Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Review of the Year and Top 5 Hits

Hello everyone! I hope all who celebrate have had a lovely festive break, and for those who don't I hope you're enjoying a bit of peace and goodwill also! Here's my review of what I've made this year, including my Top 5 hits!

For some reason I felt like I hadn't got that much sewn this year, but looking back I have actually made more in previous years (only a slight increase really, but weird considering how I felt there were large chunks of time when I wanted to be sewing but couldn't for one reason or another!). I may have blogged less as a few things I made were outfits where I posted more than one garment at a time. I've briefly summarised my output from previous years and how much of it has survived to compare how this year has fared.

When I started sewing in earnest in 2014 I made 15 things including three gifts, two of which sadly I never got photos of. While many of the things I made that year haven't survived, a surprising number is still in regular rotation – my last three projects of 2015 (a box-pleat midi skirt, my Lady Skater dress, and an '80s raglan-sleeve dress) I still wear really regularly! My second Anna dress still comes out in force in Summer, and I recently made my first Elisalex more wearable by shortening to knee length. Four of the things I've made have been scrapped (first Anna dress, Charlotte skirt, the Ultimate shorts, and my Plantain tee- these all actually fell apart due to cheap fabric, as well as beginner-level construction). I plan to make something else out of the Boho Maxi dress as it's not really something I wear and it's a shame to waste that lovely fabric on something where it barely makes it out of the wardrobe, and the Megan dress I ended up gifting to someone else.

In 2015 I made 20 things (including six gifts). I've given away my Lady Pencil dress as it was a bit of a weird fudging together of patterns and hopefully will make another wearer much happier. I finished off my Ultimate Trousers, and although I don't wear them often they were a good learning experience. My first Ginger Jeans have worn through, and my New Look 6144 is a poor fit at the back and needs a slip to be warm enough for winter so doesn't get very much wear. Both my Tilly and the Buttons skirts gape at the waistband but still get worn fairly frequently, and the other dresses that I made get worn all the time, especially the Anna with a gathered skirt which I initially had down as a fail!
In 2016 I made 24 things (and am hoping to make 2 more before the year is out!). The two as yet unmade are gifts, as were four other things I made this year (one unblogged until I get photos to share, but I love it!). I deliberately decided not to make as many gifts for my close friends this year as it's tiring and doesn't always end in wearable garments if you want it to be a surprise, as fitting is so key! I'm surprised I made as much as I did as I definitely felt like there were more periods of sewing machine withdrawal this year than in previous years, but maybe this is just symptomatic of the obsession taking deeper root! I didn't make everything from my 'Resewlutions' but more on that in a future post...

So, what were my Top 5 makes this year?

This year has been more about separates than dresses, that's for sure! Top of the pile is:

People are surprised these are handmade. I'm not sure the low rise is as flattering on me as it could be, but I love wearing these as they feel so much like a legit piece of clothing, and better than other jeans I've owned! I'm not done with this pattern and might consider either going down a size for a tighter fit (as these almost look like the Morgan boyfriend jeans that Closet Case also released, but they're definitely Gingers!) and/ or raising the rise a little.

Again, I think these almost pass as not looking homemade! They fit pretty well out of the envelope and I've barely taken them off, they're so easy to wear. I really want to make more when I can get hold of fabric with an appropriate level of stretch!

I'm so happy I finally made this happen, as it was an idea that was left to marinade for far too long. I love wearing this dress, although I did have to make a few modifications to the pattern (i.e. using different sleeves) to make it easier to wear. It's still a tiny bit restrictive in arm movement, but I believe the BHL team have addressed this in a re-release of the pattern.

OK, this is two items and neither have been made perfectly, but I wear this all the time and really need to make another so I can ride in style while the other's in the wash! I've been cycling in London for almost 8 years now and it's only really been this year that I made the move to wear cycling clothes and change at work. I used to wear my normal clothing and arrive sweaty and rumpled, with grease stains from the chain and brake marks from getting my skirt caught in the back wheel on my hems for years and years, but now I work in the same office every day (as opposed to travelling to venues all over London, sometimes in the course of one day) I find I can dress in my beloved pencil skirts once again if I don't have to also cycle in them. It's also much safer to be able to cycle without being distracted by whether or not you're being modest! I also upgraded my bike this year and no longer have a step-through frame, so it's essential that what I wear for my ride gives me enough movement to swing my leg over the back wheel when I mount. I have had a few embarrassing moments getting trapped trying to dismount in a sheath dress and getting the front of the skirt caught on the saddle!

