Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style, wardrobe planning

Cozying up to fall and winter: Sewing up comfort

If you live in the northern hemisphere, you’re looking straight down the barrel of autumn into winter. In my neck of the woods, though, that autumnal barrel feels curiously summer-like. The recent temperatures here in Toronto feel more like summer than fall, and even the leaves are slow to change this year. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. An early fall and winter mean a long winter, and no one wants that. Really. No one wants that. The point is that it makes designing and sewing a cozy winter wardrobe less appealing. *sigh* Yet it is time. So, cue the air conditioning and off I go.

When I first started thinking about this year’s wardrobe additions, I was drawn to that Scandinavian concept of hygge. The Visit Denmark website defines hygge this way:

…hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Cozying up with a loved one for a movie – that’s hygge, too. And there’s nothing more hygge than sitting around with friends and family…[1]

So, I’m looking for cozy and comfortable. When I began to consider what inspired this in me, I remember seeing Audrey Hepburn’s après ski look in the movie Charade. It felt comfortable, cozy and oh-so-chic and sophisticated. That seems like the right combination of feeling to me!

Audrey in the movie Charade…in the Alps!

These days, several high-end brands evoke a similar kind of feeling. And when I spied this Totême sweater, I thought, that looks like the Vogue pattern I have in mind for this season.

Totême is a Swedish cult brand that offers timeless styling running fairly high-end. For example, this sweater is $952 CDN ($770 USD) today. Okay, it’s fabricated from a “yak and wool blend,” and I have no intention of yakking a wool blend for my own personal comfort, but I think we can get the feeling. Here’s what I made.

Vogue 1635 drew me in because of both the neckline and the zipper design detail. I knew I’d make it in some kind of a knit. Thus the clean finish―absolutely no visible stitching―was interesting. Most knit patterns have topstitching and machine-stitched hems, which is fine if that’s the look you want. I thought a clean finish might be nice for a change.

I ordered this “jogging fleece” (although it reads far more like medium weight French terry to me on arrival) online from Fabricville back in early September and put it away for this project. It’s 50% polyester / 50% cotton, so it isn’t quite the yak and wool thing, but it’s soft and comfortable, and I expect far less scratchy!

The design also requires a very long zipper―30 inches to be exact (although you can’t know the precise length until you have it measured to your own arm and shoulder length). It seems that 30-inch zippers in your specific colour requirement are hard to come by, so I ordered a duvet zipper. Problem solved. Well, almost solved. I’ll tell you about the zipper. Stay with me.

So I began to cut and sew. The pattern is provided entirely as single-sided pieces, so I cut it out in a single layer. Not a problem. The style is simple enough―anyone with any experience sewing with knits ought to be able to accomplish it with good results. I ran into my first snag when I began to work with the zipper. Now, this is a zipper that won’t actually ever be undone all the way down to the end of the sleeve. There is no need for it, and if you look at the photos of the finished product on the envelope, it’s clear that this is a design detail only. It might be nice to open it as far as the shoulder edge for ease of donning the piece. So, it should have been simple enough.

I began by ironing the stay tape to the edges of the split sleeve, then finished the edges. Then I attached the two sides (front and back) to the front and back of the bodice.

As I read the instructions for putting in this zipper so that the stitching is hidden while the zipper teeth remain exposed (that design detail), I was perplexed. If you look at the instructions, doesn’t it look to you like they expect this to be a separating zipper?

Well, there was nothing on the envelope to suggest this. Notions required: a 30-inch zipper accompanied by a photo of a non-separating zipper. *sigh* Anyway, that was only the first issue, but it was a fixable one.

The second boo-boo I made was not finishing the edges of the shoulder seam before attaching the sleeves. So, out came the seam ripper and a slight detour to the serger. The biggest zipper snafu was yet to come.

I pinned on the zipper to determine the length I needed, then cut it to length. Voila! Not so fast. I cut the closed zipper, which left the zipper pull at the top―attached to the part of the zipper I didn’t need. *slaps head*

I first tried to get the zipper pull to go on the top edge, which naturally didn’t work. My husband came to the rescue with needle-nosed pliers to hold the zipper edges while we did it the right way: putting the zipper pull on from the bottom. That worked. Lesson learned. Open the zipper to below where I want it to end before cutting it!

One of the things I did do right was to fit the sleeve length carefully before starting. I shortened them a half an inch at the tissue paper stage and then tried them on for length before inserting the zipper. Once that sucker is inserted, there’s no going back. The length has to be right.

Since this garment is designed to have a completely clean finish, the hems are hand-stitched. This seems like an oddity for a knit garment, but I fused the hems with hem tape them hand-finished them. I do love how it looks.

I do love the finished product, and with a bit of photo magic courtesy of my talented husband, I can imagine it on a ski slope (something we gave up years ago while standing on the top of Mont Ste. Anne in Quebec with the freezing wind whipping our faces, asking one another, “What the hell are we doing up here when we should be on a beach under a palm tree?”). I can also imagine it in a casual office environment. One piece of hygge-worthy winter clothing done. Now on to the next!


[1] What is hygge? https://www.visitdenmark.com/denmark/highlights/hygge/what-hygge

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, wardrobe planning

Choosing fabrics for a fall wardrobe (there may have been a trip to Montréal involved!)

Who among us hasn’t longed for a wee bit of a travel escape over the past eighteen months? Sure, staying close to home has afforded those of us who sew some extra time to escape into that happy place we call our sewing space, but if you love to travel, a little getaway sounds nice, n’est ce pas?

Montreal begins to look like autumn.

