Sewing with a vague plan

Planning my sewing out in advance is anathema to me; I’m always being distracted by some inspirational image that crosses my path. In the past this led to the accumulation of patterns and fabric for many projects which never reached the machine. For the last couple of years I’ve had a rule of not purchasing anything more than one planned project in advance in order to control the stash, and until very recently this was serving me well.

And then I needed fabric for my next planned dress, and none of the online sources I’d identified were doing samples because of the pressures of Covid. So I gambled, and ordered two lengths of promising sounding fabric. Both were sensible basics: plain black non stretch medium weight wovens. My theory was that whichever one didn’t work for the dress would rapidly get used for trousers.

You can guess what happened. First it turned out I hadn’t read the fabric description on one of the fabrics properly. I thought it was non-stretch cotton denim, but it turned to be one of those ultra stretchy denims which are mostly man made fibres, so completely unsuitable for my plans. The other one was stable but far too heavy. But all was not lost; both would be good for trouser patterns. But I was still without fabric for the dress, which needed a tricky combination of characteristics: stable enough for making buttonholes and welt pockets, light enough to make pleats, and with enough body to support sticky out bits.

So it was back to the hunt. I identified two more possibilities, but still no one was doing samples. So I ordered both. And this time, both were suitable. But I wasn’t going to make the dress twice, so I now had three lengths of fabric left over. And the lid wouldn’t go on the box that holds my fabric stash.

Clearly it was time to mend my ways, so I started actually planning in the hope of avoiding any more accumulation. First of all I identified trouser patterns from my ‘want to sew’ list that would go with the new fabric. I have some medium weight non stretch black denim, some medium weight very stretchy black denim, and some heavy weight black cotton drill.

And then I looked for top halves to match them, all from patterns I already owned. I included my recently made OOP Vogue 1347 drawstring trousers in the planning for tops because I don’t have many cold weather tops that work with them.

And here is what I came up with.

The bottoms are (left to right) Burda 108 07/2018 pleated culottes for the heavy non stretch drill, my already made silver Vogue 1347 drawstring trousers, some sort of 70s style high waisted jeans for the stretch denim, I’m currently thinking Burda 118 04/2009, and Burda 106 02/2020 lantern trousers for the medium weight non stretch denim. Why those particular patterns? I don’t wear a lot of colour so I’m looking for unusual shapes. I’ve always fancied trying a hakama (Japanese pleated trousers), but they aren’t exactly practical for my lifestyle. The Burda culottes are a more wearable take on that look. The lantern trousers and the 70s jeans are other interesting shapes I don’t have in my wardrobe at the moment.

Then for tops (left to right) I have the overshirt with strap details from OOP Vogue 1347, to be made in black linen; Burda 116 01/2020 cropped sweater in black boiled wool; Burda 105 04/2018 dart front shirt in white cotton. These should all go with all the different trousers, and also my existing grey Merchant and Mills Strides and my grey Burda Oxford bags. I might add another of the Burda dart front shirts in black.

I’ve started sewing the Burda pleated culottes. Who knows whether I’ll manage to stick to rest of the plan! It is six new items, which will take about six months for me at my current rate. I doubt I’ll manage to avoid distractions for that long. On the plus side every single one is something I want to make in its own right; nothing is there just because it goes with something else. I’m quite excited about some of the combinations that will be possible. So fingers crossed.

And now for something a little different

Burda 121 04 2020

Continuing with the blogging about frivolous sewing, because I need a break from thinking about the real world. This unusual t-shirt design is from the April 2020 Burda. It’s style 121 which is the Trend pattern for the month. It reminds me of various Vivienne Westwood designs, and also some of the Drape Drape patterns. Here’s the technical drawing.

Burda 121 04 2020

The pattern is unusual in that there is only one pattern piece. It is cut twice, but with both pieces oriented the same way up, not mirrored as pattern pieces are normally cut. Here is the pattern piece. I’ve made my usual length additions so it’s not quite shaped like Burda’s.

The model photo made me think of a piece of fabric that’s been lurking in my stash for a long time. It’s a lightweight single knit with wide grey and black stripes, and a silver glitter coating over that on the right side which makes it look like dark and light silver stripes. I bought it on Goldhawk Road many years ago and foolishly only got 1.5m. Even though it was a generous cut that worked out more like 1.8m I’ve never found anything to do with it – if I’d bought a little bit more I would have had loads of options. The Burda pattern calls for 2.1m but that is for a with-nap layout. By rotating the pattern piece 180 degrees before cutting the second copy I was able to get it out of the shorter length.

