Saturday, 19 May 2018

My First Japanese Sewing Book Project - #SewingLeftovers Culottes

I may have mentioned in a recent post that I went to Japan, and that I did the cliched thing of buying a new suitcase to carry back all my goodies. Well, several of the more bulky goodies ended up being sewing books. It was seriously hard to narrow down what I wanted when out bookshopping; there was a lot of very charmingly photographed stuff I wanted just because I like the images, some books that focused in incredible pattern geometry, and lots of great casual stylish books. I fell hard for the latter camp and bought five, three of which are actually quite similar - they all feature a duster coat, tunic dress and pull on linen pants for example. But, I do not care. I love them all and justified my purchases by asking myself if there were two unique patterns I would make in each book.

I felt quite smug when the first thing I made when I got back from Japan (and still in the malaise of jetlag) was a pair of culottes from Blouse, Pants, One Piece. I made version B of the culottes; there is also version F which is just below knee-length and has pockets. Both culottes have the same back piece with lines for the length you need for the different views. I decided on view B to keep it simple, as finding your pattern pieces on the sheet (which is printed all in black and white and overlaid a thousand ways!) is actually enough of a headache without wrapping my jetjagged brain around even more pattern pieces.

The instruction illustrations are pretty good, but I decided to write in pencil what I thought they made just to have an at-a-glance guide. I used this brilliant resource from Japanese Sewing Books to decipher the pattern pieces after I'd traced them and make sure I knew which was the front and which the back leg! I also used the Google Translate app every now and then, drawing Japanese characters for the first time in my life clumsily into my smartphone.

So, while the making was in fact quite simple (and no fitting, hooray!) my brain definitely had a little challenge while working in translation, but I found it pretty fun. And if I can make it work jetlagged, the rest of the patterns will be a breeze, right?!

The only slight surprise I had with these culottes is that I made them out of leftover fabric from my Gertie Shirtwaist Dress and I didn't have quite enough for the full length, so I shortened the pattern by about 9cm. And funnily enough, that length looks like the book's photo - so these must be pretty much full length if made as drafted (unless I have very short legs? I'm 5 ft 5 for reference).

Wearing them, they are super fun. I thought they might be a bit clownish, but I think the fact they're voluminous enough to mimic a skirt helps guide the look into more sophisticated territory. The cotton is more structured than the linen they're meant to be made up in, and I'm annoyed I didn't get my centre front double pleats quite perfect - that was one part of the illustrations I winged without bothering to fully translate I'm afraid. And, if I'm completely honest I do wish I had pockets. And that maybe I'd made the elastic a little tighter (although it will be easy enough to adjust later if I decide). But my brain was so broken, I craved adventure, but also simplicity!

Overall, for a #sewingleftovers wearable muslin pattern translated from another language I'm pretty pleased. More fabric out of the cupboard and on my body, and experiment fulfilled and the joy of using things up!

FYI I also bought (all links to reviews from Japanese Sewing Books blog - so useful!): Atelier To Nani Iro, Clean and Natural, Shirts, and Shareable Wardrobe. The last was kind of purely for the styling and photography, but I am tempted to make a bit of an avant-garde style departure! There is a particularly cute jumpsuit I'm willing to take a gamble on...

PS if you're in Japan and looking for books go to Tsutaya Books in Daikanyama (Tokyo) if you get a chance (there are other branches but this one is so lovely). I followed this blog for the recommendation and it was my favourite bookshop - so beautiful - very architecturally interesting from the outside and inside each section beautifully curated and styled with an exhibition for each area of interest. The sewing book section wasn't huge but was comprehensive enough for me to spend an hour or so browsing and choosing - it's difficult to browse books from the spine when the format is quite uniform and the titles are all in a different language! Tsutaya also do tax free over a certain amount which Maruzen (also recommended in the blog and worth a visit) don't; they also had a decent selection but the bookshop near Tokyo Station was big and well stocked but a less charming atmosphere - you could visit Tsutaya and not buy anything and still enjoy the experience, but in Maruzen not so much.

I'll leave you with some goofy out-takes.

