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 Style, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Begins to Take Shape: Putting the body of the jacket together

Jackets come in all kinds of shapes. There are fitted jackets, semi-fitted jackets, boxy jackets, relaxed jackets, tent-like jackets and the list goes on.

Tailored jackets come in a slightly more restricted list of shapes. For example, it seems that a tailored jacket by definition has to be a bit fitted, so that leaves out relaxed or tent-like, and I venture to say, relaxed. But what about boxy?

When I embarked on my fit of making Little French Jackets inspired by Chanel, they tended toward the boxier style.

When I think about the internal construction of those ones, it makes sense. Although there is some stabilization inside, especially on all the edges, there is little interfacing (if any) and certainly no hair canvas.

It is the technique of machine-quilting the lining directly to the fabric that gives these jackets their soft shaping. Not so with this tailoring stuff.

In my last post, I had finished the internal stabilization (that is, until I get to the sleeves – a topic for another day), so then it was time to begin to put it all together. And the first thing on the agenda is to create those welted flap pockets. So, here goes!

In this pattern, since there are no side seams and the pockets run across the front seam, I had to attach the fronts to the side panels first. Then I began the process of creating those welts. The order of operations, though, is a bit questionable on this pattern.

According to the instructions, I was supposed to do the welts first. However, I did some research, and Pam Howard who does a jacket class on Craftsy, says that it’s better to make the welts first then use them as the guide for the precise length of the opening for the welts. That made a great deal of sense to me.

Once that was done, I created the welts. This is so much easier than it seems at first glance. One of the things I left out of the process was the stays Clair Schaeffer suggests in the vogue pattern instructions. It just seemed like too many layers of material in my view. I know why she suggests them – they do provide further stabilization – but if the pocket opening is less than six inches, it shouldn’t gape. I hope.

Once the welts were in, it was time to install the flap – again an easy process if you get it turned around the right way and stitch it in the right direction! I had to check this more than once to be sure I got it right. Then there were the pockets bags. Dear god!

My pockets are, of course, made from the silk charmeuse that will eventually (sewing gods willing) line the body and sleeves of the completed jacket. Now, I love silk charmeuse, and it is a dream to wear, but when you are working with it, that dream can quickly devolve into a nightmare. As I installed them, they became a terrifying tangle of silk filaments. It finally worked out – at least what I’ll be able to see on the outside looks terrific. Anyway, I basted them shut to keep them from dragging as I work on the rest of the body. Maybe I’ll leave them closed!

As I moved forward with putting together the rest of the body of the jacket, I again parted ways with the “couture” instructions in the pattern. Claire Schaeffer puts the front facing on first, in preparation for her method of dealing with the eventual turn-of-the-cloth issue in the collar. All the research I’d done suggested that most people who do this tailoring, use the following order of operations which makes sense to me:

  1. Side seams (and princess seams if any)
  2. Shoulder seams
  3. Undercollar
  4. Alter undercollar for turn-of-the-cloth (I’ll get to that eventually)
  5. Front and back facings (if there is a back facing. This pattern doesn’t have one, but if I make it again, I’m going to draft one) along with the upper collar.

The Clair Schaeffer directions require you to install the front facing before the shoulder seams. I know why she does this, but I didn’t like it so I did it the way everyone else seems to do it. Because I did it my way (as Frank Sinatra would say), I did have to install the upper back and centre-back vent and hemline interfacings at this stage.

I used my own adaptation to deal with the interfacing at the shoulder seams, cutting the front interfacing seam allowance off and then overlapping the back across the front for support.

This is a riff on what CS tells you to do in the pattern. Her instructions would have left me with too many layers – again (see above). Naughty, naughty.

Anyway, I now have something that is beginning to resemble the bodice of a jacket. My next challenge is revisiting my collar and lapel skills which I left behind me thirty-five years ago!

Posted in sewing, Style

And now for something completely different… a new Facebook Group

Please indulge me: This is just a brief diversion from my on-going tailored blazer project so that I can share some news with you.

I’ve been a member of several sewing-related Facebook groups for a few years now, and I have largely enjoyed my browsing and interacting – as limited as it has been. However, I’ve felt recently that I’d love to be able to share a bit more of my own interests in the hope of finding like-minded people out there who are passionate about the same things I am – namely fashion sewing (and styling those new me-made pieces) and books. I’m talking about books related to sewing (instructional or other), fashion, style whether they are nonfiction (like your favourite, go-to sewing manual) or a novel like The Devil Wears Prada or The Year I Made 12 Dresses (I had to put that one in there, didn’t I? So, shoot me.) Enter the new Facebook group.

