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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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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Two weightless raglan tops

Many years ago I proposed I think twice to David Page Coffin when he was working as an incomparable editor at Threads, that I write an article on sewing for comfort.

I thought and still think this is an interesting and important topic.  After all the clothes we really wear are those that are comfortable - so why don't we consider this more as a deciding factor when we sew? However no one but me thought this was a good idea for an article, but I have held on to the idea since. I still think this is something we should think about.

I am often struck by my mother's beautiful 1950s suits and dresses with how every heavy they are. That 12 panel wool skirt completely underlined with horse hair ... well you might as well be wearing the horse blanket IMO.

So whenever I can I try to find fabrics that are as weightless as possible, but still durable to put on this body.

Ans due to my far flung children, I also travel a lot. I need light clothes.

This weight restriction and paying for your checked baggage thing has got totally out of hand. All it has left us with are these two things:

1. We now all have to travel in the baggage department, with folks trying to shove steamer trunk sized "carry-ons" in the glove compartment over our heads.

2. Nothing has suddenly become really heavy and really heavy costs about an extra $40 in excess baggage fees. And no one listens to you at all when you tell them they don't understand because you have nothing in that bag, not counting the shoes that match, a big housecoat in case there is a fire in the hotel and you have to spend the night in the lobby with strangers, a few patterns to look over, and some knitting to keep you entertained during long conversations with people you have come a long way to see. How heavy can just that be?

Which brings to my sister's quilt.

The fabric I used to make these two weightless tops was bought in Portland Oregon last spring while at Quilt Mart to promote my book on garment sewing at my publisher's request. When I was there I saw a lot of quilts that I knew my quilting sister would appreciate, and spent a lot of time walking around and talking to people who told me they didn't sew clothes, because that was too hard.

But they could quilt, which I cannot. It is pretty much all the focus I am capable of to sew two sleeves not one. I am sure glad two arms is all I got. Yet quilters can sew 580 pieces of fabric back together again and not get overwhelmed and do a good job of it.

The tiny stitches those folks can make are amazing. A wall hanging one of my sisters made for me recently is proof of hat.

Here is the story. 

I have a scarf from Japan a couple of the kids brought back for me last winter after a trip.The pattern is stylized apricots.  Since the Japanese word for apricot is the same as my youngest granddaughter's name, Anika, I decided I wanted to do more with this scarf than just wear it.

So my sister Dawn in Ottawa made a whole quilt wall hanging for me with it. I completely love it and her for doing this.

Here are her crazy small stitches:

And here is me standing beside the quilt in weightless and packable raglan sleeve (most comfortable sleeve in my opinion) top #1.

The pattern is this one from Jalie, the Marie-Claude, sort of a sport top, and you can see how loose the sleeves are, cut for movement at the armhole even though the sleeves themselves are fairly narrow, like a base layer. This is some sort of weird puckered cotton/rayon/lycra and weighs about the same as a teabag. It also will not show any suitcase wrinkles at all which will be handy.

Weightless top #2 is made from another novelty fabric, this one a sort of pre-wrinkled number that looks like the all those discarded pieces of tissue paper that are all over the living room floor Christmas morning. It has silver threads running through the grey.

Because this was so wrinkled and odd and floaty I tried out a new pattern for me, another comfort raglan, this one Love Notions's Rockford Raglan. I really loved this pattern. It has a nice fit through the shoulders and sleeves but does ease up a lot over the belly - perfect for fabric with real drape. I wish I had used this pattern over the summer when I was in the market for tops that didn't cling.

All the Love Notions tops also come with an optional full bust front pattern piece, which saves you from having to alter the pattern with your own FBA. I made a medium here but used the full bust front piece.

You good sewers with your eagle eyes will notice right away that the neckband pulls in a lot. I personally did a lot of stressing about this, took it off, re-sewed it, pressed, top stitched the seam allowance down (something I rarely do) until I had a good look at the fabric and realized that with all those built-in wrinkles (more apparent in the fabric on the front of this top) I was crazy not to respect that quality and accept the fact this fabric was not meant to lie smooth. I just had to let this fabric be who it was.

Plus I can wear a necklace, or a cardigan over this or, and this is my go-to, really bright pink lipstick to distract the eye.

At any rate even if you might think that this top looks like something I have pulled out of the bottom of the bin I am going to wear it a lot - just so breezy and comfortable.

Love it.


Sarah Wale said...