NorseOtter xx

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

My (belated) Me Made May '18 Pledge

MMMay18 Day 2 = Deer and Doe Melilot Shirt + Helen's Closet Winslow Culottes

'I, Elinor of @norseotter, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May '18. I endeavour to wear every item of handmade clothing I can (within reason) during May 2018 and capture a me-made outfit photo every day'

I've been aware of Me Made May (begun by the refreshingly frank and inspirational So Zo) since I began sewing but have never before been able to focus on how I could meaningfully get involved; in the first couple of years it was because I didn't have enough handmade stuff to wear, and in the last couple of years I've had plenty but couldn't think how to make it a challenge as I love wearing what I make all the time! Now I've decided this will be the year to give it a go and see what I learn! As you can see, I've kind of begun before officially signing up! It's the taking part that counts right?

I've decided to make my challenge photo-oriented because for me the hardest thing about sewing and trying to maintain a blog is getting pictures in a timely way. I have both extremes of the problem; sometimes I have a build-up of me-mades and not enough time to capture photos, but once I get caught up I'm not producing "content" fast enough as I don't have as much time to sew as I'd like or my projects are proving trickier than expected. 

#MMMay18 Day 1 = Gertie Sews Vintage Casual Two-Piece

To fit into the Me Made May ethos I will challenge myself with the pure awkwardness of trying to capture a daily outfit photo (it is tough if you're an introvert!), and for the learning portion of the challenge I hope to get a good overview of what I wear and what works for me, what I'm holding onto for sentimental reasons, and what is just worn out at this point!

As the seasons have been so all over the place in the UK over the past few months I expect to need all my summer and winter clothes at once, so at least I'll be able to get a comprehensive overview too. By the end of the month I aim to have piles of keep, donate, repair/ refashion and scrap clothing - which can include RTW as well. I'm posting daily on my @norseotter instagram and plan to do a round-up post of which garments end up in which pile at the end, plus I'm sure loads of new making plans!

I'm looking forward to getting stuck into the challenge and being inspired by all your makes too!

NorseOtter xx

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Freesewing Simon Shirt - A Fun Experiment in Vlisco Leftovers

Sites like (and, of course, the lovely online sewing community) are what makes the internet magic. If you haven't already come across, it's an open source pattern drafting site for (mainly) men's patterns, each custom-sized to the measurements you upload.

I dove straight in with the Simon shirt as the base for the popover shirt that Angus requested for Christmas after I dismissed the Negroni as too much hard work to adapt. There are many, many measurements you have to upload to, so worth blocking out a bit of time and patience to get this bit right, but you can select to only upload the measurements you need for the pattern you're working on at the time, and there are thorough (and often witty!) instructions to guide you through. Once you enter all the info, then customise all the elements you wish, the pattern is created for you with a helpful comparison image so you can check whether you've accidentally gone off-piste anywhere before printing. I definitely had to double-check a couple of my measurements after referring to this, so it's a really useful feature.

Another great feature, if a bit over my head for my current level of shirtmaking ability, is the minute level to which you can customise your design. There is a lot of information to help guide you through every choice you make – e.g. the style of cuff, hem, how ease in each area etc. The only thing I would criticise is that you can't save step-by-step as you're building your pattern (which you can when entering your measurements) and so if you accidentally click off the page you have to go back and enter all the details again from scratch (and there are a lot!). I speak from experience as I did this a couple of times and somehow ended up selecting a tiny 6.25mm seam allowance which I definitely didn't intend to do! However, after getting over my panic when I realised (after cutting of course) it hasn't actually been that much of an issue, and has even saved time that would have been spent trimming seams otherwise.

The only thing I had to do for myself is draft the popover placket, which I did following this Craftsy tutorial. It has turned out alright, but I think I put it in back to front and so have a tiny seam allowance where I've caught the bottom edge of the placket. I didn't find the sewing instructions very clear in the tutorial, so switched to the Kalle instructions (which I got for my birthday but haven't made yet) but as the approach to the placket in each is a little different, and both intended for female shirts, I think I got confused.

You may recognise this fabric from the Negroni I made Angus a couple of years back. I always wanted to make myself something from the remnants of this 6-yard piece of Vlisco wax print, but felt like it was too much of a statement print and too strongly associated with being Angus's birthday fabric. Hooray for finally using it and #sewingleftovers! This time I didn't worry about pattern matching at all, but I did have a few issues here and there remembering which was the right and wrong side of the fabric (which I'm sure contributed to my placket confusion).

