Posted in sewing, sewing patterns

Overcoming Sewing Snobbery or How I Learned to Love my Serger (and new coverstitch machine)!

I think there is a declining breed among sewers/sewists in this twenty-first century. This is that rarefied group of sewists/sewers who eschew anything that smacks of fast-fashion-ready-to-wear techniques. For years, every time someone said a certain tool or technique would make the garments I sewed myself resemble ready-to-wear, all I could picture was crumbling sweatshops in third-world countries where workers toiled in outrageous conditions so that first-world consumers could have their choice of millions of pieces of clothing of questionable quality. No, I said. That’s not for me. And it always seemed that there was a serger involved in those discussions.

I fancied myself a couture sewist/sewer. Can you feel me rolling my eyes at that conceit? Oh, yes, I did learn to make a Little French Jacket (or three), hand-inserting silk linings, and I taught myself traditional tailoring, spending hours hand-pad-stitching the undercollars. So, I effected a kind of snobbery about that sort of sewing where a serger was involved in seam finishing or worse, *gasp* making a garment from start to finish. Then, a few years ago, I got one. And this past Christmas, I found a combination serger-coverstitch machine under the tree. What in the world?? I’ve evolved.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I am still in the couture sewing category when it comes to most of the kinds of clothing I love to wear and make, but I’ve added a few tools and techniques to my repertoire. And over the past month, that repertoire has expanded to include coverstitching. Let me tell you about my adventures over the past few weeks.

For years, I sewed with only a sewing machine. Then I added the aforementioned serger, using it to finish seams of leisure wear and the odd seam in a shirt or hem edge in a jacket or dress. I always kept it to three threads since I had no intention of ever making a garment from start to finish on my serger. Finally, it occurred to me that being able to do a coverstitched hem or edge (or even use it in reverse for an interesting detail) might be a nice addition to my sewing arsenal. So, what exactly is a coverstitch, you might well ask (as I did).

According to the lovely Linda Lee’s terrific book Sewing Knits from Fit to Finish:

“…the most popular coverstitch is produced with two needles and three threads. There are two rows of straight stitches on the top and a series of looping stitches on the bottom…there is often an option to use three needles for three parallel rows of straight stitches…”

And, of course, there is no knife for cutting off the edge of your fabric like on a serger because it’s mainly for hemming. You might think that the double-needle stitching capability of your sewing machine is the same, but it really isn’t quite the same. Anyway, I thought I’d like to give it a whirl, so I began searching for the right machine.

Now, I’m a kind of neatness nerd, and I live with an even more dedicated neatness nerd. So, the idea of adding an extra machine to my downtown-sized sewing atelier (*cough*) seemed a bit excessive. That’s what sent me looking for a machine that could do both serging and coverstitching. I found the big sister of my current Singer serger and put it on my Christmas list. There it was on Christmas morning. Then, I had to learn how to use that sucker.

In this view, the machine is set up for serging with the knife in place.

I decided to cut some pieces of knit fabric and practice the coverstitch—for which the machine was set up and threaded out of the box—and figure out how to most easily convert it to a serger. Let me just say there was a very steep learning curve. And this is despite the machine resembling its little sister in many ways, but in so many more ways, it simply does not. There was much to learn.

Once I figured out a few things—tears and frustration notwithstanding—I realized that I learned so much more by making threading mistakes. Or at least, that’s my story. I did manage to find a reasonably good video on YouTube that helped me immensely, but as I searched YouTube, it occurred to me that most of the sewing videos were too long. I thought I might start a YouTube channel with sewing videos no longer than five minutes, but that’s for another day (or maybe even lifetime!). After many goofs and threading mistakes, I decided to pull out some leftover fabric and make a new top, all on the new machine—no sewing machine needed. This approach is so contrary to my former point of view that it isn’t even in the same ballpark. But what is life if you can’t evolve, hmm?

I decided to make Butterick 6418 as my test garment. I liked view D with its contrast sleeve and bodice insert, and I had enough fabric left from two previous projects to get it done. So, I began.

I used what my (very detailed) machine manual calls a “three-thread ultra-stretch mock safety stitch.” The three threads are left needle, right needle and cover looper. The safety part refers to the fact that it is designed for seaming, and I can report that it is a very stretchy stitch.

That was great for my project. Then I would use the three-thread coverstitch for the hems and the neckline. I was a bit leery of the coverstitched neckline—for good reason. The pattern design calls for the neckline to be turned and stitched. I think the next time I do this, I’ll make a narrow neck binding for a better finish.

I motored along the seams, seaming and finishing all in one fell swoop. I have to admit I was a bit tickled by the process. I didn’t do anything fancy on this project, but I can see a few interesting approaches in the future. I can see decorative finishes using the coverstitch reversed or even trying to make a bathing suit, although that may be a bridge too far!

Lessons I Learned

  1. A combination machine requires patience since it has to be rethreaded and rejigged from serger to coverstitch machine every time you change modes.
  2. You can minimize the changing by thinking through a project before you begin.
  3. I am still not a fan of the imprecision of doing seaming and serging all at once. I’m a stickler for fit, so I prefer to have an exact measurement. This doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem, though, in stretchy enough knits.
  4. I need to never lose sight of the usual things I am aware of—like when my needle thread runs out. When it did, I thought there was something wrong with the machine. No, it just ran out of thread.

