Posted in fabrics, Fashion, Style, Tailoring

The Great Tailored Blazer Project: My fabulous fabric (and other things I need)

What better day to talk about great fabrics for my tailoring project than the first day of autumn? Although, in years past, whenever I thought about tailored jackets I also thought about matching pants or skirts (can you say suit?), these days the thought of a tailored jacket is more likely to have me thinking about jeans and great sneakers. That’s more my style these days. Anyway, my last post saw me rationalizing why I need to do this project and how I will begin to learn about the tailoring process. I have my pattern (along with all 12 pages of instructions it included). So, now I’m ready to talk fabrics.

I love fabrics. In fact, one of my favourite sewing-related books is The Fashion Designer’s Textile Directory.

One of my sewing bibles.

Call me a sewing nerd if you like, but I love to read about sewing and know a bit more about what I’m doing than simply how to do it. I need to know why. When I considered choosing my fabric for this project, I knew that I wanted it to be a bit tweedier, or bouclé-ish than flat or worsted wool that you see in men’s suits. I knew it would need some texture and I didn’t want another black jacket. I am the first person to say that a black jacket is golden – and is, in fact, the urban Toronto uniform from Labour Day until the long weekend in May – but god knows I have enough black. First, what else should I consider other than colour?

Well, I have another new book. This one’s on tailoring and it arrived yesterday. What could be more perfect for me right now than The Classic Guide to Sewing the Perfect Jacket?

It has 400 well-shot photos that I’m sure I’ll refer to as I move through the project. Today, I was focusing on what the authors had to say about choosing fabrics to tailor, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience. Well, that would be me.

This book identifies five characteristics to consider when selecting tailoring fabrics.

Interestingly, among them is, in fact, colour! Yes, colour is important because, and I actually knew this going in, medium or darker colours hide inner construction better than light-coloured ones. Also, just think about how a white fabric might look after all the handling you have to do when you tailor a jacket.

The book also says that I should consider fibre content. This should have been obvious to me, as well. Natural fibres can be shaped far more easily than synthetics. Since tailoring requires lots of pressing and manipulating into shapes, this is important.

The next important characteristic is the fabric’s weight. It also makes a lot of sense when you think about it. A fabric that is too light will get over-pressed very quickly. On the other hand, I’ll never be able to get a crisp corner (or anything else crisp) with a really heavy fabric.

Next is texture. I learned this when I made my first Little French Jacket. Those jackets are lined by machine-quilting the lining to the fabric. The stitches are, therefore, visible on the outside. However, with enough texture, the stitching is all but invisible. Just take a look at an authentic Chanel jacket in a consignment store sometime. They are machine-quilted. So, in this kind of tailoring I’m doing now, there will be some little hand-stitches that might otherwise show on a smooth fabric. Textured it is, then.

Finally, there is a question of the weave. A medium weave is easily pressed and will hold its shape. I would have to fight with a tight weave, while a loose weave will stretch.

Well, four out of five ain’t bad! My fabric choice may have a weave issue, but I’ll deal with it. I’ve used loose-ish weaves before.

I think it’s fair to say that most people choose a fashion fabric first, then they choose the lining. I did this a bit backwards since I had a piece of silk charmeuse I loved that I bought when we were on vacation (pre-COVID) earlier this year. I loved the muted pastels even though I rarely wear them. I also love the feel of authentic silk charmeuse against my body, so I always thought it would make a great lining. I then had to find a fabric that would sort of “go” with it.

Beautiful silk charmeuse!

I found the fabric on Queen Street West here in Toronto at a little fabric store I mentioned n an earlier post. It’s a silk-cotton blend in a peachy tweed weave the incorporates yellow, green and cream. I loved the fabric and I’m going to make it work.

Then, what about what goes inside the jacket…the tailoring stuff?

I needed hair canvas (more about this in a later post). Two weeks ago, my husband and I had a weekday, weekend away in Niagara-on-the-Lake (here’s a video we made if you need a bit of armchair travel in these peculiar times). On the way, I stopped in Fabricland (Canada’s answer to Joann’s but up a notch or two) in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. I asked a lovely saleswoman if they had any hair canvas. She thought for a moment then managed to find a bolt stuffed away under the cutting counter.

“You know,” she said, “I’ve worked here twelve years and this is the first time I’ve ever sold any of this.” This was corroborated by another sales clerk who had never sold any either. So, it was a good day for them. At $22 a metre, it wasn’t cheap (and it’s only 20 inches wide).

I also found the stay tape I’ll need for the interior edges and some buttons that will work.

I’m excited to get on with cutting the pieces all out. There are so many of them I’ll need a database to keep track! Talk soon.

Posted in fabrics, sewing, Style

The Joy of Sleeves: Especially when you find the best length for you

Could there be any more distinguishing feature of just about any kind of top than its sleeves? Think about it. When you go shopping for ready-to-wear for the upper half of your body, unless you’re just browsing aimlessly, you probably have a general idea of one aspect of the top you’re seeking – the sleeves, in particular, their length.

Sleeve Length

Let’s face it: you can cut your sleeve at any place along the full length of your arm, but you might not like how it looks – or works. In the worlds of style and fashion, there are some specific lengths that have been discovered to be most flattering.

From sizechart.com

If you’re shopping for a winter coat, clearly, you’d be a fool not to look for long sleeves (notwithstanding fashion designers’ attempts to get us to think that three-quarter sleeves with gloves would be a reasonable substitute). If you’re looking for a cool, summer top, you probably aren’t looking for long sleeves, however, you might not be sure whether you want cap sleeves, short sleeves (and what length) or elbow-length. And it’s exactly the same when we create our own clothes. I think sleeve length, in particular, is one of the most crucial parts of a flattering and useful piece of clothing. And not every length works best for everyone, although a commercial pattern with a short sleeve view will be very specific. Be brave! Be adventurous! Throw caution to the wind! Cut the sleeves whatever length you want! Back up a bit with me: I’m interested in sleeves.

