Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The least transformative refashion ever

I made this shirt in the summer of 2016, around the same time as the tiny radish as a quick "saving from the recycling pile" project.

B was about to throw it out as it didn't fit, but I wasn't prepared to let this particular fabric go out the door. And I wanted a new shirt. And the placket was nicely interfaced. So y'know.

Ideally this would have become an investigation into what fundamentally makes a man's shirt different from a woman's one. But I didn't have the brain space to give it enough attention. At the time I needed a project I could do at a table in the London Hackspace.

As the title suggestes, I didn't want to transform the shirt into something new - only change it to something I could wear where the immediate impression wasn't that I'd thrown on a man's shirt. It's not a man's shirt. It's my shirt.

The undignified before

It's not simply a question of adding some darts at the waist because it was too big all over. Menswear and womenswear are different shapes all over, not just at the waist.

The placket stayed unchanged, there were no darts added. I kept the hem length unchanged as I wear some low-rise trousers on a regular basis in the office. Womens tailored shirts always come untucked. In the end my only disappointment was being unable to cut a sufficiently curved mandarin/grandpa collar from scraps. I had to go for a straight-ish one and I often wear it flat for a square-ish vibe. Otherwise I think it looks a bit odd, because it stands so far away from my neck. Oh well.

Comparing the collar to an existing shirt

Comparing shirt collars with an existing one
So most of my attention went on shoulders. It turns out men's sirts have a lot more space in that area! I pleated out some length across the shoulder blades, brought the underarm in a bit, trimmed the shoulder seams for a better slope to my shoulders and also trimmed the sleeve head to match. There wasn't much easing in the sleeve head as it's relatively wide and mobility was quite good (in contrast to a tall and narrow armscye which requires a tall sleeve head and a lot of easing to ensure mobility). The sleeve length was also spot on.

Reworking the armscye
 As always with my slim frame, I have to toe a sharp line between proportionately loose fit and downright baggy (think skeleton in a sack). I'm still npot sre if I fell on the right side of that line in this case - but hey, it's done now!

It has been worn a lot in the last 9 months, and I've accidentally dyed it a bit yellow in the laundry. Hopefully it's not too noticeable. 

What do you think...does the shirt look unassuming or does it stick out like a sore DIY thumb?



Yoke modification


P.S. You may have noticed some changes to the photos on this blog. I'm trying to get nicer pictures of these projects, but am often frustrated because I am not a competent photographer. And because daylight is a rare commodity. Any tips or reassurances would be much appreciated.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

A Troupe of Tees

Does anyone know what the collective noun for a group of t-shirts is? My vote is with "troupe"... unless the tees need laundering, in which case they definitely form a "pile".

Anyway, you don't come here purely to see me abuse the English language. You come here to see sewing projects. Today: I've made a troupe of t-shirts.


I love t-shirts. I go through a lot of them. I can go through 4 on any given particularly busy day...

(it's a mystery why I generate so much laundry, ey?)

This was my first project in 2017 and I was quite keen to make something that would be a good workhorse, and would take the pressure off me before I started to make something super frivolous and super-fancy. After the hack jobs known as The Outfit and Dress #11 I really, really needed a project I would do well. I know how to do good t-shirts...I just hadn't made any in a very long while.

The Pattern

Part of my "doing it properly" idea is to end up with a set of consistent patterns, that I can use repeatedly and use as the basis for variations. Those in the biz might call them blocks, others might call them TNT (Tried 'n' True). I  guess the idea is the same. I'm not aiming specifically for a bodice, a skirt, a dress etc but that's what I might end up with. I'm just looking for a set of patterns I can treat consistently - because I know how they translate into the real world.

I used Metric Pattern Cutting for Womenswear to draft patterns for a slim fit t-shirt and an easy fitting one. I rummaged around and found some oversized promotional t-shirts muslin-appropriate jersey to make samples of both styles. I also made both long and short sleeves for both styles. Hopefully these will be good references that I can use as a basis for design changes.

