Saturday, 24 February 2018

Slow (but somewhat successful!) shirt sewing + a stress-relieving bag

After I finished my black and white jacket earlier this month, I intended to plough on, full steam ahead, into Making All The Shirts. Well, I did move on to making shirts, but the last ten days or so have been less a full-steam-ahead-shirt-apalooza, and more a lengthy and rather trying experience making a single shirt.

I've made several previous attempts to make a classic, button-fronted shirt, with mixed success. The best outcome I had was a chambray shirt I made using an Ottobre pattern in 2014, which is still going strong in my wardrobe. Since then, though, most of my shirt-making attempts have been unsatisfactory to some degree, mainly because of the fit. Most have ended up going into the recycling/donation box after very few wears because they were just uncomfortable to wear.

My big focus for shirt-making this year therefore is achieving better fit. I decided to start with something relatively simple with a solid coloured fabric (no pattern matching!) and a straightforward pattern. I was specifically looking for: a normal (not dropped) set-in shoulder/sleeve; a cut-on/folded button band; a back yoke; a bust dart; and a traditional collar + collar stand. My final choice was Burda 04-2010-114, which is, I have to admit, fairly uninteresting as shirts go, but has all the features I was looking for. I made this first version in an inexpensive navy cotton with a touch of lycra that I bought in 2016.
Burda 04-2010-114: Shirt pattern (images from
I must tell you immediately, before I start complaining, that I think this is a really nice pattern and I will definitely make it again. All the problems I had with this particular shirt were of my own making! Overall, there are a LOT of sewing flaws in my completed shirt and as far as the finish of it is concerned, it's definitely not my best work. This was kind of depressing because I was really trying SO HARD to make The Perfect Shirt and that is really not what I ended up with. At all. In any way. Instead, I just had sewing session after sewing session where I just. kept. screwing. up.

My very imperfect navy shirt using Burda 04-2010-114

Everything I could have done incorrectly, I did incorrectly. I caught random folds of fabric in seams by mistake. The whole collar/collar stand sewing experience took forever, was utterly miserable and frankly the outcome doesn't bear up to any kind of close scrutiny. I also put the wrong interfacing on the collar and collar stand and made them much too stiff, but only realized how bad it was once I had already trimmed the seam allowances so drastically that unpicking/resewing with a new version would have been a nightmare. I set in a sleeve inside out. Two of my ten buttonholes were a complete and utter disaster. And so on. I don't think I've ever unpicked so much in my entire life.

Collar details. Not my best collar attempt and it took forever.
By the time I was 80% of the way through this shirt I was SO DONE with it. In fact, I was so done I very seriously considered binning it and moving on. At the very moment when I was contemplating shoving it in my fabric recycling bag, however, the post arrived and included a set of tools to install metal grommets that I ordered in order to finish off a tote bag. I took a time out and hit things with a hammer for a while (the results of which are below) and felt much better as a result! My screw-ups didn't end with the hammering, but I had worked off enough aggression to decide I should at least try to finish it.

Eventually, I got to the point where I needed to try on my shirt in order to position the buttons for my bust point. I was totally ready to hate it and declare it a wadder. I put it on and it was like: Oh! OH! This is actually really nice! And it is! There is one small fit problem I want to fix before I make a second version (the bust darts are just a little bit too long) but other than that, this shirt probably fits better than any woven top I have made to date, and it's certainly the best fitting button-front shirt I have made so far.

This is a terrible photo, but I took the other one standing in such a stupid pose that it was pointless.

In order to achieve this improved fit, I did a bunch of things that I have more or less established as my necessary adjustments to Burda patterns: lowered the bust point, did a rounded back adjustment and a large bicep adjustment, and raised the armhole). However, I also refined the fit in a couple of areas compared to previous sewing efforts.
Back view, more sensibly taken on a timer and not in a stupid pose.

- Dealing with the narrow shoulder thing.

I'm really taken with how much better tops and outerwear looks with the shoulder in the right place, which is sadly kind of a novelty for me. It was not something I could ever achieve in RTW clothes because I always had to buy to fit my bust, which reliably meant buying tops that were significantly too large for me through the shoulder. Until recently I've been making exactly the same mistake with my sewing -- sewing a straight 44 to fit my bust -- with exactly the same result. I've been working on this for the last few garments and I think I may now have cracked what my "usual" Burda adjustment needs to be for this problem.

With this pattern, I went back to the Burda size chart and spent some quality time attempting to measure my own shoulders as a starting point. According to the size charts, I'm a size 38 in shoulder width. I have taken this measurement before, but if I am honest, I've always kind of dismissed the outcome as an error on my part. It's very hard to measure your own shoulders, after all, and also honestly, I look at photos and in the mirror and nothing about my body shape says "narrow shoulders" to me. For this shirt, however, I took the radical step of believing the measurement and the Burda size chart. When I traced the pattern, I drew in the shoulder and armhole for both the size 38 and 44. Then I did a pivot and slide adjustment to blend them together, which ultimately meant hacking off just over 1.5cm from the shoulder seam. And it WORKED. This is the best shoulder width fit on a woven top I've achieved so far.

On the other side of the neck/shoulder issue, however, I'm still fine tuning my approach to the neckline. For this shirt I used the neck opening/collar/collar stand in size 44. Looking at it critically, if I pin the centre front of the collar stand together as if it were buttoned, it is clearly too big. It's not going to bother me with this shirt at all, which I will never wear buttoned up. However, I guess I know why so many previous Burda tops I've made have been too wide at the neck and prone to showing off my bra straps. I'm thinking for my next pattern attempt I might try believing the size chart again and make the actual size Burda's chart indicates for my neck measurement (which is size 40). You know, just in case that should happen to work. /o\

- Square shoulder. I have been doing a square shoulder adjustment for years now. With this pattern, the shoulder line is within the yoke piece, and I had to look up how to adjust that properly. Then I was sort of dithering over how much to adjust it by, and decided to try to be a bit more scientific than usual. It just so happened that I had just recently seen on someone's Instagram that they used a little clinometer app on their iPhone to get a better idea of *exactly* how their shoulder slope compared to a pattern. I decided to give this a go for this shirt pattern.