Thanks, Barbara, for another useful and interesting post. I do so agree about comfort being all-important. Raglan sleeves are a boon, too - easy to fit and excellent for those of us who are heavy up top and have trouble with huge armholes to alter on patterns designed for set-in sleeves; big boos doesn't mean huge arms! Raglan sleeves are so much smarter and more comfortable than dolmen or kimono ones, which can swamp. Both the tops look great on you.
Your sister is an artist and what a wonderful and imaginative use of a beautiful scarf!
All the best, Sarah.

Alison said...

I wish that there HAD been an article on sewing for "comfortable", as that is my own overarching intention with my own clothing, as I sew most of what I wear... I agree with you about light weight, and about raglan sleeves. Some of the other things I consider when making sewing choices are internal seam finishes, pocket size and locations, fabric content, and options for layering

I figure that since I will never be svelte, or tall and leggy, being comfortable is a value I can achieve and enjoy. I don't care if large functional pockets make my hips look big, since the hips will look big irregardless. I like natural fibers, especially linen and rayon, as they breathe, wash and dry easily.I don't care if they look a little rumpled, and my style makes me look rather like an art teacher, since I am actually an artist and occasionally teach...

Catherine said...

I love the idea of an article on sewing comfortable clothes. You often show us with your wardrobe and clothes for your daughter that comfy can be stylish as well. Keep pitching it.

sewingkm said...

Barbara, your posts are always so relatable as I'm travelling in a couple weeks and trying to fit everything in a 23 inch suitcase. It's not a small task considering it's for 4 weeks on cruise ships which needs both casual and dressy outfits. As much as I mainly sew natural fibers, polyester blends seem to work best for traveling. I've whipped up a few floaty semi-sheer tops that require the basic tank as these seem to work well. Throw in a nice pair of black slacks and black knit dress and I'm set for dressy evenings. That leaves the day outfits which has to work with nice, comfy jeans and leggings so, like you, I need lightweight tops. I'd love to see you write a book on casual, comfortable clothing! Karen

Tracy King said...

Thanks Barbara, for both the insight and the glimpse into your life. The quilted scarf is beautiful and I’m not surprised you sister is also a talented seamstress ( or is it sewer? I need to look that up as it pertains to quilting as opposed to sewing garments). I appreciate the review of love notions patters because I’ve sewn myself 4 tops this week and none of them fit my bust line. I am experienced at sewing children’s clothes but not at fitting myself. I have been hemming and hawing over wether to buy even more patterns to try because I’m a bit of a hoarder. Now I know I will definitely buy some love notions to try. Have a super day ;)

Audrey said...

Your post prompted me to look up the definition of Comfortable - being in a state of physical or mental comfort ; contented and undisturbed; I was delighted the definition mentions mental comfort as well as physical. IMHO, physical comfort seems to be the focus of many sewers and they achieve this with knit fabrics, elastic and lycra, lots of ease and loose garment styles.

For me, mental comfort is just as important as physical. Knowing my clothes fit well, flatter me is some way, express my individuality and are appropriate for the occasion is hugely important to my mental comfort.

I feel more comfortable in well fitted, structured garments. Elastic waists add bulk to an area where I don't need it and when the back elastic sticks out further than my flat butt...not a good look. T shirts make me feel sloppy. Raglan sleeves are not attractive on my small sloping shoulder. A knit maxi dress makes me feel like I am wearing a nightgown in public. All of these could be considered mental perceptions.

My favorite jacket is a blazer sewn from Ponte knit. It is both mentally and physically comfort for me. My thoughts for what they are worth.

I love the two unique knits you used for your tops. Perfect for travel.

Alison G said...

I've never forgotten a line in one of the Narnia books about the characters wearing clothes that were equally beautiful and comfortable, which seemed such an excellent idea, and so far removed from my childhood experience! It's been at the back of my mind in all my dressmaking life, not least because if it's not comfortable it won't get worn, which is a waste of my efforts. Adding the need to be practical in day to day activities is exactly the kind of creative challenge I love.

TracyKM said...

Reminds me of our recent cruise and how the airlines created this issue. Charge for checked luggage, so everyone wants to take just a carry on. But the overhead bins aren't large enough for carry ons for every passenger, so they ask for "volunteers" to check their carry on for free, but if you're in sections 7-8-9, you will likely be forced to check it (and this wasn't "gate checked", you had to go to baggage claims to get it back).
We had one checked suitcase so we didn't care if we had to check a carry on, as long as it was free. On the way back, the checked bag was 54lb--4lbs over. It was going to be a $100 charge for being overweight! It was because we bought two bottles of rum. So we're there at the counter trying to squeeze shoes and random stuff into the carry ons that were already ready to burst.
I really tried on this trip to pack lightweight stuff and pare down what I took. The clothes weren't bad, but all the random stuff...cameras, knitting, book, snacks...