Thursday, 30 May 2013

The T-shirt Copy

In all honesty, I had already completed my t-shirt pattern before I thought about sharing it. So to make things a bit more interesting, my lovely friend Maria has kindly offered to volunteer to be a model for a t-shirt copy.
This is Maria, and we are going to copy her t-shirt (and make it better).

To begin with, we tied a piece of elastic around her middle. We then used this as her waistline.
We marked her waist, bust line at the seam, bust point, and underbust. I also looked at the side seams, and we decided that these swung back about 1.5cm by the waist, which is hardly surprising given that t-shirts are cut flat. Which people aren't, what with not being made of cardboard. We also decided on a v-neck, so we put a pin where that should end.
 T-shirt with pins in key points.

From there, I laid the t-shirt as flat as possible out on a piece of paper. I traced around the shirt, lifting the sleeve to draw in the armscye. There is a difference in shape at the front and back of the armscye, so it was important to look closely at that to see what adjustments I would need to make for the other piece.

 This is the outline. I have marked each of the lines required on the side. This is the basic from which I will create both front and back pieces. But first I need to tidy it up.

I cut the shape out and fold it in half.

 There are some differences between the halves. No matter how carefully I had copied, this would have occurred because the shirt has distorted over time. It is also quite possible that there was some distortion created in the cutting process when it was originally manufactured.  So copying both sides is an easy way to correct for those distortions.

 Spot the difference?

 I compare this to the original shirt and decide which lines I want to use.

I trace the shape onto another piece of paper.  This is going to be the front.

On the front, we have added about 4cm of length, and a bit more space from the bustline down so it will skim rather than snuggle. We are happy with the bustline fit. Also, I am only adding this to the front to compensate for the distortion we noted at the side seams. I changed the neckline to a v-neck. I then add 1cm seam allowance and hem allowance. I adjusted the armscye to correspond with the differences on the original shirt.

 I then traced the shape again to make the back - making the same changes to the hemline and seam allowances. Otherwise, there wasn't a whole lot of change on the back.

 Tracing the sleeves was a similar process - I lined the sleeves up and copied as closely as I could, adding a little extra length. The back and front are slightly different shapes, so I copied the back on folded paper, and then trimmed away the difference on the front half. I added seam allowance and hem allowance.

I then cut these pieces out and made up a t-shirt. 
I joined the side seams to front and back, and then the shoulder seams including a thin strip of elastic for extra stability.

I joined the sides of the sleeves and hemmed the sleeves and the body.
I inserted the sleeves by connecting the shoulder line and top crease, as well as seams in the t-shirt.
I used a 4.5cm wide strip to make the neckline. I cut this 5/6 of the length of the neckline. This is so it fits the neckline with a little stretch, and pulls taught across the body.
I inserted and topstitched the neckband. And then pulled lots of stupid faces as the sewing machine ate the v-neck corner.
Which made me very unhappy.

So I had to remind myself that it was the concept we cared about here. I am still not 100% happy with the v-neck. :/

But it's finished. So here is a t-shirt, copied and tweaked to be a slightly better fit.

 Definitely happy with the new sleeves, which are slightly longer than the original. And while I don't like the way the neckline pinched when I put it in, I think the shape and position is pretty much spot on. The fabric does skim the hips nicely, and the added length worked.

I might take a tiny bit out between the underbust and waist  as it sits forward a little - we already had a look at where to put darts for the dress. Maria's shoulders are fairly broad but I think I added a little more than needed, so I will shave some off there for future.

So there you have it.

UPDATE: I have tweaked this pattern a little. Check it out at  T-shirt copy part 2. Please look, it's much improved!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Stretch Wardrobe From (almost) Scratch Project

I plan to make a whole range of different but fairly simple garments, by copying existing clothes and modifying and improving them. Want to have a go too?

Not so long ago I picked up a magazine with some sewing projects, where all you need to do is go to the website, download the pattern, print them off and then stick the pages together.


I had done this before. I trialed Wild Ginger software (which is pretty neat, btw) and that involved putting your measurements into the program, which would then generate a printable pattern. You then print out the pattern on A4 sheets of paper and stick them all together with tape.

Having been through the stick them all together with tape process before, I really couldn't be arsed, sorry, bothered, doing that again. Because for one thing, it takes a lot of time, effort and sticky tape. And for another, I would then have to adjust the whole thing again anyway because it wouldn't fit me.

Poo to that.

I rather prefer the idea of having a block which fits you, and then altering that to suit the style. And I like the Japanese method where they make magazines for patterns, and diagrams about converting your block are used as the primary method of explaining how to do stuff.

