I can’t lie. I’m a bit of a nerd. I always have been and always will be. But I’m not apologizing. I love a good book, and good books about sewing and fashion have pride of place on my bookshelves. I was pulling a couple last week when I thought I might share some of my favourite tidbits―for a bit of instruction and a lot of inspiration. Here they are.
Barbara Emodi’s book, Sew…The Garment Making Book of Knowledge (I reviewed it in a previous post and highly recommend it), is required reading for anyone who sews.
Not only is it instructive, but it also contains the wisdom that can be cultivated only in someone who is passionate about this sewing journey and has been on it for decades. Here are my favourite tips from her book.
Here are my favourite bits from her words of wisdom:
“If you wouldn’t buy it, don’t make it.” This is an extraordinarily useful piece of wisdom. Why is it that we look at a pattern sometimes and think, I should make that despite it being utterly useless in our lives? My penchant for making dresses comes to mind.
“Sew for other people only if you decide you want to make them something.” I rarely sew for others, but when I do, it’s because I’ve decided to try something out for my husband or son. In my younger years, I sewed my sister’s wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses (the horror of all that satin I would never have chosen), a prom dress for another sister (miles and miles of stretch fabric to make a Vogue designer dress). You don’t get to make the design and fabric choices, which is where the problem lies.
“Keep trying new things [styles or trends], but don’t let it override your good sense of what does and doesn’t suit your body and your life.” Good sense never goes astray in my life!
Linda Lee’s book, Sewing Knits from Fit to Finish, was my go-to when I returned to sewing and began sewing with the new knits. Here are my favourite bits of wisdom from her book.
“It is important to understand the compatibility of your pattern and fabric. You could make the same pattern in five different fabrics, and it would probably fit five different ways.” Amen to this one. I think that this might be one of the most challenging concepts for new sewers to understand. If a pattern is designed for a fabric with a specific amount of stretch (or non at all), the design itself would have included the amount of ease necessary to accommodate it (ease=the amount of room a garment has in it beyond the body measurements. A very fitted design for knits fabrics might even have negative ease meaning that it stretches over the body rather than skimming it.)
“Knits are best cut out in a single layer of fabric.” Dear god, I know this is true. Why is it that I ignore it so often? I know why. Sheer laziness. These days, I often cut out my knits in a single layer, especially if they’re thin. However, pontes and other stable knits can be treated like wovens and cut out double layered. But I do need to keep repeating this as a kind of mantra. Single layer. Single layer. Single layer.
And finally, Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr’s book, A Stylish Guide to Fashion Sewing, is great fun and loads of inspiration. Speaking of inspiration, here are my favourite “quoted quotes” that they sprinkle throughout the book.
“Dressing well is a form of good manners” ~Tom Ford
“It’s not about the dress you wear. It’s about the life you lead in the dress.” ~Diana Freeland
I find a good book endlessly inspirational and frequently extraordinarily instructive. Happy reading! (and sewing!)
Please indulge me: This is just a brief diversion from my on-going tailored blazer project so that I can share some news with you.
I’ve been a member of several sewing-related Facebook groups for a few years now, and I have largely enjoyed my browsing and interacting – as limited as it has been. However, I’ve felt recently that I’d love to be able to share a bit more of my own interests in the hope of finding like-minded people out there who are passionate about the same things I am – namely fashion sewing (and styling those new me-made pieces) and books. I’m talking about books related to sewing (instructional or other), fashion, style whether they are nonfiction (like your favourite, go-to sewing manual) or a novel like The Devil Wears Prada or The Year I Made 12 Dresses (I had to put that one in there, didn’t I? So, shoot me.) Enter the new Facebook group.
I’ve never been the administrator of a Facebook group before, but I know a thing or two about organizing things. I’ve created a new group that I’d love to have you join if it’s something you think you might enjoy – and enjoyment is the number one objective. We can further discuss the things I post on this blog. You can share your newest fashion sewing projects or how you’re styling an old piece you might have made some time ago. We can share brief reviews of sewing and fashion-related books. We can recommend to one another books we enjoy. I would welcome any kind of sewing resource you might want to share with others – a video, a blog (even your own if it relates to the things this group is about. Maybe we can even find a bit of inspiration among the posts.
It’s my intention that this group be for every sewer (sewist) who loves fashion sewing, loves reading, and is just a bit of a nerd like me.
The purpose of this group is to find like-minded sewers (sewists) who want to share their journey in fashion garment sewing and books about sewing: instructional books, books that spark creativity, fiction that inspires sewing and fashion design.
The group is not for selling. But if you’ve written a book about sewing, fashion design, pattern-making or creativity, we can talk. I’d love to be able to support you and share your work, but I need to see what it’s all about first. There are other things the group is not designed for like quilting, bag-making, kid’s clothing, dog clothing, mask-making, etc.; political or religious stuff, rants. There are a few more listed on the site.