Nothing shocking came of this -- I looked at the slope for the shoulder in three separate Burda patterns I had out, and discovered they sloped fairly consistently at about 15-16 degrees. My shoulder slope is squarer at around 12 degrees. After drawing a bunch of lines, I concluded that I needed to raise the shoulder point of this pattern by 2cm, or, if I were using a pattern with a more standard shoulder seam, by 1cm on both the back and front. This is, in fact, pretty much exactly how much I usually adjust Burda patterns for my shoulders so there was nothing much gained immediately from this work. However, it should help me figure out my adjustment for patterns for other companies.

In conclusion: This is a lot of blather for a very simple shirt, but the upshot of it is that despite my miserable sewing experience and the poor finish I got, I really love this shirt because of the fit. I will definitely be back with another of these and hopefully will transfer a lot of what I learned making this to the rest of my Make All The Shirts plan.

Meanwhile, I also have a bag to show off! This has a rather long history, insofar as I cut it out back in August 2017, then realized I didn't have the right tools to finish it, got fed up, and stuffed it into a bag in pieces. I fully intended to get back to it, but you might recall I then keeled over and ended up in hospital in September last year. As a result, the whole thing went out of my mind until I was rounding up WIPs at the end of 2017 and realized that not only was the bag in pieces but I still hadn't bought a tool to insert the grommets. I finally put the bag together and ordered a grommet tool earlier this month. Hammering the grommets in place proved to be an extremely therapeutic interlude this week, and I am generally very pleased with how this bag turned out! The pattern, by the way, is the free Rope Handle Tote, from Sew4Home.

Monday, 12 February 2018

February Magazine Challenge: Black and white jacket (Burda 02-2018-112)

Originally, when all I had seen were the previews, I had more than half decided to make the latest Burda variation on a theme of wacky top (Burda 02-2018-107) for the February edition of my personal magazine challenge. However, when my copy of the magazine arrived, what actually leapt out of the pages at me was Burda 02-2018-112, a short boxy jacket with piping details:

Burda 02-2018-112 Jacket and technical drawing (images from

Although I hadn't thought to make it until later in the year, I already had a piece of fabric earmarked for a short jacket. I had no particular pattern in mind, so I was quite happy to shuffle my plans around and use this pattern.

My version of Burda 02-2018-112 in black and white cotton sateen

I bought this piece of black and white stretch cotton sateen as a remnant and it was (a) very cheap, and (b) not very big -- only just about 1.5m and fairly narrow (about 130cm wide). I just BARELY had enough fabric for this pattern. Actually, let me amend that: I didn't have enough fabric for this jacket. I had enough for the main pieces but not the front and back facings or even the collar facing. Luckily, I had a similar weight fabric in plain white in stash that I could easily substitute in. Since those parts of the jacket aren't really visible, I didn't feel like this was a problem at all.

Side view on Flossie -- as you can see, I did make some attempt to match across the sleeve/body

I had just about enough fabric to pattern match to some extent, and some parts of my pattern matching are good: the center front, the side seams below the dart, and the side-to-side view across the upper sleeve, front and back bodice. However, the under sleeve pattern piece was very problematic. I probably needed another 0.5m of fabric, maybe even more, to get any kind of match. With the fabric I had I really couldn't do any better so, eh, whatever, I'll take the ostrich approach: I can't see the rear view of the sleeves, so it's not really a problem. :D

The other fabric/print problem is the hem. So, you might have noticed that the hem doesn't follow the lines on the fabric. I could find literally no way to do that with this fabric/pattern combination. Something was going to be screwy no matter how I cut it out, so I decided to focus on the things that were most important to me, as far as matching the print and pattern were concerned. Of course, I'd LIKE a hem that looked like it finished evenly on a black line all the way round the jacket, but I couldn't have it AND have the centre front/side-to-side match.

Rear view, with extremely dodgy under sleeve pattern matching
Design-wise, I made a two tiny changes from the pattern as written. I left off the welt pockets -- my reasons were 5% aesthetics, 10% fabric limitations and 85% not wanting to sew welt pockets. My second change was that I put the fold-back cuff pieces on the bias, partly to avoid having to pattern match and partly because I thought it would look more interesting. Everything else I did exactly as the instructions suggested except that, as usual, I bagged the (plain white satin) lining.

Piping detail at the collar/centre front
My favourite part of this jacket is how the piping turned out and the fact that I got that collar to look really neat and symmetrical. As you can see in the technical drawing, the pattern uses piping at the point where the cuff meets the sleeve, and there is also a long continuous piece of piping that runs along centre front on both sides and up and around the standing collar.

The piping is 3mm piping cord covered in a plain black polyester crepe de chine. This is the first time I've made my own piping. I've put pre-made piping in several bags and on one pair of PJs, with varying degrees of success. For this project I decided to buy myself an inexpensive piping presser foot to see if that made it any easier. I'm definitely glad I bought it -- the piping went in so smoothly with it. The presser foot I bought was only £3 off eBay including p&p, so not exactly a major purchase, and worth it just for this jacket even if I were somehow to never use it again.

The only place the piping foot didn't help was in the twisty bit at the centre front. I ended up sewing that whole section of the seam by hand because even with my machine set to sew as slow as possible, I couldn't get the control I needed to sew it together correctly. I don't do a lot of hand-sewing and I'm not the best at it, but I figured that part of the garment isn't going to come under massive strain at any point, so even my less-than-perfect hand sewing should hold together.

