Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Spring Suit: Spoiled for Choice

One of the things I've been debating since I changed tacks (aka opted to make the Burda suit jacket vs. V8333) is how to tailor the jacket.

On the one hand, the materials I've purchased are of good quality, and I have just about every sort of interfacing known to man. On the other hand, the Burda jacket is of an entirely different style. It's softer-looking than the Claire Schaeffer jacket, at least to my eye.

I don't want to use crisp interfacing and underlining just for its own sake, and because I love the process of hand tailoring. I also don't know if I'd be better off hand-working the buttonholes with silk twist and gimp (I've bought both at great expense), or by just using a machine. On the topic of the machine: I've had numerous good experiences with my vintage Singer on this account (it's the only thing the machine actually does well, probably cuz it needs a recalibration, the likes of which my husband and I are unable to undertake ourselves). I mean, I've machine buttonholed numerous sweaters at this point - at the very final moment after having spent weeks on them. So I do trust the Singer. But machine buttonholes, after a very bad experience that torched an entire project, are scary to me. The one option has me learning a new skill (perilous, I suppose). The other has me machining into my finished jacket at the last minute. At least with the hand-worked buttonholes, I will have practiced, it will go slowly and I'll be slightly more in control, she says knowing, um, nothing.

Observe my interfacing options:

From left to right, that's hymo (hair canvas), silk organza, weft interfacing and another weight of weft interfacing (I think that's what those last two are called but, in truth, the interfacing is harder to identify than to use. The first 2 are sewn in. The second two are fusible.

Here's another quick shot of my fashion fabric and lining (in case you've forgotten about them):

I'm ticked that these fabrics look wan and inaccurate in photos. In real life, the slate blue of the fashion fabric is mesmerizing. And the celery-shade of charmeuse is an excellent complement.

In order to keep it all straight (Lord knows Burda "instructions" don't give you any means by which to organize yourself), I've written lots of notes, amongst them all of the fabrics I've got to cut out (by pieces) and ways to prep those fabrics:

These notes go on for pages - didn't want to traumatize you...

BTW, I took this great pic of all the re-traced (clean and beautiful) pattern pieces (including the ones I had to make from scratch cuz Burda doesn't provide them: facings, interfacings, stay, lining - when distinct from the pattern pieces) and then my computer ate it. Fuck. There is no way I'm setting them up again today for another shot. There are like a zillion of them.

Um, talk about burying the lead. I finished the final muslin yesterday afternoon. I returned to the original muslin's sleeves which were much closer to what I needed than the ones I spent hours creating on muslin 3. I did some more tweaking (namely taking lots of height out of the sleeve cap) and decided to call it a day. Is it perfect? Only time will tell. The front armscye is going to be interesting because I ended up needing more fabric there than I'd originally expected (to optimize motion). I altered the pattern pieces accordingly, but I'm not making another muslin. (I did leave more seam allowance in that area, just in case).

Intriguingly, I happened upon the one paragraph in Sarah Veblen's tome in which she urges one to know when it's time to stop fitting (at the risk of overfitting a test garment the properties of which are, needless to say, quite different from those of the fashion fabric). I took it as a sign.

Today I'm off to Hilary's for Easter dinner and tomorrow morning M and I are going for manicures and out for a pre-birthday lunch. I've opted to take Tuesday (M's birthday) and Wednesday as holiday days - in which to sew more - but I will have certain responsibilities and activities that will impinge on my being able to give it 12 hour blocks of time, as I have been able to for the past 2 days.

By Wed, I hope to:

  • finalize where the buttons should go on the front
  • get the fabric prepped
  • get all of the pieces cut
  • decide about what kind of tailoring I'll do
  • fuse pieces (if that's what I opt to do) 
  • get set for the sewing (to start next weekend): check my machine and test fabric scraps with needles to ensure I know what my best stitch lengths and tension should be.

Exciting times, peeps.

So, today's questions: Do you think I should hand-tailor or use fusibles to tailor this jacket? Regardless of whether I use fusibles, do you think I should use my machine for buttonholes, or hand work them? (FYI, the pattern doesn't indicate what kind of interfacing to use, as far as I can tell. You have to look at tiny pictures simply to determine which pieces are to be interfaced at all! I'll be using my tailoring book to walk through the steps - be they hand-tailored or fusible.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Bra Adventures: An Introduction

At the risk of turning into one of those people who puts the prefix "br" in front of everything, I've entered a new phase in my lingerie life: that of bradventurism. Or, bradventurisme, for the Euro among us. Let me explain.

In the fall of 2012, I hosted the online Lingerie Shop Along, a very enjoyable community experience that saw me into a pretty bad health moment. Alas, it was most definitely the worst online lingerie-purchasing experience I've ever had (largely because of suboptimal fitting and shipping experiences - not because the products or vendors were in any way lacking).  In truth, I was not at my most emotionally resilient at that time, and I was somewhat dismayed by my failure to fit into basically anything I ordered, due to poor sizing in every direction.

I was in a challenging place. Much of my pre-owned lingerie was either: at the edge of over-worn, too-small (and put away in the "not now" drawer), not quite supportive enough, or just not exciting anymore. Yeah, I do own 3 sizes of lingerie at any given time, and in the fall, I had 40-odd sets, but many of those bras were my "continuity" styles. I'd bought them a couple of times over or had a couple of the same styles in my stash. I was verging on a rut, somehow.

Add to this that my body had lost a lot of weight (from sickness) - and now it's rebounded from that due to constant eating of delicious food, thank you very much - plus the fact that I'm almost 43 and I have a teenager, whom I birthed... Well, my body has gone (and is going) through some changes.

Over the years, I'd used online shopping mainly to repurchase bras I'd owned (via trying them on first in boutiques) or those made by my core brand (that always fit well), Freya. By last winter, it had been so long since I'd been to a real shop to try something on - not to mention that Freya's not at a high point from the quality or fit perspective these days - that I was wondering what the fuck had happened to all of the good bras.