The coverstitch book I also received for Christmas:

Posted in sewing patterns, Style

What I Sewed in 2022―And What I Learned

There was a time when I never looked back on a year of sewing and style matters. These days, I find it very illuminating to see how my style has evolved, what I choose to sew, what I choose to buy off the rack and what I’ve learned―about sewing and myself. And the end of a calendar year always seems like the right place to reflect―beginnings and endings and all that. So, what did 2022 offer me?

I looked back at the patterns I chose to work on this past year. I always tend to stick with the big commercial brands since they usually have the most interesting design details and well-fitted pieces―by which I mean more tailored pieces with less design ease. I continue to notice that many of the indie pattern makers don’t seem to be able to produce anything that has to fit closer to the body. In other words: bags―bags with far too much design ease. Bags are not my style. So, I used Butterick, McCalls and Vogue patterns with a New Look thrown in. But I also tried a Jalie for the first time this year. Dear god, there were so many sizes in one pattern envelope―it was mesmerizing. I also tried a custom-fit Lekala pdf, although I hate pdf patterns (oh, maybe they’re starting to grow on me).

Here’s the 2022 run-down:

I also launched a new book that carried on from the first in what has become an unexpected series. The first book, The Year I Made 12 Dresses, introduced Charlie (Charlotte Hudson), who learned to sew after finding a dusty old sewing machine in her late mother’s basement, and she has appeared in every one since.

However, in the most recent books, her role has been peripheral. The good news is that Charlie’s story is coming full circle―I’ve begun work on a new book that I expect to be out in mid-2023. Charlie travels to Mallorca to take a course from a Parisian couturier―and learns to make a Chanel-style jacket…among other things.

Of course, the release of the newest one is imminent! Charlie will make that jacket throughout 2023!

Throughout the sewing adventures of 2022, here are some things I learned.

  • I need to pay closer attention to online pattern reviews.
  • The burrito method for attaching yokes is fun and fantastic!
  • I don’t wear dresses as much as I like to make them 😊
  • The camp shirt style is spot on for my summer lifestyle.
  • I am itching to make another Little French Jacket.
  • My new book should go full circle around to where the series started: sewing

Next year?

Wait until I tell you about my Christmas present! Then my plans will come clear. And onto that new book where Charlie learns to make a Little French Jacket―with a twist.

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

Maybe I Should Have Paid Attention to the Pattern Reviews: Sewing Vogue 1663

Can we talk about sewing pattern reviews? Do you use them? Love them? Hate them? Or not even know they exist? As for me, I usually forget they exist.

I am a member of the online pattern review site, cleverly called―you guessed it―Patternreview.com. I have posted exactly one review. This is odd coming from a woman who has a lot of opinions. Yet, I seem unable to make more of a contribution to this site, which, in my view, is doing all of us sewists a great service. All you have to do is plug your pattern brand and number into their search engine, and you’ll see a list of reviews of that exact pattern. They include a wide variety of pattern brands from Vogue through the rest of the major brands and such an extensive list of independent brands that I have to conclude they have most of them covered. That isn’t to say, however, that every single pattern has been reviewed. But I’ve never found one from a major brand that wasn’t there.  With all that to consider, why do I find pattern reviews so problematic? Let me introduce you to Vogue 1663.

This pattern is a Kathryn Brenne design that captured my attention not because of its shawl collar and belted waist but because of its back detail. I loved those tucks, so I decided I’d consider adding this style to my winter wardrobe.

I bought a length of sweatshirt fleece, one of the pattern’s recommendations. If I had paid closer attention to those fabric suggestions, I would have noted that they also suggested boiled wool. And a fabric with a 35% cross-grain stretch factor. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never known a pure, boiled wool to have that much stretch. No single pattern design can be executed equally as easily―and with equally good results―in both those fabrics. Anyway, my fabric did meet the requirements vis-a-vis stretch, but that was just the beginning of my concerns about overlooked issues in this pattern. Let me begin with what others have said about it.

The reviews of this pattern were consistently good. The reviewers liked the design, the sewing and especially the outcome. Well, that was the moment I should have seen the error of my ways in selecting this one. One of the specific questions that reviewers are supposed to answer is this: “Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?” All the reviewers said yes.

Well, when I look at the pattern envelope, I see a sleek yet casually cozy sweater/jacket (a swacket, perhaps?). Then I look at the finished products on the review site, and I see a bathrobe. I should never have been so cocky as to think I could do it better. I thought that if I chose a more appropriate fabric than that selected by several of the reviewers, I could do a better job. Not so much. I mean, once you see it, you can’t unsee it, and that‘s what I saw all through the construction process. *sigh* It’s a bathrobe. Anyway, I began.

First, there were a few funky things about the pattern instructions. Everywhere, it kept telling me to finish the seams with pinking shears. What the―?! Dear god, pinking shears on sweatshirt fleece. It’s just so weird. Of course, I didn’t do that. I used a serger, but you could just as easily use a zig-zag stitch. Just step away from the pinking shears. Then there were other funky things.

