January 31, 2014

Requiem for a coat

There is no point in denying it anymore: My favorite coat is dying.
I made it way back in November 2009, in the first year I had this blog. As such, it was one of the earliest projects to receive the full blogging treatment with posts about the plans for it, the muslin, the construction and the final result (weirdly, that construction posts still gets a lot of hits. Probably by people who googled 'sewing secrets'…).
And ever since, it has been my most worn winter coat.

While the fabric is not particularly thick and warm, the shape really makes up for that. The loose body with the deep-set sleeves allows me to wear just about  anything under it. The generous overlap and tapered body and sleeves are great for keeping out the chill and that small V-neck can quite easily and efficiently be closed off with a scarf.
Its length makes it ideal for both cycling and driving.
And it looks great with any trouser shape I ever wear and with slim skirts as well.

Over a year ago, I already noticed the pilling of the fabric (a rather loosely woven herringbone tweed, so it was never going to be the most durable) in some places. However, I ignored it, deciding that it's OK for tweed to look a bit rough.

I also noticed how the points of the collar were getting bent. It's no surprise really, I cycled a lot in this coat and when I stretch my arms forward, I push against those tips of the collar.
And than, the pocket welts started to sag just the tiniest bit, and the bottom edge was really the only mistake I made with the pattern. It should have been a tiny bit wider and have a hidden closure. Now, with more and more wear, it was showing more and more.
And then, at the beginning of this winter, I noticed a big tear in the lining. I've a new lining for E's coat once but that still looked fine on the outside. It seemed like to much trouble for coat which was, if I was honest, already on the way out.
And yet, I kept wearing it.
For all the practical reasons but also because I've just grown very fond of this coat. I was the first wide, loose coat I made and even one of the first loose garments. A real change in silhouette, a diversification really. 
It just suits me. It's a coat like a warm embrace. A hug and a place to hide when I'm feeling low. A protective cocoon and a statement of confidence at the same time.
I guess I'm writing all this to convince myself it really is time to say goodbye. I have coat fabrics in my stash, and some ideas of what to do with them, but it doesn't feel like any of those could replace my great friend of the garment kind...

January 28, 2014

New old patterns!

I've been collecting vintage sewing and fashion stuff for a while. I've found and bought Dutch ladies' magazines, French fashion magazines and sewing magazines without and with patterns on tracing sheets from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and England (all from Dutch sellers, and most likely bought here back in their day).
And all that time, vintage envelope patterns seemed to be pretty much non-existent here in the Netherlands. Sometimes, someone would sell a couple in English, McCall's and the like. On rare occasions, you would find a few of the patterns which could be ordered from ladies' magazines like Libelle or Margriet or fashion/sewing magazines like la Femme Elegante (wh ich was originally French but also published in a Dutch version).

In fact, it had been quite a while since I had even browsed Marktplaats (a Dutch Ebay version). But a few days ago, I was tired and it seemed like a nice distraction. And this time, I found something I hadn't come across before: Dutch envelope patterns. 
Not one, but two different sellers were selling patterns by the previously unknown-to-me company Harmien's. One offered a single lot of three patterns in size 42 and identified them as 1940's. The other had more patterns on offer and had put up each design separately. And she had different sizes: 38, 40 and 42. She didn't mention the era but the designs looked late 1940's, early 1950's to me. And the packaging was exactly the same as in the first lot.

I know from my magazines from that period that I would probably be a size 38, so that was the size I went for.
My seven lovely new vintage patterns arrived in the mail today.

Just look at them:

A lovely shirt dress with interesting yokes,

And this one, with the wider surplice bodice and a full skirt.

One with a slim skirt with stand-out pockets and a lovely collar. This design was also in the three pattern lot which was sold and 1940's

A dress with a pleated skirt with an interesting overlapping tab waistband.

And this stunner with gathers at the bust and along the center front.