Many of you know, since I talk about it compulsively, that I went for a fitting (not my first, by a long shot, but my first in a couple of years) in a bricks and mortar shop. This experience was very useful in as much as it introduced me to the fit of Empreinte (a brand I'd always wanted to try but couldn't find at a reasonable price, so I'd avoided it) and reminded me about a few others I'd forgotten about (Fantasie, Prima Donna, Fauve). I discovered that there are many good bras out there for me. Somehow, though, they all appear to be in the mega-pricey category. What a shock.

So how have I embraced the adventure?
  • First off, I left the bra boutique with 650.00 bucks-worth of lingerie (3 bras and a pair of undies) and a renewed sense of purpose.
  • I found wonderful new homes for 15 bras, via my recent sale. I also deconstructed 3 bras for wires and other materials. Then I moved a couple of bras I do love, but which are moving towards too loose due to overwear, into the "not now" drawer. This left me with 18 bras (10 fashion sets and 8 basics).
  • I started reading my myriad daily lingerie blogs, not just for interesting discussion but possible product discovery.
  • I decided that Freya is off limits unless a) I can try the bra on in a shop and b) only if it compels me. Last time that happened was with the Arabella, quite a long while ago.
  • I realized that lingerie flips my switch like just about nothing else so I'd better indulge that. You only live once and your tits aren't getting any perkier.
  • I recognized that many of you appreciate my endless ramblings about bras and fit and decided to rename my bra habit "public service". Just goes to show you that I can convince myself of anything :-)
  • Really, though, to buy a bra online - esp. if it's on sale - can be a very affordable experience. If it's returnable, the likelihood is that I'll be out 20 bucks in shipping and a lunch trip to the post office. And given that getting parcels is the most freakin' fun thing ever, I decided that online bra shopping is my version of going to the movies. Entertainment.
But the name of this adventure is Novelty. I want to learn about new brands I've seen but never tried. I want to discover crazy new things. I want to be able to advise those of you who are actively looking for bras with various features about the viability of any particular brand.

In this spirit, I've purchased 5 sets online recently (all at very good prices) and gone to bricks and mortar shops 4 times (no purchases, but lots of info gathering). So far 2 sets have arrived and I've sent both of them back. You're going to hear about those experiences in detail - about all of the experimental sets and the brands with their various biases. I'm just finding it challenging to knit shawls, make muslins and jackets and blog about lingerie - all at the same time!

The new brands I've tried recently are: Empreinte, Cleo (well, I'd tried it before, but not recently), Fauve and Claudette. I'm waiting on delivery of new styles of Empreinte, Cleo and (that boobs-on-a-plate maestro) Ewa Michalak.

For sure, I've integrated my recent acceptance of Bratabase with this experience in the hopes that I'll be able to verify how accurate the database is (fairly accurate, I suspect) - and so that I won't be buying "blind". I'll chat about this more in upcoming posts, but I was amazed - when entering info into Bratabase - to discover that practically every bra I own has the same fundamental dimensions (regardless of tag size, brand or style). This gives me some awesome info to work with. Especially if I use that sizing against reviews of bras on Bratabase and blogs before I purchase online.

I really don't know what's going to come of this but I'm energized to see if there's a better way to determine fit before buying sight unseen. In a worst case scenario, I'll go into b&m boutiques, try everything on, buy one of something (as a show of support), and then find the items that work for a third to half the price online.

Today's questions: What lingerie brand is piquing your interest lately? Have you had the chance to try it or are you waiting to learn more first? Who knows, maybe I'll do a little review. Let's talk!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Pointing In the Right Direction

There are learning moments that are doubtless game-changers. Don't get excited, I'm still deep in the middle of fucking irritating confusion, but I sense that I will, hereafter, know something critical. In a fitted woven bodice, I need an armscye dart:

Remember - this is a work in progress AND the dress form is not of the same dimensions as me... Note: The shoulder pads are inserted.
Yeah, I suspect I'm one of the 10 people on the planet who have to alter the princess seam at the bust (to give more room) AND THEN add a dart. When the freakin' jacket is already open over the full bust?!?!? That's what you get when you're fairly narrow everywhere but in the boobs - if the boobs go straight forward rather than out towards the sides.

I don't know why I resisted this for so long. It's not hard and it freakin' works! Finally, there's no puff at the armsyce seam on the front bodice and the slope of fabric that lies over the bust is flat. And, theoretically, I should have an increased range of motion at the shoulder joint. Maybe I'll even be able to raise my arms over my head! :-)

Apropos of that, fitted jackets aren't the garment known for full range of arm motion. But maximizing motion is important.

FYI, it's a 1.25" dart that I angled towards the full bust (where the plus sign is diagonally to the right) but stops quite short of it because I don't want to overemphasize the apex. Plus, that is its natural end.

You can see that I've had to remove still more fabric at the waist, about another 0.5" at each side seam.

The back is looking pretty good, IMO. I still have to press the centre back seam (I took another .5 inches out of it at some point and didn't press). It's quite hard to see - esp. as the shoulders on this form are NOTHING like mine, but on the left side I have taken an extra .25" out of the back armsyce (brought the back seam of the armscye in line with my own). I don't know if I'm going to go with the left-side alterations or stick with the earlier-iteration right-side.

The pattern was drafted with no centre back seam but S smartly suggested that I add one. If you are curvy, I feel that a centre back seam is de rigeur. It gives you another seam to fool around with, which is very useful.

Time was, I thought seams were kind of remedial. Crazy, I realize. I thought the whole idea was to make as few seams as possible because that's how you show the fabric off to its best advantage. What I've learned over the years is that seams are totally unobserved by the average viewer. People notice good fit, not the mechanism used to achieve it.

I suppose it's the subject of another post, but I really have improved as a sewist via the 8000 muslins I've made recently. It's tricky, to put it mildly, to ease the princess seams (front to side front and back to side back) when you're dealing with a fairly intense curve. I've done it so many times lately that, at this point, I intuitively know where and when to clip the seam allowances. I've also determined that it's truly necessary to sew (slowly) over the pins on those seams (bad practice though it might be) because removing them as you come upon them, but before you sew, completely skews the fabric.

