Why Am I Subscribing to Swatch Services?

Readers,

Do you subscribe to swatching services from fabric vendors?

If you do, do you buy much fabric or use the matching service for coordinating thread, linings, interfacings or buttons?  Do you spend enough to qualify for discounts on future purchases or earn a free extension of your subscription?

Do you find that the services seem to know your coloring, tastes, and lifestyle, simplify your shopping, and help you move straight to sewing items for the coming season’s wardrobe?

And then do you follow through and sew those clothes?

I’ve been thinking lately about swatching services, because I subscribe to two:  Sawyer Brook’s Distinctive Touch and Vogue Fabrics by Mail. My six-month Distinctive Touch subscription just ended, as a friendly notice recently reminded me:

Distinctive Touch’s more or less monthly envelopes of 20 swatches have been a bright spot among the bills and flyers in our postal haul.

Sawyer Brook’s Fall III 2018 swatch collection

Likewise, Vogue Fabrics by Mail’s appearance in our mailbox six times a year is cause for a little celebration. Each mailing brings about 50 swatches to be pasted, taped, or stapled into a catalogue designed around a theme. Vogue’s fall swatch collection theme was pirates–female pirates, to be precise. 

(Don’t ask me to explain what pirates have to do with bottom-weight stretch wovens; I really don’t know.)

Swatches automatically prompt thoughts of possibility, and now I’m thinking that has been their greatest virtue for me.

Being in a city–no, an entire state!–without a comprehensive fashion-fabric store is far from ideal, especially after I was spoiled for choice for 25 years at the fabulous Treadle Yard Goods in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Now that going to a fabric store is a rare treat I find it’s easier to succumb to the enticements of swatching services.

Only some of the many swatches from Vogue Fabrics by Mail Fall catalogue.

But the fact of the matter is, in the 4 1/2 years I’ve been living in this fabric desert  I haven’t bought anything from a swatching service. Possibilities are fine, daydreams are fine, but nothing has fired my imagination to the point where I actually placed an order.

So I started thinking more about swatching.

How did various little bits of fabric arrive in my sewing room, anyway?

And how many of those samples led to a purchase and eventually to realizing an idea? This was very interesting to think about.

I reacquainted myself with the contents of my two boxes of swatches. And I came up with a fresh perspective on swatching.

I’m not going to renew my subscriptions to these swatching services, and now I know why. When I think of all the factors that have to combine to make a fabric right for me, it’s increasingly unlikely that a preselected assortment will yield many winners.

Vogue Fabrics presents collections of fabrics coordinated by color and pattern six times a year.

Every fabric has a multitude of characteristics:

  • color
  • color contrast
  • color brightness or mutedness
  • texture
  • fiber content
  • pattern
  • sheen
  • weight
  • drape
  • hand
  • weave or knit

The main characteristic that knocks so many fabrics out of the running for me is color. Warm colors look better on me, eliminating almost all the cool colors right from the get-go. Black looks harsh on me now, so fabrics with more than a little black in them are out.

The next big eliminator is probably contrast. If the contrast is much more or less than my contrast, it’s not a good match.

Next is probably pattern, which includes the elements of color, shape, and scale. Most patterns fall by the wayside because one of these factors is not a good fit.

And so on: I admire a fabric for its color–but wish it were a different weight. I like the texture–but wish it didn’t have scratchy wool fibers in it.

Once in a while a fabric does tick all the boxes but I don’t love it enough to commit to learning to work with it, or I don’t have coordinates for it.

Till now I hadn’t realized how out of sorts this winnowing process leaves me. I feel like a finicky cat turning up my nose at every tempting morsel. I’m dissatisfied with the swatches, but equally dissatisfied with myself for being dissatisfied!

With this scenario repeating itself month after month, you’d think I’d finally get the message:

If I want fabrics that suit me, the starting point can’t be an average of thousands of customers and what the fabric vendors think they can sell in enough quantities to make their service profitable. The starting point has to be me.

And so I’m better off inventing my own swatch service for my one and only customer: myself.

I could track this customer’s preferences for colors and patterns; fibers and textures; and what fabrics, buttons, and patterns she wants to combine for which seasons and occasions. I would alert her to fabrics only when I found any that met all of her specifications.

