Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Summer Series: What A Difference A Day Makes (To One's Choice of Knitting Project)

So I've been thinking and mathing and soul-searching and I've decided that the LDAC is not to be. I don't need carpal-tunnel and extra headaches. I know I could do it and that is not a reason why I should do it. That's why I'm graciously bowing out.

Of course, this means that I've been on the hook to find a replacement and, believe me, it's all I've thought of, lo these last 18 hours. Last night, I went through my pattern inventory - Ravelry faves, my own book stash and online library, free patterns I've bookmarked online and magazines I've purchase.

Wow - I've got quite a catalog! I have access to some super modern knits that would serve me well but, really, my heart is set on something vintage. Happily, I've got a number of those patterns too (the vintage-vintage, the modernized-vintage, the vintage-inspired) and I believe I've found my replacement. 

The Fitted Boucle Jacket
I found this online so go on over and bookmark it! It's a jacket, knit flat, from the bottom-up, and then sewn-up at the end, with some beautiful details.

Don't get too excited, my final decision might yield another garment choice altogether - even after hours of maths engagement - cuz that's just the kind of nut I am. Um, after this much wishing and hoping and thinking and praying, I'm decidedly in. And trust me, there's been a surfeit of thinking.

I've been working out the dimensions of the pattern, re-writing it for my modern eyes (seriously, you can see that the original is 2 paragraphs in length) and considering how my dimensions are different than those which the pattern calls for.

Proviso: I'm no fit-your-knits teacher but I like to pretend I play one on TV.  BTW, I also pretend I'm a cooking show host when I bake, so I come by this honestly.
Once again, I've decided to spend some time talking about my fitting approach. (Depending, this may take a couple of posts because I'd like to make it comprehensive and to avoid being a major overwhelmer.)

I Want To Make A Sweater That Fits Perfectly  (How Do I Start)?

A) By making sure the vertical and horizontal pattern dimensions match your own: For starters, I look at the pattern to determine how many stitches correlate with each size provided. Then, with the understanding of gauge, with extra feedback from the instructions, I draw a schematic to show the 3 main shell pieces of the garment (left front, right front and back) drawing on the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the unmodified size of my choice (aka the presumed best size for me). In this case it's the 34.  Yeah, there's gonna be a whole thing about sleeves, but I don't worry about that at this point... 
Also, I remeasure myself for accuracy and to determine  how the pattern dimensions will need to change to suit me.

In the case of this jacket, I discovered these things:

About the vertical plane dimensions:
  • I want the jacket to be longer than the design indicates.
  • The armholes are, as usual, way longer than mine so I'll need to shorten them. (Note to self: this is going to fuck with the sleeve cap height?!?!? Do I even have the wherewithal to go through that process again? Will it be any easier? Did I just get lucky the last time?)
  • The waist-to-bust area is a little shorter than I require (though not nearly as much as usual) so I'll need to lengthen a smidge.
  • I'm going to be adding the bulk of length over the hip because that's where I require the extra length, with this particular design.
About the horizontal plane dimensions:
  • The back piece is fine without alteration - except in the hip area where (because I want to make the garment longer than the original design). I will need to add some extra circumference.
  • The front piece requires alteration in (no surprise) the bust area (where I could resolve the problem by adding short rows to the tune of 1 inch per side) and in the hip area.
Now, happily, I've already stockinette swatched the yarn I intend to use (it's the same yarn I was to use for the now-defunct LDAC). I used a few needle sizes and, as I knit loosely, on a size US1 needle I get 7.5 stitches per inch.  For those of us challenged by this concept - 7.5 inches per inch is bigger gauge than 8 stitches per inch in that it yields a larger finished product at the same dimensions.

B) By knowing your gauge and/or ensuring that your gauge matches that of the pattern:
Which leads us to the age-old question...  

But What If I Can't Get Gauge?

Welcome to the real world, honey. This happens to me all the time!
In addition to all of the dimension alterations I have to take into account (see A, above), the pattern tells me I should be knitting 8 stitches in every inch (horizontal) and 10 rows in every inch (vertical).
Alas, I'm getting - on a needle already one size smaller than the one the pattern recommends - 7.5 stitches per inch (bigger gauge than the pattern calls for) and 12 rows per inch (smaller gauge than the pattern calls for).

Man, that sucks. 

Important Note: At this point, if you're not prepared to do a lot more math than you've already done, choose another pattern for which you can obtain gauge. Mind you, that might be tougher than you think... Otherwise, read on. It's really not hard math, just fussy...   

Now, in this instance, I'm not sure I'm prepared to make the fabric any smaller by using yet a smaller needle. With this yarn, the stitches are very tiny and have very good definition at a US size 1 providing a nice amount of fabric ease at that tension. The boucle jacket pattern suggests using a size 11 (which, in ye olde terms is equivalent to a US size 2, as far as I can tell). If I go down another needle size perhaps I will achieve gauge horizontally but I'll be even more fucked on the vertical plane. The question is - do I really want to make that needle smaller still?

Reasons Why I Might Deliberately Forgo Gauge:
  • Well, for starters, a smaller needle will produce an even tighter fabric than the one I've got, having less ease than I might enjoy as this yarn is NOT super wash, it's wool and it's quite firm. (Even as I say this, I should disclose, I have generally found that knitted-garment ease is too giving no matter what I think as I begin a project.) 
  • Then there's the fact (alluded to above) that, once you go down more than one needle size, you are increasingly unlikely to ever get gauge vertically, even if you can swing it horizontally (which is also increasingly unlikely for reasons defined by physics, as far as I can tell. FYI, when you can't explain something, blame it on physics). Recall, when it comes to altering that sleeve cap - and really many of the alterations in this project as the bulk of those alterations are vertical - it's all gonna be about the vertical gauge.
  • Furthermore, and I realize this is petty: it's gonna take that much longer to knit it up on a smaller needle size which, given that I like the stitch definition at 7.5 stitches seems sort of counterproductive. 
  • Finally, I did some additional math to determine how NOT getting gauge (i.e. being 0.5 of a stitch off) will affect the final dimensions (leaving aside the matter of fabric ease) and I end up achieving almost the exact bust dimension I require at the larger gauge. No short rows required. In this instance I'll merely have to add a couple of stitches at the bust area under the arm, and taper down at the waist. The hip alteration will also be less intensive because I won't have to add in as many additional stitches and then work at decreasing them as I move towards the waist. The waist may be a bit big at this larger gauge, but I sense it will be easier to remove inches there than to increase them everywhere else. Even the shoulder width, while larger than that prescribed in the original pattern, should be ok as it merely increases by an inch over the entire circumference and the original was not huge on the size 34. People in the old days had smaller frames.
Easy For You to Say, But Where Can I Find Actual Detailed Fitting Resources??
(Sure, there are dozens of other resources I could name, but why get overwhelming. I think you could manage all the ins and outs with a Craftsy class or two...) 

