2017 was a fantastic year for literature; this tends to coincide with political and cultural turmoil, so I can’t say I’m 100% wholly happy about it, but I did really like a lot of books. I’ve made a GoodReads shelf for this year’s reads, and below are my top 7 with reviews.
If there’s one that you must, simply must, make time for, it’s N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, of which The Stone Sky was the conclusion. It was stunningly, brilliantly good and a perfect comment on and antidote to our current moment.
A Year in Greening
This used to be a green blog, and in my actual day-to-day work life I’m still a professional tree-hugger, and this has been a year for environmental issues and happenings. I won’t dwell–in this post–on the climate change clusterfuck of 2017 of wildfires and hurricanes and Trumpster and his disaster cabinet leaving the Paris Accord (lucky you! something to look forward to on zoopolis next year), and will instead dredge up a few moments of hope.
I’m really looking forward to being a part of this initiative, recently announced and long worked-towards.
And I’ve spent a good part of my work time over the last year working on climate change impact adaptation planning in the community, which has been a mostly fulfilling way of combining intersectional politics with my climate change work. We* all know that climate change impacts vulnerable populations the most, globally and locally; but vulnerable voices are notably absent from climate change adaptation plans generally, which tend to be based on assessments by technical experts, who tend to be professionals and engineers, who tend not to be members of vulnerable communities. Starting the process of getting out into the community and finding those voices has been slow and difficult but mostly great.
(*”We” being those people not so stupid as to believe that 99% of climatologists globally have been somehow bought into supporting the theory of anthropogenic climate change.)
A Year in Quoting
One of my (admittedly geeky) habits is to reread A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, and one or more of the other Dickens Christmas books over the holiday. In all of the fighting over what Christmas is, what it means, and who it’s for, we tend to overlook how singularly important Dickens’ ideas of what it was about are to how we celebrate it today and the importance it has in our modern holiday calendar–and we have almost completely lost sight of the ways he used the holiday and his writings about it to focus on the less fortunate. Dickens’ Christmas books are not about middle-class happy families enjoying turkey and a nice bottle of wine after opening welcomed and appropriate gifts; they are about the vast numbers of people who can only dream of that. Dickens was a Victorian Social Justice Warrior, and he used his Christmas books to affect change in the attitudes of his contemporaries. (Except, of course, notably, for women.)
If I were you, I’d bypass The Battle of Life and The Cricket on the Hearth (the latter of which was more popular than A Christmas Carol in his lifetime), and read The Chimes or The Haunted Man. Here, to round off this year, is a bit from The Chimes, which takes place on New Year’s Eve:
The Year was Old, that day. The patient Year had lived through the reproaches and misuses of its slanderers, and faithfully performed its work. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. It had laboured through the destined round, and now laid down its weary head to die. Shut out from hope, high impulses, active happiness, itself, but active messenger of many joys to others, it made appeal in its decline to have its toiling days and patient hours remembered, and to die in peace. Trotty might have read a poor man’s allegory in the fading year; but he was past that, now.
And only he? Or has the like appeal been ever made, by a seventy years at once upon an English labourer’s head, and made in vain!
The streets were full of motion, and the shops were decked out gaily. The New Year, like an Infant Heir to the whole world, was waited for, with welcomes, presents, and rejoicings. There were books and toys for the New Year, glittering trinkets for the New Year, dresses for the New Year, schemes of fortune for the New Year; new inventions to beguile it. Its life was parceled out in almanacks and pocket-books; the coming of its moons, and stars, and tides, was known beforehand to the moment; all the workings of its seasons in their days and nights, were calculated with as much precision as Mr. Filer could work sums in men and women.
The saddest thing about The Chimes for me is how utterly contemporary so much of it feels. The wealthy assholes who pepper the book with their observations on the low character and ingratitude of the poor can be found any day of the week in a modern newspaper–now together with immigrants, refugees, and millennials. Inequality is rising. We seem so determined to repeat the mistakes of the Victorian era (in some cases literally, eg. the Trumpian’s determined clinging to a coal based economy, ffs); there may be lessons still to learn from the authors who took that society to task.
Santa Sewing being the presents you sew up to give people over the holidays, or to make for special holiday occasions. And there was a pile in December, mostly for Frances, who is not super keen on modelling so this will mostly be pictures of garments on hangers.
The excitement of figuring out how to fit Frances for pants went to my head, Dear Readers: After the jeans, I made her three pairs of leggings: one black bamboo jersey (so soft!), one taupe cotton jersey with fun animal heads for pj pants, and one a really plush grey stretch velour (even softer!). The velour pair is one half of any needed fancy-pants holiday get-ups, as Frances is a girl who generally dons a skirt or dress only under intense social pressure.
To go with it, I made her up a drapey long-sleeved top I’d previously made her in bamboo jersey, this time in a sparkly gold foiled spandex. No chance at a photo of this one yet, but soon!
A red sweater–some kind of textured poly knit, bought in the summer for dirt cheap, and finally sewed up. Frances loves this one and has been wearing it constantly since finished. This is a raglan sleeved Ottobre pattern (I can look up the issue for anyone who’s interested).
A large-loop cotton terry sweatshirt in the same pattern, slightly long to be worn with leggings. This fabric came from Needlework and was a bit on the pricey side but so worth it. It is super soft and comfortable and very, very warm. Unfortunately even with differential feed turned up to max and the longest stitch length on my machine, and even after throwing it in the washer/dryer, the hem bands werestill super wavy. !!! Lots of hot steam and pressing has mostly repaired it, thank goodness.
