A Refined Sewing Plan

Thank you all for your comments on my last post about balancing my sewing time and keeping things fun. While Mr. Made insists that I was just seeking out reinforcement (so what!), I think you also helped clarify my thinking and explore more of the exact nature of why I've been feeling overwhelmed with sewing. As a follow-up, I have boiled down my feelings to a few key points:

Work clothes are stressing me out. Every few years that I change jobs or decide I need to be "more professional," I need a change in wardrobe. This is hard to keep up with on the sewing front, and means I haven't had as many options to wear to work. And when it comes down to it, making button-up shirts or fitting a new trousers pattern just isn't that fun to me. I think the solution in this case is to just go out and buy a few key work pieces and call it a day. And who knows, maybe buying some clothes will inspire new sewing projects.

I do like sewing "basics." While I talked about how sewing sometimes feels like I burden, I genuinely do enjoy making my own jeans, bras, and other necessities. The cost is less, the fit is better, and I like making and wearing them. I also don't tend to wear dresses very often, as it's a bit chilly in SF and I ride a bike most everywhere. So while I may not be sewing my work trousers or sweater sets, I do still plan on making some jeans and bras and tops in the coming months. I'm hoping making some fun "every day" type stuff will keep my happy.

Though shall not covet. In my original article, I compared myself to a pioneer woman loaded down with mending and sewing. While that is certainly undesirable, I think we would do well to remember some things about early women and society in general. Namely, they consumed less and, we are told, took life at a less frantic pace. I must remember that I do not have to have everything I covet right now and in endless amounts; it is important to slow down and enjoy the things I have. Our consumerist culture sometimes makes me feel like I must have all the things, but sewing helps remind me that each article of clothing requires thought and time, whether purchased or sewn.

To mark this shift in thinking, this past weekend I loaded up on some fun materials at the Bay Area Sewists fabric swap and subsequent shopping trip at Stone Mountain. Jeggings, a cocoon coat, and some pretty silk tops are in my future. I also had some time to roam around Berkeley, and ended up buying (gasp!) some graphic tees, which I love to wear but hate making. This marks my first new purchase in over a year, but Mr. Made will appreciate that I have stopped stealing his shirts now.

Thank you all for the support on this sewing adventure! By sticking to making a few key, fun pieces and giving myself permission to fill in the gaps with store-bought clothes, I think I will have saved my sewing sanity.

The Urge to Sew it All

just kidding, it's buffalo dung

I feel like I vacillate on the topic:

As a new sewist, making anything was just plain exciting. I sewed dresses and pretty(ish) things because they were exciting. But a couple of years ago, as my mound of me-mades grew, I vowed to make more everyday garments that I could wear all the time. On this front I've actually been successful. Looking down at my outfit today I'm wearing a top, jeans, and a bra that I have made myself.

Yet recently I have felt the pressure to sew everything I wear. Never mind that pretty (and practical) new coat pattern, those fun overalls that everyone is wearing, or that creative not-sure-if-it-will-really-work pattern company - there are jeans to mend, basics that need replacing, and a work wardrobe to furnish! Lately I feel like the pressure is mounting to spend all my free time producing the things I need.

While it's a fun experiment, I don't want to feel like a pioneer woman forced to survive by my own two hands alone. I love that I haven't bought new clothes in over a year, but I wonder if I shouldn't just head to J. Crew or wherever and buy those trousers so I can get on with the fun stuff. On the other hand, learning pants fitting, bra making, and how to sew a t-shirt hem has been incredibly educational.

So I am revisiting the question: as a hobby sewist, is it better to make the pretty, artsy things that give you joy, or enjoy making the clothes that you will cherish and wear every day? The answer, of course, is usually in between, but definitely has me second-guessing my recent approach to sewing.

Home Ec Bathing Suit Fail

Pattern: Vintage McCall's 5535
Fabric: Girl Charlee nylon spandex knit
Cost: free (from our Meetup fabric swap!)

After dreaming of swimsuits for the past year, pinning some inspiration, and even procuring various swimsuit fabrics, I found that I had no desire to sew a swimsuit in the weeks before our tropical winter vacation. I made a dress, some dog coats, and even gifts for others, so you know I was procrastinating. Then, the evening before we left, I suddenly had the fervent need to make those suits! I pulled out my fabric, pulled out the ruined RTW one I wanted to copy, and cut away. I sewed and sewed, stayed up until 2am... and it was a disaster. Predictably.

First off, I traced the back pattern piece wrong on the bottoms and ended up needing to tack on some extra fabric at the sides. And then the liner was cut too short because I didn't even try it on as a sewed.

