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.)

Fitting Conclusions

Readers,

In case you’ve been wondering where I’ve spent much of the last six months, it’s been down a very deep rabbit hole called Fitting a Pants Pattern.

More accurately, this particular rabbit hole should be called Not Fitting Several Pants Patterns.

Does this need further explanation?

For most sewers, a well-fitting pants pattern is like…gold.  At any rate, something rare, valuable, and coveted. And that is because pants patterns are devilishly difficult to fit.

However, pants are not hard to make. Their construction is well within the capabilities of most sewers and will repay the outlay of effort many times over.

Pants are a staple in almost every woman’s work and leisure wardrobe.

Pants are not fun to shop for: many women, including me, routinely find nothing that meets fit, style, and comfort requirements all in the same garment, at any price.

So for custom fit, style, comfort, and convenience (no more fruitless shopping!), making your own pants seems like the way to go.  It’s just that they are a pain in the neck to fit.

Much like a new diet, a new pattern, article, book, DVD, online class, or workshop devoted to pants-fitting offers a new possibility of success.  And some sewers really do succeed using each of these tools or learning aids, which have been created by very skilled, experienced,  thoughtful experts in their field.

But what applies to diets also applies to pants-fitting methods:

Results may vary.

Even though I know from the battery of aptitude tests I took some years back that my spatial abilities are below average, I took the plunge last November to try fitting a pants pattern.

On myself.

By myself.

As a beginner.

It’s not as if I’d had much of a choice. No fitting experts came running to pound on my door, pleading to let them help, only to hear me say No! As usual, I had to figure out how I might get to my goal on my own.

I had made admittedly feeble attempts to learn pants-fitting as far back as 1989, as the date penciled in my–autographed!–copy of Singer’s Sewing Pants That Fit shows. My sewing library boasted fitting books, DVDs, and the full run of Threads magazines.  I belonged to Pattern Review and bought Sarah Veblen’s and Angela Wolf’s online classes, which included student forums. My Craftsy library included pants-fitting classes.  My pattern files held the Palmer-Pletsch McCall’s 6901 and Pamela Leggett’s Pants…Perfected! pattern with DVD.

I even drafted a pattern to my measurements in a class taught by a patternmaker, with two muslins I’d sewn, with her recommendations for further alterations.

All that did not guarantee the pants wardrobe of my dreams. All these wonderful learning tools went unused as I turned my attention to other sewing projects, weakly promising myself that I would get to pants–someday.

But last year there was this coming together of several factors that laid the groundwork that triggered my pants-fitting project:

An increasingly clear vision

The first factor was that my membership in Imogen Lamport’s 7 Steps to Style program was really beginning to help me pull together information about myself to help me design my wardrobe. I had expert feedback on my coloring, contrast, figure type, and most flattering silhouettes, and guidelines for creating my own “style recipe.” To create the outfits and capsules I dreamed of wearing, my current pants would have to go, replaced by ones I would be excited to make.

Saying no to the mediocre

The second factor was pledging not to buy any ready-to-wear clothes for a year as part of the Goodbye Valentino 2018 RTW Fast.  I hadn’t been buying much ready-to-wear anyway, so it was easy to join this challenge. But interestingly, stopping even browsing racks of pants made me realize just how much I had been compromising my fit and style requirements. Once I became aware of this habit of settling for less, I wanted to do better–permanently.

A new world of fitting resources

The third factor was innovations in conveying fitting know-how:

  • PatternReview.com forums and member critiques of thousands of specific patterns.
  • PatternReview.com  and Craftsy online classes with video, printed materials, students’ questions and instructors’ answers.
  • Sewing blogs.
  • Fitting DVDs.
  • YouTube videos.
  • Threads magazine website’s Insider articles and videos.
  • All these new means of conveying information, in addition to excellent new books and revised classics.
  • Not to mention the expansion of Palmer-Pletsch workshop sites around the U.S.