I loathe making muslin after muslin but I guess, even here, there's a silver lining. Don't misunderstand. I'm SO done with this phase of the project, even as I (miserably) keep on going. I don't know where I find the tenacity. But - to understate things excessively - I'd really hate to make a suit that just doesn't fit.


I've decided to feel genuinely grateful that the universe wants to give me every opportunity to internalize this pattern alteration process.

Meet the beginnings of muslin 3.5 (those green lines represent where the next test garment's seam allowances differ from the, now sliced up, current one):

I just can't bring myself to call it muslin 4.

I honestly think I might have a nervous breakdown if I have to draw all of those markings one more time. Though it does occur to me that I can do whatever I want.

Fuck it. I've got the grainlines running straight and the HBLs are level. Next round, I'm not drawing the seam allowances. I REFUSE.

I was all smug and ready to move to the real fabric when I talked to S on the phone. She asked me to send her a pic of me wearing the muslin, arms raised over my head. I told her I didn't think that was actually viable (but I didn't care).

Turns out I care.

Of course, once I redraft the armsyce (and tinker with other seams), I'm gonna be all back to scratch on the sleeve.

Which is why I'm so pleased that the universe knows I'm up to it.

I feel very special.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Rough and Tumble

Let's say you're not my sister or my daughter and your birthday is coming up at the beginning of April. Perhaps you should stop reading this now...

Behold, the finished Guernsey Triangle, a BEAUTIFUL design that blocked perfectly and actually looks entirely like a triangle (though I didn't really know how that was going to happen given the construction methodology):

Shawls really do look much better in action, but this gives you an idea of the full design...
I freakin' love this thing, which is why I will be making it again for myself as soon as another batch of the Brooklyn Tweed yarn arrives.

A few things about the pattern:
  • It takes a long time and quite a bit of concentration to pull this one off. It's not hard but it's not knowably repetitive. (Well, I suppose for some it is, but I had to look at the stitch chart pretty compulsively).
  • It's a pattern that starts off easily but increases in difficulty. It gets harder because you go from 12-stitch rows to 360-stitch rows over the course of knitting from start to finish. By the end, every row I knit took 13 minutes (I had Scott time me on a variety of occasions, which he really didn't appreciate). It was a slog, knowing that I still had many more to go. It's tough just sliding the stitches around every 4 seconds because there's barely any space left on the needles.
  • This shawl really does turn into a triangle even though, as you knit it, it's just a blob. This is probably a flawed explanation, but I'll try to describe how it comes together: Imagine a button mushroom with a stalk. In your mind, draw a triangle around it so that the top point of the triangle aligns with the centre top of the mushroom cap and the midway point of the bottom side of the triangle aligns with the centre of the mushroom stalk. The triangle represents the triangle-shaped shawl and the mushroom represents the direction of expansion. You knit this shawl starting from the centre line of the base of the stalk, moving up towards the cap and widening out from that centre line as you go. Effectively, as you knit, you are "creating the mushroom" from the base of the stalk (the vertical midline) to the tip of the cap, widening outwards (i.e. giving width to the stalk and then the cap from the midline of each) as you knit upwards. OMG - is this even vaguely comprehensible?
  • The yarn, while it softens somewhat after knitting and blocking, is still a delicate and rough fabric. I wouldn't choose to wear this directly against my skin, but atop other things. Mind you, I have little issue with rustic yarn from the perspective of allergy or irritation, I just like the feeling of soft things against my skin. I briefly considered using a locally-sourced yarn for my next Guernsey Triangle but decided that the spring of the yarn - the bouncy, lofty, lambi-ness of it - is too special to forego. I think it's perfectly suited to the desired weight (affecting drape) of this shawl. You don't want your triangle shawl to turn into a droopy mess under the pressure of gravity. As such, light, springy yarn is integral.

If, indeed, it is the case that US manufactured products (of which this yarn is most definitely one) are exempt from duties at Customs (given the US/Canadian free trade agreement)*, then this is a reasonably priced yarn given its quality. You could order a zillion dollars-worth of it and it would still only cost you 10 bucks (max) delivery fee to Canada. If you order under 50-bucks worth (but hovering around that amount), the shipping fee is 7 bucks. Hilariously, it is SO light that 3 skeins of fingering yarn weigh practically nothing. No wonder the shipping charge isn't crazy.

I can't say I'm looking forward to knitting this again, but I sure am looking forward to the outcome.

Whatcha think?

* The reason I question this is because I know how many exemptions there are to the US-Can "free-trade" agreement.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Time Passages

In the first week of April, my daughter will turn 13, my sister 40 and my mother 65. I feel like I'm living in a TV movie about "life milestones" wherein the family matriarch enters official retirement age; her daughter goes through a broadly-played "mid-life moment" and the snarky teen-to-be takes approximately 5 minutes from her snarking to be grateful for a wind-fall of gifts.

In truth, my mother is in no way nearing retirement. My sister is particularly fixated on the huge "meaning" that underpins being 40, but then she was very fixated on turning 30 and 20 in much the same way. (Note: My sister really likes meaningful moments.) And my daughter has basically been 13 for the last 5 years, so we're all kind of over it.

But, you know, this convergence of life passages does lend itself to reflection. I live far from my family - my daughter is my only blood-relative living in the same country as me. Proximity is a basic tenet of celebration. It's a basic tenet of support through all the life experiences - some of them joyful, many of them very hard. 
When I was 19, my parents and sister - ever the nomads - moved back to the States (from Toronto, where I still reside) and I made a decision not to join them. Who knows, maybe it was my first conscious act of adulthood. Maybe it was impossible, at that developmental stage, for me to understand that we would thereafter be separated by many miles and international travel. There's no special occasion associated with the encroaching realization that time passes and you are where you are. 

Well there's a cheerful spin on things!

