Sunday, January 26, 2014

How Good Is Good Enough?

I remember reading a scrap booking forum where the discussion was about whether you go back and make pages better as your skills improve. My brain started rattling in an agitated manner, "Why in the world??? There's too much better stuff to be doing! Be glad you documented ANYTHING!"

People tell me there are at least two views to everything, but this is an area I have a hard time understanding why we need more than one perspective. (But feel free to leave yours in the comments. And if you disagree with me but don't like the way you wrote your comment, you can edit it!)

I read blogs where the blogger makes muslins, sometimes multiple ones, then works and reworks details. I admire their persistence. They are the type of people I would want doing my brain surgery ("she must have used this little mushy part for something, let's not throw it away just yet"). 

I have to be detail-oriented on my job, but when I come home I want to leave that at the door. Right now I'm knitting a cowl using an Aran stitch, a braid. I wanted to see if I could do it, without the commitment of making an entire sweater.

I did several inches, but the columns were just marching along parallel instead of crossing each other. I used that segment to measure the gauge, and then I ripped it out. I went at it again. Still not quite right, but it takes 12 rows to even recognize the pattern. So I reread the instructions. I couldn't see  that I had done anything wrong, so I kept going, thinking with another 12 rows it'll start making more sense. Nope. Still not right. But at least now I could see how I'd messed up. So, I tried a couple of changes, and after another 36 rows, I think I'm finally on my way. 

The bossy taskmaster part of me said, "Rip it out and do it right!". But the other 98% of me just ignored her and looked at what I had knitted so far. I think it's beautiful! It's a cool looking braid, it's soft, and even, and nicely stretchy. And unless you really look closely, you can't see the mistakes. When worn it will be all twisted up, and most of it will be in the back or under other parts of it. So the mistakes probably won't even be seen.

So, I'm not re-doing it, not even for the bazillions who read my blog. In fact, I think I'll use it as a feature called "Spot the Screw-ups!" Kind of like "Find the 10 Differences".

Better than "Where's Waldo?"

When I was knitting and thinking about when would I do it over, I could only think of a few reasons: If it was a commissioned piece or if it was meant to be an heirloom. OK, make that one and a half reasons...If I wasn't getting paid for it, I probably wouldn't do it over if the mistake was not noticeable to someone who's not (k)nitpicky. (Oh, I crack myself up.)

When do you re-do things you are creating?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Lucky Find!

Yesterday afternoon my son was doing a school project on the computer, my daughter stole my iPad, and my work laptop crashed. So it was either clean the house, or go through my fabric and pattern stash. Thank God I ignored what I should do and did what I wanted to do, because at the very bottom of my pattern container...I found...THIS!

 What a surprise!

A mail order pattern of my Grandma's! I'm guessing it was in the 1950's since there was no zip code on the address. Here's my Grandma with Grandpa on their 50th wedding anniversary. 

Grandma and Grandpa
Aren't they cute? Grandma was a 3rd grade teacher while raising six kids. She had a huge garden, canned, and always had fresh flowers on the table in the summer and fall. We often had Sunday dinner at her house, and she used the good plates and silverware. I remember walking downtown with her when she would run into a former student, and she always remembered who they were, even if the kid was now middle-aged. I could never figure out how she did that.

The pattern is for an apron. Except for going out in public or when gardening, I remember Grandma always wearing a cotton apron similar to this style.
In fact, I have a worn-out apron of hers in my quilting stash. 

Apron Pattern

And it only needed one yard of fabric! I learned from Grandma how to create my own pattern layout using as little fabric as possible; now I know how she got so good at it.

Guide to Pattern Layout

I think it is interesting that there is no printing on the pattern pieces. The piece number is punched out with small circles. There are notches for matching, but they are actual notches, not printed triangles. What I haven't figured out is what all the other punched out circles mean. At first I thought that they might be guides to pocket placement, etc., but when I laid the pocket piece on the skirt piece, they don't match up. Do you have any ideas what they might be for?

See the number 5 at the top? This is pattern piece 5.
I don't know what the 4 sets of double punches are for...

Do you know anything about patterns from this era? Please comment if you do...I'd love to know more!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Sherlock Holmes Coat

I love reading year end reviews. Unfortunately, I haven't photographed most of what I sewed last year, so I won't be posting a Top 5 review. But I thought I'd post my Top 1 make of 2013. Here goes...


My son loves the new Sherlock Holmes on BBC. So much that, of only three things on his birthday wish list, the first was a coat like Sherlock's. It was nice to have something on his list that wasn't a video game.
First I looked for images of the real coat. It is no longer sold, but when it was, it cost £1350! The original had a fur collar. That was taken off, for the show, and red stitching added to the buttonholes.
The original coat in the Belstaff catalog
The original coat in the Belstaff catalog
As seen on the BBC series
See the red buttonhole on the lapel?
See the red buttonhole on the lapel?
I committed to making the coat about two weeks before his birthday. So I scrambled to find supplies. The closest pattern I could find was Vogue 8720. Unfortunately, it was out of print. But I found a new pattern on eBay.

Vogue 8720 (out of print)

At the same time I searched for a black wool tweed fabric. I got lucky again, and found just what I wanted from on sale for $7/yard! A week before his birthday both had arrived. The lining was from my stash.

Wool Blend Coating Green/Yellow
This is how black the coat looks in real life. My photos are lightened to show detail.

While waiting for the pattern and fabric, I figured out what size to make it. I had to do this without his help (=his body). I measured a couple of his favorite, close fitting T-shirts, to represent his actual shoulders, waist, and hips. Then I measured the sport coat he wore to Homecoming last year. I used this as a rough guide to let me know if the coat I was making was on track. I added ease to the sport coat measurements, since an overcoat will go over thicker layers.
The rest of my family and I all agreed that  we wouldn't let him know the coat was home-sewn, for fear he wouldn't think it cool enough to wear. Maybe in about a year...Shhhh! Don't tell!