There was the funky finishing instruction for the interior of the big facing and a strange instruction to stitch the pockets on with a 5/8-inch top-stitch. First, this would look awful. Second, if you use a 5/8-inch top-stitch, wouldn’t that mean you might not even catch the seam allowance in it?? And how ugly would that be to have the edge flapping? Needless to say, I didn’t do this. A 3/8-inch top stitch did very nicely.

Another thing that seemed to be missing from the instructions was any suggestion that applying reinforcement to the shoulders would be in order. In my view, this is crucial to any kind of success with this pattern. It is designed to be made in a 35% stretch, and it has a lot of fabric in it―I mean a lot. That means that there is considerable weight pulling down on those shoulders. I applied iron-on interfacing to the shoulder seams and to the centre back facing seam. It really helped.

Of course, there’s the inevitable mid-project existential crisis when the half-finished object is hanging on Gloria junior. I am looking at the piece dubiously when my husband walks in and says, “What is that you’re making?” But I know what he really means is, “WTF is that thing you’re making?” WTF, indeed. I have to admit: it did look pretty scary.  N’est ce pas?

As I examined the half-finished monstrosity, I realized that it was long―far too long. And, contrary to what the pattern reviewers said, the finished product wouldn’t look anything like what it looked like on the pattern envelope. How tall was that model?? I am five-feet-seven (okay, maybe I’ve lost half an inch over the course of my later life) and wear a thirty-one-inch inseam. This length looked godawful on me. So, I chopped off two inches. (Of course, that made pocket placement a bit fraught, but that’s another story).

Were there any things I liked about this pattern? Yes. I really liked the design and construction of the belt. That may sound silly, but the idea of making the seam down the middle of the belt rather than at the edge really worked in this fabric. It also meant that the top-stitching was done on only two layers rather than on two layers on one side and four on the other, giving it a more consistent look.

So, I finally finished it. It’s marginally less ugly than it had promised to be mid-project. But will I wear it? I predict it will either languish in my closet, only to be picked out on the odd occasion, or become my go-to, at-home warm-up on those cold winter nights. What do you think?

Website for the Sewing Pattern review site: https://sewing.patternreview.com/

Posted in Fashion, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

How Many Coats Does a Girl Need? I sewed myself another one anyway!

No, really…how many pieces of fall and winter outerwear does a girl really need? Well, of course, it depends. It depends on several things. I suppose if someone pushed me into a corner and said, “Name the most important factor in answering this question,” I’d probably have to say the weather. I mean, if you live in Barbados (with all those heavenly palm trees and trade wind breezes), then I suppose the question is moot on any level. But, since I live in Canada―Toronto, to be specific―weather, which is based on our climate in this part of the world, dictates wardrobe to a greater degree than in many places. And it seems to me that since we have widely varying temperatures through the fall and winter seasons, I’d have to say that a girl needs many pieces of outerwear.

I read on a couple of style blogs that we need two to three winter coats/jackets. I think I snorted coffee out of my nose when I read that. Who are they kidding, and where do they live? That is not nearly enough.

One blogger suggested five coats every woman should own: a parka (okay, yes, and I already have one), a leather jacket (yes, but that doesn’t count as winter attire where I live), a rain jacket (ditto―not winter wear, but autumn, yes), a wool coat (yes, I’ll buy that, but they are truly not that warm, so they hardly count as January attire), and a puffer jacket (another autumn selection for me). This last one is interesting because a puffer jacket is a good choice, and I have one. I own a Mackage puffer that is packable and oh-so-light. It does have warmth, but those little jackets aren’t long enough to cover your butt, and that’s important. Anyway, there is so much more to the outerwear thing.

I’m not sure that this year’s runway offerings are geared toward real life, but I did find some inspiration for the variety one needs…

First, there is the very early autumn weather. The sun shines for days at a time, and the temperatures are just beginning to fall. A girl needs a light jacket and a light coat (there will be dressing up once in a while, n’est ce pas?). Maybe she needs more than one of each. Then the weather gets a bit colder, and another jacket is required. Okay, you could begin to layer, but at a certain point, you start to look like the Michelin man. That might be a good look for some people, but I have enough Michelin man moments in the dead of winter in a down-filled parka to satisfy that particular sartorial requirement. Let’s just say that a girl needs a variety of weights and styles of outerwear. Did I really need a new one this year? I suppose not, but that fabric I found was so lovely, and the Vogue pattern (9133) I liked went so well with it. So, sue me. I made another jacket. The fact that I haven’t gotten much wear out of the tailored jacket I made last year is entirely beside the point. I love looking at it in my closet. *bats eyes*

So, I decided to make a new early-autumn coat. The fabric came from Canada’s online fabric store, Fabricville. That’s because, lately, they’ve been asking me to contribute to their blog twice a year. I had no idea when I initially said yes, that they would provide the fabric, but they do, and I always look for something interesting and usually an appealing colour. I wear mostly black in the winter because that’s the Toronto uniform (I’ve mentioned before that there comes a day in early fall when there is a dramatic switch on the streets to black and continuing to wear white jeans and pastels―if that’s your thing―makes you stick out and not in a good way). This plum colour will fit right in and brighten up my blacks. This coating fabric is heavier than most I usually work with, and I loved learning to manipulate it. The only problem I found with it is that since it’s not pure wool, it has limited moulding ability, but it did have some. For example, when creating the shoulder for the set-in sleeves, I did have to work hard to get the shape I wanted.

