Sewing top fives: goals

Last of the Sewing Top Fives of 2020: goals. I didn’t complete most of last year’s goals, so I’m setting the bar low for 2021.

I want to complete my sewing with a plan wardrobe. This should be achievable. There are three more garments to go. I already have fabric for the last pair of trousers, and I have the fabric and have even traced the pattern for the white blouse. The third piece is a simple Burda top that I’m having some doubts about now I’ve read a few reviews of it. I may replace that pattern with something else.

However I think I may have to make an extra wardrobe piece to replace the black blouse that didn’t fit. I’ve got a fairly basic Burda shirt pattern lined up for that. So maybe it’s four more pieces. That should take me until April or May. After that, all bets are off. I’m hoping the world will look quite different by then, and who knows what I’ll feel like sewing.

Sewing Top Fives: Reflections

Next up in Sewing Top Fives of 2020: reflections. I skipped the non-sewing highlights prompt because I like to keep this blog focussed on the clothes and not everything else going on in the world. I guess that makes it a Sewing Top Four.

I only set four sewing goals for 2020, which were three patterns I wanted to make and to carry on with my project to sew my way through my Burda wishlist. And I failed almost completely: I made only one of the three patterns and stopped sewing the dresses after January. I never do well with New Year resolutions. The two patterns that didn’t get made weren’t the most practical of items: a particularly ridiculous Vogue coat which resembles a turtle, and a sleeveless wrap jumpsuit. Where I live, sleeveless works for about one month a year. However I don’t find myself all that disappointed about the failures. The jumpsuit pattern is great and I might go back to it in the spring, but the coat is probably a project best kept for a point in my life when I have a lot more free time. And as for the dresses…well, I don’t have the lifestyle for most of them and my wardrobe space is very limited. So I doubt I’ll go back to those.

I did try something new this year: sewing with a plan rather than making whatever happens to take my fancy next. The aim was to make pieces that work together and use up some stash fabric. It took a surprisingly long time to come up with a suitable set of projects and I’m still working my through the list. At the rate I sew, even the eight garments I have planned will take six months. I’m half way through now, with four finished garments.

I’m honestly surprised I’ve stuck with it even this far, although it helps that I already have most of the necessary fabric. I am starting to get slightly bored, although that might be because I’m currently working on an involved Vogue designer pattern in black fabric with miles of black topstitching at the darkest time of year; I seem to have been making it for weeks and it’s still not done.

Three of the finished items from the plan have fitted right into my wardrobe. The one failure was down to poor fit rather than the choice of pattern. So it’s been mostly worthwhile, but if I carry on planning in advance like this I need to find a better balance of short and long projects. And I do miss the fun of planning frivolous projects based on my latest whim.

On the subject of patterns, I’m slightly saddened by what’s happened to Vogue Patterns this year. It’s not the rebranding of the parent company from McCalls to Something Delightful, although I don’t love that. Vogue are still by far the most interesting of the Big Four ranges, but they’re clearly winding down the designer pattern section. The designer’s name is no longer a prominent part of the marketing, and there are fewer and fewer designer patterns in each release. Conversely Burda magazine is going from strength to strength, so I haven’t bought any new envelope patterns all year.

I did buy and make up a vintage envelope pattern though: a Claude Montana Vogue from the 80s. It was beautifully designed; if modern Vogue designer patterns cease to be an option I’ll certainly be stalking eBay for vintage ones.

eBay has also supplied a few back issues of Burda this year that filled in some gaps in my collection from before I subscribed. I was struck by how different the magazine was ten years ago. There were fewer patterns per issue but they were very much more detailed. And of course the patterns were spread over eight sheets rather than four back then, so they’re much easier to trace than modern Burda. I can see myself sewing up a few things from these old issues next year.

Well that was an unstructured ramble. Next up: goals.

