More Than What Meets the Eye

Readers,

One morning late last week I piled five jackets, a blouse, and my mannequin Ginger into my nifty red folding utility wagon.  After a two-minute commute I arrived at my sister Cynthia’s studio for our photo shoot.

pajamas_and_mug_1924-460x307

Trying to look “natural”.

Almost as an afterthought I brought my latest creation: mint-green flannel pajamas.

I wasn’t sure at first that I’d even write about these pajamas.  They were so ordinary.  What could I possibly say about them?

img_0958-407x460

Butterick describes this as “Misses’ top, shorts, and pants.” The word “pajamas” is not used.

I could always write a standard review.

Yawn.

I won’t keep you in suspense. My review is: They’re just fine. Thanks, Butterick.

And the alterations?  I shortened and/or narrowed:

  • the top front and back pieces
  • the facing
  • the pocket pieces
  • the sleeve and sleeve band pieces
  • the pants leg and pants leg band pieces
pajamas_1921-460x307

Flat piping inserted between the pocket and the pocket band. Next time I’ll plan a contrast piping.

The pattern shows optional piping.  My flannel was so luxuriously thick, self-fabric piping with a filler cord was out of the question.  I tried using the flannel in a flat piping for the pocket and sleeve band.

pajamas_1923-460x307

The flat piping inserted between the sleeve and the band added bulk to the seam, so I skipped piping the front edge and collar. But a lighter, more flexible contrast piping would look nice.

That was still pretty thick and stiff inserted into the seam.  So I skipped piping altogether for the front opening, collar, and pants leg bands.

pajamas_1919-460x307

The ripply collar: a mistake, or a design feature? You choose.

I don’t know how I did it, but I bungled sewing the collar smoothly onto the neckline.  I was in too much of a hurry to get this project done to see whether the problem was at the pattern-drafting stage (Butterick’s fault) or at the pattern piece-cutting stage (my fault).

If I sew these pajamas again I’ll find the source of the rippling problem and fix it before I cut any pieces. This time, though, I’m calling the rippling a “design feature.”

Wow, what a boring review.

But wait! There was something interesting thing about this pajama-sewing project. It really brought home to me that the things I sew are collections of associations I make and stories I tell myself.

Examples:

The fabric. What others see is a nice cotton flannel.  But what I remember is how I found this beefy flannel, in a color I’d never imagined myself in before, priced at $3.00 a yard on the clearance shelf at Sew to Speak‘s new home.  The amount left on the bolt was just what I needed.

I was in a hurry to just choose something and get on with sewing up these pajamas for an upcoming trip, so I took a chance on mint green.

pajamas_1915-437x460

An ordinary button and an ordinary buttonhole? Hardly.

The buttons.  What others see are ordinary buttons. But what I remember is where I was, and why, when I bought those buttons.

I was at Persiflage, a dealer (no longer there) that sold vintage clothing and trims at Alfie’s Antique Market in London. And I came to Persiflage to deliver a copy of the current Threads magazine (June-July 2012), which contained my article, “Shopping Destination: London, England,” to the shop owner. Only the shop assistant was there, I remember. She received the copy with enthusiastic thanks and assured me the shop owner would be delighted that Persiflage had been included.

pajamas_1905-460x307

These buttons and fabric were meant for each other!

While in the shop, naturally I had to inspect the jumble of vintage buttons spilling out of a couple dozen little drawers.  I found nothing spectacular. But something drew me to four homely little buttons in a deep mint shade, and they returned to the States with me.

To be honest, later I asked myself why I ever bought them:  I’ve never worn mint green! When would I ever use them? Two and a half years ago, when I was packing up my sewing room for our move to Ohio, I put them with a pile of other buttons to give away–if I could find a taker.

Then I got preoccupied with, oh, about ten thousand other tasks, and forgot about finding foster homes for my orphan buttons.

Then it turned out that those homely, mint-green buttons were exactly what this pajama top called for.pajamas_1900-220x460

The buttonholes.  You could be forgiven for thinking these buttonholes are as ordinary as they come.  But what I see is the Magic Key Buttonhole Worker attachment for my family’s trusty old sewing machine.  And I had always viewed this gadget with suspicion and fear even though it had a reputation for turning out a good result.

