Monday, 27 July 2015

Leggings-Gate :: or, learning to work with knits

I don't have that much experience of sewing stretch fabrics. I made one jersey dress back in 2008, and for work I've made up various Lycra bodysuits and structural contraptions, generally always using Lycra and power mesh, i.e. knits with good 4-way stretch and high recovery rate. But pattern cutting for knits, doing nice finishing techniques, discovering the stretch percentage, attaching elastic…all this was new to me and slightly frightening!

I decided to make a pair of leggings. How hard could that be?
Last week I had 3 application forms to write, my expenses receipts to log, and my tax return to file. So naturally this was the perfect opportunity to do some heavy procrastination via my sewing machine.
I stepped into the black hole of LEGGINGS-GATE.

Pattern cutting
For the pattern, I loosely followed the instructions on One Little Minute. And I mean very loosely: I took the measurements listed, then drafted up a trouser block with a few glances at the pattern shapes in the tutorial.

In hindsight, I wish that I had trusted my instincts/experience more and overlooked more of the tutorial instructions, as this draft gives you a crotch that is too saggy, and ankles that are too tight.  I discovered by reading the comments section afterwards that many other sewists have encountered the same problems.

The draft makes leggings with only an inseam, which gives a lovely line on the outside leg, but means that it's harder to make finely-tuned adjustments in fit.

As a side note, I seriously recommend getting a friend to help you take a full set of body measurements, perhaps once a year. Measuring yourself isn't great for accuracy, and I could definitely have avoided some fit problems had I had a better set of measurements.

I'd just bought 2m of this fantastic stretch gold/purple lamé from the sale section of Classic Textiles, Goldhawk Road, for the grand sum of £4. I should really have chosen a fabric that I was less enamoured with for my trial pair of leggings, but there was enough of it to cut two pairs so I decided to jump straight in. I cut the leggings on the cross grain rather than the straight, so that vertical lines would run down my legs. This meant that the leggings would have more vertical than horizontal stretch.

I zipped down the seams on my overlocker, and had I not hit the problems mentioned above, this would have been an ultra-quick sew. But the rise was far too long in the front (though nice and snug at the back), so I spent a long time fine-tuning the front waistline, pulling it as far upwards as I could. I discovered that with leggings, there is an extremely fine line between a good fit, and risk of indecent exposure!

The legs were super-tight below the knee, and I found it especially hard to pull them on over my foot. But I decided to live with this; once they were on, they weren't too uncomfortable. Also, I have a pair of vintage leggings from the 1970s which are also super-tight on the ankle, so I'm not unused to struggling in and out of clothing!

I really liked the method of attaching waistband elastic in the leggings tutorial, although I should have added 1cm extra seam allowance to the top to allow for the turn-down. The leggings could sit a little higher on my waist, for my taste! For the hems, I did a simple zigzag turn-up.

Round 2
I concluded that the gold leggings were rather tight but wearable. I made adjustments to the pattern by widening the calves and ankles; raising the fork/shortening the rise; and adding more seam allowance to the top of the waistband.

I cut out the pattern in the stretch grey velvet that I'd been hoarding for a the past 3 months and zipped down the seams on the overlocker full of confidence and expectation.

Alas! Leggings-gate struck again! In my haste, I had failed to analyse the fabric, and didn't take into account how it differed from the gold stretch lamé. The velvet was much thicker, with horizontal stretch, but no vertical stretch whatsoever!

The leggings were still too tight, bending the knee was uncomfortable, and they were too short. The crotch was still dodgy, and the waist was nowhere near high enough.

I overlocked little cuffs onto the ankles to give more length in the leg, and should make a  separate waistband too. But I don't know whether to bother trying to salvage them so that I can give them to someone shorter than me who has slimmer legs; or just to throw them in the bin.

Grand conclusion? Leggings need fabric with 4-way stretch. 

I'd still like to make several pairs of stretch velvet leggings; so I guess I'll have to look a little harder to find suitable fabric. Meanwhile, at least I can enjoy my gold pair!

Helpful links list (that I wish I'd read before starting)
Drafting & making leggings (follow the drafting instructions with caution! see above)
Fitting trousers & making pattern alterations
How to determine stretch percentages on knit fabrics
About knit fabrics & some suppliers
Cutting & handling knit fabrics
A the Tilly posts on knits are great!
Finishing techniques for knit fabrics

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Neon firsts

A few months ago I was commissioned to make a neon yellow, midi-length, box pleated skirt for a client. I was excited about this project as my client is a really lovely person, and it sounded like a nice relief from all the complicated millinery I was in the middle of. I was initially a little apprehensive about being able to source neon yellow fabric, but in the end was able to find it easily on Goldhawk Road, well within budget. I got this great neon fabric with a woven paisley pattern, as well as neon polycotton lining and neon net for the underskirt.

The fabric was very drapey so I made a net frill attached to the underskirt to give it volume. The skirt had inseam pockets and an invisible zip. Inserting an invisible zip was a first for me, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was! It gives such a good, clean finish; I don't know why I was so scared of them before.