It’s unlined, but I had some lining fabric left over from a Little French Jacket project from a couple of years ago (does keeping it make me a fabric stasher? I hope not!), so I decided to line the sleeves. My arms get colder than the rest of me, and lined sleeves make sliding the coat on over a sweater so much nicer. I decided to set in the lining by hand, and I like how it turned out. I also opted to finish the sleeve hems by hand for a more polished look. I love how they turned out.

I also wanted to do a bound buttonhole because it’s been ages since I’ve done one. Of course, I had to find myself a good YouTube video to help. I landed on the Threads magazine video “Teach Yourself to Sew: Bound Buttonholes” and found it the most useful for a review.

When I did the sample bound buttonhole, I concluded that the fabric was too bulky for a nice finish. I cut a piece of that lining fabric interfaced it and voila! Reasonably good bound buttonholes! (The top one is the bulky one; the bottom photo shows the one I used.)

The piece is a kind of elongated blazer with interesting lapels (at least, I think they’re interesting), which can be dressed down as I’ve done for the “photo shoot” my wonderful husband allowed himself to be roped into, where I’m wearing my favourite Paige jeans and sneakers. He just told me he made a reservation for lunch on Sunday at a lovely chi-chi restaurant I love a twelve-minute walk away. I’ll be wearing it a bit more dressed up for that outing!

I hope you’re keeping warm as we move toward winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and if you live down under or anywhere in the tropics, I’m not speaking to you until the spring! (Just joking! 😊)

PS: If you want to read about the specifics of working with this heavy fabric, you can read about it in the blog post I wrote for Fabricville HERE.

Posted in sewing patterns, Style, Stylish Travel

The Travel Wardrobe in Action: What Did I Wear in Spain?

When friends ask you if you’d be interested in a trip to Spain and Portugal, and Spain and Portugal have been on your radar for a while, what do you say? I say, “What do I wear?”  LOL No, really. That’s always my first question. Of course, the second question is, “When do we leave?”

We left in early September and spent two weeks travelling from Madrid to Lisbon, then to the Algarve on the south coast of Portugal, followed by Seville and Granada. Then, after four wonderful days back in Madrid, we flew to Mallorca to meet those friends and spent a week in a private villa. It was wonderful. However, what did I wear? Did I wear all those things I made for the trip, or did I wear something else?

The last time I wrote something here, I was planning that wardrobe. I began with the dresses. I ended up taking only one of the dresses I’d made, along with a Cop Copine dress I fell in love with at their boutique near me.

The Cop Copine dress

Then, when we got to Spain, I found I needed only one, so I didn’t even wear the white one (Butterick 6748)! It’s now tucked away for a possible Caribbean outing sometime this winter. (Nothing planned yet.)

I also made several camp shirt-type blouses that I always find endlessly useful in the heat. And it was super hot in Spain, especially in Seville―the hottest days of my life, I think. I wore two of them to death (Butterick 6324) and found them comfortable and presentable for Europe in the heat.

I also planned to take a side-tie blouse (in rayon) that I made from Butterick 6765, but you know what happens when you’re packing. Some things just had to be left behind. No one needs that many blouses with them on a three-week trip! So, it’s another one that will find a home in my suitcase en route to the Caribbean (and there’s always next summer).

I suppose there will always be those ready-to-wear items that inevitably become favourites. One of those in my wardrobe is a Ted Baker T-shirt made from a beautiful rayon knit that’s comfortable and flattering (at least n my view). I have had this one for several years, and it has gone everywhere with me―Spain and Portugal were no exceptions. I also always take a favourite Judith and Charles silk blouse.

And, of course, I always wear black when I fly. And yes, even a month ago, it was before Air Canada dropped their mask requirement.

The trip was terrific, and if you’ve been following me for a while, you know that my husband and I have a travel blog at thediscerningtravelers.com. Our first post about this trip includes a walk-through video of the beautiful villa in Mallorca. If you’re interested, click here.

And next up, I’ve been making a coat…yikes!

The villa…

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style, Stylish Travel

Planning a fall travel wardrobe (Mixing sewing new and shopping ready-to-wear)

God and Air Canada willing, I’ll be touching down in Madrid with my husband on Labour Day weekend. These days, with all the apparent luggage-related chaos at airports around the world (and especially here at home), knowing what to pack in a carry-on and in checked baggage has taken on even more urgency. Add onto that the mystery surrounding exactly what I should wear in Madrid and on tour in Spain and Portugal in early September, and I have a dilemma (and only about five weeks left to sew anything!).

Here are the issues I need to solve:

  • What do I need for city wear in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe?
  • What do I need for a ten-day road trip through Spain and Portugal?
  • What do I need for a week on the island of Mallorca in a villa?

And how do I ensure I have at least one change of clothes in case my luggage doesn’t make it on the first attempt?

