Plaid Floral Pants

Late last year I realized that I didn’t like any of my clothes. I hadn’t bought anything new in quite a while (thanks COVID!) and many of the items in my closet were old and showing signs of wear. I take immense pleasure in dressing prettily, so my dilapidated wardrobe was actively making me unhappy. I decided to approach the problem from two directions: I would buy several garments depending on what I could find in stores and what I didn’t think I could easily make myself, and I would make items I wanted to make or couldn’t find in stores. I made a list of garments I wanted to add to my wardrobe or replace, and I listed out some colours or styles I specifically wanted to target. Then I went shopping for clothes … and ended up returning half of the garments I bought due to fit issues. This further fueled my resolve to make my own clothes. Next I went online and picked out a whole host of beautiful fabrics to make myself beautiful clothes. You’ve seen quite a few of the garments I made from this bulk purchase, and I still have several fabrics that I haven’t even cut into yet!

When I first saw this floral plaid ponte knit from StyleMaker Fabrics I knew I had to have it for myself. It was just so beautiful! I bought enough to make a pair of pants. I had already made a pair of Cigarette Pants using a similar knit ponte, so I knew my pattern fit me, but that I needed to make a few alterations to accommodate the fabric. My main alterations were to narrow the pants from waist to hem by about half an inch per pattern piece and to add a plain waistband instead of the internal waistband from the pattern.

I used zig-zag and lightning stitches for everything to reduce the possibility of popped seams (and because my new machine allows me to use fancy stitches whenever I like!). The sewing went quite quickly once I had started, and within a few hours I had a lovely new pair of pants!

I really like these pants! They fit great, and the make quite a statement (maybe too much of a statement?). As with everything, however, there are a few things I don’t like:

  • The plaid doesn’t quite match up due to a pattern error (I’ve fixed this on my pattern so it doesn’t come up again).
  • I’m pleased with the waistband, but I want to futz with it a little. The waistband is made from a long strip of fabric, with a length of 1″ elastic inside. I zig-zagged the elastic to the inside of the waistband to prevent it twisting. I applied the front of the waist band to the pants, and then top-stitched the under-side down, but I folded it too far away from the edge, so the seam allowances are not caught in the waistband like they should be.
  • The waistband is maybe a little bit too tight?
  • I intentionally left the pants long because I don’t like my ankles showing when I’m sitting down (weird, I know). This worked a treat with my herringbone pants, but in these pants it just causes leg wrinkles due to the tighter fit in the leg. You can’t see this in the photos because I folded up the hem by about an inch to make them the perfect length.
  • These pants are loud, and I can only wear certain colours/styles with them. Since I’m still rebuilding my wardrobe this is severely limiting the amount of wear I can get out of these pants right now.

Despite the flaws in my garments, I see so much progress in my skills and abilities over the last few years. I am so proud of myself for making beautiful garments that fit and look pretty professional. And let’s not forget that professionals make mistakes, too. I don’t know if I’ve ever looked at store-bought clothes as closely as the clothes I make for myself, but I know that I’ve seen some weird stuff in purchased clothes over the years, too.

Faux-Edwardian Half-Circle Skirt

Historybounding is all the rage this year, and I am here for this trend! I love the Edwardian era, which is specifically fueled by my love for Anne of Green Gables and other works by L. M. Montgomery. Growing up I desperately wanted to be Anne, and it turns out that my personality is very similar to hers (This similarity is positive in terms of creativity, but negative in terms of feather-brained-ness).

Earlier this year I made an Edwardian blouse out of wool shirting (Wool shirting is lovely, but requires some extra care to avoid shrinkage. I learned this the hard way). Next I needed a long skirt to go with it. I considered several options of various difficulty levels when making this skirt: drafting a skirt using instructions from the Keystone Jacket and Dress Cutter, using the Fantail Skirt from Scroop Patterns, or being really simple about it and lengthening the half-circle skirt pattern in Gertie Sews Vintage Casual (Again, I know. I did warn you I would be using these patterns a lot!). In the end I chose the half-circle skirt because it was the easiest option, because I already had the pattern, and also because I like the more modern fit and silhouette of this over the Fantail skirt (plus, it uses less fabric!). The Keystone and Fantail skirts have an extremely Edwardian silhouette, but there is some evidence that skirts in period may have also been cut similarly to our modern half-circle skirts (photo from Petit Echo de la Mode in this blog post).