If you’ve been following my fashion, sewing and creativity journey for a while, you’ll know that my husband and I enjoy travel so much that we’ve been sharing our travels on our travel blog for years (www.thediscerningtravelers.com). Since we returned from our winter getaway in March 2020, that’s been on hold. But last week, ooh-la-la, we went to Montréal. Why Montréal, you may ask? Two reasons: it’s a reasonable distance for a three-night trip, and it has a fabric/garment district that I’d been longing to visit.

So, last week, we hopped on a ViaRail Canada train at Union Station in Downtown Toronto. Five hours later, we were in downtown Montréal checking into the Chateau Champlain Marriott Hotel. The fact that we could eat indoors (after showing our vaccine certificates, of course), have someone else pour our drinks and wander in Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal) was such a treat. Then we took an Uber to St. Hubert Street, and I was in heaven.

As you may recall, my fall wardrobe sewing/shopping plans include a blue-grey-black-red colour scheme, soft fabrics and lots of comfortable tops that I can wear with jeans, an approach to dressing that suits my current lifestyle―I walk 5-7 kms a day and sit in front of a computer writing books.

My F/W 2021-22 colour scheme

Another thing I’ve learned through this pandemic, though, is related to the quantity and quality of the clothes I wear.

For months last year, we were in lockdown, and I couldn’t shop for clothing. Yes, I know there is always online shopping (and I did a minimum amount of that), but I couldn’t feel the fabrics and try on the clothing without the hassle of having to send things back. So, I waited. And when I was finally able to shop again, I found myself wanting less but wanting better. This is now my overall approach. Just this past weekend, we took three large garbage bags stuffed full of clothing we rarely (if ever) wear any longer to our local donation bin. And it feels so good to have that space around us in our closets. I had this in mind when I opened the door at Tissus St. Hubert in Montreal and stepped into a world filled with high-quality Italian fabrics. I thought I’d died and gone to fabric heaven. (FYI, tissus means fabric in French.)

Unlike many downtown fabric stores, this one was well-organized, bright and airy―yet it was chock full of beautiful fabrics, primarily silks and wools. There wasn’t a synthetic to be seen!

When I walked in, I was immediately drawn to a piece of blue fabric that looked and felt like a wool jersey. But I moved on to the silks lest I miss anything. When I found a few pieces of silk that I thought looked interesting, the young man (obviously one of the proprietors) came to help.

I liked these beautiful silks, but they weren’t really what I was looking for.

He was only too happy to open each bolt that interested me so I could get the full effect. It’s really the only way to see what you’re buying. He was so helpful and even said that high-quality fabrics (with high-end prices) required high-quality service. I got that and more.

I considered several pieces of silk and settled on one that is reminiscent of animal print but in a more subtle way.

It feels magnificent, and I can’t wait to work with it. Note the colour fits into my current palette (although I may well make this blouse (Butterick 6765), view C with the short sleeves to take on our winter holiday (that’s winter clothing, isn’t it??).

I then circled back to the blue fabric that had caught my eye, and just like my husband always used to say about choosing Christmas trees: you always buy the first one you looked at (I did the same thing with my wedding gown! I’m reminded of this because our anniversary is next weekend!).

The young man told me that it was, in fact, a fine wool jersey. Since he had recently bought up the stock from another well-known Montreal fabric store whose proprietor was retiring, he did a burn test to assure us―and himself―that the fabric content was indeed correct. My husband was fascinated with this, and the young proprietor was very knowledgeable.

I found these terrific charts on Domestic Geek Girl[1] , and if you’re interested in more detail on how to check your own fabrics for content, the link at the bottom takes you to the excellent article on it.

Anyway, it was pure wool jersey, so I naturally bought what he had left on the bolt. (BTW, the price on the bold was $189.00 a metre!! He sold it to me for $60.00 a metre, which is more like it!). Then it was on to Goodman’s down the street to peruse the cheaper contributions.

Goodman’s was more like the crowded shops I frequent in Toronto.

I bought a lovely, soft synthetic (black, of course―the best colour for synthetics. I’ll use it to test out the pattern I plan to use for that blue wool jersey. I’m looking at the Jalie “Charlotte” cardigan. It seems appropriate since it’s named after my favourite heroine Charlotte “Charlie” Hudson! (From all three of my most recent books). This design will be a great layering piece.

I also did a bit of shopping at a small shop called Ultratext, which is packed to the brim with sewing notions. Then it was time to get back downtown for dinner.

While I was in Montréal, I also bought a few RTW pieces that I’ll need. This included a terrific pair of Frank Lyman black jeans with a bit of embellishment. I think my new tops will be perfect with these. (I also bought a St. James Breton shirt since they’re not so easy to find, and I’ve wanted one for a long time.)

This is the one I bought, although they didn’t have stock in, and I’m still waiting for it to arrive from Montréal. (Note the red heart-shaped patches on the sleeves that make it part of my colour scheme. Well…)

Back in Toronto, I found myself still needing a bit of red to add to the mix, so I went to Chu Shing Textiles―my current favourite shop―on Queen St. West and found the perfect, medium-weight bamboo jersey. It’s the perfect red for me and the ideal addition to my greys and blacks.

I haven’t completely worked out which fabrics I will make into which of the designs, but I’m getting there.


[1] https://domesticgeekgirl.com/uncategorized/fabric-burn-test-identify-fabric-pyro-way/

Posted in sewing patterns, Style, wardrobe planning

Fall wardrobe planning 2021: What to buy, what to sew

I can hardly believe it’s August already. Where does the summer go? At least this year, now that the shops are starting their back-to-school campaigns, there really is going to be school here where I live in Toronto. The COVID thing isn’t gone yet, but we’re approaching something normal. Anyway, Mother Nature doesn’t stop for pandemics or anything else, and fall is on the horizon here in the Northern Hemisphere. And that means I begin to think about wardrobe planning.

I usually start with a colour palette, and I’ll get to that, but this year, I have to say that I am more inspired by a feeling rather than colour after the past eighteen months. That feeling is hygge.

