There was a time when I never looked back on a year of sewing and style matters. These days, I find it very illuminating to see how my style has evolved, what I choose to sew, what I choose to buy off the rack and what I’ve learned―about sewing and myself. And the end of a calendar year always seems like the right place to reflect―beginnings and endings and all that. So, what did 2022 offer me?
I looked back at the patterns I chose to work on this past year. I always tend to stick with the big commercial brands since they usually have the most interesting design details and well-fitted pieces―by which I mean more tailored pieces with less design ease. I continue to notice that many of the indie pattern makers don’t seem to be able to produce anything that has to fit closer to the body. In other words: bags―bags with far too much design ease. Bags are not my style. So, I used Butterick, McCalls and Vogue patterns with a New Look thrown in. But I also tried a Jalie for the first time this year. Dear god, there were so many sizes in one pattern envelope―it was mesmerizing. I also tried a custom-fit Lekala pdf, although I hate pdf patterns (oh, maybe they’re starting to grow on me).
Here’s the 2022 run-down:
I also launched a new book that carried on from the first in what has become an unexpected series. The first book, The Year I Made 12 Dresses, introduced Charlie (Charlotte Hudson), who learned to sew after finding a dusty old sewing machine in her late mother’s basement, and she has appeared in every one since.
However, in the most recent books, her role has been peripheral. The good news is that Charlie’s story is coming full circle―I’ve begun work on a new book that I expect to be out in mid-2023. Charlie travels to Mallorca to take a course from a Parisian couturier―and learns to make a Chanel-style jacket…among other things.
Of course, the release of the newest one is imminent! Charlie will make that jacket throughout 2023!
Throughout the sewing adventures of 2022, here are some things I learned.
I need to pay closer attention to online pattern reviews.
The burrito method for attaching yokes is fun and fantastic!
I don’t wear dresses as much as I like to make them 😊
The camp shirt style is spot on for my summer lifestyle.
I am itching to make another Little French Jacket.
My new book should go full circle around to where the series started: sewing
Wait until I tell you about my Christmas present! Then my plans will come clear. And onto that new book where Charlie learns to make a Little French Jacket―with a twist.
Can we talk about sewing pattern reviews? Do you use them? Love them? Hate them? Or not even know they exist? As for me, I usually forget they exist.
I am a member of the online pattern review site, cleverly called―you guessed it―Patternreview.com. I have posted exactly one review. This is odd coming from a woman who has a lot of opinions. Yet, I seem unable to make more of a contribution to this site, which, in my view, is doing all of us sewists a great service. All you have to do is plug your pattern brand and number into their search engine, and you’ll see a list of reviews of that exact pattern. They include a wide variety of pattern brands from Vogue through the rest of the major brands and such an extensive list of independent brands that I have to conclude they have most of them covered. That isn’t to say, however, that every single pattern has been reviewed. But I’ve never found one from a major brand that wasn’t there. With all that to consider, why do I find pattern reviews so problematic? Let me introduce you to Vogue 1663.
This pattern is a Kathryn Brenne design that captured my attention not because of its shawl collar and belted waist but because of its back detail. I loved those tucks, so I decided I’d consider adding this style to my winter wardrobe.
I bought a length of sweatshirt fleece, one of the pattern’s recommendations. If I had paid closer attention to those fabric suggestions, I would have noted that they also suggested boiled wool. And a fabric with a 35% cross-grain stretch factor. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never known a pure, boiled wool to have that much stretch. No single pattern design can be executed equally as easily―and with equally good results―in both those fabrics. Anyway, my fabric did meet the requirements vis-a-vis stretch, but that was just the beginning of my concerns about overlooked issues in this pattern. Let me begin with what others have said about it.
The reviews of this pattern were consistently good. The reviewers liked the design, the sewing and especially the outcome. Well, that was the moment I should have seen the error of my ways in selecting this one. One of the specific questions that reviewers are supposed to answer is this: “Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?” All the reviewers said yes.