Anyway, enough about anything not related to my current tailoring project. Just thought some of you might like to know…now I’m back to my daily writing on my new book and a relaxing hour or two working on pad-stitching the undercollar of my new blazer. Later this week, I’ll share with you the next installment of the blazer project: shaping the body. Wish me luck!
What better day to talk about great fabrics for my tailoring project than the first day of autumn? Although, in years past, whenever I thought about tailored jackets I also thought about matching pants or skirts (can you say suit?), these days the thought of a tailored jacket is more likely to have me thinking about jeans and great sneakers. That’s more my style these days. Anyway, my last post saw me rationalizing why I need to do this project and how I will begin to learn about the tailoring process. I have my pattern (along with all 12 pages of instructions it included). So, now I’m ready to talk fabrics.
I love fabrics. In fact, one of my favourite sewing-related books is The Fashion Designer’s Textile Directory.
Call me a sewing nerd if you like, but I love to read about sewing and know a bit more about what I’m doing than simply how to do it. I need to know why. When I considered choosing my fabric for this project, I knew that I wanted it to be a bit tweedier, or bouclé-ish than flat or worsted wool that you see in men’s suits. I knew it would need some texture and I didn’t want another black jacket. I am the first person to say that a black jacket is golden – and is, in fact, the urban Toronto uniform from Labour Day until the long weekend in May – but god knows I have enough black. First, what else should I consider other than colour?
Well, I have another new book. This one’s on tailoring and it arrived yesterday. What could be more perfect for me right now than The Classic Guide to Sewing the Perfect Jacket?
It has 400 well-shot photos that I’m sure I’ll refer to as I move through the project. Today, I was focusing on what the authors had to say about choosing fabrics to tailor, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience. Well, that would be me.
This book identifies five characteristics to consider when selecting tailoring fabrics.
Interestingly, among them is, in fact, colour! Yes, colour is important because, and I actually knew this going in, medium or darker colours hide inner construction better than light-coloured ones. Also, just think about how a white fabric might look after all the handling you have to do when you tailor a jacket.
The book also says that I should consider fibre content. This should have been obvious to me, as well. Natural fibres can be shaped far more easily than synthetics. Since tailoring requires lots of pressing and manipulating into shapes, this is important.
The next important characteristic is the fabric’s weight. It also makes a lot of sense when you think about it. A fabric that is too light will get over-pressed very quickly. On the other hand, I’ll never be able to get a crisp corner (or anything else crisp) with a really heavy fabric.
Next is texture. I learned this when I made my first Little French Jacket. Those jackets are lined by machine-quilting the lining to the fabric. The stitches are, therefore, visible on the outside. However, with enough texture, the stitching is all but invisible. Just take a look at an authentic Chanel jacket in a consignment store sometime. They are machine-quilted. So, in this kind of tailoring I’m doing now, there will be some little hand-stitches that might otherwise show on a smooth fabric. Textured it is, then.
Finally, there is a question of the weave. A medium weave is easily pressed and will hold its shape. I would have to fight with a tight weave, while a loose weave will stretch.
Well, four out of five ain’t bad! My fabric choice may have a weave issue, but I’ll deal with it. I’ve used loose-ish weaves before.
I think it’s fair to say that most people choose a fashion fabric first, then they choose the lining. I did this a bit backwards since I had a piece of silk charmeuse I loved that I bought when we were on vacation (pre-COVID) earlier this year. I loved the muted pastels even though I rarely wear them. I also love the feel of authentic silk charmeuse against my body, so I always thought it would make a great lining. I then had to find a fabric that would sort of “go” with it.
I found the fabric on Queen Street West here in Toronto at a little fabric store I mentioned n an earlier post. It’s a silk-cotton blend in a peachy tweed weave the incorporates yellow, green and cream. I loved the fabric and I’m going to make it work.
Then, what about what goes inside the jacket…the tailoring stuff?
I needed hair canvas (more about this in a later post). Two weeks ago, my husband and I had a weekday, weekend away in Niagara-on-the-Lake (here’s a video we made if you need a bit of armchair travel in these peculiar times). On the way, I stopped in Fabricland (Canada’s answer to Joann’s but up a notch or two) in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. I asked a lovely saleswoman if they had any hair canvas. She thought for a moment then managed to find a bolt stuffed away under the cutting counter.
“You know,” she said, “I’ve worked here twelve years and this is the first time I’ve ever sold any of this.” This was corroborated by another sales clerk who had never sold any either. So, it was a good day for them. At $22 a metre, it wasn’t cheap (and it’s only 20 inches wide).
I also found the stay tape I’ll need for the interior edges and some buttons that will work.
I’m excited to get on with cutting the pieces all out. There are so many of them I’ll need a database to keep track! Talk soon.
It’s hard to imagine how innocent and naïve we were back on January 1, 2020. Just imagine having plans for this year! Well, that hasn’t gone quite as we expected, has it? As I write this, I should be finishing up a few last-minute additions to the European travel capsule wardrobe I’d been planning to design and create. However, when we arrived home from Florida the first week in March, everything changed.