Easy fitting, modern but with a vintage twist, I love these and have plans for many more, including a lengthened shirt dress! I think the collar might be a little loose-fitting around the neck which I might adjust for my scrawny neck the next time though – not sure how exactly to do this, maybe just blending to a smaller size there?

I've really enjoyed making more shirts and trousers this year rather than making all the dresses like I used to! I did receive some lovely sewing books over the year (Famous Frocks: Little Black Dress, Boundless Style and Gertie's Ultimate Dress Book) so I am keen to make a few more dresses too, especially as the ones I've already made get so much wear, I need to vary it up a bit!

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading! I'll be sharing my Top 5 Misses soon, plus some goals for 2017. I'm by no means the most committed blogger out there, but I love having this space to share what I've made and connect with people who have similar interests. Hope you've all had a good year and here's to a constructive 2017!

NorseOtter x

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Cycling Outfit: Fehr Trade Surf to Summit Top and Duathlon Pedal-Pushers

Hi folks,

Look away now if you can't bear the sight of a non-athlete in lycra – I've made my first foray into activewear! These patterns are both Fehrtrade, the cycling jersey is the Surf to Summit top with all the cycling additions, and the pedal pushers are the Duathlon shorts but in capri length (I wish they went to legging length for when it's this cold though, that's why I'm having to wear long socks in these snaps). This is a two-for-one kind of post as I couldn't really post about these separately- they were made to be worn as an outfit. I realise now that these are kind of the colours for Team GB, but really my motivation for the choices was to try and match the paintwork on my bike (although I couldn't get the exact grey/blue I needed). Is that really sad? I hope I don't look too hilarious!

This is by no means a perfect example of either pattern but I'm pretty proud of them and I'm already getting good use out of them it. In this chilly weather my ankles are a bit cold and I'm having to wear one of my uniqlo heatteach base layers under the jersey, but I'm appreciating the aerodynamic benefits of this combination. I'm a bit worried I'm giving my fellow cyclists the wrong impression about the kind of speed I plan to reach however!

I made the Duathlon shorts first as they're simpler and were billed as a pretty fast make. In fact, they probably would have been if I hadn't decided to add the cycle padding as that was fiddly to get sitting right and my machine wasn't really enjoying stitching through the foam (which is bra cup foam, it's OK for a commute). I got a lot of skipped stitches trying to sew this in. In my desire to get the shorts done I just zigzagged around the padding for a second pass rather than ripping out and starting again. It's not the neatest job but I didn't want to risk any more visibly skipped stitches. I was stitching with a ball point needle in size 80 I think, so perhaps next time I'd go for a universal to pierce the foam better, and I think I read somewhere that a bigger needle might do a more reliable job. Will report back on my next attempt!  

One thing I do notice with the cycle padding however is that the central crotch seam can show (sorry to bring that to your attention, but just in case you were planning on making this pattern too it's worth knowing!). Sewing this seam with the overlocker can look a bit thick when pressed against the foam, and also a little a bit anatomical if you know what I mean...I think next time I would sew the crotch seam with my sewing machine rather than the overlocker and trim it right down in the area to go under the padding to make sure there isn't an unsightly ridge. Any other tips appreciated! I've only seen people make these up for running so don't know if anyone else has experienced this issue?

I also made the phone pockets encased within the side stripes. They do actually hold my phone, but given as these are cycling shorts I think it's too risky that it'd slip out and get smashed, so I wouldn't bother with this again unless I was making a running version.