Well, when I look at the pattern envelope, I see a sleek yet casually cozy sweater/jacket (a swacket, perhaps?). Then I look at the finished products on the review site, and I see a bathrobe. I should never have been so cocky as to think I could do it better. I thought that if I chose a more appropriate fabric than that selected by several of the reviewers, I could do a better job. Not so much. I mean, once you see it, you can’t unsee it, and that‘s what I saw all through the construction process. *sigh* It’s a bathrobe. Anyway, I began.
First, there were a few funky things about the pattern instructions. Everywhere, it kept telling me to finish the seams with pinking shears. What the―?! Dear god, pinking shears on sweatshirt fleece. It’s just so weird. Of course, I didn’t do that. I used a serger, but you could just as easily use a zig-zag stitch. Just step away from the pinking shears. Then there were other funky things.
There was the funky finishing instruction for the interior of the big facing and a strange instruction to stitch the pockets on with a 5/8-inch top-stitch. First, this would look awful. Second, if you use a 5/8-inch top-stitch, wouldn’t that mean you might not even catch the seam allowance in it?? And how ugly would that be to have the edge flapping? Needless to say, I didn’t do this. A 3/8-inch top stitch did very nicely.
Another thing that seemed to be missing from the instructions was any suggestion that applying reinforcement to the shoulders would be in order. In my view, this is crucial to any kind of success with this pattern. It is designed to be made in a 35% stretch, and it has a lot of fabric in it―I mean a lot. That means that there is considerable weight pulling down on those shoulders. I applied iron-on interfacing to the shoulder seams and to the centre back facing seam. It really helped.
Of course, there’s the inevitable mid-project existential crisis when the half-finished object is hanging on Gloria junior. I am looking at the piece dubiously when my husband walks in and says, “What is that you’re making?” But I know what he really means is, “WTF is that thing you’re making?” WTF, indeed. I have to admit: it did look pretty scary. N’est ce pas?
As I examined the half-finished monstrosity, I realized that it was long―far too long. And, contrary to what the pattern reviewers said, the finished product wouldn’t look anything like what it looked like on the pattern envelope. How tall was that model?? I am five-feet-seven (okay, maybe I’ve lost half an inch over the course of my later life) and wear a thirty-one-inch inseam. This length looked godawful on me. So, I chopped off two inches. (Of course, that made pocket placement a bit fraught, but that’s another story).
Were there any things I liked about this pattern? Yes. I really liked the design and construction of the belt. That may sound silly, but the idea of making the seam down the middle of the belt rather than at the edge really worked in this fabric. It also meant that the top-stitching was done on only two layers rather than on two layers on one side and four on the other, giving it a more consistent look.
So, I finally finished it. It’s marginally less ugly than it had promised to be mid-project. But will I wear it? I predict it will either languish in my closet, only to be picked out on the odd occasion, or become my go-to, at-home warm-up on those cold winter nights. What do you think?
When friends ask you if you’d be interested in a trip to Spain and Portugal, and Spain and Portugal have been on your radar for a while, what do you say? I say, “What do I wear?” LOL No, really. That’s always my first question. Of course, the second question is, “When do we leave?”
We left in early September and spent two weeks travelling from Madrid to Lisbon, then to the Algarve on the south coast of Portugal, followed by Seville and Granada. Then, after four wonderful days back in Madrid, we flew to Mallorca to meet those friends and spent a week in a private villa. It was wonderful. However, what did I wear? Did I wear all those things I made for the trip, or did I wear something else?
The last time I wrote something here, I was planning that wardrobe. I began with the dresses. I ended up taking only one of the dresses I’d made, along with a Cop Copine dress I fell in love with at their boutique near me.
Then, when we got to Spain, I found I needed only one, so I didn’t even wear the white one (Butterick 6748)! It’s now tucked away for a possible Caribbean outing sometime this winter. (Nothing planned yet.)
