Thursday, May 31, 2012

In Which Kristin Describes One of the (Many) Things Stressing Her Out

No, it's not parenting, nor is it work, nor something of the craft variety. (Don't worry, those are all keeping me occupied...)

What's weighing on me is the impending commencement of a rather significant home renovation: the taking off of the roof / raising the roof line on the back of the house / remaking the third floor reno that my husband has been researching and threatening for a decade. Obtaining the permits and determining structural requirements have taken an active year and a half. Not a wall has been demolished and it's already cost thousands. Alors, the mere cost of tax on the project has me breaking out in hives. Imagine the most expensive room redo you can envision and then double it. (Note: If you're super-affluent, don't double it. Other note: By Toronto-standards, I am not super affluent.)

This is the kind of project that lasts for 2 months (at a minimum), the kind that has you living with trades. We undertook a, very stressful, much less complicated reno in 2008 - one that taught us many things, for example:
  • Don't work with a designer who can't manage trades.
  • Make your contract iron-clad.
  • Phase payment according to work completed on a weekly basis.
  • Ensure you have communicated your expectations clearly from the outset.
The finished bathroom project was a success, but the renovation was a failure. It took far too long (5 months until the final touch) and Scott and I did the job of the woman we paid to manage the process.

This project is much farther-reaching - with huge implications. It involves living without a roof for a few days?!? (Urban camping, anyone?), which is why I'll be going away. (Scott will be here to oversee things.) Yeah, I'm spending my summer vacation in North Carolina with my parents, sister and assorted children. Somehow it's not Amsterdam with my husband. But nor is it living in a construction zone.

When I return (child-free for a month!), Scott and I will continue to live through renovation, though the plan is that the main part of our home (everything other than the third floor) will be sealed off and a scaffold will route all debris and construction out the third floor to the bin. The garden will be protected from damage, theoretically, by the creation of a raised path. All of this is complicated by the fact that I live in a row house that's 15 ft wide.

Why am I doing this aka Why isn't this a kitchen renovation since I'm a cook and my kitchen looks like crap / has done for the past 10 years? For a few reasons:
  • Homes need renewal. The third floor was initially part of a mediocre renovation that occurred 15 years ago. It's time to improve it. Not to mention water damage it sustained a few years ago.
  • It's not getting any lovelier with age - much like my kitchen. 
  • Of course, everyone will tell you that structural renovation increases the value of one's home. Whatevs. Since we never intend to move, I don't know how that helps us.
  • My husband really wants a new third floor. He's been working (and hanging) in the old third floor for almost 13 years.
Let's face it. This reno is part marital responsibility, part leverage. I can assure you that the next reno you read about on this blog (after this one which is bound to occupy a number of posts) will be the one about the new, insanely gorgeous kitchen I have designed entirely according to my own specifications. Lord knows when I'll be able to justify that expense. But it will happen, eventually.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Basket Case

Unquestionably, knitting allows me to access a different part of my creative brain than that engaged by sewing.

I need a kind of wherewithal (that's the wrong word, because all crafting requires this skill) to sew. I mean, it involves motors and rulers and math.

Weirdly, knitting involves all of the same elements, minus the motors (unless you count my muscles).

This project is not mindless:

What you're looking at is the upper back of the sweater (in the foreground). The neck opening is that bit of curling fabric. The side upper fronts of the sweater are the pieces that have the ribbing on either side. I'm working on the left side now, which is why it's shorter than the right side...

In fact, that crazy pattern, involving repeats of 5 (in the flat) that must match at a variety of intersections, not to mention the ribbing isn't just standard issue repeats of knit 1/purl 1, but a fancy version involving knitting through the back loop of every stitch. Haven't yet got to the sleeves or shawl collar, wherein I'll need to figure out short rows in a crazy pattern of 5 stitch repeats (or 4 stitch, when I start knitting the sleeves in the round).

I've got pages on pages of notes so far...

I've already prevailed on the wonderful knitting community for lots of help. Thereafter, I went to my LYS for further assistance on how to interpret a pattern I've been told is constructed very unusually - quite complexly. My newness to knitting means that I encounter numerous untried techniques every single time I start a project.

Why is it that my brain is soothed by this activity while the idea of fitting and sewing is so overwhelming to me right now?

Today's questions: If you knit and sew, how do you find them different? Does your brain prefer one over the other? Which is the more "purely creative" activity, in your opinion? Is that even a fair question? And to those of you who might not do either of these crafts, is there an analogy to this in your life which you can describe?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Light on Posting

Peeps: I'm encountering a very busy phase at work that is likely going to continue for the next month or so. Of course, I will continue to post, but probably less frequently than usual (whatever that means*). My bodice fitting posts may be slow to emerge because I just don't have the considerable time, or energy, to apply at the moment. Y'all know that it's one thing to write, another thing to fit and a completely different animal still to chronicle one of these activities via the other. My goal is to keep reading, and commenting - but forgive me if I seem less than present. Some kinds of multitasking are hard to do.

*It seems every time I say this, I end up posting compulsively. We'll see how it goes down this time...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Each of These Things is Not Like The Other

Let's detour briefly from bodice fit to breast fit - not that it's a new concept on this blog.

I've spoken frequently about the need to consider cup volume against back size when choosing a bra. I've just never seen it written about so clearly as in this post. Go check it out. Then tell me if you agree!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pick Up and Knit

Now, where were we?

I was all on about theoretically being short on yarn and knitting the standard size of my latest cardigan project without alterations re: crazy ass pattern elements.

Today's update confirms that I can find a new ball of yarn in the right colour, but not in the right dye lot. (Nothing for sale or trade on Ravelry, either...) That's cool. I'm not going to freak out about it. The different-dye lot version will have to do (or not), when and if I get to the stage that I require an extra skein. It's not like I can't go all crazy contrast if I feel like it. Note to reader: I do not feel like it. I want a simple cardigan in a flattering colour that will go with everything. Navy is my version of black.