I’ve never been the administrator of a Facebook group before, but I know a thing or two about organizing things. I’ve created a new group that I’d love to have you join if it’s something you think you might enjoy – and enjoyment is the number one objective. We can further discuss the things I post on this blog. You can share your newest fashion sewing projects or how you’re styling an old piece you might have made some time ago. We can share brief reviews of sewing and fashion-related books. We can recommend to one another books we enjoy. I would welcome any kind of sewing resource you might want to share with others – a video, a blog (even your own if it relates to the things this group is about. Maybe we can even find a bit of inspiration among the posts.

It’s my intention that this group be for every sewer (sewist) who loves fashion sewing, loves reading, and is just a bit of a nerd like me.

The purpose of this group is to find like-minded sewers (sewists) who want to share their journey in fashion garment sewing and books about sewing: instructional books, books that spark creativity, fiction that inspires sewing and fashion design.

The group is not for selling. But if you’ve written a book about sewing, fashion design, pattern-making or creativity, we can talk. I’d love to be able to support you and share your work, but I need to see what it’s all about first. There are other things the group is not designed for like quilting, bag-making, kid’s clothing, dog clothing, mask-making, etc.; political or religious stuff, rants. There are a few more listed on the site.

Anyway, enough about anything not related to my current tailoring project. Just thought some of you might like to know…now I’m back to my daily writing on my new book and a relaxing hour or two working on pad-stitching the undercollar of my new blazer. Later this week, I’ll share with you the next installment of the blazer project: shaping the body. Wish me luck!

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

The Great Tailored Blazer Project Begins: Why create a blazer?

As far as I’m concerned, there is no single piece of clothing in the world that immediately transforms not only how you look, but how you feel about yourself than a tailored jacket – a blazer to be precise.

There was a time in my life when I had a closet full of them – and matching skirts or trousers – and I wore them every day. I’m sure that there are many women out there who can identify with this.

And even if you didn’t wear a suit jacket to work, I’m sure you recognized at one time or another that putting a blazer on over even a T-shirt changes everything.

I think I learned my strongest lesson ever about a blazer-style jacket many years ago when I was working in communications for a large organ transplant program. It was a summer day, and I was probably wearing a dress of some sort or another (I used to wear dresses for other things than cocktails). I got a phone call late in the morning from the CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for anyone who doesn’t happen to be a Canadian). They would be arriving in a couple of hours to interview me for the evening news. The truth is that the CBC was notorious at the time for always wanting you to come to their studios if they wanted to interview you and this isn’t always convenient. There even used to be a saying among communications professionals that went this way: “The CBC was unlikely to ever come out for anything short of the second coming.” Well, this wasn’t the second coming, but it was an occasion when I knew I’d need a jacket. I ran home at lunchtime (luckily, I lived a five-minute walk from my office) and got myself a blazer. Never again was I without a jacket in my office to throw over whatever I was wearing for purposes of a television interview. But things have changed.

I have noticed that the “uniform” these days for women who are on-camera personalities, especially in the US, is what I would have labelled a cocktail dress in years gone by. To prove a point – that they don’t have to look like men to compete with them, I guess – women have forgotten the power of the jacket. These days, I can still expect to see Lisa LaFlamme on CTV news in Canada in the evening wearing some version of a suit jacket and she looks so professional.

So, I love a blazer. I think you get that. And since I have never done traditional tailoring, and it’s been over 35 years since I even created a jacket with a lapel collar for myself, I thought I’d love to take on a new challenge. Enter the new project. I am going to learn traditional and modern tailoring techniques and create for myself a perfectly-fitted blazer-style jacket. As usual, though, before I begin, I need to do a bit of research. For example, where did the name “blazer” come from and when did women start wearing tailored jackets?

According to Michael Andrews Bespoke, in a fascinating piece about the history of women in suits, “The first notable appearance of a woman making a man’s suit her own was in 1870 when actress Sarah Bernhardt began wearing her “boy’s clothes” in public.”[1] As you might expect, at that time, a woman wearing what was traditionally considered to be men’s clothing was nothing short of scandalous.

Sarah Bernhardt in a suit

In the late nineteenth century, women began to wear what could be considered early suit jackets. If you haven’t yet read historian Linda Przybyszewski’s fascinating book The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish, and you are interested in style, stop reading immediately and go order a copy — then come back! In her book she provides some very interesting views on how style developed including references to early suit jackets on women.

