Monday, 30 March 2015

My Holy Grail

Where dressmaking is concerned my holy grail is the perfect fit.  It is the one element that I am most interested in: being able to make clothes in a colour and style I want is great, but to have them fit perfectly: that's what I want most of all, my top concern ambition-wise.

Other elements are nice to have, but a dress that fits really well says a lot about the wearer, just like an ill-fitting garment does too.

So imagine my disappointment at not achieving great fit in my self-made garments just yet. I am finding this so very discouraging, it is really down-heartening.

I just started a second bias cut sleeveless top, for summer because I made it before and it fit pretty well. My wavy white top did unfortunately shrink a bit in the wash, which is unfortunate but my own fault (I should have washed the fabric first, I know, I know) but at least I knew that it fit well. I now have to lengthen the bust darts a bit - but I am still happy with this one.

Not so with version 2.  I am using a firmer cotton, in a blue batik, but surely a pattern that fit well before should behave a lot better than this one does?

This top shows up all kinds of fitting issues even after I lengthened these darts straight away.  The bust darts aren't deep enough this time (seriously?), the underarm seam sticks out and so does the back nape.  I am so disappointed that I can't find enough words.

I know that I didn't have the original back piece, but I re-engineered it from a cut-down version I copied out, and drew the missing outline of the shoulder from the wavy white top.  So it should be pretty close.

Perhaps not close enough for the back nape fitting issue, but the rest should be okay.

I feel really down in the dumps on this.  I have tried to make a well-fitting top so many different times now and still haven't solved the major fitting issues

I finally figured out that the bagginess at the front of the shoulder/side of upper chest is down to my low-busted shape - I also realised that I need to transfer this bagginess into the side seam, which is an issue I already know about: all those sticky-out side seams where I have to remove a wedge of at least a centimetre in width and 5-7cm in length.  So it is very good to finally know what this issue is about. That helps a lot.

It doesn't help that I often started over because I couldn't remember how far I got with a previous version, or couldn't find all the pattern pieces, or wasn't sure what pattern pieces I had. Starting over is safer, but it does add to the frustration.  I don't follow an ongoing learning curve by re-doing the same thing over and over.

I did try with my 'template' top and got to four versions. It wasn't a good pattern to alter because it started out very baggy while I was trying to achieve a close fit. And I didn't yet know how a full bust adjustment works. I do now.

What held me back from trying for version 5 was that I forgot to make some of the changes I had identified in version 3 and basically just made a second version 3. I had put this aside for too long and hadn't made notes.

The next time I will document everyone at length.  My odd dotted pink mini dress toile did show up that I do need some darts below the bust that run vertical across the waist. Just bust darts alone don't provide enough shaping.

I should show photos of the back and sides as well: very shapeless!

Onwards and upwards!

Friday, 27 March 2015

Jade green top

Here are a few more photos of my simple green top.  Basically I forgot that I had already blogged this.  Oh well, here's more...

Apologies for the top looking so wrinkled, I didn't have anyone who could take a picture while it was still unwrinkled, and I must admit I didn't realise how much this fabric creases, and how quickly!

This is actually quite instructive - maybe I don't like the fabric as much as I thought I did...

Thursday, 26 March 2015

I am making a promise to myself

I want to sew more, which was the plan for quite a while, - and I decided this week that I also want to stretch myself in terms of how many garments or projects I complete within one year.

I know it's no longer January so this isn't a New Year's Resolution as such (I totally suck at them, so that's a very good thing!) - but I already caught up because of the sewing session on 8th March.


I made the jade green simple top in two and a half hours. I could add the time I spent on two previous evenings when I drew up the pattern from my simple black top (can't find that pattern) but I won't.

It was really good to see that I can do it when I push myself.  A wonderful experience!  I can recommend it.  To myself most of all.

I decided that I want to make one garment per quarter year.  So I have three more to do in 2015 to get there.  Which is more than do-able.

If I think that I am easily on track for four this year, then I want to see if I can increase my completion rate to one garment every two months.  This might also be achievable but whenever I put pressure on myself, I fold.  That's it: as soon as I phrase an intention, a promise to myself, an ambition or a goal... I can rely on the fact that I do not, will not and apparently cannot fulfil that.

Why?  Is it so frightening to get things done?  To do what I have an ambition to do?  I could kick myself but I have a real problem with that.  Increasing expectation has always meant decreased success for me.  It is maddening.

I tried to find ways around it: not make plans but try and go for it, split tasks up into smaller steps and just try do one thing at a time... whatever it was it didn't really work.

So now I am trying to push through this terrible resistance that I seem to have taught myself: I am putting up an obstacle to my sewing progress by not completing items.  I am probably scared of success: once I actually make all those garments that I dream about I will be able to compare the actual results with the original ambitious ideas. I am probably just scared that my sewing skills won't measure up. Which they will continue not to if I don't do enough sewing!  I trapped myself in a bit of a catch 22 circle there. It has to stop!

Going for four garments this year needs to be something I can do.  Otherwise I might as well stop sewing and I have no intention of doing that.  My goals are still the same: make garments in colours, patterns and styles that I like, that suit me and that fit me better than shop bought stuff.

