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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon



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Monday, May 9, 2016

A comfortable blazer and jeans

Lately I have had the bright idea of actually sewing clothes that I would wear everyday, be comfortable in, and go together. An outfit.

Crazy radical I know and let’s not talk about how long it took me to get here.

Specifically I wanted something I could wear to pick the kids up at school, wear to go to the grocery store to get the one thing I meant to get last time but didn’t, or meet the mouse exterminator in.

Real life, my real life, clothes.

What I came up with, this time out, was the idea of a comfortable blazer, a sharper replacement for that old sweater with the pills on it that is a current tired day default, and some jeans-like unit. 

I am on a sort of jeans/pants sewing tear at the moment, and am highly motivated by the fact I am getting sooo over skinny jeans. The truth is that if you are not yourself skinny you end up with long layers to cover it all and a midriff that feels more compressed than it deserves.

I have been eyeing this unlined knit blazer pattern for a while. It had some of the hallmarks of a good pattern, separate upper and under collar pieces, darts in the sleeves at the elbow to give shape, and larger pockets for the longer view and smaller ones for the shorter view - all indications someone was on the case when this was drafted.

I made the longer view and used some navy and white striped knit pique I found at my local Fabricville. Interestingly I see Fabricville now has an online store so I can link directly to the fabric here so you can have a look.

Here is me in my version:

My best church lady pose. This was after the first take where my daughter kept saying "Mom you are always talking and gesturing in the pictures. Try to look more normal."

Another version where you can see the line of the pants too. Really for an outfit that has the comfort level of sweats I am pretty pleased

I am so happy with this pattern I am definitely going to be making it again. A simple classic but without all the work of tailoring and ten times less restricting to wear.

I made the size 14 as is with some construction changes.

These were:
  • To add stability to the knit I applied a fusible knit interfacing to both the upper and under collar, the facings of course, and also to the sleeve and jacket hem allowances so they would hang better.
  • Because top stitching a knit pocket onto a knit fabric can be tricky to hold still, I interfaced the pocket with a woven sew-in interfacing. I actually made a sort of a pillow case bag, right sides together, woven interfacing to knit, with a small opening in the top hem for turning rather than turning under the raw edges etc. on the pocket. I hate having to fuss doing that and find just lining the pocket and turning it so much easier. Here is how that looked in construction:

  • To avoid fish lips buttonholes that look like this:

I made corded buttonholes, which simply are buttonholes made by hooking a heavier thread like a buttonhole twist or pearl cotton over the back of the buttonhole foot and letting the machine stitch over the cord. 

When the buttonhole is done simply pull on the free ends of cord, the back loop will be pulled under the bar tack at one end and hidden, and pull the free ends to the wrong side, knot and tie off.

A buttonhole made like this will not stretch out of shape:

And finally, I have to share the buttons. Love it when they match. It is just luck but I take credit for it:

Now onto the pants.

Since I am so newly committed to comfortable pants I have been looking for some version of "Mom" jeans. Yes, I know, but they are the new big thing (saw them all over Manhattan last month) and personally if anyone has earned the right to wear Mom jeans it's me I figure.

I have had this pattern for a couple of months and been meaning to try it:

When I was down at Fabricville getting my blazer knit I spotted some very nice blue stretch denim, good quality, nice hand, and decided to just do it. I believe this is the fabric here.

I really enjoyed the top-stitching:

Before you get any idea I know what I am doing I have to tell you I just threaded two spools of jeans top-stitching thread in my cover hem (you could do the same thing with a twin needle) so I cheated completely.

If you are wary about using a heavier thread like this in your machine don't be. All you have to do is make sure you have an eye in the needle big enough for the thread to pass through easily. Look for something called a top-stitching needle. I used two in my cover hem machine and put another one in my regular machine when I had to do single line top-stitching.

The pattern went together very well and I didn't have to make any alterations apart from taking in the back waistband 1 1/2" 

Note that the waistband for the size 16 was nearly 36" (mine is 34" and the size 16 is supposed to be drafted for a size 30" waist). It pays to measure the pattern sometimes before you cut. The crotch curve and hips were perfect though. 

