Sunday, 22 February 2015

Sewing: Blue cotton chambray Grainline Archer shirt

If you had to choose one outfit to wear for the rest of your life, a uniform say, what would you choose?

For me the answer is easy, it would be a loose fitting shirt and skinny jeans. I can think of a variation of these two garments for almost any occasion.

  • Black jeans, crisp cotton poplin shirt and high heeled pumps for the office.
  • Black jeans, silk shirt, high heeled sandals, red lips and big earrings for dinner out or cocktails.
  • Blue jeans and a chambray shirt with ankle boots or plimsoles for running errands.
  • Oversized flannel shirt and knitted socks for spending a rainy Sunday in bed reading books or binge-watching shows on Netflix.

And so on....

So naturally it was just a matter of time before I made myself an Archer shirt. It is the perfect loose fitting shirt. Sufficiently androgynous for my taste.

I finally bought the Archer pattern during the Grainline Black Friday sale. I waited until Christmas to make it because I didn't want to rush. This pattern had the potential to become my new favourite pattern and I wanted to do it justice.

These photos were taken during Archer's first outing -  a little trip to Morocco. Lucky Archer.

I planned it so meticulously. I ordered my fabric, a light blue chambray from Stone Fabrics, weeks before Christmas, washed it, ironed it and folded it away nicely. I made sure I had interfacing and buttons at home. I kept my diary completely empty between Jan 1 and Jan 6 and planned to do one or two steps each day, starting with a muslin of course. Not for the fit, but to nail the techniques before attempting them with my nice chambray.

Day 1, Jan 1, I got to work. Taped the pattern and cut it out. This was such long, dull work that I gave up for the rest of the day. Jan 2 I cut the fabric. And decided to skip the muslin and get to work straight away. And it was so much fun I couldn't stop! I left the sewing machine at 8 at night having only the collar and buttons left.

And...well, it didn't turn out quite as terrible as I feared. In fact, not terrible at all. Sure, the topstitching could be better and I had to unpick one sleeve placket and both sides of the collar stand, leaving the fabric at those spots a bit damaged, but these are details and the overall look is great!

The blue chambray was so easy to work with! I couldn't have asked for a more well-behaved fabric for my first shirt.

I have to say just how amazing the sew along is. I have been terrified of making cuffs and a collar, but with the sew along it was kind of easy! In fact, there was nothing difficult about the construction of this shirt. And I have no comments on the pattern, it is a delight to sew.

The fit is a little bit off on me. But it's off all over, which makes me think I need to go down a size. That's annoying, because while I'm itching to make another Archer I can't face printing, taping and cutting another one. I should have measured more carefully.

Overall, I'd call this a success! I probably should have done the toile, but let's call this a very wearable toile. I feel so ready to make many more Archers! In fact, I have to. I managed to stain this one so badly and so extensively that it is no more.

So now that I have the perfect pattern for the top half of my perfect outfit I have my eyes on this Indian indigo blue cotton and this Irish linen from Merchant & Mills for my next Archers.

All photos by Josh.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

On not getting along with any sewing projects

I lost my sewing mojo. I think it's very slowly coming back, but for a while, everything I touched turned out terrible.

First, I sewed up the Megan Nielsen Kelly skirt, which I started ages ago, and the fit is disasterously bad. Which is such a fail on my part because with a flared skirt like that it's really not hard to get the fit right. I'm not even liking the fabric I made it in, so I have no motivation to try to fix it.

Then, I tried to make another Salme camisole. This time in lovely, luxurious silk. I don't even know where I went wrong, but literally everything about it is wrong. The fit is wrong. The drape is wrong. The construction is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Butchered silk. Unforgivable.

Finally, before giving up, I attempted to make a replacement for my first Salme skirt which I had worn to death. Should be easy enough, right? Two pattern pieces plus waistband and zipper. Plus I've made it before and been so happy with it I've literally worn it to pieces. Yet it went wrong. While cutting it out I accidentally cut the waistband in half. And of course I don't have any large enough pieces of the fabric left to cut out another waistband. I've since made a patchwork waistband, but I can't face finishing the skirt. Also, the fabric I've chosen is a bit whacky, so different from anything I'd normally go for, that it needs lining, but I don't have enough lining fabric. I suspect I'll hate the fabric and hence the skirt when it's finished, but I find it so hard to leave things unfinished.

I've been telling myself that I just have to finish the skirt, not even finish it well, and then I can move on to other sewing. But all that's resulted in is me avoiding any kind of sewing altogether.

Instead I've been spending my time with friends who are new to sewing but very happy and enthusiastic. And it's been so good! It's been a very pleasant reminder that sewing is meant to be fun! I can buy clothes if I want functional, flawless items. I sew clothes because I enjoy it. Flawless would be great, but I'm not a seamstress, I'm a (very!) amateur sewer.

So I went back to basics. And picked up this quilt again. Just straight lines. I'm going to finish the binding by hand and then I'll blog it. So should be a week or two. But in summary it's a bunch of Josh's old shirts cut up and mixed with some floral fabric for some pastel perfection.

That made me feel good about sewing again. So good that I ordered some dress fabric.

Both of these are from Croft Mill. The red is a viscose..something blend. I think cotton but might be wrong. I'm saving it for the spring, and then I will make the Deer & Doe Belladone dress with it.

