May makes No. 3/4: Plus, what I learned from Me Made May

May makes No. 3/4: Plus, what I learned from Me Made May

My third and fourth makes for my Me Made May pledge are a sweater and a bag I’ll have to tell you about some other time. But I wanted to take a minute to talk about what I gained from this little exercise.

I pledged to make four things in May, and three of those wound up being sewn goods. It’s the only way four things are going to get made in one month, but also a deliberate choice. I’ve been saying for awhile now that I want to be more focused about sewing. After a lifetime of sewing sporadically and at a beginner level (I was at my most advanced as a sewer in junior high), I’m determined to sew more, to take more time with it, and to advance my skills. In other words, to act like I have with knitting these past few years. With these three projects (the skirt, the top and this bag) on the heels of the ten booth drape panels I sewed last month and the two Wiksten tanks before that, I’ve spent more time with my machine this spring than I have cumulatively in the 18ish years I’ve owned it. And it shows — in everything from my comfort level (way less cursing and fighting with the machine) to my craftsmanship. I’m getting somewhere.

But I still have a lot to learn, both skillwise and project managementwise. I can only work on a sewing project for a couple of hours before I grow weary and need to step away, but I don’t. All my life it’s been the case that I needed to power through something and finish it, at great discomfort and no matter what, because it might be a week or two before I could work on it again and I couldn’t leave everything on the kitchen table in the meantime. Now that I have a dedicated space for sewing, I can’t seem to break that mindset. Instead of walking away when I’m getting sloppy, I keep going … and things go south. So I need to learn the lesson of not trying to sew things in one sitting.

And I also obviously still have a ways to go before I’m as good at choosing materials and patterns as I am (or am getting to be) with knitting. Just like knitting, it’s a trial-and-error process, something that requires practice. So I will keep practicing. But as anyone who sews knows, it’s a little more brutal to get things wrong with sewing than with knitting — you don’t generally get the same kind of do-overs as knitters do.

So despite the fact that there are no new usable garments in my closet — the skirt and top having both come up short of wearable for me — I’m thrilled with my bag, my sweater and most of all the advances I’ve made. The growing feeling of confidence I have when starting a new sewing project is gold to me.

May make No. 2: the Raglan Tunic

May make No. 2: the Raglan Tunic

I really debated whether to post this photo or not, but you guys tell me all the time you value my sharing my misses as well as my hits. And I do think it’s important, having learned so much from others that way, so even though this is making me a little queasy, let’s talk about this top — the second of my pledged makes for Me Made May, and another near-miss. In the sketches, you can see what I’m wanting (thank you, Fashionary) — a floaty, loose-fitting top for summer that can be layered over in fall. I don’t know of a pattern for the exact thing I’ve sketched, so as with pretty much all of my knitting and sewing, I’m picking a pattern that’s close and adapting it to my liking. In this case, I decided the first thing I would try was Purl Soho’s Sewn Raglan Tunic. The Purl top is cut a little more straight up and down than me or my sketches, but it’s pretty close, right? To make it a bit floatier, I cut the third size but graded it outward at the side seams to the fourth size. I also cut the front tunic length for back and front, rather than a dropped hem, and I drafted sleeves that were wider/poufier and elbow-length, rather than choosing between super-short sleeves or 3/4 length.

Apart from that, I made one significant modification: The pattern calls for an elasticized neck binding (and same with optional sleeve treatment). An elastic neckline is not what I had in mind, but it also seemed unnecessary to me, since there’s a slit at the back already for your head to go through. Instead, I gathered the fabric at the neckline and sewed the bias facing on flat, so the fabric is gathered but the binding is not. And same for the sleeves.

I’m super proud of the craftsmanship on this one — it’s a big step forward for me — and I also enjoyed every minute of making it, which is not typical of me and sewing. The pattern is very well written and I had fun tampering with it. So I have a lot of good feelings about this garment — I do! Here’s why it’s a near-miss for me instead of a win:

1) The fabric is all wrong. I knew I needed to make a muslin of this, given how much I would be changing, but didn’t have any actual muslin handy. What I did have was this Brussels Washer (same fabric as that skirt) in olive, which Rebekka had given me. There were a lot of flaws in this cut of it, but I worked around them as much as possible on the off-chance the shirt turned out to be a winner. Unfortunately, in this color and fabric, the finished top looked super drab on me (as you can see). It needed to be with someone who would accessorize it, so it’s gone to live with Meg, and it looks perfectly darling on her.

2) The critical difference between this shirt and the sketches is the neck. I want a smaller, higher neckline, and could have had it here — again, because of the slit at the back. But because I had gone with a larger size, it was a lot of fabric being gathered at the neck. Even having left the neck a bit wider than I wanted, it’s just too much fabric gathered up around my big shoulders; had I kept going, it would have been ridiculous. So if there’s a second attempt with this pattern, I’ll cut a smaller top but still grade it outward toward the hem, for the same basic silhouette as I achieved here, but with less fabric at the neckline.

3) Not sure about the sleeves. In my mind and the sketches, the sleeves are a little bit poufy, which means they are at least minimally gathered, not just hemmed. But maybe a hem would be better, or again, just less gathering. That’s one to play with once I sort out the fabric (next attempt will be heavy 100% linen) and neckline issues.

But I’m not sure if the next attempt will be with this same pattern as the starting point. The other key difference between it and my drawings is the gathered sleeve tops. I’m only envisioning the little gathers or pleats at the front of the shirt, not all the way around the neck. I think that’s just never going to work with my shoulders, nor look like the top in my head. So it might need to be a modified woven Linden instead, or some kind of hybrid of the two.