I know in general one should always use a with-nap layout for knits, especially ones with a sheen, but I think this pattern is busy enough that any difference between front and back will be lost in the noise.

Argh! On finding the right fabric

I always knew what fabric I was going to make my quilted winter coat out of: a silver foiled denim that I’d previously used for a pair of jeans. I had a couple of metres left in stash and it was still available from the original website so I was planning to buy a bit more to make up the necessary length. This is my original sample from when I made the jeans. It’s really bright silver on a black denim substrate.

Sample of foiled denim fabric

I’d carefully worked out the exact amount of extra to buy by laying all my pattern pieces out according to the width of the fabric and crawling around with a measuring tape.

Then doubt set in. The pattern recommendation is for ‘technical fabrics backed with batting’. I take ‘technical fabrics’ to mean those lightweight water resistant polyester and nylon things. Here’s the line drawing for the pattern so you have some idea of the sort of garment I’m talking about.

Burda 114/11/2019 quilted coat technical drawing

The denim is medium weight and not at all drapey. Would the quilting lines even show up? Would the whole thing be too heavy and stiff? I sent off for some samples of alternatives.

Sample of lame fabric from Minerva crafts
Sample of lame fabric from eBay
Sample of foiled viscose from Minerva Crafts

Here are all four fabrics together.

The three new ones are at the top. They are all described as lame, but in the top two the shine comes from metallic threads in the weave and the third one is a plain white fabric that’s been coated. The fourth (bottom one) in the picture is the original foiled denim.

The first two are definitely not suitable. They have a very crispy hand and are almost transparent.

The third one is very drapey – the base is a lightweight woven viscose – but at least it’s opaque. I was concerned about the lack of body through – I’ve got to sew a heavy zip and snaps to this thing. I’m not sure how you measure drapiness scientifically, but hanging it over a chopstick demonstrates the problem.

At this point I was seriously considering going in another direction altogether. Burda had made up the jacket length version of this pattern in a gorgeous velvet which seemed like a good alternative. I went down a rabbit hole searching for the perfect grey woven velvet but nothing quite fitted the bill.

So after days of agonising I went looking on Pinterest to see if quilted denim coats are even a thing, and if so what they look like. And actually I found quite a few. They aren’t as super puffy as the nylon sort, but they don’t look ridiculous. (Yes I appreciate that a silver coat is a fundamentally ridiculous garment. But I want the particular ridiculous look I’m aiming for, not a different one.)

So, greatly relieved to have made a decision, I went back to the original plan. You can no doubt guess the next bit. I went online to order the foiled denim fabric, only to find it has sold out. And I still hadn’t found any alternative I really liked.

Finally I came across an old sample I’d acquired last year of what I think is called a tonic fabric: it combines black and white yarns in a twill weave to give a shiny, almost metallic effect. It’s a cotton/acetate blend, it’s opaque, it has more body than the viscose, and most importantly the supplier still has it in stock. I leapt on it! It should arrive next week.

Burda 138 03/2014 toddler top

I’ve always been reluctant to sew children’s clothes. So small and fiddly! They grow out of them so fast! And (in the UK at least) kids’ clothes are very good value for money in the shops so it isn’t remotely economical to make your own.

But…My little boy has a really nice top made out of soft shell. It has raglan sleeves and a neckline zip so it’s easy to get on and off. It’s one of his favourite things to wear. He’s also almost grown out of it and I haven’t been able to find a similar replacement. And it looked fairly easy to make – five pieces and a zip – so I decided to try to reproduce it.

My first try was to trace the original top to make a pattern. That went fine. And then I realised that I’d just traced a garment that was too small when the whole point was to make a bigger version. Unsure how to grade it up I went looking through my Burda stash and came up with Burda 138 03/2014, a raglan sleeved t shirt pattern for toddlers.

Burda 138  03/2014

Burda say this is a girl’s top, but I can’t see anything remotely gendered about it.

I traced it out one size bigger than my son’s current size because I wanted it to work as an outer layer with a t shirt worn underneath. I then made a collar pattern piece to fit the Burda neckline, copying the approximate shape of the one I’d traced from the original garment.

I made the new pattern up in the leftovers from my husband’s green fleece hoodie to test it. The zip was a lucky find in my stash; it was too heavy for the project I bought it for but it was ok for the fleece. It could have done with being a little longer though.

