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…
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).
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.
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.
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:
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?
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.
I wonder if bamboo jersey fabric is always wrinkly and saggy, or was just the stuff I bought? Anyone have any experience with it?
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.
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.
I will probably work at home through the end of the year. Without my job in New York City, I find myself adrift…
My “work” style and my “home” style are, well, two different styles. What’s why the same person who made this:
Also made this:
Its’ said that true style comes from knowing who you are. So who am I?
I’ve never really felt that I fit in at the office, but I have played the game well enough. Everyone in New York dresses in black – often head to toe, year-round – so the “edgy work look” like the above was born. I needed to fit in and look tough. Eat broken glass and rusty nails for breakfast? You bet I do.
At home, though, I like more variety in color and style. I am not really an “edgy” person, though I like some edgy things. For home clothes, I like things that are clean and simple – hold the fripperies. I like nature, science, art – geeking out is a favorite past-time. Eat homemade yogurt and home-grown berries for breakfast? You bet I do.
I don’t know who I am.
I somehow am both of these people.
So I have two styles that don’t play well together.
I need a few things for spring and summer. Decided to make May “The Month of Bottoms” and June “The Month of Tops” for efficiency’s sake. A comb through my stash, however, revealed a problem. Most of the fabric was more in the “edgy” than “non-edgy” buckets.
I had three yards of these two fabrics earmarked for dresses. Don’t need dresses now – maybe skirts instead?
For tops, I guess I can make some black or white T-shirts or simple button-downs. That’s exciting.
And I need new shoes. Oy. And a haircut. Double-oy. My roots are grown out 2 inches, and I am very tempted to get a short haircut and stop dyeing it – that is the home “me” but definitely not the office “me.”
The longer-term issue is: how can I get a job and a life that better complement each other? Which of these people am I, really, or am I a third person who doesn’t show up in either? Is 50 too late to “find yourself?”
First, I should note that while the pattern photo shows a center-front seam, there isn’t one on the pattern – the front is cut on the fold. Next, I should tell you about all the errors and omissions on the pattern itself, such as:
No grainline marked on pocket pattern
You need to cut twice the waistband pieces as the pattern pieces call for (this is correct in the instructions but not on the pieces themselves).
No zipper placement marks.
No notches at all – not for the waistband, pockets, side seams – zip! (yet, there are some that have no use on the front piece).
The fabric came from Qi-Ja Fabrics in Hamilton, Bermuda – I picked it up on vacation last year. It’s a coral linen – a very pretty color but close to my face it tends to bring out blue undertones in my skin, so I thought a skirt was a better option.
The cutting phase revealed two more bits of fun:
This pattern uses about 1 yard of woven fabric, not 2, at least in the size I cut (10 waist, 12 hip).
The pattern calls for you to cut a very long back waistband so you can fold a loop out of it to make a “strap” at the back. Why? I have no idea – I guess if you want to hang your skirt on a hook, you might find it handy. But who does that? And even if that sounds great, do you really want a big loop of fabric hanging off your ass all the time?
We soldier on…
The instructions were just kind of garbled and vague. It’s a pretty simple skirt, so it’s not like I needed a lot of hand-holding, but still… sheesh.
* The pockets, while cute, are useless. Stuff falls out of them. Duh. I sewed then shut at the bottom.
* The sizing is off – easily two sizes larger than the sizing table indicates.
* The drafting is off – the hem oddly angles in in a jagged way instead of gently curves, as does the waistline. I had to smooth this out.
* I used an invisible zipper since I was sewing from stash and didn’t have a matching zipper handy.
* I chopped off that asinine strap and turned a bit of it into a tab button placket so I could better secure the waistline. The button is an antique from my stash.
* Interfaced the waistband (the pattern did not call for this ?!?)
Worst pattern ever. Beats this skirt sewed from a Japanese pattern book a few years ago.
Bernina should be ashamed of itself. I found out later that this “MyLabel” product was a short-lived software package for pattern drafting and design. As a friend of mine said when I recounted this tale of woe – “Bernina should stick to making sewing machines.”
I was so glad that I finally busted the embroidery unit out of its box last year. I chose a simple, one-color design for my jeans pockets, and it came out perfectly.