I also made several camp shirt-type blouses that I always find endlessly useful in the heat. And it was super hot in Spain, especially in Seville―the hottest days of my life, I think. I wore two of them to death (Butterick 6324) and found them comfortable and presentable for Europe in the heat.
I also planned to take a side-tie blouse (in rayon) that I made from Butterick 6765, but you know what happens when you’re packing. Some things just had to be left behind. No one needs that many blouses with them on a three-week trip! So, it’s another one that will find a home in my suitcase en route to the Caribbean (and there’s always next summer).
I suppose there will always be those ready-to-wear items that inevitably become favourites. One of those in my wardrobe is a Ted Baker T-shirt made from a beautiful rayon knit that’s comfortable and flattering (at least n my view). I have had this one for several years, and it has gone everywhere with me―Spain and Portugal were no exceptions. I also always take a favourite Judith and Charles silk blouse.
And, of course, I always wear black when I fly. And yes, even a month ago, it was before Air Canada dropped their mask requirement.
The trip was terrific, and if you’ve been following me for a while, you know that my husband and I have a travel blog at thediscerningtravelers.com. Our first post about this trip includes a walk-through video of the beautiful villa in Mallorca. If you’re interested, click here.
God and Air Canada willing, I’ll be touching down in Madrid with my husband on Labour Day weekend. These days, with all the apparent luggage-related chaos at airports around the world (and especially here at home), knowing what to pack in a carry-on and in checked baggage has taken on even more urgency. Add onto that the mystery surrounding exactly what I should wear in Madrid and on tour in Spain and Portugal in early September, and I have a dilemma (and only about five weeks left to sew anything!).
Here are the issues I need to solve:
What do I need for city wear in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe?
What do I need for a ten-day road trip through Spain and Portugal?
What do I need for a week on the island of Mallorca in a villa?
And how do I ensure I have at least one change of clothes in case my luggage doesn’t make it on the first attempt?
Okay, let’s get one thing straight: I do not travel with carry-on only. Ever. Well, strike that. I used to do it whenever I had a one-day trip. For example, I flew from Halifax to Toronto and returned on the same day (a two-hour flight, and of course, I did only carry-on). Other than that―no. Why? you might reasonably ask.
I’m one of those travellers who despises being hit by massive carry-on bags as they pass me in the aisle. I loathe those contortions everyone goes through, trying to put too-big carry-ons in too-small overhead bins. I am homicidal if I get to my seat and find someone has used my overhead bin for an oversized piece of luggage so that they can keep the floor of the seat in front of them empty for their feet. Okay, rant over. But you get the picture. And it’s my own choice. So, I will be packing checked bags, and I will be taking my chances. Back to what to put in said bags.
I have decided to begin with a colour plan. I’m also thinking I might use this one for general fall and winter wardrobe planning.
I think it transcends seasons with its grey-black-white-rose palette. But I still have a dilemma.
According to what I read online, people in Madrid dress for the season regardless of the weather. This means that if it’s hot in the fall, they will not return to their summer attire, and if I take the summer-dressing approach to 28-degree Celsius weather, I will stick out. But the question is this: is early September considered summer (even though it isn’t technically speaking), or is it fall?
I have to think about that. With the temperatures expected to be high and lots of on-foot touring planned, it seems to me that keeping cool and comfortable will be paramount. That being said, Quiero verme un poco chic, ¿no? Huh! Practicing my Spanish! I want to look a bit chic, don’t I? Of course.
The problem with looking chic for a three-week trip that involves lots of city touring on foot, moving by car from one city to another, two days in a beach resort on the Algarve in Portugal, four days in a capital city (Madrid) and then a week in a villa on the island of Mallorca, is that I want to look appropriate while wearing travel-friendly clothing. What is travel-friendly clothing to me?
First, travel-friendly clothing doesn’t wrinkle―at least not too much. There’s nothing worse than having to iron clothes every day. This can happen during a road trip.
Second, travel-friendly clothing is versatile. I cannot afford to take a single piece of clothing that I can’t wear several different ways with several different pairings.