Fitting is the bugbear of many sewers, and there are many talented people trying to serve a broad audience hungry to solve their fitting issues.  So I wondered which of these teaching tools could bridge my knowledge gap and lead me to a well-fitting pants pattern.

I’d been dissatisfied with ready-to-wear pants fit and styles for…my whole life, actually. But it was only when these new circumstances came together that the scales were tipped:  I found myself with

  • a creative limitation keeping me from going back
  • a vision helping me move forward
  • tools holding the promise of realizing my dream

So I started. During a six-month period my sewing and fitting focus was entirely pants.

Here are some things that happened and things I learned:

I learned how to battle a strong aversion to reading the fitting literature and watching fitting videos. They were really boring for my brain, and in the past I had always bailed out. This time I hung in there.

Why did I stay the course this time?

  • I defined the reward to be compelling enough.
  • I defined not getting the reward to be disappointing enough.
  • I recognized that I couldn’t overcome my aversion but I could work with it.
    • I gave my brain breaks.
    • I gave my brain stuff to do that it knew how to do. For example, I transcribed–yes, word for word–several of the videos in Sarah Veblen’s Fun With Fitting Pants class on PatternReview.com. It took a long time, and it was tedious (sorry, Sarah–not your fault!) but it was kind of like taking dictation in a foreign language class and slowly absorbing the grammar and vocabulary.

Much to my surprise, once I got some traction understanding fitting concepts–like what crotch depth and crotch length are–and had a muslin of my own to experiment on, I got absorbed in the topic. I read every Threads magazine article, every chapter in my books, scrutinized photos and illustrations, watched DVDs and online classes repeatedly, read Pattern Review discussions, and kept discovering nuances that had escaped me before. Incredibly, fitting books and articles even became my bedtime reading.

I began seeing philosophies of fitting.  I thought–to use the foreign language comparison again–that there were fitting “grammar books,” like Sarah Veblen’s Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting that stress foundational concepts, and fitting “phrasebooks,” like Sandra Betzina’s Fast Fit, that diagnose specific problems and give specific solutions. Both are useful.

I tried tissue-fitting with McCall’s 6901 and Pamela Leggett’s Pants…Perfected! patterns. I tried Fitography’s Chloe pants pattern, based on my measurements and produced with software I downloaded from the company.  Fitography deserves its own post someday.  I also tried fitting the custom-drafted pants pattern I made in class.  I moved among patterns and methods, but stayed long enough to delve deep. Pages of Sarah Veblen’s trouble-shooting guide from her online class are underlined and creased from frequent use.

I learned more about experimenting and problem-solving in sewing than I ever have before.  I used Sarah’s grid method to examine the hang of pants. I tried to figure out how much I could learn from one muslin before proceeding to the next.  If the front was fine, I’d keep it, rip out the back and cut just a new back.

I learned to set up a tripod and put the camera on 10-second delay to take pictures of myself in muslins from front, sides, and back. Then I printed out the pictures and evaluated every wrinkle and drag line. I learned to be more observant.

I learned to look at terrible pictures of myself in muslins without flinching!

I really had no intention of spending this long on pants-fitting. I was going to participate in a Pattern Review sewing challenge in February and March with pants being part of the outfits.  But no–I was nowhere near meeting my goal.  I had to set aside every other sewing and wardrobe goal to concentrate on pants-fitting.  Partly because I have this low spatial ability, and also because as a blogger I was methodically recording everything–I have voluminous notes–my project took longer.  Also because I’m a beginner and a slowpoke.

I ended up overfitting one pattern and then another. My muslins would be too baggy; I’d experiment with taking them in at the inseam, back crotch, outseam…and then go too far. Also, excess fabric under the seat plagued me for weeks and I never completely solved that problem.  There seem to be many causes and as many solutions. I got some advice from Angela Wolf through her Altering Pants class on Pattern Review about what to do and count it as one of my greater life accomplishments that I completely understood what she meant.

It was when I was fiddling with small changes that were only different, not improvements, that I thought I really couldn’t get any further on my own.  So it was back to looking for an expert willing to help me. That’s where I am now.