But making a block is an involved process. You need someone to measure you. I don't have anyone handy. I need a quick and dirty way. I want a good fit.

So I copy.

My goal on this blog is to use a basic pattern or two (maybe three), copied off an existing garment, to build a series of patterns and create a wardrobe of stretchwear basics - and document in diagrams and photos how I do that. (As an aside, if any of my explanations aren't clear, please tell me. I'll improve them. ;)  )

I plan to start with these:

And from that I will make the following 12 items.
1) A copy of the shirt (possibly a different length). [Instructions here and here.]
2) A simple skirt: [Instructions here and here.]

3) A tank top. [Instructions]

4) A tank dress. [Instructions]
5) A long sleeve top with a different neckline.
6) A camisole with thick straps
***Watch this space****

7) A wrap front top
8) A mock wrap dress.
[Acutally, here I've gone with some variations instead. Check out the T-shirt Dress, the Wokingham Dress, and Stripes and Gathers]

9) A mock wrap skirt.

10) A bolero top.

11) A short cardigan.

12) A long length cardigan.

After that - we'll see how its going.

Wish me luck!


Monday, 27 May 2013

Cool Toys

I just want to show you a picture of Randy (x2).

Heather and I made Randy at the end of a road trip. We got back to my place, and got our sewing geek on. Aren't they cute?

Randy is a pattern from Funky Friends Factory. I have also made their bunny.

Pauline from Funky Friends Factory make some of the nicest soft toy patterns I have seen for a while. I like patterns with darts and gussets and good shaping. When I was little, I used to go to Cronshaws with mum and flick through the toys in the pattern books. I have been somewhat dismayed at the change in the range available over the years - for one thing the dolls all seemed to disappear. But also, there seems something of a trend towards more simplified designs.

I wasn't entirely sure if I had imagined this trend - but after many conversations and a little further investigation, it seems to be genuine. I guess this has to do with a reduction in the level of sewing skill most people have over some decades, and a preference for 'beginner' style projects. Many of the soft toy books which have hit the bookstores recently leave me feeling a bit sad. :( Often the projects rely on using cute and trendy fabric rather than great design.

But these toys are not like that. They are easy to use and the instructions are clear. But despite their ease of use, they have wonderful gussets and shapes to them!

Pauline also has a good range of animals - bats and advarks and crocodiles and platypuses. And a giraffe. Who doesn't love a giraffe? Or a wombat?

So yay for Funky Friends. :)

Failing that - if you are looking for good quality toy patterns, think 'vintage'.

The Spotty Dress - A before and after story.

I like trying to turn ugly dresses into dresses that fit really well.

I like it most when someone gives me an ugly dress for free. When someone drops something in my hands and says "Yours if you want it," I am free of all scissor-fright. The same goes for when I get a piece of fabric I didn't buy. When I bought it I struggle with all of the thoughts that go with it - how much it cost, what I bought it for, that I don't want to stuff it up... etc.

When someone hands me something I am free of those thoughts. Instead I just think 'what can I make from this?' (For this reason, I think fabric swaps are a great idea.)

Hell yeah.

So, some time back, I was handed a spotty dress. Here it is!
Whoa, does that ever fail to do my figure justice!

Even with heels to help out, this dress is sexy like a garbage bag.

It does have a belt, and I did leave it off for this photo. In part, this was because the waist fell so low on my body, the belt would have sat a good 5 cm above the seam it was intended to cover.

But this dress does have some good stuff going for it. The neckline sits well, and I really like it.

So - where to begin?

I decided that I wanted to raise the waistline. So that was step one. After that, I wanted to bring the side seams in, so that it fits snug around the waist. I could do this because the fabric is very stretchy, so I wouldn't need a zip to get in or out. I prefer minimal ease where possible, because too much swamps me. Stretch fabric is brilliant.

I marked my new waistline by tying elastic around my waist, and creating a chalk line. I then trimmed 1cm below (for a 1cm seam allowance), and removed the strip from the skirt.

I sewed the new waistlines together.

Once I had that sorted, I tried on the dress again. With a little help, I pinned the sides from under the arm to the waistline on both sides. Then I took the dress off, drew down the skirt to blend the new waist with the existing line. This meant re-drawing the line for most of the way. I then evened up the sides, and sewed down both sides to create the new seams.

When I tried it on again, I discovered two problems. The first was that there was a distortion at the centre back seam. Who would have thought that a cheap dress would have wobbly seams? I unpicked that, straightened it up and re-sewed it.

The second problem was that lifting the waist had caused un-evenness in the hem, which was to be expected. With some help (read - my mum) I marked a new hemline. I then sewed the hem by hand.

This is the final result.