This coat was so much fun to make. After sewing knits almost exclusively for the past month, wool was so easy to manipulate in my sewing machine. And pressing...pressing was like sculpting! I enjoyed seeing the 2-dimensional fabric take on curves and be transformed to a 3-D coat. All in all, it came together smoothly.
I cut and sewed one part of the coat at a time. First up was the back. I cut the back in half horizontally at the waist, because I needed to make the top and bottom differently from one another. For the upper half, I made a midline vertical pleat. I made a triangle shaped tack at each end, a few inches below the collar and above the waist. For the bottom half, I made three pleats to make it look like the TV version.  
Top back with vertical pleat; belt
 I drafted a lining, since the original pattern was unlined. For the back coat, I just copied the pattern pieces after I had made my adjustments. Not sure exactly how this would work with pleats, I attached the lining at the waist of both top and bottom halves, and pressed and pleated them as one piece, like interlining. I kept the sides and rest of the seams of the lining separate from the wool outer pieces, and later sewed them to the lining pieces of the sleeves and front. This resulted in the lining being just like any other coat lining except for its attachment at the back waist.
I added a short belt to the back, and it was on to the front. The only changes to the front were to raise the welt pockets from below to above the waist, and to add patch pockets with flaps below the waist.  
left front

welt pocket

close up of welt pocket
Patch pockets with flaps
The welt pockets weren't as daunting as I expected, thanks to the drawings in the pattern instructions.
 And my iron steamed out any little flaws! Gotta love that!
 Other tweaks were to add cuffs  
the cuffs
...extend the collar width so it would look more mysterious when up, and respace the buttons. I didn't make the tie belt or back trench flap. I thought about making the buttonholes red, like the original, but was afraid that would make my son suspicious about it being made by Mom. I added a "Mossino" tag that I removed from a T-shirt of mine from Target and sewed it onto the coat lining so it looked store bought.  
"Mossino" = "Mom's a liar"
It all flowed together until the finishing touches. I had the day off of work for his birthday, and all that was left was buttonholes and the hand sewing- attaching the buttons, sewing the lining to the wool, and the hems.
 I allowed twice the time I thought I needed. First the buttonholes. My machine made the first one horribly. Luckily I did it on a scrap, so I didn't have to rip it out. The second buttonhole was just as bad. On the third buttonhole the thread started fraying and breaking like crazy. Desperate, I broke out the owner's manual and actually read the buttonhole section. I tried rethreading the machine. I tried a different spool of thread. All fails. I thought about taking the machine into the shop, but was afraid it would take too long. So I threaded my old reliable 30 year old Riccar. At first that shredded the thread, too, but I finally found a spool it liked, and finished the buttonholes.  
By then my allotted my time was gone, and I still had to make a birthday dinner and wrap the coat. Sewing is never fun when up against a deadline, and I started losing my patience. Of course, somehow fabric always picks up the bad vibe and gives it right back. 
My son got home from school in the middle of wrapping the coat, but my daughter was on to it and distracted him from coming into the living room where I was struggling to get it in the box. Whew! 
I think I was looking forward to the big reveal even more than my son was excited about opening his gifts! I was so hoping he would love it, that it would be what he hoped for, and that it would fit. After singing Happy Birthday, he opened the box, recognized it contained a Sherlock coat, goofily wrapped it around his head- and beamed! And so did I!



My son wore his new coat the rest of the evening. Success! However, it was obvious it was too big. In retrospect, the original pattern is quite loose fitting, and uses the belt to pull the coat near the body. I probably compounded the ease allowed because I would rather have had it too big than too small.
But I dreaded taking it apart to take it in. Not only was it top stitched to heck, but I had no idea where to begin because of the curved and unusually placed side seams with darts. I wracked my brain, and procrastinated... I needed a new set of eyes to help figure out the puzzle of refitting the coat. I remembered meeting one of our neighbors at a recent party, and gave her a call. She used to make costumes at the Henry Ford museum, and now sews reproduction costumes in our town. She generously took a look and immediately pointed out the seams to undo. They were just the seams I dreaded ripping out. But somehow it felt better to have someone else tell me that. And it wasn't as bad as I feared. It took about an hour once I got down to it, and finally, my son had his coat. He wears it to school- the ultimate test of cool. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Another Year of Sewing (Mostly) All My Clothes

Much as I like a lot of what I see in clothing stores, I actually like sewing my clothes better than buying most RTW. I think I even enjoy sewing them more than wearing them.  I like feeling the fabric, shaping flat fabric into something three dimensional, seeing colors next to each other, imagining what the finished project will look like. There's something about the period of anticipation when sewing that is more satisfying than just handing a piece of plastic to a clerk when shopping. I do like the store experience as far as getting ideas, feeling fabric and seeing how it drapes, and seeing how a style looks on my body.
But I like creating my own clothing so much that I think I'll sew the majority of my clothes from now on. I also have a lot of fabric that I want to sew up. And then Sarah of Goodbye Valentino put out a post challenging others to join her in another year of RTW fasting, so that solidified my desire. I will sew my clothes for another year. Except socks and shoes. And some sweaters. I sew at least half of my wardrobe from knits, and have even made some sweatery-looking tops. But I love lightweight sweaters with ribbing at the bottom, the cuffs, and the neckline. And I haven't seen something like that sewn in a way I like. I knit sweaters but will never knit a lightweight sweater. Too. Much. Work. 

Courtesy laughingsquid

So, that's my compromise. OK, so a compromise means a tradeoff...I'll sew my jeans and underwear instead.