Self-stitched September: Reflections

Now that September is over and my Self-stitched September challenge is finished, I wanted to put together a few reflections on the month.

First, here’s a roundup of every outfit I photographed. (And can you spot the intruder in one of these?)

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Actually, it was easier than I expected to keep wearing my homemade clothes for the whole month. That is, I had enough items that I liked and that worked with my other clothes that I didn’t need to do extra laundry to make it work or end up wearing the same thing too often. I did wear some repeats, but of course that’s normal. My challenge was to wear something handmade for five days a week, but I often did it for six and it wouldn’t have been a stretch to make it seven. Nor did I feel too bored or constrained by my limited options; quite a few different combinations seemed possible, and I added scarves or jewellery if I was really wanting something different.

The one problem I did have was a lack of casual tops for warmer weather. Or, I should say, on the days I was at home and wanted to wear jeans and a light top, I didn’t have enough homemade options. (I had store-bought options.) At the end of the month I made one tee, but I wish I had made several at the start. Actually, most of the times when I felt frustrated with the challenge were just because the weather was different from what I had planned for.

More interestingly, I think that preparing for, and completing, this challenge forced me to be more practical about sewing, and this in itself has been the most fruitful challenge. I’ve already said that I did some careful planning and budgeting for key pieces, and that this was one reason I felt like the challenge was easier to accomplish. But this is part of a larger shift from seeing sewing as a chance to make something beautiful, and seeing it as a craft that produces the kind of garment I reach for even on a bad day or an at-home day. One tendency I have in sewing is to drool over wonderful patterns, fuss over details, and use the process as a sort of wish-fulfilment: ‘What I would wear in my fantasies.’ (It would be 50s-style dresses among other things, by the way.) The risk with that approach is that dressmaking becomes an artful hobby which produces special objets d’art, rather than useful garments that participate in everyday life. It’s kind of like becoming an expert at baking decorated cupcakes, but not knowing the first thing about making bread. My fear, I think, is that clothes which are comfortable and utilitarian are boring and possibly ugly – not what I want to spend my time on, not worth my time. But lately I’ve tried to see the practical nature of clothes as a challenge: how can they fulfil both the desire for beauty and craft as well as the desire for comfort? Far from being boring, that strategic challenge has been very stimulating. I feel like its results, e.g. a denim skirt, a plain tee, or a very ordinary dress, don’t look very impressive, but they are actually the fruit of a great deal of thought and planning, and I enjoy that this is their little secret.

 

Self-stitched September: Day 30

It’s the last day of Self-stitched September. And you know, I am a little bit sad! It’s the navy dress again today.

IMG_2390Tomorrow I’m going to share a few thoughts on the challenge as a whole, but overwhelmingly I think it was not that big a challenge – i.e., it didn’t feel boringly repetitive, or like I was wearing wildly inappropriate things just for the sake of wearing them. (There has been more repetition than I’ve shown on this blog – I haven’t tended to post about duplicate garments/outfits.)

One reason for the challenge being easy is well illustrated by this dress: it’s basic and easy to wear. Because I was thinking about doing Self-stitched September for a few months prior, I did some strategising to make sure I would actually have enough handmade items to get me through the month. And since this wasn’t Make Yourself a Whole New Wardrobe September, I pinpointed just a few things to make which should be versatile enough to wear a lot, easily. I planned these projects in advance, budgeted for them, and was picky about finding exactly the right fabric.

Although I do tend to plan clothing purchases in advance most of the time, this very purposeful planning, budgeting, and careful limitation (keeping it within what I could reasonably make in the time I had before September began) made for an enormously satisfying process. It also meant that wearing a few things repeatedly was pretty easy, and most of the time I genuinely liked what I was wearing. The moral is: I should do this type of planning more often, because I think it leads to a more cohesive wardrobe of better quality and which I enjoy more.

Self-stitched September: Day 29

September is almost over! One of the biggest challenges in wearing something handmade every day has been that the weather this month was warmer than I expected. I should have taken the hint and made a couple of short-sleeved tops, instead of rushing to finish a sweater which hasn’t yet seen the light of day. So on Sunday I did some sewing and made a short-sleeved tee from some leftover fabric. Take that, Indian summer! And here is today’s outfit.

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You’ll recognise the stripes. I made a long-sleeved top and happily had enough for a short-sleeved version. However, I wanted to try a different sleeve style, because I discovered that trying to match up stripes with a typical set-in sleeve is a big hassle (and I didn’t succeed in the end). So I drafted what I think is called a kimono sleeve, i.e. a sleeve which is cut as one piece with the bodice.