I probably least like the turn back cuffs. I used a heavier weight fabric for the contrast inner because it's what I had in stash that was suitable, and eh, it's OK, but they didn't turn out brilliantly and I couldn't get good points on the cuff edges worth a damn. I also don't love how the jacket looks on me when the cuffs are turned back, in part just because I have a horror of 7/8 or cropped sleeves on jackets, and in part because the length is the same as the jacket hem, and it makes me look like a plaid box.

Naff selfie front view, because my regular front views didn't come out. Please excuse the plant that appears to be growing out of my elbow

Fit-wise, I am moderately pleased. I started with a size 44 and made what I currently consider to be my "usual" fitting changes (square shoulder, narrow shoulder, raise the armhole, lower the bust dart, make a rounded back adjustment with shoulder darts). I feel like I am still figuring out the right amount of rounded back adjustment. I think this jacket would have benefited from just a little bit more upper back room.

Side and rear view on me (the rear view with the cuffs turned up)
I am not 100% happy with the fit of the sleeves at the back, but I had MAJOR problems getting them into the armscye anyway so I am not surprised. I took some height out of the sleeve head before I cut out the fabric, but then when I was actually sewing it I had to take even more out on the fly, and I always think that is a problematic way to fix a sleeve head problem. However, again, ostrich approach: the main problem in on my back underarm. I can't see it, so it's not really there.

Overall, honestly, despite all the flaws in this jacket, I am kind of amazed at how well it turned out. I won't say this was a throwaway project, but I really wasn't prepared for how much I'd like it or how pleased I'd be with some aspects of the sewing. Another win for the magazine challenge approach, since I am pretty sure I'd never have made this without that impetus. :D

Next up: Many shirts. So many shirts.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Two easy things to finish January

Having made some things that were challenging this month (the coat, my plaid popover shirt) I finished off January with a couple of very easy things: a tote bag and a very easy knit garment.

Tote bag and navy knit gilet
The tote bag is in the oddest fabric that I purchased way back at the very start of my sewing adventures -- long before I got into garment sewing. It's a weirdly splotchy dyed, sequinned brown corduroy. I don't even know why I bought a metre of weirdly splotchy sequinned brown corduroy, and 2011!me did not keep a note of what it was for, so this weekend it became a tote bag. This is an old favourite pattern, the Ava Rose by ArtsyCraftsyBabe.

The navy knit waistcoat/gilet/bodywarmer/whatever-you-want-to-call-it is an actual clone of a garment I made in 2016 and wore/washed so much that the fabric completely disintegrated in the first wash of 2018. I definitely got my 30 wears in -- and more! At any rate, my new one is made to the same pattern (New Look 6251) in the same type of fabric -- a quilted knit, although this time the quilting has a geometric rather than floral pattern -- and it's the same colour. In fact, the only differences are that (a) I did a tiny fit adjustment (shoulder width); (b) I used emerald green rather than blue and white bias tape to finish the armhole, which you can just see peeking out above; (c) I used a plain ponte rather than the quilted knit for the inner collar to reduce the bulk of those seams and (d) I bought a longer zip. The instructions say to use a 61cm (24") zip, but this was definitely too short and in the original garment I had a gap at the hem and at the top of the collar. A 66cm (26") zip is exactly right.

My plan for February is a mix of my February Magazine Challenge (very probably a wacky top again), woven shirts in some long-hoarded fabrics, and some other random stuff around the edges to keep things interesting.

Giant striped wrap of doom -- now well over halfway done :D
One more update: knitting! I took a pretty long break from knitting most of last year. I wasn't feeling very enthusiastic about it after several very lackluster sweater outcomes and realizing I owned more knit scarves than any one woman in a mainly temperate climate can possibly wear. The only thing I had on my needles is a very pick-up-and-put-down sort of project: the Purl Soho Seed Stitch Wrap, which is an enormous stripey thing in, as the name suggests, never-ending seed stitch. It was last seen on my blog in April 2017 at only 3.5 stripes long. Between April and December I worked on the scarf occasionally, adding another 2.5 stripes in total. This month I felt much more keen on knitting overall, and I've chugged my way through a further 2.5 stripes, for a total of 8.5 (out of a planned 13). I've found it's perfect knitting for in front of the TV, because it requires virtually none of my attention.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

In which a wacky top is somehow not wacky enough

I've been been busily sewing since I finished my navy coat last week, and here are the results.

First, my January project for my 2018 Magazine Challenge. As a reminder, I challenged myself, as many other sewers have done, to make one pattern per month from the 2018 isues of the magazines I receive. I'm a bit more relaxed than most because I allow myself use any 2018 magazine in my collection, and of course I have three active subscriptions: Burda, Knipmode and Ottobre.

Alas, for some reason Knipmode 01/2018 never arrived, although it should have been here in early December. I am actually somewhat furious about this, because I have e-mailed their helpdesk three separate times to tell them the issue did not arrive, and they haven't made any kind of contact with me in response. >:( Admittedly, I have to e-mail them in English and it's a Dutch company, and I would understand if the response were delayed because of the language issue, but not delayed by 3 weeks! Also, let me tell you they've always been able to make themselves understood when it came to billing! I am paying too much per issue to just let this go, but I'm kind of at a loss what to do next given that they just aren't responding in any way on the only contact e-mail address they offer.

Anyway, the non-arrival of my January Knipmode meant I actually only had Burda 01/2018 to choose a pattern from when it came down to it this month. Luckily, there were several patterns than I liked, although, being me, of course I eventually chose to make a wacky top, specifically Burda 01-2018-106:

Burda 01-2018-106 knit top with back drape -- image and technical drawings from
This top is very boring from the front, but on the back it has almost too much going on -- a keyhole back! A weird drapey thing! Thumbholes in the sleeves! I went with the whole design, despite my doubts about the keyhole, except for the thumb holes in the sleeves because I just don't like them. I made a size 40 through the shoulder, blending to a size 44 at the bust and hip. My current measurements put me in a size 44 bust (ish, I am about 101cm compared to their 100cm measurement) and size 42 hip (my measurements are within 0.5cm).

