My Latest “I’m Glad I Sew!” Moment

Readers,

If you sew, you’ll know just what I mean.

I’ll pop into a clothing store and, after checking out the shoes and accessories, browse the racks, admittedly without enthusiasm.

The usual comments run through my mind like a news crawl:
Too big. Wrong color. Too trendy. Boring. Huge armholes! What is this weird fabric? They want how much for this?

Minutes later I’ll walk out, shaking my head.

Then Jack and I will have our usual conversation:

“Find anything?”

“I’m glad I sew!”

My latest “I’m glad I sew!” moment came last Friday morning when I accompanied my sister on a jaunt to the salvage store and outlet store of a famous outdoorsy clothing brand searching for plain, black, rugged, classic shorts for her. Oh, and with back pockets . That’s not asking for too much, right?

Wrong. Nothing ticked all these basic boxes.

We moved on to a discount department store chain, where she fared somewhat better. We left that store with two pairs of shorts, with a top thrown in for good measure. But the purchases were not made with any sense of satisfaction, let alone excitement.

The faces of the women I saw entering and exiting the fitting rooms expressed a grim reality : depending on ready-to-wear to meet all your wardrobe needs is an iffy proposition. And pretty much forget about meeting your wardrobe dreams.

It was already on my to-do list to sew pants and shorts for my sister once we’d gotten a pattern fitted for her, but after that morning’s rounds I was downright adamant. Having clothes that dependably fit and flatter despite the vagaries of fashion isn’t just a wardrobe upgrade–it’s a life upgrade.

Being able to sew my own clothes has given me a sense of agency that being a ready-to-wear shopper never did and never will.  Even though I still don’t have a full complement of sewing skills or a core collection of fitted patterns (both of which I am actively working toward) I’m still benefiting greatly from what I do know how to do.

If you sew, I think again you’ll know what I mean. Sewing is not just the production of a tangible result: a garment, draperies, a tent. It’s a process of aesthetic and technical judgment calls that is often profoundly satisfying.

I remember years ago as a pastry intern at the Campton Place Hotel in San Francisco saying to the head pastry chef, “Now I see what your job is all day long: making decisions,” and he agreed. Cooking and baking from scratch, as well as sewing from scratch, are processes that depend on a body of knowledge that can be very rewarding to build over a lifetime.

That Friday afternoon was about as different an experience as possible from my morning of rummaging through dozens of rumpled pairs of pants and shorts piled in bins at the salvage store. I spent it in my sewing room, mulling over which color stripes I wanted to accentuate in the blouse I was going to sew.

I made “preview windows” of the front, back, collar, and collar band pattern pieces to help me imagine my blouse before I made a single cut into the fabric.

I had already sewn Vogue 8772 many times before, and the fit and construction were close to perfect. Now I could concentrate on how I could play up certain colors and contrast to flatter my own coloring and contrast.

I pulled colors from my palette to consider for sewing coordinating skirts, jackets, cardigans, and pants.

I thought about buttons. The best ones I had were kind of purplish-pinkish-grayish imitation mother-of-pearl. They decided me on placing the purple and pink stripes at the right center front.

What color should the buttonholes be?

This was an unbalanced stripe, which made me think about whether I wanted to have the stripe pattern on the two fronts as mirror images or have the stripe continue in one direction around the body.  The back was one piece cut on the fold.  I could have made the back with a center seam and done mirror images on the back, too, allowing me match the stripes at the shoulder seam, which would have been a cool effect.

Do I want the prominent stripes positioned like this?

Or have the stripes like this?

I didn’t think about that at the time, and even if I had, I might have been too lazy to do the extra work of matching.

The whole afternoon I moved at the placid pace of fish in a dentist’s aquarium, shifting my preview windows around and contemplating various possibilities.

Finally, I cut the right front. That dictated the cut of the left front.

Then I decided where to place the prominent color bars on the back.

Later, I pondered the colors I wanted on the collar, right next to my face.  I cut the collar. Then the band. (Armhole facings, too, but I didn’t do any matching.)

Over the next few days I sewed the blouse. Tuesday evening I sewed on the last button.

I like my new blouse.

On a different day I may have chosen differently. I could have put a green stripe on center front and looked for green buttons, or matched the shoulder seams, or done some other effect. But I’m happy with what I did.

I’m happy not just with the result, but with this absorbing process.

Is it any wonder, then, that I’m glad I sew?

Vogue Patterns 8772 Blouse: Short-sleeved Version

Readers,

This has been my summer of blouse-sewing. I cranked out several sleeveless renditions of Vogue Patterns 8772 in June, which I’ve been wearing and enjoying a lot.

Next, I tried a version with sleeves.

The collar, I see, doesn’t cover the neckline seam. Call that a pilot error–it’s not a fault of the pattern. I just didn’t fold the collar down right.

