, but I am being indecisive and now maybe it will be an Emily t-shirt plus something else.

Now it is August. (Almost.)

I can go shopping! For fabric. Fall fabric. Is fall fabric in the stores yet?

I feel like I should be saying something meaningful about What I Have Learned from the fabric shopping ban(-lite). What I mostly learned is that I bought too much fabric in April, because it’s still not all sewed up and I’ve been working through projects at a pretty fair clip.

We’ll see if this is something I remember next time I am on Queen West, drooling over bolts of clothing-to-be: there will be something beautiful to buy later when you have a project in hand. It is not necessary to buy All The Fabric now because it’s there and you don’t know if you will see it again. They make more!

Probably Saturday, Dear Readers. On Saturday I will put my newfound wisdom to the test.

M6884–a dress for some seasons

silly-48-7
What else do you do in a dress like this, but vamp?

So here we go–my first attempt at blog ridiculousness. I hope you enjoy it. It was a lot of fun to do. Jesus Murphy, just my luck that this was the first make during my experiment…

Also, please note that this post assumes you are not squeamish about women’s underwear. Thank you for your understanding.

This dress really has no practical uses whatsoever.

Well, clothing, technically. I mean, it means the legal definition. I won’t be arrested wearing it.

Now what do you suppose they did in this photo to keep the model looking so modest? I suspect double-sided tape.

But I won’t be wearing it to work, either. Maybe out on a date with a guy I really, really like.

First off, a confession. I know that stripes are supposed to match. And I tried, for days, to make these stripes match.

Initially I put this fabric together with this pattern because I thought the stretch was just perfect for the faux-wrap style and the stripes would look fantastic with those gathers on the right. But I did not buy anywhere near enough to allow for proper pattern matching, given the irregular repeat on the zebra-style stripes and the narrow stripe repeat width. I truly did my best–included tracing and colouring in the stripes on the pattern pieces themselves to try to get them to line up properly. No luck.

silly-51-8
And now that I’m all gussied up, I guess I’d better do what us glamourous single moms do with all of our spare time…

I still think the fabric and stripe just scream dress, but I do wonder how a different sewist would have pulled off the stripe matching. Maybe a very, very slim woman would have found the repeat pattern enough width-wise to make the pieces match up all the way up the sides. The best I could do was get some key points at the waist and hips to line up approximately–and given the gathers, the top halves weren’t going to match up no matter what. The front pieces matched up beautifully, though.

Anyway. The sewing went together fairly easily. I used some stabilizer tape for knit hems on this one, and did it ever make a difference. All the seams and hems lie so nice and flat and they still stretch. It’s a miracle. I love that stuff.

The major stumbling block: McCalls didn’t put page 3 of the instructions in the envelope, and since I ordered it online I couldn’t take it back to a store and get a switch. It took me about two hours to get 80% of the dress done–and then I was stumped. I tried to guess it together but it didn’t look like it was going to work, so I instagrammed McCalls on Saturday and then emailed them on Monday looking for page 3 of the pattern, which I got from them on Tuesday. So props to them for prompt customer service, and if you ever need to follow up with them on a pattern problem, I’d recommend using the email form on the company page.

Like so. As modestly as possible.
Like so. As modestly as possible.

The instructions on that page are a little tricky. While views a and b are completely faux-wrap dresses, and both sides are sewn together, views c and d are a combination of faux-wrap and real-wrap. One side is sewn together, and the other side–with the gathers–is free. That part you actually tie up when you put it on.

The dress, when done, is super cute and fairly flattering and really, really comfortable–especially in this knit fabric, which is light and unbelievably soft, which it had better be for what I paid for it. It’s also (partially) a wrap dress, which = plunging V neckline. So I finished it up and then it sat in my closet, complete, while I struggled with underwear options. I mean I had no bras whatsoever that were both pale enough not to be visible through the fabric, and short enough in front not to be visible in the V.

~~~

Digression: Bliss Bras

Squeamish male readers, cover your eyes.

Bliss Bras on Upper James came through in spades. Not only did the saleslady scour the store looking for things that were jersey-friendly, not dark, and very low-cut in front–and in my size, which is a challenge at the best of times–but when she found one that had the right cup size and a band several sizes too large that otherwise was perfect, she whipped out her sewing machine and shortened the band for me while I waited at the counter, for free, for a bra that was on sale. Colour me super impressed. This is how you win lifelong loyalty.

We also had a lovely chat about sewing machines, sewing in general, and bra-making while she shortened the band. Did you know that Hamilton is a global centre for bra-making? No? Me neither. There’s apparently a globally-recognized store that teaches classes locally and all over the world and everything. Who knew? A new obsession may appear in this space shortly, Dear Readers. But not until I’ve worked through a bit more of my Someday Shelf.

End digression.