I made a couple of fit adjustments: the sleeves on this are very narrow and so I did a 2cm large bicep adjustment; and I did a 1.5cm rounded back adjustment above the keyhole.

I have to admit while tracing out this top I did a certain amount of whining to myself about the number (6) and size (unusually large) of the pattern pieces, and then I complained to myself some more because you have to cut on the single layer which takes a bit more time. I made my top in a pleasantly drapey white viscose with an animal print pattern in mixed greys. I bought the fabric specifically for this project and, even though it says you only need 1.8m, I definitely needed my entire 2m piece.
My version of Burda 01-2018-106 (front and back view)
 Okay, so positives: I like the fabric, and I think it's a good match to the pattern both in terms of how well the back drape hangs, and in general as a fun print to use with a wacky pattern.

Internal construction details and close-up of the back drape
This is the "sewing course" pattern in this issue of the magazine, which was probably just as well as I don't know that I would have worked out how to handle the back drape without the extra words/images that Burda supplied. As it was, I had to unpick a seam at the end because I accidentally twisted the back drape an extra time before sewing the ends into the side seam. Despite that mistake, I have to say that the way it's constructed is mostly really neat -- the way you construct and attach the drape section to the facing on the inside (see photo above on the left) is really clever and gives you a surprisingly clean finish on the inside as well as the outside. The only construction detail I didn't like is that I don't love that you turn and stitch the non-faced side of the slit feature.

The negative though is that, as surprised as I am to write this, the top is maybe not wacky enough for my taste, which is honestly not something I ever expected to say about a Burda pattern. The back drape in real life is a bit anaemic and not nearly as wacky/dramatic as I thought it might be.

Burda 01-2018-106 side and rear view on me
The main problem is how the top actually fits. In the modelled photo, to me, it looks like it's intended to be a little oversized through the hips -- the back drape seems to hang over the model's hips quite loosely. On me? Eh, not so much, even though that I made a size 44 at the hip and my ACTUAL hips are fully 5cm (2") smaller than Burda's size 44 measurements. If I were an actual size 44 it would be a close fitting top through the hips. In my photos, admittedly, my top is a little hung up on my trousers, but even so, you can see that it is far from loose-fitting and the back drape is more at the small of my back than down over my butt. (You can also see in the side view that the weight of the drape pulls the top backwards, creating those diagonal drag lines below my bust.)

Overall, I don't dislike it -- I am wearing it right now, in fact! -- but I feel like it missed the mark as far as desireable wackiness was concerned and didn't really match the modelled photo the way I expected it to. I am still dubious about keyhole back features. Does anyone need to see that particular sliver of dead-fish white skin? I don't know?

Moving on to my second top, which is the first of a few different woven tops I want to make over the next few weeks for what remains of the winter and early spring. It is also another of my 2018 resolution garments: actually make those long-planned projects! I bought a red/blue/purple/white plaid viscose/cotton blend in February 2016 to make a popover shirt with a front placket. I love popover shirts of this type, but although I've had the idea in my head to make one for a long time, I've struggled to find a pattern to turn into my TNT for this style. Towards the end of last year I bought Burda 6457 in a pattern sale and decided to give it a try as soon as possible to both use this fabric and move that TNT search on a step.

Burda 6457 envelope and line drawings
I made view A, the shorter length with a stand collar and no pockets or shoulder strap pieces. When I opened up the pattern sheets, I had a look at the finished bust size and recoiled. As the pattern has no darts, I had anticipated making say, a size 40 or 42 and having to do a classic FBA and introduce a bust dart. However, this top is designed with 23cm of ease! I also realized as I started work on this top that it has dropped shoulders. I guess you can see that on the modelled photos if you really look, but I don't think it necessarily jumps out at you that that is how it's designed from the photos and line drawings -- or maybe it does, and I was being willfully blind, I don't know.

At any rate, confronted with that much ease, and knowing I wanted to use a smaller size through the shoulders anyway, I decided to do try making a straight size 42, which had a finished bust of 119cm (compared to my actual 101cm bust). Although I suspect I should have narrowed the shoulders further, I decided to leave them as is since they are dropped anyway. I did my usual straight shoulder adjustment and I raised the armhole, which is fast becoming my most favourite adjustment for how it resolves so many irritating sleeve/armhole fit issues I've had for YEARS.

I also did a rounded back adjustment on the back yoke, which was something new to me. Up to now with all my rounded back adjustments I've used either a shoulder or neckline dart, or there's been a centre back seam. It took me a while to find a clear guide to this adjustment when you've got a separate yoke piece and don't want to introduce a dart, so if you need it, I recommend this SureFit video.

My version of Burda 6457 in red/blue/purple/white plaid
I put most of the smaller elements (placket, yoke, cuffs, tower plackets on the sleeves) on the bias as I thought this would look more interesting and also reduce the matching problems. The exception is the collar, which is on the straight grain. I think this was quite effective, especially the back yoke which I think looks great on the bias. The rest of the matching was painful. The front was, of course, cut in one piece anyway, and I truly tried my absolute best with the side seams but the matching did not come out perfectly at all. That's actually a pretty good overall description of my result from this pattern: tried my best, but still not always great.
Some details: the front placket and collar; my sadly non-matchy, flat-felled side seams; the cuffs and tower plackets
Positives: the collar came out really well and so did the cuffs, the latter a HUGE improvement on the crappy cuffs I did on that New Look tunic before Christmas. The front placket came out pretty well on the visible side, although I do not the inside finish at all, which is, unusually for Burda, nowhere near as clean and nice as I see on RTW. I did flat fell seams everywhere but the yoke (which is a two layer clean finish that I did using the burrito method rather than following Burda's non-burrito instructions) and the sleeve/shoulder attachment seam, which I overlocked. I haven't done flat-felled seams in a while but they still came out well except for the matching problems. Although the fine detail matching at the side seams sucks, and you can't quite tell from the version modelled on Flossie above, the sleeve/body plaid matching is great on my actual body (see below!)