IMG_2383With this style of sleeve, you only have to match the stripes along the shoulder seam (up at the top) and the side seam. This is why, I suspect, many of the popular striped tees in the shops these days are also made this way. But I do think this style of sleeve turns out to have a flattering shape as well. Come summer I expect I’ll be making more from this pattern.

IMG_2378The skirt is another homemade item. I’ve had it so long I almost forget that fact. I made it with the intention that it would be a good season-spanning item. It’s lined, so it can be worn with tights (as here) without clinging to them or needing a slip, but it’s also a fairly summery cotton so doesn’t look out of place in warm weather. It’s a funny colour, kind of a light, dusty purple, which is almost a neutral shade. Probably its biggest claim to fame is all the buttons (twelve), which are covered with the same fabric. Definitely worth the trouble. Of this fabric, too, I have some left over, so you may yet see it again some day…

 

 

Self-stitched September: Day 27 | And a Bit of Design Process

Here is something I actually made IN September (yesterday). A casual skirt.

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Even, I would say, part of a slouchy weekend outfit. Here I am slouching. Okay, not super-casual, I realise, but to me it’s a good effort! Mike laughs at me because casual is not something I do very well.IMG_2366

But wait! You may correctly see that this fabric and style are closely reminiscent of this skirt featured here before. That’s because yes, it is the same fabric and pattern – I just made nearly the same skirt a second time. IMG_1929IMG_1916After making the first version of this pattern, I had enough of the fabric fabric left over for a shorter skirt. Now, I didn’t initially plan to use the same pattern! I had simply noticed that I kept really liking the sweater plus short skirt and boots combination that you often see these days, for example some of the outfits here, such as the one below.

Source (Colette Patterns blog, www.coletterie.com)

I then started noticing little gathered denim/chambray skirts in places like J. Crew, and took note because my fabric was denim. That type of gathered skirt is very easy to make, and so appealed to me for that reason, but honestly, I’m quite doubtful whether it is ever easy to make it look good on the average person because of the gathers over the waist and hips.

So I thought – what I really wanted was a style that fit slimly at the waist (to avoid icky bulk) but flared at the hem. And I thought – the pattern I already made had just all those features. Why reinvent the wheel? So I used the same pattern.

This time, I shortened it, which was a necessity anyway because of limited fabric, but also I think makes a skirt of this shape easier to wear with a more bulky sweater without looking frumpy. It may not look extreme, but for me this is a short skirt! I.e. it completely clears my knee. I also added some elastic to the back waistband, which really doesn’t show in the wearing, but gives just a little comfy room. And, finally, I moved and redesigned the pockets. They are curved, like the pockets on jeans, and sit lower.

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Would you like a look into how I plan a sewing design?

First of all, I’ve already said that I look around to see what’s available in stores. I actually went to TK Maxx this time and tried on a few skirts in this sort of length. I also Googled for images of styles that were similar, to see how they looked on others, what design features they had, and how they typically went into outfits. Some of this research was what ultimately made me decide against a gathered skirt. I really enjoy this part of planning – it’s like shopping without spending money!

One thing I often do is take a garment I already own and try it on in the way I hope to wear the new piece, styling it with the shoes and other clothes I envision going with it, and using pins to adjust style and length to get an idea how the future garment might look. That’s what I did this time, too.

So you can see here how I’ve taken the denim skirt I already made, pinned it up shorter, worn it with boots and sweater, and used pins to outline where the pockets should go. I then used my pinned mock-up to help get the measurements right for the new pattern.

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Funnily, in drafting a pattern it can be the style features that are hardest to place – i.e. the features not related to the fit, but things like the placement of pockets. That’s why I find the mock-up, using an existing piece of clothing, so helpful. This time, I decided the location of the pockets in relation to where my pullover jumpers tend to hit – I wanted the pockets to be low enough to be visible when wearing an average sweater. And I think it came out just right.

Now, I have just made two skirts from the same pattern and the same fabric. I don’t know – but I really think that the simple change in length and different pocket placement makes them rather different.

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Self-stitched September: Day 25

I actually wore this outfit twice this week, I love it so much. It features a striped top which I made from scratch, and a green merino jumper which was a charity shop find which I altered.

