May the Pants be with you

When you make a personal pledge in a public forum to draft, design, and sew a pair of trousers in a month’s time and actually accomplish it, the sun shines a little brighter and your short legs look a little longer.

Najah Carroll's Self-Drafted Linen Trousers (front view)

A few days after writing about my custom denim pencil skirt, I found out that Brooks Ann Camper, my favorite long distance sewing teacher, had developed a pants drafting system with NO standard sizes or pre-defined measurements (unlike the ones in my pattern drafting textbooks filled with “lower by 1/4-inch “or “check the size chart” kind of guidance). The drafting method uses the skirt block I crafted in her original class and a new set of body measurements for bifurcation. She invited her Skirt Skills students to participate in the first run of her Smarty Pants e-Course and I jumped in with both feet.

In fact, the course is still going on now! We’re in the last week of things, learning the finishing steps for TWO pair of custom pants drafted from blocks: trousers and yes….jeans. Since the course can be both self-paced and real-time, I chose to make my trousers in pace with the 6-week lessons and will start on my jeans block and fitting afterward.

So, this story about making linen trousers from the ground up will be told with a little less word count and more hyperlinks than usual. Besides, you may already know the story if you’ve been following my “Me Made May” 31-day micro-blogging marathon on Instagram under the hashtag #wannabesewingpants.

#wannabesewing pants on Instagram

Every First Draft is Perfect

Drafting my way to a garment pattern has been surprisingly less stressful than dealing with the ambiguity of opening the envelope of a purchased pattern or assembling a downloadable one.

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In custom sewing class, we’re reminded of the inherent perfection of the first drafting work that happens with a block pattern. It’s job in pantsmaking is to represent a map of my lower body and legs. Once drafted into existence, it is a perfect resource of information for whatever pants style I want to design.

Knowing that my final garment will be based directly on information from MY BODY (not some “ideal” body I must compare mine to) is like getting a hug and a dozen roses from your best friend before going on stage. It’s the best kind of self-administered sewing support.

To understand how well my two-dimensional waist-to-ankle map corresponded to my three-dimensional body, I spent some time evaluating a muslin mockup up of my wide legged trouser block. The process put me in the role of Sewing Detective as I considered how to give a bit more room for my body at the crotch area. I sketched out a theory on my croquis so I could understand the impact the pattern correction would have on the fit of my trouser block, and spent a few days getting lost on the way to executing it. Ultimately I re-learned the value of slowing down during construction.

Design in the Trenches

I only had a rough idea of what kind of pants I’d make when I declared my intentions to all of the #Sewcialists. I wanted to see what specific inspiration would strike once my block was ready, so I pinned all the pins in a sartorial tribute to Katherine Hepburn’s iconic trousers-wearing and raided my fabric collection for options suitable for the wide-leg style I had in mind. The timeframe I had to work in, the warm season, my patience, and skill level (yep, still hovering somewhere on the spectrum between advanced beginner and intermediate seamstress) were also a part of the Committee for Real Life Sewing that influenced my design process.

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By day 20, I’d worked out a sketch of a simple design for a pair of linen trousers with familiar construction features to prevent first-timer fumbles (thinking back to the topstitching drama of my denim pencil skirt) that could trigger my inner Samuel L. Jackson and jeopardize my momentum:

  1. A straight/wide leg, drafted 3cm narrower then my trouser block pattern that sits at my natural waist
  2. A hip-length waistline facing for tummy control
  3. An invisible side zipper
  4. 3 patch pockets – 1 in front, 2 in back

I really enjoyed the pattern work that solidified my original sketch and was glad I didn’t design more features than I could handle. With jeans as my next mission, there would be plenty of patterning, construction work, and even more topstitching (Bring it on!) to feed my appetite for design play.

11th-Hour Finish

I highly recommend timing your major construction work over a three-day holiday weekend. I may have missed out on all the Memorial Day happenings around town, but I did take a break from sewing for a highly-anticipated face to face meetup with Brooks Ann where she answered my final construction question (hell yes to twill tape along the waistline stay stitching) and let me get all “fan girl” for a while and go on about sewing for way longer than my husband can tolerate at home.

