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!!

 

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

2014 In Review

Hello hello! Back again! How have you been? I have been very well, indeed. After several months of regular blogging, which I actually enjoyed quite a lot, I just suddenly didn’t feel like it anymore. Nothing is wrong, per se; it’s only that I’ve started to find I enjoy my time away from the internet so much that I wanted to keep away from it for as long as was feasible. And, let me tell you, not being constantly aware of the horrible shit that happens in the world on an hourly basis has done wonders for my wellbeing over the last few weeks.

I certainly don’t think of this space as a repository for the horrible shit in the world, though. On the contrary! I love this space! Sure, I neglect it now and then, but I know it’s here for me when I’m feeling like showing you my wares. And, because it’s the year’s end, it seems appropriate to reflect on the good and to think about the future. Or something.

But, first, a few updates, because I know I left you hanging:

1. I did not finish my NaKniSweMo sweater on time. I know!!!! How disappointing. And the worst part is that I’m still actually not finished this sweater, which, if you recall, was meant to be a birthday gift for my beloved. Here’s where it currently stands:

As you can see, the conspicuous absence of a second sleeve puts this garment firmly in the close-but-no-cigar category. And since I’ve let not one, but three potential deadline dates pass (those are: birthday, the end of November and Christmas) without finishing the sweater, I can and should take some extra time to lengthen the torso so that Keith is likely to wear it without feeling uncomfortable. As for why it’s not finished yet, well, I’m going to blame the yarn. It’s a beautiful and sturdy yarn and I know it will make a long lasting (and hopefully well-loved) sweater, but the high cotton content makes it so, so hard on my wrists. I can actually (okay, maybe more like figuratively) feel my wrists ache whenever I even think about the fact that I still have a whole sleeve to finish, and then I have to lengthen the body. But, oh well. It will be finished, eventually.

2. I am not a complete failure at finishing things, though, because I did, in fact, finish making Coda. And I’m surprisingly taken with it.

I know, what an odd thing to say, right? Well, you may recall my nervousness about making a new garment with yarn harvested from a failed garment and, initially, my fears were totally and completely founded. The finished sweater grew in blocking to such an extent that it became, like it’s predecessor, unwearable. I could sort of get the front of the sweater to sit flat, but the back was all saggy and the whole thing was much too long to be presentable on my short-waisted body. In a brain wave borne of desperation, I decided to machine wash and dry the sweater. By this time I was more than ready to lose this yarn and sweater to the fickle gods of fabric care but, lo and behold, it shrunk back to the correct proportions and was once more wearable. Hooray! I still think the fit (on me) could be better, but I’m mainly thrilled that I can wear it at all.

So, that sums up the last few months. As for the last year, it was a good one! Some highlights include a life changing trip to Lisbon, making friends with my sewing machine, knitting my first ever Fair Isle sweater, and, though previously unmentioned here, falling back in love with recreational reading. I read 25 books this year (yes, I counted. I am like that sometimes), and I owe it all to my lil sister, Zoë, who kickstarted the whole think by giving me a new book last Christmas. For a while, I believed that I had destroyed my ability to enjoy reading through a combination of TV, the internet and nearly a decade of graduate school, so I feel almost inarticulably grateful to have rediscovered the pleasure of getting lost in a great book. (And, okay, the occasional mediocre, fluff book. I’m only human.)

Okay, down to brass tacks. Here’s what I made this year:

19 pairs of socks, including these three new pairs (top pair for me, middle pair for Keith and the last pair for my ’90s baby sister, Zoë):

7 hats and 6 pairs of mittens, mostly destined for friends and family:

A metric buttload of baby sweaters (actual count: 5):

A bunch more adult-sized sweaters (actual count: 10):

And some assorted miscellany:

Grand total: 50 knitting projects and two sewing projects. Not bad!

