I can’t lie. I’m a bit of a nerd. I always have been and always will be. But I’m not apologizing. I love a good book, and good books about sewing and fashion have pride of place on my bookshelves. I was pulling a couple last week when I thought I might share some of my favourite tidbits―for a bit of instruction and a lot of inspiration. Here they are.
Barbara Emodi’s book, Sew…The Garment Making Book of Knowledge (I reviewed it in a previous post and highly recommend it), is required reading for anyone who sews.
Not only is it instructive, but it also contains the wisdom that can be cultivated only in someone who is passionate about this sewing journey and has been on it for decades. Here are my favourite tips from her book.
Here are my favourite bits from her words of wisdom:
“If you wouldn’t buy it, don’t make it.” This is an extraordinarily useful piece of wisdom. Why is it that we look at a pattern sometimes and think, I should make that despite it being utterly useless in our lives? My penchant for making dresses comes to mind.
“Sew for other people only if you decide you want to make them something.” I rarely sew for others, but when I do, it’s because I’ve decided to try something out for my husband or son. In my younger years, I sewed my sister’s wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses (the horror of all that satin I would never have chosen), a prom dress for another sister (miles and miles of stretch fabric to make a Vogue designer dress). You don’t get to make the design and fabric choices, which is where the problem lies.
“Keep trying new things [styles or trends], but don’t let it override your good sense of what does and doesn’t suit your body and your life.” Good sense never goes astray in my life!
Linda Lee’s book, Sewing Knits from Fit to Finish, was my go-to when I returned to sewing and began sewing with the new knits. Here are my favourite bits of wisdom from her book.
“It is important to understand the compatibility of your pattern and fabric. You could make the same pattern in five different fabrics, and it would probably fit five different ways.” Amen to this one. I think that this might be one of the most challenging concepts for new sewers to understand. If a pattern is designed for a fabric with a specific amount of stretch (or non at all), the design itself would have included the amount of ease necessary to accommodate it (ease=the amount of room a garment has in it beyond the body measurements. A very fitted design for knits fabrics might even have negative ease meaning that it stretches over the body rather than skimming it.)
“Knits are best cut out in a single layer of fabric.” Dear god, I know this is true. Why is it that I ignore it so often? I know why. Sheer laziness. These days, I often cut out my knits in a single layer, especially if they’re thin. However, pontes and other stable knits can be treated like wovens and cut out double layered. But I do need to keep repeating this as a kind of mantra. Single layer. Single layer. Single layer.
And finally, Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr’s book, A Stylish Guide to Fashion Sewing, is great fun and loads of inspiration. Speaking of inspiration, here are my favourite “quoted quotes” that they sprinkle throughout the book.
“Dressing well is a form of good manners” ~Tom Ford
“It’s not about the dress you wear. It’s about the life you lead in the dress.” ~Diana Freeland
I find a good book endlessly inspirational and frequently extraordinarily instructive. Happy reading! (and sewing!)
It’s almost the middle of July, and in my little corner of the world, it’s high summer. At least it usually is. The past week has been cool and drizzly except for the few days of scorching heat. It’s this scorching heat that we typically get this time of year―day after day. So, over the past few years since we moved from the cool-summer Atlantic coast where I always needed a sweater or light jacket close by, I’ve had to adapt my wardrobe to deal with more consistent heat. I’ve found myself searching for perfect summer dresses that I can wear during the day in an urban, big-city place. When you consider my personal aesthetic, that’s no easy task.
Let’s just look at the dresses being touted as the best dresses of the season for this summer in the northern hemisphere.
When I did a Pinterest search, this is the representation of what I found.
Then, that arbiter of all things fashion, Vogue magazine, offers the following monstrosities (sorry if you like them, but they just make me gag).
Then, horrors of all horrors are these gems that Vogue considers appropriate attire for grown women in 2021.
As an aside: These styles got me thinking about Dr. Jean Kilbourne, an American professor who has spent years researching how women are depicted in advertising and how infantilization is a problem (all ads created by men). Well, I won’t go all professorial on you, but I cannot imagine choosing to look infantile. If you haven’t seen her video lectures Killing Us Softly, I highly recommend them. They’re a real eye-opener. As cool as thee dresses might be (and by cool, I don’t mean cool), they send out a message of the little girl who at best needs to be protected (from something, I’m not sure what) or, at worst, is as dumb as a bag of hammers. *sigh* Rant over.
Perhaps I can just be polite and say that they are simply not my style. So, where does that put someone whose personal style is more streamlined and tailored? Well, thank you for asking. It puts me (and maybe you) right there in front of your sewing machine. Thank goodness for our sewing skills!
Over the past few years, I’ve searched for styles and fabrics that represent who I am and have come up with several approaches that work for me. And maybe they’ll work for you.
I started with a little black dress that’s not appropriate for daytime wear (and isn’t cool enough anyway, given that it’s lined!), but it’s a style I can work with.
Then, I designed a shirt-style dress for a cruise that works well for summer in the city. I selected seersucker for it for obvious reasons―it’s light and cool. And, if you’ve ever read anything on my blog before, you know I’m not a print fan (*gags slightly*), but I can do a stripe. It’s my kind of print.