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With the power of The Force still with me, I returned to my project and followed the custom sewing techniques I learned in class to semi-baste together my flax linen trousers (shout out to the lovely, UK fabric store that sent me 3 meters of Robert Kaufmann Essex Wide Flax cotton/linen in the hopes I’d make something fabulous with it one day that might reach my UK readers looking to support an independent business trying to branch out into garment-weight fabrics), try them on, adjust the fit and pass on the changes to my final garment pattern.

For this pattern in the heavy-bodied, almost bottom weight linen-cotton blend fabric I’d chosen, I took in the side seams by 4 cm, tapering from the waist to the thigh. I’m curious how a linen with more drape would respond to the design. When I’m done with the course, I may follow my curiosity to another pair of linen trousers.

When I returned to work after the holiday break, the big analytics project I’d kicked off earlier in the month had picked up steam and time-sucked me into a thousand meetings that made me get that hallway-stretching horror movie feeling that I was never gonna get out of here and back to my sewing room. I ultimately escaped. It was day 31 and I had only hours until midnight to finish my trousers in time to meet my self-imposed deadline.

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With only a handful of “monkey-fighting” moments —I do admit to banning my family from my presence long enough to install, remove, and re-install (with the right foot this time) an invisible zipper without interruption — I finished my trousers around midnight and proceeded to sleep like a baby. When Baby woke up the next day, she wore the cutest trousers and the biggest smile to the office.

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Thank you, to the #Sewcialists of Instagram who followed and encouraged me with likes and you-can-do-its along the way. Sharing my goal with such a big audience helped me see it through to the end. A month-long, public marathon of making was pretty intense, so I’ll probably keep my attempts to once a year.

With this latest dive into custom sewing, however, I learned so much (besides the ass-kicking skill of self-drafting pants) from the experience…like how to get the most of the small chunks of time available to me, how to create a garment plan to guide my approach, and how to trust my fitting and design instincts to make me enormously proud of what I can produce with my mind and hands.

His Now Hers

We fell in love and got chubby together. It’s what you do in those first years after finding THE ONE, right? I’d make loving pokes at his Pillsbury Doughboy belly and the junk in my trunk was his pride and joy. Eventually, we exchanged vows, bought a juicer, planted a garden, and donated all of our fat clothes. Except for one, lonely fat man shirt that desperately wanted a gender re-assignment.

The Refashioners Collage

Portia over at Makery has been saturating our feeds with beautiful women wearing re-imagined men’s shirts. When The Refashioners 2015 Challenge was passed on to us regular folk, I knew it was time for me and my shears to show some love to that 15-year old Nautica camp shirt my husband (meet Matt in this post) thought he’d never see again…especially on his wife.

Who is technically now a cross dresser.

TheRefashionersThere was a little apprehension over cutting into a perfectly wearable shirt, but re-watching Mr. Rogers episodes over my kid’s shoulder has got me totally on board with make-believe. So, I pretended to be in a Project Runway unconventional materials challenge. The fantasy built up my momentum and gave me an excuse (not that I needed one) to entertain myself with Tim Gunn impressions.

I also wanted the original elements of the shirt to remain, so I talked myself out of using the shirt as fabric and cutting out a pattern. This refashion experiment would be improvisational.

Since the back of the shirt had the most fabric, it naturally became the front after a bit of draping to find new side seams. To keep the original convertible collar in the same position, I removed it, split it down the center back and reattached it to the newly lowered neckline, peter pan style. The collar doesn’t meet in the back, but I kinda like that it doesn’t.

TheRefashioners 2015

Once the neckline and bodice circumference was situated, I added shape. This meant, a few try-ons with elastic tied around my waist. I bloused it a bit, chalk-marked the position below the elastic, and cut a new waistline.

The bottom of the shirt didn’t have enough fullness, so I cut off the sleeves (leaving the flat felled edge as-is instead of facing it) and used them as center front and side back panels to create a peplum. Here’s the ninja move: I kept the original hems!

TheRefashioners 2015To save the shirt’s well-stitched hems, I had to unpick them at the side seams and newly created panel seams. Totally worth it! After trimming down the new peplum to the length of the sleeve panel piece, I attached it to the new bodice by invert-pleating the panels to fit the waistline. Quarter-inch elastic inserted in the seam allowance cinches everything in.