I’d watch for interesting fabrics that might fall outside her present requirements but pull her forward–maybe even toward dusting off her serger and learning to use it!

On behalf of my only customer I wouldn’t hesitate to pay what most online vendors charge for individual swatching.

And on my travels I’d browse fabric stores, finger the yardage, and swatch for my customer in person.

Prepackaged swatch catalogues, it turns out, just don’t work for this persnickety customer of mine. So I will let her subscriptions lapse and reallocate the money for online individual swatch requests.

But if ever a fashion fabric store opens again in central Ohio, guess who will be vying to be first in the door.

The Getting Things Sewn 2019 Calendar

Readers,

On New Year’s Day 2018 I wrote about the wonderful calendar my sister Cynthia, a professional photographer, had created for our sister Donna.  It was filled with gorgeous pictures of glass, jewelry, and beautifully designed everyday objects Donna stocks in her Etsy store, Timmees.  When I saw that calendar I immediately wanted a calendar of my own for 2019.

And I got it!

Here it is:

January:  Some of my vintage buttons, set off by colorful Fiestaware plates, spelling out the initials of Getting Things Sewn.

February: From a post from 2013, featuring a handcrafted scarf that looked wonderful in the store but not so great on me. I never got the hang of wearing it.

March: Some of my vintage buttons, many of which I bought at vintage fashion fairs or the Portobello Road market in London.

April: Fun with thought balloons: “Paula with her thinking cap on…’I wonder what I’ll do today…Maybe I’ll go through my stash…or maybe I’ll finish that jacket I’ve been putting off…!”

May: Vintage buttons and my favorite freebies–paint store samples.

June: Two jackets I sewed from McCall 4065: the “Misses’ Mannish Jacket” from 1941.  I used this same pattern to teach myself Kenneth King’s tailoring techniques in a big project in 2015.

July: More fun with vintage buttons.

 

August: Making the case that the shirts I sewed for Jack and me were not the same.

September: My field trip to The Alley Vintage and Costume in 2015.

October: The prop in the shoot of the mint-colored flannel pajamas I made in 2016 sports my favorite dog breed.

November: Posing in my sewing room with my mannequin, Ginger, who is wearing the jacket you see on my homepage.

And December: I’m wearing the wearable test of a swing coat pattern from, I think, 1950.  Either I was waiting for Cynthia to finish testing her lighting setup or she had given me a prompt and I was wondering what to do. Professional models, your jobs are safe!

This calendar was a wonderful gift and a great compliment to me that took a lot of time and thought to produce.  Cynthia dipped into her photo archive but also set up new shots.  I got to see not only my work in print but also Cynthia’s work. That made this calendar even more special.

The 2019 Getting Things Sewn calendar has reminded where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.

  • Those two jackets, sewn about fifteen years ago, represent a watershed moment in my tailoring skills–but 27″ is much too long for my 5″ 1″ height. Sadly, these jackets are wardrobe orphans.
  • That swing coat is too full and long for me and the patch pockets are too big and placed too low.  A couple of years after that photo was taken, I brought the coat to a patternmaking teacher who took the excess fullness out of the pattern while retaining the swingy feel, scaled to my proportions.  The revised pattern awaits testing.
  • My striped linen blouse is nicely sewn, but now I see how cool and light colors should not be the basis for my wardrobe. Warm, deep colors are better on me.

As I look ahead to a 2020 calendar I’m thinking about what would be very satisfying to see represented. Beautiful outfits? Rooms graced by home dec sewing successes?  An improved sewing room with a project in progress?  All sound good.

A calendar can be a good way to reflect on past accomplishments and also provide inspiration for the coming year.

2018, Seen in a New Light

Readers,

Pants-fitting: a weighty topic in 2018.

There is something Jack and I say to each other at dinnertime some nights, when we’ve cooked something that’s filled the kitchen with a delicious smell most of the afternoon, like a potato, leek and cabbage soup that feels perfect for a snowy January evening.

As we ladle soup into our bowls with rising anticipation of a satisfying meal, one of us may say,

“This will never make it onto the magazine cover.”

