It’s almost the middle of July, and in my little corner of the world, it’s high summer. At least it usually is. The past week has been cool and drizzly except for the few days of scorching heat. It’s this scorching heat that we typically get this time of year―day after day. So, over the past few years since we moved from the cool-summer Atlantic coast where I always needed a sweater or light jacket close by, I’ve had to adapt my wardrobe to deal with more consistent heat. I’ve found myself searching for perfect summer dresses that I can wear during the day in an urban, big-city place. When you consider my personal aesthetic, that’s no easy task.
Let’s just look at the dresses being touted as the best dresses of the season for this summer in the northern hemisphere.
When I did a Pinterest search, this is the representation of what I found.
Then, that arbiter of all things fashion, Vogue magazine, offers the following monstrosities (sorry if you like them, but they just make me gag).
Then, horrors of all horrors are these gems that Vogue considers appropriate attire for grown women in 2021.
As an aside: These styles got me thinking about Dr. Jean Kilbourne, an American professor who has spent years researching how women are depicted in advertising and how infantilization is a problem (all ads created by men). Well, I won’t go all professorial on you, but I cannot imagine choosing to look infantile. If you haven’t seen her video lectures Killing Us Softly, I highly recommend them. They’re a real eye-opener. As cool as thee dresses might be (and by cool, I don’t mean cool), they send out a message of the little girl who at best needs to be protected (from something, I’m not sure what) or, at worst, is as dumb as a bag of hammers. *sigh* Rant over.
Perhaps I can just be polite and say that they are simply not my style. So, where does that put someone whose personal style is more streamlined and tailored? Well, thank you for asking. It puts me (and maybe you) right there in front of your sewing machine. Thank goodness for our sewing skills!
Over the past few years, I’ve searched for styles and fabrics that represent who I am and have come up with several approaches that work for me. And maybe they’ll work for you.
I started with a little black dress that’s not appropriate for daytime wear (and isn’t cool enough anyway, given that it’s lined!), but it’s a style I can work with.
Then, I designed a shirt-style dress for a cruise that works well for summer in the city. I selected seersucker for it for obvious reasons―it’s light and cool. And, if you’ve ever read anything on my blog before, you know I’m not a print fan (*gags slightly*), but I can do a stripe. It’s my kind of print.
Remember the QR code dress from a month or so ago? It’s a style I’ll certainly make again but in a different fabric. And, no, I haven’t worn it yet. ☹
Finally, my current project. I’m drawn to dresses that are just a bit more than bags, even for hot summer days. So, a simple T-shirt dress with a half-belt tie immediately appealed to me. I bought some striped ottoman fabric (my print!) and embarked on this one, New Look 6650.
I’m not a fan of midi dresses these days. I guess it’s because I lived through it the first time around, and I don’t see the point of a longer dress in the summer. Probably even more important, though, is that I still have good legs and find the hemline just above the knees to be more flattering for me (and for most other women, in my view.) But I do like those short sleeves rather than the elbow-length ones. I also made the hem deeper since that tends to make a light dress hang better.
The fabric is a bit heavier and a bit less stretchy than the pattern is created for (it’s made for drapey jersey), so I cut it just a tad bigger.
I haven’t had a chance to wear it yet (remember the cool drizzle I mentioned earlier), but I will. My husband and I are headed out of the city for the first time in almost a year to a country inn and spa next week. I think I might just take it with me. It might be just the thing for dinner on the patio!
Prints have been on my mind lately. Suddenly it’s summer here, and everywhere I look, I see prints in the windows. Just two blocks from where I live, the Gucci shop has a window display full of them. Dior’s windows are the same.
Here’s a new Gucci print for the season. I can truly not think of a single person I’d like to see wearing this dress, especially not me. (And with a price tag of $6500, I could buy an awful lot of Eileen Fisher black tunics!).
Seriously, doesn’t this just say grama’s living room sofa to you? It does to me. (Dior doesn’t put their prices online. Wonder why. Hmmm.)
The truth is that I don’t see many of the fashion-forward women on the streets around here wearing them (maybe they’re for nightclubbing, although they don’t really scream or even whisper evening attire to me). Here in Toronto, the tendency on the street is more toward neutrals―unrelenting black in the winter and some mixture of beige and beige with a bit of white thrown in for contrast in the summer. Perhaps when the stores open and lockdown is over (maybe in ten days!), the prints will make their way out of window displays and onto the street. I’d enjoy seeing that. What I don’t so much enjoy seeing is prints on me.
Some people can carry them off so well, and I love to see them, especially on young women in summer dresses. But for me? NO.
I’ve tried them in the past. From first-year university to two years ago, every once in a while I’ll think it’s a good idea. Ireally loved that gown on me with all that hair , and the Lopi sweater – that counts, doesnt’ it? (That was my knitting period). And how about that red floral on black at a friend’s birthday party a year or two ago? I did feel a bit like upholstered furniture.
The spring and summer runways this year were full of them. And so many of them are florals, or so it seems to someone as print-challenges as I am. I mean, just take a look at my closet.
My winter closet (on the right) is devoid of all but the tiniest nod to print fabrics (see that Brook’s Brother’s shirt with the white collar? I like to wear it with a plain black cashmere sweater over it so you can see only the white collar and a hint of the print at the bottom. You know what I mean?). Now that I take a close look at my summer closet, I do seem to be getting a bit adventurous with prints, don’t you think? Okay, most of them are stripes (stripes do count), but there are a few others there. Generally, though, if the print is geometric in design, I might try it.
