Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m tired already.

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in fabrics, sewing patterns, Style

The pleasures of a cozy cardigan: Sewing up comfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In case you’re interested:

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


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

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

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style, wardrobe planning

Cozying up to fall and winter: Sewing up comfort

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

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

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

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

Audrey in the movie Charade…in the Alps!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, wardrobe planning

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

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

Montreal begins to look like autumn.

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

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

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

My F/W 2021-22 colour scheme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Posted in sewing patterns, Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

The Shrug: Could it be the most useful piece of clothing ever?

I think that the shrug might just be the most useful piece of clothing a woman could own. They are so small, so light, so packable. Well, most of them are. The shrug. Sometimes referred to as a bolero. But are they the same thing? I’ll get to that, but let me begin by introducing you to the shrug.

I’d like you to meet a few shrugs I’ve known and loved in my life.

[FYI: I used McCall’s 7289, which now seems to be out of print ―for good reason in my view―for the white and black shrug shown on the veranda of a cruise ship suite, but it was so humongous and funky, I had to make a significant number of changes to the pattern.]


So, how exactly do you define a shrug?

Well, the English language is a funny bird, isn’t it? The Merriam-Webster dictionary says to shrug means “to raise or draw in the shoulders especially to express aloofness, indifference, or uncertainty.”[1] And a shrug is the act of shrugging.

Ah, the English language. A shrug is also a piece of clothing. No wonder so many people have difficulty learning the language!

Wikipedia, the arbiter of all things, says, “A shrug is a cropped, cardigan-like garment with short or long sleeves cut in one with the body, typically knitted, for women.”[2] Hmm…that doesn’t seem quite right. It seems too narrow. In fact, many online definitions on supposed style sites suggest that they are knitted garments, and when they are embellished, they are boleros. However, that doesn’t make sense to me, given the origin of the bolero and shrug.

If we look at the evolution of fashion historically, it seems that the bolero jacket evolved from a military garment called a Zouave jacket, a garment that is not, in any way, knitted. It was widely used in uniforms during the nineteenth century and even earlier, especially during the American Civil War.

A Civil-War era Zouave jacket

If you think about the fashions in Gone with the Wind, for example, and consider the jackets often worn over those voluminous dresses, you are seeing the evolution of the Zouave jacket into what we now refer to as a bolero, which has Spanish origins. Think bullfighter. So, the two similar garments come together to give us what we see today as bolero jackets. But are these shrugs?

I’ve concluded that I have to have my own definition that arises from all of this, so here’s what I’m going with.

A shrug is a short, cropped jacket that is worn open over the bodice of a dress, top or T-shirt.

A shrug sweater is a knitted shrug.

A bolero jacket is a shrug that may or may not be slightly longer but that always has a closure at the front.

How’s that? Anyway, those are my definitions and I’m sticking with them. Now that we have that out of the way, why would you even need one (or a dozen) shrugs? Here are my reasons:

  • Shrugs flatter every body type.
  • A shrug can change the look of any dress, top or T-shirt.
  • You can wear a shrug to a soccer game or a black-tie event.
  • A shrug can make one dress or top endlessly versatile.
  • Taking three little, tiny shrugs on vacation can make one dress have four looks! (Includes the look without a shrug.)
The transformative nature of a shrug.

It also seems that people have been sewing shrugs for decades. One of the vintage patterns I was drawn to and had to own is McCall’s 5337 from 1960. I haven’t made this one yet, but I will.

And here are a few more from the 1940s and 1950s.

Lest you think that shrug/bloero patterns are only an historical artifact, there are oodles of current patterns for these nifty little items. Here are a few to consider:

Recently, I had a piece of leftover ottoman ribbed bamboo fabric that I knew I should use. I paid twenty or twenty-five dollars a metre for it, so I had to use it. But what could I make? What did I have enough of it to make was the more important question.

Last year I made a knit jacket from McCall’s 7254. It has a view that when you leave off the collar and front, you’re left with a tiny shrug. It was perfect, and I managed to squeeze out enough fabric to make it. Of course, it was dead simple to make. In fact, it took so little time, I was disappointed, given my penchant for slow sewing! There was only so slowly I could go.

Now, I have a new shrug to pair with a simple white T-shirt in the spring, or perhaps even over a little dress. Although the process was quick, during it, I also discovered something interesting.

One indie pattern company that seemed to have several interesting designs for shrugs and bolero jackets was Lekala. The next time I post, I’ll tell you about my experience of falling down that particular rabbit hole.

Do you own shrugs?

