Conversant In Color: Buying Fabric Part 2

This is part 2 of the Conversant In Color: Buying Fabric post from earlier this week.

Colors: Gather your friends

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If you don’t know what colors work best for you, check out my posts on Warm/Cool and what that means, Observing Your Favorites, and Harmonizing with Your Environment.  I don’t have a slick system for choosing colors, I think the process is too individual for that.  Time and observation are your best bets.

Once you have an idea of a few colors that work for you and you want to apply that to sewing with a purpose, you’ll need to assemble some colors into a “team.”  These are the colors you shop for.

Simple = attainable

  • Start with a neutral- black/white/ivory/khaki/brown/raisin/navy.  Pick one to build your wardrobe around.  It is the anchor.  I suggest picking the one that suits your personal coloring, your taste and your environmental needs the best.
  • Fill in two other colors that you favor the most.
  • Then choose ONE accent color- this can be a color you LOVE but can’t wear much, or a brighter-than-usual shade.  This keeps things simple.

Here’s mine for Summer 2013:

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If you’ve been keeping an eye on me for a while, you’ll notice it’s very much the same as Summer 2012.  I leaned heavily on bright reds and blues, with aqua and pink for accents.  This year, I’d like to lean on blues/aquas/seafoam and introduce some gold/yellow/orange as an accent color.  This will help me refresh my Summer 2012 wardrobe with new pieces that I can mix in easily.

These colors worked really well for me- my temperament, environment and lifestyle. Oh yes, and with my coloring!  I used white as my neutral then, and white is my neutral this summer.  I like it.  Besides, I need to replace some of my ruined whites.

Keep It Simple, Sugar

I plan my fabric shopping like some plan their grocery trips.  The planning prevents over-buying and simplifies the process of sewing outfits and dressing myself.   At the same time, I try to stay flexible.

This is a very, very simple breakdown of how to use color in wardrobe planning- intended as a starting point (I used my colors from the palette above):

  • Neutral: Workhorse garments- 40-60% of the sewing.  Tops, bottoms, and a jacket/vest/topper.
  • Color 1: 25-30% of your fabrics. The best color near your face.  Shop for shades or tones of the same color to avoid looking too monochromatic or “matchy.”  This color should look well with your neutral, as well as your face.
  • Color 2: 20-25% of your fabrics.  This is a color you like, looks ok on you, and one that works well with Color 1.  If you feel timid use a complementary color, like the seafoamy teal in my wardrobe palette.  If you feel a little more confident, go for a contrasting color, like the red I used.
  • Accent Colors: These will make up about 5%-10% of your sewing fabrics, if that.  An accent color may be any color you like that mixes well with your other colors.  I’m choosing yellow/orange as my summer accents because I like them but can’t wear much of those colors.

The Importance of an Accent Color:

When I’m sewing a wardrobe I may need just a tiny bit of color on a project- maybe threads, buttons, embellishment, or a nice clash-y lining.  It’s nice to have some accent colors already in mind and to hand, and using a consistent accent color creates continuity in the sewing.

This also makes it simpler for me to thrift for belts and bags.  If it’s my accent color, decent quality and a good price, it goes home with me.  If it’s one of my other colors, I might consider it.  Otherwise, it stays put even if it is a steal.  I don’t need that much stuff in my house.

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Use four colors in your wardrobe- Color 1 + a complement and Color 2 + a complement.  The trick is to make sure all the colors are wearable together, even if you wouldn’t necessarily wear them every day.  Try working with a larger wardrobe concept, too.  Do set yourself a few basic guidelines so you don’t end up with five tops and no bottoms! (Unless that’s what you need, then do it.)

Basic Wardrobe Planning for Beginners:

If you’re new to the process of wardrobing, I suggest starting with:

  • a basic topper with a bottom in a neutral (a suit, or a casual jacket/cardi and a bottom) (Use the Neutral Color)
  • a simple blouse/tee (Use Color 1)
  • a more “interesting” blouse/tee (Use Color 2)
  • another bottom (Use Color 1 or 2)
  • maybe with a dress in a color/fabric that harmonizes with the rest.

This would give you two tops, two bottoms, a “topper” and maybe a dress.  That’s eight outfits.  (Did I count right?)  If the idea of sewing a “topper” sounds scary and weird, then don’t sew it.  With the dress, that’s still 5 different outfits.

This is manageable.

Mix it Up with Prints

Find a print that uses more or less the same colors you like to wear/look best on you.  Be sure to buy it in an appropriate weight for your project- lighter, softer fabrics up top and heavier or more textured fabrics below.  In general.  You could build your color story for a wardrobe around a great print, and don’t forget the neutral!

I know we had a LOT to say about the use of novelty prints and quilting cotton for apparel sewing last time. I did not intend to create guilt or raise any hairs- just a simple bit of advice because I’ve been there.  Switching to solids/stripes/checks was the one thing that lifted the overall tone of my sewing.  Dramatically.

I LOVE prints, when used well.  If you want, I can work up a nice post about that…  Some also asked for information about fibers.  I’ve written about them extensively in the past, I can look back through the archives and re-publish/re-work/update those articles as a regular series.  Yes?

