The Frenchie Sewing Story

Well, international puppy day has come and gone, and so has the crazy dog lady sewing challenge, so I figure it's time for an update on our pup, Beatrix Kiddo. She turned one year old in February, got spayed shortly before, and has been a bundle of fun and energy for the entire six months we've had her.

A few months in, the weather turned cold and I finally had the chance to make her some little jackets, documented here on the blog. The real joy about sewing with a frenchie, however, is having a little sewing companion. While their demeanor makes them great apartment/city dogs, french bulldogs were originally bred in England as companions for lacemakers. During the industrial revolution and the mechanization of the textile industry, they accompanied their owners cross border to France where they waited patiently at the foot of the table, keeping their owner's feet warm as they stitched away. Centuries later in my sewing room, Beatrix has dutifully taken her place at my presser foot like it was meant to be.

So what have I made her?

Besides the things I've posted here, I have managed to sew a few other things. When we found out we were adopting here, we converted an old trunk into her bed and I made the cushion and cushion cover. How does she like it? Well, when we first brought her home she would wake up at 4am because that's the time her former dad would get up to go work. Then she learned to sleep in until our alarm clock went off around 7. Now, she sleeps in until well after I've gotten out the shower and am getting ready for the day. Smart girl!

I have also made her a few bits that haven't ended up on the blog, mostly because they never made it past muslin stage. Frenchies are tricky to fit because they are so round and stocky, but after a muslin t-shirt I did make her a sweatshirt that I love. I need to sew her up another one and do a full post on that, as version 1 has already met its end.

Come Christmas time I also tried to make her some onesie pajamas. Unforatunately, I never quite achieved the perfect/practical fit, even after 3-4 tests. Maybe next year.

Mostly though, she hangs out sans clothes, or maybe with her harness and bow on, and goes just about everywhere that we do.

If you do like this sort of thing, you can follow along at BeatrixKiddoFrenchie on Instagram because, yeah, we're crazy dog people like that.

Freemantle Cocoon Coat

Pattern: Marilla Walker's Freemantle Coat
Fabric: 2.5 yds wool outer, 2.5 yds cotton lining
Cost: $45

When I first started sewing in earnest, I spent a lot of time looking for the right coat style. I am not a particularly frilly girl, so ruffles, peter pan collars, and a lot of shaping just didn't seem like me. My most-worn me-made coat is a simple grey affair, and my favorite thrifted jacket is black tweed in a motorcycle style. This winter, when I was tempted to make a new coat, I again went searching for something interesting but wearable that would easily fit into my wardrobe.

Serendipitously, around that time Marilla Walker asked if I wanted to review her new pattern, the Freemantle Coat. Cocoon coats are very on-trend right now, and the Freemantle pulls heavily from street style and fashion inspiration. It is interesting and unique without looking overdone or too done up. While coats take a good amount of effort to sew up, I knew this would be the perfect project to try out, so I said yes. (Plus, Marilla's maiden name, Freemantle, means cloak-maker. How cool is that?!)

Clockwise from top left: La Garconne, Elizabeth SuzannGoodnight MacaroonBanana Republic

Before diving into the coat, however, I did want to make sure that the proportions and styling worked for me. Marilla has pinned some really great inspiration, and I assembled some more images to focus on what I really wanted (see above). The first thing I really like about this pattern is the shorter sleeves - just like with my winter swing jacket, I think showing a bit of arm really helps balance out the volume of the garment. I cut the sleeve length exactly as suggested, but also cut the sleeve sides along the more tapered lines for View B in order to bring down the volume just a bit more.

For the size, Marilla suggested that I take into account the extra ease in the pattern as she knew that I have small shoulders and things tend to run large on me. I cut the smallest size and the fit was perfect. The silhouette was still very cocoon-shaped without looking like I am wearing my boyfriend's jacket. The fit is good through the shoulders and hips, and bellows out around the body, just as a well-fitting cocoon coat should.

The last and most obvious mod I made was to switch up the collar. While I love the look of the cut-in collar on view B, for mine I wanted something a bit more traditional/less sporty. I used the collar from my McCall's 6172 blazer pattern, modifying the length a bit to work with the pattern. The overall hack wasn't too bad, and if you're interested Marilla explores how to modify the collar in this post.

For more inspiration, you can check out C's color-blocked version, the lovely Portia, and this very natural version.

