The Me Made May challenge is a bit controversial in sewing circles (or at least, the ones I travel in), but I enjoyed doing it last year so I’m signing up again. Last year it clarified for me that I really needed pants and shorts, not more skirts; and filling those gaps in the handmade wardrobe was very, very handy. This year, I want to focus on those days when I end up not wearing anything handmade (except for the work bag). Why is that? What is it on those days that causes me to reach for the store-bought? Is it that the handmade in the closet isn’t comfy? doesn’t match? is too dressed up, or not dressy enough? Are there particular kinds of garments I haven’t sewn enough of to get through a laundry cycle without them?
I, Andrea, will wear handmade clothes every day for the duration of May, 2015.
That leaves some space for using OTR as part of an outfit if and when I need to, but will certainly make the whole thing more challenging.
I’ll try to keep outfit posts on Instagram and/or Flickr, but you’ll see round-up posts here occasionally. I’m going to try to have more fun with the photos too. And of course some of you may want to stock up your liquor cabinet–you know who you are.
Plans that nice weather would come and I would be able to wear skirts–that I’d made–to work.
And then Frances got sick. And then her stepbrother got very seriously sick, and Frances spent an extra day with me, sick. And making sure I wore my me-mades was maybe no longer quite such a priority–nor did I have as many options. But I did my best.
Work From Home and Run Errands outfit, including the new crochet sweater I finally finished. I won’t repeat my post about it, but here it is, and I wore it.
Frances still sick. Stepbrother still in the hospital. Therefore Frances still with me. Blue Friday: it’s just a wearable muslin of a Jasmine blouse in some inexpensive polyester, but I did make it and it even fit the theme. Go me!
Last day in homemade winter pajamas.
First day in homemade summer pajamas–the pajama pants from Amy Butler’s book, but cut short.
My Moneta! All finished. Yes, Frances was still sick and yes, I was still at home with her–but we had to leave the house anyway for her doctor’s appointment, so I might as well wear something I made. Right?
It’s a lovely rayon-spandex knit (from Fabricland–dirt cheap); so soft and very light and super comfortable to wear. I had maybe not anticipated quite how snug this dress would be, made up. Next Moneta I’ll give myself a bit more space on the top half (ahem) and I don’t see myself wearing this particular dress to work. But finishing and wearing this was part of my Me-Made May 2014 pledge, so hurray!
Is it possible that Frances is still sick? Good god. Yes, but she only coughed up part of one lung instead of all of both, so I’ll take that as progress and make her go to school for the afternoon–and wear my linen-silk sheath dress of doom out of the house for the first time.
Fun fact: on Tuesday, the high was 22C in Hamilton and 17C in Oakville. Who even knew that was possible? So I was comfortably warm when I left home and quite cold when I got to work and it was only 13C. Yikes. But the first thing my boss said when I got in was a compliment on the dress, so there you have it. It is officially a winner, and a soft, comfortable winner at that. With homemade flowers on it.
The Meringue. With the same shirt I wore in that post, and no tights. Figure I should wear the skirts now before it gets cold again. Because you know it’s going to, this year.
And there you have it. Two weeks down, two weeks-and-a-bit to go.
The Creativ[E!] Festival in 2013 was the first time I bought serious garment fabrics. Oh sure, I was a regular at Fabricland (I have a two-year membership, after all) and enjoyed pawing through the mountains of poly to find the occasional linen or wool. I’d go hunting for cute prints on Queen West and in various online fabric shops. But I didn’t really know what I was missing.
The Wool House and Sultan’s Fine Fabrics both had booths, and while I had passed them up in previous years because their fabrics weren’t eye-catching from a distance, that time I found myself spending 30, 45 minutes fingering a bolt of alpaca or ooohing and aaahing over a lovely soft shirting fabric. It was hard to restrain myself. And in fact, I didn’t. Or only in the broadest theoretical sense, in that I didn’t bring home a few metres of absolutely everything.
I did bring home a few metres of a nice light italian wool, two beautiful and dirt-cheap wool-silk ends, 1.5 metres of outrageously expensive flannel-weight alpaca, and two metres of a gorgeous linen-silk. Light creamy yellow, somewhere between ivory and sunshine, tending to ivory, with a very subtle twill weave giving a slight chevron effect close up. All the softness and sheen of silk with the stiffness and body of linen. It would have to be something special. A sheath dress, I thought; the body would hold a nice shape and the weight and fibres would be perfect for summer. There being no rush to make such a dress in October, it basically sat (together with the bemberg rayon lining I got to go with it) waiting for Spring.
We waited for Spring for a long time in these parts, but I wanted the dress to be ready for the first really nice day so it came off the top of the Someday Shelf. And the Built By Wendy Dresses book and the included sheath dress pattern came off the bookshelf along with it. I mean, why buy a new sheath dress pattern when you’ve already got one you’ll never use? Right?