What's Next For Kristin?
  • For better or worse, now that I have all the info at my fingertips, I've got to rewrite the actual pattern to account for my dimensions and my version of gauge. This isn't quick but it's not hard and the classes mentioned above will help you to do that with a pattern of your own.
  • Then, gotta figure out the sleeve cap situation. No point in getting too far in if I can't sort that one out. Thankfully, so many of you sent fabulous info on this process the last time I had to consider it with the Princess Jumper. I intend to sit down with some graph paper and come up with some answers.
Oh, if you're still reading, do share your feelings about today's questions: Do you like this jacket and would you make it? Do you like it as much as the scrapped LDAC? What would you do? Knit at 7.5 stitch gauge or go for "accurate" gauge and make more/different alterations? Are you a dyed-in-the-wool pattern-adjuster or do you hate the thought of it? If you hate the thought, what might make the idea more appealing? Let's chat!

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Summer Series: Late-Day Abbreviated Coat and Why You Have to Swatch!

Though I'm technically on craft hiatus until May 10 - I'm in the planning phase according to my project charter - I cannot stop myself from swatching for the Late Day Abbreviated Coat (now to be known catchily as LDAC) because this vintage pattern is so unknowable and, well, I want to know it. 

The Challenges

I've spoken about the inherent challenges of working with vintage patterns before. I have been swatching for this sweater - not achieving gauge in stockinette stitch on a US size 1 needle. Mind you, I've just realized that the (exceedingly brief, as is the vintage way) instructions don't tell you to get gauge in stockinette. They don't say much of anything. But given that the entire sweater is in a crazy, complicated stitch pattern (more to come on this), seems to me I'd be wise to get gauge in that.

Intriguingly, and one of the things that's really thrown me off, the pattern recommends using a fingering-weight yarn (as far as I can tell from my research and the info culled from the instructions) with a US 6 needle (which, I believe, is the same today as it was in former days). 

How could that possibly work, I thought initially, when I almost got gauge in stockinette on a size US 1 needle. 

The other thing that's really been throwing me off - and swatching "in stitch" may have just addressed both of my challenges at once - is that the the pattern says I'll need @1900 yards of fingering yarn to make a size 16 (34" bust).

(Brief sidebar: Though my full bust measurement is 37.5, I've continuously discovered that less than 4 inches of negative ease yields a sweater that's too loose everywhere. This has been the case with vintage sweaters as well as with modern ones. Of course, I'm more careful when considering the sizing I'll require for vintage sweaters because they're known for being written with different standards and for different yarn at a time when bodies were less frequently shaped like mine.)

Most sweaters I make for myself, especially fitted ones, use a max of 1000 yards (often more like 900). You can see why I have concerns that I've researched incorrect info about the yarn the sweater was originally made in (Minerva Mellosheen cotton).

Briefly I considered that the, rather robust-looking, sweater was knit with two strands of yarn simultaneously. That doesn't appear to be the case.

So what gives?? How will I require so much yarn and such a large needle to make what's essentially a slim jacket with half-sleeves? 

The (Potential) Epiphany 

By swatching, in stitch-pattern, I think I may have figured it out - as I have also discovered that the very complicated stitch pattern yields an EXTREMELY firm and dense knit, which looks almost woven (but in a fancy diagonal way). Um, this isn't the project on which to aim for 5 inches of negative ease.

For starters, let me recite to you the stitch pattern (the whole darn sweater is knit in this BITCH of a pattern), which is unnamed but seems to be a lot like twisted knitting (as opposed to simple "knitting through the back loop" (TBL) or twisted rib). 

RS: Skip first stitch, knit second stitch in back of work, then knit the first stitch (crossing the two stitches). Slip both stitches off. Repeat across row. 

WS: P1, *skip 1 stitch, purl next stitch in front of work, then purl the skipped stitch (crossing the two stitches).  Slip both stitches off*. Repeat from * across row, ending P1

Let me tell you how - after much thinking and trying various versions and watching what happened to the fabric etc., I interpret these instructions: 

RS: Purl-wise slip 1 stitch to right needle. KTBL the second stitch. Keep the stitch on the left needle while simultaneously picking up the slipped stitch from the right needle and putting it back on the left needle to knit through it in the regular way. (This is how you cross the stitches.) Then remove both stitches from the left needle simultaneously.  

WS: P1, purl-wise slip 1 stitch to the right needle, purl the next stitch and leave it on the left needle as you pick up the slipped stitch from the right needle and move it back onto the left needle. Carefully purl through the formerly-slipped "first stitch" without touching the originally-worked "next stitch" (This is how you cross the stitches). Then remove both stitches from the left needle simultaneously. 

Important Note to Readers who aren't hardcore knitters: Don't bother trying to figure this out. If I showed you, in slow motion, what I have done to achieve this pattern, it would still overwhelm you with complexity. It's ABSURDLY complicated. The point is it a) requires a tremendous amount of dexterity and b) is a freakin' nightmare from the perspective of gaining stitches if one forgets to slip two off at the same time (after having worked them both). There's a LOT of room for error and no info on how to fix it. No doubt, I'm going to make mistakes and - as a baseline - I must be able to learn how I'm going to overcome those mistakes when I make them. 

One plus, or is it a minus?: The fabric one knits is very forgiving given the complexity of the stitch pattern. Mistakes are difficult (if not impossible) to see and therefore that much more difficult to correct. Mind you, one shapes the fabric by increasing and decreasing stitches (I do wonder how that's accomplished on this kind of stitch pattern, because there aren't any clear instructions). Accidentally increasing them from parts unknown is not going to fly. 