I had almost passed over this one but it has a feature I'm interested in: a pleat in the skirt, right at the bottom of the front closure. It's a fairly common feature in designs of the era and I'd like to know what it looks like on the pattern.

And finally, my favorite. I just love the complex skirt, the asymmetrical closure, the collar and that deep neckline filled up by a shirt front.

There are no dates on any of these patterns, just pattern numbers. I stick with my previous dating though. The shoulders are modest and sloped down compared to any mid-1940's fashion drawings I've ever seen and the fairly long and modestly wide skirts would fit in with the notion of post-New Look beauty but the restriction of expensive or rationed fabric.
All patterns are still in the old plastic, so as I already expected from their grouping on the site, I'm pretty sure they are deadstock.

At the back of each envelope, there's a short text which explains the design and  tells you how much fabric you need.
And in fact, these are not really envelopes at all: the tops and bottoms of the wrappers are open. Printed on their insides, there is a very limited explanation about the use of the patterns.

The patterns themselves are unprinted and clearly in their original folds.
I would have liked to have instructions for a change and it's a bit weird there isn't even a sizing chart (maybe you could also order these patterns from a magazine which included that) but I'm still thrilled with these.

January 27, 2014


Early this morning, I finished the striped sweater but I haven't found a photo-opportunity for it or the new jeans yet… I'll come back to that later.

I've been thinking about things I want to make for the remainder of this winter and about new things to do here, on my blog. However, I don't feel like discussing half-developed plans right now. 

Right now, I'd like to take you on a bit of a detour.
In the magazine that comes with my newspaper on Saturday (Volkskrant magazine nr. 676, 25 January 2014), there's always a little corner with a report on a street style trend, and this one stood out to me:

Longer, wider skirts. Apparently these ladies were visitors to fashion shows in Paris a couple of months ago, so they are not your common girls in the street. Still, I kind of like it when a personal fashion interest of mine intersects with a mainstream or high fashion trend. 
I love the boldly striped skirt and the colour combo in the second picture. Oh, and I want to go off and make a denim half circle skirt RIGHT NOW.

What is funny to me is that the text makes a reference to Dior's New Look. That is right when you only look at the lengthening skirts but not when you look at the complete silhouette. These ladies largely stick to the usual rather straight mainstream fashion silhouette. If I wear a long-ish wide skirt, I make and style it to show off hip-to-waist ratio, like women used to do.
Of course, it is nice to see different options.

Do you like big skirts? And what do you think of this modern styling of them?

January 25, 2014

A bit of jeans

Yesterday, I managed to take some pictures of my new pair of jeans. Unfortunately, I must be out of practice when it comes to taking self-timer images: all of those came out blurry.
So, I'll do things differently this time and show you the details of my new jeans in this post and the whole 'look' in a later one. I hope you'll approve ;)

For this pair of jeans, I used fairly coarse black denim and decided to use the wrong side of the fabric for pocket details.

At the front, I made single welt pockets with wide welts which fall over the pocket opening (like you often see on coats). They end in the side seams.

At the back, there are patch pockets which I hemmed to the outside so they also show the wrong side of the fabric. In this picture, you can also see the detail of the points at center back. I really like how that turned out.

As you may have noticed in the pictures above, these trousers don't have a waistband. And I didn't make a normal fly. 
The button closure looks (I thought about making bound buttonholes but didn't feel like all that extra work for what was, after all, just an experiment), on the outside, like the one you would make on a dress. On the inside, I gave it an extra overlap for added security. Waistline and button front facing were, of course cut in one piece and cover the top of the pocket bags.

And this is the unusual shape experiment I mentioned before:

On the left is an old pair of jeans which I made based on my pattern for belt-pleated trousers, on the right is the new pair.
As you can see, with both laid down as flatly as possible, the legs of the new pair are at a much wider angle. This means there is more fabric in the lower hip and inner thigh area. If a pair of trousers has the crotch in its classic place, where the wearer's legs meet, that would be redundant and unflattering. However, there we've seen lots of trendy jeans with a lower hanging crotch these past years and I have made some trousers with a very mild version of that effect. In that case, this change in angle provides some welcome extra room for movement. I'm not sure but I think I have seen men's trendy jeans which must be shaped like this.