For the construction, I took my time cutting, assembling and finishing the jacket. There are a number of interesting things to share here.

First, because of the billowy shape, Marilla has you underline the coat rather than line it. I have rarely had the chance to underline, but I do know that, like lining, if you are off then the coat won't hang properly. For this reason, I took extra care in cutting, lining up, and basting each piece together. I had everything laid out on the bed just to make sure I didn't get it all mixed up. This technique was great for the fabric I chose, which is very loosely woven and benefited from the solid cotton underlining. It just made everything much more sturdy and durable.

To conceal the inner raw edges of the coat, Marilla suggests that you bind them and then hand sew them down to the lining. I am a bit allergic to hand sewing, especially when it involves over 12 yards of bias tape, so I simply serged the raw edges, pressed them, and then sewed them down using my machine. I think the technique is fine, and the stitching lines are barely noticeable in this fabric. I suppose the wool could get a bit scratchy without the binding, but it doesn't bother me. For the facings, however, I did sew them in by hand, and for that part it was well worth it.

Another technique that I had the chance to practice on this garment was clapping all the seams after pressing. I have rarely if ever done this before, and it worked amazing! Because of the thick wool, many of my seams started out as quite bulky, so Marilla recommends in the instructions to press them and then clap them with a clapper or wooden spoon as the seam cools to press everything flat. My wooden spoon worked great, and the before and after was quite astonishing, giving the coat a much more professional, clean finish.

I did, however, struggle MAJORLY with one part of the pattern: the sleeve gusset. The design for this was actually really intriguing: instead of a separate gusset piece it is actually part of the sleeve, and sewn up using a bit of sewing origami. Here I felt that the instructions could have benefited from some more illustrations, as it took me an entire evening to figure out precisely how everything went together. There's no sewalong for this pattern, so there wasn't much reference. If you're sewing them up, I recommend looking at this picture from Marilla's blog, which helped a lot in figuring out how everything went together.

Even after putting sewing it up, however, I do feel that the gusset is a bit off. While the construction is interesting, I think having a one-piece sleeve with gusset causes some twisting when you move your arm. You can see this in some of the tester versions, where the fabric twists and bunches when you bend your arm and looks a little off grain or constricted somehow. While I think it looks fine in normal wear, this part did bug me a bit.

Overall, however, I would consider this a success. I finished it last week and have already worn it twice to work and twice on the weekend. The color fits nicely into my wardrobe, and the style is casual enough that it gets pulled out often. I am even more in love with the sleeve length now, as it's perfect for Bay Area whether, where it's never quite cold enough for a full-on coat. It's kind of like those people who like snuggling up in bed but with their feet sticking out - you feel nice and warm, but still get some ventilation in there!

My fabric choice also ended up working really well. It has the right drape for the pattern, holding the shape but also hanging nicely off my shoulders and around my waist and hips. In truth, Mr. Made thinks it's a bit frumpy, but I have always been a bit of a man repeller and really appreciate the tailoring that went into this pattern. The shape is especially fun and interesting to me, and I'm so glad I gave it a try. It's one of those fun but practical sewing projects that make you glad you can sew!

So what do you think? Do you stick with tailored coats or appreciate the design elements of an oversized ball of wool? 

The Menswear-Inspired Camas Blouse

Pattern: Thread Theory Camas Blouse
Fabric: 2 yds black ponte
Cost: $6 (got it on sale, baby!)

I often try to 'dress up' for work only to find myself reaching for my comfy knits and 'easy' clothes. This winter, however, Thread Theory came out with what could be the answer to my dilemma: the Camas Blouse. It's a cute blouse with a front placket, yolk, and gathers, but made completely in knits! Besides being super comfy, I love that knits don't wrinkle, making them super easy to wear (and 3/4-length sleeves are my fave!). Before this point, Thread Theory had been making exclusively menswear, so I was also super excited to try out some of their menswear-inspired women's line. Morgan sent this along for me to try out. 

This version is a bit of a tester. I am doing some blog posts now for the Thread Theory blog, and we wanted to try to make it up in a thicker fabric to explore how that would work. I do have some recommendations for sewing this up in a ponte, so you can find those tips here

I cut a size 4 based on my bust measurements, but I think I need to size down even more. Even though I trimmed the sides in at the hips, it is still a bit big in the bust. *Sigh* things always seem to be too big in the bust. Luckily, Thread Theory provides REALLY detailed finished garment measurements, so I'll definitely be using those in the future to resize a bit.

