Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Combi-short Paloma: Make My Lemonade

Don't you just love when you make something so all-round great, you can't decide which part of it is your favourite?  (I hope that does happen to other people too and this isn't just me sounding terribly smug).  Well, my lovelies, this is one of those makes.

I love the back. The surprisingly not-symmetrical lozenge-shaped back yoke, the angle of the straps, the roominess of the bum...


... but then I also love the front, from the pointless seam down the middle of the bib to the shorts slouching over the hips, taking in the ties, pockets and belt loops along the way.

Wrinkles! #pressalltheseams #ironnothing

(Things I do not love: husband taking the photos. I was all set up with the tripod when he arrived back from his run early and insisted on 'helping', which never results in good facial expressions/stylish poses).

Awkward pose? Check. Facial expression? Cropped.

And all that is just the stuff I love about the finished garment. Whereas what I really, really loved was the whole process of making it.  I fell for this pattern hook, line and sinker well before it was a wearable garment. It's a delight!  So, before I give you a tour of the guts, here's the lowdown:
The pattern is the salopette Paloma (Paloma dungarees) by Make My Lemonade. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that, although I speak French fluently, I've hardly dipped so much as a toe into the vibrant world of French/francophone sewing blogs, and thus I only became aware of this lovely little pattern because Marilla Walker put a picture of it on instagram.  It's an open secret that not only do I love dungarees, but I also have a total fashion-crush on Marilla, who manages to discover and design the most lovely things - it's like having found my own style by stealth, because basically she's doing it already (just better. Crushes have to have an element of aspiration, really, don't they?)
Anyway, long story short, she posted the picture and I immediately bought the pattern. Wait, short story slightly longer: the other thing was, it only costs € 1.99. Seriously! Look here if you don't believe me. For that knockdown price, you obviously don't get a beautiful package with detailed instructions (which does exist but will set you back € 14.90 + shipping) - you get the pdf pattern tiles, the layout for sticking them together and an online instructional video (both in this post).
See what I mean about husband photos? Ugh <shudder>.

Now, the video is in French.  This may understandably seem like an obstacle if you don't speak the language, but if you're prepared to patiently pause your way through it, I think the visuals are probably enough to follow along anyway. You clearly see which bit matches up where, which is the key thing really - if you've used google translate to label your pieces accurately, you'll be fine.  Watch it through once for the big picture, then take it slowly. My only big tip: the notches show where to fold, not where to match pieces up.
For those who do speak French, the video is worth a watch/listen just because she has such a lovely, truly French accent. Or maybe it's just me who'd appreciate that, because I speak French almost exclusively with non-native speakers (or, less frequently, Belgians. Belgians, don't get outraged please!! Native French-speaking Belgians do, of course, speak very nice French too, but, well, how to put this...? It was just lovely to listen to a well-spoken Parisienne for once - and all the more so for not having to experience Paris at the time. There, is that neighbour-insulting enough to make it ok...?)
Err, I seem to have digressed. Yes, the point! The point was, I had basically fallen in love with the pattern the second I started watching the video. I can't help it, I like French, it's my thing. And I've been wondering ever since whether this coloured my view of the whole thing.  But, there's no escaping the cold, hard facts that this pattern is not only stylish and comfortable but also impeccably, interestingly drafted. What more could a (Francophile) sewist want?


One of the things I found most pleasing is the way the shorts pieces are completely straight at the waist, but the waist seams of the front bib and back yoke pieces are curved - which is what gives the salopette it's shape. It was really a little bit magic to sew it together at that point and see how it turns oversized into flattering, just like that.  You can just see too, above, that the straps overlap ever so slightly at the back, which makes them sit very nicely when wearing it. Then there are the belt loops, to visually break up the waistline just enough but not too much.  Plus, I don't know - look at the shapes there? So balanced and geometric! 

And that, in the end, is my absolute favourite thing about this make. Most specifically, it's these triangular overlaps at each side for the snaps. They're so very shapely, so very pointedly contrasting with the curve of the shorts - and they're gloriously, beautifully tidy to construct. The drafting here is ever so precise, and everything matches up where it should, until you end up with a perfectly neat and oh-so-aesthetically-pleasing side/pocket finish.

I just. I can't even. I LOVE THEM.

Too much, maybe? DON'T CARE. Look at this from the right side out! Seriously - how could anyone wear these and not be constantly thinking about how wonderful the closures are?? I can't.