Sewing was a big part of my undergrad degree, and I specialised in historical costume making. But in my 3 years on the costume degree, I did not insert a single zip! Sometimes I find myself feeling snobby towards this or that, or with the whiff of a superiority complex; all because I did pattern cutting and sewing at degree level. It's silly really: there is always more to learn, and we can never know it all. It took a simple zip to remind me of that, and bring me down to earth.

Here are two snaps pinched from my client's FB page (hope that's OK, Akua!) to show you how big (left) and how neon (right) the skirt really was!

Have you learnt a new technique recently? Or have you been taken by surprise by discovering something whilst sewing?

Monday, 20 July 2015

Impossibly Pretty Pyjamas

When I made my first pair of lady boxers last week, I had some scraps of that beautiful floral print cotton voile left over that looked like I might just be able to squeeze a matching pyjama top out of. Emphasis on the squeeze.  You'll recall that I didn't want to buy a pattern for a pyjama set because I'm fussy and I'm tight, yes; but also because I already have so many beautiful patterns in my stash that I haven't managed to sew up yet.

I like to have a little coverage on my shoulders when I sleep, or else I often wake up with a stiff, frozen shoulder (yet another reason why the various summer pyjama patterns available aren't right for me - they tend to come with strappy camisoles). So I flicked through my pattern library and chose the 'R' ruffle top from Clothing for Everyday Wear to complete my summer pyjama set.

To trim the top, I used gorgeous dusty rose coloured cotton sateen from my stash, and the remaining piece of vintage turquoise bias binding from the shorts. After pinning it on the neckline, I only had 1cm left - talk about cutting it close!

For the armholes, I made bias binding from the cotton sateen for underneath the ruffles. I decided to go for the same colour so that the ruffles here looked more subtle, and read more as texture than too much additional decoration. I didn't have enough of the floral voile to cut the whole back, so I made it empire line instead with my contrast fabric.

I really like how the excess girlyness of all those pink ruffles tones down the sporty vibe created by the bias-bound shorts. And vice-versa. It's like 1960s frou-frou hitting 1970s track shorts!

The buttons of course were from my stash, and I had lots to choose from. I was surprised by quite how many sets of buttons I had in rose pink, turquoise and white! I guess my colour choices tend to be pretty predictable. I picked very elegant clear plastic droplets in the end, wanting to avoid anything too clownish and bold. The top is cutesy enough as it is!

Technically, I was surprised by how long it took me to sew this top. I'm not normally one for decoration: I wear very minimal jewellery, and normally forget to accessorise outfits. I choose fabric with loud patterns over having to create textile effects; at the most, I might sew in some lace. Bias binding is a favourite as it adds visual interest in a place where you'd have to sew a hem anyway. So going to the effort of cutting and applying bias ruffle strips isn't something that I normally do. I think that the result is super-cute so it was worth it!

Pattern-wise, I lowered the front neckline by 1cm and the back neckline by 1.5cm, tapering the curve up at the shoulders. In the future, I would also take in the armhole by 1cm so that the top doesn't emphasise my shoulders quite so much! I cut a size S even though my measurements fall between S and M in the book. The patterns are cut quite boxy, which I personally don't think is very flattering if you don't have the waif-like figures of the models in the book! It's lovely and loose for a PJ top, and would look great in viscose or anything with drape. Voile is the heaviest plain-weave fabric that I think should be used for this pattern.

I had to use a surprisingly large array of threads on this project, and kept changing between reels on my machine. These were from my stash (more stash busting points, hurray!) and I managed to use up two of the reels above. Slowly getting closer to my aim of being able to close the lid on my tin of threads…

Project details:
Impossibly Pretty Pyjamas
Tank pattern: 'R' from Stylish Dress Book: Clothing for Everyday Wear by Yoshiko Tsukiori
Shorts pattern: self-drafted lady boxers
Fabric: stash-busting cotton voile from Clothhouse circa 2009. Cotton sateen and vintage bias binding from my stash via unknown sources. 
Haberdashery: Vintage buttons from Accessories of Old.
Cost: £4 for the card of vintage buttons I used, everything else is stash-busted from hoarding and scraps

Final words…
I haven't been blogging properly for a very long time (we're talking years, people) and I completely forgot how hard it can be to pose for, and take, good blog photos! On the plus side, it seriously forces you to tidy up your home!! Here's an out take from my living room where I don't look so hot, but the sofa cushions look GREAT!

Happy Monday, people!

Saturday, 18 July 2015

July plans...

Here we are in July. How did that happen? I could measure the last few months by what I've worked on, but even so, I don't really know how I got from April to here. Now, I'm in the middle of three (ish) weeks off between ending the last short-term, full-time contract and starting the next job, and I've got so much to do!

I've been implementing lots of change in my life, and I'm feeling really good about it all. Financial uncertainty is something that I've had to get used to since I left home at 18, but I'm aiming for a more stable work/life balance, more routines, and doing more stuff that I love and that makes me happy.

Part of that involves trying to tidy up the flat and reduce my possessions. This is what the fabric situation at home currently looks like:

In an ideal world, everything you see in the image above would be contained by that drawer. In an even more ideal world, the whole drawer unit would not even exist, and fabric would live in a small storage box under my bed.

