Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

Trendy and Stylish: Sewing Bamboo into Stripes

Coco Chanel said it: “Fashion changes―style remains.” I’ve always hoped that I’ve been able to develop a kind of style that is ageless and timeless at this point in my life, but that doesn’t mean I can’t love some of the new trends, does it? Well, let’s figure it out.

What’s in style for spring and summer 2021?

First, there are florals. Then there are wide-legged jeans. And oversized shirts.

Well, I think it’s safe to say I look like I’m wearing a 1970s-era sofa if I wear florals. As for wide-legged jeans? Not happening in my world. And as a tailored style woman who loves a tailored shirt, I am offended by the idea that I would even consider wearing those enormous bags that the fashionistas are trying to pass off as somehow flattering. Not. But then there are stripes.

A runway version of 2021 stripes

There are some “trends” that never leave us, which is what puts them in the style category. One of those is stripes. Yes, stripes are in this year.

This season, I decided to add a striped jersey top to my spring wardrobe. I landed on the perfect style for me with Burda 6427. Now all I needed was some fabric.

I’m a lover of natural fabrics, and I’m especially in love with bamboo. I ordered this lovely blend from Fabricville online, and it didn’t disappoint. So luxuriously soft and fine (66% rayon from bamboo, 28% organic cotton, 6% spandex).

I love working with bamboo (I’ve written about this before), but it can be tricky if it’s lightweight. First, the consensus is that you shouldn’t wash bamboo jersey vigorously―that is, in a machine. In my experience, though, it can be washed and dried as usual but holds its shape better if it’s washed in the machine and laid flat to dry. I cut two 4-inch samples and did my laundry test.

The pictures don’t lie. One sample was machine-dried. The other wasn’t. There was no contest! I decided I’d prepare the fabric length by washing and hanging it to dry. It came out beautifully. Now it was time to cut it out.

Cutting out this fine jersey begs to be done in a single layer. I’d recommend this for two reasons. First, getting two halves of the fabric on the straight of grain is a challenge. Second, it’s easier to control the stretch as you cut if it’s single-layer. However, as usual, the main bodice pattern pieces are only halves. I created mirror images of each and taped them together for a complete front and back. I simply re-laid the sleeve, flipping it over for the second sleeve.

Single-layer requires a bit more work, but it’s worth it.

As with jerseys in general, this fabric has a definite right and wrong side. When stretched, the fabric curls to the right side. To make it even easier, it has stripes that look slightly different on the wrong side.

Many sewists use a rotary cutter for fabrics like this knit, but I’m not a fan, so I used my finest shears, and it worked very well.

Working with this bamboo is a dream. With a new stretch needle, polyester thread and my trusty walking foot, this pattern was a breeze to create. I did shorten the ties by an inch-and-a-half since I didn’t like the proportion of the overly long ties. I finished all the interior seam allowances on the serger.

[insert photo 4 – grid 1]

The fabric is perfect for any pattern with a drapey feature, like side shirring or, as in this case, a tie that pulls the fabric to one side. As for wearing comfort: it cannot be beaten!

And just so you can see that stripes belong near the water…(well, we can dream!)

[A version of this post appeared on the spring 2021 Fabricville blog.]

Posted in Pattern-drafting

Planning Summer Sewing Patterns: A New Bodice Sloper Starts the Process

A couple of years ago, I embarked on a journey to learn how to draft and create a bodice sloper―or block if you prefer―based on the flat pattern method. I wanted to have this template to use to design my own patterns. I learned a lot through the Craftsy course I took with Suzy Furer, an excellent on-screen teacher. I was happy with it and used it, but I was never satisfied with the fit of armscyes. So, this year, in preparation for some new designs, I decided to take a different approach and create a new sloper (after all, a few years and COVID have happened. Could it be that I might not be precisely the same shape?). The different approach I chose was to use Vogue‘s pattern block.

Before I get to that, though, just to be clear in case you’ve forgotten: a sloper (or block) is a foundation pattern created as a perfect fit for one specific body from which more complicated patterns can be designed.

Have you ever used this one? Vogue isn’t the only pattern company that offers these, but I like Vogue patterns, and it seemed to be what I was looking for.

It’s Vogue pattern #1004. I had always wondered about this dress “shell” pattern. Now it was time to see what it could offer me.

The first thing I notice is that there are twelve pages of instructions. Most of these are not instructions on how to put the thing together. They are primarily instructions for fixing the various fit problems that will inevitably plague you as you go along. After all, the whole purpose of this exercise is to have a template the fits to perfection. You can then use it to design, but even more useful in my estimation is that you can use it to alter commercial patterns.

One of the pieces of information on the instructions that I found particularly useful is the illustrated guide to varying degrees of ease added to fashion patterns to create a variety of silhouettes. This illustration will be handy for me as I develop those new patterns.

I washed and dried my muslin to soften it, then cut out the pattern roughly, leaving generous seamlines. I didn’t need to cut along the cut lines anyway since I would be marking the seam lines, which is more accurate in any case.

I used my large waxed sheets of marking paper that I bought on Susan Khalje’s website a few years ago. I don’t’ know why, but I love this part of the process. Well, that’s just the nerd in me coming out!

After the wax marking, I thread-traced so that I’d have most of the markings on both sides. Doing this makes putting it together so much easier and more accurate.

