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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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:
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…
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.
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.
These put a smile on my face – every time!
My other “bottom” triumph is… another elastic-waist project… Style Arc’s Gorgeous Gore Skirt.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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:
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.”
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?
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!
I like big pants and I cannot lie! You other sewers can’t deny – that these are kind of fun:
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.
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:
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!
I’ve noticed that garment sewists tend to fall into two camps – your “pattern people” and your “fabric people.” That is, sewists tend to be attracted to either a pattern or to a fabric, and then they seek either a complementary fabric or a pattern that would work to make the garment.
How about you? Do you gravitate FIRST either to a pattern or to a fabric?
Whichever hits you first – fabric or pattern – it can provide a good jumping-off point for organizing projects that satisfy you, without wasting time or money. I thought I’d share my fall 2020 sewing plans by way of example.
Personally, I am a pattern-first type, because I tend to sew what I need rather than be inspired by a certain look or textile. Here’s my system, which can be reversed to a fabric-first approach easily enough:
I start each spring and fall season with a list of what I need – pants, shirts, coat, whatever. I go through my patterns to see what fits the bill. I am a paying member of PatternReview.com, so I catalog all my patterns using the site’s “pattern stash” feature, which allows you to sort and organize all the different pattern formats in one place. (Screenshot of part of my pants stash below.)
Yes, I only have 10 pants patterns. I also have some pants under Big 4 wardrobe coordinates patterns – those are filed separately (I don’t love this feature, but them’s the breaks). I am not a big stash person in any event – I prefer to buy what I need. Of these eight pants patterns listed above, I have sewn up five of them. The Claryville Jeans and Style Arc Jasmine pants are TNTs. I’ve sewn the Jalie stretch Eleonores, McCall’s 7726 and Vogue 9181 once each and have not yet tried the Ginger Jeans, Vogue 9155 or the MariaDenmark Sysiden pants.
If I’m not really feeling anything in my stash, I check out websites and reviews. PatternReview has a “wishlist” feature where you can tag a pattern you might want to buy later. If I see a great review or just want to remember a promising pattern, I throw it in the wishlist. Here’s what I have for pants at the moment:
Any pattern I would need to buy goes into a “maybe” pile for the moment, with a note about the cost.
Next, I go through my fabrics and other stash items (zippers, buttons, etc) to see what I have and what I need to buy to fulfill the plan for patterns I have on hand already. I keep a photo album with fabric swatches stapled to index cards that note the yardage length and width, composition, where and when I bought it, prices, etc. I intentionally keep a small stash and prefer to buy what I need when I need it.
Any project that’s fully in hand goes into the “My Queue” feature on Pattern Review because I am ready to go.
If I need to buy fabric, that project also goes into the “maybe” pile (with notes about the cost).
Now comes the reckoning. <<Cue dramatic music>>>
What do I really need vs. want?
How much do I have to spend, and how should I spend it?
If I have $100 to spend, would I rather buy that new pattern and less fabric, or buy more fabric and sew up patterns I already own?
How much time to I really have to sew for the upcoming season?
How much effort do these projects require – complex things like jeans? New patterns that require fitting and fussing? TNTs that go together easily?
I settled on these items for the plan:
I am fond of plotting out my projects on a grid based on cost vs. effort. Here;s what that looks like:
These are mostly “needs” and mostly stash fabric and patterns. Because I was being thrifty for most items, I realized I could spring for a few new patterns and one indulgence project. The upper-right corner is the indulgence – the “Faye” Dress from last fall’s Fibre Mood magazine.
Do I need this dress? No. Is it going to be a lot of work? Yes. Will it cost a lot of money? Yes (it takes 4+ yards of fabric). But I wanted it the moment I saw it, and I still want it. It has been on my mind for a year. I think it’s worth the time and trouble.
Armed with a solid plan, I was ready to shop! I made a trip to my local fabric store and scored this gorgeous rayon challis for the dress, which scores high for hitting several requirements for an “edgy” work wardrobe with its high-contrast, high-drama, animal-inspired print.