So, I thought I’d give geometric prints another try this year. I began with a vintage pattern for a sheath dress, my absolute favourite silhouette. I’d wanted to try out this pattern, McCall’s 2401 from 1999, and although I love the plain sheath, I thought it might work in a border-pattern rayon knit I happened to have bought recently.
I love the V-neck version and the long sleeves, but I love boat necks even better and had been figuring out my perfect boat neck. Add onto that the fact that I really only wear dresses when we’re on vacation in the winter (at least I expect to be in the Caribbean next winter, the pandemic gods willing) and what I’m left with is selecting the boat neck with the short sleeves and I’m off to the races.
It was interesting to be reminded of aspects of older patterns. The pattern paper is slightly stronger and the design a bit different. Of course, I had to shorten it to a length that flatters me better, but I also noticed something funky about the set-in sleeves. They had too much ease. I didn’t think about this before I cut it out (shame on me, I didn’t make a muslin first), so I had to work very hard to avoid puckers when I set in the sleeves. If course, I used a stable knit and the pattern was designed for a woven fabric. It would likely not have been a problem if I’d used wool crepe since it’s more malleable. Before I make it again I will reduce the ease in the sleeve head in any case.
Of course, the dress was easy to fit and sew, with the border print placed along the hemline and the sleeve hems. But can we talk about the print itself?
Take a look―take a close look. What does this conjure up for you? Well, my husband laughed his head off when he saw it. Then, when our son came for dinner last week, my husband said to him, “Go in and look at your mother’s new sewing project,” which Gloria junior (my mannequin) was proudly sporting. Our son emerged back into the dining room, laughing his head off as well.
“It’s a QR code,” he said through his gales of laughter. My husband completely agreed. Well, I did have to admit the resemblance. They both then wondered what would happen if someone pointed their phone camera or QR code reader at it. Enough already!
What do you think? (You can try the QR code and see where it takes you!)
So, it’s a pattern. Will I wear it? It is a flattering style on me, and I do love the neckline and the sleeve length. I will certainly make this dress again (in a plain fabric), but wear it? Perhaps I’ll roll it up in a ball and tuck it in my suitcase next February when I get on the plane bound for Barbados. I’ll take a few pics of it in action if I dare to appear in public in it!
Coco Chanel said it: “Fashion changes―style remains.” I’ve always hoped that I’ve been able to develop a kind of style that is ageless and timeless at this point in my life, but that doesn’t mean I can’t love some of the new trends, does it? Well, let’s figure it out.
What’s in style for spring and summer 2021?
First, there are florals. Then there are wide-legged jeans. And oversized shirts.
Well, I think it’s safe to say I look like I’m wearing a 1970s-era sofa if I wear florals. As for wide-legged jeans? Not happening in my world. And as a tailored style woman who loves a tailored shirt, I am offended by the idea that I would even consider wearing those enormous bags that the fashionistas are trying to pass off as somehow flattering. Not. But then there are stripes.
There are some “trends” that never leave us, which is what puts them in the style category. One of those is stripes. Yes, stripes are in this year.
This season, I decided to add a striped jersey top to my spring wardrobe. I landed on the perfect style for me with Burda 6427. Now all I needed was some fabric.
I’m a lover of natural fabrics, and I’m especially in love with bamboo. I ordered this lovely blend from Fabricville online, and it didn’t disappoint. So luxuriously soft and fine (66% rayon from bamboo, 28% organic cotton, 6% spandex).
I love working with bamboo (I’ve written about this before), but it can be tricky if it’s lightweight. First, the consensus is that you shouldn’t wash bamboo jersey vigorously―that is, in a machine. In my experience, though, it can be washed and dried as usual but holds its shape better if it’s washed in the machine and laid flat to dry. I cut two 4-inch samples and did my laundry test.
The pictures don’t lie. One sample was machine-dried. The other wasn’t. There was no contest! I decided I’d prepare the fabric length by washing and hanging it to dry. It came out beautifully. Now it was time to cut it out.
Cutting out this fine jersey begs to be done in a single layer. I’d recommend this for two reasons. First, getting two halves of the fabric on the straight of grain is a challenge. Second, it’s easier to control the stretch as you cut if it’s single-layer. However, as usual, the main bodice pattern pieces are only halves. I created mirror images of each and taped them together for a complete front and back. I simply re-laid the sleeve, flipping it over for the second sleeve.
As with jerseys in general, this fabric has a definite right and wrong side. When stretched, the fabric curls to the right side. To make it even easier, it has stripes that look slightly different on the wrong side.
Many sewists use a rotary cutter for fabrics like this knit, but I’m not a fan, so I used my finest shears, and it worked very well.
Working with this bamboo is a dream. With a new stretch needle, polyester thread and my trusty walking foot, this pattern was a breeze to create. I did shorten the ties by an inch-and-a-half since I didn’t like the proportion of the overly long ties. I finished all the interior seam allowances on the serger.
[insert photo 4 – grid 1]
The fabric is perfect for any pattern with a drapey feature, like side shirring or, as in this case, a tie that pulls the fabric to one side. As for wearing comfort: it cannot be beaten!
And just so you can see that stripes belong near the water…(well, we can dream!)
[A version of this post appeared on the spring 2021 Fabricville blog.]
Do you ever look something up online and find yourself stumbling onto a site that grabs your attention and pulls it away from whatever you were searching for in the first place? It happens all the time to me―especially when I’m researching a new book. But it also happens sometimes when I’m looking for sewing-related “stuff”―patterns, technical advice, new equipment. I recently stumbled on the Lekala patterns site (a Russian company, as it turns out) when I searched for shrug and bolero patterns. And, like Alice in Wonderland, I found myself falling deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole! What an interesting site…and what an interesting concept!
