Project: McCall’s 8814, Coat (1952), part 1

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I’ve pulled a 1952 coat pattern I want to make up as a raincoat for spring and summer.  But first, as is the practice at Getting Things Sewn, I’m making a wearable test. (I just caught myself thinking “bearable test.” That too.)

What’s a wearable test?  I learned this from Edith, my sewing teacher. It’s what you sew after correcting the pattern from the muslin (you did sew a muslin, didn’t you?) and before you cut into your “good” fabric for the final version.

At Getting Things Sewn, it’s like this:

In the beginning was the pattern.

Then Edith said, “Let there be a muslin.”

And Paula made a muslin.

The muslin. (Not professionally photographed.)

The muslin. (Not professionally photographed. Or styled. Or modeled.)

And Edith said, “The shoulder needs tweaking.  Put in a shoulder pad.  Let’s shorten the sleeve a little but not too much. The pocket size and the fullness of the coat are fine, not too much for your [shrimpy] size.”

And Edith altered the pattern pieces.

And Edith said it was good. Make a wearable test.

And Paula looked through her stash for a suitable wearable test fabric. (That means one she could afford to sacrifice if she messed up badly.)  She chose a mottled brown wool-silk blend she bought a few years back. Yards and yards of it, for peanuts.

And Edith said it was good. But underline it for more body, warmth, and stability.

And then Paula looked through her button stash for five big buttons to go with the mottled brown.

But Edith (and Shelly, who was there, too) said No good.  You will have to shop for buttons.

And Paula said that was good.

And then Edith and Shelly departed.

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The buttons are 1 1/2 inches wide.

And then Paula searched Etsy for buttons. She found some big, coppery-rusty colored buttons just the right size and number for her fabric.  And she e-mailed the link to Edith and Shelly.

And they said the buttons were good.  And so Paula ordered them.

Okay, enough of the third-person narrative.

I’m pretty crazy about this coat.  The big pockets with the big tabs and big buttons, the swing-coat style, the balance between practicality and decorativeness, the relatively simple construction all appeal to me.  It’s a 1950s pattern that’s of its time without being stuck in it. Using my chart, this coat looks to be a good fit for the occasions and activities in my life, my personality, style, and silhouettes that flatter me.

But I’ve been wrong before.  This style, or my rendition, may be a disappointment.  Hence the wearable test.

I’m hopeful, though.  What sewer isn’t?

The mottled brown fabric could look boring. But I found its closest match on the Yellow-Orange card

of my 3-in-1 Color Tool.  Yellow-orange!

The browns in my wool find a match on the Yellow-Orange color card.

The browns in my wool find a match on the Yellow-Orange color card.

One of its complementary color cards is turquoise, which is a great color for me.  I found some beautiful deep turquoise Ambiance rayon lining at Treadle Yard Goods in St. Paul.

Ambiance rayon bemberg lining in a deep turquoise enlivens my brown wool.

Ambiance rayon bemberg lining in a deep turquoise enlivens my brown wool.

This turquoise just brings my fabric to life.

And turquoise also pairs wonderfully with other colors I can wear like tomato red or greenish yellow.  Definitely a reward of sewing your own coat is choosing the lining color–and then planning garments that will look fabulous with the outside and the inside of your coat.  That’s luxury.

For the underlining I bought a cotton-polyester broadcloth.

This past weekend I cut all the fashion fabric and underlining, and underlined all the pieces.

I’m still mulling over interfacings.  Interfacings are not my favorite subject.  Fusible or not? Woven, nonwoven, knit? Soft? Crisp?

I ask myself Edith’s question: “What do you want to accomplish?”  Okay, this coat has more body because of the underlining.  I just want a little more definition in the upper and under collar, pockets, front facings, cuff and hem.  A common sewing mistake is to interface too heavily. I’ll err on the side of lighter rather than heavier weight.

I’ll interface some samples and feel and look at them. Then decide.

I’m making bound buttonholes for this coat, and made a couple of samples this morning.  I used Marta Alto and Pati Palmer’s instructions from both their DVD and book Jackets for Real People. I’ve used their windowpane method before and gotten good results.  But I have to practice first.

Bound buttonhole trial runs. The one on the right is better.

Bound buttonhole trial runs. The one on the right is better.

My first try was too long and too wide, and the lips were uneven.  For my second try I made it a little shorter and narrower. Much better.  It’s difficult to show the different results using this fabric.  The one on the right is better.

Next on my docket are making those big patch pockets with bound-buttonhole tabs, interfacing the front facings, collars, etc., and stitching the main coat pieces together.

Until next time, readers, happy sewing to you.