Really, not to dwell, in the past 23 years, I have created a family in a far away land, really more home to me than any other place has ever been. I'm delighted to find that, for her birthday, M has requested the attendance, at dinner, of beloved grown-up friends (whom she's known socially, as only and only-child can) since she's been conscious. It will be at a restaurant, where we are most definitely preferred guests, on the date when M's favourite server and resto-chum will be working. We'll celebrate Easter (in a rather secular fashion) at Hilary's over the weekend (with all of her family, with whom I holiday regularly). This week we have birthday plans with those same friends (above) and others - two of whom I've known since I was 15. Yeah, everyone I know falls under the birth sign of Aries.

Despite the challenge imposed by distance, I am satisfied to say that my daughter will observe her entry into adulthood as my sister commemorates a soul-searching midlife moment and my mother wonders how the fuck she's managed to join the ranks of those who get discounts on happy hour meals (cuz really, she looks too young). 

Let's call it the circle of life.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Spring Suit: Muslins Apace!

Muslin 2 - Burda 07/2010 - 119
Gotta say, this pattern is never going to be known for its catchy name: Burda 07/2010 - 119. From here on in, let's call it the Burda suit jacket or the Burda jacket, 'kay? I'm making the version with the buttons and without the peplum, fyi.

What you're looking at in the photo, above, is my second muslin shell having made the following alterations:
  • Removed 5/8 inch from the width of the armscye at the shoulder seam, tapering to nothing under the arm
  • Raised the waist by 1 inch (this one's standard at this point)
  • Added 5/8" of fabric to the bust point of the side front (the "FBA")
  • Slashed the front piece above the bust to allow it to fall - thereby a) getting rid of bubbling fabric above the bust and b) leveling the HBLs
  • IMO, the most ironic of alterations - I added an inch (removed by shortening the waist) to the jacket hem - because I want to retain the original length of the jacket (which isn't long to begin with, ending at the high-hip).
A few considerations:
  • This is the first time that I've actually altered a woven pattern muslin of this complexity on my own - and I owe it all to my fitting friend, S. Please keep in mind, I haven't sewn it, so don't be congratulating me quite yet. :-) I take this as a real sign of skill development, regardless of how muslin 2 comes together, because I finally found my confidence. (Given how I'm feeling these days, in general, no proactivity can be trivialized.)
  • The tailored suit jacket is absolutely, positively, unquestionably the most difficult garment for me to fit on my own body. Arguably, suit jackets are amongst the most challenging things to make (from a tailoring and technical complexity perspective). But for me, sewing skill is barely on the radar - well, till I ease the side front piece to the front, and then the sewing is a fucking feat!
  • My point is that this process is complex and every part of it pushes me forward to new understanding of how my body is shaped (and bodies in general are shaped) and how this influences our final product.
 S has reminded me so many times now about:
  • Walking the pattern before everything, to ensure that the markings are accurate
  • Determining where to put the horizontal balance lines (one above waist, one above bust)
  • Remembering to mark the HBLs, waist, grain, all pattern markings and seam allowances
  • How and when to make a wedge alteration
  • How to mark the working muslin in such a way that the alterations can be applied to the pattern pieces accurately
  • How to use that blue paper and the roller thing with the spikes to make sure that new seam allowances are exactly reflected on the pattern pieces
  • How to "look" at the muslin mathematically
I'm not going to lie, this process doesn't really thrill me. Well, it doesn't thrill me till I get all of the horizontal lines to lie horizontally and the vertical lines to hang straight and the notches to all intersect where they should. And, when the freakin' thing fits over my boobs, that's pretty thrilling.

You'd be amazed by the way in which all of these hard-drawn lines tell you what you need to know. (And by that, I don't simply mean: Stick with knits, idiot. :-))

Despite all of this, I'm not an "in the weeds" sewist. Just ask S, who is frequently amused (if not horrified) by my slap-dash interpretations. I do not want to make 7 muslins of a jacket. I kind of resent my last suit jacket on that basis (though that process was unavoidable). I'm committed to constructing one more muslin after this one - to tweak fit further and to figure out how the freakin' sleeves are going to intersect with the armscye - and then I want to make something.

I'm actually very intuitive. For what it's worth, I define intuition as "instinct, refined by a keen awareness of the technical on a conscious and subconscious level". Most definitely, I bring this quality into my process. What delights me endlessly about making things, is that I get to spend quality time with my intuitive self and, let me tell you, she is FUN. I love it when my fabric tells me - in the moment - what to do. In truth, intuition is always the final arbiter, for me, and - while I recognize how critical it is to be scientifically precise - there ain't no fighting who I am.

It's taken me (never mind the V8333 jacket I've since scrapped) approximately 15 hours to get to this stage of muslin 2. And I haven't even considered how my significant armsyce adjustments are going to impact a 2 piece sleeve that, Clio tells me, starts out fitting bizarrely.

Though I've brought little ammunition of consciousness to it, armscye and sleeve adjustments seem to be an alteration I come across again and again - probably because I haven't been able to get my brain around making the size that actually fits my shoulders. In the case of this jacket, I do think the shoulders are strangely drafted, which is to say super-wide, and that I chose the best starting size. I am a standard EU40 in a woven top in RTW and this pattern is also a 40. It does seem to fit nicely and narrowly everywhere but in the shoulders.

Most definitely, despite all of my alterations, this jacket fit better, "out of the envelope" than any pattern company's offerings ever have in the past.

So, today's questions are these: How many muslins do you have in you?? Do you use the fitting axis approach to muslining (using the grain and HBL lines as a guide)? Are you a technical or intuitive sewist first? Can you overthrow perfection for action? Can you stand to be more precise? Let's talk!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Vowels Are Crunchy

I spend more time eating my words...

So, after more than a year of avoiding Bratabase, I've succumbed to its call.