While I had fun making this shirt, trying to adapt it further did end up proving to be a bit of a headache and I think actually this style of shirt is too form-fitting for a popover. I also accidentally ended up choosing doubled-over cuffs by mistake (which I’ve secured with a button to go through both layers here rather than using cufflinks) which add an unintentional flamboyance to the look. The popover shirt ended up a bit tight at the neck and shoulders too, but this may have been a result of the changes I made in that area. What with the collar needing to be permanently open, statement cuffs and tight fit this has ended up looking like a 70s tunic. Not a bad look, but not quite what I was going for! I did end up going with another pattern to create the shirt that Angus requested, but that will be for another post.

I would however definitely recommend giving the Simon shirt a go - I think next time I’ll go with the basic version though and not incorporate any of my own design elements to make my life a bit simpler! What do you think? Have you tried freesewing or any other custom-draft pattern platforms before?

NorseOtter xx

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Well-Travelled Roberts Dungarees

Hello everyone!

It’s been a little while but I have lots of lovely things to share with you over the next few weeks.
I’ve been away to Japan, which was such an incredible trip that I hope I have another opportunity to
go and take things at a more relaxed pace!

Like many sewists I a) dreamt up a travel wardrobe and did my darndest to make a few things before the trip and b) while in Japan bought more fabric (and pattern books!) than I could carry back and had to invest in a new suitcase to haul it all home…

The Japan travel wardrobe was heavily focused around giving a new style a go. I indulged in the Marilla Walker Roberts Dungarees in a bit of tipsy treat for myself when Marilla ran a discount around Christmas (I also bought the Isca Shirtdress). I actually made these dungarees up in February, so for me that’s quite a fast turnaround, and it’s pretty nice to have ticked something off my Make Nine! In fact, this post is a twofer which knocks another make off my target - as I also made the Basic Instinct T from Secondo Piano specifically to wear with the dungarees.

The fabric is some lovely black medium-weight linen from the celebrated TMOS (the man outside Sainsbury’s) in Walthamstow Market, made famous by Karen of Did You Make That?. I bought the fabric in my first ever trip there with friends in early Feb, and a week or so later I had a day of TOIL and the house to myself so whipped up the pattern and wore it to work the following day (where it was much admired).

 I made up a size 4 according to my measurements, which I think was right for the oversized style of the design, but next time I might try and nip in the side seams a bit more to define the waist - or I may try this out with the pinafore dress version for a sassier shape. Wearing such a loose style is definitely a bit out of my normal style, but I have thoroughly road-tested these with a long train ride to Glasgow Film Festival (luckily I made it out before everything was snowed off!) and of course took them to Japan, wearing them on the flight there and back, and they make excellent travel wear.

They did however demand more garments to pair with, so in the spirit of #sewingleftovers I used up some jersey from making gift t-shirts last year to make some plain tops to wear underneath the overalls. I really like the classic high-necked style of the Basic Instinct T and think I this first version is pretty decent (although this gorgeous jersey rolled like the devil when cutting resulting in a bit of a wonky hem) but I do have a little gathering into the back neckband which I’ll be more careful about next time. I made up the size L according to my bust measurement, but I think next time I might try and size down to an M and do an FBA as there’s a bit of space in my upper chest and shoulders.

 I enjoyed making both these patterns and they pair really nicely, and both of them are fairly speedy makes but with instructions where you can elevate your sewing if you choose and achieve a really nice finish. For the Roberts Collection Marilla goes through all the types of flat-felled seam finish you can use for the dungaree legs, and for the Basic Instinct T-Shirt Sasha gives you stabilising instructions, and special markings to make it easier if you’re trying to match up stripes - which is such a nice touch for a free pattern! I’d make either of these again in a heartbeat, and have fun doing so. You can see I have a lot of fun wearing them!

