Monday, 20 October 2014

Coat of many compliments: Veste Chloé

Spot the deliberate mistake - go on, let's just get it out of the way:




Yes, not only am I so rubbish at hand sewing that the lowest press stud unattached itself within about four wears, I also completely forgot to fix it before taking pictures. AAARRGHH IT'S ALL I CAN SEE!! That'll teach me for being sloppy.  But ok, fastened like this it's invisible and you would never have known:





Anyway! This is the Veste Chloé, the first piece of outerwear I've ever made, and the first pattern I've tried from Belgian sewing mag La Maison Victor, which launched about this time last year. In my opinion it's perfectly pitched at today's home sewists - good looking and accessible - and I was so excited about it that I immediately took out a subscription. However, I've only now been so grabbed by one of the patterns that I had to try it immediately. The Chloé jacket is on the autumn edition's front cover, tooted as quick and stylish, and it is. Judging by the number of them popping up on instagram (and blogs, see Jolies Bobines) I wasn't alone in my enthusiasm either.

This lovely red fabric is a slightly nubbly kind of faux-bouclé, which I presume to be entirely man-made as it was 4 euros a metre (thank you, Berger). When I bought it, it was lightweight and drapy and I was envisaging a sort of half-cardigan-half-coat scenario. Was, you'll have noted - because I chucked it in to pre-wash without even thinking about it, and it felted. One return trip for another metre later, because wow felting fabric shrinks it something awful, I had a heavier weight jacket on my hands. And in fact, it's all the better for it.


I'm getting quite good at derp pictures, no?


The fabric now holds and shows off the structure of the coat really well - and I firmly believe that it's this, together with the loud happy red, which accounts for the phenomenal number of compliments this jacket has received.  Several friends (individually, on separate occasions), my son's class teacher, helpers at the after-school club, a random bloke on the street - and this was all in the first three times I wore it.  There's nothing like spontaneous flattery to make you appreciate your own sewing brilliance, really, is there? :-)  And in fact, I've been not only astonished but also highly appreciative, because for a couple of reasons I wasn't feeling brilliant about this coat when I finished it.

First and most obviously, there's the basic fact of some lazy finishings. OK , they're on the inside, but coats flap open and I know they're there anyway.  When the fabric felted, it got so thick I couldn't think how to finish the seams without binding them, which I wasn't in the mood to do, because I just wanted to bash it out and be done. So, as felt doesn't fray, I just left them raw, and now I regret it because it's messy.  Plus, there's the press-stud hand-sewing fail too.




But ok, I can live with it - it was quick and fun make - and look, all the funner because yay contrast yellow pockets!  Which by the way are far too low on me, I need to take some length out at the waist if I ever make this again:






No, the real reason I was slightly insecure about this jacket ran deeper than seam finishings and some dodgy stitching.  It went back about 10 years, to a coat I bought that felt unnervingly just like this one. Thick fabric, too-low pockets and all - suddenly but unmistakably, this jacket dredged up coat memories I didn't really want to have.

The coat-of-10-years-ago had been bought in desperation, in the depths of winter, because I finally had to face the fact I'd gained weight beyond the scope of my clothing. The shopping trips to find it were awful: everything in the larger sizes was sold out or, like the coat I eventually settled for, irredeemably unattractive. As I saw it at the time. Now, I think that of course it was me seeing myself as irredeemably unattractive. That feeling of despair at paying good money for a coat I hated, for my shape that I hated, is what drove me finally, after literally years of procrastination, onto a healthier diet and into the gym.

Now, I'm still about 10 kilos lighter than I was then. I'm also about 10 kilos heavier than I was at my lightest (pre-kids, obviously).  But what I like to think has really changed in the last 10 years is the way I see myself. I was impressed when my body produced and squeezed out two small people - I like it better looking 'worse' now than I did before - and sewing my own clothes has liberated me from wardrobe angst almost entirely. Plus, y'know, older and wiser and less giving of shits. So it was a shock to unexpectedly get this jolt of memory, experienced very physically and as close as the coat I was wearing, back to a time when that wasn't the case.






I don't really know if I'm trying to say anything here. I'm just telling you, because that's the deal with this jacket.  It makes me appreciate who I am now, and the shape I am now, and the many wonderful sewing patterns people make now, which allow us to all sew up whatever we want, in whatever crazy colours and textures we like, and to look fabulous in them, because we're OURSELVES.

OK yes, that's what I'm saying :-)

Does the ability to sew your clothes how you see yourself and your shape? Do you think it makes us more likely to accept our little (or big!) shapely quirks and irregularities? Or is that just a natural consequence of growing up, and nothing much to do with our clothes at all?  These things have been on my mind since I made this, and I'd love to know what you think too.


