Breaking the RTW Fast

My “RTW fast” lasted until May 12. Then I binged. Sort of.

The idea behind a RTW fast is to refrain from buying any ready-to-wear clothing except for lingerie, hosiery, shoes, and belts, and garments that you’re required to wear for some reason, such as a work uniform or a bridesmaid’s dress.

I thought this would be a great challenge to up my game and to force me to sew a few projects to stretch my abilities, such as jeans and a suit. So I signed up.

And then I hit a bad combination of vacation, poor packing decisions and unseasonable weather. It was much colder in Kentucky last week than it should have been. I mean, 20-30 degrees colder. It was also rainy. And I did not pack a raincoat.

I suffered through the first day of vacation, shivering under me-made tops and sweaters. On the second day, I caved in. We were headed to Churchill Downs to watch the horse races, which normally calls for an outfit like this:

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“Run for the Roses” dress, pattern is Tunic Dress with Lace from “Happy Homemade Sew Chic”

It was 50 degrees and drizzly. I ended up looking like this:

Churchill Downs
(Look away from this hideous jacket – focus on the mint julep instead.)

I had a mint julep anyway and ended the day up about $4.

I bought this hideous Army green jacket at J.C. Penney. I had tried to buy a jacket at any of the independent downtown Louisville clothing stores, but all they all only had summer clothes on offer. The morning of the races I Googled “shopping mall near me” and drove 15 minutes to a suburban sprawl shopping center.

I hadn’t been to a mall in a few years, and I hadn’t been to a J.C. Penney since… who knows? My mother gave me a gift certificate once, many years ago, and I spent it on socks, underwear and undershirts for me and my husband.

Anyway… the pickings were slim. It took me 10 minutes to hunt down a saleswoman, and she had no idea where I might find a raincoat or jacket. I figured my best chance was the sale rack, where bereft out-of-season clothes hung in a jumbled display.

This jacket was literally the only thing for sale that would be warm enough and remotely fit me. It originally cost $64 but was marked down to $28.79. It had nice heavy copper zippers and some quality details like zippered double-welt pockets and proper facings, but only half of the snaps on the placket would snap and some of the topstitching was wonky. 100% cotton, made in China. Oh well. I cursed myself yet again for not bringing a coat, but I resigned myself to buying it and prepared to leave.

And then it happened. What happens to lots of people when they go shopping, I imagine.

The lure of cheap, fast fashion took hold.

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Shopping – grab it all!

I browsed the rest of the sale rack and identified other “bargains”:

  • A black V-neck sweater in a cotton-rayon-nylon blend, made in Indonesia. I already had packed a me-made black cardigan for the trip, but I thought I also might need this heavier pull-on style. Originally $32, marked down to $7.99.
  • A black lightweight nylon and mesh windbreaker, made in China. I convinced myself that since the Army green jacket was on the heavier side, I might also need a lightweight jacket for warmer rainy days on this trip. Originally $54, marked down to $26.99.

I drifted to another sale rack and started looking at tops and pants because, well, everything was so cheap. Then I remembered that I didn’t need anything else. Then I remembered I was trying not to buy RTW, especially cheap, foreign-made fast fashion. I slunk off to the register instead. In all, I spent maybe 5 minutes choosing, trying on, and deciding to buy these garments.

The black sweater was probably a good buy – it fits well and the fabric seems nice (we’ll see how it washes and wears over time). I wore it a few times on vacation because it remained chilly and my me-made cardigan was pretty lightweight.

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RTW sweater of shame, worn with a me-made Maria Denmark Yasmin Yoke Skirt

The windbreaker is really a sad thing. I’m sure I will wear it, someday. But I did not need it and I should not have bought it. Because I sew my own clothes, I have certain… let’s say… standards. While my me-made apparel is not perfect, I would never do something like this:

 

Yep, that’s a serged seam in the center of the hood that can be seen from the right side if the hood is worn down. The edge of the hood was serged with exposed threads instead of a clean turn-and-topstitch finish. Seriously. How hard would it have been to draft a flat-fell for that one seam and properly finish the edge? Also, the elastic was inserted into cuff  by sandwiching it into a turn-and-topstitch cuff that was serged closed, instead of inserting the elastic into a casing so that the edge is clean. You can see not only the serging from the right side, but also the edge of the elastic!

I would like to know what goes into these fast-fashion RTW designs. Yes, they are meant to be cheap and quick, but how much cheaper and quicker is it to do something so crappy vs. something decent? Without these two gross finishes, this would be a nice little jacket instead of an embarrassment.