Sleeve functionality

Let’s start small. Sleeves are arm coverings. Let’s face it: sleeves are largely functional. Unless you live close to the equator, you likely feel the need for an arm covering from time to time. Of course, you could throw a wrap around you but think about it. Isn’t a sleeve a lot more functional? Consider getting into and out of your car with your keys, wallet, umbrella, child who has to be wrestled out of one of those booster seat contraptions – oh, and let’s not forget that you have to put on your mask in 2020. Oops, you forgot? Get back in the car, put everything down and start again. Then consider having to keep a wrap around you at the same time.

A vintage sleeve pattern – you could add a different style and/or length to any bodice.

Well, for my money, I’d prefer to have sleeves attached to my bodice. So, apart from strapless and one-shoulder evening gowns (oh, yes, I love strapless and one-shoulder evening gowns, or at least I used to) and summer tank tops (which I’m wearing less and less as I get older), the sleeve consideration is a big one when I’m shopping ready-to-wear or sewing for myself. And since I do sew, I can decide what sleeve would be best.

A blast from the past – the one-shoulder dress! Who needs sleeves when you’re in the Caribbean on a cruise?

Over the past few years, we’ve been subjected to all kinds of impractical sleeves. That’s the kindest way I can put it. If I’m being honest, I really think that hideous sleeves are being hoisted on us by designers every time we turn around.

Need I say more about the hideous-sleeve trend?

Don’t they know that a well-proportioned, simple sleeve will serve us best in the long-term? *sigh* Well, I just make my tops these days. So, when I got into my most recent one (and the last summer one for this year, I hope), the sleeves became an instant quandary.

Finding a Flattering Length

Not every sleeve length is as flattering as the next one – and not every sleeve length works for every woman. It’s a matter of proportion. And there are so many choices.

This reared its head recently – you may remember this recent shirt project. The pattern, Butterick 6324 offers a sleeve length that’s somewhere between an elbow length and a short sleeve. I opted to cut it according to the pattern and roll twice. Much better on me.

I’ve also found that I like a three-quarter sleeve on me when it works for functionality. There’s something very flattering about this length on most women. In fact, whenever I’m wearing a long-sleeved, collared shirt, I like the look of a turned-back sleeve even better than the sleeve left long. I even like this look on a man. It’s just my personal aesthetic.

I had a length of rayon knit that is very soft and has a lovely drape. I’d been looking forward to working with it since I’ve recently been making shirts which is great but different. When I started this most recent one, I had already made the pattern with long sleeves, so I knew that I liked it in general.

This time, I wanted short sleeves. And I know from having created my own bodice and sleeve sloper, that I have a few lengths that work for me. The short-sleeve length included in most commercial patterns is not it.

The good news is that my most flattering length is usually shorter than the one provided, so, I can always cut it as designed, then I can shorten to the perfect length. I’ve also taken to shortening RTW short sleeves lately.

The difference between lengths is often subtle, but when you find the right length, I think it can make all the difference. when you sew your own tops, you can experiment. I do every time I make something.

Sewing Sleeves In

And of course, sleeves have to be set in well. My personal sleeve-setting journey started back in sewing classes in junior high school where I learned to properly set-in a sleeve. As a result, that’s the method I’ve adhered to for all my sewing life – until recently.

Although I did sew with “knits” when I was very young, those knits were not like the knits of today. They were, in fact, more like stable knits of today. Remember crimplene? (If not, I wrote about it back a while ago). I mention this because you can use the traditional set-in sleeve method with these kinds of fabrics. Anyone who sews with today’s jerseys etc. with a stretch factor of something like 35% knows that this is next to impossible. So, I’ve had to learn to sew in sleeves (they are not really “set-in” in the true sense) before sewing up the side seams. And I’ve had to force myself to use this method when sewing shirts. Of course, sleeves in shirts are quite different from sleeves in jackets. A sleeve head in a jacket is so important. In a shirt, not so much.

Anyway, here we are in August and I’m just finishing up summer sewing. I think it might be time to move onto fall planning – I just hope the fall isn’t as unpredictable as the spring and summer of 2020 have been! (And I don’t mean the weather!)

Posted in fabrics, Pattern-drafting, sewing, Style

Love the design, hate the quality: Copying ready-to-wear (Part 2)

I think it’s safe to say that the part I like best about recreating ready-to-wear is the pattern drafting step. When I was in high school, I loved geometry, and what’s more, I was good at it. I also loved analytical trigonometry and got a mark of over 90% in grade twelve. Just as a reminder, trigonometry is “… a branch of mathematics that studies relationships between the sides and angles of triangles…” Flat pattern drafting requires all that on top of the creative aspect. I suppose all those angles and calculations are right up my alley!

In any case, as I move into part 2 of my recreation of a low-quality-but-interesting-design shirt, I am moving from design copying to pattern drafting to fabric cutting and beyond.

When we last talked (okay, I did most of the talking), I had slapped a few grainlines on the pattern pieces, trued up the seams and began to think about the fabric.

The original (cheap) shirt was made from polyester, as is the usual fabrication for Light-in-the-Box online offerings. Although it looks relatively good at the outset, these knit polyester garments quickly develop those little pills that we all hate so much. In truth, taking out that battery-operated lint remover that our son likes to call a “sweater muncher” and applying yourself to the removal of said pills, can be rather meditative. And who doesn’t like the finished product? The problem is that with these cheap fabrics, the pills just keep coming back.

