Double caftan magic

How to sew a Fen caftan

The weekend before last, I sewed myself what I thought was the best summer frock I’d ever owned: a blurple caftan made with Merchant & Mills Indian Ink linen and some simple mods to the Fen top (details below). In addition to the color being completely amazing — rich and shifty — the fabric has an incredible heft to it and is a joy to wear. So when it came time to cut my next piece of linen this past Saturday — M&M’s Bonita stripe this time, which I’d bought from Fancy Tiger with pants in mind — I couldn’t stop picturing it as another caftan just like ol’ blurple. Only I had no idea how much more magnificent it would be. I’m thrilled with them both, but the striped one is pure magic.

How to sew a Fen caftan

The challenge of this fabric is that it’s an asymmetrical repeat — two multi-stripes, then one wide blank stripe, repeat — and I had debates with myself and among friends about how best to position it on the dress. After they pleaded for symmetry, I decided to place the wide blank stripe dead center, so my inverted pleats (front and back) would simply pull the two black stripes closer and then it’d fan out below the pleat, with the multi-stripes on either side. What I could not possibly have planned for even if I had tried was that this left the hip pockets I had mapped out on the blurple version perfectly centered over the multi-stripes, with the next set of multi-stripes (at the edges of the front and back) meeting perfectly in the center so they create a double-wide multi-stripe at the side seam. Cutting it out — flat, on the living room floor, so I could make sure I had every single stripe straight and identically positioned — was a job. But from the minute I began sewing, it started revealing all the other magic it had cooked up without me, and I was completely under its spell.

It might be the single best experience of my sewing life, and I’m madly in love with it. Hence the million photos.

How to sew a Fen caftan

Here’s how I made them, and how you can too:

Start with Fancy Tiger’s Fen top and dress pattern — you just need the two pieces for the top: front and back. Pick a size that’s a lot or a little big on you. I’m wearing this with a ton of positive ease, but I think it would look even better on a fuller figure with a bit less ease. All of this also applies to my black tunic version that preceded the dresses, by the way.

1) For the front pattern piece, trace the round neck (I might have raised it a bit when I first traced off this pattern a few years ago) and shoulder, around the sleeve, and down the side to the widest part of the curve. Then draw a line straight down from there to your desired length plus hem allowance. Mine is cut at 52″ from the highest point of the shoulder, at the neck edge. I’m about 5’8″ for reference. Do the same for the back pattern piece.
(I traced the size 18 shoulder line out to the size 20 sleeve edge, and the rest is size 20 down to the hip flare. That makes it 14″ wide from the hip down.)

2) Cut both pieces on the fold as marked and keep them folded, with right sides together. On the front piece, draw a line 1″ in from the fold (parallel with the fold, in other words) from the neck edge down 11″ and same thing on the back from the neck edge down 5″. Stitch along that line, then press the fold open on the wrong side to create the inverted pleat. Top-stitch in place.

How to sew a Fen caftan

3) Cut pockets as desired. My hip pockets are 8″x10″ (the size of a piece of chipboard I had handy!) pressed to 7″x7.5″ — half inch on the sides and bottom, and an inch twice at the top. And my chest pocket is 5.5″x7″ pressed to 4.5″x5″ — half inch all the way around plus another inch on top. Hip pockets are placed 2.5″ from the Center Front and 15.5″ from the neck edge. Chest pocket is placed 1.75″ from CF and 5″ from the neck edge. Top-stitch in place.

4) Sew the shoulder seams together as indicated/desired. Sew the underarm/side seams together as indicated/desired, leaving a split hem if desired. Both of these have split hems on both sides, measured 17″ (blurple) and 15.5″ (stripe) from the bottom edge. Finish seam allowances however you prefer. I French seamed the blurple one down to the split, clipped the seam allowance at that spot, then pressed the split hem open and under before stitching down. Same for the striped one except it’s serged instead of frenched.

5) Finish the sleeves, hem and neck edges as indicated/desired. I did a visible bias facing on blurple and the Fen neckband on the stripe.

For this length, using 60″ wide linen and the size 20 pattern pieces, I was able to get all of the dress and pocket pieces out of three yards, or that plus a pair of pants out of 4 yards. Yes, I now have pants cut from both of these fabrics! And can probably still squeeze a little tank out of the blurple scraps. Which means Linenpalooza ain’t over yet!

.