These are made in a size Small which is never where I usually fall on a sizing chart, and actually if anything they might be a bit loose! I took them in another 1/8” along both sides of the stripe after having tried them on with the waistband and hem already done, which is why the stripe flares out a tiny bit at the calf, as I couldn't be bothered to rip out and redo my twinstitched hem. The waistband sits nicely but there is still a bit of wrinkling on the back of the leg and they're a bit loose at the calf so I on my next pair I'll take out a smidge on the back leg piece and taper down a bit more for a tighter fit.

The cycling jersey is the Surf to Summit top. While the pattern recommends making a basic version with no added extras first to test for fit, I decided to dive straight in and make a half-zip, back pockets and dipped hem version just to get a bit more practice at all these new techniques. Luckily for me the fit is pretty good- I sized Medium at the bust, grading down to Small for waist and hips. I lowered the armscye by 1/8” with a quick and dirty pass with my overlocker (and should probably scoop a tad more out next time) and I think I could take out a smidge in the princess seams at upper bust and narrow down the sleeves for the forearms a bit too, but otherwise it seems a decent size.

This was not as quick to sew up as the Duathlon shorts as there were so many new processes for me, and a lot of things I ended up having to do twice! The Duathlons I sewed up mostly on my overlocker except for the hems, but next time I think I might do a first pass with my sewing machine just to check fit. Having had that experience I decided to sew up everything on my sewing machine for the Surf to Summit top and neaten the seams afterwards with the overlocker.

I used fold over elastic for the first times for the back pocket and hem of the jersey- in both cases I think I should have sewn the elastic in a bit tighter to make it hug the body as it's standing away slightly. It's less of an issue at the hem, but I'm not sure if the back pockets are supposed to stand so open!

The real pain to get my head around with this top though was the half-zip. It went in OK for the zip itself, but the neck facing/ zip placket piece did cause me some frustration. For a start, I didn't seem to realise when cutting the corner off the piece that forms both the placket and the zip facing that this should separate into two pieces. So when I sewed the zip in the facing was still attached and flapping about until it came to the neck facing step and I wondered why the markings to attach to neckline seemed to be upside down!

Once I'd figured that out it shouldn't have been too hard, but I managed to mess up my markings when attaching the facing to the neckline and neglected to leave a fold hanging over the edge, which in subsequent steps is supposed to form a protective flap under the zip teeth. As I'd already trimmed the corners I couldn't work out where this should have been, so fudged the flap by rolling the fabric a bit (it's a mess on the inside). My stitching in the ditch to secure the neck facing also ended up puckering in the inside, and when I tried to neated up the edges of the zip placket with the overlocker it was a pain to wrangle and I broke a needle going over the zip teeth.

A lot of this could easily have been avoided if I hadn't been frustrated about miscutting the piece in the first place! I do think that there should be some advice on neatening the inside of the facing and placket edges as they look unfinished as left by the pattern. Perhaps this is for a smoother line on the outside, but next time I will overlock the lower edge of my neck facing before stitching in the ditch (and possibly do that after forming the zip placket so I can neaten that up at the same time, if it doesn't mess anything else up...). Anyway it all came together in the end, messy as it is. Unfortunately the tension that my wrangling has put on the zip means it does tend to pull tight against my throat a bit.

I plan to make more of both patterns, but taking more time over the tricky bits so they come out right. I rushed these versions through as these are functional rather than glamorous pieces, but as they'll both get more wear than anything else in my wardrobe combined the next version deserves to be made with more care. I'm also making the mens' version for my boyfriend, and one for my dad for Christmas, both with all the cycling additions, so hopefully the gift versions look a bit more professional!

This outfit cost me about £40 to make which is cheaper than it would have been to buy. I've got loads more of the fabric left all in these colours as the minimum order was a metre of each from UK Fabrics online, so I can make myself at least one more identical cycling outfit but with hopefully less grief and a neater result, without spending a penny more! The fold over elastic, waistband elastic and bra foam padding that I used for the cycling pad all came from Sewing Chest – helpfully all the stockists for the specialist materials are on Fehrtrade's page.

 Have you ever made activewear? Any fitting tips very helpful, especially from fellow cyclists!