Anyone who reads my pieces more or less regularly knows that I’m not a fan of pdf patterns, particularly those produced by the numerous indie pattern companies around these days. That being said, they do have a few selling points: the moment you pay for them, you have them.
No waiting for them to arrive in the mail.
They are usually cheaper than printed patterns.
…well, that’s usually about it for me. I often find the indie patterns underdesigned and possessed of odd ticks (like 28 sizes on one pattern or weird seam allowances). Then, if they’re pdf patterns on top of that, there is all that printing and taping together and then transferring onto paper you can see through blah, blah, blah. Finally, there is the matter of the often odd sizing. So, why in the world would I be captivated by Lekala patterns?
There is one main reason: they are custom-fitted to my (and your) personal body measurements. Yes, that’s right. When you select a design you like (and there do seem to be a few I like), and you note their price (very cheap), you then input your body measurements and order the pattern based on those. They send you an email confirming all of this, then, and only then you are invited to pay so that you can download your personalized pattern.
Of course, then you’re left with the hateful job of putting said pdf pattern together…but, it’s almost worth it. And here’s my story.
I was looking for a pattern to use up pieces of leftover knit fabric. These were medium-weight stable knits. I actually found several on the Lekala site I liked and settled on Lekala 4885. This would be a test―a test of whether the sizing could be as accurate as it promised.
I put in my body measurements, ordered the pattern, put it together and cut it out.
But first, I had to choose which pattern scraps to use.
As I began to sew it together, I decided that I’d not try it on at all until it was finished, just to see if it really was customized for me. Along the way, I made a couple of observations about the pattern that leads me to a bit of advice if you decide to follow me down that particular rabbit hole.
They offer the option of ordering the pattern with or without seam allowances for an extra fifty cents (USD). That seemed to me to be a small price to pay for the convenience of not having to add them. Forget about it. The seam allowances they added were far too small and, in any case, inconsistent. In some places, they were 3/8-inch seam allowances. In other places, they were ¼-inch. To make matters worse, I found two seam allowances that were supposed to join with one another that were different. In the end, I had to fix some of them. Then, I don’t know about you, but when I make a piece of clothing, I don’t’ think of myself as a sweatshop worker in Sri Lanka where there is a need to save even the smallest tidbit of fabric. I can have larger seam allowances to work with. If they’re ¼-inch or even 3/8, if you must know, I can’t serge them perfectly. I hate that. (PS maybe you can, but it’s a bridge too far for me!)
So, was I able to hold myself back from trying it on until it was finished? Almost. When I had it hanging on Gloria junior, I thought I could see that it would make quite a nice colour-blocked summer top with drop shoulders and no sleeves. If I were to make that kind of adjustment, I’d have to narrow those armhole openings a bit. I couldn’t figure out how much without trying it on. So, I clipped the side seams together and tried it on. I was tickled by how well it did fit. These over-sized pieces are often so tent-like that they don’t really flatter anyone, especially me. This one fit! And I was able to determine that if I were to narrow the sleeve opening by 2 inches, 4-7/8 inches from the neckline, I could rework the pattern for summer.
Well, I was so happy with the fit that I ordered another pattern (for only $3.49, you cannot go wrong, I figured).
I also wondered if Lekala might consider doing one of my designs, so I got in touch with them. Within a day, they got back to me to tell me how to propose a new design and to invite me to use their online computer-assisted pattern design software.
Here are the designs I proposed…
I am interested in CAD design, so I surfed on over. Oh. My. God. It’s complicated. But eventually, when I have lots of time (perhaps the next pandemic? Oh, no, let’s not go there!), I’ll watch their video and really get into it. In the meantime, I’m going to get started on my new piece for the Fabricville spring blog. See you there!
I think that the shrug might just be the most useful piece of clothing a woman could own. They are so small, so light, so packable. Well, most of them are. The shrug. Sometimes referred to as a bolero. But are they the same thing? I’ll get to that, but let me begin by introducing you to the shrug.
I’d like you to meet a few shrugs I’ve known and loved in my life.
[FYI: I used McCall’s 7289, which now seems to be out of print ―for good reason in my view―for the white and black shrug shown on the veranda of a cruise ship suite, but it was so humongous and funky, I had to make a significant number of changes to the pattern.]
So, how exactly do you define a shrug?
Well, the English language is a funny bird, isn’t it? The Merriam-Webster dictionary says to shrug means “to raise or draw in the shoulders especially to express aloofness, indifference, or uncertainty.” And a shrug is the act of shrugging.
Ah, the English language. A shrug is also a piece of clothing. No wonder so many people have difficulty learning the language!
Wikipedia, the arbiter of all things, says, “A shrug is a cropped, cardigan-like garment with short or long sleeves cut in one with the body, typically knitted, for women.” Hmm…that doesn’t seem quite right. It seems too narrow. In fact, many online definitions on supposed style sites suggest that they are knitted garments, and when they are embellished, they are boleros. However, that doesn’t make sense to me, given the origin of the bolero and shrug.
If we look at the evolution of fashion historically, it seems that the bolero jacket evolved from a military garment called a Zouave jacket, a garment that is not, in any way, knitted. It was widely used in uniforms during the nineteenth century and even earlier, especially during the American Civil War.
