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:
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:
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:
Even Joann got on the diversity train. Its sale circular this week was almost exclusively nonwhite models, and some of them are older, too:
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
I’m more of a separates sewist than a dressmaker. I’ve made a few dresses, sure, but I don’t love making them. When you’re pear-shaped, as I am, you run into fit challenges unless you stick to the old fit-and-flare look. And when your shoulders are uneven, as mine are, the calculus for the drape of a dress can be daunting.
The dress uses more than 4 yards of fabric – rayon challis in this case. I finished the body of the dress, including the hidden button placket, while on vacation. I just need to put on the sleeves, sew the side seams and pockets, make the buttonholes, and hem it. OK, so still a lot to do…
The bodice includes a flap that adds interest to the top. They went in pretty easily, and the pattern matching wasn’t bad. One flap is sort of a mirror image of the other rather than a match, but I decided to live with it.
The only thing that gave me agita were the pleats – three on the bodice and three matching ones on the skirt. This was, frankly, a mess to do because here’s what the pattern looks like if you trace it from the magazine:
If you’re thinking of trying this at home, and you haven’t bought the magazine yet, I’d buy the printed pattern just to avoid this train wreck.
Moving on… I got the pleats in OK for the bodice and just estimated where the pleats should go for the skirt. But the pieces would not line up. The pleats for the skirt are supposed to be deeper, but I will be damned if I can figure out how. So there is an extra pleat on the skirt. With this busy print, I bet you can’t tell.
Trust me, it’s there. I am living with it and moving on…
The directions for the hidden button placket aren’t very intuitive. Luckily, I have made hidden plackets before. In fact, I love them and it’s a reason I wanted this dress.
Since this dress is such a fabric hog (4+ yards, people!) you could eliminate the hidden button placket in favor of a regular one, and also shorten or remove from fullness from the skirt to save a yard.
Then the bias neckline binding went on. The directions say to cut the bias binding on the fold. Do not do this. Sheesh! How hard is it to cut a straight 22-inch by 1.5 inch strip of fabric on the bias? Sometimes I scratch my head…
Hoping to finish this weekend. Not that I have anywhere to wear it, but I can dream…
Yesterday was blustery and cold – seriously it’s like someone flipped a switch on the Connecticut climate – so it was the perfect day for the time suck that is the “Faye” Dress from the Fall 2019 Fibre Mood magazine.
To review, here’s the dress:
The line drawings do a good job of showing the pleats and sweep of the dress, while the model photo shows the dress’ generous ease.
There are very few blogs or photos of this dress sewn up, and I think I know why.
The trace-off was a nightmare. The skirt’s sweep is so wide (and the pattern pages so small) that you have to piece the skirt pattern together. The fronts are made up of four large chunks. I was so confused I almost gave up. Finally I figured it out.
2. The dress is a massive fabric hog. My size calls for 400 cm of fabric that’s 140 cm wide. For those of us in the US, with our archaic measuring system, that’s 4.4 yards of 55 inch wide fabric. Oink indeeed!
3. The dress is massive overall – I am fortunate to have a big area to lay it out in. I don’t see how someone could manage with a small space.
Of course, I could not stop there. I had to buy this large-format print rayon challis because it was just so dramatic and edgy, with its asymmetical, animal-inspired, high-contrast look in my favorite colors.
I laid it out on the entry hall floor and got cutting in one layer. For such a big piece, a throw rug and a T-square are invaluable tools. Assuming your rug is straight, you can line up the selvage along its edge and use the T-square to line up the pattern’s grainline, like so:
It’s not possible to pattern match this fabric for the skirt – at least not without buying many more yards than I’d already invested in. So I followed the next-best strategy of matching dark area to dark area, light area to light area. That should be fine, especially since the skirt has so much volume and drape.
(Aside: At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Gurl, you have a metric ton of Oriental carpets in your house.” Yes I do. I live in Connecticut. It’s the law.)
After the big skirt pieces were done, I could get fussy with pattern matching the sleeves and bodice pieces.
At the end of about 3 hours, was exhausted from crawling around on the floor. I had a pile of pattern pieces, safety-pinned to their paper templates:
And a bit of scraps along a selvage and a few bits here and there – but less than I could have imagined when I started this project.
(Another Oriental carpet aside – we chose this carpet for the entry hall and staircase in part for its roasted-chicken motif. Here’s a closeup:
This twin bird motif is supposed to be pair of peacocks, but they look like roasted chickens. If we were an aristocratic family, the roasted chicken would feature prominently in our heraldry. This is second-best.)
Then I had a gin and tonic and lay in a coma for much of the evening. Cheers!
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..
How’s your summer going? Things have been busy here. In no particular order:
Sewed a summer wardrobe.
PatternReview.com had a summer contest to sew so-called “Endless Combinations” where each item has to go with two other items. I sewed eight things in all, built around my need for some professional-looking shirts for work videoconferences and quick comfy shorts and skirts for decent work-at-home looks.