Norseotter xx

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Safran Jeans

Hi everyone,

How's it going? It's been a busy few weeks for me, I've barely had time to sew but my plans are mounting up, including a few gifts which I'll have to seriously crack on with soon! Here is a pair of jeans I finished a couple of weeks ago, but it's been too dark to get photos until now (and even these are a little dark, sorry!).

These are the Safran jeans from Deer and Doe. I bought them as soon as they were released to mix up my jeans-making a bit. I've made the Ginger jeans a few times (1, 2, 3) and plan to make a few pairs more. Annoyingly the low-rise version A of the Gingers seem to fit me better than the high-waisted version B that I bought the pattern for, so I'll have to work a bit more on my fitting before making another high-waisted pair.

The Safran pattern can be made as either jeans with belt loops, topstitching and back pockets, or as pants with the design details pared back. This is the jeans version, although I decided to use navy topstitching and no rivets for a cleaner look. I really like the welt pockets, and this is my first ever go at these. Again, the instructions are quite sparse, so although the welt pockets did come together alright I think now that I know what I'm doing I'll be able to manage them better next time. It's not hugely noticeable but there is a tiny bit of pocket lining show-through where I topstitched the pockets down at the hip. I'll be more wary of that next time – or use pocket lining that's the same colour as the main fabric!

Like many other people, I used my Ginger jeans instructions for the fly front as I knew these would end in a good result and made sense to me. I've found from my Melilot that I don't quite get Deer and Doe instructions. Perhaps it's something lost in translation or they're aimed at people with slightly higher sewing skills than me, but although they make grammatical sense I don't find them as user-friendly as they could be. I also used the Ginger flyfront topstitching guide which worked perfectly. Everything else I used Deer and Doe's instructions for (except when it calls for triplestitching, which my 1970s sewing machine can't do), although this did mean I topstitched down the outseam of the jeans leg, which doesn't feel right to me. Next time I'd topstitch the inseam like my Gingers, as this is more conventional for jeans. To be honest with my navy topstitching it doesn't really show anyway.

Construction-wise, next time I would probably make up a front and back separately, as per the Ginger instructions, rather than making up a leg at a time, to make it easier to make up the fly front. There have been mixed reactions from other people about the waistband and how the loops are stitched into this at the top, I actually like this feature and find the waistband fits pretty well. One thing I'll remember to do next time is to trim down the top of my zip a little more before attaching the waistband – I had a bit of trouble as the untrimmed top teeth of the zip trapped inside the waistband were right under where I'd marked to stitch the buttonhole, so I ended up breaking a needle!

I made this pair straight out of the envelope in a size 42 with no fitting adjustments (although, if you think I could do with any, let me know! I'm no expert and still keen to learn). I've been wearing these almost non-stop since I made them so that's perhaps why they don't look super-crisp in the pictures. They've already been through two Sunday roasts (I did have to undo my waistband after, truth be known) and a 13-mile cycle to and from work, although I am trying to cut back on cycling in my jeans to avoid the dreaded saddle marks rubbing through the denim. They're pretty comfortable and I'm not sure if there is anything that should be tweaked for the next pair, apart from maybe raising the back pockets a little, but I'm quite happy with them as they are.

The denim I used is from Fabrics Galore, and it's great stuff. I think it was £9 or £10 a metre. I do have about 3 pairs of jeans worth of denim in my stash, but none of it stretchy enough, so they're all destined to be Gingers (two more highwaisted, and I might see if I can make draft a mid-rise) so I will have a lot of blue jeans! The shop assistants at Fabrics Galore were super-friendly and helpful in finding me the level of stretch I needed for the pattern, so I'm tempted to go back and see what else they have that might work for a future pair - I am thinking about maybe a matt black, or perhaps a bottle green or oxblood red colour.

I'm so tempted to just crack into the denim I've had in my stash for far too long now and make more jeans as I do enjoy it, and winter is the best time for wearing them. But then I remember the merino jersey I should really make up to wear while it's cold (but it will be cold for ages, let's be honest) and the gifts I've promised to make!

Back soon to show you my first venture into activewear...

NorseOtter x

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Trouser-Making Mission is On: Revisiting the Ultimate Trousers

Hi everyone!