It's not that I'm not into colour, we all know this, but my colourful sweaters (butter yellow, bright blue) haven't got a lot of wear. On that front, I think the fit is more to blame for that than colour. When first I started knitting sweaters I didn't understand how to alter patterns. Many of you have advised that handmade sweater sizing is quite forgiving. I do agree, but the combo of nascent knitting skills and no technique to speak of has left me with one sweater that's too big and shapeless (this one) and another that's too small in the shoulders and vaguely obscene (this one). I don't begrudge these projects at all.

Every sweater I've made has taught me about how yarn works, how patterns work, what kind of ease I'm looking to achieve. There's no way to accomplish everything overnight. I have to say that I'm really proud of my knitting-to-date because it's the mark of lots of effort and lots of fun. Somehow it doesn't (generally) stress me out like sewing. (Yellow sweater project notwithstanding.)

I know I've expressed issues with Craftsy lately, but it seems to have updated its interface. I truly hope that solves the viewing challenges some of us have experienced. Presuming that's the case, I can wholeheartedly recommend this course, which has transformed my ability to knit for my shape. I don't know if it's on sale for 20 bucks or if that's its new price. I paid twice as much and it was well worth it.

Hardcore Knitter Section:

I want to discuss my rationale for making the unaltered size small, in a bit more detail. Let me start this by saying that Katy (who knits beautifully and has an excellent, revamped Ravelry page) has been insanely helpful in addressing mathematical and sizing questions. I cannot believe she spent hours figuring stuff out with me on the freakin' holiday Monday. I have fine crafting friends.

OK, here's what I did first: I made a stockinette gauge swatch using the needle size the pattern suggested (US6). Then I blocked it aka washed it as I will my final garment. There are lots of thoughts about whether blocking a gauge swatch really helps. I'm betting on yes, but who cares? It took 5 minutes to wash it and 2 hours to dry. I could have dried it faster with a hair dryer.

I know you know what gauge is, and why it's so important. Just so we're all on the same page, in the most simple terms, gauge is merely the number of stitches in 1 square inch. But man, in an applied sense, this is a seriously complicated topic. At its core, as long as you get the same number of stitches (as the pattern) in each direction, your finished garment will be the size the pattern stipulates. Presuming the pattern is correct, of course.

I substituted a slim worsted wool in place of the pattern-instructed DK yarn. They are very close to the same weight, and should knit 5-7 stitches per inch (spi) but the worsted is slightly thicker.

I was not not surprised to find my gauge swatch off. Pattern gauge is 5.5 and 7 in 1 inch. That means, on the horizontal plane one should get 5.5 stitches, and on the vertical plane 7 stitches for every square inch. I was getting 4.5 and 7. As everyone will tell you, being off by 1 horizontal stitch per inch is meaningful. That would impact the chest circumference by more than 6 inches - and by that I mean it would make the garment bigger!

No probs. It's not like someone smacks you for changing up the size of your needle to achieve pattern gauge. (For what it's worth - you don't even need to get gauge as long as you understand how your measurements will be impacted by not getting gauge. See below.) I went down a needle size and knit another gauge swatch. And blocked it.

That means I used a smaller circumference of needle on the same yarn with an aim to produce more stitches per inch. Since the pattern is defined, on one level, by total stitches, the more horizontal stitches per inch means the smaller the width. Smaller needle, same yarn, smaller circumference.

On the size 5 needle I got 5 stitches horizontally. That's still amounts to a final garment about 3 inches larger than the pattern's 35 inch circumference (the dimension of the size small). Given that I am concerned that the 35 inch circumference might be too small* (despite the fact that the sweater isn't meant to close over the bust), this actually works optimally for me.

(*Complicated side bar you might want to gloss over: the tighter the knit, the slighter the ease. Going down a needle size tightens the knit aka smaller needle, same yarn, smaller circumference, tighter knit. So, on a size 5 needle, I won't get my preferred 2 inches of horizontal negative ease. I'll only have about an inch. Note that simple stretching of my gauge swatch proved this to me.)

Furthermore, all of my compulsive measuring - though in the end, I opted just to follow the pattern - has confirmed every last one of my vertical measurements. This pattern advises me to knit to "inches of length" (rather than "numbers of rows") before switching to the next section. Happily, that means I can lengthen - as necessary - to ensure that there's enough fabric length over my bust so that the ribbing starts properly underneath it.

Let's leave it at this, since I suddenly feel as if this may be the least interesting topic I've covered in a long time - and I'm not exactly tackling the sexy topics these days.

But I'd love to know your thoughts about gauge. Do you totally ignore it? Obsess over it? Choose some moderate middle path? Please let's chat!

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Little Diversion

I'm democratic in my love of the crafts - and somewhat schizophrenic, apparently, as I've decided I MUST KNIT SOMETHING NOW. I don't know what it is about the spring, but warm weather brings out my inner knitter. I think it's cuz you can do it in the back yard.

I tried to use some stash yarn, but I really didn't have enough to make a sweater. I thought I was open to making whatever I had enough yarn for, but in fact, I want a cardigan. Much perusal of Ravelry and Craftsy and Knitty and my own library proved this to me.

It's really too bad that I so strongly sense Andi's terrific Miette will not work on my shape:

This pretty cardigan is just what I'm looking for - a light jacket for air conditioned surroundings and on summer evenings. I realize, especially having followed Gail's AWESOME knit along (really, go over there right now), that I can alter the pattern to suit my shape needs. But, in truth, I still don't think it's going to work on my frame as well as this one:

City Cardigan by Val Love

To make this, I have purchased a navy blue light worsted wool (the ubiquitous Cascade 220 Superwash) and that I may forgo the sleeve buttons (which are a bit much, IMO). Of course, I'm about 80 yards short, theoretically - the yarn store didn't have another skein. But I'll order it from Romni and, if I can't get the same dye lot, I'll make the rib in either a contrast colour (same yarn) or another lot of navy - as long as it doesn't look obviously different. I figure I can always shorten the sleeves or adjust the shawl neck to save on yarn in a worst case scenario.