(Slick segue to book review here)
I was not about to cut into my beautiful and irreplaceable linen-silk without making a muslin first, so I cut out the pattern from some leftover heavy-weight polyester. As it turns out it wasn’t the best choice: while the poly fabric was about the right weight it draped very differently and as a result, this was not really a good test of the linen-silk fit. The poly test muslin, by the way, is going to be finished into a winter version–in the fall.
There were a number of problems with the poly and linen-silk versions:
1. The raglan sleeves don’t fit at all. This is a deficiency noted by other reviewers, and I wish I’d read those reviews before committing to this pattern. There were several inches of excess fabric at the front neck, and just around the shoulder seam both front and back. This was after I’d taken down this seam to a small based on the muslin fit–and I’m not small! I’m 5’8″ and my shoulders are not narrow. So I took out about two inches from either side of the front neck piece and resewed it. My raglan sleeves now have a bit of a bend but the front of the garment lies flat. It still isn’t perfect and the front and back shoulder seams are still looser than I’d like, but I worried that if I made this any smaller, I wouldn’t be able to raise my arms.
2. There was no back shaping. Others have also noted this, and added back darts. I decided to just shape the centre back seam, taking it in by about an inch on either side at the waist and tapering up to the shoulder and down to the hips. This worked fine.
3. Even grading up to a large at the bust was not large enough. I had to let out the darts, lowering the dart point by 1-2″ on either side to give myself more space.
4. The waist was a bit too baggy, so I brought it in at either side by about 1/4-1/2″.
5. And the skirt pattern, for some ungodly reason known to perhaps no one, was a-line. What kind of sheath dress pattern has an a-line skirt? Ideally, your hem will be pegged a bit, narrower at the bottom than at the hips by 1-2″, to make that lovely flattering hour-glass shape. So I altered this as well.
6. The back of the neck is about 2″ too high.
This is an awful lot of altering for one sheath dress pattern, and some of it just seems sloppy. There’s no excuse for the poor fit of the raglan sleeves nor for the weirdly baggy shape of the skirt. It’s called a sheath dress because it’s supposed to fit like a sheath.
It was my first effort with an invisible zipper, though, and I do have to say that this part worked out very well. I made an invisible zipper! It’s invisible! And it zips! Properly! This has nothing to do with the book, by the way, which contains as its entire instructions on this step, “Install zipper.” If you’ve never installed a zipper before, good luck to you.
Other notes on the book:
The general sewing and dress information in the front of the book is decent, but not targeted to beginning sewists. The patterns do not have seam allowances included–you have to add them before cutting. No information on seam finishing is included, so a good basic knowledge of garment construction will be required to know when and how to do this. The dresses are unlined; for the sheath dress, I needed to add a lining (and I am tired of it in advance). The ideas for altering the basic patterns to make different kinds of dresses are interesting and a good spark to creativity, but it’s unlikely that any of the ideas included in the book will be perfect as-is, especially since the book is now a little dated (and so is its fashion sense). However, once you get an actual dress pattern fitted properly, it’s likely that you could alter it in any number of ways to make different kinds of dresses.
Also, there are no photos of the finished garments, and the drawings included seem a little suspect. It would have been nice to have photographs to see how the actual finished garments look, rather than someone’s artistic conception of it.
(insert nice transition back to dress post here)
All of my alterations and markings on the pattern worked fairly well, and the lining was much easier to put together and fit. So hurray. But before I put the lining in, I wanted to add a little something. I love embroidery and I love clothing with little embellishments and details, and I’m always wishing I had the time to make some of those little (but greatly time-consuming) additions. Well, if a linen-silk sheath dress isn’t reason enough, what is? So I took my stack of torn-out magazine pages and decided on some fabric flowers a la Dolce and Gabbana (sort of), only without the background painting, since I can’t paint, and not as all-over. Vogue Patterns had instructions on how to make your own fabric flowers, so… Some of them I made from leftover linen-silk, lightly painted with lilac acrylic paint; the others I made from cochineal-dyed wool from a natural dyeing class I took last fall. I used fray-stop on the edges, gathered and beaded them, and the linen-silk ones were also embroidered to help them stand out against the dress. I played around with the placement a bit with safety pins and tacked them on between the dress and the lining. It took a while, but I think it was worth it, and if I ever get tired of the flowers I can cut them off.
I guess this is where it comes in handy to have a mountain of craft supplies in the house. If you are ever struck with the wish to embellish a dress with handmade beaded flowers, you can! Without leaving the house.
Fun fact: It took about eight hours to cut, paint, stitch, embellish and tack on the seven flowers I have on my sheath dress. If I were to sell this, at minimum wage and without counting materials, that would be at least $80 in addition to whatever the dress itself would cost. Let’s pretend that I didn’t take a full day first figuring out the cut of the pattern, and just count the second day of putting together the shell–and then another day of putting together the lining and attaching it to the dress. So twenty-four hours altogether=$240 + materials = $300 at least and that’s if I’m paying myself minimum wage.
A) I am wearing a dress I could never afford to buy in a store.