This shell has a waist seam as well as double darts at the waistline. I think this is complicated in a sloper. Since I didn’t want that seam line at the waist, and I wanted single darts, I had to make some adjustments. I made the first one at the pattern stage by omitting one of the waistline darts and adjusting the pattern at the sides. I knew I’d have to make some other changes (such as moving the darts) after putting it together for the first time. That’s why I sewed it together with the longest stitch my machine makes. There was a lot of picking out and resewing. I was prepared for this because that’s how these things go.

When I finally got the fit I liked, I had to adjust for removing the waistline seam, then was ready to cut apart the muslin and trace it out onto paper for final adjustments.

The last step was to transfer it to Bristol board, notch the darts and other important seam thingies, and awl punch the holes in the darts. All of this is so that it’s easier to trace it off onto paper whenever I want to make a new pattern.

All in all, I’m happy with the final product. Let’s see now how it works for my flat pattern-making for the summer!

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

Could Custom-sized PDF Sewing Patterns be the Way of the Future? Trying out Lekala

Do you ever look something up online and find yourself stumbling onto a site that grabs your attention and pulls it away from whatever you were searching for in the first place? It happens all the time to me―especially when I’m researching a new book. But it also happens sometimes when I’m looking for sewing-related “stuff”―patterns, technical advice, new equipment. I recently stumbled on the Lekala patterns site (a Russian company, as it turns out) when I searched for shrug and bolero patterns. And, like Alice in Wonderland, I found myself falling deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole! What an interesting site…and what an interesting concept!

Some interesting patterns on the Lekala site

Anyone who reads my pieces more or less regularly knows that I’m not a fan of pdf patterns, particularly those produced by the numerous indie pattern companies around these days. That being said, they do have a few selling points: the moment you pay for them, you have them.

  • No waiting for them to arrive in the mail.
  • They are usually cheaper than printed patterns.
  •  They are…

…well, that’s usually about it for me. I often find the indie patterns underdesigned and possessed of odd ticks (like 28 sizes on one pattern or weird seam allowances). Then, if they’re pdf patterns on top of that, there is all that printing and taping together and then transferring onto paper you can see through blah, blah, blah. Finally, there is the matter of the often odd sizing. So, why in the world would I be captivated by Lekala patterns?

There is one main reason: they are custom-fitted to my (and your) personal body measurements. Yes, that’s right. When you select a design you like (and there do seem to be a few I like), and you note their price (very cheap), you then input your body measurements and order the pattern based on those. They send you an email confirming all of this, then, and only then you are invited to pay so that you can download your personalized pattern.

Of course, then you’re left with the hateful job of putting said pdf pattern together…but, it’s almost worth it. And here’s my story.

I was looking for a pattern to use up pieces of leftover knit fabric. These were medium-weight stable knits. I actually found several on the Lekala site I liked and settled on Lekala 4885. This would be a test―a test of whether the sizing could be as accurate as it promised.

Lekala 4885

I put in my body measurements, ordered the pattern, put it together and cut it out.

I suggest you put your own markings on the pattern pieces since they are scarce on the one provided.

But first, I had to choose which pattern scraps to use.

As I began to sew it together, I decided that I’d not try it on at all until it was finished, just to see if it really was customized for me. Along the way, I made a couple of observations about the pattern that leads me to a bit of advice if you decide to follow me down that particular rabbit hole.

They offer the option of ordering the pattern with or without seam allowances for an extra fifty cents (USD). That seemed to me to be a small price to pay for the convenience of not having to add them. Forget about it. The seam allowances they added were far too small and, in any case, inconsistent. In some places, they were 3/8-inch seam allowances. In other places, they were ¼-inch. To make matters worse, I found two seam allowances that were supposed to join with one another that were different. In the end, I had to fix some of them. Then, I don’t know about you, but when I make a piece of clothing, I don’t’ think of myself as a sweatshop worker in Sri Lanka where there is a need to save even the smallest tidbit of fabric. I can have larger seam allowances to work with. If they’re ¼-inch or even 3/8, if you must know, I can’t serge them perfectly. I hate that. (PS maybe you can, but it’s a bridge too far for me!)

So, was I able to hold myself back from trying it on until it was finished? Almost. When I had it hanging on Gloria junior, I thought I could see that it would make quite a nice colour-blocked summer top with drop shoulders and no sleeves. If I were to make that kind of adjustment, I’d have to narrow those armhole openings a bit. I couldn’t figure out how much without trying it on. So, I clipped the side seams together and tried it on. I was tickled by how well it did fit. These over-sized pieces are often so tent-like that they don’t really flatter anyone, especially me. This one fit! And I was able to determine that if I were to narrow the sleeve opening by 2 inches, 4-7/8 inches from the neckline, I could rework the pattern for summer.

Well,  I was so happy with the fit that I ordered another pattern (for only $3.49, you cannot go wrong, I figured).

I also wondered if Lekala might consider doing one of my designs, so I got in touch with them. Within a day, they got back to me to tell me how to propose a new design and to invite me to use their online computer-assisted pattern design software.

Here are the designs I proposed…

I am interested in CAD design, so I surfed on over. Oh. My. God. It’s complicated. But eventually, when I have lots of time (perhaps the next pandemic? Oh, no, let’s not go there!), I’ll watch their video and really get into it. In the meantime, I’m going to get started on my new piece for the Fabricville spring blog. See you there!