Finally finished this very colourful cardigan. I think it’s acrylic but I’m not 100% sure (ends table). You could have knocked me over with a feather when she chose this fabric and the red sweater one above, after so many years of wearing nothing but blue, grey and off-white. Also an Ottobre pattern.
Pajamas. It’s impossible to find pajamas that fit her well in stores, and we have a tradition of new pajamas plus reading materials for a Christmas Eve present, so: flannel pajama bottoms, yarn-dyed plaid, with an ivory cotton jersey pajama shirt. Coordinated, and extremely comfortable and warm. Somewhat Christmas-y but still wearable all winter.
And then another pajama top out of the same animal-print cotton jersey to match the leggings/pj pants.
I don’t know–do you think that’s enough for one person?
She’s just about all done growing so I can finally sew her things without fear of them becoming too small, hence the deluge.
A couple of drawstring bags for wrapping gifts. French seams to ensure that the bags last forever. I mean–come on–animals dressed up for an ugly sweater party. How could I resist?
A couple of cross-stitched gift tags to accompany them. Yes, I know, work–but the tags and bags can be reused endlessly and with essentially no effort.
A new tree ornament.
I made a card for a dear friend, Jenn, who is (if you can believe it) largely committed to a social-media-free existence, so I can’t link to her. But she does read here, so Merry Christmas, Jenn!
And this–which I’m still not exactly sure how I want to finish. It’s supposed to be for a gift tag but the aida count I used made it a bit too big for that.
But come on. Who doesn’t love an owl in mittens and a Rudolph costume?
(The cross stitch patterns all came from The Cross Stitcher magazine; mostly back issues, except for the card which I believe was in the December 17 issue. But it might have been January 18.)
A thematically-appropriate pencil/pen/brush/crayon/whatever holder and zippered pouch for my Aunt Heather. If you click through to her author site you’ll understand immediately. Poor woman’s going to be swimming in seahorses (no pun intended) someday.
And hey, a few things for me, too:
This lovely pale pink foiled spandex, turned into another gathered-neckline Renfrew. Can be paired with skirts or jeans, so good both for dancing and holiday festivities. This and the gold I used for Frances were both bought at Fabricland on sale for $8.something/metre, and this was the 0.7m at the end of the bolt, so it was a $5 or $6 shirt. The foiling basically is plastic so sewing, and particularly hemming, were challenging. I had to redo one portion of the bottom hem four times. But it finally turned out and I like it, though I’m petrified to press the seams and melt the foil.
And a velour long-sleeved shirt, the softest ever raspberry polyester (not a phrase I imagined myself ever using) turned into a dress, a finally completed hot pink foiled panne velvet dress and dusty pink lurex stretch velvet dress–which will have their own posts at some point.
This is a metric tonne of pink. Maybe I should branch out.
It was a lot of sewing. And while I’ve enjoyed taking a bit of a break over the holidays so far and catching up on some reading, I can’t wait to get back to it.
I’m either sitting there sweltering in short sleeves (or worse, long sleeves) or freezing my butt off. A colleague of mine actually bought herself an enormous work shawl for the freezing days so she can be swaddled as she types.
I supposed I’ve just described most offices throughout history. So “weird” may not be the word, but “unpleasant,” certainly.
So I made a cardigan of the “looks enough like a blazer I can wear it at work” sort.
I’m not in general a cardigan person, but this has been very useful so far.
It’s an M6996, made up by many, beloved by most. View A, with the higher rouse and the flouncy back. I do like it. It’s pretty, comfortable, and most importantly warm.
The sizing, of course, is bananas. This is a small, or a size 8/10. I should be a large, based on the sizing chart. Fortunately there were a few reviews mentioning the sizing issues so I was able to buy the right envelope.
The back is a bit weird. As you can see there’s excess around the armscye, and the bicep is still a bit loose even though I snugged it down (…from the small), but the side seams are overall towards the back (which you can’t see, but it’s true). I’ll have to think about how I want to handle that for any potential version 2. Maybe a higher armscye and a slightly slimmer sleeve?
The fabric is a remnant cotton rib knit. It has just the right amount of structure to hold the shape while still being soft and very stretchy.
I have a lovely heathered purple rib knit I’m considering for a second version, but if there are other good business-y cardigan patterns out there I’d happily consider those too.
Again, I’m a size 16/18 based on their size chart, which for this pattern (though it’s not described on the pattern page–!!!) is a size Large for this particular pattern. This is a Small (8/10). There’s an FBA brought to you by the magic of pivot-and-slide, on the front pieces. It worked quite well for this pattern.
I’ve been making a ton of t-shirts this fall, but don’t plan to post about most of them. They’re largely FBA experiments based on a Renfrew I altered to fit me, with darts rotated into gathers at the shoulder, neckline, or centre front. Mostly I got bored of basic t-shirts and could never find the patterns I wanted, so experimentation it is. It’s worked out fairly well and you’ll see them in posts about skirts or pants.
The pluses are the waist tie, which obviates the need for fitting in the waist seam, and the distinctive seam lines (drop shoulders, triangular waist panel, peplums); the negatives are the d-ring, which I was not sure I would enjoy having attached to a shirt I’m wearing. But it was worth the risk to see if it worked.