~~~

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This is what women did in the 1950s, right? They put on a dress, did their make-up, wore heels, and did housework?

Anyway, here is the final result.

Apparently, some folks had the brilliant idea of attaching t-shirt bands to the inner front of similar patterns in order to prevent themselves from inadvertently flashing passersby. Beautifully done, yes? I’ve decided to live on the wild side. On occasion. In carefully chosen company.

i’ve had a double-think

My aesthetic experiment is going to be tweaked before it’s even begun, Dear Readers.

Do you get the sense that the model and/or photographer give a fuck what you think about her?

Last night, while I was browsing fashion magazines at Chapters (and spent entirely too much money to bring them home), I realized that the aesthetics of sewing blogs doesn’t mimic fashion magazines. Not really.

~
Though I’ll grant that in my quick search, women definitely produced more sexy/pretty self-portraits than men, and I’m sure it’s no accident. Still, overall, there were very, very few friendly and approachable smiles on someone trying to be generically pretty.

Nor does it mimic self-portrait photography.

~
Yup. There’s your standard sewing blog aesthetic–courtesy of Sears.

It mimics catalogues.

Which is depressing as hell (to me, anyway). What does it say about us and our relationship to our creations that our immediate impulse is to present them as products for sale? Is it just that that’s the easiest kind of picture to take? Is it our default relationship with the clothes we wear and enjoy–posed on a friendly, unintimidating, quietly pretty model? What do you think about the implication–that we are essentially producing free advertising for fabric and patterns?

A more expensive catalogue (Anthropologie), same visual aesthetic. Yes, I’ve been told that I think too much before.

A very quick, lazy-Saturday-morning perusal of fashion photographs and self-portraits vs. catalogue images makes me wonder if the main difference isn’t that in fashion photography and self-portrait photography, it doesn’t matter if the model looks pretty or not. She (or he) might actually look tired, sick, angry, ridiculous, whatever, so long as the overall image is pleasing and interesting, and in fashion photography, it demonstrates something unusual or noteworthy about the clothing–construction, the way it moves, reflects light, what have you.

I’m not going to include photos from sewing blogs–I don’t want to criticize anyone, and I think this is the kind of thing that would be hard not to take personally. But it’s easy enough to find them on Google and then you can make up your own mind, or tell me I’m full of it.

I’m still going to be focusing on interesting over pretty, but I’ll be thinking about it differently. Anything goes, so long as I don’t look like a page from a Sears catalogue.

an experiment on the aesthetics of sewing blogs

Me, crocheting.
Me, crocheting. In a handmade shirt.

This is long, so here’s a summary: I’m going to stop trying for pretty blog pictures, and start trying for interesting blog pictures. What do you think?

I’m a forever-blogger. I’ve been blogging since the ancient days of Moveable Type. (You can form whatever opinion about me you’d like on the basis of that revelation.) But I’m a very new sewing blogger.

In my limited participation in sewing blogs, I’ve noticed that there’s a very definite template for the widely read ones:

  1. Choose a flattering, cute project. Better if it’s a recent indie release and you can tie your post into the blog tour. Cute trumps practicality.
  2. Sew it up in a cute fabric, maybe even a cute new designer fabric that was just released. (Or one from Mood, and be sure to mention that it’s since sold out.)
  3. Take 3,000 pictures. Not because you’re going to use all of them, but because you want a few that show both the project and you to good advantage. Practice standing at an awkward 3/4 view with your head tilted at an appealing angle, smiling authentically, and for the love of god do your makeup.
  4. Add as many of those pictures to your blog post as you can stand. Touch them up if you have to. While three is considered a minimum (back view, front view, side view), you can go up to about thirty before anyone will publicly give you the stink-eye. If you’re young and cute and you know it, load ‘em up!

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it’s kind of … well …

I spend a good deal of my non-sewing time thinking and talking about the ways women are expected to behave and present themselves in this world, and the constant expectation that no matter what else a woman does or is, nothing is as important as whether or not she looks good doing it.

Is she young and pretty and curvy but not fat? Is she smiling and does she look pleasant? You could be curing cancer and simultaneously writing a future Nobel-prize-winning novel, but if you don’t have good hair and the right lipstick, forgettaboutit. You can be a champion athlete, but you’d better look hot in your athletic clothes.  Save the world from apartheid or starvation or malaria, be our guest; but botox those forehead wrinkles, would ya?

I don’t think anyone is consciously buying into this with their sewing decisions, blogging decisions, or blog-reading decisions, but we do grow up female constantly surrounded by messages about what we should look like, and how much more important that is than anything else about us. So it’s no surprise that when we go to present ourselves visually to the world, we fall back on this. Look cute and non-threatening! Be attractive in a conventional way! 1950s housewife dresses are sure not to intimidate the men in your life!