Which means, This may smell good, taste good, and nourish both body and soul, but it’s lacking in the looks department, so many people will pass this up. The joke is on them. Look at what they’re missing out on!

I thought of this little scenario as I contemplated this past year of getting things sewn:  2018 will never make it onto the magazine cover.

No way.

Because it was a very potato-soup kind of year:

Spectacular? No.

But nourishing? Yes.

For me, 2018 was hardly a stellar year for sewing production. From January to November I sewed all of three sleeveless blouses, from the same TNT pattern, for myself (and posted about only one); one shirt for Jack; and…I think ten placemats.

Woohoo.

And yet–developing a TNT blouse pattern so I could concentrate on improving my construction was progress.

Designing a shirt for Jack from the same yardage as my blouse , but different from my blouse, was a fun design challenge.

And figuring out how to make beautiful, useful placemats from my irreplaceable souvenir fabric was very satisfying.

2018 was the year of sewing pants muslins. I lost count of how many I sewed. If you save the fronts of a pants muslin, rip out the backs, and cut and sew on new backs, is that a new muslin, or not? By anyone’s count, I made a lot of muslins from January through September.  Dozens.

Then I took lots of photos of myself in these muslins–front, sides, back–printed out the photos, scrutinized every drag line, read lots of pants-fitting advice, and tested methods of improving the fit. Sometimes I did make progress but never got to a satisfactory result on my own.

In 2018 I spent hundreds of hours studying, experimenting with, and documenting pants-fitting. This morning I pulled the binder of notes I kept, curious about how much it weighed: more than 2 1/2 pounds!

If only there were a direct relationship between the number of hours spent and the quality of the result, I should be able to claim a high level of expertise and sport a closetful of beautifully fitted pants. I did make three wearable tests with varying degrees of success after meetings with two sewing and fitting experts, as I wrote about in November.  Then I took a break from pants–

–and sewed something completely different: living room draperies.  November into early December the sewing room was a drapery workroom.  What a wonderful project.  I will write about it soon.

2018 was the year of the Goodbye Valentino Ready-to-Wear Fast, in which I was one of about a thousand participants.  I steadfastly refrained from buying any ready-to-wear, which was not that difficult for me because most ready-to-wear clothes don’t fit anyway, so it was hardly a sacrifice.

However, merely stopping browsing and buying clothing did not turn me into a clothes-making maniac.

First of all, I had decided it was time to confront my bête noire, pants-fitting. That kept me occupied for months.  I kept thinking I was awfully close to a decent fit and that soon I’d be fitting a handful of other carefully selected core-collection patterns for wardrobe capsules for every season. You know the rest of that story.

The RTW Fast was a way to nudge sewers toward realizing their clothes-sewing dreams, and many sewers did just that in 2018. Me? The value I gained was considerable, but not, as Jack and I would say, something that would rate magazine cover status.

Over the course of the year I wore the same clothes (plus the three summer blouses I made) again and again. And again.

In 2018 I gave myself no recourse to a temporary fix from one of my favorite consignment stores to tide me over till I had something I really liked. The results of limiting myself were:

  • I wore more of what was in my closet, out of necessity.
  • I created new outfits, out of necessity, and realized that some clothes were more versatile than I’d thought.
  • I wore things I didn’t much like, just to avoid total boredom.
  • I understood better than ever before what I didn’t like.
  • I began editing down my wardrobe more decisively than ever before, based on condition, comfort, or style.
  • I resolved never to have certain wardrobe items, like scratchy wool sweaters, ever again.  I would just have to come up with alternatives that suited me.
  • I noticed more than ever how certain colors were downright unflattering, or fell short of flattering, and decided to replace them only with colors that work for me and work with each other.
  • I recognized even more I had put a great deal of effort into sewing garments that were technically good but wrong in proportion, color, pattern, or style and had created wardrobe orphans. This had to stop.

Over the course of the year my wardrobe grew more sparse, and much of what remained were simply placeholders till the day I sewed or bought things I liked and that went together.

But–what do I like? What does look good on me? What things do work well together in outfits and capsules?  2018 was a year I puzzled over these questions afresh.