Easy fit -front

Easy fit - back

Slim fit - front

Slim fit - back

Overall I like the 2 patters, and have made minimal fit adjustments. On future designs, I  need to remember to alter the shoulders and back neckline more to sit wider/lower as appropriate.

Standard slim fit tee, one with a scoop neckline variation



Front (with scoop neck)

Easy fitting tee with scoop neckline variation


The Fabric

The fabric is a wonder. I love this fabric. It was a Christmas gift from B - which was an absolute stroke of genius on his part. Take me to a fabric shop at the beginning of December (knowing that I have a birthday and Christmas coming up), use "we need to buy a gift for my sister" as an excuse, let me get distracted by pretty fabric, get samples of said fabric, return on a sneaky mission...and then reap the benefits later. Clever man.

Anyway, the fabric is a cotton, viscose and elastane mix. It's from Goldbrick Fabrics on Goldhawk Road. It's not the cheapest jersey you'll ever find but it is damn good. The shop also does student discount. I had a few metres in black, petrol blue and plum.

I always balk at other bloggers who use food descriptors to explain their fabric's characteristics. Buttery. That one really gets me. I mean, how can a fabric be "buttery"? I mean, I'm sure I also have used some of the fabrics others are describing as "buttery" and I definitely wouldn't call it that. Luxurious, textured, easy to handle, yes...but not buttery. Returning to the current project however...I can only say that this fabric is TASTY. Tasty tasty fabric. Every time I pick it up I make strange noises, remind myself of how slinky it is, and how good the stretch recovery is, and generally attempt to rub it all over my face. I have been known to mock-chew it as well. Don't judge me.

Easy fitting variation with cowl neckline, hem band and puffed sleeves

(My mannequin has no arms, and no buttocks of which to speak - this one was just hanging off it and it looked quite limp - so you've got me instead)

The Construction

I've made enough knit fabric projects to know my sewing preferences now. Everything is cut with a 1.5cm seam allowance, sewn with a basic zig zag (pressure foot pressure down to 0 or 1, regular foot), then trimmed slightly and the edges are overcast using my regular sewing machine. The seams are robust, pretty and really easy to handle. My hems are folded once, zig zagged and trimmed.

The only problem with the construction is that this is very thread-consuming and I had to get a bit creative when the gutterman spools kept running out. I switched to moon thread for one t-shirt, which also worked well.

Now might be a good time to talk about my favourite way of constructing a t-shirt. Not being one to follow instructions, I don't know if other people do it like this at home. It is one of several methods I've seen on RTW so it can't be that bad. The main principle is to sew as much flat stuff as possible.
  1. Sew sleeve hems
  2. Sew one shoulder
  3. Sew neckband to neckline (or finish to one's own taste)
  4. Sew the other shoulder
  5. Sew in sleeves
  6. Sew side seams and sleeve seams
  7. Hem t-shirt
The neckline...well the neckline is the difficult bit. I like to sew it in like this (i.e. flat) because I get more control.  But it takes practice to apply the same level of appropriate tension along the whole neckline. Sometimes it feels like you need 3 hands to make it work. Though you can get away with using very few pins (if any).

Some methods say to  have your neckline ready as an enclosed circle (both shoulder seams already sewn), and your neckband as a closed loop - and stitch one loop to the other. I don't like this for various reasons. Today's main reason is that it's particularly difficult to judge how to ease the neckband evenly into the neckline. Your neckband is probably divided into quarters, but your neckline isn't a perfect circle. Your shoulder seams aren't opposite each other in a perfect circle, so the length between them via the front and via the back are different. It means that your front edge would be too tight, and your back neckline would be saggy.

I try to avoid the latter method (in the round?) but it does prove useful at times. For instance, I made a mistake on the neckline of one t-shirt: cut a neckband too short and stretched it too much when sewing it in flat. It made the neck hole too small, choked me slightly and the t-shirt kept creeping up my neck - pulling the shoulders and the rest of the shirt out of line. After finishing the t-shirt, I cut out the neckband and reinserted a bigger one (in the round) - which has made everything much better. Sometimes fit issues in knit projects (in particular) are due to the construction/fabric and not the pattern.

