Friday, September 19, 2014

Drafting Cigarette Pants

Cigarette pants!  I need some.  More to the point, I want to take on the challenge of drafting them.

I've been piecing my muslins from a bunch of 1/2-3/4 yard cuts my friend's roommate left behind when she moved (apparently she did some kind of theatrical sewing)--it's mostly muslin but some of it might have been pillowcases at one time.  I made sure to match the grainlines on each piece, which makes a HUGE difference in how the garment hangs.  (Dear self five years ago, it does so matter, I'm sorry, you were wrong.)

I usually cut a paper pattern with no seam allowances, and trace around it right onto the fabric.  I know some people thread-trace the grainlines and horizontal fitting lines but I don't have the patience for that--I just use whichever marker comes to hand first, which today was pink.

 I left the legs relatively roomy, planning to do most of the slimming down in the muslin stage rather than on paper.  I'd like to test a theory I've been developing over the course of the drafting process, which is that my legs exit my pelvis in an inward direction rather than vertically, and so--theoretically--I should need a slightly bias (angled inward) trouser leg, rather than a perfectly on-grain one.  The successful pants I've made in the past have always been full enough that I had room to move regardless, but the more ease you take away, the more accurate your draft has to be, and I'm hoping this new angle will solve some of the weird inexplicable wrinkles I always notice near the crotch when my legs are closed.  You can see it in the first muslin:

Drag lines... drag lines!  I don't intend to stand like a sailor at all times though so I need to fix this problem.

For the second muslin, I hinged out the inseam at a wider angle (technique helpfully illustrated at #2 here), a couple of inches out at the hem tapering to nothing at the fork.  I also gave the inner thigh portion of the inseam a slight convex curve, which hopefully will relieve strain on the fabric in that area and keep the pants from wearing out quite as quickly (that's the first place my pants always get holes).  First impressions are good:

There's some wrinkling around the crotch, but well within acceptable levels IMO.  Grain lines and side seams are approximately perpendicular to the floor, nothing's obviously out of whack--there's a little too much room from the knee down but we're going to do something about that now.

First I tried pinning out a vertical dart along the crease line (center grainline), tapering to nothing at the knee:

That did not work.  It was weird.  As soon as I took a step, the leg started twisting inward from the knee down, a problem I had with the last pair of jeans I made and never figured out.  I still don't understand what caused it, but it was immediately obvious that no matter how big my calves are, the solution is not to make the front narrower than the back.

Second, I tried pinning out the excess along the outer seam, which I suspected was going to be the best solution (and a test of my inward-angled-leg theory).  And it worked!  It worked so much!

I got a little overzealous and pinned out too much at first, but once I let the pins out slightly into a more gentle taper, it was perfect.  Minimal twisting, and comfortable!  I like to wear a muslin around the house for a while before I make a final decision, just to make sure I can, like, bend over to get into the dishwasher, or curl up sideways on the couch and watch TV.  And I can!  The final fabric is going to be a woolen with a bit of give to it and stretch silk underlining, so these should be very comfortable when they're all done.

Lastly, I bring you a picture of my butt.

What do those horizontal wrinkles under the seat mean?  Too much room in the thigh?  Too little room in the fork?  A too short seat seam?  I know this is one of the more obvious fitting indicators but my google powers are failing me.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Quilt in Progress

The weather gets cold, and I start digging around in my bag of wool scraps, thinking maybe this year I will get around to making that quilt I've been vaguely planning ever since my stash expanded out of its first plastic bin.  Well, a couple of rainy days at home and I've got half the main squares cut out--nothing decided yet for the connecting strips, cornerstones, or borders--and a full sketch on graph paper, which I think is pretty achievable for a first-time effort.  All squares and strips, nothing fancy.

It's gonna be big, though.  No getting around that.  But I have never let having zero experience stop me from trying something new.  (To wit, all the sewing I did between the ages of 16 and 21.)  So far, the cutting-out process has been very rewarding--I love watching my scrap pile shrink down as I harvest at least a 3" square or two out of nearly every piece.  I've also been cutting squares out of some old WIPS, all long past salvaging and probably woefully poorly drafted.  That black and white basketweave up there was going to be a six-gore skirt with kick pleats and a side zipper.  Do you know how many seams that is?  None of which I stabilized or finished beyond a quick zig-zag, so of course it was stretched out and fraying like crazy.  It's nice to give it a new home outside the drawer of crumpled disappointment.

When I'm not cutting out squares, I've been spending a lot of time reading quilting manuals from the 70s on  Books in the public domain are available to read immediately, and more recent books just require a free account to check them out and read online.  There is a book called "Quilts! Quilts!! Quilts!!!" which I am still on the waiting list for, so if you have it checked out, please return it.  I recommend Scrap Patchwork and Quilting by Marti Michell, for the practical advice, and My Mother's Quilts by Sarah Nephew for a historical perspective on Depression-era quilting.