My main takeaway from this experience is that I spent about a minute buying this jacket. That’s the dirty little secret of fast fashion that no one talks about. This stuff is designed fast, made fast and bought fast. I was a little astonished at the sale price and didn’t think further. If I had looked at this jacket with a critical eye for 30 seconds more, I would have noticed these big flaws and would have passed it by. Part of the blame rides with the consumer, too.

Anyway, I will reinstate my RTW fast for the rest of the year and finish Me Made May. And next time I go on vacation, I will definitely check the weather forecast before I leave, and pack a coat!

Four Strategies for Sustainable Sewing

Home sewers typically waste 30% of their fabric. Shocking, right? That’s according to Patrick Grant, judge of the Great British Sewing Bee. As the Saville Row sort, I imagine he knows what he’s talking about.

Patrick Grant
Patrick Grant, voice of authority

Still, 30%? Surely we home sewers can do better than that! Here are my top tips for sustainable sewing with minimal waste:

  1. Piece it together. Many projects have you cut on the fold to avoid a seam. That’s important for the line of the garment in the front, but less so in the back. Projects such as my recent Vogue 9246 top could be easily pieced in the back to save fabric.
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Pieced in the back – who cares?2.

2. Avoid cutting in two layers. A lot of cutting layouts expect you to fold the fabrics selvage to selvage and cut, so you get two of everything in one go. Except that the cutting layout can get wasteful that way. In my experience you can often cut a few things on the fold and other things single-layer, to get the most out of your fabric. For my recent Vogue 9246 top, the pattern called for 2 yards but I squeezed it out of 1 1/3 yards.

Here are the leftover scraps from some creative cutting.  As long as you follow the grainline, you should be fine. And remember to flip over the pattern pieces if they’re meant to be cut in a double layer!

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Scrappy!

3. Try kinda-sorta bias. Bias-cut facings and other details can sure hog fabric. If you cut on the true 45-degree angle, you can go through a lot of fabric quickly. But sometimes you don’t need true bias. You can get away with kinda-sorta bias on a lot of fabrics, as long as they provide decent stretch.

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Play around stretching the fabric at various angles until you see something that you think might work. Try it! Baste it in place to see if it works before you commit. It beats buying and wasting a lot of fabric. Out of the scrap pile above I was able to fashion the neckline facing and two sleeve facings for my top.

4. Stash with care. The biggest waster of fabric, in my opinion, is fabric that never gets sewn but rather sits in stashes forever. It may get ruined in storage. Tastes may change, and you may regret buying it. You may forget you even have it, and buy more fabric when you didn’t need it. Or you may choose the fabric for a project, only to realize that you have too much – you may make a top when you have enough yardage for a dress, for example, and the leftover never gets used.

What’s worse, you sew up stash fabric because you feel bad about it lying around, but the project is crappy because you were using oddball stash fabric, and you never use the item…

A few unfortunate “stash” projects that wasted fabric and time:

Treat your fabric like the precious commodity it is! It used up water, plus animal or plant matter, or petroleum products if it’s polyester. It also used up your precious time to buy, treat and store.

 

A Winning Upcycle Project

I won second place in the PatternReview.com 2018 Upcycle Contest for my Hudson’s Bay knock-off coat! Woot!

I am pretty amazed. This was not the most creative upcycle, but it was pretty striking graphically, I guess. Or maybe my funny story about it charmed everyone.

Here’s another funny thing. When I mentioned to my mom that I entered this contest, she said she remembered the blanket from my college days. A few days later, this picture arrived in the mail.

EPSON MFP image

 

Yep there I am, and there the blanket is, looking very 1990 or so.

Remember how cameras back then gave you red eyes? Lovely!

I can’t believe how bad those bangs look. I must have cut them myself.

Also, I am wearing a black Swatch, an oversized sweatshirt and faded mom jeans. Sexy!

I cropped pictures of the other dorm-mates out, since I can’t remember their names. So sad! It was only 30 years ago…

Soooo…. old…..

But I have a cute coat!

 

Upcycling Cozy

Is there anything you love more than your cozy old bathrobe?

How about a nightgown upcycled from the robe, after one too many stains from makeup and hair dye? Behold:

A nightgown from McCall’s 7297!

As before, I cut a size 14, which fits well (note the top has very little ease in it) and graded to a 16 at the hips. The only changes to the pattern were that I lengthened it 17 inches, changed the sleeves and didn’t make a shirttail hem. This nightgown is pretty ridiculously short otherwise and would barely cover my rear.

Here’s how I worked with the old bathrobe:

I cut it apart at the seams. No way was I unpicking all that!  The only things I unpicked were  the robe’s two pockets, and I reused one as a breast pocket on the gown. (The other was stained so I tossed it.)