But when my sewing machine’s reverse mechanism finally gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t make buttonholes.  Then I remembered: a block away, at Cynthia’s, was the sewing machine we grew up with and this Magic Key  contraption.  If I was going to finish this pajama top in time I’d have to learn how to use this thing.

And under Cynthia’s tutelage, I did–at least well enough to produce four decent buttonholes!  Having overcome my initial fear with this modest success, now I’m curious to see whether I’d like the keyhole buttonholes this gadget produces.

It was thirty years ago last month that I bought my sewing machine. Certainly the things I’ve sewn on it, including muslins, must number in the many hundreds now. Wearing clothes I’ve made stopped being a novelty long ago (although I always count the bigger successes as minor miracles).

Elasticized waist, capacious pockets--pretty standard.

Elasticized waist, capacious pockets–pretty standard.

But it was these everyday (or everynight?) pajamas that got me thinking how much just one ordinary sewing project can foster a rich network of happy associations.  Think, then, of what a lifetime of sewing projects can yield.

The other day I was flipping through the latest Lands’ End catalogue that had arrived in the day’s mail. When I saw the prices for their pajamas I gloated that mine had cost only a fifth as much.  But then, mine had cost lots more in time to produce. I admit it: I’m a slowpoke.

But in the end, I feel richer making my own clothes, and I don’t mean only, or primarily, in monetary terms, because maybe in that regard I’m only breaking even.

Even when my collar turns out ripply,  I’ve almost certainly enriched my fund of associations, as well as my fund of knowledge, in ways I am still discovering, and benefiting from, thirty years on.

I call that a net gain.

pajamas_and_mug_1932-460x350

Mint green may be my new favorite color!

It’s Easy, All Right–If You Know How

Readers,

Yesterday I sewed my buttons–the ones I bought recently at Taylors Buttons in London–on my 1941 McCall “mannish jacket,” which I sewed according to Kenneth King’s “old school” method in his Smart Tailoring DVD set.

This still needs a good press. I think I'll ask Kenneth for pointers on how to do the job right.

This still needs a good press. I think I’ll ask Kenneth for pointers on how to do the job right.

They look just right. In coloring, size, and style they fit right in with this tweed.IMG_9091 (327x460)

IMG_9103 (460x345)

The buttons probably date from the 1940s, as does the McCall pattern.

That was very satisfying.

I haven’t decided whether to sew this button on the sleeve vents. Although Maureen at Taylors Buttons told me that Savile Row tailors have used the same size button on men’s jacket fronts and sleeves, I’m wondering whether doing that on my significantly smaller jacket would look odd.

Would one button this size look odd on this sleeve vent?

Would one button this size look out of proportion on a sleeve this size?

I think I’ll wait and ask my classmates when I take Kenneth King’s tailoring class in Cleveland the end of July.  They’ll be happy to weigh in. Then I’ll decide what to do.

In addition to resolving the sleeve button issue I also need to give this jacket a good press or take it to a reputable dry cleaner. But again, I thought it would be great to take advantage of Kenneth’s fund of knowledge. Maybe my jacket can be used as an example for pressing dos and don’ts.

So the tweed jacket is as done as it can be for now. Time to turn to part two of my Smart Tailoring DVD project: making another jacket, this time using Kenneth King’s “new school” methods.

Two years ago I sewed this pattern in linen. For the "new method" project I planned to use this fabric and these vintage buttons.

Two years ago I sewed this pattern in linen. For the “new method” project I planned to use this fabric and these vintage buttons.

Monday I watched the first segment, “Pattern Work.” All of the tasks were straightforward: draft lining, back stay, and body canvas pieces, and adjust for turn of cloth.

All the tasks, that is, except one. That’s where I hit a snag. Rats.

On the DVD Kenneth says,

Here we have the body front. In the “old school” we had a separate collar piece. For the “new school” we draft the collar piece onto the body, as you can see here. You will join it at the gorge line so the entire piece is cut as one with the body. It will eliminate this seam later in the construction–it simplifies it tremendously.

If you’ve never sewn a notched-collar jacket you may not know how terror-inducing that highly visible stitching crossroads can be to get right–twice. The notch can be bulky, lumpy, uneven, and unfixable. With many hours of construction behind you, your only reward may be one ugly, unwearable jacket.