Speaking of improving the overall tone of sewing- did you see Tanit-Isis’ post on Homemade Legitimacy?  She builds a good argument for striving for sewing excellence while questioning the standards we hold ourselves to as sewists.

Sunni is rallying the troops to sew wearable wardrobes that provide free range of motion, too!  Everyone is doing it! “The Everyday Wardrobe is about building that wardrobe that you can wear every. single. day. And feel good in, look good in and still move in.”

What do you think?  Would you put color together in a wardrobe differently?  How do you do it?  Which of this week’s palettes catches your eye?

Be sure to vote for the Tiramisu Covergirl’s name!  Penelope is ahead by a small margin.  I think you can vote as many times as you like, though it only counts as one entry in the Polka Dot Jersey Giveaway!  It closes in four hours, so do get in!

Next: Tira Lady Named and The Winner, with an online source for navy or red polka dot cotton (limited supply!)

Later: Lila’s wardrobe project progress- A Trio of Tiny Shorts and Quantifying My Sewing

Introducing Cake Patterns!

I’m pleased to announce Cake, finally!   Some time ago, frustrated by my pattern-digitizing skills and the limitations of self-published pdf patterns, I decided to research putting together a paper pattern company.   I always put “start a pattern company” in my Too Hard Box along with “climb Mt. Kilimanjaro” and “tame a wild colt.”  Funny thing, the more I researched, the more I thought I could do it.  Make patterns, I mean.  The mountain will wait.  Once I gave myself permission to work on it, Cake progressed faster than I imagined possible.

So what’s Cake?  There’s been some chatter on sewing blogs about sewing “cake” vs. sewing “frosting.”  It’s a sweet way to describe the difference between sewing frothy, fun or “out there” statement pieces and sewing the basic underpinnings of a good wardrobe.  I love frosting, I sew plenty of frosting myself, and some Cake Patterns will totally feature a thick layer of frosting.

But frosting melts when it’s left on its own.

Cake is a pattern line devoted to having fun while sewing wearable basics suited to a busy woman’s lifestyle.

This is the first Cake Pattern in production- Tiramisu: a knit dress with a surplice front, underbust gathers and kimono sleeves, midriff section and half-circle skirt with side seam pockets.  Cake Patterns will always have pockets.  I’m delighted with the pattern work- choose the bodice by your high bust measurement (high bust 30″, 35″, 40″, 45″, 50″), choose the front bodice by cup size, and the rest by your waist measurement.  I have a team of happy testers in Brisbane of various shapes and sizes, I think y’all will like this.

I like stripes, so Tiramisu has handy stripe-matching guides printed on the pattern tissue.  Naturally, the pattern is also suited to plain fabrics and color-blocking!  Tiramisu will also work with knit fabrics of various weights- this one is a very lightweight cotton jersey, but it also works with heavier knits.  The cutting layout leaves very little wasted fabric.

It’s been very, very tough the past few weeks not blogging about Cake, but I just can’t keep it to myself anymore!  Not talking about it was giving me the Dreaded Blogger’s Block.  I have some great sewing series planned, as well as writing more Hacks, sharing progress on Cake, and re-organizing 3 Hours Past to include a pretty pattern store and downloadable supplements to Cake Patterns.  And giveaways!  I haven’t been able to do them for a while, but I do have some humdingers planned…

Tiramisu is currently in production, I’m aiming to release her by November 5th with two more separates ensembles hot on her heels.  I still have some details of The Process to iron out, but Cake Patterns will be a reality by November!  If you’d like to receive emails about Tiramisu and other pattern releases, click here.

Mikhaela at Polka Dot Overload (and her talented husband Masheka!) are working on the art, envelope design, and instructions for Cake.  It’s so exciting to be working on Cake with such a fantastic artistic team, and even MORE so since Mikhaela also sews and blogs.  We’ve been exchanging epic emails and documents, and last week we spent an hour and a half skyping about Cake.  It was midnight my time, but I was wide awake!  Next time, I’ll show you our *first* collaboration, and a closer look at the ideas we’re playing with.

There we are.  Cake.  What do you think?

Pattern Instructions, the Japanese Way

click for a solid article on how to use a pattern. for beginners.

I often find that the biggest hurdle for new sewists who want to learn to make wearable garments is the pattern instructions.  It’s frustrating to me because I know the newb mistakenly decides it’s their own fault the pattern doesn’t work for them.  No, it probably isn’t!  Most instructions are written in a very particular (…some might say outdated) style and vocabulary, using questionable or difficult-to-master techniques and often omitting important steps like pressing or finishing a seam.*

The only patterns I unreservedly recommend to students and say “just follow the instructions and you’ll be fine” are Colette and Oliver + S.  Kwik Sew (why the spelling, KS?) usually provides fairly decent instructions, as well.  The “Big 4” patterns fall at the lower end of my preferences, especially for a novice sewist.   And naturally, Burda with its brief wording-in-translation comes dead last.