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Who’s Got the Button? Editing My Button Stash

Readers,

Fabric and buttons that have matches on the Orange card.

Fabric and buttons that have matches on the Orange card.

Having recently edited my fabric stash and fresh from revisiting David Allen’s penetrating questions about projects and next actions, I was primed to edit my button stash.  It’s grown an awful lot since I discovered button dealers in London selling treasures from the 1930s through ’50s, sometimes on their original cards.  Now I understand why you’d want to start with a button and design a whole garment around it.

Before that, for me, buttons were almost an afterthought.  I’d make the garment and then before making the buttonholes I’d bring the garment to the fabric store to find a button of the right size and kind of the right color and style.  I just made do with whatever I could find. And my button stash reflected that.  Aside from the magnificent vintage buttons from London, which I would definitely keep, I had leftover extra buttons from ancient projects,

Buttons awaiting evaluation

Buttons awaiting evaluation

buttons I’d bought for projects I never did start, buttons harvested from old garments, and odd castoffs from other people’s button jars.

Well, that wasn’t good enough anymore.  Buttons that don’t suit my purposes or preferences need to be put back into the great sewing supply stream to inspire someone else.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon I gathered together my 3-in-1 Color Tool,

3-in-1 Color Tool

3-in-1 Color Tool

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My pattern binders

fabric swatches, binders of photocopied pattern envelopes, and all my buttons to view in natural light.

I also had that page of sticky notes I call The Chart in front of me.  The Context and Individual columns have categories that prompt questions.

For instance, the Individual column asks, “Does this [fill in the blank] match up with my personality? Style? Fit? Silhouette? Most flattering colors? Physical characteristics? What I’m psychologically growing into?”

The Context and Individual columns of The Chart

The Context and Individual columns of The Chart

The Context column asks, “Does this [fill in the blank] match up with the occasion it’s being designed for? The activities? The roles? The physical conditions? The mood of the occasion? Other items in my wardrobe? Other sewing supplies? What occasions, roles, etc. I’m moving into?

I also had at hand David Allen’s questions:

  • “What’s your intention with this thing?”
  • “What’s the open loop?”
  • “What’s the commitment?”
  • “What’s the project?”
  • “What’s the successful outcome?”
  • “What’s the next step?”

Maybe all of this sounds overwrought and overthought. But actually, the setup took only minutes.

And I wanted to be sure to ask better questions to get better answers.  When I’ve started with the question “Should I keep this?” and answered with

  • “I bought that at the shop that was going out of business…”
  • “It was expensive!”
  • “It was a bargain!”
  • “I could use it…”
  • “That was a gift…”
  • “I couldn’t get rid of that!”
  • “I don’t know.”

these supplies end up not being used anyway.  No inspiration, no clearing of physical or mental space occur.

So I needed to break the feedback loop (if that’s the term I want) of canned answers by asking different questions.

Here is what I found.

About 90 percent of my buttons were definite keepers.  No further decision needed to be made.

For the remainders, color was usually the deciding factor.  If it was hard to characterize the color, I’d find the closest match on a 3-in-1 Color Tool card.

Finding the closest color matches

Finding the closest color matches

As with my fabrics, I was sometimes surprised that the best match was on one of my most flattering color cards.  If I’m going to use a button it’s because it will complement fabrics that flatter my coloring.  It was so interesting to see a button that looked neutral on its own cozy right up to various different colors it was paired with.  Color experts may be rolling their eyes at this obvious fact, but I still find this remarkable.

Chameleon-like buttons take on the attributes of the colors they're next to

Chameleon-like buttons take on the attributes of the colors they’re next to

Sometimes a button passed the color test but was eliminated for style.  Leather, plastic, mother of pearl, wood, and horn buttons that were too few or too big or small were more limited in their possibilities for my wardrobe, and I put most into the donation pile.

I go into an organizing project thinking I’ll just end up having a little less stuff, more space, and better order.  But I’m finding that asking the questions I listed above is yielding richer results that affect my outlook for the future. Orderliness might be the least valuable result. I’m taking stock of what matters to me and what I want to be responsible for.

When I asked David Allen’s questions, I had answers like this:

  • I am not committed to keeping buttons that aren’t a match for my preferences and purposes.
  • I am committed to making a beautiful wardrobe, and buttons are a part of that.
  • All my supplies should be organized.  My buttons are disorganized, discouraging me from using them.
  • I intend to have my buttons be easy to see and to use.
  • I intend to use my beautiful buttons, not let them sit unused in my basement for years.
  • I intend to design beautiful garments with buttons as the starting point.
  • Successful outcomes are an edited collection of buttons, buttons incorporated into my garments, and the garments part of a wardrobe that I enjoy wearing.
  • The next steps are bagging all the buttons I’ll keep, setting aside the donations for the Textile Center sale, and writing my post.