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The little button loop meant for the top closure of the shirt is still there (I sewed on a small snap to do the missing button’s job), but poking out of the back neckline like a lighter at a rock concert. I started to cut it off, but now I am really enjoying how it makes a statement about the shirt’s past life.

Speaking of past lives, Matt’s briefly flashed before his when his formerly fat man shirt reappeared in his house like the undead. I thought for a minute he’d be mad at me for refashioning it for myself (instead of taking it in to fit him!), but after examining me in it for a while, he started suggesting other hacks and alterations…I mean, he cornered me for a good twenty minutes to share his refashion thoughts.

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After finding this miraculously-coordinating belt in my closet, I felt like a lottery winner. Until my well-meaning husband, drunk on the Tim Gunn vapors still in the air, tells me the shirt needed a bigger belt and described the ideal belt as “…Conan-wide…so big that you could hurt someone if you pulled it off too fast!”

And, there’s our secret to ten, happy years of marriage. We do fat, fabric, and fashion….together.

It’s Sew Hopping on Instagram

For the last 11 days, the sewcial community has been blowing up Instagram with a Sew Photo Hop hosted by Rachel of House of Pinheiro. The 31 days of pre-published themes has every needle-wielding maker getting in on the creative share-fest. I am one (out of like 3,000) of them and my scroll finger is sore from soooooo much sewing eye candy.

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My favorite themes so far (clockwise): Can’t Live Without (Day 2), Pattern That Changed My Life (Day 6), Stash (Day 9), Would Exchange Closets With…(Day 10). The themes keep sewing on my mind even more than it already is – which I find hilarious because I didn’t think there were any vacancies in my sewing brain. But, this insta-challenge got my third eye wide open and it’s tuned to a 24/7 sewing channel.

On Day 1, we all introduced ourselves with quirky selfies and bios and from there, the handheld sewing convention took off at full speed. It’s unbelievable how many new sewists I’ve met! We are EVERYWHERE covering the planet like a space quilt. If you haven’t already, drop by #sewphotohop or log into your Instagram app where there are 7,000+ posts sporting the hashtag at the moment.

Today’s theme is “Bucket List” and we’re all sharing the things we want to make before we die. When I shared the photo I thought best fit the theme, I also revealed that I will be living forever in order to complete my list.

Are you participating in or following along with the #sewphotohop? What new IG accounts and/or blogs have you discovered?

The Best of #OOTD

On the heels of the recent Me Made May marathon (applause to all of the participating sewists with brilliant handmade wardrobes I developed crushes on), I was inspired to assemble my own round up of ensembles that feature garments I’ve made (as documented on Instagram with an ‘outfit of the day’ hashtag). Mostly to prove to myself that there really are seven days worth of gratifying outfits in my closet after its February diet.

These seven outfits weren’t worn consecutively, but they could be. They include my favorite makes (read: the ones with tolerable flaws) paired with my most appreciated RTW pieces. I really need them to play nice together while the minority population grows.

mondayMondayLinen floral dress with skinny floral belt.

ootd collage

Tuesday. Liberty dress with belted, gray linen blazer (popped collar, optional).
Wednesday. Green linen, leaf-print skirt with RTW top and bolero (DIY smile required).
Thursday. Pale day dress in signature silhouette with RTW bolero.
Friday. Kimono tee (unblogged) with RTW knit pencil skirt and DIY necklace.
Saturday. Yellow plaid cotton dress with blue plaid RTW shirt (worn under or over & tied)
Sunday. Patch pocket linen dress with RTW cardigan and Monday’s floral belt.

And there it is. A full week of pre-planned wearables to rescue me from indecision, pack in a suitcase, or simply bore my Instagram followers with as repeat #OOTDs….at least until I sew up another week’s worth.

Because a goal without a plan is just a wish…

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After a week of weird home Wi-Fi problems that we might as well blame on a poltergeist, I’ve returned to the world of ones and zeros with a pretty solid spring/summer wardrobe sewing plan. Being locked out of the Internet for hours at a time turned out to be the perfect environment for good, old-fashioned list making. Writing down my sewing plans got my head of out of the clouds long enough to realize my original vision needed to be scaled back a bit. Of course, now that I’m back to modern living, my paper and pencil list got a quick Polyvore upgrade.