Other Brief Sidebar: I do not believe that knitters in 1950 were any more dexterous than the ones we have now. Knowing how to knit in garter or stockinette or rib or even cables or lacework doesn't require tremendous dexterity. Sure, some stitches are a bit more challenging in certain garments, but overall they're pretty doable once you figure them out and get into a groove.

The only other time I've ever encountered a stitch even approaching this level of finicky-ness is when I made a scarf wherein one purled into the same stitch 3 times over. That scarf ended up being half as long as it might have been; I got finger calluses, and I'll never bother with that again. BTW, that was vastly simpler than this.

Mind you, now I can see how this might take 1900 yards of yarn. It's called sweat-equity. 

My next consideration is, do I go for it or do I decide that this is going to be a miserable lesson in my own limitations? I'm not ready to answer that yet. The practical, summer-slacker in me says give it a miss. The craft-adventurer says: what are you doing with yourself if you're not being challenged - and you'll be so impressive if you sort this out!

I'm going to spend the next few days swatching to get gauge.  

About my (made up) method of swatching to get gauge on tricky stitch patterns - those wherein it's almost impossible to distinguish one stitch from the next:  Make a 4-inch wide x 4-inch high swatch using the number of stitches that the pattern tells will give you gauge at 4 x 4 (standard gauge area). This pattern proposes 8 stitches per inch and 7 rows per inch. So, to get 8 stitches and 7 rows per inch, I'm going to cast on 32 stitches (8x4) and aim to knit 28 rows (7x4). If, at the end I have a 4 x 4 swatch, I'll know I'm good to go. If it's off in one direction or another, I'll have to consider what's happening and go up or down a needle size or 2.

I should also mention that I haven't even started working on the "fitting math" for this thing (and Evie's starting to freak me out with all of her recent fit-knit stuff). I'm still trying to figure out whether I can manage the stitch! So that's, theoretically, 10 additional posts.

Time as Teacher: 

Last night I was certain this was not to be. Today I've figured out a lot, and I'm not quite ready to give this project a miss on the basis of practicality. 

One other thing I'll say about this today - I tried to find info about this stitch pattern on the web (the closest I could come was by searching for "twisted knit"). Apparently the stitch, or a variant of it, is usually done as a motif (aka not as a whole freakin' garment) AND since it's a bitch to purl (well, just as much of a bitch to purl as it is to knit), it's usually knit in the round. I have no intention of reworking this pattern in the round (it is a cardigan after all and steeking is not in the cards). If I wanted to look at a photo and draft my own pattern, I'd just pick something out of a magazine.

Today's questions - and they need your feedback!: If you know of this stitch pattern, and you can make something of my crazy ramblings, do you think I've interpreted it correctly? Have you ever worked this stitch pattern and, if so, do you think it's an exercise in insanity to make a sweater of it? Would you run screaming or give it a go? (Seriously - knitters of all natures, please do tell! I hate abandoning things almost as much as I hate failing. What should I do???)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

After Pertussis - A Review

It's been a while, so I thought I'd update you on how I'm feeling after Sickfest 12/13... You may recall, 8 months ago I contracted pertussis.

I'm happy to report that all acute symptoms are gone. I can breathe. I can sleep. I can eat. (Trust me, this one's not a problem.) I no longer cough from the pertussis. The ulcers on the back of my throat are gone. I don't look sick anymore.

But I'm not quite myself.

For starters, I won't touch anything (that isn't in my own sphere) without using some kind of barrier (gloves, clothes, paper towels). Yeah, I have become a crazy lady in this way. As I have no idea how on earth I contracted such a hideous sickness, given that I was in good health, I'm very anxious about - well - catching everything.

Now, many of you know that I am not the most sanguine of creatures at the best of times. Pretty classic-case germ-phobia is an ongoing thing for me. But this is a new kind of anxious - and mercifully one which I do feel slowly receding - accompanied by my utter horror to be around illness of any kind. Colds freak me out. Sick children, ditto. People who wear masks on the street almost do me in. I don't know if they're afraid of me or if I should be afraid of them.

I still have occasional challenges with throat mucous and "choking". My trachea is obviously still on a healing-curve. But it's like nothing compared with the serious phase of the illness.

Mouth ulcers are more prevalent. In truth, these were a challenge for me from childhood, as I used to get rounds of cluster canker sores for just about any reason. Then I had a baby, at which point they mysteriously went away and barely ever return. Mind you, they've been worse in the last while than they have been for years.

Then there's fatigue. I need a good 10 hours of sleep to function these days. I've always been an 8-9 hr person, but this is really off the charts. How does one accomplish anything?? I do sense that the summer, with its additional light, is going to be critical to my long-term return to total health.

In terms of my ability to focus, this is slowly but surely returning. Thank God. I really couldn't fix on anything there for a while. Thinking was tough. Acting on thoughts was tougher. Fatigue then inserted itself into the equation and made things tougher still.  On a related note: depression, caused by a term of Prednisone to keep my trachea from closing, and by intense sickness that sucked the will out of me, is happily a thing of the past. Alas, see above, anxiety, she lingers (well, she knows she's got a place at the table).

The final thing I've really noted is that my level of fitness has taken a huge hit. I'm a fairly fit person, though with ebbs and flows. I walk at least one way to work each day (40 minutes), I do yoga (though ever less frequently and intently, it would seem), I garden, I cycle. I'm one of those "real world" fit people - not one of those TV-fit people.

Mind you, having struggled to find the energy to walk some days, and having just tortured my body with a few hours of gardening I might formerly have taken for granted, I can say I have experienced notable waning of residual fitness (those youth points are wearing off) and even less motivation.

I intend to make this summer about rediscovering my body's strength, flexibility and focus. I must reconnect with that and, while I'm at it, I've got to stop eating sweets. As I started to get better, my palate changed. Protein is of little interest. All I want is carbs (preferably sweet ones). I can't stand certain foods I used to eat constantly, pre-sickness. For the last 3 months, I've surrendered to this urge. Partly, my sense of discipline - formerly very developed - has gone on a long vacation. Partly, I've been enjoying my appetite. Partly, I refuse to get fussed about something as stupid as food composition when the world is fleeting. However, I've returned to my former weight and my shape, usually toned at any weight, is rather dull and, well, unfit. So gotta get on that bandwagon. Sigh.

