Monday, 29 June 2015

Sewing space downsize

You guys, you guys. I'm hurtling towards the end of term in a blur of LAST MINUTE EVERYTHING mayhem. Was it a good idea to be leaving on holiday just one day after school finishes? Probably not. But it's too late to change plans now, and I have a bikini and a dress or two to finish (to start!! omf*$%g!!) before we pack ourselves into the car on Saturday morning. Thank the lord I know there'll be plenty of wine when we get there.

Needless to say - because isn't it what all sewists do before a holiday? - I have been making things like a maniac. Of course, I have no photos and thus there is no finished-garment blogging today -  I shall be photographing them on location in sunnier, beachier climes OBVS. No, instead, today I would like to present to you - ta dah!! - the attic sweatshop where it all happens. Welcome to my new, improved and radically downsized sewing space!

Now, I'm not actually grumbling about the downsize.  I knew it would come at some point, and I still have my own, now permanent, room. NOT COMPLAINING at all. But, here's the old one, bird's eye view from the mezzanine:

(I blogged about it previously here, btw). It's now my daughter's bedroom. Fair enough, that was always its destiny. But I hadn't really realised just how much of that luxuriously huge surface and floor space I'd been using, until faced with moving all my stuff to a 2x3 metre box room. If I wanted to be able to get any yardage spread out on the floor in the new space (let alone all of it with space to walk round, sob!) I had to think creatively. Likewise the ironing station. There's no room for just putting things to one side: the room is all sides and it gets clogged up mighty quick.

The answer of course has been to put things on walls. The shelving isn't exactly earth shattering, but can I just say that I have been BLOWN AWAY by the utterly brilliant usefulness of that rail with hooks (now much more cluttered than when this picture was taken)?  I'd always thought hanging your paper patterns would involve a space-hogging rack, like this:

click for source
click for source

But no! Ikea to the rescue - and they hang flat against the wall! As does anything and everything else I might want to hang on it! Leaving me room for manoeuvre at the desk, and space to move my little cutting table (in the first pic above) around to wherever works best.  The cupboard under the window is where current projects and supplies live, nicely hidden behind a wax fabric curtain thank-you-very-much. Patterns are in a separate cupboard downstairs, but I keep a queue of the ones I'll be using soon on the shelves where I can get at them easily.

I always wonder how we all fit sewing into our lives as well as our spaces, so here's a step back to show you the bigger picture. This is the top level of our house, and the two doors to the right are the kids' bedrooms:

I'm not sure why, but this arrangement of rooms suits both the kids and me much better.  Perhaps I've neglected trained them thoroughly enough, or maybe it's just what happens when they get big enough, but these days I get to spend a lot of time not actually really doing things with them. It works well for all of us that I'm there next door, and we chat while they do their various things in and between their own rooms, as well as mine. Sewing no longer seems the big deal activity it used to be when it took up so much more room, and I'm suddenly finding it easier to fit in odd minutes here and there while they're doing other stuff.

Moving the kids to rooms of their own now has also brought them a definite understanding of personal space, which is really interesting to see. When they're very small, that's one of the biggest things you lose, and I think we'd almost forgotten what boundaries were like! (They're 6 and almost 8 years old now). But they've seemed to instinctively work out that if I'm in my room, I'm doing my thing, just like in their rooms, it's their thing.  It's been a surprise and a pleasure to find us all respecting each other's space quite so harmoniously!

Plus, on those occasions it gets less harmonious, we can just shut the doors.

Ah, bliss!

(Genius wall-mounted iron stand is also Ikea. Of course).

How does the place you sew affect the way sewing fits into your life?  Do family meals happen in front of the TV so as not to disturb the dining sewing table?  Or do you hardly see your close relatives, only emerging from your remote sewing cave for food and water?  And if you have children - how do they handle your sewing time (or don't they?!)

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Rockbuex // Experimental trousers

Cannot. Stop. Wearing. The Rockbuex.

The what?

Well, glad you asked!  Let me show you...

(You might want to put your sunglasses on. I inadvertently captured the full force of the sun in these pictures!)