Why is it always on the Monday of a long weekend that I figure these things out, when every store is closed and I can't find out about my extra skein options till tomorrow??

This cardigan provides optional short row shaping at the shoulder and neck, to refine its overall fit. A shawl neck will highlight my chest without calling too much attention to it, and the cinched rib which begins just at the under bust will draw the eye to my narrowest feature. That's the theory, anyhow.

As is the way with all knitting, I spent a bomb of time last night taking every measurement I have, with the intention of adjusting the pattern to suit my exact dimensions.

Alas, my knitting skills are not as developed as my fitting skills and the combination of an open front (vs. pull over style), ribbing and a "faux seed stitch" repeat (that works flat and then in the round) means that I am not ready to tackle a wholesale redraft of this to suit my size. Stitch numbers at numerous key junctures require precision and the ability to apply my math to 4 and 5 stitch repeats. If I make a mistake with my numbers in any of a zillion places, the end result could be a disaster. I'm not in the mood for that possibility.

As a result, I'm going to make the small - a 35" bust. (I've determined the negative ease in my fabric and I believe it will provide 2 inches, not to mention that the style will allow for a bit of extra give in the way the Miette will not, as the City cardi is open over the full bust. As my full bust appears to be 37" every time I remeasure, I'm hopeful this is going to work.) I will add to the length (it's top down, so I can do this fairly easily) in the event that I need more to cover the bust so that the ribbing and buttons begin below my full bust, for optimal fit without adjusting every measurement.

If anyone sees a flaw in this logic - pls. chime in!

In the meanwhile, lets chat: Have you made either of these sweaters (Miette or City)? If yes, what are your thoughts about the process and the finished result? How do you address ease when knitting?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lessons from the Fitting Front: Scary-Fit Muslin 1

This post is supposed to be where my enlightened self shows you pics of muslin 1 of NL 6356. Honestly, I don't know why people who show hideous fitting photos of themselves, in the name of science, are considered to be enlightened...

Here's the thing, S and I did some really good work yesterday.  (S is a private person so we're not going to show pics of her, though we may talk about fit as it pertains to her shape, which couldn't be more different than mine.) Let's have a moment where we give some basic info for future reference:


Bust 37 - 37.5
Waist 30
Hips 38.5
Height 5'3"
Build: Small structure, narrow frame, rather prominent bust, ingrained "yoga stance" (hyper-erect posture throwing chest forward), shoulder tips rotate slightly forward nonetheless


Approximate Measurements (in truth, I don't know - we're dealing with fit, not size): B34, W25, H35
Height: 5'8"
Build: Small structure, prominent shoulders leading to proportionately wide frame in that area - narrow everywhere else, rather small bust

Isn't it hilarious that two people of utterly different shapes are fitting each other? Let me tell you, I'm all cool with being me, but this process is really making me mindful of my body fat percentage :-)

S managed to intuit most of the challenges with my first muslin and slashed the side and centre back seam (a tip you'll learn in Sarah Veblen's book) which allowed the fabric to relax over my frame. I made the size 12 (FYI, S is using a Burda fitted, placket shirt and her muslin is size 36.) I continue to be so impressed by her ability to see what needs to happen. Note: S's been sewing for many years and has taken some in-person fitting courses in the past.

A brief word about the original fit: On first glance, it didn't look bad before we started fixing it because the fabric contained my breasts. Of course, that's not synonymous with "fit my breasts". All kinds of subtle arm and shoulder fabric issues present as a result... It was tight in the hips (very unusual for me) but that's cuz the finished pattern is supposed to be shorter than it was before we started altering (like 4 inches shorter). It's meant to fit high-hip and there are side notches in the pattern to provide additional ease. Unlike the pre-altered muslin (of which no photos exist, sadly), muslin 1 makes me look utterly boxy and large because there is no waist shaping to show the difference between large full bust and narrow under bust, and because there's no refinement of the fall of fabric over the breasts. As we fit, we'll adjust this.

Here are some "fascinating" things we learned about this pattern on my body:
  • Thank goodness I have such a short waist or my fitting challenges would be exponentially more extreme. Right now, the extra fabric required to cover my chest is met by the length I don't need in my waist. Add this to my narrowness and I require no "standard FBA" (even despite the size of my chest). Of course, the bust area needs additional darting and all kinds of shaping, just not the requirement - or so we believe at this time - for the addition of fabric over the bust / increase of width that often accompanies the flat-pattern FBA you read about in books. 
  •  Re: bullet above: We had to remove a RIDIC amount of length from the back waist, which proceeded to impact the flare of the opened lower back centre seam. Note: we'll probably add to the back seam and remove from the opened side seams which are now overlapping quite a bit as a result of the alteration.
  • The whole idea of taking fabric away from one seam and adding it to another really blows our minds. We get that the intersection of vertical and horizontal lines means that the action yields a very different fitting end result, but it's kind of hard to understand.
  • My posture is extreme?! Wow, I wasn't expecting to find out that I have what they call a hyper-erect stance. The combo of 25 yrs of Iyengar yoga and overcompensation (I'm not going to slouch just cuz I have tits!) has really influenced my shape. Add that to my forward neck (computer anyone?) and slightly forward shoulders and it's hard not to think of myself as a middle-aged disaster. Note to reader: I'm getting over myself. When we see how gorgeous I look in the finished product, all this will be water under the bridge.
Sadly, we forgot to take a pic before starting our work, but this will give you a sense of how my info above pertains to an initial stage of muslin 1 - at this point we've slashed seam lines and pinned fabric out of the back waist.  We went on to pin at least another inch out of the back waist at a later stage. (Lord, I cannot believe I'm posting these - it my own public service to prove just how relevant fit is...):

