Finished Object: Seersucker Negroni Shirt

A few weeks ago, Stephen asked me to make him some shirts for summer.  I was startled.  I made him a pair of tough and hardy linen work shirts two years ago and he wears them all the time for field work.  They’re still holding up well, and the linen has softened beautifully- no need to replace them!  He also wears light, short-sleeved cotton shirts to his academic/office days but I never thought to try making one of these tropical-business-casual shirts for him.

It’s tricky to sew for another person, and I’ve learned that to avoid wadders or other sewing disasters I should proceed with caution when accepting commissions (I pretty much only accept commissions for people I really, really like.).  First, I asked him to pick his two favorite shirts from the wardrobe.  One was quite dead, a light green plaid from a mid-range-expensive men’s brand.  The other was an extremely smart pinstriped shirt I bought to go with his graduation suit.

The trick is to find out why he likes the shirts, so I can incorporate those elements in the new shirts.  I noted the fabric (plaid, stripe, blue, green) and he agreed he liked those, and very helpfully added that the striped one was his favorite fit.

Aha!  Out came the measuring tape and I noted the finished chest measurement on his “best fit” shirt.  Then I added a few shirts to a Pinterest board and he told me which ones he hated so I removed them, leaving me with the colors and styles that appeal to him.

I’ve been wanting an excuse to sew Colette’s Negroni shirt pattern since it came out, but I didn’t want to press the “sewing-for-the-husband” thing.  Before he could change his mind about summer shirts, I bought the Negroni pattern and went shopping for shirting.

I was attracted to this seersucker immediately. It’s from Spotlight of all places, and is a really great quality.  I like the exaggerated seersucker texture, it’s at the same time easy to sew, easy to launder (no pressing needed!) and very comfortable to wear.  Besides, I’ve seen several “smart casual” shirts in shop windows made from a similar material lately and wanted to try it out.

His finished chest measurement fell between the S and M sizes on the Negroni pattern, so I cut M.  The shirt he likes so well features shallow double tipped darts in the back, so I thought if he wanted me to take it in, I could make darts.

I doubt I can say much about this pattern that hasn’t already been said!  It’s definitely more of a casual shirt than a “fine” shirt, but I like the shape of the pockets, the collar, and the little button loop is a great detail.  Every time I open a Colette pattern I think to myself “What will Sarai show me this time?”  I always, always pick up something new.

This time I learned a “new” way to set in a camp/convertible collar.  I don’t know how many collars I’ve sewn or how many different methods I’ve tested but this was new to me.  Rather than go off on my own, I stitched it the way the instructions dictated.  It wasn’t bad, but also didn’t change the way I’ll sew collars in the future.

terrible indoor lighting…

I really have no complaints about the pattern at all.   The fabric would not tolerate flat-fell seams, so I finished them with my overlocker and then top-stitched through the seam allowance near the seam for durability.  I left off the pocket flaps, it seemed incompatible with the nature of the fabric.  Can you spot my pockets?

We planned a family outing to Cylinder Beach at Lord Stradbroke Island the weekend I made this shirt.  It’s a gorgeous island off the east coast of Australia, easily accessible via a ferry.  We swam, made sandcastles and had a picnic.  This time of year, the breeze smells of salt and jasmine.  It’s dreamy, I love the beaches here and wish I could live nearer the sea.

I hurried to finish the shirt before we left because- photo-op.  Unfortunately, in my haste I made a mistake in the finishing.

Can you spot my mistake?

Oh that’s right… Women’s buttonholes go on the right, men’s go on the left!  I suppose subconsciously I fell in love with the fabric and wanted it for my own.  After his initial surprise, he decided he doesn’t care and wears the shirt anyway.

Next time, the buttons will go on the left.  I also want to try adding a placket.  I have two more such shirts planned for the summer- one of plain tencel, and another of the finest Italian shirting I can lay my hands on.