2014 was a good year and I accomplished many loosely-set maker goals, from knitting enough sweaters to clothe me throughout the work week to building skill in order to replace irrational fears (I’m looking at you, Fair Isle sweater and sewing machine). Now, I’m not one to harp on about the need for constant, vigilant self-improvement–though a worthy goal, I also think it’s okay, even important, to be content with what you have–but I would like to go on record with a few more goals for 2015. In the main, I hope to accomplish two big things:

1) I want to make more of my clothing. No duh, Sheena, you may be thinking to yourselves now. But it’s not such a no duh thing. At present, I am an extremely proficient knitter and kind of a novice sewist, and this imbalance is starting to be apparent in my wardrobe (unfortunately, there is such a thing as wearing too many hand knits, much to my chagrin). So, I’m setting a loose goal to replace some of my ready-to-wear sewn items with handmade items. Maybe I’ll become extra-ambitious and teach myself how to make the perfect pair of pants, but I would be equally thrilled just to have a good collection of basic, tailored skirts and tops in my wardrobe. I’m far more comfortable wearing skirts than I am wearing pants (of the non-stretchy variety, that is), and now that I have two handmade skirts under my belt, I can only improve with time and practice. I’ve also invested in a serger and the idea of replacing some of my old, worn t-shirts with new ones made to fit my body has me practically giddy with excitement. Anyway, 1 outfit per month seems an attainable, if ambitious, goal. If I can make that, great! If not, that’s okay, too.

2) I want to make more from my stash. Thankfully, my fabric stash is limited, but my yarn stash is out of control. I have so much beautiful yarn to make sweaters with! I hope to have the willpower to not add much more to my stash over the next 12 months until I have a big clear out of what’s already there.

So, that was my year of making it my way in 2014. Thanks for giving audience to my ideas and my maker stuff! Here’s to more of the same in 2015.

My Summer Sweater

Sargeant WIP2

A few weeks ago, I excitedly mentioned my participation in Shannon’s Summer Sweater Knit Along and immediately followed this announcement with radio silence. I know, it’s cruel of me to hold out on you like this, but you should know that I only did so for entirely selfish reasons. I’ve noticed a tendency towards failure when I make big promises on this blog. Remember my NaKniSweMo sweater? I probably should have known that Burrard was too challenging to complete within a month, especially the month before Christmas, when I had committed to a mountain of gift knitting. Even so, I loudly announced my participation and then promptly failed to meet the challenge in the prescribed time period. And even when the challenge isn’t so great but I make a promise to write about something I’m excited to show you, I often struggle to come up with the words, or sometimes the thing turns out to be just impossible to photograph without professional equipment and perfect conditions. Other times, I just plain fail at knitting. So I guess what I’m saying is that it sometimes feels like I’ve jinxed myself by getting publicly excited about big things on this blog. To quote Michael Scott, I’m not superstitious, maybe just a little stitious. 

Despite my silence about the sskal, I have been working diligently on my project since July 31. Seeing as I’ve passed the point of no return, I now feel confident my showing you what I’ve been up to isn’t likely to ruin my sweater now. This year I decided to really challenge myself with some full-on Fair Isle knitting. The pattern is Amy Christophers’ Sargeant Pullover from the recently published New American Knits, and it’s the second sweater I’ve knit from her book (I know, I know I’m behind. My kingdom for some cooler days!)

Sargeant WIP closeup2

 Aside from wanting to step up my skills a notch, I chose this pattern because it’s just plain lovely. What I’ve begun to appreciate about stranded colourwork is that the possibilites for customization are endless, and this pattern is a clean and simple foil for experimenting with beautiful colours. That said, I thought it safest to stick with contrasting colours on a neutral background, and my choices are somewhat similar to those chosen by the designer. One day I will experiment with complimentary colours and really figure out how to make the most of hue and value, as per Jared Flood’s recent colour theory blog posts.

The biggest challenge of all with this sweater has been ensuring the fit. I knit the sleeves first and used them as my gauge, finding that I was pretty close to what the designer calls for. The body of the sweater looks a little small to me, but I’m confident it will block to the right size…. okay, maybe not confident. But I am definitely on the verge of confident. I’ve been keeping my floats nice and loose (but not too loose) and the sweater has some nice stretchiness when I feel the need to tug at it and reassure myself that it will fit me.

Sargeant WIP floats2

 How are your SSKAL projects coming along? Are you going to make the deadline?