Notice: not a “should” or “could” or “would” in sight, and no past tense.

Some buttons being released back into the great sewing stream

Some buttons being released back into the great sewing stream

As I answered David Allen’s questions (in a mind map–very fun–that deserves its own post) I was amazed at what my fingers were tapping out.  You see, I love those vintage buttons from London.  (For lots of pictures of those, just search my name on Facebook and see my albums.)  And I claim that I’ll really use them all.  I believe that.  But for it to happen, I must commit and plan.  And it would be so easy to not commit and not plan, just subscribe to some fiction that I will.  I mean, who would know the difference?

It may seem like a very small thing, not to use some Art Deco buttons I brought home as a souvenir.  But I somehow think it’s a very big thing.  It’s a sneaky little way I can promise and fail to keep a promise to myself–not just to use a button but to use time and talents.

Some of the buttons I bought are on their original cards from the 1950s, if not earlier.

On their original card for decades

On their original card for decades

Imagine being a button attached to a card for sixty years or more, waiting to be used.  I saw scores of such cards on visits to vintage fairs and street markets.  I felt as if–this may sound strange–they were hostages waiting for their release.

Imagine, then, that I bring them back home only to prolong their captivity.

I don’t think  I anthropomorphize more than average, but those buttons…they’re nagging at me!

Or–beckoning?

Isn’t it tempting to hold back some favorite supply–a fabric, or a bottle of wine, for that matter–for just the right moment?  That moment that never seems to come, though.  So things–and talents–end up not getting used.

I’m thinking that what Annie Dillard said in The Writing Life could be applied equally to sewing supplies.

One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems to be good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.

Well.  I’m going to try to be more like that.  A good start came in today’s mail delivery.

Last week I decided to sew a winter-into-spring swing coat using a 1952 McCall’s pattern and stash fabric.  My two sewing expert friends and I found no big coat buttons in my stash that would work.  But research on Etsy found exactly the right size, color and number of big, rust-colored vintage buttons I needed.  I ordered another irresistibly odd set of buttons, in milk chocolate and white, from the same vendor, Peach Parlor.

Arrived today.  The big ones are destined for a coat.

Arrived today. The big ones are destined for a coat.

Readers, I am committed to giving these buttons new homes.  Watch this space.

 

 

Fabric Stash-Busting, continued

Readers, the brow is wrinkled.  If only I could escort you to my basement sewing domain it would be so easy to demonstrate how I evaluated each of my fabrics and decided whether to keep or release it.

I’d show you how my fabrics looked before–crowded and disheveled huddled masses

Before

Before

–and after–

breathing free in a more open space.

After

After

You’d notice I’d be breathing freer, too.  Why?

Because I wouldn’t be wasting my precious time, energy, and creativity on pointless rationalizations.

No loss-aversion thinking: “I can’t get rid of that!” (Of course I can. Who’s running this joint?)

No sappy nostalgia: “I bought that on a beautiful spring day in New York!”  (So? You want to sew it, or put it in an album?)

No misplaced “can do” attitude: “Make it work!” (Sorry, Tim Gunn: I can–but I’m choosing not to.)

I’d pull that blue, green and cream vintage tweed I snapped up at the Textile Center sale a few years back and place my blue coating remnant next to it.  Then I’d lay the matching cards, Blue-Green 6 and Aqua Green 7,  from my 3-in-1 Color Tool on top of them.

Finding the matching Color Tool cards.

Finding the matching Color Tool cards.

I’d tell you, “These are wonderful colors for me.  And just look”–flipping the cards over to show the color plans–“I can combine them with other warm greens or blues, or orange or orangey reds, or purple or red-violet. These are also great color choices for me.”

“I love this,” I’d say.  “I love discovering the colors of my fabrics and seeing a range of related tones, shades and tints I could include.  I love flipping the card over and seeing the various relationships on the color wheel that I can translate into color combinations with depth and sophistication.”

Now really warming up to my subject, I’d pull out my cache of buttons.  I bought dozens of cards of buttons from the 1930s to ’50s at vintage fashion fairs and street markets in London and Greenwich on two long visits.

“See this wool, kind of a cafe au lait color?  I was thinking maybe it was boring and that I should let it go.  But when I looked for the closest color match, it was on the Orange 21 card.  And on the same card are these pale to rich corals and these deep, winy reds.

Fabric and buttons that have matches on the Orange card.

Fabric and buttons that have matches on the Orange card.