Sewing top fives: misses

This is my favourite part of the Sewing Top Fives blog series: the failures. There’s much more to say about the projects that didn’t work than the ones that did. When I went through my projects for the year I found three that didn’t work out. Which is one less than 2019, so that’s progress.

I’d completely forgotten this Burda dress, from my long abandoned attempt to sew my way through my Burda wishlist. It looks all right on the dress form but the fit was horrible. No prizes for guessing why there are no photos of it on me.

I chose the wrong fabric for the pattern, made some misguided experimental fit adjustments, and added pockets in a bad place. A sad waste of nice fabric. I still occasionally hanker after the dress that inspired the project though: Luv’s fitted white dress from Blade Runner 2049. I was intending to use this pattern as a base to reproduce it once I’d worked the bugs out. One day perhaps, but definitely with a different pattern as the starting point.

The next one seemed like a success at the time I finished it, and I still like the way it looks in photos. But sadly it’s so low cut and boxy that it’s only suitable for lounging; anything involving movement, never mind bending over, is extremely dicey. I wore it to take my son to the playground once. Never again. I haven’t thrown it out because I cling to the hope that I might one day have a lifestyle where I can wear it; that or I find some magical underpinning for it that I don’t mind people seeing.

The last one should look familiar because I only posted this blouse two weeks ago. The fit is definitely not right; odd because I’ve been sewing Vogue for years and I thought I had a good handle on how their block fits me. Maybe this one’s just a bit unusual. Anyway I haven’t decided what to do with it yet; probably wear it less done up but with a camisole underneath. I can’t face setting those sleeves again to try to fix the pulling.

Interestingly my historic failures are predominately down to poor fabric choice, but this year it’s been more of a mixture. Not sure if that means I’ve gone forward or back, not that it would be statistically significant anyway.

Sewing top fives: hits

I’m continuing to sew my way through my wardrobe plan. And this week all I’ve got to show is a pile of black linen pieces that’s supposed to become a shirt eventually. I can barely see to sew it, let alone photograph it. So the appearance of the Sewcialists’ annual Top Five blog series is a welcome distraction.

The first prompt is Hits: the best or most worn things you’ve made this year. I don’t think mine are exactly either: they’re the things that make me feel good every time I wear them.

First up is Burda 121 04/2020. This is a very unusually drafted top – the front and back pattern pieces are identical – that I made more on a whim than anything. It was a quick sew and used up some fabric that had been sitting in my stash for years. I wasn’t expecting to wear it much. And yet I find myself reaching for it frequently. Even in winter I’m still wearing it over a long sleeved t shirt.

Keeping the casual theme, my silver drawstring trousers have also been a winner. I made them at a point where weight fluctuations meant most of my existing clothes didn’t fit. It felt so good to have something to wear that didn’t need constant adjusting. The pattern is a Ralph Rucci and has the incredible level of finishing you get on his designs. I didn’t sew all the fancy details it called for, but they still feel luxurious.

Next up more trousers: my Burda flared jeans. These were another slightly experimental project. The shape came out very exaggerated; I was slightly concerned I might look like I’m on my way to a 70s fancy dress party. But it turned out that I love them. It’s not just the style but the fabric (Empress Mills 7.5oz premium denim) which is nicely black, has just the right amount of stretch, and amazing recovery. No baggy knees here.

The next one appears much less practical: my Burda pleated culottes. Admittedly they aren’t something to wear if it’s raining as they turn into a heavy damp mess. But on a dry day they’re a lot of fun. I like the fact that the style mixes femininity and toughness.

But last and best is my silver quilted coat. Yes it’s the same fabric as the drawstring trousers. And I have on occasion accidentally left the house wearing both together. But this gets worn most days so that’s not surprising. It’s not waterproof but is thick enough to cope with ordinary rain, and it’s very warm. The colour’s good for visibility after dark too.

So that’s it for my top five hits: next up are the misses.

