Sewaholic Belcarra Blouse: SOS Edition

Dudes, I love the start of September. It always reminds me of the beginning of the school year and everything associated with it: starting the next step up on the educational ladder, whether you wanted to or not. A new set of surroundings shared with familiar people and, often, brand new people. The air starts to cool down in the mornings, causing what I like to call the “wardrobe fake-out”, or the fact that it becomes a real challenge to dress properly for the weather without carrying around a lot more stuff (coats, umbrellas, sunglasses) with you as you go about your business. Back to school shopping means that you begin fall with a lot of new stuff, which did much to raise your credibility in the jungle that is the school yard. Anyway, early fall has a lot of positive associations for me, so I’m totally fucking excited to have the next few days off from work to enjoy this time!

Of course, not everyone feels the same way I do:

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Sorry, kid. Hopefully you’ll see one day how great September can be.

Anyway, DAYS OFF!! My favorite time to start new sewing projects is during long weekends, which I think is because I don’t enjoy sewing in short spurts–It’s not as easy to pick up and put down a sewing project as it is with a knitting project, so extra days off give me a chance to make real progress on a project that I begin from scratch. Because my version of a hedonistic pleasure-filled long weekend is all about makin’ shit, I’ve got several projects on the go already (a cardigan, a blanket, a loaf of bread, a fancy dinner), and I promise to let you in on all of them eventually (maybe not the dinner, though. Those tend to get lost in the heat of the moment). But today I need help with my sewing project, the Belcarra Blouse by Sewaholic Patterns. In keeping with my promise from last time to start showing my projects at their less-than-perfect stages, here are some poor quality shots of my muslin, starting with the front:

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And the back:

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Okay. Here’s what I’ve done with this pattern:

  • Size: 10
  • Modifications: 1 inch FBA using the seam method of alteration from Fitting and Pattern Alteration (non-affiliate link… I just really like this book!). This was a way quicker method for doing the FBA than the traditional FBA and it gave the perfect amount of ease I was looking for without distorting the pattern or giving me an unwanted dart.
  • Fabric: Plain muslin. Pressed but not washed.

Here’s what I already know:

  • It’s quite long, but I’ve decided that I like the idea of a wide hem on this one, and the waist shaping hits in just the right spot, so I’m going to keep the length as is.
  • I need a sizeable swayback adjustment… it looks to be about 1 inch or so, as you can see (or, I hope you can see) from the second picture and all the fabric pooling / bunching in the small of my back.

I mostly like the fit of this so far. I’ve chosen to make a version with less ease than the designer recommends, mainly because over-sized silhouettes tend to swamp my small-ish frame due to my large bust, which turns shapeless garments into tents on me. Even with less ease, though,  I can get this on and off easily and have no need for a closure (zipper or buttons).

Okay, so far, so good. But where I need help is in deciding what to do with the front. To me, it seems like there is far too much fabric blousing up over my bust and just under my shoulders. See? No wrinkles at all, but it just looks like too much extra. Now, watch what happens when I pinch out the excess, starting from my apex:

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The fit, as you can see, is way better with the excess pinned out all the way to the shoulders. But, there are a few issues:

  • I have no idea how to approach making this adjustment on a raglan sleeve top. Fitting and Pattern Alteration doesn’t provide any guidance here either.
  • If I do end up making this alteration in conjunction with the swayback, the top becomes more of a challenge to get on and off as-is and will almost certainly need an invisible zipper down the side or center back.
  • In looking at other examples of the Belcarra Blouse on the internet, it seems that everyone else’s versions of the top look pretty blousy in the exact same location, but the blousy-ness is not exactly unattractive. Perhaps the stiff muslin is making this part of the top look worse than, say, a navy silk twill with  excellent drape might, and no adjustment is needed in this area after all?

Sewers of the Internet, I hope you can help me! Here are my questions to you:

  • Should I take out the excess fabric from the upper chest to the shoulder? If yes, how do I go about making this alteration?  Bear in mind that the shirt front AND the sleeve front need to be adjusted here.
  • Does anyone have any recommendations for how to do a swayback adjustment of about 1 inch without completely distorting the pattern?

OR

  • Should I call it a day on this pattern and save my good fabric for a t-shirt that will look better on me?

Your advice is most gratefully appreciated!!

 

Ahem.

I’m back. Hello! How have you been? I’ve been well myself. A lot has happened in the year since I’ve updated you with my hijinx. Here’s the Cliff Notes version:

  • I changed jobs. Well, it’s probably more accurate to say that I changed companies, because the job is essentially the same, but with a much larger company and a fairer compensation package. It was the right move.
  • I  traveled. In October, the K-Man and I took our vacation in Prague and it was, as expected, amazing. Prague had been a bucket list city of mine since my musician days and, despite being swarmed by tourists (damn tourists!)*, the city didn’t–couldn’t–disappoint. We both ate and drank our weight in steak tartar, steamed cabbage, dumplings and unfiltered beer, thus forging what I now know will be a lifelong obsession with eastern European food. The weather while we were there was unexpectedly chilly–the temperature averaged between 15 and 17 degrees Celsius in the weeks before and after we arrived and plunged down to between 5 and 10 degrees while we were there–but we were well prepared for it. Here’s the K-Man modeling the sweater I made for for the SSKAL last year while standing in our incredible Prague apartment:

SSKAL15 Drangey

  • I traveled some more. A mere 6 months after Prague, waiting until fall for the next trip felt too much like torture. So we packed our bags and went back to eastern Europe, this time to Poland. Have you ever visited a place and felt like you found your people? That’s what Poland was like for me. I think about Poland at lot now and I can’t wait to go back. Also, spring time travel is the best! Why didn’t I know this before?
  • I paid off my student loan! This is probably, after earning my PhD, my most significant accomplishment to date. It’s been a big, weird adjustment trying to get my mind to switch from poverty mode to living like a regular person with a job and a salary. Mainly, I tend to feel a lot of guilt for spending any money on myself, an old habit from poverty days that I want to be ready to let go of. Now, I’m aiming to strike a balance between treating myself appropriately and saving for retirement. Because I’m getting old, and I have a lot of catching up to do…
  • I’ve knitted and sewed. A lot. At this point, my wardrobe is now easily 80% handmade. The not-so-secret thrill I get from the gushing compliments of my friends and coworkers before they know that what I’m wearing is handmade has been great validation that my skills have improved to such an extent that my wardrobe no longer looks particularly handmade. I know that probably sounds weird, not wanting my clothing to look handmade, but I think you probably know what I’m getting at here… striving for boldness and uniqueness is one thing, but looking like a living, breathing school craft project is quite another. I’m happy to report that I’ve been mostly successful at achieving the former, and the latter doesn’t seem to be much of an issue anymore. Here are some pictures from my visit to Poland, where I managed to wear a unique handmade outfit every single day of the trip:

NO! #krakow #memadeeveryday #sewaholic #hollyburnskirt #colettepatterns #sorbetto

A photo posted by Sheena H (@selfpreservationblog) on

Okay, now that we’re all caught up (sort of), I’ve resolved to make some attempt at getting back into regular blogging. Not that I intend to make any big promises about checking in more frequently, because y’all are prolific and I can’t keep up. But, as it happens, I miss writing for myself, and I’ve definitely been missing out on all kinds of constructive criticism that could help me become even better at fitting my sewing and knitting projects than I am. At the end of the day, I’m still very much an amateur and it’s occurred to me that I could/should write about my works in progress and solicit the advice of people far more experienced than I at fixing project problems. There are still some hurdles I need to clear if I want to post more frequently, such as letting myself be photographed in unflattering muslins and getting comfortable with showing off my failures. But if it all comes down to taking one step at a time, consider this the first step. So far, it feels good to be back.

*yes, I know that when I travel I am also a tourist.

Making Together

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There’s something about knitting with other people that gives me joy in my heart. This has got to be because, in a world full of non-makers who give you the side eye when you tell them how much it costs to knit a pair of socks, knitters just get it. They understand that, even though you can pick up a really cute cardigan from Joe Fresh for as low as $15 and a 10-pack of socks costs a mere handful of dollars at Walmart, the act of knitting is far greater than the sum of its parts. Where a non-maker sees a plain sock, I see a stress relieving lunch time trip to the LYS in search of the perfect yarn. I see hours of patient work, simultaneously calming and exciting as my vision is realized one stitch at a time. I see a loved one who would be stuck shivering in the cold wearing horrible acrylic if I hadn’t swooped in and draped them in warm wool. Wearing a garment that I’ve lovingly and painstakingly crafted gives me a feeling of pride that lasts for years longer than any satisfaction gained from owning a ready-to-wear garment that, no matter how nice, will invariably come apart at the seams long before my handmade ones will. And when I hang around with knitters, this all goes unsaid. We know why we’re here together, and that is enough.

It took me a long while to muster up the courage to hang out with flesh-and-blood knitters, and before I managed to come out of my introverted shell, I conferred with the knitters of the internet. Like many online communities, the virtual knitting community is a vibrant one. The camaraderie I’ve shared with strangers who share a common lust for a favorite yarn company or designer(s) has done much to spur me on to trying new, different, better things. Despite being a highly self-motivated person in general, there’s something about the encouragement of people who understand exactly why that stranded colourwork sweater you’re slowly talking yourself into making is awesome that helps me to push myself to do more.

Where online knitters leave flesh-and-blood knitters in the dust is in the organization of knitalongs, and right now there are many to choose from. The one that I’m very interested in participating in is the Outfit Along hosted by Lauren of Lladybird and Andi of Untangling Knots. This is the second year that these two awesome ladies have hosted their makealong and, now that I’m somewhat proficient with the ol’ sewing machine, I want to get in on the action.