It did! Here it is, made up in a plum rayon/bamboo jersey bought at Downtown Fabrics on Queen W.
Alterations on this one were minimal:
FBA, some of which was rotated into the waist above the peplum waist gathers, some of which was eased in, and some of which was removed from the side waist as an impromptu “dart.” Next time I’d do more of this latter and less of the gathering/easing.
Shortened the back by 1″. Sadly I goofed and shortened it also by 1″ at the side, which was way too much and raises the waist all over: not what I wanted.
Otherwise, this is the pattern as drafted, d-rings and all.
Next time I’d lower the neckline in the back a smidge. I might also extend the drop shoulder just a tad. But overall I love it and wear it all the time.
Also: you don’t need the zipper. I put the zipper in, but I don’t use it. I just pull it on and off.
I should be a 40/44 in a Burda shirt; this shirt is a size 38 with an FBA. The upper front is cut on the single layer due to the asymmetrical seam so I did a parallel FBA on both sides of the pattern piece. Side darts were rotated into the waist seam, and then removed during cutting & sewing along the side seams. Remaining excess was eased into the waist seam; particularly under the tie detail.
The saddest thing about this whole post, Dear Readers, is that I finished these pants weeks ago and have been wearing them regularly but have not had a spare moment to take a picture of them. I had the best intentions this past weekend to find an hour on Saturday afternoon–and then what with holiday shopping, two birthday parties for me, one for Frances, and two other social outings, plus groceries laundry etc.–it didn’t happen. Sunday afternoon found both Frances and I napping. But I’m determined not to be the one who always posts on Amnesty Day, so! midweek evening inside pictures with messy backgrounds it is.
The last time I bought pants for work was at least five years ago. If you haven’t yet blocked it out of your memory, at the time even nice wool pants for office work, even in pantsuits, were so low-cut as to graze the hipbone.
I’ve never, ever been a fan of the low-cut look, particularly at work, but when you don’t sew you’re at the mercy of the manufacturers, so I have a few pairs of pants like this. Then I started sewing, and made pants which reliably covered my underwear when sitting down. Then I lost weight, and none of them fit. Now the only pants I have in my wardrobe which stay up are the ones that don’t reliably cover my underwear. Yet the patterns I have–mostly from StyleArc, which only sells one size per envelope–are too big.
(I did make myself another pair of Jasmines as I’d adjusted them a bunch for shorts previously, but you don’t really need to see another pair of Jasmines from me.)
(Woops, you got to see them anyway.)
This is a problem. I hate going back to the drawing board with pants because the fitting is so finicky, but you know, I need pants!
The ones in my Burda magazines are either too casual, don’t have pockets (which I need for my insulin pump) or have large and dramatic front pleats, which I’m not a real fan of. But there are two patterns in one of the Patrones issues I bought that look fantastic: one with cool pockets and interesting seamlines, and one swishy without pleats and a nice high waist. The one with cool seamlines was too low-cut for my taste, and the high-waisted one had slash pockets that I’m not really a fan of, but either seemed like doable fixes.
(They don’t appear to have a website and they certainly don’t offer individual patterns for sale, so my apologies for the lack of links in this post. You can buy individual issues through this website in different langauges–but alas, not english.)
I traced them both out in the summer and they sat, languishing, in the back of the magazine. Once again The Monthly Stitch provided the kick in the butt I needed to get working on a project I’d already planned–and this time, actually needed.
First up: cool seamlines. Which I was delighted to learn, while translating the instructions, is meant to be made out of stretch cotton. I happened to have this stretch cotton sateen in my stash, destined to be pants and waiting for a pattern, for years.
I traced the size 44 as the best match, then measured key points to make sure it would be in the ballpark. With the multiple seamlines front and back, I figured further fitting would be a piece of cake. I raised the waist 1″ front and back, and added 2″ to the crotch curve. (Note: Patrones skips some sizing in their patterns, so this pattern for example is listed as “size 40-48,” but the pattern sheets include sizes 40, 44 and 48. You’ll need to grade between the sizing lines if you fall between.)
Pocket linings and waistband facings are a very bright floral scrap quilting cotton. I can’t have the whole thing be neutral. They just wouldn’t be my pants. But also, using a non-stretch woven for the waistband facing means that the waistband stays the original size all day.
OK, and look: these are a 44.
AND THEY FIT.
No mountains of excess ease.
I know the photos show some wrinkling at the seams but that’s a factor of a) contrast settings on the photo editing program and b) sewing each seam with a serge and with a regular sewing machine stitch to make sure they are good and strong. They are good strong seams, but they are also seams with some introduced wobbliness.
I did make some alterations:
snugging the waist a bit, where I fall between sizes.
taking most of the 2″ I put into the crotch curve back out again–I’m thinking Patrones may be drafted for someone a bit closer to my shape, because it seemed mostly unnecessary. I figured this out after I adjusted the fit on the back princess seams so it’s now a bit too snug back there, but still wearable.
using the back princess seams to take excess out of the thighs below the butt
adding a 2″ cuff to the bottom because I forgot to measure and add to the inseam before cutting it out
I took a very small amount out of the side seams–maybe 1/8″. I might put it back into the next one.
about 1″ out of the centre back waist to keep the waistband snugger (it was gaping quite a bit), which is why it dips a bit.
Surely if Patrones can do it, other pattern companies that shall remain nameless can also do it.