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

The Shrug: Could it be the most useful piece of clothing ever?

I think that the shrug might just be the most useful piece of clothing a woman could own. They are so small, so light, so packable. Well, most of them are. The shrug. Sometimes referred to as a bolero. But are they the same thing? I’ll get to that, but let me begin by introducing you to the shrug.

I’d like you to meet a few shrugs I’ve known and loved in my life.

[FYI: I used McCall’s 7289, which now seems to be out of print ―for good reason in my view―for the white and black shrug shown on the veranda of a cruise ship suite, but it was so humongous and funky, I had to make a significant number of changes to the pattern.]


So, how exactly do you define a shrug?

Well, the English language is a funny bird, isn’t it? The Merriam-Webster dictionary says to shrug means “to raise or draw in the shoulders especially to express aloofness, indifference, or uncertainty.”[1] And a shrug is the act of shrugging.

Ah, the English language. A shrug is also a piece of clothing. No wonder so many people have difficulty learning the language!

Wikipedia, the arbiter of all things, says, “A shrug is a cropped, cardigan-like garment with short or long sleeves cut in one with the body, typically knitted, for women.”[2] Hmm…that doesn’t seem quite right. It seems too narrow. In fact, many online definitions on supposed style sites suggest that they are knitted garments, and when they are embellished, they are boleros. However, that doesn’t make sense to me, given the origin of the bolero and shrug.

If we look at the evolution of fashion historically, it seems that the bolero jacket evolved from a military garment called a Zouave jacket, a garment that is not, in any way, knitted. It was widely used in uniforms during the nineteenth century and even earlier, especially during the American Civil War.

A Civil-War era Zouave jacket

If you think about the fashions in Gone with the Wind, for example, and consider the jackets often worn over those voluminous dresses, you are seeing the evolution of the Zouave jacket into what we now refer to as a bolero, which has Spanish origins. Think bullfighter. So, the two similar garments come together to give us what we see today as bolero jackets. But are these shrugs?

I’ve concluded that I have to have my own definition that arises from all of this, so here’s what I’m going with.

A shrug is a short, cropped jacket that is worn open over the bodice of a dress, top or T-shirt.

A shrug sweater is a knitted shrug.

A bolero jacket is a shrug that may or may not be slightly longer but that always has a closure at the front.

How’s that? Anyway, those are my definitions and I’m sticking with them. Now that we have that out of the way, why would you even need one (or a dozen) shrugs? Here are my reasons:

  • Shrugs flatter every body type.
  • A shrug can change the look of any dress, top or T-shirt.
  • You can wear a shrug to a soccer game or a black-tie event.
  • A shrug can make one dress or top endlessly versatile.
  • Taking three little, tiny shrugs on vacation can make one dress have four looks! (Includes the look without a shrug.)
The transformative nature of a shrug.

It also seems that people have been sewing shrugs for decades. One of the vintage patterns I was drawn to and had to own is McCall’s 5337 from 1960. I haven’t made this one yet, but I will.

And here are a few more from the 1940s and 1950s.

Lest you think that shrug/bloero patterns are only an historical artifact, there are oodles of current patterns for these nifty little items. Here are a few to consider:

Recently, I had a piece of leftover ottoman ribbed bamboo fabric that I knew I should use. I paid twenty or twenty-five dollars a metre for it, so I had to use it. But what could I make? What did I have enough of it to make was the more important question.

Last year I made a knit jacket from McCall’s 7254. It has a view that when you leave off the collar and front, you’re left with a tiny shrug. It was perfect, and I managed to squeeze out enough fabric to make it. Of course, it was dead simple to make. In fact, it took so little time, I was disappointed, given my penchant for slow sewing! There was only so slowly I could go.

Now, I have a new shrug to pair with a simple white T-shirt in the spring, or perhaps even over a little dress. Although the process was quick, during it, I also discovered something interesting.

One indie pattern company that seemed to have several interesting designs for shrugs and bolero jackets was Lekala. The next time I post, I’ll tell you about my experience of falling down that particular rabbit hole.

Do you own shrugs?

FYI

I found lots of free shrug/bolero patterns online―many were hopeless.  Here are three that might work:

http://so-sew-easy.com/free-shrug-pattern-simple/#_a5y_p=3122814

https://www.sewmag.co.uk/free-sewing-patterns/floral-bolero-jackethttps://www.moodfabrics.com/blog/the-gordonia-hoodie-free-sewing-pattern/


[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shrug

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrug_(clothing)

Posted in Style, Stylish Books

Kat’s Kosmic Blues: There may be sewing involved!

Anyone who has read my blog more than a few times will know that I spend some of my life designing and sewing and a lot of my life writing. I’ve been writing books for over 30 years. I started as a health and business writer (you can even see some of my nonfiction books if you visit my web site patriciajparsons.com), but I’ve been writing fiction in recent years, mostly women’s fiction.

Last year, my book The Year I Made 12 Dresses introduced my readers to Charlotte (“Charlie”) Hudson.

After her mother’s unexpected death, struggling writer Charlotte (Charlie) Hudson moves into her family house after her older, mostly absent sister Evelyn instructs her to empty the family home of objects and memories to ready it for sale.