Remember the QR code dress from a month or so ago? It’s a style I’ll certainly make again but in a different fabric. And, no, I haven’t worn it yet. ☹
Finally, my current project. I’m drawn to dresses that are just a bit more than bags, even for hot summer days. So, a simple T-shirt dress with a half-belt tie immediately appealed to me. I bought some striped ottoman fabric (my print!) and embarked on this one, New Look 6650.
I’m not a fan of midi dresses these days. I guess it’s because I lived through it the first time around, and I don’t see the point of a longer dress in the summer. Probably even more important, though, is that I still have good legs and find the hemline just above the knees to be more flattering for me (and for most other women, in my view.) But I do like those short sleeves rather than the elbow-length ones. I also made the hem deeper since that tends to make a light dress hang better.
The fabric is a bit heavier and a bit less stretchy than the pattern is created for (it’s made for drapey jersey), so I cut it just a tad bigger.
I haven’t had a chance to wear it yet (remember the cool drizzle I mentioned earlier), but I will. My husband and I are headed out of the city for the first time in almost a year to a country inn and spa next week. I think I might just take it with me. It might be just the thing for dinner on the patio!
Prints have been on my mind lately. Suddenly it’s summer here, and everywhere I look, I see prints in the windows. Just two blocks from where I live, the Gucci shop has a window display full of them. Dior’s windows are the same.
Here’s a new Gucci print for the season. I can truly not think of a single person I’d like to see wearing this dress, especially not me. (And with a price tag of $6500, I could buy an awful lot of Eileen Fisher black tunics!).
Seriously, doesn’t this just say grama’s living room sofa to you? It does to me. (Dior doesn’t put their prices online. Wonder why. Hmmm.)
The truth is that I don’t see many of the fashion-forward women on the streets around here wearing them (maybe they’re for nightclubbing, although they don’t really scream or even whisper evening attire to me). Here in Toronto, the tendency on the street is more toward neutrals―unrelenting black in the winter and some mixture of beige and beige with a bit of white thrown in for contrast in the summer. Perhaps when the stores open and lockdown is over (maybe in ten days!), the prints will make their way out of window displays and onto the street. I’d enjoy seeing that. What I don’t so much enjoy seeing is prints on me.
Some people can carry them off so well, and I love to see them, especially on young women in summer dresses. But for me? NO.
I’ve tried them in the past. From first-year university to two years ago, every once in a while I’ll think it’s a good idea. Ireally loved that gown on me with all that hair , and the Lopi sweater – that counts, doesnt’ it? (That was my knitting period). And how about that red floral on black at a friend’s birthday party a year or two ago? I did feel a bit like upholstered furniture.
The spring and summer runways this year were full of them. And so many of them are florals, or so it seems to someone as print-challenges as I am. I mean, just take a look at my closet.
My winter closet (on the right) is devoid of all but the tiniest nod to print fabrics (see that Brook’s Brother’s shirt with the white collar? I like to wear it with a plain black cashmere sweater over it so you can see only the white collar and a hint of the print at the bottom. You know what I mean?). Now that I take a close look at my summer closet, I do seem to be getting a bit adventurous with prints, don’t you think? Okay, most of them are stripes (stripes do count), but there are a few others there. Generally, though, if the print is geometric in design, I might try it.
So, I thought I’d give geometric prints another try this year. I began with a vintage pattern for a sheath dress, my absolute favourite silhouette. I’d wanted to try out this pattern, McCall’s 2401 from 1999, and although I love the plain sheath, I thought it might work in a border-pattern rayon knit I happened to have bought recently.
I love the V-neck version and the long sleeves, but I love boat necks even better and had been figuring out my perfect boat neck. Add onto that the fact that I really only wear dresses when we’re on vacation in the winter (at least I expect to be in the Caribbean next winter, the pandemic gods willing) and what I’m left with is selecting the boat neck with the short sleeves and I’m off to the races.
It was interesting to be reminded of aspects of older patterns. The pattern paper is slightly stronger and the design a bit different. Of course, I had to shorten it to a length that flatters me better, but I also noticed something funky about the set-in sleeves. They had too much ease. I didn’t think about this before I cut it out (shame on me, I didn’t make a muslin first), so I had to work very hard to avoid puckers when I set in the sleeves. If course, I used a stable knit and the pattern was designed for a woven fabric. It would likely not have been a problem if I’d used wool crepe since it’s more malleable. Before I make it again I will reduce the ease in the sleeve head in any case.
Of course, the dress was easy to fit and sew, with the border print placed along the hemline and the sleeve hems. But can we talk about the print itself?
Take a look―take a close look. What does this conjure up for you? Well, my husband laughed his head off when he saw it. Then, when our son came for dinner last week, my husband said to him, “Go in and look at your mother’s new sewing project,” which Gloria junior (my mannequin) was proudly sporting. Our son emerged back into the dining room, laughing his head off as well.
“It’s a QR code,” he said through his gales of laughter. My husband completely agreed. Well, I did have to admit the resemblance. They both then wondered what would happen if someone pointed their phone camera or QR code reader at it. Enough already!