Coco Chanel first began creating two-piece suits for women in the 1920s and is credited with giving the suit a boost. Chanel’s suits gave the first-wave feminists of the early twentieth century their own look, but the hallmark of the Chanel suit was its softness, its minimal tailoring. In 1966, Yves St. Laurent offered women a look that, as far as I’m concerned, cannot be beaten if we want to look elegant, sophisticated and powerful. Enter “Le Smoking.”

Over the years, women have adopted many styles of suit jackets. As I look back on the last American election and take a close look at Hilary Clinton’s “pantsuits” I wonder what went wrong with that particular image. I think it might have been three things: colour, fit and proportion. She just looked unkempt and odd in my view. Did this make a difference to her political aspirations? Or should it have? Probably not, but I’m not a political writer – this is about style, design and creation!

It seems that suit jackets have been in women’s style arsenal for a very long time. So, what’s the difference between a suit jacket and a blazer?

In an interesting piece by The Gentlemanual, the difference is this: “Dressier than sports jackets but not as formal as a suit, the blazer serves as a nice middle ground piece that elevates outfits nicely without going overboard.”[2] At least this is how they describe a blazer for men, and I think we can adopt this understanding for women. As I have always thought, a blazer elevates any outfit.

The term “blazer” itself has an interesting history. According to Lanieri Italia, the blazer originated as follows:

The term was first used around 1825 to define the red blazers used by the members of the Lady Margaret Boat Club, the rowing Club at St. John’s College in Cambridge. Their jackets were called blazer (from the word “blaze”) because of the bright red fabric used to tailor them, but the term was thereafter used for jackets in any colour.[3]

And, of course, a blazer is fundamentally a stand-alone piece whereas a suit jacket comes with a matching pair of trousers, a skirt or even a dress. In general, as well, a blazer is either single-breasted with two pockets or double-breasted with six buttons (and they have patch pockets according to tradition).

So, I plan to create a perfectly-fitting blazer using some traditional (and perhaps a few modern) tailoring techniques. My blazer will be two-buttoned, single-breasted because that’s the most flattering style for my figure. It will also have welt pockets rather than patch pockets for three reasons: First, patch pockets are what I generally put on Chanel-inspired, soft jackets. The second reason is that I haven’t made a welt pocket in decades so I want to re-learn this skill. Third, because the commercial pattern I’ve chosen has welt pockets. Oh, yes, the pattern in question:

This is Claire Schaeffer’s couture blazer pattern. What this means is that she has personally written for Vogue patterns the instructions – all 12 pages of them. Yes, 12 pages!

I’ve done some couture sewing in the past, so a lot of the approach is familiar (and I used Claire Schaeffer’s Little French jacket pattern Vogue 8804 for my last LFJ), but OMG, just wait!

I’ll tell you more about it when I get to cutting out the muslin. But, up next, the all-important and oh-so-fun and creative part: finding the perfect fabric and lining. Stay tuned!


[1] A brief history of women’s suits. https://www.michaelandrews.com/journal/history-womens-suits

[2] https://www.ties.com/blog/whats-the-difference-sports-jacket-vs-blazer-vs-suit-jacket

[3] https://www.lanieri.com/blog/en/whats-the-difference-between-a-jacket-and-a-blazer/

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 fabrics, sewing, Style

The Joy of Sleeves: Especially when you find the best length for you

Could there be any more distinguishing feature of just about any kind of top than its sleeves? Think about it. When you go shopping for ready-to-wear for the upper half of your body, unless you’re just browsing aimlessly, you probably have a general idea of one aspect of the top you’re seeking – the sleeves, in particular, their length.

Sleeve Length

Let’s face it: you can cut your sleeve at any place along the full length of your arm, but you might not like how it looks – or works. In the worlds of style and fashion, there are some specific lengths that have been discovered to be most flattering.

From sizechart.com

If you’re shopping for a winter coat, clearly, you’d be a fool not to look for long sleeves (notwithstanding fashion designers’ attempts to get us to think that three-quarter sleeves with gloves would be a reasonable substitute). If you’re looking for a cool, summer top, you probably aren’t looking for long sleeves, however, you might not be sure whether you want cap sleeves, short sleeves (and what length) or elbow-length. And it’s exactly the same when we create our own clothes. I think sleeve length, in particular, is one of the most crucial parts of a flattering and useful piece of clothing. And not every length works best for everyone, although a commercial pattern with a short sleeve view will be very specific. Be brave! Be adventurous! Throw caution to the wind! Cut the sleeves whatever length you want! Back up a bit with me: I’m interested in sleeves.