Yes, now I see I didn’t fold the collar down right for the photo.

I was wondering whether I’d need to add a little width to the back pattern piece to allow for a more freedom of movement in the sleeve versions.

In a sleeve version I think I want a little more width in the back pattern piece.

This blouse is perfectly wearable, but next time I’ll try adding 1/4th inch width in the back pattern piece across the shoulder area, giving a total of an extra 1/2 inch in the garment, and compare.

I also put my new blouse to the O-H-I-O test, which is extremely important in the land of the Ohio State University Buckeyes:

“O!”

“H!”

“I!”

“O!”

It passed.

(Photos by Cynthia DeGrand)

Butterick 6026, Blouse by Katherine Tilton

Readers,

I was browsing recently through a lot of photos my photographer had shot in a session last fall and realized I’d never gotten around to writing about this Misses’ top designed by Katherine Tilton that I’d made.

I just looked through my notes to recollect what changes I made. They were the usual ones: folding out a little excess, which raised the underarm, the waist, and the positioning of the pin tucks. I think I narrowed the back piece a little, too.

I’d never made pin tucks before. I knew I had to do these 1/16″ tucks precisely so that the neckline edge would be the right length for properly attaching the collar. My sewing machine manual showed how to use the blind hem attachment–

to make the pin tucks:

You seasoned pin tuckers are probably laughing up your sleeves, but I was amazed that I was able to achieve accurate results easily after just a little practice.

I chose a cross-dye cotton for a practice run.

The fit turned out fine.

But even though I enjoyed making this blouse I don’t have plans for another one.  For one thing, I’m actually not keen on the effect of the pin tucks on me.  I think the lines draw the eye toward this poofy middle, where the viewer may wonder whether I had seconds of everything at the brunch buffet last weekend.

I mentioned this suspicion to a friend, who assured me it was all in my imagination.  Maybe so. I still think there are more flattering looks out there for me, like the Vogue 8772 blouses I sewed a few weeks ago.

Also, I like having a blouse I can choose to wear tucked or untucked.  This blouse is one to wear untucked only, to show off those radiating lines.

Speaking of showing off radiating lines, when I first saw Katherine Tilton’s pattern I was reminded of Ginger Rogers in The Gay Divorcee.

Now that is a striking effect!

(Photos of me are by Cynthia DeGrand .)

 

Vogue Patterns 8772: Easy Options Blouses

Readers,

Even though summer can be the easiest and most fun season to sew for, I didn’t sew much for summer during our years in Minnesota.  After all, it wasn’t till May that I was finally convinced I could probably go outdoors without a coat, and in September I was bracing myself for the first coworker to make a nasty crack about when the first snowflakes could be expected to fall.

I made this sleeveless blouse but in a shorter version.

To shrink the summer-sewing window of opportunity smaller yet, we often traveled in June, July, or August–sometimes to places with fabric stores selling wonderful cottons and linens for light dresses and sleeveless blouses.  In New York, Chicago, and even Glasgow a citrus-colored handkerchief linen or snappy seersucker would catch my eye and sneak into my suitcase for the trip home–where it would languish desolately in the chill of my basement sewing domain.

Vogue 8772: the muslin

Oh sure, I can hear you say, I could have sewn for summer at another time of year–but that would have required me to, number 1, take off my thermal underwear to try on that dress or blouse, and, number 2, believe that warm weather would ever return.  Ha–I was nobody’s fool!  And so I lived with a serviceable but hardly extensive summer wardrobe for years–not that anybody noticed.

Extra fabric at the waist interferes with a smooth line.

Now that I’m back in central Ohio, I’ve noticed.  In reality and in spirit, summer is definitely here.  The peach trees here are set to produce an unheard-of two crops this season.  Strawberries, corn, tomatoes are all showing up early and in abundance, begging to be used–just like my summer fabric stash.

That gaping armhole must go!

Rummaging through the back of my closet a few weeks ago, I found muslins I’d put away late last August– too late for slowpoke me to fit, alter, and sew those patterns into summer attire. But now, for once, I could consider myself ahead of the game.  I tried on my muslin of Vogue Easy Options 8772, read through my notes from last year, and it really wasn’t long before I had produced a wearable test and three well-fitting sleeveless blouses.

To improve the fit and look called for some simple changes within my very limited but adequate alteration abilities:

  • moving the armhole up a little to avoid annoying gaping
  • raising the bust dart half an inch
  • tucking out an inch or so of excess length in the back waist and shortening the front to match
  • changing the armhole finish from a bias strip to a facing

    Drafting a facing to replace the simple bias strip the pattern called for.

    In the muslin I found the bias-strip facing bulky and I wanted a finish that would distribute the bulk more nicely: a facing.

Wearable test: the armhole gap is still there.