For this version, I fixed the gaping and tried to make the front placket lie flat by shortening the placket considerably at the neck. While the collar is designed to sit a bit away from the body, in a thick fabric like this I found I really needed to tighten things up and contour the placket to the back of my neck (see below). This helped considerably, but I think I tightened a bit too much in the front, where some puckers have now started to form. I have flattened them out in the top pic, but you can see them above.

The shirt does have some lovely details though. I made the gathers into pleats for this thicker fabric, and I really love the special little touches without it being overly feminine. I hope to make this again as soon as I find the right fabric!

Men's Pants

Pattern: Thread Theory's Jedediah Pants
Fabric: Eco Twill Denim Blue
Cost: $17

In my household we joke that, while we both wear the pants, I'm the one that makes them. And while I don't sew all of Mr. Made's clothes, I do try to sneak in a few projects for him. These were a pair I made up for his birthday in December. He had originally picked out the fabric, but I realize now that it had been bought over a year prior. Oops! Anyway, birthdays are a good excuse to do some unselfish sewing.

I have written about Thread Theory's Jedediah Pants before, so there's not much new to report there. I like them because they're one of the few pants patterns available that actually go down to his size and have a slim, modern fit. For this pair I did tweak the fit at the hips and front fly area to be a bit more roomy while leaving the waistband snug (I had previously made everything snug, and now it was a bit too snug). Now that I've gotten the chance to do some more pants fitting on myself I think it would be fun to really fit this pattern to him, but there's never enough time when we're both hanging out at home to do it. 

For this pair, I wanted to follow the welt pocket tutorial on the Thread Theory blog, but I had already cut out my pants with a yoke, and their version requires that you convert the yoke into darts. However, that seam did give me the idea to do a sort of in-seam back pocket flap, and after a little googling I confirmed that this could be done. The line drawing for Vogue 8940 shows a pair of yoked mens pants with a pocket sewn into the yoke seam and covered with a flap. Of course, they don't offer a picture of said pockets, but luckily for me someone had posted an image on Sewing Pattern Review, which allowed me to copy the design.

As you've noticed, the color on these turned out a bit bright. Looking back now at my order I see that the sample on did look a bit darker. He has been wearing them a great deal though, mostly because he doesn't have a ton of pants for work, and then one of his 'more fashionable' students complemented them, so I think that gave him a morale boost!

Weekend with Ginger, Part II

Pattern: Closet Case Files's Ginger Jeans
Fabric: stretch denim
Cost: remnant

Having finished a very satisfying pair of jeans on Saturday, I decided to not lose steam and plunge right ahead with the second pair on Sunday. As you'll recall from my first post about my weekend with Ginger, I took a rainy weekend to myself to perfect the fit of the Ginger pattern. After finishing the high-rise version on Saturday, I decided to make a few remaining alterations to the pattern and use the remnants of the same fabric to make an ankle-length pair.

The first tweak I wanted to make was to the front crotch curve. While the low-rise Gingers fit me perfectly in this area, the high-rise version for some reason contained a lot of excess fabric. I expected them to be the same shape, but when I compared the original pattern I found that they are in fact different - the high-rise Gingers feature a much more protruding front crotch section. To fix this issue for this pair of jeans, I simply traced the front crotch from the low-rise Gingers onto my high-rise Ginger pattern. That was an easy fix!

Second, I wanted the pants to fit slightly lower than the high-rise version. To do this, I cut off the top 1" of my pattern pieces, tapering to just 1/2" off in the back. This is different that lengthening or shortening at the fitting lines, as I simply wanted the jeans to sit lower on my torso. I was initially worried that only shaving off half an inch at center back may look weird (compared to shaving off 1" at the front), but the shape actually turned out to be great.

With these changes in mind, on Sunday I woke up with my pattern pieces already cut out, and glorious rain falling outside. After a trip to the grocery store and some breakfast, I was all set to begin. For this pair, I thought it would be interesting to see how long a pair of pants takes when you don't have to pause for fitting. Here it goes:

Pockets: Half an hour. This step was easy as I had just done it yesterday. I also french seamed the bottoms of the pockets, which is possible because it's a one-piece pocket. This is a technique I picked up from the Thread Theory Jedediah Pants (see sewalong for details).