One thing I did do that's not in the pattern is to topstitch various seams, and in particular the side seam from about 1" below the pocket, to reinforce and hold everything in it's perfectly precise place. Then went back and extended it as far up as the lower snap (you can see here, below, where I stopped and then added a couple more inches) because the first time I wore it - fortunately only inside the house - I realised there was some serious knicker-revealing gape. Which has it's time and place I suppose, but this ain't it.

My other, minor changes were for fit.  Make Lemonade mentions that this pattern runs big, and it really does. I made what I hoped would be a wearable muslin and was drowning in it - this version is a size down from the one my measurements put me in. I also slimmed down the sides of the bib a little - the muslin was making me look wider in a place where I'd really rather not be, and it kind of threw the balance off. It's truly amazing what a centimetre's difference can make to how good a garment looks!  The other thing the muslin revealed was the need for a serious flat bum adjustment.  I'd show you a picture because it was hilarious - but in the end I couldn't even stand to take one of me wearing what basically looks like a hugely oversized nappy with straps.  I just traced the back crotch curve a couple of sizes smaller, and fortunately it worked fine.


So, there we are.  My salopette Paloma has been worn every day it's been warm enough (like three times in two weeks ugh Belgian summer) and has stood up very well to picnics in various parks as well as both the construction and de-construction of a mahoosive tent.

With me all the time inwardly smiling about those snap flaps and the pointless, but oddly lovable, centre front seam.

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Holy Grail: a well-fitting bikini

Hello! How is your summer going, sewing friends? Or your winter, should you be in the southern hemisphere?  My three weeks of hot, sunny, Spanish lounging are sadly over - and after two weeks back at work, they already feel like a very long time ago. But they were good, and the office is slack over the summer, so I'm not really complaining.  And, now that it's been sewn, well-used and photographed, I can finally show you my bikini! SHOCK SPOILER: it's totally wearable!!!

A bikini that fits has been one of those sewing goals elusive enough to end up becoming totally obsessive. The idea started about three years ago over a conversation in the hammam, where I was bemoaning the fact that finding a bikini to fit my small back & large bust had proved frustratingly, utterly impossible so far throughout my adult life, regardless of how much time, money, fitting room anguish and indifference to stylishness I was prepared to throw at it (I'll be honest - not that much of any of those things). There was general sympathetic agreement from my fellow full-busted friends, if I remember correctly. And then Lucy said: come on Jo, surely you could sew yourself one?  It's just two triangles and a couple of straps!  Of course, it took no reflection whatsoever to know she was right. And so, the quest began. I ordered McCall's M5400 the same weekend, dived into my first attempts as soon as it arrived - and then gave up.  It was too difficult.

Here, how about a gratuitous beach picture to move things along a bit? (Also, because once I got there, taking modelled swimsuit photos suddenly seemed totally unimportant, so I have none. Just imagine me here, when we get to it).

Anyway, in hindsight, view B - two triangles and a couple of straps - was the wrong version to start with. It was never going to provide enough support, and I had no idea how to make it fit in the first place. For some reason though, I never looked past it.  Instead, I looked at every other swimsuit or bra pattern available, keenly scrutinising every new indie release, endlessly wondering - could this work? Might this be the one I can make into supportive, attractive beachwear? When I made my Bombshell last year, I knew it wasn't The One - but still harboured the unspoken hope that maybe, perhaps, it would surprise me. Could it be the DIY swimsuit to conquer all??

No, my list of demands was too long for that.  It had to be a two piece. Non-underwired, but holding everything in place nonetheless. Full coverage, but not frumpy.  (Actually that's not a long list, is it? Just virtually IMPOSSIBLE). I tried the Watson bra, but alas 'tis made for smaller bosoms than mine. I tried the Pneuma tank, but harboured doubts about the monoboob effect: when you're sunbathing in 38 degree heat you really don't want a swimsuit that pushes your assets into one hot, sweaty pool of cleavage. Add "lift and separate" to that list of must-haves. (I'm not done with the Pnema pattern though, it's great and I have other plans...).  In the end, with one week to go before my holiday deadline, I picked up the McCalls pattern again. And wondered, with a certain weary sigh at my own short-sightedness, why I'd never before considered view D.

Like, duh.

View D is basically made for those of us who want non-underwired, lift-and-separate, support, style and coverage. I'm not the only one, right??