Then add on the problem of breathability, or in the case of the top in question, lack of breathability. What you are left with is an interesting, summer-worthy top that I can’t even consider wearing here in Toronto. It’s been over 27 Celsius (80 for the Fahrenheit people among us) for weeks and is only getting hotter, where it will stay until late September or thereabouts. The goal, then, is to reproduce the design in a better fabric.

Forced into online fabric shopping by the virus-that-shall-not-be-named, earlier in the season, I ordered a length of a linen-blend jersey in a cosmetically-enhancing pale peachy-pink.

I had this project in mind for it, and when it arrived, I was a bit hesitant because of how thin it is compared to its original version, although I realized that if I tweaked the sizing downward, it just might work. This, of course, is my main objection f online fabric shopping. I do it, but I always recognize its limitations. I would always prefer to take a walk downtown to the fabric district than shop online, but I’m happy I have the option of online!

As a result of the fabric’s weight and stretch factor, I decided that it was best to cut it out in a single layer.

I know so many people who sew avoid this like the plague, but it is truly the only way to come close to staying on grain with these kinds of fabrics. And I’m sure we’ve all experienced a cheap T-shirt or two that went all wonky after a wash or two. This is usually because it wasn’t cut on the straight of grain.

After cutting and marking, I had the good sense to stabilize the entire dropped shoulder seam with knit-n-stable tape. I also stabilized the portion of the side seams where the ties would be enclosed.

I whipped on my favourite sewing machine piece – my trusty walking foot – and got started. The original had serge—and-turned hems. I decided to take it up a notch and double turn all the hems. I didn’t go all the way to double-fabric-turned ties, though. In a future project, however, I might go the extra mile.

Well, she’s finished now. It had its first outing yesterday as we wound our way through downtown and the University of Toronto campus on our daily 5-7 km walk.

I think it worked out well – at least well enough that I created a final pattern to keep among my collection of GG originals!

This is the second such piece I’ve recreated, and I’ll probably do it again. How about you? Any design copying in your future? Stay safe!

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns

When choosing the right fabric makes all the difference

I wonder if you’re ever like me. Do you ever find a piece of fabric that you really, truly love but after you buy it, you can’t seem to find the perfect project for it? Or maybe you have leftover material (from that sale where you buy one metre and get two metres free. Who needs three metres as a general rule?). These are dangerous situations for me to find myself in. The reason is that I then look for a pattern or design that I could use just because I like the fabric. However, not all fabrics work well for all projects.

There was a time in my life when I always started with the pattern and/or design idea then sought out fabric that would work afterwards. Although I realize that fabrics can be the inspiration – the starting point – that doesn’t always work out for me – which is, of course, one of the reasons that I refuse to have a *shudder* stash of fabrics. In fact, I’m beginning to think that I ought to go back to my original approach – design first, fabric later.

Case in point.

I thought it would work really well. The pattern suggested that the T-shirt needed to be made with a moderately stretchy fabric – you know the ones. They have that little ruler on the back of the pattern that says you have to be able to stretch a double crosswise fold of the material from here to there.

Vogue 8536 – published in 2004. Not sure why I still own it!

All I can say is, ignore this direction at your peril! In my defence, I thought it was close enough. And, by the way, while we’re on the subject, if it stretches much further than the “suggestion” put it down and find another pattern. Anyway, I’d made the pattern before from fabric with only a hint more stretch and it worked better at that time.

I didn’t topstitch it the first time. Shouldn’t have done it this time. (PS This top is jet black. Too much light in the photo!)

So, why did I even try? This was leftover fabric from a recent dress project that I did for Fabricville’s blog. I have not, however, been able to access that blog yet to post it so I haven’t been able to write about it here. I will in due course.

The dress in question.

Anyway, I had a whole lot of leftover fabric and since it’s a very stable knit I’d already worked with, I thought I was safe. To say the project is hideous would be an understatement. Just look at how awful the topstitching is around the neck.

It has nothing to do with tension and everything to do with the weave of the fabric. Since I had yet more left over, I tried again.

This time I used a pattern dated 2012 that I found in a discard bin when we were on a road trip last year.

Vogue 9004. This is the one I decided to make since I didn’t have enough fabric for the one with sleeves.

It’s actually designed for woven fabric, not stretch, but before you begin to think I’m truly daft and never learn from experience, I did mention I’d worked with it before and to tell you the truth, it’s so stable that it might as well be a woven.

I liked the way the design lines permit so much tweaking. And did it ever need tweaking although I cut the same size as I usually do.

After much fine-tuning, I have a summer top that, because the fabric content includes some natural fibre (why is that so hard to get sometimes?), I have a new summer top.

Although I could certainly get along this year without any new summer clothes, isn’t it nice to have something new to wear for a new season? With all this COVID-related isolation, I haven’t been able to enjoy a shopping experience thus it’s back to shopping my closet as they say– with a few pieces from my own sewing machine added in for good measure.  

Posted in fabrics, sewing, Shirt-making

The Perfect Fabric for the Perfect Shirt (the “perfect shirt” project continues)

What is the perfect fabric for the perfect shirt? That is the question. Late last year when I was searching for the perfect fabric for my husband’s shirt, the answer was “expensive”! I think my hand shook when I cut into that $80-a-metre Italian cotton shirting fabric that he had chosen for his perfect shirt. But, I wonder, is it possible to find the perfect fabric for my perfect shirt without breaking the bank? Yes, I believe it is.

Let’s start at the beginning. One of the things that makes a shirt a shirt (and not a T-shirt, sweater or blouse for example) is the kind of fabric it’s made from. When I think of men’s shirts, my mind goes immediately to plain, striped and checked cottons…

Propercloth.com sells beautiful and very expensive shirtings. Can you see the $145-a-yard pricing?

…but these days even men’s shirt-makers are branching out into wilder territory. Have you seen Robert Graham or Ted Baker shirts lately?

Then there’s the actual type of fabric. The web site Real Men Real Style is a great reference for shirting weaves. There are Oxford, poplin, twill, broadcloth and end-on-end the main (read about it here) – all 100% cotton and then there are the more modern blends of cotton with polyester (not as nice but fewer wrinkles) and cotton with a hint of stretch which sounds so much nicer. There is even linen.

Of course, shirts can also be made of flannel (no, everyone in Canada does not wear flannel shirts. My husband wouldn’t be caught dead in one).

[Bob & Doug MacKenzie aka Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas of Second City comedy fame notwithstanding, most Canadians do not wear flannel shirts!}

The theme throughout is that shirts are made from woven fabrics that have some body and a stiffer hand than, say, silk charmeuse. This crispness is part of what makes a shirt, well, a shirt. Even a woman’s shirt that is shaped and curved should have a degree of crispness or veers into blouse territory! So where does that leave me?

One of the things I don’t like about online fabric shopping is the lack of the touch factor. I’ve ordered several shirting pieces online but doing so doesn’t really let me feel the fabric. A great cotton shirting should feel silky to the touch and is probably going to set me back more than $15 a metre. In fact, I see lots of shirt fabrics online for well over $100 a metre as you can see above. I’m not going that high for this project.

I could take a walk downtown to Queen Street West here in Toronto, home to my favourite independent fabric stores, but that’s usually a walking destination for better weather (but before tourist season. God help me if I find myself on Queen West at the height of tourist season in the summer!). Lucky for me though, I’ve just returned from a winter getaway in Florida.

Before we left on this holiday, I did a little bit of online research and found that there was an interesting fabric store in Sarasota that just happened to be on the route we would be taking from Naples to downtown Sarasota. So, we plugged it into our GPS and set out.

We were almost into Sarasota. I was the passenger for this segment so I was looking feverishly at the GPS map and the surrounding roads. We were getting close but the area didn’t look at all like a place you’d find a fabric store. Finally, we were right on the place and I spotted the sign. Pennie Fabrics. An unprepossessing house-plus-garage kind of arrangement, the store looked a bit odd. But we turned quickly and pulled into the small parking lot.

I gingerly opened the door to find myself in a room crammed with bolts of fabric. The proprietor who introduced himself as Nasir bade me welcome with a smile. “Please come in. Look around. There’s lots to see,” he said as he gestured around the store. And was he right!

The place was, indeed, a repurposed bungalow with every room crammed with bolts of fabrics – silks, jerseys, tweeds, cottons, knits, and yes, some shirting.

As I made my way from room to room (including the garage which doubled for a fabric room as well) touching as many of the fabrics as I could, I fell in love with two pieces.

The first one is a swath of printed silk charmeuse. The muted pastel pink and mint green are not colours that usually attract me but there was just something about this one. I didn’t know exactly what I’d do with it, but I had to have a piece. I will use it for the lining of a tailored jacket, one of my planned projects for later this year. Now all I need is the outer fabric! It will be fun to move from lining to the outer fabric rather than the other way around as I usually do when creating a lined jacket.

Then I found it. The perfect piece of shirting. Many shirtings scream “menswear” to me. Now, I have no problem with wearing menswear as a style, however, for this one I wanted it to be menswear with a feminine edge. You might not agree but when I saw this fabric it said that to me. And the feel! Such a silky, fin cotton. And just look at those selvages! I have to use them but I’m not sure a tailored shirt is the place. We’ll see.

While we were at Pennie Fabrics, women started arriving for a sewing class that’s held in the light-filled back room evidently on a regular basis. A kind of local community of women, the group was gathering that day to celebrate the results of a recent challenge. They had been challenged to each use the same fabric to create different garments. They arrived that day wearing their creations. One of the most striking was this one. And she even agreed to pose for me while Nasir held up a length of the fabric behind her. What a wonderful find this was! You really must visit this store if you’re anywhere near Sarasota, Florida!

So, I’m home now and have cut my four-inch square and put it in the washing machine for its test today. I will wash and iron the fabric to prep it (probably won’t put this one in the dryer) but I have one more piece to make from my newly-created pattern before I cut out the perfect shirt. It’s yet another test. Soon to come…

Posted in fabrics, sewing patterns, Shirt-making, Style

The “Perfect Shirt” Project Continues: Enter the planning of the “frankenstyle” test shirt

The quest for the perfect shirt has to be taken seriously, one step at a time, perfecting each component: style details, fabric and possibly most important of all, fit. At least that’s how I’m approaching this project.

When last we spoke (okay, I did all the talking) I had taken a trip down memory lane to view the iconic appearances of the button-up shirt on iconic twentieth-century women. From there, I reviewed the finer points of where and how a shirt like this ought to fit. Now it’s time I got started on one of my own.

As I mentioned, I had a look at the commercial patterns I already owned. On final consideration, I decided to use McCall’s 7575 as a starting point.

I begin with design details.

As I look more closely at the pattern, I realize that the first change I have to make is a basic style one: I want a clean front on my perfect shirt pattern. A clean front is more European. This means I have to get rid of the band running down the front and rework the pattern accordingly. I can always add a band for future designs.

Original line art

The next design detail I examine is those breast pockets. Can we talk about pockets for a moment? I’ve noted that many women say they love pockets but what they really mean is that they love pockets in a skirt (and trousers and jackets perhaps). The question I have is this: do they really like pockets in shirts where said pockets are essentially useless and often serve only to increase the visual aspects of one’s chest? I think not. I think that they haven’t thought their general love of pockets through. I’m not a big fan of breast pockets on women’s shirts or blouses in general. I certainly put one on my husband’s perfect shirt because he uses it to stick his glasses in and won’t actually buy a shirt that doesn’t have a left-sided breast pocket (except for the odd dress shirt). But what about me? No. Uh-uh. No breast pockets for me. So, I ditch the breast pocket – at least for this go-around.

Another design detail: Go back up and have a close look at the original line art. It shows a little bias strip as a placket thingy on the sleeves. I feel that this is a bit of a cop-out. There are so many wonderful shapes and types of plackets. I think I’ll change this.

Finally, still with those sleeves, I’m not a big fan of the one-pleat-on-one-side-of-the-placket (and the other one on the other side of the placket) design. This was the approach that I used on my man’s shirt project but it looks a bit odd to me on a women’s shirt. I could use gathering, but I think that style is more for flowing blouse fabrics rather than crisp shirting. Anyway, I prefer pleats – so much cleaner and crisper in general. I will also put both of the pleats on the front of the sleeve.

I think I’ll go with the shape of the collar for this first draft but I’ll revisit it later. And I’m keeping the yoke – for now. It’s a design feature that I like in some, but not all, shirts.

Here’s my cleaned-up line art:

So, now it’s on to the fit issues!

Still with those sleeves. Dear god – why do commercial pattern companies (and the indie pattern-makers are no better) seem to think we all need sleeve bicep measurement that would fit a Sumo wrestler? So, it’s onto the drawing board to recut the sleeve pattern to more suit my style – and size.

With the sleeve pattern recut, I just need to tweak the waist darts and I’m ready to move onto consideration #3: fabric.

Let’s face it, the term “wearable muslin” is a bit of an oxymoron – either it’s a muslin that you’re willing to cut apart and use for the final pattern, or it’s a wearable shirt that you construct from some kind of fabric you’re willing to be seen in in public. That’s my usual approach. So I’m going to call this a “test garment” rather than a toile or muslin. That gets me off the hook in case it is actually wearable. But I’m not willing to spend any money on this kind of test. Enter the remnant box.

I’m not a fabric stasher (*shudder*) but I don’t throw out reasonably-sized pieces of leftover fabric – that is, of course, unless it’s hideous to work with like the scuba fabric top that I never even wrote about in this space. I should since there’s much for me to learn, but I probably won’t because then I’d have to think about it again and that would seriously hurt my head. I digress. I need fabric for my test shirt.

So, as I examine the remnants I have I’m looking for pieces that have some kind of compatible aesthetic and that have compatible fabric content. I have to find a few pieces that are cotton or at the very least cotton with a touch of spandex (I happen to know that I have only one such piece). This is the fun part of the test shirt.

I love the idea of creatively putting the pieces together. This is the perfect opportunity to practice this kind of aesthetic exercise as I look for pieces of fabric for the body, the collar, yoke, undercollar, sleeves, cuffs and placket.

Remember Frankenstein’s monster? This is not to be confused with dear Dr. Frankenstein himself. He created the monster that was composed of pieces of other bodies. So, I plan to create “frankenstyle” garment.

I decide to use the following pieces:

I have a largish piece of cotton sateen that has a touch of lycra for a soupcon of cross-body stretch. It’s little enough that it passes for a non-stretch woven.

Blue cotton sateen from the sloper in progress

I have a very small piece of leftover Italian cotton from my husband’s shirt and since it cost $80 a metre, I kept it anyway. I will use this for small parts.

I also have some black and white-black striped shirting from a previous shirt-type project.

It’s a very interesting exercise to think about which fabric will be the body – front and/or back. Which one the sleeves, which one would look best as the collar? Undercollar?

Old line art!

Well, I figured it out and proceeded to cut and sew. I’ll reveal the final result next time! Now I’m off to warmer climes for a few weeks!

Posted in fabrics, Fashion Design, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

The Festive Season is Coming: Finding the right party look

It feels a lot like winter today here in Toronto. In fact, when I raised the blinds this morning, there was some of that “white” stuff” on the rooftops some stories below. Thankfully, there wasn’t actually any of it on the streets or sidewalks. It’s too early for that! What this always means to me – and in spite of the fact that the calendar says it’s nowhere near winter yet – it’s time to consider what I’ll be wearing to those inevitable Christmas get-togethers whether I like it or not. When I started planning this season’s little collection, I was inspired, at least partially, by a couple of fabrics that I bought on my early fall pilgrimage down to the fabric district along Queen St. West here in the city.

Fabric shopping in that district always has to be planned in my view. First, it has to be just off the high tourist season. Queen Street West is a zoo during tourist season in the summer. Second, I always walk. That’s non-negotiable. But since it’s a good forty-five-minute walk, the day has to be just right. It can’t be raining or, god forbid, snowing. Then, I always take along my fabric-buying assistant (also known as my husband) who is a great scout if I give him a few guidelines suggesting what I might be looking for. On the early September day we chose, the walk was particularly nice and I actually came home with a few pieces of fabric that were inspired by my fall/winter mood board.

I hadn’t been looking for special-occasion fabrics specifically, but that’s what I came home with. I had been thinking about textures and colours for my inspiration…here are two that inspired me this year…

Two of the fabrics I bought as inspired by my original texture samples.

Another texture that inspired me was a pair of SJP shoes that I actually happen to own. There’s just something about a pair of sparkly shoes that dresses up even a pair of skinny jeans…but I digress.

Here are those shoes in action…

I am no slave to fashion trends, always preferring timeless classics (except clearly in shoes), but I do like to be modern. So, I love to see what the industry is suggesting might be the in thing to wear to festive parties this season.

According to Vogue magazine, arbiter of all things fashionable (arguably, I’m sure), “fabulous dresses and practical bags” are the way to go. I suppose in some world this dress might work…

…but in my world of Christmas parties, I can’t quite see this as I prepare the ham for a family Boxing Day dinner, or for drinks with the neighbours in our condo building. Not going to happen. Good Housekeeping (god love them) on the other hand is suggesting dowdy…

…and dowdier.

I find that this length they’re all suggesting this year is one of the most unflattering ones for just about any woman. There is a way to avoid that conundrum, though, wear pants. They are my go-to. And the truth is, these days, anything goes. So, what can we do to dress up a pair of pants (other than adding a pair of sparkly SJP shoes, of course)?

I’m often inspired by old movies with those fabulous costumes. Some months ago, my husband and I happened to watch the1956 film “Written on the Wind” starring the incomparable Lauren Bacall and Dorothy Malone. Oh the costumes! In one scene the two of them are drinking and arguing, and Dorothy Malone is wearing an Asian-inspired blue silk jacquard jacket, which would probably be called a smoking jacket if it were on a man.

Isn’t this fabulous?

I have no desire to recreate their pieces, but I do think that using them as design inspiration can often meld the old with the contemporary aesthetic. So, I began sketching and my design ended up a bit like this…

So, I began to create the pattern and put together a muslin.

Work was going well, so I bought some velvet to make a contrast collar. I thought that the silver and black fabric would be wonderful. This is where I ran into my first problem. The fabric was all wrong for this design. It was not wrong from an aesthetic point of view, but it was so wrong when it came to fabric properties – especially drape. It had too much. I loved the fact that this was a bit like liquid silver, but the design I envisioned begged for something like silk jacquard, something stiffer. It occurred to me (after discussion with my dear husband and style consultant) that a bomber-style jacket might work.

I scoured the commercial pattern offerings and found Butterick 6181 that also had a version with buttons rather than a zipper which seemed a better party design for me. I did some pattern fitting and found that the design had just a bit too much “blousiness” in both the body and the sleeves. I had to take out 2 inches of volume in the sleeves or I would have drowned in fabric. I also removed some from the body.

I thought I might use the velvet I had bought to make a contrast collar. That was an unmitigated disaster. Note to self: learn how to mix wovens with knits (did I mention that the silver and black fabric is a knit?) so that you can avoid the mess I ended up with. My trusty surgical-steel seam ripper came to the rescue.

My next design decision was about buttons. I had a set of funky silver buttons that I had in mind. However, when I compared them with a self-covered button, it was no contest. The covered buttons were much classier. So, I did something I hadn’t done in some forty years: I did that fiddly button-covering thing.

Finally, I have a party jacket for the season, but I also have a pattern for a more form-fitting one that I will not give up on. I’d love to make that one but I have one question: how many party jackets does a girl need? 

On to the next project…


Sources:

https://www.vogue.com/vogueworld/article/valentino-fall-trend-holiday-dressing-ideas

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/uk/fashion-beauty/g538763/christmas-party-dresses/?slide=1

Posted in fabrics, Pattern-drafting, sewing, Style

Summer sewing: Commercial pattern versus personal pattern

It’s the dog days of summer here in Toronto. The humidity is high and the temperatures soaring. I’ve just returned from a two-week road trip to the east coast where it was cooler for at least part of the trip. It was a great trip, but now it’s back to writing (a new book is underway) and designing. In the meantime, I’ve just finished a few pieces that once again forced me to move from a commercial pattern to a personal design. It all started – as it does – with a sketch, and a piece of fabric.

I really like the look of knit tops that have some kind of waist definition – it elevates them just a bit, n’est-ce pas? So, I started toying with the idea of a belted T, but let’s face it, who wants a belt around the waist in the height of summer on what is supposed to be a comfortable piece of clothing? And there are lots of design alternatives.

There are half belt ties. There are darts (but not so much in knits). There is side-seam and centre-back-seam waist shaping. Then there are faux ties. This idea I like.

 

belted T
Do you really want a belt around your waist when the temperature is 28 degrees Celsius? I think not. 

So, I made a sketch of a top that would not require a constricting belt, but would still provide some kind of drape and definition at the waist…

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…and contemplated the fabric I had picked up. The fabric is cotton jersey with a foil design, so it occurred to me that it could be a bit dressy. Then when I happened upon Butterick’s pattern #6628 and saw the rendering of it’s view A, I thought I could skip the pattern design part of my process and move right on to cutting and sewing. Well, not so fast.

First, though, I didn’t love the neckline, so that would have to change. I widened it slightly and went ahead with the pattern pretty much as is. The outcome was okay, but it didn’t have the kind of sleek style I love. Those sleeves were a bit annoying, but at least since they aren’t full-length, they don’t drag in your dinner! The real problem, however, is the drape of the fabric. It doesn’t have much.

But it is comfortable for summer wear and it does fit.

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Out to dinner on road trip #1 of the summer in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

So, I reworked the pattern, made a trip down to Queen Street West here in Toronto and picked up a piece of bamboo jersey with more drape and a lovely hand. I’ve written about bamboo fabric before, so if you’ve been reading along, you know that I prefer higher-quality fabrics and a luxurious feel. This piece of bamboo has it all.

Then I went back to my original sketch and created a new pattern that is very similar to the Butterick design, but has a wider neckline and sleek sleeves. As I usually do with this kind of fabric, I cut it out single-layer, and it came together nicely.

Bamboo is a wonderful breathable fabric, and I wore this with white jeans out to dinner while we were away. (For the life of me I cannot understand why I didn’t ask my husband to take a photo of me wearing it, but that will have to wait. Trust me it fits really well!).

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They never look quite as good on Gloria Junior. She has no arms! (It’s hard to tell that the neckline is widened, but it is.)

As much as I hate to admit it, the time for thinking about a fall collection is upon me and as I get back to recording my escapades, I’ll be sharing my design inspiration in the next week or two. *Sigh* summer will come to an end soon – but let’s not wish it away just yet (here in the northern hemisphere!).

Posted in fabrics, Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Texture & colour & style lines, oh my! Fabrics & sketches for my cruise collection

There was a time in my creative life when I always, ALWAYS began any project with a design. In the beginning (all those years ago in home ec sewing classes) that always meant a commercial pattern. I’d go to the fabric store and sit for what seemed like hours pouring over those gargantuan catalogues. (I have not looked in a pattern book for about 20 years: if I want a commercial pattern, I’d rather let my fingers do the clicking online.) And it does have to be said that there was a lot to like back then.

I’d select my pattern number, search for it and my size in the big drawer, then, and only then, would I head toward the bolts of fabric to select something appropriate. (There was so much crimplene, woven cotton and corduroy!) I loved the process of finding just the right piece so that, even though I hadn’t actually designed the piece from scratch, there would be enough of me in it to call it an original: the colour, the drape, the way the contrasting colours were applied. But I never once, at least as far as I can remember, ever started just with a piece of fabric. Times have changed.

These days, I do occasionally find a piece of fabric that I know I just must do something with. But in all honesty, I still find that I do have a picture in my head of what it will be, even if that picture changes as I move through the project. I never, NEVER buy fabric without any idea of what I’ll do with it. I do not hoard or in any other way stash fabric. Oh, there goes my rant again.

So, back to my fabric selection for my cruise wear. Last time we talked, I was showing you my inspiration board. That inspiration board is leading me to the actual designs and to the fabric choices.

My “muses” for the collection

What comes to mind when you think about Jackie O. or Audrey Hepburn on the Mediterranean?

 

For me, they conjure up visions of airy cottons, pristine white T’s, striped French-sailor jerseys and big sunglasses. They make me think about sun, sand (okay, it’s hard to call it sand on the beaches of Cannes and Nice, more like pebbles), yachts, the ocean and cold glasses of Sancerre.

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I took this photo of the beach in Nice on the Riviera a few years back when my son was working in Monaco. See what I mean by the “sand”?

This is my inspiration…my stepping off point…my stimulus. The rest of the elements, however, really happen organically. Colours, textures, line…all of these come together not in a linear way; rather they feed into one another.

A cruise collection colour scheme

my closet
A glimpse inside my closet. Black? Grey? Red? White? Oh yes.

If I am being quite honest about my sartorial choices in general, I have to tell you that I live in a limited colour palette. I love neutrals: grey, black, white, taupe. But I do have a bit of colour: red, fuchsia, burgundy, occasionally blue. And that’s about it. These are the colours that flatter me and the colours that I think look best in the kind of tailored style that has been my hallmark for decades. I also eschew prints for the most part. I find wild prints distract from the clean lines I prefer and to tell you the truth, I usually look like I’m wearing upholstery when I try on any kind of print. Oh, I do love to see prints on others – especially ones with a dark background, but they’re not for me. It’s who I am. That being said, perhaps there might be room for a bit of whimsy in my wardrobe? Who am I kidding?

A colour scheme for a cruise collection, though begs for a reflection of sun, sky and water. So, for this collection I’m drawn to blues, greys, white and a bit of black, of course. Because, who can go on a cruise without a little black dress?  Hmm?

Colours 1

 

So, I need a bit of texture, do I?

Any fashion designer will tell you that collections need texture. When I buy ready-to-wear, I don’t really think about texture in that way. How I think of it is how it feels on my skin. And I do think that this kind of feeling is very important. But what about how texture looks? How it enhances the style lines of a design making aspects of it stand out? I have had to think about texture in a different way when creating pieces rather than simply buying them.

I found these wonderful photos of sand textures and was immediately drawn to them…then to the Egyptian-motif print (Yikes a print!) with the texture.

 

I think I can embrace this black on white print because of its simplicity, although I see it more as a partner piece rather than a complete outfit on its own. And then what about that striped seersucker?

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It has texture, print (my kind of print, anyway) and to its credit, is a natural fabric – the best choice for a Caribbean cruise in my view.

Style lines that inspire

Shapes 4So what kind of lines will there be in this collection? Palm trees that sway in the gentle island breeze provide my mind’s eye with both a visual and a feeling. I’d like to capture that in both fabric and in design. But flowy dresses don’t suit me personally (I don’t think I’ve worn a full skirt since I was 11 years old), so even though it might be fun to design a flowy sundress, I’ll pass on that because I’d never wear it.  I’ll just have to find a way to capture this feeling with cleaner lines.

Basic design decisions

I’ve decided that the collection will have two foci: one of them will be a day dress of sorts that will be the centre-piece of the daytime wardrobe. A little black cocktail dress will anchor the evening grouping. So, I started a bit of sketching and contemplation of which fabrics go with which designs.

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First ideas about the LBD for evening.

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First thoughts about the day dress at the centre of the day-time collection.

Prepping my fabric

Most of the fabrics I am choosing for this collection are easy care, easy packing. I prepped the materials as I always do by using my 4X4-inch template to cut swatches and throw them in the washing machine.

I then measure them against the template after coming out of the machine and then again measure and examine them after the dryer. That’s when I decide how to prep the whole fabric piece. The black fabric for the cocktail dress which will be the centre of the evening wardrobe is washable, but I’ll plan to line it so, in the end, it will not be a washable dress.

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The LBCD fabric is washable – and oh so yummy against the skin – but I’ll line it so the final product won’t be washable.

Now that my fabric is prepped and I’ve given some preliminary thought to the design of some pieces, it’s time to get to work tweaking drawings and making patterns.

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Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

In praise of luxurious fabrics: Bamboo jersey

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My husband and I ready for the evening at sea. Yikes! All that dark hair I had!

A few years ago, my husband and I were on a kick to figure out what the concept of “luxury” means to people these days, and by extension, what it means when we say something is “luxurious.” We were sailing on one of those all-suite, 6-star, “luxury” cruise ships with a group of people who would, by all accounts, have more than a passing acquaintance with luxury. So, one evening while all dolled up for a formal evening, with all manner of creative tuxedo and evening gown dressing on display, while sipping cocktails at one of the chi-chi bars on board, we posed the question to the group. “What does luxury mean to you?” The answers were perhaps not what one might expect – although on deeper reflection, they are precisely what one ought to have expected.

One of the evening gown-clad women took a sip of her champagne and thought about this for a moment. They were all taking this turn in the conversation seriously. “Well,” she said finally, “Having someone make my bed with fresh sheets every day would be so luxurious.” Interesting. I guess we thought they might think about cars or first-class air travel…but I’ll get back to those in a minute.

The second woman said this: “It would be such a luxury if I had someone to wash my hair for me. I love that feeling,” she said. And I thought to myself, she’s right. What feels better than that massaging shampoo at the hairdresser? I was beginning to see a trend in their answers to the question.

It seems that in the twenty-first century, luxury is, at least in part, based on how something makes you feel. And I suppose that the fabulous car or first-class air travel isn’t luxurious in and of itself. It is only luxurious because of how it makes you feel. Then I thought, that’s exactly how I define luxurious fabrics. They are fabrics that have a kind of sensuous feel that make you feel divine when you wear them. When I wrote about alpaca before, I may not have articulated this in precisely this way, but it’s underlying all of my sentiment about alpaca, cashmere, silk…and now bamboo.

I bought a couple of T-shirts in the past few years from a company called LNBF (Leave Nothing But Footprints), a Canadian design group that bases its design philosophy on sustainable, natural, environmentally-friendly fabrics. It was the first time I had worn bamboo which is one of their mainstays. Well, sustainable it may be, and natural mostly, but environmentally-friendly? That’s actually debatable depending on the processes used to create it, but I’m going to focus on the fact that, in my view, it deserves to be in the category of luxurious fabrics, not based on its cost, but on how it makes you (me) feel. But it is worth considering its environmental footprint.

As Yvette Hymann, writing on the blog Good on You wrote back in 2016, bamboo is having its moment, and that moment seems to have legs since people are still embracing it in 2018. But there are questions about it. She says the following:

…there are a few things to consider…although bamboo is fast growing and requires no pesticides, that doesn’t mean that it is being grown sustainably. The majority of bamboo is grown in China, and there is no information regarding how intensively bamboo is being harvested, or what sort of land clearing might be underway in order to make way for the bamboo. Also, although bamboo doesn’t need pesticides, there is no guarantee that they are not being used to maximise outputs… [1]

Bamboo fibres that are woven or knit into fabrics that we use to make our luxurious T-shirts, are almost always “rayon” which is categorized as a semi-synthetic fibre. It would be extremely rare for the bamboo fabric you have to be created from a mechanical process, so you know it’s been chemically processed. When the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) did a bit of an exposé on bamboo-clothing manufacturers’ claims a few years ago, they found that,

“…Bamboo is soaked in sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda or lye, and carbon disulfide and turned into a mush from which fibres are extracted. A diluted sulfuric acid solution is used in that part of the process.”[2]

The truth is that there is hardly a fabric around today that doesn’t have some kind of environmental baggage. That goes for natural fibres such as cotton and silk, as well as manufactured fibres that are often oil-based – such as polyester, nylon, spandex, acrylic and olefin.[3] Once we have that figured out and we at least understand that apart from going naked, we might simply consider the sheer volume of clothing we make and own – and the amount of fabric sewers hoard. I have to be honest, though, I am not among those hoarders, so I’ve take a step.

Now that all that is off my chest, can I tell you how luxurious I find knit bamboo jersey to be? It is comfortable – oh so comfortable – it breathes and it just feels so sumptuous against the skin.

[Pattern envelope and drawings from McCall’s site]

When I found Butterick 6517, I knew I had a contender for the two yards of pin-striped grey bamboo I found on Queens St. West in Toronto on my last fabric hunt. I love the wrap styling of this top because it’s so flattering when it fits well.

I found that I had to cut it out single-layer to ensure stability and avoid stretching it. It’s a small price to pay for a good fit in the end. I did find that the wrap over was a bit droopy, but since I’m a baster, I basted the front seams before finalizing them and was able to perfect the fit. I also find these days that what some of the pattern designers are calling ¾ sleeves are, in fact, bracelet length. I am 5 feet 7 inches tall with normal length arms and I find their ¾ length dowdy. So, I shorten them on every occasion – unless I really do want bracelet length (which is rare).

 

B6517 finished

I did the seam finishing with my serger (the piece of equipment I vowed I’d never use – I really do have to tell you about this long-standing prejudice of mine which has all but evaporated recently) and did some top-stitching. Then, voila! I have a top that I’d love to wear but the summer here in Toronto has been so stifling, it will have to wait until the fall!

[1] https://goodonyou.eco/bamboo-fabric-sustainable/

[2] https://www.cbc.ca/news/bamboo-textiles-no-more-natural-than-rayon-1.938759

[3] Gail Baugh. The Fashion Designer’s Textile Directory, 2011, p. 16.