Neckline - Before (creeping up my neck because it's too tight - see drag lines and shoulder seams)

Neckline - After

Anyway, I made about 6 t-shirts in total. Three were basic slim tees that I can wear as vests, and the others were slight variations in style. Hopefully these will be seeing a lot of use for a while to come.

Stay safe
K x

Monday, 6 March 2017

Skin back in the game

**Project from October 2016...returning to sewing after a 3-month hiatus**

What better way to get back in the game than with a pile of silk georgette, a Japanese pattern book and a deadline?

Given the hard time I gave Drape Drape and the cardinal sins I committed while making this dress, I don't deserve a beautiful dress or a successful project. I did make a muslin though!

Ways in which I've been tempting fate with this project:
  • Not checking the grainline in favour of some basic pattern placement
  • Cutting one piece on the cross grain and its mate on the straight (which oddly had an noticeable effect when sewing the lining hem)
  • Assume you know better than the pattern when it comes to knowing where the CF (centre front line) should be
  • Arbitrarily cut new pieces to fit what you think they should look like
  • Opt not to test the pattern adjustments (which again I just jumped into) before cutting in to the real deal
  • Hang it for the bias to drop from the wrong body parts on the mannequin
BUT! For once I had enough fabric to make the project with the pattern placement I wanted!

This is Dress #11 from Drape Drape by Hisako Sato. The outer fabric is from Emma One Sock (probably long gone from their stock) and the lining is from my recent Japan trip. I think it's a habotai.

I wasn't expecting to wear a bra with this so I put in a couple of layers of jersey as some sort of bra panel/modesty panel. Hopefully it'll be enough.

Halter neck chiffon dress
Waiting for some finishing
The I ripped out my first attempt at hemming the long floaty panel, as it was a bit of a mess - I initially tried sewing around a basting line, but that stopped the hem rolling over into a neat/natural position. It looked pretty rubbish. In the end a press and a bit of hand rolling was the best option.

Originally I was expecting this to sit higher on my back shoulder blades but I think the design is actually supposed to be a lot lower and will hang naturally below the bottom of my shoulder blades. It's hard to tell on the photo of the model but it looks correct.

Halter neck dress with floating panel on one side

Back of halter neck dress, with elastic
My main worry with this project is that there is a lot of weight hanging off a single layer of georgette and from a very small point. I also think that seam is under a lot of stress, because it is being pulled to one side (which you can see in the photo above). Maybe stitching some twill tape into that edge would have been a good idea. I wasn't keen to do it while working on the dress because it just seemed overwhelmingly complicated.

Anyway, here's to my first drape drape project. Here's to getting back into the game.

K x

P.S. This dress is going immediately in the remaking pile. I loved the idea of it, but I don't love the finished product. Am I the wrong size/shape? Is it impractical in Britain's climate? How can I hide the dodgy neckline finishing. It needs to change. If you thought it was sitting strangely on the mannequin, have a look at how it fits me...

I think I need a dress with shoulders. Any refashion suggestions greatly appreciated!

P.P.S. As another reminder that no idea is ever original, I was wandering around the Tate Modern recently and came across this work by Lygia Pape (Weaving 1957). It prompted the same curiosity in me as the fabric above when I first saw it. It's one of those ones you could stare at for hours learning the intricacies of the pattern.

A pattern of intricate woodcut prints

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Year of the Outfit: An actual outfit!

Preface: This is a project from late 2016

I've hit a strange point in my sewing adventures where although I can open my wardrobe and pull out any number of pretty handmade dresses, I still feel the need to make a new one if someone announces a party at short notice.

It's all a bit silly in a way, because I rush difficult fabrics and the quality isn't as good as if I'd done the same thing over a period of weeks. But then why wear my best, most delicate work to a party where it has a higher chance of being ruined?