Negatives: This was my first attempt at a tower placket on a shirt cuff. This pattern uses the same technique for this as for the main placket, so I also don't like the inside finish. Overall, they are probably not the worst tower plackets anyone has ever made, but they are for sure not the best either! Also, the interfacing I used was just a touch too firm for this fabric. It's not a huge problem, but the front facing in particular feels more rigid than I entirely like.

Fit wise, I am mostly positive. It fits pretty well in key ways -- the bust fit is fine,  and I love the range of motion the higher armhole gives me. However, despite the fact I haven't worn it yet, I've already noticed a tendency for it to slide towards the back, which is somewhat annoying.  It's also a lot of volume, even after sizing down to a 42.
Front, side and back view on me -- just LOOK at my plaid match in the side view across the sleeve though :D :D :D
Overall, I do like this shirt, but I don't think this is going to be my TNT popover shirt. I think I would prefer a pattern with some bust shaping . I also really would prefer a pattern without dropped shoulders, because I think the dropped shoulders make me look even more top heavy/V-shaped than I actually am. If I did make this pattern again, for sure I would want to find an alternative technique to make/attach the plackets, because the inside finish of the placket/sleeve plackets is NOT what I am looking for.

Next up: I'm hoping to finish up a couple of little projects before the end of January, although in one case I am waiting on a zip arriving in the post. After than, more woven tops, plus I need to pick something from my magazines for my February challenge garment!

Friday, 19 January 2018

Starting 2018 off with a coat (Burda 11-2015-116)

My overall goal for 2018, you might recall, is to use my stash to make the things I've been imagining owning for a while now. My very first finished item for 2018 exactly fits this criteria: it's a coat for which I bought the fabric and lining way back in 2012 (long before I had any of the sewing skills necessary to, you know, make a coat!). I've really needed a navy coat for a few years now, so this was also a BIG wardrobe goal.

In all the time I had "make a coat with these fabrics" on my To Do list, I never had a particular pattern in mind, although I did have an idea of the overall style of coat I wanted. I already own a (RTW) winter coat that is a princess seamed fit and flare type of thing, knee-length, with full skirt. That shape is probably my favourite sort of coat overall -- in part because it really suits my figure but mainly, if I'm honest, because I like the way that style flares and moves when I walk. However, as much as I enjoy swooping about with excessive drama, it has a fairly formal and fitted look, and it's hard to wear over bulky layers. My mental image of the coat I wanted to make was therefore something less fitted and straighter, and overall more casual. I wanted something single breasted, with an open neckline (rather than something that buttoned up to the neck).
Burda 11-2015-116 Coat (images from
My major constraint was my 3m of cotton moleskin fabric, which, if you're not familiar with the fabric, is a densely woven napped fabric. Three metres sounds like a lot but it's really only just enough for a knee length coat. I eventually hit upon this pattern from the November 2015 issue of Burda, which is actually a Tall pattern. I haven't seen any English language reviews of it, but as always there are at least a dozen reviews on Burda Russia, and I thought it looked quite nice on a variety of body types. This pattern does have bust shaping -- you just can't tell because the darts are from the neckline and are completely hidden by the collar. My biggest concerns about the pattern were the dropped shoulders (which is not a style I necessarily love on my square-shouldered body shape) and the giant lapels/collar.

I made a (hideous) muslin right at the end of December. I started with a size 88 (a Tall 44), and made fit adjustments I based on my experience making my blue wool jacket: I did a rounded back adjustment, raised the armhole and narrowed the shoulder (even though this is a dropped shoulder style).

Hideous muslin of Burda 11-2015-116
I actually really liked how it looked, even the giant lapels, except I had major shoulder issues. My shoulders are very square, and as a result the shoulder line just looked really odd on me. Normally, so far, I've found that any pattern that calls for shoulder pads can be "altered" to fit me simply by missing out the shoulder pads. On this pattern though, it still looked wrong even without the shoulder pads. I messed about with the shoulders of this muslin for a while, but in the end what seemed to produce the nicest overall outcome was to do a small-ish square shoulder adjustment on top of leaving off the shoulder pad. That smoothed out the line between my shoulder point and the seam of the dropped shoulder on the coat.

My finished coat is navy, which means any and all details are invisible, even massively over-exposed.
Once I had the shoulders figured out, I decided to plunge into the project and I cut it out early in January. As it happens I ended up having to take about ten days off from sewing it up because I had a whole bunch of other things come up that I had to deal with. I just couldn't find the time or enthusiasm to get into my sewing room, not least because I had had to stop just before my least favourite of all sewing activities -- applying interfacing. Yes, even with my new Singer press, I still dislike interfacing. (My press worked brilliantly though, I love it and am 100% glad I bought it!)

Rear view. There is a vent right from below the horizontal band to the hem, which caused no end of problems in the lining phase!
The actual sewing was pretty easy. The pattern is the "Sewing Course" pattern in this issue of the magazine, so it has pretty detailed instructions compared to most Burda patterns. I made no design changes at all, and didn't even really deviate from the instructions except that I chose to bag the lining rather than do Burda's preferred hand-sewing method.