I began with the feeling that being cozy was what I most want for this upcoming season. When that thought cemented itself, I realized I was really thinking about hygge. Have you heard of it? Well, in case you’re not that familiar with it, hygge is the Danish and Norwegian word for―you guessed it―cozy, but it’s more than that. In Scandinavia, hygge means comfort and well-being. It means creating an atmosphere of warmth and contentment. Now, who couldn’t use a bit more of those feelings right about now?

This feeling made me think about soft throws and candles and a quiet evening at home with a good book and a glass of wine or Armagnac. Now that I have that image in mind, what would I need to be wearing to feel comfortable, content―and stylish. Of course, stylish. Just because I want to feel cozy doesn’t mean I want to be a slob. Now that I’ve established my overall aesthetic, it’s on to colours.

When the fall looms, other people begin to think about pumpkins and cinnamon―the autumnal colours of the changing leaves. I think about them, but only insofar as they are something seasonal to look at―not something to wear. It seems to me that, over the years, whenever I’ve perused the September issues of the fashion magazines (the biggest issues of the year, by the way), so many of the clothes were brown, orange and yellow. 

Nope, not me. I’m not an orange kind of person. Not my style. Not my colour palette. I have to admit, though, I always gravitate toward black (of course―I do live in the North American capital of black-all-winter, so I beg forgiveness). This year, though, I’m thinking about blues (and greys and blacks) with a smattering of red because red looks good on me.

This colour palette is a winner for me for this season.

I guess, in a way, you could think of red as a fall colour. After all, look at these gorgeous trees we snapped on a trip to Muskoka two years ago (pre-pandemic!).

Now that I have a sense of an overall feeling and a colour scheme, I need to think about textures and lines.

Textures might be easy for this collection since I have already taken to the hygge feeling. I’m thinking softly textured fabrics of natural fibres like brushed cotton and bamboo. Think feathers and downy kittens.  Perhaps I’ll even include a bit of soft rayon for something flowy.

And what about a muse? Every design scheme needs a muse, n’est ce pas? I’m inspired by Kerry Washington’s portrayal of Olivia Pope in the TV show Scandal. Her wardrobe was one of the reasons to watch that show, and her at-home wardrobe is what I’m going for: undulating lines in cozy sweaters (of course, she always held a glass of red wine and never looked happy, but that’s just her!).

Now it’s time for me to put all of this together with some of the patterns I’m contemplating and some of the pieces I might buy ready to wear.  Anyway, here are a few patterns I’m considering―I’ll get into how they’ll come together with some fabric choices in my next post. There may be a mood board involved!

And here’s a book I just love, and you might too.

Posted in sewing patterns, Style

Finding the perfect summer dress: a wild-goose chase?

It’s almost the middle of July, and in my little corner of the world, it’s high summer. At least it usually is. The past week has been cool and drizzly except for the few days of scorching heat. It’s this scorching heat that we typically get this time of year―day after day. So, over the past few years since we moved from the cool-summer Atlantic coast where I always needed a sweater or light jacket close by, I’ve had to adapt my wardrobe to deal with more consistent heat. I’ve found myself searching for perfect summer dresses that I can wear during the day in an urban, big-city place. When you consider my personal aesthetic, that’s no easy task.

Let’s just look at the dresses being touted as the best dresses of the season for this summer in the northern hemisphere.

When I did a Pinterest search, this is the representation of what I found.

Then, that arbiter of all things fashion, Vogue magazine, offers the following monstrosities (sorry if you like them, but they just make me gag).

Then, horrors of all horrors are these gems that Vogue considers appropriate attire for grown women in 2021.

As an aside: These styles got me thinking about Dr. Jean Kilbourne, an American professor who has spent years researching how women are depicted in advertising and how infantilization is a problem (all ads created by men). Well, I won’t go all professorial on you, but I cannot imagine choosing to look infantile. If you haven’t seen her video lectures Killing Us Softly, I highly recommend them. They’re a real eye-opener. As cool as thee dresses might be (and by cool, I don’t mean cool), they send out a message of the little girl who at best needs to be protected (from something, I’m not sure what) or, at worst, is as dumb as a bag of hammers. *sigh* Rant over.

Perhaps I can just be polite and say that they are simply not my style. So, where does that put someone whose personal style is more streamlined and tailored? Well, thank you for asking. It puts me (and maybe you) right there in front of your sewing machine. Thank goodness for our sewing skills!

Over the past few years, I’ve searched for styles and fabrics that represent who I am and have come up with several approaches that work for me. And maybe they’ll work for you.

I started with a little black dress that’s not appropriate for daytime wear (and isn’t cool enough anyway, given that it’s lined!), but it’s a style I can work with.

Then, I designed a shirt-style dress for a cruise that works well for summer in the city. I selected seersucker for it for obvious reasons―it’s light and cool. And, if you’ve ever read anything on my blog before, you know I’m not a print fan (*gags slightly*), but I can do a stripe. It’s my kind of print.

Remember the QR code dress from a month or so ago? It’s a style I’ll certainly make again but in a different fabric. And, no, I haven’t worn it yet. ☹

Finally, my current project. I’m drawn to dresses that are just a bit more than bags, even for hot summer days. So, a simple T-shirt dress with a half-belt tie immediately appealed to me. I bought some striped ottoman fabric (my print!) and embarked on this one, New Look 6650.

I’m not a fan of midi dresses these days. I guess it’s because I lived through it the first time around, and I don’t see the point of a longer dress in the summer. Probably even more important, though, is that I still have good legs and find the hemline just above the knees to be more flattering for me (and for most other women, in my view.) But I do like those short sleeves rather than the elbow-length ones. I also made the hem deeper since that tends to make a light dress hang better.