If you think about the fashions in Gone with the Wind, for example, and consider the jackets often worn over those voluminous dresses, you are seeing the evolution of the Zouave jacket into what we now refer to as a bolero, which has Spanish origins. Think bullfighter. So, the two similar garments come together to give us what we see today as bolero jackets. But are these shrugs?
I’ve concluded that I have to have my own definition that arises from all of this, so here’s what I’m going with.
A shrug is a short, cropped jacket that is worn open over the bodice of a dress, top or T-shirt.
A shrug sweater is a knitted shrug.
A bolero jacket is a shrug that may or may not be slightly longer but that always has a closure at the front.
How’s that? Anyway, those are my definitions and I’m sticking with them. Now that we have that out of the way, why would you even need one (or a dozen) shrugs? Here are my reasons:
Shrugs flatter every body type.
A shrug can change the look of any dress, top or T-shirt.
You can wear a shrug to a soccer game or a black-tie event.
A shrug can make one dress or top endlessly versatile.
Taking three little, tiny shrugs on vacation can make one dress have four looks! (Includes the look without a shrug.)
It also seems that people have been sewing shrugs for decades. One of the vintage patterns I was drawn to and had to own is McCall’s 5337 from 1960. I haven’t made this one yet, but I will.
And here are a few more from the 1940s and 1950s.
Lest you think that shrug/bloero patterns are only an historical artifact, there are oodles of current patterns for these nifty little items. Here are a few to consider:
Recently, I had a piece of leftover ottoman ribbed bamboo fabric that I knew I should use. I paid twenty or twenty-five dollars a metre for it, so I had to use it. But what could I make? What did I have enough of it to make was the more important question.
Last year I made a knit jacket from McCall’s 7254. It has a view that when you leave off the collar and front, you’re left with a tiny shrug. It was perfect, and I managed to squeeze out enough fabric to make it. Of course, it was dead simple to make. In fact, it took so little time, I was disappointed, given my penchant for slow sewing! There was only so slowly I could go.
Now, I have a new shrug to pair with a simple white T-shirt in the spring, or perhaps even over a little dress. Although the process was quick, during it, I also discovered something interesting.
One indie pattern company that seemed to have several interesting designs for shrugs and bolero jackets was Lekala. The next time I post, I’ll tell you about my experience of falling down that particular rabbit hole.
Do you own shrugs?
I found lots of free shrug/bolero patterns online―many were hopeless. Here are three that might work:
I ended my last post with a brief mention of some of the things I hate about indie patterns. So far, I’ve noted my annoyance with the gargantuan size of the pattern “envelopes” (really just cellophane thingies) and the heavyish paper on which they are printed. I also mentioned that I am generally unimpressed with the companies’ lack of design innovation. Just for fun, I surfed through a couple of the websites of indie pattern companies that are purported to be among the best. Here are some examples of the kind of design I think isn’t worth anyone’s money (unless, perhaps, this is the first time you’ve ever sewn a garment―in that case, these are for you).
See what I mean about the one-size-fits-all, which means little in the way of fit at all. They remind me of the first pattern I designed using Garment Designer software, which makes me wonder if this is how those indie pattern designers do it―just figure out what a computer program can do and do it. (If you want to read more about my foray into using software to create patterns, here’s a blog piece I wrote a couple of years ago.)
And what about those cutesy names? I’ll take a numbering system any day over the Zadie, Adrienne, Kielo and the Yukons and Hinterlands any day. My particular selections are the Renée and the Esme. Geesh!
Okay, I’ve gotten that rant off my chest. Let’s get on with the battle and see if I have learned to love anything about them.
First, the Jalie pattern—the Renée pants. I’ve been searching for a dupe for Eileen Fisher stretch-crepe pants forever. This pattern was favourably reviewed by a person whose sewing skills I admire (but my one caveat is that our styles are different). They also looked like they might be the right shape: fitted through the hips and thigh and only a slight cigarette shape, fabricated in a stable knit. I chose a ponte with a whisker pattern that I thought was vertical but turned out to be horizontal—one of the downsides to purchasing online these days! Anyway, I made it work and went ahead with the pattern.
Jalie boasts about including 28 sizes on one pattern. Well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s nothing to brag about―just another element of indie patterns to make me grit my teeth. Just look at that mess of lines. What a nightmare! I had planned to trace it off, but in the end, it was so mesmerizing, I just said the hell with it and cut out my size from the pattern as presented. It’s not like I’ll be using it for anyone else. Oh, and they have their own sizing, so you have to be very careful of what size you cut.
And, what about their instructions? Well, I don’t suppose I really needed instructions to make a pair of elastic-waist pants so, I did it my way. When I make pants (which I rarely do), I do it the way I was taught years ago since it seems to me to be the best way to fit them as you go. This pattern tells you to put each side together, then put one inside the other and sew the crotch. Perhaps they could tell me how I would test the waist and hip fit before completing the crotch? It can’t be done that way. So, I put the two front legs together at the front crotch seam, do the same with the back, try them on, testing the crotch length, waist and hip, then complete the inseams.
Then there is the seam allowance. Can I tell you how much I hate narrow seam allowances? (Add this to the list of things I hate about indie patterns.) I don’t make my own clothes so that they resemble cheap knitwear from a Sri Lankan sweatshop. My preference would be for them to resemble designer knitwear from a Parisian couturier—well, that may be a stretch, but you know what I mean. They have only a 3/8-inch seam allowance, which is insufficient for any adjustments and a serged finish. I realize that this saves fabric (see my comment about cheap sweatshop clothing), but I always buy extra anyway. Before I make this again, I will trace off the pattern with 5/8-inch seam allowances for sure.