We thought long and hard, but in the end, decided to cancel our big Northern European and Scandinavian trip that was scheduled to begin in about two weeks. And I had to make some changes to my sewing and design projects for the year.
Apart from the travel collection project, I had two other big projects I hoped to accomplish this year – first, the great shirt-making project wherein I wanted to improve my design and construction skills for both my own shirts and for menswear shirts. The second is a tailoring project (yet to come). So, how did I do with the shirtmaking?
I started by examining all the reasons why button-front shirts are essential parts of my wardrobe and then began to search for the perfect commercial pattern. I acquired several but settled on McCall’s 7575 to create what I called my “Frankenstyle” shirt – the test shirt to be made from left-over fabrics. Through the process, I learned a couple of new things, primarily how to design and sew a beautiful sleeve placket. These plackets are rarely included in commercial patterns, so you often have to design the pattern for yourself. There is lots of online help. Now I was on to something!
Shirt fabrics are another thing I learned about this year. I have now used cotton-polyester shirtings, pure cottons, pure Italian cottons and even cotton-lycra sateen (the blue fabric in the Frankenstyle shirt was cotton with a touch of lycra in a sateen finish). My favourite fabric to work with this year was a piece I picked up while on our driving trip through Florida (pre-COVID, I must point out). It was pure heaven to work with.
After the test shirt (which is on fall-winter rotation), and the final design that fit well, I loosened up the design a bit and created a less-fitted version from embroidered cotton. I have to say that this is the one I’ve worn the most at this point.
Then it was on to the men’s shirt. I made a bespoke shirt for my husband last year to dip my toe into the menswear pond. Then my son gave me a book on tailoring menswear for Christmas. A hint, perhaps?
Anyway, after fitting a fitted shirt for my husband last year, I created a new basic pattern for him for a loose style with an inverted back pleat. After all, when you buy shirting at the end-o-the-season Fabricville sale (3 metres for the price of one), you have to do something with it.
Of course, with the leftover, I made myself a summer shirt to wear with white jeans or shorts n the hottest of Toronto summer days. This is where I learned that the right buttons can transform a shirt from ordinary to special. In fact, I’m considering changing some of the buttons n some of my RTW shirts!
It was then time to ask my son – who is picky about his clothes, especially the fit – if he would be interested in me creating the perfect pattern for him. He was, as it turned out. So, I went back to my husband’s pattern and the very first test shirt I’d created, to use it as the muslin. I fitted it to Ian (the son) and cut it apart, using the muslin as the pattern. Ian is a 30-something former professional ballet dancer who now teaches, so his build is different from that of his dad. It wasn’t as much of a challenge to fit the same pattern as I expected it to be, though.
I made his test shirt from the second piece of sale shirting I had bought (I have yet to make something from the leftover).
It fits well except that the neckline turned out too big. I researched how to alter the neckline without changing the cross-back which was perfect, and that’s where I am now. I will create a tiny muslin of the collar and the top of the shirt to perfect the fit then finalize the pattern. I just need to find the perfect fabric. That’s proving to be a challenge.
Now that September is just about upon us, it’s time to regroup and begin another big project. I’m about to embark on learning tailoring. Come along with me if you like!
I’ve been sewing since I was thirteen-years-old. This you might have suspected. But you probably didn’t know that I’ve also been writing since about the same time. That’s a lot of years of sewing and writing! I started my writing career as a nonfiction, health and medical writer. Eventually, I wrote a dozen books, lots of articles and recently have dabbled in fiction – women’s and historical fiction. But today is a first.
Today marks the first time in my life that my sewing and design passion has meshed with my regular life as a writer. For the past year, I’ve been working away at a story that started off as something quite different than what it ended up becoming.
I usually write satirical, humorous lit-for-intelligent-chicks and historical fiction these days. And this book started out to be one of the former. When I started writing, though, Charlie (my main character – Charlotte to those who don’t know her so well) and her sewing machine took over, and I found myself on a journey that took her (and me) to places I hadn’t expected.
Anyway, it’s dedicated to all the amazing women I’ve met both in real life and online. There are so few novels that really are about sewing, I thought I’d share it with you in the hope that some of you might enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
THE YEAR I MADE 12 DRESSES
A struggling writer, an enigmatic shop clerk, an old sewing machine and an inspirational journey of discovery – where every dress is more than it appears to be.
After her mother’s unexpected death, struggling writer Charlotte (Charlie) Hudson moves into her family house after her older, mostly absent sister Evelyn instructs her to empty the family home of objects and memories to ready it for sale.
When Charlie stumbles on a dusty old sewing machine hidden away among the clutter of detritus in the basement, she has no idea of the journey it will take her on, or of the secrets it might reveal about her mother, her family and herself. If only she will let it.