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This top is the result of really concerted effort in trying to find the right fabric. I had a black and white striped top which I wore a lot but was getting pretty manky, so I planned to make a replacement. But for how popular these Breton stripe styles are right now, it’s amazingly hard to find much range of fabric, especially if you’re particular about fibre composition. I finally stumbled upon this lovely stuff at Dragonfly Fabrics. It’s wonderfully substantial (so no worry about show-through in the white parts), and Oeko-Tex certified, which I think has something to do with being tested for what chemicals are used in manufacturing. It was on the pricey side, but totally worth it. I used that perfect tee pattern I made and sewed this top up in a day.

IMG_2338I’m becoming quite sold on making my own tops just because I can make them long enough, which is so much more comfortable to wear.

There’s a secret mistake in this top, which is that I matched the stripes wrong along the seam in the sleeve. I wanted to match them up, because that is the proper thing that one should do. See? The result is that the stripes should form a series of loops around your arm, if you want to think of it that way. But I got it skewed so that in fact it is one continuous stripe looping in a spiral all the way down. Does that make sense? You’d only know if you decided to trace its path round and round (which I did). The source is a problem in the sleeve design, obviously my own fault. I’ve decided I don’t care!IMG_2346

IMG_2344The green sweater, like many of my charity shop purchases, caught my eye because of its fibre – merino wool. It’s supposedly several sizes bigger than my size, but I can only imagine it would be very tight in that case. Weirdly, though, for all its outsize skinniness, it was originally very long – awkwardly long, not tunic length but really long for a sweater. It also had a hole in the stomach area. When I spotted it, I asked the shop staff if I could have a discount (which they agreed), and then took it home, cut the bottom ribbing off, and sewed it back on higher up, allowing me to cut off the section with the hole and shorten the sweater in one fell swoop. The only flaw is that you can see the seam between sweater and ribbing, whereas of course normally they would be seamlessly attached, but that never has bothered me.

I have two points of observation inspired by this outfit. They are on one theme: trends.

Now, I don’t think I’m particularly trendy, and indeed I feel like as soon as I put on trendy clothes they no longer look trendy because it’s me wearing them. Nor have I ever found much stimulation in asking, How can I incorporate this season’s trends into my style? But I do take note of trends in light of this statement: Trends indicate what you can get away with without looking weird. Sneaky.

And, of the things that you can get away with, look for not only what you like, but for brilliant and practical ideas. After a couple of years of skepticism, I now think the ankle boot is one such practical trend. In fact I’m not sure it’s the most flattering shape, objectively, but since they’ve become ubiquitous I’ve jumped on the ankle boot bandwagon because they have the potential to be comfortable, smart, good for that cool-but-not-icy weather, they keep your feet dry, go with trousers or skirts (potentially without tights…not sure about that yet), and you can wear socks with them while no one has to see the socks! Christmas socks in September? Socks that don’t match? Ankle boots also give you a bit of grace if you have a problem with jeans being a little too short.

The Breton stripe top, in all its various manifestations, is another instance of a current trend that I think is really pretty clever. A stripe in neutral colours – a darker colour on white or cream if we’re interpreting it strictly – works like a neutral but is more interesting than a solid. If you have a small wardrobe, and/or layer your clothes often, it’s easy to end up with nothing but solids, since prints tend not to play very nicely together and can be limiting when you always have to match them with something else. But the resulting endless solids, especially in neutral colours, can become boring. At least, they do to me. A neutral stripe feels like a happy medium, and you can have a shot at being trendy too!

Self-stitched September: Day 23

Today I finally wore this grey wool skirt, which is refashioned. Now, clearly instead of blogging about what I wear I should be searching ‘photography’ in the library catalogue, because I can only achieve two main looks in my picture taking lately. Super dark, or super light. In this case I think the super light photos actually do more justice to the clothes, although they obliterate part of me.

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Let me tell you the story of this. A while ago, I was strategizing about the Perfect Winter Grey Skirt.

In this case, I was daydreaming about a cozy skirt with an elastic waist. Yup – elastic, just wondering if it would be possible to do without looking frumpy. I was inspired by a dress I have which, although it has a rather fancy fine herringbone texture, is actually a heavy knit fabric, meaning it looks smart but is so very comfortable. But knits of that type are often polyester, which isn’t my favourite. I began wondering about the possibilities of wool. But, in the end, not having worked with it enough, I was unsure about trying to order any fabric online and unsure if I could even find what I was imagining.