When Charlie stumbles on a dusty old sewing machine hidden away among the clutter of detritus in the basement, she has no idea of the journey it will take her on or the secrets it might reveal about her mother, her family and herself. If only she will let it.

With the help of an enigmatic fabric-guru named Al, Charlie discovers how little she really knows about anyone―especially herself.

When that year was over, Charlie thought she knew all her mother’s secrets. She was wrong.

Today, I’m delighted to be launching my newest book, Kat’s Kosmic Blues. Kat is Charlie’s mother, and this is her story. It all starts in 1965 (and there may be sewing and fashion design involved!).

Please click on the video below and join me for the launch. I’ll introduce you to Kat and her story and to me―Kat’s creator.

And when you’ve done that, maybe you’d like to join us sewing nerds on Facebook where fashion sewing book lovers meet to share stories aboue their projects and their reading.

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

The Battle of the Indie Patterns―Part 2: In which I find two I don’t hate as much as usual

I ended my last post with a brief mention of some of the things I hate about indie patterns. So far, I’ve noted my annoyance with the gargantuan size of the pattern “envelopes” (really just cellophane thingies) and the heavyish paper on which they are printed. I also mentioned that I am generally unimpressed with the companies’ lack of design innovation. Just for fun, I surfed through a couple of the websites of indie pattern companies that are purported to be among the best. Here are some examples of the kind of design I think isn’t worth anyone’s money (unless, perhaps, this is the first time you’ve ever sewn a garment―in that case, these are for you).

See what I mean about the one-size-fits-all, which means little in the way of fit at all. They remind me of the first pattern I designed using Garment Designer software, which makes me wonder if this is how those indie pattern designers do it―just figure out what a computer program can do and do it. (If you want to read more about my foray into using software to create patterns, here’s a blog piece I wrote a couple of years ago.)

And what about those cutesy names? I’ll take a numbering system any day over the Zadie, Adrienne, Kielo and the Yukons and Hinterlands any day. My particular selections are the Renée and the Esme. Geesh! 

Okay, I’ve gotten that rant off my chest. Let’s get on with the battle and see if I have learned to love anything about them.

First, the Jalie pattern—the Renée pants. I’ve been searching for a dupe for Eileen Fisher stretch-crepe pants forever. This pattern was favourably reviewed by a person whose sewing skills I admire (but my one caveat is that our styles are different). They also looked like they might be the right shape: fitted through the hips and thigh and only a slight cigarette shape, fabricated in a stable knit. I chose a ponte with a whisker pattern that I thought was vertical but turned out to be horizontal—one of the downsides to purchasing online these days! Anyway, I made it work and went ahead with the pattern.  

Jalie boasts about including 28 sizes on one pattern. Well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s nothing to brag about―just another element of indie patterns to make me grit my teeth. Just look at that mess of lines. What a nightmare! I had planned to trace it off, but in the end, it was so mesmerizing, I just said the hell with it and cut out my size from the pattern as presented. It’s not like I’ll be using it for anyone else. Oh, and they have their own sizing, so you have to be very careful of what size you cut.

And, what about their instructions? Well, I don’t suppose I really needed instructions to make a pair of elastic-waist pants so, I did it my way. When I make pants (which I rarely do), I do it the way I was taught years ago since it seems to me to be the best way to fit them as you go. This pattern tells you to put each side together, then put one inside the other and sew the crotch. Perhaps they could tell me how I would test the waist and hip fit before completing the crotch? It can’t be done that way. So, I put the two front legs together at the front crotch seam, do the same with the back, try them on, testing the crotch length, waist and hip, then complete the inseams.

Small design detail: an inset at the front hip. I would use a contrasting fabric if I ever do these again.

Then there is the seam allowance. Can I tell you how much I hate narrow seam allowances?  (Add this to the list of things I hate about indie patterns.) I don’t make my own clothes so that they resemble cheap knitwear from a Sri Lankan sweatshop. My preference would be for them to resemble designer knitwear from a Parisian couturier—well, that may be a stretch, but you know what I mean. They have only a 3/8-inch seam allowance, which is insufficient for any adjustments and a serged finish. I realize that this saves fabric (see my comment about cheap sweatshop clothing), but I always buy extra anyway. Before I make this again, I will trace off the pattern with 5/8-inch seam allowances for sure.

I also used 2-inch elastic, which I won’t do the next time. I’ll use the 1½-inch as recommended (it’s what I had on hand). You can see in the photo below that the wide elastic got wavy since I really needed to have it tighter.

And, by the way, I will make these again. They turned out to be a surprisingly good fit, after all! So, that’s something to love about this indie pattern. Are they a dupe for the Eileen Fisher pants? They are close, so I’ll look for her type of fabric and try them again. I don’t love paying $200 for pull-on pants!

Now, on to the StyleArc Esme “designer” pattern. What in the world makes it a “designer” pattern? The fact that is it resembles any number of other pieces (perhaps a bit like Eileen Fisher, but that’s another story about tent-like fashion I sometimes like!).