Hope your weekends have been going well? I've just been checking out the 'Anywhen' installation at the Turbine Hall and the new Switch House exhibitions at Tate Modern, topped off with a Sunday roast. I'm feeling a bit lethargic after all that but was hoping to crack on with my Autumn trouser-making campaign – I have some Safran pieces all cut out and ready to be assembled!

The good news is that not only have I managed to stash-bust another piece of fabric that has been lingering for far too long, I've also managed to conquer my fear of the Ultimate Trousers pattern. I received this as part of a giveaway a couple of years ago from Dolly Clackett, and had bought this fabric especially to make them up in. However, after a disastrous pair of shorts that I couldn't even give away, and a slightly disappointing first go in full trousers, I decided to try my wearable muslin back on and see what I needed to do to make them right.

To my surprise they weren't all that bad- I even wore them for my long-sleeved Melilot shoot, so I decided to re-insert the zip and wear them to work for a day to see what it was about them that bugged me so much. The main issue is that the waistband doesn't sit right on me at all. For the wearable muslin I had added 1” to the back rise to allow extra room for my rear, but I still had the issue that the waistline sat right on the thickest and squishiest part of my middle, which wasn't flattering. The facing kept wanting to flip out and fold up into where my waistline should have sat, so I took a note of where this fold was forming and added the extra length onto my pattern pieces.

I ended up adding 2.5cm, or another inch, to the centre back at the top, blending to nothing at the sides. I also added 2cm to the centre front at the top, again blending to nothing at the sides. I lined up my facing pieces with the new lines I'd drafted and decided I didn't need to make any changes to them. I think for this version it definitely hits me in a more flattering and more comfortable place, although I could still stand to make the trousers more high-waisted to my personal preference. The waist facing does still want to roll out a bit though.

I think they might also be a bit short on me! They're definitely ankle-swingers, which looks OK with ankle boots but does expose more shin when I'm sitting down (I'm around 5 ft 5 for reference). I don't know if they could also do with taking in a little bit at the back thigh, as it looks baggy in some pictures, or whether I need that slack in order to move.

This fabric is cotton with a little bit of stretch in it. If it looks familiar, it's because I made a skirt with the lighter colourway for my 'Camberwell Beauty' box-pleat skirt, made as a palette-cleanser to relieve the frustrations of my first attempts at the Ultimate Trousers. It's from Mermaid Fabrics, and when I bought it I was worried I might be catching the tail-end of the printed trousers trend. Two years later, I no longer care! I've been watching a lot of the Gomorrah series lately so I feel these channel a bit of Italian ostentatiousness, although not quite up to Donna Imma's level. Maybe I should accessorise with a gold chain belt?

I'm fairly pleased with these over all though. I could have done a better job with pattern matching- the centre front and back are OK, but the sides are misaligned. At the time I just needed to get on with it and didn't want to spend more time fussing as I'd already put these off for so long, and I'm glad they are now accomplished! I actually made up another pair of Mimi pyjama bottoms to get me in the headspace for making trousers again (didn't take any snaps, but if you want to see me looking like a cosy dork my first pair are here, and the new pair is the same but in a blue colourway of the same fabric). 

The actual construction of the Ultimate Trousers is easy-peasy (although I could stand to make my zip insertion neater) it's just working out the fit to make them flattering that's the challenging part.

As I have accrued a nice little collection of trouser patterns I think I'll get on with them before coming back to this one, but I'm glad I've finally made peace with it and can see myself making another pair in a nice solid jewel or neutral colour. Definitely with length added to the legs though!

Any trouser-tweaking tips always welcome! Have you got any projects that you're afraid to tackle?

NorseOtter xx

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Sew Dots Melilot!

Hi everyone,

Here's my entry into the Sew Dots, Raise Lots challenge as organised by Rosie over at DIYCouture. The challenge is to make up something using dotty fabric to raise funds and awareness of Braille and its crucial importance for giving people with sight loss access to written communication - you can read more over on Rosie's blog here. I rarely enter challenges – I don't like having the pressure to make something I'm not sure I would have chosen for myself, or feeling the need to buy more fabric or patterns when I already have so many of each that I struggle to see how I'm going to do them all justice!