Regardless of the fact that I don’t have a finished top in my closet after the seven or eight hours I spent on this (did I mention I’m slow?), sewing this one was a great experience from start to finish. Technically and design-wise, I know it put me one step closer to being able to make the top I’m dreaming of. So it’s all good!

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p.s. I got in some more of the red vintage fiber mill spindles on Friday and managed to get a photo this time! And if you were here Friday morning before Knit Wit Issue 2 arrived, there are now photos in the shop of that as well. It’s a truly stunning issue — multiple fantastic studio visits, among other things — and I can’t wait to have a good sit-down with it. Go have a look!

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PREVIOUSLY in Me Made May: May make No. 1: the Gathered Skirt

 

Let’s have a Slow Fashion October

Let's have a Slow Fashion October

Ever since my post the other day (well, since last Me Made May, actually) I’ve been thinking about the need for another sort of month. I believe this is perfectly clear but let me repeat myself just in case: I think Me Made May is awesome and important and completely wonderful — I support it fully and do not wish to detract from it in any way. It was created by and for sewers, though, and it just so happens that it’s not especially well-timed for knitters. (Unless you live in Denver, where it’s still snowing!) So I’ve long been pondering a month better suited for knitters, but the world doesn’t need another me-made month, per se. And besides which, I’d like the scope of this to be different and broader. I’d like us to be able to celebrate not only our own makes (although definitely that!) but clothes that have been made for us by others; worn over the course of years or decades; handed down or rescued from thrift shops or attics; mended; handcrafted in the small studios of slow fashion designers and/or from ethical fabrics; and so on. I want it to be about responsible and sustainable fashion in all its splendor, in other words. An opportunity to discuss and explore the wide range of topics that are at the core of slow fashion. Fall is undeniably peak fashion season, and by October there’s pretty sure to be a bit of a chill in the air in most of the US (a bit colder up north!), while hopefully still a bit of a chill lingering for our friends down under as well. So it seems perfect to me.

I’ll have a lot more to say between now and then about ways to participate and contribute (beyond IG selfies), but I wanted to publicly put the idea forth in the meantime. So who’s in?

Photos from my Amanda cardigan and my Make, Knit, Mend post, which I hope you’ll read if you haven’t before

May make No. 1: Gathered Skirt

May make No. 1: the Gathered Skirt

We’re already a third of the way through the month and I’m just now at the first of my four pledged makes for Me Made May. This is the Gathered Skirt for All Ages from the Purl Bee and, as expected, it’s way too voluminous. As I was pondering it and cutting it out, I kept hearing my friend Whitney, who looks killer in skirts like this, urging me to embrace the fullness. After scrutinizing the pattern to grasp the logic of the various proportions and how they come together, and deciding to make it once as written and then assess how to change it for the next time, I just couldn’t do it. I made the second size but cut the main panels (the front and back pieces) to 30″ wide instead of 34″, removing 8 inches of fabric from the total circumference, and still it’s too much fabric for me. But is it cute?

I like it from the front — I adore the side panels and the way the pockets stick out — but when I actually turn to the side, I appear to be at least three times my actual size. I think a puffy skirt like this looks cute on a little girl, but on a woman my age, maybe not so much. Somehow it’s not quite as horrible looking in the photos as it is in my mirror, and I do think I like the fullness in the back, so maybe I’ll leave this one alone and make another. But what I believe I’m going to do is tweak this one thusly: Remove the waistband and pull out the gathering in the front panel only. Once that’s a flat panel again, I’ll fold it in half and sew a seam down it, a few inches in, then cut away all of that excess. Regather the front and reattach the waistband. So it will have a new seam down the center, which I think is fine with the other vertical seams in the skirt, but with several inches less fabric in the front. Although I can’t help wondering if I couldn’t just carve a wedge out of the front instead of going through all of that. I promise to share the makeover if/when it happens.

The fabric is Robert Kaufman Brussels Washer in, uh, blackish that I bought at Fancy Tiger on our way through Denver last summer — a light and drapey linen/rayon blend. I’m ambivalent about the rayon content and really wish it weren’t made in China. (This is the hardest thing about trying to be a conscientious sewer — and I find it’s much harder with fabric than with yarn.) But I had heard raves about it, it was already in my tiny fabric stash, and I figured it might wind up being my muslin for this pattern. I will say, it is lovely to work with and to wear. It shrinks quite a bit in the wash — I think it’s listed as 54″ wide but it was 48″ after washing. Since the skirt is all rectangles, I folded the fabric in half, got out my t-square and rotary cutter, cut the end of the length so it was clean and perpendicular, and then just lined up my cuts. I made one cut at 30″, then trimmed the two ends so I had two pieces 30″ x 23″. The next cut was at 8″ for the side panels, which wound up being 24″ each (i.e., the full width of my fabric, halved) rather than the prescribed 25.5″ — so my finished pockets ended up being 8″ deep instead of 9.5″, which is plenty. (Note that I top-stitched across the pockets to keep the layers from drooping.) Next cut was at 8″ again, trimmed down to 16″ tall for the two pocket panels. Then a last cut at 3″, with the selvages trimmed off, for a waistband piece 3″ x 38.5″ So I got the whole skirt out of 49″ — not quite 1.5 yards — rather than the 2.5 yards the pattern calls for. I also hemmed it to 23″ with a 3/4″ hem, rather than the 2″ wide, 22.5″ hem given in the pattern. Oh, and my waistband wound up being not quite wide enough for the 3/4″ elastic. So I need to either cut a new waistband if I do the mod, or get narrower elastic if I don’t.

Either way, the big trick for me is just learning how to wear a skirt! Especially a full one like this. Being not very girly, I’m aiming for a sort of Margaret Howell-inspired style. Or Amish, as my husband put it. I’m ok with that!

May make No. 1: the Gathered Skirt