Sewing top fives: goals

Sewing top fives of 2019 logo

And here is the last post of the sewing top five of 2019 series: goals. To make it more interesting I’m not making any concession to practicality. This is what I currently want to sew regardless of climate and lifestyle.

First up is a quilted winter coat in silver. As soon as I saw Burda 114 11/2019 I wanted to make a metallic version. Here’s the technical drawing. I’m intending to skip the bow.

Burda 114 11/2019 padded coat technical drawing

This one is quite likely to get made. I really need a warm winter coat and I already have a fabric in mind for it: an amazing bright silver foiled denim. I still need to do a toile and gather quite a lot of supplies apart from the shell fabric so there’s a way to go.

I was lucky enough to get some of the recent Vogue patterns from my wishlist for Christmas (thanks!) and the one I am really itching to make is V1645, the Rachel Comey Standfast jumpsuit. The pattern envelope recommends ‘cotton blends’ but some versions of the original were made in a fabric that’s described as ‘white pebbled foam’. I still can’t quite work out what that might mean. I think I’ll play it fairly safe and look for a tencel denim for my version. I’m not sure what to do about the buckle detail. The original has a self fabric covered buckle but I quite fancy using a metal one. The trouble is I’m not sure if that will make it tricky to wash.

And the last one is a real stretch: this amazing Pamella Roland Vogue coat/cape. It’s out of print and I can’t say I’m entirely surprised because it’s not exactly practical. But I do love it.

I’m also carrying on with my project to work my way through my wishlist of Burda dresses, and in fact my next couple of posts will be about the next two on the list. That seems like more than enough plans for one year. So thanks to the Sewcialists for running this blog series again, and on to 2020.

Sewing top fives: reflections

So, on to sewing reflections for 2019. I find this is the hardest post in the series to write so apologies if it’s deadly dull.

For a while now I’ve been trying to reduce my fabric stash by sewing from stash where possible, only buying fabric one project ahead, and always getting samples before buying fabric online. The idea is to make better choices and sew up new fabric before I can change my mind about it. I managed to stick to that for most of the year. I also gave away some stash fabrics I knew I would never ever sew because the colours and prints didn’t suit me.

The stash has shrunk somewhat as a result, but there’s still a way to go and it’s getting more difficult to reduce it. I’ve already sewn up the easy stuff and am now left with lengths that I am struggling to find a suitable project for. There’s one length of green wool coating in particular that’s a problem. I don’t sew it up because I’m not really convinced the colour suits me, but I can’t part with it either. This picture gives some idea.

Green coat fabric with pink lining

I can’t possibly dye it; I’d need an industrial dye vat for that much heavy wool! Nor am I really up for sewing an entire coat for someone else. My current hope is that I’ll find a coat pattern I love that’s sufficiently out there that I wouldn’t risk buying new fabric for it.

I’m also on a pattern buying diet. This year I only kept up my Burda subscription and didn’t buy envelope patterns. Again this is getting slightly harder now because Vogue, my favourite brand after Burda, are really on a roll at the moment.

I did buy the Bootstrap Vado custom jeans PDF pattern this year which was a fun experiment. The fit was better for me than unadjusted Burda jeans, but it was not perfect enough for me to get over my general dislike of PDF patterns and go back for more yet. I might consider Bootstrap or Lekala again for something I was finding really difficult to fit though.

The other thing I’ve been trying to do this year is to feed Kibbe style advice into my choice of projects. (If you want more on Kibbe, check out Doctor T’s in-depth blog series). I’m pretty dubious about style typing systems in general but some of the ideas in this one work for me: it recommends I wear vee and boat necks, monochrome colour schemes, dark neutral colours, long lines, and avoid any fussy details. Of course I also have my own rules: pockets are essential, metallic is a neutral, everything must be machine washable.

