M6884–a dress for some seasons

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

congratulations graduate!

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Yes, it’s a headless Frances photo.

(itty-bitty Mommyblog aside)

Holy crap, my child is done with elementary school. I am not ready. I just brought her home from the hospital last week. How did it go this quickly?

(back to sewing)

Frances started talking up her mom-made grad dress at school months ago, to both classmates and teachers. So sweet, yes? I’m going to enjoy her being proud of wearing home-made clothing for as long as it lasts.

Also, this dress had better be as close to flawless as possible, or I am screwed.

The rayon ($8/m) came from Downtown Fabrics on Queen West in Toronto. Lining was just regular acetate this time–it’s a grade 5 grad dress. I want her to look special but an heirloom garment this is not. Frances helped me pick out the pattern (McCalls 6020, $4 on sale) and the zipper and trim, and then contributed on a weekly basis by asking me if her dress was finished yet.

Umm, no, sweetheart. Not started. Not quite. Patience.

Step 1: Altering the pattern

Frances has some unique sizing issues that make it a challenge to sew straight from the pattern, so first up was taking  detailed and up-to-date measurements, comparing them to the pattern pieces, and altering as required. The back, sleeves, and skirt pieces were cut out in straight-up size 8 (except for skirt length, which I made quite a bit longer as she wanted it as close to ankle-length as possible). The front bodice and waistband both needed altering: waistband an inch or two beyond the size 14 on either side; and the front bodice piece was a size 8 around the neck and sleeves, then widened down to a size 14 at the waist, and deepened by about two inches at centre front based on her front shoulder-to-waist measurement.

She’s not a size 8 in height or limb length yet, but we both wanted this to have some growing room so she could potentially wear it again.

I tested it by basting up the bodice lining pieces and getting her to try it on. While the back was a bit loose, the front and waistband were just perfect: the waistband sat straight at her waist and didn’t pull, and there was no excess fabric on the bodice front. Huzzah!

I even got to use my french curve to redraw the armhole and waist seams on the front bodice piece. It worked out all right–there’s a bit of bubbling on the torso I’m unhappy with, but I think taking it apart to fix it would only move the bubbling to the centre, so we left it. You can see that little bit of puckering in the top photo.

So many failed garments behind that relatively simple accomplishment, Dear Readers.

She didn’t want the sash or the bow, so I just made everything up in the same fabric; and we added on the sparkly neckline trim just for fun.

Step 2: Sewing the bodice and sleeves

This pattern is rated easy, which means there are some construction shortcuts. I am all for construction shortcuts when sewing on a deadline.

graduation-9-5One was the sleeve gathering: the skirt gathering was standard and enclosed within the bodice, but the gathering on the shoulder is quite visible. It’s cute but I’m not sure how much I like the stitching being visible if you get close enough. I might prefer if the pieces were split, gathered on the edge and then sewn together–but there’s no question that this method was a time saver.

Also, the sleeves and sleeve linings were sewn together as a single piece, then gathered. It made a nice edge and was certainly faster to do than adding and hemming them separately.

The bodice and bodice lining were also treated as a single piece for setting in the sleeves, which again made it faster, but also means that the sleeve seam is visible on the inside of the garment. Not a big deal; no one’s going to be looking in there, but it won’t be as smooth for wearing.

Step 3: The Skirt

The rectangles. Sew together. Gather. Attach to bodice, but not bodice lining.

The only alteration was making the front skirt rectangle a few inches wider to match the increased length of the waistband piece. Moving right along…

Step 4: Zipper

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the trim at the top was neatened after I took this photo of the zipper.

I changed the zipper to an invisible zipper per special Frances Request, so didn’t seam up the back until after the zipper was installed. And voila. Then the trim, which Frances picked out to add a little special sparkle to her special dress, stitched on by hand between the shell and the lining, and catch-stitching the bodice lining over the skirt piece, and hemming. It is a blind hem but the fabric is so light and floaty that it’s quite visible. Not a huge deal under the circumstances but I’ll have to figure out a way to do a proper blind hem on this fabric for the next project.

All in all, very little hand-sewing was required for the dress, which was great. It looks lovely and Frances loves it. When she tried it on after it was all finished, her eyes bugged out, she clapped her hands, and then jumped up and down. Just what she wanted.

Today was graduation day. We pampered her good and proper–nice long bath last night with fancy conditioner, shiny fingernails and toenails, a braided hairstyle–and she wore her mom-made grad dress to many, many compliments.  And there was skipping, jumping, hugging, grinning and laughing to be had.