The tissue has been adjusted and I’m ready to make more; a teal stretch denim is all washed up and ready to go. Next time I might raise the centre back maybe another 3/4″ but otherwise I’m happy with them. They’re comfortable, they don’t need lining, you can make them out of twill or sateen and because of the seamlines and the pocket shape they don’t look like blue jeans. They’re easy to fit because of the princess seams. The only downside is that by the end of the day they do bag out a little bit in the butt. I’m not sure if there would be a stretch fabric with good enough recovery to guarantee this not happening if you have a job where you are sitting and standing all day long, but it’s something to keep in mind.
According to the Patrones sizing chart, I am just under a size 44. These pants are a size 44 as traced, with personal fit modifications and a higher rise.
Everyone who sews knows there are big sizing inconsistencies with the Big 4 pattern companies, and that these companies have no intention of admitting to, let alone fixing, those problems.
So let’s help each other out.
I’ve written a novel here about how unpredictable Big 4 sizing is, and how none of the information available publicly ends up being helpful in deciding what size to purchase. But this isn’t just venting. There are two things I’m hoping to do:
Reassure beginning sewers that it’s not their fault that projects don’t fit the way they’re supposed to.
Encourage those of us who write pattern reviews online to be more detailed about how we ended up sewing the size we did. I’m willing to bet none of you make up the size you’re supposed to be, according to the sizing charts. But in reviews, most sewers only include what size was eventually used, and not how that compares to the size we’re supposed to be according to the charts. Unless someone has been following a particular reviewer for a while and knows what size they are supposed to be, that’s not helpful; a sewer still can’t pick a size for themselves.
If this post can inspire you to always include information about what size you used and what size you are supposed to be in every review, whether on blogs, review sites, instagram, or facebook, we can make this a little less frustrating for each other.
Hydrated? Caffeinated? Recently snacked?
How To Sew Something That Fits
In theory, one should be able to buy or trace a pattern according to one’s measurements and the published sizing guide and, barring individual body idiosyncrasies, make up a garment that more or less fits. Alas, this is not the case, as you’ve read me bitching about more than once. Over many years now of sewing clothes for myself and my daughter, I’ve developed a way of choosing a size and making it up that will end up with something close enough to a good fit that I can alter it with a few tweaks, so long as its construction is fairly standard. (i.e. basic darted skirts and bodices, pants or shorts with front fly construction, princess seams, etc.)
It’s a total pain in the ass.
1. Choose a size based on the finished garment measurements.
If I can get them. Indie pattern companies are pretty good about putting those measurements on the pattern envelope and/or the website. Big 4? Not so much. With Butterick-Vogue-McCalls, the finished measurements aren’t even necessarily on the pattern tissue. I recently tried to make up a BMV knit pattern where the finished measurements were not on the tissue; it wasn’t worth my time and I threw it away. I just opened the packet for a Vogue knit dress pattern, and the finished garment measurements aren’t on that tissue either.
On the BMV website, the finished garment measurements most often available are back length and hem width.
This doesn’t help me decide which size to get.
2. Double check those measurements by measuring the pattern tissue.
4. Alter in ways that I always have to alter everything because bodies are weird.
For me, this means shortening bodice backs, measuring back widths and ensuring there isn’t too much excess along the zipper, doing an FBA, adding to the rise and crotch length for pants and shorts, checking hem lengths, and usually reducing the armscye (particularly with the Big 4).
4. Cut and sew.
Having done the above in advance, the fit on the first garment will usually be good. No muslin required. Again, that wouldn’t apply to something complicated, but even there starting with this will get me a lot closer than starting with the pattern tissue out of the envelope.
The only part of the fitting process that is, or should be, inevitable is altering for my body’s specifics. No pattern company is going to get that right. But steps 1 and 2 should be unnecessary. It should be possible to choose a size based on body measurements and know that the resulting finished garment will relate to the body’s measurements in a predictable and useful way.
What Doesn’t Work
People have developed a number of work-arounds that they feel quite passionate about, but none of them work for me.
Pick a size based on your high-bust measurement!
The theory is that if you choose your pattern size by comparing your high-bust measurement to the published full-bust charts, you’ll get something that fits in the shoulders, back, armscye, etc., and the rest is easier to fit.
I wish. First of all, there’s still way too much fucking ease. This would only work if the size charts were reliable in the first place. Secondly, this will work only for women whose bust is approximately where the bust point on the pattern is. If your boobs are higher or lower than average, this will increase or decrease your high-bust measurement, making the approach utterly useless.
Speaking for myself, my high-bust measurement is about 36″. This is still a size 14–two sizes bigger than what actually works for me with most (but not all!) BMV patterns.
2. Look at the measurements charts and the ease charts and pick a size based on the measurement plus the ease!
Below, find a handy chart showing the ease and finished waist measurements of what is supposed to be my waist size of my most recent BMV projects. (Click to enlarge)
Of the twelve, a full eight have finished garment measurements that are either below or above the predicted range based on body measurements plus ease. That’s 2/3.
Moreover, they don’t always err in the same direction. While M7351 has 1 1/2″ more ease than it should, V7937 has 3″ less.
The ease charts no longer reflect reality, and a “close-fitting” garment–in jersey! FFS–can have multiple inches of ease, and that ease may or may not be what was predicted in the ease chart.
This chart is only available on the Butterick site. I’ve used the first column of ease because it is a confusing mess of a table (why are skirts in the bust area? What are shirts in the hip area? What about waist ease?) and also because all or almost all of the garments I’ve listed here fall in the first category of garment and/or have a bust measurement.