So, the Rockbuex. A pattern by German blogger schneidermeistern, available in English on Kollabora where it is enticingly-named "Experimental Pants".  Because, as you can no doubt tell, it's not ein Rock - a skirt - but something closely resembling a pair of trousers.  Trousers with a veeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrry dropped crotch. Although I suppose you could look at it the other way, too, if you wanted: as a skirt that happens to be closed at the bottom, with ankle holes.

But let's be straightforward here. What it is, is extreme harem pants. And I really, really like how that fact covers all sorts of style bases - from high fashion harems to festival-gear sarouels, and all the faux-maxi-skirt mum-clothes in between.

I first became aware of this particular pattern when I saw it on the ever-stylish Ute, but this wasn't the first time I'd considered the appeal of this type of garment. When Oonaballoona posted her romper-with-room tutorial last year I was sorely tempted to give it a go then - but stalled at choosing an appropriate fabric and promptly forgot all about it.

Fortunately, by the time the same temptation arose this spring, that little issue had resolved itself.  On my visit to Paris in January I had picked up this beautiful blue silk at the rather bargainous price of 8 euros a metre. Even with a 3-metre minimum purchase, it was worth jumping on!  It's fairly roughly textured, not smooth - I know very little about the proper terms for these things but I think it's what's called a washed silk?? (Please correct me if you know better!)  Anyway, whatever it is, I had to have it, even though I had no idea what I was going to do with it. The only thing I did know was that I wanted as much of it as possible next to my skin at all times.

Megan Nielsen's Tania culottes were my default plan for a long while - especially when saw her boxier midi-length version - but I hesitated over the relatively high waistband. While I love how that can look, I know that I just don't wear high waists regularly, and certainly not with the comfort level I wanted for my special fabric. And I'm glad I waited, because the Rockbuex hits the exact spot I was aiming for. Totally, utterly comfortable, while giving off a wonderful vibe of laid-back chic - and laid-back chic is absolutely how I roll at the moment.

In terms of construction, this pattern is extremely straightforward. The 'skirt' has front and back darts if you're using a woven fabric, to help it fall more smoothly, which I think it does. It has pockets (insert obligatory pocket YAY here) and, as written, includes ribbing at the waistband and ankle cuffs. I made a self-fabric waistband instead because I wanted it to match, with 5cm elastic inserted and then topstitched in the same way as the Hudson pants (I didn't get any close ups but you can see it in the photos above). At the ankles, I shamelessly copied Ute by adding a hem allowance and creating a little (+/- 5cm) pleat to draw in the 'cuff'. This keeps things nice and airy - though the silk is warmer to wear than I thought it would be, so this definitely isn't a high-summer garment. (Not that that'll be much of an issue in Belgium...)

In fact, to my mind, the Rockbuex is absolutely ideal winter wear - and not just because it makes a maxi skirt out of a pair of trousers. While I was contemplating the cuffs, and mulling over fabric choices, it occurred to me that one could make some of these in fleece for lounging on cold evenings, and doesn't that sound appealing, curled up on the sofa inside your nice cosy trouser/skirt thing? Well, from that vision it was a mere mental hop, skip and jump to the thought that, ok, ankle cuffs are good enough, but you know what? You could just go the whole hog and attach a pair of slipper socks instead. Seriously. You're not tempted? :-)

Anyway. I still have just over a metre of the silk left. I'm thinking of making an Ilsley skirt for maximum silk-wearing over the summer. After I've crawled out of the swimsuit vortex I've been sucked into over the last couple of weeks - I literally cannot think about anything else. Do you get like that too?? It's like my obsession with finally making a well-fitting bikini is demanding to be unleashed and, finally, completed - or else it'll destroy my ability to create anything, ever again. (I may be taking it a bit too seriously).

Rockbuex: Cat Approved.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Dress like yourself

Just what is personal style?