With the help of an enigmatic fabric-guru named Al, Charlie discovers how little she really knows about anyone – especially herself. Join Charlie and Al on their inspirational journey of discovery where every dress is more than it appears to be.
To learn more, I invite you to visit the 12 Dresses page at Moonlight Press and watch the trailer video…
12 Dresses is available from all your favourite online book retailers in both paperback and as an eBook for a variety of eReaders.
I just realized that I totally missed my four-year anniversary of starting this blog. It was last week—April 16 to be exact. I started this online journal with the idea that I could document the journey through my interests that I now had time to pursue. When I look back on that first post, I realize that despite the fact that I had planned on a variety of topic areas, I seem to have veered in one direction.
I had thought that anyone who stumbled over this online space might be a bit like me:
Be woman of a ‘certain’ age (it can be whatever you want it to be),
With an interest in fashion but mostly in style,
And interests in other things other than fashion & style – things like travel, wine & reading,
And above all, past caring what everyone else thinks.
That hasn’t changed – or at least I haven’t changed but I now realize that I welcome both men and women of all ages who share an interest in the things I’m interested in, or just find me entertaining (I love that!). This makes the experience of writing for you all that richer.
I also realize that although I planned to write more widely on subjects such as “fashion journalism, what I’m learning about style throughout my life, fashion and style-related books I love, my pet peeves about fashion, how travel is a style statement…” I also said that I’d write about my Coco Chanel obsession and my journey to recreate her Little French Jacket introduced in 1954. I’ve done that and so much more.
First, I want to talk about Little French Jackets. When I started sharing my interests with you, I had no idea that there were so many others who had already gone on this journey to create their own homage to Coco. I found their work inspiring and instructional. I’ve since created three of these jackets (I had planned on one but they are addictive) and I realize that my posts just might be inspirational or instructional to others. These projects led me to several other long-term ones like my little black dress project and my cruise collection project…
This means that this looks like a sewing blog. I enjoy sharing my sewing, but I also enjoy sharing my research that I always do before and during a project. For example, who isn’t interested in how the little black dress evolved over the years, or the history of mannequins. You’ve probably also noticed that I tend to tell you my story rather than giving instructions. I’m a story-teller (in my other life I write books) not a sewing teacher.
I have also written about fashion journalism (and my peeves about it) as well as about what I call stylish books – and I plan to do more of that in the future. There are so many good ones.
But these days I tend to focus on my design and sewing projects. I wanted to learn fashion design and have made my way through a variety of online classes to learn flat pattern making. This led me to create my own bodice sloper and a number of my own patterns. I also dipped my foot into computer assisted design but I have to admit I find Garment Designer, the program I chose to begin with, to be a bit limiting. Maybe next year I’ll ask for Wild Ginger for Christmas!
I have a few more projects up my sleeve. I’m learning tailoring as we speak and if this pandemic ever gets over and my favourite Toronto fabric stores ever open up again, I’ll get right on it. I also want to deconstruct my husband’s old tuxedo – I made him keep it when he bought a replacement a year or two ago – and then reconstruct it to fit me.
I’ve also been working on a sewing notebook/journal thing that I’ll share in a month or two.
In the meantime, my main focus right now is using up leftover fabric. It’s quite gratifying to be able to use it up since I do not have a “stash” *shudder* of fabric but I do tend to buy more than I need for any given project and have substantial pieces leftover. I sometimes lay out a few pieces and use this as a way to inspire interesting designs.
There’s not a single style manual on the planet that doesn’t suggest to all of us that among the essential wardrobe staples we should have in our closets is the button-up shirt (as opposed to the button-down shirt which I’ve discussed before!).
American “style expert” Lloyd Boston lists “the white shirt” number one in his book The Style Checklist: The Ultimate Wardrobe Essentials for You. He specifically suggests that this fashion must-have should be white. And I’m sure that we all have a few white button-up shirts in our fashion arsenal, but I think it’s safe to say that we also need other colours.
Dearer to our hearts perhaps (at least for those of us who create some of our own fashion pieces) Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr authors of the recent book A Stylish Guide to Classic Sewing include the shirt among their 30 timeless garments and they include both styling tips and sewing tips. They also don’t confine this classic to white and consider that we ought to have a few in different colours in our wardrobes.
Why is the shirt such a universally appealing wardrobe piece? I think because it is endlessly versatile.
A shirt can say corporate meeting. It can say casual Saturday. It can say sexy Saturday night. Youthful, put-together, classic, chic, tasteful, refined and classy – these are all words that come to my mind when I think of a classic shirt. And throughout the twentieth century, a variety of iconic women made the shirt an icon all on its own.
Who wouldn’t swoon over Lauren Bacall in Key Largo in her ever-present button-up?
Or the ever-chic Audrey Hepburn? Sexy and buttoned-up all at the same time!
More recently, remember Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction? Even if you didn’t see the movie, I’m sure you saw the stills where she is smouldering in her white button-up with French cuffs.