The fabric is a bit heavier and a bit less stretchy than the pattern is created for (it’s made for drapey jersey), so I cut it just a tad bigger.

I haven’t had a chance to wear it yet (remember the cool drizzle I mentioned earlier), but I will. My husband and I are headed out of the city for the first time in almost a year to a country inn and spa next week. I think I might just take it with me. It might be just the thing for dinner on the patio!

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

Trendy and Stylish: Sewing Bamboo into Stripes

Coco Chanel said it: “Fashion changes―style remains.” I’ve always hoped that I’ve been able to develop a kind of style that is ageless and timeless at this point in my life, but that doesn’t mean I can’t love some of the new trends, does it? Well, let’s figure it out.

What’s in style for spring and summer 2021?

First, there are florals. Then there are wide-legged jeans. And oversized shirts.

Well, I think it’s safe to say I look like I’m wearing a 1970s-era sofa if I wear florals. As for wide-legged jeans? Not happening in my world. And as a tailored style woman who loves a tailored shirt, I am offended by the idea that I would even consider wearing those enormous bags that the fashionistas are trying to pass off as somehow flattering. Not. But then there are stripes.

A runway version of 2021 stripes

There are some “trends” that never leave us, which is what puts them in the style category. One of those is stripes. Yes, stripes are in this year.

This season, I decided to add a striped jersey top to my spring wardrobe. I landed on the perfect style for me with Burda 6427. Now all I needed was some fabric.

I’m a lover of natural fabrics, and I’m especially in love with bamboo. I ordered this lovely blend from Fabricville online, and it didn’t disappoint. So luxuriously soft and fine (66% rayon from bamboo, 28% organic cotton, 6% spandex).

I love working with bamboo (I’ve written about this before), but it can be tricky if it’s lightweight. First, the consensus is that you shouldn’t wash bamboo jersey vigorously―that is, in a machine. In my experience, though, it can be washed and dried as usual but holds its shape better if it’s washed in the machine and laid flat to dry. I cut two 4-inch samples and did my laundry test.

The pictures don’t lie. One sample was machine-dried. The other wasn’t. There was no contest! I decided I’d prepare the fabric length by washing and hanging it to dry. It came out beautifully. Now it was time to cut it out.

Cutting out this fine jersey begs to be done in a single layer. I’d recommend this for two reasons. First, getting two halves of the fabric on the straight of grain is a challenge. Second, it’s easier to control the stretch as you cut if it’s single-layer. However, as usual, the main bodice pattern pieces are only halves. I created mirror images of each and taped them together for a complete front and back. I simply re-laid the sleeve, flipping it over for the second sleeve.

Single-layer requires a bit more work, but it’s worth it.

As with jerseys in general, this fabric has a definite right and wrong side. When stretched, the fabric curls to the right side. To make it even easier, it has stripes that look slightly different on the wrong side.

Many sewists use a rotary cutter for fabrics like this knit, but I’m not a fan, so I used my finest shears, and it worked very well.

Working with this bamboo is a dream. With a new stretch needle, polyester thread and my trusty walking foot, this pattern was a breeze to create. I did shorten the ties by an inch-and-a-half since I didn’t like the proportion of the overly long ties. I finished all the interior seam allowances on the serger.

[insert photo 4 – grid 1]

The fabric is perfect for any pattern with a drapey feature, like side shirring or, as in this case, a tie that pulls the fabric to one side. As for wearing comfort: it cannot be beaten!

And just so you can see that stripes belong near the water…(well, we can dream!)

[A version of this post appeared on the spring 2021 Fabricville blog.]

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

The Battle of the Indie Patterns―Part 2: In which I find two I don’t hate as much as usual

I ended my last post with a brief mention of some of the things I hate about indie patterns. So far, I’ve noted my annoyance with the gargantuan size of the pattern “envelopes” (really just cellophane thingies) and the heavyish paper on which they are printed. I also mentioned that I am generally unimpressed with the companies’ lack of design innovation. Just for fun, I surfed through a couple of the websites of indie pattern companies that are purported to be among the best. Here are some examples of the kind of design I think isn’t worth anyone’s money (unless, perhaps, this is the first time you’ve ever sewn a garment―in that case, these are for you).

See what I mean about the one-size-fits-all, which means little in the way of fit at all. They remind me of the first pattern I designed using Garment Designer software, which makes me wonder if this is how those indie pattern designers do it―just figure out what a computer program can do and do it. (If you want to read more about my foray into using software to create patterns, here’s a blog piece I wrote a couple of years ago.)

And what about those cutesy names? I’ll take a numbering system any day over the Zadie, Adrienne, Kielo and the Yukons and Hinterlands any day. My particular selections are the Renée and the Esme. Geesh! 

Okay, I’ve gotten that rant off my chest. Let’s get on with the battle and see if I have learned to love anything about them.

First, the Jalie pattern—the Renée pants. I’ve been searching for a dupe for Eileen Fisher stretch-crepe pants forever. This pattern was favourably reviewed by a person whose sewing skills I admire (but my one caveat is that our styles are different). They also looked like they might be the right shape: fitted through the hips and thigh and only a slight cigarette shape, fabricated in a stable knit. I chose a ponte with a whisker pattern that I thought was vertical but turned out to be horizontal—one of the downsides to purchasing online these days! Anyway, I made it work and went ahead with the pattern.  

Jalie boasts about including 28 sizes on one pattern. Well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s nothing to brag about―just another element of indie patterns to make me grit my teeth. Just look at that mess of lines. What a nightmare! I had planned to trace it off, but in the end, it was so mesmerizing, I just said the hell with it and cut out my size from the pattern as presented. It’s not like I’ll be using it for anyone else. Oh, and they have their own sizing, so you have to be very careful of what size you cut.