I get checked out wearing this. ;)

Dressmaking To Flatter Your Shape

I have just been to the library. It seems that the Great British Sewing Bee has increased enthusiasm for sewing because the shelves seemed a little empty in the dressmaking section. Good!

But one of my favourite books, which is on the top of my 3 page Amazon wishlist, was still there.

"Dressmaking to Flatter Your Shape" by Lorna Knight.

Let me tell you why I think this book kicks shapely butt.

The illustrations are beautiful - they are of women that actually look like women. Most fashion illustrations don't - they are drawn on disproportionately tall, thin figures. When I look at these pictures, I think "That's what I look like!"

Hello healthy shapes!

The explainations are clear, and to me there is a really healthy body attitude present in the writing.
For example - here is a caption for said illustrations.

Poor dress proportion
When a dress does not match the figure, the bust, waist and hip levels are not in the same position as the body. This results in wrinkles and creasing where there is excess cloth and pulling in the areas where the dress is tight.

The focus is on the dress and the fit, not the body. The illustrations provide points of comparison for what it looks like, and what it should look like. Thre are photographic step-by-step instructions for making the alterations.

A skirt or dress with a poorly fitting waist can be irritating or uncomfortable to wear. By manipulating darts and seams on the pattern before cutting, it is easy to achieve a comfortable waist that also looks good.

Yes! Change the clothes to fit your body.

She also comments on the use of control underwear:

The power of pattern adaptations
While Spandex/Lycra-controlled underwear does wonders for the figure, it is not always comfortable to wear. By making clothes to suit your individual shape, you can conceal some bumps and lumps by accommodating them wisely with pattern adaptations.

Absolutely. Elegant and comfortable is the goal.
Lorna, I think you're cool.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Being unique.

Firstly, let me begin by saying I really rather like my body. I think I've been quite lucky.

I am ridiculously short. Not short enough to qualify as a 'little person', but only by 2cm. I am 4'10" and three quarters, or about 149cm. I do struggle to buy clothes off the rack. Even petites aren't quite right. Most clothes are made for someone who is 5'7". Petites are generally made for someone who is 5'4", or 5'3". So the differenece between a regular size and a petite fit is 3-4". The difference between me and a petite is 4.25 - 5.25". So that's a bigger step. Which I guess makes me Super-Petite.

But while I have fitting issues, most people do.

Because we aren't a set size. Because there's no such thing as normal. But we get so bent out of shape about numbers, or the fit of garments that are constructed for bodies which bear no actual resemblance to our own.

We need to change the way our clothes fit, not change our bodies.

Not so long ago, people made their own clothes at home. What a great idea:
We've all seen this. Why do we forget that we're seeing this every time we walk down the street? Why expect that the clothes in the shops will fit properly when we are so varied? And even this photo doesn't capture a fraction of the vast array of shapes and sizes we come in.

I think my height has been a huge blessing when it comes to body image. Because height is one of those things you can't really change, not via diet or surgery. Well, not unless you're absolutely mental. So I just had to be me. And I rather like it. I learned to sew out of absolute necessity. Now I sew for fun too. The more I sew, the more I learn about sizing, and fitting, and the clothing industry, and the history of women's fashion. The more I learn, the less I feel the need to worry about how badly chain store clothing suits my body shape.

Check this out:
The pattern piece at the back is the original multi size bodice pattern. And the pattern on the front in white tissue is my pattern piece for the same dress (I have marked it obsolete as I have made a couple of adjustments since I made my first dress from it).

Its not just size thats different - its shape.

My silhouette is really more in keeping with a 'plus size' shape than the idealised 'petite'. I have curves, and I am rather fond of them. I have learned lots of things about my shape through sewing - like learning that my shoulders are square but narrow compared to a standard pattern. But learning these things doesn't make me feel less normal - it makes me feel more enabled to create clothes that properly flatter my figure.

Can we start embracing the idea that clothing off the rack is not really designed for us? Can we stop talking about our body flaws and instead talk about making clothes that do our amazing figures justice?

P.S. I still have to shop in kids wear for shoes.

'Did you make that?' is not a compliment.

Recently, my bestest friend in the whole world gave someone a quilt that she had made for their new baby. She was a bit disappointed that they hadn't realised she had made it for them - so her boyfriend quickly pointed out to everyone how talented she was (What a star!).

But I think that's the best compliment ever.

When someone takes a look at your sewing and says 'Did you make that?', its not really a good thing. You might think its lovely that someone notices, but no. If you are asked if you made that, it means there is something about it that screams home-made. By that, I don't mean 'handmade', or 'homespun'. Such terms are complementary, and often manufacturers will attempt to create an illusion of handmade. I mean home-made. It might be a bit regretsy.