I also used 2-inch elastic, which I won’t do the next time. I’ll use the 1½-inch as recommended (it’s what I had on hand). You can see in the photo below that the wide elastic got wavy since I really needed to have it tighter.
And, by the way, I will make these again. They turned out to be a surprisingly good fit, after all! So, that’s something to love about this indie pattern. Are they a dupe for the Eileen Fisher pants? They are close, so I’ll look for her type of fabric and try them again. I don’t love paying $200 for pull-on pants!
Now, on to the StyleArc Esme “designer” pattern. What in the world makes it a “designer” pattern? The fact that is it resembles any number of other pieces (perhaps a bit like Eileen Fisher, but that’s another story about tent-like fashion I sometimes like!).
Anyway, this one, too, comes in an enormous cellophane bag with an instruction sheet as long as my arm (literally). To their credit, unlike the 28 sizes in one pattern for the Jalie, this one has only eight. I have to admit that I made this one last year for the first time. However, I made it in a scuba fabric (which I never intended to buy) that was mislabeled online at Fabricville, and I could never wear it owing to the way the seams dug into me. This was partly because of those damn 3/8-inch seam allowances. I’ve learned my lesson there. Oh, but the neckline seam allowance is only ¼-inch, so I don’t know how you’re supposed to serge-finish the edges with no fabric there at all. *sigh*
Since there wasn’t an overwhelming number of size lines in this one (as there were in the Jalie pattern), I did trace it off onto pattern paper and cut it out of an ottoman ribbed bamboo fabric I fell in love with when I last ventured into a real fabric store before all this lock-down stuff.
Once I had it cut out, I had to remind myself how to do the back of the collar. I had to re-read the instructions several times to get it through my head. The instructions are printed on the gargantuan sheet on which the pattern pieces themselves are also printed. This means you have to have a massive space in which to unfold them. Did I mention I hate this about indie patterns??
As usual for me, the arms are far too wide―even for a dolman-type sleeve. I altered them a bit, but in the end, they were still relatively large.
This top has such a nice neckline―one that particularly appeals to my style. So, I have to say that StyleArc wins the award for the best-design lines I’ve seen in a shapeless, one-size-fits-most kind of top. Will I ever make this one again? Maybe. The next time I’m in lock-down and looking for nothing but comfort in my clothes, which I hope is never again, I’ll revisit this pattern. The Jalie pants fit the way these negative-ease pants should, but they aren’t anything innovative in design, that’s for sure!
The bottom-line for me in this attempt at learning to love indie patterns? My take-away from all this are as follows:
If you are a newbie sewist but have already learned a few things about patterns in general, the design lines are simple and that’s a plus. On the downside for new sewers is the fact that you have to be oh-so-careful about things like seam allowances (inconsistent) and cutting the correct size (once you have found it on the damn pattern pieces!). You have to read everything very carefully. You will also want to take the extra step of tracing the pattern out onto more transparent paper so that you have at least a fighting chance of seeing the fabric below (this can be very helpful when doing things like trying to avoid the dreaded target-on-boob faux pas when laying out patterned fabric).
If you are an experienced sewist who craves high fashion, you might as well step away right this minute. Apart from Marfy (which I don’t consider indie―I consider them a designer category all on their own). There is nothing of-the-moment or particularly stylish about any of the styles on offer. That being said, StyleArc does have a few terrific designs if you get away from their designs for knits.
If you’re looking for athletic-wear patterns, Jalie might be one to try.
If you want all your patterns to fit nicely into a pattern box or drawer that accommodates 6 ½ X 8-inch envelopes, you might as well forget about it. To be fair, though, some Vogue patterns these days arrive in larger envelopes than I like. This seems to be a function of which designer it is, but there doesn’t seem to be any functional reason for it.
The history of sewing patterns in the 19th and 20th centuries—and even into the 21st—says a lot about what we sew and how we sew it. And, for me, their evolution hasn’t been an entirely happy experience. But, before I get to that, let’s take a look back as I like to do.
Sewing patterns have a long history extending at least as far back as the 16th century, where they originated in tailoring manuals. According to Joy Emery in her book A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, the earliest surviving sewing pattern was published in Spain around 1589 as part of a book. “The book’s purpose was to instruct tailors on methods of cutting out pattern pieces so as to get the most garment from the least amount of fabric,” not unlike the current focus on zero-waste sewing. As the centuries progressed, most pattern-related publications continued to be for tailors rather than home sewers.
Before patterns were available to home dressmakers, only the rich could afford to have clothing made-to-measure. Anyone else who sewed did so without the benefit of a pattern, focusing mainly on the functionality of the garments needed simply for life.
Patterns contributed in no small way to the democratization of fashion by allowing anyone who could sew (or learn to sew) to reproduce stylish garments that might even reflect the work of the famous couturiers. Eventually, however, sewing patterns were made available in pamphlets or ladies’ magazines and could now be accessed by larger and larger numbers of people. At this point, it was necessary to copy and enlarge a pattern from a magazine or pamphlet. Everything changed, however, in the late 19th century.
In 1860, a woman named Ellen Louise Demorest and her husband William launched a new approach to sewing when they began holding home fashion shows and offered for sale the paper patterns Ellen created for the garments.
She was followed in quick succession by others whose names are familiar to anyone who sews to this day. (Lest you think I’ve forgotten that home sewers needed sewing machines, Isaac Singer—another familiar name, no?—patented what was called the “rigid arm” sewing machine and the presser foot in 1851 and by 1890, Singer sewing machines made up 90% of the world’s sewing machine sales, paving the way for home seamstresses everywhere.) In any case, those familiar names are these…
Ebenezer Butterick launched the Butterick Publishing company in 1863. His Butterick patterns first started including a folded instruction sheet in the late 1910s—a great innovation, in my view!