Then I rummaged through my buttons and found these that are close to other shades on the orange card.    I’m not looking at the styles so much as the colors.  It’s so interesting how the different button colors each bring out something unique in that wool.”

“On the other hand, I did let go of some fabrics that had ‘my’ colors.  Like this big, splashy floral-printed rayon.

I think this splashy floral would overwhelm me...

I think this splashy floral would overwhelm me…

I had this suspicion that I wouldn’t be wearing it; it would be wearing me.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But here’s another floral print.  It’s assertive–and yet I don’t have that overwhelmed feeling.  So this one stays.”

...but this floral does not feel overwhelming.

…but this floral does not feel overwhelming.

“Here’s another example: this floral cotton in kind of spicy shades, saffron and paprika.  The colors are great.  I love how the pattern looks different on each side.  But again, I had this feeling that the pattern was too busy for me and I’d get lost in the shuffle. It was a tough call, but I’m going to bid this one adieu.”

Warm, spicy colors--but the pattern is too busy for me, I concluded.

Warm, spicy colors–but the pattern is too busy for me, I concluded.

I had eight or ten fabrics like that cotton, I’d tell you.  Not all spice-colored, or floral, or busy, no, but just fabrics that were…never right enough to be chosen for a project, but never wrong enough, either, to be excluded from consideration.

When I did my big review, I’d say, I noticed something.  If I had to really try to imagine either wearing the fabric or combining it with other fabrics or wardrobe items, it was not a keeper.  And if I were to override this hunch and sew the fabric into a garment, I wouldn’t wear it.

In his memoir Hitch 22 Christopher Hitchens wrote, “Even as I tried to convince myself, I realized what I have often had to accept since: that if you have to try and persuade yourself of something, you are already much inclined to doubt or distrust it.”

Good advice for evaluating stashes.

Then, readers, I would tell you that at the end of the process I had gone through 66 pieces of fabric. I  had matched each to its corresponding color cards. I better understood what colors were in the fabric and what it could coordinate with.

I like warm colors. The cool colored fabrics didn’t play well with my other fabrics and wardrobe.  Not “playing well with others” was the deal breaker.

I knew exactly why I was keeping or letting go of every single piece.  I didn’t force myself into any decision.  I chose.  And I ended up with 17 pieces–25 percent of my stash–set aside to donate to the Textile Center’s annual sale in April.

When I put the keepers back on their shelves, I marveled at how much more interesting and inspiring they were now.  Without the distractions of the problematic fabrics, my preferences in colors, textures, weaves and patterns emerged more clearly.  My creativity would go toward making coordinated outfits, not justifying mistaken purchases or straining to include fabrics that belonged in someone else’s life.

Then, readers, I’d show you the primitive little “spreadsheet” I drew up in a few minutes with one sheet of paper, a pencil, and a ruler.  I was curious to know what more I could learn from listing the reasons and facts pertaining to each of my donation fabrics.

My "spreadsheet" of fabrics I let go.

My “spreadsheet” of fabrics I let go.

I took a picture of my spreadsheet, but it’s hard to read the pencil markings.  It’s easy to explain, though.  Along the left-hand side I listed the fabrics.  Across the top I listed the reasons and facts.  Here are a few:

  • Cool or unflattering colors
  • Mid-range coloring: boring
  • My taste or lifestyle has changed
  • Type of fabric or motif limits the applications too much
  • Doesn’t play well with others
  • Bought on a trip/at a sewing expo/at a one-day sale

Readers, I’d tell you that this quick little spreadsheet was quite enlightening.  Almost all of my donation fabrics had been bought on trips or at one-day sales.  Hmm.  I’ll be more careful now.

Not right for me, but very right for someone else.

Not right for me, but very right for someone else.

I’d want to tell you just one more thing before you exited my sewing domain.  I feel good about what I’m giving away.  Those “not right” fabrics will be very right for someone else.

It’s time they ignited some other sewer’s imagination.

So readers, how do you decide which fabrics to keep and which to let go?  Is it a hard process or easy for you?

Fabric Stash-Busting Without Tears

Readers,

Does the prospect of editing your fabric stash–you do have one, don’t you?–fill you with excitement? Dread? Curiosity?  I had all those feelings as I approached the task of evaluating each piece of yardage in my sewing space.

66 fabrics and a reel of rickrack

66 fabrics and a reel of rickrack

I wasn’t sure at first how I’d decide what fabrics would stay and which would go.  But it was time to get serious.