In keeping with my personal “Value The Sewing” project, I put together the costings/value for this shirt.   This time I didn’t count my sewing time in the “value” because as many have pointed out, I enjoy sewing.  It was pleasant to sit and turn off my brain and let Sarai tell me how to put this together.  Relaxing.

Factoring in my time would put the “value” of the shirt at around $110, on the more expensive end of his shirt-buying budget.  He spends moderately on shirts because nicer shirts use fabric that lasts and looks nice much longer than cheaper shirts.  They are also better made than the cheapest shirts.  I encourage this.  Each shirt costs a little more, but we buy fewer shirts in the long run.

At ~$38, it’s one of my more expensive makes but the quality is comparable to the type of shirt he might buy (improperly gendered buttons notwithstanding).  I counted the entire price of the pattern in the cost; the fabric and notions cost a snivelling ~$15.

I have enough seersucker left over to make Lila a dress, I may use this new pattern from One Girl Circus:

Click for source

How cute is that?  Also- I know mommy/daughter dressing alike is a “thing,” but what about daddy/girlie dressing?  I think it would be sweet, and they don’t mind…

Exhausted on the ferry home at sunset. We spotted a dolphin in Moreton Bay between the island and the mainland.

Do you like seersucker?  Sometimes I find older people think I’m insane for using it for clothing.  The woman who cut this fabric asked me if I was making tablecloths.  Uhm.  No.

How do you approach sewing for another person?  Do you include them in the “thought” work?  Any tips?

Don’t forget- Frosting Fortnight starts on the 18th, head over to Mari’s blog for a cute little button you can add to your sidebar!

More Reading:

Fine Shirtmaking from Off the Cuff Style

Sewing with Seersucker from Coletterie

Free Downloadable Negroni Shirt Pocket Options

Technical Diagrams illustrating “enclosed seams on the shirt yoke” trickery

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

Wardrobe Planning: Lila Edition

Lila and I set aside time this afternoon to play with fabrics and stitch a little.  I was busy last weekend with events, so it was extra nice to spend time focusing on her today.  In the past, I’ve mostly sewn little dresses for her and piecemeal separates.  She’s getting old enough to have more input with her clothes, and since she’s a bit bigger I feel like it’s “worth it” to sew for her and put some thought into the process.  I also have a nice little stock of remnants and fun prints I’ve collected for her, and it’s time to sew it up.

First We Cull

We started out going through her old clothes.  Luckily, she’s a bit of an A-type personality and enjoys this.  I use the same criteria I use for culling my own wardrobe:

  • Does it fit?
  • Does she wear it?  I don’t fight the clothes fight, it’s not worth my energy.  If she doesn’t like something, she won’t wear it and woe on the person who tries to force her.
  • Is it stained/ripped/pilly/otherwise falling apart?  I keep some icky clothes in reserve for painting and mud play, and I stash some of my favorites for use in a quilt later.  If it’s dead, it becomes cleaning rags after I pull off the buttons and any other useful bits.  Mending is usually not an issue with her clothes.
  • Is it an orphan?  She doesn’t have much of an “orphaned clothes” problem because her clothes are pretty basic and functional.  Orphans go out, to rags or to smaller friends if it’s a nice garment.

Taking Stock

Once we did that (which always takes less time than I think it will), I looked over what was left.  She’s doing well for winter clothes- besides, summer is nearly upon us in Queensland.  She needs good summer basics more than anything else- tops and shorts.

What are her needs?

It’s no good making a little wardrobe of clothes that don’t suit her purposes.  I’d love to make a closet full of fluffy, frilly, silly things for her but that’s not her life.  Besides, sewing too many of those pretty little girl type clothes is a waste of my time and fabric.  She’s a very active 4 year old (is there any other type?) and needs clothes she can move around in.  Clothes she can forget about.