I can’t believe she’s done with grade school.

on expertise

Sewing 1850 style: Probably two gifted women sewing late into the night for fun, no?

Two hundred years ago, any woman alive would been able to produce a hand-stitched garment that fit anyone in her family. It might have included smocking, monograms, top- and edge-stitching, and other decorative and fitting details as a matter of course. While a woman who could sew exceptionally well might have been admired within her local community, every woman was expected to have enough facility with a thread and needle to be able to produce wearable garments. Not to mention linens, bedspreads, etc.

The reference escapes me at the moment, but until relatively recently in historical terms, it was considered a good investment for a middle-class family to spend a small fortune on a complete set of silk embroidery flosses for their daughters, to learn how to embroider well with quality products.*

Nowadays, if you sew yourself a skirt composed of two gathered rectangles and a waistband and the hem turns out even, you are considered talented.

If those little fingers can manage it, I’m sure ours can (19th cent.)

People tell me this fairly often: “You’re so talented, Andrea!” And I think it’s kind of funny. I’m not. I’m moderately good because I’ve invested a lot of time in a learnable skill. Anything that every woman alive did as a matter of course just 200 years ago has not suddenly become a mysterious and rare Gift visited on a chosen few, particularly not with the advent of sewing machines with specialized feet, zippers, automatic buttonholes, printed patterns, sergers and the like.

Sewing is like cooking. At first, you burn the pasta. Eventually, if you put in the time and attention, you learn to make a bolognese from scratch, when to use the buffalo mozzarella and when to use the pizza mozzarella, why it’s better to use full-fat milk in the bechemel sauce but that 1% will do in a pinch, and that, my god, margarine is not a food. (Sorry for the snobbish moment there.) Maybe because most of us do still spend some time feeding ourselves, we recognize cooking for what it is: a skill.

We no longer clothe ourselves, so we no longer think of sewing as a skill. But even your factory-made clothing was almost certainly assembled by women sitting at sewing machines. Are they gifted? Probably not. Most likely they were poor and desperate and this was the best job on offer, and now having sewn those seams approximately 3,000 times, they’re pretty good at it.

The other thing is that I recognize that I’m actually not that good.

I’m ok at it. You know, I can wear something I’ve made out of the house and not be totally embarrassed. I can make things that fit me better than what I can find in a store. I can make things for Frances that fit her pretty well, and that are comfortable and she will wear. Hurray! Yes?

…or maybe this is just an excuse to post some adorable pictures. (19th cent.). Hey, do you suppose mom is charging for that tutorial?

There’s a lot I can’t do, though.

My handmade buttonholes are a joke (thank god for the automatic buttonholes on the machine). My blind hems are not as blind as they should be. I still have no real clue how to fit raglan sleeves properly. Sometimes my darts are uneven, and I still struggle with adjusting patterns to fit my high waist. Belt loops are a work in progress.

But that’s all ok, because one of the things I love about sewing is how much there still is for me to learn. It’s fantastic! I could sew for the rest of my life and still have new skills and techniques to master.

This year, I have finally mastered how to make Frances a shirt and dress bodice that fits. Thanks to her health issues, this is not a simple task, but I did it. Go me! When I made her Princess Frances dress a few years back for a cousin’s wedding, I learned how to orient pattern pieces on ombre fabric to ensure a consistent gradation to the entire garment. But the back placket was poor, the sashes weren’t flat, the front bodice was tight, and the tulle was uneven under the skirt hem. I knew this, even though everyone raved about the dress. (It’s a nice dress, but it’s not perfect.) Her grad dress won’t have the ombre trickery, but I can already tell that the dress as a whole will be a better garment: the sleeves are even, the neckline lies flat and is symmetrical, and the waistband lies straight and goes directly across her stomach. And it will fit her. (And it is also the softest rayon ever woven–I keep petting it.)

I enjoy participating (peripherally) in the sewing community because it is fun. People make stuff, sometimes it’s crap, they post pictures of what they made, get some congratulations. My take is that no one really cares if you’re making stuff well, so long as you are making stuff. Glorious mistakes, and all.**

Thank goodness, because if there were a quality barrier to entry, I’m not sure I’d qualify.