Anyway, this one, too, comes in an enormous cellophane bag with an instruction sheet as long as my arm (literally). To their credit, unlike the 28 sizes in one pattern for the Jalie, this one has only eight. I have to admit that I made this one last year for the first time. However, I made it in a scuba fabric (which I never intended to buy) that was mislabeled online at Fabricville, and I could never wear it owing to the way the seams dug into me. This was partly because of those damn 3/8-inch seam allowances. I’ve learned my lesson there. Oh, but the neckline seam allowance is only ¼-inch, so I don’t know how you’re supposed to serge-finish the edges with no fabric there at all. *sigh*

Not as many sizes on this pattern piece!
This instruction/pattern sheet isn’t anywhere close to being fully unfolded!

Since there wasn’t an overwhelming number of size lines in this one (as there were in the Jalie pattern), I did trace it off onto pattern paper and cut it out of an ottoman ribbed bamboo fabric I fell in love with when I last ventured into a real fabric store before all this lock-down stuff.

Once I had it cut out, I had to remind myself how to do the back of the collar. I had to re-read the instructions several times to get it through my head. The instructions are printed on the gargantuan sheet on which the pattern pieces themselves are also printed. This means you have to have a  massive space in which to unfold them. Did I mention I hate this about indie patterns??

As usual for me, the arms are far too wide―even for a dolman-type sleeve. I altered them a bit, but in the end, they were still relatively large.

This top has such a nice neckline―one that particularly appeals to my style. So, I have to say that StyleArc wins the award for the best-design lines I’ve seen in a shapeless, one-size-fits-most kind of top. Will I ever make this one again? Maybe. The next time I’m in lock-down and looking for nothing but comfort in my clothes, which I hope is never again, I’ll revisit this pattern. The Jalie pants fit the way these negative-ease pants should, but they aren’t anything innovative in design, that’s for sure!

The bottom-line for me in this attempt at learning to love indie patterns? My take-away from all this are as follows:

  • If you are a newbie sewist but have already learned a few things about patterns in general, the design lines are simple and that’s a plus. On the downside for new sewers is the fact that you have to be oh-so-careful about things like seam allowances (inconsistent) and cutting the correct size (once you have found it on the damn pattern pieces!). You have to read everything very carefully. You will also want to take the extra step of tracing the pattern out onto more transparent paper so that you have at least a fighting chance of seeing the fabric below (this can be very helpful when doing things like trying to avoid the dreaded target-on-boob faux pas when laying out patterned fabric).
  • If you are an experienced sewist who craves high fashion, you might as well step away right this minute. Apart from Marfy (which I don’t consider indie―I consider them a designer category all on their own). There is nothing of-the-moment or particularly stylish about any of the styles on offer. That being said, StyleArc does have a few terrific designs if you get away from their designs for knits.
  • If you’re looking for athletic-wear patterns, Jalie might be one to try.
  • If you want all your patterns to fit nicely into a pattern box or drawer that accommodates 6 ½ X 8-inch envelopes, you might as well forget about it. To be fair, though, some Vogue patterns these days arrive in larger envelopes than I like. This seems to be a function of which designer it is, but there doesn’t seem to be any functional reason for it.

What are your experiences with indie patterns?

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns

The Battle of the Indie Patterns – Part 1: In which we take a look at their history

The history of sewing patterns in the 19th and 20th centuries—and even into the 21st—says a lot about what we sew and how we sew it. And, for me, their evolution hasn’t been an entirely happy experience. But, before I get to that, let’s take a look back as I like to do.

Sewing patterns have a long history extending at least as far back as the 16th century, where they originated in tailoring manuals. According to Joy Emery in her book A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, the earliest surviving sewing pattern was published in Spain around 1589 as part of a book. “The book’s purpose was to instruct tailors on methods of cutting out pattern pieces so as to get the most garment from the least amount of fabric,”[1] not unlike the current focus on zero-waste sewing. As the centuries progressed, most pattern-related publications continued to be for tailors rather than home sewers.  

A page spread from the 1589 book “Libro Geometria Practica y Traca”. You can clearly see the attempt to save fabric in the layout!

Before patterns were available to home dressmakers, only the rich could afford to have clothing made-to-measure. Anyone else who sewed did so without the benefit of a pattern, focusing mainly on the functionality of the garments needed simply for life.

Patterns contributed in no small way to the democratization of fashion by allowing anyone who could sew (or learn to sew) to reproduce stylish garments that might even reflect the work of the famous couturiers. Eventually, however, sewing patterns were made available in pamphlets or ladies’ magazines and could now be accessed by larger and larger numbers of people. At this point, it was necessary to copy and enlarge a pattern from a magazine or pamphlet. Everything changed, however, in the late 19th century. 

In 1860, a woman named Ellen Louise Demorest and her husband William launched a new approach to sewing when they began holding home fashion shows and offered for sale the paper patterns Ellen created for the garments. 

The fact that Mme Demorest’s patterns were full-sized was the key marketing feature and the way of the future.