IMG_9104 (370x460)

From Threads magazine, May 2006, Kenneth King’s article on perfecting notched collars.

In the video Kenneth next turned his attention to drafting the front lining and facing and said nothing more about how to join the under collar and front pattern pieces. But surely the Threads magazine article, “A Notch Above,” in the Bonus Material section, would fill the gap.

IMG_9105 (329x460)

It would be so great to unlock the mystery. Once I understand this I may wonder what had been so confusing.

Well, my knowledge gap was apparently too big. As I’ve said before, I don’t easily grasp patternmaking principles. Once again, my low aptitude for structural visualization was getting in my way.

There is one thing I do know about patternmaking, though: you must focus with laser intensity on accuracy. Otherwise, don’t bother.

I pulled the under collar and front pieces from the jacket pattern I was planning to use, and laid them out. Unlike the pattern pieces illustrated in Threads, mine did not look like jigsaw puzzle pieces naturally fitting together. My pieces still had seam allowances on them, which could account for the lack of fit. But even without seam allowances my pieces did not nestle as I had hoped they would.

The curve in the under collar doesn't match the curve of the neckline. Is there a mistake here? My linen jacket turned out fine.

The curve in the under collar doesn’t match the curve of the neckline. Is there a mistake here? My linen jacket turned out fine.

Either there was a principle at work here that I didn’t understand, or an inaccuracy in my pattern pieces, or both. I didn’t know how to define the problem, so I didn’t know what to try to solve it. It was time to consult an expert.

Tuesday I met with my patternmaking teacher, who agreed to see me before her evening class got started. When I explained about combining pattern pieces to eliminate seams, she said this was something she’d done back in her patternmaking days in the fur industry.

IMG_9109 (460x372)

“It’s that easy.” Perhaps a step-by-step, illustrated process would help me understand this. I certainly hope so.

What I thought would take 15 minutes for Nina before class took much longer, because she tried to teach me along the way, and ended up making the design challenge into a demo for her students. When I left the classroom an hour and a half later I had a rough draft of the new pattern piece and a recommendation to make a muslin to test the result. But–not Nina’s fault–I was still confused how to test my pattern to make absolutely sure it was right before I proceeded.

I left with this rough draft of a single pattern piece. Where to go from here, exactly?

I left with this rough draft of a single pattern piece. Where to go from here, exactly?

As I left the classroom I was already thinking it would be best to learn Kenneth King’s method from Kenneth himself next month. I would reluctantly shelve my “new school” jacket project for now and turn my attention to other sewing projects for five weeks.

IMG_9113 (460x416)

The original lapels. (Regretfully, the top bound buttonhole is a little too high.)

But I suspect that this turn of events has a silver lining. Trying on this Butterick jacket today, I was a little dissatisfied with the style. The front buttons up higher than I like. Would it be easy to change the roll line and lengthen the lapel?

IMG_9115 (460x402)

I folded back the lapels and pinned them down. This length is more flattering on me.

IMG_9114 (395x460)

Would it be easy to change the roll line for next time?

And then I keep wanting to pinch out some fullness under the arm. And maybe raise the armhole a little…

Or maybe it’s time to choose a different pattern. When I do make a “new school” jacket it will be a more flattering cut and worth the wait.

Yesterday I began looking at my UFOs and patterns, pondering what projects I wanted to pursue between now and Kenneth’s class in five weeks. I gazed at my fabric stash as if standing before an open refrigerator wondering what I was hungry for.

Working steadily on my “old school” jacket for months I learned to put on the blinders to all those other tempting sewing projects. I may have learned too well though. Now I don’t know what to do next.

Well, just not yet. I am letting myself savor the possibilities.

McCall 4065, “Misses’ Mannish Jacket,” 1941

Readers,

A few days ago I had the jacket I’ve been making using Kenneth King’s Smart Tailoring DVDs properly lighted and photographed in my sister’s studio.IMG_6680 (460x386)

As you can see, I haven’t sewn the buttonholes or attached buttons yet.

What's left to do? Buttonholes, buttons, and a final press.

What’s left to do? Buttonholes, buttons, and a final press.

