Posted in sewing, Style, Stylish Books

Sewing your ‘Style’

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

“Fashion changes, but style endures.”

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

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

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

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

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

My Style

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

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

My “Style” Sewing

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

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

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

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

Current Project

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

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

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

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

Coco Chanel
Posted in sewing, Style, Stylish Books

Sewing Your Own: Creating A More Thoughtful Wardrobe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, Style, Stylish Books

Sew Your Colours (and find new ones to love!)

Remember back in the 1970s and 80s? Well, maybe you’re too young, but that was when everyone seemed obsessed with colours. Did anyone ever ask you, “Have you had your colours done?” I used to roll my eyes and think: Just look at me. I don’t need someone to tell me I’m a winter―because I knew from owning the “fashion colour bible” that I was a winter.

In 1973 author Carole Jackson published the original edition of her book Color Me Beautiful: Discover Your Natural Beauty Through the Colors That Make You Look Great and Feel Fabulous. Carole Jackson’s opinion was that any woman can wear any colour well if she just finds the right shade. Jackson wasn’t the first to say this, but she was the first one to write what became a wildly popular book on the subject.

This is the edition I owned back in the day.

At the time, she suggested that there were four colour groups into which every woman would fit (or any man for that matter, I suppose). Of course, they were spring, summer, autumn and winter. Well, I’m not so sure about these seemingly arbitrary groupings. However, people have been riding on Jackson’s coat strings ever since. Recently there seems to have been a resurgence in interest.

These days, there are twelve groups. Does that make it more accurate? I don’t know about that either, but I do know that this colour stuff is great fun. And I also know that selecting fabric colour is as important a step as choosing a style for those of us who sew. Carole Jackson says that colour is magic. Well, maybe it is.

Fashion moguls have been opining on colour forever. Lilly Pulitzer―of the neon print Florida-esque design―says, “Anything is possible with sunshine and a little pink.” Of course, she does.

Diana Vreeland, late of Vogue Magazine, once said. “All my life, I’ve pursued the perfect red,” a position that Audrey Hepburn seemed to have echoed when she said (no doubt before Diana said anything), “There is a shade of red for every woman.” Audrey seemed to be predicting Carole Jackson’s approach. (And Vreeland lived her pursuit. Her New York apartment was even red!)

For me, the arbiter of colour had to be Coco Chanel, though. She had a lot to say about colour in her life, and she designed clothing of many colours for many individual women. But she always returned to her basics―black, white, beige and red. Coco once said, “Women think of all colours except the absence of colour. I have said that black has it all. White, too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.”

Anyway, I decided to go online and figure out my current best colours. As we age, our skin tone changes, as does our hair colour―if we let it. So, I went on colourwise.me[1] and did a little consultation. Here’s what happened.

Step One: Upload a headshot.

Step Two: Use the sample wand on the photo to determine your skin, hair and eye colour.

Step Three: Voila! Your colours.

My colours. No surprise here!

If I look at this colour selection, I see clear colours that I know look good on me. I also see my favourite: black. But if I want to go a bit outside my comfort zone this year, I might pick something like…

So, when Fabricville asked me to write a blog post for their spring 2022 newsletter, I went to their site to select a fabric.

When it arrived, I realized it was almost exactly this year’s Pantone colour of the year, which I had dissed when I saw it. I swore it was not a colour that attracted me. Dear god, I thought, I’m going to sew something in periwinkle! I reminded myself to keep an open mind.

The bamboo jersey fabric is to die for―soft, soft, soft. Did I mention soft? It’s also uber-drapeable and begged for a design with a bit of…you guessed it! Drape.

I selected McCall’s 7975. I’d made this one before in a fabric with a similar hand, so I knew it would work. The last time I used it, though, I found it a bit too balloon-shaped for my taste, so this time I nipped it in at the waist.

I had a little thread-matching problem, as you can see below. What to do? I tried out a bit of contrast stitching but, in the end, decided to make the off-colour purple thread look as if I had intended it that way with a bit of an embroidery stitch. Problem solved!

So, how do I like periwinkle on me? To be honest, I actually do. And it looks really great under my black cashmere blazer!!