Then, one day, I was snooping around our local charity shop. I spied a skirt that looked like wool, and checked the label to see that it was. Moreover it was from Hobbs. (Pause to drool.) It was too big for me, and it had an asymmetrical water-fall drape down the front, but the shape and fabric were really beautiful. I believe it’s boiled wool, which is originally a knitted fabric which is then felted in hot water, making the fibres bond together so the resulting fabric is thick and felted, but with some residual give from the original knitted structure.

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I decided to chance it, paid a few pounds for it, and took it home to alter. I did three main alterations:

  • Cut off the top, which was elasticated, and then skinnied up the side seams to make it fit my waist.
  • Re-attached the cut-off top as a waistband.
  • Pulled out the front seam, where the drapery bit was attached, cut off the drape, and re-sewed the seam as a plain seam.

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Above you can see the seam down the front where the drape used to be. It’s not centred – the triangle yoke at the top is asymmetrical and the seam goes straight down from there.

There is no zipper or anything – it’s so stretchy it just pulls on. Which of course means it is also stretchy enough to accommodate some enchiladas and nachos for dinner, or some lazy slumping on the sofa. Success!

This is probably an inverse example of something I mentioned before – a smart style in casual fabric. Here, I would say that boiled wool was a smart fabric, but in the form of a comfy elastic-waisted skirt it’s essentially a casual style, though it might not look it from a distance.

Finally, I want to say a word on behalf of wool. I think it gets a bad rap – I certainly used to think of it as 1) scratchy and 2) dry clean only and hence a hassle. But the scratchiness is really a factor of the quality and type of wool – at least have an open mind. And most wool clothes don’t need to be worn next to your skin anyway. Additionally, as for the dry-clean factor, I never bother. In my experience a gentle hand wash in lukewarm water, with a drop of dish detergent, and some gentle rolling up in a towel, works fine. I never launder wool every time I wear it – maybe once a year, or twice if it’s a sweater. Obviously I don’t have small children getting me dirty every day, but for my life right now, I have no problem with the occasional hand washing. Finally, wool is naturally fire-retardant and slightly water-resistant (it keeps sheep dry, after all), and dries quite fast.

Self-stitched September: Days 12 and 13

Woah! Did I not post since last Monday?

Well, here we have the first two days of this week. It was a little cooler and I eagerly pulled out two new knitted items.

Monday I got away with wearing my new cardigan – knitted by me!

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It’s actually the third time around for this yarn. You might feel it’s vaguely familiar from having seen it in this version, which already was its second time around. I did wear that previous cardigan a few times in the spring, but felt that the sleeves particularly didn’t fit very well, which was partly the pattern and partly that the yarn is very heavy and hence hangs heavily, accentuating baggy sleeves. At the time, I was mainly trying to convince myself that I could knit something wearable, and I wasn’t confident enough to alter a pattern.

This time, I decided to re-knit the yarn into another cardigan, but this one I designed myself. And it has its flaws, but I do love certain things about it, and I figured re-using old yarn was a good way to practice with designing for the first time.

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Continuing the knitwear theme, here is Tuesday’s outfit.

IMG_2169It’s my scarf! It wasn’t particularly cold that day, more just cool enough to get away with wearing it. And I may now say that this is a prize-winning scarf. Over the weekend we were at the Town Show, which for my American readers is something like a small-scale county fair. I decided to enter this scarf in the knitting category of the ‘domestic’ competition, and it won third place! There was even a cash prize. It was £1. Still makes me laugh. It’s not about the money, you know, but rather the immense renown.

Self-stitched September: Day 8

Hello again! I took a break over the weekend and wore store-bought clothes (remember, my challenge was for 5 days a week). But I’m back on the wagon with a self-stitched dress.

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This is made from navy jersey knit, a fabric kindly given to me by a sewing friend at church who was clearing out for a move. I got the idea for this when Colette Patterns released a dress pattern called Moneta, which is very similar to this dress. At the time I was also thinking about working up a good basic tee pattern, and so thought this dress would be a good outlet for trying out that idea, since the top part is basically a modified tee shirt.

There’s something a little nostalgic about this design, too. When my sister and I were little, we had what we called ‘play dresses’, which my mom had made. The top part was one of our old tee shirts, cut off, with the skirt made from the midsection of one of my dad’s old tee shirts. Because they were made from cast-offs, it didn’t matter if they got messed up from playing.

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Naturally, because this dress is really a glorified tee shirt, it’s very comfortable. It passes the ‘would you travel in it?’ test – not of course if you would categorically never wear a dress to travel, but if you would, still not every dress is up to it. I think this one also dresses up quite nicely with a belt and scarf or cardigan.