Lining side out
My lining fabric is a flannel-backed poly satin in teal with purple paisley, which sounds vile but goes with the plain navy quite well, I think. The flannel backing is quite lightweight, but I thought it would add some extra warmth to this coat. I have to admit, it only occurred to me AFTER I cut out the entire lining that, oh hey, it has a pattern, maybe I should have tried to do some matching! So, my paisleys definitely do not line up neatly at all. Oops. I mean, I don't really care, because who is going to see it, but it would have looked nicer if had done at least a LITTLE pattern matching. In fact, if I had thought about it, I would have joined up all the front pieces and cut a single piece instead of replicating the bodice/waistband/skirt pieces. There's no real need to piece the lining front like that. (The back, yes, because of the way the vent was constructed.)

My first notched collar (and these are the actual real colours of my coat)
The hardest parts of the sewing were the notched collar, which I had never done before, and attaching the lining at the back to the vent, which I screwed up twice and had to rip and re-sew. The notched collar turned out OK, if not perfectly -- I felt like the outcome was pretty good for a first try at this style.

Other nit-pickery: this is a type of cloth that responds really badly to being pressed with seam allowances underneath. (I know there's a word for when you get the ghostly images of your seam allowances through the fabric, but it escapes me.) There are a few places on my coat where I struggled to get the right balance between actually pressing my seams out and not getting that visible mark. I don't think it looks terrible, and it's definitely in the 'you can't tell from 1m away' category of problem, but eh, I still wish it hadn't turned out that way.

Very fancy snap fasteners -- could NOT get a decent shot of them in situ, so here they are before attachment
The coat fastens with snap fasteners rather than buttons. Since I know I am probably going to wear this coat open/undone a lot of the time, I decided to get these fancy snap fasteners. They were from a vendor on eBay in China. It took a few weeks for them to arrive, but it was worth it for how gorgeous they are. I got a pack of 6 for, I think, £6 including postage -- not cheap, as these things go, but they are significantly prettier than the standard snap fastener and definitely a good addition to my coat!

A very inferior photo on me, sorry for the quality
As far as the fit of the finished coat is concerned, I like it a LOT. I think the shoulder line looks fine, and I really like massive collar. The one fit problem I didn't anticipate is just how LOW those pockets are. Although this is a Tall pattern (and I am officially 3cm too short for Tall) I am not sure how I could have altered the length. If I had taken any length out of the bodice or waist band, it would have raised the back vent to a very strange level on my body. It's not really a problem, but it's definitely a pocket you reach into rather than stuff your hands in comfortably.

Overall, I am really pleased with my coat, and it is definitely a good feeling to get such a long-anticipated project done so early in the year and in good time to get some wear out of in the dregs of winter.

Next up, though, something much less practical for my January Magazine Challenge item!

Monday, 1 January 2018

2018: Goals and the 2018 Magazine Challenge

Happy New Year to those celebrating today! :D Hope everyone, no matter whether you're a New Year goal-setter, a forgotten-about-it-by-7th-January-resolution-maker or a hibernate-through-January-to-avoid-it-all type, has a fabulous year ahead. :D

It's surely no surprise to anyone that I'm a big goal-setter/planner at New Year.

This year, there is a big over-arching story to my sewing goals. Towards the end of 2017, I spent a bit of time cleaning up my sewing room, which had become very disorganized. As I was tidying it up, I found myself admiring my fabric, thinking how well it all fits together, and how great it would be to have actual garments made of it rather than folded rectangles on a shelf. In a fit of organizing zeal, I then tidied up all my envelope patterns and magazines as well. Again, I kept thinking how many great patterns I already own and how much I wish I owned those clothes.

This is not by chance. Over the last eighteen months, I've been gradually sorting and culling my fabric stash so that it only contains things that would look good in my wardrobe and that I like and I've made sure any new additions would fit in well, especially in terms of the colours I've been buying. I did the same to my pattern stash, so that it only contains patterns for things that I would actually like to wear. Organized on shelves, it looks remarkably pretty and surprisingly cohesive.

At the end of my tidying up, my sewing room was looking great. However, I still felt quite dissatisfied. Nobody who sews buys fabric and patterns to look pretty on shelves. We buy it because of the potential of it all. So why exactly is all this fabulous potential that I've been collecting still sitting on shelves as fabric and patterns, sometimes for years, and not hanging as garments in my wardrobe?

Partly, of course, the answer is that I've been ill, and I'm not beating myself up too much for the sometimes lengthy delays in turning plans into actions as a result. Partly the answer is that it's taken a while for my sewing skills to catch up with my ambitions. The other big constraint is ridiculous though, because it's just fear: not wanting to use my 'best' fabric in case my idea doesn't work out, or my sewing skills don't stand up to the challenge. But, really, that's silly: it's just fabric. It's just clothes. What is the worst case scenario, after all? Everything goes disastrously wrong when I try to make something and it all ends up in the bin. I mean, that would be a shame, but there's no actual calamity there. On past experience, I know that, once I've complained about it a bit, I'll get over it, and I'll probably learn a great deal in the process.

With this pep talk in mind, I sat down with my wardrobe plan spreadsheet (because, c'mon, this is me, of course I have a wardrobe plan spreadsheet!) and asked myself some questions: What does that "fabulous potential" wardrobe that I keep comparing my real wardrobe to really look like? What part of it do I already have right now, and where are the gaps? How many of those gaps can I fill by sewing up the stash I already own? What's left over, in terms of things I want to sew that I don't have stash to cover, stash that doesn't quite seem to fit in anywhere, and things I don't generally choose/want to sew and might need to buy?

I've done this before -- in fact, I've been doing a version of this kind of planning for a couple of years -- but this was a big new refinement of my wardrobe plan, and it's left me feeling really excited and optimistic about what I might make this year. My big sewing plan for 2018, therefore, is really a simpler, but much more complete version of what I was trying to grope my way towards with my Wishlist Challenge last year: This year, I want to use the things I have, and try to make the things I really want to own.

