A new WIP: Sweater Time

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Dividing for sleeves & body is such a satisfying moment.

This is the Jolie pattern in Life in the Long Grass Sock yarn. I had to make a bunch of modifications due to differences in gauge in addition to being too large-busted for the pattern’s size range. Still, the lace charts are nicely done, and easy to memorize. I invested in some HiyaHiya lace tip needles a while ago and damn do they make lace knitting easier! My old Knit Picks needles are just too blunt.

I want to keep knitting on this one but my hands are complaining, lol. Maybe I should get off the computer, too.

On Becoming a Sewist

I’ve been sewing for about two years now.

Garment sewing has been a wonderful journey for me. I started sewing for two related reasons. First, my wardrobe was starting to reflect a New York monochrome palette. I missed wearing loud colors and silly prints. Secondly, and more distressingly, I had trouble buying clothes that fit. I’ve been gradually recovering from a chronic illness, and as I do so, I’ve been gaining weight. I’m now in that awkward size range of not-quite-plus-size. Going clothes shopping was often a distressing and demoralizing experience.

Sewing my own clothes changed that. I am limited only by what fabrics I can buy, and my own skills. I can add color into my wardrobe. I can draft a button-up shirt that doesn’t gape at the chest! I can have skirts with pockets!

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Linen pants for summer. I like pockets, and I like being comfortable.

This is a strong contrast with my experience of buying my own clothes. In stores, I’m often at the top of the size range. I struggle to find affordable, durable clothing that actually fits me, let alone that fits my style. I always feel like I’m the wrong shape — too much of this or that.

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Plantain T-Shirt from Deer & Doe, a handknit cowl, and storebought leggings & skirt.

In many ways I am still a novice. I approach sewing like I approach many crafts – with the enthusiasm of a dedicated amateur. I can point to many deficiencies in my techniques, gaps in my knowledge, mistakes left unmended in my garments.

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Deer & Doe Agave Skirt, storebought shirt. There are lots of mistakes in this skirt – the buttonholes didn’t come out very well – but I still wear it. Because foxes, duh.

Still, even though I have plenty to learn, I have accomplished so much! My closet is now full of clothes that I’ve made myself. I’d guess that about 30-50% of my clothing is self-sewn. I’ve re-introduced colors and prints to my closet, more of my clothes have pockets, and – most importantly – my clothes fit.

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I’ve never owned a one-shoulder dress before, because I could never find one that actually fit me. This dress is self-drafted, using “Sew Many Dresses, Sew Little Time” as a starting point.

I am not an outstandingly good sewist, or a tailor. But here’s the secret: you don’t have to be. Something I didn’t fully appreciate until I started sewing was how bad most ready-to-wear clothing is. A lot of the clothes I was buying before were from fabrics I didn’t love. Worse, they didn’t fit me at all: if something fit in the shoulders, it definitely wouldn’t fit my bust, waist, or hips. So I accepted that all of my clothes would hang awkwardly, and wrote off some styles as just “not suited” for my body type. But when you make your own clothes, well, if you span several sizes, you just connect the dots on the pattern. That’s it! There’s no magic.

If you’re interested in sewing garments, here’s what I would recommend:

  • First, learn to use a sewing machine. Sew some straight lines. Tote bags or zipper pouches can be fun first projects. Probably get someone to teach you this IRL – it’s much easier with an in-person teacher.
  • Consider getting a basic dressmaking book – you can check one out of your local library, since most libraries seem to have pretty robust sewing resources. I have The Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking by Wendy Ward. Yes, there are a bajillion internet tutorials, but that’s part of the problem; it’s easy to get lost and disoriented when you’re just starting out and don’t know what you need to know. A good beginning sewing book will be concise while also introducing all of the essential basics, and you can use it as a reference.
  • Sew a basic woven pattern from an “indie” designer who offers in-depth beginner-friendly instructions. These are often called “sew alongs”. I started with the Hollyburn Skirt (pattern link, sewalong) and the Scout Tee.
  • Sew a basic knit pattern, again from a designer who offers in-depth tutorials. I like the book Stretch! by Tilly Walnes, which I borrowed from my library. Sewing knits requires a new set of skills, but it’s so valuable – most of our daily clothes are knits, right? Personally, I love this free t-shirt pattern.
  • Have fun, buy some pretty fabrics, and try to make some shit!

Goji skirt in Kaufman Washer Linen

It’s finally warming up in New York. We’re having a very pleasant spring so far. Usually I feel like we switch straight from winter to summer, but this year there’s been a mild, lazy transition to warmer weather. My summer wardrobe was lacking in both shorts and skirts, so I decided to make a quick skirt out of this rayon/linen blend.

The pattern is the Goji skirt by Deer and Doe. It’s very simple – an oversized, slightly flared skirt, gathered at the waist with drawstring and elastic. Really it’s a glorified trapezoid! But it’s a trapezoid with pockets. They’re huge patch pockets, more than big enough to hold my phone / keys / wallet.

The pattern is straightforward and everything came together well. I tried to take my time and be a little more precise than usual. I think it paid off! I’m happy with the seam finishes and the pressing. I used my serger for some of the seams but mostly it’s constructed on my regular sewing machine. I even learned some new techniques – I had never made my own drawstring before, nor sewn an elastic casing. The “use a safety pin to thread it through” trick really does work.