The major issue, however, is the top. It is from McCall's 5535, a vintage pattern from 1977. It is marketed as a Carefree Pattern, "a new idea from the McCall Pattern Company to make perfect fit easier than ever!" My guess is that it is "easier than ever" because the pattern contains an essentially shapeless jumper and giant ruched swimsuit top. While the idea of the top is cool - it can be worn several different ways - in practice it is terribly "home ec." The fabric slides all over the straps because you never secure them together, it constantly needs to be adjusted, and never quite feels like it is on tight enough. Thank god I didn't wear it in any serious surf!

The good news is this is the same Girl Charlee Fabric that was reported to run once it got wet. Luckily, no runny die for me! However, it did start to fade a bit from the parts I over worked while sewing, so I still wouldn't recommend it. But besides the color issue, this really is a great fabric - nice and thick. I will definitely be shopping for more nylon spandex knit if I can, as the swimsuit fabric available for sewists is often a lot thinner than the kind in RTW swimsuits.

Oh well. I still have some of this fabric I can experiment with, and lots of other fabrics and ideas, too. Next time will hopefully be much more successful.

I am still al bit puffy from getting my wisdom teeth out last Saturday, so for now I will leave you with some highlights from our trip - whales! (Luckily we did not get hit by any.)

Grey Gingers

Pattern: Closet Case File's Ginger Jeans
Fabric: 1 1/2 yd stretch cotton lycra sateen
Cost: $14

Well, I wanted to take better pictures, I really did. It has been fun to try to work on photography more for the past year, and Mr. Made is practicing his skills with a still camera, too. But sometimes you haven't posted the last five things you've made, it's dark every night when you get home, and you're getting your wisdom teeth out on Saturday and may have chipmunk cheeks for the foreseeable future. So I snapped some iPhone pics before happy hour last night and we'll call this one a done deed. Sorry if some of the detail is lost, as it really is helpful when you're trying to fit pants! 

The pants above are my second iteration of the Ginger Jeans, which mark another step forward in my quest for pants fitting. To make these, I curved both the yoke and the waistband by an additional 4 inches total to fit the shape of my bum. It may not look like I have a big booty, but there is a mean curve between the bottom of the yoke up to the top of my waistband. I held my breath as I sewed the back together and tried on the pants. It really did look a bit weird! But when I put them on the fit was much improved! It's a no wonder the original pattern didn't quite fit with my monumental back side. 

There are still some horizontal lines through the back of the pants, but the under-the-butt and behind-the-knee ones actually allow me to sit down, so those are staying. I could probably still do with taking some length out of the back for these though using this technique. I guess it's time to come to terms with the fact that I have swayback...

The fronts are looking great, except for the fact that I sewed the button a little off center. The only additional tweaks I would make would be to take the sides in about 1/2" at each side, and fix the twisting center leg seam, which you can see at my ankle. That part is my fault, as I didn't follow Heather's lines exactly when I made View A a skinny jean.  I also purposely left these pants a bit long as I have noticed my jeans tend to shrink in the wash, but I may shorten them if they don't. For my next pair, I'm also interested in making them about an 1" higher, so I may switch to View B and tinker with that. 

These have already been worn twice (this week) and are super comfortable. I get a ton of wear out of my handmade pants, so continuing to work on fit and technique has really been paying off. Next up, I think I'll try finding the perfect denim!

2014 in Sewing

More than just a reflection, I consider my year-end round-up to be my final verdict on all of the things I've made this year. Often things are blogged and posted before I've gotten a chance to truly wear them around, wash them, and break them in, so the year-end post is my chance to take a good look at what actually worked and what didn't. It's also fun to tally up my makes, put them all together, and see what I've actually accomplished this year. This, of course, can help set the tone for the year to come.

This year I made over fifty individual things, and managed to blog most of them. I also had the opportunity to test some patterns, guest blog, teach a BurdaStyle class, and was published for the first time in a print magazine! On the home front, I finished some planned improvements to the apartment, got our new puppy, studied for the GRE, and applied to grad school. I did not cook as many home-made meals as one should, clean the floors nearly often enough, get in shape before Hawaii, or get 8 hours of sleep every night (like tonight). Let's hope it was all worth it!

Total Projects: about 50
Average Cost: about $14
Total Cost: less than one month's rent

I should probably be ashamed to tell you how often I've worn some of these pieces. After my custom bralettes, my Hudson pants have by far and away been my most-worn item. I don't wear them much out of the house (except for the occasional dog walk), but I pull them on just about every night when I get home from work. They are so comfy, and in black they look good with anything. I have also been obsessed with my Bonnie Top, which gets worn just as soon as it comes out of the wash. It's got the comfiness of a t-shirt but still looks put together for work and meetings. My Plaintain shirt and skinny jeans have also been go-to staples, although both patterns could use some tweaking in the new year.