I’ve learned a lot about fitting concepts and techniques that I’d never had the desire, patience, or fortitude to learn before. I learned to experiment and was excited to see when I’d made the right judgment call.

But I’ve also learned–again–what my limitations are. As Sarah Veblen says in one of her PatternReview.com videos in Fun With Fitting Pants, it is possible to fit yourself. But for me, the odds are just too long.

What makes pants-fitting difficult is achieving a delicate, unique balance of all the interrelated parts to make them comfortable, functional, and attractive. To get my things sewn I need to achieve my own balance: when I can rely on my strengths and experience and consult experts’ books and videos, and when I need to acknowledge my weaknesses and inexperience and rely on in-person expertise, on a regular basis, to make up the difference.

I have had access to such expertise sometimes, but now I really think it is a cornerstone of getting things sewn. I will continue to think about how to access the in-person expertise I need.  I am more convinced than ever that it’s essential and worth working hard to get–and preserve.

 

Figuring Out My Figure Type

Readers,

I’ll cut to the chase: I have an “X” figure type with sloping shoulders.

Photo taken by Cynthia in her studio Oct. 20.

The suspense is over. Let the fitting begin!

To update:

My longtime reader(s) will remember that one of the first topics I tackled in this blog, in 2013, was identifying my figure type, which I wrote about here and here.

For those posts I followed instructions in The Perfect Fit (Singer Sewing Reference Library) to trace my life-size silhouette onto paper and to compare my proportions to “an average figure that is used as a sizing standard for patterns.”

The exercise was interesting, to be sure, but my conclusions weren’t definitive.  It would have been great, having had this “X-ray” taken of my figure, to have a “radiologist” interpret the image or send me back to the drawing board to make an outline with more precisely placed markers.

I didn’t know exactly what the “ends of shoulders” were that I was supposed to mark. Where was the base of my neck?  My waist location was a cinch, but where should I mark the hip–where the bones are, or where I’m the widest?

Although a yardstick laid from the shoulder to hip was very nearly vertical, indicating a “balanced” figure, I didn’t feel balanced. (“Ballast” was more like it.) I’m always wanting to add visual weight to my shoulder line. The books may have labeled me an hourglass, but I thought I’d better heed the advice for pears. Right?

“Kinda” knowing my figure type was hardly better than not knowing at all. After all, avoiding the worst designs for my figure type is only a start.  I want to know–without so much costly trial and error–what’s worth sewing or shopping for to create beautiful outfits–even whole seasonal collections.

Having my figure evaluated by an expert was one of the main reasons I joined Imogen Lamport’s program 7 Steps to Style.  A couple of weeks ago I donned a leotard and leggings, and Cynthia took a nice, clear photograph in her well-lighted studio. I posted the photo to the 7 Steps to Style Facebook group, where a couple of dozen fellow members very kindly offered their opinions.

And you know what? It is not necessarily easy to size up somebody else’s figure! Some thought “X” (the hourglass shape); some thought an “8” (which has a hip shape resembling Barbie’s, so I’m told); some had reason to believe I was an “A” (which is a nicer way of saying a pear). It was even suggested that I was an “I,” which was interesting because I definitely have a waist.

Responding to lot of observations, I volunteered that whatever figure I had, I had the mindset of an “A” because I always wanted to add a strong horizontal shoulder line. That’s one reason why I like fashions of the 1940s.

I had posted my photo midday Friday my time but at the beginning of the weekend, Australia time, so it was a couple of days before I got Imogen’s response of an “X” figure.  The line from shoulder to hip is vertical (not slanted out like an “A” or in like a “V” figure) and I clearly have a waist. “X” it is–with the further qualification of sloped shoulders.

I know, it makes sense, and maybe I should have had this all figured on my own long ago. But it was awfully helpful to have the opinion of an expert who’s worked with thousands of women to distinguish my salient characteristics.