For starters, let me tell you what put me off for so long:
  • It's not an attractive interface. There's a kind of cognitive dissonance in using an ugly platform to database one's most beautiful underthings.
  • When it first started, there was very little data to be found. I do realize that the idea behind the site is that people like me (and specifically like me - lingerie addicts who like dealing with measurements) add the content. It's a give-and-get modality. The truth is, until now I haven't been able to see past the ugly (maybe cuz there was not much else to see).
  • I didn't feel the need to connect with the "bra community" in this context at this level of detail. Mind you, in the last little while I've observed how helpful it seems to be for people to speak about bra fit and their experiences on platforms such as these (subreddits, anyone?). I've had two discussion platforms for many years (my everyday life, wherein I torture people with info on bras all freakin' day, and my blog via which I proselytize routinely).
Change is good though, so they say, which brings me to my current perspective:
  • I own a lot of bras. Sometimes I can't keep them straight. (OK, that's not true about keeping them straight - I wear them all (25, currently) on a regular basis and I keep them well-organized.) Here's the thing, I have a sample of bras that doesn't seem well-represented on Bratabase currently - the super expensive category.
  • Furthermore, as my size and shape may change, it's very useful to have a database of measurements and fit information to which I can refer. Then, if I "regress", I'll have lots of detail at my access.
  • The reason I wear bras that fit is because I've had access to the resources that make it possible. I should pass that on in as many ways as I can.
  • The place is no longer a ghost town. OK, I know, I'm not going to win any awards for early adopter, this time, but I wasn't psyched to hang out in a dingy room on my own (metaphorically speaking). Now there's much more functionality, more conversation and more info. It inclines me to participate.
  • Bratabase is actually offering something that no other platform does (as far as I know) - very detailed, measurements of many kinds (including three-dimensional) on every bra it profiles. That means, if I (or someone in Iqaluit) want to know if a bra, to be purchased online, will fit, I can refer to such ephemeral - but useful - info as cup depth and wire height. You can even determine what breast shape is optimal for what bras, so that you don't waste time on something that isn't ever going to work because the gores are too wide or the wires too narrow.
  • The full bust, narrow frame market is increasing in numbers. Maybe that's because we're ever more out and proud. Maybe it's because - due to environment or evolution - there are more of us all the time. The point is, the mainstream (aka department stores) has not evolved at the same pace and so many of us are forced to purchase online. I'm very fortunate - I live in a huge city with numerous options within walking distance. That lady in Iqaluit does not. As a result, the majority of us really are at the will of the resources that give us critical information about fit.
Don't get me wrong. Nothing is ever going to be as good as going into a store, trying on a bra, getting someone else's opinion and walking out with the perfect set. But till we can all afford to do that, we've got to do the next best thing. At the moment, it appears that's databasing.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The New Look

I'm no fashion historian, but I understand that M. Dior's New Look was a well-won "fuck you" to post-war fabric restrictions - and very likely to the recently-ended war itself. (Ha! Having re-read this sentence, there's absolutely no question that I'm not a fashion historian!)

I have always been enamored of the flouncy, but clean and appropriate lines of the this style. It's all business, but with a dirty-little-secret. One imagines some outrageously sexy lingerie lurking beneath the correct and splendidly-fitted jackets. I also love the attention to hips, provided by the designs.

Though I spend much of my time talking about fit as it pertains to breasts, I actually am most attracted to an emphasized, curved-hip silhouette, the likes of which is the emblem of the New Look. Who doesn't love a nipped-waist graciously expanding towards soft, feminine hips??

Which is why, when I found this jacket I was a bit in its thrall:

Advance 6921
Admittedly, it's the wearable, 1950s suburban version of a theatrical, late 40s original. More business. Less flounce.

I love the side-dart / vertical front-dart combo. This is a very smart way to achieve good fit for a bust that is proportionately large on its frame. The shawl collar is the essence of elegance. I do love me a shawl collar, be it modern or vintage. IMO, it transcends the concept of "era" though it's less ubiquitous in modern fashion than it was in days gone by. Note: You can always find a version of this neck in high-end RTW. Knit-wear designers know that a shawl collar is exceedingly chic - and youth-giving - on a woman of a certain age (and neck).

The jacket ends at the high-hip, an attractive visual cut-line, especially when worn against a full skirt having upwards of 8 yards of fabric.

Has there ever been a time in history since, when so much draped-fabric has produced such a compact silhouette?

At any rate, this pattern, gorgeous though it is, does not come with printed markings. It's of a vintage that markings are symbolized by perforations, clarified by a legend. You can imagine how, in my current state of mind, and having maybe a gram of oomph (at most, in the middle of the afternoon), I'm not in the market to learn this new skill just at the moment.

But it'll be there for me when it's time.

Today's questions: What do you think of the New Look? How do you like this jacket's riff on it? Have you ever made a jacket of this era / having this vibe? Do you enjoy working with unprinted vintage patterns - or are they a pain in the ass? Let's talk

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Delivery Mode

The first Empreinte bra to catch my eye was this one:

Empreinte Roxane
I tried to buy it a few times, via a few different European vendors, but I couldn't have it shipped. The Empreinte people seem to have a draconian predisposition to limit free-trade. Oh, you can get these bras in North America - if you're prepared to spend about 50 per cent more than our Euro sisters do. You just can't get them in the same currency.

The fact that they're expensive, even when on sale in the EU, is a big issue. Most Canadian women -  if they can find them - cannot afford to purchase them from a bricks and mortar store.

I've asked a variety of UK vendors why they can't ship to Canada. Nobody's given me an answer, though I'm sure it's that Empreinte doesn't need to devalue the brand if everyone on this side of the pond is forced to buy from vendors on this side of the pond.

And really, there's a part of me that gets that. I make clothing. I've made bras. I know how expensive it is to find beautiful materials and to construct something that requires perfect fit. Seriously, NASA could learn a thing or two from Empreinte. I'm sure its R&D rivals that of big Pharma.

But Empreinte is sorely mistaken if it thinks everyone to the left of the Atlantic is going to pay a zillion dollars more, just cuz.  (Note: I've bought 2 Empreinte sets in a boutique in TO and spent 300 bucks on each. I consider that adequate support of my local economy in this fiscal year, and respectful of a fine brand.)