(One garment, V7937, is a skirt and so could arguably be considered to fall in the last column. But the actual ease in the hip area is still far under the ease chart guidelines, so it would fail no matter which I chose.)
3.Once you know what size works for you with a company’s patterns, just buy that size and then make the same alterations with all of them!
Looking at the same chart, you can see that for Buttericks, Vogue and McCalls–all operating as part of the same company, using the same measurement and ease charts–anywhere from a size 10 to a size 14 will work for me.
There’s no pattern for which size will work based on fit, style, fabric, or anything else. Knit garments (highlighted in green) could be anywhere from a 10 to a 14. Woven garments can also be anywhere from a 10 to a 14. Whether it’s close-fitting, fitted, semi-fitting or loose also results in no predictable sizing. The one thing that is predictable is that whatever size ends up fitting me, it won’t be the size 16+ that is supposed to.
And it’s often not possible to get size 10, 12 and 14 in the same envelope, so I have to guess. I often guess wrong, which is what all of those “14 but quite big”s are about: 14 was the smallest size in the envelope and it was still too big.
I don’t like guessing, so I rarely buy BMV patterns these days.
(Simplicity is no longer available in Canada, so I have no Simplicity results to share. I’d be happy to include/link to yours, though.)
Why The Hell The Big 4 Pattern Companies Suck at This
Decades ago, clothing retailers cast off the shackles of standard sizing for women’s clothing and we entered a brave new era of vanity sizing.
What is a pattern company to do? Keep the sizing and ask women who wear a size 8 in a store to sew up a size 16? Or change their sizing to keep pace with changes in the manufacturing industry?
While they won’t admit to it publicly, they bravely opted to do … both.
They kept the sizing charts the same, so that nominally a woman who buys a size 8 in a store will need to sew up a size 16. But they (appear to) design for RTW sizing, more or less, so that if a woman in a size 8 buys a size 8 pattern and sews it up, it will often (but not always!) fit.
This is often described in short hand as “too much ease,” but it’s not really an ease thing. If it were, if I made up a 16, the basics (shoulders, back, armscye) would be essentially correct; it would just be loose or baggy. But the shoulders and backs are often too big, the armscyes too deep; it’s clear that the size 16 is designed for a woman much larger than I am, even though that size 16 reflects my smallest measurement.
This worst-of-both-worlds solution created a system so confusing for the average beginning sewer that it remains, to this day, the single number one most common and controversial issue among home sewers. The pattern companies don’t admit it, of course, but it is blatantly obvious to anyone who’s been sewing for long enough to have experienced this (unless they are brick stupid, and have managed to convince themselves that sewing is supposed to be so hard that sewing up a muslin for every new t-shirt or blouse pattern forever makes some kind of immutable and inevitable sense). (I mean–you know all of your storebought clothes were made by third-world teenagers who likely don’t have a high school education and have never received formal training in fit or alterations, right? Please someone explain to me why what is so simple that companies on the one hand justify paying poor girls pennies an hour to produce them, on the other hand is so complex that different companies state we should have to make multiple versions of a simple t-shirt before we get one that fits reasonably well.)
End result is that the sizing charts are garbage. They provide no valuable information for the purchaser. The information that the purchaser now needs is the finished measurements for bust, waist and hips, so that they can select a size based on how big the piece of clothing is going to be. But this information isn’t available, for most of their patterns, until after you’ve bought a size; and even then, sometimes it’s not printed on the pattern tissue. And when it is provided, it may not be accurate.
One might think that this enormously disrespectful manner of dealing with one’s customers would result in a complete absence of customer loyalty. I mean, if you were trying to buy a pair of shoes, and you weren’t allowed to try the shoes on or open the box first, and there was a published size chart measuring the width and length of feet but that, you found after purchasing a few pairs of shoes, had no relation to how big the shoes were so they were constantly falling off your feet, and you tried to find out how much room they added to those measurements so you could use this a guide to picking a size but the company acted like this was a fucking state secret, and then when you found the information it too was completely inaccurate–would you ever buy a pair of shoes there again?
No. And indeed customers have switched. Indie companies have sprung up in the wake of this (they have their own sizing issues, idiosyncratic to each company, but the dissatisfaction with sizing in the Big 4 has created a market niche that has been amply exploited) and many home sewers have abandoned the Big 4 pretty well outright by moving to pattern magazines or self-drafting, purchasing Big 4 patterns only when they are deeply deeply discounted and resigning themselves to a certain amount of guesswork in size selection.
It would be one thing if the Big 4 would say something like, “We know we’ve made sizing choices historically that have resulted in a confusing mess for customers. We’re not sure how to best fix it yet but we are committed to doing so by [date].” But no. Customers hear instead, “Choose a size based on your measurements and the ease guidelines that we no longer will share with you! You can always pick a size based on the finished measurements that we keep in the envelope and won’t let you see until after you’ve bought it! If we even bothered to put it on the tissue! And then you can’t return it when it’s not the size you need! Just sew a bunch of muslins for every garment you make! It’s normal to have to make the pattern half a dozen times before you can get it to fit! Obviously you don’t REALLY want to sew, do you?”
Pattern Magazines Suck a Lot Less
BurdaStyle does have ease issues, but considerably less so. Their charts put me in a 40/44, and I typically cut a 38/42, with the ever-present FBA. Still, that’s only off by about an inch.