Since I got sick (beginning of Sept. 2012), I experienced a month of bad illness, 6 weeks of acute illness followed by another 2 months of feeling hideous constantly. Two months after that were about improvement, but in a phase of tremendous cold and dark. It's hard to return to yourself in a time of hibernation. The last 6 weeks have seen improvements on the energy and focus fronts (the other physical symptoms having largely abated) but I know I need more sun and warmth to complete the metamorphosis.

Anyway, that's an 8-month experience I could have done without. And yet, I am grateful DAILY to have had such a good healing-process, in the scheme of things. I haven't met many people who've had pertussis, but I suspect I'll be meeting more as children are vaccinated less frequently and, as adults with reduced immunity (given that their childhood vaccinations have waned) come into contact with them. Everyone I've met, though, having formerly experienced the illness, has physically shuddered while they described the intensity and length of the illness.

Don't get the vaccination for yourself - though, really, if you're even vaguely sickly at the best of times and moving towards your last third of life, it could kill you I suppose. Get it for the tiny, perfect baby who belongs newly to the person you sit next to at work. Get if for your grandmother, who's always been incredibly healthful but is now pushing 90. Get it for the person you sit next to on the subway, currently on radiation therapy though you'd have no way to know. Those are the people it's rather likely to kill. And then be very glad to know that you will never experience what I can tell you is a horrible thing. It's like a bonus.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Summer Series

Yesterday I began to plan my summer projects. Really, who doesn't love planning? You get to pick your fabrics, notions, buy and check your patterns. You get to decide whether to purchase anew or shop your stash. You get to look at a calendar (while using your imagination), to write down dates. All of the potential in the universe is before you. The arbitrary becomes concrete (sort of) - but in the most attractive way.

I'm not going to bog this post down with the minutiae. There's time enough for that as time goes by. But I do want to introduce the abstract:

The High-Level Deets:

Planning - April 25 - May 10
Making Stuff - May 10 - August 25
Number of Garments - 9
Sewn - 7
Knitted - 2

The Breakdown:

Sewing Bracket 1 - The Five in Five 

(I'm fairly certain there's no way I've actually made up this concept. If y'all know who's done a series with this title, pls. advise and I'll link.)

Sewing Bracket 2 - The Cherry Bomb

Knitting 1 - A Guernsey Triangle of My Own

Knitting 2 - The Late-Summer Abbreviated Coat

The Concepts:

The Five in Five: This is a group of 5 (mainly knit) garments for mid-summer - 3 dresses, 1 top and a skirt which I will aim to make over 5 weeks, give or take. I hope that these pieces will be chic and tough -  great for work or play, throughout the summer, but never fussy. Please stay tuned as I determine which patterns and fabrics I intend to use.

The Cherry Bomb: This is the bra/undies set I intend to make - after making a muslin that is radically different than any of the others (which haven't worked). No, I don't have much hope for this either. But one must try. And I've accepted that this is about the learning.

A Guernsey Triangle of My Own: Do I really need to explain this one? I LOVE this thing. Sure, the idea of knitting it again is vaguely concerning. But there's nothing like knitting in one's garden. Or, over lunch, in the gardens at work.

The Late-Summer Abbreviated Coat: Sure, it's a sweater (though it calls itself a coat), but I suspect this one is the outlier. I'm still swatching and thinking, but I have the yarn and I'd love for this to be ready by the early fall.

The Back Story:  Something tells me that I may have a reputation for being a bit spendthrift, which is why I'm pleased to report that - with the exception of sewing machine needles and thread - I'll be shopping my stash this summer.

Sure, if you dig deep even the slightest amount, it might occur to you that, initially, I bought my stash (and some of it as recently as this month). But I choose to believe that's not the point.

What About That Other Suit You're Gonna Make?

Don't you know it's rude to bring up this omission? 

OK, my goal is to make the suit in September. I will consider (and trace) the re-drafting I intend to do on the jacket throughout August. I'm likely to buy the fabric as early as early-May. The truth is, I need a break. Not cuz I'm overwhelmed (though that's not a bad supposition) but because I need to dwell on this and wear the spring version of the suit for the next while.

Today's questions: What do you think of this? Have you planned your summer projects? Do you even craft in the summer, or is that just wrong? Which of these projects is most appealing, as far as you're concerned? Let's talk!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Updated: Spend 6 Minutes and Watch This

A propos of recent discussions about breast-shape, Claire really deserves some kind of award for the bra-fitting info she provides:

You can also find this on Butterfly Collection blog: http://blog.butterflycollection.ca/2013/04/how-wire-width-and-cup-shape-affects.html

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Updated:So Many Updates...

About a million little things happen (all the time) that lead me to think to myself: I have to write about that. Apparently, I place a high value on some pretty trivial things. (Which is probably how I've averaged 5 posts a week for almost 6 years...)

But, continuing apace - here are today's updates:

About the Suit: Here's the thing. I've pinned the buttons on the suit (much closer together than I had originally, to buy me the wiggle room I removed from the side seams erroneously). I can't bring myself to sew them on yet. Why? Well, the truth is, I'm fairly critical of my work and, if I end up not liking this thing, I'm apt to throw myself off a bridge - which wouldn't be good for the likelihood of future posts about truly important things. I don't know if I'll do it tomorrow evening or the next. I need a bit more space. A bit of time to see the suit for what it is and not the series of life lessons I associate it with. Believe it or not, I haven't even tried both pieces on together yet. What kind of nut spends 2 months agonizing over a suit and then doesn't bother to try it on?!

About Other Sewing: But no fear. I've somehow managed to determine how I'm going to spend the entire summer sewing - even as I can't bear to think about tomorrow. I've broken it down as follows:

The Next Suit: I'm always amazed to discover (upon waking from a dream, like, 5 months after completing a project) that I solve a (huge-to-me) problem related to that very project like magic. You see, I'm not a patient person. I am a compulsive person - and those two qualities lead me to work so quickly that I rarely see the benefit of said epiphanic problem-solving because I act (rightly or wrongly) in the moment.