I laid out the pattern pieces carefully. The front of the nightgown is asymmetrical and can’t be cut on the fold, so I used the broad back of the robe for the front of the gown. I pieced the back of the gown using two pieces taken from the two fronts of the robe.


I cut the front and back as long as I could – basically, I tried to get as much use out of the old robe as possible, avoiding stains and holes. After the pattern piece ended, I used my hip curve to continue the line to the hem. Once I sewed the back and fronts together, I trimmed and hemmed it even. The final length is 17 inches longer than the pattern calls for.

I cut off the striped facings and used one for the neckline binding. I simply cut the facing open and made a binding out of it with a bit of wonder tape to fold in the raw edges (this fabric doesn’t take a press).

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I cut open the striped belt, removed the interfacing, and did the same treatment to the raw edges to bind the hem. This didn’t work out very well. Despite my best efforts, the hem and binding both stretched a bit and went wonky in places. It was also about 4 inches short – GAH! I pieced together the rest from what was left of the facing. I don’t think this shows (too much).

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I cut off the sleeves. The size was right, but I recut the sleeve cap to avoid a stain, and so that the sleeves would ease into the armscye well. Then I cuffed them so that the striped facing showed. (Somehow, I had this robe for years and never noticed the striped facing on the sleeves!)

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I estimate I reused 90% of the old bathrobe. All that’s left is a small pile of scraps.

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It’s not the most gorgeous nightgown I’ve ever had, but it’s comfy, and I am wearing it to bed tonight!

Upcycle from the Outside In

I’m committed to upcycling, since I had great success with my tablecloth-turned-dress last year. So when my old bathrobe got a bit too ratty to use anymore, I held on to it in hopes of giving it a second life.

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Upcycled from my old bathrobe

The fabric is in good shape – minus a few holes at the shoulder from close encounters with a hairbrush, and a coffee stain on one pocket that defies detergent.

There’s enough fabric here to make a nightgown, so I reached again for McCall’s 7297. The  nightgown is basically a longer version of the pajama top I made last fall:

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The PJ top has been great, but with warmer weather coming, I would like something cooler. (The pants are ginormous and have stretched out with use, but that’s another story.)

I lined up the bathrobe with the pattern pieces and sew I could squeeze out the nightgown and even lengthen it a bit.  I will need to remove ease in the sleeves, but they’re basically OK. I have enough of the candy-striped facing and belt for the trim along the bodice, hem and sleeves.

I was hoping to reuse the pocket that did not have the baffling coffee stain, so I gently unpicked it – what a chore! There was all this gross gray lint inside. Ew.

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All in a day’s work for the environment, eh?

More Pussyhats for More Fresh Hell Ahead

I’m making more Pussyhats for the Women’s March in New York on January 20th. Last time, I made 22 hats out of remnants of polar fleece, about half from my stash (leftover from my niece’s Halloween costume) and half purchased off the Joann’s remnant rack.

This year, in the spirit of environmentalism, I am upcycling fabrics for the hats:

On the right you’ll see the old hooded bathrobe I retired this year after faithful service left it with too many stains, tears and pills to be quite decent anymore. Each hat takes about a fat quarter’s worth of fabric, so I estimate I can get about 12 hats out of the robe. I will definitely use the striped front band as headbands for the hats, and I may do something creative with the hood.

The pink garments on hangers are two items I bought at Goodwill for $5.25. The item on the left is a tennis dress in French terry that has a little stretch. The item on the right is a short nightgown in four-way stretch jersey. I estimate I can get 8 hats out of both, maybe using the nightie’s lace and rouleau straps creatively.

I got both items at my neighborhood Goodwill store. I have donated many times to this store but have never bought anything there. I was disappointed to find no sewing supplies or yardage on sale, just a sad-looking Singer from the 1970s.

As I perused the clothing racks in search of suitable fabrics, it occurred to me that my sewing project might pose a hardship to someone. I found a couple of pink sweatshirts, but I thought, “It’s so cold. Maybe someone needs this sweatshirt to stay warm. Is it right to buy it?” So I chose items that I imagine no one needs, at least not in January in Connecticut. Maybe this is presumptuous of me? Anyway, it’s done.

I plan to make 20 hats in all. I already have orders from a few friends and neighbors who missed out last year, and I imagine others will roll in. A bunch of us, including my sister, are going to New York on the train for the day. A friend from PatternReview.com has drafted a hat for this year’s march. If yo want to try that pattern, send me a message with your email and I will send it – it’s on a .pdf.  I am going to use it instead of the free “Fleece Fun” hat I tried last year. While it got the job done, it was rather inelegant and ill-fitting.

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Are you marching too?