Okay, let’s get one thing straight: I do not travel with carry-on only. Ever. Well, strike that. I used to do it whenever I had a one-day trip. For example, I flew from Halifax to Toronto and returned on the same day (a two-hour flight, and of course, I did only carry-on). Other than that―no. Why? you might reasonably ask.

I’m one of those travellers who despises being hit by massive carry-on bags as they pass me in the aisle. I loathe those contortions everyone goes through, trying to put too-big carry-ons in too-small overhead bins. I am homicidal if I get to my seat and find someone has used my overhead bin for an oversized piece of luggage so that they can keep the floor of the seat in front of them empty for their feet. Okay, rant over. But you get the picture. And it’s my own choice. So, I will be packing checked bags, and I will be taking my chances. Back to what to put in said bags.

I have decided to begin with a colour plan. I’m also thinking I might use this one for general fall and winter wardrobe planning.

I think it transcends seasons with its grey-black-white-rose palette. But I still have a dilemma.

According to what I read online, people in Madrid dress for the season regardless of the weather. This means that if it’s hot in the fall, they will not return to their summer attire, and if I take the summer-dressing approach to 28-degree Celsius weather, I will stick out. But the question is this: is early September considered summer (even though it isn’t technically speaking), or is it fall?  

I have to think about that. With the temperatures expected to be high and lots of on-foot touring planned, it seems to me that keeping cool and comfortable will be paramount. That being said, Quiero verme un poco chic, ¿no? Huh! Practicing my Spanish! I want to look a bit chic, don’t I? Of course.

The problem with looking chic for a three-week trip that involves lots of city touring on foot, moving by car from one city to another, two days in a beach resort on the Algarve in Portugal, four days in a capital city (Madrid) and then a week in a villa on the island of Mallorca, is that I want to look appropriate while wearing travel-friendly clothing. What is travel-friendly clothing to me?

First, travel-friendly clothing doesn’t wrinkle―at least not too much. There’s nothing worse than having to iron clothes every day. This can happen during a road trip.

Second, travel-friendly clothing is versatile. I cannot afford to take a single piece of clothing that I can’t wear several different ways with several different pairings.  

Third, travel-friendly clothing looks chic while keeping me comfortable. 😊

I have to begin with an inventory of what I already have. Let me begin with dresses. (In the next post, we’ll move on).

I rarely wear dresses. But, if you’ve been reading the GG Files for any length of time, you know that I like to make dresses. This can be a problem. However, in this case, my inventory unearths a dress I made at the end of last summer, hauled along with me to the Caribbean, discovered I didn’t need a dress and hauled it home. So, since it fits into my planned palette, I will take it with me. This one is New Look 6650.

I love the half-belt detail on this dress, but I don’t’ love the length. So, when I made it, I shortened it so that it falls just at the top of my knee and added slits to the sides. I also made this from fabric that really didn’t have the 35% stretch the ease of the pattern required.

I’m just grateful I haven’t gained so much weight it won’t fit me in five weeks! But is one dress enough?

One dress is probably enough, or at least I could make it do. However, I love a shirt dress, and when I saw Butterick 6748, I thought it might be terrific. I had a piece of pin-tucked, white, woven cotton-lycra that I bought at the end of last summer, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Along the way, I picked up this new toy!

I suppose I’m late to the game (again), but I’ve never used one of these measuring gizmos before. Where has it been all my life? When I think of how much time I spend measuring for buttonhole placement…anyway, this little beauty will be with me along the way to making several coastal-grandmother-style, chic tops to take along. I’ll show them to you next time, along with my ready-to-wear picks.

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns

Custom-Sized Sewing Patterns: Could this be the solution to the perfect fit challenge?

There is no single better reason to sew your own clothes than to get that perfect fit. For anyone who cares about clothes and loves to put his or her best foot forward, clothes have to fit. If you sew, you know that traditional tissue-paper patterns come in specific sizing―sizing that has changed over the years and does not resemble ready-to-wear sizing in any way. New sewists are often shocked and perplexed about what size to buy.

For example, in ready-to-wear, I wear a 6-8. When I buy a pattern, I always buy a size 14. And if I buy a vintage pattern from the 1960s or ‘70s, I have to carefully examine the bust measurement to select a size since sizing changed back then (I’ll write a bit more about vintage patterns in an upcoming post).

See how a size 16 pattern changed…

But what if I could get a pattern based on my specific measurements? What if I didn’t have to alter the size 14 pattern to fit better at the waist and over the bust? What if I could buy a pattern made-to-measure? Well, I can, and I did.

Lekala is primarily a company that produces commercial-grade software for pattern creation. They’ve been in business since 1989, and their main product is Sewist CAD software, available online at www.Sewist.com. In fact, you can register and use their software online if you’re interested in computer-assisted pattern design but be warned. It has a very steep learning curve! I have used Garment Designer, a computer program that is so much simpler than this one as to be laughable. I registered for the online software, created an account and started to play around. Believe me. There is no playing around. You really have to pay attention and learn the software bit by bit. I certainly have not come anywhere close to being able to produce a wearable pattern, but I don’t have to. That’s because the other product they make is a raft of pdf patterns their designers create with their software. These patterns are produced by a company called Sewist GmbH, based in Geneva, Switzerland. And for a small price, they will make a pattern for you based on your measurements, and it will arrive in your email box within fifteen minutes. Genius? Yes, genius!

