All posts by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

best/worst makes of 2018, & January challenges!

Let’s talk about my top five makes of 2018. Kind of tough to narrow it down, honestly! I made some pretty good stuff:

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1) Swoon Patterns Nora bag. This pattern has been on my to-do list for a couple of years. I laid in supplies to make it back in 2016. But my Noodlehead Supertote has been such a workhorse, I just kept procrastinating on making another bag. The Supertote finally started falling apart, so I made the Nora bag. I love it! Swoon Patterns are always trustworthy & create really sharp-looking, functional bags. The only thing I would change is the strap width. I made the biggest size, the traveler, & I think the 1″ straps look a little dinky. They function, they’re comfortable enough (I made sure to lengthen the straps enough that I could easily swing it over my shoulder), but they just look a little disproportionate to me.

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2) black embellished Jenna cardigan. This was one of my first finishes in 2018. I knew a cropped black cardigan would work with everything in my closet. Unfortunately, the iron-on appliques I used started to peel off after the very first wash, & I was incredibly lazy about stitching them down, even though I love hand-stitching. I finally set aside a couple of hours & did it this fall, & this sweater has been in near-constant rotation ever since.

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3) black speckled Hudson pants. I just finished these lounge pants in November, but I’ve been wearing them almost daily. (I’m wearing them right now!) The speckled French terry is slightly more elevated than solid black, & the pink trim is my absolute favorite shade. I really took care with my sewing & it’s near-flawless. I even wear these out to run errands, do school drop-off, etc, because I feel like they almost pass as real pants. My only quibble is the weird pocket shape–it’s too long & low for my body shape. It’s not as egregious as it was on my first pair of Hudson pants, because this French terry is a lot more stable than the quilted sweatshirting I used before, & I also used a woven for the pocket bag instead of cotton jersey. But it’s still odd & annoying.

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4) Vogue dress for Alex. I spared no effort in fitting & constructing this dress, & I’m really proud of it! It fits Alex perfectly, it suits her style to a tee, & it is flawlessly sewn. The only thing that irks me is the topstitching at the hem & armscyes. I wish I’d taken the time to catch-stitch them hems by hand. But that would have added time, & thus expense, to the piece, & Alex seems happy with the topstitching, so I just have to let it go.

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5) pink leather sandals. To be perfectly honest, I am not 100% in love with the look or fit of these sandals. I just don’t like open-toed shoes, & as the leather relaxes with wear, the fit of the shoe gets looser & a little bit floppy. Something about my right foot seems to pull to the inside, so it’s difficult to keep my foot centered in the footbed in an open shoe style like this. BUT…I made shoes, mothafucka! How unbelievably awesome is that?!

& now for the real fun. These were my top five fails:

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1) On the Go bag. I so wanted this bag to work! I love the trendy teardrop shape & easy one-shoulder sling bag strap element. Unfortunately, it was just a poorly-conceived design. It came from a book called On the Go Bags, which I thankfully got from the library. With no gusset or shaping, the finished bag wastwo-dimensional–just a front & a back sewn together. There was no depth, so it could really carry anything. I saw it coming, but I was in denial that a bag designer with a book contract would come up with such an impractical design. I used the bag exactly once, hated everything about it, & took it apart to harvest it for parts. I mean, that applique is too gorgeous to squander it on this dumpster fire!

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2) striped houndstooth Lander shorts. Surprise fail! I made the full-length Lander pants out of cotton twill & my only quibble with the fit was that that the full-length was just a mite short on me extra-long legs. The houndstooth denim I used for the shorts was a lot beefier, & thus, it highlighted every single problem with the crotch draft. People love this pattern, but I will shout it from the rooftops: the crotch curve, especially in front, is straight up weird. (I have found this to be true of other True Bias patterns as well.) The front crotch hook is very straight & incredibly shallow, it doesn’t seem like it’s properly trued with the back hook, & the result is that the crotch wants to pull backward. In a shorts hem length, this meant that the entire garment was pulling backward, cutting into the fronts of my thighs & making it really uncomfortable to sit down. I have proportionally slim thighs, so this was a completely unforeseen problem for me. It was weird. I think the draft is for people with a lot more junk in the trunk than me, so the distribution of width was just all wrong. These shorts went straight into the donation bin.

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3) Itch to Stitch Liana jeans. I wanted these to work! I really did! I love the variety of cuts for the leg! But these were a Chernobyl-level dsaster. The “mid-rise” was way too low for me–which is odd, given that I have a shorter-then-average torso. The drafting was a hot mess. The crotch seam wasn’t trued, like…at all. Which made construction a nightmare. The pockets were all super-tiny (even in the sample photos modeled by the designer, you can see the pockets look weirdly small on her, & she is a small person), & while I actually did like the way the cut of the lower leg looked on me, I wouldn’t classify it as “straight”. There was no salvaging these.

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4) blue & black heart cut-out panties. (Yeah, that’s my butt. #dealwithit)The big fail here was that I did a super-cute butt cut-out on these panties, filled in with sheer, lightweight black tricot. Which was shredded into a wispy haunted mess the very first time they were washed. Duh. Should have seen that coming! 2018 was basically the year I threw a lit match into my lingerie drawer. I’ve made some bras in the past with sheer tricot upper cup panels & it’s never been a problem because I am careful to wash my handmade bras by hand. But a couple of them got mixed into the regular laundry this year & were absolutely destroyed, just like these panties. I’m a dummy sometimes. It doesn’t really matter if you can make your own clothes if you can’t take care of them properly, hello!

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5) beige & white Ingrid bra. (Yes, those are my boobs. Looking their absolute worst.) This was a pattern test, so I made no alterations & didn’t use pretty fabric, so maybe it’s not 100% fair to call this a fail. I feel like I have nice boobs though, & this bra makes them look like they belong to a 1000-year-old witch who lives in a tree & subsists solely on a diet of reindeer jerky & baby rabbits. I keep it around for days when I feel like I should wear a bra but really don’t want to, but…let’s be real. It’s hideous.