Let’s try a more complex design for our first Summer Skirt Smackdown project, OK? I picked out some summery coral linen for the Bernina My Label A-Line Skirt. I scrolled through the preset designs on my machine and landed on this hummingbird design:
I attract these ruby-throated hummingbirds to my yard every summer with a feeder that looks like a flying saucer. The design requires 12 colors – go big or go home, I guess. I rifled through my threads, and while I didn’t have the exact colors I had enough that were close – both embroidery threads and regular threads – to give it a try. I lined them all up in order and got to it.
Five tries later, I had it done!
Top row (left to right):
At first, I put the pocket piece in the hoop, but it wasn’t secure enough and tangled up. In trying to remove the tangle, I cut a hole in it.
Next, I got the first color started just fine on a larger piece of fabric. The phone rang, so I went to answer it. I thought I had set the machine so it would stop and cut the threads when the color was done. Nope. I came back a few minutes later to see it had started sewing the design entirely in this dark green color.
Bottom row (left to right)
The bobbin ran out. I wound a new bobbin but screwed it up somehow – got a thread nest again and again cut a whole in the project trying to fix it.
Made it halfway before I encountered a mishap! I had reduced the size of the design by 15% so it would fit on the pocket nicely. I didn’t realize, however, that when you do this the design saves in the computer as a temporary new design. I took a break from the project to eat lunch, but when I returned the size display was showing 100% instead of 85% – because it was 100% of the temporary design – get it? I didn’t. I dialed it back to 85%, so now it was 85% of 85% (whatever that is). The design sewed askew and I could not fix it. I eventually gave up only to start yet again. I dumped the temporary design, unplugged the machine, plugged it back in, and started fresh.
Finally, a perfect one! Only took about 4 hours!
One down, one to go. I flipped the design to a mirror image for the other pocket. Worked perfectly the first time – only about 25 minutes!
Whew I am tired! And I didn’t have to do a stitch by hand.
My spring/summer “Sew Edgy” work wardrobe is out the window. I won’t head into my office in New York City anytime soon because of COVID-19. So suddenly I have downshifted all my plans to simple work-at-home staples, which don’t have to look edgy. Working at home, I don’t need to look like I eat nails for breakfast. Who am I going to intimidate – the dog?
May is shaping up to be a long month at home again, so why not be productive, in the spirit of MeMadeMay? I think I can manage a make an wear one skirt each of the five weekends in May.
I prefer skirts to shorts for summer – cooler, easier to fit my leg/hip/waist ratios, and adaptable as I continue to lose a few pounds. They also sew up quickly and use less fabric, as I am trying not to buy any new fabrics or other supplies for a while. I reached into my pattern stash and found five skirt patterns I’d received for free during the past couple of years. Looks like a perfect opportunity for a May Skirt Sew-Off! Anyone want to join me?
As usual, beware of the freebie patterns! Some are not worth the paper they’re printed on! And since you’re doing the printing for the .pdf type, double caution! Two of the five skirts I’m planning are not free downloads, but I got the patterns for free during promotions. The other three are free for the taking – links included below.
Next up is the StyleArc Gorgeous Gore Skirt, which I got for free when I bought the Jasmine Trousers pattern (this is not a free download, sorry). It uses knit fabric and has an elastic waist – two design details I don’t normally go for in a skirt, but it’s easy enough to be worth a try. Also, I will need to add pockets, if I can figure out how to do that in a knit without the fabric distorting or pulling on the side seams.
Next up is the Justine Skirt from Ready to Sew, a French pattern company offering the skirt as a free download. Love the pockets on this! It’s a below-the-knee length with waist gathers, and buttons up the front. It calls for lighter linens, cotton lawn or poplins and such.
Then we have the Felicity Skirt from Jennifer Lauren Handmade, which is offered as a free download on PatternReview.com. (I don’t think it’s a freebie on the Jennifer Lauren site.) This is basically the skirt portion of a dress, and it’s a free so-called “expansion pack” from that pattern. Again, gotta love those pockets! This also uses woven fabric with a zip back, and offers two views – a gathered waist for lighter fabrics or a fuller circle shape for heavier fabrics, both above the knee.
This is the nicest of the patterns, using woven fabric, a button-up front or zip back, below the knee length. It has interesting seam details and a lining. I will make this up in fabric suitable for work, if I ever go to the office again.