Then, if you still think a button-up shirt is too prissy for you, may I reintroduce you to Marilyn? You can never see a classic shirt the same way again once you’ve seen one on Marilyn.
There doesn’t seem to be any agreement on precisely when women started wearing button-up shirts. Some sources suggest it was in the 1950s when women in movies would wear their partner’s shirt (i.e. a men’s shirt) after the suggestion that they had just had sex. But that can’t be right because women in the armed services wore shirts long before that and we’ve seen photos of women in the late 1800s wearing what appear to be collared shirts with ankle-grazing skirts.
The problem with many of the shirts on offer to women in ready-to-wear these days is that they don’t fit very well. The darts are often in the wrong places. The fit over the bust is often a problem in general. Enter the gape! They are often too wide across the shoulders and nip in too much at the waist. Or they look like bags all over. A smart button-up shirt ought to fit perfectly, n’est ce pas?
I enjoyed Justine Leconte’s tips on how a shirt should fit and found it very useful so I’ll use her approach when I check on the fit of my own perfect shirt…
This is right up my alley, although I often wonder what women whose foundational style is artistic boho think about this. In any case, who am I to argue with the wardrobe police? I agree: everyone looks terrific in a shirt. But it has to be perfect. Enter my new project.
After I finished my husband’s perfectly-fitted (and very expensive) shirt project, it occurred to me that I ought to have a perfectly-fitted pattern that I can use for both a shirt and a blouse. And there is a difference between a shirt and a blouse in my mind. The fashion police suggest that a blouse is a type of shirt (because it blouses?) but a shirt is not always a blouse. A shirt is crisp while a blouse is drapey. At least that’s how I’m going to define them. I plan to start the project by creating the perfect shirt pattern then modifying it for blouses.
So what does my perfect shirt need?
It needs to be fitted either with darts or princess lines. I think I’ll start with darts because princess lines are really just a variation on that and I can always manipulate darts into a princess seam if I want to do that in the future.
It needs to have a collar. Kind of a no-brainer since this is part of the definition of a shirt. However, there are different kinds of collars and I want this to be a collar with a stand.
It needs to have well-fitted sleeves. I find that commercial patterns often have sleeves that are very large around the bicep. They seem to think we are all stevedores or wrestlers.
It needs to have nice cuffs with a nice placket. This is a skill I will need to learn more about since I see so many different kinds of plackets around.
It needs to have a back yoke. Yokes support the material in the shirt. I can always manipulate this out if I choose a blouse-type approach in the future.
It needs to be the right length. I’ll figure that out as I fit the test shirt.
I don’t necessarily want the shirt to have any breast pockets, but that’s an option I’ll keep in mind for variations.
Where to begin? I decided to start with an examination of commercial patterns. I own a couple, none of which is perfect.
McCall’s 6649 (copyright marked 2012 and now out of print it seems) seems to tick all the boxes, as does McCall’s 7575 (a 2017 addition). In fact, they are so similar as to make one wonder why they got rid of one and created another one just the same. I also picked up Burda 6908 in the discards box at a Fabricville outpost in Muskoka during our fall road trip. This pattern is dated 2014 and is a bit different from the previous ones in that it is more of a tunic style – no darts, quite long and very balloony. Not quite what I’m looking for in a basic pattern, but I do think I will make it as part fo this project.
So it does seem as if I’m going to have to really work on my own pattern. I’ll start with M7575 and modify it for fit and style. And what about fabric?
Well, these classic shirts are by definition fabricated from wovens, usually 100% cotton or a cotton blend. Obviously, they have to be fairly lightweight – just imagine what these shirts would look like made from canvas. Not the image I’m going for. Eventually, I’d love to have a fine Italian cotton, but for the first go-around, I’m going to see what I have leftover from other projects. Stay tuned for my test shirt – a kind of “Frankenstyle” design while I test out my pattern details.
Well, I never thought I’d ever write or even utter these words: this is the beginning of my man’s shirt project. It’s the last “project” of 2019 and it was unexpected, to say the least.
Anyone who knows me knows that my design and sewing projects are pretty well confined to me, me, me. My love of female dress and design always nudges me away from any other kinds of projects I might consider – or those I would never consider. For example, I have yet to think of a single reason why I would make a handbag or tote bag. Blecch! I really hate those wildly-printed monstrosities that the pattern companies seem to foist on avid sewers. (I apologize if you love these; but my blog, my views. You are perfectly entitled to make or wear whatever you want.) And just lately I saw a sewing blogger I follow encouraging people to sew their own shoes. Joke, right? For me, it would be. I love shoes or to be more specific, I love high-quality shoes. Ergo I wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of shoes I made myself. If you’re a cobbler and into bespoke shoes, well, that’s a different thing. But feel free to make your own espadrilles. But I digress…
Why in the world did I start a man’s shirt project? Well, my own personal style runs to the classic, tailored look so I do love a collared, buttoned-up look for myself. I really love a Brooks Brothers women’s shirt, for example.