Until next time!

Monday, August 11, 2014

This Is a Persistent Worry

Double-checking for the 20th time to make sure I don't end up with two left sleeves.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

What I'm Working On

I made the braided rag rug for our new apartment in Chicago (a year ago now!), from scraps I had lying around and some pieces of quilting cotton that I think came from a garage sale.  There are pieces of this dress, this apron, and the polka dot lining from this jacket that never was.  It's just a coiled braid, pottery style, with each coil stitched to the one before in a spiral and then the whole thing hand-sewn to a felt backing.  Not fancy but satisfying to make and a nice place to sit when I'm cutting out pattern pieces.

This shirt pattern is copied from a men's Gap shirt that I found in a thrift store and liked the fit of.  The original was short-sleeved and this white version has long sleeves, so I drafted a placket and cuff.  This will be my second time ever making a shirt-sleeve placket (I did a couple of practice runs yesterday before I cut everything out).  I've made quite a few short-sleeve men's shirts, though, so the whole collar-and-stand-and-yoke-and-flat-fell-seams thing is old hat by now.  The process is almost zen at this point--no fitting, no wrestling with fussy fabric, very little handwork, just long easy seams and crisp topstitching.  And I look sharp in them when they're finished.

For my fellow shirtmakers, here's a list of the resources I always turn to when I start a new project:
  • This sleeve placket tutorial from Off the Cuff, a custom shirtmaker's blog.  I love advice from the professionals--I would never have thought to finger press but it's easier and more effective than heat-pressing on tiny fiddly seams.
  • Four Square Walls' guide to sewing collar stands.  She offers it as an alternative to the standard method suggested on most sewing patterns; it's the only one I've ever tried, and it works for me.
  • Peter's Men's Shirt Sewalong on Male Pattern Boldness.  I usually end up reading this in full before I start a new shirt, as a refresher course and a guide to construction order.
  • And, if you can find it, the book Shirtmaking by David Page Coffin.  It's the definitive text for good reason.  

If you've missed me, you can see my Me-Made-May photos for this year at my Flickr page--mostly selfies in the full-length mirror in my department at work.  How has everyone been?  Happy sewing?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

My wedding dress!

Hi sewing friends!

It's been a while since I posted here--our engagement has been long and difficult, and my life has kicked into high gear in the meantime.  I've been sewing, though, slowly but steadily, and cooking and baking and fermenting and homebrewing and all of the other things that keep me grounded in difficult times.  The first thing to go, though, is always sharing my projects in a public space like this one.

My wedding dress is by no means the only sewing project I completed in the last few months, but it was the most challenging and I think the most important.

In the planning phase, I was particularly drawn to Claire McCardell's dresses in silk jersey--I posted a few on my inspiration board.  I love the contrast between a structured midriff and a soft, drapey skirt and bodice, and McCardell's designs get it perfectly right.  This is my version--a pretty good try, anyway.  There will be no pictures of the inside because a rapidly approaching and non-negotiable deadline does not make for the cleanest interior finish.

I opted for floor length because I may never have another chance to wear a real, full-length formal gown.  I'm planning to hem it to ankle length later, and hopefully wear it again, if I'm ever invited to anything fancy enough.

The veil is just a yard of cotton/silk voile I had in my stash from last year, scalloped at the edges and pinned to my bun.  Here's a picture of it in action:

As for the event itself: it was lovely!  We got married in our backyard, with my parents as the officiants, and Dear Wife's mother read a passage from the Bible, which was very meaningful to both of us as she has had a difficult time coming to terms with our marriage.  I almost can't believe that all the people we love came together in one room to celebrate our (legally binding!) union.  I am a lucky, lucky woman.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thoughts on Things & Making

Update on the Seamless Pledge:

As predicted, it was not all that hard to stop myself buying new clothes.  In fact, I hardly noticed; I had to think really hard about my purchasing habits to remember whether I'd bought anything new or not.  As it turns out, I didn't buy any new clothes, mass-market or otherwise, until early June, when I got a couple of bras at JC Penney (using this excellent guide to tracking down 1940s-style bras, thanks Tasha!).  And that was it.  I haven't bought any clothes since.

I've sometimes considered doing the Fashion on the Ration challenge, like Susannah and Ali, and I may still, but I'm not sure the challenge format is really for me.  When I approach sewing (or any other "making" process) with rules or rigidity, the fun seems to go out of it.  I love to challenge my skills and my capabilities, but the broader picture--the relationship between consumption and production in my life--seems to have its own energy.  I feel as though I am watching something evolve very slowly and mysteriously, and without any particular direction from me.