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Swishy Winslows

I didn’t really *need* this pattern, but have been admiring the Winslow Culottes from afar when I've seen them crop up on the blogosphere. I’ve become an avid fan of the Love to Sew Podcast, and so when Helen announced a Black Friday pattern sale I decided that this was the impetus I needed to support an indie designer who comes across as so nice, so I took the plunge and bought it. Plus I could justify it in that I had a friend’s birthday coming up and knew that she would love this design, which I thought would be easy to make in her size without any need for in-person fitting sessions as the crotch is dropped and there is an easy flowy fit over the hips.

While waiting for my friend’s measurements to be sent over, I decided to crack on and make a test pair for myself. I put on the latest episode of Love to Sew and proceeded to get into the zone. I don’t usually enjoy the cutting stage - I just want to get it over with - but when I have something lovely to listen to it definitely encourages me to get more absorbed in the process and take my time.

The Winslows are an easy make, my only slight hiccups were that I decided to interface the pocket openings as per a tip from another pattern, which I think was a mistake in this crepe as it’s added a bit of structure over the hips, exaggerating the proportions a bit more (I should have learnt my lesson after doing the same thing with my Clemence skirt, but oh well, I’ve thoroughly learned it now!).

I also inserted the centre back zip slightly too high so that the top would have been a fraction of an inch above the notch for the fold. I was tempted to leave it and fudge the waistband fold, but knew this would make the waistband all skewed so ripped it out and started again with more attention to making sure the top of the zip wouldn’t interfere with the turn of cloth - definitely worth taking your time over! I’m also totally rubbish at stitching in the ditch, so gave up and just edgestitched the bottom of the waistband down. It doesn’t look as clean, but I am terrible at catching the inside of the waistband when stitching in the ditch. I also experimented with machine blindstitching the hem, but this bouncy crepe was having none of it so I reverted to the original instructions, but wish I’d pressed a little better!

Anyway, there’s always something to improve in my construction, but I have to say that this is a lovely pattern that is fun to make and fun to wear! It looks great with my cropped vintage sweaters, and makes really easy workwear too as this fabric looks professional but doesn’t need much ironing. I do need to watch out for the static cling though, as this fabric (a “luxury French crepe” from Minerva crafts) loves to crackle, especially when I’m wearing tights for warmth underneath (my friend told me to avoid this I should moisturise under my tights - my dry shins are obviously causing an electricity build up!).

I made a straight size 12 and these have worked out great. The waistband is nice and nipped in, but I have just enough room to tuck tops in for a more streamlined look, and the flare gives some nice drama. These are also a decent contender in their full length for the dramatic Alice from Godless trousers I’m keen to make up for myself too...

I might be a bit late to the trend (as with my tipsy Roberts overalls purchase) but I’ve already got a lot of wear out of these (including a mad dash to and from Belfast in a day, which saw them last admirably through two flights) and love the fact that they provide an easy and elegant option for my everyday wardrobe, and in this fabric don’t need ironing. I'm very happy I bought these, they're a lovely pattern and I really like the styling ideas that are included in the instructions as an extra thoughtful touch. FYI if anyone's interested in the jumper I'm wearing, this is made up from a 1940s vintage knitting pattern by my mum. I'm afraid I can't remember the name offhand, but she always types up a detailed report on Ravelry - check out Knichet if you're on there!

Have you ever been swayed to buy a pattern based on the designer's personality? This isn't the first time it's happened to me actually, I've also been wooed by Heather of Closet Case patterns, Kelli of True Bias and Megan of Megan Nielsen, Gertie and all her lovely vintage pattern books - and not to neglect my first real sewing hero Tilly, of Tilly and the Buttons!

Until next time,

NorseOtter xx

Sunday, 14 January 2018

My #MakeNine and Top 5 Sewing Goals for 2018

Hi everyone!

How this year shaping up for you so far? I have to confess I haven't even started sewing yet, but I have some lovely plans that I'm keen to get cracking with. I've mashed up two social sewing tags with Crafting a Rainbow's Top 5 for the skills I want to work on this year, plus Lucky Lucille's Make Nine which I like the open-ness and flexibility of. 