And I have also made shirt-like pieces in the past and enjoy the process. Add this to the fact that I always like to have a project on the go but I don’t always need a new piece myself.
So, I was feeling magnanimous one day and asked my husband if he ever thought he might like me to make him a shirt. He respectfully declined. This is a man who already owns sufficient shirts for his lifestyle.Ya think? And besides, I really think he harboured the feeling that a home-made shirt might, well, look homemade in spite of the fact that he often marvels at the pieces I make for myself. Anyway, I moved on. Then, a few months later, we happened to be talking about bespoke shirts and other things and he said something to the effect that I had never made anything for him. I reminded him of our previous conversation of which he claimed no memory. In any case, it seems that the idea of selecting his own fabric and having a bespoke shirt crafted for him now had an appeal. I jumped on the chance to create a well-fitting, truly unique shirt for my very best friend in the world – my husband. And so, we were off.
I don’t know about anyone else, but whenever I start thinking about a new design and creation project, I start to do some research. Mine started in my husband’s closet, examining the fine details of the shirts he already has. I looked at yokes, cuffs, cuff plackets, front plackets, buttons and buttonholes, counted buttons (did you know that there are eleven buttons on a regular shirt and that doesn’t count the collar buttons if you use them which I would have to since that’s the kind of shirt he likes). I examined the top-stitching on a number of his shirts and scrutinized the seam finishes. I noted that the more he paid for a shirt (a Robert Graham versus a Landsend shirt), the more likely it was to have not only French seams but also to have the armscye seam bound. So many things to think about! I even started doing this kind of research as we browsed through the men’s department at various local stores: Hudson’s Bay, Nordstrom and Saks in particular.
All this hands-on research got me wondering about the provenance of many of the details. Why do men’s shirts have the kind of construction details that are so important?
When I made my own button-front shirt-like piece over two years ago, I did some research on these shirts. At the time, I wrote the following:
“… I need to clarify a bit of terminology. My well-dressed son who loves his Armani tux (which he bought on sale ten years ago and still wears) as much as he loves his jeans and sneakers, loves a button-front shirt. However, he and his friends all call them “button-down” shirts. This had always bugged me since my understanding was that only shirts whose collars actually button-down were correctly called this. It turns out that I am, indeed, right. So much for the millennials and their terminology! It seems that collared shirts have been a part of men’s wardrobes for centuries. In fact, the terms “white collar” and “blue-collar” actually do originate in the difference between the colours of the collars worn by men who worked in more clerical, office-type and executive-type positions versus those who toiled as labourers. As you may be aware, before the early 1900’s men’s shirt collars were not, in fact, attached to the shirts at all. It was only after laundry became more accessible and clothing manufacturing became more sophisticated that different fabrics and colours and attached collars became a fashion item for men… The actual button-down collar has an equally interesting history. In 1896 Brooks Brothers started producing soft button-down collar shirts inspired by the shirts worn by polo players at the time. These days we tend to think of the polo shirt as having a collar that flops around, but it seems that polo players back at the end of the nineteenth century didn’t’ like those floppy collars and began buttoning them down. Still these days the buttoned-down collar is considered to be more casual than one that is not: a button-down is likely to be considered to be a sports shirt while the non-buttoned collar may be on a dress shirt – but as you know, everything is changing in our casual world!”
I noted this and recognized that casualness notwithstanding, my husband is not a lover of the floppy collar. He prefers it to be buttoned down either where it can be seen or on the underside. Check.
Okay, so that reviewed for me the history of the button-front shirt but since I wasn’t making a man’s shirt at the time, I didn’t research those other details.
It seems that yokes first appeared in the 1880s or 90s and although I can’t find details about this, I’m guessing that it was in the Wild, Wild West in the U.S. Think: cowboy shirt. But the yoke does have a more practical purpose.
According to David Page Coffin writing in his wonderful book Shirtmaking: Developing Skills for Fine Sewing, “A yoke is vital to a shirt. It provides extra strength in the area bearing the weight of the shirt…conceals seams at the shoulder…” where they might otherwise “rub uncomfortably.” [page 21]. I forgot to mention that when I decided to embark on this project, I thought I better get myself some professional help so immediately surfed over to Amazon and purchased his book. He’s a bit of a shirtmaking guru and the book is a must for anyone wanting to up their shirtmaking game.
As far as front bands are concerned, according to Coffin, the use of the front band is actually an American standard with the cleaner front more European. Duly noted. My husband’s style would skew more European than American if we had to judge.
And what about cuffs? I do love a French cuff – the ones that are folded back and fastened with a cuff-link. But they always say “formal” to me. What I didn’t know was that the non-French cuff is actually called a barrel cuff. So, since this is to be a less formal shirt, a barrel cuff with its simple button closure it will be.