Of course, for most garments an intermediate-to-advanced sewist might not even look at the instructions.   I tend to skim, referencing back for any interesting design details.  (Once again, my only exception is Colette and Oiver + S.  I get excited when I buy one of those patterns.  The first time I open one up I always think “Ok, Liesl/Sarai, what can you teach me today?” then carefully read through the instructions.) It’s my guess that most other experienced sewists are the same, which means pattern instructions exist primarily for those who are relatively new to sewing.


A few years ago, I spotted a Japanese crafting instruction sheet for the first time.  It was for a sweet little purse to be made up in class.  I was delighted!  To me, the little diagram made perfect sense and I don’t even read Japanese.

click for article on using Japanese sewing patterns

Since then, I’ve discovered more to like about Japanese sewing patterns. How great is this diagram?  It’s a “once over” of the construction process, with the seams numbered.  I like this because it would permit me to scan the dress and understand how the designer put it together.  From  there I can decide if I need to read more in depth, or not.

Click for another excellent article helping to de-mystify sewing with Japanese patterns…

I really, really like that.

From The Cute Book, by Aranzi Aronzo

Remember how I said I think poor/scary/unfathomable sewing pattern instructions turn people off from sewing?  I love these instructions from Aranzi Aronzo- they make me want to dig out every piece of felt in my stash and madly stitch up little mascots.  It’s cute, friendly, and clearly presented.

By the way, if you haven’t been there, check out the Aranzi Aronzo website. Too fun.

So, as I work on a not-too-secret project that eats into my blogging time, I’m inspired by these useful and friendly instruction sheets out of Japan.   The instruction sheets from Sweden, however, remind me that some words are necessary.  Diagram-only instruction sheets from Ikea inspired this parody:

click for interesting article about the cognitive side of content….

I’d like to hear some venting about bad instructions, and props for good ones.  Also, do you ever sew with Japanese patterns?  What do you like?  Do you have a favorite book/designer?

Read more about using and sourcing Japanese crafting books at Label-Free, Craft Stylish, and get inspired at French-language/Japanese pattern sewing group blog Japan Couture.

*Yes, yes, sure, it “goes without saying” to press and finish seams, but when you’re first starting out sewing it doesn’t go without saying.  It’s confusing, figuring out where to finish and why and when and which way to press a seam.  It really, really doesn’t have to be.

In My Mailbox- A Package from Tilly and a Weimar “Burda”

I’m getting all kinds of cool stuff in the mail lately.  First- this package arrived today and as soon as I saw the Royal Mail postmark, I knew it had to be from Tilly!  She was my swap partner in the Summer Sewing Swap 2012 hosted by Kestrel at Kestrel Finds and Makes– thanks for organizing, Kestrel!  I tore into the package like a badger on a honeycomb and found these lovelies inside!  Thank you so much, Tilly!  Your package is set to go out this week.  I can’t wait to see what Tilly makes with what I sent her.

Now I need to figure out the best possible use for this gorgeous Liberty cotton Tilly sent.  I made a blouse from a blue and white print last year and LOVED wearing it.  Sadly, she has since died.  I could be boring and make another button-up-the-back lantern sleeve blouse like the first one, or…

This German sewing magazine from 1934 also recently turned up in my mailbox.  I say “turned up” because I’m not very pleased with the Australian Post at the moment, so whenever something appears when it should I count myself fortunate.  I’m fascinated by the combination of austerity and glamor found so often in 30’s fashions.  Maybe it’s historical perspective or the vast ocean of novels I read, but to me the 30’s in Germany seem especially rareified.  The clothes, however, are perfectly accessible:

I always draw inspiration from primary source material that others post or archive digitally and I’d like to start scanning/photographing sewing magazines in my possession as a way to balance the universe.  All the photos today are quite large, you can click for a closer view.  These are four sensible suits with trim silhouettes, nothing special at first glance.  But check out the skirt panels and shaping!  The strong T shape on the third from the left stays popular through the next decade.  I’m really digging the collar on the far right, and the pale brown jacket.

These cuts might require a little more stylistic finesse to work in a modern wardrobe, but they’re not too obnoxious…

These dresses are so 30’s!  I love them, but I have yet to figure out how to pull off one of these 30’s type dresses without looking like an extra from Poirot.

More smart suits.  I like the variety represented by these styles, no two elements are repeated exactly, but re-translated.  I like that.  A double-breasted jacket with one row of buttons and trim lapels at an acute angle might suit one figure better than a double breasted jacket with two lines of buttons and a more exaggerated collar-line.  Personally, I like the look of the last one…

Some day I’d love to need a coat like this, just for the joy of fashioning one… But it’s a very silly waste of time in my climate.

Separates!  At last- something that might work with the blue and white Liberty cotton!  I like to look at 30’s dress and suit illustrations, but I like to make and wear 30’s separates.  They fit very easily into modern wardrobes, even for those of us who don’t tend to stunt dress.  How “Deco” is that second blouse down?  I’m dying to see what it would look like make up and worn.