I’m pretty sure this fabric is old–possibly from the 1950s–judging from the shades of blues and greens that strike me as different from today’s.

What's going on here? The back vent is not hanging straight. Could pressing remedy this?

What’s going on here? The back vent is not hanging straight. Could pressing remedy this?

New buttons might look fine with this jacket, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to find vintage buttons with subtle shades that complement the coloring of this tweed and the style of this 1941 pattern?

A side view shows the upper and one of the lower patch pockets.

A side view shows the upper and one of the lower patch pockets.

And where better to conduct my search than London, home of mannish jackets and every sort of mannish jacket supplies? So when Jack and I get to London May 31, my quest will be uppermost in my mind.

The felt undercollar, fell stitched to the jacket body, looks nice.

The felt undercollar, fell stitched to the jacket body, looks nice.

The last time I was in London, for the Savile Row tailoring course at the Fashion and Textile Museum, I caught a cold and spent two days lying prostrate instead of dashing around checking out some new sewing and fashion sources, which was frustrating.

I like the way the upper collar wraps to the undercollar. I am wondering whether my sleeve cap is a little too filled out. I will ask Kenneth King when I take his class in July.

I like the way the upper collar wraps to the undercollar. I am wondering whether my sleeve cap is a little too filled out. I will ask Kenneth King when I take his class in July.

Fell stitching, close up. Here again I wonder whether I have put too much padding into the shoulder or sleeve cap.

Rookie fell stitching, close up. Here again I wonder whether I have put too much padding into the shoulder or sleeve cap.

I hope to visit those places this time, but as my sewing teacher Edith says, “You never know.” I may miss places I’d hoped to go to, yet discover other delightful places by sheer chance.

Here's the hidden pocket I learned to make. I think I'll put a hidden pocket into every lined jacket I make from now on.

Here’s the hidden pocket I learned to make. I think I’ll put a hidden pocket into every lined jacket I make from now on.

In a couple of hours Jack and I will leave for the airport. Our three-week trip will take us to a little town in Bavaria, Berlin (my first visit), Cambridge, and London.

The vent is...passable.

The vent is…passable. I was surprised to see how I made the underlap a little too long. I thought I had nailed this.

But the sleeve vent is not my finest work. I'll ask Kenneth how I can improve.

But the sleeve vent is not my finest work. I’ll ask Kenneth how I can improve.

We’re bringing the laptop, and barring technical difficulties, I plan to post during our travels.

Ready for takeoff!

Ready for takeoff!

Installing the Jacket Sleeves and Finishing the Lining–Old School

Readers,

Guess what? I finished my 1941 McCall “Misses’ Mannish Jacket,” except for buttonholes, yesterday!  I’ve handed my creation over to my capable photographer, Cynthia DeGrand, to shoot it in her studio this afternoon.

The linings have been basted to the sleeves to avoid getting twisted later. The tops of the linings remain loose.

The linings have been basted to the sleeves to avoid getting twisted later. The tops of the linings remain loose.

This past week found me following Kenneth King’s demos on his DVD set Smart Tailoring to set in the sleeves by hand and machine and complete sewing in the lining by hand according to “old school” methods.

Kenneth likes to distribute the ease over a long distance--the points I've marked with pins, where the sleeve flattens on itself.

Kenneth likes to distribute the ease over a long distance–the points I’ve marked with pins, where the sleeve flattens on itself.

Make two staggered rows of running stitches by hand inside the seam allowance by about 1/8 inch to ease the seam cap.

Make two staggered rows of running stitches by hand inside the seam allowance by about 1/8 inch to ease the seam cap.

The rows of hand stitching are staggered to gather the cap better.

The rows of hand stitching are staggered to gather the cap better.

As throughout this “old school” process, I was surprised how much I liked doing the handwork. Hand-basting the sleeve into the armhole gave me more control over distributing the ease, and I had no pins in my path when I machine-sewed the sleeve in place.

The right sleeve cap has been gathered and steam-pressed and -shrunk to shape.

The right sleeve cap has been gathered and steam-pressed and -shrunk to shape.

Oh--I forgot to spritz the left sleeve before I tried steaming and pressing the cap. Do not skip the water-spritzing step!