As long as we’re here, let’s do a quick round-up of January 2019 sewing challenges. Let me know if I missed any!

  • I’ll start with my own personal favorite. The Monthly Stitch‘s January challenge is “seasonally inappropriate”: sew something that isn’t suited to your current climate.
  • #makenine2019: long-standing annual challenge started by Rochelle of Lucky Lucille. This is an easy one. Just choose nine new-to-you patterns you hope to execute during the new year.
  • #sewtwistsandties: a fun challenge from Meg of Cookin’ & Craftin’. Sew a pattern that features some kind of twist, knot, or tie feature! This is a huge trend right now & there are dozens of patterns to choose from!
  • Pattern Review is launching two contests in January. Activewear will run from January 1-31, & the hotly-anticipated Sewing Bee opens on January 11.
  • #sewmystyle2019 is a go! January’s challenge is unusually open-ended: anything goes work-out gear. Any pattern counts, for men, women, or children! More info can be found on Maddie’s blog. She’s the coordinator this year.
  • Bra-Makers Supply is hosting the Ultimate Bra-Makers Challenge again in 2019. January’s theme is We’ve Got Your Back, focusing on creative design for the backs of your handmade lingerie pieces.
  • The Self-Sewn Wardrobe FB community is beginning its second year of monthly challenges. January will focus on Sewing Spaces, with a concurrent challenge to achieve 31 Days of Sewing! Everything counts, from planning to organizing to cutting to sewing! The goal is just to get into your sewing space & do something!
  • The 52-Week Sewing Challenge is another FB group, focused on weekly challenges. January 1-6 is Organize Your Sewing Space, January 7-13 is Sew a UFO, January 14-20 is Sew a Pattern You Own But Have Never Tried, January 21-27 is Sew Something Red, & January 28-February 3 is Sew Something with Fancy Seams.
  • The 100 Items Sewing Challenge is another FB group with even more open-ended goals. Simply sew 100 items in 2019.
  • Sewalongs & Sewing Contests in another FB group which hosts a monthly challenge. Their Capsule Quartet Challenge (create a four-piece outfit/capsule) opens on January 1.
  • Let’s Sew Fancy Pants is a month-long challenge to–wait for it–sew some pants. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must also post a video of yourself dancing in them. Might be worth it, the prize packages are pretty jaw-dropping.
  • As far as I can tell, #sew3unsewn is a gentle, year-long challenge. The goal is to simply tackle three categories of project in 2019: a pattern you’ve purchased but never used, a fabric you’ve stashed away, & a project started but never finished (UFO–unfinished object).

 

looking forward to sewing in 2019

Happy new year, faithful readers, assorted spambots, & random women who somehow stumbled across this blog from the BabyCenter TTC forums! 2018 is behind us, as are the smoldering ashes of the grand plans I had for this blog last year. 2018 was going to be the year that I really Doubled Down & Made An Effort. I was going to improve my photography & meticulously document each make. I was going to Provide a Resource To The Larger Sewing Community. I was going to be a Real Sewing Blogger.

Well, best-laid plans & all that. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I had aspirations in lieu of plans. Last year really didn’t shake out the way I expected at all. I started the year still recovering from my broken foot, expecting to move back to Massachusetts before the year was through. I ended the year sick in bed with the flu & living in Portland, Oregon.

With the cross-country move, 2018 was a bit of a slow sewing year for me. I assiduously kept track, but only completed sixty projects this year. Maybe that sounds like a lot, but some of them were, like, a tea towel, or an element of Ramona’s Halloween costume.

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This pie chart breaks down the types of projects I sewed in 2018. Homewares was big because I made a lot of curtains for our new house in Portland. Accessories was also a surprisingly robust category. I made two bags (though one was a catastrophe–more on that in my next post), a headband, a pair of tights, two pairs of embellished fingerless gloves, swim bottoms (didn’t know how to categorize those, so I went with “accessory”), & a pair of sandals.

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Sandals!

Th slightly less beautiful chart below shows what pattern companies I used in 2018. Go ahead & pick your jaw up off the floor, I’m not actually a magical pattern-drafting wizard. I just made a lot of things like curtains & tea towels this year, which are just hemmed rectangles. I categorized them as “self-drafted” because I didn’t use any particular pattern. I also draft my panties from scratch, but I need to tweak my basic pattern because I lost some weight this year & now all my panties are too big. You just haven’t lived until you’re walking up the street in a cute dress & you’re like, “Are my panties about to fall off?”

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My sewing-related goals in 2019 include:
1) Sew MORE! I do, after all, pay for a dedicated sewing studio. I’m moving spaces soon, still within the same warehouse, but I’m going to have a slightly larger, more private space. It’s at the end of a very quiet, private hallway, & it’s about 130 square feet! (Same as this tiny house!) The walls are all pre-framed. I went to Home Depot last week & picked up drywall to finish them properly. I’m going to paint them “Piggy Bank” pink, save for the far wall, which will stay white. I might do a quick whitewash of the concrete floor as well, just to brighten it up. The walls go up about nine feet, but then open, & the ceiling is a warehouse ceiling, so–you know. It’s like 25 feet or something. I’m thinking about doing a lattice of white Christmas lights above my space for more dedicated light, in addition to my various lamps & wall-mounted spotlights & whatnot. Jared got me some daylight bulbs for Christmas because I get kind of crazy from too much artificial light.

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“Piggy Bank” pink

I’ll share some photos once this is all underway. I have all the supplies & it would have been done by now if not for this damn flu. I did get a flu shot, so I know I wasn’t nearly as sick as I would have been without it. But it did disrupt my schedule. Once the new space is ready, I’m hoping to get in at least 15 hours of studio time every week, on average.

2) Participate in challenges. I actually make a big effort to keep track of sewing challenges because I want to include them in the Monthly Stitch newsletter. I write them down, I imagine what I will make for them, sometimes I even follow through & complete a project before the deadline! & then I don’t photograph or share it. I really want to change that. I’m pretty happy just sewing for myself & I get a lot of satisfaction from the simple fact of wearing the clothes I make. But who doesn’t like those sweet social media affirmations?!