Note: It's like I'm wearing a sheet with neck and arm holes. There's nothing, except inadequately small darts, to provide even the most minimal shaping.
My vanity prevents me from presenting this without explanation: My ass has not widened by 2 times since last time I took a picture of it. I have a very small, small of back and shortening the fabric above the waist has produced a somewhat artificial flare in fabric leading to an optical illusion. I guess, now we know why I don't wear many RTW woven tops.
What you should know is that we've deliberately marked horizontal and vertical balance lines on the muslins (again - Sarah Veblen's books speaks to this at length) to ensure that our adjustments continue to yield a result that doesn't distort grain line in an effort to fit the body. The difference in the size of my breasts (left is larger than right) is show by the HBL tilting up at the left breast.

I'm not going to talk about bust until next muslin because there's a whole other series of adjustments going on there (not yet shown in pics). All I can say is, now I know why people love princess seams.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Lessons from the Fitting Front: Setting the Stage

I've chosen to make New Look 6356 for the online Pattern Review course I'm taking at the moment. The course, Fun with Fitting: Bodice with Darts, requires that you use a pattern of your choice - preferably simple, with side bust darts and an optional set in sleeve. (FYI, Sarah Veblen, the instructor, happily weighs in on student pattern choices and suggests a robust list of her own. I've chosen one of the ones she recommends.)

I've traced a mash up of the jewel neck front and 3/4 sleeves (franken-altered by me from the existing sleeve pattern). Given that I've been experiencing the week from hell at work, I have barely engaged with the course pdfs (the primary method of instruction). I intend to sew up my first muslin this weekend, when I hope S and I can get together to work on each of our bodices.

Craftsy vs Pattern Review

In brief, for reference, this Pattern Review class (and I believe this is the general structure for classes on the site, though anyone should feel free to correct me) is comprised of:

  • Articles with clear photos and examples (like chapters of a book that pertains specifically to the course at hand)
  • An optional video component (for extra fee)
  • Scheduled online chats, and 
  • A classroom forum wherein one can ask specific questions (and provide photos) for detailed feedback from the teacher.
To compare this briefly to Craftsy: The medium is distinctly more low-fi (one might even say drab and difficult to navigate) but the feedback (in my opinion) is superior. As my latest Craftsy venture focused on complex garment construction (with practically no mention of fit) and this class focuses on complex fitting (with little thought for the wearable end product), I can't really align them from that perspective. One key distinction between these platforms is the duration of instruction. Craftsy, as you know, offers lifetime access to the course and instructor feedback. Craftsy feedback, as I've found it to date, given all the courses and workshops I've attended, tends to be superficial (though sometimes that is just fine). Pattern Review puts an end date to instruction and feedback. Sometimes that end date is extended slightly to allow for a complex topic to run itself through, but when it's done, it's done. You can continue to review the articles and optional video for as long as you like. The feedback here (student and teacher provided) is detailed and timely.

Basic Fitting Order of Operations (For this Project, at any rate...)

Based on information available in many books, fitting (like sewing) has a certain order of operations.
A fundamental mechanism of fitting anything - and I'll speak in terms of darted bodices here because that's what I'm working on - is beginning with a pattern that will get you where you need to go.

This pattern does not thrill me:

However, it will do the trick so that, in future I can apply many elements of my new-found great fit to other projects having similar bodices. A complex bodice pattern, with lots of bells and whistles, may suit my aesthetic more than this monastic one, but those bells may well interfere with determining basic fit. Note how, above, I refer to "applying many elements". Via this exercise, I hope to come away with a sloper. I realize, though, that any sloper has to adapt itself flexibly to every new project. By that, I mean fit continues to be a matter one must consider every time one makes something.

Next up is doing a bit of basic math / reviewing some of those commercial patterns (optimally "easy" patterns that outline finished measurements). You can trace or cut the original paper pattern. Though I don't enjoy it, I recommend tracing because it's much easier to amend the traced pieces than the originals. Fit exercises are about making iterative changes. You have to assume you may need to go back to square one at some point. Once those originals are shot, you can't resurrect them.

In terms of math, I'm not being glib when I say this isn't difficult as long as certain key elements are marked on the pattern. Even if those elements aren't marked, you can manage. But let's consider those "easy" patterns - the likes of which I'm making - which indicate beyond a shadow of a doubt where the bust is, where the waist is, etc.

You can work out the finished measurements, even when they're not indicated on the pattern pieces - and often they are not, by measuring at the bust, waist and hip horizontal lines and subtracting all the relevant seam allowances. Choose your seam allowance amount. Often it's 5/8". Make sure you're accounting for back seams or princess seams (which add extra joins, having allowances, that sometimes we forget). Doesn't matter what width of seam allowance you choose to use. From this fitting perspective, a seam is simply a join in fabric. Just make sure to subtract the decided horizontal allowance from each side of any seam. This can take a while to become intuitive.

Measurements - and this is something that really clicked for me when I started fitting hand-knitted garments - are horizontal (see paragraph above) and vertical. Vertical measurements are those from the neck to the bust, from the bust to the true waist, from the true waist to the high hip, from the high hip to the full hip (for example). How many of these measurements do you have to consider? Happily - only the ones that pertain to the pattern you're making. Just remember, any vertical measurements that impact the neck, arm or hem require subtraction of the seam allowances associated with those areas...

Basically, any time any seam interacts with your horizontal or vertical measurements you need to account for it by subtracting it from your overall dimensions. It's really not rocket science, but it is finicky. Even the briefest lapse in focus can derail you.