I guess I have to give Coco Chanel the last word…


[1] https://colorwise.me/

Posted in Fashion, sewing patterns, Style, Stylish Travel

My Resort Collection in Action: Mixing “MeMade” with Ready-to-Wear

I would never have believed that it would be two years between out-of-the-country vacations. For so many years, we were on a plane for one reason or another every six weeks. But that all changed in March 2020, didn’t it? And just like everyone else, we had to create our fun, adventures and general activities for a life closer to home. We did it, of course―I wrote three-and-a-half books, started a new YouTube channel for writers, launched an online writing course and designed and sewed up a fun and functional wardrobe to mix with my ready-to-wear favourites.

But finally, like a bubble that was just on the verge of bursting, we did burst out, dusted off our passports and headed for warmer climes early in February.

Our adventure started in Barbados, where we’d been a few times before. We stayed at a property in the St. James Parish on the so-called “gold coast” of Barbados called The House. It was exactly what we needed: an adults-only, thirty-four suite property directly on the beach.

After seven wonderful days in Barbados, we chartered a plane with a pilot (yes, we did) and flew to St. Lucia. My husband and I had spent our honeymoon there thirty-five years ago, and other than a few day-trips off ships over the years hadn’t stayed on the island since. This trip found us spending seven heavenly days at a wellness/ spa property called The Body Holiday. We had spa treatments every day and conferred with the on-site Ayurvedic doctor (a story for another day!). We also chartered a catamaran with two crew and spent a day sailing the west coast of St. Lucia.

The property at The BodyHoliday in St. Lucia

 

Then it was off to Florida for the final nine days to enjoy a bit more sun and visit a few friends who spend the winters at their homes in Naples then a final few days in Fort Lauderdale.

So, what did I pack for this varied holiday?

First, I made a plan to make good use of the laundry services at these properties, so I decided I only needed enough clothing for seven days. They would all be repeated several times.

When I designed a small cruise collection a few years ago, I coordinated all the things I was sewing.

Since it was a bit touch-and-go for months leading up to this trip (Would we be able to go? What kind of tests would we need? Would the airline cancel the flights? Etc.), I simply chose a few fabrics and designs I liked and then determined how they would fit in with my favourite read-to-wear stuff.

First, what to wear for the flight south? All black, of course, because that’s the way I roll. Anything spills, and no one notices. This was when I pulled out the little Jalie sweater I made a few months ago. It fit nicely under my Mackage ultra-light, packable puffer, and I didn’t look out of place on a cold winter morning in Toronto. And, of course, I accessorized with an N-95 mask for the airport experience and the flight. *sigh*

I created what I called my “Barbados Blouse” from silk I bought in Montreal in the fall. However, The House in Barbados didn’t really beg for a silk blouse. For that matter, the BodyHoliday didn’t either. I think I might have worn shorts to dinner every evening for two weeks―not like me at all. However, the Ritz Carlton where we stayed in Naples, Florida, did beg for just this level of dressiness―not too dressy but certainly not T-shirts and shorts. I had a chance to wear it several times from then on to the end of the trip.

I had also created several shirts from left-over fabric I’d used for shirts for both my husband and son. I think a woman of a certain age looks so much more sophisticated in a shirt and shorts than a tight T-shirt and anything―but that’s just me.

When I came to my favourite RTW pieces, I do have a fav T-shirt. It’s a patterned Ted Baker. A pattern? Horrors, right? Well, that’s how I’ve always been. But somehow, this one works, and it’s made from the softest, least-clingy material I’ve ever worn. Worth every penny of its rather expensive-for-T-shirts price.

I also love the Eileen Fisher blush-coloured popover thingie. These tops were endlessly useful with the shorts and pants I took along.

So, it was a great trip. The minute I got back, I had to sew a project for the Fabricville blog. I’ll let you know about that one coming up.

PS For the full story on how this three-part holiday came to be, and if you like reading travel stories in general, you might enjoy joining me along with my husband at The Discerning Travelers blog, where we’ve been sharing our travel experiences for years (just not so much in the past two years!).

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fabric from Sownsown on Etsy.

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

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

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

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

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

My 2021-22 winter colour palette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m tired already.

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in fabrics, sewing patterns, Style

The pleasures of a cozy cardigan: Sewing up comfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In case you’re interested:

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


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

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

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/