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To wit, here’s my #makenine2019. Top row, L-R: Closet Case Patterns Jenny overalls, Alice & Co Intrepid Boiler Suit, Simplicity 8342 knit top. Middle row, L-R: Cloth Habit Watson bra, Laughing Crowe internal stitchdown work boots, Digital Pattern Library Belted Sweater. Bottom row, L-R: McCall’s 7682 shirtdress, Sew House Seven Nehalem pants, Butterick 6318 dress.

3) Sew the perfect make. This is a long-standing dream. I think I came really close with a few things I made in 2018, but I haven’t quite managed it yet. My definition of the “perfect make” is a completed garment that is absolutely flawless in every respect. Not only is the construction perfect, with nary a wobbly stitch or loose thread, but I also wouldn’t change a thing about the finish, substrate, or fit. This is less about perfectionism run amok than just my constant quest to keep pushing my skills forward as they naturally improve with practice. I accept that I may never achieve the perfect make, but I legitimately enjoy trying.

4) Draft my own designs. This is something else I’ve been wanting to experiment with for a while. I often have ideas for what I want to wear, but I can’t find just the right pattern to make it happen–even with hacks & alterations. For example, right now I’m dreaming of a heavyweight coccoon cardigan with a deep shawl collar & some kind of closure. I haven’t been able to find exactly the silhouette I want with just the right details. So I’m thinking about figuring out how to draft it myself. I’m thinking about setting a personal challenge to draft one design for myself each month.

The source material & the mask I made for Ramona’s Halloween costume. She wanted to dress up as her favorite vampire stuffie, Vanique.

5) Blog! & document! I absolutely failed to share most of my 2018 sewing here. I hope to change that in 2019. One of my goals for 2018 was to become more involved in the online sewing community, & that worked out better than I expected when I became a volunteer editor for the Monthly Stitch. I’m the content editor, which means that I post the monthly announcements.I’m also a moderator of the FB group & am going to be taking on the Monthly Stitch Instagram account in 2019. I also introduced the idea of having a monthly sponsor to give away sewing-related prizes to contributers, & I’ve resurrected the Monthly Stitch email newsletter (which is really good! You should subscribe!). Somehow, I survived my first Indie Pattern Month as a coordinator, which was WAY more work than you’d think! There are five of us volunteers, so I’m definitely not carrying the load alone, by any stretch of the imagination. But it still takes a lot of time & energy, & it’s time & energy that has come at the expense of my own personal blog.

newsletter-button_2019This is the button to sign up for the Monthly Stitch newsletter! It’s good! I busted my ass curating some really interesting links & compiling an exhaustive list of sewing challenges & contests!

I’m hoping to find a better balance in 2019. Part of what made the Monthly Stitch so much work in the last few months was the learning curve, but as I get more familiar & comfortable with how everything works, it gets easier. & I’ve actually learned some stuff that might actually make this blog better too! I just bought a new phone, which will make Instagram a lot easier to use. (My old phone has a glitch where it just starts cycling through apps on its own, which makes sitting down & writing a simple Instagram caption akin to capturing smoke in your bare hands.)

I did a little guest-blogging in 2018. I did a Pattern Throwdown for the Curvy Sewing Collective, I wrote about print-mixing for the Sewcialists blog, & I did something on fashion drawing for MyBodyModel. I’d love to do some more guest-blogging, if the right opportunities present themselves in 2019. But my top priorities will be my own blog & the Monthly Stitch.

What about you? What are your big sewing goals for 2019?

November sewing plans: too ambitious?

Hello, sewing friends, & others who persist in reading this blog even though it is almost 100% about sewing! Let’s talk sewing plans!

I’m setting myself a goal of completing ten projects this month. If I complete more–great! If I complete fewer–also great! But ten seems like a challenging but achievable goal given my available time & skill set.

1) black speckled French terry Hudson pants with pink trim. I actually finished these today! I saw this speckled French terry at the recently-deceased Fabric Depot when I was visiting Portland in March, before I moved here. I didn’t buy it, but I thought about it every day until I moved here. Two days after I arrived in town, I went to Fabric Depot & bought four yards. That was enough for a long-sleeved Lady Skater dress with a hood (completed last weekend) & these Hudson pants. I still have some left too. I might use it to finally try the Watson bralette. Eventually.

 

 

 

 

2) cats & roses print Swoon Nora doctor bag with black leather trim. I’ve been meaning to make this bag for literally a couple of years. I keep waffling on what fabric to use & that’s why it hasn’t happened yet. I like making bags because there’s no fitting, it’s just all about precision sewing, which I love. But I am also perhaps overly aware of the dangers of your bag clashing with your outfit. The easy solution would be to make a black bag, but…I can’t bring myself to be so boring. I think I have finally settled on this cotton/linen canvas I got from Hart’s Fabrics over the summer.

3) cats & roses print low-top sneakers. Yeah, I make shoes now! Well, I have made one pair of shoes. I should blog them, they turned out pretty great. I got this sneaker-making kit from the Chicago School of Shoemaking, & it appears that I have misplaced the included pattern, but once I find it, I’m going to make some low-top sneaks from the off-cuts of what I use for the Nora bag. Isn’t it some kind of fashion rule to match your shoes to your bag?