1. Bonnie Top
2. Summer Scout
3. Plantain Tee
4. Hudson Pants
5. Jeans
6. Bralettes: Polka Dot, Lace, Mustard

The year started out with me making a lot of tops for myself. The simple ones work well, but I am noticing they have to be a bit more special than a kimono tee to make my 'most worn' list. The Weekend Archer was a good make, and the floral blouse, though a bit tight in the underarm, proved to be an excellent TNT pattern now that I have it all fitted.

1. Silk Top
2. Woven Top
3. Split-Back Tee
4. Fave Top
5. Weekend Archer
6. Floral Blouse
Not pictured - Quilted Scout

This year I had vowed to sew more specifically for work-related things, and the ponte blazer and Burda pants did a good job for that. I also managed to make myself a custom bike rain cape which came in VERY handy at both the beginning and end of the year: though silly, it makes a big difference if I get caught without it. I also made something for fun - the jumper which I wore during the holidays last year and this year. This year I want to make a few more unusual shapes, including culottes and overalls, just to push my comfort zone a bit.

1. Biking Rain Cape
2. Ponte Blazer
3. Ginger Jeans
4. Burda Pants
5. Jumper 

I continued my vow to sew fewer dresses this year, but the ones I did make got a lot of wear, especially when traveling. My Maya Dress is definitely my prettiest make, and the knit dresses were a win for comfy vacation traveling. I should also mention our matching Cal shirts here, which were pulled out for SEVERAL games and have attracted many requests from friends who want their own.

1. Maya Dress
2. Striped Dress
3. Hawaii Dress
4. Cal Shirts
5. Bathing Suit
6. Lingerie
Unblogged: Bathing Suit #2, Pajama Shorts

Towards the end of the year this year, I noticed myself making a lot of things for others, which may be why I'm feeling a bit behind on my personal sewing right now. Of course, who can resist sewing for Ms. Beatrix Kiddo? While last year I sewed a lot for Mr. Made, this year was definitely all about the pets. For baby showers, baby pants were my go-to gift, and I even got in some mens sewing with a shirt for my dad and some birthday makes for Mr. Made which haven't made it to the blog yet. 

2. Dog Coat 
Unblogged: Dog Sweatshirt, Dog Pajamas, Dog Bed, More Baby Pants, Jedediah Pants, Men's Button-Up, Scarves

My misses this year fall into three categories: poor fabric choice, fit issues, and poor design choices on my part. For various reasons, this year I had a number of my projects disintegrate after wearing. My floral archer was made from delicate vintage fabric that raveled when washed, the fabric used in my cowl top was cheap, and for some odd reason the perfectly new fabric used in my Sutton Blouse and ruffle tee also degraded after washing :( My fit issues largely came from garments that were too snug at the armpits, too loose in the bust, or both. I could try to tell you I will muslin more to avoid these issues in the future, but I probably won't. Finally, for some garments I just made poor design decisions - I chose a wrinkly fabric, or the wrong fabric, or cut the neckline too low... It's ok, I've got more in the works!

3. Cowl Top 


Overall, I think I did a pretty good job of sewing for my lifestyle, with a few lessons learned along the way. Last year I said I wanted to focus on fit and designing clothes specifically for the office or play, and I have made some progress on this front. The more I learn about fit the more I know I have to learn, but I've become increasingly interested in how the 'pros' are doing it. 

I also vowed to finally tackle the mend-it bin, and I'm glad to say I did! This had been a goal for at least two years, so I'm relieved to finally check that off my list. Of course, a new one has surfaced in its place... 

I also wanted to take on another project like bra-making and I did... to some extent. That project turned out to not be sewing related at all, however, but rather applying to grad school (which at times seemed like another part-time job). Getting back into the academic setting (or at least applying to be) got me thinking a lot about the role of sewing in my life. I realized that not only is it a fun hobby, but it also helps to balance the rest of the work that I do. While I didn't sew much during those months busy months, I have gained a new appreciation for continuing to work sewing into my busy schedule. So instead of a long list of goals for this next year, I want to focus on making sure that I keep sewing as a part of what I do, even if that time gets reduced. Looking at the projects above, I'm excited about the possibilities ahead!

Hope everyone has a happy new year! Here's to many more months of sewing ahead!