Oh–I forgot to spritz the left sleeve before I tried steaming and pressing the cap. Do not skip the water-spritzing step!

Similarly, I enjoyed more control stitching the lining in place by hand than by machine.

I have sewn this jacket pattern four times before and drafted a shoulder pad to fit, but Kenneth shows how to trim a commercial shoulder pad to fit.

I have sewn this jacket pattern four times before and drafted a shoulder pad for it, but Kenneth shows how to trim a commercial shoulder pad to fit.

With fleece from my stash and the shoulder pad pattern I made previously I made shoulder pads in a jiffy.

With fleece from my stash and the shoulder pad pattern I made previously I made shoulder pads in a jiffy.

When I try Kenneth’s “new school” methods from Smart Tailoring for a second jacket project I’m sure there will be more machine work, and I may be equally satisfied with the result. The big change may be that I will no longer see handwork as fussy or laborious. It certainly doesn’t have to be.

A sleeve head fills out the sleeve cap; Kenneth recommends using a a bias-cut wool flannel.

A sleeve head fills out the sleeve cap; Kenneth recommends using a a bias-cut wool flannel.

The 3" x 10" wool strip is folded and pressed, then zizzag-stitched, folded and pressed again to create tiers.

The 3″ x 10″ wool strip is folded and pressed, then zizzag-stitched, folded and pressed again to create tiers.

Press and steam-shrink the sleeve head to help mold it into its final shape.

Press and steam-shrink the sleeve head to help mold it into its final shape.

The shoulder pad aligns with the sleeve seam allowance.

The shoulder pad aligns with the sleeve seam allowance.

The fold of the sleeve head is placed about an eighth of an inch inside the seam allowance and then is opened up.

The fold of the sleeve head is placed about an eighth of an inch inside the seam allowance and then is opened up.

The sleeve head is unfolded and attached to the sleeve cap with a running stitch.

The sleeve head is unfolded and attached to the sleeve cap with a running stitch.

Although I finished the jacket as much as I could, I don’t have buttons for it yet so I can’t make the buttonholes. And without buttons and buttonholes it isn’t done and is still a project, not a garment.

Once stitched in place, the sleeve head will fold back on itself.

Once stitched in place, the sleeve head will fold back on itself.

The shoulder pads are in both sides, but the sleeve head is only on the right. The other sleeve cap looks a little collapsed.

The shoulder pads are in both sides, but the sleeve head is only on the right. The other sleeve cap looks a little collapsed.

I realized a few weeks ago that I might find wonderful vintage or vintage-looking buttons to go with this vintage pattern and fabric. So I’m waiting till I’m in London a few weeks from now to look in earnest.

In a little while I will join Cynthia and my jacket in the photo studio. See you back here in a couple of days, I hope!IMG_6681 (345x460)

Installing the Sleeve Lining–Old School

Readers,

The word “vent” is followed by “spleen” or “frustration” with some frequency, and I know why.

I spent yesterday afternoon trying to line my sleeve vents neatly the “old school” way following Kenneth King’s instruction in his Smart Tailoring DVD set. And while my first attempt was successful–after a fashion–it wasn’t pretty.

My first lined sleeve vent. Well, it can only get better, right?

My first lined sleeve vent. Well, it can only get better, right?

Apparently there is widespread aversion to lining sleeve vents among even professional sewers.

The sleeves started out innocently enough. Who could know what evil lurked within?

The sleeves started out innocently enough. Who could know what evil lurked within?

Checking some of my home sewing library sources I found only one–Vintage Couture Tailoring, by Thomas von Nordheim— that gave any instruction for lining sleeve vents specifically, as opposed to jacket and skirt vents.

Align the opened seams of the lining with the sleeve.

Align the opened seams of the lining with the sleeve.

Von Nordheim writes,

If you have a working vent construction, as in this jacket [used as the demonstration project in this book], the finishing at the hem is not quite as straightforward. Some Givenchy couture jackets in the author’s collection have fake vents, meaning the vent and blind buttonholes are only done in the shell fabric, but the lining is finished in a straight line around the hem as described. This could be considered a shortcut and not really acceptable in fine bespoke tailoring. Although rarely used, a vent and buttonholes on a sleeve should be made to work.

