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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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Saturday, November 3, 2018

A lesson we need to keep learning- all knits are not alike

This post started out to be a review of three new to me tee shirt type patterns. But when I started thinking it seemed to me that just as important as talking about the patterns, was talking about the knits each is suitable for.

I really think most of us fall into the trap sometimes of thinking that all "knits" are alike, and if we see a pattern calls for knits, we immediately think anything that stretches will work just fine.

This is of course nuts, and I can say this without insulting anyone because I am referring to myself when I make this mistake.

I mean really. Would we ever assume that just because a pattern says woven that we can use either linen, denim, chiffon, melton or broadcloth and the garments would all turn out just fine?


So to be fair to any knit pattern it is important to recognize that certain patterns are suited to certain knit fabrics. The trial garments below are talking points on this issue.

First off the Mama Paige by Made4Mermaids.Unfortunately the website doesn't seem to release images to be copied easily so you are going to have to go the link for more pattern details, but here is a start:

  • This is a free pattern. A number of the indie companies, particularly the start-up type ones who sell only .pdf patterns offer some really great free patterns. Worth a look around, what you might want to sew just might be available for nothing or next too.
  • This is a dolman top with skinny sleeves (really skinny you need a really stretchy fabric to make these work, or size up the sleeves) and a T-shirt, tunic and dress length, plus some neckline options.
Here is my version. 

Note the first one, my "muslin" was made in a scuba that I didn't really like. The arms were pretty tight, good thing I have little upper body muscle development, and the structure of the fabric made me look like a fridge with two stringy arms sticking out of it.

When my husband said he wouldn't wear it - first time he has ever commented on anything I make with anything more than an eyes unfocused "looks great"- I decided that this one was one for the recycling bin. So too late to show it to you here now.

So, educated on the pattern, my next version was this ITY knit in a long tunic length. The fabric has tons of stretch and enough body not to cling. I wasn't expecting to like this top, not my usual choice of print, but I actually do. It will work with leggings or a straight skirt:

I have to admit I have soft spot for P4P patterns. They have an astounding collection of free patterns that are really useful, from baby clothes to sun hats to leggings to the pyjama pants you think you might make for Christmas.

This particular pattern is not one of their free ones, but how could I resist any body's favourite? It also had a really unusual scoop neckline with a full shoulder. Wide scoops that expose my bra straps are something that drive my crazy and as a scrawny shoulder person I run into this a lot.

Here are the descriptive photos of this pattern:

I made a sort of muslin for this one too and after that made a few person additions to my own version of the size large:
  • I added an inch at the waist because I am long waisted.
  • I cut nearly the dress length to give me a tunic length for my tall self
  • I raised the scoop at the centre up 1.5" but that might be too much, might go for 3/4" next time
I have learned from experience that a tunic length knit top works best for me in something with some body, i.e. it won't cling to my belly and articulate it. So for that reason I used a cotton/lycra interlock. Here we go:

You can see that this has a real flare to it. I made the large, worked for my upper body and bust but the hip measurement for the large is about 2.5" larger than my own actual hips. So what you are seeing is more of a pattern size than a style design issue. On someone who had the pattern size hips 43" this would look quite different. I will probably take this in a bit below the waist (which is definitely shaped) next time.

Finally I made the Classic Tee by Love Notions. This pattern is currently on for $5.00 which is very reasonable given the quality of the Love Notions draft. 

The name of this pattern more or less says it all but it needs to be noted that this pattern, like most from Love Notions I have tried, has a a good shoulder fit but a fair amount of ease in the waist and hips. 

Here are some of the pattern shots:

This is an extremely wearable pattern. I did not do any pattern changes for my muslin except add my standard 2" for extra length.

Now the fabric I used wasn't ideal, a thinnish rayon knit, you can see the belly grab and I can see the hem will need a press after each washing, but it is so comfortable. I probably won't even add length next time:

Definitely a standby pattern for sure and once I get some sewing for family done I hope to get another version of this made up in firmer cotton lycra to see how that works. This pattern one might be best done in lighter fabric, we will see.

So there you have it. Three very different T-shirt patterns all suitable for different fabrics and for different uses.

Now what do you think?

I really enjoyed the process of pattern comparison and think I may be doing more of exactly that in the future.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

A jacket project

A few posts ago I showed you a reversible straight skirt I made from some suede knit with a rayon knit backing.

I decided that I wanted to make a jacket to go with both versions of the skirt for my travels. I was hoping for something that would look sort of suit like, despite the fact that my daughter has told me about two million times to stop matching things.

I figured that when she was around I could switch the skirt to the grey side and I would be O.K.