This is the jacket I’m going to use (or try to)…

You know what, now that I think about this, I am going to make a suit this fall. A very intimidating suit. A don’t-mess-with-me suit. But I digress.

Wow that’s going to cost a fortune…anyway.

The aesthetics of sewing blogs and what it says about our own relationships with our bodies seems to be a pretty standard “look at how closely I approach the physical ideal!” kind of relationship. And again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, and I love lots of the blogs where the women carry this off with style (and I’m going to keep reading and loving them).

But let’s face it. I’m almost 40. Maybe I could have carried that off when I was in highschool or university. Hell, even at 30, I could have played the gamine with more conviction and put on some good doe-eyed smiles for the camera. But I am 39. I have a daughter, a full-time job, a house, a dog, type 1 diabetes, and many other lovely complications. And it is true that age brings with its wisdom grey hairs and crow’s feet. I’m ok with this, but I’m not comfortable with the standard sewing blog presentation, or about what it says about what I think about my body and its role in this world and in my life.

Whether it’s hot or not is … I won’t say meaningless. It’s not. It’s fun to be considered attractive and dating as a middle-aged mom is enough of a meat-grinder for the ego that whatever compliments come my way, I will take with a smile. (Almost whatever compliments. There are limits.) But it’s not who I am, it’s not what I value, and it’s not what I sew for.

I sew to have fun, functional, and yes attractive, clothing to wear in my regular life and do all of the things I like to do. Very rarely is that standing around in a girlish pose, smiling prettily into the middle distance. I read, I sew, I take care of my daughter, I laugh at our dog, I cook, I make ice cream (worth the effort if you’re wondering) without any concern for whether or not the results will be photogenic, I lift weights and actually kind of like the resulting bulk (I sew; I can deal with lats and glutes, you know?), I hike, I work in a cubicle and dazzle coworkers with my brilliance (ahahaha). Most of the time I do these things without any concern for whether my expression, pose and/or outfit are pleasing enough for observers.

So I’m going to run an experiment (and maybe you will join with me).

I’m going to ditch the sewing blog aesthetic, at least for a little while, and take pictures of myself in my self-made clothes doing the things that I do when I’m wearing my handmade clothes and not thinking about what someone’s going to think about the size of my ass or my hip-waist ratio.

Forget pretty. I’d rather be interesting. I’m 39. Haven’t I earned the privilege yet of being considered for something else? Even on a sewing blog?

Yes I have, because I say so.

B5354: New favourite t-shirt

blog-5-3
Check out that tan, will ya?

A few years ago, I bought a yellow t-shirt that became my absolute favourite: interesting pleating and details on the neckline with just the right amount of drape made it flattering without being tight or revealing. I wore it to death. I still wear it, even though years of stains and stretch mean that it has been relegated to the not-leaving-the-house pile.

But I wanted to be able to wear it out or to work again, or something like it, so I bought a t-shirt pattern with interesting pleating at the neck and what looked like decent drape and hoped for the best.

I’m supposed to be a size 16 in this, but it is “very loose” according to the pattern description, so I went with the finished garment measurements instead and sewed up an 8/10. It’s a little snug across the shoulders but otherwise perfect. I can’t imagine this in a 16 on me. I’d have been swimming in it.

blog-3-2The yellow cotton knit came from Downtown Fabrics on Queen West during my April spree, and it is soft and a perfect light/medium weight.

Sewing up the pleats was a bit time consuming, but otherwise the pattern was simple and straightforward. I used knit seam stabilizer and a walking foot on the hems to make it nice and flat, and the other seams are serged. Easy peasy.

Wherein the pleats are actually somewhat visible. Love them.
Wherein the pleats are actually somewhat visible. Love them.

The only alteration to the basic pattern I made was with the facing: it would roll up. This is a problem I’ve noted with RTW knit tops with facings, too, so I don’t think it’s the pattern. I just tacked the facing to the pleats on the inside and serged the facing a bit narrower, and problem solved.

And yes, it’s the fancy shorts again. They are so comfortable. I’ve already worn this combo a bunch of times together. Love love love them.

Renfrew

blog-4-3
This is my tan.

I made up a Sewaholic Renfrew on my vacation as well.

It’s … ok.