I used a beautiful light green wool suiting from Denver Fabrics. The fabric is a nice medium weight with a cream warp and green weft (or vice versa) – this creates a lovely heathered look in the fabric. I pre-washed and dried my fabric, then cut out the (identical) front and back pieces on the fold. I wanted the skirt to end just above the floor, but this made my pattern piece a few inches wider than my fabric. Rather than narrowing the skirt I pieced the bottom corners on both front and back. I created pocket and pocket facing pieces based on the pieces from Gertie’s cigarette pants. Then I assembled the pockets and seamed or basted everything in place.

Next I sewed up the side seams. I tried to align the piecing perfectly at the bottom of the skirt, but failed on both seams. Oh well, c’est la vie. I then inserted an invisible zipper on one side of the skirt. To finish of the top of the skirt I cut a straight waistband 3 inches wide and a little longer than my waist measurement. The 3 inch waistband was folded and seamed into a 1 inch finished waistband that fit my waist exactly with a 1 inch underlap.

At this point I could no longer avoid the hem, and I set the skirt aside for a while. On one hand I wanted to make the finishing simple – which would usually mean a double-turn hem, sewn by machine. But the rest of the skirt was so beautifully sewn to avoid the appearance of machine stitches, and I didn’t want to spoil that with sloppy finishing. What I ended up doing (after much dithering) was creating an 8 inch facing using a coordinating quilting cotton, and inserting some cotton crinoline into the hem for stiffness. I was surprised to find cotton crinoline at my local JoAnn’s, and it was exactly what I needed. Crinoline is a starched open-weave fabric. Using it in this application helps keep the skirt hem out and away from the legs, but does limit washability (washing in water would remove the starch, and the fabric would no longer be stiff). I cut shaped panels of both the crinoline and the quilting cotton that were seamed together before being applied to the hem. My husband helped me mark the skirt hem so I could then do the finishing.

I do not recommend the method I used to apply the hem facing. After piecing the hem facing in quilting cotton I aligned it with the skirt hem, and sewed it on by machine with right sides together. I then turned this right side out, inserted the crinoline, folded the facing edge over top of the crinoline, and whipped this down by hand. Turning the facing right side out while maintaining the hemline, and then inserting the crinoline was frustratingly difficult. If I was doing this again I would apply the facing to the crinoline using basting stitches, then fold up the skirt hem allowance and apply the facing + crinoline to the skirt using whip stitches. This would result in having to hand-stitch the entire hem (rather than only the top half), but it would be so much easier to move around and make sure the hem is kept smooth. Please, if you try this yourself, don’t do it the way I did.

Once the hem was done all that was left was to make a buttonhole and sew on a button. I had just bought my new sewing machine, and this was my first chance to use the buttonhole and button sewing functions. I selected a plain brass button, and tested the buttonhole before sewing into the final garment. After the buttonhole was sewn I cut the opening using a chisel, rather than scissors, as I feel this gives a cleaner cut edge. I did not finish the side seams, since these are cut on the bias with a 5/8 inch seam allowance and are unlikely to fray significantly.

With that the skirt was done! There is a lot of hem to wrangle when getting into the car, and these skirts were definitely made for an era before rolling office chairs had been invented. Despite these niggling complaints, I am very happy with what I made. I find this skirt to be comfortable and glamorous. It’s not fully historical, but still gives a nod to the past, especially when styled for the Edwardian era. I am looking forward to continuing to build out my Edwardian-ish wardrobe. Next I need to make a petticoat and fix/remake my Edwardian blouse.

3 Tops in 3 Days: A Jersey-filled Weekend

At the end of last year I did an assessment of my wardrobe, and I was appalled with what I found. My clothes were worn, didn’t fit, or just didn’t excite me anymore. The result? I didn’t want to wear any of the clothes I had, and I hated getting dressed in them. I have always loved clothes and dressing in a way that makes me feel pretty, and without that ability I didn’t feel like myself. I resolved to dig myself out of this hole not by going shopping (or at least, not just by going shopping), but by making many of the pieces that were missing or worn out.

