Jeans, Bitches! (Part II)

Emboldened by success at my first pair of handmade jeans last year, I resolved this year to tackle another pair. This time it’s the Ginger Jeans pattern from Closet Core Patterns (nee Closet Case Files).

Ginger Jeans in stretch denim with red topstitching. Top is a Henley tee from Jalie.

A lot of indie home sewing patterns are hyped. You can believe the hype with this one! The pattern is fabulous, and I am delighted with the results. The instructions do a nice job of walking you through without excessing hand-holding, and the quality of the drafting and details are top-notch.

For efficiency’s sake, I put two sewing machines in service – one for construction, one for topstitching. I chose this red leftover from a bygone upholstery project. I love using red as a neutral color to make ordinary garments pop.

More fancy pocket embroidery and topstitching

The pocket design is part of a larger motif from Urban Threads called “Gothic Gate.” I am still learning to use the embroidery unit from by Bernina 580. This time I learned how to skip around in a design to get just the bits I want. Many machine embroidery designs have an excess of curlicues, subtle color gradations and other elements that turn me off.

Entire “Gothic Gate” design

I was able to embroider just the bird motif at the bottom by skipping ahead in preview mode until the needle got to the part I wanted. Luckily, it was end at the end of the design. So I stitched just that bit, baby-sitting the machine so I could be sure not to get more than I bargained for (still shuddering horrors at my multicolor project last summer).

Obligatory butt shot

The pattern had two design options – a low-rise jean with wider legs, or a high-rise skinny jean. I opted for the former, figuring the leg fit would be the hard part, and I could always raise the rise on a subsequent pair if I was otherwise happy.

The fit was pretty great with minimal tweaking from me – just a 1-cm back crotch extension, lengthening 1 inch and taking in the waist 1.5 inches. The jeans tend to gape open a bit at center-back so I added a second belt loop back there – give the belt some love, I say!

The only major fit issue for the next pair (and there WILL be a next pair) is the back leg twisting and bagging sitch at the knee. I am pretty sure this happens for a combo of reasons – a bit of a knock-knee leg shape, a bit of chubbiness at the inner knee, and a bit of hyperextension of the calves.

Obligatory side view

Plus, this is pretty stretchy denim. I think I can figure this out for next time. In fact, I bought some more denim (less stretch) to try again – soon!

No Distractions Sewing Resolution for 2021

Everyone’s talking about their goals for 2021. I started listing a few in my head.

Blah, yadda, yak yak…

I realized that while I could easily come up with several “do mores” and “trys” and “improves” for sewing, I really just need to do one thing.

I need to be present in the moment when sewing.

I have had a lot of time this month to sew and have made a few things – home dec projects, PJs, tops. I’ve had whole weekends “sewing” and likely will have many more during this epidemic, where we can’t go anywhere or do anything, as the snow piles up outside.

These projects still seemed to expand to fill the available space. That’s because I have not been “present” while sewing them.

I finished this top today, for example:

Oki Style “Tiim” top

I started it the evening of December 22. Hey five days – not bad. But why did it take five days?

I cut out a few pieces, then I get a snack. Then I cut out a few more and check my phone. I take the dog for a walk. I make a move in Scrabble against a friend online. I press some seams. I read some texts. I serge a seam. I make a phone call. I set in a sleeve. I check Instagram. I turn up a hem. I put on some music. I make a buttonhole. I have another snack.

When I sew like this, the project suffers. I make mistakes. I forget what I am doing. I unpick a lot. The fabric gets mishandled and wrinkled and stretches out. I waste electricity with a sewing machine and iron at the ready, but not in use.

Worse of all, I don’t feel like I am enjoying sewing for what it is – I feel like I am sewing to fill up time, to while away my days instead of as an intentional act to create something for myself that’s both useful and beautiful. I don’t take pleasure in it. And that’s no good for me.

So my 2021 resolution is simply to be “present” when sewing – put away the phone, turn off the music, resist the siren’s song of the fridge, and just be there with my machines, my fabrics, my patterns, in a deliberate and mindful harmony.

What’s your 2021 resolution?

Top 5 Fails of 2020

Can we just stat by saying that in the entire suck-a-thon that’s been 2020, there’s no such thing as “fail?” There are just things that didn’t go the way we want them to go. Which is pretty much everything.

Still, in taking stock of some sewing projects that went awry, I must acknowledge a few projects that failed. Part of the “fail” comes from my attempt to try new things – new patterns, new “looks” – that didn’t really pan out for me. I suppose this is what happens when you have a decent stash of patterns and fabrics, and too much time on your hands.