She also has very tender skin and we live in the UV-saturated part of the world.  The earth is closer to the sun during our summer than during the Northern Hemisphere summer, the air is less polluted which means less UV protection, and there’s a hole in the ozone around here somewhere.  Sunscreen alone doesn’t cut it.  I want to make her at least two long-sleeved, loose woven tops and a few simple loose pants for sun protection.

It’s also important to figure out design details ahead of time.  It doesn’t have to be an involved process, I’ve wasted hours of my life in the past making wardrobe plans that I found very hard to stick to once I started sewing.  Sometimes the fabrics have other ideas than what’s in the plan.

I find it useful to keep track of inspiration photos.  Pre-pinterest, I kept files of images on my computer.  I still do that, but it’s much easier to type “little girl shorts cute details” into google image search and pin like mad.  Once I start gathering my inspiration, I usually notice what colors, cuts, and details consistently catch my eye.  I can then scroll through with Lila and she lets me know what she likes.

Bring on the Fabric and Patterns

Every fabric along the top is either reclaimed from a Mommy-wadder or remnants from my own sewing.  Free clothes for Lila!  I also found a skirt I cut out yonks ago and never put together, so I’ll add that to this bout of sewing.

Prints or Solids?

It’s super tempting to load up on prints (especially for a little girl) because there’s SUCH a variety of gorgeous printed fabric out there.  I don’t generally like the “mixed print” look, call me old-fashioned.  It’s very difficult to build a nice versatile basic wardrobe using prints for both the tops and the bottoms, so I usually stick to one or the other.  Instead, I like to rely on texture for variety.  It’s safer.  From left to right, the fabrics are an organic cotton canvas, cotton pique, cotton no-wale cord, medium weight denim, and linen.

Along the bottom of the photo, I laid the fabrics for her tops.  The wovens will become long-sleeved tops (she insisted I use the brown, and it suits her, so ok), and the knits will become versions of the Blank Canvas Tee I made for her or Hopscotch Tops by Oliver + S.   Usually, I’d pick a neutral, a main color and an accent color for a wardrobe but for Lila I just went for general “harmony” between the fabrics we chose.

I also want to make her a few dresses.  She likes wearing them, I like making them.  She has five or six Ice Cream Social dresses, so I spent a little time looking around for alternatives.

She’s infatuated with this organic cotton sateen I scored the other day at Fabricabrac (great day!  Will do a round up this week!) and I thought I’d use this pattern.  I have a “thing” for Oliver + S.  If you’ve ever sewn with them, you understand.  If you haven’t, and you sew for kids, I would strongly recommend taking a look.  The instructions are sensible, the clothes look like “real” clothes, and I like the way the separates work with one another.  They’re a bit expensive, but it’s worth it.

Click for source!

I’m planning to make her one (at least!) of these for summer, too.  Doesn’t it remind you of a little girls’ Cambie?  This dress is the “reward” for making it through the other pieces, we’ll hop over to Voodoo Rabbit and pick out something nice and distinctive.  Pandas, pet deer, who knows what she’ll pick next?  This dress is not a pattern, but a very clever “hack.”  I’m itching to play with it!  Check it out.

Where to Begin?

Culling the existing wardrobe, gathering inspiration, thinking about Lila’s clothing in a practical way, and playing with fabrics and patterns isn’t exactly play, but it’s fun and doesn’t feel much like “work,” either.  The transition from the planning stage to the sewing stage of a wardrobe project can be a little tricky to navigate.  I have been known to put all the patterns and fabrics together then stare at them for days or weeks on end, unsure where to begin.

I say start simple, start practical.  We made a pair of shorts today to kick off the project because that’s what she needs most.  Next week: Shorts, shorts, shorts.

Further Reading: Making a simple kid’s pants pattern from an existing pair of pants.

Tiramisu Testing Update: Wow!  I’m all kinds of excited and energized by your warm reception of the Tiramisu lady, thank you so much for your kind words, clever backstories and beautiful name suggestions!  I’m sifting through everything and I’ll be emailing testers later this week.  Thank you all for volunteering to test!  If you haven’t already, skip over and leave me a note if you’d like to test, or if you’d like to add to her backstory.