But this is not just the end of an old story; it’s the beginning of a new, richer story.  Possibly the best feature of this program I’m participating in is the ongoing feedback from Imogen and hundreds of fellow 7 Steps to Style members. I have this new, solid piece of information I can test and refine over the months and through the seasons, with the possibility of critical but supportive input beyond what I’ve ever had before.

Things are looking up!

Photo 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)

What Works, What Doesn’t: Five Versions of the McCall “Mannish Jacket” from 1941

Readers,

Remember this jacket pattern? Of course you do.

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From 1941, McCall pattern 4065, the “Misses’ Mannish Jacket”

In 2015 I used it for a project following Kenneth King’s “Old School” instructions on his Smart Tailoring DVD.

From 2003 to 2015 I made up this jacket five times.

Don’t ask me why, but I always loved the jaunty pattern illustration.

The actual jackets? I didn’t love them, exactly, although I was proud of the quality of work I did on parts of them.  Only recently (like five minutes ago) did I make this crucial distinction.dark_tweed_jacket_1712-247x460

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If I had seen well-lighted, full-length photos of this first version of the jacket on me I could have perfected the fit.

I made the dark tweed one first, starting it in a Palmer-Pletsch sewing camp in Portland, Oregon in 2003 and finishing it at home with guidance from my sewing teacher, Edith.dark_tweed_jacket_1721-460x363dark_tweed_jacket_1722-460x403

In 2006, in a stunt of sewing bravado, I sewed burgundy plaid, green heather, and red plaid versions. purple_plaid_jacket_1732-244x460

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The only jacket I’ve ever interfaced with fusible canvas. I know Kenneth King isn’t a fan of fusible canvas, but it turned out to work well in this garment.

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I need a little posture-correcting here!

Defiantly shaking my fist at the sewing gods, and with Edith’s encouragement and coaching, I cut the pieces for all three jackets (two requiring meticulous matching) over that Labor Day weekend.  Relaxing, right?

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I have always liked this plaid for its colors and scale.

I just didn’t want to be intimidated by tailoring anymore, so I cut and sewed the three jackets, with different pockets, over the course of several months.

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It’s fun to cut some plaid pieces on the bias. I cut out a hole the shape of the finished flap from stiff paper, and moved the “preview window” around on the yardage. Then I cut the flap pieces.

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It’s nice when you can find the right buttons in the right sizes. These are a souvenir of a visit to Edinburgh.

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Bound buttonholes are not my forte.

 

I had a few tutorials with Edith and also used Jackets for Real People by Patti Palmer and Marta Alto extensively.heather_jacket_1780-460x331

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The bound buttonhole is coming apart. But–I love the subtle coloring of this fabric! I picked it up as a remnant for about $3.00 at the Minnesota Textile Center’s fabulous annual fabric garage sale.

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I’m happy with the shoulders and notched collar job I did. This wool was a breeze to work with.

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Holes in the lining created from carrying tote bags of books to and from the libraries I used to work at. Of all the jackets, I’ve worn this one the most.

I did learn a lot, and achieved a lot, and am still impressed by the ambition of the goal as well as the results.red_plaid_jacket_1808-460x357

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I settled for this style of button but think there are better choices out there. Something subtle and matte.

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Shoulders are okay, but I keep wanting to subtract a little roominess from the upper bodice.

But if the point of sewing clothes is to wear the clothes, then I didn’t succeed as much as I assumed I would.  I didn’t follow through with planning outfits around these jackets, let alone making the jackets the pivotal pieces they deserved to be.

Even though my now four “Misses’ Mannish Jackets” were underemployed in my wardrobe, yet again I turned to this pattern when I wanted to try Kenneth King’s brand new Smart Tailoring DVD last year.blue_tweed_jacket_1818-252x460

I wanted to try all of Kenneth’s techniques–for a notched collar, felt undercollar, mitered sleeves, and a vent–and the Mannish Jacket met all those specs. blue_tweed_jacket_1856-460x384

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This is Kenneth King’s “hidden pocket”: a nice addition to the lining.