I was getting more distracted than inspired by so many fabrics.  Some I’d held onto for more than a decade, with still only the sketchiest of plans for them.  Some fabrics were souvenirs of great trips to New York’s garment district, or Boston, or Chicago, and had attained some mythic status connected to a past that just kept receding.  Were my aspirations outdated?

After New Year’s I’m always seized by a powerful urge to clear out and organize stuff.  And here in the Twin Cities, the Textile Center’s annual sale in mid-April is the perfect place to donate my castoff sewing supplies.

Combine the push of distraction and overwhelm with the pull of the urge to clear out, the deadline for Textile Center donations, and my quest to get my things sewn: nothing could stop me now.

However, my aim was not to weed my stash by some preset percentage.  It was to use my chart to really look at each fabric afresh, first on its own and then with other fabrics, buttons, patterns, clothes and accessories to imagine the role it could play in my wardrobe.  If a fabric got my creative juices flowing and “played well” with others, it was kept, simple as that.

Even so, I easily, willingly set aside a quarter of my stash for donation to the Textile Center. Isn’t that interesting?

Well, I think so.   Weeding a stash can feel as fun as dieting or budgeting.  It can taste of deprivation.  But examining a stash to clarify and define a beautiful wardrobe for myself is–just plain fun.

Okay, enough buildup.   What was my process?

Since I wanted photos of my fabrics for this post, I set up a clothes drying rack on a table and a few lights in my basement sewing space near my stash.  I took a picture of each fabric overall, draped over the rack, and another picture close up to capture details.

My photos aren’t professional quality, that’s for sure.  I can barely recognize some subtly colored and textured fabrics.  Nevertheless, taking pictures helped me see each fabric for what it was, apart from the stories I’d attached to it.

Here’s an example.

Wool that's been in my stash since 1999.

Wool that’s been in my stash since 1999.

Closeup.

Closeup.

I’ve loved this snappy black and white checked wool since I bought it in Chicago in 1999 at the branch of Vogue Fabrics that used to be in Water Tower Place.

The inspiration.

The inspiration.

This suit inspired my purchase.  I can remember buying the fabric, discussing the suit, and selecting buttons with the advice of a great salesperson.  All these years I replayed these memories every time I saw this fabric–as if the point of its existence wasn’t to be transformed into a garment, but to remain a travel souvenir!

Unfurling the wool from the shelf, taking pictures, and examining its beautiful self pulled me back into active mode and the present.  I scattered new button possibilities over the wool, and considered different patterns.  A reversible topper from the 1950s? A cape?  Stick with a fitted jacket?

Checking out possibilities using vintage buttons or a buckle bought in London.

Checking out possibilities using buttons and buckles from London vintage fashion fairs.

Whatever my original ambitions, how did this fabric rate in my present life using the Individual and Context columns of The Chart?  Did this fabric still suit my personality and style today?  Could I see this attending events and supporting roles in my present and future life?  Did it work well with other fabrics or wardrobe items?  Were the colors, pattern and scale flattering?  Yes to all questions.  This is a keeper.

I also used the 3-in-1 Color Tool by Joen Wolfrom, the version published in 2003.  Each of the 24 cards has a pure color and tints and shades of that color.

The 3-in-1 Color Tool by Joen Wolfrom

The 3-in-1 Color Tool by Joen Wolfrom

I love color but have no training in it.  For me, this tool is an educational toy that shows me relationships I’d never realized.

Ten years ago an excellent color and image consultant pronounced me a “contrasting Autumn” whose most flattering tones were warm and dramatic. They included mustards, rusts, mossy greens, orangey reds, turquoise, reddish purples, chocolate and caramel browns, and black.  Black is a tricky color for me, but those autumn tones are great.

As I would pull each fabric from the shelf I’d find the best matches on the corresponding color cards.  Say the match was on card 24: Golden Yellow.  I could flip the card over to see the complementary, analogous, split-complementary, and triadic color relationships.  I could see that Golden Yellow 24 could be paired with Cerulean Blue 10, or Yellow-Orange 22, or Red-Violet 14.

I’m making this sound too much like a dry academic exercise.  It was anything but.  I kept discovering such wonderful tones and tints and shades on my best color cards that expanded and enriched the possibilities for my fabrics and wardrobe.  The Orange-Yellow card 23 went far beyond crayon box colors to rich, gorgeous, warm grays and golden browns.  Orange-Red 20 included corals and deep, winy reds.

Had I only known years ago how much fun, how useful, how inspiring it was going to be to review my fabrics I wouldn’t have avoided the task for so long.  I just needed the right guidelines.

Next time I’ll talk about discoveries I made as I examined each fabric that helped me refine my criteria and make decisionmaking easy, and show some fabrics I chose to release back into the great sewing flow.