But as much as I enjoy this “let’s all make crap together” spirit, I admit to giving the side-eye to the “and since I make marginally better crap than you do, let me tell you how it’s done” corollary. A well-timed “this is how I did it” is always nice, even when how you did it isn’t all that great. A tutorial on How To Do It when you’re not doing it right rubs me the wrong way, particularly when there’s a monetary charge for the tutorial or an associated pattern attached.

Particularly when you are publicly advertising yourself as an expert.

People are entitled to make and sell tutorials and patterns all day and night, if that’s what they want to do, and other people are entitled to buy and use them, regardless of whether or not it’s any good. And then the people who don’t like them are also entitled to say that they don’t like them. This is how it goes.

Like movies. People can make good movies, and bad movies. People can get paid for the movies they make, regardless, and other people can pay to see them. And then they can talk about which movies they love and which movies they hate. Publicly, even. If you’re going to make movies, you’re going to get panned.

The minute money is introduced, the relationship changes from social to commercial. Yes, sometimes people have social and commercial relationships simultaneously, but no commercial entity has social relationships with all of its customers. It’s the difference between your grandmother teaching you how to make pancakes (criticism=tacky), and buying a cookbook with a crappy pancake recipe that doesn’t rise properly (tell the world about it via Amazon).

(This extended diatribe brought to you via a controversy in the sewosphere whereby an accomplished seamstress took issue with a number of self-identified sewing experts online and the advice that they offer, and some of the said self-identified sewing experts themselves took issue with being taken issue with, and kaboom.)

To sum up:

  • I like to sew
  • Sometimes I don’t sew so well
  • I still talk about it publicly
  • But this is ok, because I’m neither calling myself an expert nor charging for it
  • I love sewing blogs, even the ones where people don’t sew so well, because it’s great to see people challenge themselves and learn
  • And let’s face it, many of us don’t have a local in-the-flesh sewing community to sew with
  • Hurray internet!
  • But if you’re going to ask me for my money in exchange for your expertise, whether it’s pattern-making or technique-related, you’d better be sure that you have some to sell
  • And if you don’t, I consider myself and other people perfectly within their right to say so

In related news, the bodice and sleeves of Frances’s grad dress are all done. I need to do the skirt and zipper, and then embellish. I can’t wait!

~~~~~

* Not advocating a return to the days where all women were required to sew, but the historical context does make it pretty apparent how far this particular skill set has declined in the developed world. Also, given the human rights abuses and rampant consumerism associated with today’s industrialized fashion landscape, we might all be better off if all of us–men and women both–took more personal responsibility for and active participation in the production of our own clothing. /soapbox

** Personally, I want to keep making new mistakes. Making mistakes is fine, it’s how we learn and progress; but getting stuck in the same mistakes means you’re not learning. Not making mistakes means you’re not taking risks or doing anything new. Mistakes are great! But I wouldn’t want anyone emulating my mistakes.

~~~~~

Am I going to regret having posted this? Oh, hell…

restraint (in theory)

I may have mentioned on occasion that sewing, despite rumours to the contrary, is not a cost-effective way of building one’s wardrobe.

It can be moderately cost-effective, if undertaken with great care. To take as an example one of Frances’s new t-shirts:

Fabric: Rayon knit at $8/m for 1 metre
Thread: Need to buy a whole spool, even though I won’t use it all: $5
Pattern: If I buy them online when they’re on sale, about $3

So total, it’s a $16 t-shirt. Which isn’t bad, but you can find cheaper t-shirts in the grocery store for kids. Of course, it leaves me with scraps and I usually use the thread again, not to mention the pattern, so the cost goes down over time by a bit. But it isn’t and never will be an $8 t-shirt.

Or her grad dress:

Fabric: Rayon at $8/m for about 3 metres = $24
Lining: Crappy acetate lining at $3/m for about 3 metres = $9
Pattern: $3
Zipper: $5
Thread: Two spools = $10 (I won’t use all of both of them, but for a bigger project it’s important to have a spare ready)
Bit of fancy sparkly trim for the neckline: $2

Total is approximately $50. Not bad for a nice dress, no, but I could go to Target or Wal-Mart and get something cheaper if I’d a mind to. It just wouldn’t fit. And where Frances is concerned, this is the main thing: she will have clothing that fits properly (dammit).

With grown-up sewing, the economics get even more screwy. If you search out fabric deals and get patterns on sale, you can make clothing that is reasonably priced, but it will never be as cheap as the sweatshop-produced polyester stuff in outlet stores. If you buy nice fabric, patterns in-store, or indie patterns,* your clothes will be more expensive handmade than what you can buy. Of course, they will fit, and they won’t have been made by a woman in a sweatshop chained to a sewing machine for sixteen hours a day, and they will be much nicer than what you would have bought for less, both in quality of construction and materials.