In the drawer is nice fabric that I have plans for. Wool on the left, cottons in the middle, and linings and silky things on the right. The bags are overspill….L-R: an unfinished quilt, a bag of interfacings, more stashed/scrap fabrics, and a bag of alterations to get through.

I gave the drawer a tidy-up and it looks much better than it was. But yes, I did have to cut out two items of clothing just to be able to close it. And no, those items are not yet finished at the time of writing… Although when I sew everything up, it will be my clothes storage that suddenly has a problem, at least I'll have realised all those intentions that I had when I bought every piece of cloth.

What's your stash situation like? Do you have any tips for not letting it accumulate?! I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Obsessive sews: lady boxers x2

Do you ever get into the situation where you suddenly, out of no where, become completely and utterly OBSESSED by something? That you find image after image of a piece of clothing being worn all around the world, and you know you won't be able to stop until you have several numbers of them in your wardrobe?

I got like that last week when I decided that I just had to make a set of summer pyjama shorts. It started with stumbling across a tutorial for sewing bias binding over at Grainline Studios. Clicking around, I discovered their very cute sewing pattern, the Lakeside Pajamas.  There are *so* many gorgeous versions of this pyjama set around on the internet, my favourites including this groovy printed set, this snakeskin crepe de chine set, this blue dotty set and this blue printed set. That's a lot!

I knew that I wasn't going to buy the pattern however, as although I love the look of the set, the cami with the cross-over back is not for me. So I wasn't going to pay $14 for a pattern for a pair of elastic waist shorts when I knew could draft them myself. Additionally, I really wanted this project to be a stash-buster, using fabric scraps and haberdashery I already had and costing me nothing.

I used a (self-drafted) pattern for some elasticated-waist men's shorts as a starting point, and referenced a pair of my boy-friend's boxers for proportions. I made a super-simple pattern with only an extra curve in the fork for the CB seam; the front and back were otherwise the same. Well, it's been a while since I've done any pattern drafting, so let's just say that things weren't quite as breezy as I'd anticipated!

I'd hoped to make a wearable toile, but my first attempt was flawed by the fact stupid me forgot that the boxers I'd measured were made of jersey, and I was working with woven cloth! I couldn't get them over my hips! I added loads of ease and made other adjustments: raising the front waist, shaping the hems, adding more to the back than the front. There are no straight lines on the body, and patterns should reflect this. The shape I came up with was far more sophisticated than the unrealistically-basic boxers that I'd originally drawn up. I was sad about wasting the black gingham on the toile, but definitely glad that I'd made one!

This was my first version of the boxers, using leftovers from a dress I made 6 years ago. The beautiful floral print cotton voile was originally bought at Cloth House in Soho in May 2009! I'd been unable to throw away the offcuts as the fabric was so expensive (around £16/m) and now I finally put them to use. I used vintage turquoise bias binding from my stash, and followed the aforementioned tutorial for binding the side. Or at least, I tried to: whilst I absolutely appreciate this free tutorial which saved me a bit of head-scratching, it's a little confusing that they chose to make the tutorial using fabric with no discernible right and wrong side, and bias binding the exact same colour. They also refer to the side seam as the inseam throughout, which is incorrect…The tutorial is helpful for figuring out how to do this technique, but I'd recommend reading it whilst doing, or you might get thrown off.

The bias binding gives this shorts a really sporty look which I wasn't quite anticipating. My boy-friend enjoyed the contrast between pretty & sporty but I wasn't quite so sure! The fit of the shorts was far better than the toile, but I wanted more room across the bum. So obviously I had to cut another pair out the next day…

…more florals! These shorts use scraps of beautiful fine Swiss cotton, with a print intended for export to the Japanese market.  It's from one of the shops on Goldhawk Road, bought in 2010 (!) for another summer dress. It turns out that those awkward corner shapes left over from cutting circle-type skirts are perfect for lady boxers!

I added to the back pattern on these shorts, but my stupidity came back into play here as I forgot to minus that amount from the front! These shorts are a little too breezy as a result, but perfectly fine for wearing at home. I left off the go-faster stripe on the side seam as you can see, and I'm happier with the look. The black bias binding was in my stash but was stiffer than the vintage one, so I'm looking forward to the hems falling more softly once they've had a wash.

Construction-wise, I did French seams throughout, and I love how neat and clean they look on the inside. I've only very recently become enamoured with French seams, after sewing for 10 years. Now I keep looking at old, zig-zagged seam allowances and shuddering. I want to French seam everything!

A little hanging loop out of - you guessed it - stash-busted ribbon finishes them off, and marks the back.

I'm so happy with these PJ shorts, or lady-boxers as I keep calling them. They are great to sleep in, as loungewear when I'm working from home (like right now), and even to wear underneath full-skirted dresses!

Project details:
Lady boxers
Pattern: self-drafted. Grainline Studios Lakeside and Tilly & the Buttons Fifi are very similar.
Fabric: stash-busting cotton voile from Clothhouse and Swiss cotton from Goldhawk Road. 
Haberdashery: vintage bias binding / black bias from stash.
Cost: £0, just a lot of figuring-out!