You can assess the fit from the photos yourselves but really the only major change I would make next time is to take out the hip curve a bit because my own hips are totally straight without any curve at all. I have in fact already done that to the pattern pieces because I am definitely making these again.

You can see exactly where I bent my right leg the curve I am going to be eliminating next pair. Not hard to do but really when there are no wrinkles anywhere else and the crotch was great right out of the envelope, why not?

On the construction side the only really, really important thing I need to mention is that the pattern envelope calls for a 7" zipper. This is really interesting because the fly extension is, without seam allowances, only 5" long, a more standard length for zippers in women's fly front jeans.

I of course discovered this when I went to put in my 7" zipper which meant I actually had to do the last couple of top-stitches around the fly by hand to get it over the metal jeans zipper teeth. No surprise there are no close-up shots of that here. Ideally you should be able to place the fly front top-stitching just below where the zipper teeth end.

This means, for the next person, you are going to have two choices, zipper wise:

1. Buy a 5" and not a 7" jeans zipper. Easy to do.
2. Lengthen the fly extension by 2," Also easy to do.

All in all I am pretty pleased with myself. 

I felt I took a chance with some nice fabric and two totally new patterns and got lucky. These are both basic staple type garments and they will get a lot of wear. I should probably do more of this type of sewing and continue to explore really day-to-day outfits that to my own mind at least look sharper than their comfort level suggests.

More to come.

The question of finding a basic fit pattern

My friend Robin got me thinking with her thoughtful comment to my last post.

Obviously what I am providing here are some first principles for flat pattern alteration to help new and returning sewers get started, and to help them understand why patterns are not fitting exactly right straight out of the envelope.

For real fine-tuning once you understand the basics, or to establish a good fitting basic garment you can use to overlay commercial patterns, or even as a basis for your own designs ideas, a sloper - a custom fit garment is a great idea.

You can learn how to draft these, Craftsy has good courses and Robin is a grad of many of them, or develop them through your own trial, error, and efforts.

Full disclosure here, I am not myself a person with a lot of time (humane wildlife removal going on here all week plus I am committed to helping my middle guy paint his new B and B) or more to the point a lot of patience for those processes. I am more a sit and sew when I have a few minutes kind of  girl these days.

So all of this made me perk up with interest when I saw Bootstrap Fashions has introduced some new dress slopers for wovens and knits.

I was delighted to see the fit specs included things like belly protrudence, posture and shoulder slope which indicates to me that these patterns, very reasonably priced too, might be very helpful in automatically sorting out some common fitting issues.

I haven't tried these patterns myself, but they are moving to the top of the to-do-list, and I would be most interested in anyone else's experiences.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Handy sewing hint of the day #17

Before we get into the weeds of fitting there are a few important first principles we should talk about. 

These, like nearly everything I write, are primarily the result of my own observations after decades or working with sewing students and in sewing for myself and my family.

Here we go:

There is a lot made of the big three- bust, waist and hip - but IMO some of the most potent body parts, when you are working towards fit, are lesser known measurements, or shapes. 

These include:

1. Shoulder slope. I talked before about the importance of getting a good upper body fit by working with the chest/high bust measurement rather than a bustling but as important as fitting the hanger is knowing what the shape of the hanger looks like. 

Some women have your so-called average shoulder shape for which average patterns presumably fit, most of us have shoulders that are either square (like mine, boney and they just go straight across like a ruler, detected by collars that seem to ride up) or sloped (if you have always thought you have had "small shoulders" in fact your shoulders might just be sloped, think duck, not trying to be rude here but need to give you a clear image) meaning your tops seems to just hang too loose on the shoulders or even feel like they are sliding down.

Look for where the extra fabric is on your shoulders. 

If it seems to be bunching up at your neckline, particularly at the back and your collars seems to stand away from your neck you might have square shoulders - basically the pattern is providing fabric where there is no you.

If you feel you have extra fabric deposited below your shoulder line and just too much hanging off your shoulder you probably have sloping shoulders (a good look in the mirror at your bare shoulders will actually tell you everything you need to know here).

My good friend Debbie Cook at Stitches and Seams does a nice easy description here of how to do a fast easy pattern adjustment for either of this issues.

