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Selfish sewing time has been completely non-existent for me the past several weeks. Boo. After closing down and moving out of our brick and mortar shop, there still seemed to be endless amounts of straggling items of business to do. It’s been one thing after another after another, which is fine. Then, when chance came for a spot of sewing, guess who put in for some new t-shirts?

Saying that Mr. AFS has been my right hand through all of this wouldn’t cut the mustard. He helps me with every part of my online shop now. He’s still technically “in training” but he’s doing a passable impression of CEO. Since the tee’s on his back were literally about to fall off (holes and everything) telling him “no” didn’t seem like an option. I even tried to talk him into a couple of tees from Ross (a discount chain store) – we were even there looking at them!! – and he absolutely refused. Spoiled. Now he’s beginning to understand the difference between having something custom made for him vs. trying to find something that fits, is the right color and features everything he wants at the store.

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Additionally, I thought it would be a good plug for our jersey knits and for me to chat about what goes into buying knit for our online shop. ha ha (nervous laughter). When it comes to knits, I am incredibly picky. I’ve made several knit projects that basically bombed after wearing because of the fabric choice pilling, or the fabric choice was so awful, I got half way through and tossed it. I’ve done a lot of online fabric shopping in my time and well, I’ve only ever had one problem with a woven fabric (it was a very bad color in person). Knits are a completely different story. I’ve bought a lot of knit online and I would say that a really good portion have been complete flops in person. I’ve noticed that the weight – the sheerness of the knit – is a huge deal to me. I think thin sheer knits are for the dogs. Ugh. Awful to sew with and I always end up having to wear something underneath anyway. Sigh. The other thing that is pretty tell-tale of a bad knit, is the wash and wear. Pilling is so unsightly to me. I’ve had a good jot of rayon jerseys that pill and so I’m very careful when purchasing those for my shop.

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I made a pattern from Mr. AFS’s favorite tee and then made a test wearable t-shirt (above). The fit was exactly the same as the original tee.

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This t-shirt was fabric from some old shop stock. 100% cotton mini rib knit. This stuff is really soft and I’m pretty sure it was organic. This pic (above) was taken just after Mr. AFS had kissed his own bicep. He must really love the way his arms look in these tees. Ahem. Moving right along….

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Second tee, I got a lot more creative. Made him a henley with a pocket and back yoke with pleat. This proves great in a solid colored knit because we can actually see the texture and details without trying to squint through a print. He’s loving it. This knit is one of our 10 oz. cotton jerseys that contain 5% spandex (the Burgundy if you were interested). They. Are. Awesome! They sew up like a dream, will last a good long while and they have great color retention. Really comfortable to wear too.

I used the button placket pattern from David Coffin’s Shirtmaking book and put it together like a placket on a sleeve. All went well as per everything I’ve ever done from his book – love it! If you haven’t, take a gander at our knit selection. Get a swatch or two! I’m totally into converting you to my way of knit fabric thinking!

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Fitting Thoughts on McCall’s 6649

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Since I got you all excited about creating your own patterns – from a pattern that already fits you – in my last post, I thought I would give you some fitting thoughts of what I went through with my versions of McCall’s 6649. I posted an update about the Craftsy class with Sarah Holden in my last post, but I thought I would state it again. This particular class does not offer any help whatsoever for fitting. It focuses on pattern drafting from a pattern that fits you. The fitting process is a whole class unto itself, so that was not covered in a class like this (but see below for more info on my fitting references). Often times fitting, for me, is a really rotten and time consuming process (isn’t it for everyone?). One thing I really really don’t enjoy is that I tend to start second guessing myself at the end of it all. Do I really like the fit of this? Maybe I should make a few more tweaks? Shouldn’t it be more fitted? Hmmm, the sleeve might be an 1/8″ too long? An 1/8″? Isn’t that a little nuts? Are we actually trying to split hairs here? AHHHHH! This process is called overfitting and it happens, I think, to all of us (well I hope it does or I am a bona fide nut job). I usually have to step back from something like this and then come back to it a few days or weeks later.

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With McCall’s 6649, I made an initial muslin. From there I created this flannel shirt that I blogged back in August of last year. That was my first rendition. The sleeves were too short, the collar was too tall and flopped about too much (for my taste). The shoulders needed a forward shoulder adjustment, the sleeve cuff was too big. I also like to sew the button placket in a different way (this is just too lumpy for my taste). These were things that needed fixing even after I had done a muslin and made extensive fitting adjustments before I made up this version! In case you were worried, I didn’t pick this pattern back up and finish the fitting process until December 2014. It did not take me since last August to fit this pattern! Ha ha! Now that would be bad!