Beats me.

Anyway, I gave in to the impulse and actually sorted myself with an outfit for the ball. You hear me. During The Year of The Outfit, I actually finally produced an outfit.

(Worn with a black vest underneath)

White silk t-shirt and Cavalli Maxi Dress

Handmade silk top and skirt

Note the while silk top. Note that it survived (blemishless) a party that featured mulled wine, hot dogs, wobbly poseur tables and a chocolate fountain. Someone was smiling down on me that day.

The top is another heavily modified V8766 and although I'm broadly happy with the bodice fit, I really must rework the sleeves as they keep giving me grief during assembly.

I successfully steered clear of closures as I wasn't keen to deploy the finesse required by this floaty textile.

Given this was a last-minute make I am not so bothered by the crappy finishing, but it does emphasise why I want to do things properly in 2017. (also, can you tell I only had black fusible interfacing on hand?)

Bought from Tomato, Tokyo

The keen readers amongst you may recognise my Cavalli dress. I am not sure why but I have been repeatedly unhappy with the bodice, and really don't like the dress anymore, but I do really like the skirt. I chopped off the top, added a lining and called it a skirt. My instinct wants to blame the pattern, but honestly I shouldn't have caved into the hype surrounding it. And apparently I'd forgotten how difficult it actually was at the time. Oh well.

Front - Do these even go together?


The jacket is my Kaisla - still the finest piece of finery I own.

One important feature of this outfit is that you can get full-on thermal underneath it and no one will know! Braving the British winter (or summer, for that matter) in your party dress? No problem!

Anyway, this is ready to join my rack of pretty party outfits. When's the next one?

K x

Monday, 30 January 2017

What a year

Oh cold, brutal January. You ambushed me too soon. I wasn't done with 2016 yet!

Sometimes I surprise myself. On this occasion I surprised myself by consistently blogging about things in 2016 which weren't finished sewing projects, but mostly about struggling to sew and that "I've been busy". I'm at risk of punishing myself too harshly...I haven't been bad, but I did have an interesting year. And it has brought unexpected changes to my creative life.

Sure, there were new sewing challenges in 2016. I entered my first PatternReview contest, put together a merch collection, made my own fabric, brought more cuddly toys into the world, drafted clothes from scratch, copied my favourite work trousers, sold my work and batch sewed a baby wardrobe!

I made a huge effort to destash and descrap (and not buy any new fabric) before a mega trip to Japan (during which I bought lots of new fabric) and almost immediately moved house afterwards (which involved consolidating all of my fabric).

Then I bought dozens of beautiful new fabrics, but they sat in my wash pile (or on the floor next to my stash cupboard) for over a month before finally being added. It was as if refusing to put them in the cupboard meant that I wasn't committing to actually owning them yet. That way, my attempts to use up the stalwart pieces in my stash wouldn't be contrasted against better, greedier tastes.

Later in the year, I found myself struggling to jump meaningfully into sewing (but other stuff was happening!) Which brings me to a different point...

In 2016 I branched out and tried new makery: I got my mitts on a laser cutter, learned to drill through rivets, built an armchair (!!!), became the office Excel Queen, acted like a photographer's assistant and restored my sewing cabinet.

Refinished sewing cabinet
Restored sewing cabinet. Bonus points if you can identify the motif on top!

Three laser cut puzzles, design by MS Raynsford
Laser cut Christmas presents, design by Martin Raynsford 

Homemade jam sandwich biscuits
Biscuits. Tasty tasty biscuits.

This has brought its own challenges in terms of time and energy, but also how to manage shared space and tools. I haven't yet worked out how woodworking and sewing can share the same workshop. The nature of our house is such that we will gain 2 workspaces in the spring and summer and lose them in the winter. I can't have my little workstation nested under the bed anymore, so it's hard to find a new way to approach projects.

Goodbye tiny sewing nook...

Hello multitasking space!

But has it been creatively fulfilling? Am I satisfied?