However, this one appealed to me as something achievable (as well as a good cause, obviously), as it came up when I was putting the finishing touches to my first Melilot shirt, which is the pattern I'm auditioning to finally put to use my Paul Smith elephant print fabric. I like long-sleeved version A, but I was keen to see if I might prefer version B. When I saw Rosie's challenge, I thought I'd go ahead and use some of this lovely dotty stuff I picked up a while ago from Mermaid Fabrics (which I now think might be viscose or rayon, given how stiff it feels fresh out of the wash) which you might recall from my Clemence Skirt. I really like the fabric but have struggled to visualise what else to make with it, but when this challenge came along I realised it would make a really cute Melilot, and might even work paired with the Clemence for a faux shirtdress look (I haven't yet tried but I bet I'm going to love it!).

There are a load of photos in this post, sorry! I really like how the shirt came out and think it looks great both tucked in and untucked, so of course had to get photos from all angles of both, plus some of me goofing around on the park gym because I felt like there was a bit of an '80s muscle shirt vibe going on. I enjoyed wearing this multi-textured outfit too (an unintentional link into the Braille theme), with the leather skirt and velvet shoes. I was also wearing a very Teddy-girl esque wool jacket that didn't make it into the shoot. 

From my experiences with the Clemence I remembered this fabric was quite tricky to cut accurately and does tend to slip. To help avoid this I starched the fabric when ironing and used a fresh blade in my rotary cutter. I did still cut on the fold though, which perhaps I shouldn't have, but I haven't had too many issues. When sewing I used lots of pins and a small sharp needle. One thing I hadn't realised during Clemence construction was that the dots are not printed on-grain (so I can stop giving that slightly hectic-looking gathering at the waistband the side-eye, turns out it's not my fault!). I've been trying to be better at respecting grain by always straightening my fabric with a weft thread tear across and it's been very revealing!

Armed with this knowledge I decided not to give myself too much of a headache trying to make things match up, which is why the pockets might be less than pleasing to the more eagle-eyed among you! I made this up again using the 44 bust/ 42 waist + hips pieces traced from my first version, and made it up as instructed except to add a full collar again rather than just the mandarin collar as I really like the shape.

This came together swiftly as I didn't have to worry about the concealed button placket, although still had a moment of self-doubt as to how many times to fold back the edges to form the button bands – I should really start making notes on instructions when they don't make total sense to me! This pattern takes a LOT of buttons, so I'm glad I finally got the courage to try out machine-sewing on my buttons, it is so much faster, and easier on the fingers than hand sewing. The buttons I used are from my boyfriend's grandmother's stash, and in amongst the plain black I found this one engraved with 'Lewis's of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham' which was at one time a major department store in those cities and decided it should grace my collar stand. I wonder what garment it originally came from, and when?

Another thing I found tricky in my first version as getting the curved hem even. In the instructions it has you hem the shirt pieces separately after forming the darts and button bands, but in this fabric I thought it best to construct the whole shirt and let it hang for a day or so in case any of the pieces stretched out. Luckily they don't seem to have done so unevenly! I also rolled my pieces after cutting to avoid them getting misshapen in handling, and made sure to stay-stitch the neckline of all my shirt pieces immediately too.

To give me a neater hem, I sewed a guide line of stitching to press around in addition to the guide line to fold around as given in the instructions, and I think this has given a more accurate finish as well as saving me a headache with measuring and pressing in tiny sections all the way around. In my first version I wasn't very successful at keeping the hem even so I wasn't taking any chances this time!

Nothing more to report other than I really like this pattern, but haven't yet decided which version to use for my elephants! Version B I think is more flattering on me, but would mean shelving the make for the Spring as realistically it's too nippy to bare arms at the moment. But I may yet give into temptation as it's very satisfying to have a project that fits nicely, isn't too tricky to construct, and also uses up stash fabric.

Have you been tempted to Sew Dots yet this October?

NorseOtter xx