And, what about their instructions? Well, I don’t suppose I really needed instructions to make a pair of elastic-waist pants so, I did it my way. When I make pants (which I rarely do), I do it the way I was taught years ago since it seems to me to be the best way to fit them as you go. This pattern tells you to put each side together, then put one inside the other and sew the crotch. Perhaps they could tell me how I would test the waist and hip fit before completing the crotch? It can’t be done that way. So, I put the two front legs together at the front crotch seam, do the same with the back, try them on, testing the crotch length, waist and hip, then complete the inseams.

Small design detail: an inset at the front hip. I would use a contrasting fabric if I ever do these again.

Then there is the seam allowance. Can I tell you how much I hate narrow seam allowances?  (Add this to the list of things I hate about indie patterns.) I don’t make my own clothes so that they resemble cheap knitwear from a Sri Lankan sweatshop. My preference would be for them to resemble designer knitwear from a Parisian couturier—well, that may be a stretch, but you know what I mean. They have only a 3/8-inch seam allowance, which is insufficient for any adjustments and a serged finish. I realize that this saves fabric (see my comment about cheap sweatshop clothing), but I always buy extra anyway. Before I make this again, I will trace off the pattern with 5/8-inch seam allowances for sure.

I also used 2-inch elastic, which I won’t do the next time. I’ll use the 1½-inch as recommended (it’s what I had on hand). You can see in the photo below that the wide elastic got wavy since I really needed to have it tighter.

And, by the way, I will make these again. They turned out to be a surprisingly good fit, after all! So, that’s something to love about this indie pattern. Are they a dupe for the Eileen Fisher pants? They are close, so I’ll look for her type of fabric and try them again. I don’t love paying $200 for pull-on pants!

Now, on to the StyleArc Esme “designer” pattern. What in the world makes it a “designer” pattern? The fact that is it resembles any number of other pieces (perhaps a bit like Eileen Fisher, but that’s another story about tent-like fashion I sometimes like!).

Anyway, this one, too, comes in an enormous cellophane bag with an instruction sheet as long as my arm (literally). To their credit, unlike the 28 sizes in one pattern for the Jalie, this one has only eight. I have to admit that I made this one last year for the first time. However, I made it in a scuba fabric (which I never intended to buy) that was mislabeled online at Fabricville, and I could never wear it owing to the way the seams dug into me. This was partly because of those damn 3/8-inch seam allowances. I’ve learned my lesson there. Oh, but the neckline seam allowance is only ¼-inch, so I don’t know how you’re supposed to serge-finish the edges with no fabric there at all. *sigh*

Not as many sizes on this pattern piece!
This instruction/pattern sheet isn’t anywhere close to being fully unfolded!

Since there wasn’t an overwhelming number of size lines in this one (as there were in the Jalie pattern), I did trace it off onto pattern paper and cut it out of an ottoman ribbed bamboo fabric I fell in love with when I last ventured into a real fabric store before all this lock-down stuff.

Once I had it cut out, I had to remind myself how to do the back of the collar. I had to re-read the instructions several times to get it through my head. The instructions are printed on the gargantuan sheet on which the pattern pieces themselves are also printed. This means you have to have a  massive space in which to unfold them. Did I mention I hate this about indie patterns??

As usual for me, the arms are far too wide―even for a dolman-type sleeve. I altered them a bit, but in the end, they were still relatively large.

This top has such a nice neckline―one that particularly appeals to my style. So, I have to say that StyleArc wins the award for the best-design lines I’ve seen in a shapeless, one-size-fits-most kind of top. Will I ever make this one again? Maybe. The next time I’m in lock-down and looking for nothing but comfort in my clothes, which I hope is never again, I’ll revisit this pattern. The Jalie pants fit the way these negative-ease pants should, but they aren’t anything innovative in design, that’s for sure!

The bottom-line for me in this attempt at learning to love indie patterns? My take-away from all this are as follows:

  • If you are a newbie sewist but have already learned a few things about patterns in general, the design lines are simple and that’s a plus. On the downside for new sewers is the fact that you have to be oh-so-careful about things like seam allowances (inconsistent) and cutting the correct size (once you have found it on the damn pattern pieces!). You have to read everything very carefully. You will also want to take the extra step of tracing the pattern out onto more transparent paper so that you have at least a fighting chance of seeing the fabric below (this can be very helpful when doing things like trying to avoid the dreaded target-on-boob faux pas when laying out patterned fabric).
  • If you are an experienced sewist who craves high fashion, you might as well step away right this minute. Apart from Marfy (which I don’t consider indie―I consider them a designer category all on their own). There is nothing of-the-moment or particularly stylish about any of the styles on offer. That being said, StyleArc does have a few terrific designs if you get away from their designs for knits.
  • If you’re looking for athletic-wear patterns, Jalie might be one to try.
  • If you want all your patterns to fit nicely into a pattern box or drawer that accommodates 6 ½ X 8-inch envelopes, you might as well forget about it. To be fair, though, some Vogue patterns these days arrive in larger envelopes than I like. This seems to be a function of which designer it is, but there doesn’t seem to be any functional reason for it.

What are your experiences with indie patterns?

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns

The Battle of the Indie Patterns – Part 1: In which we take a look at their history

The history of sewing patterns in the 19th and 20th centuries—and even into the 21st—says a lot about what we sew and how we sew it. And, for me, their evolution hasn’t been an entirely happy experience. But, before I get to that, let’s take a look back as I like to do.

Sewing patterns have a long history extending at least as far back as the 16th century, where they originated in tailoring manuals. According to Joy Emery in her book A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, the earliest surviving sewing pattern was published in Spain around 1589 as part of a book. “The book’s purpose was to instruct tailors on methods of cutting out pattern pieces so as to get the most garment from the least amount of fabric,”[1] not unlike the current focus on zero-waste sewing. As the centuries progressed, most pattern-related publications continued to be for tailors rather than home sewers.  