I started with some free summer skirt patterns. While neither of these is a “fail” exactly, they both required substantial work from me to make them wearable. That is, way more work than I’d bargained for.

The blue and white skirt is the “Justine” from Ready to Sew. It had some serious errors in sizing, drafting and construction (gory details here). On the right is a free A-line skirt from Bernina’s short-lived patternmaking software. Really just the worst experience – sizing, drafting, instructions all crap (gory details here).

But – at least I busted my embroidery unit out of its box again and managed a 12-color design for the pockets – it only took four tries to get it right:

Hummingbird embroidery saved this sad, sad project

Next up are these shorts from Vogue 9246. I thought the asymmetric mock wrap look would be cool – trying to get the “edge” back in summer my wardrobe after all those girly skirts. Unforch, the mock bit just looks weird, not chic – it kind of balloons out awkwardly. Perhaps in full-length pants it would work, but for shorts it’s a no-go.

Weird-ass shorts and wonky-ass top.

This McCall’s 2094 top out of stretch poplin isn’t the greatest either, but at least it’s wearable. I made a lot of mistakes with it – I somehow put the buttons in the wrong place, and I didn’t cope well with the fabric’s stretch – the hems and facings are wonky AF.

This next project was so bad I didn’t even blog it: Kwik Sew 3926.

Slippers… yuck!

I saw someone else had sewn this pattern, and it looked so cute. I needed new slippers. I had lots of scraps around to make some. So I gave it a try. They fit way way way too wide and are hellaciously uncomfortable to wear. They went into the donation bin right away.

My final and most devastating fail, though, is this Faye dress, from the Fall 2019 Fibre Mood magazine:

Who’s the biggest fail? You are!

Gory details here, but the summary is this – this was an expensive dress that was a lot of work and used a lot of fabric. But the hem is irretrievably messed up and therefore unwearable.

The fault is all mine. The rayon challis I chose is too unstable for the bias edges of the hem. It keeps stretching and growing, and I cannot make it straight. I might turn it into a top at some point, but for now it sits in my closet, judging me…

Kicking It with 4 Yards of Bamboo-Spandex Jersey

A couple of years ago, I read about textiles made of bamboo. “Eco friendly,” they said. “So soft and comfy,” they said. “Easy to sew,” they said.

So I bought four yards of it online and figured I’d give it a whirl – maybe make a nice wrap dress and have enough left over for a top. The stuff I bought was 95% bamboo, 5% spandex. And 100% a pain in the ass.

It wrinkles. When I look at it. It also is sssssssuuuuuuupppppppeeeeeerrrrrr ssssssttttttrrrreeeeeettttttccccchhhhhyyyy. Any dress I made would be a saggy, wrinkly mess in no time. (But, nice and soft as advertised…) So I put in deep in my stash and forgot about it.

I need new PJs – home with Covid-19 raging around me and all that. So I figured I could manage to transform the bamboo jersey into a nice PJ set, with maybe something left over for a top (a nod to the original plan).

Ta-da!

PJs from McCall’s 7297


This McCall’s pattern, 7297, is a knockoff of some PJs sold in the Garnet Hill catalog. Those PJs cost $80 or so – I estimate mine cost about $20 – including some leftover satin piping along the neckline.

Satin piping

The pattern is a pretty easy project. The crossover bodice detail is the only tricky bit. I have made a few of these PJs and I have found it’s easier to install the neckline binding in one go and then sew down the crossover bit than to sew the neckline binding to the crossover point, baste the overlap down, then sew the rest of the binding on. To use piping, sew it first to the neckline binding, then sew the two pieces together onto the neckline.

The pattern calls for prepackaged bias binding, but of course it’s nicer to make your own. This time I did a narrow T-shirt style binding for the neckline and made a wider binding for the cuffs and hem. This black jersey was left over from a dress I made a couple of years ago – the “two yards of fabric on my ass” dress – if you recall it.

There was enough fabric left over for a T-shirt – as predicted! Here’s another try at Vogue 8793 – a Katherine Tilton design that calls for colorblocking and a decorative nylon zipper along the double collar. I used up the rest of both jerseys on the project.

Vogue 8793

The zipper along the collar never appealed to me – just seemed odd to include a “zipper to nowhere” and I thought it would be uncomfortable. So the first time I omitted it entirely, but the collar was kinda saggy and sad:

Vogue 8793 with sad collar

I like the top, but the collar disappointed me. The design, I think, counts on the zipper to give the collar some structure. I thought that knit interfacing along the collar might give a similar effect, so why not try it?