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The patch pockets on this 1941 jacket are slightly asymmetrical, which I like.

I did consider many other patterns I’d been dying to try for years–but the prospect of going through the whole muslin, fitting, and pattern-altering rigamarole before getting to the tailoring was just too much. I wanted to finish my jacket before attending Kenneth’s weekend workshop in Cleveland a few months later. (And I did.)

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This fabric, which I bought at a Textile Center of Minnesota sale, may well date to the 1950s. It likely came from somebody’s stash. The button dates to the 1940s, according to the owner of Taylors Buttons in London.

So that’s how Mannish Jacket 5 came to be: I sewed it as a learning exercise. And the fabric?  I chose that only because I was willing to sacrifice it, if the jacket was a dud. So, looking back, I see just how much learning technique took precedence over making myself something I wanted to wear.

In fact, just now I’m realizing that each of these Mannish Jackets may have been taken on a little too self-consciously as An Exercise in Sewing Self-Improvement.

I suspect this because, when I see these jackets hanging in my closet I hear myself saying:

  • “I put a lot of work into that.”
  • “I did a good job [matching the plaid/sewing the pockets/choosing the buttons].”
  • “I learned a lot.”
  • “I wish I hadn’t padded the shoulders so much.”
  • “Are they too long for me?”
  • “My bound buttonholes are too flimsy!”
  • “I do love the fabric.”
  • “If I just sew the right coordinates, I’ll wear them.”

In other words, I still see them as projects more than as garments.

I don’t notice myself saying:

  • “I love these jackets!”
  • “When can I wear them again?”
  • “What can I sew now to make new outfits?”

Don’t get me wrong: the Mannish Jacket series wasn’t a waste of time. I did learn a lot–and not just how to sew a notched collar without flinching.  But there will be no Mannish Jacket number 6.

What I had only vaguely felt–a sense that, however hard I had worked on these garments, they still fell short, without my knowing precisely why–became clear to me when I saw the stark reality in properly lighted photos.

These jackets were wearing me more than I was wearing them.  The shoulders? Wider than I’d realized before, and not in a flattering way.

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I am very dissatisfied with the prominent sleeve caps; they interrupt a clean, straight shoulder line. It doesn’t help that the shoulders are too extended for me. This is the same pattern I used for the preceding four jackets, yet this one turned out so different.

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This is too big! So exasperating. Also, I wonder whether I made the best interfacing choices. They are so hard to get right.

The length?  Disproportionate on me. The back? Too roomy.  This is the 1941 version of–yes, a boyfriend jacket! Of course!

I could alter the pattern pieces for future jackets, narrowing the back and shoulder and taking three or four inches from the 26 1/2″ finished length.  I could make a better-fitting Mannish Jacket. However, I think I’d be removing much of what makes the 1941 design distinctive. I also think my appetite for this style has been satisfied.

Instead, I’ll reassign Jacket 5 from bench-sitting as a garment to active duty as a tailoring resource.  And jackets 1 through 4 can serve occasionally as light coats flung over sweaters or flannel shirts and jeans to wear on crisp, dry, fall days.

There are critical points on the way to getting things sewn, where, if I do make the extra effort to identify the lessons, I can reap the full benefit.

As I look back at what my Mannish Jackets could teach me, some lessons are:

  • Photos of myself in muslins and garments give me much better data to work with than squinting in a mirror or getting feedback from well-intentioned helpers.
  • If the point of sewing most garments is to wear them in outfits, I should pay a lot more attention to the outfit level of planning.
  • Planning outfits is a skill in itself. If I plan outfits before I sew the garments, I’m more likely to enjoy really successful outcomes.  If I sew the garment and then only hope I can incorporate it into an outfit, then I’m more likely to be disappointed.
  • It’s okay to sew something as a rehearsal for the next iteration–as long as I’m aware that what I’m producing is just a practice piece. If it does become part of my wardrobe, that’s a bonus.

Lessons learned.  Now to incorporate them into new practices and put myself on an even more rewarding path.

(Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for all photos.)