I have a UK friend who's willing to receive the goods and then send them on to me. That cuts the price in half, even with the additional shipping charge, especially if I can find a set on sale. Then, for the die-hards among us, there's eBay*. You know, I'm not big into eBay but it does have its place. And, I'm learning more and more, for lingerie, it can be extremely cost-effective. To wit, I finally found a Roxane (long since sold out in every store) on eBay. With shipping, this $200.00 bra (in a Canadian boutique) the cost is $55.00. And it's returnable if it doesn't fit.

So, today's questions are these: Do you have the Roxane and, if so, what do you think? Are you insulted by the extra cost that certain companies throw at certain geographic regions (one assumes the same thing is happening in other places)? Have you bought bras on eBay and, if yes, what was your experience? Let's talk.

*In my experience, the most challenging element of shopping for lingerie on eBay is that it's hard to find the matching undies from the same vendor (or even a different vendor, which would increase the shipping). So, if I'm going to buy on eBay I need to know where matching undies can be purchased (sometimes from an online bra boutique - if the bra is current -  or from a bricks and mortar store). If I can't find the undies and the bra's not black or beige, it's an unfortunate no-go for me. On the flip side, eBay can be a great place to find (at a great price) an extra pair of undies to match a bra you may already have.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Lure of the Handmade Bra...

You know how I went through a phase of making bras. Really pretty bras, they were, but not a one of them fit.

The fit fell down in the following ways:
  • Wires had minimal integrity (not strong, peeps, and I bought different ones in numerous places)
  • Fabrics were firm, but I didn't really know how to firm up some flimsy ones - ok, let's call them delicate - so that I could use those as pretty contrast. I also couldn't make the bands firm enough
  • The cups, regardless of what crazy-ass size I decided to make (and I tried 5 different cup sizes) were always too shallow over the full bust point, resulting in a gore that would not lie flat but, frequently, cups that were too large in the top and bottom of the cups (note, the flimsy wires probably didn't help the centre gore to tack at the breastbone...)
Alas, the beauty of continuing to learn about things is that one is welcome to revisit concepts with new ideas. I'm almost ready to start trying the hand-sewn bra thing again.

So, what's giving me the push to try again?
  • I recently dissected some of my RTW bras that had seen better days (oh, so traumatizing) and kept the wires. This means I'll have better support and an opportunity to compare RTW wires against the ones I've bought online for a) shape b) length c) proportion at either side (underarm and centre).
  • I have a better sense of how to underline things now and how to use delicate fabrics more sturdily.
  • I've finally figured out what depth of cup I need at the full bust i.e. over the centre apex from underarm to centre chest. It's 10.5 - 11 inches, fyi. That's very deep through the centre but quickly less deep above and below that apex.
  •  I've determined that I need close set gores at heights of 2.5 inches (if plunge) or 3 inches (if balconette).
  • I want 3 hooks and eyes and a side band of 3 inches in height. Or a long line. It's not that I can't wear bras with 2 hooks, but - in order to provide the superior lift that I will not forgo - the fabric and construction must be very good if when I do. I think I should leave that to the RTW bra experts.
This gives me a lot of new information to work with.

Furthermore, I sense I've been trying to make bras using the pattern size associated with my UK bra size. That's rather different, once one gets into the larger sizes, that the EU or US bra sizes that all of my patterns are likely constructed in (some are European, some are Canadian). Don't get me wrong, I deviated from my RTW sticker size by a variety of cups in all kinds of ways. But it didn't occur to me at the time that I am basically 3 bra sizes in one as a result of being:
  • very full in the centre cup, but narrow from side to side,  and
  • very narrow in the back and shoulders 
Wires are the key to it all, I've come to understand. Wires and band tightness.

If you have, for example, a wire that's 11 inches long (and that's about the wire length I prefer), it might be very shallow under the bust and wide OR very narrow under the bust and long. It can also be bent so that it's narrowed on one side and widened on the other. Point is, the shape matters - and it particularly matters when you're trying to get fabric to lie over a very specific volume between those wires.

So, for my own purposes, and in case you're interested, my next handmade bra (when and if I choose to make it) will be constructed in accordance with the following:
  • Underlined lace in top cups, bottom cups in stable fabric
  • Band that stretches taut to 31 inches max
  • RTW bra, reclaimes wires
  • 3 inch, close set gore (reinforced)
  • 3 inch side band (underlined for maximal stability) - maybe with boning
  • 3 hooks (unless I figure out how to make a long line, in which case 6 hooks and boned sides)
  • Depth of 11 inches at the centre apex
  • Straps at 1/2 or 5/8 width
Truth is, peeps, I'm highly unmotivated to experience another hand-crafted bra disappointment, especially since I've found some awesomely fitted (if ridiculously expensive) RTW options. Furthermore, I WILL NOT wear a bra that does not lift, support and look freakin' awesome (which is to say a) hot and b) expensive). If I can't crack the code for myself, then I'm super glad there are manufacturers out there who know what they're doing.

Since I started sewing in 2009 (and, btw, bras were one of the first things I tackled in light of my LOVE of lingerie), I've observed how popular bra-sewing has become. I'm excited to find more people are taking on the challenge, because more sewists means more knowledge and - likely - better materials (as demand grows). Also, it's nice to have company!

Having said this, I think it's critical to remember:
  • If you've never worn a bra that fits, you're very unlikely to make one that does. So get fitted first. And refer to this post.
  • If you're above a 32 band size and a DD cup size, chances are the wires you find are not going to give adequate support. So, unless you've got very light breasts that have yet to experience the ravages of gravity, you may not be able to achieve the sort of lift that will provide your most attractive silhouette.
  • Furthermore, the larger your breast volume and density, the more important it is that the materials you use be firm. Underline anything with stretch. And make sure the bottom cup does not stretch at all.
So, that's my diatribe du jour. Today's questions: Do you know what cup depth you require? (Given how obsessed with boobs and bras I seem to be, this is a recent realization for me...) Do you read Bratabase? This site is dedicated to tracking the minutiae of every bra's fit by refering to standardized measurements (of which depth is one, go figure!) I have to be honest, the site doesn't really work for me - though I do appreciate its aim. And, finalement, if you have successfully made bras to fit large breasts (and by successfully I mean bras that fit beautifully, look terrific and provide great support) can you give us some advice.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Remember That Spring Suit?