I’m not sure using Kibbe has made a huge difference to how I dress – part of the reason I like the system is that it agrees with my existing ideas about what suits me – but it did make me consider choosing longer skirt lengths, which I’ve found aren’t as dowdy as I would have guessed…or maybe this is all a coincidence as fashion’s just come around to longer skirts. Anyway I shall carry on keeping his recommendations in mind, and doubtless reject them the minute they clash with something I really want to wear.

Phew. Next up: plans for 2020!

Sewing top fives: highlights

On to the next sewing top five post. This one is ‘Highlights’ – for things that aren’t sewing projects, which were already covered in Hits.

I’ve got one that vaguely relates to the subject of this blog. We finally finished building our extension. It took nearly a year and there was a grim few weeks when we had to move back into the house before the kitchen was finished; we also didn’t have any windows! But it’s lovely now it’s done and it turned out the new kitchen island makes a handy cutting table. And there is no longer a leaking and decaying conservatory in my blog photos. Before:

And after…this is obviously taken from outside the house but that patio is where the conservatory was.

And here’s part of the new kitchen and dining room with the island.

I’m so glad it’s finished…it’ll be a while before we can face anything like that again!

Sewing top fives: Misses

This is my favourite part of the sewing top fives: writing about the ones that didn’t work. And the good news is that I’m struggling to find five complete fails from 2019 – this year there are only four.

The first was a pair of trousers for my son. I traced the pattern (Burda 127 03/2018), cut them out, and then left them for a couple of months. Which was stupid because children grow. By the time I made them up they were much too small.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the drafting either; they’re intended for that awkward size where the child may or may not still be in nappies, but you’d never fit a nappy under these. What I’ve learnt from this is that it’s a lot cheaper and easier (in the UK at least) to buy trousers for toddlers than make your own.

The next fail was also for my son, but the same pattern (a RTW copy based on Burda 138 03/2014) also featured in my top five hits. I first made it in green polar fleece as a trial run, and he loved it. The red ‘real’ version here is made from soft shell and is not loved – in fact I can’t get him to wear it. I think the problem is that the fabric is too robust. It’s much more of a coat fabric than a sweater fabric. Pity because it’s a lovely colour and I was very pleased with how it came out. I may have to pass this on to one of his friends.

Now on to things for me. I made a toile of Burda 118 09/2010, a coat I’ve loved for years, thinking the pattern couldn’t possibly be as bad as all the reviews said. And I think it could be made into a wearable garment. But have I done all the work needed to fix the many problems with the pattern yet? No. Maybe next year. Maybe never.

This last one is probably my worst fail. It’s a remake of Burda 128 10/2010 in black sateen. It’s a bit tricky to sew and I put quite a lot of extra effort into adding pockets to the design, but I’ve hardly worn it. It’s too short and tight. The first time I made it I used a knitted fabric and I suspect I’ve also put on a few inches since then, so it was silly to think I could use the same pattern pieces this time around. Funnily enough it doesn’t look too bad in the picture. I wonder if there is some styling trick that would mean I can get some wear out of it.

So that’s one poor fabric choice, two fitting fails, and one bad pattern. The only one I’m really frustrated about is the black dress – the too-small trousers were made from leftover fabric, the coat never got beyond a toile, and at least I got one good garment out of the toddler top pattern.

Top five sewing hits of 2019

Sewing Top Fives  of 2019 logo

It’s that time of year again: Sewing Top Fives. This is definitely my favourite blog series! So without further ado, here are my top five projects of 2019.

First up is a garment that wasn’t for me: it’s a fleece top for my son. I used Burda 138 03/2014 as a basis for the pattern but the collar and neckline is copied from a much loved RTW top. He wore my version a lot until he grew too big for it. I think a big part of the appeal is that his dad has a hoodie made from the same fabric. I should definitely make it again, a size or two bigger.

Burda 138 03/2014

The next one is a pattern repeat; this is the fourth version of Style Arc’s Toni dress I’ve made. It took a few iterations but I’ve got the pattern completely adjusted to my liking now. It’s a great summer dress; very easy to wear but still looks stylish. There will be more of these in the future.