For my bodice pattern, I must consider these:
  • Jewel neck to full bust (vertical)
  • Full bust to true waist (vertical)
  • True waist to high hip (vertical)
  • Full bust measurement (horizontal)
  • True waist measurement (horizontal)
  • High hip measurement (horizontal)
  • Armscye and sleeve measurements (let's leave these for now)
A ruler and the flat pattern will tell me much of what I need to know for my first muslin.

What I'm aiming to determine over the next couple of days - feel free to weigh in! - is whether I should (for my first muslin) do an FBA and/or sew in the darts.

There isn't just one way to go about things.  If you think about it, draping is about the flow of fabric over 3 dimensional space. If I add darts and do a full bust adjustment before I drape the first muslin, to what extent am I presuming what's required, rather than simply seeing what is when first I drape that pattern over my actual shape?

The complicating factor is that, by flat pattern measurements (which certainly have value, IMO), I need that FBA. I need those darts (and maybe even more of them than are indicated in the original pattern). Point is, however you go about things, you're likely going to need a number of revisions.

There's so much more I could say, but I intend to pick it up in future posts.

For now, let's discuss: Do you take flat pattern measurements? (Note - I never do for stretch fabric patterns. I can't see what the point is, since unique fabric stretch messes with everything knowable.) Do you make your first muslin with sewn darts and/or a (presumed necessary) FBA? Have you had challenges determining initial mathematical measurements from a flat pattern? Have you found errors in the pattern, by flat measuring? What about draping? Do you drape initially without darts? Do you drape on your dress form or on your own body?

Please do share!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Made in the Shade

This is my kind of garden:

Photos courtesy of Remodelista
This Toronto garden encompasses a water feature aka a person-made stream! I cannot tell you how much I love it. This is back yard perfection, IMO.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lessons from the Fitting Front: Barriers

Here's something I learned recently, while S was assisting me with the (ridiculously intense) bust adjustments on the Tailored Suit (cue sharp intake of breath): I no longer have full-on-top breasts. You know how I've been telling y'all for almost 5 years about my unique, sometimes challenging, always observable high bust? Well, it's moving on, apparently.

How did I learn this? I gained some idea when I did a muslin and discovered this (see photos). But it turns out, no matter how I tried to resolve the extending puff of fabric above my full bust, it didn't go away till S suggest what I needed was an SBA (small bust adjustment) above my full bust which had already been FBAed up the yin yang. Um, what?!

I'm the woman with the notable full upper bust. How is it that I had to adjust my (on paper) size 6 pattern into an (on paper) size 4 pattern between an inch above my nipples and my breastbone??? (The trolls are going to have a field day with that sentence, by the way.)

Here's my point (and Fitting Barrier 1): One's identity does not always reflect reality.

I can dwell on how I feel, existentially, about a full bust that has lost some of its fullness, projecting my angst (if nothing else!) and assert that nothing's changed. Or, I can fit the bust I have and make it look terrific. I have opted for the latter and I recommend it.

All this is to say that fitting is a dual experience: it's the determination of how to shape cloth around the body for optimal effect AND it's the ability of the one being fitted to allow the body to be what it is. To allow the fit to be simply what is.

Caveat: This is not the optimal time to dislike any aspect of how you look (not that that's necessarily in your purview). If you can't get with what you see as you fit, I can only suggest that you aim to change it by other means. Fitting is focused solely on what is, not on what you would like it to be. I've had these hardline words with myself on more than one occasion, I assure you.

Fitting Barrier 2: The second barrier to good fit? Fear of unknowable complexity. New sewists are particularly susceptible to this. Hello - it's hard enough to figure out a princess seam without applying it to a garment that's been fitted to perfection. What do those drag lines even mean? Are they drag lines? Maybe they're puffs of extra fabric. Maybe they aren't even there. How does one reflect changes to a muslin back onto a paper pattern? How does one make changes to a muslin? What's a muslin?? What's the point???

I'm not going to sugar coat it. It's practically impossible to learn everything at once, regardless of how kick ass you happen to be. Maybe, as you develop initial technical skills and confidence, fine fit (as opposed to excellent fit) is just fine. I worked mainly with stable knits for much of my first 2 years of sewing. I'm only just beginning to tackle the vast unknown that is my fitted torso. And I now have the benefit of a fitting friend!

That brings me to Fitting Barrier 3: You only have 2 hands and a certain amount of energy before you'll likely want to chuck everything out the window. I cannot recommend a fitting friend strongly enough. I'm not saying you will find one (though I wish one for you, truly), simply that you should be eternally open to the possibility. Seize upon it at any opportunity. And, as you continue on your own, recognize that you can't do everything in one session. Finding good fit is iterative. Iterations go faster with more hands.

Why am I focusing on barriers? Why not?

These are the landscapes in which we find ourselves. You're probably challenged by one of these barriers to some extent or another. Maybe you have others you can share.

Would it help you to know that most everyone feels out of his or her depth? I mean, I haven't done a scientific poll, but every book I read, every blog, every person I talk to reiterates this sense of fundamental concern. What if I'm not doing it right because...?

I think it helps to assess our concerns. I have encountered - nay, continue to encounter - all of these concerns on a regular basis. But I'm trying to push through in pursuit of the greater good.

So, today's questions are: Do you consider yourself a novice or an expert (or somewhere in between)? What fitting barriers have you experienced, do you continue to experience? Experts: Can you give us some tips about how to develop confidence and skill? What are moments of epiphany you've experienced?

Let's take some time to talk about our concerns and, in so doing, release them. OK?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fit is Everything

Oooh, polarizing title, yes?

Now, before you skim this for any potential photos, before you decide how minimally this concept interests you, before you determine that - as a non-sewist - this post is relatively meaningless to you - wait!

