Thursday, December 7, 2017

2017 roundup: some cozy flannels

Basically the moment we decided we were moving up to the Pacific Northwest, I knew I needed to make some cozy plaid flannel shirts for layering. There are a ton of indie button-up shirt patterns out there (most notably, imo, the very popular Grainline Archer shirt). I thought about using an existing pattern but decided I wanted full control over the fit and details - a tunic length that I could wear with leggings without it being a dress, an oversized fit but with enough shaping to keep it from being completely boxy. It was also a great opportunity to practice drafting a collar with band and sleeve plackets - things I'd drafted and sewn in muslin for class, but I hadn't practiced applying them to a real garment. The plackets make it easy to roll up the sleeves when I want to, and there are buttons on the cuffs to close them up when I wear the sleeves long.

sleeve placket + cuff details

center back collar, yoke, and pleat - I inverted the pleat to stick outward on my second and third versions, but I think it works ok both ways.

The shirt details (collar, sleeves, plackets) were all straightforward and by-the-book to draft. The biggest issue I had was with making the shirt a little more oversized - it turns out I've only ever drafted things that are well-fitted, so this was new to me! I compared to some of Tim's button-down shirts and made a few attempts until I got the right combination of dropping the shoulders and armholes in addition to bringing out the side seams. Eventually I got a body and sleeves that all worked well together and gave the look I wanted. I kept bust darts and a curve to the side seam through the waist, and I really like the gentle shaping that comes from those details.

Sewing without instructions is always interesting. Back in my classes, I took notes on some things like sleeve placket construction. But there is nothing telling me where to begin or the overall ordering, so it ends up taking a lot of focus and thought to make sure I don't miss a step. But I really enjoy this process, reminding myself that I can figure basically anything out if I'm left to my own devices, and eventually putting on the finishing touches and knowing I did the whole thing without someone else telling me how.

This is one of those designs that I don't think is very ground breaking (how many button-up shirts like this exist in either ready-to-wear stores or sewing patterns??). It's not something I'm really considering selling either ready made or in pattern form for various reasons. But it's been such a delight to make and wear for myself.

This shirt has gotten a ton of wear. I made it in June and it warmed up before long, but since fall weather has set in it's been a staple, one of those things I reach for constantly and have to convince myself to skip sometimes just to mix up my outfits. I worry the cheap fabric I used won't hold up super well through many more washes, but I'm going to keep wearing it to death in the meantime.

perfectly covers that leggings bum

And, I just finished sewing up two more - one in black and white buffalo plaid and another in a deep red herringbone - after working on those in parallel off and on this month. See below for an earlier in progress shot of the delightful Robert Kaufman flannels. I just need to buy and attach some buttons and sew their buttonholes - 22 across both shirts, eep. I'm excited to expand my cozy flannel collection by 3x and stay cozy all winter.

Friday, December 1, 2017

2017 roundup: some rejected paper bag shorts

This was the first thing I drafted after we moved to Portland this spring. Before that I'd drafted a few garments, but they were usually for classes, or I would squeeze a super simple knit dress into a weekend. After the move, I wanted to give myself some fun projects before fully diving into starting my business (because let's be real, I had so much to figure out about what I wanted that to look like, and still do honestly!). I wanted to give myself a challenge, as I often do, so I started with a photo I saw on pinterest of some trendy paper bag shorts (a style that wasn't covered at all in my pattern making curriculum) and decided to figure out how to draft and construct something similar.

my inspiration image - I tried to track down the original source but it's pinterest all the way down

Let's skip to the verdict: I'm pleased with how well I figured out the drafting and construction on a project so different from anything I'd made before, and it was a great opportunity to draft and sew my first zipper fly! That said, these shorts are not my style and I never actually wore them. What looked cute and intentionally oversized in the Pinterest photo is just baggy and unflattering on me, and I tried and failed to find a top in my closet that looked okay with them. I can't be too upset - they were a learning experience, both technically and in learning more about what clothing I just don't want to wear.

Drafting and Construction

I used my pants sloper from patternmaking class, cut it off several inches below the crotch, and then slash-and-spread from the waist down to the hem in order to leave room for those top ruffles and a wider leg opening. I decided to insert elastic across the entire back waist, and two shorter pieces in the front. There are waistband facings on the inside, holding the elastic in place against the wrong side of the shorts, as well as a narrower waistband topstitched down on the outside to hide the spots where the elastic is attached to the shorts and to create the front ties . All three layers are topstitched down around the entire waist. This was tricky! My elastic is fairly stiff, so trying to stretch it fully and sew through three layers of fabric right alongside it, without catching the elastic itself, was an ordeal.