2018 was also a year I thought a great deal about designing and managing projects.  In January I wrote about Jon Acuff’s book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done.  I am not as sure as the author is that it’s perfectionism that stops people from finishing their projects.

I was probably still trying to figure out a better explanation than perfectionism when, in February, I wrote a behemoth of a post listing every factor I could think of that went into project design. It turns out there are a lot!

I am convinced there’s no one-size-fits-all process for getting things sewn because different people have different talents, experience, work styles, learning styles, aversions, and ambitions. Each of us has to work out our own path–possibly strewn with dozens of pants muslins–to determine the processes that work best for us. It may take longer than imagined, but it’s time well spent.

That conclusion might not get approved by the magazine cover committee–but they don’t know what they’re missing, do they?

2018: A Pants Odyssey

Readers,

Almost five months after my first report about my pants pattern-fitting journey I’m back with an update.

Surrounded by some (not all!) of the pants muslins I’ve made on this pants odyssey.

In my previous report I said that despite my concerted efforts to understand fitting principles and fit myself I needed in-person, expert help.  Since writing that post I did find help.

I checked the class listings of a small, local fabric store and noticed for the first time that individual lessons with some of the teachers could be arranged.  I called, explained my dilemma, and was told I should come in and talk to one teacher in particular.

And that’s how I met Madame X.

Madame X may be famous for being painted by John Singer Sargent, but she also fits pants patterns!

I explained to Madame X that I had gone as far as I could go on my own and was now just doing variations of different, but not better. Madame X explained that while she was experienced she wouldn’t claim she was an expert. If I was willing to be a good sport, she’d see what she could do.

It turned out she could do quite a lot.

What a relief it was to put on a muslin and have someone else examine the fit!  I could skip my time-consuming rigamarole:  setting the camera on a tripod on time delay, taking very unflattering pictures of myself, downloading the photos, printing some, and writing copious notes critiquing every wrinkle (in the muslin, that is).

After two, maybe three muslins Madame X had worked out quite a nice fit for me.  I was very encouraged.

The next step was a wearable test.  To sew it I used an oyster gray wool blend with a weight and drape similar to what I’d want in wool trousers. Here’s the result:

A little extra fullness needs to be removed, but a much better overall drape in the back than I was able to achieve on my own.

The waistband is being pulled down a bit, but the darts and hip line are nice.

How much wrinkling and extra fabric is fine and how much can be eliminated? It’s a fine line and I’m still learning.

I had mixed feelings about this cut of pants.  The big plus was the way they hung smoothly seen from the side and the back. I was concerned, though, whether the volume in the backs of the legs was too much and could be reduced while preserving the hang.  In the fittings Madame X and I went back and forth about this.  In my own fitting attempts my perennial problem was long diagonal wrinkles in the backs of the legs.  When Madame X allowed for more volume in the back, as in classic trousers, the wrinkles went away and I had a nice, smooth line.

But was that line in scale with my figure? That was the question.   At 5 feet 1 inch tall I’m always thinking proportion, proportion, proportion.  Would this pattern draft give me the best proportion for my figure?

I packed Madame X’s pants draft and the oyster gray wearable test for my trip in September back to Minnesota to see Edith, my fairy godmother sewing teacher.

I put on the pants. “They’re hanging from the hips,” Edith said. “They should hang from the waist.” She pulled the waistband up and then pinned it in place snugly. She subtracted 4 whole inches from the waist, put more curve into the hipline, generously scooped the back crotch curve, and slightly narrowed the legs.  Before long I was trying on the muslin made from her pattern alteration. It fit nicely, and it definitely hung from the waist.

Home again and back in the sewing room, I sewed a wearable test from Edith’s pattern.  This tweedy gray is a wool blend, lighter in weight than the oyster gray but also drapey and nice for trousers. Here is the result:

I think the amount of wrinkling is okay.

There’s much to like about these tweedy gray pants. They do hang nicely from the waist. However, is the waist emphasis okay, or too much?

I tried a second wearable test. I added back about 1 inch in the waist. The fabric was a linen-rayon blend that’s a nice weight and drape for spring and summer.  Here’s the result:

Not the most graceful pose.


Hmm–I think the wrinkles in the left leg indicate my uneven stance.


