There was a time when I never looked back on a year of sewing and style matters. These days, I find it very illuminating to see how my style has evolved, what I choose to sew, what I choose to buy off the rack and what I’ve learned―about sewing and myself. And the end of a calendar year always seems like the right place to reflect―beginnings and endings and all that. So, what did 2022 offer me?
I looked back at the patterns I chose to work on this past year. I always tend to stick with the big commercial brands since they usually have the most interesting design details and well-fitted pieces―by which I mean more tailored pieces with less design ease. I continue to notice that many of the indie pattern makers don’t seem to be able to produce anything that has to fit closer to the body. In other words: bags―bags with far too much design ease. Bags are not my style. So, I used Butterick, McCalls and Vogue patterns with a New Look thrown in. But I also tried a Jalie for the first time this year. Dear god, there were so many sizes in one pattern envelope―it was mesmerizing. I also tried a custom-fit Lekala pdf, although I hate pdf patterns (oh, maybe they’re starting to grow on me).
Here’s the 2022 run-down:
I also launched a new book that carried on from the first in what has become an unexpected series. The first book, The Year I Made 12 Dresses, introduced Charlie (Charlotte Hudson), who learned to sew after finding a dusty old sewing machine in her late mother’s basement, and she has appeared in every one since.
However, in the most recent books, her role has been peripheral. The good news is that Charlie’s story is coming full circle―I’ve begun work on a new book that I expect to be out in mid-2023. Charlie travels to Mallorca to take a course from a Parisian couturier―and learns to make a Chanel-style jacket…among other things.
Of course, the release of the newest one is imminent! Charlie will make that jacket throughout 2023!
Throughout the sewing adventures of 2022, here are some things I learned.
I need to pay closer attention to online pattern reviews.
The burrito method for attaching yokes is fun and fantastic!
I don’t wear dresses as much as I like to make them 😊
The camp shirt style is spot on for my summer lifestyle.
I am itching to make another Little French Jacket.
My new book should go full circle around to where the series started: sewing
Wait until I tell you about my Christmas present! Then my plans will come clear. And onto that new book where Charlie learns to make a Little French Jacket―with a twist.
It might have been last summer when my husband came along with me on a fabric-shopping foray to Queen Street West in Toronto when he found the fabric. I was otherwise occupied in the shop while he rummaged through the myriad shirt fabrics and discovered a cotton denim-y fabric that we both thought would make him a fabulous shirt. I finally dug out one of the bespoke shirt patterns I created for him a year or two ago and got back to work on the shirt.
I like the precision required for making a really good shirt, but I have difficulty finding fabric I love. So many shirtings―the kind made specifically for shirts―are too…I don’t know…boring? I mean, there are lots of stripes, then there are more stripes, then you look again, and there are even more stripes. I’ve made a few striped shirts in my day, and it’s getting tired―not to mention how my eyes begin to cross after staring at stripes for a while. I’d love to find some nice lightweight cotton that doesn’t sport stripes (or worse, the dreaded florals) for a shirt for myself, but I digress. I have the denim. And I’m cutting it out for my husband’s shirt.
While we were in the fabric store, I pulled him over to the thread rack. I picked out a few possible contrasting threads for topstitching and asked him which one he preferred. He chose a kind of taupey-grey. It turns out that this is a great colour for topstitching denim. Anyway, let the sewing begin.
Whenever I haven’t made a shirt for a while, I pull out (the late) David Page Coffin’s book, Shirtmaking: Developing Skills for Fine Sewing, for a bit of inspiration. I particularly like his description of attaching a sleeve placket because I tend to forget how it goes. (Wrong sides to wrong sides, wrong sides to wrong sides…my mantra―god knows I’ve done it wrong enough times and had to unpick it *sigh*).
The other aspect of shirt-making I always review is attaching the collar stand. Now, don’t get me wrong. I know how to do it because I was taught that method whereby the inside of the collar stand is done entirely by hand. The results are good, but there can be funkiness at the centre front. Most shirt-making sewists who teach things online swear by what they call “the burrito method.” The only problem is that each of them has its own burrito method. I’ve tried two of the three main ones, and they work okay, but there can be frustrations.
As I searched for the best videos on this burrito method, I stumbled across instructions for using a similar approach for attaching the yoke. It was like a lightning bolt went off. What? This is how to do it without resorting to slip-stitching the inside. Well, it was too late for me since I’d already done the yoke (and it turned out quite well, even if I do say so myself), but next time―let’s just say there will be burritos even if they’re not for the collar (which they may be).
How to Sew a Shirt Yoke – the Burrito Machine Sewn Method
I must admit that by the time I found this video, I had already attached the yoke to the men’s shirt, so I put it on the back burner until I started a new blouse for myself.
I found an interesting blouse pattern among the discards I like to peruse whenever I’m in a big-box fabric store. Last summer, I stumbled on McCall’s 8014 at Fabricland somewhere here in Ontario. I love these expeditions―as a downtown urbanite with access to the best fabric stores in the country a forty-five-minute walk away, I still like to have an adventure at a suburban Fabricland/Fabricville (depending upon where in the country you live) whenever we’re on a road trip. I also had some sale fabric―a rayon with a very soft hand.