I sewed a straight size 48 based on my waist measurement, and that fit me just fine. Because it’s a drawstring waist, fit isn’t so important for the skirt version. I’m not sure if the shorts would actually be flattering or comfortable, so I don’t think I’ll be making them, but I might make another version of the skirt.

I think this will quickly join my heavy rotation of summer basics. I’m really happy with how the Kaufman Brussels Washer Linen drapes, and it has seemingly magical wrinkle-resisting properties. I’ve already gotten some compliments on it!

How is it already February?

I’m having trouble believing that it’s February already. The weather isn’t helping. It’s been bouncing between freezing-cold and unseasonably-warm.

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I’ve got my knitting mojo back in a really serious way. In January I managed to:

  • finish three (!) hats, basically none of which fit me. I keep making my hats too big. Good thing I like slouchy hats??
  • make good progress on my new cardigan

On the other hand, I basically did no sewing. I bought some fabric. I tried and failed to finish a dress before becoming utterly demotivated. I learned more about my serger and am trying out a rotary cutter. But it’s been a slow month. Partly that’s due to high pain levels – it’s easier to cuddle up on my couch with some knitting than it is to sit at a machine.

For February, my crafting goals are:

  • finish knitting through skein 1 of my sweater
  • finish at least 1 sewing project
  • finish at least 1 Burda magazine project (!) because I got a subscription

Let’s see how it goes.

learning to serge, day 1

Holy crap, this machine is terrifying.

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I’m really glad that it came pre-threaded. First I tested it out on some scraps. Then I decided to try seaming together the neckband I had previously cut out for a t-shirt…

…and promptly made my first bird’s nest. d’oh.

I guess I need to re-cut that neckband, since I accidentally hacked off a good piece of it.

Figuring out how to remove said bird’s nest was an adventure, but at least I noticed it before my machine ground to a halt. I assume this is sorta like a normal sewing machine: when something goes wrong, stop and fix it.

Anyway. Bird’s nest removed, I decided it was time to rethread. Because obviously a good share of problems come from threading issues, right…? Plus I had to learn this eventually.

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Thank god for Youtube, because threading the lower looper was driving me crazy! I didn’t realize that the lever up there (with the two sideways arrows) actually slid outwards until I watched a video. Naturally, the manual doesn’t mention it. I guess I need to get better at reading symbols.

Some thoughts so far:

  • holy crap, this machine goes so fast and is so loud and it’s scary
  • I definitely am going to be threading it powered off. I feel so clumsy trying to figure out where to put all the threads, and I could easily envision cutting myself on that knife
  • wow, I actually needed tweezers
  • wow, I’m glad I bought a few cones of serger thread, this thing consumes a lot of thread
  • I love my label maker with all my heart – there are some good diagrams on this machine but I need words, dammit
  • there’s a lot of new stuff to learn, but it feels tractable
  • I’m so excited to get better at using this, because omg can you imagine how fast I’ll be able to make t-shirts?

Things I still have to figure out/practice:

  • how to thread successfully with the presser foot still attached (lol): so far I’ve been able to do this correctly but only if I take the presser foot off first
  • practice practice practice sewing in a straight line / with a consistent seam allowance
  • when do I need to use a regular sewing machine for construction vs this one?

sewing queue: holidays 2018

It’s the holidays, I don’t have to work, and I have plenty of time for sewing! Here’s what I’m excited to work on next:

Learn to use my serger (and sew an Ebony tee).

I bought myself a serger for my birthday! I have it out of the box and sitting on my table, I just need to…sit down and learn how to use the darn thing. This is both intimidating and exciting. The activation energy for this one is high, you know?

I have fabric for an Ebony T-Shirt cut out and waiting for me. I attempted to do an FBA, but of course I’ve never made this pattern before so who knows if it will fit! I figured that since the style is very forgiving (oversized, drapey) it’s a decent place to start practicing with my serger. I’m using some Kaufman Laguna jersey that I got for $3/yd, so I’m not particularly attached to it.

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Make a muslin for my princess-seamed dress

I traced a pattern; now it’s time to make a muslin. I have some beautiful deep wine-colored ponte knit from Stylemaker Fabrics that I’ve been waiting to sew up. I’ve never worked with a Big 4 pattern before (only indies!) so this is new to me. I don’t know if the size I picked will work out. TIME TO TEST.

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Cut fabric for a Burda batwing top

I’m also preparing to sew a Burda pattern for the first time: 108-01-2014. Phew, that tracing was a nightmare…and in the end it was only a few rectangle-ish shapes. I deliberately picked a simple Burda pattern because I’ve heard horrible things about how difficult they are. The schematic assembly/tracing was definitely more intimidating than the pattern itself.

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I have some cheap Black Friday fabric that I’m going to use to muslin this one. It could be pretty, it could look silly, who knows!

So that’s what I’ve got queued up. Hmm. I also have a lot more fabric in my “up next” pile, but this is the “realistic” version of my queue.

What’s on your cutting table?