It's probably inevitable to end up asking yourself that question during Me Made May, isn't it? This was the first year I've taken part wholeheartedly - i.e. without getting bored and giving up half way through - and with more or less daily outfit photos. It's a funny thing, to put those pictures out there (out here) and see yourself through the eyes (or likes, or comments) of others for a change. Funny because that's what we do every day - put ourselves out there, in our outfits. And like it or not, that's the person that others see.

They see if we're wearing a trend. They see shapes, colours and a level of over- or understatement (perhaps carefully constructed, perhaps not).  I think it's usually fairly clear to see whether we like what we're wearing, whether we feel comfortable. Maybe they see an image we're trying to project, consciously or unconsciously, even when that projection is the one saying: I'm not projecting anything, thank you.  Those who know us well might be able to tell what kind of day we're having.

I struggle a bit with this. That on some level, "personal style" can only be perceived through the eyes and, well, the judgements, of others.  I want to be able to say: personal style is about self-expression, regardless of what anyone else thinks. That those who look really great in their clothes are those who care least what others think of them. These things are true, surely.  It's just that - I'm not at all sure what it means when I say: I simply want to feel and look good. Good how? Good to who? Is it really even possible, or indeed important, for my only judge to be myself?

I don't know.

The only thing I do know is that finding a personal style which works for me has been a lifelong battle and that finally, at the grand old age of nearly-38, it's a battle I now seem to be winning. 

Cue another series of soul-searching questions...


... am I winning because I'm older and I give less shits? Because the sense of self that was so thoroughly purged by early motherhood has now risen from the ashes, stronger than before? Or will I hit my mid-forties and find myself wondering, again, how to adapt to a stage of life that seems to bring so many internalised preconceptions and ideas?

Is it because, nearly 40 years into dressing myself, I've finally worked out what I like to wear and what I don't?  Is it because of sewing - that I know what I want, and can make it work?

Or is it because the online sewing community has turned out to be an unexpectedly uplifting place to publicly post photos of oneself - to, essentially, invite the judgements of others, and for those judgements to be ever kind, positive and empowering?

Again, I don't know.

The fact is, Me Made May is a brilliant opportunity for some collective, positive exploration of personal style.  That I feel slightly awkward at my 'best' handmade outfits getting more likes than others, is more than offset by the overwhelming joy I find in other people's #MMMay selfies. If I'd had the time, there would have been likes for every. single. one.

When I put these collages together, I was thinking to analyse a little the outfits that really worked, and those that didn't so much.  The drape drape tops above, one t-shirt weight and one sweater, turned out to be immediate favourites. My Linden sweatshirts, below, paired with various skirt/dress options, were also super easy to wear. Far and away the most-repeated item of the month was my Turia dungarees, which was unexpected, but it seems I love the bib neckline and the fact that they have no waist (err, duh). There may well be more.

Call it coincidence - but of course, I'm pretty sure it isn't - the pictures in these three last collages of the "hits" are also those that proved the most popular when I posted them on instagram.

And I'm left wondering: were these my favourite outfits before other people said they were that good?

And yet again: does it really matter?

As an aside, another thing I find intriguing is that these are among my most recent makes.  Are sewists drawn in disproportionately by the new and shiny, I wonder? Is that inherent in the fact that, one way or another, we're all making our own fashion - and that's just what fashion does?

Well, I'm not attempting to answer any of these questions. In fact, I'm going to go all postmodern and say that I think the questions probably are the answers. (I love that that kind of evasion was basically how I ended up getting a decent degree, haha! Gotta love the humanities!)

If you're interested in thinking more about this kind of thing, I highly recommend reading through the intelligent and perceptive discussions going on in the comments of Karen's recent post on her Merchant & Mills Factory dress.  There is a wealth of food for thought there, about dressing for and through the transitional stages and ages of life.

Now, I want you to tell me: what's your take on personal style - can such a thing exist without being filtered through others' eyes?  Does that matter to you, or not?

And, surely I'm not alone in this: are you too perpetually curious about the age of other sewcialists??? I find it impossible to tell - some of you are spring chickens barely into your twenties, others of us bear the weight of many years! I always think of 'us' as being all the same, indeterminate age, but of course we can't be.