James McCall, a Scottish tailor, established the McCall pattern company in New York City in 1873 and began the trend for putting full-colour illustrations on the pattern envelopes in 1932. Before that time, all the illustrations were black and white drawings. [If you do a little online digging, you’ll discover that there were other pattern companies who dabbled in coloured images five years before this.]
Vogue magazine created a spinoff pattern company that it launched in 1899 to complement their weekly pattern feature. Eventually, in 1914, media mogul Condé Nast bought Vogue then began selling their patterns in department stores two years later.
The Simplicity pattern company was formed in 1927 with a focus on easy, lower-priced patterns.
Those are the so-called “big-four” that remain (in one form or another) to this day. Recently, however, there have been rumours of their impending demise. I hope not—and in any case, that’s a story for another day (but I will get to it eventually). Oh, and I haven’t forgotten groups like the German company Burdastyle. They, too are a player, albeit a smaller one.
Apart from those main four companies, there have been others through the years. For example, I particularly remember Style patterns from the late 1960s through the 1970s (I even used one for my first wedding dress—again, a story for another day!). There were also DuBarry patterns in the 1930s and ‘40’s, Advance patterns in the1930s, the New York pattern company from 1932 until the 1950s, and the Hollywood Pattern company that used film stars on their pattern envelopes from 1932 until the end of the second world war.
What happened then? According to some of the sewing bloggers I read, home sewers in the 1970s moved away from garment sewing to quilts-making. Now, as far as I’m concerned, this is a gross oversimplification of the issue—a conclusion for which I’ve seen no concrete evidence. No one has done a study. For example, I, for one, would never have done this since (a) I began sewing in the 1960s because I loved clothes and it was a way to produce nice pieces for less money, and (b) I hate quilts (no offence to anyone who loves them—we’re all different). The reason I stopped sewing in the late 1970s was simple: I had more money. I was still in love with fashion, but I no longer needed to sew my own garments to have stylish clothes. I could afford to buy them. I was also busy—career evolution, husband, son, travel, writing books. I simply bought what I wanted.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Many of us have returned to sewing, and younger people (not just women) have begun to see that there is satisfaction in creating one’s own wardrobe. So, what do we use for patterns?
For me, the big four are still the best syles and the best value. Despite the moaning and complaining people do about the cost of patterns, when you think about the design and production work that goes into them and the number of times (infinite) that you can use them, it’s hardly a stretch to pay even $20 for a pattern. However, I realize most of us buy them when they’re on sale. That is where the whole cottage industry of indie pattern makers stepped in.
When I returned to sewing six or so years ago (I sewed only Halloween costumes and costumes for stage plays for my son in the interim!) I had no idea that so many new pattern makers had emerged. I had also never heard of PDF patterns (dear god, I wish I hadn’t!). So, I began to explore them. Several sewing bloggers sang the praises of brands like Jalie, Deer and Doe, Paper Theory and a whole lot more (I found a really good list of some 32 such companies at https://sewingbeginner.com/pattern-stores/ ).
But, somehow, I couldn’t get around the fact that so many of them were under-designed bags that were “one-size-fits-most.,” which alternatively means “one-size-fits-no-one-very-well.” I will admit that some of them have come a long way in the past few years, but for someone like me, whose style is more tailored and classic, there’s not much on offer. Whenever anyone says an indie pattern fits well, I usually find that it’s not the pattern-drafting that’s so good. It’s a style that need not fit so well. Tents, anyone?
But, it’s always important to keep an open mind. To that end, I decided to do a battle of the indie pattern companies with two patterns I asked for and received for Christmas—one is from StyleArc, an Australian company whose designs actually have some style to them.
The second one is from Montreal-based Jalie, most of whose designs seem to be for athletic wear crafted in knits. Neither of them is a pdf—I’ll do a post on my adventures in pdf patterns in the future.
First, can we talk about the patterns themselves? Why do they have to be so enormous? I mean, the “envelopes” (which aren’t envelopes; instead, they are cellophane bags) are 12 ½ inches long by 9-10 inches wide. Dear god. Where are you supposed to store them? I guess a filing cabinet built for that purpose. Of course, they have to be that big to hold the gargantuan piece of heavyish paper on which the patterns are printed. I’ve heard sewists complain about tissue pattern paper. However, that tissue paper is acid-free and lasts for decades and can be copied off—which, by the way, is what most people do with these new indie patterns because they are so damn difficult to use directly on fabric.
Whenever I encounter these indie patterns or *choke* a pdf pattern, I long for the time when all patterns were single-sized and printed on acid-free tissue paper. Single size, you say? Well, in my next post: “The Battle of the Indie Patterns – Part 2: In which I find two I don’t hate as much as usual,” I’ll elaborate on the things I hate about them—multiple sizing among them—and what I have been unexpectedly happy about! Keep sewing!
 Joy Emery. A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution. Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. [Joy is Professor Emerita of Theatre and the Curator of The Commercial Pattern Archive at the University of Rhode Island in the U.S.]
What a year 2020 has been! Has it been a whole year since we first heard a minor news story about a virus in Wuhan, China? Could it possibly be that we had no idea what the year would bring? Yes, and yes. So, here we are in January 2021, and what have I accomplished this past year? What did I have to miss? What can I pick up for the coming year?