A page spread from the 1589 book “Libro Geometria Practica y Traca”. You can clearly see the attempt to save fabric in the layout!

Before patterns were available to home dressmakers, only the rich could afford to have clothing made-to-measure. Anyone else who sewed did so without the benefit of a pattern, focusing mainly on the functionality of the garments needed simply for life.

Patterns contributed in no small way to the democratization of fashion by allowing anyone who could sew (or learn to sew) to reproduce stylish garments that might even reflect the work of the famous couturiers. Eventually, however, sewing patterns were made available in pamphlets or ladies’ magazines and could now be accessed by larger and larger numbers of people. At this point, it was necessary to copy and enlarge a pattern from a magazine or pamphlet. Everything changed, however, in the late 19th century. 

In 1860, a woman named Ellen Louise Demorest and her husband William launched a new approach to sewing when they began holding home fashion shows and offered for sale the paper patterns Ellen created for the garments. 

The fact that Mme Demorest’s patterns were full-sized was the key marketing feature and the way of the future.

She was followed in quick succession by others whose names are familiar to anyone who sews to this day. (Lest you think I’ve forgotten that home sewers needed sewing machines, Isaac Singer—another familiar name, no?—patented what was called the “rigid arm” sewing machine and the presser foot in 1851 and by 1890, Singer sewing machines made up 90% of the world’s sewing machine sales, paving the way for home seamstresses everywhere.) In any case, those familiar names are these… 

  • Ebenezer Butterick launched the Butterick Publishing company in 1863. His Butterick patterns first started including a folded instruction sheet in the late 1910s—a great innovation, in my view!
  • James McCall, a Scottish tailor, established the McCall pattern company in New York City in 1873 and began the trend for putting full-colour illustrations on the pattern envelopes in 1932. Before that time, all the illustrations were black and white drawings. [If you do a little online digging, you’ll discover that there were other pattern companies who dabbled in coloured images five years before this.]
  • Vogue magazine created a spinoff pattern company that it launched in 1899 to complement their weekly pattern feature. Eventually, in 1914, media mogul Condé Nast bought Vogue then began selling their patterns in department stores two years later.
  • The Simplicity pattern company was formed in 1927 with a focus on easy, lower-priced patterns.

Those are the so-called “big-four” that remain (in one form or another) to this day. Recently, however, there have been rumours of their impending demise. I hope not—and in any case, that’s a story for another day (but I will get to it eventually). Oh, and I haven’t forgotten groups like the German company Burdastyle. They, too are a player, albeit a smaller one.

Apart from those main four companies, there have been others through the years. For example, I particularly remember Style patterns from the late 1960s through the 1970s (I even used one for my first wedding dress—again, a story for another day!). There were also DuBarry patterns in the 1930s and ‘40’s, Advance patterns in the1930s, the New York pattern company from 1932 until the 1950s, and the Hollywood Pattern company that used film stars on their pattern envelopes from 1932 until the end of the second world war.  

What happened then? According to some of the sewing bloggers I read, home sewers in the 1970s moved away from garment sewing to quilts-making. Now, as far as I’m concerned, this is a gross oversimplification of the issue—a conclusion for which I’ve seen no concrete evidence. No one has done a study. For example, I, for one, would never have done this since (a) I began sewing in the 1960s because I loved clothes and it was a way to produce nice pieces for less money, and (b) I hate quilts (no offence to anyone who loves them—we’re all different). The reason I stopped sewing in the late 1970s was simple: I had more money. I was still in love with fashion, but I no longer needed to sew my own garments to have stylish clothes. I could afford to buy them. I was also busy—career evolution, husband, son, travel, writing books. I simply bought what I wanted.  

Fast forward to the 21st century. Many of us have returned to sewing, and younger people (not just women) have begun to see that there is satisfaction in creating one’s own wardrobe. So, what do we use for patterns?  

For me, the big four are still the best syles and the best value. Despite the moaning and complaining people do about the cost of patterns, when you think about the design and production work that goes into them and the number of times (infinite) that you can use them, it’s hardly a stretch to pay even $20 for a pattern. However, I realize most of us buy them when they’re on sale. That is where the whole cottage industry of indie pattern makers stepped in.  

When I returned to sewing six or so years ago (I sewed only Halloween costumes and costumes for stage plays for my son in the interim!) I had no idea that so many new pattern makers had emerged. I had also never heard of PDF patterns (dear god, I wish I hadn’t!). So, I began to explore them. Several sewing bloggers sang the praises of brands like Jalie, Deer and Doe, Paper Theory and a whole lot more (I found a really good list of some 32 such companies at https://sewingbeginner.com/pattern-stores/ ).

But, somehow, I couldn’t get around the fact that so many of them were under-designed bags that were “one-size-fits-most.,” which alternatively means “one-size-fits-no-one-very-well.” I will admit that some of them have come a long way in the past few years, but for someone like me, whose style is more tailored and classic, there’s not much on offer. Whenever anyone says an indie pattern fits well, I usually find that it’s not the pattern-drafting that’s so good. It’s a style that need not fit so well. Tents, anyone? 

But, it’s always important to keep an open mind. To that end, I decided to do a battle of the indie pattern companies with two patterns I asked for and received for Christmas—one is from StyleArc, an Australian company whose designs actually have some style to them.

The StyleArc Esme top pattern

The second one is from Montreal-based Jalie, most of whose designs seem to be for athletic wear crafted in knits. Neither of them is a pdf—I’ll do a post on my adventures in pdf patterns in the future. 