Also, because there are no seam allowances in the patterns, measuring to confirm the finished garment size is a piece of cake. There are no ease charts to mess with. You pick a size based on your body measurements, and then adjust as needed. So here’s the chart for my last five Burda projects.
Look at all those lovely n/a’s! I don’t have to worry about the predicted ease. I don’t have to worry about finished garment measurements. It doesn’t matter if it’s a knit or a woven, a coat or a swimsuit. While it’s off by one size, it’s a predictable one size; I can trace out the 38/40/42 (or its tall/petite equivalent), measure the key points to ensure it’s the amount of ease I want, do my standard alterations, cut and sew. And at the end, it will either fit or be close enough to fitting that I can adjust it.
Moreover, I’ve so far found this to be true across european sewing magazine patterns, comparing between Burda, Knipmode, La Mia Boutique and Patrones. If I used my body measurements to pick a size, it will either fit or be off by one size. (So far. If longer experience shows I need to take that back, I will.) I’m making a pair of pants from a recent Patrones magazine; I traced off a size 44 based on my actual measurements compared to their size chart; and the only sizing issues I am having are for my own idiosyncratic adjustments (crotch length, inseam, etc). Otherwise, IT FIT.
Let that sink in for a moment.
I have an easier time getting a pair of pants that fit out of a sewing pattern when I start with a magazine published in SPANISH, where I can’t even read the damned instructions.
Indie Pattern Companies are Variable
There are a few indie companies that are much more reliable with sizing and fit. Grainline, for instance, tends to be baggy in everything. She puts the finished measurements on the website so you can check before you buy; they’re consistent and accurate, in my experience, if you like that aesthetic. How To Do Fashion is, so far for me, pretty much bang on. I can pick a size based on body measurements and it will fit really well, even through the shoulders and armscye, so that all I have to do is an FBA and shortening the back etc. (I’ve made one blouse muslin so far, and another pattern was almost done but it’s for summer so I may not finish it before next summer. Posts will come eventually.)
Once you know how big the garment is going to be, compare: to things you already own and like, or have tried on in a store, and to your own actual measurements. Find the size that is most likely to fit the way you like. Start there.
It shouldn’t be this hard. But it is.
In the Meantime
When you write a review of the pattern, help your fellow sewers out.
Include the size you made.
Include the size the measurement charts would put you in.
Maybe discuss how much ease there actually is, how many sizes down (or up? Does that ever happen?) you had to go to get it to fit. Compare to the ease indicated in the pattern description. Did it say it was close-fitting but then you had to go down three sizes and it was still big? Did it say it was loose and then you made it up and it was not so loose after all?
If a pattern company consistently produces patterns that fit you well based on body measurements, please tell us! They deserve our business.
Make it so that a beginning sewer, finding your review from google, not knowing anything about you or your size except for what you put in that one review, can make an informed decision about what size they should purchase for themselves.
I’m planning on making a page sometime soon to summarize all this and keep it in one handy place. If anyone else would like to contribute with your own sizing/fit adventures, let me know.
Making pants for Frances that fit is one of the reasons I got into sewing clothes.
It’s also one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever worked on.
I’ve tried so many patterns and so many alterations, and most of them, Frances couldn’t wear. They were too tight here or too loose there or too low-cut or fit on the legs weird. So in the meantime we bought a lot of very loose blue jeans in bigger sizes and hemmed them shorter.
Frances’s body grows differently; it’s part of her genetic condition. Her bones are a lot shorter, the joints are a slightly different shape, her back is quite curved, her ribs (and therefore torso) are bigger. Relative to other kids her age, she needs pants with a bigger waist, a snugger back, shorter legs; and then of course she likes things to be in her own style, which at this point in her life means “casual.”
It’s been an incredibly long project to get a set of alterations that fit her well and she enjoys wearing. But by George, we’ve finally done it.
Theses are the first pair of proper blue jeans I’ve made for her that she actually wears, and that fit.
They are not perfect. My sewing machine was incredibly unhappy about sewing through all the layers of denim and interfacing on the waistband and at the seams, so the topstitching is crap. One of the belt loops was sewed on a bit crooked.
Otherwise. I LOVE THESE. And so does Frances.
The pattern is a custom hodge-podge of Jalie stretch jeans, an Ottobre denim shorts pattern, and a trace-off of Frances’s favourite Old Navy Jeans, all with her alterations. The denim is very heavy, 97% cotton 3% spandex, from European textiles on Ottawa St N in Hamilton. $9/m, I think, so they were overall cheaper than Old Navy jeans. Nice metal jeans zipper. The pockets are quilting cotton with an adorable fox pattern on them, because Frances loves foxes.
I rigged up a buttonhole-and-button setup on the inner back waistband so we could get some buttonhole elastic and ensure that the back waistband is as snug as she wants it to be. It’s not as tidy as I would have liked, but it is functional.
My sewing machine went on strike over the buttonhole at the front: too many layers of fabric. I tried four buttonholes and ripped out three; the last one only completed halfway. So half of the buttonhole is by machine and the other half is by hand. It turned out pretty neatly, I think.
They fit her well (YAY!) but I have a list of small tweaks for the next one:
take some length and depth out of the front crotch curve
angle in the back yoke a bit more to make the waist a bit snugger back there.
add maybe half an inch to the back rise
lower the front pocket curve by about 3/8″
deepen the front pockets by an inch
and use angled pockets for the back rather than the rounded ones that came with the Ottobre pattern.