I bought 5 yards because I may need some pattern-matching. It’s a nice weight though, so I won’t need a lining. I also picked up zippers, buttons and other items I needed. For other items, I waited until there was a good sale and placed my order. The planning phase saved me money and time – one in-person shopping trip, one online shopping session, and I was done..
Well, that’s almost what happened. Here’s the story:
I worked four hours yesterday trying to fix a baggy-knee issue with my second pair of Workroom Social Claryville Jeans. As you may recall, here’s the prob:
I got advice to try some darts in the knee area, so I dutifully put the jeans on, pinched out the baggy back-knee area, and sewed some darts. I had no idea that knee darts in jeans were A Thing – thanks for the reassurance!
The darts were pretty big – at their widest point, it was about a half-inch of fabric, tapering to nothing at the side seams. It worked, sort of.
But… the darts created a problem in the front. I didn’t get a photo of this, but rest assured it was not pretty. I am perfectly OK with some wrinkles at the knees but it was so much worse with the back fixed. So then I added darts to the front. And then I had to unpick the side seams and resew them again. And it still looked like crap.
Then followed a danse macabre where I went back and forth from my sewing machine to the mirror to the cutting table to the sewing machine to the mirror… in my underwear, trying one alteration after another in desperation.
I was making these jeans as a dressy pair that I could get away with wearing to work or any place else where jeans would not normally be a thing. And I realized that was the problem. This fabric is not a jeans denim. It’s a stretch twill – too light to work with the pattern as cut. And as I stood there glaring at it, I realized I kinda hated it. It’s shiny. It’s too stretchy. It looks cheap.
So I threw it in the garbage.
And then, in the fullness of time (that is. this morning) I realized…
I could make shorts out of the damn things! Jesus! Just cut it off at the knee and get on with your life, gurl.
So that’s the plan. Once the weather warms up and I actually want shorts.
I am happy that I met all my sewing goals for 2019 and ended up with quite a few useful and well-made pieces!
My single biggest achievement (and #1 garment for 2018) was actually a three-fer. I made jeans! And I used the embroidery attachment of my machine for the first time! And I went to a sewing retreat!
The jeans are Workroom Social’s Claryville Jeans. I can’t say enough awesome things about this pattern. LOVE. And as the jeans have worn (I have worn them a ton since I made them in September) they have conformed nicely to my bod.
Here’s another look at the embroidery on the back pockets:
While the sewing retreat part of the jeans-making experience wasn’t for me, I am glad I did it. I learned a lot about myself and I have been thinking about how to apply that learning to next year.
Another goal was to make a garment for my mother. I made her a top from Lekala patterns, and she liked it so much, she asked for another one, in fancier fabric that she can wear for Christmas/New Year’s events. I sewed this up for her birthday in December.
She picked out this gold polyester satin. Not the best, but I made it work. It looks better on than in this photo (I promise). I used the fancy buttons I got at LouLou in the Garment District in NYC.
I took the “RTW Fast Pledge” and made a goal to not buy any clothing except for things like socks and tights. I would have made it, too, if not for my vacation in May! It was so cold (unseasonably and unexpectedly) that I bought a few things on an emergency basis. I donated both jackets to a charity that provides coats to the poor, and I have worn the sweater a few times. So…. I am going to call this “a win!”
Here’s my biggest swing-and-miss from 2019: I didn’t do so well in my resolve to participate in fewer sewalongs and sewing contests. I get swept up in the excitement and camaraderie. I also hope to make new friends this way. It doesn’t seem to work out that way.
I had planned to enter this contest – and this contest only – but then I went on a binge of other sewalongs, contests and such. What happens when I do this? Let’s just call it a mixed bag:
I arranged the overlapping front pieces so that the motifs would scroll along at the hem and hip.
The tunic top again, this time with the Seamwork Moji pants
I mean, there are no disasters here, but also not much that plays well with “sew edgy” looks. I did some stuff for charity (napkins and scrap quilts center top) and I passed the first round of the PatternReview Sewing Bee with that blue cardigan before bowing out voluntarily when the second round didn’t inspire me.