First, there are the designs. Lekala produces new patterns every week, as far as I can figure out, and many of them are interesting and appealing. In fact, browsing their site will take you down a rabbit hole, so plan to spend some time. Recently, I’ve been looking for tailored summer blouse patterns with interesting necklines, and I found one in their design #1231.

I used one of their patterns last winter just to try them and was pleasantly surprised by the fit of the resulting top. This time, I found myself a piece of linen-cotton blend, plugged in my measurements, paid my $4.00 or so, and downloaded the pdf pattern. Just a bit of advice: For fifty cents more, they will add seam allowances. I did this the first time I ordered one, but I wouldn’t do it again. Some of their seam allowance widths are odd, and I had to redo them anyway. Just be aware that if you don’t’ specifically order a pattern with seam allowances, you will have to add your own before you sew.

Geesh, I hate pdf patterns. I know I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I hate pdf patterns. Okay, I got that off my chest; now we can move on.

To check on the fit of the pattern, I created a muslin. I found it quite a good fit, but the style was a bit wide at the waistline, so I decided to nip it in a bit. After making that change to my pattern that I cut out in pattern paper, I was ready to go.

These patterns also come with downloadable instructions. That being said, I often prefer my own order of operations and my own techniques. For example, the instructions indicated that I should attach the front and back neck facing like I would attach a cuff to a sleeve.  I thought it would involve far too much stitching in the ditch, and, anyway, the fabric lent itself very nicely to a serged finish and a good press. Their instructions also suggested using bias binding for the armholes. Since they are slightly extended cap sleeves, I usually would just turn them under. This time, I dug out the bias binding maker I bought years ago and never used (*bats eyes*) and, voila! I had custom binding! I also realigned the yoke so that it was cut on the cross-grain rather than the straight grain.

In the end, I do think it’s still a bit baggier than I would like, but it is, after all, a top designed for hot summer days. I might even take it to Spain in September. (Did I mention I’m going to Spain? No? Well, I’ll have to think about a wardrobe, won’t I? Maybe I’ll share my ideas!).

(Oh that linen-cotton blend does not photograph well!)

Lekala Patterns: https://www.lekala.co/

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

Coastal Grandmothers, Camp Shirts and Sewing a Style

I’m sure you’ve heard all about the “trending” style. A certain TikTok “influencer” has dubbed it “coastal grandmother,” but I’m here to tell you that many of us have embraced the style for years―or at least since those of us of a certain age fell in love with the movie Something’s Gotta Give. Remember that one? What woman of a certain age didn’t want to identify with Diane Keaton’s character―an older woman holed up in a sumptuous coastal mansion somewhere on the Atlantic coast of the northeastern US, writing a screenplay, having an affair with an aging Jack Nicholson (who had formerly been sleeping with her daughter), but in the end winning the handsome much younger man, Keanu Reeves. And she did all of this wearing her signature white on white on cream wardrobe. Or maybe it’s just me! In any case, we didn’t need a 26-year-old TikTokker to tell us what a great vibe Diane had going.

If you have yet to be introduced to the coastal grandmother style, first, you have to know that you don’t need to be a grandmother (thank heavens!), nor do you need to live on the coast (I used to until my husband and I heeded the siren call to the urban jungle which we love). What you do need is a serious affection for effortless style, a desire for just a touch of comfort in everything you wear and an eye for sophistication that manifests in a love of neutrals. And you don’t have to love everything about the style. Well, that’s how I see it anyway.

First, let’s get the negative out of the way. What do I not love about the aesthetic? I don’t love bucket hats (in fact, I really don’t love them). I don’t love flowy scarves (they get in the way of living). Also not a major fan of flowy pants.

Now, what do I love about the aesthetic? I love the neutral colour scheme and how effortless it is to put these elements together. I love the fact that there isn’t a too-tight T-shirt in sight (the white T’s are forgiving and worn under sweaters). I love that it feels classy.  I love the neutral sweaters and the soft, expensive-looking fabrics. I love the diamond studs (thank you, my darling husband). And I really love the shirts.

All those breezy buttoned shirts―lots of gauzy long sleeves in white and light blue as well as short-sleeved camp shirts for those hot, humid days on the coast (or in the city. The Atlantic coast was never all that hot in my experience!)

Two years ago, I wrote about how I used three metres of striped shirting fabric. Of course, I made my husband a bespoke shirt (*bats eyes*). I also made myself what I can only describe as a camp shirt.

Little did I know at the time that a blue-and-white-striped camp shirt would be the epitome of style within the coastal grandmother aesthetic. As I said, the shirts are what I love best about the CG style. So, that shirt is my stepping-off point for seeing if I can create a few more pieces that fit within the aesthetic. And if you’re not convinced that these shirts are on-trend at the moment, just have a look at these ones I pulled from the designer site at Hudson’s Bay. (There’s Etro, Moschino, The Kooples etc.)

Then there is the lower-priced version from this year’s Uniqlo offerings.

Can you pick out the camp collars?