You’ve seen several of the pieces I’ve made over the last 6 months. Most of them have been made of woven fabrics for the simple reason that my sewing machine had broken and would only stitch a straight stitch. It did (and still does) a great job at straight stitch, but I dreamed of sewing zig zags and buttonholes, so I entered a side-quest to find a new sewing machine. I searched online, read dozens of reviews, and visited several sewing shops in my area. Finally I made a decision, gave the shop my money, and sat down to wait for my machine to come in. Did you know that the pandemic has caused a sewing machine shortage? I didn’t until I was shopping for a new machine. It seems that when everyone was stuck at home a lot of people decided to pick up sewing. That along with factory and shipping issues has caused a shortage of sewing machines and delays in getting a machine once you have ordered it. I waited 2-3 weeks (which felt like months) before my machine came in. Then the sun shone, the birds sang, and I brought my new machine home!

My new machine is a Baby Lock Presto II. She has 100 built in stitches (including 7 zig zags, 7 buttonholes, and 4 alphabets), and sews up to 850 stitches per minute. I had planned to buy a manual machine for the sake a simplicity and quality, but companies are moving more and more toward electronic machines, and these seem to have the best quality offerings. I am still learning what she can do, but I am happy with what I’ve seen so far.

Around the same time I ordered my machine I bought several cuts of jersey in preparation for FINALLY having a zig zag stitch (I had been wanting this capability for at least 2 years, so I was ready!). First I made a Wiksten tank with some jersey from Hobby Lobby (it’s the same jersey I used for this shirt). It had been a while since I made my last Wiksten tank, but my modified pattern pieces seemed about right, so I moved to cutting out. My cut of fabric was about 6 inches too short for the pattern, but I didn’t let that deter me. I ended up piecing the upper front and back pieces to make a final piece that fit (I didn’t want to sacrifice any length in the top since I am long-waisted). After the piecing was done I completed the actual construction, then moved to fitting. The Wiksten tank is patterned for woven fabric, so I wasn’t sure how it would do with jersey (even a more rigid cotton jersey like this) and I’m so glad I took the time to fit this before doing the finishing. I took several inches out of the shoulder and out of the underarm (I angled this out to the hem, and I love the angle it created and how it fits me). I contemplated putting a tuck in the front neck to reduce gaping, but decided to wait until I had washed the garment in case the neckline had stretched out while sewing (after washing I decided the neckline was ok). Finally I finished all my edges by turning under once and zig-zagging into place. In hindsight, this wasn’t a great way to finish the neck and arm holes because it created some puckering, but it is what it is, and I am treating it as a learning experience.

Second I made a light blue t-shirt with bees on it (fabric from Joann’s). I veered from my trusty Alabama Chanin t-shirt pattern to try the t-shirt pattern from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual. I have found that the Alabama Chanin pattern works well with ribbed Jersey, but doesn’t fit me when using a stockinette style jersey. I went by the pattern size recommended in the book, and was very pleased with the overall fit. I felt that the neckline was too low, and the neckband gaped a little, so I took note of these things to change in my next version.

For the third shirt I used the same pattern as the second, this time with a happy clouds jersey fabric. I raised the neckline, made the neckband a little smaller, and stretched the neckband a little tighter when applying it. This resulted in the perfect t-shirt! I am so happy with the fit of this and I definitely plan to make more.

3 tops in a weekend is a lot of sewing (at least for me). I am so pleased to have these garments to help fill out my casual wardrobe. I am planning to make more t-shirts, so stay tuned!

Do you have a favourite stitch on your sewing machine?

Wardrobe Reincarnation: Pencil Skirt Edition

In college I had the most gorgeous grey pencil skirt with hand-stitched details on the front. Alas, it has been many years since my college days, and that skirt is no more. I’ve been working on renewing my wardrobe recently, and was reminded of this skirt. I looked online for fabric to make one, but couldn’t find anything I liked right off. And then I was sewing my herringbone pants, and when I turned the fabric over I realized it was perfect! And I had just under a yard of fabric left, which is the perfect amount to make a pencil skirt.

As I often do, I started with a sketch. I used the Knit Pencil Skirt pattern from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual as my base pattern, making fitting adjustments as needed. I dithered around for sever days trying to find a way to make the skirt reversible, but in the end I went with the simplest route and made it normally.

The hand-stitched details on the front really elevate this item from a normal skirt to something special. My college skirt had 4-6 lines stitched on the front, but I sewed 9 lines in. This was actually the part that took the longest. The fabric is thick, and my hand and wrist started hurting after sewing 3 lines. So I spread the embroidery out over several days to avoid injury.

