Leaving the comfort zone

I started sewing my own clothes in part because I wanted very particular styles that weren’t available in the shops. I had a definite image of what I wanted to sew and for a while I made that. And very good it is too being able to make things in silver fabric and that actually cover the bits I want to cover (not modesty, just a case of feeling the cold!)

However I’ve been quite surprised to find that making my own things has led to wearing styles I probably wouldn’t have contemplated a few years ago. For example the 70s jumpsuit, which started out as a bit of a joke:

I’ve been amazed how much I’ve actually worn this. It does help that it’s warm and I can fit thick tights and a long-sleeved top underneath.

So when I saw this orange wide-legged YSL jumpsuit in Harper’s Bazaar (while waiting in the Chinese takeaway of all places) my first thought was ‘I wonder if I can make one like that’.

Might have to wait for the weather to warm up a bit first though.

From simple to complex

Here are a couple of pictures of my finished version of Vogue 8634.

I am pleased with the way it turned out in the end. This could be a real instant gratification pattern if you don’t spend ages fussing with the collar like I did!

For my next project I’m taking on something that’s quite the opposite, Vogue 1087.

This is rated ‘Advanced’ by Vogue. I am by no means an advanced seamstress, but I’ve read all the reviews on Pattern Review and they seem to agree that if you follow the instructions carefully it will work out, although it makes very little sense until the end.

I’ve got as far as cutting out and marking a muslin. Both involved coming out of my comfort zone. I can normally see how to do basic pattern alterations to get the fit right, but the pieces on this one are such unusual shapes that I’m really not sure what to do. I’m making the size that’s closest to my measurements with no alterations for this run; hopefully once I try it on I’ll be able to see what needs altering. And if I can’t see, that means it fits, right?

Marking was also a bit of a challenge because there are a lot more symbols than most patterns. I used four different colours of tailor tacking to get them all. I would normally miss out the symbols I know I don’t use – for example the ‘end of zipper’ markings. My zips never quite seem to match up to them in practice and I get much better zip insertions by ignoring the markings. It’s possible that there are markings on this one that I can live without, but I won’t know until I start putting it together. There are squares, two sizes of circle, triangles, and notches, and right now I am not sure what some of them are for at all.

So this is either going to be an interesting learning experience or an epic fail. Possibly both.

In search of the perfect cowl neck

I’ve always really liked cowl necklines. Years ago I had a fabulous Vivienne Westwood red wool jersey dress which had a very large and drapey cowl neck. The moths destroyed the dress years ago and the style is no longer available in the shops, but I’m always on the lookout for something similar. Here’s a picture of it from when it was available on Net-a-porter.

Since I started sewing I’ve naturally tried a few times to make things with cowl necks, always with an eye to eventually replacing the red dress. However I haven’t had a huge amount of success. My first few attempts at cowl necked knit tops ended up in the scraps bag. The cowls always turn out much too skimpy.

I had some success with Vogue 8413 which is designed for wovens. The cowl is on the bias which makes it drape nicely.

This weekend I’ve been making up Vogue 8634 which is a cowl neck knit top. All the reviews of it on Pattern Review have raved about it, and the envelope art looks great so I thought I’d try it out.

Iit’s OK but I’m not 100% convinced. I had a lot of trouble getting the cowl to lie nicely. I spent most of this afternoon fiddling with it and taking pictures. This is about the best I’ve achieved (apologies for the blurriness).

The thing I’ve found that helped the most was to press the seam allowances of the cowl the wrong way. The instructions say to sew the cowl neck to the sweater and then ‘press the seam allowances towards the top’. The top of what, I wondered? Eventually I noticed that the instructions consistently use ‘top’ to mean the body of the garment, so that it probably meant to press the seam allowances downwards. However this produced a garment which looked all wrong. It wasn’t immediately obvious to me that the seam was the cause of the problem, just that the cowl didn’t seem to lie in the right place and I kept wanting to fiddle with it.

Eventually I worked out that I kept trying to pull the cowl down to cover the seam and it wasn’t long enough to do that and stay put. The seam looked wrong because pressing the seam allowances down produces extra body on the garment side of the seam, and therefore the cowl looks as it it’s too small for the garment. Pressing the seam allowances the other way made things look a whole lot better. I think it is wearable now.

Hopefully I’ll have better pictures of the finished sweater next time round. I don’t think I’ve found the perfect cowl neck pattern yet but this is progress.

Sleeve lengths

Thanks for all the lovely comments about what I am going to have to call the Star Trek dress from now on!

My next project was a very plain long-sleeved T-shirt made from black wool jersey. I still buy T-shirts in the shops but it’s very difficult to find ones that are long enough in the body that I don’t get icy draughts around my middle. I haven’t found any I’ve really liked for a while so I thought I’d make one.

I have a T-shirt pattern that I adapted from McCalls 2401 a while ago by pinning the darts closed and tracing round it. I’d made a couple of T-shirts from it and knew it fitted OK, so I just put it on the jersey and cut it out, automatically adding an extra couple of inches length to body and sleeves as I usually do.

I’d obviously already added length to the original pattern before I traced it, because here’s the sleeve on the finished T-shirt. Bear in mind I’m bending my arm to be able to take the picture; with my hands by my sides you can just about see my fingertips.

Even if I hemmed it, which I wasn’t intending to do, the sleeves would still be unusually long.