More specifically:

1. (a) Stick to my 2018 sewing budget. Living within my budget is always my first goal! I am starting this year with the lower number I ended 2017. My focus is going to be really strongly on using fabric and patterns that I already own, so hopefully apart from notions, gap-filling fabric and the like, costs should be lower overall compared to other years. I'll see how that goes over the first half of the year.

(b) Stick to my specific envelope/PDF pattern spending limit for 2018. This is basically the same budget as I have limited myself to for the last two years.  Honestly, I don't need any more patterns at all. Between my huge magazine stash, a sizeable envelope and PDF stash, and my magazine subscriptions I've already got pretty much everything imaginable and a whole lot more headed my way over the course of the year. However, I'm guessing that somehow there will still be a few things released this year that I just won't be able to resist. This goal is really here therefore just to keep a lid on that spending.

2. (a) Use at least 50% of the fabric I buy this year. I do know I'll need to buy some fabric for immediate use in 2018, because I've got some holes in my plan. As with patterns, I am not optimistic that I won't also see and buy a few things 'just because' now and again, not all of which might get used this year. But the theme of this year really is "use what I already have" and "fill in gaps", not buying for stash.

(b) Reduce my overall fabric stash to under 150m by the end of the year. Even though I've planned big stash reductions before and never achieved it, my attention this year is going to be on turning the fabric I already own and love into the garments I've imagined it could be. Logically, if I manage to make my imaginary wardrobe a reality, an overall reduction of my fabric stash should follow. I'm starting at almost exactly 200m so I am aiming to reduce my stash by 50m overall. That sounds overwhelmingly huge as a goal, but, put another way, it means on average I have to use 1m more than I buy per week all year, which sounds a lot more reasonable!

(c) Increase my envelope and PDF pattern utilization. The vast majority of my PDF and envelope patterns are unused. I didn't buy them to look pretty on my shelves: I bought them because I really liked the idea of owning those clothes. Right now, I've used 18% of my envelope patterns and 24% of my PDF patterns, so I have plenty of room to improve.

I don't just want to make great new things this year - I also want to make them well and for them to have good longevity (as I discussed in my second review of 2017 post). Thus:

3. Focus on quality and longevity in my sewn and RTW wardrobe. The specifics of this are based on my wardrobe vs. 30 Wears analysis I did at the end of 2017, which produced some pretty clear ways I could improve. For one, I'm going to try changing up my laundry practices in order to try to keep certain types of garments from degrading so quickly. I'm also going to try, when buying new fabric and RTW clothes, to buy better quality (in particular with knit garments and fabrics). And finally, I'm going to make sure I use fitting and construction methods that are suited to producing a garment that at least has the potential to last for 30 wears

On the fitting front, I think what I need to focus on this year is (a) incremental improvement of fit for those types of garments where I have some idea of how to get things to fit reasonably well and (b) the big missing piece: "anything lower body" but particularly trousers. Provided I stay healthy enough to face it, I will have to attempt another at least one giant fitting spree for that, though probably not until a bit later in the year. I am very tempted to try to book and attend a trouser fitting multi-day class, but I can't be certain enough of my health to commit that money right now.

Overall, my idea is that 2018 is mainly going to be about executing a lot of plans. However, because all plan and no whimsy is no fun, I'm also going to add another goal/challenge:

4. The 2018 Magazine Challenge: Make one thing from any 2018 issue of any of my three subscriptions (Burda, Ottobre, Knipmode) per month. This is a more relaxed version of the Burda challenge a lot of people do. I'm allowing myself to use any of my magazine subscriptions, and I won't restrict myself to the current month of the magazines except, for obvious reasons, in January. Ottobre only comes out twice a year, and Burda and Knipmode are both bonkers in the summer, so I prefer to give myself some flexibility.

I think this challenge is a great way to lighten up from the planned wardrobe mode I hope to be in the rest of the year. I'll try to draw from my fabric stash, but I'm open to buying fabric specifically for the challenge garments, my only limitation being that I need whatever I make fit in, in terms of colours and broad silhouettes, with the rest of my wardrobe. I'm far too practical to make things I'll never ever wear, like ball gowns or something. However, I do think that I want to pick out and make patterns that are more trendy, unusual or interesting to sew. Although I only managed to make a few things last year for my 2017 challenge, their outcomes ranged from spectacularly successful to total wadder, and I am strangely OK with that trend continuing.

With all these ideas and plans buzzing around, it was hard to decide where to start! However, first up, I'm going to be plugging another major gap in my outerwear wardrobe, using fabric I've had stashed for this exact purpose since 2012. I've also picked out my January Magazine Challenge item. :D

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Finishing up December

I had plans for three things in December, and I ended up crossing one thing off the list, changing the pattern for the second, and made the last one exactly as planned. Pretty typical for me and my advance plans! At least the thing I took off the list was for a happy reason. I thought I needed another knit tunic because I somehow misplaced one of my existing ones. I put it in my sewing room in order to do a small repair to it and then, poof, it vanished! I turned the room upside down looking for it to no avail and convinced myself I must have accidentally put it in my fabric recycling bag and lost it forever. However, it eventually turned up again (in a very obvious place, idk how I missed it when I was searching) and has now been repaired and put back in my wardrobe. So the knit tunic has been struck from the list for now as I have enough.

That left me with a cardigan and a tunic length woven top to make.

1. Cardigan: McCall's 6844 view C, in purple ponte knit

McCall's 6844 pattern envelope and the version I made, view C
I've owned this pattern since it came out in 2013, but I've been mired in indecision about making it ever since it arrived in the post. McCall's patterns are often divided up at exactly the wrong place for me and they don't always overlap the sizes the way some other brands do. This pattern was divided up between XS-M and L-XXL, and I, of course, would very much like to choose or blend between M and L. When I originally bought this, for some reason I decided that the Medium was the better starting point. Ever since then I've second guessed myself and thought I should have bought the envelope with Large in it, and this sapped any enthusiasm I had for actually making it.