I don't want to do this with my next suit. I want to be able to enjoy the process at a reasonable pace, having resolved some challenges I'm still not clear about (2-pages-worth). And - ridiculously - I want to redraft the front piece so that it isn't double-breasted. Yeah, you read that right. How I'm going to manage to make the next suit relaxing when I'm re-drafting whole freakin' parts of it is beyond me. Especially in light of the fact that I've never done such a thing and I have no sense whatsoever of the challenge that potentially awaits me. All the more reason, I suppose, to take some time to let my brain do the work in its own way. Happily, I want a new suit for the fall, so I can really take my time and work on it amidst some other exciting projects.

The Bra I'm Going To Make (Again): You know how I like to say: Ninth time's a charm! Lord, here's hoping or I might have to go throw myself off that bridge again. I've managed to learn many things about bras and breasts and my breasts and my bras over the last 2 years and I think it's time to apply those lessons. I've also culled numerous RTW wires and bought Norma Loehr's new book, Demystifying Bra Fit and Construction. (Note: It's very new. I've read it through once and I do think it's a good addition to the bra-making catalogue but I sense that Ms. Loehr is a woman who makes bras primarily for the D and under set. The book gives me that vibe. I also disagree with a couple of its premises, but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief until I've had more experience.)

I've also found an Etsy vendor who does some terrific kits that include cup fabric with no stretch (in addition to fun, stretchy overlay fabric), such as this one:

Photo from here
Yeah, I succumbed. Seriously, though, it's pink lace and a wacky pattern. Who could resist?? Merckwaerdigh is the company run by the woman that makes the CUPL16, in my opinion, the best-shaped balconette for full-busts on the market. No, I haven't yet got it to fit but it's the one I'm starting with. I'm just going to alter the shit out of it.

The Summer Dress Palette: It occurs to me that, 4 days a week, from May till September, I wear a dress to work. Many of my own handmade dresses have been worn out in this process, I'm happy to say. So I don't see why, given that I managed to buy 17 yards of different knit fabrics a couple of months ago?!?!?, that I shouldn't do 5 dresses in 5 weeks. I ordered a bunch of new patterns from Vogue during the recent 3.99 sale. I'm sure they'll arrive by next month, what with this company's terrific reputation for mailing patterns within 2 weeks of receiving one's order. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) Lots more to come on this, so please stay tuned. (Note: I need a couple of weeks away from sewing to actually deal with my life so this won't begin till mid-May, realistically.)

The Package I've Been Waiting On for Freakin' Ever: And speaking of hideous shipping, I'd love to tell you about the Ewa Michalak lingerie set I bought on March 28, but it still hasn't arrived. Nor has the company had the decency to respond to any of my tracking-request emails over the last week. Gotta say, I knew, going in, that the customer service reputation of this company utterly sucks, and at this point I'm pretty sure it's well-deserved. This bra is going to have to rock my world in order to inspire me to bother with "boobs on a plate" queen, Ms. Michalak, ever again. I've read in numerous places that her son, Dominik, is the weak link. He's the customer service face, from what I can tell. I can corroborate that it's been radio-silence from him (after an email which advised me that I'd have to wait a certain period of time before they'd look into the whereabouts of my order). Anyway, I'm having the full experience, and you'll be sure to hear all about it when the time is right.

Updated: Dominik has sent me three messages today to apologize for taking so long to reply to my emails and to reclaim the original order and send out a new one. While I'm very happy to hear from him, and I do appreciate and accept the mea culpa, I do wish things hadn't conspired to put me into the mindset I was in when I wrote the paragraph above, yesterday. We'll see how long the next order takes. I think it would be particularly good client service to courier the new package to me, not that I'll suggest it.

Phew. Are you still here??

Today's questions: Do you think I'm insane for not having tried on my suit yet? Do you think I'm insane for trying to make another bra? Do you think I'm insane for having ordered that nutsy-patterned bra kit? Do you think I'm insane for having tried Ewa Michalak, despite the many dicey reviews? Let's talk!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Spring Suit: Skirts and Buttons, Oh My!

What I can't show you is a finished suit.

What I can show you is the contents of a package that arrived today - self-fabric covered buttons, from California:

This photo best captures the colour of the suit fabric, btw.

I've got to put these on the jacket, currently sporting pretty (but not optimal) rose buttons. I have to say, they're likely to elevate an imperfect garment substantively. I got all of these for 13 bucks, btw.

(Totally off-topic, but a propos of not having any time to sew on new buttons (much less the inclination): When I'm going to have 5 minutes without a headache is beyond me. Did I mention that my gardens are not going to spring-clean themselves?)

I can also show you a bunch of gratuitous skirt shots (is there any other kind??):

The higher left-shoulder of my dress form drives me INSANE

You can see how the fabric has not responded optimally. I've treated it with kid gloves and it's still kind of crappy (where I've underpressed it, to avoid what happens to it when I press it right)

The waist is rather well-executed. Note that the little wrinkle on the right side of the photo is just that - it's not a permanent flaw.

Ooooh, sassy! Gotta love that colour combo, yes??

Oh, the zipper looks alright here... Just don't pull too hard.
True story: When your notes tell you that you need to use 2-inch petersham ribbon at the waist (as you did once before) - LISTEN! I looked at the previous version and thought: That ribbon's not 2 inches - it's 1.5 inches. (Alas, that's the thing about a half-inch seam allowance is that it eats up half an inch.) I am one of those peeps who really benefits from a wider waist-facing because I have a little tummy that begins below my natural waist. I can only assume that this skirt isn't going to last too long (vis a vis the zipper-insertion stupidity), so I'll have a chance to try again.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

This Way Up

One of the challenges in sewing in a lining of just about any sort, is that you really only have 2 kicks at the can. Oh sure, some people might be able to eke out 3 or 4 tries (I suspect the correct term for that is "eek"), but if you're working with a fabric that frays (charmeuse - I'm looking at you, bitch) or a zipper insertion, you're likely asking for trouble the first time you unpick.

Of course, when one beautifully sews a zipper into a lining, and then just as beautifully sews that into the outer garment only to find that the zip insertion in the lining is inside fucking out, well, then (s)he has no choice but to use up that second life-line.