And one day I would like to translate my design ideas into practical garment making: giving life to the ideas that run through my head.  It is a wonderfully creative thing that I need to have in my life.

Here's to four garments and finding out if I can do more than that!

I am grimly determined.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

My new year's resolution at work!

Look at that!  What a thing of beauty.  And so very useful too...

The huge number of sewing, knitting and quilting WIPs that I have lying around is sapping my craft mojo.  When the pile of things I started gets too big (metaphorically speaking) then my practical crafting slows down.  It is just all too overwhelming.

I tried all kinds of things, all sorts of strategies - specifically with my sewing project (knitting is taking care of itself). What does help is knowing that other people have very similar problems.  So I scheduled an event in my meetup sewing group and found it a real boost.

I called it 'Pick up a Project': pulling out any project and looking it over. Then make a list of bullet points about what still needs to be done, or which items need to be assembled.  Basically putting yourself into a position where you know what's what.

It worked beautifully!  I did the bullet points for four projects and very quickly finished one of them.  I am so chuffed.  The others will take a bit longer, but hey...

Then I scheduled another event: Stich up a Project - grab the project from above and get on with the next step.

Then I thought that I would like a handy spreadsheet that shows me what the major projects are that I want to get on with (very important: not all of them, just the ones that I like best) which also gives me an opportunity to jot down notes: thoughts on what I was trying to achieve, ideas of fabric and design choice, considerations about possible fitting issues... anything that comes to mind.  Where it's nice to re-read later when you forgot half of what occurred to you.

This spreadsheet is the result.

The best column is the 'Next Step' one - what exactly do I want to do as the very next thing? And do I always get stuck at the same thing? Like perhaps: insert the zipper, or find so-and-so... or totally different things?

I haven't figured that one out yet but it is really great for getting a better feel of what I am doing and how it's going.

I put this list onto Google Sheets. This is part of Google Drive (you can also have documents on there, but the sheets are quite similar to Excel).  It is accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection and I can just use the one version to update.

I also have a second sheet of project ideas and which fabrics I want to use. Again, I am only listing some.

I'll let you know some of those major projects and the other strategic ideas this kicked off in my head.

I am feeling so much more optimistic about my sewing now!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Knitting plans

Another old blog draft from 2011. I should state up front that I haven't followed through on those plans yet.  But I will.  Fair Isle colourwork is too beautiful to not do.

I bought this book a while ago with a plan in mind:

Since then I bought a hellofalot of different colours in Jamieson Spindrift.  Think reds and pinks, think blue and greens, think some greys and a bit of dark brown and black too.  Gorgeous!

I must admit that I bought lots of them from what they looked like on the screen (never a very good idea - of course I ended up with a couple of surprises.  Shades I will be passing on to someone who can give them a good home).  Then I realised that the shade card is back in stock and the whole process could have been a touch easier.  So I bought that one too, and then of course I had to fill the gaps of those colours that had hidden behind less than well-matched shade graphics.  I've got about 20 odd balls of yarn.

Plenty to design a pattern with!

I didn't want to start from scratch and this book is terrific because there are lots of patterns in there that can be used for Fair Isle knitting.  The vast majority of those are written as black dots on a white background.  Very good for counting out and not so helpful if you would prefer to see how different colour combinations will look like.  There are a handful of examples in there.

Patterns for Fair Isle knitting tends to make strips of colour (the top half of the book cover shows this variation*), often this will be two strips that are quite different from each other (I will do one in reds and pinks and the other one in blues and greys, mixing in the greys where needed).  Some of the time you have a third strip that's much thinner and gets placed between each of the coloured strips, also in a pattern but usually in very neutral colours with a minimal pattern, often just a cross or a star shape.

The coloured strips will incorporate patterns that repeat from right to left.  These are usually symetric so you would only need to design and draw up a quarter of the pattern because it will be mirrored both across and up.  If that makes sense.

Even though a Fair Isle pattern may look like a lot of different colours are used at one time, it is actually only ever two at a time.  If you use a star shape then the star itself would be one colour and the background the second colour.  But Fair Isle lives from shaded colours: the very simplest form of Fair Isle would be colourwork of say a pink star on a grey background.  But in these patterns you use two colour for anything between one and two or three rows and then you switch to two different colours.

You have to decide whether you want more emphasis to the centre of the patterned strip or more focus on the edges of the strip.  So say you start with a dark red for the star and a dark grey for the background. You would knit in pattern for two rows and then switch to say a dark pink and a mid grey, also for two rows.  You could then have a third set of two rows in say light pink on a different shade grey.  The middle row of the strip needs another two colours and then you repeat the colour choice from the lower half but mirrored.  Starting with the light pink/grey combo, you then do the dark pink/mid grey colours and back to the dark red and dark grey.

That in a nutshell is how Fair Isle works.  At least as far as I can figure out.  And it's my plan for how to pick my colours, I've got plenty to choose from!