 

 

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More #shoemaking photos! I made my tights too. What a day. We patterned soles, designed & patterned the uppers, cut out the sole leather on this old-time crank lever cutter thing, cut our uppers from the leather of our choice, shaped our soles, fit the uppers (that was the hardest part for me, both because I have weird feet, but also because my design concept was pretty fussy), glued our soles to our heels, engineered the uppers & insole together & glued it all in place, skived the leather down, nailed the heels to the soles, glued & nailed the uppers to the sole, attached hardware, & then the teacher sanded & we beveled the insole. Oh, & embossed the insoles, just for fun. All told, it took like nine hours. & I might be forgetting some parts. But it was fun! I’d do it again. #sewcialists #memadeeveryday #imsotired

A post shared by Ciara Xyerra (@ciaraxyerra) on

4) black stretch corduroy Vogue 1411 pants. With the weather cooling down, I am reaching for pants more & more, especially first thing in the morning for the walk to Ramona’s bus stop. I have been wearing the stretch denim V1411 pants I made like four or five years ago A LOT. They’ve held up remarkably well considering that I made them before I fully understood that finishing your seams is actually not optional, especially on a ravel-ly fabric like denim. Probably because of all the topstitching. It’s a testament to the pattern-drafting that the project came together so well for me in my inexperience & the finished product has lasted as well as it has. I’m looking forward to having another pair in the rotation–with finished seams this time!

5) superhero pajamas for Ramona. She picked out this superhero fabric on the same Fabric Depot trip that I bought my French terry, & whipping up a pair of pajamas from my TNT pattern for her takes seriously an hour or two, start to finish. She is so patient with me.

6) black twill Pauline Alice Rosari skirt. This is a commission project for my friend Eva, who has also been remarkably patient with me. Pro-tip for anyone who commissions from me in the future: don’t tell me that there’s no deadline. Make one up. I will hate it, but I will meet it (as long as you act like it’s real & don’t tell me it’s just arbitrary).

7) speckled charcoal Sew House Seven Tabor tee. This is a new pattern for me, but it’s a knit tee, so I’m hoping that it will be pretty simple. It’s also Sew House Seven, so I am really looking forward to the construction. I’m going to make the long-sleeved curved hem version with the wide overlapped neckline, & I always enjoy the way Peggy handles those little details in her patterns. I’m really not an indie fangirl, I like to think I at least consider indies & Big 4 patterns pretty equally, but I have really enjoyed every Sew House Seven pattern I have made so far (several of which have never been blogged, even though they get worn constantly), & I’m hoping the Tabor tee will join the ranks of my TNTs! I’m less excited about the fabric. I bought it online, against my better judgment, because it’s a speckled Robert Kaufman jersey that LOOKS really cool but is kind of scratchy to wear. I used another colorway in the body of my “the future is female” baseball tee, & the difference between the rough, itchy speckled jersey & the cool, smooth blue solid drives me crazy. But the internet made me think it was charcoal with pink speckles &…I can’t resist anything pink. The actual fabric has a lot more lime green speckles, alas. So I’m really looking at this whole project as a wearable muslin, & probably more of a pajama or layering shirt than something that will get worn on its own much. But who knows! Maybe I’ll fall in love with it!

8) black Digital Pattern Library belted sweater. This pattern was just released in September, I spotted it when I was checking out new patterns for my “favorite new patterns from September” blog post, which never materialized. But if it HAD, this pattern would have been #1 with a bullet! I really don’t know how this sweater is going to work with the fabric I chose (a fairly lightweight cotton sweatshirting) or my body type (busty & thick through the waist), but I just HAVE to try it. I’m too obsessed to skip it.

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9) pink taffeta Cashmerette Chilton trench coat. Whaaaaat. PINK TAFFETA? I know. Cashmerette was one of the sponsors I lined up for Indie Pattern Month on the Monthly Stitch, & I got to interview Jenny about this pattern for her Sponsor Spotlight piece. I have never in my life had the slightest desire to make, or even wear, a trench coat. So I went into the interview piece fairly dispassionate, recognizing the value of such a pattern for a significant portion of the home sewing world that has desired a utilitarian pattern like this that doesn’t skimp on any of the classic details or finishes. But then Jenny sent along some photos from her testers, & people had used some interesting fabrics. Not just boring ol’ camel or navy…possibly my two least favorite colors in the entire world. I started wondering how it would look in a large-scale floral or pink…& THEN IT HIT ME. You know who wore a trench coat in a very unusual color & looked damn good doing so? PRINCE, MOTHERFUCKERS. His classic “Purple Rain” purple trench! What if I re-interpreted that coat, but in pink, as that is MY signature color? I hit the Mill End store during their customer appreciation sale & just let my instincts lead me to this hot pink tafetta. I haven’t started cutting out the pattern yet, so I’m not sure what alterations I will make to make it more Prince. I might lengthen it & widen the lapels some. I will DEFINITELY be adding some pyramid stud detailing on one shoulder! But I also intend to make it an actual usable coat for Portland weather. Tafetta actually isn’t a bad choice for water-resistance, & if I underline it with flannel, it could be reasonable cozy.

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(PS–Did this photo get you pregnant? Because I think it got me pregnant. Which is especially impressive, given that I no longer possess a uterus.)

10) yellow cable knit cardigan. This is a bit of a wild card because I don’t have the fabric yet. I ordered it, it’s in the mail, but not having touched or handled it, I’m not sure what the weight or drape is going to be like, & that’s going to be the deciding factor in what it becomes. I was just so thrilled to find real cable knit fabric for sale, & in a bright sunshine yellow to boot (one of my top four colors to wear, the others being black, gray, & pink), & 50% off on top of everything else?! I had to give it a chance. I initially thought I would use it to make a waist-length Muse Patterns Jenna cardigan, but the button bands on that pattern can be challenging if the fabric is too bulky. Then I started thinking about a closure-less circle cardigan, but…I kind of hate wearing a layer that doesn’t have some kind of closure. Now I’m thinking about a circle-style cardigan with a closure & a turn-back lapel/neckband…with some kind of hand detail. I don’t know if I want to embroider, bead, stone, or felt…It will ultimately depend on the fabric & the garment design & structure. If you have a pattern recommendation for me, I am all ears!

Just for fun, let’s look at the color/fabric palette I’m looking to sew for myself this month:

 

 

 

Only one real print for myself this month! Crazy!

As long as we’re here, let’s do a quick round-up of various theme months & challenges happening in the sewing community this month.