In February, just before all hell broke loose, my husband and I did a driving trip through Florida to visit places we wouldn’t usually go. No offence to anyone from Florida, but we don’t usually spend our winter vacation there, preferring more exotic (to us) locales like Hawaii or Antigua in the Caribbean, a South Pacific cruise―well, you see where that’s going! But we loved finding new places in the great state of Florida. We rented a car at the airport in Fort Lauderdale then hit the road. We visited Key Largo, Naples, Sarasota, Orlando, St. Augustine and ended up back in our old haunt, Fort Lauderdale.
Along the way, I wore a few of my own DIY wardrobe pieces…well, maybe just one. And I have to say that Key Largo is the only place in the world I’ve ever chosen to go to dinner in shorts! It was that kind of place.
…and I found a fantastic fabric store in Naples where I bought the silk charmeuse for what would become my major project of the year: the great tailored blazer project!
Then we returned to Toronto, where we immediately cancelled our Northern Europe and Scandinavia cruise scheduled for the fall―and I stopped all consideration of the capsule travel wardrobe I planned to design and make for it.
Then we had to hunker down for the duration, and out came what I have begun to refer to as my “Covid collection” sewing. These are those pieces that are comfortable and serve me well when lounging around home!
I also just had to work on my shirt-making skills. I finally now have bespoke shirt patterns for my husband and my son― and me.
These began with commercial patterns but quickly morphed into GG’s own because of all the style changes I made: simple European front plackets, one-piece sleeves, fancier cuff plackets etc. It was interesting to make shirts from the same base for two so different men―my wonderful husband, a retired physician, and our fantastic son, a ballet dancer who now teaches at Canada’s National Ballet School.
My husband prefers a buttoned-down collar, my son does not. It was interesting to learn how to redesign a collar for these purposes and how redesigning a collar can make all the difference in terms of style.
And I worked on perfecting my own personal bespoke shirt pattern…
Of course, then the pièce de resistance was the time I devoted to learning all I could about traditional tailoring. The final product was finished just before Christmas, and I’m so happy about it.
Oh, I nearly forgot (not kidding, I almost published without this) – one of my favourite “makes” of 2020…
Now, what about 2021? I plan to work on fitting pants (dear god, not again?) with a Jalie pattern, a brand I’ve never worked with before (I received the pattern for Christmas).
Then I plan to create a small collection for spring and summer, hoping that I’ll have somewhere to wear it!
And…sometime in 2021, you’ll see another thing I’ve been working on…the prequel to “The Year I Made 12 Dresses.” It all begins in 1965…
As far as I’m concerned, there is no single piece of clothing in the world that immediately transforms not only how you look, but how you feel about yourself than a tailored jacket – a blazer to be precise.
There was a time in my life when I had a closet full of them – and matching skirts or trousers – and I wore them every day. I’m sure that there are many women out there who can identify with this.
And even if you didn’t wear a suit jacket to work, I’m sure you recognized at one time or another that putting a blazer on over even a T-shirt changes everything.
I think I learned my strongest lesson ever about a blazer-style jacket many years ago when I was working in communications for a large organ transplant program. It was a summer day, and I was probably wearing a dress of some sort or another (I used to wear dresses for other things than cocktails). I got a phone call late in the morning from the CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for anyone who doesn’t happen to be a Canadian). They would be arriving in a couple of hours to interview me for the evening news. The truth is that the CBC was notorious at the time for always wanting you to come to their studios if they wanted to interview you and this isn’t always convenient. There even used to be a saying among communications professionals that went this way: “The CBC was unlikely to ever come out for anything short of the second coming.” Well, this wasn’t the second coming, but it was an occasion when I knew I’d need a jacket. I ran home at lunchtime (luckily, I lived a five-minute walk from my office) and got myself a blazer. Never again was I without a jacket in my office to throw over whatever I was wearing for purposes of a television interview. But things have changed.
I have noticed that the “uniform” these days for women who are on-camera personalities, especially in the US, is what I would have labelled a cocktail dress in years gone by. To prove a point – that they don’t have to look like men to compete with them, I guess – women have forgotten the power of the jacket. These days, I can still expect to see Lisa LaFlamme on CTV news in Canada in the evening wearing some version of a suit jacket and she looks so professional.
So, I love a blazer. I think you get that. And since I have never done traditional tailoring, and it’s been over 35 years since I even created a jacket with a lapel collar for myself, I thought I’d love to take on a new challenge. Enter the new project. I am going to learn traditional and modern tailoring techniques and create for myself a perfectly-fitted blazer-style jacket. As usual, though, before I begin, I need to do a bit of research. For example, where did the name “blazer” come from and when did women start wearing tailored jackets?
According to Michael Andrews Bespoke, in a fascinating piece about the history of women in suits, “The first notable appearance of a woman making a man’s suit her own was in 1870 when actress Sarah Bernhardt began wearing her “boy’s clothes” in public.” As you might expect, at that time, a woman wearing what was traditionally considered to be men’s clothing was nothing short of scandalous.
In the late nineteenth century, women began to wear what could be considered early suit jackets. If you haven’t yet read historian Linda Przybyszewski’s fascinating book The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish, and you are interested in style, stop reading immediately and go order a copy — then come back! In her book she provides some very interesting views on how style developed including references to early suit jackets on women.
Coco Chanel first began creating two-piece suits for women in the 1920s and is credited with giving the suit a boost. Chanel’s suits gave the first-wave feminists of the early twentieth century their own look, but the hallmark of the Chanel suit was its softness, its minimal tailoring. In 1966, Yves St. Laurent offered women a look that, as far as I’m concerned, cannot be beaten if we want to look elegant, sophisticated and powerful. Enter “Le Smoking.”