I quite like the idea that people won't spot me as a dressmaker from a distance. In fact I was a bit chuffed when someone I worked with said that I didn't look like the kind of person who sews. Because 'the kind of person who sews' conjures up images of older ladies in horrible patchwork vests and loose trousers with cuffs and trims that match said vest. A bit like this, but without the irony.
Wow! Did you make that?
(And then wear it?)

Or people who sew because they have alternative tastes in colour combinations. People who chanel Lady Gaga from the craft isles at Spotlight *.

Don't get me wrong, I've been suckered in by 'fun' fabric, only to realise after constructing it that I can't actually wear it in public. Or even privately, as was the case with one apron made of hot pink fabric with a love heart candy print. I wanted that fabric for a long time, and then when I finished making it, I remembered I wasn't 8 years old.

And I've had plenty of garments which I've finished, and then realised because of construction or fit issues, they are destined for the 'Museum of Sewing Lessons Learned'. In which case, again, I don't wear them out of the house.

It isn't quite so bad if they know you sew. In which case they might say (at least in my case) 'Oh, you finally finished it?'

Ideally, you will hear 'Nice dress! Where did you get it?'

On the other hand, I remember wearing one of my creations to work once  and someone saying 'Did you make that dress?' She must have seen the panic on my face, because she laughed and said 'Don't worry - I can tell because it fits you perfectly'. Good good. That's what we're after!

* I really miss Spotlight.

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Copy - Simple Cardi Jacket

Sometimes you find a garment that is just right. It looks good, goes with everything, and its hard to imagine you ever did without it. 

So you wear it, and wear it and wear it. 

And one day you realise, its looking tired and old.

And that's what happened with my little black cardigan.
I love this cardi. I love its shape, the way it sits. 
I wore it with everything for years.

But it got old and a little bit faded. I thought about dying it to refresh its colour. But it seemed a bit risky. So I just held on to it. I kept it, and brought it to the UK with me, even though it probably might only have a couple more wears in it at best.

Then it occurs to me that I might be able to copy it. The original is a fine knit, and has delicate shaping around the sleeve, and a rib band, which I will not be able to replicate.

But can I create a close approximation?

My first step was to examine the original. I laid it out over the ironing board, and drew up the pattern shapes as best I could. I then measured and compared to see how close my versions were. 

I then remade it in a 'warm feel jersey' which I had left over from a dress. I love this fabric because it feels fabulous. It is warm and soft and drapey. I would buy a bolt in every colour - but the shop only had this one print. 

This is the result.

I am really happy with the sleeves. I did put one cuff on back to front but after fixing that, I was really impressed with them. The sleeves were a feature on the original garment that I really loved. The shoulders sit well, and while it won't help much for the next version, the fabric drapes beautifully.

There were a few bits that needed attention during construction, and a few things I would do a little differently next time. I stabilised the shoulder seam to stop it slipping. I later realised I needed to stabilise the cuff so the sleeve gathers in rather than the cuff stretching out, so I went back and hand stitched that to reinforce it. Next time I will use elastic. I also needed to trim the bulk out of the seam on the bottom of the front panel, as until I did that, the seam created a stiff strip that interfered with the drape. I didn't organise my order of construction quite well enough, and I will make more of an effort with neat finishes next time, as the jacket will be visible on the inside from time to time. I hand stitched my seams to lay flat in the front, but next time I will make sure those seams are inside the collar. These are all fairly straightforward things I can fix.

The biggest issue was the side seams. The back of the jacket is too narrow on me, so the side seams pull towards the back quite considerably. I think if I had compared this to my existing sloper block first, I would have realised something was wrong. Or not. Part of the problem is that my figure has probably changed a little since I first bought the jacket, and a bit since I made my sloper too :( . When I put the original back on, I found that those seams pulled back a bit too, although not quite as far. I had never noticed, so I don't know if that was always the case or not. I guess the moral is to take a moment to check the fit of the existing item for areas of potential improvement!

The other part of the problem is that I had measured from the line where the ribbing joined the stocking stitch. I compared the measurement to my pattern, and I had made mine about 4mm smaller (whoops) but that wasn't enough to make as much of a difference as was apparent. The ribbing has more stretch, and on closer examination, the stocking stich above this line gathers in a bit more than I took into account.

I have increased the width of the pattern to what I think it should be (Based on the fit on my body rather than the original garment).

It doesn't make for as sexy a pattern piece, but I think it will look better on. Now I'm not sure whether I should create a separate, tighter band along the bottom. I'm a bit worried it will swing out too much.
I'll need to make another one. :)