So we’ll see what all I get to this month, & how I feel about announcing all of these plans that may or may not ever see the light of the day…But hopefully ALL of them will & they will all be dutifully blogged here. What do you think? Am I being too ambitious? Not ambitious enough? Do you make sewing plans, & how is your follow-through?

achievement unlocked: Vogue 9112 dress

Hey, look at me, being all alive & stuff! I kind of fell off the face of the Earth for a while. Ramona started kindergarten at the end of August & it was a far more challenging transition than I anticipated. There’s been a lot of bullying & some issues with school administration. I don’t really want to go into all the details in a public-ish forum like this, but suffice to say, taking care of Ramona has being eating up a lot of my physical & emotional energy recently. Obviously I have hours everyday when she is at school (like right now!), but it hasn’t been the blissful, productive idyll for which I’d hoped. Oh well.

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Ramona on her first day of school!

Accordingly, I didn’t get a ton of sewing done in September. In fact, I had a good solid ten days when I was having some kind of weird anxiety attack & was too freaked out to even go to the studio at all. I didn’t do nothing. I got a lot of cross stitching done during that time. But the cross stitch projects I do are so complex, I’d only be updating this blog like twice a year if that’s all I ever wrote about here. …Wait a minute…I kind of only update here twice a year anyway…

I made some curtains for the house, but I think the only other sewing project I actually finished in September was a dress commission for my friend Alex. She was going to be in a wedding party & needed a black dress, but she was having trouble finding something off the rack that fit properly, both physically & aesthetically. So I offered my services.

Alex sent me a bunch of different images of the style she was after–kind of a lagenlook thing. She definitely wanted a drape-y cowl situation, but she also wanted a relatively fitted bodice, & an above-the-knee skirt length, since she is pretty short. This is the kind of challenge I really enjoy. It’s why I took up sewing in the first place, really. Because so often, there is a mismatch between what a person wants to wear & what is available for them to buy in ready-to-wear. Alex is a small person who wants to wear witchy, asymmetrical layers, but she doesn’t want to look like a walking laundry pile. That means these layers & proportions need to be scaled properly for her. Fun!

Based on what she showed me, I gave her an assortment of pattern options. She chose Vogue 9112, a Marcy Tilton design. She liked the interesting collar, the draping, & the sleevelessness. It’s a really interesting pattern. It’s seventeen different pieces, with only the pocket bags & armscye bindings being the same as any others. It’s mostly extremely convex curves being sewn to very concave curves, with some gathering on a few pieces & a bit of pleating on the collar.

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official pattern photo

We went on a field trip to the Mill End store to choose fabric. Alex settled on a black wool suiting with subtle shimmery silve pinstripes. I wasn’t thrilled, because I’m allergic to wool & I knew my hands were going to be an itchy mess the whole time I worked on the dress. But it was an excellent fabric choice for the occasion & it worked really well with the design.

I took great care to cut accurately & on-grain, & carefully marked each pattern piece. My precision in prep combined with the excellent drafting made the whole thing a joy to sew.It could have been an absolute nightmare, but careful staystitching & plenty of experience sewing curves (thanks to all the bramaking I do) helped me construct everything without a single pucker & without having to rip out any seams. The fabric ravelled like crazy, & even with steam, it didn’t hold a press very well. I briefly considered topstitching the seamlines to flatten them out more easily, but I was making the dress for a wedding & topstitching has a casual vibe, in my eyes. So I just used lots & lots & lots of steam & exercised a lot more patience than I probably would have had I been making the dress for myself, & I got there in the end.

IMG_7743on the dress form

We did have to make quite a few adjustments to achieve the fit Alex was after. She wanted something that was relatively fitted in the bodice, so she wouldn’t look like she’d just wrapped a bolt of fabric around herself & called it a dress. Based on her measurements, I cut a straight medium, but we wound up taking the side seams in about 3″ on either side (grading from nothing at the armscye to the full 3″ just above the pockets). We made even more alterations to the back seam, which is thanfully a straight seam running from neck to hem. We took in the neckline 1.5″ & then curved the seam to take in a full 8″ at the waistline, grading back to nothing at the hem. I was worried that this was going to radically effect the grainline, & thus, the drape, but to my surprise, we had no problems. I did re-cut the collar the match the new neckline circumfrence. I originally seamed the back of the collar to take out the excess, but I hated how the seamline looked. Starting the collar from scratch also gave me a chance to miter the hem instead of just folding & stitching, which made for a more professional finish.

We didn’t adjust the length at all. The dress hits mid-thigh on the models on the pattern envelope. Alex is only 5 feet tall, & the dress hit her just above the knee, which was exactly what she wanted.

IMG_7753

finished dress, hanging up in my studio

I am pretty thrilled with how well it all came together. I think the fit is spot-on, & I’m really proud of my sewing. The only thing I’d change is maybe hand-stitching the arm & neck facings & the hem. I followed the pattern directions & topstitched, but since none of the other seamlines are topstitched, I think the dress would look more elegant if it was hand-finished. I also think the topstitching at the neckline & arms is too far out from seams. I mean, I did it as the pattern instructed, but it’s like 3/8″ away from the seams & it just looks clumsy to me. I prefer to be about 1/8″ out.

42315314_10155533336671962_2579738811755921408_oAlex at the wedding!

Hopefully I will get more sewing done in October. In fact, I have already finished a couple of projects! More to come!

 

 

Design Your Wardrobe: week two

This is the third post in my series about the month-long Colette/Seamwork Design Your Wardrobe course. I’m doing the fall/winter course, which started in early August. The goal is to develop a seasonal “collection” & sewing queue. You can see the first two posts here & here.

Week two: “colors & fabrics”. Obviously I’m only halfway through the month, but this was a difficult week for me. It had me questioning the logic & utility of the entire program. Maybe you can spot the problem: we’re thinking about fabrics before we’ve considered patterns! Unless a person has displayed a certain lack of imagination (in my opinion) in creating their mood board & just went ahead & made a bunch of specific pattern decisions then, who the fuck knows what fabrics are going to work?