PREVIOUSLY in sewing: How to sew a kangaroo pocket

New Favorites: Lightly cabled

New Favorites: Lightly cabled pullovers

I’m on the brink of knitting myself a simple fall pullover (if I can find exactly the right yarn) and have been picturing it as stockinette and, ideally, a finer gauge than my norm. But the mere thought of actually knitting a sweater’s worth of fine-gauge stockinette sent me running to Ravelry to pore over cable sweaters. As much as I want to knit another fisherman, it’s not a closet priority. So I’m weighing the possibility of something lightly cabled:

TOP: Coastal Pullover by Hannah Fettig features allover cables so subtle they become textural white noise

BOTTOM: Hawley Pullover by Julie Hoover is a little more pronounced about its cables, but still.

.

PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Little hugs

The Details: How to sew a kangaroo pocket

The Details: How to sew a kangaroo pocket

I’ve had a number of people ask for the details on how I made the kangaroo pocket on my recent Fen mods: tunic and dress variations. Following is how I do it — and since I’m not a sewing professional, there may be people with even better advice in the comments on this. You can of course adjust the numbers to your liking, but my measurements result in a generously sized pocket 14″ wide and 8″ tall. You’ll want to make and attach the pocket to your garment front piece before sewing the rest of the garment together.

MAKE THE PATTERN PIECE

Using tracing paper or butcher paper or whatever you’ve got, draw a rectangle 15″ wide by 9″ tall.

On the right edge, measure 3.5″ up from the bottom right corner and make a mark. On the top edge, measure in 3.25″ from the upper right corner and make a mark. Draw a line between those two marks for your slant pocket edge. Repeat on the left side. Cut that out and you have your pattern piece, with .5″ seam allowance included.

CUT AND PREPARE THE POCKET

Matching the grainline for your garment front piece, cut your pocket piece(s) out of your fabric. If you’re using lightweight fabric, like my linen, you may want to cut two identical pocket pieces and make it a double thickness. For sweatshirt knits or heavier woven fabrics, a single layer will suffice. Either way, you can zigzag or pink the edges if you like.

For a single layer pocket, press all of the edges under at .5″, then for the slant pocket edges (which will remain unattached), press the raw edge under another .25″; top-stitch along the slant edges, starting and stopping just shy of the corners.

For a double layer pocket, with right sides together and using a .5″ seam allowance, stitch the two pieces together along all but the long bottom edge. Clip the corners, turn the pocket right side out, and form and press carefully into shape. Fold the bottom edges inward and press; pin together if needed. Top-stich along the slant edges, starting and stopping just shy of the corners.

ATTACH THE POCKET

Mark the center of both your garment front piece and your pocket — I just fold them each in half and press at the appropriate spot, then line up the creases to center the pocket on the garment. Pin the pocket in place, being careful to keep the bottom and top edges parallel to your hem (i.e., perpendicular to the grainline).

First, stitch across the top of the pocket, starting and stopping at the rows of stitching you’ve done across the slant edges. Then starting at the lower slant corner on one side, sew down the side, along the bottom, and back up the other side.

Give it a good press, and carry on assembling the rest of your garment!

.

PREVIOUSLY in The Details (sewing): How I sew elastic waistbands

This is summer me.

This outfit feels like a tiny personal triumph, so there are two quick things I want to tell you about it:

1) I’ve wandered onto the warm side of the color wheel for the first time in years, and it feels surprisingly great. This is the plum-colored tee I scored at Elizabeth Suzann’s sample sale in December (from their erstwhile Alabama Chanin collab), paired with this weekend’s rendition of my go-to modified Robbie Pants, this time in “Pomelo” linen from Merchant & Mills. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten a pomelo so can’t say for sure how accurate it is, but I would have named this color after an heirloom tomato — it’s exactly that sort of barely pinkish red. Together, these garments are the accomplishment of a goal: a summer-appropriate outfit that feels like me. In fact, I don’t remember the last time an outfit made me feel this satisfied. (And yet I couldn’t be bothered to do better than a mirror selfie!)

2) I’ve gone up one size in the pants. All of the canvas and denim versions I’ve made were size Small (with some very slight tweaks), based on my wish for there to be as little gathering as possible at the elastic waist. So I chose the size that would just barely slip on over my hips with the elastic fully stretched. After I made them in linen for the first time, by contrast, I was vaguely wishing the fabric had more of an opportunity to swish and drape. This red pair is a Medium and I am in absolute love with the fit. There’s not a huge difference in the sizing, but just enough to transform the way they feel and move.

I might be getting this summer dressing thing figured out. Only took me six summers …

p.s. One of the things I’m loving about making these pants out of assorted 60″-wide linens is they take less than a yard and a half of fabric!

.