This month’s Wardrobe Architect 2015 challenge was to nail down the patterns I’ll be sewing for spring and summer. I started with my happy silhouettes from February, made some edits and additions, and organized my final garment/pattern choices into three lists: Sew Now, Sew Soon, and Sew Someday. The Someday list is where my fantasy sewing projects will live – garments that might be a new silhouette for me or just beyond my skills. I’ll share those throughout the season. The Now list is focused on filling in wardrobe gaps with simple, easily sewn pieces, while the Soon list takes things to the next level when I’m ready.

Sew Now

The undisputed frontrunner of my wardrobe is going to be a knit fit and flare dress. The Moneta, to be exact. I’ve recently made some changes to my Moneta (a story for later) that helped me confirm its place as my wardrobe workhorse pattern. My threat of sewing a rainbow of them is slowly coming true.

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With all of the sweat I put into getting the perfect knit dress, it made sense to stay with the groove and have a knit sewing marathon. These are the garments that landed on my Sew Now list.

  1. knit fit and flare dress
  2. fitted t-shirt
  3. long cardigan
  4. bodysuit
  5. knit pencil skirt
  6. leggings
  7. high waist panties

A handful of Moneta dresses, some tees, a pencil skirt in a great color, a cardigan topper, day of the week panties (because saggy drawers ain’t cute and Hanes doesn’t make briefs in petite size), and a bodysuit to wear with full skirts will kick off my warm weather sewing. My serger is threaded with new spools of Wooly Nylon and I already have my first assembly line cut. A few late nights of sweatshop work could get me halfway through the Sew Now list, but knowing me, I’ll opt for beauty sleep and continue to squeeze in my sewing before work and over the weekends.

Sew Soon

If I don’t get sick of sewing knits first, the Sew Soon list is up next. My return to woven fabrics starts with these garments:

  1. pajamas
  2. woven t-shirt
  3. pleated narrow leg pants
  4. gathered or pleated skirt
  5. cropped cardigan
  6. signature dress
  7. cap sleeve blouse
  8. culottes
  9. pleated neck shift dress
  10. woven fit and flare dress

I’m especially excited about this list because it includes another signature silhouette dress (possibly in another Liberty print!) and another self-drafted shift dress, both are TNT patterns that deserve some love and mindful execution. There’s also the set of magnificent pajamas I’ve never owned, a reprise of my first successful pants and woven tee patterns, an attempt at buttonholes on something other than a pillow (cropped cardigan), a trendy pair of culottes, the Sencha blouse I muslined in November, and a new fit and flare dress inspired by Dolce and Gabana’s dreamy $1,300 wisteria print frock (basically, the woven version of my Moneta silhouette).

This list is crazy, right? I’ve never planned out my sewing like this. To make a list of 17 garments and actually sew them feels like planning a walk on the moon without my space camp badge. When I plan projects at work, I set a target date for each milestone or at least forecast when things will be wrapped up. For this project, that would be something like 1 garment a week for 17 weeks, but if I consider the first day of fall (September 23rd) as the official end of summer, then that gives me 24 weeks of warm weather sewing and wearing time. Not bad. A heroic accomplishment if I pull it off.

How’s your seasonal sewing (or shopping) plans going? Anyone else trying out culottes?

WTF Do I Wear in the Meantime?

I’m no stranger to closet purging. I do it religiously every season. But, now that my style standards have been solidified in my mind, I’m feeling ‘meh’ about  98% of my outfitting options and now I have a small NOTHING TO WEAR crisis to solve.

Empty Drawers

The Wardrobe Architect challenge encouraged me to figure out what I like to wear, and for this month’s exercise, we’re all evicting the rejects from our closets…but there’s no guidance for hard to fit, prodigal sewists who are now stuck with a closet of mostly random, lackluster ready-to-wear garments.