Fly front: Another half an hour. Again, it helped that I had just done this yesterday. I've said this before, but I love Heather's instructions for the fly front. Method here.

Assembly: An hour and a half. I assembled the seat and the inner pants leg, then took a break to walk the dog (not included in the time). These seams are generally the easiest part of making pants (you just sew a straight line!) but they do take some time as I stitch each seam three times: I sew the seam with a triple stitch, serge the raw edges together, press, and then stitch down the serged seam allowance to the pants with another triple stitch. I like this method because it produces a nice, strong faux flat-fell look, and the triple stitching keeps the seam and topstitching in place. Without the triple stitch I have found that the thread starts to come undone over time.

Waistband: Another hour and a half. Because I was using remnant fabric, I had to piece the waistband together at the center back. Many patterns are pieced here so it's not a huge issue, and the seam was also covered later by the back belt loop. After nearly a dozen pairs of pants, I feel like I've figured out a good technique for the waistband that works for me, so I'm pretty pleased with my work here.

Belt loops and button: Half an hour. I was now able to try the final product on and they were looking good! True to my changes, this pair was higher cut than the low-rise, but not quite as high as the high-waisted. I had removed an inch from the height all around, but kept an extra half inch towards the center back, which ended up looking fine and feeling great. I hate it when you bend over and expose yourself! Sitting here typing this they are comfortable to sit in as well.

Pockets and hem: Another half hour and I was done! Because I ran out of fabric I had to make the back pockets from a different denim, and I am worried they might fade. But I can always replace them in the future, perhaps with a fun print like a dark floral. (Note: Perhaps inspired by this, I have a post up on the Thread Theory blog about different ways to embellish your pockets. I'm often a plain pocket type of gal, but in this case I may need to get creative!)

In all, my weekend with Ginger was a success! After making more than ten pairs of jeans from three patterns over the past few years, I feel like I finally have a TNT pattern. To the trained eye the fit may not be perfect, but they feel great on and I'm liking the look. The winning combination proved to be using a good pattern in a cut I like with really taking the time to figure out my fit adjustments (and not over-fitting!). With my final pattern, I was able to make a pair in five hours of sewing (plus maybe another hour of cutting the night before), which would be totally doable over a few weeknights when I want to make this pattern up in the future. For me, fitting and seam ripping are really the most time-consuming parts of making jeans, so taking a weekend to figure that out should really pay off.

Some thoughts on fit: Through this process I am learning that there are several ways to fit a pair of pants. On my previous gray pair of Gingers, I cut the pattern out using my hip size (the largest size), and then tried to alter the remaining pieces to fit my measurements. In doing that, however, I changed the ease of the pattern because I didn't use negative ease in calculating the size of the pattern pieces. My adjustments also ended up altering the lines of the pattern, changing the back seat curve and affecting the back fit.

For these Gingers, I graded between sizes rather than trying to change the pieces all by myself. I find it is best to leave as much fitting to the pattern as possible, or try a new pattern! This allowed me to keep more of the original style lines. For example, the back yoke on this version much more closely resembles the back yoke of the original pattern than on my modified gray Gingers. However, to grade between sizes I was careful to not just connect between the lines but to actually curve some of the pieces to evenly distribute the changes (versus just taking the seam in at the sides). The pattern is now a size 4 at the waistband, a size 6 at the yoke, a size 8 at hips, and a size 2/4 at the legs. I used to grade between sizes a lot to fit my measurements when I first started sewing, and I'm finding this still works best for me rather than trying more complicated fit adjustments.

The result, as seen below, is that the pants contour nicely to my lower back above my butt. This was my main accomplishment for the project. In looking at these pictures again, I'm also thinking I could put some more work into the back thigh - here I took the pants in at the side seam rather than dealing with the extra ease below the butt, and the fabric kind of droops down there accordingly. I will need to find some sort of tutorial for this... However, I am wary of removing too much there, as some ease is necessary to move around!

Since making these jeans a couple of weeks ago I have been wearing them as much as possible. In these pictures the pants have been worn unwashed probably about five times (is that gross? I don't care, I love them!). The thicker denim has really held up nicely for wear, and the fit is very comfortable - not too tight and not too saggy. The dark color makes them perfect for work, while the slim cut is also nice for weekend wear. Overall, I am very happy with them, and I think this slower approach may change how I tackle more complicated projects in the future. If only I could take a weekend to myself more often!