Ask me how I know.

Now, let's add some fuel to this fire: Let's say that you originally used double-sided wonder tape to "baste" the zip to the lining. (On the first try, that works beautifully, fyi.) On the second go, after you've picked the stitches and the zipper off the lining and the double-sided tape stays seriously affixed to the frayish, floppy lining fabric, then you've got some issues. (Non-sewists: No technical skill is required to understand this scenario. Quite simply, it's a royal fuck-up.)

Word to the wise: At this point, throw out the original zipper. Give it to the sewing goddess and get a new one. Cuz if you flip the old one over (with some of that adhesive still stuck on that side), you're going to wreck a couple of needles and then - even when you get a nice-looking finish - the charmeuse is going to stick to the zipper in such a way that every time you try to open or close the fucking garment, the lining is going to get sucked into the teeth.

Cuz if you don't do it before you start the second insertion, you won't have another chance. And then your "looks pretty good" skirt with the zipper sandwiched (professional-like) between the lining and the fashion fabric will merely look good.

Personally, I prefer functional closures.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to drink something strong and eat an ice cream bar before dinner. More reflections on this suit are pending. And lots of shots, natch.

PS: I grabbed the camera to take some pics - I mean, it doesn't look half-bad - but the kid (amateur photog that she is) burned out the batteries again. So we'll have to wait till tomorrow for that.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Sewological Clock

I've got that shaky, weird hunger thing I like to call sew blood sugar. You know, that state which occurs after approximately 8 hours of sewing (including a brief break to scarf down two tablespoons of almond butter and a row of rice crackers). Till 10 minutes ago, I didn't even have any wine in the house to dull the other thing I like to call sewing reality.

Anyway, this post isn't about the weird terms I have for all the craft-circumstances, but to tell you how sewing a garment with a lining is like having two kids. 

I'm so amazed by people who say that lining a garment is a quick additional step and, truly, I fear for their sanity as (when I do the math) it's like a zillion extra steps:
  • Chances are you have to draft the fucking thing - thanks modern era and short attention spans
  • Then you have to cut it
  • Then you have to finish the edges and work any relevant tucks or darts into it
  • Then you have to sew it up
  • Oh, and then you get to figure out how it goes into the shell garment which (when you're working with increasingly complicated construction like vents, bagging, using petersham as facing etc.) is not necessarily clear.
You see, a zillion extra steps.

But back to the likeness between children and linings: Think of the shell garment as your first, that cute little baby who enriches your urban, bohemian lifestyle even as you struggle through hallucinogenic exhaustion and a crisis of identity.

Oh, you could stop there. I mean, it's hard enough to find time to pee when you're nurturing this little bud. But the lure of more calls to you. If only I had a lining to go into this (insert garment here), everything would be complete.

So, you consider how you're going to find more resources, to expend additional energy, and you go for it - you make the lining.

And, fucking hell, it's like making 3 garments. There's no time for dinner. No time for sex. How will you insert that lining? How will you cohere it to the shell??

Sure, when all is said and done, the lined (insert garment here) is rather complete (well, by the standards of most). And, it's apt to take you into your old age, what with its shockingly good construction, and to see you through retirement.

I suppose it's not the optimal time to remind you that I have but one kid.

Though most of a lined, high-waisted pencil skirt with a vent.

It's important to have your seam lines priorities straight, amirite?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Spring Suit: Some Pics of the (Almost) Finished Jacket

For starters, the jacket is finished, more or less (for deets, see below). Let's take a moment and be grateful about that because I won't have to think about it for a week or two, and you won't have to listen to my bitching anymore for a week or two (theoretically).

To forestall mutiny :-), here are some PREVIEW pics of the jacket. I still have to make the bottom part of the suit and a few adjustments to this jacket version and, really, I'm kind of ambivalent about it at the moment. I wasn't up to modeling it today.
The piece looks pretty meh on the dress form, which is too wide for it, so I thought it would be better to show it flat:
The buttons, while temporary, are very sweet. They're vintage - little roses.
Oooh, pretty lining (and bagged!)
Trust me, the buttonholes are very nice. They don't look it here, but you'll have to take my word.
Here's a shot of the sleeve facing where it meets the lining. I particularly love this part of the construction.
I won't lie - I'm conflicted about the Burda suit jacket. On the one hand, there are things about it I hate:
  • the quality of the shell fabric (it actually looks cheap, horror!)
  • the slightly-too-long 3/4 sleeves (um, I've spent 2 months on this thing - could they not have drafted it with full-length sleeves?)
On the other hand, there are things that I love:
  • the lining fabric
  • the way the lining falls in the shell garment
  • the proportion of the altered lapels
  • the placement of the sleeve in the armscye and the fit at the underarm (these were real liabilities, and hard to fix, so I'm proud to have largely resolved them). Intriguingly, while I worried as I was making this, that I'd altered the armscye "too high", once I clipped the extra fabric under the arm and inserted the lining, the fit became very pleasant - it provides mobility and adequate ease.
Then there is that catch-all basin of things that aren't great as they stand now, but might be alterable (in this version) - here's hoping or I've got bigger issues than I care to address:
  • the placement of the upper button unit which lies against the body - it's causing weird pulling which, I guess, shouldn't surprise me overly as it isn't actually part of the original pattern design, but my ad hoc work-around to address excessive gaping above the one set of buttons that the pattern actually does instruct about.
  • the external buttons - they're placeholders and I think they're too heavy for the fabric, and the wrong shape (lovely thought they are). I'm waiting on my self-fabric buttons from California. Here's hoping they fit the buttonholes I made in their absence. (I think I ordered the right size, but only time will tell... At least I have more fabric in a pinch.)
  • the internal buttons - I forgot that the internal buttons on the left side (which I used to merely to stabilize and to provide a clean finish) are actually for use so I'm going to need to replace them with ones in the correct size to fit through the buttonholes. The current ones are too tiny - if cute (and they all match).
For all of this learning, and working, I still don't know if I like the finished design. It's vaguely, um, twee on me. And a bit boxier than I would have imagined given all the work I did to "hourglass it up".