FYI

I found lots of free shrug/bolero patterns online―many were hopeless.  Here are three that might work:

http://so-sew-easy.com/free-shrug-pattern-simple/#_a5y_p=3122814

https://www.sewmag.co.uk/free-sewing-patterns/floral-bolero-jackethttps://www.moodfabrics.com/blog/the-gordonia-hoodie-free-sewing-pattern/


[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shrug

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrug_(clothing)

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Shirt-making, Style, Stylish Books

The “Perfect Shirt” Project Begins

There’s not a single style manual on the planet that doesn’t suggest to all of us that among the essential wardrobe staples we should have in our closets is the button-up shirt (as opposed to the button-down shirt which I’ve discussed before!).

American “style expert” Lloyd Boston lists “the white shirt” number one in his book The Style Checklist: The Ultimate Wardrobe Essentials for You. He specifically suggests that this fashion must-have should be white. And I’m sure that we all have a few white button-up shirts in our fashion arsenal, but I think it’s safe to say that we also need other colours.

Dearer to our hearts perhaps (at least for those of us who create some of our own fashion pieces) Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr authors of the recent book A Stylish Guide to Classic Sewing include the shirt among their 30 timeless garments and they include both styling tips and sewing tips. They also don’t confine this classic to white and consider that we ought to have a few in different colours in our wardrobes.

Why is the shirt such a universally appealing wardrobe piece? I think because it is endlessly versatile.

A shirt can say corporate meeting. It can say casual Saturday. It can say sexy Saturday night. Youthful, put-together, classic, chic, tasteful, refined and classy – these are all words that come to my mind when I think of a classic shirt. And throughout the twentieth century, a variety of iconic women made the shirt an icon all on its own.

Who wouldn’t swoon over Lauren Bacall in Key Largo in her ever-present button-up?

See the yoke and the men’s styling features? Wonderful! And so versatile

Or the ever-chic Audrey Hepburn? Sexy and buttoned-up all at the same time!

More recently, remember Uma  Thurman in Pulp Fiction? Even if you didn’t see the movie, I’m sure you saw the stills where she is smouldering in her white button-up with French cuffs.

Then, if you still think a button-up shirt is too prissy for you, may I reintroduce you to Marilyn? You can never see a classic shirt the same way again once you’ve seen one on Marilyn.

Unmistakably Marilyn!

There doesn’t seem to be any agreement on precisely when women started wearing button-up shirts. Some sources suggest it was in the 1950s when women in movies would wear their partner’s shirt (i.e. a men’s shirt) after the suggestion that they had just had sex. But that can’t be right because women in the armed services wore shirts long before that and we’ve seen photos of women in the late 1800s wearing what appear to be collared shirts with ankle-grazing skirts.  

In the 19th century, these early women’s “shirts” were often referred to as “shirtwaists.” This is the term we now use when referring to shirt-dresses.

The problem with many of the shirts on offer to women in ready-to-wear these days is that they don’t fit very well. The darts are often in the wrong places. The fit over the bust is often a problem in general. Enter the gape! They are often too wide across the shoulders and nip in too much at the waist. Or they look like bags all over. A smart button-up shirt ought to fit perfectly, n’est ce pas?

I enjoyed Justine Leconte’s tips on how a shirt should fit and found it very useful so I’ll use her approach when I check on the fit of my own perfect shirt…

This is right up my alley, although I often wonder what women whose foundational style is artistic boho think about this. In any case, who am I to argue with the wardrobe police? I agree: everyone looks terrific in a shirt. But it has to be perfect. Enter my new project.

After I finished my husband’s perfectly-fitted (and very expensive) shirt project, it occurred to me that I ought to have a perfectly-fitted pattern that I can use for both a shirt and a blouse. And there is a difference between a shirt and a blouse in my mind. The fashion police suggest that a blouse is a type of shirt (because it blouses?) but a shirt is not always a blouse. A shirt is crisp while a blouse is drapey. At least that’s how I’m going to define them. I plan to start the project by creating the perfect shirt pattern then modifying it for blouses.

So what does my perfect shirt need?

  • It needs to be fitted either with darts or princess lines. I think I’ll start with darts because princess lines are really just a variation on that and I can always manipulate darts into a princess seam if I want to do that in the future.
  • It needs to have a collar. Kind of a no-brainer since this is part of the definition of a shirt. However, there are different kinds of collars and I want this to be a collar with a stand.
  • It needs to have well-fitted sleeves. I find that commercial patterns often have sleeves that are very large around the bicep. They seem to think we are all stevedores or wrestlers.
  • It needs to have nice cuffs with a nice placket. This is a skill I will need to learn more about since I see so many different kinds of plackets around.
  • It needs to have a back yoke. Yokes support the material in the shirt. I can always manipulate this out if I choose a blouse-type approach in the future.
  • It needs to be the right length. I’ll figure that out as I fit the test shirt.
  • I don’t necessarily want the shirt to have any breast pockets, but that’s an option I’ll keep in mind for variations.

Where to begin? I decided to start with an examination of commercial patterns. I own a couple, none of which is perfect.