This is a look at the shape of the pattern pieces for those blouses, and the schematic drawings.  The sewing magazine is in terrific shape for its age, it came complete with this hot mess:

Two pages.  The second one is twice this size.  Front and back.  I stood back and tried to pick out a few pattern pieces.  Modern Burda magazine pattern sheets used to make me break out in hives until I realized I could pick out the pattern lines like some kind of Magic Eye puzzle.

This pattern sheet did not play along, I couldn’t pick out the shapes of any pieces easily.

I’m also thinking about these two blouses from the cover.  I’m not sure if the ruffled one would work with such a dainty print, but I think the bow-buttoned-collar one just might. I can wear a dark blue or bright red bow on days I feel dramatic, and on non-dramatic days it’s just a little button tab detail on my otherwise plain blouse…

While we’re visiting Weimar Germany, do check out Cabaret Berlin.  I found it the other day, it’s a blog devoted to the study and preservation of Weimar Berlin culture.  I believe the blogger also offers detailed and colorful walks of Berlin.  I wish I could go, he looks like an amazing guide.

(Vintage) Sewists- Do you have a “strictly vintage” wardrobe and a “normal” wardrobe, or do you tend to mix pieces?  Do your “vintage” styles see as much wear as “regular” clothes?  How do you make vintage style work in the modern world?

All this week I’m writing about the things that inspire me the most lately.  Japanese craft books, Harajuku designers and bloggers, and pulpy Ladies’ comics.  Then I’ll get back to writing about sewing.  I swear…

Amelia Earhart and Fashion

Click for source

Amelia Earhart was a tenacious aviatrix who disappeared 75 years ago this week while attempting to circumnavigate the world in her airplane.   The University of Hawaii and the Discovery Channel are mounting a 26-day expedition to the place many believe Earhart’s plane went down, in hopes they’ll finally put to rest the rumors about what happened to Earhart.  Everything about this expedition and the personality of this intrepid lady-adventurer appeals to me.  The bold flight attempt, the resulting mystery surrounding her disappearance, 1930’s pop culture, a visionary woman, and the fashion line….

That’s right, Amelia had a fashion line!  I never knew!  She loved well-tailored clothing and learned to sew as a young woman working as a social worker.  She couldn’t afford the kind of clothes she liked to wear, so like many women then (and now!) she stitched them herself.

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She later lent her aesthetic sense to create the “Amelia Earhart” line for Macy’s in New York (and also sold at several other department stores across the country).  It’s unclear whether she actually designed the clothing, but she did work on sewing the samples (herself!).  The line adhered to her ideas about how to dress a woman well and sensibly:

  • use of practical, durable fabric like Grenfell cotton and parachute silk
  • washable
  • her line sold “separates,” which wasn’t done at the time.  Amelia thought a woman should be able to buy a jacket for one size on top and another for the skirt.
  • “She added shirt tails to women’s shirts.  The shirt length of the Amelia Earhart shirt was designed to be longer than shirt tails of women’s shirts at the time. She was annoyed that shirt tails were often not cut long enough, so that when a woman bent over or moved, the shirt shifted and became “untucked” revealing exposed skin.  Amelia said,    ” I made up my mind that if the wearers of the shirts I designed for any reason took time out to stand on their heads, there would still be enough shirt to stay tucked in.””  Huff Post, quote. 
  • Amelia drew on her love of flying and aviation for whimsical and stylish additions to her collections, delighting to include “something characteristic of aviation, a parachute cord or tie or belt, a ball bearing belt buckle, wing bolts and nuts for buttons.”

I like the longer shirt tails the best- I guess Amelia didn’t want to go showing off her muffin tops.  (Well, ok, she probably didn’t have them…)  Practical, sensible, logical, and just a little whimsical.  What’s not to love?  Amelia’s collection included skirts, dresses, pants, and suits- but apparently no aviator jackets.   She also licensed the designs as sewing patterns which featured in Women’s Home Companion- has anyone out there played with one of her patterns?

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Sadly, her clothing line failed.  She wanted to price her clothes less expensively then other designers’, but the price point was still too high in the Depression.  As far as I can tell without digging in old warehouses or attics, not man of her dresses remain.  At least we have copious images of this fascinating and elusive pilot from the 30’s:

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Softly feminine, and truly timeless.  You could place this picture at almost any point in the 20th century.

Skinny-leg pants!  Knee boots!  Looooong leather jacket.  The pants look like they could be jodhpurs, with plenty of room through the thigh to allow for ease of movement.

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I wish I could see this outfit better!  To me, it looks like she’s wearing wide-legged trousers with sailor button detail, a soft short jacket and a blouse with some kind of softly ruffled collar.  I like how she wears this outfit- comfortable, effortless, but still quite stylish.

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Click for source- Amelia going to Ascot

Both of these pictures apparently show Amelia all dressed up for Ascot in 1928.  I’m not sure which one was mis-labeled, but they both show that when necessary, she cut a glamorous figure in a fashionable dress.

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And of course, that makes the images of her in practical clothes so much more compelling… I like this shot of her signing autographs in a rowboat on a chilly day.  Where is her hat?

Click for source

This is just so cool it looks to me like a modern fashion advertisement… Her stance, the pleated jumpsuit open to the waist, the smile, and the HUGE airplane behind her.  Very cool, Amelia.