Because I made this from free fabric, I was constrained by yardage and thus didn’t quite get the skirt shape I would have wanted. Were I to do it again I would adjust that. The inside waist seam is also rather poorly sewn…but I’m happy enough for now.

Taking photos today was quite a challenge. I’m not a great photographer anyway, but the sun! It didn’t lend itself well to photos that enabled studying of a garment; mostly photos of haloed, legless jubilation:

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Self-stitched September: Day 5

I’ll confess, I’m struggling a bit to know what to wear these days. Last weekend I was so proactive as to pack away a few of my summer clothes, pulled out a few lightweight sweaters, and I’ve been scrimping my pennies all year to splash out on a pair of ankle boots that I hoped would solve all my autumn footwear dilemmas. But August lulled me into anticipation with cold and now September betrays me with muggy warmth. Meanwhile most of my self-stitched clothes are suited either to very warm days or to cooler weather, not in between. I had even made notes about all the clothes I was planning to wear in anticipation of blogging for Self-stitched September, so I’m also feeling like I had so many things to say about all the clothes I’m still not wearing! While very few prepared thoughts about the ones I am.

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That said, do I get double points for wearing two handmade items today? Both the top and the sweater! Don’t mind the slippers. I couldn’t decide what shoes to wear and I wasn’t leaving the house right away anyhow.

This blouse is one I made from a self-drafted pattern back in the early summer. I actually never took a picture, but it was similar in style to the Mathilde Blouse by Tilly (whom you might have seen on the first Sewing Bee), although mine was less blousy. But in fact I think it should have been more blousy, because it was a little uncomfortable to move in: tight in the armpits, sleeves weren’t long enough, overall length was midriff-risking. The armpit issue was my biggest peeve, so I recently just took the sleeves off and finished the armholes to make a sleeveless version. That doesn’t fix the length issue, but it makes it more comfortable, and lets me salvage my hard work putting all those buttons down the back.

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Besides which, I really do like the yoke and little gathers in the front.

And, bonus! I knitted the cardigan. The pattern is called Miette, and was free. The yarn is super old: I believe it belongs to my pre-university knitting attempts, at which point it was a boxy cardigan with rolling edges that wouldn’t lie flat. I finally unravelled it this spring and put it to this better purpose. Although it looks chunky, it’s surprisingly not-warm (a cotton acrylic blend), so I’ve worn it all summer. I even think it looks kind of tatty, because the acrylic/cotton blend tends to frizz and pill and it’s lost some colour from age, but of the things I’ve knitted it’s Mike’s favourite.

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Self-Stitched September: Days 2 and 3

Here you go! My first Self-Stitched September outfit post. These are the outfits from the 2nd and 3rd of the month, which I’m grouping together because they involve the same skirt.

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This skirt is from a pattern from 1975, which I picked up for 50p at a vintage stall a year ago. It turns out it’s just my size, and it really does have a lovely shape – full at the hem but slim through the hips, meaning you can wear it with sweaters without worrying about the frumpy bulk factor. I love the pattern cover, those breezy ladies with impossibly long legs! And although the pattern styling in the drawings is obviously dated, I don’t really think the skirt shape itself is.

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I couldn’t resist making a change to the pattern, and adding pockets across the hip, lined with some leftover floral cotton.

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This skirt makes use of one of my favourite clothing strategies: a slightly smart, tailored style made from a casual fabric, in this case a medium-wash denim. I love tailored styles, fabrics like wool, or simply the interest of details like buttons, pockets, and clever seams which you often don’t get on properly casual garments, but the clothes with these features can often look formal or fussy unless you work in a really professional job. For many years now I’ve had various jobs where I felt I needed to dress up a step from jeans, but much more casually than a pinstripe pencil skirt, and I think this combination of a slightly smart shape in a casual fabric is very versatile for that type of everyday wear. If anyone says derisively, ‘Hey you, why are you so formally dressed in this semi-casual office setting?’ you can say, ‘What! This is just a denim skirt!’ And if they say, ‘Hey you, why are you wearing denim in this office environment?’ you have the devastating retort: ‘On the contrary, this is a tailored skirt: look at the single welt pockets.’ See, an answer for every sartorial attack.

Incidentally, if there are any sewists reading this, I got the fabric from Dragonfly Fabrics. It wasn’t cheap, but it’s beautiful fabric – substantial but with drape – and their service was excellent and their shipping fast and reasonable.