I started with these steps to clean out my closet:

  1. Launder. Wash and dry everything in the hamper.
  2. Setup. Clear off the bed, gather baskets and bags for sorting.
  3. Evaluate.  Consider every garment in the closet and dresser and ask myself (with try-ons, if need be):
    1. Does the shape make me happy?
    2. Does it fit?
    3. Is it in wearable condition?
    4. Does it have outfit companions?
  4. Sort. Based on the answers, put garments into one of 4 piles:
    • Donate
    • Mend / Alter / Refashion
    • Keep
    • Maybe

The results were satisfying. Got warm weather stuff tucked in the right corner and current, cold-weather and season-less stuff in the main sections. Lots of empty space and naked hangers. The Maybe pile will get re-sorted in a couple of weeks, the pile of garments to repair or change was moved to my sewing room, and the Donateables are waiting in the trunk of my car for a trip to Goodwill.

I can actually shut the closet doors completely for the first time in weeks and my feng shui is at level 9 (a scale I made up).

Closet after purge

After all of that… I can’t assemble 7 days worth of outfits! Figuring out my Monday through Friday outfitting options has always been a useful part of my quarterly closet clean out. The process doesn’t feel complete unless I have 5 season-less work-ready outfits, and 2 for the weekend. And, yoga pants and hoodies don’t count.

Starting with my Liberty dress (the recent star and pedestal of my wardrobe), I found two long cardigans to pair it with, but struck out on any cropped cardigans that coordinate. The same goes for RTW skirts and pants, most of them are missing tops.

So, before I start sewing all of the happy silhouettes I’ve chosen, I will sew outfit-completing garments to fill the gaps in my wardrobe and hopefully take it from ‘meh’ to functional. Once I have a week of outfit options, then, it will be time to transition things from functional to fabulous.

Do you feel invigorated or overwhelmed when you clean out your closet? What purging methods work best for you?

Wanna Be Sewing: Happy Silhouettes

I’m back with more wardrobe building nonsense. My sewing mind (and scrolling finger) has been consumed with it lately. But, I think I have finally settled on some core shapes and silhouettes to go with my recently articulated core style.

I used the Wardrobe Architect challenge’s Exploring Shapes worksheet to rate the types of garments that I feel happiest wearing. I thought about each garment in terms of the elements that affect it (such as ease, length, waistline, or fullness) and how its shape can change if one of those elements varies.

Discovering which shapes rock my world and combining them into different silhouettes (outfits) was my mission. I used polyvore to assemble several four-season garments, kept the colors neutral, and left out accessories to simplify planning.

One dress, two skirts, 2 pants, four tops, and 2 toppers worth of core shapes. Each of these basics could have 3 or more variations (sleeve length, neckline shape, etc.), but for now I’m focusing on these shapes that I rated a 9 or 10 on the happy scale.

A complete silhouette includes garments and shoes. Like the fit and flare silhouette below of dress (fitted bodice, full skirt) + cropped cardigan + leggings +  riding boots that’s become my uniform this winter.

Winter Silhouette 02

But, sharing all of the shoe combinations would take days. So, I’ll leave the shoes out and just show some of the garment-only silhouettes that I’ll be building with my “happy shapes”.

Silhouette #1

{Dress (fitted bodice, full skirt) + cropped cardigan}

Basic Silhouette 01

Silhouette #2

{Fitted, elbow sleeve t-shirt + full skirt + cropped cardigan}

Basic Silhouette 1

Silhouette #3

{Fitted classic shirt + full skirt}

Basic Silhouette 03

Silhouette #4

{Dolman sleeve peplum top + pencil skirt}

Basic Silhouette 05

Silhouette #5

{Sleeveless peplum tunic + skinny jeans}

Basic Silhouette 4

Silhouette #6

(Loose-fit wrap blouse + skinny jeans)

Basic Silhouette 04

Silhouette #7

{Fitted, elbow sleeve t-shirt + leggings + long cardigan}

Silhouette 06

7 silhouettes from 12 shapes is just scratching the surface. There are a gajillion outfit possibilities for my favorite shapes. I’m still narrowing down the patterns I’ll use to sew all these shapes and silhouettes (except for the jeans, I’ll leave that to Levi’s for now), but getting this far in the process is hugely empowering. I’m even excited for this month’s closet purging task.

What are the favorite outfits or go-to silhouettes in your closet?