You'd be forgiven for thinking that I've ditched the project altogether - and not merely my original jacket choice. (Hopefully, I'll be forgiven for my delinquency.)

One of the great things - side bar, but on point - about meeting the glamorous Clio a couple of days ago, is that she was able to give me some info about my new spring jacket pattern because she made the peplum version in leather (aka best project ever):

Burda 07/2010 118-119
 Would it kill them to photograph the jacket in such a way that you can see what's going on??

The technical drawing gives you a little bit more... FYI, in truth I'm confused at the moment. I don't know if I'm making the version with the zipper or the one with buttons. And I don't mean "I haven't decided". I mean, my fitting friend (aka "the nicest person on the planet") traced the pattern for me and it's only after I write this post that I'm going to go upstairs and see the pattern pieces for the first time, draw all of the seam lines and then make the muslin. So let's see what's coming! Happily, I love both options.

Clio did infer that it's one of those jackets that attracts men from far and wide. Mind you, she is so gorgeous, I'm sure she finds that happens wearing many outfits! And on the topic of outfits she wears - this dress really is as chic in person as it is in pics. Lest you think she's just a pretty face, we had great conversation about politics, work, careers and family. You know it's a good meet-up when you barely have a chance to speak of the hobbies that brought you together for all the other things you want to discuss.

I sense that I will redraft the lapels slightly. They are wide for someone of my proportions. Mind you, that's the joy of the muslin, yes? One gets to see how everything's been drafted and then to change it if she chooses.

As I was considering new jackets to make, I did come across a very exciting vintage option on Etsy. Yeah, I bought it (though it was a pricey, unprinted vintage pattern). It's not where I'm at for this project. I don't have the energy to learn about how to make a jacket with barely any instructions and no printed markings - especially given the complex tailoring involved, but I will post about it soon - cuz it's very lovely and who doesn't like to look at a pretty vintage pattern envelope?

In the meanwhile, today's questions: What do you think of Burda patterns (this will be my first)? What do you think of this jacket (very different from V8333, yes?)? Is Clio's version not a thing of beauty?? (I want to steal hers, say I made it and call it a day.) Let's talk!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Never Say Never

You know I'm making this shawl:
Guernsey Triangle pattern by Jared Flood - this is my version...
It's a really gorgeous pattern - all 12 pages of it - which comes with a whole freakin' section of instructions on knitting the gauge swatch! Honestly, Jared Flood has written these instructions masterfully. Everything is crystal clear. From the swatch to the blocking (which also has its own page), this pattern is a joy to follow.

The yarn (Brooklyn Tweed Loft), however, is a strange beast. If you'd asked me before I started the shawl, what I thought of it, I'd have been pretty ambivalent. It breaks easily (though not if worked with consistent tension). It's laden with bits of "vegetable matter" (as the peeps in the biz like to say). It's scratchy (though much less so after blocking). It's variable in thickness (one spot very thin, another plump and nubby). It's not cheap (though not ridiculously expensive) - 14.50 USD  for 275 yards before shipping. Once shipping is added the cost jumps to 17 bucks a skein. 

(On that topic: The shipping charges on this yarn are quite reasonable and it arrived quickly and was not stopped at Customs. However, the worsted weight variety of this yarn (Shelter) is quite a bit pricier, all things considered at 12.50 USD, pre-shipping, for 140 yards per skein. To make the smallest size of the Stowe cardigan, one needs 11 skeins. That'll cost over 150 bucks once the shipping is factored in - and there's probably no way to send it but in a box that may potentially stand out at the Border, given volume.)

Anyway, I started with the fingering and a shawl to keep my investment to a minimum. Remember, fingering yarn is generally the most cost-effective because you use much less of it, by weight, to make any given item than you would using a thicker yarn.

I had no idea (though not for lack of clear explanation in the instructions - which increasingly make more sense as I go) of how this shawl was going to come together. Not being an expert on triangle shawls, I'm not sure if Mr. Flood's method is standard or of his own design. If he came up with it, let me tell you, he's very clever.

Essentially you provisionally cast on (and BTW, this isn't hard - there are 8000 possible ways to do it) 13 stitches (which turn into 12 on the first row) and that forms the flexible centre bend point, of the long edge of the triangle. Then, you knit width at the same time as you knit length towards the pointy tip. Eventually, for the large version of the shawl, you end up with upwards of 300 stitches on the needles. These are knit on in batches of 4, interspersed, every other row.

The genius of this pattern is that it looks super complicated but it's nothing more than knits and purls. It does take focus because the pattern changes to mirror image along the centre spine of the triangle. And, natch, you're increasing stitches on every RS row. Having said this, there's enough consistency in the pattern so that you don't have to continue studying the instructions, except to confirm what you're doing at the beginning of each row.

I finally understand the need for stitch charts. Every other pattern I've ever knit, that comes with a chart, has also come with written instructions. In those instances, I've ignored the chart (for the most part) and focused on the language because, seriously, those things seem like a form of alien-being communication. Mind you, for this pattern, to write each row would have taken pages on pages of text and would have been far more difficult to interpret than the visual representation.So, I sucked it up and figured out how to read the picture (right to left on the RS, left to write on the WS - taking care to recognize that the SAME symbols represent different stitch types depending on what side you're working). It sounds bad but one quickly establishes a groove and there really isn't much alternative for a design like this.

A word on my impressions of the yarn at this stage:

It really is compelling. Never have I encountered a fibre with so much natural spring. On Twitter, a while ago, I likened its spring to that of a trampoline and I have to say, it is as light as a freakin' cloud. Nonetheless, there's a density in the stitch definition that defies its texture. And it is very beautifully dyed. When I knit this yarn I can sense the vaguest smell of hay (maybe it's in my mind cuz it only comes upon me when I'm not trying to find it by actually sniffing the ball of yarn). I feel close to sheep, close to the land, close to nature when I'm knitting this. (And, given that, till last week, I didn't realize wild boar was actually a kind of pig, you can see that I might benefit from a bit of getting back to nature.)