And P.S. - if you'd like your very own Veste Chloé, you can get the current issue of La Maison Victor here, or keep an eye on this page where the patterns all eventually appear for sale individually (Dutch and French only I'm afraid, but with decent diagrams).


Monday, 6 October 2014

And now for something completely (well, slightly) different

OK, it's still sewing. But this one may take some explaining.




And I don't mean the explanation that Fanny Packs Are Back In Fashion because the cool kids in Barcelona were wearing them last spring. (They were, I saw it with my own eyes. And that explanation was too easy - I just did it all in one sentence).

Let's start with this guy. The one in the middle, wearing the dress:




His name is Robert. Until recently, Robert was the vicar of the church of Holy Trinity Brussels (well technically, he was the Chaplain and it's a Pro-Cathedral, but I don't know what the difference is and in any case it sounds pompous, doesn't it?) I pinched that picture from their website and I hope they don't mind. Anyway, this church's community has basically been my home-away-from-home since I moved to Belgium about 15 years ago (15 years!!) We're a multilingual (united by English), multi-denominational (under the Anglican umbrella), welcoming, generally tolerant and open-minded bunch where the liberal and the traditional rub along together, usually very nicely. That's why I like it. And in all the time I've been there, I can only really recall one occasion of actual, mass judgementalism - on the day that Robert joined us.

Oh, I don't mean that we didn't like him. We did! A lovely guy, he fit in perfectly right from the start, striking the many balances our services and community can need. But the first time he was introduced to us, well - coffee in the hall afterwards was abuzz! Seems nice, we agreed. Seems like this'll go well. But - tones hushing - what. on. earth?? What's with the bumbag??!

I don't think we ever really found out. But over the years, the bumbag grew familiar and unremarkable. It was just part of the church's (well, the chaplain's) permanent vestimentary furniture. Then, eventually, earlier this year, it was announced that Robert was leaving us, for a rather fantastic promotion that we were all so very pleased for him to get.

Fast forward a couple of months. The week of his leaving do, I got a call. Could I, would I, we know it's short notice and all but we think this idea's a winner - might I be capable of sewing a bum bag? A purple one? Yes, purple. A deeply, seriously, episcopal purple bum bag - as a gift for the new Bishop of Europe?




How could I say no? It never occurred to me to say no! And you know what, I think the Hand of God was on this project from the beginning. Because at very short notice and with more luck than planning, I found the fabric, the zip and the cotton webbing, in three different shops - all EXACTLY the right colour, all matching perfectly. Less than a morning's shopping, a quick google for this pattern, and Operation Bishop's Bum Bag was go!

And yet, I knew it was missing something. That little something extra - something to finish it off, something to elevate it. Something to take this bum bag from simply purple, to fit for a bishop.




And behold, though lo I never do machine appliqué because I suck at it, verily the Lord guided my hands and The Embellishment was Good.

Appliqué Like A Boss!!




Sadly, I had to miss both the leaving do and the exciting trip to Canterbury for Robert's investiture - these photos were taken by some of the starstruck parishioners who did get to stand in close proximity to Archbishop Justin himself (*scream* it's a CofE celebrity!!!)  Apparently the bum bag was received with much appreciation and hilarity, as was the purple, cross-adorned handmade jumper he received from a team of the congregation's knitters (because yes, he's a big fan of woolly jumpers too).




I like to think he wears both under his robes at all times.




Seriously, though.  Are bum bags making a comeback? Would you wear one?

I have to admit, I can see their utility - perhaps if mine was as cool as Robert's, I'd wear it with pride. In fact I'm not sure exactly what's stopping me...


Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Summer's last hurrah: technicolour Tessuti Eva

September mornings, March mornings: it's the same thing every time the seasons turn. I waste so many precious pre-work minutes, rifling through my wardrobe and trying on every possible combination - desperately seeking something to wear that won't be too hot / too cold / too much what I got bored with wearing last year.  And my heart is hardly in it, because my mind is still fixated on the previous season's sewing, which is only just finished and not worn enough yet.  Stop the clocks!! YEGADS I STILL HAVE SUMMER DRESSES TO BE GETTING IN!




And yes, this is one such dress.  In fact, this is the summer dress I wish wish WISH I had made in spring. It is so much my perfect summer dress that I do real scowls to myself when I think I could have been wearing it so much more this year than I actually was.  I made it at the end of July, just one short month before the weather began to turn - and much of that month, I spent in Scandinavia.  It was killing me that I couldn't wear it for the cold IN AUGUST!




All the more irritating because I had the idea in January and for NO REASONS didn't get round to it.  January was when the second belgo-blogger sewing meet happened, this time in Antwerp, and the first of my many fabric purchases that day was this technicoloured chevron wax print. No such thing as Enough Wax Print - I absolutely adore the stuff!!  I'm not sure what exactly inspired me to pair it with the Tessuti Eva dress pattern, but once that thought was in my head there was no getting out, and now I've FINALLY made and worn the dress I can assure you: that was one Bloody Good Thought.