Hopefully, I'll manage to take some more pictures tomorrow so I can show you how these jeans look when I wear them.

January 23, 2014

And back to knitting...

I've finished my jeans and I'd love to do a bit of show-and-tell but it's been one of those very cloudy days on which there's just no normal amount of daylight to be had.
Instead, I thought I'd show you another thing I've just started on. I'm knitting on the machine again. 
This time round, I decided to try and make my own design, using what little experience I have by now and the instructions in this book:

I bought it cheaply a discount book store years ago (when I had just started to knit by hand) but it's still in print and this Dutch version is translated from English. The book may not look particularly attractive, I bought it for one very important reason: In it, the authors explain (among other things) how you can make a knitting pattern by starting with a sewn jersey sloper… Which, obviously is perfect for me!

I decided to start simple a made this pattern which is basically a simplified (not quite as many flowing curves) and slightly straightened out version of my jersey sloper. I've drawn it on grid paper to make all the measuring and calculating a bit easier.

First, I made that jersey muslin to check that the garment still worked with those changes and to decide on things like the neckline.

Then, I started drawing in the stripes I wanted on the paper pattern. 
After that, it was time to knit a test square and find out how many stitches and rows went into a centimeter (of course you count them for 10 cm, just to be safe). With that knowledge, it was time to convert the patterns' centimeters and write knitting instructions in rows and stitches.

I've already knitted one of the body pieces. It was supposed to be the front but I found one little flaw in my pattern: Something was not quite right in the description for the neckline. This has made it a bit narrower. It was supposed to be a bit boatneck-like so it's not a huge problem.

I also tried the knitting machine manual's instruction for making a knitted-on binding to the neckline. It looks quite good (at least, I'm sure it will after pressing) but it's not very stretchy. 
In order to make a sweater which I can pull over my head, I think I had better call this body piece the back and make a different, deeper neckline at the front. What do you think: V or scoop?

January 19, 2014

Planning new jeans

I won't rattle on about the closet-cleanout in every post, really, I promise…
But… having done that has made me more aware of my actual wardrobe needs and wants. While I always dream about spectacular dresses and jumpsuits, it has become clear to me that other things require my attention first.

I've been thinking about experimenting with new jeans styles occasionally. Usually just after inspecting my stash and finding several lengths of perfectly fine denim stored away there. However, with such a big pile of trousers filling up the closet, why bother? Yes, I noticed I was always wearing the same things from that pile, but still… 
Now, a lot of that pile is gone and I'm well aware of being not entirely pleased with one of the remaining pairs of trousers and kind of over the look of two other ones (which are exactly the same. Boot cut in black twill. Which has been a bit of a uniform of mine for about half my life now… No wonder I'm over it!)

I've never been a real jeans-kind-of-girl but this calls for new jeans. And with my new sloper finished, there's nothing stopping me from whipping up something good.
I'm starting out with some old ideas:

I've kept this page from Volkskrant magazine's (the weekend magazine of the newspaper I read. The name of which translates as 'the people's paper' but it has nothing to do with the Chinese newspaper with the same name…) spring 2013 fashion special.

It's a pair of jeans all right. But it's neither tight nor low-rise, not decorated with wild stitching nor with splotches of bleach. They're kind of formal yet cool. This outfit was by Balmain, which is a bit surprising because that label has mostly been bringing us rock-chick looks for a few years now. 
I would really like a pair of jeans like that even though I don't think I would pair mine with a denim crop-top. And I think I have the perfect dark blue thin and relatively soft denim in my stash.

More about that later though.
I decided to start on another old(ish) idea first.