I do suspect that this is one of those suit jackets than needs its counterpart (pants or skirt) in order to look its best. Alas, I can't confirm that till I make the skirt, which won't happen till this weekend. (Note: Even as I write this I am reminded of Clio's fantastic leather version which definitely goes with everything and requires no matching bottom. But leather is not fabric. And her version has a zipper and a peplum. In certain ways it's only notionally the same pattern.)

Insecurities and ambivalence aside, I do feel very satisfied with this process and by what I've achieved. I'm a MUCH better seamstress, tailor, pattern drafter, fitter, human being... I've learned skills I will not forget, things I'll bring into every future project I take on, such as the next version of this jacket which I suspect will begin at the beginning of May. (I need a bit of a break and my family really suffers when I do a project requiring so much engagement... I also need to wear this as much as possible over the next while, so that I can begin to understand it in motion.)

Next up, the pencil skirt - my standard, Vogue 8640. I intend to line this vented skirt (the pattern instructions don't include a lining) and to face the waist with petersham ribbon in a crazy contrast colour. (I am such a fashion bad ass!) Stupidly, I've managed to lose the incredibly useful package of notes, photos and instructions I created when I made this as part of the Tailored Suit project (the one with the Starlet suit jacket). Fortunately I have a soft copy of my basic instructions and I know which posts provided the required tutorials (thank you Sunni and Tasia).

When the skirt is done, I'll show off the whole suit in a formal photo shoot. Till then, hopefully these pics will have given you something to go on. Stay tuned for more about the skirt construction. Something tells me I'll have things to say about it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Bra Adventures: The Cleos

You may know that I recently bought 2 Cleo bras: the Meg and the Melissa. Well, here's the scoop (or should I call it the scoop and swoop :-)). Note: I do realize that bra humour is lame. Keep in mind that both of these bras have a similar shape and cut.

Up first - the Meg:

I know, I know - The photo is horrid in its infantalism...
I actually purchased this bra twice (as the post I've linked to mentions). The first time, I bought it in my standard size online. Though I reviewed the cup depth and other details on Bratabase before doing so, it was fractionally too small.

The second online purchase - same back size (32), but one cup size larger, just arrived today. OMG - it's like a totally different animal. It fits at least 2 cup sizes larger than the original one, though equally firm in the band. This makes it much too large.

Let me say, it's rare for me to find a cup too deep. Very rare. This one gapes at the top. On my larger breast it's (maybe?) passably too loose. My smaller breast is so mis-sized in this thing that it actually looks dessicated?! How disappointing cuz I love the design and - unless one of these is mistakenly tagged - there is no right size for me. (I'm done trying, btw, so even if there is a right size for me, I'm unlikely ever to discover it.) Note: I suspect the larger of the 2 sizes that I purchased is the outlier.

Were it to fit, it would be delightful in shape: The style pulls the breasts forward, projecting them as it lifts. It's very "boobs on a plate" but English-style - not in a half-cup way. There's enough top-cup support and coverage that it's very wearable under lots of things and there's apt to be no jiggle.

I'll return one Meg and keep the other (NWT) plus the undies (also NWT) to sell at a later date - when they're no longer around and the demand is up. (Note: I don't intend to sell them for profit, of course, just to recoup my expenses.) Two bras of the same style, neither of which fits, is just depressing - even if the style is gorgeous.

The final word on this: Sigh.

But then there's the Melissa:

Some people I work with (you know who you are :-)) have called this design "hideous". That is SO wrong. It's adorable, whimsical, cheerful, sassy.

And happily, this one fits perfectly!

You may recall that I first tried it on at a Toronto boutique, in my standard size, and it was too small. I'm very pleased to say that one cup size up (same back size - a 32, as this bra fits snugly) is a great fit. Thereby reinforcing my perspective that the upsized Meg is wrong.

The Melissa is deceptively supportive and yet it has the same "boobs on a plate" shape noted above. It looks gentle, but it's a workhorse.

I'm not sure if you can see, in the photos, how the Meg (top bra) is higher cut in the cups than the Melissa, but it really is. I'd say, though I love its abstract bird design and the ribbon feature on the top cup, it's verging on too full. By contrast, the Melissa has just the right amount of top-cup support.

In both of these bras, the under wires are neither narrow nor wide but the centre gore is close-set.

I think that both of these fuller, front-and-centre Cleo styles will work for a number of different shapes, though the sizing is a bit strange: narrow or wide (though not excessively either), top-full or bottom-full (though more for the full on top), dense breast or buoyant and a reasonably wide range of sizes.

Today's questions: Have you tried either (or both) of these and, if so, what's your perspective? Do you like the designs or do you find them hideous. Note: I agree that the styling is horrible, try to ignore it. Let's talk!

Monday, April 15, 2013

This Post is Kind of Involved (But Fun!) So Please Feel Free to Grab Some Wine

I have so many things to talk about I barely know where to start.  Let's kick it off with the Burda suit jacket which was finished  (so I thought) as of 8 pm last night. Alas, once I sewed the second button and tried the thing on, I realized that the fall of the lapel was weird (due to button placement). What I need to do is sew 2 more buttons and buttonholes, 2 inches above the others, to give another latitude of double-breasted closure.

Part 1:
I will say that my opinion of this jacket is vacillating wildly. For starters, it looks much better on me than on the dress-form (it's one of those "not as good on the hanger" pieces). Alas, for obvious reasons, I've spent much of my time observing it on the form. 
I do see every flaw - the most notable of which is the crap quality of the pressed fabric. S pointed out to me that the fabric took better to pressing on areas that were fusibly interfaced vs. those that were pressed (but with a cloth!) alone. I was SO careful with that pressing and the fabric prep (BTW, there was no sign of things to come when I prepped the fabric). I don't know how observable it will be to those who merely view this as a garment I happen to be wearing (rather than something I painstakingly tailored and had an issue with). I suspect I'm overstating the problem, though I will most definitely choose my next fashion fabric more carefully. And it's going to be a long time before I use merino faille again.

