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!).

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

A Silk Blouse for Barbados: Post-COVID (!) travel wardrobe planning

I don’t know about you, but when my husband and I retired from our real-life jobs a few years ago, one of our plans was to pursue one of the loves of our life―seeing even more of the world. That started auspiciously!

Three days after my husband retired―and while I was on a university sabbatical―I whisked him away for a trip that I’d been dreaming about since I was in fourth grade: a week in Tahiti followed by a cruise through the South Pacific islands. It was heaven!

Then there were lots of other trips―Rome and the Med, Venice, Istanbul (what a mesmerizing city), transiting the Panama Canal on a ship, Peru (and the forbidding Atacama desert), Chile (and the magnificent Andes), Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Japan! They were all beautiful experiences that we‘ll take to our graves

And, of course, the occasional revisit to favourite Caribbean islands, which is when I did a little capsule cruise collection I designed and created a couple of years ago.

Of course, two years ago, just the week we returned from a driving trip in Florida, all hell broke loose, and we haven’t dusted off our passports since. Well…that’s all about to change. We think.

Next week, the gods of COVID and Air Canada willing, we’ll be landing in Barbados to begin a bit of island hopping (no, we’re not getting on a cruise ship amid this COVID chaos). Naturally, one begins to think carefully about what to wear, doesn’t’ one?

My plan is to pack lightly. Although we’re planning to be gone for three-and-a-half weeks, I plan to take about a week’s worth of clothes and make good use of hotel laundry services. There are a few pieces from my original “cruise collection” that I’ll probably take, but one does need some new things, n’est-ce pas?

To that end, I whipped out that piece of divine silk I bought last fall in Montreal and dug out a pattern I’d been waiting to use―Butterick 6765 (which they brought out in 2020).

I loved the drape over the front, and I especially loved the cut of the short sleeves. However, I paid a lot of money for this fabric, so I didn’t want to cut into it without knowing how it would work and fit. Que the left-over rayon I used for another blouse I took on that last vacation before COVID.

One of the things I know for sure about making muslins or test garments is that it’s important to use fabric that has a similar hand and drape to the one intended for the final garment. I learned this the hard way! This rayon drapes a bit like the silk, so I figured it would give me a good idea of fit and style.

So, I cut out View C with the short sleeves and the front drape that dipped below the waist.

Here are some of my observations about this pattern:

  • The overlay is too much (large, bulky, long)―blah, blah…there’s just too much of it.
  • The back opening is unnecessary. The thing fits over my head without taking the trouble of doing this opening.
  • The neckline finish suggested in the pattern is inappropriate for the kinds of fabric you would likely use for this style (bias binding with the back opening just turned in *rolls eyes*). On this same topic, they suggest using a bit of elastic to fasten the button. *rolls eyes again*
  • The style would be more flattering with a slightly wider neckline (for me, at least).
  • The cut needs more side shaping.

So, what did I do? First, I created a facing for the neckline, which encompasses the back opening.

Then I cut a self-loop and encased it in the facing. As you can see from the finished product, it’s a bit overpowering for me and a bit too generous.

When the test blouse was finished, I redrew the pattern to make it more shapely at the sides and give it a slightly wider neckline. I also removed the back seam since it was no longer necessary, making the silk hang better. Then I created mirror pieces to cut the whole thing in one layer, my preferred (and recommended) approach for cutting out silk.

Since I found the overlay too big, I used the View A overlay when I cut the final blouse. It was a much better choice for me―not so overpowering. I cut in one layer and used silk thread tailor’s tacks and my most delicate silk pins!

When I did the test pieces before I began sewing, I did them with all the recommended accoutrements for sewing silk: cotton thread (I didn’t have enough silk thread in a matching colour), the walking foot, 2 mm stitches. Well, none of this worked well. Yes, I know polyester thread sits on top of silk more than cotton or silk, but I could not work with the cotton thread and this delicate fabric. As for the walking foot (am I a sewing nerd for having a favourite sewing machine part? It’s mine), it didn’t work for this fabric. There were more waves with it than without it. A bit of gentle tension on both sides, and my regular foot worked wonderfully well. And those 2 mm stitches everyone recommends? Nope. The 2.5 looked better and worked better.

I did, however, do French seam finishes on all seamlines. Now, I know this isn’t a remarkable feat (although I was proud of myself!), I also did them on the armscye. Yes, you heard that right. It occurred to me that expensive silk garments have these finishes throughout them. Well, I guess you have to go higher than Judith and Charles (retail for $250-400 CDN―I buy mine on sale) and Vince (retail for $300-500 CDN―ditto, only buy them on sale) to get a French seam finish on an armscye. When I examined my two Judith and Charles and two Vince silk blouses, I discovered (the horror!) that the armhole finish is serged. Oh well…not on my Barbados blouse (I decided to name it Barbados in honour of our planned first destination this year).

I did find this excellent video tutorial on French seam finishing for armholes, but I didn’t watch it until I had already decided on my own approach. And I have to say that mine is a bit less like sewing inside a paper bag.

I decided that I would insert the sleeves not as I usually do with a traditional insertion, but more like putting them in as if I were making a men’s shirt―flat (but with that ease). I eased each one in flat, then I basted as I usually do, first wrong side to wrong side, trimmed, pressed, then right side to right side. It worked! Then I did the entire underarm and side seams from garment hem to sleeve hem as a single seam.

I am very pleased with the finished product and will share photos of it in action when (and if) I get to the Caribbean in ten or so days. Wish me luck with the pre-trip COVID test, the weather and the airplanes. Maybe I’ll post from the sunny south!

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fabric from Sownsown on Etsy.

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

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

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

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

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

My 2021-22 winter colour palette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m tired already.

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in fabrics, sewing patterns, Style

The pleasures of a cozy cardigan: Sewing up comfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In case you’re interested:

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


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

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