Over the years, women have adopted many styles of suit jackets. As I look back on the last American election and take a close look at Hilary Clinton’s “pantsuits” I wonder what went wrong with that particular image. I think it might have been three things: colour, fit and proportion. She just looked unkempt and odd in my view. Did this make a difference to her political aspirations? Or should it have? Probably not, but I’m not a political writer – this is about style, design and creation!
It seems that suit jackets have been in women’s style arsenal for a very long time. So, what’s the difference between a suit jacket and a blazer?
In an interesting piece by The Gentlemanual, the difference is this: “Dressier than sports jackets but not as formal as a suit, the blazer serves as a nice middle ground piece that elevates outfits nicely without going overboard.” At least this is how they describe a blazer for men, and I think we can adopt this understanding for women. As I have always thought, a blazer elevates any outfit.
The term “blazer” itself has an interesting history. According to Lanieri Italia, the blazer originated as follows:
The term was first used around 1825 to define the red blazers used by the members of the Lady Margaret Boat Club, the rowing Club at St. John’s College in Cambridge. Their jackets were called blazer (from the word “blaze”) because of the bright red fabric used to tailor them, but the term was thereafter used for jackets in any colour.
And, of course, a blazer is fundamentally a stand-alone piece whereas a suit jacket comes with a matching pair of trousers, a skirt or even a dress. In general, as well, a blazer is either single-breasted with two pockets or double-breasted with six buttons (and they have patch pockets according to tradition).
So, I plan to create a perfectly-fitting blazer using some traditional (and perhaps a few modern) tailoring techniques. My blazer will be two-buttoned, single-breasted because that’s the most flattering style for my figure. It will also have welt pockets rather than patch pockets for three reasons: First, patch pockets are what I generally put on Chanel-inspired, soft jackets. The second reason is that I haven’t made a welt pocket in decades so I want to re-learn this skill. Third, because the commercial pattern I’ve chosen has welt pockets. Oh, yes, the pattern in question:
This is Claire Schaeffer’s couture blazer pattern. What this means is that she has personally written for Vogue patterns the instructions – all 12 pages of them. Yes, 12 pages!
I’ve done some couture sewing in the past, so a lot of the approach is familiar (and I used Claire Schaeffer’s Little French jacket pattern Vogue 8804 for my last LFJ), but OMG, just wait!
I’ll tell you more about it when I get to cutting out the muslin. But, up next, the all-important and oh-so-fun and creative part: finding the perfect fabric and lining. Stay tuned!
It happens twice a year. Canada’s behemoth, online fabric store has a sale. They clear out seasonal fabrics with a sale that a fabric-lover finds hard to ignore. They offer three metres (one metre is a little over a yard for my US friends) for the price of one. And they won’t sell you any fewer than three metres of these fabrics. This means that several times a year, I find myself with a three-metre length of something, and a sewing project that generally requires two metres or less. So, what to do with all that extra fabric?
Sometimes it just sits there on a shelf for quite a while. Then, when my leftover fabric pieces begin to suggest that I have a “stash” (horrors!), I begin to contemplate what can be made with that rather large remnant winking at me from the shelf. This time, I had a plan.
At the end of last summer’s fabric season, I was seized by the notion that I’d perfect my shirt-making skills over the winter – or at least come close to perfection! So, I bought three lengths of shirt-suitable material at the sale and began my adventure.
The first length was really more of an embroidered double gauze. So, naturally, that wouldn’t work for a man’s shirt. So, I made myself one.
But the second piece I had earmarked for a shirt for my husband. So, after I was able to create a wonderfully well-fitting slim-fit shirt for him, and made it out of expensive Italian cotton, I decided that a regular-style shirt that fit him well would be the kind of pattern I ought to have in my files.
I started off with a commercial pattern – as I often do. After examining several patterns, I chose McCall’s 6613, mostly because it had a buttoned-down collar. My husband much prefers these for everyday and dress-up. Most men’s shirt patterns don’t have these, and the size and shape of a collar that is to be buttoned down have to be quite different. (I learned this from sad experience.) So, if I didn’t have to redraft the collar, that would be a bonus.
The shirt also had an inverted pleat in the back instead of the usual box pleat. I liked that. Of course, once you consider this detail, even a monkey could just turn that box pleat around and have an inverted pleat. Anyway, I liked it. What I didn’t like about the pattern were the two-piece sleeves and the sleeve placket – there really wasn’t one.
I love a two-or three-piece sleeve for a jacket – this improves the sleeve fit. However, a shirt is a different animal. Shirt sleeves are generally looser-fitting, and a two-piece sleeve is just a style detail. So, I had to redraft the sleeves and draft my own sleeve placket.
In the end, I think it’s these details that make the project.
So…what about the leftover fabric?
I love the idea of a more feminine style in a menswear shirting fabric. Couple that with the extraordinarily hot summer we’re having here in the “big smoke” and that’s a recipe for a new shirt for me.
I made Butterick 6324 two years ago and found it to be a blouse that is more than suitable for hot weather. It’s cropped and kind of fun.
Again, the details: I cut the front placket on the bias and then added those striped buttons. I ordered these from eBay last year and paid about $3.00 for them. I knew I’d find the perfect project.
So, the devil is in the details… and so is the styling. And about that third 3-metre-piece, I bought last year? Stay tuned! In the meantime, it’s almost time for the next sale! (PS We don’t ever wear our striped shirts at the same time!)