GO ON... I told you mine, now tell me yours: how old are you?! :-)

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Evan skirt

A broken collar bone. Six stitches, two stitches, and three stitches caused by an IKEA escalator, a slippery bathtub and the swimming pool, respectively. Emergency stomach surgery. And the infamous near-hospitalisation for extreme constipation (yes, really) avoided only by some spectacular eleventh-hour shooting poo. In their short lives so far, my children have between them put together a remarkable portfolio of medical disasters - or so it seems to me, who has never broken a bone or been hospitalised for anything other than childbirth.

Last night was the most recent of these episodes, the swimming pool tumble and chin stitches thing. We handled it rather well, I thought, especially when the doctor brought out the gas and air and,  "Yay!" they chorused, "that stuff is fun!!" Cue raised eyebrows from the medical professionals: do your children do this a lot, Madame? (Rather like the time a kitchen cupboard fell off the wall on to my head, and the kindly, concerned doctor gently asked: has this happened before? It took some confused explaining before he was convinced that 'kitchen cupboard' really wasn't a euphemism for 'wife-beating husband').

Anyway, this latest in a long string of hospital visits was also just the latest in a long string of little life events that cumulatively have prevented me from blogging this skirt before. (How's that for a tenuously-relevant intro!)  Which is a shame, because I've been dying to tell you about it since I made it, what feels like AGES ago. It's Marilla Walker's Evan skirt pattern, which I was lucky enough to test before its release, and it's absolutely chock full of lovely details. Here, let me show you!

Front and centre, here's that split from closer up. Such nice pointy corners and pleasing topstitched detail...

THOSE PINTUCKS. I could not love a back pocket more than I love this one.

Topstitching, (pink!!) topstitching everywhere!  And oh how nicely that centre back seam and belt loop match up - my inner detail-freak did a little happy dance for joy!

And there's (optionally) more of those pintucks on the front pockets too! My only reservation here is that this part is really not easy to do tidily on thicker fabrics: my (purple!!) denim was not the ideal fabric for this level of detail, although it's hardly that bad unless you're looking closely.

Finally, I have to show you my pocket lining, just because otherwise no-one will ever know it's there. I used some scraps left over from my Eva dress - the colours were so harmonious, it makes me happy every time I put my hands in them.  Which is often, because let me tell you, these pockets are perfectly sized, placed and angled. Also, that there is the back of my first ever zip fly, painlessly and perfectly done thanks to the nice and clear instructions.

As for the sizing and fit, I found it pretty spot on.  My waist falls between two sizes, so to be on the safe side I went with the larger one and then graded down a couple of sizes at the hip, in line with my measurements there. By the way, this involved re-tracing the side seam curve on the front, back yoke, pocket facing and pocket lining pieces - a slight fiddle but not exactly difficult. Anyway, I can tell that my choice of waist size means my skirt sits slightly lower than it's designed to: the waistband is nicely curved to sit on the natural waist, and doesn't sit quite right below mine. But that's a minor niggle and one that can easily be fixed by making the smaller waist size next time. It's still supremely comfy and very, very wearable. I wear it a lot :-)

So all in all, you can probably tell that it's a total thumbs up for this pattern from me! A skirt like this is always a classic, and the pattern has less detailed and longer versions so you can get tons of variety out of it. I have an idea for a corduroy Evan in the autumn, and in the meantime would LOVE to find the time to put this skirt and its details together with the top half of the Turia dungarees, for what I'm convinced will be the best pinafore dress EVER.

And now a quick word about the top. Quilted knit Linden awesomeness! Me and the family were in Maastricht around Easter and stumbled on the fabric market just as it was closing up. 10 frenzied minutes later, I escaped with 1.5 m of this at a total cost of 3.75 euros. Self restraint guys!! It could have been SO much worse :-)

Anyway, this fabric didn't have enough stretch for a normal knit neckband finish, so I drafted a facing instead (Hanne's quick tips explain how). I quite like the wider neckline for a change.