The white top was not what I wanted. I entered a contest to make an outfit, so made a nice pair of black wool pants and planned a button-down shirt to go with it out of this pretty white striped shirting I bought. But, I had a problem with my sewing machine’s computer and it was in the shop for a couple of weeks, so I needed instead to do a top that I could construct on the serger or by hand. This top is the result. It looks really awful untucked, better tucked in. I am kicking myself that I used that shirting for something I don’t love.
I joined two Sewcialists sewalongs – one where I drew the color “coral” and other where I drew the word “funky.” I ended up with a wrap skirt (top right) and a top upcycled from a tablecloth (bottom left). Since these sewalongs really run on Instagram, and I am not an Instagram person, I miss out on the whole thing. Likewise for the charity projects for The People’s Sewing Army – if you’re not an Instagrammer, you get left out.
Finally, in my effort to stop making so damn many mistakes, I claim a partial victory. I have made my peace with the fact that I need to just baste a lot more. Basting does things that pinning does not (at least for me). So I resolve to baste even more in 2020!
I managed a hat trick for my most recently completed sewing project:
Yes, I sewed a proper pair of jeans with all the topstitching, fancy seams, fly front and whatnot. This has been a goal of mine for three years. I am delighted not only that I met this goal, but also with how well the jeans came out.
But wait! There’s more:
I also busted the embroidery unit out of its box (where it has been gathering dust for 4 years), downloaded a simple design and sewed it on to the pockets. I even did a fancy “mirror image” trick so that these ginkgo leaf motifs are somewhat mirroring the curve of my butt.
But wait! There’s more!
I attended a hands-on sewing retreat, Camp Workroom Social in the Catskill Mountains in New York State to make these jeans. It was another goal I had that I can call “done!” While the event was definitely “not for me” in some ways, the class itself to make these jeans was wonderful. I never would have done it without the help I got at the retreat.
We used a pattern made by Workroom Social, called the Claryville Jeans, after the town where the camp is held. The pattern is drafted for us pear-shaped women who have larger hip-to-waist ratios. It’s a really high-quality pattern with all those great details that make jeans look RTW. And the fit was great. After trying on a muslin in size 12, I made a few 1-centimeter adjustments to give my butt a bit more real estate, such as scooping out and extending the crotch curve and increasing the yoke at center-back. I also needed to take in the waist about 1.5 inches.
The fit is pretty great. These are a bit tight, but they will no doubt stretch out and conform to my bod over time, as jeans tend to do.
The jeans have slightly forward seams and a bit of a bump-out at the calf for some nice fitting details. You do mock flat-fell seams at the yoke to reduce bulk. The only thing I haven’t done is to install the rivets at the front pockets. I am going to borrow a rivet-setter from someone to get that done.
The topstitching is a chore, as you can imagine. Next time I make these, I will thread one machine for construction and another for topstitching to save my sanity with all the thread switching you have to do otherwise. It’s not perfect in any event – I could not get that second line at the fly to work – but who cares?
I used a kit from the subscription box Needle Sharp to make these. I won the box from a drawing at PatternReview.com (thanks again!) The box was a really nice kit, including Cone Mills (made in the USA) stretch denim, fabric for the pocket bags, interfacing, regular and topstitching thread, needles, buttons, a zipper and rivets. I can see this being a great service for sewists who make projects occasionally and can’t or don’t want to maintain a stash. The box also came with the Ginger Jeans pattern, which maybe I will use someday if I get tired of the Claryvilles.
For the embroidery, my recent “goofy for ginkgo” moments offered an opportunity to try personalizing the jeans a bit. I was in no rush to try my machine’s embroidery unit, since I don’t really like most embroidery. What can I say? A lot of motifs are corny. But I found this design on Urban Threads,which offers more modern and edgy designs, so I decided to go for it. More on that later.
(I want to say here that I don’t get any kickbacks, promos or other value of any kind from any of the entities I am linking to here. I am just telling you all about the pattern, fabrics, and embroidery that I found and used because I really liked it. I believe in ethically disclosing this stuff.)
By Tim Croce ||| Original freestyle crossword puzzles on Tuesdays at 6pm Eastern ||| Original puzzles (sometimes more freestyles, sometimes variety puzzles or even themed puzzles) on Fridays at 6pm Eastern