Posted in sewing, sewing patterns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons I Learned

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

The coverstitch book I also received for Christmas:

Posted in Men's Designs, sewing

Another Shirt-Making Adventure: And New Burrito Application!

It might have been last summer when my husband came along with me on a fabric-shopping foray to Queen Street West in Toronto when he found the fabric. I was otherwise occupied in the shop while he rummaged through the myriad shirt fabrics and discovered a cotton denim-y fabric that we both thought would make him a fabulous shirt. I finally dug out one of the bespoke shirt patterns I created for him a year or two ago and got back to work on the shirt.

I like the precision required for making a really good shirt, but I have difficulty finding fabric I love. So many shirtings―the kind made specifically for shirts―are too…I don’t know…boring? I mean, there are lots of stripes, then there are more stripes, then you look again, and there are even more stripes. I’ve made a few striped shirts in my day, and it’s getting tired―not to mention how my eyes begin to cross after staring at stripes for a while. I’d love to find some nice lightweight cotton that doesn’t sport stripes (or worse, the dreaded florals) for a shirt for myself, but I digress. I have the denim. And I’m cutting it out for my husband’s shirt.

While we were in the fabric store, I pulled him over to the thread rack. I picked out a few possible contrasting threads for topstitching and asked him which one he preferred. He chose a kind of taupey-grey. It turns out that this is a great colour for topstitching denim. Anyway, let the sewing begin.

Whenever I haven’t made a shirt for a while, I pull out (the late) David Page Coffin’s book, Shirtmaking: Developing Skills for Fine Sewing, for a bit of inspiration. I particularly like his description of attaching a sleeve placket because I tend to forget how it goes. (Wrong sides to wrong sides, wrong sides to wrong sides…my mantra―god knows I’ve done it wrong enough times and had to unpick it *sigh*).

The other aspect of shirt-making I always review is attaching the collar stand. Now, don’t get me wrong. I know how to do it because I was taught that method whereby the inside of the collar stand is done entirely by hand. The results are good, but there can be funkiness at the centre front. Most shirt-making sewists who teach things online swear by what they call “the burrito method.” The only problem is that each of them has its own burrito method. I’ve tried two of the three main ones, and they work okay, but there can be frustrations.

As I searched for the best videos on this burrito method, I stumbled across instructions for using a similar approach for attaching the yoke. It was like a lightning bolt went off. What? This is how to do it without resorting to slip-stitching the inside. Well, it was too late for me since I’d already done the yoke (and it turned out quite well, even if I do say so myself), but next time―let’s just say there will be burritos even if they’re not for the collar (which they may be).

How to Sew a Shirt Yoke – the Burrito Machine Sewn Method

I must admit that by the time I found this video, I had already attached the yoke to the men’s shirt, so I put it on the back burner until I started a new blouse for myself.

I found an interesting blouse pattern among the discards I like to peruse whenever I’m in a big-box fabric store. Last summer, I stumbled on McCall’s 8014 at Fabricland somewhere here in Ontario. I love these expeditions―as a downtown urbanite with access to the best fabric stores in the country a forty-five-minute walk away, I still like to have an adventure at a suburban Fabricland/Fabricville (depending upon where in the country you live) whenever we’re on a road trip. I also had some sale fabric―a rayon with a very soft hand.

I applied this burrito method to attaching the yoke, and wow! What fun! It worked beautifully. I wonder what new things I’ll learn in 2023. (Umm…it’s not quite finished…those cuffs are pinned and, no buttons- as you can plainly see!)

PS What’s the difference between a shirt and a blouse, you say? I wrote about my take on the subject in the post: The “Perfect Shirt” Project Begins.

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Fashion, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in sewing, 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 sewing, Style, Stylish Books

Sewing your ‘Style’

Coco Chanel had a thing or two to say about fashion and style, but there is one thing she said that I’ve embraced since I was a teenager who loved fashion (and style, as it turns out):

“Fashion changes, but style endures.”

I suppose there was a time in my life when I thought I was in love with fashion. Does anyone else remember salivating over the September issue of Vogue every year? I’d anxiously await its late-August arrival on the local newsstands, then scoop it up to be savoured over the Labour Day weekend. I did that through my university years, on through grad school, then when I was a mom and full-time professor.