However, unless one lives off a trust fund, eventually one must consider the costs of one’s chosen hobby. Thus, after the fabric spree over Easter weekend, I have put myself on a fabric-shopping time-out.

Ladies and gentlemen, I spent about $500 on fabric in April. $500! And I can’t even wear any of it yet because it hasn’t yet made its way to the top of the sewing pile (but soon–once the grad dress is finished). Don’t think I don’t know that this is loopy. It’s completely bonkers, from any kind of rational standpoint. I just really like sewing, and hate spending money on clothing that’s a pain to wear because the fit isn’t right. I know that if I thought of the money as spent on outfits rather than textiles, the $500 would not be outrageous, because there’s a fairly large pile of clothing-to-be hiding in that stack on top of the fabric boxes in the den. However, I also know that if I’d gone into a clothing store, I would not have bought myself four dresses. But I bought myself fabric for four dresses. Somehow sewing gets a pass on the decision-making process.

I promised myself after that weekend that I would not buy any fabric until August. Things needed to finish projects I already have fabric for–thread, patterns, zippers, buttons, etc.–are fair game. Even lining, if I’m getting the lining for a fabric I already own.

I have made it through just over a month, Dear Readers. It is getting harder, though. My favourite local fabric stores post IG pictures of their new offerings, and I have to physically restrain myself from jumping in the car and driving down “just for one or two things.” Oh my god, there’s a black-eyed susan quilting cotton print. There’s a thistle print! If it all sells out before August, I will be heartbroken, even though I have no idea what exactly I would do with a thistle print on quilting cotton.

But I am determined. And I hope that sharing the pledge here will help bolster my willpower. I need to sew up what I already have, Dear Readers: NO NEW FABRIC UNTIL AUGUST!

(Two months to go.)

~~~~~

*Indie patterns can be pretty awesome. For any of my new-to-sewing friends reading this, would a post on them be fun for you? Patterns from the Big Four (Simplicity, McCalls, Butterick and Vogue) are easy to find and can be cheaper if you get them on sale, but if you have a hard time finding patterns you like from them, there is a world of indie options.

Me-Made May 2014 Last Thoughts

I did it. I wore something I made myself every day. OK, often it was pajamas. But I don’t care. That counts.

And I figured out a few things about my me-made wearables that made the month more worthwhile. Like while I have enough handmade work clothing to get me through a workweek with a little RTW support, I don’t have enough lounge-around stuff. There’s no rush–I have a few RTW t-shirts and shorts that have life left in them yet–but at some point, there will be a wardrobe gap to fill. To fill the gaps:

1. I want to make myself some shorts. A light twill might do the trick, or a medium-weight linen. But I only have one pair of work-appropriate shorts.

2. I want to make Frances some capris, per her special request. She does need something to transition between jogging-pants season and shorts season, but finding a pattern she likes–loose capris, like longer shorts, with ribbed waistbands and pockets, in a light cotton–is not easy. I may need to improve my pattern drafting skills to really get what she wants there.

3. Frances loves wearing the knit t-shirts I make her. How gratifying to make up something so easy that she then wears all the time. Huzzah! However, hemming knits remains a challenge. I want to improve at that.

4. Some knit tops for me would not be out of place. My older knit tees are getting stretched out and most are no longer appropriate as work-wear. I have some patterns and some knits, so it’s just a matter of finding the time, as always.

5. For next fall/winter, some more work pants in a heavier fabric. And for spring/summer, some lighter-weight pants. Not-wool. I do have enough RTW pants to last for a while, so I’ll wait.

6. If I really wanted to dress in handmade clothing all the time, I’d need to tackle jeans. My focus so far is either pajamas or work-wear, with little in between. But I’ve had the devil’s own time finding any denim in fabric stores that feels like something I might want to wear. It has all the drape and hand of a ritz cracker.

Of course, if you looked at my sewing stack right now, you’d see none of the above. Right now I’ve got pieces cut out for Frances’s grad dress and a knit dress for me, and I’m gearing up to cut the remaining scraps from Frances’s pretty ombre pink silk dress into a Belcara shirt for me (actual dress has not been harmed in the making of this wardrobe–just the leftovers).

So when are my Me-Made May lessons actually going to happen?

September? Maybe?

I know. I’m hopeless.

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