I sewed a muslin that seemed to fit well, then went out and bought the closest thing I could find to rust-colored fabric - a kind of berry red cotton. I always think red shorts are a good idea and I always regret that choice later. I sewed the shorts up, tried them on, and ---- nope. The fabric was too stiff to give that nice slouchy look, the color was wrong, and there was just too much fabric everywhere, making it look almost clownish. (I failed to get photos of this pair on and just don't really care enough to do it now, sorry not sorry!)

I didn't want to give up, so I regrouped and got some more subdued and drapier fabric, took out some width in the shorts and added a fly to make sure I could still get them on, and sewed up another pair. This time was better, and I really wanted to like them. But they just weren't my style. They look too diaper-like in some light, and I'm not sure if that's the drafting (probably) or just my body with this style, but either way, I realized I wasn't going to wear these no matter how much I perfected them.

And as much as I hate these awful bathroom selfies, I think they really show the diaper-like drape of these shorts pretty well:


As for these shorts, I'm holding onto them for now - a reminder of something I figured out on my own, iterated and improved upon, but also a reminder that it's ok to make something and realize it's just not for me, that this is all a learning process, one that should get easier over time.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Guess what! I got a new sewing machine! OMGGGG.

My previous machine (which I'm holding onto in case of emergency, or in case friends want to come over and sew with me, pleaseeeeee) was a Baby Lock Grace, purchased in 2011 after I quit my first tech job and took a few months off to mentally recover. I pulled it out about once a year to mend or sew something small and otherwise never touched ituntil 2015 when I started learning to sew clothing. It's a perfectly okay machine, and it's held up like a champ through the last two years of nonstop sewing. I'd say durability and ease of use are its strong points; precise or tricky sewing, not so much. I knew I wanted to upgrade eventually now that I'm spending approximately all of my time at my machine.

bye, Baby Lock!

A couple of months ago I asked my instagram friends about what made a higher end machine worth it to them, and I got lots of great answers that convinced me upgrading would be worth it... at some point. Bernina seemed to be the clear winning brand in terms of popularity and quality across the board (with prices to go with it - oof), but I had a few responders swear by other machines that I'm sure are also great! My friend Liz let me borrow her mechanical Bernina for a few weeks (thank you Liz!), and it was a great experience. The stitch quality was amazing compared to my Baby Lock, but I missed some of the features of my computerized machine (auto button holes! auto needle down!), so I knew I wanted to invest in a computerized machine rather than a mechanical one. But I kept putting the purchase off, partially because I hate making choices like this, and also because we're still recovering from moving/settling in expenses and I didn't want to spend money until I had to.

Then a couple of weeks ago I sewed a pair of jean shorts, and the topstitching went super poorly - my machine just had trouble with the layers of denim and topstitching thread, and I had to rip out and redo my stitching so many times to get it looking good. It was an ordeal. About a week later I started sewing a self-drafted top that combines chiffon with pleather, and I realized that I just couldn't make it into something I was proud of using the machine I had on hand. So Tim suggested we go to my local Bernina dealer, and I picked one out that day (basically an "impulse buy" that I'd been thinking about and planning for for many, many months).

I honestly resisted this purchase for awhile, not just because of money, but because I was worried about using my machine as an excuse for not sewing as well as I could. There's that saying about how good photography is about the photographer, not the camera, and I think that also applies to sewing to an extenet. I didn't want to buy a fancy machine and let it make up for my shortcomings. I'm honestly really happy with the balance I struck here. For the two and a half years since I really started sewing, I've been constantly improving. The mini collection I sewed earlier this summer was honestly the first time I remember sewing anything and not feeling like I could have done a better job by the end. Which isn't to say I'm done learning, but that I at least have a couple of creations that I'm more or less happy with now :) But the jorts and the chiffon top stood out to me. I would stop, seam rip, and redo the parts that didn't go well, but I was becoming more aware that the things that went wrong were less about my sewing skill and more about my machine's limitations. Instead of just improving my skills when I redid the tricky parts, I was figuring out how to make things work despite my machine's limitations. This was a turning point for me - what could I produce if I didn't have that limiting factor?

I ended up getting the Bernina 530, which is around mid range as Berninas go. I also got a few extra feet that should help me out a ton with trickier fabrics (walking foot, omg!). I considered a nicer one in the 500-series, but it was significantly more money for things like a touchscreen and auto thread snipping, and it just wasn't worth the extra expense. I plan to use this machine for many, many years, and to make garments that I sell, so I definitely thought about whether it made sense to invest in an even nicer machine than this one. But I really think a fancier model would have made my life ever so slightly easier without really improving my output much, and I'm okay with this trade off.