In this drapey linen-rayon the excess at the waist really shows.

Another view of that unsightly, but fixable, ripple of extra fabric in the back.

Could I just fold this out and make it disappear, please?

Next: a seersucker. I do like this blouse, despite my inscrutable expression.

I tucked out about an inch in the back pattern piece. Maybe I could have fussed more with it but I’m happy.

Given my limited fitting skills, I’m fine with this result.

Very important: the armhole passes the volleyball test. (And no, I was not the gym class volleyball star.)

Now I’m happy with the fit. I rifled my stashes to make this version from a cross-dye cotton shirting and handsome black mother of pearl buttons.

Should I take in a little more in the back darts, or would that be overfitting? Possibly the latter.

Pass/fail? It’s a pass. Oh, but what’s going on with that left shoulder?

The armhole passes the hailing-a-taxi test.

Having worked out the fit issues I could confidently cut into a favorite fabric: a summery John Kaldor stretch cotton

Nice.

The–crisp?–feel to this cotton may be due to the spandex, so this fabric doesn’t drape. But the pattern is well suited to this fabric so all is well.

The armhole passes the hailing-a-drone test.

This Vogue Easy Options blouse lives up to its name:  it is easy to sew, and just the sleeveless option by itself is putting variety into my summer wardrobe at a swift pace.

I’ve since sewn a short-sleeved version that was equally successful with a couple of tweaks, which will appear in a future post.

(Photos of me are by Cynthia DeGrand)

Mindful Entertainment

Readers,

The project I’m working on at the moment is so boring (a pants muslin) that I can hardly bear to write about it, much less take pictures of it.  Maybe a professional could style and light a pants muslin brilliantly, but I sure can’t.

Great-fitting pants: worth the effort to make, of course, but not exciting to write about.

Great-fitting pants: worth the effort to make, of course, but not exciting to write about.

The interesting part of sewing pants is, frankly, getting them done.  For my figure, simpler lines in skirts and pants work best. Jackets, vests, coats, tops, dresses, hats, and scarves allow much greater creative range and challenge for me.

To get through the boring parts of projects I like to take breaks by visiting the Vintage Patterns Wiki.  Browsing page after page of vintage pattern envelope illustrations is, I was going to say, mindless entertainment, but actually, it’s the opposite for me. It’s mindful entertainment: I have loads of fun looking at pictures intently and picking out the ones I like the most.

I copy and paste the images of my favorite pattern designs into a Microsoft OneNote notebook I set up for myself for wardrobe and sewing ideas, and add comments that are keyword-searchable.

In pants, simpler is better for me. Tops are where I put the distinctive details.

In pants, simpler is better for me. Tops are where I put the distinctive details.

I can impulsively add any pattern illustrations I like, and if I change my mind, delete them later. Over time I can see which patterns have staying power and whether they have common elements that suggest a wardrobe direction.

Recently I’ve been browsing vintage blouse patterns, to use great fabrics from my stash and to go with jackets I’ve made or am planning to make. What great choices the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s offered! And so many would fit effortlessly into today’s wardrobes.

Here are some of the blouses that caught my eye.  Long live Vintage Pattern Wiki!

1950s. Nice on its own or under a jacket.

1952. Nice on its own or under a jacket.

1952. A chance to use beautiful vintage buttons.

1952. A chance to use beautiful vintage buttons.

400px-Vogue900 (345x460)

1953. Vogue Couturier Design 774. The blouse has a simple shape but has that extra detail that makes it special. When I look at a design like this I think, “I’m glad I sew!” because  I can choose to make this.

1944. The masculine shoulder line of the war years is balanced by gathers and frills.

1944. The masculine shoulder line of the war years is balanced by gathers and frills.

1930s. The importance of a jacket without all the work of tailoring. Interesting collar/lapels, and a chance to use vintage buttons.

1930s. The importance of a jacket without all the work of tailoring. Interesting collar/lapels, and a chance to use vintage buttons.

1930s. It's less the blouse in this case as it's the high-waisted skirt that completes the ensemble that grabs me.

1930s. It’s not the blouse alone; it’s the combination with  the high-waisted skirt that I really like here.

1954. A convertible hood. I like the idea, but would this look good on me, or just strange?

1954. A convertible hood. I like the idea, but would this look good on me, or just strange?

1952. Vogue Paris Original Model 1162. The jacket is gorgeous, but Schiaparelli made the blouse a stunner, too.

1952. Vogue Paris Original Model 1162. The jacket is gorgeous, but Schiaparelli made the blouse a stunner, too.

1952. A nice way to bring the eye up.

1952. One way to bring the eye up.

1953. The diagonal stripes go in the other direction but also bring the eye up.

1957. Could this be a candidate for drapey knits as well as wovens?

1957. Could this be a candidate for drapey knits as well as wovens?