What do you think? (You can try the QR code and see where it takes you!)
So, it’s a pattern. Will I wear it? It is a flattering style on me, and I do love the neckline and the sleeve length. I will certainly make this dress again (in a plain fabric), but wear it? Perhaps I’ll roll it up in a ball and tuck it in my suitcase next February when I get on the plane bound for Barbados. I’ll take a few pics of it in action if I dare to appear in public in it!
For some people who sew, their sewing space is sacrosanct―a place where they enter, close the door behind them and lose themselves in a physical space that they claim for only one function―sewing. Others consider that to be a luxury. Those are the people who don’t have the space to set aside a room, or even part of a room, solely for sewing. Then there are the rest of us.
This last group is the group that genuinely doesn’t need a separate space for our sewing. The sewing is what we escape into―not the physical space. The process of sewing and all that it entails is all the space we need. Sometimes we arrive at this realization out of necessity, sometimes by choice. Mine was a bit of both, and I hope that this might be interesting for any of you who don’t have dedicated space for your sewing (I might have a few tips). I also hope it might help those of you who are at a point in your lives where you might be considering downsizing your living space (or right-sizing as my husband and I like to think of it), and you fear that you won’t be able to make the smaller space work for your sewing projects. This concern about a smaller space was my consideration a few years back when we sold our spacious house on the ocean for a downtown condo which we absolutely love. The question was, however, could I happily sew in a more restricted space?
You’ve seen them. All those sewing rooms that people splash across Instagram. They resemble sewing studios where sewing is taught.
Here are a few sewing rooms that somewhatsimple.com thinks are terrific.
You might think so, too, but I couldn’t work in any of them. These rooms all have one thing in common: they are too busy, too fussy―in my mind, too messy. Although they look tidy, I could never sew in a space with all my fabrics, notions and accessories on full view any more than I could write in an office with pens and papers and books all in full view, or cook in a kitchen with open shelving where pots, pans and crockery are on full view―even if they all have lovely holders. Maybe that makes me odd, but I suspect there are others out there like me.
Here’s what I like in a work or play space:
It should look sleek.
It should encourage me to clean up completely at the end of each session―not just the end of each project (or, god forbid, never).
It should have an appropriate storage receptacle for everything.
When stored, all receptacles should be out of sight.
When I begin each day, it should be with a clean slate.
When we moved from a house with four-plus bedrooms (the plus room was what I had turned into a meditation/yoga space) and a music room and a family room to a downtown condo with two bedrooms, one of which would be an office/guestroom, I knew I would have to be innovative.
My overriding theme is to ensure multi-use of the space I have. For example, our kitchen (which, by the way, does, in fact, always look like this when no one is cooking in it at the time) has a huge island. (Great for entertaining, great for sewing!)
Since it’s at counter-level, it is ideal for cutting out fabric. I can lay out two meters at a time and not hurt my back when doing it. See below?
We had custom storage built into our office space, resulting in my ability to have shelves (with doors) that house everything I need for sewing in clearly labelled plastic boxes. If I’m drafting patterns or marking fabric, I have a single plastic box with everything I need in it. I simply pull it off the shelf and, when I’m finished, put everything back in its box and back in the cupboard.
Below, you can see my shelving and that empty space? It for the bin that holds everything that goes along with a current project. If I’m not working on an actual sewing project, it has its space on the shelf…then I close the door!
My sewing machine sits on a fold-away sewing table at one end of our large main bedroom. My husband actually loves it when it’s in residence, and Gloria Junior (my mannequin!) is wearing a new outfit. But sometimes, I spend weeks on pattern-drafting projects, so that’s when I put it all away in a storage room.
My serger sits right inside a closet door next to my sewing machine with a pull-out shelf holding interfacing, muslin fabric and a box containing my machine feet.
As for slopers and fabrics? They have a special closet space next to my computer in my office where I write.
And fabric? Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I absolutely hate the idea of “stashing” fabric. Whenever my small pile grows to more than a few lengths in it, I have to figure out what to make with them immediately. The idea of having fabric stashed around―even if it’s as tidy as in the sample photos above―gives me palpitations. I believe that fabric is meant to be used, not stacked neatly to look at. But that’s just me.
I’ve done pattern-drafting with this arrangement, made Chanel-style jackets, learned traditional tailoring, sewed up dresses and tops. You name it, and I can do it in my right-sized sewing space.
So, if you have limited space, get some of those plastic boxes (they are cheap) and a marking pen and start organizing everything into groups. (P.S. the ironing board? I put it up when I need to use it, then put it away at the end of each session. When I tell her to, Alexa turns it on and off for me while I’m sitting at the machine.)
Before you know it, you’ll have a hidden sewing space that you recreate quickly every time you want to lose yourself in sewing.
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.
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.
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.]
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!
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!
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.
…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.
I put in my body measurements, ordered the pattern, put it together and cut it out.
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!
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.” 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.” 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.
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.)
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?
I found lots of free shrug/bolero patterns online―many were hopeless. Here are three that might work:
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.
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.
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*
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.