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My second round proved better. I measured a sleeve and cuff from a button-up shirt I had and liked the fit of and then adjusted my pattern accordingly. Also compared the collars and made more adjustments to my pattern. The sleeve cuff on this one still ended up being too big for my taste preferences. And yes, I totally added lace to this one! This is a Liberty of London print, just in case you were wondering.

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I adjusted the sleeve cuff for this favorite version (read more about this one here)! The cuff is a  little more fitted and that’s exactly the way I like them. This shirt, I daresay is perfect. Again on this shirt, I opted not to sew in the vertical darts on the front bodice, just to mix it up a little. I like things boxy sometimes and I was curious to see if it still “fit” if I didn’t sew in the darts. It fits just fine, it’s just a different sort of fit which is good because then the wheels start turning and I start seeing possibilities for future hacks!

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And then just to be safe, I made one more version in a most beloved Liberty of London that I had been stashing for some time for just this very purpose. I decided to go whole hog and do all of the things, including front vertical darts and pockets with flaps.

I decided to show you all of these because I feel that sometimes people might think that fitting can be solved after one muslin iteration. While a lot of it can and the garment you make next is usually just fine or at least wearable, you’ll end up wanting to tweak things for an even better fit in the next go around. Why? Because you CAN! Hello fitting ninja! The kinks come out of it pretty well when you’re into your third make from the same pattern – at least this has been my experience. Granted, there are a lot of patterns out there that I don’t make multiples of. Sometimes those patterns are just one hit wonders, but base patterns like these I take a good long time with and really get the fit right on par for what I want.

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I took this class on Craftsy quite some time ago, which I found to be incredibly useful pre-muslin – Fast Track Fitting with Joi Mahon. Her follow-up class is really good too, Fast Track Fitting, in the Details. She’s also got a great book out – Create the Perfect Fit – and all of these resources stick to the same method that she really tries to drill into your brain – measure your body, measure and adjust the pattern. I like her method a lot because you use measurements from your body and then you adjust the pattern before you do your initial muslin. It clears up a lot of the big problems. After the muslin phase, I tweak the fit utilizing the first edition of Fitting & Pattern Alteration. Really, really awesome fitting book.

OK, well I think that’s enough about fitting for one day. Hopefully there’s some good information here for those of you who might be stuck or thinking about overfitting every sewing pattern you’ve ever made! Do you make multiples of patterns to get the fit just right? Do you over fit? I know, it’s totally a thing, right?

Working with a Sloper

Over the course this year so far, you’ve seen my adoration for a certain button up sewing pattern (McCall’s 6649) and then a couple of hacks of things I’ve made from it (here and here). I thought I would take a sec, stop down and say a little more about it. It’s exciting. Well, at least I think so.

Hopefully this post will help clear up some questions I’ve been getting and hopefully it will show you that you can take a pattern and hack it up and not have to re-invent the fitting wheel. This is a skill I’ve cultivated over several years and one that is well worth the time invested and when you get to the pattern drafting part, it’s really quite fun to learn (in like a scrapbooking sort of way!). In my recent hack of my beloved McCall’s 6649, I mentioned a Craftsy class I had taken. One Pattern, Many Looks with Sarah Holden. I enrolled in the class last year sometime and then it sat in my Craftsy cue for many months. One night, I was really tired and decided to watch this Craftsy class as I was sitting in bed. I watched all the episodes right there and then. I was riveted and I was so excited to get up and get started in the morning. Dreamt of pattern hacks all night! Yessssss!

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The class takes you through this pretty fascinating process. First you’re supposed to fit the pattern. This process actually took a few weeks (the longest part of this whole business) because I wanted something that truly, was perfect and that usually means, for me, that I work out any and all kinks in a pattern by making it up at least 3 times. Seriously, 3 times is the charm. I have some more thoughts about the fitting process in my next post, but yeah, I made this shirt up a good 3 times (and then one more time, making that 4 times!!) before I moved on to the rest of the content of the class. Update: Just so you are aware, this Craftsy class does not cover anything about fitting! It’s only about pattern drafting and manipulation.

After a perfect fit, then it was time to reverse engineer the pattern back to sloper form. What is a sloper? In the most basic terms, a sloper is a base pattern, without seam allowances, from which other patterns can be created or hacked from. You can have different types of slopers. For example, you can have bodice, sleeve, dress, pants, etc. From there you can even have varying types of those basic patterns like a button-up shirt sloper or a raglan sleeve sloper. The idea is that you’ll start forming an entire collection of base patterns that are closer in idea to what you want an end pattern to be. More colors in a crayon box if you will.