I made the sleeveless version, obviously. The armholes could do with lowering slightly for me and I have some pulling towards the shoulder seams, but basically the fit is lovely.  Of course, apart from the bodice, it hardly needs fitting anyway - the great attraction of this dress is in the lovely, breezy lantern skirt.




It's a shape best demonstrated side-on, but I was having great trouble getting a decent picture, and attempts to hold some kind of  prop were unsuccessful (darn cats, couldn't they just cooperate??)  So here I selflessly put my flabby upper arm on the internet so you can see how the dress hangs:




You can see that it's roomy and, despite the relatively structured fabric, rather flowy.  This makes it both extremely comfortable and extremely flattering (I know I say this about most of my makes! I guess comfy is just how I choose to sew, and I've FINALLY figured out what actually flatters) The skirt shaping comes from eight panels pieced together, and because of the grain placement I couldn't match up the chevrons particularly well, even with 6 yards of the fabric. I went for just being sure that things matched up well down the centre front and back, unfortunately with limited success (and with a lot of large but oddly-shaped remnants left over).  Anyway, in real life everybody is stunned by the print itself into not noticing whether the chevrons align or not.

In other real-life info: this dress is also perfect for pigging out in - I'd wear this rather than my Anna to a barbecue any day :-)




And BY GOD I SHALL WEAR IT AS A TRANSITIONAL PIECE! Draughts be damned! Slap a cardi and a loud scarf with pompoms on it!!

Are you good at seasonal wardrobe planning, sewing and wearing?  Or do you too suffer months of clothing indecision only to have it resolved a mere three weeks before the next season rolls round?


Monday, 22 September 2014

The tribute-to-everyone Anna dress

Sew Dolly Clackett, Oonapalooza, Tribute August - this summer there have been ample opportunities to show my appreciation for, and inspiration by, the myriad wonderful seamstresses of the interweb.

But of course, I missed them all. A situation all the more ridiculous for having at the ready a garment made in the spring which was totally appropriate for every. single. one. And while I'm not exactly a group activity kinda girl (quite the opposite, generally), I was more than a little bit sorry that life got in the way of joining the fun.

However. It's never too late, and this way I get to write my own rules! So, with no further ado, let me show you this rather lovely dress. It's one of my favourite makes (so far) this year, and a simultaneous homage in particular to Dolly Clackett, Oonaballoona and Ada Spragg. But most especially, I'm dedicating it to all the rest of us sewing bloggers who sew things and then spend the next x years thinking "god I should really just take pictures and blog that already." Plus all those who feel like "ooh I'd like to do that", and do, and just never tell anyone about it. Sewcialists far and wide, online and off - this is a tribute to all of you :-)

So OK, I said I'd show you the dress but actually I have to start with the fabric. Crazy bright geomteric metallic wax print. WAX PRINT!  And the very first thought I had when I saw it was...




... oh my gosh I can TOTALLY see Sophie rocking that. Instantaneously, I knew that whatever she would do with it would be the sort of inventively stylish stuff I could never dream up - and that it would be brilliant. What I also knew straight away was that leaving the fabric there, just because I am not her, would be a terrible sin. I just had to do MY thing with it.




My thing in this case being a mish mash of Roisin's thing - she, the undisputed queen of the Anna dress - and Marcy's thing - the thing of exuberantly pretty wild prints and maxi dresses.  It took literally about five seconds in the fabric shop between seeing the fabric and this plan coming together. Meant. To. Be.




And look how lovely! This time I followed the pattern exactly, adjusting only for fit which is PERFECT and therefore SO COMFY. Astonishing what a difference that makes.  Wax fabric being what it is, this cotton has been beautiful to wear all summer - medium weight and 'solid' enough but always cool - and the length and breadth of the skirt just feels breezy and elegant all at once. Though of course to show you just how breezy it is I chose to do this, which kind of negates the elegance factor:




Maybe I should have taken the picture from ground level, Oona-style, to make it more flattering. I didn't, obvs, but what I did do was my own unwitting Dolly Clacket photoshoot. I didn't even realise until I uploaded the pictures. I mean, look at this one - I always wondered what she meant by photos of her back looking stupid - but actually, now I think I get it.




And this one I love, because - well, I don't know how to put this without it sounding a bit wrong, but -  "OMG I'm doing the Roisin pose!! AND I EVEN HAVE DERP FACE."




THE BEST KIND OF DERP FACE. Seriously, I don't know it reads but that's so meant as a compliment.

Oh yeah I forgot to mention. I got twelve yards of the stuff.  No yardage cuts of wax print, just take that length or leave it. At 25 euros, I took.