I applied this burrito method to attaching the yoke, and wow! What fun! It worked beautifully. I wonder what new things I’ll learn in 2023. (Umm…it’s not quite finished…those cuffs are pinned and, no buttons- as you can plainly see!)
Can we talk about sewing pattern reviews? Do you use them? Love them? Hate them? Or not even know they exist? As for me, I usually forget they exist.
I am a member of the online pattern review site, cleverly called―you guessed it―Patternreview.com. I have posted exactly one review. This is odd coming from a woman who has a lot of opinions. Yet, I seem unable to make more of a contribution to this site, which, in my view, is doing all of us sewists a great service. All you have to do is plug your pattern brand and number into their search engine, and you’ll see a list of reviews of that exact pattern. They include a wide variety of pattern brands from Vogue through the rest of the major brands and such an extensive list of independent brands that I have to conclude they have most of them covered. That isn’t to say, however, that every single pattern has been reviewed. But I’ve never found one from a major brand that wasn’t there. With all that to consider, why do I find pattern reviews so problematic? Let me introduce you to Vogue 1663.
This pattern is a Kathryn Brenne design that captured my attention not because of its shawl collar and belted waist but because of its back detail. I loved those tucks, so I decided I’d consider adding this style to my winter wardrobe.
I bought a length of sweatshirt fleece, one of the pattern’s recommendations. If I had paid closer attention to those fabric suggestions, I would have noted that they also suggested boiled wool. And a fabric with a 35% cross-grain stretch factor. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never known a pure, boiled wool to have that much stretch. No single pattern design can be executed equally as easily―and with equally good results―in both those fabrics. Anyway, my fabric did meet the requirements vis-a-vis stretch, but that was just the beginning of my concerns about overlooked issues in this pattern. Let me begin with what others have said about it.
The reviews of this pattern were consistently good. The reviewers liked the design, the sewing and especially the outcome. Well, that was the moment I should have seen the error of my ways in selecting this one. One of the specific questions that reviewers are supposed to answer is this: “Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?” All the reviewers said yes.
Well, when I look at the pattern envelope, I see a sleek yet casually cozy sweater/jacket (a swacket, perhaps?). Then I look at the finished products on the review site, and I see a bathrobe. I should never have been so cocky as to think I could do it better. I thought that if I chose a more appropriate fabric than that selected by several of the reviewers, I could do a better job. Not so much. I mean, once you see it, you can’t unsee it, and that‘s what I saw all through the construction process. *sigh* It’s a bathrobe. Anyway, I began.
First, there were a few funky things about the pattern instructions. Everywhere, it kept telling me to finish the seams with pinking shears. What the―?! Dear god, pinking shears on sweatshirt fleece. It’s just so weird. Of course, I didn’t do that. I used a serger, but you could just as easily use a zig-zag stitch. Just step away from the pinking shears. Then there were other funky things.
There was the funky finishing instruction for the interior of the big facing and a strange instruction to stitch the pockets on with a 5/8-inch top-stitch. First, this would look awful. Second, if you use a 5/8-inch top-stitch, wouldn’t that mean you might not even catch the seam allowance in it?? And how ugly would that be to have the edge flapping? Needless to say, I didn’t do this. A 3/8-inch top stitch did very nicely.
Another thing that seemed to be missing from the instructions was any suggestion that applying reinforcement to the shoulders would be in order. In my view, this is crucial to any kind of success with this pattern. It is designed to be made in a 35% stretch, and it has a lot of fabric in it―I mean a lot. That means that there is considerable weight pulling down on those shoulders. I applied iron-on interfacing to the shoulder seams and to the centre back facing seam. It really helped.
Of course, there’s the inevitable mid-project existential crisis when the half-finished object is hanging on Gloria junior. I am looking at the piece dubiously when my husband walks in and says, “What is that you’re making?” But I know what he really means is, “WTF is that thing you’re making?” WTF, indeed. I have to admit: it did look pretty scary. N’est ce pas?
As I examined the half-finished monstrosity, I realized that it was long―far too long. And, contrary to what the pattern reviewers said, the finished product wouldn’t look anything like what it looked like on the pattern envelope. How tall was that model?? I am five-feet-seven (okay, maybe I’ve lost half an inch over the course of my later life) and wear a thirty-one-inch inseam. This length looked godawful on me. So, I chopped off two inches. (Of course, that made pocket placement a bit fraught, but that’s another story).
Were there any things I liked about this pattern? Yes. I really liked the design and construction of the belt. That may sound silly, but the idea of making the seam down the middle of the belt rather than at the edge really worked in this fabric. It also meant that the top-stitching was done on only two layers rather than on two layers on one side and four on the other, giving it a more consistent look.
So, I finally finished it. It’s marginally less ugly than it had promised to be mid-project. But will I wear it? I predict it will either languish in my closet, only to be picked out on the odd occasion, or become my go-to, at-home warm-up on those cold winter nights. What do you think?