The September issue was the fattest of the year. The 2007 September issue, for example, weighed five pounds and warranted a documentary about its creation and its creator – Anna Wintour.

Never mind that you had to page through 200 pages of ads before any of the editorial material started (!), but those ads contained lots of ideas for current fashion, so they weren’t a waste of time, in my view. Back in the day, I couldn’t afford most of what they advertised, but I loved being inspired by what was new. However, throughout this search for the latest and greatest, I seem to have developed a kind of personal style―that thing that Coco said endures. I was thinking about this earlier this week as I perused Vogue’s Instagram posts on the Met Gala.

The theme this year was “The Gilded Age,” a period (1890s to mid-1920s) in fashion marked by extravagance, yes―including corsets, gowns open at the throat and off the shoulder, jewel-toned fabrications and feathers―but what I saw on display at this year’s Met extravaganza (on the Vogue Instagram feed) was what I could only describe as eye-wateringly expensive skank. Oh, I love that word. It says so much. (Of course, there was the New York upper crust in lovely gowns, but the media focused on the boob-baring, crotch-revealing, oh-so-tight numbers that I certainly wouldn’t have called flattering or even comfortable for that matter! Who wants to spend dinner trying to avoid a wardrobe malfunction? Or to be propositioned by a John on the corner on your way to an after-party?) *sigh*

I wondered what Coco Chanel would have thought. Anyway, I didn’t get an invitation so, I suppose there’s that. But how did we get here to a point where fashion is so over-the-top, and those of us who want to be “fashionable” have little in the way of inspiration? (Yes, I know the Met Gala is a costume extravaganza for many, but those costume selections reflect a broad movement toward skank – just my opinion.)That’s where personal style development comes in. And that’s where sewing your own wardrobe―or at least part of it― comes in.

My Style

I’ve always been a bit buttoned-down, and I’ve stopped apologizing for that. I feel “bien dans ma peau,” as the French expression and perspective goes. (“Good in my skin,” just so you don’t have to run to Google translate) in well-fitting tailored shirts, a great pair of jeans, a beautifully tailored jacket. I feel less and less happy about myself in T-shirts, and I hate too-tight clothes. Maybe it’s my age, or maybe I’m just happier to embrace low-key sophistication. I look like I’m wearing upholstery when I don floral patterns, and I hate the Boho vibe on me. It wasn’t always that way, though. I remember a particular photo of me from back in the mid-1970s where I have an afro-style perm, and I’m wearing some hideous thing with a floral flounce. Dear god. What was I thinking? Anyway, I wouldn’t be caught dead in that now. So, I guess my underlying style has evolved. And knowing this makes dressing so much easier.

When asked about her famously different wardrobe, Katherine Hepburn said this: “I wear my sort of clothes to save me the trouble of deciding which clothes to wear.” I like that sentiment. If I know my style and stick to it, getting dressed becomes a breeze, and I always feel well turned out.

My “Style” Sewing

So, what have I sewn in recent years to accomplish that end?

First, I taught myself to sew shirts. I have mastered many of the techniques I need to create a well-fitting shirt, and I can choose the fabric and colours that suit me, not those that suit the designer of a particular clothing brand or what they think everyone else will want t wear.

I also taught myself some tailoring. I was proud of myself when I finished my first traditionally tailored jacket. I just wish we had more transitional weather in which I could wear it! We are still on too-cold mode, and before we know it, the summer will have descended, and a jacket like that will be too warm.

So, I used my shirt-making skills to create a few summer shirts that stand up well on a 6-kilometre walk in the city, something my husband and I do almost every day. I’m still looking for that perfect design, but in the meantime, I’ll make a few more from Butterick 6324.

Current Project

Keeping with the theme of buttoned-up blouses, I kind of fell in love with the sleeveless version of Butterick 6842, so I decided to see if I could get a good fit.

I’ll tell you all the details in my next post, but suffice it to say that the second mock-up that I thought would be not a muslin but a final version (made from leftover shirting fabric pictured above) isn’t working as well as I had hoped fit-wise. Back to the drawing board.