Three is another well loved pattern: Burda 117 02/2012 made in a grey ponte. This is another one where I’ve adjusted the pattern quite a bit over several versions. I think I am finally happy with it now. I have this one and a black scuba version in regular rotation at the moment.

I haven’t made many trousers much this year but this pair of cargoes have been a huge success. The pattern is Burda 121 02/2018. They have a lot of fiddly details but the end result really looks like RTW and I have worn them lots despite a less than perfect fit (hard to see in the picture but they’re too big on the waist). I’m slightly disappointed in the fabric though. It has already faded from a mid grey to a very light grey.

But this has to be the best project of the year, my Burda trench coat. It gets worn most days and it’s the perfect combination of easy to throw on, goes with everything, but still looks like I’ve made an effort. The original pattern is 105 02/2019 but I made a lot of changes to the shaping.

Burda 105 02/2019

Four out of five of these are Burda patterns. This isn’t a surprise: I mostly sewed from Burda this year because I’ve been cutting back on envelope pattern purchases. I have to say that my Burda back catalogue has provided a suitable pattern for practically everything I’ve wanted to make, so there’s a lesson there.

Next up: top five fails.

Top five of 2018: goals

top 5 of 2018 logo

Time for the last of the Sewing Top Five of 2018: Goals. Once again I haven’t got a tidy list of five things but I do have a big project in the early planning stages so I’ll talk about that.

A few years ago I made a winter coat from Vogue 1276. It was my first attempt at coat making but it was such a success I’m still using it. It’s starting to show its age though: the lining has ripped around the armscyes and the nap has worn off at the wrists and where I fasten the belt. Incidentally, what is it about coat linings ripping at the armscyes? Every coat I have ever had, whether ready to wear or home made, has done this. I’ve tried reinforcing the seam with tape and using stretch lining but it still happens. Anyone know how to prevent this?

So I need a new coat. I have been looking for a pattern for a while. It needs to be long: below knee length. It also needs to have a proper closure which wraps over; so many coat patterns close edge to edge which is no use in the cold. And I would prefer it to be fairly streamlined and unfussy in shape.

I think I have it down to three.

First is Burda 107 10/2011 : an ankle length double breasted coat.

I’m not wild about the buttons; I think I’d replace them with snaps. I like the size of the pockets, but patch pockets aren’t great for putting your hands in.

Then there’s the option of repeating Vogue 1276. I’d link to the pattern but it’s out of print now.

The only reason I’m dithering is I’m not sure it’s absolutely the most flattering style for me. But people often ask me where I got my current one,which is always nice! I know the pattern works and it is already traced and adjusted. And I would also like to improve on the construction I did last time. I remember being very annoyed that the pattern said to sew in the sleeve lining entirely by hand and gave the reason that it was too complicated to explain how to do it by machine. Since then I’ve learnt how to bag linings and I suspect I could make this without needing to hand sew anything.

Finally, Burda 120 10/2017 . Another one I can’t link to, unfortunately.

This seems to be a magazine exclusive; I can’t find it on the English language Burda site at all. It is one of their ‘designer’ patterns. Now obviously the colours it’s shown in are not going to be suitable for the rainy, muddy UK winter. And even if I could pick three other colours that would work, it’s doubtful I could find the chosen three in matching coating fabrics. But I think this pattern might be successful made up in one fairly light colour with top stitching to emphasise the seams. A grey would be practical and still allow the seams to be seen. But it’s a four dot pattern (Burda’s highest difficulty; there are very few of those) and there are no reviews of it that I can find, so I’m not sure what I’d be letting myself in for here. And yet I keep coming back to this one.

I’ve been going round in circles about choosing for weeks. I really want to make the last one but it’s very risky. The Vogue is a safe but slightly boring choice. And the other Burda ticks all the right boxes but somehow doesn’t thrill me. So I guess my goal is to have chosen a new winter coat before winter is actually over!