Now, this is not to say that I didn't have to do any fitting. Hahahahahaha. Haha. That doesn't happen.  And anyway, this pattern is not drafted for full busts. Plus, there's the small back thing. So, I just did what I do with any other pattern: picked my size based on my high bust and carried out an FBA. It works pretty easily with this design, because you can slash and spread as if you were adding a dart and then rotate the extra fullness into the underbust gathers. Woot!  The first muslin revealed I had got the extra volume right, but the straps needed significant tightening at both the back and neck in order to pull in enough support to hold everything in place. I believe the pattern runs large actually, which would probably account for the huge amount I took out of the straps. 

Anyway, after that, it was just fine tuning. I scooped out the armhole (not enough, as it turned out) and - this is my FAVOURITE thing EVER - changed the curve of the cups at the centre front from concave (curving down/inwards) to convex (curving slightly up & out).  Have you noticed that almost all bras have a slight concave curve there?  This, this!! This is the reason why boobs that are any less than utterly perky just won't stay put in a plunge bra (I know it's not just me).  BUT: change that curve, and the shape goes from exposure-risk to full-cup fabulous. Ooh yes!


Right, this picture is here because it made me laugh. The original pattern piece and my modified one, side by side:

On the left we have the bikini as drafted for pert young things. On the right we have the bikini as drafted for people in their late thirties with a couple of kids under their belt whose boobs have long since given up the war on gravity.

The one additional change I made to the pattern was to add a well-stretched piece of elastic all the way along the underbust seam - which in combination with the close-fitting straps provided exactly the amount of support I needed. (If you're reading and thinking pffff that'll never work for me - for reference I wear a 32GG bra).

The sewing itself was pretty straightforward. By this point I had made multiple muslins of multiple bikini/bra patterns, so I can now say that I am very familiar with swimwear sewing techniques!  I did have to do it at high speed though, so it's not as tidy as it could be. I serged the elastic to the suit, then folded it over and topstitched with a zigzag stitch, which I aligned to fall just over the inside edge of the elastic. (Is that clear to anyone?? I hope so...)  I was having trouble on previous attempts with the elastic flipping to the outside of the suit, and this technique put a stop to that.

Yeah, not that neat. But effective!

And here it is!  Just a little more on the details - as you can see here, my underarm curve/strap is still too tight so I need to scoop that out a bit. And I will also reduce the depth of the bodice/strap at the front, as it permanently flips up. One of those things where the design looks great until you start moving.

Tadah!! Here I am in all my bikini-wearing glory! The bottoms are the lower part of the Nettie bodysuit (with a flat bum adjustment, but you can't see that from here :-)).

OK, ok, I'm trying not to be too self conscious but let's move on quickly shall we? Time to cover things up a bit.

Because at some point one must drag oneself from the beach to the bar for a beer and a bocadillo. Gratuitous photo...

Knowing just how hot and humid it can get on the Iberian peninsula, I made a beach cover up this year with as much scope for air circulation as possible:

It's the racerback tank dress from Drape Drape. I love me a racerback, and while this doesn't exactly qualify as actual clothing in my book (unlayererd at least) it DOES provide the most fantastic breeziness over a swimsuit. I used some stripy viscose knit from Tissu Fabrics, and the fabric is lusciously cool too.


I got funky with hot pink thread in the coverstitch machine to tart things up a bit. Lots of fun playing around with that! Sometimes I think I didn't really need to get the coverstitch and have tremendous guilt about my expensive hobby - it doesn't get used all the time, after all. But then every time I do use it, I remember that it's the Best. Toy. Ever! No regrets :-)

Anyway, this is getting pretty long! Kind of like talking high speed with all your school friends the first day back in September. So much excitable blah blah!  Well, forgive me, I AM pretty darn excited. A wearable bikini - I thought it'd never happen! It got put through it's paces too: lakes, pools and two full weeks of long days swimming in the Med - it held up to all of it and looks like it'll be going strong for a while yet.

Well, to sign off I'll leave you with my top water-related tip in Barcelona. Should you find yourself there in July or August and in need of cooling off, I highly recommend making your way to the Municipal swimming pool of Montjuïc. It's easy to find, doesn't cost much (it's the municipal pool!) and comes with absolutely unbeatable views over the city. Plus you're conveniently placed to visit the sights at the same time (my favourite is the Miró museum, but there's plenty else too!)

On that note, I think I'd like to know what your favourite off-the-beaten-track recommendations are! If I were to come and visit, what would be your favourite thing to show me?  What travel gems have you discovered that the rest of us probably don't know about? Spill!

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?! :-)

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