If you’re interested, I found a pictorial timeline of her life here, and a cute blog post about how to borrow some of Amelia Earhart’s style for your own wardrobe.

Work on the latest Hack is moving along well, though I’m not sure I achieved the garment I set out to make.  I’ll play with her some more tomorrow, and I’ll have more to say about handling polar fleece in the near future (I’ve been taking notes!).  I feel like I’ve been slacking off writing sewing how-to’s lately, but there’s plenty in the works!

Which Earhart look do you like the best?  Loose, comfy dresses?  Skinny leg pants and tunic top?  Glamorous celebrity?  Relaxed, loose pants?

Sexy, Sexy Polar Fleece

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I decided to challenge myself and make the next hack out of polar fleece- or rather, out of an Ikea Polarvide throw.  Before I started researching, I thought of polar fleece as boxy, boring zip front activewear.  They take abuse, keep you warm and wash easily.  Those are all excellent qualities- so why are polar fleece jackets all cut this way?

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I’m making mine using this cut, by popular suggestion.  I haven’t decided whether to use a separating zipper or buttons, I may embellish with some sporty grosgrain ribbon and I’ll make 3/4 sleeves.   A zipper will allow me to fit the polarfleece closely; buttons may gape with movement.  I hate that.

What is Polar Fleece?

Malden Mills developed Polar Fleece in 1979 as a synthetic wool alternative.  It’s lighter than wool, vegan-friendly and easier to care for than wool was in the 70’s.  (Though we merino lovers know that’s changed since then!)  It’s a stretchy, plushy fabric that washes easily, made from PET (basically plastic).   This nifty page dissects the differences between wool, polar fleece and other high-performance fibers from the point of view of a horse.

Here’s the part about polar fleece I find fascinating: the developer of Polar Fleece, Aaron Feuerstein, decided not to patent the process to aid the spread of the new fabric technology.  This accounts for the wide range of qualities available on the market.  His gutsy decision didn’t hurt the company, either.  Malden Mills still produces polar fleece fabric today- Polartec.

(Fabric Nerds: This is how they make polar fleece!  Neat!)

A little digging on the company website showed me they’re still leading the industry in polar fleece production and innovation.  They’ve turned their attention to creating fleece from recycled bottles.  I remember hearing about that a few years back.  Apparently it takes 25 plastic bottles to make enough fabric for an adult’s jacket.

Polartec doesn’t just offer recycled bottle fleece as a novelty for the green-guilty- all of their fabrics use at least 50% recycled fibers.  Some of it comes from plastic, some of it is fabric scraps discarded while making those boxy zip-front jackts.  Rad!

And even RAD-der: they offer all of their fabrics online by the roll or by the yard.  And it’s not hideously expensive.  What?

I really had no idea polar fleece was so sexy.

Click for source- A really awesome tutorial on making creative and simple stuffed monsters using polar fleece!

Sewing Advice for Polar Fleece:

I have never sewn with polar fleece, to the best of my memory.  Before I work with a new fabric, I always do some research.  Here’s what I turned up:

  • Fleece has a right side and a wrong side: “On prints the right side is usually clearer or the colors are more vivid than the wrong side. On solids, the right side is smoother than the wrong side which looks more like felt. If your not sure, ask the fabric store personnel before you purchase it. If you have some already in your stash and are not sure which is the right side, wash the fabric a couple of times. The side that looks the best is the right side.”

Excellent.  I love this kind of practical advice.

  • Easy to sew
  • Use a cool iron or finger press
  • Flat fell seams look good
  • Use sharps, a medium to slightly heavy weight needle
  • Use a narrow zig-zag stitch
  • “Select a simple sewing pattern with few design features.  Loose-fitting styles work best. Eliminate as many seams as possible because bulk is your biggest challenge.  Consider a custom closure such as a separating zipper… instead of buttons and buttonholes.”

The last bit of advice comes from a nifty little pdf from the University of Kentucky Extension service.  I’m old-fashioned so I’ll print this little gem and stick it in my fabrics notebook…   They fail to mention why I should keep the cut simple, aside from the bulk issue.

“On paper” I’m pretty excited to be working with fleece.  Granted, my little Ikea throw isn’t made from recycled anything, but if I like the results of my hack I can always make the pattern from something greener and more durable.  I wonder how much shaping I can introduce before my little jacket implodes and melts?  I assume there must be some practical reason no one sews fleece garments in any shape other than “box”.  Do you know why?  What can you tell me about your own experience working with fleece?

Design Inspiration for June’s Hack: 50’s Suit Jackets

I know it’s summer up North, but down here it’s finally drizzly and cold!  At last it’s time to make a Jacket-Hack!

Click for source. I wish Vintage Patten Wiki would let us pay a subscription to opt out of those awful ads.