I've been sewing with my Bernina for a week now, and yes it is just as fantastic as you might expect! I broke it in with the aforemorementioned chiffon top and then with a lacy, self-drafted bra, and the new machine made all of the fiddly parts go so much easier. Everything is smoother, the walking foot (something I had never purchased for my old machine) is AMAZING on trickier fabrics, and I finished the chiffon/pleather shirt and am super happy with it! The shirt honestly came together way better than I ever imagined it would. I actually have two fiddly silk projects and one in a very drapey rayon in the pipeline, and they are going to be a joy to sew compared to my old machine. Sewing is so much more fun now!

Friday, July 7, 2017

a personal summer collection

Earlier this week I wrote about where I am with figuring out my new career and talked about the process of designing a little 3-outfit summer collection for myself, just for fun and practice (read that here). Here's that collection! Overall I'm really happy with it: I pushed myself to go outside of my comfort zone, finished within a deadline, and I think I'll actually wear these outfits! So without further ado, more details and tons of photos of all five of the pieces I made:

Crop top & shorts

I've been thinking for awhile that I need more crop tops in my life, as well as high-waisted bottoms to go with them (I love the look of some midriff showing but don't need to go full-on belly button). I sketched out a tie-back crop top and some pretty basic shorts (see below) and stuck fairly closely to this as I drafted the patterns. I did end up hacking off the slight dropped sleeves of the top, after trying a muslin of that version on and feeling overwhelmed by the front, and I left off the front pockets of the shorts and added visible buttons.

I really love this outfit! I wore it out right after I finished sewing everything, and a boutique owner gushed over it, which was great validation :D I'm so happy with the shorts in particular - they are comfy, cool, look put-together, and they're just the right length for me. I definitely want several more pairs of these in my closet, as I really prefer shorts over skirts and dresses when it's hot out.


And some details:

The top is made from my pale green linen and fully lined using a sheer, light gray cotton (I used this same lining fabric throughout the collection). I lined the ties with interfaced self fabric and topstitched the edges to encourage them to keep their shape. I enclosed all the seams by keeping one side seam of the lining open, sewing the lining and outer fabric together fully, and flipping everything through at the end. I plan to topstitch this opening closed but forgot to do that during construction, oops! Also, it took me a few tries to figure out how to get into this top without help, but I discovered that I can tie the top knot with the shirt on my dress form, slip it on over my head, and tie the bottom myself. Hooray!

The shorts are nani IRO double gauze, and fully lined with the same gray cotton. They have a zipper fly and two buttons in the front, front release tucks (like a dart that's only half sewn), and darts and single welt pockets in the back. I made bottom cuffs which also serve to enclose the outer and lining edges at the leg openings.

I found these super cool shell buttons at a local fabric store. The pearly colors go nicely with the subtle hues of the double gauze, and I like the contrast of the black leaf shapes.

Welt pockets! I wasn't sure how these would turn out in something as finicky as double gauze, but I'm really happy with the end result!

I don't think I've ever owned a fully lined pair of shorts, let alone made some, but I wanted to give it a try since the gauze on its own is pretty see-though. I was worried about how this would work with the front fly, but it actually came together really well! The lining allowed me to hide the guts of the welt pockets in the inside, and all seams and dart bulk are fully enclosed. It definitely took more work than making unlined shorts, but it was totally worth it for the clean end result imo.

Above: inside the bottom leg opening.

Below: inside out, showing off that lining.

Cutout dress

The dress is made from the same double gauze as the shorts. This was the first design I came up with in the collection, as well as the inspiration for using double gauze, since it leads to a nice, airy dress but is heavy enough that the short skirt won't constantly billow up.

My biggest point of pride with this dress is my fitting of the bust. It took two or three muslins, but I eventually got the bodice to really cup my boobs and fit snugly underneath, so the whole thing feels really supportive and secure even without a bra on. For added support, I underlined the front bodice and waistband with muslin (sandwiched between the gauze and lining layers), and I used stay tape under the bust seams and along the back V to keep the fabric from stretching out over time.

The dress has a center back invisible zipper, and it's fully lined like the shorts. The bodice and waistband are all enclosed, and the skirt lining hangs free. I french-seamed the skirt (both outer fabric and lining) for a cleaner finish, and I used bias binding made from the double gauze to enclose the seams that couldn't easily be enclosed (that is, where the waist bands attach to each other inside and the back seams alongside the zipper).


Proud of this center front seam matching!

And some insides: lining, french seams, and bias binding.