I can’t emphasize this enough, Dear Readers: rounded back patch pockets in thick fabric with contrast topstitcing are the devil. The fabric doesn’t want to fold in nicely to match the curve, even with gathering stitches to help; and the sewing machine has no interest in moving smoothly around that curve while topstitching afterwards. Angled pockets. They’re the way to go.
The important thing is that now we are a hair’s breadth from having a perfect pants block for Frances. So I can make her pants that she can wear, hallelujah.
Also hallelujah: Frances has decided that the next pair of pants she wants, is leggings. That should be a much faster and easier project than blue jeans, even having to trace and alter a new pattern. (And in fact they’re already done, traced out and sewn up in a single day. Thank goodness.)
But after that: more jeans. More leggings. Fancy pants to wear when she needs to dress up and doesn’t want to wear a dress. Pants forever.
I cannot wait to make All The Pants for Frances. Frances now has a lifetime Pants Avalanche coming her way.
Once again, I saw a yellow dress that I wanted to have and knew I wouldn’t be able to buy–this time because it retails for $7,260 USD. HAHAHAHAHA. (Ahem.)
But it is stunning. And I know I’m not the only one because I’ve seen it in several spreads in September fashion magazines.
As well as a live sighting or two.
Silk-lurex with a gorgeous beaded collar. You can really see the lurex in the Kirsten shot. To me it looks like a knit.
The embellished collar and shoulders are just stunning. I wouldn’t do beading on a project like this for myself as I want something I can toss in the laundry without fear, and I’d worry about wear and snagging. But this, I thought, was a great opportunity to try out a blackwork collar, and just in time for the Monthly Stitch’s collars challenge.
Which was in September. I didn’t factor in anything like enough time to embroider the collar, so this is a month late. But better late than never and it did turn out well, so…
I found a dark gold-yellow stretch silk in a store on Queen W for $59/yard … and put it back. Gorgeous but I would have been terrified to wear it to work. So instead I used a dark yellow brushed rayon, without stretch, from Fabricland on sale for under $10/m. I bought 2, and just barely managed to eke out the altered pattern pieces.
So this $7,260 USD dress was copied for about $30 CDN, if you include buttons, thread and embroidery floss.
M7351 has the shirt dress with an a-line skirt and a collar, but it doesn’t have the puffy elbow-length sleeves or the length. (It also doesn’t have the hip seam line but I wasn’t really a fan of those as they don’t seem to fit the model well.) So first step was altering the pattern:
Changing the longer sleeves to elbow length puffy sleeves, by slashing and spreading from the shoulder all the way down to the elbow and drafting a basic fitted cuff.
And lengthening the skirt by about 7″ to take it below the knees. That was all my cut of fabric could accommodate.
This is the Big 4, so of course it makes no sense.
I’m meant to be a size 16/18 according to their charts. This is a size 10D, graded to a 12 at the hips, with a small FBA.
Which is the point of the post, and also extremely technical and complicated, and therefore boring. I wrote a more detailed and technical post on embroidering collars with lots more background here, for those who are curious.
Collar pieces were not cut out. The cutting and seam lines were traced on to the fabric, and then the seamlines were thread-traced so I could embroider without worry of losing them.
The entire upper collar piece was interfaced, waste canvas attached, then basted to a piece of muslin large enough to fit in my scroll frame. I basted it around the edge and also around the cutting line for the collar, then trimmed away the muslin in the embroidery area. (I didn’t want to have to worry about differential shrinking between the rayon and muslin pieces later on, even though both were pre-shrunk.)
I doodled, researched, sketched, and combined blackwork embroidery ideas for the collar. I wanted something geometric and abstract that would echo the beadwork of the original, but also that had a recognizable motif. This was a tall order. This is what I decided on: the “floral lace” repeat from RSN’s blackwork book.
Again to echo the beadwork on the original, I used heavier threads at the front collar points. I worked the pattern from the points towards the centre back so the visible points would match. I’m not super worried about what’s happening under my hair at the back. I took photos of the first side then flipped it in editing software so I could exactly copy it on the other side and ensure the pattern was completely symmetrical.
Once the blackwork was done, I removed the basting stitches and cut out and assembled the collar per standard directions, following the embroidery to make sure it was exactly symmetrical.
I measure my embroidery time in TV shows, so, not including prep time and a few odd hours stitching while talking to Frances, the embroidery on this collar took the first season of The Defenders, the second season of The Get Down, and almost all of the first season of Master of None. Aka, a really, really long time.
It’s a shirt dress. Pretty standard.
Since the collar is the last piece to go on, I worked on the dress assembly while I was embroidering the collar. The rayon is very soft so I took extra care and fused some interfacing around the neck seamline so it wouldn’t stretch out while waiting for the collar. Otherwise: put the bodice together, put the skirt together, joined them, added the plackets, assembled and joined the sleeves, then the collar, buttonholes and buttons.
If you can believe it, after all that work, I made a small goof on the collar stand: I pinned it to the collar, decided it was 1/4″ inch too long on each side, took that 1/4″ off, pinned it again, and realized I was wrong and it was actually the perfect size before–but it was then too late. So I had to ease the dress slightly around the front to make it fit the collar stand without puckering. Woops. It turned out all right, but man, what a mistake to make, so close to the end and with a collar that was so much work to make in the first place.