I didn’t win the contest and didn’t try, which is a big step for me. Rather, I competed for fun and really enjoyed it as it fit with my plans and needs. I sewed 100% from stash too in summery hues of aqua and teal, white, black and gray. If you’re interested, the patterns are (left to right):
A: The Creative Cate Top from Style Arc in a poly knit that includes all my wardrobe’s colors, finished on the inside to help the cowl neck keep its shape.
B: Jalie Elonore pull-on shorts in black stretch twill – the slim fit goes with all the untucked tops in this collection and makes a great short for biking on my lunch break or after work.
C: A white poplin cotton top from McCall’s 2094 coordinates with anything! It includes pleated breast pockets from Butterick 5526, so that I can wear it with pocketless RTW skirts not part of this collection.
I had not been to the hairdresser since February. My roots grew out a few inches. My annual straightening could not be done because salons here are only allowed to do basic cuts and colors. I had been slicking my hair back into a ponytail each day ( see pictures above).
Finally I went to the salon and got this:
My husband hates it, but then I explained to him that this haircut literally and figuratively was a weight off my shoulders, and I think he got it. Or at least accepted it. Hey, it’s only hair, it grows, and I can always dye it and grow it out.
So those are the fun things around here.
Some not-fun things have included:
3. Activist activities.
I’ve read and attended lectures about racism. Learning about racism has taught me a few things I’d like to share. One big issue is the way white people tend to regard racism – they tend to think racism is only super obvious hatred for Black people -like Klan-level, cross-burning types of hatred – and ignore subtler racist acts. It’s all racism, people. If you don’t know what microaggressions are, for example, that’s a good place to start to learn, identify bad behavior and change your own.
White people also tend to ignore racism when they see other people or situations perpetuating it. We tend to think it’s not our job to speak up. Of course it is! Say something! A couple of recent examples from my life:
At the grocery store before the 4th of July, I saw a boxed fireworks kit that had obvious racist imagery under the name “Savage Fireworks”. I am not going to post a picture of it here, but trust me, it was disgusting. I called over the (white) store manager to complain. She thought I was complaining about selling fireworks at all, and I had to literally point to the box and say “That is disgustingly racist and you should remove it immediately.” The look on her face when she finally saw it was priceless. She got a shopping cart and starting loading up the boxes. I certainly hope she didn’t put them back on the floor later but I didn’t check to be sure.
At the physical therapy gym, there are a bunch of solar-paneled bobbleheads in a sunny window. There are animal figures, cartoon characters, holiday-themes, and, yes, a “hula girl” complete with grass skirt and coconut-shell bra. I asked the therapist, a young white woman, if she thought it was appropriate. “I think it’s kind of cute,” she said. I asked her if she thinks her Asian or Polynesian patients would find it cute. She just looked at me, uncomprehending. Then I said, “Would you still find it cute if it was a Black woman instead of a Polynesian woman, or would you then see that it’s offensive?” She looked at it again and said “oh, I see what you mean.” She put it in a desk drawer.
These are pretty small examples of the kind of casual racism I am talking about – certainly not on the scale of police murdering Black people in the street, but still harmful and perpetuating stereotypes.
Also, I wrote emails to La Mia Boutique and Burda Style, asking them why they don’t use nonwhite models and telling them I won’t buy any more issues or promote the patterns I have sewn until they do.
I also was going to email StyleArc, which uses illustrations, not models. The illustrations are always of white women. Don’t believe me? Here’s a screenshot of all their patterns. Can you find any nonwhite women in these illustrations?
But lo and behold, how did StyleArc promote its latest dress pattern?
So instead I sent a email commending Style Arc – saying it was “about time” and hoping to see many more Black models.
I have not received a reply from any of these companies, so we’ll see.
A sewing friend from Canada took issue with my emails, saying that it’s unfair that someone from the United States (me) expects sewing pattern companies from other countries (Italy, Germany, Australia) to confirm to what she called “American sensibilities.” Guess what? There’s racism and bigotry in other countries. There are nonwhite people and models in other countries. These companies have nonwhite customers. Nonwhite people are people and must be included, not pandered to with tokenism or dismissed with Continental shrugs. I also expect pattern companies to show models of different ages, body types, abilities and other dimensions of our human race. It’s the right thing to do.
4. Health crap.
My work to fix my shoulder and posture was really paying off earlier this summer. Through daily exercises and stretches, I had leveled off my shoulders quite a bit and was standing taller:
And then I started feeling pain in my right knee. I put off going to the doctor because of Covid-19, but finally I went, had an MRI, and found out that I have some gnarly arthritis in that knee. So then I got the shoe orthotics, the physical therapy and the dietary supplements “for joint health.”
After two tries at “free” skirt sewing patterns for the summer skirt sewing smackdown, I decided I’m dome with free patterns for a while. They can be fun, low-stakes projects, and you can get to know some cool indie pattern companies this way, but you also can end up with problems. Sooooo, time to sew up the most well-reviewed skirt in my five-skirt plan: the Gorgeous Gore Skirt from StyleArc.