She was followed in quick succession by others whose names are familiar to anyone who sews to this day. (Lest you think I’ve forgotten that home sewers needed sewing machines, Isaac Singer—another familiar name, no?—patented what was called the “rigid arm” sewing machine and the presser foot in 1851 and by 1890, Singer sewing machines made up 90% of the world’s sewing machine sales, paving the way for home seamstresses everywhere.) In any case, those familiar names are these… 

  • Ebenezer Butterick launched the Butterick Publishing company in 1863. His Butterick patterns first started including a folded instruction sheet in the late 1910s—a great innovation, in my view!
  • James McCall, a Scottish tailor, established the McCall pattern company in New York City in 1873 and began the trend for putting full-colour illustrations on the pattern envelopes in 1932. Before that time, all the illustrations were black and white drawings. [If you do a little online digging, you’ll discover that there were other pattern companies who dabbled in coloured images five years before this.]
  • Vogue magazine created a spinoff pattern company that it launched in 1899 to complement their weekly pattern feature. Eventually, in 1914, media mogul Condé Nast bought Vogue then began selling their patterns in department stores two years later.
  • The Simplicity pattern company was formed in 1927 with a focus on easy, lower-priced patterns.

Those are the so-called “big-four” that remain (in one form or another) to this day. Recently, however, there have been rumours of their impending demise. I hope not—and in any case, that’s a story for another day (but I will get to it eventually). Oh, and I haven’t forgotten groups like the German company Burdastyle. They, too are a player, albeit a smaller one.

Apart from those main four companies, there have been others through the years. For example, I particularly remember Style patterns from the late 1960s through the 1970s (I even used one for my first wedding dress—again, a story for another day!). There were also DuBarry patterns in the 1930s and ‘40’s, Advance patterns in the1930s, the New York pattern company from 1932 until the 1950s, and the Hollywood Pattern company that used film stars on their pattern envelopes from 1932 until the end of the second world war.  

What happened then? According to some of the sewing bloggers I read, home sewers in the 1970s moved away from garment sewing to quilts-making. Now, as far as I’m concerned, this is a gross oversimplification of the issue—a conclusion for which I’ve seen no concrete evidence. No one has done a study. For example, I, for one, would never have done this since (a) I began sewing in the 1960s because I loved clothes and it was a way to produce nice pieces for less money, and (b) I hate quilts (no offence to anyone who loves them—we’re all different). The reason I stopped sewing in the late 1970s was simple: I had more money. I was still in love with fashion, but I no longer needed to sew my own garments to have stylish clothes. I could afford to buy them. I was also busy—career evolution, husband, son, travel, writing books. I simply bought what I wanted.  

Fast forward to the 21st century. Many of us have returned to sewing, and younger people (not just women) have begun to see that there is satisfaction in creating one’s own wardrobe. So, what do we use for patterns?  

For me, the big four are still the best syles and the best value. Despite the moaning and complaining people do about the cost of patterns, when you think about the design and production work that goes into them and the number of times (infinite) that you can use them, it’s hardly a stretch to pay even $20 for a pattern. However, I realize most of us buy them when they’re on sale. That is where the whole cottage industry of indie pattern makers stepped in.  

When I returned to sewing six or so years ago (I sewed only Halloween costumes and costumes for stage plays for my son in the interim!) I had no idea that so many new pattern makers had emerged. I had also never heard of PDF patterns (dear god, I wish I hadn’t!). So, I began to explore them. Several sewing bloggers sang the praises of brands like Jalie, Deer and Doe, Paper Theory and a whole lot more (I found a really good list of some 32 such companies at https://sewingbeginner.com/pattern-stores/ ).

But, somehow, I couldn’t get around the fact that so many of them were under-designed bags that were “one-size-fits-most.,” which alternatively means “one-size-fits-no-one-very-well.” I will admit that some of them have come a long way in the past few years, but for someone like me, whose style is more tailored and classic, there’s not much on offer. Whenever anyone says an indie pattern fits well, I usually find that it’s not the pattern-drafting that’s so good. It’s a style that need not fit so well. Tents, anyone? 

But, it’s always important to keep an open mind. To that end, I decided to do a battle of the indie pattern companies with two patterns I asked for and received for Christmas—one is from StyleArc, an Australian company whose designs actually have some style to them.

The StyleArc Esme top pattern

The second one is from Montreal-based Jalie, most of whose designs seem to be for athletic wear crafted in knits. Neither of them is a pdf—I’ll do a post on my adventures in pdf patterns in the future. 

First, can we talk about the patterns themselves? Why do they have to be so enormous? I mean, the “envelopes” (which aren’t envelopes; instead, they are cellophane bags) are 12 ½ inches long by 9-10 inches wide. Dear god. Where are you supposed to store them? I guess a filing cabinet built for that purpose. Of course, they have to be that big to hold the gargantuan piece of heavyish paper on which the patterns are printed. I’ve heard sewists complain about tissue pattern paper. However, that tissue paper is acid-free and lasts for decades and can be copied off—which, by the way, is what most people do with these new indie patterns because they are so damn difficult to use directly on fabric. 

Whenever I encounter these indie patterns or *choke* a pdf pattern, I long for the time when all patterns were single-sized and printed on acid-free tissue paper. Single size, you say? Well, in my next post: “The Battle of the Indie Patterns – Part 2: In which I find two I don’t hate as much as usual,” I’ll elaborate on the things I hate about them—multiple sizing among them—and what I have been unexpectedly happy about! Keep sewing!


[1] Joy Emery. A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution. Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. [Joy is Professor Emerita of Theatre and the Curator of The Commercial Pattern Archive at the University of Rhode Island in the U.S.]

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Shirt-making, Style, Stylish Books, Tailoring

Designing and Sewing in 2020: Do I Dare to Look Back?