I've made this sketch a couple of months ago. It should be part 'baggy jeans' (without hanging low), part 19th century-style trousers and it should involve an experiment with the angle and curve of the crotchline. And I've always envisaged these in black jeans.
Today, I've been drafting the pattern. Center front and back have been changed in such a way that, if the finished garment were laid down flat on the table, the legs wouldn't point straight down but they'd be at a bit of an angle. It 's hard to explain but I'll show you later. Something similar sometimes featured in the harem/zouave pants craze from a few years ago.
The black denim from my stash was a bit heavier than I had thought but I went ahead anyway and cut this thing. It's so good to finally be working on a real new project!
Pattern or fabric or the combination of the two can still make it fail horribly but I'm not worried, I'm just happy to get back in the swing of things...

January 16, 2014

New sloper day!

So, this week I finally sat down to re-draft my sloper. So far, I still kept using the old ones, making alterations per garment. Which kind of defeats the purpose of having slopers in the first place. Especially because I made those old ones a cup-size and a half ago…

During my wardrobe clean-out, I also ended up throwing out all the items I had made under designer-friend (and pattern making teacher) M's direct supervision. Somehow none of those ever really felt like 'me'. And I remember wondering when she took my measurements for those first slopers. I thought she measured the waist too loose and the hips to high and too tight… And I've been correcting for that more and more over the years.

Now, I started drafting to newly taken measurements and armed with several years of pattern making experience. I used the same basic set-up as before: the Dutch pattern making book Grondvormen.
Interestingly, my new measurements look much more in proportion when converted to a pattern… And when I made muslins today (of bodice and trouser block. I already re-did the skirt one a while ago) I was pleasantly surprised. The bodice only required a tiny tweak to get rid of gaping at the back of the neck. I think the supposedly fitted sleeve is a bit wide but that will in fact work well for most garments, so I'll leave it that way and narrow it if I want a truly fitted sleeve. I know it doesn't look that great in the picture but that's down to the very stiff fabric and my posing while taking the picture in the mirror…
For the trousers, I expected to have to do a fairly substantial flat-butt adjustment, like before. However, only a very small one was required (and not because of changes to my body in that area… I still have enough trousers based on the old sloper to be able to tell that). 
I'm happy with the new slopers and I look forward to using them.  

January 14, 2014

And adding again

The first item to enter my wardrobe after the purge is actually not new at all.
I needed more long-sleeve tops and decided to start with an old favorite: the drape-neck top (my apologies for the bad pictures. with the dreary, rainy days we're having right now, finding a moment with enough light for proper pictures is difficult. It thought these would be OK, I didn't realize how poor the quality was until I opened them on my computer)

I've made this design three times before: The first in burnt orange (thrown out because the fabric was too synthetic), then in thin olive cotton knit (thrown out a long time ago because it shrunk in the laundry) and then in aubergine colored jersey (I don't think I've ever shown that one on the blog. it was also thrown out in the recent purge. the fabric was rather thin and I was never really happy with it). Oh, and I made a summer top based on the same design.

The design is, of course, one I made myself. You can find my tutorial for the pattern here.
Unlike the vast majority of cowl necks, this one relies on a curved center front seam to create the draped bit. This makes it a bit more economical to cut and it gives you more control over where and how much drape you want. It also has a fairly high stander at the back neck. Nice and warm for a winter top.
I think it works best when made in a wooly, somewhat bulky, knit. Like the burnt orange and the green I've used now. 
It this top, I've closed part of the neckline with a couple of hand stitches, to limit the plunge of the neckline. Before, I would always wear a camisole underneath. 
And instead of regular fitted sleeves, I made them a bit wider and added long cuffs.
It's not the most exciting wardrobe addition, but I think I'll wear it a lot.