I can’t see much difference in the appearance of the waist with 1 inch space added back in.  I think one reason is the in-seam pockets I sewed in this pair are gaping open and adding to the curve in the hip. This is not flattering. I’ll research other pocket options.

I continued to wonder whether I really needed this much room in the back of this pants pattern:


I was suffering from pants-fitting fatigue (can you blame me?), but I thought I should try another muslin.  I added back yet another inch to the waist, and  subtracted just 1/4 inch each from the inseam and outseam of the back and front pieces to eliminate a total of 1 inch from the leg circumference.

Here is the unflattering result of that experiment:

The dreaded drag lines have returned! Ugh!

This is pretty much what the backs of my pants muslins looked like when I was working on my own, pre-Madame X.  These wrinkles were the big puzzle I hadn’t solved and which Madame X did. It seemed like the insides of my knees were the source of the wrinkles. I don’t fit the classic knock-knees scenario, but it seemed like I needed a knock-knees solution.  At any rate, Madame X came up with a solution that gave me a smoother line, and Edith, with her decades of pattern-fitting experience, was able to subtract design ease without messing with the fitting ease.

Then I crossed a line and messed up the fitting ease.

Sigh.

Then I went to a week-long Buddhist retreat and learned how to detach myself from–

–No, I didn’t!

I tried on the tweedy gray wearable test one more time. I tried folding the waistband under and envisioning the pants with just a faced waist. The look would be more streamlined.  That would work.

And in the coming fall and winter months I could sew lined wool trousers from my existing pattern and see how I liked them.

In other words, I decided to declare a partial victory. The fit is good enough, and now I’ll turn my attention to perfecting construction details.  Along the way I’ll read more, learn more, work more with Madame X, understand a few more bits and pieces, and eventually try fitting more pants.

And who knows–maybe jeans, too.

Gather round, muslins! Have I got a story for you!

All studio photos are by Cynthia DeGrand, Photographer.  (The “dreaded drag lines” muslin photo is by Jack Miller, Husband.)

Cut From the Same Cloth

Readers,

The summery striped linen I snatched up in 2014 at The World’s Largest Textile Garage Sale has been turned into not one, but two garments.

I had long eyed this piece for a blouse for myself, using Vogue 8772, which I’ve now sewn half a dozen times at least. Now it really is a trusty, tried and true (or “TNT”) pattern for me.  I spent quite a lot of time–I am a slowpoke–figuring out where to position certain stripes in this unbalanced stripe.  “Preview windows” I cut from paper helped me visualize the fronts, back, and collar before I committed to cutting the actual pieces.

After I finished my blouse I had oh, about half an acre of this beautiful linen, which sewed and pressed like a dream, left for another project. Would a striped skirt be good? I wasn’t so sure.

I can’t believe how long it took me to realize this linen was destined to be a summer shirt for Jack. He had watched my blouse coming together and admired the result, and when I asked him whether he would like a shirt, he said “Yes!”

I think it hadn’t dawned on me before to make a shirt for Jack from this fabric because we would be risking the uncool look of a couple wearing matching monogrammed golf jackets. But we could choose to wear our shirts at different times–if we remember to notice what the other person is wearing.

(A couple of weeks ago we were mildly horrified to discover as we walked into the grocery store  that we were both wearing shirts I’d made from the same unusual seersucker. Luckily I was wearing a cardigan, which I buttoned up so that only the collar peeked out, and we avoided eye contact with other shoppers as we wheeled our cart up and down the aisles. We escaped without a single remark about being a cute couple, but it was a close call.)

When I cut out the pieces for Jack’s shirt I did anticipate a repeat of the grocery store incident and vowed to position the stripes differently.

You will notice that the pink and purple bars on my blouse are at center front but are halfway between the neckline and shoulder seam on Jack’s shirt.

You will also notice that the buttons on my blouse are purplish. Jack’s are your standard white shirt buttons. (Call me lazy–it was the best choice in the button stash.)

Another difference between these two garments is that Jack’s has a label.

Also, Jack’s shirt has a yoke–which shows off the stripes horizontally–and sleeves. 

So you see, our shirts do not match.

But they are cut from the same cloth–much like their wearers.

(Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for photos of Jack and me.)