It does seem odd to bother making a vented sleeve and then use a cylindrical lining that almost entirely covers that lovely mitered overlap.

A running stitch secures the lining to the sleeve, so there's no problem with twisting.

A running stitch secures the lining to the sleeve, so there’s no problem with twisting.

We no longer live in the time when surgeons had vented sleeves so they could unbutton and roll them up in an instant to keep working while continuing to be properly attired.  (Where did I ever hear this explanation of vented sleeves, and is it even true?)

The running stitch starts about 6 inches down from the top of the seam and ends about 4 inches from the bottom.

The running stitch starts about 6 inches down from the top of the seam and ends about 4 inches from the bottom.

Who knows–maybe someday I will have a sink full of dirty dishes to wash when I’m wearing this “McCall Mannish Jacket,” and a bespoke tailor will be passing through the kitchen just as I unbutton and fold back my sleeves and plunge my bared forearms into the suds. The bespoke tailor will notice my beautifully lined vents and say, “Nice work–Gieves and Hawkes?”

Then I’ll wake up.

The underlap lining is stitched in before the overlap lining.

The underlap lining is stitched in before the overlap lining.

Well, if ever I should be in such a situation, I’d like to be prepared. So I gave Kenneth’s instructions a try.

The really tricky part–the only tricky part for me–was judging exactly where to cut into the lining. If you have sewn a vent you know what I mean, and if you haven’t and never will, you probably don’t care to read a boring description by an inept amateur, so I’ll save us both time.

The lining for the overlap is fell stitched along the hem and pick stitched along the vent. I need more practice to make my stitches smaller and more regular.

The lining for the underlap is fell stitched along the hem and pick stitched along the vent. I need more practice to make my stitches smaller and more regular.

The important thing to know about sewing a vented sleeve is there’s this slash you make in the lining so it will turn back just so, and the lining lies neatly and beautifully flat in just the right place with no fiddling.

Kenneth’s lining didn’t just lie beautifully–it reclined languorously, like an odalisque.

Before slashing the lining, I pinned it in place on the overlap.

Before slashing the lining, I pinned it in place on the overlap.

He made it look easy. The camera came in for a super closeup. Kenneth found the place to cut to, marked it with a pin, positioned his tailors’ scissors, and made one decisive clip.

I watched this seconds-long section repeatedly, trying to divine how he knew where to cut into this lining. Once you cut, there is no uncutting, so I wanted a formula to follow.

You see, in the aptitude battery I took a few years back I scored low in the paper-fold test, which measures how well you can imagine and recollect…uh…marks on paper that are hidden by folds.

Now, you might not think imagining and recollecting marks on paper hidden by folds is an aptitude until you’re up against lining a sleeve vent. Then you will have wished you scored higher. Because you have to be able to grasp how the lining lies now and what will happen if you cut into the lining at this angle or that angle and which is the best angle.

I tried to simulate the situation with a piece of folded paper, which at least helped me avert a full-out blunder.

Using a paper mockup I tried to imagine where to slash and fold back the lining. This little exercise helped some.

Using a paper mockup I tried to imagine where to slash and fold back the lining. This little exercise helped some.

After staring at my sleeve lining for so long you would have thought I was trying a new meditation exercise, I made a tentative cut, an irrevocable decision.

I finally took the plunge, slashed the lining, and turned it under to cover the overlap--with so-so results.

I finally took the plunge, slashed the lining, and turned it under to cover the overlap–with so-so results.

It was not too bad.

Not too good, either.

The resulting lined vented sleeve lacks finesse, but I can only go up from there, right?

I had another sleeve to go, another chance at achieving excellence in vent-lining, but the spirit was not willing. I opted to slipstitch the lining in place temporarily.

Left: the vent is lined. Right: I slipstitched the lining temporarily. I will finish the vent properly under Kenneth's tutelage in July.

Left: the vent is lined. Right: I slipstitched the lining temporarily. I will finish the vent properly under Kenneth’s tutelage in July.

I’ll bring the sleeve, which should be attached to the jacket shortly, to Kenneth’s tailoring details class in Cleveland in July to get advice from the maestro himself.

Together we can roll up our sleeves and plunge into the task of lining to impress even the most meticulous bespoke tailor–or surgeon.