Collar action – very perky!

The collar is now a bit too stiff and doesn’t play well with the stretchy jersey. I like the way it looks, but it’s just too heavy. So, a decent effort but not exactly what I was going for.

A friend suggested that I just try the damn zipper already, so I agreed. If I ever make another one of these, it will have a zipper in the collar!

Anyway, I think I made lemonade out of the lemon that was this fabric. There was nothing but a little pile of scraps left.

Scraps…. did a good job on that 4 yards!

I wonder if bamboo jersey fabric is always wrinkly and saggy, or was just the stuff I bought? Anyone have any experience with it?

Top 5 Sewing Projects for 2020

I started 2020 intending to sew a new suit for work out of from Armani deadstock, and wound up with four pairs of elastic-waist pants. 2020 – gotta love ya!

Seriously, I am happy with the pants I made from Jalie’s Eleonore pattern. Definitely a Top 5 project for the year. They’re pull-on mock jeans made with fabric that has at least 20% stretch. They look like nice yoga pants and skinny jeans had a love child.

Jalie Eleonore Pull-on Jeans and Style Arc Creative Cate top

I made these shorts and a full-length pair, which I slashed and spread from knee to hem to create flares.

Most creative project goes to another pair of elastic-waist pants – the “Discover Something Novel” pants from The Cutting Line – a 1980s fever dream of a garment.

Crazypants from The Cutting Line in Japanese denim

These put a smile on my face – every time!

My other “bottom” triumph is… another elastic-waist project… Style Arc’s Gorgeous Gore Skirt.

Gorgeous Gore skirt from Style Arc in teal ponte, with the MariaDenmark Edith blouse

I was really proud of myself for figuring out how to get good pockets in a knit skirt without the pockets distorting or pulling. The secret was to sew the pocket bags in a stable woven fabric and secure them within the gores of the skirt.

Secret pocket action in production

The runner-up for best project of the year is… wait for it… face masks!

<<<Sad trombone music>>>

Well, they are not the most sophisticated things I’ve sewn in my life, or even this year, but they were pretty important. I made about 200 (lost exact count). Most went to friends who are nurses – one at a nursing home and one at a veteran’s hospital. I hope these masks saved some lives and also made people smile, with the cute fabrics I chose.

The #1 project for 2020 – PERSIST!

Quilt in four modules from “The Proverbial Quilt” pattern by Denyse Schmidt

This is one of those projects that kept me sane during the spring and early summer, when the world was going to hell. They were a joy to make and a joy to give to friends who are all helping one another persist through various challenges – health, career, marriage and financial.

Most of the things I made this year were quick projects to fill needs. These I made to last a lifetime.

Work At Home Couture – Winter Edition

I’ve knocked off a few more garments for my winter work-at-home wardrobe – all designed to look good on videoconferences while being ease to sew, take care of, and comfy.

First up – the Harper Cardigan/Jacket from Style Arc.

Style Arc Harper Jacket in ponte with decorative edge finish

I bought this poly-rayon-spandex ponte some years ago, intending to make a dress for work with it. Then I realized I didn’t want to wear something so hot and heavy, not to mention raspberry pink, so the ponte went back into the stash.

I figured I could use 1.5 yards of it to try this simple jacket, which I got for free from Style Arc when I bought something else. Three pieces – what could go wrong?

Well…

Sometimes I feel like I am hypercritical of commercial sewing patterns. But there’s no overlooking the sheer number of odd things in this.

Issue #1 is the center-back seam, which you’re supposed to sew as a French seam since it can be seen from the outside.

Back view

Good luck sewing a French seam on a heavy fabric such as ponte. A flat-felled seam seemed more suitable, so that’s what I did (added .5 cm seam allowance to provide for a bit of extra room).

Then there’s the finishing issue. This has no facings or anything – in fact the pattern says you can leave the edges raw if you want to. I did not want to. I mean, that’s just dumb. So I dug out the manual for my serger and did a three-thread “rolled wave” treatment on the edges.

Rolled hem – black in upper looper, white in lower looper, and matching thread in the needle
Rolled wave hem – ready for its close-up

Then there’s the closure issue. This pattern originally came with some jumbo hook-and-eyes – you set the hooks in the shoulders and the eyes on the tips of the fronts. Since there’s no facing or anything to hide the hooks, the pattern provides a postage-stamp sized patch you’re meant to sew on to cover where the hooks are sewn on.