2. Arm length. Actually no human measurement IMO can vary as much as arm length which seems to have nothing to do with your height. It's easy to measure on a set-in sleeve pattern, straight down from the shoulder notch to the wrist. Many folks need sleeves shortened.

3. How high and low your fullest part. These would be the three Bs - bust, belly and butt. Bellies are often higher than patterns think and busts and butts lower. This matters because your darts- bust, front and rear- need to end about 1/2" or more bit before the fullest part and aimed right at it. 

It's pretty simple really-  the darts pick up fabric where you don't need it and release it where you do. 

If that extra fabric is released too high, too low or too early or late you are going to get an unattractive bubble sitting in the middle of nowhere. Shortening and lengthening darts is easy, just move the last dart marking in or out, in a skirt or pant waist dart this just makes a shorter or longer dart (I personally lengthen all my back waist darts about 1 1/2" which is all you need to know about gravity and me).

In the case of a bust dart you can both move the dart end in or out so it is about 1/2-3/4" from your nipple (the more fitted the garment the closer the dart end to the bust point) but you might also have to raise it, or more commonly for larger busts lower it, so it is aiming at your nipple and not some random spot on your chest. If you do this of course you will have to redraw the dart legs so the lines from the side seam are properly aimed at this new end point.

I apologize here for not offering tons of great and useful pictures for all you visual learnings out there, but that would require far more time than I have right now, hopefully my words are clear enough, and if not let me know and I will try again.

Of course too you don't need to put a dart where you don't need them. For instance if you have a full tummy and basically your waist goes straight down and right into it, you don't need a front dart at all in fitted skirts (not sewing your darts will also add greatly to the fabric available for your front waistline too) or even only a small one. 

Remember darts are for shaping and not necessary in cases like this where there is no smaller part to be released to a larger one.

All of this brings me now to the really, really important facts of pattern choices.

Because you have shape and it is an individual shape, you are going to have to add (see previous post about making larger not making smaller for the pattern size chosen). The basic rule of thumb is to compare your pattern's ideal measurements and your own and add the difference to the seams.

Classic example would be you have a 34 inch waist and your pattern bought for your smaller 40 inch hips says the waist in that size should be 30 inches. This means of course that you have 4" to add and with two side seams this would be 1" added to each (2 X 1" for the front and 2 X 1" for the back), tapering in the top of say your skirt with this addition to the pattern's hip.

The principle applies for additions everywhere in your pattern but the big trick is that the more seams you have to divide these additions among the more subtle and successful your pattern alterations will be and the more able you will be to target them.

Listen to this, it's important, the more seams you have to play with letting out here and there taking in where you might need to in areas where you have hollows like the front of your chest or at the back or your neck where it slopes forward, the easier it is to fine-tune fit.

By contrast a seemingly "easy" few pattern pieces pattern can be a fitting nightmare because there are no shaping features for you to work with - and instituting those, adding seams or introducing darts, are fairly sophisticated and very easy to mess up.

On this basis princess seams (all those places to adjust along their length, so easy to make room for a large bust exactly where the bust is larger and return to a smaller upper chest) are terrific for fitting (enlarging darts is so much harder), as are two piece sleeves (smaller armhole and bigger biceps, smaller wrists) or panel seams in skirts and pants.

Sometimes nothing is harder to fit than a "simple" to sew pattern.

Does this make sense?

Some illustrations.

The pattern below is hard to fit, only places to add anything is at the side seams and that might not be where you want it. What about a full bust or hollow chest?

In an exaggerated contrast look at all the pre-set places you have in this pattern to adjust, you could make this one fit anybody:

Or less intimidatingly, see the adjustment spots here:

See the fitting difference between view B and the others?

Far easier to get a smooth fit here than with darts

Wonderful pattern if you want to take in the back neck and upper chest but increase for the bust or hips
 And finally, I know this is a lot right now, it is useful, ending with shoulders which is where we started, to match the lines of your shoulders with the seam lines of a pattern, this allows for adjustments in synch with your shape.

Folks with sloped shoulder for example do well with raglan sleeves, and folks with square shoulders with set-in sleeves:

Enough to think about now. 

To be continued.