The First Time

Green Miette front

Well, it’s still too hot to photograph sweaters, so I’ve decided to dig through some old photos and finally show you that skirt I made. You know, the one I promised to show you. A really long time ago.

Anyway.

Hey, look! It’s me! Wearing a skirt! THAT I MADE!!!

It’s difficult for me to know what to say about this wrap skirt because a) I finished it so long ago, and b) I am still very new to sewing and don’t have the vocabulary to discuss in any real detail what I did in the making of the skirt. Suffice to say that I’m happy it’s all over and that I still have a lot to learn. But since this is a forum in which I feel duty bound to talk about something, I suppose I could talk about the pattern itself.

Green Miette side(Pardon the wrinkles.)

Because I am both the very definition of novice and have little interest in sewing if it’s not going to be for the purpose of making things I can wear, I decided that I needed to make a garment that wouldn’t be too complicated to sew and that consisted of mostly straight lines. To this end, Tilly’s Miette pattern fit the bill nearly perfectly. The main part of the wrap skirt is composed of four large panels that are sewn together down the sides, while the waistband is made from several smaller pieces (6, I think) and the long ties. With the exception of the hem, there’s not a curve in sight, which makes this a pretty good project to get your feet wet with if you’re brand new to sewing, as I am (or, was, I guess).

Despite the easiness of this pattern, I most definitely didn’t enjoy every second of making this skirt. There are many, many steps between choosing the fabric (a poly-cotton twill at $9/yard from King Textiles) and wearing the finished item, and I found most of them frustrating because I didn’t really know what I was doing and because you can’t just dive into a sewing project in the same way you can with knitting. Things need to be measured carefully, preferably multiple times. Though many mistakes are not insurmountable, some, like cutting your fabric the wrong size or against the grain, can be fatal, and knowing this set me on edge for most of the process. As for the skirt itself, those long ties were difficult to maneuver through the machine, and I found myself swearing a lot more than usual (those who know me well will know that it must have been a fuck of a lot of swearing). On top of all that, it was more than frustrating to work with my second hand sewing machine, which I learned later was badly in need of a tune up and was on the verge of completely breaking down. Still, though, I ended up with a skirt that I can clearly wear, and that’s not nothing.

Green Miette front 2

So, the verdict: will I make this again? To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that I will. Despite the fact that making the ties nearly killed my desire to sew full stop, I think I could work around that issue by copying Lauren’s idea to eliminate them altogether and replace with a button closure (which means I need to learn how to make button holes…). Aside from the construction, I find this skirt to be pretty uncomfortable to wear. The waistband is stiff and causes me to bulge in really unflattering places, especially when I sit. And though the skirt panels are wide and provide pretty good coverage when the air is still, the wrap has blown open and revealed my backside to the world on at least one occasion. Nonetheless, I have worn this skirt more than once, which I suppose makes in a success in all the ways that matter to a first timer. I can wear it out of the house and not be embarrassed! (until it blows open and shows my ass to the world, that is…)

In any case, I am now fully committed to sewing. The man I love and who loves me back had my machine fixed and bought me a sewing class for my birthday. I have begun making my second skirt, which will have a zipper closure and will not be a wrap. It will be red and lined with black pinstripes on white bemberg, and it will be glorious.

red fabric and lining

 

Something Green

 

I’m going through what you might call a Green Phase right now, where every single project I’m working on (well, the ones I’m interested in working on) are some shade of green. I don’t know why, but I seem to gravitate towards colours in blocks like that… a few months ago, I was all over blue projects, and prior to that I was obsessed with reds. At some point, I notice that everything is all the same colour, so I switch to the next colour obsession until I get sick of it, and repeat.

In the last week, I’ve completed two green projects and I have two more on the go. My Xanti, if all goes to plan, will be finished today, which is exciting even despite the fact that the days of bundling up are over until the fall (not that I’m complaining!). The most exciting news, though, is that I’ve actually finished a sewing project! I’m going to try to snap some good pictures this weekend, because, though there are a ton of mistakes, I’m feeling pretty good about having finished something that is actually wearable. And, boy, is it wearable. I’m going to wear the hell out if it, I tell you!

So, that’s my brief update for now. More finished project posts soon!