The blue is a polyester crepe. I'm going to the ballet later this week and I planned to make a simple crepe de chine dress. These plans were formed before I turned into Edward Scissorhands around pretty fabrics. Since then however I realised I probably don't want to have more ruined silk on my conscience, so I ordered the polyester crepe to make a muslin first.

And this is the dress. Pattern Runway kimono dress. I made the muslin and didn't leave enough time to make the 'real' dress, so looks like I'll be wearing the muslin to the ballet.

So...some improvement, but I sure hope my sewing mojo returns soon.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Knitting: My first (well, kind of) scarf

One of my resolutions for 2015 was to learn to knit properly once and for all. I've tried on a few previous occasions and gotten as a far as knitting squares, using only the knit stitch. I've found you you can make a surprising amount of things with just squares, but after a while even I decided that it's time to stop being lazy.

I'm dreaming about chunky oversized cardigans and shockingly colourful fluffy socks. Ideally I'd wear these two together over pyjamas and spend the whole winter in bed this way, binge-watching Netflix and drinking my body weight in tea.

Now that I've painted this rather compelling picture I'm sure you get why I am so.very.keen to learn!

Also, I commute a total of 3-4 h a day. Imagine if I spent that time knitting. I'd have all my home-made Xmas presents done by April!

In other words, all the signs are there, I have to learn to knit!

I was very lucky around Xmas time because one of my bestest friends from Sweden came to visit. She started knitting not long ago and has become supergood superfast. I didn't let her leave until she showed me a few tips and tricks and after I waved her off at the train station I went pretty much straight to the yarn shop.

The plan is to start with some simple scarfs, then work up my skills with a slightly more complicated shawl and eventually have a go at a simple-looking cardi. But starting with the scarf. I had found a very simple pattern online, making a beautiful herringbone pattern using only knit and purl stitches.

My mom's birthday is coming up and I thought I'd make it for her. She loves everything purple so I bought three skeins of this gorgeous deep violet baby alpaca wool from the Oxford Yarn Store. It is the softest thing ever!

It took me forever to knit it though. It was my first time following a pattern and I had no idea how long it would take. In hindsight it was a good 40 hours, if not more. Sure made my commute fly by!

So am I hooked? Yes, I think so. It is so incredibly calming doing such a repetitive action and working that soft yarn with light and smooth bamboo needles. You know how they say that stroking an animal is calming? I'm sure the tactile sensation of knitting is somewhere on the same level. After a long day in the office spending some time on the train home listening to music and knitting is pure therapy!

On to the next scarf!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Sewing: Salme patterns buttonless shirt dress in monochrome viscose

Recently I posted my spring sewing plan and today's post is about the ticking off of the first item of that list. This Salme buttonless shirtdress.

I made a blouse version of this pattern just before Christmas and I think this look is just so versatile. Also perfect for layering!

I made the blouse in a light cotton lawn which just about worked, but it became obvious to me that for a dress something with a lot more drape would be required. So I picked up this viscose from Goldhawk Road in the days between Christmas and New Years, while the rest of the population of the UK were hunting the sales in neighbouring Westfield.

I've realised that one of the reasons I don't wear my handmade things as much as I'd wish is that I often make them in colourful fabrics. Nothing wrong with that, but I'm happier wearing neutrals with just the occasional pop of colour. So I'm trying to bear this in mind while fabric shopping this year. This black/white/graphite grey viscose caught my eye and I managed to get a meter for a fiver! With a 150 cm width I didn't require more to cut out my size. Note though that I a) cut the dress shorter than the pattern indicates as that's the length I prefer; b) didn't sew the belt and belt loops included in the pattern, as I prefer actual belts. So if you are thinking of sewing this dress and want to make it longer than mine and with the belt, maybe get a bit more than 1 meter.

No comments on the sewing really. This pattern is marked 'Beginner/Intermediate' and I think that it spot on. The collar is what moves this somewhat into intermediate territory, otherwise it's all very simple and suitable for beginners.

I messed up the collar on my blouse, mostly due to impatience and not reading the pattern properly, but now that I have an Archer behind me (which I still haven't blogged, it's coming, I promise!) this little collar was a breeze!

I also didn't interface the neckline opening, because I forgot. After I sewed it and realised I decided that I couldn't be bothered. It's very floppy, but I don't have an issue with it.

The viscose, being viscose, was trying to cause me some trouble. But I was prepared! Instead of working on the smooth wooden surface I usually work on I mostly worked on the floor where the pile of the carpet kind of kept the fabric in place. I will have to go over the carpet with a lint roller after I finish writing this, but those are the sacrifices made for drapey fabrics.

Overall, I'm very happy with this dress! I'll see how it holds up after a few weeks of wearing and washing before I decide whether the viscose was a good purchase or if it falls apart and I will need to make another one.

On another note: I am really, really going to try hard this year to improve my flash photography so I don't have to rely on daylight for good photos. For this shoot I used one external flash in addition to the flash built into the camera. 

It was good, but I really struggled with focus. When I set the autotimer the camera focuses on what is in view, so when I step into the frame I am suddenly in front of the point it focused on and thus blurry. I tried to fix this by focusing and then moving the tripod which did bring some improvements, but I'm thinking that I might treat myself to a remote soon. 

Also, I'm still underexposing. I had to sort this out in post-processing. I need to be braver with those flashes. Thanks for bearing with me during my rather slow learning curve!