Third, travel-friendly clothing looks chic while keeping me comfortable. 😊
I have to begin with an inventory of what I already have. Let me begin with dresses. (In the next post, we’ll move on).
I rarely wear dresses. But, if you’ve been reading the GG Files for any length of time, you know that I like to make dresses. This can be a problem. However, in this case, my inventory unearths a dress I made at the end of last summer, hauled along with me to the Caribbean, discovered I didn’t need a dress and hauled it home. So, since it fits into my planned palette, I will take it with me. This one is New Look 6650.
I love the half-belt detail on this dress, but I don’t’ love the length. So, when I made it, I shortened it so that it falls just at the top of my knee and added slits to the sides. I also made this from fabric that really didn’t have the 35% stretch the ease of the pattern required.
I’m just grateful I haven’t gained so much weight it won’t fit me in five weeks! But is one dress enough?
One dress is probably enough, or at least I could make it do. However, I love a shirt dress, and when I saw Butterick 6748, I thought it might be terrific. I had a piece of pin-tucked, white, woven cotton-lycra that I bought at the end of last summer, so I thought I’d give it a go.
Along the way, I picked up this new toy!
I suppose I’m late to the game (again), but I’ve never used one of these measuring gizmos before. Where has it been all my life? When I think of how much time I spend measuring for buttonhole placement…anyway, this little beauty will be with me along the way to making several coastal-grandmother-style, chic tops to take along. I’ll show them to you next time, along with my ready-to-wear picks.
I’m sure you’ve heard all about the “trending” style. A certain TikTok “influencer” has dubbed it “coastal grandmother,” but I’m here to tell you that many of us have embraced the style for years―or at least since those of us of a certain age fell in love with the movie Something’s Gotta Give. Remember that one? What woman of a certain age didn’t want to identify with Diane Keaton’s character―an older woman holed up in a sumptuous coastal mansion somewhere on the Atlantic coast of the northeastern US, writing a screenplay, having an affair with an aging Jack Nicholson (who had formerly been sleeping with her daughter), but in the end winning the handsome much younger man, Keanu Reeves. And she did all of this wearing her signature white on white on cream wardrobe. Or maybe it’s just me! In any case, we didn’t need a 26-year-old TikTokker to tell us what a great vibe Diane had going.
If you have yet to be introduced to the coastal grandmother style, first, you have to know that you don’t need to be a grandmother (thank heavens!), nor do you need to live on the coast (I used to until my husband and I heeded the siren call to the urban jungle which we love). What you do need is a serious affection for effortless style, a desire for just a touch of comfort in everything you wear and an eye for sophistication that manifests in a love of neutrals. And you don’t have to love everything about the style. Well, that’s how I see it anyway.
First, let’s get the negative out of the way. What do I not love about the aesthetic? I don’t love bucket hats (in fact, I really don’t love them). I don’t love flowy scarves (they get in the way of living). Also not a major fan of flowy pants.
Now, what do I love about the aesthetic? I love the neutral colour scheme and how effortless it is to put these elements together. I love the fact that there isn’t a too-tight T-shirt in sight (the white T’s are forgiving and worn under sweaters). I love that it feels classy. I love the neutral sweaters and the soft, expensive-looking fabrics. I love the diamond studs (thank you, my darling husband). And I really love the shirts.
All those breezy buttoned shirts―lots of gauzy long sleeves in white and light blue as well as short-sleeved camp shirts for those hot, humid days on the coast (or in the city. The Atlantic coast was never all that hot in my experience!)
Little did I know at the time that a blue-and-white-striped camp shirt would be the epitome of style within the coastal grandmother aesthetic. As I said, the shirts are what I love best about the CG style. So, that shirt is my stepping-off point for seeing if I can create a few more pieces that fit within the aesthetic. And if you’re not convinced that these shirts are on-trend at the moment, just have a look at these ones I pulled from the designer site at Hudson’s Bay. (There’s Etro, Moschino, The Kooples etc.)