First, can we talk about the patterns themselves? Why do they have to be so enormous? I mean, the “envelopes” (which aren’t envelopes; instead, they are cellophane bags) are 12 ½ inches long by 9-10 inches wide. Dear god. Where are you supposed to store them? I guess a filing cabinet built for that purpose. Of course, they have to be that big to hold the gargantuan piece of heavyish paper on which the patterns are printed. I’ve heard sewists complain about tissue pattern paper. However, that tissue paper is acid-free and lasts for decades and can be copied off—which, by the way, is what most people do with these new indie patterns because they are so damn difficult to use directly on fabric. 

Whenever I encounter these indie patterns or *choke* a pdf pattern, I long for the time when all patterns were single-sized and printed on acid-free tissue paper. Single size, you say? Well, in my next post: “The Battle of the Indie Patterns – Part 2: In which I find two I don’t hate as much as usual,” I’ll elaborate on the things I hate about them—multiple sizing among them—and what I have been unexpectedly happy about! Keep sewing!


[1] Joy Emery. A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution. Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. [Joy is Professor Emerita of Theatre and the Curator of The Commercial Pattern Archive at the University of Rhode Island in the U.S.]

Posted in Shirt-making, Style

The great shirt-making project is finally over

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?

A Christmas present from my son…

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.

My husband prefers a button-down collar so I have to redesign the collar to accommodate it. Not every collar works this way.

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!

Posted in Pattern-drafting, sewing, Style

Love the design, hate the quality: Copying ready-to-wear (Part 1)

One of the most attractive aspects of making some of my own clothes has always been the opportunity to copy fabulous couture pieces at a fraction of the cost. This was my thought when I embarked on the creation of my first Little French Jacket (LFJ). I loved being able to select some bouclé fabric and silk charmeuse lining, then create a reasonable facsimile of a Chanel-style jacket that cost so much less than an investment in an original.

I loved this process so much that I did it again.

And even Chanel herself was in favour of people copying her pieces.

That being said, there’s another reason for copying ready-to-wear: creating a similar design that I love in a higher-quality fabric. And finding the right technique for creating the pattern is the first challenge. Let me back up for a minute, thought to let you on a dirty little secret.

I actually enjoy browsing on the Light in the Box (LITB) web site and even making a purchase from time to time. Not familiar with LITB? Oh, let me help you with that.

LITB is a Chinese-based web site that sells all manner of objects including thousands upon thousands of pieces of clothing. Think of it as Asian Amazon on steroids with scads of merchandise pieces of often questionable quality. Headquartered in Beijing, it was formed in 2007 and now has web sites in 26 languages and delivers to over 200 countries. So it’s a major player in online retailing.

A screen capture from today on Light in the Box

When we asked our 30-year-old son if he’d ever heard of it (he hadn’t) he spent a bit of (quality?) time on the site after which he said, “I felt as if I’d fallen down a rabbit hole…” That about covers it. If you’re bored and want to lose a bit of time, scroll on over and see how long it takes for you to be swallowed up! Anyway, if you do that, you’ll see why I noticed a few pieces that looked interesting.

Here are a few that I found interesting this year…

Anyway, last year, I actually ordered a piece. Since the site is Chinese, the sizing is a bit different from what I’m familiar with and, in fact, the sizing varies from one piece to another depending on the manufacturer. You really do have to look at the size chart for every piece. But what rarely varies, is the fact that most of the pieces – especially the ones that are so very cheap, which is most of them – are made from polyester. Now, I respect polyester as much as the next person for the characteristics that make it useful – doesn’t wrinkle, endlessly versatile, can have a nice drapey hand, cheap (I did mention cheap, didn’t I?), blah blah blah. And when it’s mixed with other fibres, it can add some value. However, one of the characteristics it decidedly is not is breathable. And this kind of breathability in my wardrobe is essential in summer clothing. So, when I received the top I’d fallen for, I was not at all surprised by its quality. I was surprised that I could have ordered a smaller size. And I especially loved its clever design. So, I decided I’d make a pattern from it and recreate it in a higher-quality fabric.

First up: what technique would I use to copy the pattern?

Last year when I first copied a favourite ready-to-wear piece, the tank top was past its best-by date so I was able to cut it apart and use the fabric as the basis for the pattern.

This time, despite the fabric, I still liked it and wasn’t prepared to cut it apart. Enter the pin approach.

I saw someone do this on a video somewhere along the line but had never tried it. Now was my chance. I took out my old straight-pins that I rarely ever use these days preferring longer pins with ball heads, some banner paper I use for pattern-making and got started.

I laid the top out flat on the paper and began the somewhat laborious task of putting pins in all around the edge of what would constitute the bodice front. These pins went through the edge of the fabric, through the paper, and into the cardboard cutting mat below. You need to have something for the pins to stick into to stay upright. Once I had that piece “pinned”, I took the pins out and was left with the pinholes that formed the basis of the pattern pieces’ edges (without seam allowances of course).

Then it was a matter of connecting the dots and moving on to the next piece.

Fortunately, I selected a design that has only four pattern pieces. This is what I’d recommend you start with if you descried to do this.

Once I had the pattern pieces, I slapped on a grainline and any markings I thought I’d need on them, trued up the seams and was ready to find some fabric. I decided on a linen-blend jersey that I’ll show you in part 2. Stay well!

Posted in Pattern-drafting, Style

A New Pant Sloper: My new and unconventional method

Let’s get one thing straight up front: I wear pants almost every day of my life. I didn’t always. I, however, love the idea of wearing dresses. And I love to wear a dress to a cocktail party, a wedding (although I have been known to wear a beautiful ivory crepe pantsuit with a silk blouse), and on a hot summer day.