January 10, 2014

The purge

Lately, I noticed I was always in trouble finding the clothes I wanted to wear. And putting them back in the wardrobe after laundry… The closet was just getting too full.
Of course that could mean two things: Either I had too many clothes or not enough closet space. I decided to take a look at all those clothes before committing to either theory…

The truth is I haven't really cleaned out my closet since we bought this one a couple of years ago. I've removed the occasional thing if it was somehow damaged or if I really didn't like the fabric, but that was about it. And when I selected my things to go into this closet, I had a really hard time letting go of anything I had made myself…
I think I'm over that by now. I've been sewing for long enough to have had some changes in style over that time. There were quite a few boot-cut trousers and above-the-knee skirts in there which I just don't love anymore. And, although I'm lucky not to have to deal with big fluctuations in size and shape, my body has changed a bit over time. Both my hips and bust are a bit bigger than they used to be. 

So far, I've cleaned out the shelves and the dresses section. What's in there now fits and I'm either happy with the look or it's useful for day-to-day wear (which means I'm keeping the well fitting boot-cut trousers because I wear them work). I still need to look at the jackets and some skirts. I know there will be some tough decisions there. Some of those are just not 'me' anymore but are made from fabrics I love…
I've kept some things I never really wear but love. The Watteau pleat dress (which may not even fit over my chest anymore) which was such a sewing adventure back in the day and the strapless leather dress (I will wear that. I just need an occasion) which is just too cool to lose. I just can't let practicality rule everything.

I know there are a lot of posts about wardrobe building around this time of year and cleaning out the closet inevitably makes me think along such lines. I've never been much of a planner. For me, it takes the fun out of creating clothing. Having purged my wardrobe of things I don't or shouldn't wear, I can now see more clearly what I need. Trousers I really like and long-sleeve tops mainly. And I love all my shirtwaists.
However, it also shows how futile planning can be. I've loved separates for a long time and now secretly prefer dresses and jumpsuits. My preferred skirt length has increased by almost 20 cm over the past four years… Even if my shape and size would never, ever change I can't plan for that. And bodies do change, inevitably and if not that, than circumstances will.
This is why I won't follow up on this with a umpteen-step plan for my ideal wardrobe. I will keep in mind what I have and what I like when planning a next project. I will keep following my latest style crushes though, and experimenting with patterns and I will try to make all of that somehow work with everyday reality, whichever way that may develop.

January 6, 2014

She's back!

Last weekend, I decided I needed a nice little project to get back to sewing after all that knitting. You know, something not too complicated, usable and above all, fun to make.
I was all set to dig out the fabric for the already drafted caraco (the short jacket which was such a craze in 1957, not the late 17th century garment which is better known by that name) when it suddenly dawned on me: "Let's make a bra!"

I used the pattern I drafted for my black lace bra back in May but planned ahead to make this a balconet rather than a strapless number.

The cups are made for (flat, cut and sewn) thin foam in black, covered with cream coloured lace. The rest of the bra is made from black lycra and finished with black lingerie elastics. 

Like in the strapless bra, I put bits of poly boning covered by velvet ribbon in the lower cups and at the sides. And this time, I also added loops for the straps which I 'anchored' to the sturdier bits of the with pieces of (ordinary, non-stretch) ribbon. This is a detail I've seen in RTW balconet bras and it makes a lot of sense: It prevents the cups and the back of the band from stretching out of shape.

And of course, with a new bra, one needs panties. Preferably more than one pair. This time, neither of those was self-drafted. I made another one using Melissa's Lacey Thong pattern and tried out Sew Fast's Lace Tanga Panties. Those last ones, I altered so they don't have a seam in the crotch. It's a pretty good 'no panty-lines' design and I'm curious to find out how it will stand up to normal wear.

I really enjoyed making this bra and I think all the pieces will be quite comfortable. Yes, it's time I'm back to sewing!

P.S. I started some general posts about bras and bra making last year. I know I haven't posted about that in a while but I still intend to explore and share more about that this year.

January 3, 2014

My holiday sweater...