I stumbled on Alison Lumbatis’s book The Ultimate Guide to Outfit Formulas, which I have yet to order, but it looks like it might be a great guide for figuring out what to sew. I think I’ll put it on my birthday wish list. If you’ve read it, let me know how you were able to use it.

“Dress shabbily, and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”

Coco Chanel
Posted in sewing, Style, Stylish Books

Sewing Your Own: Creating A More Thoughtful Wardrobe

Ever since I can remember, I’ve thought about clothes. There’s an old photo of me at about age two or three, wearing a little sundress (with a bit of a wardrobe malfunction!) while sporting one of my mother’s large handbags and a pair of her high heels (with ankle socks―seems to me I’ve seen this style recently!). As far as my father was concerned, that epitomized his middle daughter.

Fast forward to high school when I made most of my clothes and loved fashion while at the same time acing my biology and analytical trigonometry courses. Naturally, I followed my academic prowess into university (sciences and social science all the way), but I never lost my love for dressing well.

Ready for a university ball at age seventeen. Look at all that hair!

Back in the 1970s, university campuses buzzed with social events that demanded formal dresses. There were several of these events every year, and I had a new dress for every one of them. By the time I was in grad school in the late ‘70s, things were beginning to change. And I suppose, in fairness, grad students were more focused on getting their degrees and getting out than they were on formal social events.

I spent the last twenty-six years of my forty-year career (before early retirement) as an academic. For most university professors, wardrobe is less an afterthought than a no-thought. That doesn’t describe all of them, but it does capture a majority in my experience. Yes, I also had to do research, publish and do administrative work, but I considered the teaching part of my job the starring role, and I was a performer. Make no mistake, university students these days expect to be entertained. For me, part of that entertainment was wardrobe. And I never did apologize for that.

In her very thought-provoking book The Thoughtful Dresser: The Art of Adornment, the Pleasure of Shopping and Why Clothes Matter, novelist and journalist Linda Grant said the following:

“I consider it to be absolutely normal to care deeply about what we wear, and [I] detest the puritan moralists who affect to despise fashion and those who love it. Who shrilly proclaim that only vain and foolish Barbie dolls, their brains addled by consumerism, would wear anything but sensible clothes made to last. As if appearances don’t’ matter, when, most of the time, they are all we have to go on. Or sometimes all that is left in the ruins of a life.”

Amen to that. It has been my rallying cry for most of my adult life.

Of course, throughout my very serious career, *cough* I had much less time than I might have wanted to create my own clothes. For years, the only sewing I did was to make Halloween costumes for my son. But he did have the best costumes in the neighbourhood!

Now, I have the time to be even more thoughtful about what I wear. I have eschewed fast fashion and cheaply made garments. When I shop, I examine the seams and finishing as much as I look at the garment on me. I love quality fabrics and thoughtful details. I have to admit that much of my move toward quality over quantity has been a result of COVID non-spending. When I finally emerged into the retail world, I wasn’t’ interested in filling my closet. I was interested more in wearing the parts of my closet that I love regardless of the occasion.

I once read that we wear 20% of our wardrobes 80% of the time. I believe it, and I wanted it to stop. But for that to happen, I had to slow down, consider my real lifestyle these days (few formal events on the horizon) and make thoughtful decisions about how to spend my current budget. And part of that is sewing―which, as far as I can see, is the greatest way to slow your wardrobe down.

That’s why I can’t get my head around people who sew as fast as they can. I love every part of the process, from prepping the pattern and fabric through the cutting and marking and then the sewing and finishing. I’m especially in love with making muslins! So, sue me. I’m a sewing nerd, and I can channel my inner fashion designer when I do mock-ups.

For me, the bottom line is that a planned wardrobe is a wardrobe I love. No more willy-nilly shopping at sales or buying something that’s “good enough.” And my husband has, on more than one occasion, provided the best advice: “If you wouldn’t pay full price for it, forget it.”

When I think about those of us who sew some of our own clothes, it occurs to me that this, in itself, requires more thought than just buying off the rack. It’s you who has the power to make a decision about which style will be made in which fabrics. You decide on the details you want or don’t want.  You choose the buttons, zippers, topstitching (or not). You choose the seam finishes. You make it fit right. It seems to me that one of the best ways we can be more thoughtful about what we wear is to think about these details ―and make it ourselves.  

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/