Also- one of my buddies who doesn’t sew but nurses her sweet baby agreed to test Tiramisu for nursing-mother-wearability.  She and I used to live together, I guess she’s used to me because she didn’t bat an eye when I asked for her help.   I’ll run one together for her and we’ll report back!
Next up- Conversant in Color: Your Environment

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.

click for source

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?

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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.

Click for source

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.

Finished Object: Teal Clovers

Worn with my pinstriped Bow Tie Tee

And so I complete the Clovers.  After muslining my Pants Block, using the block to alter the Clover pattern, removing the excess back thigh fabric from the inseams, then from the side seams, these Clovers are finished.

I wish I hadn’t tried to be clever with the pocket flaps.  I had also thought to make some cool shaped cuffs, maybe embellish with some contrast buttons but I’m not interested in prolonging my work on these pants.  Besides, it would probably look super weird to anyone who isn’t me.

I’m pleased with the results, but I’m not completely sure they’re my style.  I feel exposed.  They’re pretty much the polar opposite to my favorite below-the-waist-garments- Katharine Hepburn style trousers.

The side seam pulls ever so slightly toward the front, but I can live with that.  Ruth, do you dig my shoes?

All in all, not a bad project.  I consider my personal style boundaries pushed.

We tried several poses and activities to illustrate mobility.   Stephen said “Go run and jump and do some rad air-kicks.”

These pants don’t slip and show crack even when I’m bending over to run up a hill.  Or when I’m sitting down, but you really *really* don’t want to see those photos.  I have some muffin topping going on, I get that any time my pants sit below the waist.  My solution (usually) is to wear pants and skirts that sit at my waist.

“Maybe I’m styling these wrong,” I thought to myself as I dug around for a tunic-length top.  Almost every top and shirt I own is closely fitted and ends just above the curve of my backside.  I wear a lot of full skirts and full trousers, so fitted tops harmonize with my usual choices but seems skimpy with this pants cut.  Or maybe I’m just not used to it.   While I was searching, I turned up this shirt I made last year.  It was worn for a theatre production of Don Quixote.

I would fain have donned the doublet for the photos, but the color clashed with teal.  Also, I have not a codpiece.  Another time.  I should write a post soon about this shirt, I haven’t taken it off all day.  Dare I wear this out?  Hmmmm…. probably not.

At any rate, I feel like I “cracked” the Clovers so I’m happy.

By the way, I found this interesting passage in Pepin’s Modern Pattern Drafting from the 40’s.  It’s referring to “bathing trunks” in the pants chapter, but the shape of the draft makes sense to me, and her explanation of the change in crotch shape necessary when working with jersey.  Why couldn’t I have found this two weeks ago?

If you’d like to work with me to fit your own pair of stretch pants/trousers, do email me. (Yours don’t have to be as closely fitted as mine, I just wanted to prove to myself I could do it!)  The Consulting Dressmaker charges $15 to guide you through the process, I’ll be there to answer all your questions and help dispel your fit issues.

If you’d like a custom-drafted Pants Block to help you reliably alter commercial pants/trousers patterns, click here and fill in the form.  Other Blockers have had great results, I love helping to fit pants.

And Brisbane… I’m teaching a day-long workshop at Piece Together called “Perfectly Fitting Pants” and only 3 spaces are left!  It’s on July 14, please visit Piece Together for more information and to register.

In other project news- I have over 350 data sets for the Waist-To-Hip Ratio survey.  That’s amazing!  When I set a goal of 300, I didn’t expect to reach it so quickly.  The more numbers I have to play with the better, so I’d appreciate any and all contributions.  I’m making some charts, crunching some numbers and scratching my head so I can show you on Saturday what I’ve been working on.  Interesting stuff.  Thank you so much for helping me!  Y’all are amazing.