In a way, yes. Despite failing somewhat at "outfits", I did think about things holistically and I did  learn to design and make new things. (Sewing is a gateway to new things. If you know how a pair of jeans goes together, a table can't be that tough, can it?) But I have fallen in to a beginner's mindset and as a result my sewing has suffered. I have been so excited about actually finishing a thing that I've neglected to finish it properly. I came so close to perfection in 2015 and I want to chase it again. But perfection takes time and I'm out of practice.

So with that in mind 2017 is the year of "doing it properly". What does that mean in practice?
  • Choosing the right project (i.e. the more complicated one if that's the right thing to do)
  • Doing the right preparations (i.e. practising steps where I've been lazy before)
  • Practicing good construction (i.e. dedicating energy to finishing and detail)
This also means writing it up properly. I'm hoping this means that I can combine posts where they're part of the same study (where I have tested options and chosen between them).

Why? I believe that projects are expressive and reflect my state of mind. I don't want my expression to be "I smashed this out in one evening and had to choose between finishing it and getting enough sleep. You should see the state of our lounge". I want my projects to be beautiful, meaningful, challenging and rewarding. But for that I need to be willing to be challenged, to study and to practice.

We'll see what 2017 has in store. Stay tuned.


P.S. Stand by for a post about the armchair.

P.P.S. I started reading Made My Wardrobe blog a while ago. To comment about it would be to cheapen and tarnish it. I suggest you pay a visit.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Fabric Shopping in Tokyo

Ladies and gents,

If ever there were a time for one to lose their cool, it would be on the wrong side of the world with fabric money to burn. I'm so disinterested in the bright lights (and loud noises) of Tokyo that I'd only really really meticulously researched a couple of tap classes and a whole day of self-indulgent fabric shopping. Honestly, not much else. I also chose my hostel based on its proximity to Nippori fabric town. One track mind, you know?

Somehow my visit also collided perfectly with some sort of festival in Nippori where every shop was offering 10% off!

I'd arrived with the hope of finding some good jacket and trouser-weight fabrics (British summers, eh?) but had low expectations after feeling how sunny and muggy it was during my stay (late May, early June). I even spotted a few unlined suit jackets around the city. Let me tell you one thing, the Japanese LOVE stripes, I didn't realise how prevalent they were on the streets until after I'd seen so much for sale in Nippori. Then I couldn't unsee it on almost every other person in the city!

I saw a salaryman on the metro who had a plain white shirt on but the CF buttons changed colour as you moved down the placket - an idea I may copy in the near future. A wink of novelty detail.

Anyway. Fabric town. Fabric town in the rain with a sale on.

I prodded almost everything on that street! I needn't have checked my map when I arrived shortly after 10am as the first shop I saw (Momo) had a gaggle of women fawning over its remnants and bolts. Must be sale time. This shop had beautiful stock, some of which was imported from across the world. It wasn't the cheapest and I was sad to leave a beautiful green linen on the shelf because it was 1,500 JPY/m but only 100cm wide.

Summery linen fabric
Pinstripe linen fabric (baseball vibe? Maybe I was thinking about baseball)
I went a bit loopy in the first 3 shops I visited, picking up some of the obscenely cheap stuff in bundles, and (hopefully) some better quality stuff too. A couple of times I had to warn myself to stay away from anything I could pick up in England for similar value. I mean, if you go to Japan and only buy European imports, you're kinda missing the point.

Cotton with diamond-shaped tiling pattern
Turquoise cotton. I'm obsessed with tiling patterns at the moment.

Lining Fabric
Teal/Turquoise lining from a bargain bundle. I also got an ivory one but forgot to photo it

Cotton fabric with colourful dot pattern
Cotton with a slubby/greyish background and wonderful colourful thumbprints.

There were a few cosplay shops, a few leather shops and some speciality knit stores too. The knits were mostly loose (like Girl Charlee's hacci sweater knit) so I wasn't too interested, but there was a lot of great sweatshirting around. I came away with some for another Nike hoodie.