I like it enough that I'm half inclined to buy 11 skeins of Shelter (the worsted gauge) but, in light of the cost, I'm more likely to knit another project in the Loft (fingering weight) and throw in a skein or two of the Shelter into my order to see how it compares. I have a feeling that I'm going to enjoy wearing this shawl (even though I'm not a "triangle shawl" type) to such an extent that I will be knitting with this yarn again.

Live and Learn

I never imagined that my appetite for fibre would expand to this extent. I have so many ingrained perspectives on how yarn should feel (soft, even) and look (monochromatic, halo- and texture-free) and this yarn challenges them all. For sure, I've grown in this respect, I've now worked with variegated and textured yarn on a couple of occasions and I'm beginning to appreciate the kind of refinement one can find in the right kind of rustic.

Don't misunderstand. I cannot foresee that I'm ever going to gravitate towards nubby open-weave items with excessive drape. I'm not going to love muddled palettes and gritty wool.

But here I am knitting a gritty, nubby, tweedy, "inconsistent" fibre in a shade that is so neutral one might say it borders on bland. And I actually think it's beautiful. 

Go figure.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Today's Word is "Thrill"

So my bra sale has been on for a few days now and I'm so thrilled by your enthusiasm! Many of you have written to inquire about whether my lingerie size is your lingerie size and I'm actually a little sad when the answer is no - cuz I really wan't y'all to adopt some affordable pretties. Happily, some of you are exactly the right size (or should I say, the stash is the exactly the right size for you) and lovely things are on their way.

I was talking with Myrna yesterday about how, given that the purchase of, and opportunity to enjoy, beautiful underthings is such a part of my identity, I'd be wise to share with others as often as possible. I mean, it makes it feasible for me to enjoy new brands continually and to get the word out to others who may enjoy them. I don't need an overflowing "provisional undies" drawer (ahem, that would be my third, in total). I need space to see and wear what works now (and potentially in the future, at slightly different sizes and shapes).

What I've come to understand recently is that breasts don't need to shrink or grow to change.

As we age, have children, enter puberty, approach menopause - the hormones associated with these great life changes affect the density of breast tissue - and thereby, how our breasts sit on our frames. Other challenges such as thyroid imbalance, serious stress (causing spikes in cortisol) or diets rich in foods we might not optimally tolerate can lead to similar changes in density (and size and shape too, of course).

There are bras I might not choose to wear in the future because, while the size is just right, the structure no longer does the trick.

Before you get all miserable and change the channel, young peeps, feel confident that I vastly prefer living in my 42-year old body than I ever did in my 25-year old one. These changes are not bad. They are not unattractive. They're just what they are - a metaphor of one's life lived. I say, live well and you will be gorgeous forever! :-)

Anyway, I cannot tell you how much I love to pass along these beautiful, structural marvels for the enjoyment of the next custodian. With each bra I hand-wash, then carefully set to dry before wrapping in tissue, I am reminded of the joy I felt when first I saw and touched it. I cannot help but to scrub in a little bit of extra thrill - and I truly hope you feel that when you open up your parcel.

On the topic of thrills at opening parcels, I am so grateful to my English friend for making this latest purchase possible:

Empreinte Lola Balconette - Confetti colourway

Empreinte Lola Shorty Thong

One gets a better sense of it on the model with the gorgeous boobs - but let me assure you, it is the power of this bra to make all boobs look this good. (Ok, to make my boobs look this good. :-))

I've learned that this bra has been discontinued and I seriously urge you to get yourself to a shop and try it on before it is no more. If it were even vaguely affordable, I'd buy it in every colourway and 2 in black. Alas, one has to expand her horizons. How will I find new things if I'm only focused on what I know now?

The Lola is an artful mix of sheer, weightless sex-appeal and architectural wonder. I've tried some of the loveliest and most supportive bras out there, and I've never seen anything like it. The band is affixed - affixed, I tell you - with nary an impulse to budge no matter what you do. It's a corset (albeit one without a long-line bodice underpinning it) but it's totally comfortable. (Note: I have a high tolerance for all manner of tightness on the bodice, so please keep that in mind.)

For your info, I've now tried on a variety of Empreinte bras including: the Kaela, the Ophelia, the Melody, the Diva and the Lily Rose.

All of them fit extremely well and give very good lift and shape. Some of them (Melody, Kaela) are rounder than my general preference. Others are too fussy for my North American predilections (Lily Rose, Thalia). The Ophelia is most definitely my next purchase, when the navy version comes out soon:

Photo courtesy of Miss Underpinnings
However, even this one (which looks light as air on the model), is not quite as insubstantial-seeming as the Lola.

Often, women with large breasts crave the very thing that eludes them - a web-like confection in defiance of gravity. Allow me to assure you, at the right price, it exists.

So, today's question is: What's the best bra you've ever worn? Inquiring minds want to know!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

In Which I Confess to Ennui

Peeps, you may have noticed I've been less constant than usual in my posting. I've also been less crafty. It's not that I'm not feeling creative. It's just that I'm unmotivated, frankly. At the risk of descending into broken record status, I'm so very tired.

This doesn't worry me. I mean, I've lived with these circadian ebbs and flows, lo these many years. I'm still getting over the dregs of pretty horrible sickness. It just doesn't make me the best company.

For example, it's noon and I've done nothing today. No yoga. No knitting. No sewing. No jacket planning. No cooking (and I'm having people over tonight). No prep for that dinner.  It's the most gorgeous day we've seen in 3 months (8 degrees and sunny) and I'm watching reruns of Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Episodes I've seen.

It's like my head is full of clouds.

I want to tell you about the experience I'm having with the Guernsey Triangle shawl (beautiful pattern, satisfying and easy all at the same time) and the yarn I'm using (weird but not bad). I'm just not up to it today.

In the meanwhile, please have a look at the fraction of a shawl I've knit this week. None of it in the last 4 days, mind you...

Pretty, yes?