This is not, strictly speaking, a free pattern. It was free to me, since StyleArc often gives away an older pattern when you buy a newer one. This is a very simple pattern – a gore piece you cut six times, and a waistband, which you cut four times. It doesn’t get much easier! And since it’s made of knit fabric, you an whip it up on the serger in a a couple hours or so.
My fabric was this crazy large-format geometric print in a heavier poly knit – not a jersey but not a double-knit or ponte either.
I had intended to make a dress with it. I must have been drunk or sleepy when I bought 3.5 yards of the stuff. A dress would be overwhelming to wear in this print, and it also would be kind of hot for a summer look. I figured a skirt was the answer:
I’m glad I did this! The final result looks great and will coordinate well with other items in my wardrobe.
I ordinarily don’t go for elastic waists because that cinched-in elastic waist look doesn’t flatter me. No worries this time! This pattern has a clever solution to the waistband elastic situation. The casing sits on the waistband facing so it can’t be seen from the outside. To look at it, you’d think an invisible zipper on the side was in play. Nope!
Here’s a close-up of how it looks:
Basically, you sew the waistbands and waistband facings together at the top and understitch. Then you sew 1/4 inch elastic in the round to your measurements and tuck it up against the understitching in between the waistband and facing. Then sew the casing on the facing only. The elastic is probably unnecessary for me, but I suppose it’s extra insurance.
I hemmed this to finish just above the knee (it’s designed as a below-knee skirt). I used the coverstitch setting on the serger and kind of screwed it up. My serger does not like bulk. I really to need to figure this out. Any flaws probably won’t attract the eye of anyone but me anyway.
This is one of those “You Get What You Pay For” deals with free sewing patterns. The instructions are messed up and the sizing is off. I need to take it in at the waist about 3 inches. Yes, it was a majorly rookie mistake not to wrap the damn waistband around my bod to check for the sizing before I sewed it on, so I have no one to blame but myself.
It looks OK from the front, but in the back, you can really see how the skirt sits low on my waist and the fabric pools at center-back into a pleat. The whole look says “wide load.”
This is supposed to be a high-waisted skirt, with the gathers falling attractively instead of settling and fanning out along the hips. Looking again at the model, you may notice how she has no waist or hips to speak of. I neglected to pay much attention. My mistake!
(Also, gurl, not for nothing, but what are you doing keeping the selvage on that skirt fabric? Let me know how it wears after you wash the skirt a few times.)
The instructions skirt is nearly a zero-waste design – the panels are big rectangles that gather into a straight-cut waistband, and the patch pockets are straight-cut along three sides.
The directions had one big problem and several small ones. The big problem: the instructions are out of order for gathering the skirt. You cannot gather the skirt until you know how much to gather it!
The waistband pattern piece has no notches. You mark your own according to how long your waistband is. This is no big deal, but the waistband’s written instructions to mark the notches are wrong. You want to start at the ends, marking the seam allowances, then the button plackets, then center back, and then the side seams, which are equidistant between center back and the button plackets. The diagram is right but the written instructions have you “split the rest in four equal parts.”
Once you notch the waistband, you then can line up the skirt pieces to gather them the correct amount. It worked out to almost a 2x gather, in my size.
I wanted to try out techniques in the Threads July 2020 article “Couture Gathering” by Susan Khalje, so I made these changes:
* Made the skirt waist seam allowance 1 inch, not 1 cm.
* Ran three lines of gathering stitches, not 2.
* Ran gathering stitches the entire length of the skirt, not breaking at the side seams (Khalje says it’s easier to get even gathers this way, and having now done it, I agree).
I tried out a few lengths for the gathering stitches. A 5-mm regular basting stitch – sample on the right – left gathers that were too loose. The sample on the left is 4 mm – just right for this fabric – a cotton poplin I’ve had in my stash several years. I had bought it to make a shirtdress, without realizing it was only 47 inches wide – not enough for most dress patterns. A skirt was a good second-chance project for it. (BTW the pattern calls for fabric 140 cm wide (55 inches) but at least in my size a narrower fabric worked fine. This also would probably be suitable for quilting cotton.)
Other smaller errors and omissions with this pattern, if you decide to make your own:
* Assembling the .pdf, some pieces lacked the center heart shape for lining up the paper sheets.
* Some pieces lacked grainlines or cutting lines (this may be the fault of the nested .pdf format or just an error – I can’t tell).
* Sew the pockets right sides together not wrong sides together and turn out.
I did two lines of topstitching along the button plackets for extra stability, and I made the pocket buttons functional, not just decorative.
I am quite proud of my pattern-matching skills anyway. I think this will be a fun skirt – after I get over the unpleasantness of unpicking the waistband, shortening it, then redoing the gathers and sewing the stupid thing back on. Actually, that sounds like a lot of work. Oy.