As for silhouette, my husband prefers a trim fit rather than a big box, but he also doesn’t want a shirt that is too tight. And that goes for the sleeves as well. Have you noticed how balloon some shirt sleeves are these days? I knew I’d have to be careful about the sleeve volume.
With all of this in mind, I began searching for the perfect commercial pattern for this shirt. Well, naturally, the perfect pattern does not exist. So, I ordered a Vogue 8759 measured my husband and began fiddling with the details of this pattern.
What I liked about it was the fact that rather than a pleat or two at the yoke, it has a three-panel back and you know that the more seams there are, the better fit you can accomplish. I also liked the two-piece sleeve, not that common on everyday shirts. And as for the front placket? None, so it has that clean European look. But what of the collar? Not what he really wanted so I knew that in the first-draft of the project, I would have to redesign it.
Then all I needed was fabric…or should I say fabrics. We were going to need to do one or two trial runs of this sucker before landing on the right size and design. In that process, I found a new fabric store far from the usual Toronto fabric district. Its divineness has to be experienced. I’ll share that experience with you in the next installment.
We are now deeply ensconced in the dead of winter here in Toronto. Up until recently, the winter has been pleasant enough: dry weather, sun, no snow, cold but bearable. That all changed within the past week, and now it is truly a Canadian winter.
I can see snow on the sidewalks below our windows and everyone on the street, rushing back and forth in the requisite winter uniform of black – with the odd bit of fur and faux fur embellishing the ensemble – is clutching hats and scarves better to stave off the minus 20-degree Celsius wind chill. And here am I submerged in finishing my cruise collection. The gauzy, Indian cotton that is currently draped over Gloria junior is taking me away to images of sandy beaches and palm trees. But I’m taking a bit of a break just this minute because I have a new design toy and a couple of books that are distracting me.
I don’t know how you do it these days, but when it comes to Christmas shopping, members of my immediate family (meaning husband and son) do enjoy a bit of real-life shopping, but nothing beats the convenience of the online, world-wide mall. Of course, I refer to Amazon. So, about eight weeks before Christmas, I make the annual proclamation to everyone: “Clean up your Amazon wish list!” And they do, removing odd things that seemed like a good idea when they were clicked into the cart in July, but now don’t seem to be priorities. Because everyone in our family knows, if it is on that list, it’s fair game for under the Christmas tree (except for the vacuum attachment kit that had been on my husband’s list for four years – he always wondered why no one had given it to him as a gift. A vacuum attachment kit? Really? Well, he got it this year!).
Picking things off that list often results in my husband and son proclaiming, “Well, I didn’t really know what it was, but…” as they hand me a sewing or pattern-making gizmo or gadget that had been lurking on my own wish list. And occasionally a send along a link to a product that I think would be terrific. This year it was a link to Cochenille’s Garment Designer, a software program that I had uncovered after a lot of online research.
I had considered others: Adobe Illustrator for one. Right off the bat it’s a bit of a non-starter since it’s so expensive, and I’m not entirely sure that computer-assisted design is the way for me to go yet. Then there is Wild Ginger which looks interesting and I might get there. But Garment Designer had a bunch of online instructional videos that allowed me to tour the program. That sold me on it. I thought I could easily learn it.
I am just beginning to explore it and what it can accomplish. I’ve gone as far as creating four draft garments – simple ones to start – based on my personal sloper measurements. I haven’t had time to sew up any muslins yet, but it’s not far off and I’ll share that journey on this blog.
My son gave me another book in the series Fashion Patternmaking Techniques. This one is “Haute Couture.”
Last year he gave me volume 2: “How to make shirts, undergarments, dresses, waistcoats and jackets.” Both of these volumes are incredibly entertaining and inspirational. I like to flip through them, zero in on a design that catches my eye, then study the pattern.
I have learned so much just from browsing. These are winners for sure – and there are more volumes for future Christmas lists!
My husband’s list included a number of items from Lee Valley. Lee Valley is a Canadian, family-owned business that sells high quality woodworking and gardening supplies – and lots of other interesting items for your kitchen and other things. He happened to mention that he had seen a sewing-related item that I might like. So, when I ordered his presents, I also ordered one for myself. It is called the Pro Seam Ripper Kit. I am nothing if not becoming a pro at seam ripping! Oh, I think they mean the kit was a pro one!
Anyway, here it is.
What’s so fabulous about it is the quality of the surgical-grade steel that is used in the blades. A slight flick and the thread is neatly sliced. Just watch your fingers! It has two different blades and handles: one is a regular seam ripper with a slightly bulbous point that does not rip through fabric. The other, called a stitch picker, has a very pointy point to get under even the tiniest of stitches. That one is slightly lethal: I use the regular one more. Anyway, it is a fabulous kit that comes in its own hard plastic case with replacement blades. I only hope I won’t need to replace the blades any time soon: that would mean there had been a whole lot of seam ripping.