Make Nine Plans

Inspiration image from Old Town

1. Popover Shirt
I have to make this as it's Angus's Christmas present and is already overdue! There isn't a pattern for a men's popover that I can currently find. I was going to hack the Colette Negroni, which I've made for Angus once before, but having bookmarked all the tutorials I got frozen with fear at how many changes would need to be made to the pattern to change the neckline to a stand collar and convert the front to popover. Instead I decided to draft a shirt on which hopefully should be a bit easier to hack. Will let you know how I get on! I'm hoping it will go well so I can use these skills to play with popover shirts for myself too...

2. Mimi G Flares (Simplicity 1283)
I've had a nice little run of making fun black trousers for myself and am keen to get cracking with these; I've had the pattern for years but have just bought myself some black ponte (although it seems they can also be made up in a stretch woven, which isn't listed on the envelope but perhaps I might prefer). 

3. Mimi G Polo Necks (also Simplicity 1283)
I also really like the polo neck that comes in the same pattern pack, but would need to lengthen it as I most certainly do not have washboard abs! I think this could be a great candidate for using up some merino jersey I've been holding onto for too long. I have a black polo neck jumper that I've had since I was at university, over ten years, and it still gets almost weekly wear during the colder months. I definitely need to increase my offering in this department.

© Marilla Walker

I follow What Katie Sews and have been stalking her travel blog lately for Japan tips; I'm very late to the party with this pattern (it was released in 2014) but think it would be quite fun and hopefully good travel wear for Japan. I like the woven tee as well, am hoping it will be a candidate for some lovely rabbit-print Japanese fabric I have (as the Patrones woven tee is out the window).

© Marilla Walker

I'm not sure if the dress version is really me, but I love the shirt! I'd like to make this up in chambray or something solid with a bit of texture or interest like the sample, I love the interesting design lines.

6. A short sleeved Surf to Summit Cycling Jersey
I meant to make this up last summer and have all the materials; I just never got it ready in time for the weather and ended up pushing up the sleeves of my winter one all summer instead. I do already have a pair of unblogged cycling shorts that are meant to be part of the set with hilarious knock-off Olympics 2012 fabric! I need to make more of the long-sleeved version too, and lengthen the duathlon shorts to leggings for winter cycling...

© True Bias

7. More Lander Pants
Either the long version or the shorts – or both! I love this pattern, but I would have to do some shopping for new fabric as this is not stashable and I am trying to get through it all.

© Secondo Piano

8. Basic InstincTt-shirt (Free pattern!)
I really need to make myself some basic black and white t-shirts as, when I wear tees that's what I like to wear. Plus, I need to have some instant gratification basics in the mix for low-sewjo days.

© Self Assembly Required

Ruffles may have been a big hit last year but this looks like fun and I'd like to have a go. It's a free pattern after all!

I'm sure I'll make a dress at some point; I have a hankering for a wrap dress but haven't fixed on the pattern, and still want to sew the French Gypsy dress I still haven't got around to, and I have denim for more jeans (I need to make a better fitting pair of high-waisted Gingers but am scared of cutting into the Cone Mills denim I've had in my stash forever).

I also plan to use up my scrap stash a bit more by making “reusable wrapping paper” gift bags like I did for Christmas. They're quick to make and a great alternative to wasteful paper, and the recipient can gift them on too if they like, or keep the bags as a souvenir. Plus they clear out space for fabric I actually want!

Top 5 Sewing Goals for 2018:

1. Waistbands. I'd like to nail my perfect curved waistband and learn how reinforce it with stay tape or whatever, not be lazy and fall back on straight waistbands provided with the pattern that crumple and gape.

2. Improve my finishing – particularly at the top of zips. I often manage to distort my neckline with a messy top of the zip finish and need to learn the tips and tricks to get this looking good going forward.

3. Continue to improve on my fitting journey. I need to remind myself not to rush ahead for a quick finish and get an ill-fitting garment out of it, and learn to take it a bit more slow.

4. Learn how to use some of the other functions on my overlocker and sewing machine.

5. Try and plan to use up seasonally appropriate fabrics! I have some merino that I've been holding onto for too long that I need to prioritise into making something snuggly while it's still cold. I have a habit of trying to stick to my queue even if there've been delays because I want to wear that thing *right now* even if that means only wearing it a few times before having to put it away for the season.

I hope that's a sensible mix of fun and practical. Here's to a more thoughtful sewing year!

NorseOtter xx