The very first piece of clothing I made once I started sewing in earnest was a Grainline Scout Tee. It's become an indispensable staple, along with its knit sister, the Lark Tee. I appreciate the simplicity of the designs (everyday wear, hurray!) and the well-written instructions.
Last month, I decided to make Grainline's Lakeside Pajamas for our hot Montana summers. I. Love. Them. They have enough design to make them interesting, but are simple enough for a novice like me to sew up with no problem. This has been one of the few patterns I've cut and sewn straight from the box - no alterations needed. There is something so satisfying about having a pattern that just fits, right off the bat.
When making a shirt or a dress, I usually I have to make the top one size and then grade out a size or two below the waist. With the Lakeside PJs, I was able to make the top in a size 6 and the bottoms in a size 10. (Try doing that with ready-to-wear!) I double-checked all of my measurements and then followed the sizing guidelines, and ta-da, they fit like a dream. As tempting as it was to make the entire set in a size 6 (oh hi, vanity!), I'm relieved that I actually made the size that was recommended for me; believe me, carefully sized and drafted patterns are not to be taken for granted!
The shorts required a leap of faith. You have to attach most of the bias binding to the edges of each piece before you sew up any major seams, which makes it really difficult to make adjustments once you're underway. (Of course you could baste or pin the shorts together without the binding before you get started for a rough idea of fit, but did I think to do that? Of course not!) The method for sewing on the binding and then assembling the shorts seems confusing at first glance. But I dutifully followed the instructions step by step, and, as promised, it all worked out beautifully.
I made these PJs with Art Gallery's Sunday Clippings Voile. Because it is so silky and lightweight, the Art Gallery Voile was a little slippery, but I used a new needle and took my time, and I was able to handle the fabric with very few problems. If you haven't sewn with Art Gallery fabrics yet, you are in for a treat. The quilting cottons are finer and softer than most quilting cottons, and the voiles are even finer than Liberty of London (in my opinion). AND, Art Gallery voiles make great blouses. Our customer, Debrah Fosket wore her lovely Vogue blouse to the shop the other day and graciously agreed to be photographed.
I highly recommend these jammies -- and of course I'm partial to the super-soft voile. They're comfortable, cute, and a fairly quick sew (especially if you use pre-made bias binding like this). Plus, either the shorts or the tank top can stand alone in the right fabric. No one needs to know that they're a pajama pattern! I'm already planning a light summer tank top with this pretty rayon and some casual shorts with this sweet tencel.
It’s easy to fall in love with sewing when you’re surrounded by gorgeous fabrics. As every new shipment comes in, I swoon and sigh, and the wheels start turning. By now I'm pretty sure I’ve got a plan in mind for all 1,036 bolts of fabric in the shop. But let me back up.
I was not always into sewing. Before starting at The Confident Stitch six months ago, I’d learned how to do the basics, and throughout the years made some curtains, napkins, and tote bags. In other words, very square things. My attempts at clothing always ended in frustration, irritation, and an utterly unwearable piece of clothing. After each attempt, the sewing machine ended up back in the basement to collect dust.
Thankfully, I have since discovered a whole world of inspiration, and, more importantly, instruction. I’ve been introduced to the sewing blogs and Instagram accounts of talented sewers and pattern designers across the world, and am excited by a new generation of modern garment makers. The tutorials available online, particularly from the independent pattern companies we stock, are an invaluable resource. Closer to home, I am constantly impressed by the things our customers make; no two look alike, and each person's interpretation of a pattern is unique to their style. Finding this network of makers and doers online and in my own community convinced me to give garment sewing another chance. Armed with some good patterns and lots (and lots) of patient advice from Kate and Bonnie, I’ve become nothing short of obsessed.
I’ve always been a consumer of other people’s creativity – artwork, food, books – but now I’ve discovered a way to explore my own. Just as quickly as I learn a new pattern, I end up changing it. Some changes are functional; I often need to tweak darts and or add length to the torso. Some are purely for fun: adding a shirt-tail hem or a keyhole neckline. But that’s the beauty of making my own clothing. It’s truly my own – the pattern is just the jumping off point.
I still take out almost as many stitches as I put in. I’ve cursed at more bias binding than I care to admit. And I require much, much more practice before I can comfortably embrace the label of seamstress. But along the way I’ve learned that some silhouettes work on me and some never will, that my back has a deep curve to it, that my top half and bottom half are two completely different sizes. I’ve learned that clothes I’ve made myself are washed more carefully, worn more frequently, and complimented more often. I’ve learned the difference between rayon and voile, bamboo versus soy, and been introduced to that most magical of fabrics, double gauze. I’ve learned that a single pattern has infinite possibilities.
And so, piece by piece, I’m building a handmade wardrobe, and building confidence in my skills. I’m heartened that the slow fashion movement is gaining momentum and that there is a new generation of (mostly) women breathing fresh life into sewing and pattern making. I’m stubbornly optimistic that we have options beyond the chains selling us unsustainable fashion. And did I mention that sewing is just fun?