The fact remains that the dresses I have in my closet – of which there are probably too many – don’t get nearly enough wear except when we’re on a cruise somewhere wonderful. I love the freedom of pants. Why then, do I not make them? I make dresses but I don’t make pants. The answer can be summed up in one word: fit.

As far as I’m concerned, pants (trousers for anyone in the UK) like all other pieces of clothing, should fit well. No gaping waistbands, no baggy seats, no draglines. After years of trial and error, I’ve discovered several brands that fit me well. And the idea of making my own jeans? Not ever going to happen. I have found my jean heaven.

Paige jeans fit me very well and although they’re expensive, I’m sticking with them. However, I do like the idea of adding a few pairs of well-fitting pants to my personally-designed and sewn wardrobe. I’d like to take a crack at designing some interesting pant styles. With this in mind, I decided to do some research on different pant styles for women over the years. And those years don’t go back as far as you might think. Women haven’t always worn pants.

Even as recently as 2019, a school in North Carolina (USA) declared that their female students would no longer be permitted to wear pants citing “traditional values” as the reason.[1] Apart from how obnoxious this is on so many levels, it does point our the fact that the wearing of pants by women and girls hasn’t always been acceptable – and still isn’t in some cultures. Historically, pants have been male attire and evolved to meet a need for simple practicality: horse-back riding, ease of movement, warmth in cold weather. These, of course, are all reasons that women wanted to wear pants as well. And let’s not forget comfort and how terrific they can look when they fit well.

You might recall how the Greeks and Romans have always been portrayed in terms of their dress. Everyone, men and women, wore some version of a tunic, or a toga. These were simple garments from a construction perspective: usually swaths of cloth wrapped artfully around the body or in the case of a tunic, a square-shaped piece of cloth with an opening for the head that fell between the waist and the thighs. Sewing would have been so simple in those days! (If it had existed at all.)

The first historical evidence of pants emerging tells us that they were initially developed in China around 3000 years ago to make it less cumbersome to ride a horse.[2] We have to jump almost 3000 years to the nineteenth century to find women wearing pants. Rebellious women in both Europe and North America would take to wearing trousers when they could get away with it, however, it was illegal to do so. And it has to be said that the men made the laws at that time.

The fight for pant-wearing started in earnest in the 1850s – not that long ago. In the 1930s Marlene Dietrich sported pantsuits and got away with it although she was occasionally denied a restaurant table because of her attire. The second World War made pants a practical alternative to skirts in many occupational fields that women had to take up at the time.

Pants didn’t really ever appear on fashion runways until French couturier Paul Poiret designed what we would now call harem pants in 1911.[3] Although that predated Dietrich and the second world war, only very bold fashionistas wore them.

Paul Poiret’s “pants”

When Christian Dior pioneered his “New Look” in the 1950s, pants lost their new-found prominence that had emerged during the war. He set pant-wearing among women back several decades.

Dior’s “New Look” didn’t leave any room for trousers!

It was the rebellious 1960s when pants came to the fore and we never really looked back (save for those cavemen running the aforementioned school in North Carolina and others like them).

These days, most of us couldn’t function in our daily lives without them, not to mention having the choice to do so. Which brings me to my current project. The perfect pant block upon which to base some future well-fitting designs.

Two years ago, I thought I’d developed one. There were one or two details I was never really happy with but since I’d used the traditional approach to developing it and put the work in, I kept it. But never used it.

My original pant block

Since then, I’ve wanted to copy a pair of comfortable Eileen Fisher pants that I wore to death and are long since gone from my closet as a result. So, I thought I’d revisit the pant block. This time I started with a simple commercial pants pattern that I thought I could adapt.

So, I did some initial tissue fitting then cut them out from a left-over piece of rayon-blend ponte fabric from a dress (another dress) I had recently made. I started by sewing them together completely with a 5 mm stitch in red thread – my all-over machine basting. After the first try-on, it was clear that they were miles too big everywhere but this is where the fun began.

I then started taking them in, one seam at a time starting with the crotch line. Then I tried them on again. Another tweak, this time with a different colour of machine basting until they were darn near perfect. Of course, by this time I had really wide seam allowances which I left in place until I took out the machine basting.

I kept tweaking with different colours of machine basting.

I did the permanent stitching along the final basting lines. Before I removed the basting lines, I transferred all the seam lines to the pattern I had traced out. These seam lines would be the dimensions of the sloper. Of course, I then removed the basting, serged the seams, lowered the waistline (which I then transferred to the pattern) and added a wide, inside elastic band to finish them I generally dislike anything with an elastic waistline but this is wide and subtle and after all, these are really yoga pants. As far as I’m concerned, they’re still a bit wide for ponte knit but this width should work well in a woven. I can always remake the pattern for a narrower stretch fit.

I can’t say picking out the basting was fun but my trusty tools got the job done!

The final step was to transfer the pattern (without seam allowances) to poster board. I then measured for the high hip, low hip, thigh, knee and centre front and back, measurements I’ll need in future pattern-making. When I compared this block to the one I created using the more conventional measurement-to-math-to-pattern approach I learned two years ago, it was close. This time, though, I had corrected the issues I’d had with the original one.

My new sloper/pant block!

I was anxious to make them up in leftover woven material to check the fit and tweak the back darts but the piece I planned to use wasn’t big enough. I guess I’ll just have to wait until I can pick up a piece of fabric from one of my favourite fabric stores. I just hope they’re still in business when all this COVID stuff is over. Not long now!

Stay healthy!

Source: WW II photo: https://aeroflite.com/the-often-forgotten-role-of-women-during-wwii/


[1] https://qz.com/quartzy/1597688/a-brief-history-of-women-in-pants/

[2] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/worlds-oldest-pants-were-developed-riding-horses-180951638/

[3] https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/women-and-pants-fashion-liberation_l_5c7ec7f7e4b0e62f69e729ec