So there you have it!  What do you think - are you tempted by the Evan skirt? Have you tried any other of Marilla's patterns? She's a relatively new indie pattern designer and I love her aesthetic - absolutely everything she pins is just so cool, and she's super stylish and sociable on instagram. This skirt is the first of hers I've tried but it's so good I'm eager to try the others - I've got my eyes on the Freemantle coat for when autumn rolls round.  Total fangirl moment!!!!

OK. Final outfit pic.

And with that I'm outta here before anyone else does themselves an injury.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Drape Drape dare

Hello my lovelies! Here's a question: where do you stand on Japanese patterns?

Unconsciously, I've always mentally divided the sewing world into those who sew from Japanese pattern books, and those who don't.  Part aesthetics, part practice - perhaps it's the styles, the construction, the sparse instructions and nested pattern sheets that turn you on or off - but wouldn't you agree, maybe, that we sewists tend to be on one side or the other?

Or maybe not. In any case: I had put myself in the camp of Those Who Don't.

And then Gillian dared me.

Sew something from a Japanese pattern book, she said. So I got myself down the library, got myself all the Japanese pattern books they had, and I did.

You know the punchline, right? Yes of course: I swapped sides.  Jumped right over that fence into the camp of Those Who Do.  Because look at that tunic there - it's clever, it's comfy and it's SO FREAKIN STYLISH I hardly recognise myself.

As it was my first go at this Japanese sewing lark, I went for the very easiest pattern in all the four books I borrowed.  It's the one-piece boatneck tunic from Drape Drape 3. I had seen it before on Jen, whose version is infinitely more exciting in aqua/turquoise lace - and when I turned the page and recognised those butterfly-ish batwing sleeves I knew this was the one to start with.  But it was only when I got down to it that I realised just how cool it is that this is all in one piece.

Seriously - ONE piece. When you think about it, it's actually a little but mindblowing as well as being seriously, utterly simple.  This is the full extent of the description and instructions:

After all, why waste your words? (Truly , I have crossed over completely - the more I think/write about this, the more I love it).  The book says you'll need 1m60 fabric, and you do - I had exactly 1m60 of this grey (probably poly) sweater knit, and this is how I cut it:

And look, below, it's just like the diagram! (The label in the back is slightly off-centre, because just think how easy it is to be precise about the centre back of a neckline with no seams, especially once you've picked it up and moved it a couple of times). 

The book says to simply wrap some binding over the neckline, but a) I didn't have enough fabric to cut it from the same stuff, and b) I wanted my binding to stretch around the neckline to draw it in slightly and hold it on my shoulders. I used a 1" strip of thin black viscose knit, 15% shorter than the neckline circumference, turned to the inside and topstitched. Two seams and three hems later - done!

Not only do I love this because it was quick, easy, successful and NEW (monkey brain!), I love it especially because this fabric is both lightweight and warm and the sleeves are exactly the right length for spring and I have therefore added the absolutely IDEAL tunic to my wardrobe for Me Made May. Which I'm doing properly for the first time and documenting on instagram, should you care to follow. I might do a round up here at the end.

So, what do you think? Are you already a fan of Japanese patterns, and if not, do you feel in any way tempted or won over?  I must admit that this has all been more fun than I expected, and I've earmarked 3-4 more things to make while I have those books out of the library. Yay for pushing the boundaries!

And while I'm at it, let's take a moment to say YAY for libraries too.  If you're lucky enough to be near one that stocks or will order sewing books, this is a brilliant way to try out new things or simply get your hands on patterns you wouldn't have been able to access otherwise.  And, well, ok... I have a confession.  This isn't actually the first time a library has lured me into experimenting with different sewing styles...

The above is what happened when I got bored and started browsing one time with the children. Before I knew it, I'd borrowed the book, traced it out and made two mini-humans. The kids named them Elizabeth and Sebastian, after their own middle names.

Sadly, an accident befell Sebastian shortly thereafter:

I literally had to dig him out for this photo from under the mending pile. Hereby naming and shaming myself into fixing his amputated limb sometime soon.

Have a wonderful weekend, dearests!

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