B) If you’re wondering why high-fashion dresses cost $1000, there you go. This would be a forty hour dress, with the background painting and all the flowers, at least, and those folks aren’t making minimum wage (nor should they). Forty hours at, say, $30/hour = $1200, plus materials. See?
Here is the finished product, and it is finally warm enough in these parts to even wear it. Yay! The rayon lining makes it so soft and comfortable to wear, and the purple/pink of the flowers highlights the yellow in the linen-silk. I love it.
I will never again make a sheath dress with raglan sleeves, but this dress is a reminder to me to slow down on the finishing side and take the time to add those little details. It’s part of what makes sewing your own clothes so worthwhile.
Fortunately, my bright idea of adding a half-motif to the front and back to raise the neckline and strengthen the collar worked.
Unfortunately, the thought that blocking might make it shrink a bit did not.
Now, blocking did make the motifs hang much more nicely, got rid of all the little stitchy kinks and drew out the lacey pattern very well. It made the sweater a few inches longer, and the drape is way better; the sleeves are now soft and fluttery instead of stiff, and all the little loopy picot-bunting stitches at the bottom hang down instead of lapping each other. Hurray! But it is still quite loose.
On the plus side, I can easily wear this over another shirt, which I will need to do. On the minus side, it’s not as snug as the one in the magazine by a long shot. So lesson learned: when it comes to a crochet pattern where I fit between sizes, choose the smaller size, and block it up. With this one, I’ve just tied part of the back together with a piece of scrap ribbon to make it a bit more fitted. Not thrilled about the colour, but if I get a new length of a nicer ribbon that matches better it will be just the thing.
It’s beautifully soft to the touch, and the orange-yellow is so nicely variegated that in person, it gives a really beautiful effect. It’s also surprisingly warm. And I have three skeins left which is enough to make a whole other motif sweater. Though that seems overkill. What else does one make out of three skeins of fingering-weight merino-cashmere?
I’ll wear it over a plain tank or camisole* for now, but I think what it needs is a nice bright pink silky shell underneath, no? Or maybe a grey-blue, to make the orange really shine.
*I promise there is a camisole in this picture. Flesh tone match may be a bit too good.
I’ve been sitting on this fence so long my butt fell asleep.
So Me-Made May is an annual thing whereby you commit to wearing a certain number of your own hand-made garments each day/week/over the month during May. Just because.
On the plus side, I do like to show off my handmade pieces, even if I’m the only one who knows that they’re handmade.
On the downside, the last thing I want is anything that smacks of even the faintest hint of work to taint my beloved hobby.
It’s like running. I like running, so long as I don’t track my times or distances or make any effort to improve in any way. I just head out the door, run for a while, run home, and then stop. The moment I try to start a Program or run faster or train for something, I quit. I know it’s motivating for other people, but for me it’s quite obviously and emphatically demotivating. Running to run is fun. Running to run better is Not Fun.
Sewing is a great good joy in my life in part because there isn’t the slightest obligatory thing about it, unless you count “I promised Frances a raincoat and I have 2m of blue waterproof nylon and no desire to go to Gymboree” as an obligation. Which maybe it is. But in general, I have a big pile of fabric, a pile of patterns and a stack of sewing books and I just tackle things as I want to. I’m under no illusion whatsoever that I would enjoy sewing for a living–I’d have to sew something that needed to be sewn! Terrors.
I do like wearing the things I make and I already wear them fairly frequently. But it might be cheating. I mean, I made myself a leather workbag. If I carry it to work with me every day, then I’ve fulfilled my monthly commitment without lifting a damned finger. Or at least, it’s a damned finger I would have lifted anyway. Is that fair? Plus the handmade lunch bag and business card case, and my handmade jammies–I’d have to work not to have something me-made on me in May.
I could just wear stuff I made in May without being such a joiner, I know. But then I can’t really participate in the whole community side of things. It’s nice to talk about the stuff you made and wore with people who also think it’s significant instead of odd or grandmotherly. Once people stop taking you aside to suggest that you go home on your lunch hour and change into something more work appropriate, or at least stop thinking it–say, if you made a shirt out of a too-heavy fabric so that the back zipper bubbles by your neck, not that this has ever happened to me–no one notices. If they’re thinking anything, it’s likely, “Andrea’s wearing a nice shirt today.” Even more likely it’s “goddammit how am I supposed to finish that report by tomorrow?”
So there’s the benefit of being able to show off shame-free to a group of people who Get It.
I know that I have turned into A Thing something that is not supposed to be A Thing. I’ve Thinged it. But I need to make up my mind. Like a cat at the back door. Am I in, or am I out?
OK. I think I’m in. But in my own way: I’ll wear or use something handmade every day in May–pretty hard not to, considering–and I’ll document it when I can, though I make no promises given other responsibilities. I’m allowed to repeat, so the workbag counts if there’s nothing else I can use or wear. And I’ll try to finish the following, and wear them too:
the linen-silk sheath dress of doom
the pink blouse I cut out the pieces for, and which now sits on the dining table
and two t-shirts for Frances, though I obviously won’t be wearing those. It might look funny.