Then there is one of my personal favourite brands, Kit and Ace, which offers several options in this style for this year.

Let’s start by talking about the camp shirt style

According to Thread, a camp shirt is “a shirt with a relaxed collar that sits flat against your skin.”[1] . It’s that camp collar that’s important to the design. I have also discovered that this camp collar is sometimes referred to as a Cuban collar. It also buttons lower on the chest and has almost a mini lapel (keep this in mind as I explore patterns). A camp shirt is designed to sit out from the body to create more airflow for those hot days. For my money, it also has the singular advantage of being on trend this year―coastal grandmother…if it’s in the right colour!

Take a look at Butterick 6842. I have to say the design element that drew me to this pattern initially was the cut-in armholes that result in a flattering sleeveless blouse. But take a close look at that collar.

It’s a great example of a camp collar―which, of course, is even easier to sew than a collar on a stand. And it’s cooler to wear. What this pattern lacks when it comes to camp shirt style is the easy, breezy lines that incorporate slightly more ease. The blouse has eight (yes, eight) waistline darts, resulting in a blouse that’s more fitted than a camp shirt. But I do like a fitted blouse, too, so I went ahead and made a muslin (or two, as it turned out).

I didn’t like the fit of this one. Next.

I used yet more leftover shirting from a shirt I’d done for my son. I chose another pattern with a camp collar―New Look 6598. This pattern, too, has a camp collar, but the shirt itself is fitted, making it more of a blouse than a shirt. This time, though, there aren’t nearly as many darts, so it’s easier to get the fit right. But I still long for that camp look.

Re-enter Butterick 6324. I can’t lie. Initially, when I made this one (I showed it to you above), I didn’t think I’d be going back for more―but I did. I made this camp shirt to take on vacation this past winter, and I’ll make it again.

But what about a new project? I trolled the Lekala site once again (I challenge you to go to the site and not fall down a rabbit hole!) because I love the idea of made-to-measure sewing patterns. I found a design I liked, plugged my measurements into the website, paid $4.00, and a pdf pattern arrived. I know, I know.

I’ve waxed on about how much I hate pdf patterns in the past, and here I go again. But this is a little number with a yoke that suggests a well-fitted upper bodice and that tiny hint of a collar with a mini lapel. So, how did my recent foray into online, made-to-measure pdf patterns go? I’ll tell you all about the project in the next post!


[1] What is a camp collar shirt? https://www.thread.com/us/tips/men/shirts/what-camp-collar-shirt/#:~:text=Unlike%20the%20collar%20of%20an,you%20get%20even%20more%20airflow.

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, Style, Stylish Books

Sew Your Colours (and find new ones to love!)

Remember back in the 1970s and 80s? Well, maybe you’re too young, but that was when everyone seemed obsessed with colours. Did anyone ever ask you, “Have you had your colours done?” I used to roll my eyes and think: Just look at me. I don’t need someone to tell me I’m a winter―because I knew from owning the “fashion colour bible” that I was a winter.

In 1973 author Carole Jackson published the original edition of her book Color Me Beautiful: Discover Your Natural Beauty Through the Colors That Make You Look Great and Feel Fabulous. Carole Jackson’s opinion was that any woman can wear any colour well if she just finds the right shade. Jackson wasn’t the first to say this, but she was the first one to write what became a wildly popular book on the subject.

This is the edition I owned back in the day.

At the time, she suggested that there were four colour groups into which every woman would fit (or any man for that matter, I suppose). Of course, they were spring, summer, autumn and winter. Well, I’m not so sure about these seemingly arbitrary groupings. However, people have been riding on Jackson’s coat strings ever since. Recently there seems to have been a resurgence in interest.

These days, there are twelve groups. Does that make it more accurate? I don’t know about that either, but I do know that this colour stuff is great fun. And I also know that selecting fabric colour is as important a step as choosing a style for those of us who sew. Carole Jackson says that colour is magic. Well, maybe it is.

Fashion moguls have been opining on colour forever. Lilly Pulitzer―of the neon print Florida-esque design―says, “Anything is possible with sunshine and a little pink.” Of course, she does.

Diana Vreeland, late of Vogue Magazine, once said. “All my life, I’ve pursued the perfect red,” a position that Audrey Hepburn seemed to have echoed when she said (no doubt before Diana said anything), “There is a shade of red for every woman.” Audrey seemed to be predicting Carole Jackson’s approach. (And Vreeland lived her pursuit. Her New York apartment was even red!)

For me, the arbiter of colour had to be Coco Chanel, though. She had a lot to say about colour in her life, and she designed clothing of many colours for many individual women. But she always returned to her basics―black, white, beige and red. Coco once said, “Women think of all colours except the absence of colour. I have said that black has it all. White, too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.”

Anyway, I decided to go online and figure out my current best colours. As we age, our skin tone changes, as does our hair colour―if we let it. So, I went on colourwise.me[1] and did a little consultation. Here’s what happened.

Step One: Upload a headshot.

Step Two: Use the sample wand on the photo to determine your skin, hair and eye colour.

Step Three: Voila! Your colours.

My colours. No surprise here!

