I might not have written much about sewing recently, but that doesn’t mean I
haven’t been sewing. I’ve made a few things that I haven’t got around to
blogging about, but a few weeks ago, I finished a pair of Persephone Sailor
Pants (a pattern by Anna Allen) which I’m really pleased with. However, the
making was not without incident. Part of my reason for writing this is so that I
might remember not to be such a blithering idiot in future.
Finding myself in that rare position of having an unspent book token recently, I was browsing around in a bookshop and picked up 19th-Century Fashion in Detail by Lucy Johnston. Now, the idea that I would look twice at any book with the word ‘fashion’ in the title would have made me roar with laughter a few years ago, but since I started sewing, I have become fascinated by construction techniques, and with borrowing ideas from previous periods in which different body shapes were celebrated.
I remember it with great clarity. I was about four years old, my Dad holding me up at the window, as we looked out at the street. I had seen a girl, wearing jeans, walking down the street, and the though suddenly struck me for the first time. When my Dad answered that of course girls could wear trousers, it was like the sun coming out. I really wanted to wear trousers, and had no idea that I could. That was the beginning of my love affair with jeans.
I’ve just come out the other side of a bit of a frantic period of sewing. My brother is getting married next week, and so of course I wanted to make something nice to wear. Naturally, I have known the date of the wedding for ages, so I had plenty of time to plan what I wanted to make, and sew in a relaxed and leisurely way. Did I do that? Reader, I think we both know the answer that that rhetorical question. I did not. I waited until about a month before the wedding before starting my dress, then made some stupid decisions about a top layer, panicked, and ended up going on a three-day sewing bender less than a week before the wedding.
As I make progress with my sewing, I’m trying to be a bit more strategic about what I make. When you start out, the giddy excitement of actually making things means that you flit between patterns, making anything shiny that catches your eye. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (and it’s certainly fun), but I’ve been trying to plan a bit more thoughtfully, and think about what kinds of garments I need to give me maximum flexibility. I’ve also tried to slow down a bit, and make each item as polished as I possibly can.
You might think that one sewing machine should be enough for anyone. I have a very nice, modern, computerised, Janome sewing machine (not to mention an overlocker for finishing seams and sewing stretch fabrics), and I’m very happy with it. It sews all kinds of stitches very competently (including zig-zag stitches), and has some useful features like stopping with the needle down (or up), so that you can easily pivot around corners, pulling the bobbin thread up automatically, and even snipping the threads automatically. And yet, I found myself browsing vintage straight stitch-only machines.
Well. That was a distressing, bewildering, enraging, and terrifying week. I don’t even know where to start with it. In response, I seem to have diverted into temporary displacement activity: who else would like to join me in a few moments of thinking about something other than the state of the world? I made a very red, very corduroy tunic: the French Dart Shift Tunic by Maven Patterns.
At the start of the winter, I had a plan to make a warm winter dress. My first idea was to make a corduroy pinafore dress, an idea that rather surprised me. I think I last wore a pinafore dress when I was about 5 years old. In fact, I have a photograph of me wearing it, with a ribbed polo neck jumper underneath, and a puddingbowl haircut with slightly wonky fringe above. I’m vaguely aware that they have become somewhat fashionable recently, but that wasn’t why I wanted to make one. I was after a dress that I could wear a thick layer (like a jumper or long-sleeved t-shirt) underneath, rather than covering up the dress with a cardigan. I was ready to try to draft something myself, when I saw another alternative that I could wear in the same way: Maven Patterns French Dart Shift Tunic.
2016 is certainly not getting any easier as it drags on, is it? Like many people, I’m finding it hard not to get anxious and disturbed by every new revelation or outrage on the news. There are certainly plenty of issues about which it is absolutely right and proper to get anxious, disturbed and angry, but there comes a time when you need to switch off for a bit. Personally, I find solace in both music and making things.
My latest sewing project unites my love of sewing with my love of cycling: a pair of Ginger jeans made from showerproof, windproof, softshell fabric for winter cycling. I used the Ginger pattern because I’ve made it a couple of times before and know that it fits me well, and because it is intended for stretch denim, and the softshell fabric I bought has a similar amount of stretch. This is a project I’ve had planned for quite some time, and while I’m very happy with the result, it was a project fraught with difficulties.
I have been wanting to buy a couple of the Pattern Magic pattern cutting books for a while. The author, Tomoko Nakamichi, is a professor at the Bunka Fashion College in Japan. These books distil the methods taught at the school for creating slopers, and adds her wonderful creativity, playfulness and incredible ability to wrangle fabric into improbable forms. They have fairly recently been translated into English, but I wanted to take a look inside one before committing to a purchase. Last week, I managed to find copies in Waterstones, and instantly blew a book token I had been hoarding since my birthday on buying the first and second books.
The patterns in the book are based on the so-called ‘Bunka sloper’ as a starting point, and the instructions and figures in the book show you — with incredible precision and economy1 — how to alter the sloper to get the designs depicted. There was only one problem: the Bunka sloper is based on the average body dimensions of young Japanese women, and my middle-aged Western body is very far from that kind of shape (more’s the pity). Would the sloper work for me?