Then there is the lower-priced version from this year’s Uniqlo offerings.
Can you pick out the camp collars?
Then there is one of my personal favourite brands, Kit and Ace, which offers several options in this style for this year.
Let’s start by talking about the camp shirt style
According to Thread, a camp shirt is “a shirt with a relaxed collar that sits flat against your skin.” . It’s that camp collar that’s important to the design. I have also discovered that this camp collar is sometimes referred to as a Cuban collar. It also buttons lower on the chest and has almost a mini lapel (keep this in mind as I explore patterns). A camp shirt is designed to sit out from the body to create more airflow for those hot days. For my money, it also has the singular advantage of being on trend this year―coastal grandmother…if it’s in the right colour!
Take a look at Butterick 6842. I have to say the design element that drew me to this pattern initially was the cut-in armholes that result in a flattering sleeveless blouse. But take a close look at that collar.
It’s a great example of a camp collar―which, of course, is even easier to sew than a collar on a stand. And it’s cooler to wear. What this pattern lacks when it comes to camp shirt style is the easy, breezy lines that incorporate slightly more ease. The blouse has eight (yes, eight) waistline darts, resulting in a blouse that’s more fitted than a camp shirt. But I do like a fitted blouse, too, so I went ahead and made a muslin (or two, as it turned out).
I didn’t like the fit of this one. Next.
I used yet more leftover shirting from a shirt I’d done for my son. I chose another pattern with a camp collar―New Look 6598. This pattern, too, has a camp collar, but the shirt itself is fitted, making it more of a blouse than a shirt. This time, though, there aren’t nearly as many darts, so it’s easier to get the fit right. But I still long for that camp look.
Re-enter Butterick 6324. I can’t lie. Initially, when I made this one (I showed it to you above), I didn’t think I’d be going back for more―but I did. I made this camp shirt to take on vacation this past winter, and I’ll make it again.
But what about a new project? I trolled the Lekala site once again (I challenge you to go to the site and not fall down a rabbit hole!) because I love the idea of made-to-measure sewing patterns. I found a design I liked, plugged my measurements into the website, paid $4.00, and a pdf pattern arrived. I know, I know.
I’ve waxed on about how much I hate pdf patterns in the past, and here I go again. But this is a little number with a yoke that suggests a well-fitted upper bodice and that tiny hint of a collar with a mini lapel. So, how did my recent foray into online, made-to-measure pdf patterns go? I’ll tell you all about the project in the next post!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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!).
I don’t know about you, but when my husband and I retired from our real-life jobs a few years ago, one of our plans was to pursue one of the loves of our life―seeing even more of the world. That started auspiciously!
Three days after my husband retired―and while I was on a university sabbatical―I whisked him away for a trip that I’d been dreaming about since I was in fourth grade: a week in Tahiti followed by a cruise through the South Pacific islands. It was heaven!
Then there were lots of other trips―Rome and the Med, Venice, Istanbul (what a mesmerizing city), transiting the Panama Canal on a ship, Peru (and the forbidding Atacama desert), Chile (and the magnificent Andes), Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Japan! They were all beautiful experiences that we‘ll take to our graves
And, of course, the occasional revisit to favourite Caribbean islands, which is when I did a little capsule cruise collection I designed and created a couple of years ago.
Of course, two years ago, just the week we returned from a driving trip in Florida, all hell broke loose, and we haven’t dusted off our passports since. Well…that’s all about to change. We think.
Next week, the gods of COVID and Air Canada willing, we’ll be landing in Barbados to begin a bit of island hopping (no, we’re not getting on a cruise ship amid this COVID chaos). Naturally, one begins to think carefully about what to wear, doesn’t’ one?
My plan is to pack lightly. Although we’re planning to be gone for three-and-a-half weeks, I plan to take about a week’s worth of clothes and make good use of hotel laundry services. There are a few pieces from my original “cruise collection” that I’ll probably take, but one does need some new things, n’est-ce pas?