I’m not thrilled with it. The v-neck turned out all right, as did the cuffs and hems. The peach rayon knit has an interesting finish with a flat side and a slightly ribbed side, so I used the flat for the shirt and the ribbed side for the cuffs, and I like what it adds. It’s a very light and comfortable shirt, except that the sleeves are a bit too snug–there were no notches to show where the sleeve pieces were meant to meet up with the shirt, so I couldn’t figure out where the ease was to go. And Sewaholic patterns run small up top if you get my drift, which I do not, and my alterations didn’t quite work to add the extra I’d need. So there are drag lines.

blog-7-6But, you know, it’s ok. I can wear it out of the house, better if it’s tucked in.

M6930: Fancy shorts!

blog-3-2I don’t really have any shorts.

Technically, I have three pairs of shorts I bought in my early twenties, which still–miraculously–button up, though two of them are just a bit snug; but all three are very short and very casual. I have a pair of peach shorts bought last summer at Joe Fresh, which taught me to never buy clothes without trying them on first even if it’s an $8 pair of shorts, because Joe Fresh excels at putting together very cute two-dimensional clothes that look good on hangers and have no space for a butt (or boobs). I have a pair of more professional shorts bought on sale three years ago that are just that little bit too tight to be wearable for eight hours seated at a computer.

In a summer version of the classic lament, I have a drawer full of shorts and no shorts to wear, at least not if I want to wear them to work.

So I decided this was the summer to sew some shorts, and I started with M6930, a simple pattern with darts and a back zipper (view A). I then immediately complicated it.

christie lake-9-6First was the back pockets–just the place for some colourful embroidery. There was a floral pattern in A Rainbow of Stitches that was just the size of the back pockets minus the seam allowances, so I traced it out (regular view and mirror view) onto freezer paper, backed the denim with cut-out stabilizer, and stitched it up with a bunch of fibres from DMC, Caron, Rainbow Gallery and a few mystery skeins–there’s cottons, silks, wools, and some kind of glittery synthetic on there, and I used stem stitches, split stitches, chain stitches, satin stitches, french knots, fly stitches, leaf stitches and pistil stitches. This easily took longer than sewing the actual shorts.

christie lake-13-9I also changed the fabrics an itty bit: for the inner waist band and the pocket bag, I used leftover pink cotton from my shirt last fall rather than the same denim used for the shorts proper. This kept the bulk down and the softness up–the cotton is so much nicer against the skin. I also used some of the cotton to line the back pockets so the reverse of the stitching wouldn’t snag when the pockets were used.

And then there was the stitching.

~~~

Brief Digression Through Stitches Used in RTW Denim

Denim is a super stiff and bulky fabric, and if you sewed it up using the same techniques as for cotton or wool pants, it would be unwearable: the seams would be stiff and hard and rub your legs all the time. In order to make denim comfortable, special stitches are used, the most traditional being the flat-fell seam. For these, the fabric is sewn wrong-sides together, one of the pieces is trimmed down, the other wrapped around it, and then this is flattened and sewn to the outside of the garment. Like so:

Inside of a denim flat-fell stitch
Inside of a denim flat-fell seam
Outside of a flat-fell seam
Outside of a flat-fell seam

The inside and the outside look the same because of how the fabric is wrapped around itself and then sewn flat to the garment, which makes it much more comfortable to wear. However, this is time consuming, so you’ll often see some shortcuts in rtw denim as well, like this:

Inside of a simple denim seam
Inside of a simple denim seam
Outside of a simple denim seam.
Outside of a simple denim seam.

Instead of a full flat-fell seam, it’s serged right sides together, and then the serged seam is stitched down to the inside of the garment. Still flat, still very strong, no tedious seam-wrapping and so much faster.

End digression.

~~~

Yay for tidy shorts seams!
Yay for tidy shorts seams! (The one on the left has been stitched flat.)

The shorts pattern contained instructions for neither, so I just added the simpler version–serged the main seams and then stitched the serged seam flat against the inside of the shorts. I cheated and used the overlock foot to get the stitching as straight and as close to the seam as possible; but I wasn’t quite as confident in the edge-stitching, so I didn’t use a contrasting thread. Maybe next time. But the seams are strong and flat and comfortable and the inside of the shorts is really, really neat.

A pretty, flat, top-stitched serged seam.
A pretty, flat, top-stitched serged seam.

I also top-stitched the waist-band both top and bottom to keep the pink cotton on the inside, rather than rolling up into a little pink border on top of the shorts.

Most often with denim, you’ll see shaped front and back yokes rather than darts, but this denim was light enough that the darts worked. And it fit perfectly. I cut out a straight size 16 based on my hip measurements with no alterations and it’s just right.

I also had some fun with adding bar-tack stitches to the pockets for added strength (check your jeans–they have bar-tack stitches on the pockets, and likely rivets as well). Have I mentioned lately how much I love my Janome? It has a bar-tack stitch!

blog-6-5tl; dr: I made some shorts! Here they are.

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