Though Andi and Lauren have taken the trouble of choosing official dress and cardigan patterns for participants, the point of the OAL is to make an outfit that you love, and not using these patterns won’t disqualify anyone from entry. And so, being mindful of my pledge to make more from my stash this year, I’ve decided to do something a little different. For the sweater, I’ve chosen to combine two patterns: Justyna Lorkowska’s Florrick, for the beautiful cable panel in the back that made me swoon the first time I saw it, and Gudrun Johnston’s Audrey in Unst, a pattern whose construction I am already very familiar with. Whereas the official OAL sweater pattern calls for DK weight yarn, my sweater will be made using a long-stashed fingering weight Knit Picks Stroll Tonal in the luscious Gypsy colourway. Not only does using a lighter weight yarn allow me to be prudent and use my stash, it will also help me to fill a long standing lightweight cardigan gap in my wardrobe. Plus, I’ll be able to wear it without melting on breezy summer evenings.

As for the dress, I’m very excited to be making a Collette Peony, a stashed pattern, out of the wicked awesome breton stripe rayon pictured above. This dress pattern, if the internet is to be believed, is supposed to be easy-peasy to make, so I’ll be challenging myself in other ways. This will be my first foray into pattern matching, which could prove to be a bit more challenge than I bargained for due to the slightly irregular nature of the stripes. This will also be my first time sewing a garment with sleeves, and I’m not at all ashamed to say that, if the sleeves look like they’re going to be a huge hassle or like they won’t turn out, I am more than happy to jettison them if I need to. That I’ll be focusing on perfecting the fit hardly needs to be said.

Okay, okay, I know I have a less than stellar record of meeting KAL deadlines. But with a whole two months within which to finish both projects, I know that I can at least give it a good try. The worst that can happen, after all, is that I won’t meet the deadline. I will eventually, however, be the proud owner of what is basically the outfit of my dreams, and there’s a lot to be said for that.

Fellow makers: Show me your OAL plans!

An Auspicious Start

An impulse I have when thinking about time is to characterize it as moving quickly. “I can’t believe it’s already mid-February!”, I may have written at this point last year, followed by some apologies and promises to be a better blogger. But the truth is that, at present, time is progressing at an even pace, perhaps a slower pace than I’m used to, and I like it a lot. I chalk this up to one big variable: shortly after the start of the new year, my beloved MacBook Pro, the one I wrote my doctoral dissertation on, the one I relied on to extend the thoughts in my brain in a manner fit for general consumption, went kaput. I’m sure it’s not dead dead, but it requires at least some minor surgery in order to be useful again. There was a period in my life when not having a personal computer in good working order would have sent me into a tailspin of panic, and I would have assumed an ungodly amount of debt in order to make sure that I had a computer in good working order. Thankfully, those days are behind me. I’ve come to cherish time away from the computer, relishing the ways in which non-computer mediated time seems to stretch luxuriously before me, a stark contrast to the ways in which being glued to a screen has left me feeling bereft because I haven’t had enough time to do everything I wanted to do.

Of course, this preamble is meant to explain 1) that, though I’ve been silent these last few weeks, I’ve been plenty productive, and 2) why I haven’t shown you this sweater yet.

Okay. The thing is, my version of this sweater is most definitely a failure and has a home at the top of the frog pile. I love the way it looks, and it was easy and pleasureful to make, but the fit is just terrible. It’s too long, there’s a major swayback problem, and the seams look bulky and lumpy when I wear it. Even so, it took the better part of January to make, and I wanted to make sure I gave it due consideration.

Surely you’ll remember from the past that sweater failures tend to bring me down, big time. But in this case, I find myself thinking of this sweater as more of a learning opportunity than an outright defeat. Because, unlike in past cases where the failure has been a result of my own error, my efforts on this sweater foundered because I followed the pattern to the letter, and the person whose body this sweater was designed for definitely isn’t mine. I have to admit that this came as a surprise to me: the construction of this sweater came together so easily exactly as written that, at first, I was convinced that it must have been my error. But the truth is that, when knitting, I rarely think about how to shape a garment to account for the various bumps and curves of my body. The biggest modifications I tend to make are related to lowering necklines, which is just about the easiest modification one can make on a sweater. And when things do fit perfectly, it’s usually due to a combination of forgiving, springy wool and my best friend, negative ease (meaning that the garment is on the tighter side, rather than being of a more relaxed fit). I’m definitely okay with continuing to knit most garments with some flattering negative ease, but I’ve also begun to accept that, in order for me to really improve my knitting skills, it’s high time I learned to how to shape a garment to fit the contours of my body.

This realization comes in large part due to my new found love of sewing with woven fabrics, which require a good deal of measuring and shaping in order to fit the body properly. My sewing machine and I have become great friends in the past few months, and I have spent much of my computer-free time perfecting my new favorite skirt style and learning the basics of making full bust adjustments on simple blouses. Once I finally learn how to make a proper button hole, I’ll expand my fitting knowledge even more and move on to some not-so-basic sewing projects. In other words, I have a few more things to show you, and I’m excited to share with you what I’ve learned about sewing and to show you how I’ve improved.

In the meantime, what are your favorite resources for fitting knits?

Post Script: My sister, Zoe, is engaged in a legal battle for access to her daughter, my beautiful niece, Khloe. The case is complex, but if she wins, it will have profoundly positive implications for all LGBTQ couples in Canada who have children. Please consider reading the link below and offering some help to Zoe. Every little bit–including words of support–makes a huge difference.

http://www.gofundme.com/luvvuw