Don't wander off. Pretend we're at a dinner party. We've found the last two good seats on the comfortable couch. You have a fresh drink. It's boozy. You're eating something wrapped in bacon. You compliment me on my outfit - it's awesome, by the way - whereupon I launch into an impassioned discussion about how I made it / had it made / bought it and the fit is perfect. One thing leads to another and, before you know it, we're having a full on conversation about the concept of fit. It's not scary. It's not boring. In fact, on the basis of that lovely drink that's making your toes tingle (and my fun personality, natch), it's really rather compelling.

My portion of that conversation goes something like this:

I've always intuited the importance of fit. I grew up in a time when textiles weren't what they are today. Everything wasn't comprised of 3% spandex. In fact, nothing was. I had a very curvy body from a very young age and finding clothes that looked good was not easy. Of course, I had youth on my side. I was also pretty creative. I wore vintage cashmere sweaters before they were back in style. I knew that expensive clothes (which I had occasional access to) were more likely to fit.

I won't even go into the nightmare that was bra shopping. That was a special kind of torture. Back then, slim people were assumed to be modestly endowed (and people walked 5 miles to work in the snow). The whole thing was demoralizing writ large.

Eventually fabrics caught up with modern bodies and British women convinced British manufacturers that boobs can get much larger than originally imagined (and still not be all that large) and can exist on rather small frames. Times are good!

Wear a well-fitted bra, have great posture, exercise to tone your body in a way that is right for your shape and wear the right outer layer and everything's great. Right?

Yeah, that's the theory. But most of the time RTW fits marginally. Even if your shape is the shape that your preferred brand caters to, the likelihood that everything is going to click is slim. Note to reader: If I seem to be implying that the average body needs tailored clothing to fit perfectly, that is what I'm getting at. If you think that means, as you aren't a rich celebrity or child of a couturier, I'm suggesting that you need to be able to sew or alter your own clothing in order to wear perfectly fitting clothes if your body deviates even slightly from a straight line anywhere, hate to say it peeps, but that's kind of my perspective right now, and it's kind of a bitch. Of course, excellent shoppers find excellent fit on a regular basis... Who am I to judge for all?

(Ed. note: I suppose this is where I might lose the non-sewist readers.

OK, for those of you who are still here...)

I am taking this online course by tailor / author, Sarah Veblen, who's written this terrific book, which I learned about from a new friend of mine, S, (with whom I talk about sewing on a daily basis at this point and with whom I fit clothing). She's taking the course with me and we're about to start on our test garments.

Yes, we make test garments. Zillions of them, by all accounts as S has been working on a mythical pair of pants since 2009 (in truth, she had a baby in 2010 so she's been occupied) and we've just finished fitting my suit jacket from hell.

What I'm starting to realize, in this process (or series of fitting experiences), is that (as S says), the flat pattern alteration is a useful but blunt instrument. I started this post with the intention of assuring new sewists and any other sewists who don't much consider fit (some of these peeps are incredibly advanced at sewing technique) that perfect fit - or at least excellent fit - is attainable. Why? Well, I begin my own fitting process with the assumption that perfect fit will be the end result. Experts will tell you that it really doesn't matter what size you are (except in as much as that dictates the pattern size you construct), it matters what shape you are and how your eyes and hands adapt fabric to that shape.

How the volume of your body sits is totally unique to you and the best way to address this (in the opinion of certain experts - and I agree) is by draping practice garments over your own body, making specific adjustments - one at a time so as not to confuse things, reflecting those adjustments on the paper pattern and then starting the whole thing (with focus on a different area) over again. Eventually, every fit challenge is addressed and the end result is very pleasing.

Here's where I suggest you focus on the very pleasing end result rather than the process of getting there.

Draping sounds like a scary idea. It sounds like something people write 200 dollar books about (they do) and that other people go to fancy fashion schools to learn (they do). In my opinion - and I say this as someone with no formal training and pretty marginal spatial reasoning skills - it's really no more scary than doing anything else that making a nice garment entails. Admittedly, you can sew without knowing a thing about fitting and fit without the ability to sew. Why not just go whole hog and figure them both out?

I'm going to spend the next few posts discussing this in more detail. I promise not to be scary or boring about it. But if I am, do me a favour and let me know.

Let's get the party started with some questions: If you don't sew, how important is fit to you? Are you frustrated by fit of RTW? And for sewists: How important is fitting in your sewing process? Are you a draper or a flat pattern modifier? Do you do a combo of both methods? What are the obstacles, as you see them, to good fit? Can you share any good fitting resources, drape method or otherwise?

I'm so interested to hear what you think...

Friday, May 11, 2012

In Which I Tell It Like I See It

It's not with any pleasure that I inform you (as if anyone could be in any doubt) that my suit jacket experience was undertaken, well, without pleasure. Regular readers know that I have blogged positively - and frequently - about (designer/instructor) Gretchen and her blog, and about Craftsy.

In case you're not familiar with those posts, I can recap in advising that some of my most seminal sewing experiences to date have occurred while participating in the Lady Grey Sew Along, which Gretchen so expertly instructed. I continue to assert that this sew along is a veritable public service. Craftsy courses, and a workshop, have facilitated my skill development in knitting through an innovative, modern community and instructive platform. I remain very grateful for these resources.

However, in the last 6 weeks I have been on a frustrating journey - one in which the Craftsy/Gretchen collaboration has fundamentally let me down.  You should know that I didn't pay for the Starlet Suit Jacket course. I was comped a course of my choice, by Craftsy, and I spent my credit on the suit jacket. It aligns with my current interests.