A year ago, I wouldn't have anticipated my current relationship to clothes, food, personal belongings, and all the other "things" in my life.  Now, I find myself valuing more those things whose making I had a hand in, or whose maker I know.  I'd rather eat homemade mustard, local eggs and honey, rather drink homemade mead and shrub and currant wine.  I'd rather wear a skirt, a dress, a hat that I made.  Correspondingly, my day-to-day life is different now.  I grocery shop once a week because that's when the farmer's market is open, and I don't eat tomatoes in March or cabbage in July because they just aren't available (and if they are they're not very good).  There are some compromises--through April and most of May the "green vegetable" portion of our diet was filled almost entirely with spring varieties of garlic and onion--but even the compromises are liberating, because they remove choice.  When there is rhubarb to be bought, I buy rhubarb.  When there isn't, I don't.

The same is true of clothes.  My me-made wardrobe is small still (but growing--I counted it all out for an upcoming post on wardrobe planning, and was pleasantly surprised!), so when I get dressed in the morning I am often choosing between a couple of outfits, with minor variations--more if I've just done laundry.  I know my students got very tired of seeing this skirt, since I wore it at least twice a week--if not more often--from January into April.  But the thing is, I love it.  I made it out of fabric that makes me happy, in a style that flatters me and a cut that fits perfectly.  I wore it twice a week not out of artificial deprivation but because it's the best thing in my closet--just as spring garlic in April beats out California bell peppers or Mexican tomatoes any day.

There's nothing objective about any of this.  There's nothing special about cream from Ithaca or blueberries from Baldwinsville, except that they are my cream and my blueberries and so I love them dearly (especially in combination).  There are probably much nicer skirts out there, made from better materials with more sophisticated detailing, but I don't care because I want to wear the skirt that I made.  There is something intangible about it.  It has to do with quality of life, and it makes me wonder what we are all missing in our alienation from the fulfillment of our most basic concerns--what to eat, what to wear, what to sit on, where to live.  I'm not pretending that I can be fully self-sufficient--I wouldn't want to be.  But there's a qualitative difference in my relationship to the things I've made versus the things I've bought.  I never, ever let homemade jam grow mold in the back of the fridge.  When my clothes lose buttons or pop a seam or start to wear out at the knees, I fix them.  My investment in the things around me is heightened, because my labor is more valuable to me than money, and to treat my things lightly is to disrespect that labor.

For the historically minded among us: there are a number of excellent scholarly books that cover the changes in the home production economy post-Industrial Revolution, but my favorite sources are as always primary.  The English Housewife assumes that farm wives will malt their own grain, distill their own perfumes, and spin their own thread (but not weave their own cloth, which was outsourced to a weaver).  And I think I have a whole post in me about the changing definition of "economy" in home economics texts from the 1910s to the 1960s--many practices that are heartily recommended into the thirties and forties (like remaking a man's suit into a little boy's, or darning your stockings) are cheerfully denounced twenty years later as "false economies" that deflect the housewife's energies away from presumably more valuable consumption activities (like shopping for bargains).  I'm secretly compiling the syllabus and reading list for the class I will one day teach on this subject, called something like ""False Economy": Rhetorics of Home Production 1912-1965."  Would you enroll?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Blouses, Hats, & Weddings

As you may have noticed, things have been slow around here--I'm not the most regular blogger at the best of times, but wedding planning, work, and long unstructured days have been really getting to me lately.  It's not for lack of sewing, though!

The blouse that I talked about drafting last month came together quick and easy, and looks great:

It's wound up in at least one outfit a week and always gets compliments.  I'm particularly happy with how the sleeves turned out:

I widened them a bit so they could be comfortably rolled up.  The sleevecap pleat, though, was a happy accident: I was aiming for a regular pleat but got mixed up and made an inverted one instead:

I love the way it looks!  For a long time I thought I hated sleevecap ease--I kept picturing those weird pouffy leg-o'-mutton things from the thirties--but with a nice crisp pleat like this, it does really nice things for my shoulders.  At least that's what Dear Fiancee says.

Speaking of--we've set a date for our wedding, and it will be October 6!  Our wedding website is up at, so please visit and leave us a nice guestbook comment.  :)  There's a blog there as well, so as my wedding dress comes together (the next big project on my list...) I will likely be updating there as well.  I'm hoping that more blogs = more blogging.  I guess we'll see.

P.S. The last photo also documents my second shot at millinery (the first being here).  I may have mentioned before that my landlady used to work in theatre--she was the previous owner of my beloved dress form, Dottie--and she just happened to leave a wooden hat block in the house, conveniently sized to my measurements.  I used it to make up the pattern for this sun hat and it was a total breeze--just like draping on a dress form, but in miniature.  There was a refreshing lack of math (all too present in flat pattern designing).

Anyway, I'm pretty happy with it--though the next iteration will probably have wire in the brim for shape, and definitely ribbons to tie under my chin so the wind doesn't blow it away.  I'm not too proud to look like a doofus if it means my ears won't get sunburnt.