A few years ago I was introduced to the idea of selecting a word of the year instead of, or in concert with, new year’s resolutions. I like how this is rather less specific than, say, a resolution to lose 10 pounds or start exercising every day. It is harder to gauge progress using this method, but it is also harder to feel like a failure when you still weigh the same in December and stopped going to the gym in February.
In 2019 the word I chose for myself was Enough. I chose this word because it could mean a lot of things – good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, but also, rest because you’ve done enough. Reminding myself of these concepts helped me when I felt anxious about myself or like I was always behind or nothing I did was good. One afternoon I sat down and did a small embroidery of this word – something decorative to remind me of my goal. This embroidery should have been very simple by rights, but it turns out I don’t know when to stop. I thought about taking some of the colours out, but I decided that with all its imperfections, it was still good enough.
This year, the word I chose was balance. I chose it before the Coronavirus pandemic took over the world, and while I didn’t have the pandemic in mind when I chose my word, I have found it to be very appropriate to what is going on. It’s hard to find balance when you’re not supposed to leave your house or see people. This word has been a reminder to me that even though right now I’m working at home, I don’t have to work all the time. And that getting some rest, or even relaxing and not working on a project, is part of the balance of life, too.
How do you find balance in these strange times we live in?
My mom sewed a lot for me when I was a kid. She made me all sorts of lovely dresses and skirts, especially sundresses until I stopped wearing them in favor of pants around age 12. I don’t remember if she ever made me a pinafore as such, but I remember reading about them, and my sundresses certainly served the same purpose.
Recently as I was scrolling through Instagram I came across the Fleur Pinafore by Untitled Thoughts. I was entranced. But then I kept scrolling, because I don’t wear pinafores, and I haven’t since I was 12 at most. But then it kept popping up on my feed. And then I followed the hashtag. And then I found myself at the fabric store shopping for supplies to make myself a pinafore.
I bought this beautiful softly woven cotton fabric from Hobby Lobby. It’s somewhat more loosely woven than quilting cotton, which makes it drape nicely, and the colours and pattern remind me of my childhood in Arizona. I also bought some plain deep red cotton as an accent/lining fabric.
Now I am a very creative person. I’ve written knitting and tatting patterns, and I’ve drafted one or two very simple sewing patterns for myself. So when I looked at the Fleur Pinafore, I thought about how it’s pretty much just rectangles, and I decided to take my measurements and draft my own pattern. And doing that turned out pretty well, but I definitely feel that if I had bought and followed the pattern this would have taken me less time and my finished product would have turned out a little nicer. As it is, though, I’m pretty happy with what I made.
The first thing I did was to measure myself and my fabric and have a good think. I even made a little sketch! I wanted to be extra fancy with the front “bodice” block of the pinafore, so I cut and stitched this first.
Then I cut my lining fabric. I had originally planned to do my pockets, waistband, and lining all in the same wine red fabric, but it turned out that I didn’t buy quite enough. So my waistband and the front and back blocks were lined with an eggplant purple linen/rayon blend that was left over from another project. Before sewing the fashion fabric to the lining, I made up the straps so I could stitch these in with the seam. Once the front and back blocks were assembled, I turned them right side out, clipped the corners, ironed everything, and top-stitched around the edges. With this the bodice front and back were done.
The next piece I worked on was the waistband. I cut the waistband straight, as a rectangle, but with hindsight I wish I had cut it on a slight curve like a pants or skirt waistband. The red fabric originally meant for lining was cut as the outer waistband, and had interfacing fused on. Then the waistband outer and lining were centered over the bottom edge of the bodice blocks, and seamed.
The final piece to assemble was the skirt. I found that if I folded my remaining fabric in half it was the perfect length, so I cut it into 2 equal pieces along the fold line, and sewed 3 rows of basting stitches along the top of each skirt panel. Before gathering the skirt panels, I sewed them together, leaving a 5″ opening at the top of each seam. I inserted a placket into both openings, but instead of attaching both sides of the placket to the skirt, I attached one side of each placket to my pockets. The pockets had not been seamed yet, so I sewed the second half of each pocket to the second skirt panel, and then sewed the pockets together. This is hard to describe, and even harder to visualize, but it left me with a pocket and a skirt opening in the same place.
At this point I was running out of daylight, so I did a quick single-turn hem, and went to bed. The next morning I was wild to wear my new pinafore, so instead of waiting to sewing in closures I pinned it on and went about my day. This wasn’t part of the plan, but I am so glad I wore this around for a day before adding closures! It turns out that my sitting down waist measurement is about 2 inches larger than my standing up waist measurement, and I had not accounted for this in my pattern drafting. Wearing the pinafore pinned closed for a few hours helped me to figure out where the closures needed to be so I would end up with a garment I would actually enjoy wearing.