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Anyway, back to McCall’s 6649. I created a sloper from this pattern and transferred all of the pertinent markings to posterboard. All of the seam allowances have been cut off here and there are holes and notches in specific places. Putting a pattern like this on posterboard is fantastic because then when I’m ready to create a new top from this pattern, I can just trace it off  in a matter of seconds. The posterboard is stiff so you can just trace around it really easily.

In the Craftsy class, Sarah shows you some really great hacks. And these are just starting points. I mean you really do have the entire world at your feet when you start creating your own patterns – from patterns that already fit you! Since you’ve already addressed the fit, that tends to not be a problem anymore. You might run into some issues here and there, but they are minimal by comparison.

All in all, I’m very very pleased with how my hacks have turned out from this process. It took a lot of time, but was well worth the investment. Onward and upward from here. Have you gone through this process before? What kinds of slopers do you have? If you haven’t, I can’t recommend something like this enough. You learn a ton about fitting and about your body and what things you should be looking out for when you go to try a new sewing pattern. Plus then there’s the creative gratification that comes from creating a pattern of your very own. Fun, fun!

How to: Create a Contoured Waistband

Tutorial Thursday today! Yessss! Today, I thought I would share a quick tip for creating a contoured waistband. I’ve done this many times on many patterns. I thought I would show how to do this on the Hollyburn skirt waistband piece as it’s a perfect candidate for this type of thing. Just so everyone is up to date, Hollyburn is a sewing pattern put out by Sewaholic. You can view my latest versions here. Before we get to the tutorial, I thought I would share why you might want to do something like this. I find that on my particular figure and with a waistband piece that is anything more than 1 inch wide, I have to do this. Maybe I have a bit too fluffy of a tummy – Dr. Pepper is my vice after all. And chocolate and all that. I find that a little contouring at the waist helps it to sit better on my figure and quite frankly, it’s a little nip and tuck that looks good for me. Now, take it away Contoured Waistband tutorial!

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On the Hollyburn waistband piece, you’ll find that it’s a rectangular piece that is folded in half to create a waistband on the skirt section. To contour this waistband we’ll have to change this up a fair bit. We’re going to create two separate waistband pieces – a waistband and a waistband facing and both pieces will be cut on the fold at center front. Follow me? First, find the fold line on the waistband, mark it and then add on 5/8″ seam allowance to one side. I’ve marked my fold line in pink and the seam allowance in green. Cut away the excess.

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The Hollyburn waistband is one entire piece so you’ll need to find the center front of it and cut that away too. That center front will now be cut on the fold, no need to add seam allowance.

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Mark the seam line (in pink again) on the other side of the pattern and cut into the pattern at around the side seam area, to but not through the seamline. Cut on the other side of the seamline, to but not through the seamline which will create a paper hinge. Oh, paper hinges. The story of my life.

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From there you can nip in the waist however much you need by overlapping and taping the longer cut section together. The pictures do a much better job of explaining this, I think. Right about now, you’re probably wondering how you’ll know how much to nip in. When I do this adjustment, I measure how wide the waistband section is (this is the vertical measurement of the waistband). Then I take two pieces of elastic and tie them around my waist. The first I tie at my waist – or where I want the top of the skirt to hit – and then I tie the other piece around the section of my waist that is down the vertical width of the waistband. In the case of the Hollyburn, the waistband is 2 inches wide. So I would tie that second elastic 2 inches below the first. Make sense? Now take the measurements around both areas and compare. I’m usually about 1 inch off or so. You’ll divide that number by 2 since you’re working with half of the waistband piece (because we just chopped off at the center front and now we’re cutting the waistband on the fold). So I need to overlap 1/2 inch. WHEWWWW!

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Once you’ve figured all that out, then it’s time to smooth out those angles. Not only are those lines hard to sew, but it wouldn’t look all that great if we sewed this piece up as is at the moment. To smooth out the lines, you’ll need to use a curved ruler. Shimmy up your curved ruler along the angles and find a curve that connects and fills in (or takes away) in a nice looking curve. You’ll be adding to the valley and subtracting from the peak. I’ve added to the valley in red and then I subtracted approximately the same amount from the peak and cut that off.

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To make this whole thing a bit easier to see, I opted to retrace the waistband for you. See how you have a nice smooth curved waistband now? You’ll cut the center front on the fold, cut two pieces and voila! Contoured waistband!