This Advance 51 pattern has been on my Hack Board since the beginning of the year, and I’d like to riff on this basic shape for a zip-front sweater/cardi.  This particular collar treatment may be outside my drafting/teaching skills.  How does that work?  The back is a shawl collar, and what’s that on the front?  I think I’ve seen something similar in Pattern Magic

Click to trace it back…

When I saw this Anthropologie cardigan, I recognized a collar shape popular in the late 40’s/early 50’s.  It’s a similar shape to the first jacket, but the drafting and the sewing are simpler.  I like the little details- the pockets, the buttons, the tiny ruffle and the wrist cinchers which are almost undoubtedly unnecessary but still kind of cool.

Click for source

Very, very similar.  This is the first tailored jacket I ever made for myself, years ago.  While I was too inexperienced at tropical tailoring to love the final jacket, I do still love this pattern and collar shape.

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This one wins for quirk-factor.  Again, similar collar shape- but with a sort of lapped and shaped upper collar.  What do you suppose that pattern piece looks like?  I wouldn’t mind some capacious pockets, this jacket is strangely innocent of them.

Click for source

At first glance, this cut bears no resemblance to the jackets that came before.  It’s actually rather similar- just button the collar over the front instead of leaving it open and collar-y.  I like the buttonholes set into the binding, that would translate to a knit very well indeed.  The cuffs are cute, too.

Click for source

This is the same story as the blue Vogue above it- similar cut, but with the collar buttoned over the front.  I’d have to draw the front opening quite carefully so it breaks up the bulk I carry uptop.  I’m almost completely sure a cut like this would look terrible on me, but I’m tempted nonetheless.  Is the lady in the black gingham using her mind rays to convince me that a suit like hers is *actually* a good idea?

I know I tend to use fabrics that can be hard to source depending on where you live.  This month, I’m using something relatively ubiquitous and cheap- a red Polarvide throw I picked up from Ikea.  I thought I could use it as a crafty batting; at $5 for a biggish throw, it’s way cheaper than actual craft batting.  Yay!  Polar Fleece Jacket!  I don’t have a fleece jacket, but Stephen wears them all the time.  I might as well see what all the fuss is about.

click for source

When I was looking around for suits with triangular collars for tonight’s post, I stumbled over this lovely thing.  Doesn’t it look like it would work perfectly with polarfleece?  The back neck, the simple front opening, the big buttons and asymmetry.  This is my “wildcard” inspiration shot.  It’s way different than what I thought I’d make this month, but I find myself drawn to it more and more the longer I stare.

What do you think?  Do you like the open collar, or buttoned over the front or the wildcard?  Which would you wear?  Which would translate best into polar fleece?

(By the way, I know I set a sort of “blog schedule” a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t working for me.  Now I’m trying something else- two days on, one day off.  This seems to work better with my life.  I can’t blog every night, but I don’t like going more than one night without writing.  Thanks for putting up with me while I sort that out!)

Next: facts on polarfleece, sourcing, and whether or not it’s suitable for shapely garments.  I also want to share some other design inspiration (not for this hack) from Harajuku.  And I’m busting to post about an event coming up in August!

Chanel- Lessons on Comfort and Wearability

I’m a big fan of Chanel.  I’m not so much for her collarless suits, the pearls or the ritzy double “C” logo, but I’m captivated by the person.  She was a woman from nowhere with nothing who looked at the world around her and found it utterly ridiculous, so she changed the way women dress.

This manner of dressing had no place in the modern woman’s wardrobe….

How?  During the last gasps of the Edwardian era she reacted against the fluffy, fussy and restrictive ideals expressed in feminine clothing.

Audrey Tatou as Coco Chanel… she went to a men’s tailor for these clothes, they thought she was quite mad…

Instead, she strove for comfort and wearability, borrowing fabrics and cuts from menswear.  Her lover, Boy Capel, played polo and she famously “stole” his wool jersey polo shirts and later used jersey in her designs.

Click for an excellent article on Breton Stripes

The striped shirt came from the picturesque (and practical) striped jerseys worn by French fishermen.

Click for source

The “garcons” shirt (white with a black bow tie, tres chic) was inspired by the uniforms worn by French schoolboys.

Early (ish) Chanel. Click for an interesting article on progress in fashion…

She stripped off the corset and streamlined the shapes of dresses.

…and introduced the Little Black Dress.  I find myself constantly inspired both by the audacity of Chanel’s early work and by her “maxims.”  She was well known for repeating phrases and proverbs of her own composition to herself.  The first time I picked up a Chanel biography, one of her oft-repeated maxims switched on a light inside my head:

Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.

Somehow in the intervening years, my mind has fashioned that maxim into:

The clothes I sew must be comfortable, otherwise what’s the point?

Chanel built her reputation and her empire on teaching women to wear clothes that don’t get in the way of being female.  Her influence on fashion (and feminism, in her way) can not be over-stated.

So if she considers comfort an indispensable element of luxury, I have to agree with her.  I used to think of “luxury” clothing as expensive, fancy pieces of frippery meant to be worn carefully.  Perhaps with poky bits, or scratchy places.  The lesson I draw from Chanel’s early work is that your clothes should never get in the way of what you do while wearing those clothes.

Perhaps that’s why I include “mobility” as an important element of good fit and strive for wearability in my sewing.