McCall’s 6649 (copyright marked 2012 and now out of print it seems) seems to tick all the boxes, as does McCall’s 7575 (a 2017 addition). In fact, they are so similar as to make one wonder why they got rid of one and created another one just the same. I also picked up Burda 6908 in the discards box at a Fabricville outpost in Muskoka during our fall road trip. This pattern is dated 2014 and is a bit different from the previous ones in that it is more of a tunic style – no darts, quite long and very balloony. Not quite what I’m looking for in a basic pattern, but I do think I will make it as part fo this project.

So it does seem as if I’m going to have to really work on my own pattern. I’ll start with M7575 and modify it for fit and style. And what about fabric?

Well, these classic shirts are by definition fabricated from wovens, usually 100% cotton or a cotton blend. Obviously, they have to be fairly lightweight – just imagine what these shirts would look like made from canvas. Not the image I’m going for. Eventually, I’d love to have a fine Italian cotton, but for the first go-around, I’m going to see what I have leftover from other projects. Stay tuned for my test shirt – a kind of “Frankenstyle” design while I test out my pattern details.

I’ll give LB the final word…

Posted in Fashion Design, Little Black Dress, Style

The cruise collection in action: Before we begin the review

IMG_0285There is nothing quite like a three-week break from the Great White North in the middle of February and beyond…but when you return – well, let’s just say being able to tell some stories about your adventure seems to prolong the warmth. I’m just back from debuting the cruise collection that has taken up so much of my design and create time over the past few months, a debut which actually did take place on a cruise.

I refused to show the pieces on an actual person (GG herself) until they were in the right setting, and as I do the laundry and generally get back to normal, I just thought it might be nice to get the story started with a brief glimpse of what’s to come over the next few blog posts.

We cruised aboard the Silversea line’s Silver Spirit, a 600-passenger luxury vessel, beginning in Puerto Rico (where we spent 6 days before the cruise started), cruising the Caribbean visiting Grand Cayman, the cultural and historical cities of Santiago, Cienfuegos and Havana in Cuba, the island (really a sand bar) Bimini in the Bahamas, then ending in Fort Lauderdale in Florida where we spent the last few days of our vacation.

Remember the day dress project and the LBCD dress project? Just a glimpse…

IMG_0409

Until next week when I have more time – and more photos to show.

Posted in Fashion Design, Pattern-drafting, sewing, Style, Style Influencers

Cruise collection project: Designing my perfect “sunny day” dress

I’m not really a sundress kind of woman. I know this about myself. All those flowy, floaty, cottony printed dresses with strappy bodices are simply not my style. With that off my chest, I can concede, though, that there is nothing quite as cool and comfortable, not to mention pulled-together, than a well-fitting “sunny day” dress. That I could get into – as long as it fulfils a number of important GG criteria. But before I get to that, what about all those sundresses out there?

Let’s start with a definition (forgive me: I’m a former Professor and this is where we always begin).

Dictionary.com (what would we do without those online dictionaries? Open a book perhaps?) defines a sundress as follows…

noun

  1. a dress with a bodice styled to expose the arms, shoulders, and back, for wear during hot weather.[1]

Well, isn’t that interesting. Not a thing about flowy, floaty, cottony prints! Just a lot of exposure. Interesting. But then, there’s the Urbandictionary.com definition (Don’t blame me; I’m not endorsing anyone’s definition. I’m just sharing what they say for the sake of discussion…)

sundress

A one piece dress with a to-the-knee or lower hemline, usually worn by clingy, slutty, chunky-looking women during the summer, often accented by clogsflip-flops, and the absence of panties…[2]

Geesh! Duly noted…but I’m a bit old for the last element! Well, I guess everyone is an expert these days. And if you didn’t know there were other descriptions out there, maybe it’s a good thing to be educated! In any case, that’s not how I see them. In any event, this definition doesn’t seem to mention that flowy, floaty, cottony thing either. So, I’m on firmer ground than I thought by establishing my own criteria for the perfect sundress.

In general, I think we can all agree with that all-knowing authority we call Wikipedia, that it is a “dress intended to be worn in warm weather…”[3] This is a suitably vague definition that has endless design possibilities. I have seen references to American designer and socialite Lily Pulitzer as leader in making the sundress a must-have summer garment choice in North America in the twentieth century. Her tropical coloured prints, so reminiscent of Palm Beach where she lived, became my reference point for Florida- style hot-weather dressing, and it never did suit my aesthetic. But it was everywhere. So, you can see where I got my notion that sun dresses are printed!

https://www.lillypulitzer.com/dresses/

…Although I have to say that I would wear a few from the current collection that even has black *gasp* and other non-print colours.(These are dresses from the current collection…Lily herself died in 2013.)