If you have a major contouring that is needed in the waistband (like more than 1 inch in the round), I would say that it would be best to do the above in two places instead of one. So think of the waistband in thirds and nip and tuck at 1/3 and then 2/3 mark. Make sense? Sometimes when the waistband gets wider – like 5 inches, which would be more of a yoke – then it’s better to do this in more places than just at the side seam. Makes for a softer curve.

And that’s it for today’s tutorial. Enjoy friends!

Focus on Fit: Pattern Review

This is something that I always do before I start out on a new pattern. Always. Pattern Review is such a great resource. Yes we all know that the site is a little bit janky, but once past that, the reviews are invaluable. Today I thought I would show you how I utilize it, just in case you were completely lost as to how to find anything on the site. But first, a few words. Before getting started on any pattern, its a really really good idea to read the pattern reviews of that pattern. Someone brought to my attention that one of the patterns on my pinterest board didn’t receive favorable pattern reviews and after they had tried it themselves, they concurred with the reviews. They also said that I should take this pattern off my board and no, I’m not going to do this. Friends, I don’t have time to check all the reviews on all the patterns I post there. Please understand that. That is your homework. If you find that you like what I have to say here and you find a pattern that you want to make from my pinterest board, please go on pattern review to read the reviews before you delve in. I don’t have any secret info on whether or not the pattern was well drafted or if it has fitting problems that are the same across the board. I only put patterns there because they look like basic patterns for all sewing levels (there’s a couple of Marfy’s and Stylearc’s on there). I also updated the bulletin message for that particular pinterest board. Now, let us move on.

Before I even purchase a pattern, I have a look at its reviews. Or if I’ve already purchased the pattern long ago, I have a look at the reviews before diving in. This can make or break a pattern for me. I actually won’t even start a pattern if its got serious problems from the get go based on the pattern reviews. To utilize the pattern review function on the Pattern Review site (ha ha) here is a step by step tutorial.

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On the left hand side, click advanced search.

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From there a screen will come up and you’ll enter in the pattern company name from the drop down and the pattern number – you don’t have to enter anything else, by the way. Then click search and reviews will pop up.

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Sometimes it happens that no one has reviewed a certain pattern, so you have to go out on a ledge on your own and then of course, its up to you to write a review of the pattern and put it up on Pattern Review.

My second favorite place to peruse on Pattern Review are the Message Boards. Sometimes, someone will post problems they are having mid construction and try to get some advice from other pattern reviewers. It’s a great way to find out even more about a pattern.

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So to do that you’ll click on the Message Board tab. Then click search board on the right.

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Then enter a word or two on the subject your looking for. You’ll need to click either “Titles & Descriptions” or “Messages.” Then click enter and several message boards will pop up.

I know these are simple tutorials, but I have to admit that sometimes I find the site a bit overwhelming to navigate and when you try to search things many times, what you’re looking for doesn’t come up. So this is out there to help you out a bit more. Also, if you’re not a member, sign up! It’s free and I barely get one email from Pattern Review a month. Nothing big. It’s great when they have pattern sales and they have great classes too.

Do you use Pattern Review? Interestingly enough, I find Pattern Review much more helpful than any other “sewing community” out there just because all the reviews tend to take on the same format and they are all reviews, not just beautiful photos of someone in a garment (though I do love that too, just sayin). What do you think?

Focus on Fit: Suggestions for Pattern Size Picking

OK, so my last post went over the system that I use to pick pattern size. It’s the one that I prefer for myself (and I use it on others too and have great success) but sometimes this isn’t the fix for everyone and everyone has different bodies. I have a few more suggestions for you, both are great links to different info about picking the correct bodice size. Oh that pesky bust measurement…. But first:

A little clarity from my last post. There were many great questions and just in case you missed my update to that post, here are some answers for you. The upper bust measurement replaces the bust measurement when you’re looking at picking your pattern size. So, pick the bust measurement that corresponds with your upper bust measurement. Why do I like this so much? Again, I skimmed over saying that the hardest part of the body to fit is the intersection of the upper bust, shoulders, arms and neck. Four tubes. Not easy to fit. So picking the arrangement that will fit this area is key. Doing things like full bust adjustments, broad back adjustments adding width or decreasing width and so forth are child’s play by comparison and much easier to do than fiddling with those intersections. Also, there was some talk about cup sizes. Here’s the thing with cup sizing. The Big 4 all draft for a B cup. So that’s good to know, but then what does every other company draft for? I’ve read that Colette drafts for a C cup. OK, but other than that I don’t know what the other independents draft for. These are things that you will measure on the pattern and adjust and then in the muslin if more adjusting is needed it will be altered. So does knowing the cup size really matter? Personally, I don’t think so, but this is a big deal to other people, so I’m just letting you know. When we get to the adjusting phase, you’ll see what I mean and that’s next by the way.