If I look at this colour selection, I see clear colours that I know look good on me. I also see my favourite: black. But if I want to go a bit outside my comfort zone this year, I might pick something like…

So, when Fabricville asked me to write a blog post for their spring 2022 newsletter, I went to their site to select a fabric.

When it arrived, I realized it was almost exactly this year’s Pantone colour of the year, which I had dissed when I saw it. I swore it was not a colour that attracted me. Dear god, I thought, I’m going to sew something in periwinkle! I reminded myself to keep an open mind.

The bamboo jersey fabric is to die for―soft, soft, soft. Did I mention soft? It’s also uber-drapeable and begged for a design with a bit of…you guessed it! Drape.

I selected McCall’s 7975. I’d made this one before in a fabric with a similar hand, so I knew it would work. The last time I used it, though, I found it a bit too balloon-shaped for my taste, so this time I nipped it in at the waist.

I had a little thread-matching problem, as you can see below. What to do? I tried out a bit of contrast stitching but, in the end, decided to make the off-colour purple thread look as if I had intended it that way with a bit of an embroidery stitch. Problem solved!

So, how do I like periwinkle on me? To be honest, I actually do. And it looks really great under my black cashmere blazer!!

I guess I have to give Coco Chanel the last word…


[1] https://colorwise.me/

Posted in Fashion, sewing patterns, Style, Stylish Travel

My Resort Collection in Action: Mixing “MeMade” with Ready-to-Wear

I would never have believed that it would be two years between out-of-the-country vacations. For so many years, we were on a plane for one reason or another every six weeks. But that all changed in March 2020, didn’t it? And just like everyone else, we had to create our fun, adventures and general activities for a life closer to home. We did it, of course―I wrote three-and-a-half books, started a new YouTube channel for writers, launched an online writing course and designed and sewed up a fun and functional wardrobe to mix with my ready-to-wear favourites.

But finally, like a bubble that was just on the verge of bursting, we did burst out, dusted off our passports and headed for warmer climes early in February.

Our adventure started in Barbados, where we’d been a few times before. We stayed at a property in the St. James Parish on the so-called “gold coast” of Barbados called The House. It was exactly what we needed: an adults-only, thirty-four suite property directly on the beach.

After seven wonderful days in Barbados, we chartered a plane with a pilot (yes, we did) and flew to St. Lucia. My husband and I had spent our honeymoon there thirty-five years ago, and other than a few day-trips off ships over the years hadn’t stayed on the island since. This trip found us spending seven heavenly days at a wellness/ spa property called The Body Holiday. We had spa treatments every day and conferred with the on-site Ayurvedic doctor (a story for another day!). We also chartered a catamaran with two crew and spent a day sailing the west coast of St. Lucia.

The property at The BodyHoliday in St. Lucia

 

Then it was off to Florida for the final nine days to enjoy a bit more sun and visit a few friends who spend the winters at their homes in Naples then a final few days in Fort Lauderdale.

So, what did I pack for this varied holiday?

First, I made a plan to make good use of the laundry services at these properties, so I decided I only needed enough clothing for seven days. They would all be repeated several times.

When I designed a small cruise collection a few years ago, I coordinated all the things I was sewing.

Since it was a bit touch-and-go for months leading up to this trip (Would we be able to go? What kind of tests would we need? Would the airline cancel the flights? Etc.), I simply chose a few fabrics and designs I liked and then determined how they would fit in with my favourite read-to-wear stuff.

First, what to wear for the flight south? All black, of course, because that’s the way I roll. Anything spills, and no one notices. This was when I pulled out the little Jalie sweater I made a few months ago. It fit nicely under my Mackage ultra-light, packable puffer, and I didn’t look out of place on a cold winter morning in Toronto. And, of course, I accessorized with an N-95 mask for the airport experience and the flight. *sigh*

I created what I called my “Barbados Blouse” from silk I bought in Montreal in the fall. However, The House in Barbados didn’t really beg for a silk blouse. For that matter, the BodyHoliday didn’t either. I think I might have worn shorts to dinner every evening for two weeks―not like me at all. However, the Ritz Carlton where we stayed in Naples, Florida, did beg for just this level of dressiness―not too dressy but certainly not T-shirts and shorts. I had a chance to wear it several times from then on to the end of the trip.

I had also created several shirts from left-over fabric I’d used for shirts for both my husband and son. I think a woman of a certain age looks so much more sophisticated in a shirt and shorts than a tight T-shirt and anything―but that’s just me.

When I came to my favourite RTW pieces, I do have a fav T-shirt. It’s a patterned Ted Baker. A pattern? Horrors, right? Well, that’s how I’ve always been. But somehow, this one works, and it’s made from the softest, least-clingy material I’ve ever worn. Worth every penny of its rather expensive-for-T-shirts price.

I also love the Eileen Fisher blush-coloured popover thingie. These tops were endlessly useful with the shorts and pants I took along.

So, it was a great trip. The minute I got back, I had to sew a project for the Fabricville blog. I’ll let you know about that one coming up.

PS For the full story on how this three-part holiday came to be, and if you like reading travel stories in general, you might enjoy joining me along with my husband at The Discerning Travelers blog, where we’ve been sharing our travel experiences for years (just not so much in the past two years!).