Oh, yes. I have used it. I just finished the second skirt in the cruise collection and the fabric – well, let’s just say that it was a bit challenging, and not all of the seams came out perfectly on first try. And that invisible zipper? I have never in my life had a problem with one, but this time, I actually sewed one side inside out – twice. The pro seam ripper came in very handy for that one.
Well, now it’s back to the atelier where I am putting the finishing touches on the cruise collection. “Cutting it a bit close, aren’t you?” said my husband a day or two ago. Perhaps!
While everyone around me is readying themselves for the upcoming Christmas season (it may be upon you already, but for me it is still upcoming!), I’m toiling away at finishing a project that I had planned to accomplish for over a year. I am making a tunic. From a book. That is probably old news to you.
So, I’m late to the Tunic Bible party. That does not mean I am any less sincere!
I love a great book, especially one on the general topic area of sewing, couture sewing, style, fashion and how to look one’s best as one embraces the wisdom of the mature years *clears her throat* I occasionally review books here or rather I share my particular responses and general musings about them, so this is not really a book review. That being said, it is really a how-to book and so if you want to know about the qualities of a how-to book, you really have to get in there, turn up your sleeves so to speak, and learn “how-to.” But please let me set the stage.
I love certain kinds of tunics. I mean I really love them, and always have. When I think of “tunics” I’m not thinking of the box-pleated tunic I wore to elementary school – although now that I think of it, maybe the love of tunics did start there. I really liked school. And this one looks just like the tunic I had to wear (sans tie)…
And I’m not thinking of all those shapeless, knit tunics that women wear to cover up parts of them they would prefer not to show although the jersey-type fabrics might not really be doing their job. No, I’m talking about the Tory Burch kind of tunic.
Since the first time I saw a Tory Burch tunic quite a few years ago, I have loved her approach to creating a garment with a dizzying array of approaches to carrying it off. She refers to her tunics as “the height of bohemian chic” which is probably true, but the idea of me being the slightest bit bohemian would probably make anyone who knows me giddy. Nevertheless, this is why I swooned when I happened upon the Tunic Bible.
Written by Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr, The Tunic Bible purports to be… “One Pattern, Interchangeable Pieces, Ready-to-Wear Results…” To me it seemed like the most brilliant idea in the world. Well, for me it was two out of three, anyway. It is just up my alley these days as I attempt to create my own working pattern blocks that can be changed over and over into different well-fitting garments that I love. So, when no one bought it off my Amazon wish list last Christmas, I bought it for myself.
I spent a few months just enjoying its photos and planning how my first one might look. I didn’t, however, ever get around to actually buying a piece of fabric exclusively for the purpose of a tunic creation of my own. So, for months, it was just a figment of my imagination.
Then I had a brain child. I had been looking for ways to use up some remnants left over from this year’s projects. I would have just enough if I used the coordinating pieces effectively. So, I determined my size in the included pattern, traced off my size and proceeded to create a fitting muslin. Well, that didn’t work out so well. The fit was hideous – but the neckline was good.
The pattern seems to fit so many people from the reviews I had read, but I just could not get rid of the bubble of material in the front of the tunic sample. The shape of it just wasn’t right for me. If I had taken waist darts it might have worked, but I wanted to be able to use it with or without those darts. Sometimes you just don’t want it so fitted and don’t want to have to put in a zipper. If it had had a front seam, I could have accomplished it, but alas, that would ruin the look of the tunic. So, I took out my own bodice sloper and began to experiment with the Tunic Bible necklines and my own bodice size. It had mixed results – pun intended.
The muslin fit well enough for me to go ahead with cutting it out of the left-over material I had on hand. I was excited because I was going to creatively use the pieces to get a unique piece that I hoped would be great for next summer. The cutting and sewing went so well. That was until I began to attach the collar – I had not put a collar on the muslin – my first mistake.
There was not a doubt about it: the collar was too small for the neckline. Well, I thought, maybe I’m supposed to ease it in. Mother of god – just look at the gathers I had to put in.
It wasn’t that this looked so bad, but it really changed the fit of the back (which I had expected at this stage) and of course, as nice as it looked on the dress form, I would never be able to wear it. So, I thought about what my husband might do if faced with a situation where he had run out of, say, duct tape, and decided I could remove the collar to just past the shoulder seams, cut it at the mid-back, measure the gap, insert a piece of contrasting fabrics as if it were a design element (!) and sew it back on. So that’s what I did.
But really, there was a 1 3/8 inch gap when I took it off.
Had I changed the size of the neckline when I transferred it to my own bodice? Had I cut the collar out incorrectly? So, I went back to the original pattern from the book, measured the neckline, then measured the one on my pattern. The length, curve, everything was the same. So, I measured my collar pattern piece and compared it to the collar pattern provided in the book. Identical. I have no idea what I did wrong.
I really love the idea of a tunic that fits well and lends itself to so many possibilities, but this one isn’t it. I won’t be making his particular one again, but some day I’ll make it work!