Day six: “shop your stash”. Uh…shop for what, exactly? I have many great fabrics, but a pair of pants & a henley require a very different textiles. We were told to use our mood boards for guidance. I just swatched everything that seemed like it could be made into a fall/winter garment. Which was almost everything I have. You can still wear linen & Swiss dot in the winter! They can be layering pieces, or employed as trims or accents for heavier fabrics. It took me almost two hours & I wound up with over 100 swatches.

IMG_6886This isn’t even everything.

I don’t know exactly what I intend to make, but I know that I’m planning to make everything, which complicates things. Not just skirts/pants/dresses/tops, but also lingerie, pajamas, bags, shoes, a coat…I sew my ENTIRE wardrobe. Some people opt out of making their own bras or coats or whatever because they don’t enjoy that type of sewing. I have yet to find any kind of garment-sewing unenjoyable. & so I have an enormous variety of textiles on hand, everything from cork to powernet to denim to embroidered tulle. I even have heavy treaded rubber for soling shoes.

Day seven: “shop for swatches”. I was like, “Are you kidding me? Now we’re shopping & we still don’t know what garments we’re making?” The dispatch said, “You might find other fabrics that fit your mood board.” Well…of course! Put a person who sews in a well-appointed fabric store, & s/he is not going to struggle to find textiles s/he loves!

But I’m not going to ignore an excuse to go to the Mill End store, in southernmost Portland. I love that place. So much gorgeous fabric that I am dying to wear. It was a colossal struggle not to buy anything. I found a gorgeous mid-weight linen that was my exact favorite Pepto-Bismol shade of pink. I don’t know how I walked away without buying the entire bolt. I had to remind myself: I already have more fabric than I can reasonably sew in a year…or five. & it’s my personal policy not to buy fabric without first having an intention for it.

clockwise from top left: striped denim, that gorgeous pink linen, hot pink silk dupioni, a lovely lemon yellow Swiss dot.

That’s why this week was so hard for me. My funds are limited, so I can’t impulse-buy fabric. It would lead to financial ruin! There are a million beautiful fabrics in the world. I can’t buy them all, & I wouldn’t realistically wear them all. I’m often attracted to fabrics with red tones. But I don’t wear red–I don’t like how it looks on me & it’s an inexplicable anxiety trigger. Sometimes Ramona turns on lights mid-day, & that triggers the same suffocating anxiety. I’m already taking Prozac, but it seems to have no effect on weird lighting- & red fabric-triggered panic attacks.

Day eight: “categorize your colors”. We were instructed to look through the swatches we had gathered & note the dominant colors, & then categorize under three headings: “neutrals” (goes with everything), “basics” (goes with practically everything, but is a little more in your face), & “statements” (colors that really draw the eye). This was pretty easy for me: lots of black, gray, yellow, & pink. Pink is basically a neutral for me.

But I bowed to Seamwork’s more conservative palette concepts & duly categorized cotton candy & Pepto pink as basics, & bright pink (“wild strawberry”) & deep saturated pink (“lipstick”) as statements. I also had some wild cards–colors that were unexpectedly prevalent. I had some mint green, deep sea green, eggplant, & a saturated deep blue.

On day nine: “build your palette”. This was a straightforward exercise. We selected a couple of colors from each of the categories from the day before, along with a handful of coordinating prints. Boom. Palette. Done.

It was at this point that I gave up & decided that I simply could not complete these exercises without knowing what the fuck I wanted to make. So I sat down & made a list of everything I was thinking. Some of my ideas were fully-formed–I know I’m going to make a French terry Lady Skater dress with a hood. I’ve already purchased a few yards of black speckled French terry for that purpose. I want to make a paid of black linen Named Patterns Astrid wrap pants. I made turquoise linen Astrid shorts earlier this summer & I love them. I’m definitely making some T-strap sandals at the shoemaking workshop next weekend.

Me wearing my Astrid shorts & a lemon print Blanc tee from Blank Slate Patterns at the Portland Zine Symposium a few weeks ago.

I generated a list of 63 garments. !!! I drew some rudimentary sketches & came up with twelve different head-to-toe looks. After that, I could FINALLY envision my palette.

fullsizeoutput_83c

Day ten: “fill in the gaps”. In my opinion, this was the most WTF exercise of the week. We were instructed to go shop for fabrics that suit our palettes in the event that we had included colors that were not yet represented in our swatches. I was baffled–I’d already swatched my stash & gone hog wild taking photos at the Mill End. Those are the fabrics upon which I based my palette. Why would I need to shop for more? It felt needlessly acquisitive. All it did for me was sow a lot of angst over a jersey print I want to use for pajamas. Does it “go”? Is there too much teal? Is the yellow too mustard-y? Should I use something else instead…even though I already have the jersey in my stash & would have to buy a replacement fabric? I still haven’t decided. HALP.

Should I replace the one on the left with the one on the right? I’m leaning toward yes.

So. Weird week. Picking colors & considering fabrics before making decisions about garments/patterns 100% did not work for me…& judging from a lot of the chatter on the private Design Your Wardrobe boards, most others weren’t really doing it that way either. There was a lot of, “I want to make X pattern from X red fabric, so I put red in my palette.” Maybe I am misunderstanding something? Next week is all about garment/pattern selection. This strikes me as ass-backward, Y/Y? Obviously this program isn’t prescriptive, but I assume some thought went into the order of exercises, & I don’t understand why they chose to structure it this way.

Design Your Wardrobe: week one

Read this for background on what Design Your Wardrobe is & why I’m participating

The basic structure: folks are emailed a “daily dispatch” every weekday. Each dispatch features a keyword that shapes the daily goal. The dispatches are fairly brief, but they offer some explanation & context for how the daily keyword informs the overall goal of the Design Your Wardrobe program…. You know…designing your wardrobe. Each dispatch has an accompanying worksheet or activity. I see you rolling your eyes at the thought of doing worksheets to help you decide what to sew next. I feel you. I love this kind of shit, but it’s not for everyone.