Burda 138 03/2014

Here’s the back view. It turned out really well; it fits with a bit of growing room, and my little boy likes to wear it. It’s not perfect. I tried to flatlock the hem and it’s slightly uneven; also I didn’t do a perfect job on the zip and collar. You have to look super close to see though. And it sewed up fast: I put it together in about 90 minutes.

Burda 138 03/2014

So I forged ahead with the real thing, made in bright red soft shell from Empress Mills with a matching red zip. This time I bought an extra long zip and cut it off at a few cm longer than the intended finished length. Instead of trying to recreate a zip stop I laid the end of the zip opening on top of the zip teeth so the zip continues below the end of the opening, and top-stitched right over the teeth. The original top is constructed like this. Obviously I made sure it was a plastic zip rather than a metal one first, but I still broke a needle in the process.

Burda 138 03/2014

And it looks nice but it’s a very different garment than the green one! The soft shell I used for the red version is quite heavyweight; it’s really a coating fabric. This is more something for wearing to the park than around the house.

The red fabric is lovely and bright and it top-stitches beautifully. I did a top-stitched hem because wonky flat locking would have stood out a mile on this fabric and you can’t unpick because the needle leaves permanent holes. Getting around those tiny sleeve hems on the machine was tricky though. I’d use this fabric again for a coat, but not a sweater.

Burda 138 03/2014

I’m quite tempted to make a third one of these in a cute snowflake print fleece I’ve seen online. Or there are lots of other child friendly fleece prints out there. I won’t be going into sewing children’s clothes regularly though!

The results are in: topstitching thread for silver fabric

Thanks everyone for all the advice about picking top stitching thread for bright silver fabric! I washed a bit of the fabric, and then did some samples of the best two thread colours so far. Lefthand fabric is unwashed; top row of stitching Gutermann topstitch 40, bottom row Gutermann topstitch 38. Righthand fabric is washed; top two rows are the Gutermann 40 and the bottom row the Gutermann 38.

IMG_2681

Rather to my surprise, the lighter thread (Gutermann 38) looks slightly better on both. The fabric has held up fairly well to washing considering I put it in with a regular wash. I’d normally wash something like this on a gentle cycle. It’s darkened and picked up a few crease marks, which is about what I expected. Not like a previous silver fabric I had where I washed it once and it came out black…

Several people suggested trying out more unexpected colours than grey and I was really tempted, but I haven’t had any spare time to visit a bricks and mortar shop with a fabric sample. And I wanted to get on with sewing the actual garment, so in the end I went with the 38. Here’s what it looks like so far.

Top stitching on silver fabric

Not my greatest ever topstitching, but you can’t unpick on this fabric at all, and it’ll look fine from a normal distance. I find going round the pocket edges on jeans at an even width is surprisingly difficult, even when I chalk a line to follow. It’s very difficult to see the chalk on the reflective surface and I resorted to using black chalk, which has rubbed off on the topstitching thread and darkened it slightly so I might as well have used the Guterman 40 after all. Oh well. I think I have enough fabric left to make a little skirt, so I might yet experiment with a pink or a purple thread!

Top stitching thread colours

I have some very special fabric in the sewing queue right now. It’s a stretch denim with a shiny silver foil finish and is destined to become skinny jeans. I’ve made a few pairs of silver jeans before, but never from fabric quite this reflective. And the question is, what to do about top stitching? I’ve always used a black or a dark grey thread on silver before, but this fabric is so bright that those will be highly contrasting. I want top stitching with a bit of definition, so that the garment looks like jeans and not trousers, but the fabric should be the star and not the stitching.

Here’s a collection of top stitching threads against a swatch of the fabric.

Silver fabric sample with various top stitching threads

Left to right: Gutermann Topstitch 000 (ie black), Gutermann Topstitch 36, Gutermann Topstitch 701, Coats Duet Extra Strong 4009, Gutermann Topstitch 38.

It’s clear to me that two lightest shades are best, but the Coats seems too dark and the Gutermann too light. The pictures only give a vague idea because the fabric can look anything from white to almost black depending how the light catches it. Normally the rule with thread choice is to go with the darker shade if in doubt, but I’m not so sure here. I’ve looked for images of garments made in similar fabric and am none the wiser as to what shade the top stitching is because they are all taken from too far away.

I acquired an intemediate shade of Gutermann thread, and realised that I ought to be looking at one strand of thread against the fabric rather than the whole spool:

Various grey topstitching threads against silver foiled denim

Left to right: Gutermann Topstitch 000 (black), Gutermann Topstitch 36, Gutermann Topstitch 701, Coats Duet Extra Strong 4009, Gutermann Topstitch 40, Gutermann Topstitch 38.