On the up-side. I accomplished some good (if progressive) fitting and some very nice technique. And, dare I say it myself, the lining worked beautifully. Silk charmeuse, for its challenges, produces a finished garment that screams luxe. Honestly, this jacket looks like a million bucks on the basis of the interior alone. And the lining's celery-shade manages to be cool and verdant at the same time. In truth, even in the (relatively well-made) lining, there are many imperfections - but they're hard to spot cuz the gorgeous, satiny silk bamboozles.

I opted to sew the sleeves into the lining shell (rather than to hand insert them into the armsyces after attaching the rest of the lining). I was worried about how it would go as I haven't done this before and, I've read, it's less forgiving than sewing the lining in by hand. When you sew the sleeve into the armscye by hand, you don't need as much ease (or, to be more specific, you don't need as precisely the exact right amount of ease) as you do when you're bagging a lining with pre-set in sleeves. 
Happily, my pattern pieces were spot on. I drafted the lining myself (with help from this great post), and I did well on that account. I meant to tack the sleeves into the shell, at the underarm, but promptly forgot until after I finished bagging the lining and sewing everything up. Having said this, I haven't found that the sleeve is shifting in the shell during wear or when I put it on or take it off. In fact, I think it's sitting nicely.

A word on lining: It's no quicker to bag the lining and sew everything in by machine, IMO, than to tailor it by hand and set the sleeves in separately. In fact, I think it's faster to do the hand work (if you're a confident hand-stitcher) because you can adjust your precision as you go. Once you've got that lining all machined together, it's hard to alter how it will fit in the shell - you've got to be SO careful that it takes that much longer.
One other point about the lining (which I'll likely discuss again): I didn't actually tack the shell hem to the shell after bagging it. I forgot that was on my list of things to figure out so I'll have to wait till next time to see how and if it's possible. However, as I made my hem quite narrow in the scheme of things, and as I don't have too much of a jump pleat in the lining, I sense the lining and pressing will keep the hem in place without issue. Time will tell.

I promise - pics are coming soon. I just need to do those extra buttons/buttonholes and wash my hair.

Part 2:
You might be wondering how it is that I've sewn buttonholes so blase-ly, given my well-known hatred of that activity, and based on some dicey end-results.

Well, my friends, this brings us to the exciting part of the post.

Meet my new sewing comrade:
The Viking Husqvarna 190, Photo from vendor
My husband looked over my shoulder while I was ogling this baby on Etsy and offered to buy it for my birthday (still 2 months away). I cannot begin to describe my feelings for this machine. I've only known her for 4 days but I really do sense my life has changed.

So many sewists get new machines, and post about them and - even as I love to read those posts (they thrill and inspire envy), I'm all like: I don't have that kind of money for a new machine.

(Disclaimer: I have a very expensive serger that I bought new, 2.5 years ago, and I love it every single time I use it. I in no way regret that purchase, which I managed to find the money for, so I'm not suggesting that I'm a starving artist or that others go crazy spending on their new machines (like it's any business of mine what anyone else does). I say, if you've been sewing for a lifetime and/or you've got an excess of funds, an expensive machine is de rigeur. I just don't know how I fit into either of those camps :-))

The Back Story:
I've been sewing for 3.5 years on a beginner model Brother machine, purchased (on a whim, also by my husband) from Walmart for under 200 bucks. I should have nothing but gratitude for that machine because, really, it has seen me through a tailored suit, bra-making of all kinds, numerous knits, and everything in between. But even in my gratitude, I have to admit that the machine is light-weight, fussy, can't sew a buttonhole to save itself, ruinous of certain fabrics and just not right for the sewist I've become. I've known for 2 years that I needed a new machine but, after I bought the serger - a very smart addition to my sewga room, I couldn't really justify spending another 2K on a great, new item.

Add to that the incomprehensibility of choosing a new machine, and I've been non-commital. I have very little exposure to different models. Natch, I've tried other machines (an Elna, a Janome, a Bernina) but none of them resonated  - though they are all very nice - and I only tried one model of each brand. I have been so overwhelmed, so nervous about choosing incorrectly (BTW this is so NOT my personality), that I've let the task languish. Weird.

Now my husband is an ally in that, when I have trouble making a choice (like, once a decade), he swoops in and enables. I would not have bought my new machine (and I've got lots to say on how it's wonderful, below), but he convinced me it was no great risk, and probably a smart idea. And then he offered to pay for it.

To give you some sense of its value, as I'm about to tell you the numerous ways in which it is WONDERFUL, it cost - including 65 bucks of shipping - $350 all in. I mention this because I couldn't imagine a more perfect machine for me, and it was totally affordable even though it was delivered from America, and the thing weighs a lot. My point is, you don't have to spend a lot on a machine to get a terrific one.

About The Viking Husqvarna 190:
Over the years I've determined what I find important in a machine (afeared, natch, that I don't know enough to know what actually is important...):
  • A free arm that's narrow enough to work on all kinds of narrow diameter sewing
  • A mechanical machine (no electronic robot bits!)
  • A machine that's been used for many years, with love and success
  • A machine that's, nonetheless, in very good condition
  • A great - and easy - buttonhole feature (the holy grail of features, IMO - many a great machine still struggles with the buttonhole)
  • Beautiful, which is to say, optimally functional design
  • European manufacture
  • A metal chassis
  • Ease of use (how do the presser feet work? what about tension fixing?) 
  • An even stitch  
And another thing, I suspect one is nuts to buy a machine on the basis of looks (which I did not do) but if you don't consider the aesthetic, you're likely to spend a lot of time staring at a machine that doesn't appeal. The 190 is beautiful. So 1970s fabulous. It's black and brown with crazy, olde-style knobs and buttons. It's practically space-aged!
Miraculously, in the Viking Husqvarna (the last model to be manufactured in Sweden), I achieved all of these objectives.

I sense I've found a partner in this machine and that it will collaborate with me for many years and, for this, I am tremendously grateful.
My first experience of it (after cleaning and admiring), was to sew in a sleeve. It did this with grace in a fraction of the time, with a fraction of the effort, that the Brother would have taken (not to disrespect my former machine). The Viking is so elegant. So subtle. 

At any rate, I'll stop now cuz I don't want to be one of those crazy sewing ladies, but if you're ever in the market to buy a vintage machine, I couldn't recommend this one more. 

Today's questions: What machine do you use? Is it pre-owned? How do you like it? Let's talk!