Leafy sweater knit
Crinkle-effect floral sweater jersey. Navy/taupe colours.

Then there was Tomato. It was chaos! It took me  a while to figure out the system (bring a buddy, one waits in the cutting line while the other gathers bolts for cutting). Don't ask me how the floors/shops are split up. I have no clue.

soft fluffy herringbone fabric
Double-sided herringbone print stuff. It's really soft and quite fluffy, maybe somewhere between microfibre and brushed finish. Very strokeable.

Quilting cotton with paper crane motif
Paper crane print quilting cotton. Probably for pockets.

Waterproof nylon fabric
Waterproof nylon. For that time I decided I wanted to make an umbrella.

Silk habotai scraps
White silk habotai. I got 5 metres because the price was good, but this is all that's left!

Oh for the love of novelty prints! You need a novelty print cotton for a very specific theme/item? Of course they'll have 3 for you to choose from here!

Quilting cotton featuring cartoon dinosaurs
Dinosaur quilting cotton. Because why not?

To be honest, I had a better time in the smaller shops, I got pretty grumpy in Tomato pretty quickly. But I did find some good linings - one of which I have fawned over in Cloth House before.

I was expecting to find a bit more in the way of nice linings that I've coveted in Cloth House actually, but there were surprisingly few. This probably means more pining in Cloth House in my future...

After Nippori I headed to Shinjuku to visit Sekaido (art supply store - no real sewing stuff except for an infinite number of Frixion pens) and Bunka Fashion School. I missed their open day and show by a few days but was mostly there for the shop. After wandering around the campus trying to find it myself (looking like a complete yutz) I finally resorted to asking the security guard (using a system of mime, grunts and overly gracious thank yous). The keyword was koubai and it's in the basement level (main building, take a lift down, it's on the left of the cafe). I picked up some tools, cheap leathers and embroidery thread. I also prodded almost everything in this shop.

This is what's left of the leathers, they were used in  the patches on my merch bags 

After Shinjuku, next was Shibuya and Tokyu Hands flagship store. I was told to be prepared for "everything you can think of", which captures its spirit very well! Again, I wasn't prepared for it to be this massive! Sewing-wise I picked up some webbing and some elastics. Its sewing floor isn't particularly extensive, but the amazing thing about this shop is that it stocks almost everything else (except books). Peripherally I also got some tiny coathangers/buldog clips to hang patterns.

After this in one day I was pretty exhausted. One day of massively indulgent fabric shopping. Oh the greed. And as always I think I came away with nothing I'd planned on, while still ticking off a huge proportion of my list!

Keeping it all wrapped up for 6 days until coming back to the UK was excruciating, but loading it into my poor broken suitcase and dragging it home was brutal!

One shredded suitcase wheel
Wheel #1

A second shredded suitcase wheel
Wheel #2

Removing wheels of a suitcase with a drill
Repair in progress (shamefully still in progress)

One single day planned, done and dusted. Was this the best bit of trip? No, but I could enjoy the rest of my 2 weeks undistracted by textiles. Except for one very important pilgrimage...to the Nani Iro atelier.

Perhaps I didn't show enough decorum in its hallowed halls. Perhaps I should have looked a little more closely at the other shops in this arcade. Nope. Atelier Nani Iro was the destination and the staff were very polite when dealing with a sweaty, overexcited foreigner. I left with a beautiful haul and a very light wallet. It was good.

Five Senses print (see in the online store)

Shine Many Ways print (see in the online store)

SAAA SAAA Rondo print (see in the online store)

Poppy Trip print (see in the online store)

Bed Grass Cozy print (see in the online store)

Lei Nani - For Beautiful Corolla - Sea Hawaii print (see in online shop)

So that's it, what should I do with it all?


Internet resources used to plan fabric shopping

Cashmerette's day out in Tokyo
Tilly's trip to Japan
Japanesesewingbooks directions to Nani Iro
Daphnesensei's post about Bunka