This is the laziest things I ever heard of. The design could have benefitted from a rethink – maybe a button and loop or a decorative tie would have made more sense? I played around with various fixes before saying the heck with it and sewing on ordinary hook and eyes.

Closed view

Here it is closed, and you can see how the front pulls against the hook and eye on my shoulder. I will buy some larger hook and eyes when I get around to it – maybe – and try it again.

The next garment is a simple t-shirt out of a lovely rayon/spandex blend. This is Jalie 2805 – a pattern pack of four T-shirt options (jewel neck, V neck, mock turtleneck or Henley).

Jalie 2805

I like this pattern for the fit and ease of construction. I plan to whip up a few more this winter.

Finally, I made a pair of the Jalie Eleonore Jeans – a pull-on style made out of woven fabric with at least 20% stretch. These don’t take a lot of fabric, so I had plenty left over from my shorts project this summer to try a full-length pair.

The shorts were tight at the knee so I thought I’d made flares for my full-length pair. This is a simple change – just slash up the center to just above the knee, cut into each side to create a hinge for the leg, and spread.

Pattern jeggings to flare adjustment
Fill in with paper, true up the bottom, and mark the changes.

I added length at the hem also. No picture of the finished project, sorry, but they are comfortable and look nicer than a pair of yoga pants for working at home.

I now have half of my six projects done! (Well, technically that dress is not done but I just cannot with it right now).

Green checkmarks – completed projects!

What should I do next?

So Visible!

The fall and winter sewing pattern magazines and catalogs got a lot more colorful this year.

I almost dropped my tea when I saw this Burda cover:

November 2020 Burda cover

I don’t ever remember seeing a nonwhite model on a Burda cover – you Burda fans out there tell me if I am wrong, but isn’t this a major development? Anyway, I promised I wouldn’t buy Burda until they diversified their cover models, and now I feel I can buy this. It will take more than one issue, though, to convince me that Burda is committed to diversity.

If that’s surprising, how about a whole seasonal catalog full of nonwhite models? Check out the Winter 2020 Simplicity catalog:

Simplicity Winter 2020 Catalog

I have been buying Simplicity patterns since the 1980s and I don’t ever recall seeing a whole catalog like this devoted to so many nonwhite faces.

Not to be outdone, Butterick offered this catalog. Butterick is aiming for the older sewist, so we get older and nonwhite models:

Butterick catalog

Even Joann got on the diversity train. Its sale circular this week was almost exclusively nonwhite models, and some of them are older, too:

Montage of pictures from this week’s Joann circular.

It’s not as if these modeling gigs will end racism – in the sewing community or anywhere else – but I think it’s a start and a demonstration that large corporate interests in the US and abroad are listening to the desire for diversity.

What We Mean When We Talk About “Flattering” Clothes

Next to “old” (as in, “that style makes you look old,” or “that style ages you,” the next biggest put-down in fashion is the term “unflattering.”

“Unflattering” can mean:

Too big or baggy, meaning “we can’t see the shape of your body.”

Too small or tight – meaning “we see parts of your body we’d rather not see.”

Out of proportion with the wearer’s stature, meaning “we think you look short” or “wide” or “fat” (never “you look tall” or “you look slim”).

Out of proportion with the wearer’s secondary sex characteristics, meaning “we can’t make out your breasts, butt, hips” etc. (This includes “the male gaze.”)

Shaped or cut so that the desired body form is obscured, meaning “we want to see a normal body,” (whatever that is) or “we want to see you the way we usually see you.”

Don’t surprise us or challenge us, whatever you do.

“Flattering,” then, comes down to how others see us. After all, when someone flatters you for your brains, looks, accomplishments, character or any other trait, they’re really talking about their reaction to you.

You can’t flatter yourself.

Of course, you can wear and enjoy things that you think look good. You might wear those garments hoping to get compliments – fishing for flattery – or you might wear them because they make you feel happy, powerful, smart, kind, capable, or any other way that you want to feel. Or maybe you don’t want to feel anything in particular – you just want to put on comfortable clothes and get on with your day.

Which all leads me to this look:

Flattering on top, unflattering on bottom.

This top is the Brasov Wrap Top from Itch to Stitch. The pants are the “Discover Something Novel” pants from The Cutting Line. One guess which is the “flattering” and which the “unflattering” garment?

This top is designed to be flattering – a wrap style in stretchy knit that sits close to the body. It’s designed to make breasts and waist and hips stand out – textbook “flattering.”

Side view – breasts on display, but are legs in there somewhere?

The pants are the opposite – they sit away from the body, obscuring legs, hips and butt. Their width actually makes it hard to imagine the body parts inside. Surely I have legs and a butt, but where?