The brand really took off in 1962 when Jackie O. (then Jackie Kennedy) was photographed with her husband and children wearing an LP dress. As you already know, Jackie O.’s Mediterranean style is one of my design muses for this little cruise-worthy collection.

jackie in LP
Jackie (Kennedy) in LP

So, then, what are the attributes that I look for in a cool summer dress that is at the centre of my cruise wear day-time wardrobe?

  • The dress should be in a natural fibre – or at least a natural blend.
  • The dress should be in a light colour. I do love a black dress (no kidding), but have you worn a black T-shirt or top out walking in the sun? Not good.
  • The dress should be a sheath. In other words, it should not, as the original definitions of the sundress suggest, be a bodice with an attached skirt. That’s not as cool as a well-fitting sheath in my view.
  • The dress should be sleeveless, exposing arms: it should not expose the back. Have you ever walked a distance in the Caribbean sun in a backless garment? Not good at all. I don’t want to be nursing a sunburn for three weeks.
  • The dress should have a tailored vibe. Yes, that’s right. T-a-i-l-o-r-e-d. That’s who I am.

So, when I put all of these together, it’s little wonder that I was inspired by an old sewing pattern image I stumbled upon when collecting ideas for this collection.

I did a few sketches and decided that this was the one I’d go with.

GG-CC019-03 alone

 

It’s really a shirt dress style, but I love the fact that the collar goes right to the edges of the cross-over at the front rather than to the centre front. If I were to actually close it over (which I nave no intention of ever doing) it would actually create a kind of stand-up collar, a look I might be inclined to use in a winter dress or top. I love the intentionality of the popped collar on this one.

I began with drafting a pattern from my sloper…

IMG_1758

…and sewed up a muslin…

After a few tweaks, I was ready to select a fabric from my cruise fabric selections. I chose the striped seersucker.

I did learn one new skill with this piece. Don’t laugh: I learned to use the machine button foot. Not the button-hole foot – I already use that – I mean the one that sews on buttons. I have to credit my husband for goading me into it. I always hand-sew buttons on a garment, but he, a master of gadgets, asked why I don’t use the machine foot designed for this purpose. I always thought it would be more trouble than it was worth. I was so wrong!

buttons

I have created a dress that will be an important part of day-time dressing on the cruise and during our pre-cruise week in Puerto Rico and post cruise couple of days in Fort Lauderdale. (Keep in mind that a Silversea ship isn’t exactly a sloppy T and cargo shorts kind of venue).

It may not be what you call a sundress, but it’s my “sunny day” dress! Photos of it in action will have to wait until the cruise!

IMG_0048

[1] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/sundress

[2] https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=sundress

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundress

Posted in Fashion Design, Pattern-drafting, sewing, Style

Cruise Collection Project: The perfect LBCD (little black cocktail dress)

RTW cruisewear
My past RTW cruise wear

Every project has to begin somewhere. When you think of vacationing in the Caribbean and what you’ll be wearing, you might very well begin with an image of a beach and a palm tree and a cool cocktail. You might be wearing a dreamy, floaty swim cover-up, or a fluttery tank top and shorts, or even a sun dress. Well, I’ll get there eventually, but let’s face it – my cruise collection really is for a cruise. And a luxury cruise at that. What this means is a major requirement for cocktail attire, so that’s where I’m starting. My perfect LBCD.

I spent a lot of time last year on my Little Black Dress project, during which I completed four test garments using three commercial patterns and ending up with my own design. But during that process I did find a silhouette that I thought I might translate into one of my own pieces.

For this collection, I’m inspired by Jackie O. and Audrey Hepburn on the Mediterranean. Much of what that conjures up for me relates to daytime sand, sun, surf and shopping in Monte Carlo. But for evening, I need to look no further than their iconic cocktail style to be inspired to create a dress that will be the centerpiece of this evening cruise collection.

Jacki & Audrey

It will be a simple, boat-necked, princess-seamed black dress that fits to perfection and can be changed up by accessories and all manner of little jackets. That way, a cruiser like me need only take one or two cocktail dresses and never look the same twice.

IMG_1801

The fabric is black with textural striped detail and lovely drape which lends itself to the long, lean line of this princess-seamed dress. Although this fabric feels wonderful on its own (and is washable and packable to boot), I am lining it for a more sophisticated feel – and it finishes off the neckline and armholes beautifully.

 

It is so simple: boat-neck, sleeveless, lined, invisible back zipper, centre-back slit. Perfect fit. That’s it.

GG collection cc019-01 LBCD

 

 

Next I’ll need to draft a few jackets to accompany it!

GG collection cc019 a20180903

 

Perhaps in a coordinating fabric? We’ll see.

IMG_1798

[BTW: No final views of the pieces in action – i.e. on me – until we hit the Caribbean!]