Having now completed the project, I have to advise you of the following:
  • The Craftsy platform routinely crashed - like way too often. I have to assume it was a bandwidth issue. Note: I accessed the course using a variety of computers and networks and the problem persisted in all locations. It was incredibly frustrating to have to close and reopen the program numerous times, just to rewatch a key piece of instruction. This happened with my other Craftsy courses, but not to this extent.
  • The instruction, while clear, detoured into unnecessary banter on several occasions. This course contains hours of instruction. Hours which I have rewatched over still more hours. Given the issue identified in the bullet above, I cannot tell you how irritating I came to find the "conversational" parts of the video.
  • Alas, I am not the only one to note this: Craftsy purports that you will receive regular teacher feedback through its platform for as long as you need it, once you purchase the course. In truth, I don't see how this practice is sustainable. As a prospective instructor, there is no way it would be profitable for me to continue to answer questions indefinitely. Nevertheless, in this process - a mere month or two into the life cycle of this course - there has been practically no feedback (and, as far as I can tell, little meaningful feedback) from the teacher. On this topic, I'm conflicted. I have learned so much, at no cost, from Gretchen through her blog-based sew alongs, which are all still available and free of charge. The thing is, once you charge a fee, in my opinion, the professional onus is on you to respond - especially if that's the dictum of the production platform.
  • Finally, and most disappointingly, it is my perspective (corroborated, correctly or incorrectly, by various comments in the course and via other feedback I've received from readers) that the pattern is provided with errors. I am by no means a professional, but I've been sewing long enough - and seriously enough - to recognize issues where I find them. When I undertook this project, I did not do so as a pattern-tester. I have to assume that most everyone else who has taken the course, or queued it, has done so at the regular list cost of $89.99 (or on sale). This is not a weekend project. I spent more than 140 hours creating my jacket - and many of those hours could have been spent otherwise if I hadn't, as I see it, been forced to resolve problems caused by suboptimal drafting. By this, I am not speaking about the sleeves (though I suspect they could have been drafted asymmetrically to better effect), but about pattern pieces that appear to have been mismarked and the lining, which was all over the map. Of course, regular and detailed feedback from the instructor may have ameliorated, by clarifying, this. 
In the final analysis, I can only recommend that you buy this course on sale and that you use the good instruction it provides with a tried and true pattern. Despite this criticism, I do wish Gertie future success. She has written an inspirational and instructional blog and speaks passionately about - and in so doing perpetuates - an art form of great value. I only wish I could endorse this Craftsy experience whole-heartedly.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It Suits Me!

I appear to have written a small textbook on my tailored suit experience and, scarily, we're not quite done...

As promised, here are some money shots :-) - taken by my tween who has a really good eye for composition, don't you think?:

Gotta love how I match my garden!
I'm so grateful to be outside without a coat...
OK, say what you will, that skirt gives GREAT ass!

I feel like a million bucks in this suit. Honestly, with every swish of the pencil lining, it is magic.

I dressed it down with a T shirt as my briefing was on the less fancy end of the spectrum. Once again, you can see how I love to mix the prints. I've got animal, stripes and floral coexisting happily in this outfit.

Lovelies, we're not quite done yet (sorry). I have one more wrap up post planned, wherein I discuss my final feelings about the process. And then, I swear, we're onto something new.

After all, 40 posts on the same topic seems, um, adequate.

Whatcha think???

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Tailored Suit: It's Done!!!!

Somehow I managed to beat my self-imposed finished suit deadline by a week. Given that I've been working on this thing ceaselessly since the beginning of time, I don't really know how that's possible. Not that I'm complaining. If I had to spend another day sorting it all out I think I would lose my mind.

What do you want to see first? The whole shebang? (On dress form still. You don't actually think I can be seen at this post-sewing-frenzy juncture. My greasy hair is plastered to my greasy face.) Or maybe I should show some pics the finished skirt and lead up to the suit.

What? You really don't care because at this point you are totally fucking sick of this theme? Amen to that, bloggy friends.

I'll choose for us.

Here's the high-waisted pencil skirt (V8640), which I lined (the pattern does not come with lining instructions) and faced with petersham ribbon:

Ooh, nice darts!

And the zipper inserted like this FIRST TIME OUT???

The skirt is really more straight than pencil...

And here's the interior - that silk is as awesome in the skirt as in the jacket. I slip stitched the lining to the hand hemmed skirt (same method as I used on the jacket). It's not bagged but it looks very lovely nonetheless. As gravity weights the silk, it will fall over the top of the skirt hem and create a jump pleat.

Honestly, that petersham couldn't have worked better.  You have to go to Sunni's shop and buy some now! I don't think I'll ever make a regular facing or waistband again. And I'm a total convert to lining a skirt. Not a casual summer one, but tailored, fancy ones.

In truth, the skirt profile is still too thick for my liking. This suit is most definitely winter weight. It'll manage in early spring or late fall but I think it's going to have a bit more limited application than I had originally hoped.  I have a lot more I could say about making the skirt. In short, it was a delight with some road blocks thrown in for good measure. Get it, good measure??!

OK, here's the completed suit:

Eeeeeek!!! Can you believe I made this??

Let's take a moment to reflect. I. MADE. THIS. Like from a few metres of fabric and some notions.

I'm less conflicted now about the jacket construction process than I was last week, which is to say that I'm definitively disappointed with many elements of the Craftsy course. I'm not going to crowd this happy post with that discussion, but I will speak more about it in the near future.

This weekend was very full of sewing. My sewing friend, S, came over and we worked on her pants sloper. Let me just say that fitting is a serious learning curve. Armed with Sarah Veblen's book (which is so worth the money, it's not funny) and a lot of pins, I did my best to be helpful, but I have ever more respect for S's abilities as I see what awesome fitting help she provided to me, while I can barely envision how to place the pins. I'm intent on improving.

Tomorrow S and I are starting a Pattern Review course on bodice fitting - taught by the same Sarah Veblen who wrote the book! I should have more to tell on that front as we begin the online tutorial. S has taken courses on Pattern Review with SV before and I'm heartened to hear that Ms. Veblen responds to questions, throughout the duration of the course time frame, multiple times per day.