In addition to clandestine suit wear I also wanted a jacket that could double as a sort of spring/fall jacket, meaning that it would not be so fitted that I couldn't wear a sweater under it if I wanted to.

This is the pattern I chose, a new season Butterick from Katherine Tilton, B6596:

I liked the asymmetry of the zipper placement in the jacket and the fact it called for a knit. I usually don't like unlined jackets but in a knit that's just fine and in a two-sided bonded knit even better.

I am very happy with this jacket and will probably at least another one, it is that comfortable.

That said there were some definite surprises in this project.

First is fit.

Going by the back of the pattern envelope, I am between a size 16 and 18 bust, a size 22 waist and between a 16 and 18 hip.

Because I always choose pattern size by my high bust, I cut out a size 14, and added two inches to the hip and two inches to the length (these patterns are drafted for 5'6" women and I am 5'9".)

This meant of course that I was sewing a jacket that was drafted for someone with a bust 3" smaller than mine and with a waist 6" smaller than mine.

Here is how that size 14, with additions only a hip and length looked like on me:

Really not tight at all is it, in fact I might even have gone down a size, although this is fine for an over something else jacket. Next time I make it I will not add anything at all to the hip area and not add to the length.

Can you imagine what this would look like on me if I had made it in a size to match my measurements?

No wonder so many sewers have given up on the Big 4 and gone Indie.

And this is another case study of why I always work off my high bust, rather than my full bust when using the big pattern companies.

I have a pretty clear idea what happened.

The first clue was simply that the instructions were so nuts for a for knit pattern. 

If you read them, all the stay-stitching and clipping and turning and pressing and easing, a person would swear that this pattern was drafted for a woven fabric and that the instructions were written in an 1968 home ec class. 

No mention of sewing a knit with a serger (or finishing with a cover hem or twin needle) or even with a stretch stitch or small zig zag on a sewing machine. It is as if the last 50 years of knowledge in how to sew knits never even happened.

Most weird. This sort of breaks my heart for the new sewers out there who are diligently following pattern instructions and not understanding why they are a struggle, or why they produce garments that look home made.

It really makes me wonder how much input the designer has into these patterns or if they do a sample and the team, at say Butterick, just cuts and pastes in stuff that they have in the generic instruction bank.

Even more odd is that there are two distinct voices in these instructions. 

Most of the steps are as I have described above, textbook woven techniques, and completely ignoring the fact that this pattern was supposed to be sewn in a knit, but then suddenly there are some really wonderful, detailed and quite original instructions for sewing in the invisible zipper pockets. That section seem totally out of character with the rest of the text.

It was as if the pattern editor couldn't find any way of explaining these rarely atypical pockets and asked Tilton herself to write something and then dropped that particular text into the middle of the guide sheet.

Here are the pockets BTW:

A demo of how to put your hands in a pocket

A demo of how to unzip a pocket
Speaking of pockets the pattern calls for four, the two you see in action above and two more internal pockets.

These internal pockets are sort of pattern envelope size and are to be set up high, about three inched below the armpit in each side panel.

I actually made up these pockets and was about to put them in when I realized what I was doing - getting ready to sew in some big pockets to go one under each armpit.

I reminded myself of Miss Heidi when she was asked to stand on a balance beam in gymnastics "Why?" (actually what she actually said was "why do you want me to stand on a piece of wood?")

What is a person supposed to put in these pockets?

Conceal and carry sandwiches? Library books to read on the bus? A cell phone under the right armpit and a pack of cards under the left? Passports for the whole family and the plane tickets home?

Nothing about these pockets made any sense so I left them out. Maybe you should too, unless their purpose is clearer to you than it is to me.

Not all details were this unusual.

The zipper front was easy to install but I did have to work with the zippers I had locally. I really wonder sometimes if it s within my rights as a mother to ask my son, who is happily living his life in Berkeley, to move back to New York for the sewing notions - zippers in particular? Wonder if he would go for that?

In the end I was pretty happy with how the jacket went with both sides of the reversible skirt as hopefully you can see in the shots above. Ignoring the pattern sizing and instructions were worth it.

This is a very wearable garment and hopefully the shots show that.

Speaking of photography I will end this post with an out take just like they do at the end of some movies - all the things they leave on the cutting room floor.

I have to saw that neither my husband or I would say that these photo taking sessions are the high points of our martial experience. I generally want to know why my husband holds the phone in such a way to make my head look small and my stomach look fat and my husband wants to know why if I want the top of my head in the shot I don't tell him.

I also know that my loyal husband thinks I am not helping him reach his creative potential. If for example you are wondering how I actually look when the suggestion is made that we shoot my sewing projects from the drone in the sky - so my readers can see the garment from all angles - well wonder no longer: