Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns

The Joy of Fabric Shopping (and yet more sewing for the winter)

How many times have you read a book or watched a movie that was at least partially set in a book shop? There are quite a few (remember You’ve Got Mail?).

But what about a fabric store? Wouldn’t that be an excellent place for characters to explore life? I mean, just think about the possibilities.

There are so many temptations―so many choices to be made. There are practical considerations, and there are aesthetic considerations. There is an opportunity to do something serious (remember mask-making and sewing up scrubs?), but there is an equal opportunity to do something frivolous―that chiffon cocktail dress, perhaps? All in all, I think it’s a marvellous idea. Alas, there are so few.

I did set part of one of my novels in a fabric store. Remember The Year I Made 12 Dresses?

Charlie meets a fabric whisperer guru in a fabric store as she learns how to make increasingly complicated dresses while learning increasingly more about herself―and her late mother. That fabric store was inspired by one that I frequent myself in the fabric district in downtown Toronto.

A jumble of fabric bolts of a dizzying array of colours and fabrications, Affordable Textiles is as good as its name. Its crowded aisles, with bolts of fabric to the ceiling, inspired Sew Fine Things, the fabric store in my novel. Just as their name suggests, they carry the more affordable fabrics that I like to use with occasional pieces of natural fibres like bamboo, which is one of my favourites. I did find the bamboo for this T-shirt there.

Across the street, I love Chu Shing Fabrics because they are the most organized store on Queen Street West! They carry higher-end products of higher quality.

Of course, I found the fabric for my husband’s bespoke shirt at Maryan’s Fabrics up on Yonge Street. Affordable it is not! Indeed, I spied the most expensive fabric I’d ever seen on their shelves.

Two years ago (just pre-COVID), my husband and I took a Florida road trip. What I love about being the planner of these road trips is that I can sneak in fabrics stores along the way. My husband has come to love browsing in these little gems. I found a great one in Sarasota. Florida. Situated along what is really more of a highway, Pennie Fabrics is located in an old bungalow where even the garage is filled with bolts of fabrics. I found a terrific piece of fabric for a shirt for me and some printed silk charmeuse that made its way into the lining of a jacket when I was teaching myself traditional tailoring. I always think it’s worth incorporating a bit of fabric store reconnaissance into any vacation planning!

This past fall, we took the train to Montréal, where we ventured into the northern part of the city from where we usually stay near Old Montréal to find the fabric district there. Rue St. Hubert is the street. It is lined with fabric stores from the high-end Tissus St. Hubert to the cheap Goodman’s. I shopped at both. The myriad Italian silks and wool jerseys at Tissus St. Hubert were breath-taking, and the jumble of polyesters at Goodman’s was such fun.

But is there any fun in online fabric shopping? First, what does it mean to shop, really? Does it mean you have to buy? I don’t think so (at least that’s my position on this, and I’m sticking to it!). I love to window shop in online fabric stores. Who wouldn’t love a lazy half-hour browsing through the collection at Mood Fabrics online (I did have the opportunity to visit their LA store a few years back. It was fabulous!). And then there’s Britex with their excellent high-end offerings. I also like to browse Watertower Textiles here in Canada since they seem to have a collection of higher than average quality cottons and bamboos.

And what about Etsy? OMG, I can fall down that rabbit hole so easily!  I have a favourite shop which is located in India. Sownsown has such an array of fabrics that it boggles the mind.

I’ve bought two pieces from him, and his service is impeccable. I used one piece for my son’s bespoke shirt, and the other awaits fabrication into a summer top/blouse/shirt that I hope to make before we head off for our winter holiday in the Caribbean (if it happens, of course. These days, there are no guarantees!).

Fabric from Sownsown on Etsy.

Finally, who among us in Canada could write about online fabric stores without mentioning Fabricville? Every time someone compares them to Joann’s in the US, I chafe because there is really little comparison. Of course, they do have their penchant for synthetics (polyester, anyone?), as does Joann’s, but they do offer more. I was able to procure two lengths of higher-quality fabrics when I blogged for them over on the Fabricville blog. I loved the bamboo jersey and the digitally printed rayon blend. But I’ve also made mistakes (or they have made mistakes). Here are some fabrics from Fabricville online and stuff I’ve made:

I ordered fabric that was supposed to be a double knit, but it turned out to be heavy scuba *gag.* I also have a weakness for their end-of-season buy-one-get-two-free sales. I end up with three metres of something with an idea of what to do with only one-and-a-half metres usually. *sigh* It does, however, give me enough fabric left over to do something with rather than those little scraps that would only make patches―or a single sleeve―and who wants patches? Or a single sleeve, for that matter?

As I continue my winter sewing projects, I finally decided what to do with that beautiful piece of red fabric I bought at Chu Shing (mentioned above).

I used McCall’s 7247 again. The last time I used it, I chose an inappropriate fabric―read I didn’t follow the cross-grain stretch recommendation. The top looked terrific but was uncomfortable―the neckline had no “give” to it. That was when I first started sewing with knits. So, I’ve learned that not only does fabric sewing have to focus on aesthetics, but also the functionality and appropriateness for the project in mind.

With all the research I’ve done over the years, I think I have an idea for a novel set in a fabric shop. Sound interesting?

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

A cozy new year’s eve: Sewing a hygge outfit

I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to lament the end of 2021. What a year! In addition to the obvious (can you say COVID?), a few more oddities occurred in my own life, the details of which I will not bore you with but suffice it to say that it’s been interesting―and challenging. In the end, though, don’t you think a non-challenging life would be boring? My husband likes to remind me of what I told him on our wedding day thirty-four years ago. I said, “It may not always be easy, but it will never be boring.” He reminded me just today that it’s been pretty easy to tell you the truth, but it truly has never been boring! Which is the perfect segue to talk about New Year’s eve, n’est ce pas? Boring this year? Depends on how you define boring!

How will you spend the last evening of this peculiar year? Here we are in the midst of the biggest wave of a pandemic we all thought would be in our rear-view mirrors by now. But here we are. In recent years, our usual New Year’s Eve has consisted of a wonderful dinner out at a posh restaurant, home by ten pm, and watching the New Year roll in on television. Last year, we were in serious lockdown―all the restaurants were closed―so, had dinner delivered. That was great. This year, though, I’m in full-on hygge mode as I’ve mentioned ad nauseum, and we plan to entertain only ourselves chez nous.

And that’s where a new hygge-inspired outfit comes in. What to wear to a party for two on your most comfortable sofa while sipping something bubbly and watching the world go by outside? My fall-winter wardrobe sewing continues.

My 2021-22 winter colour palette

As I planned my wardrobe this season, I pulled a few patterns that offered comfort. Have you ever noticed that you tend to gravitate toward similar designs? I often do this when buying ready-to-wear, only to end up with several pieces of clothing that are the same colour and almost (but not quite) the same style. This approach is how I ended up with these two patterns.

Notice anything similar? Hmm? Of course, I was drawn to the collar on both Vogue 1635 and Butterick 6857. As you know, I already created the Vogue look…

…and planned on View B or C of the Butterick. However, by a fluke of retail error on the part of Fabricville online, I ended up with a piece of fabric that I couldn’t use for what I intended it to be. I plan on making Vogue 1825 (view A) at some point, so I ordered two different colours of the same fabric.

Unfortunately, their online store mislabeled the black fabric, and I ended up with a red-mix Venice knit (which I ordered) and a black jersey that was supposed to be Venice knit (which was a mistake on their part). The two fabrics do not fit together. There is good news and bad news.

I’m now stuck with some thin black jersey that I didn’t return because they would charge me for the return, and it wasn’t that expensive. The good news is that the red-mix Venice knit has the perfect drape and hand for View A of the Butterick pattern. So, I won’t be making the same design as I did earlier in the season. So, I set off to make this one. (Of course, the other good news/bad news is that I need to buy more fabric for the two-tone top *sigh*).

My first decision was to decide which side to use as the right side. Any jersey fabric rolls to the front when stretched, but this one was a bit confusing. It did have a definite roll in one direction then rolled to the opposite side when held differently. In the end, it’s up to each of us to decide what side of the fabric we want to use as the inside versus the outside, isn’t it? That’s why we create our own wardrobes―control. Anyway, I liked the softest side against my skin (there’s that hygge thing again!), so what I’d call the “purl” side when it comes to knitting would be the outside. Decision made.

The pattern has an interesting button and top-stitching detail at the neckline and shoulders. I had to find some buttons that might work, and since I decided against the black thread (which would have disappeared) and opted to use scarlet thread that showed brighter than the fabric colour itself, I could go with more scarlet buttons. Of course, then there would be buttonholes in a knit―buttonholes that would show on the front.

Careful testing (and black interfacing―just imagine how awful white interfacing would look if it peeked out when you cut open the buttonhole) resulted in a good finish that worked for me.

One of the changes to the order of operations in this pattern that I’d suggest is that you do the buttonholes before putting the front and back together at the shoulders. It’s so much easier to guide the fabric into the buttonhole foot that way! Flat is always better, in my view.

I am quite happy with how this one worked out. It’s uber comfortable and will brighten up our New Year’s Eve (I usually wear black *rolls eyes*).

Well, Happy New Year to everyone! I haven’t done a recap on my 2021 wardrobe work, but I just might do that this coming week. I might share it with you when I do. I’ll see!

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns

My winter lightweight, cozy cardigan: Sewing and styling one that works for you

I’ve said it before (as in my last post), and I’ll say it again: cardigans are useful pieces in any winter wardrobe―regardless of your age or style. It’s just a matter of finding the right design and fabric for your particular lifestyle. For me, anything black immediately appeals, as does a lightweight piece that I can layer over other tops. I don’t know about what it’s like where you live through winter, but here in Toronto, we need at least three different levels of warmth in our outerwear and a series of layers to raise or lower the temperature as necessary. Case in point: the wind chill here yesterday was -5˚ C (yes, minus 5 Celsius―23 Fahrenheit for some of you), and tomorrow the temperature is predicted to be +15˚ C (59˚F)―thus my love for layers that can go on and come off easily. But how to find the right style?

As I mentioned, I combed the commercial pattern sites to search for something that appealed to me. If you read this blog regularly, you already know that I’m not a fan of garments that have no shape. I won’t touch a one-size-fits-all style with a ten-foot pole because that simply means one-size-fits-no-one-especially-me. And cardigan patterns with interesting style details are few and far between.

I finally settled on the Jalie “Charlotte” style, not because I love Jalie patterns (I like a few of them, but I hate their packaging), but because it seemed to offer a bit of style in the short version. It has sleeve bands, a hem band and buttons. And you know that well-selected buttons can make all the style difference. (*bats eyes*)

Before I introduce you to my version of the “Charlotte,” let me get this off my chest: I hate pdf patterns (although I’ll use them if I love the style), so I ordered their print version. I knew up front that I’d have issues with it, but I was willing to deal with them. My problems are these: the whole thing―plastic envelope and all―is too damn big, and there are 26 sizes on one printed sheet. Anyway, I found my size and cut it out. I don’t see how anyone can trace off a single size, but since I don’t plan on making it in any other size, this isn’t a big problem for me.

Once I have it cut out, though, I’m forced to trace it off onto pattern paper since the paper it’s printed on is awkward and thick―too difficult to pin accurately. A bit of extra work, but unlike many sewists, I enjoy the prep work (except pdf stuff). There are a couple of pitfalls, though.

I learned the hard way about the oddities of seam allowances in indie patterns. I had to search for the information (this is the reason why it’s always wise to read everything before you cut anything😊), but I finally found it. This pattern has only one-quarter-inch seam allowances!

Dear god! What are they thinking? We’re not sewing cheap garments in an overseas sweatshop where we have to save every morsel of fabric! What’s this deal, anyway? As far as I’m concerned, one of the reasons for sewing one’s own clothing is to get a great fit. If you only have a quarter of an inch on a seam allowance, how can you possibly have enough to let out if necessary? Then there’s the seam finishing issue. I need more than a quarter of an inch to get a great serged finish, thank you very much. So, I added 3/8 of an inch to the seam allowance already included.

And, there’s another oddity in this pattern. The sleeve piece is designed to be cut on the fold. What! This means that the sleeve is designed so that the front and back are mirror images of each other.

This doesn’t say “good fit” to me. And anyway, I think a sleeve should not be cut on a fold―but that’s probably just me―so I made myself a complete sleeve pattern before I started.

I’m tired already.

Oh, and before I could begin to cut and sew, I noted that the instructions are printed on the large sheets of paper that I am cutting. The good news about Jalie, though, is that if you go back to their website and look for your pattern, you can download the instructions, which, by the way, were a bit peculiar. Anyway, the cutting and sewing finally began.

I used an inexpensive piece of textured knit that’s so soft to the touch and has a look that’s a bit more upscale than the price tag on the fabric would have indicated. But, as I mentioned in my last post, this one was supposed to be a practice piece for potentially using the piece of Italian wool jersey that I bought in Montreal. The question is: will I use this pattern for my ultimate light cardigan this season? We shall see.

As I put this all together, I found that the instructions about finishing the band were less than optimal. I finally did it my way, which generally involved a bit of hand sewing.

Then I went to my trusty button collection and found a set that seemed to add a tiny bit of sparkle to the front―but just a tiny bit.

In the end, I like how this turned out, and it’s a piece that had endless possibilities to wear lounging or even in an office setting. But will I use it to cut into that expensive fabric? I’m still on the fence. What do you think? Is it a nice enough pattern to use for an expensive piece of Italian wool jersey? Hmm…I’m not convinced.

Posted in fabrics, sewing patterns, Style

The pleasures of a cozy cardigan: Sewing up comfort

What a fall season this has been! So much has been going on in our lives that I have had much less time to create my winter wardrobe than I had planned! We just returned from a holiday to the east coast to visit family (including my 98-year-old mother), whom we had not seen since before the pandemic hit. It was a whirlwind of visiting family and friends, not to mention our first foray onto an airplane in almost two years. That’s so hard for us to believe―my husband and I used to be on a plane going somewhere every six weeks!

But I have all that cozy fabric and patterns chosen, so it’s time to get back at it. First up (second really, but who’s counting!) is a cardigan. If you’ll recall from a previous story about my visit to Montreal (by train) earlier this fall, I found a fantastic piece of beautiful blue, Italian fine wool jersey.

After much thought, I figured it might make a lovely little cardigan. You know, the kind you can wear all day for warmth without feeling all bulked up. Well, my decision may have to be reconsidered. Here’s my story.

What comes to mind when you think about cardigans? Do you think about Mr. Rogers and your grandfather? Or does it conjure an image of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) in Scandal, sipping red wine in her massively expensive Ralph Lauren cable knit sweater on her ivory couch while contemplating how to save the world?

I prefer the second image, thank you very much! But Olivia’s sweaters might be a tad too bulky for my taste, so I had to find a design that works in a finer fabric. That exercise was easier said than done―but I’m getting ahead of myself. Cardigans can be workhorses in a winter wardrobe. But beware! As we get older, cardigans can also be a minefield of dowdiness if done wrong, which is part of the reason it was so difficult to find the right style. Before we get to that, you know I’m a writer, and I love a great story, so let’s start with the story of the cardigan.

A cardigan is “a knitted sweater with a buttoned or zipped front, with a V or round neck, with or without a collar.” Or so says Leimomi Oakes, a textile and fashion historian in her excellent blog The Dreamstress.[1] Basically, cardigans are knitted garments that open down the front. Well, already you can see my problem: I’m not planning to knit anything (dear god, I haven’t held knitting needles since back in the 1980s when Lopi sweaters were all the rage. Yes, I knitted my share of sweaters.) Yes, that’s me and I made that sweater in the 1980s!

I might have to expand that definition slightly to include being sewn from machine-created knit fabric. See? I fixed it already. But I digress from the cardigan’s specific story.

Cardigans have been with us since the nineteenth century, based as they are on the knitted worsted wool waistcoats of British Army officers during the Crimean War, which lasted from 1853 to 1856. According to most sources, James Thomas Brudenell, the seventh Earl of Cardigan, wore such a garment, and you can see where it got its name. So, the first thing to know about cardigans is that they were originally garments for men (weren’t all comfortable clothes? But let’s not go there today.)

Cardigans were then first worn as warming layers for working-class people and sailors. Until recently, I had thought that knit clothing for women didn’t become popular until after Coco Chanel developed her first jersey clothing in the early twentieth century, but it seems that hand-knit sweaters were part of fashionable women’s garments long before that for wearing when bicycling, playing tennis and other such athletic pursuits that were considered suitable for women back in the day.

In the 1920s, Coco Chanel began to show cardigans in her collection as she began experimenting with using jersey fabrics that had, until then, been used only for men’s clothing. Evidently, she didn’t like having to pull sweaters over her hair, this messing up her ‘do. The early cardigans were cardigan-jackets shown with matching skirts.

In the US, by the 1940s, college women began to bristle at the thought of having to wear corsets and other restrictive clothing that was deemed lady-like and began rebelling by doffing their corsets and starting to wear oversized, sloppy cardigans to class.[2] I love the idea that wearing a cardigan might well be a feminist statement!

These days, the cardigan is almost an essential part of any wardrobe for a climate that has winter. Even in warmer weather, a light cardigan can be oh so useful for those cool evenings. But as we get older, finding cardigans that work in terms of both form and function (being both useful and stylish) is a bit more complicated. So I began to search for an appropriate pattern.

I combed through patterns from the regular so-called “big four (or five) companies. Then moved on to the indies. Most patterns were nothing styles―no interesting detail, just bags, a must-to-avoid for older women in my view. I finally examined Stylearc and Jalie, the companies I hate the least of the indies. I finally settled on the Jalie “Charlotte” model(because it’s named after my main character, Charlotte “Charlie” Hudson, I introduced in The Year I Made 12 Dresses (LOL), and it has a bit of design detail.

Since I don’t want to make a mistake in my choice of style for my expensive fabric, I pulled out the cheaper fabric I bought in Montreal and decided to make a black, cropped cardi.

Well, as usual with indie patterns, the first thing I’m faced with is 26 sizes in one pattern. *sigh*

So, I dutifully find the size I’m looking for, cut it out (I’m never using this sucker for any other size in the future, that’s for sure) and trace out a pattern I can use. Now that I’m cross-eyed, I think I’ll go have a drink.

Next time, I’ll tell you how it worked out.

In case you’re interested:

40 free cardigan sewing patterns (in case you find one here you like): https://so-sew-easy.com/40-free-cardigan-sewing-patterns-staying-warm/


[1] https://thedreamstress.com/2016/04/terminology-the-history-of-the-cardigan/

[2] https://theweek.com/articles/878112/feminist-history-cardigan

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, wardrobe planning

Choosing fabrics for a fall wardrobe (there may have been a trip to Montréal involved!)

Who among us hasn’t longed for a wee bit of a travel escape over the past eighteen months? Sure, staying close to home has afforded those of us who sew some extra time to escape into that happy place we call our sewing space, but if you love to travel, a little getaway sounds nice, n’est ce pas?

Montreal begins to look like autumn.

If you’ve been following my fashion, sewing and creativity journey for a while, you’ll know that my husband and I enjoy travel so much that we’ve been sharing our travels on our travel blog for years (www.thediscerningtravelers.com). Since we returned from our winter getaway in March 2020, that’s been on hold. But last week, ooh-la-la, we went to Montréal. Why Montréal, you may ask? Two reasons: it’s a reasonable distance for a three-night trip, and it has a fabric/garment district that I’d been longing to visit.

So, last week, we hopped on a ViaRail Canada train at Union Station in Downtown Toronto. Five hours later, we were in downtown Montréal checking into the Chateau Champlain Marriott Hotel. The fact that we could eat indoors (after showing our vaccine certificates, of course), have someone else pour our drinks and wander in Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal) was such a treat. Then we took an Uber to St. Hubert Street, and I was in heaven.

As you may recall, my fall wardrobe sewing/shopping plans include a blue-grey-black-red colour scheme, soft fabrics and lots of comfortable tops that I can wear with jeans, an approach to dressing that suits my current lifestyle―I walk 5-7 kms a day and sit in front of a computer writing books.

My F/W 2021-22 colour scheme

Another thing I’ve learned through this pandemic, though, is related to the quantity and quality of the clothes I wear.

For months last year, we were in lockdown, and I couldn’t shop for clothing. Yes, I know there is always online shopping (and I did a minimum amount of that), but I couldn’t feel the fabrics and try on the clothing without the hassle of having to send things back. So, I waited. And when I was finally able to shop again, I found myself wanting less but wanting better. This is now my overall approach. Just this past weekend, we took three large garbage bags stuffed full of clothing we rarely (if ever) wear any longer to our local donation bin. And it feels so good to have that space around us in our closets. I had this in mind when I opened the door at Tissus St. Hubert in Montreal and stepped into a world filled with high-quality Italian fabrics. I thought I’d died and gone to fabric heaven. (FYI, tissus means fabric in French.)

Unlike many downtown fabric stores, this one was well-organized, bright and airy―yet it was chock full of beautiful fabrics, primarily silks and wools. There wasn’t a synthetic to be seen!

When I walked in, I was immediately drawn to a piece of blue fabric that looked and felt like a wool jersey. But I moved on to the silks lest I miss anything. When I found a few pieces of silk that I thought looked interesting, the young man (obviously one of the proprietors) came to help.

I liked these beautiful silks, but they weren’t really what I was looking for.

He was only too happy to open each bolt that interested me so I could get the full effect. It’s really the only way to see what you’re buying. He was so helpful and even said that high-quality fabrics (with high-end prices) required high-quality service. I got that and more.

I considered several pieces of silk and settled on one that is reminiscent of animal print but in a more subtle way.

It feels magnificent, and I can’t wait to work with it. Note the colour fits into my current palette (although I may well make this blouse (Butterick 6765), view C with the short sleeves to take on our winter holiday (that’s winter clothing, isn’t it??).

I then circled back to the blue fabric that had caught my eye, and just like my husband always used to say about choosing Christmas trees: you always buy the first one you looked at (I did the same thing with my wedding gown! I’m reminded of this because our anniversary is next weekend!).

The young man told me that it was, in fact, a fine wool jersey. Since he had recently bought up the stock from another well-known Montreal fabric store whose proprietor was retiring, he did a burn test to assure us―and himself―that the fabric content was indeed correct. My husband was fascinated with this, and the young proprietor was very knowledgeable.

I found these terrific charts on Domestic Geek Girl[1] , and if you’re interested in more detail on how to check your own fabrics for content, the link at the bottom takes you to the excellent article on it.

Anyway, it was pure wool jersey, so I naturally bought what he had left on the bolt. (BTW, the price on the bold was $189.00 a metre!! He sold it to me for $60.00 a metre, which is more like it!). Then it was on to Goodman’s down the street to peruse the cheaper contributions.

Goodman’s was more like the crowded shops I frequent in Toronto.

I bought a lovely, soft synthetic (black, of course―the best colour for synthetics. I’ll use it to test out the pattern I plan to use for that blue wool jersey. I’m looking at the Jalie “Charlotte” cardigan. It seems appropriate since it’s named after my favourite heroine Charlotte “Charlie” Hudson! (From all three of my most recent books). This design will be a great layering piece.

I also did a bit of shopping at a small shop called Ultratext, which is packed to the brim with sewing notions. Then it was time to get back downtown for dinner.

While I was in Montréal, I also bought a few RTW pieces that I’ll need. This included a terrific pair of Frank Lyman black jeans with a bit of embellishment. I think my new tops will be perfect with these. (I also bought a St. James Breton shirt since they’re not so easy to find, and I’ve wanted one for a long time.)

This is the one I bought, although they didn’t have stock in, and I’m still waiting for it to arrive from Montréal. (Note the red heart-shaped patches on the sleeves that make it part of my colour scheme. Well…)

Back in Toronto, I found myself still needing a bit of red to add to the mix, so I went to Chu Shing Textiles―my current favourite shop―on Queen St. West and found the perfect, medium-weight bamboo jersey. It’s the perfect red for me and the ideal addition to my greys and blacks.

I haven’t completely worked out which fabrics I will make into which of the designs, but I’m getting there.


[1] https://domesticgeekgirl.com/uncategorized/fabric-burn-test-identify-fabric-pyro-way/

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

In search of a wearable print: Sewing prints and looking like a sofa

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[1] 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!).

And then there’s this Dior.[2]

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!


[1] https://www.gucci.com/ca/en/pr/women/ready-to-wear-for-women/dresses-for-women/long-dresses-midi-dresses-for-women/one-of-a-kind-ken-scott-silk-dress-p-643432ZAGH35334

[2] https://www.dior.com/en_int/products/couture-121R45A7664_X1884-short-dress-beige-linen-with-dior-jardin-motif

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

Trendy and Stylish: Sewing Bamboo into Stripes

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

What’s in style for spring and summer 2021?

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

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

A runway version of 2021 stripes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[insert photo 4 – grid 1]

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

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

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

Posted in 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!