I spent most of week one procrastinating. The keywords for this week: “setting goals,” “collect,” “story,” “iterate,” & “mood”. Sounds like gobbledygook, doesn’t it? Even after reading the daily dispatches, I still thought, “This is ridiculous. Who lets themselves get this self-important about sewing?” I thought, “I don’t need this, I know what I want to sew, I know what I want to wear.”

I finally started at the end of the week. I decided to address the worksheets & exercises in good faith, with an open mind, & you know what? I learned stuff about myself. I surprised myself. Going through the process was legitimately enlightening & helpful.

The first exercise is a worksheet. It focuses on what a person wants out of their handmade wardrobe–“setting goals”. I was like, “Duh, handmade clothes, next!” But I thought more–especially about the fact that I have handmade clothes that don’t get worn. I actually got rid of a lot of my me-mades whe I was packing to move to Portland. What separates the garments I wear from the garments I don’t? How would it feel to have a wardrobe comprised only of garments I love to wear? What are the missing elements standing between me & that level of contentment? The answers to these questions are then re-shaped into an overall goal for the wardrobe that emanates from Design Your Wardrobe program.

Of course there’s a little voice inside of me saying, “Dude. You are putting A LOT of work into thinking about clothes. Meanwhile, the world is being torn apart by war, climate change, racism, & unfettered capitalist imperialism. Surely you have bigger fish to fry?” I don’t have an answer for that voice. I just want to acknowledge that it’s there.

My biggest day one take-away is that there is sometimes a disconnect between what I like to sew & what I like to wear. I love making crisp shirtwaist dresses, for instance, but they rarely get worn because wearing them just feels like work. I need to think about how to adapt the elements that I love to sew into garments that are easier & more comfortable for me to wear.

Still need to blog this.

Day two, “inspiration,” was all about Pinterest. (Not everyone working through the program right now used Pinterest, but it’s certainly the path of least resistance for executing today’s exercise.) We were instructed to collect fifty “pieces of inspiration”. I thought, “Ugh, that will take forever, & nothing inspires me! All of my brilliant ideas spring fully-formed from my own imagination, like Athena being borne unto Zeus.” Next thing I knew, I had over 130 images pinned to my fall/winter inspiration board.

825fa5314f06396abc9d87b6d99543a8Inspiration: a beautiful embroidered purse by Olympia Le-Tan.

The secondary challenge is to pare the images down to fifty. That was rough. I didn’t want to delete any of my precious inspiration babies! But in forcing myself to edit, I realized my biggest problem with planning my sewing: I grab on to any tiger tail going by & don’t think twice about the consequences. (I’m like that with everything, actually. I have zero impulse control.) Becoming self-aware about the themes & elements I was most drawn to was the genius of the editing process.

8f80d8fe40e524ba45858e3ca37fdf39

Inspiration: antique stockings.

Day three, “my story,” was the day I was dreading most. I’ve been blogging since 1999. I wrote riot grrrl-inspired personal zines from 1994 until 2010. I’m very experienced at “telling my story”. So I kept my focus on my inspiration images while I did the worksheet, & surprise! A story emerged! I had Pinned lots of mori girls, medieval fairy tales, & Waldorf dolls. Concepts like “play,” “home,” & “resilience” kept popping up. I realized that I want to dress like a cross between a hobo & a doll, trying to make her way home through the Black Forest at midnight. I was also very drawn to embellishment. Almost everything I Pinned had layers of different textures, embroidery, beading, flowers.

IMG_4300The last zine I made.

The final challenge was naming the prospective collection. I came up with Poppet Emblazonry. I know, it sounds both precious & pretentious. They are both archaic words, which felt important. “Poppet” is synonym for “doll”–specifically dolls used in witchcraft. I’m not into withcraft spiritually, but I do like the aesthetics. “Emblazonry” means “embellishment,” & makes me think of blazes, fire, the resilience & patience necessary to work by firelight. It put me in mind of the misery & suffering of trying to make it through the winter of 1692 in Salem without getting accused of witchcraft. Read The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, & Hysteria by Stacy Schiff (it’s excellent!), & you’ll see what I mean. It’s a weird source of inspiration, but hey. The heart wants what it wants!

7272bafbdf38b3a253f28af25c51dfcaInspiration: floral pterodactyl fascinator.

Day four was about grounding the inspiration in reality–“iterate”. We were challenged to think about how our clothes are really worn. Not what we would wear in some fantasy best life, but our actual responsibilities everyday, the weather, etc. This forced me to accept that I will not, in fact, be spending the next six months brewing mysterious potions in a cauldron & fleeing hungry wolves in moonlit, snowy forests. Bummer, dude. We then edited our inspiration images in light of these realistic contexts. This is when I started adding actual patterns & fabrics to my board. I’d been avoiding it, focusing on visual & atmospheric influences. But thinking about real garments I might make helped ground my inspiration aesthetic.

260229917cacdcff99f11c0baf71ff5dInspiration: mori girls.

Day five was “mood,” as in board. Time to bring out the foamcore & double-sided tape! I made a special trip to the art supply store to get foamcore, as recommended. But posterboard, cardboard, easel paper from Ikea–all would have sufficed. I had to borrow Ramona’s kid-sized lefty scissors, even though I have giant ham hands & am right-handed. That’s how dedicated I am! I felt that my mood board should be a fantasy piece–something that evokes a mood, as it were. So I stayed away from most images of actual clothes. I started with large images & added paint chips, fabric swatches, & washi tape. I included drawings of mori girls & photos of cloth dolls. I added lots of images of tiny bottles containing weird shit like teeth & garlic bulbs. I thought a lot about my friends Ivanna & Jessika Rae while I worked. They both have pronounced, beautiful personal styles. Drawing on my memories of them helped guide me.

fullsizeoutput_83bMy mood board.