Sleeve functionality

Let’s start small. Sleeves are arm coverings. Let’s face it: sleeves are largely functional. Unless you live close to the equator, you likely feel the need for an arm covering from time to time. Of course, you could throw a wrap around you but think about it. Isn’t a sleeve a lot more functional? Consider getting into and out of your car with your keys, wallet, umbrella, child who has to be wrestled out of one of those booster seat contraptions – oh, and let’s not forget that you have to put on your mask in 2020. Oops, you forgot? Get back in the car, put everything down and start again. Then consider having to keep a wrap around you at the same time.

A vintage sleeve pattern – you could add a different style and/or length to any bodice.

Well, for my money, I’d prefer to have sleeves attached to my bodice. So, apart from strapless and one-shoulder evening gowns (oh, yes, I love strapless and one-shoulder evening gowns, or at least I used to) and summer tank tops (which I’m wearing less and less as I get older), the sleeve consideration is a big one when I’m shopping ready-to-wear or sewing for myself. And since I do sew, I can decide what sleeve would be best.

A blast from the past – the one-shoulder dress! Who needs sleeves when you’re in the Caribbean on a cruise?

Over the past few years, we’ve been subjected to all kinds of impractical sleeves. That’s the kindest way I can put it. If I’m being honest, I really think that hideous sleeves are being hoisted on us by designers every time we turn around.

Need I say more about the hideous-sleeve trend?

Don’t they know that a well-proportioned, simple sleeve will serve us best in the long-term? *sigh* Well, I just make my tops these days. So, when I got into my most recent one (and the last summer one for this year, I hope), the sleeves became an instant quandary.

Finding a Flattering Length

Not every sleeve length is as flattering as the next one – and not every sleeve length works for every woman. It’s a matter of proportion. And there are so many choices.

This reared its head recently – you may remember this recent shirt project. The pattern, Butterick 6324 offers a sleeve length that’s somewhere between an elbow length and a short sleeve. I opted to cut it according to the pattern and roll twice. Much better on me.

I’ve also found that I like a three-quarter sleeve on me when it works for functionality. There’s something very flattering about this length on most women. In fact, whenever I’m wearing a long-sleeved, collared shirt, I like the look of a turned-back sleeve even better than the sleeve left long. I even like this look on a man. It’s just my personal aesthetic.

I had a length of rayon knit that is very soft and has a lovely drape. I’d been looking forward to working with it since I’ve recently been making shirts which is great but different. When I started this most recent one, I had already made the pattern with long sleeves, so I knew that I liked it in general.

This time, I wanted short sleeves. And I know from having created my own bodice and sleeve sloper, that I have a few lengths that work for me. The short-sleeve length included in most commercial patterns is not it.

The good news is that my most flattering length is usually shorter than the one provided, so, I can always cut it as designed, then I can shorten to the perfect length. I’ve also taken to shortening RTW short sleeves lately.

The difference between lengths is often subtle, but when you find the right length, I think it can make all the difference. when you sew your own tops, you can experiment. I do every time I make something.

Sewing Sleeves In

And of course, sleeves have to be set in well. My personal sleeve-setting journey started back in sewing classes in junior high school where I learned to properly set-in a sleeve. As a result, that’s the method I’ve adhered to for all my sewing life – until recently.

Although I did sew with “knits” when I was very young, those knits were not like the knits of today. They were, in fact, more like stable knits of today. Remember crimplene? (If not, I wrote about it back a while ago). I mention this because you can use the traditional set-in sleeve method with these kinds of fabrics. Anyone who sews with today’s jerseys etc. with a stretch factor of something like 35% knows that this is next to impossible. So, I’ve had to learn to sew in sleeves (they are not really “set-in” in the true sense) before sewing up the side seams. And I’ve had to force myself to use this method when sewing shirts. Of course, sleeves in shirts are quite different from sleeves in jackets. A sleeve head in a jacket is so important. In a shirt, not so much.

Anyway, here we are in August and I’m just finishing up summer sewing. I think it might be time to move onto fall planning – I just hope the fall isn’t as unpredictable as the spring and summer of 2020 have been! (And I don’t mean the weather!)

Posted in fabrics, Pattern-drafting, sewing, Style

Love the design, hate the quality: Copying ready-to-wear (Part 2)

I think it’s safe to say that the part I like best about recreating ready-to-wear is the pattern drafting step. When I was in high school, I loved geometry, and what’s more, I was good at it. I also loved analytical trigonometry and got a mark of over 90% in grade twelve. Just as a reminder, trigonometry is “… a branch of mathematics that studies relationships between the sides and angles of triangles…” Flat pattern drafting requires all that on top of the creative aspect. I suppose all those angles and calculations are right up my alley!