What a year 2020 has been! Has it been a whole year since we first heard a minor news story about a virus in Wuhan, China? Could it possibly be that we had no idea what the year would bring? Yes, and yes. So, here we are in January 2021, and what have I accomplished this past year? What did I have to miss? What can I pick up for the coming year?

In February, just before all hell broke loose, my husband and I did a driving trip through Florida to visit places we wouldn’t usually go. No offence to anyone from Florida, but we don’t usually spend our winter vacation there, preferring more exotic (to us) locales like Hawaii or Antigua in the Caribbean, a South Pacific cruise―well, you see where that’s going! But we loved finding new places in the great state of Florida. We rented a car at the airport in Fort Lauderdale then hit the road.  We visited Key Largo, Naples, Sarasota, Orlando, St. Augustine and ended up back in our old haunt, Fort Lauderdale.

Along the way, I wore a few of my own DIY wardrobe pieces…well, maybe just one. And I have to say that Key Largo is the only place in the world I’ve ever chosen to go to dinner in shorts! It was that kind of place.

This was Simplicity #8601, the only Simplicity pattern I’ve used since I was in university – and that’s more than a few years ago!

…and I found a fantastic fabric store in Naples where I bought the silk charmeuse for what would become my major project of the year: the great tailored blazer project!

Then we returned to Toronto, where we immediately cancelled our Northern Europe and Scandinavia cruise scheduled for the fall―and I stopped all consideration of the capsule travel wardrobe I planned to design and make for it.

Then we had to hunker down for the duration, and out came what I have begun to refer to as my “Covid collection” sewing. These are those pieces that are comfortable and serve me well when lounging around home!

I also just had to work on my shirt-making skills. I finally now have bespoke shirt patterns for my husband and my son― and me.

These began with commercial patterns but quickly morphed into GG’s own because of all the style changes I made: simple European front plackets, one-piece sleeves, fancier cuff plackets etc. It was interesting to make shirts from the same base for two so different men―my wonderful husband, a retired physician, and our fantastic son, a ballet dancer who now teaches at Canada’s National Ballet School.

My husband prefers a buttoned-down collar, my son does not. It was interesting to learn how to redesign a collar for these purposes and how redesigning a collar can make all the difference in terms of style.

And I worked on perfecting my own personal bespoke shirt pattern…

Of course, then the pièce de resistance was the time I devoted to learning all I could about traditional tailoring. The final product was finished just before Christmas, and I’m so happy about it.

Oh, I nearly forgot (not kidding, I almost published without this) – one of my favourite “makes” of 2020…

Now, what about 2021? I plan to work on fitting pants (dear god, not again?) with a Jalie pattern, a brand I’ve never worked with before (I received the pattern for Christmas).

Then I plan to create a small collection for spring and summer, hoping that I’ll have somewhere to wear it!

And…sometime in 2021, you’ll see another thing I’ve been working on…the prequel to “The Year I Made 12 Dresses.” It all begins in 1965…

Posted in Style, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Project: The Finished Product

It seems so appropriate that as we enter the final days of 2020, I have finally finished that last of my two major 2020 sewing-designing-related projects for the year. At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to master (as much as possible) shirt-making. That project took up much of the first half of the year. The second goal I had was to learn a few things about traditional tailoring. In September, I began the project – I have now finished it.

When last we spoke (okay, I did most of the “speaking”), I had a complete blazer – complete except for a few crucial details, namely a lining, buttonholes and buttons.

I waited until I was at the point of needing a lining before cutting the silk charmeuse to avoid the dreaded fraying that is a characteristic of this otherwise divine fabric. If you’ve never worn a jacket (or dress) lined with silk charmeuse, you are missing out on one of life’s exquisite pleasures – and I’m sure we can all agree that treats like these we can experience alone are much needed in this strange year.

It’s a bit pricey, but it’s worth every penny. Anyway, when you cut it out (single layer for the least amount of frustration), the silk filaments begin to fray ever so slightly at first, then it gets worse if you manipulate it too much. Thus, I wait until the last possible moment to cut.

You’ll recall that I’m using Vogue 9099 for this project. Of course, this one is a Claire Schaeffer pattern where she wrote the twelve pages of instructions. The pattern also provides separate pattern pieces for the lining, so you don’t have to create them yourself. My problem is that some of the instructions were a bit perplexing.

For example, when the pattern says, “cut here for right side,” which “right side” does it mean? Right side as you look? As the lining is right side out? Inside out? I recut it twice and still didn’t seem to get it right. I figured that this meant the side of the lining in the back that went on the right side of my body. Well, I thought wrong. Thus, I ended up with a vent lining that didn’t work. I had to do a frustrating workaround but ended up with something acceptable., Whenever I make a boo-boo like this, I always try to make it look intentional. It sort of worked.  The bottom line for me was that the instructions were sub-optimal. After a career in corporate communications, writing and twenty-six years as a university professor, I figure that I should understand simple instructions. Nope. I’d cut my own lining the next time.

I was happy I had decided to insert it by hand (although it’s a bit of a hybrid insertion since I set the sleeves in the lining by machine). This made it easier to correct my mistakes. I would highly recommend waxing the thread! It made it so much easier.