I didn’t look at anyone else’s mood board beforehand. So mine is an outlier, maybe? Almost everyone else went heavy on garment images. Some people included actual patterns & fabric swatches. I used tons of fabric swatches, but more for color & texture than because those are the fabrics I plan to use. I figured there will be plenty of time to get into the weeds of specific fabrics & patterns later, & that my mood board should just be about mood.

jessie-wilcox-smith-little-red-riding-hood-by-sofi01Inspiration: well-dressed child about to be eaten by a cross-eyed wolf.

So that’s week one! We are just finishing week two, so I’ll be back soon with my thoughts on it. Week two was harder for me. I look forward to processing it in an excessively long, self-involved blog post!

Design Your Wardrobe: prologue

Seamwork, the online sewing magazine that is devouring Colette Patterns whole, has developed a program called “Design Your Wardrobe“. I assume it’s a descendant of the Wardrobe Architect series that Colette did a few years ago, & which I ignored because I was pretty new to sewing at the time & didn’t feel like I needed &/or was ready for that kind of deep thinking about my personal style, wardrobe needs, et al.

Design Your Wardrobe is a month-long program aiming to help a person develop & identify their personal style & brainstorm a sewing queue that reflects their wardrobe needs & wants, in terms of color, silhouette, life context, etc. It’s still not something I felt I really needed. I know what I like to wear (black & pink, easy clothes in natural fibers, but the more embellishment, the better) & I am not hurting for ideas. When my foot was broken & I couldn’t sew, I made a list of everything I wanted to sew. Guys. GUYS. The list was almost 150 items long. (Not all of it was clothes for me, but still.) I have PLENTY of ideas.

But my main objection to joining in is that it’s a Seamwork member exclusive, & I swore I would never sign up for Seamwork. I mean, why would I? You can read the magazine for free (if you want–it’s mostly just an eleaborate monthly advertisement for itself), & I can’t over-state how uninterested I am in actually sewing a Seamwork pattern. I know there are people in the sewing community who swear by them…I don’t claim to understand.

IMG_6705This cat has nothing to do with anything. It’s just a really cute cat that came up to me & scratched my car tires when I went to enroll Ramona in kindergarten the other day. I’m including it because this post is heavy on snark, light on pictures.

My beef with Seamwork is essentially an extension of my beef with Colette, & comes down to two words: shitty drafting. I’ve sewn a few Colette patterns, & I had all the fitting problems that others have struggled with: darts too long & too high, crazy wide necklines, armscyes that haven’t been drafted for three-dimensional arms…I imagine these issues are present throughout the Seamwork line as well. Seamwork also churns out two new patterns every month, & claims they can all be sewn “in three hours or less,” which aside from being dubious, also doesn’t fill me with confidence that these patterns are thoughtfully designed, with the kinds of smart finishes & construction details that I prefer.

I will add: I’ve met people who know their way around a sewing machine–professional fiber artists–& they had so many fitting & construction problems trying to make their own clothes from Colette & Seamwork patterns that they just gave up on garment-making. They assumed that they didn’t have the requisite skills. Again: these are people who literally sew professionally. But they were completely discouraged by these patterns.

So! Why did I swallow all of this & sign up for the current round of Design Your Wardrobe? GREAT QUESTION! The answer: I don’t fucking know. All I can say is, I love to sew, & I love to plan. I might enjoy planning as much as I enjoy sewing, which is A LOT! & that means that Design Your Wardrobe is a marriage of my two favorite pasttimes, & that’s hard to ignore.

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 8.04.30 PMRemember this?

Also, if forced to say something nice about Colette/Seamwork, I would say that they really shine when it comes to self-obsessed navel-gazing. I know that sounds perjorative, but trust–I am not above a little self-obsessed navel-gazing! I’ve said for years that Colette should just re-brand themselves as a creative lifestyle brand: life coaching for garment-making hobbyists. Viewed through that prism, the Design Your Wardrobe course is kind of a gimme. I asked Jared whether or not I should do it. He observed, “You like to sew. You like to plan. …I’ll be honest, I’m not seeing a downside.”

1f8b45ed86132ac29f49f6dd930c7dc9Evidence for my lifestyle brand idea: this hilarribly tone-deaf post that was published at the height of the furor over the Rue dress debacle. Nope, I’ll never forget, & I’ll also never stop laughing.

I’m about two weeks in now, & what do you know? It’s been enjoyable & illuminating. Being idea-rich & time-poor means that I can get stuck in my head easily, churning through concepts without managing the focus to make them reality. & that can trigger my ever-waiting anxiety. The exercises thus far have forced me to get specific about swirl of images & ideas in my head, which has been really helpful.

fullsizeoutput_83dMy binder (on top of a cross stitching project).

It’s also triggered more resource accumulation than I’d prefer. The “getting started” dispatch instructs one to  procure a three-ring binder & three dividers & print out the Design Your Wardrobe worksheets & the Seamwork planner. The planner is free to everyone, not just Seamwork members, which is nice, but it’s definitely designed to be used in conjunction with the Design Your Wardrobe program. I don’t know how useful a person would find it outside of that context.

IMG_7004Does this mean anything to you? It would if you were doing the Design Your Wardrobe project. PS–Ignore the hideous font used for the word “criteria”. Seamwork used a nice font there, which my browser refused to recognize & print accurately.

The program also assumes you have a color printer. I know it’s 2018, but…I didn’t. I’ve wanted one for years, but Jared always said, “It’s a scam! The color cartridges are too expensive!” I went to therapy & talked about all the money anxiety I’m having because guess what? Moving across the country is fucking expensive! I said “I want a color printer but the idea of spending the money makes me so anxious!” & she gave me one! I don’t know how professional that is from a therapist-client relationship standpoint, but I’m not a Rockefeller. Gimme gimme free stuff!

So, my plan is to work through the program (this sounds so 12-step-y) & post updates here on how it’s going. I intended to make this post the week one wrap-up, but I felt the need to contextualize my feelings about Colette/Seamwork first & that got a little out of hand. I wanted to make clear that I am coming from a place of skepticism regarding this brand, BUT I am going into this project with as open mind. Come back soon for my thoughts on week one!