This was a simple make, but I am quite happy with it. I love the graphic, almost Art Deco, embroidery. The knit ponte fabric I used and elastic waistband make this skirt extremely comfortable to wear, while still looking professional and even a bit (dare I say it?) glamorous! There are a few fit issues that I may go back and tweak. You might see a little wrinkling at the hips, and the waistband could be a bit smaller (this seems to be a theme for me – I am so terrified of making my clothes too small that I make them too big!). But the skirt is wearable, and I am honestly the only one who will ever notice these small things.

I am enjoying leveling up my wardrobe and building it to be exactly what I want. I honestly can’t wait for my next project!

Sewing my First Pair of Pants

Ok, the tittle is a tiny bit click-bait-y because I sewed two pairs of shorts last year (here and here). The concept is entirely similar, but I did wonder if my legs would turn out to be some weird shape that would require pattern alterations. I used the same pattern for my pants as for last year’s shorts: the Cigarette Pants from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual (if you’re looking for a sewing technique/pattern book, I highly recommend this one). The pants were very simple and quick to sew up since I had already fitted the top half of the pattern to my body and I was using a knit ponte fabric that didn’t need the edges finished.

The fabric is from Style Maker Fabrics. It is really nice and thick and has a bit of fuzziness to it, which makes it very warm. 4 inches of this fabric will stretch to about 5 1/2 inches. I used my already modified pattern to cut out my pieces, and got to sewing. I surprised myself by completing the pants within 7 hours, even with a slight waist adjustment. This speed is due to starting with a pattern that fit well to begin with, not needing to do fitting adjustments to the legs, and using a knit fabric that doesn’t fray.

I absolutely love these pants!! They are super comfortable to wear, and the pockets are absolutely enormous! The legs are not fitted, which also adds to the comfort level, and I deliberately chose to make them a little bit longer than I normally would so that the length would be right when I’m sitting down. It’s the little details like this that really make a garment perfect, I find.

I still feel that the waist could be a bit smaller. I’m considering adding an internal elastic waistband for this. I’m also considering trimming the entire leg down about an inch in width along the entire length on my next pair. But all in all, I consider these pants a roaring success, and I can’t wait to make more!!!

Building My Summer Wardrobe: More Shorts

In April I made my first pair of shorts. I took the time to adjust the pattern to myself, but even so there were some fit issues I wanted to tweak a little more. For my second pair of shorts I used the same pattern, originally from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual, and another stretch denim from StyleMaker Fabrics. The fabric is a dark-wash denim with woven-in silver pinstripes. I already had a perfectly matching thread in my stash, and I used a silver zipper.

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The tweaks I made were:

  1. Take in the waist 1/2 inch on the side of the front pieces (I did not adjust the back pieces)
  2. Adjust the curve of the center back seam to account for my slight swayback. This reduced bubbling in this area.
  3. Add extra length so I would be able to do a double-fold hem.
  4. Lengthen the pocket pieces by 2 inches. Because big pockets are the best thing ever.
  5. Finish all the interior seams.

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I am SO HAPPY with these shorts! The fitting adjustments I made really make these perfect for me. The original shorts are just a touch too big in the waist, and they end up sagging down as I move around, which leads to me having to pull them back up throughout the day.

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The insides of the first pair of shorts are super shreddy. I finished the edges by pinking them, but that doesn’t seem to be a very good finish for stretch denim. This time I felled all my seams, which make these so clean and beautiful on the inside as well as the outside! And the pockets! The pockets are so big and deep and beautiful. All of my pockets need to be this size!

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There are one or two more tweaks I’d like to do for a future pair of shorts (because you can never have enough shorts):

  1. When I adjusted the side front pieces this caused the pocket openings to be really close to the side seams, and almost too small to get my hands into. I opened up the  bottom of the pocket area where I attached the zipper and felled the side seam and reworked the top stitching to be closer to the seam. Next time I would adjust the angle of the pocket to combat this.
  2. The lower leg portion of the shorts is quite fitted to my legs. This is intentional based on the original pattern, but for the next pair of shorts I’d like to increase the width of the leg pieces to make for a more relaxed fit.
  3. If I make these in a striped fabric again I would adjust the grain of the front side piece so the stripes match up with the main front piece. It’s a small thing, but I love it when stripes match up perfectly.

 

Me Made May: I made Shorts!

Hello, friends, and happy May 1!

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.

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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.

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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!

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