*: the bottom half of the book cover shows another variation of how colours can be applied in Fair Isle knitting.  The effect isn't so much stripes but a more even cover of pattern across the available space.  I will try this in a future project but right now I want to go with the stripes idea.

I am planning on knitting up a sample of my bigger stripe (in red/pink and grey) and where a single colour does not look so great, I might just embroider another colour over the top to see how those colours go together.  Same with the second, slightly less tall stripe in blue and green (and some brown and black).  I do wonder if I should put a very thin stripe of something suitably neutral so I don't end up with a jumper that's too bright and busy. Maybe something that's just five rows tall?  My swatches should be very helpful.

I can't wait to get started!  Only... I have too many other unfinished projects and it would be so very nice to finish at least one of those.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Aubergine Viscose top

[Note: Another blog post that I wrote ages ago and hadn't yet published. There is an update at the end.]

This is my purple viscose yarn top which is wonderfully cool to wear:

The colour looks a lot more aubergine in real life, whereas the photos make it look like a blu-ish purple. The yarn is a very slippery Drops Cotton Viscose (Ravelry link)

In the process of knitting up the back, which presented a multitude of problems: it got too wide, it got too narrow and I ended up ripping this down a few times.

The front drapes very well, the stockinette back... not so much.  It's okay though, I can live with that.

I now wonder if I can really live with the back being quite so shapeless. Reason being: I haven't worn this top once! Oh no. And I keep thinking of the lovely yarn and how nice it would look if I made something else out of this...
Even more: 'oh no'. I have too much wool! I cannot possibly start ripping down fully made garments to re-use the yarn! I Just. Simply. Cannot.
End of story.

So I should try to wear this as soon as the weather gets warm enough again this year. Maybe I can think of a fix.

Maybe I could sew 'design' welts into the back to take it in in strategic places, or gather into pleats at the centre back: lower down where the small of the back is. Something like that.
I'll see if the mood strikes me.

And that's my update. Um.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Coarse woven tweed skirt

I actually think of this skirt as my crazy fraying fabric skirt, I had such a hard time when I cut into this fabric: as soon as you do all the newly cut thread ends loosen and the fabric edge becomes distorted.

It is pretty much impossible to sew with non-existing edges like that.

In order to get around that I hacked out the pattern pieces in big chunks, then basted along the cutting line to mark it - and then, here's the piece de la resistance!, - then I put it through the overlocker: overlocking and cutting in one go. It worked great!

You only have to beware corners.  Because the overlocker knife cuts ahead and you can't turn a corner that hasn't been cut yet - the only way you could get around that is to run the overlocker off your rough fabric piece and start new.  But failing that: just cut an inch or so into the cutting line past the corner as you approach it with the overlocker, then you can easily turn at the corner, line up the knife with the already cut bit and go!

I think I matched the pattern pretty well across the centre back seam  and the side seams too. 

The fabric was £1 a metre from a Walthamstow fabric shop bordering the market. I liked the look of the fabric and could not resist buying it.  Bargain!

Unfortunately I forgot that I would have to spend time sewing something out of this fabric and I didn't really think whether I wanted a skirt like this.  I am not sure that it is me.

This was a bit aspirational - as in: this would look good on a elegant lady with a cute and very expensive handbag, someone who suits wearing pearls. I am not that person.

The skirt is okay and I am glad I had this experience with the fabric fraying.  I now know that I can wrestle this issue into submission!  There might be other fabrics that need the same treatment out there that I might want to sew with one day.

Oh hang on: I've already got one in my stash!  It is a light coloured coarse woven tweedy fabric that also looks very elegant, in a more understated and less bright way.  It would make the cutest mini skirt!

PS: This is dreadful, but I've since found yet another fabric very like these two. So I bought three at different occasions and didn't even remember the other purchases.  Why am I doing this to myself?  I must keep a proper record, like the Android app Clothio that seems to work pretty well.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Two and a half hour top

I didn't set out to time myself on this, but I completed this in two and a half hours today. Still not the standard of the Great British Sewing Bee but not too bad nonetheless. I am very happy that I managed to sew a garment within one day and complete it.

That's the good news and I am delighted about this because I usually leave something undone.

Could it be that it would be too much of a shock to the system if I just kept going until it is actually, properly completed? I am kidding of course. But I still suffer from the 95% curse, - and it is dreadful. I am rather fed up with myself to be honest.

Back to the garment. I am happy with the fabric: it irons really well (it is either a polyester or mabe a viscose?).

I like the drape - but unfortunately it doesn't fit very well. I attempted to make a narrower version (No.3) of my black (version 1) and petrol tops (version 2, not blogged) but only took it in a little bit (I drafted the pattern from the black top because I can't find the actual pattern I used ). Which might be a good thing because this shows up that the sleeves look funny at their top seam with the body. There is kink there even though the top of the sleeve is a very smooth and flat curve.

With another version of this I will need to try and raise the seam that's a dropped shoulder right now. That means that the sleeve head will have to change completely. The body is big enough right now to not need a dart but I am afraid that a change to the dropped shoulder would throw the garment out of whack completely.  I think I will have to try a different pattern for my 'simple' tops.

I can clearly see that I need to sew more.