As I fossicked around the internet for a few more images to show the inspiration for this month’s hack (more on that tomorrow), I ran across the Chanel website.  Did you know they post videos of their catwalk shows?  I’m usually not interested in what the big houses do because the designs often get in the way of living life.  Sometimes the shows are quite inspiring or interesting, but not usually terribly practical.

But what’s this from the Summer 2012 Haute Couture show?  Pockets?  Are those pockets?  And a nifty rolled standaway collar, and cut-on sleeves, and yoke seaming interest?  Do I catch a faint whiff of practicality blended with killer style?  Chanel, is that you?

The collection was inspired by 50’s-60’s Pan-Am uniforms, but the designs are perfectly wearable (and sew-able!).  I like most of the garments shown, and I keep watching the shows and imaging what fabrics I’d use to conjure up the frocks.

The sleeves- maybe not.  But of course I love the wide flowing trousers.  They feature the same pocket treatment as the other dresses in the collection.

There’s far, far too many lovely and completely wearable garments in this collection for me to show them all, do check out the show on the Chanel website.

Which easy-wear Chanel look do you like best?  Man-tailored?  Garscons?  Breton Stripes?  Corset-free evening wear?  Or the 2012 Eminently Practical Collection (as I am now calling it..)?

Waist to Hip Ratio Survey Results Part 2

In the comments on yesterday’s post, several people asked to see the hips and waist measurements plotted as a scatter graph.  The Y-axis (vertical) shows hips, and the x-axis (horizontal) the waist.  I really, really, really wanted to see some interesting little clumps develop that might indicate body types- but no.  You can see a general trend that as waist sizes increase, hip size also increases.  Which is common sense.

This is my favorite graph.  I think it’s pretty.  The blue line is every individual waist measurement from the smallest I received to the largest.  A red square above each point marks the corresponding hip measurement.  You can see that on the lower end of the scale, there’s more space between the waist and the hip measurements.  This illustrates how the difference between the waist and hip measurements decreases as waist size increases.

This chart demonstrates the relationship between waist and ratio more clearly.  The ratio is plotted on the y-axis, and the waist measurements along the x-axis.  It shows clearly that the widest range of ratios fall between .7 and .8.  I had expected to see somewhat more defined groups.  As it is, there’s two exclusive groups: less than .7 ratios at one end of the scale, and greater than .9 at the other.

But really, there’s no groupings of body types easily distinguished by the numbers alone.  One can dream, right?

I also looked through the numbers to see if I could find a pattern of relationships between hip circumference and waist to hip ratio.  I’m not saying such a pattern doesn’t exist, but it doesn’t seem like it to me.  I had expected to find a grouping at the smallest end of the scale around .8-.9 for those who have a petite frame and low body fat, but it seems from the numbers that isn’t the case.  Or I don’t have a wide enough sample.  I would love to work with more numbers.

Once I played around for a while, I made a sizing chart based on the proportions and numbers from the survey.  That’s the first five columns, in both metric and imperial measurement.  I left the ratios for the 100cm+ waist circumferences at .86 because while I’m very interested in exploring plus sizing, my data for those sizes is incomplete.

Then I played around and pulled out the ratios for some major (in terms of influence) pattern companies.  Those are the first three columns of ratios.  Sometimes the sizes didn’t correspond exactly, so I chose to leave those numbers out of the graph.  A commentator asked about vintage sizing and ratios, so I dug around for Simplicity sizing charts for the 30’s-60’s.  I used Simplicity for the sake of… consistency.

Finally, I asked myself “How much does a tenth of a decimal place in the ratio matter when calculating measurements?”  I took the numbers 60-100 (which correspond to the waist measurements) and I took the common ratio for each waist measurement and found the theoretical hip measurement.  .71 is the common ratio for a 60-69cm waist, .74 is the common ratio for a 70-79 waist, etc.

Apparently it matters quite a lot.  But then I ask myself- does it actually matter when no sizing chart will be able to represent the majority of sizes?  I don’t know.  Maybe not.

What do you think of those numbers, especially the vintage ones?  I haven’t had a lot of time to sit back and think about the implications of these numbers very deeply, so I don’t have much to say about them as yet.    Looking through the columns of numbers and deconstructing sizing charts was a great exercise for my brain.

Sometimes I dream about somehow “cracking” sizing and figuring out a system that works well for all kinds of bodies.  I think fit is by far the biggest hurdle to new sewists, I wish I could remove it!   In my more lucid moments, I can recognize that’s unlikely to happen- there’s too much variety in body shapes.

I have to wonder if it would be possible to create a sizing system using “shape” indicators as well as “size.”  I believe Lane Bryant and a few other retailers do this with jeans- how hard would it be to make patterns that way?  Something like H (for those with .77-.85+ ratios), S (for those with less than .77 who carry weight toward the back) and X (for those with a ratio of less than .77 who carry weight more toward the sides).  The H’s are apparent on the graph, but S and X shapes may have the same measurements but very different shapes…

Or… A sizing system kind of like men’s.  They choose pants by their waist and inseam.  What if women’s pants could be chosen by waist and hip. “What size are you?”  “I’m a 30-40.”  “Yes, quite.”  I wonder what those patterns would look like?