In any case, as I move into part 2 of my recreation of a low-quality-but-interesting-design shirt, I am moving from design copying to pattern drafting to fabric cutting and beyond.

When we last talked (okay, I did most of the talking), I had slapped a few grainlines on the pattern pieces, trued up the seams and began to think about the fabric.

The original (cheap) shirt was made from polyester, as is the usual fabrication for Light-in-the-Box online offerings. Although it looks relatively good at the outset, these knit polyester garments quickly develop those little pills that we all hate so much. In truth, taking out that battery-operated lint remover that our son likes to call a “sweater muncher” and applying yourself to the removal of said pills, can be rather meditative. And who doesn’t like the finished product? The problem is that with these cheap fabrics, the pills just keep coming back.

Then add on the problem of breathability, or in the case of the top in question, lack of breathability. What you are left with is an interesting, summer-worthy top that I can’t even consider wearing here in Toronto. It’s been over 27 Celsius (80 for the Fahrenheit people among us) for weeks and is only getting hotter, where it will stay until late September or thereabouts. The goal, then, is to reproduce the design in a better fabric.

Forced into online fabric shopping by the virus-that-shall-not-be-named, earlier in the season, I ordered a length of a linen-blend jersey in a cosmetically-enhancing pale peachy-pink.

I had this project in mind for it, and when it arrived, I was a bit hesitant because of how thin it is compared to its original version, although I realized that if I tweaked the sizing downward, it just might work. This, of course, is my main objection f online fabric shopping. I do it, but I always recognize its limitations. I would always prefer to take a walk downtown to the fabric district than shop online, but I’m happy I have the option of online!

As a result of the fabric’s weight and stretch factor, I decided that it was best to cut it out in a single layer.

I know so many people who sew avoid this like the plague, but it is truly the only way to come close to staying on grain with these kinds of fabrics. And I’m sure we’ve all experienced a cheap T-shirt or two that went all wonky after a wash or two. This is usually because it wasn’t cut on the straight of grain.

After cutting and marking, I had the good sense to stabilize the entire dropped shoulder seam with knit-n-stable tape. I also stabilized the portion of the side seams where the ties would be enclosed.

I whipped on my favourite sewing machine piece – my trusty walking foot – and got started. The original had serge—and-turned hems. I decided to take it up a notch and double turn all the hems. I didn’t go all the way to double-fabric-turned ties, though. In a future project, however, I might go the extra mile.

Well, she’s finished now. It had its first outing yesterday as we wound our way through downtown and the University of Toronto campus on our daily 5-7 km walk.

I think it worked out well – at least well enough that I created a final pattern to keep among my collection of GG originals!

This is the second such piece I’ve recreated, and I’ll probably do it again. How about you? Any design copying in your future? Stay safe!

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 Little Black Dress, sewing, Style

Always closet space for a new ‘Little Black Dress’

Anyone who knows me knows that there is nothing I like better than an LBD. Simple and unfussy, the LBD is one of the most versatile pieces of clothing a woman can own. There are so many places to wear one: dinner out, cocktails at a favourite watering hole, under a jacket when giving a lecture, a funeral and just lately it seems it’s acceptable to wear black to a wedding. Well, that’s where I wear them. What’s not to like?

A year or two ago I embarked on my LBD Project which resulted in me testing three different styles – two commercial patterns and one of my own designs. In the end, I made the one I designed myself but along the way, I fitted two others. When I had the opportunity to write a blog post for Fabricville’s blog I thought it would be fun. [For non-Canadian readers: Fabricville is the one ‘big-box’ fabric chain in Canada. The stores are sometimes called Fabricland depending on where you live across the country but their online service is fabricville.com.]

I didn’t realize when they asked me to do it that I’d be getting my fabric choices for free. This has never happened to me before. So, there it is.

To tell you the truth, I might have made different choices for this one, but I had to choose fabrics that were available online from Fabricville.com so I was limited. What I really wanted was a silk dress but they didn’t have much of that on offer.

In the end, I came up with a dress that will probably come in handy although, to tell you the truth, at this  point in 2020, and the way things are going, I don’t see where I’m going to wear it unless there’s an unexpected funeral in my future. Anyway, here’s what I wrote for them…just click on the image…