Then it was time for the buttonholes. Well, of course, you’re supposed to do hand-worked buttonholes. I’ve done them before, and I have to admit that I’m not that good at it. So, I did a few samples of machine buttonholes, and I was pleased with the results. In fact, with this fabric, the buttonholes are all but invisible!

Then I popped on the buttons, did a final press, and voila! A new jacket!

Through my research and this process, I’ve learned so much about the fine art of tailoring – and it is, indeed, a fine art if you ask me. Next year, I’m going to try my hand at modern tailoring that uses fusibles. Well, that’s only one of the projects I’m planning. In the meantime, I just need a place to wear a nice blazer. Oh well, come the spring, I’m just going to wear it when I go out for a walk around town! And…

Posted in Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Nears Completion: Now I have sleeves

There are specific aspects of design that I associate with a tailored blazer. The shape of the body, as well as the collar and lapels, are foremost. But now that I’ve put together those pieces of the puzzle, what’s next? Sleeves, of course.

The sleeves for my tailored blazer have a couple of essential characteristics.

  • They are two-piece sleeves. Anyone who sews knows that the more seams there are in any part of the garment, the better fit you can accomplish. That’s as true of sleeves as it is of a bodice with princess seaming. However, there are limits! A sleeve for a dress, for example, is likely to be a one-piece sleeve – one piece of fabric seamed under the arm. Sleeves on any well-made jacket, though, will have at least two pieces (two seams) or even three for the best fit.
  • They have sleeve heads. These sleeve heads are essential to ensuring that the top of the sleeve has that nice, ever-so-slightly extended cap with some body. For this project, I bought professional tailoring sleeve heads. In the past, when I’ve added them to a softer jacket, I’ve made them myself from some cotton batting.
  • They have vents. This may seem like a no-brainer when it comes to jacket or blazer sleeves, but it isn’t. I even have a Claire Schaeffer Custom Couture Collection Vogue pattern (#9342) that doesn’t have vents. (I think I’ll make that one next! So simple without vents!). Although it does result in extra work, real, working vents are important to learning the tailoring process. And, after all, I’m not on a deadline!
  • They have buttons and working buttonholes. Yes, vents need buttons, and a well-tailored jacket has working buttonholes in the sleeve vents. Well, as you’ll soon see, that particular detail may go the way of the dodo in my tailoring journey.

The first consideration in preparing the sleeves for setting in was the hemline and vent interfacing. This was a bit tricky because the interfacing is placed along the seamline on one end and along the fold line on the other one. I did it wrong the first time and had to remove it and reposition. This is important to the under and over parts of the sleeve vent.

That being said, when I did some online research on sleeve vents, it seemed to me that the shape of the vent (and the lining when I get to it) isn’t optimum in this pattern. (I’ll say more about that when I get to the final installment and complete the lining. It was a nightmare.)

When I was completing the vent seam and catch-stitching the sleeve hems, I wondered why in this pattern, which purports to be “couture” techniques, there was no mention of mitering the corner. I decided to do a miter anyway.

Another oddity of the pattern instructions was the admonition to stretch one of the pieces into the other rather than easing it. This approach is supposed to be the couture technique of doing it, but really? I mean, what difference could it possibly make? In the end, I needn’t have worried. The two pieces seemed to have stretched or eased themselves and fit together perfectly!

I set in the sleeves using my regular technique: basting, basting, basting. They came out perfectly.

Then I put in the shoulder pads, by hand, of course. This was the first time I realized that shoulder pads have a front and a back (who knew? I suppose everyone reading this!) and that one of them is for the right shoulder and one for the left. Of course, this was probably the first time I used shoulder pads from an actual tailoring supplier rather than those cheap ones at Fabricville or other major retailers. Then it was time for those sleeve heads.

I cannot tell you how many times I had to put the first one in, pin it, turn the jacket right side out, then look it and say, “That makes no sense!” I had to go back to pictures in my tailoring book several times to ensure I put them on the right way around! I also found a good tip in a Craftsy video by Pam Howard, who suggests that the sleeve head be cut to a length that ensures it doesn’t overlap seams.

She also suggests that you trim the end to make it round to reduce bulk. Smart idea!

Then it was down to the fun part: deciding on the number and placement of the buttons on the vents.

The pattern indicates that I should install four buttons on the vents (along with four buttonholes). I don’t know about you, but I never took a really close look at buttons on sleeve vents before. I thought that four buttons might be too many, and I wondered if the even number might just be wrong. I would have to do a bit of research. So, I took a deep dive into my husband’s closet, the home of several high-end suit jackets and blazers.

Among the examples of sleeves were several Brooks Brothers, an Ermenegildo Zegna, a BOSS, a fabulous one he bought in Paris some years ago, and a new tuxedo. I learned several things.

The sleeves on the far right are on a kind of avant-garde French jacket that has an extra buttonhole.

First, most of them have four buttons (who knew?), and the four buttons looked perfect. Second, the buttons are generally “stacked” together, meaning that they are slightly overlapped. There is no space between them.

And finally, I learned that even high-end men’s tailored jackets mostly don’t have working buttonholes. When I mentioned this to my husband, he scoffed at me for even considering doing buttonholes on sleeve vents. So, my decision was made. There would be no working buttonholes!

I finally have what looks like a blazer. One more update to go: lining and finishing. Stay tuned!