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Ok, so here are some other great ways to find your correct pattern size for the upper body. First Nancy Zieman’s method. It’s awesome. I really love Nancy. She’s been around for a really long time and she has great advice, techniques and methods. Here’s how she goes about picking her pattern size.

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Next, this was a tip on pattern review that I found really useful. This method measures the shoulder width and then from there you compare this measurement to your pattern and pick your upper body size from there. You’ll find that tip here.

Focus on Fit: Picking Your Pattern Size (updated)

Hey everyone! This post has been updated (updates in italics) with regards to the questions being asked! Also thanks so much for your questions because they bring to light things that I forgot to mention and should have.

I used to think this wasn’t that important, but it is. Picking the right size can determine how many adjustments and alterations you’re going to have to make. You will probably have to make many anyway, but this can remove a good chunk. So you need to pick the correct size. Think of this in terms of altering your clothes. It’s just as hard to alter something that is way too big – like 3 sizes too big – as it is impossible to alter something that is 3 sizes too small. Picking the pattern size that is closest to you is much easier to alter than picking one that is 2 or 3 sizes too big or small for you.

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For my part, I use my upper bust measurement, waist and hip. The upper bust measurement in particular is a good measurement to go by when picking a bodice because it will insure that you pick the correct shoulder, neck and sleeve arrangement for your body. You would pick this measurement in lieu of your full bust measurement for your bust – now that was a mouthful! This, if you don’t know, is the hardest place on the body to fit. Why? Because if you think of it you are trying to fit four moving tubes – your neck, shoulders, arms and upper bust. All of these tubes have different wearing ease amounts and they all play in tandem with each other. The second place on the body that is hardest to fit – the legs and torso. You’ve got three tubes there and that’s why pants are such a pain to fit. The upper bust measurement works out well too because it removes the headache of figuring out which cup size the pattern was drafted for. Instead, you pick the upper bust measurement for the bust and either do a full bust adjustment or small bust adjustment – something that will be determined better after you take more measurements and in the muslin phase.

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For your upper bust, waist and hip, you’ll want to take these measurements in your underclothes – whatever that entails – and you’ll want to do it in front of a mirror. This way you can see what’s going on with the tape measure. The upper bust goes around the upper portion of your chest, which may or may not make the tape measure fall perfectly parallel with the floor. Also the measurement doesn’t need to be skin tight, just snug like you could put a finger or two in there with your measurement (note this for all measurements). The waist is taken at the narrowest point of your middle. This may or may not be where you wear things like skirts or pants and even if that is so, you still need a reference point. I put a piece of elastic around my waist and do the hula for a minute while it settles. Then I take my measurement over that. This is crucial for a bodice, but for a skirt or pair of pants, I measure the place on my mid section where I want the waist to hit me and then measure the pattern pieces to see just how much I might need to add or subtract in order to get these types of garments to hit me where I want them to hit me. This involves thinking about ease which I’ll be covering much more in depth later. For the hip, you need to take the measurement right at your hip bone and then again at your widest area below the waist which may or may not be at your hip bone. Let me tell you why. For pants, you need the measurement that is right at your hip bone. The crucial fitting part about pants is that they have to fit those three moving tubes pretty perfectly so you need to take the measurement at this crucial area because those intersections don’t happen mid thigh or what have you. However for skirts and dresses, you’ll want to take your hip measurement at your widest point below your waist. This actually means that you might have a wider measurement just below your hip bone and for skirts, this is much easier to fit. Not impossible to fit, just less work.

I know there are other ways to determine your correct size, but truly after having tried several ways (oh so many ways!!!) I always come back to taking these three measurements this way. They’ve served me well and they’ve also served those that I teach well too. They take care of the bigger headache areas and reduce the amount of work you have to do too. Let me clarify though that these are the things that have worked for me and for others that I have fit and worked with too. But if you feel you are picking the right size and are happy with the way things are working within that size, stay with what you’ve got. Also, you don’t have to take these measurements every time you pick a new pattern. Take them once, write them down, memorize them and then a few years later take them again, just to make sure that nothing has changed or what not. Our bodies will naturally age, things will start shifting and well, you know, that’s how it goes. Just check every few years to see what size bracket you fall into.

Make sense?