So, there you go. One things done and the next is ready to begin. Gotta love that.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Tailored Suit: Assembling the Skirt

You may recall that I decided to make my TNT skirt somewhat differently this time. I'm lining it and facing it with petersham.I've managed to construct the skirt shell (right) and corresponding lining/facing unit (left):

Here's a shot of the lining faced with petersham. Not a bad job inserting that zipper.

Tomorrow I have to figure out how to attach the zipper on the lining to the opening on the skirt shell. Seems that I can write a bunch of instructions. I just can't understand them.

No one can accuse me of failure to experiment with colour.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Tailored Suit: Buttons Sewn On!

I'm not going to model this until the skirt is complete, but I have to say I'm very pleased with the fabric-covered buttons, which I attached this evening:

Here's the jacket unbuttoned...

And here it is buttoned up!

I have to reiterate that this dress form doesn't fit the jacket like I do. My shape is narrower and my chest is larger. Happily, it fits me better than it does the form.

A few deets:
  • The buttons were strange to sew on, what with the fabric on the back. However, they have attached very well, so there you go.
  • I purchased 2 different types of buttons: flat and half-ball. Originally, I chose the combination raised shape but, button-maker Pat was in touch with me to advise that the fashion fabric is too thick to use on most of the shapes. The only two shapes that would work are the ones I got. Can I reiterate that I intend to make my next suit jacket with something slim and drapey??
  • In fact, Pat advised that she'd need to make the buttons a bit smaller than usual, given the girth of the fabric and the size of my finished buttonholes. The buttonholes are 1 inch finished and the buttons are a size 30.
  •  At any rate, I actually affixed the half-ball version. They are slightly more robust than the flat ones. 
  • As mentioned, heretofore sewing on buttons has been an uncomfortable activity. How does one figure out where to affix them (vs the buttonholes)? How does one get them to attach stably? Happily, the Craftsy course actually explicates the specifics of doing this (even as Gertie is slightly apologetic for teaching something that everyone on the planet already knows).
Oh, I am so happy to look at this garment and admire the work that's gone into it.

This weekend my goal is to construct the skirt. Something tells me you'll be hearing about that.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Shout Out to the Experts: Fabric Covered Buttons

OK, this is one of the more bizarre questions I've put out there: My lovely, fashion fabric-covered buttons arrived today from America (hallelujah!) and it does seem like they will fit the Tailored Suit buttonholes (that's its own vaguely interesting story, to follow).

Here's the thing. The shanks are also covered by fabric - not the fashion fabric, but another similarly coloured one. I have to assume this is the normal way of professionally-finished fabric buttons. I take it I'm to sew them on by stabbing at the fabric till I find the shank?  At least that's what this wikipedia post would have me believe.

Is it me or does that seem unnecessarily complicated and likely to make things look messy? Can anyone corroborate if this works? I don't suppose one is meant to snip that button back fabric at the shank to make the shank easier to find?

As y'all know, I have a pathological fear of making anything with buttonholes (the machine ones more than the bound ones) so it's rare that I ever find myself in the position of sewing on a button. How's that for an embarrassing admission.  (Please Note: I've got it all going on when it comes to snaps.)

Any feedback would be so welcome!

Getting From A to B

I had an epiphany a couple of days ago, as I was trying to decipher how I'd turn an unlined, vented pencil skirt-with-self-fabric-facing pattern into a lined, vented pencil skirt with petersham-facing pattern.

I know, it sounds boring, but it was the substance of an a-ha!

Here's what I realized. The V8640 pattern instructions are not going to help me this time. Fortunately, I've used them a few times already, so the nub is engrained. But you can't use instructions that don't instruct you to do what you need to do.

Being the internet research queen that I am (oh, I'll go there), I found awesome tutorials on how to accomplish the task. In addition to those, I have to credit Ms. Sewaholic, Tasia, who does amazing tutorials that rival her excellent patterns. This young woman is an example to us all... Check out these relevant posts:
What I finally understood is that point A is the place where nothing exists. Point B is the finished product. The only way to get from one to the other is to problem-solve. The only way to problem-solve is to determine the order of operations.

Were I to begin assembling the Tailored Suit skirt, without understanding all the steps, the likelihood would be error. One thing I've learned from working on very detailed projects is that you need to know exactly what comes next (at least theoretically).

So, I spent a few hours compiling and cross-referencing the awesome tutorials that others have spent hours compiling, and came up with 32 steps of (really detailed) skirt-making instruction.

Below, I'm outlining the (as-yet-untested) basic order of operations (not detailed). For my own purposes, I referenced a bunch of great sections of the Sewaholic and Fashionable stitch tutorials mentioned in this post or linked to. 
  • Sew the fashion fabric darts. Sew vent. Sew side seams.
  • Sew the lining tucks. Sew vent. Sew side seams.
  • Confirm the lining is the appropriate length. Make those adjustments.
  • Attach the petersham facing to the lining (now it's called the facing/lining unit).
  • Insert the zipper into the facing/lining unit.
  • Insert the facing/lining unit to the skirt at the zipper, and then at the waist.
  • Attach the lining to the vent of the skirt shell.
  • Hem the skirt shell.
  • Invisibly slip stitch a turned-under lining to the hemmed skirt shell.
Note: I've distilled 32 detailed steps into 9 bullets. There's a lot I'm not getting into. But it gives you an idea.

How do you approach new elements of TNT projects? How do you approach projects in general? Let's talk.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Happy May Day!

M took these photos of my Spring Basics handmade outfit today. She had a bit of trouble deciding whether to focus on my face...
...Or my outfit
Dontcha love florals with animal prints?
Finally we found a shot that combined most of the elements. It's not my sexiest look, but it gets the point across.
 I say, dress for the season you want to be in.