More derp! I despair of ever looking ok in family pictures.


It was only 110 cm wide but me, my mum and my sister all got dresses out of it - no mean feat considering two of them are fabric-hungry Annas.  My sister has the version with the higher neckline and mid-calf skirt - this pattern worked out really well for her, as she lives in a country where it's generally best to keep her chest/shoulders/knees covered, but she still wants to look nice, of course, and not wilt in the 45° heat. And it fit her pretty much straight up, we just pinched a bit out of the back neckline.  My mum's dress is a New Look pattern, I think - one of the Big 4 anyway.  We each made our own dress ourself. Yay for sewing! But seriously mine has the best zip. Sibling rivalry? What sibling rivalry? :-).  Don't worry, we only wore them all at once just for that picture (even that was too much for much for my other sister, who does not have a matching dress and was doing eye-rolls at us).




So, there we go. This dress has been brilliant this summer - whenever it's warm enough it's by far the easiest thing to be instantly fully, stylishly and comfortably dressed in.

Totally late to all the parties, but a party in itself amirite? YES I AM.

Would you buy twelve yards of distinctively printed fabric and make matching clothes with your close relatives?


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Pink & summery: New Look 6936

Hello hello! Well we're all back to school and everyone's talking about their next season's sewing plans - but I've got a backlog of stuff to show you, so it's summer at Jo Sews for a little while yet. I do have thoughts on autumn, but you'll have to wait! For now, and without further ado, here's New Look 6936...




Now I'll talk about the making of this in a minute. But first, can we have a little look at the pattern envelope? What the hell is going on with the model?? She looks as comfortable as an arthritic Barbie. I guess maybe she's been stunned into her wooden pose by that disgusting fabric.  WHY do pattern companies do this?!




Anyway. Look past that, and there's some excellent comfy summerwear potential here. Which is what I saw when Philippa of Gloria and Me very kindly offered this pattern for a giveaway, having decided it wasn't her thing after all.  Easy stretchy things with elastic waists are most definitely my thing, and I'm very grateful to Philippa for picking my name out and sending it on - thank you!

When I got it, I immediately surprised myself by being most drawn to the flutter sleeves, which I've never really liked before. (Maybe it's the comparative ugliness of the straight-sleeved version...?) I was won over completely by the curve of them on the pattern piece, and the resulting shapeliness is a happy but coincidencidental outcome.  But yes, they flutter - in a most breezy and flattering manner.




Much as I like this pattern as it is, I did some tweaking. Of course. Because Must-Tweak-All -The-Things - and because my post-baby waist area does not cope well with empire lines. In fact, empire line dresses generally make me look distinctly pre-baby. Not a good look, when you aren't. No, for the avoidance of early-(non)pregnancy misunderstandings, I lengthened the bodice by enough for it to hit my natural waist, and then added some more for blousing.

All well and good. You'd think.




I can't remember exactly how it happened, but I then decided I needed more length at the centre front. Like a kind of pretend-FBA. I suppose it had its roots in my years of trying on pretty, blousy RTW dresses, only to find that without exception they stretched unflatteringly straight down from my boobs to my waist - with no nice blousing at all. Yes, I was the teenager wishing her boobs were smaller. Fair enough. But of course, there is such a thing as going too far - and when I put the finished dress on, I discovered a kind of empty front-stomach hanging over the centre waist. It was like one of those "after" pictures on Embarrassing Bodies when large people have lost a lot of weight quickly (sorry...)

Being determined not to undo it and start again, there followed much fiddling with the extra fabric until it sat in a kind of twisty knot that I tacked down in the middle, and in the end, I quite like the effect. I'm just not even asking myself whether it looks deliberate, and I still see the empty front-stomach whenever I look at it. Needless to say, if/when I make this again, I'll be undoing that part of my pattern adjustment.




So yeah, self-inflicted errors aside, it's straightforward to make and wear. But what is it with knit patterns by the Big Four? This one would have had me turn over a double narrow hem, not only at the lower hem but also at the neck and sleeves. Seriously??  Does nobody proofread these things for stuff like, inappropriate instructions?  A much made complaint, I know, but come on - this is exactly the kind of thing that puts new sewists off. It's a recipe for things looking homemade in about the worst way possible.

That said, I like this pattern. It's the kind of simple everyday wear that the big pattern companies do well. Not particularly fashionable, just nice, and the sort of thing that'll happily slot into the everyday wardrobe of a multitude of different women.

As long as they know enough to ignore the how-to and just use the pattern pieces...

What's your experience? Have you sewn any good knit patterns by one of the big companies? Or do you stick religiously to indies?

And are you into next season's sewing already? Tell me what's on your list! Mine's coming up soon...



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