The darts on the bodice ended up very pointy, so I took them out and did them again, twice.
It turned out the way I wanted, so yay! It’s rayon and wrinkles at a touch so this is as wrinkle-free as I can get it; also one of the lower buttons pulls across the hips when I sit down. Be careful of that if you use a soft fabric and make the narrow skirt. I’ve patched up a bit of pulling already and reinforced that area to keep it happier long-term.
This is another repeat dress inspired by a fabric purchase; this time a dress-weight poly knit with a gorgeous floral print that I made up into a heavily modified M7160, first made up earlier this year in a blue rayon knit.
1. Shortened the bodice by 1″ all around. The weight of the skirt pulls the bodice down; taking an inch out puts the waistline on my waist.
2. Swapped out the circle skirt of the pattern with the 3/4 circle skirt I drafted for the La La Land dress.
3. Shortened the 3/4 length sleeves by about 1″.
4. Did an FBA by tracing the front pattern piece and slashing and spreading from the shoulder to near the waist, to create shoulder gathers rather than darts. It worked well, but I should have then leveled the waist seam. I have a bit of tilt now introduced by this change.
There’s clear elastic in the shoulder seams and on the waist to help support the weight. Overall it was a really quick sew and makes for a practical and comfortable dress. (And this one also came to the conference in Victoria with me. I think it was $6/m for the fabric, and it can’t have been more than 2.5m for the dress–so a $15 dress. I am pleased.)
It does have pockets. The original pocket pattern for the full circle skirt worked just fine in the 3/4 circle skirt.
(When I was trying it on to fuss with the hem, Frances, sitting on the couch, said, “Oh! It has pockets!” Frances is a kid who wears a dress maybe twice a year, and yet even she knows that dresses with pockets are better than those without. If only manufacturers could manage this mental leap.)
I spent a bit of time looking up colloquialisms using the word “plum” for a punny title, because why not, and I was shocked! to discover that the use of the intensifier so many of us (or at any rate, I) are so familiar with should actually be plumb.
“I plum forgot” and “that’s plum crazy” and “we were plum exhausted”–all wrong! Who knew. English, you scamp.
But I couldn’t resist the punning so I am having it both ways here.
My search also turned up this gem, from Anthony Trollope’s Is He Popenjoy? Trollope, in case you’re not familiar with him, was a contemporary of Charles Dickens’ both chronologically and philosophically, particularly in their attitudes towards women:
“The words which his cousin had spoken had not turned him–had not convinced him. Were he again tempted to speak his real mind about this woman–as he had spoken in very truth his real mind–he would still express the same opinion. She was to him like a running stream to a man who had long bathed in stagnant waters. But the hideous doctrines which is cousin had preached to him were not without their effect. If she were as other women–meaning such woman as Adelaide Houghton–or if she were not, why should he not find out the truth? He was well aware that she liked him. She had not scrupled to show him that by many signs. Why should he scruple to say a word that might show him how the wind blew? Then he remembered a few words which he had spoken, but which had been taken so innocently, that they, though they had been meant to be mischievous, had become innocent themselves. Even things impure became pure by contact with her. He was sure, quite sure, that his cousin was altogether wrong in her judgment. He knew that Adelaide Houghton could not recognize, and could not appreciate, a pure woman. But still, still it is so poor a thing to miss your plum because you do not dare to shake the tree. It is especially so if you are known as a professional stealer of plums.“
I don’t seem able to go to Queen W without coming home with some fabric; when I was last there, introducing a local sewing friend to the joy that is the textile district, this fuschia ponte knit told me it really wanted to become a long-sleeved dress.
Well, who am I to stand between a bolt of ponte and the deepest desires of its knit heart?
And after working out the fit issues with V8685 with the red bamboo jersey dress, it seemed that it would be a fairly quick and rewarding project. Which was true. And because I could alter the tissue in advance rather than trying to alter the fabric pieces after they were cut, some of the difficulties with the red one were solved nicely (like the shoulders).
1. Removed 1″ from the armscye, front and back.
2. Cut a 12 everywhere, except grading to 14 at the hips
3. Did an FBA on the front, rotating the darts into the tucks
4. Took out 1″ from the centre back length
5. Took out 1″ from the sleeve cap, and then another 2″ in the sleeve itself. Which turned out to be about 1/2″ too much, but I can live with it
6. And took out about 1 1/2″ in width from the sleeves, which at first were baggy as hell. Even now they are pretty loose
Because the ponte has a decent amount of structure, and because the fitted skirt on this version doesn’t have the weight of the full skirt on the last one, I didn’t have to interface the bands or yokes and I didn’t need to make it quite so tight. I replaced the neckline facing with a strip of bias tape cut from a matching cotton satin, to prevent the neckline from stretching or sagging out over time and reduce bulk. The dress holds it shape nicely and is super comfortable. And I got to wear it for the first time presenting a talk on my community climate change impact adaptation planning project as part of a panel on community engagement strategies.
(“Community Climate Change Impact Adaptation Planning project” is, to be fair, half the talk, since the project title is so bloody long.)
It was a nice little confidence booster, and I’m betting I’ll be getting a lot of wear out of this one over the winter.
According to the BMV size chart, I am a size 16/18. This dress was cut in a size 12 with an FBA on the front bodice pieces, grading to a 14 at the hips. As you can see it is still not too tight. I love this pattern, but be warned: size down.