To that end, I whipped out that piece of divine silk I bought last fall in Montreal and dug out a pattern I’d been waiting to use―Butterick 6765 (which they brought out in 2020).
I loved the drape over the front, and I especially loved the cut of the short sleeves. However, I paid a lot of money for this fabric, so I didn’t want to cut into it without knowing how it would work and fit. Que the left-over rayon I used for another blouse I took on that last vacation before COVID.
One of the things I know for sure about making muslins or test garments is that it’s important to use fabric that has a similar hand and drape to the one intended for the final garment. I learned this the hard way! This rayon drapes a bit like the silk, so I figured it would give me a good idea of fit and style.
So, I cut out View C with the short sleeves and the front drape that dipped below the waist.
Here are some of my observations about this pattern:
The overlay is too much (large, bulky, long)―blah, blah…there’s just too much of it.
The back opening is unnecessary. The thing fits over my head without taking the trouble of doing this opening.
The neckline finish suggested in the pattern is inappropriate for the kinds of fabric you would likely use for this style (bias binding with the back opening just turned in *rolls eyes*). On this same topic, they suggest using a bit of elastic to fasten the button. *rolls eyes again*
The style would be more flattering with a slightly wider neckline (for me, at least).
The cut needs more side shaping.
So, what did I do? First, I created a facing for the neckline, which encompasses the back opening.
Then I cut a self-loop and encased it in the facing. As you can see from the finished product, it’s a bit overpowering for me and a bit too generous.
When the test blouse was finished, I redrew the pattern to make it more shapely at the sides and give it a slightly wider neckline. I also removed the back seam since it was no longer necessary, making the silk hang better. Then I created mirror pieces to cut the whole thing in one layer, my preferred (and recommended) approach for cutting out silk.
Since I found the overlay too big, I used the View A overlay when I cut the final blouse. It was a much better choice for me―not so overpowering. I cut in one layer and used silk thread tailor’s tacks and my most delicate silk pins!
When I did the test pieces before I began sewing, I did them with all the recommended accoutrements for sewing silk: cotton thread (I didn’t have enough silk thread in a matching colour), the walking foot, 2 mm stitches. Well, none of this worked well. Yes, I know polyester thread sits on top of silk more than cotton or silk, but I could not work with the cotton thread and this delicate fabric. As for the walking foot (am I a sewing nerd for having a favourite sewing machine part? It’s mine), it didn’t work for this fabric. There were more waves with it than without it. A bit of gentle tension on both sides, and my regular foot worked wonderfully well. And those 2 mm stitches everyone recommends? Nope. The 2.5 looked better and worked better.
I did, however, do French seam finishes on all seamlines. Now, I know this isn’t a remarkable feat (although I was proud of myself!), I also did them on the armscye. Yes, you heard that right. It occurred to me that expensive silk garments have these finishes throughout them. Well, I guess you have to go higher than Judith and Charles (retail for $250-400 CDN―I buy mine on sale) and Vince (retail for $300-500 CDN―ditto, only buy them on sale) to get a French seam finish on an armscye. When I examined my two Judith and Charles and two Vince silk blouses, I discovered (the horror!) that the armhole finish is serged. Oh well…not on my Barbados blouse (I decided to name it Barbados in honour of our planned first destination this year).
I did find this excellent video tutorial on French seam finishing for armholes, but I didn’t watch it until I had already decided on my own approach. And I have to say that mine is a bit less like sewing inside a paper bag.
I decided that I would insert the sleeves not as I usually do with a traditional insertion, but more like putting them in as if I were making a men’s shirt―flat (but with that ease). I eased each one in flat, then I basted as I usually do, first wrong side to wrong side, trimmed, pressed, then right side to right side. It worked! Then I did the entire underarm and side seams from garment hem to sleeve hem as a single seam.
I am very pleased with the finished product and will share photos of it in action when (and if) I get to the Caribbean in ten or so days. Wish me luck with the pre-trip COVID test, the weather and the airplanes. Maybe I’ll post from the sunny south!
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