My version, in purple ponte

This month, having made and discarded multiple different cardigan plans, I finally bit the bullet and cut out a straight size medium in the hopes I might get at least a wearable muslin out of it. I made no changes to the pattern except to omit the interfacing from the collar. My ponte knit was already quite firm and when I tested it I didn't like how the fabric felt with the interfacing attached.

Irrespective of my particular outcome, it was very evident from making this that it is a great, easy, and well-designed pattern. I mean, no kidding, right? That's why everyone and her mother has made it repeatedly since 2013 and there are eleventy billion positive reviews of it on PR. Still, it's worth saying again, I suppose: it went together really smoothly, I love the overall shape and the way the shawl collar looks. I normally don't wear the whole peplum/butt ruffle thing but I kind of love it on this cardigan.

However, this particular version, more or less straight off the pattern sheet, is not a great fit on me. Funnily enough, the thing I worried about (enough fabric at the bust) isn't an issue at all, even though a Medium is notionally far too small for me. Instead, the biggest problem is that the sleeves are quite narrow, so I don't have much room around my biceps. Since my ponte knit doesn't have a great deal of stretch it only just fits. A second fairly major problem is that the waist is too high -- at least 2cm above my actual waist. I'll fix these and also some smaller fit problems if I make the pattern again. I am not sure I need a second peplum version, but I like the idea of view A/B without a waist seam.

2. Woven tunic 1: New Look 6527 view A (mostly), in dotty black viscose

I made this top specifically to wear over the holiday period for dinner with family.

New Look 6527 views and technical drawings
I was actually, strangely, tempted to make view C or D, with the full bell sleeves, because the one other review of this pattern that is online used that sleeve and it looks great. Then I decided that the bell sleeve was too trendy and I wasn't going to wear it often enough before that went out of style. Also, I thought that I would probably only like the full sleeves right up until the moment I tried to fit the extra fabric down a cardigan sleeve or dipped the entire thing in gravy by mistake. So I went back to my original plan, which was view A, except without the front/back overlay because I didn't have enough fabric.

According to the New Look measurement chart, I am closest to a size 18 bust, size 16 hip. Based on recent experiences, I ended up cutting the neck and shoulder at size 14 and then the armscye, sleeve and rest of the bodice is an 18. I did some other typical adjustments as well for square shoulder and high round back. I wondered, when I first looked at the pattern, where that seam on the front bodice was supposed to fall. On me at least, it curves up well above the bust, and actually produces quite a nice shape. Not that you can see the seam, or any other detail, on a black top with a random dot print!
New Look 6527 in block dotty viscose. As you can see I used the hi-lo hem variant

Astonishingly, given that the size adjustment I made is more or less fudged rather than a classic FBA, this actually fits remarkably well. Most encouragingly, this is probably the best shoulder fit I've ever got from an envelope pattern. It's not quite perfect, and I might have been better off either cutting a 12 at the neckline or doing a small narrow shoulder adjustment as well. However this is a HUGE improvement on the inches of excess length falling down my bicep that I have ended up with in the past

As modelled by me
Other than that, I really REALLY love this pattern. The shape through the waist and hip is the perfect amount of flare for me, and this drapey, floaty viscose moves beautifully. I can definitely see myself making this pattern again. The only problem is finding a fabric that has a nice "wrong side" as it is very visible with the hi-lo hem at the back. The wrong side of this particular fabric is only very slightly different from the right side (don't ask me about the time I spent unpicking the front bodice....) so it was a very good choice for the top.
Details: terrible cuffs, but decent work on the neckline
The only negatives are problems with the sleeves, and they were all entirely created by me. First, I accidentally cut the sleeve pattern to a size 14 (like the neckline) instead of an 18. When I adjusted the sleeve so that it would actually fit my arm, I didn't do it the way I normally do, and as a result I lost the shape of the sleeve in the pattern (which is rather nice) and ended up with something much more rectangular and also, weirdly, a bit shorter than the original sleeve.

Then, when I was actually working on the sewing, I kept pushing to finish this top even though I was tired and starting to make mistakes. As a result, the cuffs are just awful. Awful, awful, awful. The gathering into the cuffs didn't stay even while I was sewing it, the actual cuffs themselves aren't at all well finished or well shaped, and overall they look crappy and hand-made in the bad way. Unfortunately, by the time all the little problems had started to mount up into a big mess, it was too late to fix anything because I'd trimmed off the seam allowances and understitched a lot of construction seams. Trying to make it better would probably have made it worse, once all the unpicking was done, and I didn't have enough fabric to recut even the cuffs let alone the sleeves.  So frustrating, because I actually do know better and there was absolutely no need to rush to finish!

I wore it as seen in the photos for a day, but the sleeves/cuffs are annoying -- the bad sewing doesn't bother me too much in wear but the shortened length of the sleeve is very irritating. I might cut them off to the short sleeve length as per view B in order to make the top less annoying to wear.

Nope! I could get this pattern on the fabric, but I couldn't match the print
My last plan was a always more of a maybe. I did try to make another woven top, using a vintage Vogue pattern. I did all my pattern alterations and everything, but in the end I was stymied by the fabric I'd picked for it. I could just about squeeze the pattern on the fabric but I couldn't match the print no matter how much pattern tetris I played. The most important was obviously the centre front seam match, which needed to match both horizontally and vertically, but if I got that to work then either the side seam or the sleeve/bodice match was going to be miles out. I think I may have to come back to this pattern with a plain or more randomly patterned fabric.

We're not quite at the end of December, but I think that I'm more or less done for this year. I'm going to use any remaining sewing time left over these last few days of 2017 to make a gift for a January birthday and also trace a pattern and make a muslin of the coat I'll be sewing early in the New Year. :D