The new one is the second right, and that still seems too dark and too blue in shade and the rightmost one too light.

Here are those two on their own.

Gutermann topstitch thread colours 40 and 38

Left: Gutermann Topstitch 40. Right: Gutermann Topstitch 38.

I still can’t decide. I think once I’ve cut the fabric I’ll have to do stitching samples on the scraps. Anyone else had this problem? Did you go darker or lighter, and were you happy with it?

Burda skinny jeans 115-03-2014

People talk a lot about finding TNT (tried and tested) patterns; ones that fit beautifully and get made again and again. I don’t have any TNTs and most of the time I don’t want any. But every so often I think it would be nice to have a standard skinny jeans pattern that I could cut out and make without too much thought about fitting.

A few years ago Burda did a pattern for what they call ‘five pocket trousers’ which is exactly the sort of thing I’m after. It’s available here as a PDF, or style 115 from March 2014 if you have the magazines.

For my first attempt I used left over fake leather from a previous project. It’s a heavy scuba jersey with a plastic coating so fairly forgiving fit wise, but tricky to sew. I left off the back pockets, the ticket pocket, and the belt loops. The only thing I top stitched was the fly front. I didn’t dare try to make a buttonhole but used a trouser hook to close the waist. Here’s the result:

Burda 115-03-2014

I think they’re pretty good for a first try. The shiny fabric shows every single wrinkle so the photos are not flattering the fit.

I made my usual Burda adjustments (trace a size smaller for the waist and add 5cm to the leg length) and also changed the waistband from straight to curved to try to avoid gapping. That wasn’t enough to accommodate the big difference between my waist and hips, and next time I might take the waist in a bit more. I’d also prefer a wider waistband.

Burda 115-03-2014 jeans

I had to use a walking foot to top stitch the fly front, and also when stitching in the ditch to secure the waistband. The hems were hand sewn because I wanted a good finish and even with the walking foot the fabric dragged a little; you can’t pin this stuff without leaving permanent marks and you certainly can’t unpick so I didn’t want to risk machining the hems. I still haven’t got my hands on a Teflon foot but I hear they are a good solution.

Installing the zip without pins was also tricky; wonder tape helped a lot there.

Burda 115-03-2014 jeans

If I was making these in a stretch woven as intended I think I’d try making a full calf adjustment as they are noticeably tighter there.

The pockets have come out surprisingly well. The pocket lining is a scrap of heavy polyester stretch satin I had left over from another project. Normally I’d use cotton poplin for lining jeans pockets but I thought the stretch factor of the satin would be more compatible with the scuba.

Burda 115-03-2014

So overall a success. Haven’t quite dared wear them to work yet but they are good for weekends. I’m going to make the pattern in stretch denim next.

And I’ve still got some of the scuba left. What possessed me to buy four metres I don’t know. I don’t think it has enough body for a jacket, I don’t wear skirts much, and how many pairs of fake leather trousers does one person need? I’m currently debating whether to have a go at copying those Gareth Pugh styles with appliqued leather patches that look a bit like armour, but I suspect the appliqué would be immensely time consuming to sew, and one thing I certainly don’t have is a lot of sewing time. Maybe in a year or two…

Style Arc Genevieve coming up next!

More colour matching

IMG_1968

The last grey fabric I tried to sew with proved impossible to colour match, so I wasn’t hopeful about finding top-stitching thread to go with my current project. The fabric’s a grey denim and I wanted top-stitching thread in the same shade for a subtle effect. I haven’t been able to make it to a physical sewing shop for a while so I crossed my fingers and ordered Gutermann Sew All and Top Stitch in shade 036 online; a colour variously described as “light black”, “dark grey”, “grey”, and “charcoal” by different vendors. And lo and behold it’s almost a perfect match. Funny how these things happen.

Burda 104c-02-2017

Nothing but repeats: Burda 104c-02-2017 culottes again

I should know this by now, but it's amazing the difference fabric choice makes to a pattern. Earlier this year I made Burda's 104c-02-2017 culottes pattern in a drapey viscose crepe fabric. Not at all the recommended fabric for the pattern, but the end result was great and I've worn them a lot. So I made them again, this time in a stretch cotton sateen from Fabric Godmother. This fabric is much more the sort of thing the pattern designer intended. The pattern specifies "lightweight trouser fabric with some body". The originals were a little large so I took the waist in slightly as well, and here's the end result; you wouldn't think it was the same pattern.

Burda 104c-02-2017

And here is the viscose crepe pair for comparison. I seem to have worn the same top for both sets of photos: not intentional.