PREVIOUSLY in Finished Objects: Linen pants! Plus Fen tunic, take two

Elsewhere

This has been a distressing week in the US (one of far too many of its kind), and you know I feel so strongly that every one of us needs to be informed and engaged and to work for peace. (Boy have my thoughts on how advanced these past three years.) But we also have to take care of ourselves and keep up our strength, which means being present with the people we love and also allowing ourselves to disappear into our knitting or sewing for a minute, to catch our breath and boldly face the world again.

I’ve got a mixed bag of links for you today, for your edification and/or enjoyment; I’ll see you back here on the other side of what I hope will be a comparatively peaceful weekend—

— Squam’s diversity-and-inclusion panel from last month has since been posted online. It’s long, so maybe watch it in chunks if you need to, but I hope you’ll watch

— I love every word of this interview with Oaxacan weaver and natural dyer Porfirio Gutiérrez: No one told us we were artists (via)

— Podcast eps I’m eager to listen to: The Dressed interview with Joy Bivins on the history of the Ebony Fashion Fair and the debut of Ceci Knits the World

— I’m in MDK’s debt for linking to Lorilee Beltman’s brilliant video about how to memorize the Kitchener Stitch — I always have to remind myself which way it goes and will never need to again!

— … and also for asking Jillian Moreno the question I’ve always wanted to ask someone: the difference between fingering-weight yarn and sock yarn

— Remember that wrapped hoop earring tutorial? Anne updated it on her own blog — and look at this lovely espadrille project

Why the American shoe disappeared, and why it’s so hard to bring it back

— and totally fascinating use of a sock blank

.

On an unrelated note, I want to acknowledge the loss of Toni Morrison this week, which feels especially sharp within this particular news cycle. I don’t really even have the words for it, but I loved this passage by Tracy K. Smith from one of the many NYT tributes I’ve read in the past few days:

“… the living monument of Ms. Morrison’s body of work assures me that the language of peace, justice, safety and stability must enter our imagination as they always have — not through the language of policy, but via our willingness to regard one another as worthy of attention and love. Such ideas must be sat with, moved through, married to our vocabularies for love, desire, loss, resentment, remembering, healing and hope. And those vocabularies are the primary terrain of the artist.”

I’ve been saying lately it’s been too long since I’ve read any of her novels. Time to dig back in …

.

New Favorites: Little hugs

New Favorites: Little sweaters

I don’t know whether it’s the back-to-school air or wanting to “hug” the ones I love, but I’m preoccupied with the notion of knitting more little sweaters to send off to small humans of various sizes. These two patterns (one new, the other a longstanding fave) top my list for being both timeless and gender-neutral, all the better for future hand-me-downs —

TOP: Willard Mini by Alicia Plummer is a sporty little drawstring funnel neck I’d love to have in my own closet

BOTTOM: Arlo by Michele Wang is the one I wanted in my size at the time (and then along came Bellows) but now want to make in miniature

.

PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Puzzle wrap

Linen pants! Plus Fen tunic, take two

Linen pants! Plus Fen tunic, take two

This weekend I sewed myself a pair of linen pants, and I was so excited Monday morning to have two whole pairs of seasonally appropriate pants to choose from that I was asking myself why on earth it took me so long to make such a thing?! They’re the same modified Robbie pants I’ve made several times before (always in heavy canvas or denim), and then I remembered, oh right, that was the hold-up. I’ve made several pairs of pants, and I have this shirt shortage, so I forbade myself to make any more pants till I solved the other problem. Meanwhile, I’ve suffered through jeans and canvas pants all summer for several years running! While somehow not even solving the shirt problem.

Well. Now I have linen pants (bonus: that aren’t black!) and will be making a couple more as quickly as possible.

I also finished off another variation on the Fen mods I’ve been working on, another top, and this one is black. It’s a test run for the follow-up to my yellow Fen dress — I wanted to try out a few tweaks first and have quite a lot of black linen in my stash, bought at Elizabeth Suzann’s garage sale a couple years ago for $2/lb. While it’s a test for a dress, I didn’t want a black dress, plus, y’know, the aforementioned shirt problem, so now I have another linen top as well! And it cost me under a dollar to make. For this one, I sized down to an 18 in the shoulders and sleeve, blending that into the size 20 body and hemming it at hip length. You’ll have to take my word for all this since it’s impossible to see, but in addition to a single breast pocket, it has the same 5″ center-back pleat as ol’ yella, along with an 11″ center-front pleat, and I think this combo is going to make a most excellent dress. I have fabric washed and ready.

My goal is to sew one garment per week for the next few weeks, catching my closet up with my seasonal needs while I’ve got this burst of sewing mojo working for me and a solid plan to follow. So it’s full speed ahead at the moment!

.

PREVIOUSLY in Finished Objects: Linen Fen dress, take one