The last adjustment that needed to be made was to the hem. I cut the skirt as 2 equal rectangles, not taking into account the difference in waist-to-hem measurements in the front and back. The proper technique to fix this is to take out the waist seam and raise the waist to the right measurement, but I had already established that I was not taking the waist seam out. Instead, I cut the front panel to be an inch shorter in the front, angling to match the back panel at the side seams.
My pinafore is technically still not done. I still have a single-turn hem, and I need to do some finishing work on the pocket edges, but it is wearable, and I have loved wearing it this month!
P.S. This garment is massively cat approved! My black cat normally refuses to sit in laps, but the first day I wore this pinafore he volunteered to be a lap kitty. This dress is magic!
I remember when I first heard of Me Made May, probably 6 years ago. I had a few me-made garments in my closet, but not nearly enough to wear everyday. The idea of wearing handmade every day – or even taking it a step further and wearing only handmade items – boggled my mind. So the first and second Mays I watched from the sidelines, marveling at all the things other people had made. The third May was the first year I participated. By this point I had made several tops and had quite a few knitted accessories. It made me sad that it was Me Made May, and not Me Made February. It’s a lot easier to wear knitted shawls and socks in the winter than in the late Spring. The second and third Mays were easier than the first as I continued to make things I needed instead of always buying.
This will be my 4th year participating in Me Made May, and this year I have a game-changer: Pants. I’ve wanted to make pants for quite a while now, but it seemed scary and I didn’t have a pattern, so I always put it off. What made me change my behaviour (and my mind) this year was the COVID-19 pandemic and the realization that it was Spring and I only had one pair of shorts. Just before the pandemic hit the US and everything shut down I went to the library and got a bunch of books. This wasn’t intentional, but it was fortuitous, since I now get to keep the books until the library opens up again. One of the books I got was Gertie Sews Vintage Casual. The book comes with quite a few patterns, ideas on how to mix and match them to create different garments, and a lot of general sewing and fitting advice. One of the patterns is for fitted cigarette pants made in a stretch fabric. I like fitted pants, so I took my measurements and cut a size 6 with an 8 waist. When I buy ready-to-wear pants I often have trouble with them fitting well in the bum, so I added some length to the back and sides of my pattern to make sure I would have enough coverage. Then I ordered some stretch denim from StyleMaker Fabrics and waited for the mail.
A few days later my fabrics had arrived. I washed and dried my first fabric, laid out the pattern pieces, and cut everything out. Then I machine-basted everything together according to the pattern, and did a self-fitting. The pants fit surprisingly well out of the envelope. I took the waist in (I probably could have cut a straight 6), made a small adjustment in the front seam, lowered the waistband, and raised the hem. I made sure to mark all my adjustments, then I took everything apart. Before I started these shorts I told myself that these were just a muslin, that it didn’t have to be a wearable garment, and that whether or not they fit I was going to take them apart and transfer my changes to my paper pattern. Doing this made me feel like an adult and a virtuous sewist. And I know that next time I use this pattern it will already be adjusted to my body and preferences.
With my pattern updated, I sewed everything back together with a normal stitch length. Then I wrangled with the zipper: I put the zipper in 4 times, and I’m still not happy with it, but there comes a point where good enough is all you need. On the first try the zipper went in beautifully. But I had used a basting stitch length, and I was worried about the longevity of my zipper. So out it came. On the second try my stitch length was correct, but the thread tension on my machine was horrible. Ditto for the third try. I noticed on the second and third tries that the bobbin-side of the sewing looked much better than the needle-side, so for my fourth attempt I sewed from the inside of the garment (which made much more sense to me anyway). There are still a few weird loops of thread on the outside of the fabric, but it mostly looks ok. This was the only part of this sew that my machine had trouble with, and I think it just didn’t like sewing through 2+ layers of denim and the zipper tape.
Once the zipper had been wrangled into submission, I pinked the inside seams and sewed the hem. Then I did a final fitting for the waist height, sewed the waist facing in, and tacked it down at the zipper and seams. At this point I realized I should have sewn the facing in before the zipper, but oh well. My shorts were finished, and at that point, being finished was all I cared about.
I have fabric to make another pair of shorts, which will bring me up to three pairs – a respectable number. After that, I’d love to get some fun stretch wovens or Ponte knits and make full-length pants. I can make pants, y’all! The sky is the limit!