Back view… still not sure where my butt is, but my waist is hard to miss.

How dare I wear something “unflattering!” Don’t I realize that my body should be on view as much as possible for other people to look at and enjoy (as long as it’s conventionally “attractive” that is)!

Today I wore these pants to go shopping. I picked up some buttons and other items at a vintage store. I bought a sweater at a boutique. I stopped in an art supply store. I got groceries. And in all four places, I got compliments on these pants. WHAT? Aren’t they “unflattering?” How can someone lay some flattery on me then?

Because these pants are interesting, that’s why.

What’s more, I wear them for me and for no one else, and there’s magic to that.

Most people walk around in a state of total conformity – normcore jeans for miles, maybe some leggings or yoga pants at a stretch (and almost always in black) – and they are all ignored. Seen it a million times, dah-ling – and will see it a million more. But wear something different, and people react. Maybe the garment elicits an emotional reaction – makes someone smile, perchance, or makes someone frown – or maybe it makes someone think. Maybe these pants make Gen Xers like me nostalgic for the 80s. Or maybe someone thinks a Gen Xer like me is stuck in the past. Who knows? Who cares?

Anyway, it’s better than plain old flattery any day.

And if you really want someone to react, when they compliment you on your traditionally unflattering garment, say “thank you, I made them myself” and watch their eyes bug out of their heads. And enjoy the satisfaction of that!

Playing with Proportions with Crazypants

I like big pants and I cannot lie! You other sewers can’t deny – that these are kind of fun:

“Something Novel” pants from The Cutting Line

These pants from the “Try Something Novel” outfit pattern from The Cutting Line is definitely a LOOK straight out of the 80s.

I have been playing with proportions as part of my “Sew Edgy” wardrobe, and these sure fit the bill. These have an edge because the voluminous shape distorts the human form.

Side view

They are very baggy with seamlines on the lower hem and an interfaced hem facing to create an effect similar to a lantern sleeve, but on my shins:

Back view

The pants are elastic waisted, which is not a great look for me, but for a fun work-at-home trou experiment, it’s fine. I added patch pockets to the back and used silver topstitching thread to accentuate the seamlines.

The fabric is a 7-ounce Japanese cotton denim.

The pants are very comfortable and maybe on trend – at least I heard that 80s looks are coming back! Maybe not? Who cares? I like them!

Trying a New Way to Tape Together .PDF Patterns

OK, so I hate .pdf patterns.

Well, that’s not true. I like that .pdf patterns exist, I just hate the test printing, the messing around with the printer, the real printing, the cutting off of margins on two sides of the paper, the taping, the retaping when the first taping is cockeyed, and finally the folding and storage when the pattern is used. And I hate the additional cost of paper, ink, tape and storage envelope on top of the pattern I bought already.

As they say in ever infomerical ever: “There’s got to be a better way!”

I don’t know if this is a better way, but it’s a slightly less annoying way.

I started by laying out a cutting table’s worth of pieces. This pattern – the “Brasov Wrap Top” from Itch to Stitch, has 30 pieces of paper – thankfully with nested .pdf pages so I just printed out the sizes I needed. This is 18 pieces of paper:

.pdf plan round one

I looked over these 18 pages and identified several pieces that had odd shapes – bits and pieces of larger pieces, like the tip of the shoulder or the edge of a hem, with a page that was otherwise blank, or that had other little bits. I cut those little pieces out, taped the little pieces to bigger pieces, and threw the excess paper in the recycling bin.

Find the bits of larger pieces

To cut I used my rotary cutter with an old blade that I’d saved especially for this purpose.

Many pieces are mostly pattern with little bits gone, so those are good to go and I tape as usual, but without trimming margins! Here’s how:

I printed this on cheap copier paper – I mean the cheapest stuff at the office supply store – the stuff that’s in a sad pile in the corner in a plain paper wrapper, as far away as possible from the glossy, bright white expensive stuff. This paper is kinda see-through. So, instead of trimming two edges of the paper, I just looked through the paper and lined up the margins. Hard to see in a photo, but here it is on a finished pattern piece on a dark fabric.

See-through paper helps line up the lines

I needed less tape this way because I was just taping the piece, not the whole sheet of paper.

I think this 30-page top took 15 minutes to put together this way instead of at least 30-40 minutes with the old trim-tape-cut method. And it went together right the first time, without having to retape anything crooked.

I don’t know how well this would work – happy to say it did! I am not sure how well it would work with a multi-sized pattern, or with a very complex pattern.