On reflection I actually quite like the effect. I have permanently cold hands and it’s very cozy. But I do look forward to the day I cut out a pattern and it comes out the length I intended.

Which scifi show is this from?

Extensive googling has failed to find me pictures of anything remotely like this dress, but I have a steadily increasing suspicion I have ripped off some 70s scifi tv show here. Hence the boots; I figure I might as well embrace the look in all its cheesy glory. Anyone recognise it? And should I be ashamed?

The boots are surprisingly comfortable, although I’ll admit I haven’t done much more than pose for pictures in them since extracting them from the pile of old shoes at the bottom of the wardrobe. I’ve had them for at least 15 years but haven’t worn them for a long time. They were from Dolcis, who have long ago closed their shop in my town.

The dress is made from a pattern I adapted from McCall’s 2401 to use up this blue and orange doubleknit that’s been sitting in my stash for a while. It was inspired by the seamlines on Burda 114-11-2010, which is a long-sleeved sheath dress with the shoulder detail, but is meant to be made up in something shiny and slippery as an evening gown.

Sewing the shoulder pieces was harder than I expected, but I treated it just like making princess seams (staystitch along the seamlines, clip the seam allowances to the stitching, and baste carefully before actually sewing) and it came out OK although it took a while. I set the sleeves in flat and didn’t use a zip. The dress goes on easily over my head. I also didn’t bother with facings at the neckline; just turned under the seam allowance and stitched with my twin needle. The hem and sleeves are finished with wide folded-over bands so no other hemming was involved!

I’m pretty pleased with this. It’s comfortable and should be wearable for work with flat boots. Most importantly, it has long sleeves. The weather may be almost warm round here right now but winter in the UK is far from over.

Pattern mutation

This is the story of how I started off with a pattern for an elegant evening dress and ended up with something out of Star Trek.

Below is the line art for Burda 114-11-2010, which was the starting point for my second attempt to reduce my fabric stash over the Christmas holidays. The original is made in cream silk satin with one shiny and one matt side. The main body of the dress uses the shiny side as the right side, and the little inserts at the shoulders use the matt side.

I really like the idea but silk satin isn’t exactly a practical fabric, and I certainly don’t have any hanging around in my stash. About the only double-sided fabric I have is two metres of doubleknit which is blue on one side and orange on the other. So I figured it would just become a somewhat more casual dress.

Rather than using the Burda pattern, which is drafted for wovens, I got out McCalls 2401. I have previously made this one up in a similar weight doubleknit. It’s a basic sheath dress with sleeve and neckline variations. The darts are a bit different to the Burda pattern but not in a way that makes any difference to the shoulders. It also doesn’t have a slit in the centre back seam, but I don’t think that would work in doubleknit anyway.

I traced a copy with a round neck and long sleeves, and then drafted the insets by drawing what looked like roughly the right line on my pattern pieces, cutting the inset piece off, and adding seam allowances to both sides. I eliminated the shoulder seam on the inset piece.

I started off aiming for this combination of colours:

so the dress was already looking nothing like the original, but when I got to the point of trying on it looked a bit boring and much too long. I pinned the hem up and tried pinning on bits of orange trim in various places.

The orange round the neck is a bit too much in real life, so I’m going for the one with the hem band and cuffs. I have a nagging feeling I’ve reinvented a costume from some 1970s science fiction tv show though. It couldn’t be a lot further from the original! Tune in on Sunday for pictures, UK weather permitting.

Falling off the wagon

I was going to sew from my stash for a bit. I wasn’t doing too badly: I made the neoprene skirt, and I have cut out and started sewing a knit dress (of which more later) from a piece of blue doubleknit I have had for a long time. But the opportunity to go to London arose this weekend and I couldn’t pass it up. I need fabrics for making warm tops to go with all the skirts I’ve made recently. Well that’s my excuse anyway.

I didn’t have a lot of time in London so I stuck with the West End so I knew I’d be able to get the things I was looking for there. I set out to get black wool jersey for a top, grey wool jersey for a dress, and black neoprene, also for a dress.

I started out at Cloth House on Berwick St. The service was great; really helpful and not at all pushy. A really nice man pulled out all the wool jerseys for me and then had a look at my pattern, Vogue 1087. After we’d decided all the grey ones they had were the wrong weight for the pattern, he suggested a beautiful blue one that was just right. I wouldn’t normally go for blue (something to do with having had a blue school uniform I think) but this one is lovely.

I also got a wonderfully soft and stretchy black wool jersey. This is to make a basic long-sleeved t-shirt with. It didn’t photograph at all well so you can’t get much of an idea from the picture but here it is anyway.

I also got the black neoprene I wanted. I haven’t even tried to photograph that. I’m going to have a go at the Burda dress that’s based on the pattern I made the neoprene skirt from.

Despite having found everything on my list at Cloth House I had to have a look in Macculloch and Wallis. I came away with two pieces. The first is a very drapey, transparent grey sweater knit which I’m going to use to make another basic top, probably with a bit of a cowl neck. The second is a stretchy lightweight doubleknit that’s black on one side and dark green on the other. They’ve had it in for months and I have been coveting it ever since I first saw it in August. It is very soft and snuggly.

So much for not buying any more fabric. At least I have definite plans for all of these pieces except the doubleknit, so hopefully they won’t sit in my stash too long.