In the spirit of full disclosure I should say that the sateen pair were worn and washed several times before we got around to taking pictures, and were put on straight from the drying rack without ironing, whereas the viscose pair were photographed in their 'just finished' state.

The viscose pair sit much lower on me and have a nice swish, but feel a bit big. The crepe tends to grow with wear which doesn't help, although a wash shrinks them back to the original size.

Burda 104c/02/2017

The sateen pair feel much more structured and look slightly shorter because they sit higher. The shinier fabric means they tend to show marks and creases more easily than the crepe ones.

The pattern has fake back pockets which I skipped on the new pair. They were a pain in the neck to sew on the originals and I wasn't happy with the positioning. The trousers look OK without them I think. The sizing on the new ones is better but still not quite right. They fit at the waist now but seem slightly too small on the bum. I didn't change the pattern there so that's just the effect of different fabric.

Burda 104c-02-2017

This pattern has lots of belt loops, which means there is a very long thin tube to turn inside out. Not my favourite sewing activity and not easy in a fabric with body. I tried a new-to-me technique involving a chopstick and a straw. I was cynical about it before I started but it worked! You sew up one end of the fabric tube, poke the straw into the tube, and then push the closed end through the centre of the tube using the chopstick. I can't find the instructions I used now but this article covers the technique: https://angelleadesigns.com/tutorials/how-to-turn-a-narrow-tube-of-fabric/ . I suspect it relies on the straw being an appropriate diameter for the size of tube. My straw was narrow and I think it would have failed on thicker fabric.

Burda 104c-02-2017

The belt came out the right length this time. On the previous pair it was extremely long which looks good in pictures but is a pain in the neck to wear. I must have cut it on the fold by mistake or something like that. In fact the whole waist area is better in the sateen. Again it's the effect of using crisper fabric. There is no waistband, just a facing, and it needs some body and a lot of tacking in order to make it stay put. I stitched my facing down in the ditch of the side and centre back seams on both pairs but I should have done it at the pleats and darts too.

Burda 104c-02-2017

I'm very happy with both of these. Both are in high rotation at the moment.

Short and simple: Rick Owens inspired knit top

Rick Owens style top front

If you’ve been reading sewing blogs for a while you’ll have heard of frosting sewing versus cake sewing. Or for those of us in the U.K., icing versus cake. Icing is the pretty, impractical stuff we love to sew but rarely wear, and cake is practical basics. This is a cake project: a simple black long-sleeved t-shirt in wool jersey. I know I will wear this until it goes into holes.

I’ve made a couple of these before using a pattern I mashed together from an old McCalls dress pattern (no, I don’t know why this seemed like a good starting point either) and while I loved them and wore them to destruction they nevertheless had a few fitting niggles. So this time I started off with the close fitting stretch t-shirt block from Metric Pattern Cutting for Womenswear and adapted from there. I was going for a combination of these two Rick Owens tops: the shaped hem of the tank with the ultra long sleeves of the t-shirt.

collage

I copied the raw hems and the feature centre back seam of the originals. My centre back seam is just overlocked wrong sides together with the four thread overlocker stitch and pressed to one side. I find it surprisingly difficult to sew that seam correctly because my brain’s so used to doing it the other way. I have to keep chanting ‘wrong sides together, wrong sides together’ to remind myself.

Rick Owens style top back

I like it a lot. It’s not totally perfect: I’m wearing it over a long sleeved cotton t-shirt in these pictures which tends to produce extra wrinkles, but even so I’ll add a touch more ease next time as I don’t think all the wrinkling is down to the extra layer. The good news is that the fabric is a reorderable one – John Kaldor Isabella wool/viscose jersey – so I can get the exact same fabric again for next time. I might also shorten it a little but I haven’t quite made my mind up about that yet. The fabric was a birthday present and it’s lovely! Warm, stretchy, great recovery. It’s also extra wide: 170cm, so I got this top out of only one metre.

Rick Owens style top side

This was such a quick project to sew.   Cutting out took about five minutes and sewing maybe an hour and a half, and that’s only because I was going very slowly and carefully because I didn’t want to risk making a mistake with the posh fabric. 

I sewed it with size 75 stretch needles. I guess you could construct something like this entirely on the overlocker, but I did the seams on the sewing machine first for accuracy. I find if I sew with a fairly long stitch length even a straight stitch has enough elasticity to use on a knit. 

Already planning another one of these in another colour…maybe in the gunmetal grey.

Rick Owens style top side hands in pockets