Strappy tank & pants

This outfit took me the longest to settle on a concrete idea for. I knew I wanted linen pants but had a hard time figuring out what they should look like. I finally decided on semi-high waisted pants that are fairly fitted through the hips and thighs and wider through the knees and calves, with large patch pockets on the front. You can see my rough sketch below. Unfortunately, the pants were also the garment that ended up the farthest from my vision. The linen stretched out more than I had expected, so they are both far looser and far longer than my muslin version. (I actually hemmed an extra 2" off the bottom, and they still skim the ground when I wear the clogs I designed them for!)

The seams are all serged and topstitched down, and I don't have the patience to undo all of that in order to bring in the seams, nor do I think the linen would survive all of that without fraying a ton. So I'm going to try wearing these and see if they grow on me, and I might try washing + drying them to see if they'll shrink a bit.

My other bit of drama with the pants was around the closure. I had my heart set on a front fly, and I spent a day and a half trying to fit this in muslin. I could not get it to work! I have a very small waist relative to my low hips, and I wanted a high, fitted waist. This ratio meant that I could not get the pants over my hips without stressing the seams at the fly, even after lowering the bottom of the fly until it was right up in the crotch curve. I finally decided to try an invisible side zip instead, which doesn't have the limitations of a front opening (since it can just continue down the leg without hitting the crotch). It worked, and I'm actually really happy with the clean front of these. And after all that, the linen has enough give that I really didn't need to worry about anything being too snug, but I'm still glad I switched to the side zip.

The top was also a last minute design, but I'm really happy with it! I didn't really sketch the tank so much as trial-and-error it in muslin, with some very quick drafting of the front and back pieces. I wanted a longer tank with a low-V front and an even lower-U back (inspired in part by the scoop-back bras I've made). I originally just had the shorter over-the-shoulder straps, but they felt like they could easily slide off with the front and back so low. So I added the crossed straps, as well as some bra hardware to keep everything together and somewhat adjustable, and I'm really happy with the overall look. The orange cotton batiste is the least "me" fabric of the collection, and while I think I'll wear it occasionally, I'd like to make more in other colors (let's be real: black). I'd also like to experiment with built-in bra support in the future - not sure how well it would work, but it would be awesome if I figure it out, since the back is too low for a standard bra. That said, the front is lined and it's totally wearable with some pasties.

Bah - so much excess fabric on those pants! But hopefully the strap details distract from it enough.

This was actually my first time using top-stitching thread (much thicker than regular thread), and I'm pretty happy with the subtle detail it adds.

And for the shirt: the straps are just bias-binding cut from the fabric, double folded and top-stitched. I inserted some stay tape before the second fold to keep it from stretching out.

Neatly attached straps, plus rings and sliders from my bra-making supplies:

I fully lined the front, since the print fabric is very sheer, and I used a facing in the back (basically just a short lining) to give the top edges a clean finish. The linings were hemmed and attached to the self fabric at the top, and then I french seamed the sides, catching both the outer and lining fabric. (See this up close two photos down.) The front and back outer fabric is cut on the bias for a little more drape, and the lining/facing are cut on the straight grain to keep the top edges more stable. 

Bonus: the top looks great with the shorts! In fact, this is maybe my favorite outfit of the whole collection. Cohesiveness win!

Fabric details:
I believe the linen is Robert Kaufman Essex, but I bought the end of the bolt and don't see this dusty mint color online anymore. It was also from Modern Domestic
Sheer gray cotton lining and all notions from Mill End Store

Now that these are done, I'm not really sure what's next for these patterns, if anything. I definitely want to sew the shorts and the strappy tank up in other fabrics, as I love the shorts as a basic summer staple and the top as more of a wearable statement piece. I think the tank could make a fun dress in a flowy fabric, too. I may try sewing the pants again, taking the seams in quite a bit, to try to give them the fit I had originally envisioned. It's exciting being through the drafting and fitting steps and knowing making each pattern again will be so much faster the next time!

As for releasing these for wider consumption (as sewing patterns or finished garments), I haven't figured out whether I plan to do that yet. When I designed these, I explicitly focused more on designs I was excited about and less about practicality, and thus I unintentionally designed three outfits that aren't at all bra-friendly! I'm finally comfortable enough with my body that I'm cool with this, but I imagine this would limit the audience quite a bit. (I would have been very wary of going out in public without a bra just a year or two ago!) I also know that I would need to teach myself grading and/or create a standard block and redraft the patterns, since these were made specifically to fit my body.

So for now, this has been a fun exercise, a learning experience, and a great way to fill in the gaps in my summer wardrobe in just a couple of weeks. Living in foggy San Francisco for so many years means I have a lot of spring/fall layering pieces, but almost nothing suitable for the more extreme seasons that we have up here in the pacific northwest! I'm so happy to have real seasons again, but my closet isn't ready :)