Wow, how time can fly…
A couple of weeks ago, I started seeing the first on-blogging-vacation-for-the-holidays notifications and year-round-up posts on other blogs. And I thought there was no need for me to make either of those. Obviously, I would first finish my sweater, somewhere before Christmas, post about it and then get on to other stuff… Famous last words…

I mentioned before (previous post) how much work went into making those fair isle sections. Fortunately, when I was about half-way through, I got the hang of it. Stupid mistakes (which means in this case: forgetting to push a button before knitting a certain row) became rare and I could usually correct them. I also learned which steps in this design came with a risk of dropping stitches and managed to prevent some of those.
After that, I finished the plain knit front, back and sleeves in a single evening. I used the 'fake rib' from the manual for the bottom band and sleeve cuffs. 
At that point, just before Christmas, I thought I'd finish this thing rather quickly.
All I had left to knit was the collar, which starts with knit 2 purl 1 and then puts all the knit stitches together to form a knit 1 purl 1 rib for the top bit. Because I was a bit worried about the fake rib and the collar would be rather eye-catching, I decided to do that in a proper rib stitch, which can be made on my single bed machine by knitting the knit stitches by machine and then, by hand using a separate machine needle, creating the purl stitches in the spaces you've left open. But before I could even get to that, I already hit a snag: To combine two stitches into one over the entire length of the work, I had to take all of them off the machine, onto a normal knitting needle and then put them back on with two stitches on one needle (the purl-stitches-to-be are needles in 'rest' position and open spaces in the knit work at this point). And I only happened to have one set of knitting needles in my house: size 5, way too thick.
Fortunately, my parents were coming over on Christmas Day, so I called them and asked my mother for some thin ones. She brought me a set of size two needles which she doesn't need again any time soon.

Then, of course, social obligations took over and then a minor cold. And that making-real-rib-stitch-by-hand thing turned out to be very well possible, but really time-consuming. And when it was finally done, the resulting piece of knitted material was way too small. I had knitted the knit stitches on a higher tension than the rest of the sweater, like I was told to do for the fake rib. It looks like I should have used the same tension, or a slightly lower one. I might have been able to attach the finished thing to the yoke but it would never have fitted over my head. 
So, after hours and hours of hand-purling, it was back to the drawing board, or, in this case, the knitting machine. 
I had, by then, sewn up the sleeves to get a better look at that fake rib and I wasn't disappointed. The size was certainly good. So, I would have to try and make the collar in that way. 
It worked, even though the part I put on the inside (for fake rib, you knit just the knit stitches you need for the rib, for double the amount of rows and then you hang to first stitches on the last ones, doubling the whole thing), where I had to go from knit 1 purl 1 to knit 2 purl 1 isn't pretty. I had to pull on the work to get that done and add quite a lot of stitches in the middle so there are holes. But they are on the inside…

After that, A LOT of time went into sewing this thing together. All those yoke pieces had to be matched up with great care and sewing the yoke to the body pieces was no walk in the park either. Oh, and attaching the collar was rather fiddly as well.

I finally finished the sweater on 1 January, but at such a time that there wasn't enough daylight left to take pictures. On 2 January, I had to go to work, so really, today was the first opportunity I had to take pictures. Fortunately, E was willing to help me with that.

The sweater turned out a bit wider in the body than I had expected ( based on the pictures with the pattern. My stitch swatch was a good match, so this should be how it's supposed to fit) but fits well. I was a little worried about the less stretchy horizontal seam where the body and sleeve pieces are connected to the yoke but even though they are there, they aren't that obvious after pressing and they don't bother me when wearing the sweater. It's actually really comfortable and, because of that thin yarn, not too warm either.
And I'm really, really pleased with my fair isle design for that yoke.
I'm not sure how much use it would be to anyone, but if you like, I could share it.

Right now, I think it's time to go back to sewing for while, even though I'm already thinking about other knitting projects. I might try and do a round-up post for 2013 after all, but really, if I don't get to that in the next week, it's not going to happen.

Happy 2014 everyone!