The more questions I answer, the more questions I find.  Don’t be surprised if I bring this up again in a few weeks.  But not for a while.  Now I want to focus on some hacking!

In the meantime, I would very much appreciate more numbers to work with on my survey.  Right now I’m at 502, which is more than I thought I’d get.  Could you help me reach a round 1000?  Then I can revise.

Waist to Hip Ratio Survey Findings Part 1

Standard Disclaimer: When I write a post like this, I think about the numbers and proportion.  I would be heartbroken and shocked if my words were taken as a value judgement of some kind.  I’m just playing with numbers here, seeing what turns up.  I don’t care what size someone is, I just want to dress both the body and the person inside the body well.

When I set up the form for the Waist to Hip Survey, I set a goal of 300 entries and thought myself very ambitious and figured I might hit that number in a few weeks or a month.  By Thursday, we had surpassed 300 and I realized I better start digging around in the numbers to see what turned up.  I’m leaving the page open and in the sidebar for now because I have an even more ambitious number of sets I’d like us to reach: 1000.

I’ve been curious for quite some time about the relationship between waist and hip measurements and the resulting ratios, and how that might apply to pattern sizing and drafting.  I do like to work through little puzzles like this to find my own answers when possible.

You can find the ratio by dividing the waist measurement by the hip.  If you’re mathematically minded: ratio=waist/hip.  The bigger the difference between the waist and the hip measurements, the lower the resulting ratio number.

The basic idea I wanted to test on real measurements is this: As waist size increases, the waist-to-hip ratio decreases.  That’s pretty basic, but I wanted to check it.    I  also had a few secondary questions:

  • .7 is considered the “ideal” ratio for waist-to-hip measurements, but what is the commonest ratio?  
  • How much does the waist to hip ratio decrease as size increases?
  • Can I find body shape types from only these numbers?
  • What ratios do some common pattern companies use?

I’ll show you what I found, question by question.

First I’ll run through the limitations of my survey.  All numbers presented come from a sample size of 359.  I am still greedily accepting measurements for the survey, but for the sake of this post I stopped on Friday morning at 359.

Secondly, all measurements are self-reported, which means there may be some variation on measuring tape tightness and whatnot.

Thirdly, the data set is limited to people who sew.  I assume.  I write a sewing blog and posted about this survey in sewing channels.  It would be interesting to explore how sewists’ measurements relate to the rest of the population, but for now we’ll leave that.

And finally, I work in both cms and inches.  I use cms in my spreadsheets because the decimal points make more sense than a fraction in that form.  Let me know when I forget to write both.

As waist size increases, ratio decreases

This is true, and it’s common sense.  A few months ago, I wrote about elements of good fit.  One element of good fit involves fat/muscle distribution on the body.  Another element involves bone structure.

A waist measurement is a “fat/muscle distribution” measurement.  You don’t have waist bones.  Waist measurements also depend on the way your guts are put together and the hormonal cocktail flowing through your veins, but that’s not within the realm of fitting clothing so I don’t know much about it.

A hip measurement may be a mixture of the two types.  Someone with relatively low body fat may have a wide pelvis.  Another person with a relatively small pelvis may be carrying greater mass in the hip area.  To compound the hip problem, mass may be distributed more toward the back, toward the sides or distributed evenly around the hips.  This makes the hip measurement somewhat “less reliable” from my point of view (too many variables), though when I pick a pants pattern I use my hip measurement to choose the size.

This shows the breakdown of the waist measurements I received.  X=”waist measurements” so the commonest category is those measurements that are greater than 70cm but less than 80cm.  That is, the commonest category is “greater than 28″ but less than 32″”.

And here are the hip measurements.  In this category, “greater than 100cm and less than 110cm” was the largest category. To put it another way, the commonest range lie at “greater than 40″ but less than 44″” through the hips.

I separated the measurements into “60’s, 70’s, etc” and found the average ratios associated with each waist measurement.  As expected, the ratio decreases as waist size increases.  This is broad, but it shows the observation was correct.  Ratio does indeed decrease as waist size increases.  In inches- 24″, 28″, 32″, 36″, 40″ through the waist.

What is the commonest ratio?

By the numbers I have, the commonest ratio is greater than .75 and less than .8.  Combined, the commonest ratio is greater than .7 and less than .8.  Again, that’s pretty broad.

What do you think?  I have some other questions to explore, but when I tried to put everything into one post it became very long reading indeed.  Tomorrow I’ll look at my other questions: Can I predict the rate of ratio change from one waist measurement to the other?

What do you think so far?  Would you like for me to ask the numbers some questions? Please, clever people, pick some holes.  Also, I made a chart of ratios a few pattern companies use- which company would you like to see?

Tune in tomorrow for part 2 of the numbers breakdown and my idea for a shapes survey…  And then it’s time to focus on this month’s hack!  I’m inspired by collar shapes from the early 50’s and Tanit-Isis’ unwitting challenge to use polar fleece.  I can’t stop thinking about working with it now she’s put it in my head, it should be very interesting!