Quilting is another matter entirely. I’ll let you know when I take that plunge…
Don’t worry, The Confident Stitch is not going to become a body- conscious blog. But….we are all conscious of our bodies, and many of us sew in order to fit and flatter our bodies. So, I’m going to share my recent epiphany about my body.
I love yoga. I love the strength and the stretch and the concentration involved. I’m sure it will become an even more important part of my regime after I open the store and stand and lift and twist all day. In Helena, I went to a yoga class I loved. In Missoula, there are many yoga studios, and I have felt a little bit like Goldilocks searching for the right one. The first two yoga studios I tried were not quite right. They were both too loosey-goosey.
The third studio fits me quite well. The teachers are professional yet fun. The yoga is very challenging. The studio space is clean and lovely. The post-workout popsicles are only $1.00.
But…the third studio is the Bikram Hot Yoga Studio of Missoula. It is the first place I have taken yoga that has mirrors, and it is the first place that is HOT yoga. In case you have never taken hot yoga — the room is 110+ degrees with lots of humidity piped in. Some days it feels bearable. Other days it feels impossibly stifling. Every day, I want to be wearing as little as possible.
So, I find myself in front of a mirror, with other people, wearing tiny spandex shorts, and twisting my top into my bra. During the first class, I was struck by two things — I am indeed very good at yoga, and my tummy is embarrassingly huge. After that first class, I wanted to apologize to the other women in the changing room for baring my big white belly.
I’m glad I did not apologize, however. As I further master the 26 Bikram positions I have been reflecting on what my body is for and how I should feel about it. Does my body exist to look absolutely perfect? Or, does it exist to stretch and balance and walk and sew? Why should I feel bad about a body that can balance on one leg while holding the other leg straight out in front of it at a 90-degree angle for a whole minute? What more do I want from my body?
The answer is, nothing. Each day, as I watch myself in the mirror bending, twisting and balancing a little better that the day before, I feel thankful for my body just the way it is.
If you're like me, you want to finish all your projects quickly and perfectly, and sometimes the two don't go well together. I frequently sew past the point of exhaustion. I'm so excited about wearing something that I skip steps and call it "good enough." When I actually wear the item, I can see all its flaws. I don't feel proud to wear it.
The things I make during an in-person or Craftsy class turn out much better because I move deliberately and I don't skip steps. So the "new me" breaks her makes into bite-size pieces, and only spends a few hours at a time sewing. I am making fewer things, but more wearable things. Here are my bite-size pieces (by bite-size, I mean I step away from my sewing area for a few hours or days before I start the next step):
FIRST I fit and alter the tissue. I love Fit for Real People, and I have taken many classes from Pati Palmer and Marta Alto, so I never skip this step. I now have a number of altered patterns that don't need to be tissue-fitted, which makes them easier to create.
SECOND, I cut out, mark, and apply interfacing to the fabric. By completely preparing the fabric for sewing, I spend less time going back and forth from cutting table to sewing machine. Everything is completely ready to go. For the StyleArc Katherine pants I am currently sewing, I also underlined the linen. For underlining, I follow Gertie's instructions from a few years ago.
THIRD, I assemble all my tools and make sure my machines are ready to go. I wind a few bobbins in the correct color, make sure I have the proper needles in my machine(s), and experiment with topstitching colors and stitch lengths.
FOURTH, I practice the tricky bits or new techniques on fabric scraps. For these pants, I am going to create a button fly. I found instructions in Making Trousers for Men and Women by David Page Coffin. It's my first button fly, so I practiced it. I think it will be easier and better than a zipper fly!
FIFTH, I start sewing! The sewing part only takes a few hours because of all the preparation. Stayed tuned for the finished burgundy pants!
Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the entire day with Beth of Sunny Gal Studio. I have been looking at her beautiful clothes for a couple of years, and I was excited to see she teaches in her home. She lives 15 minutes from my Dad, so visiting him was a perfect excuse to learn more about sewing and fitting. I wanted help making a dress for my daughter Charlotte's college graduation in May. My original idea was to make the Truffle dress from the Colette Handbook. I took the liberty of doing a full-bust-adjustment on the tissue before making a muslin to bring to Beth's studio. Beth and I fiddled with the muslin and the pattern for a few hours before giving up. I'm not sure if my FBA messed up the pattern, or if the pattern just didn't work for me. After a delicious lunch, Beth pulled out a Butterick 5602 from her stash of patterns. It is a simple sheath dress with great lines and optional pockets. We traced it onto tissue paper and made a muslin. The most surprising thing I learned was that I don't need a full bust adjustment. My full bust is only 1.5 inches bigger than my high bust. We lowered the bust dart and made a muslin. The neckline gaped a bit, and the upper back was pooling a bit, so Beth made some tucks in the fabric, which we transferred to the tissue. Now I'm ready to make a great fitting sheath dress. If you live in the Bay Area and want to give yourself a wonderful gift, spend the day with Beth.