I’ve had the opportunity to wear my holiday dress a lot this year! My first stab at a Colette Dahlia, an extremely successful wearable muslin. The pattern was fabulously easy to follow, of course, and gave me the opportunity to learn how to use my blind hem foot, use bias tape, and insert an invisible zipper.
Since this blog doubles as a sort of project journal, let me also catalog the things I want to adjust next time: make the neck opening smaller; maybe adjust the bodice to be smaller for my tiny bust; I think I might prefer the look of larger contrasting bias tape; I forgot to add any pockets!; and last but not least….
Use a different technique for finishing the inside hems. I’ve been relying on some of the serger-like stitches my machine has. And overall, I think they work well. But they also inevitably look sloppier and more frayed than store-bought clothes. Maybe I should get zigzag shears? Or finish the insides with bias tape, too? Or finally figure out how to do a french seam? Let me know your favorite finishing techniques, and I will work my way through them as only an obsessed sewist can!
Every now and then* I get a little over-ambitious.
*all the freaking time
Last month my ambition led me to think that I should absolutely, completely, whole-heartedly sew a coat for my son for the winter. I had about a yard of dark gray wool in stash, and I pictured an adorable little double-breasted dress overcoat. Instead, after about half an hour of Googling, I settled on this Little Goodall pattern.
Can I tell you the saga of this coat? Let me tell you the saga, please please, please. There are a few useful tips at the end, but if you want the full feeling of living through punchline after punchline of sewing mishap, read happily onward.
First of all, I impulse-bought the pattern.* I called Joann’s, and yes, they had it in stock, and they set it aside for me. I swung by on the way home from work, and also picked up the contrasting colors for the fox’s face, and a flannel lining fabric (not pictured above for reasons that will become obvious), and buttons and thread based around the gray wool. I also picked up some wool batting, because I thought it would be smart** to quilt some extra layers in there for extra warmth.
*I know, I know. Never impulse buy! **trying to be smart results in more crafting-related deaths*** than any other single reason ***project deaths, that is
Then I got home, put the new fabric in the wash, laid out the pattern, and realized that I didn’t have enough gray wool. Like, not nearly enough gray wool. I also realized that the smallest size of the pattern is 3T, and, as you may or may not know, my kiddo isn’t even 2 yet.
OK, well, we’ll roll up the sleeves and he can wear it for more than one winter, I thought. That’s smart, it’s going to take a lot of effort to sew a coat. And he can layer sweaters underneath. It’ll be fine. Right? It’ll be fine?
Lack of outer fabric was a problem, though, a true-blue serious roadblock. I know our Joann’s doesn’t carry any 100% wool that I could use for the outer layer (and my knitter’s snobbery was kicking in. Wool is the warmest. I wanted all wool, not 10% wool felt). I hopped online. And realized that it would cost another $40 to buy and ship the kind of fabric I wanted. I love my son, but an $80 coat? Even spread over a couple years’ use and counting in the fun I would have making it? It seemed like a little much.
So I put the project in timeout (this happens a lot in my studio). And then I had a brainwave – I got the gray wool from Lancaster Creative Reuse a few years ago. Maybe I could get some more wool there!
Lo and behold, LCR came through for me. They had several options, in fact, all under $5. I settled on the thicker, camel-colored, herringbone weave you see in these photos.
Now I had gray thread, gray buttons, and lining fabric that didn’t match my camel-colored wool.
Back to Joann’s. Return the buttons. Return the thread. Buy the right buttons. Buy new thread. Buy three times as much thread as you will need, because you think the quilting will use a lot (spoiler alert, it doesn’t). Excavate a new lining from stash (super cute doggies, no?).
Then let’s line up all the layers (outer wool, thick felt interfacing, batting, and lining fabric) and realize oh cuss, just quilting these layers together will max out the height of the foot. What am I going to do when it’s seam-time?
Well, I’ll figure it out, I thought. And started to quilt. This turned out to be a secret stroke of genius for keeping my edges roughly even. There’s actual useful piece of information #1: quilt your layers! It’s good!
Let’s skip ahead a few days to the actual seaming: yes, the many layers are a bit of a problem. I get the body constructed, though. I even get the hood put together, the eyes and nose appliqued on, and the hood attached to the body. Tip #2: go ahead and use the longest stitch length your machine has. There’s no other way to go when you’re dealing with this much stuff.
Setting in tiny sleeves, though? Not gonna happen on the machine. I sewed them in by hand. This took days. But it is sturdier than you might think. I doubled my thread and used a back-stitch, put on pretty music and took my time.
The lining is added separately, at the very end, and I decided there was simply no way I could manage that on the machine, either. Plus, I always meant to learn how to do more than whip-stitch things. Here before me, I had the perfect opportunity to improve my slip stitch.
OK, OK. Let’s get to the very last punchline. I did finish the coat, over the course of a month. It is super cute. It is also super big. And last year’s down winter coat, the one I was sure would be too small? The one I was in such a rush to replace? I decided to put it on S, you know, to make myself feel better about all that work.
Isn’t it ironic that the topic this week for #slowfashionoctober – SMALL – strikes me as one of the biggest? I could talk about sustainability, sewing for my son (sewing small things is so cute), how I deal with fabric/yarn stashes (or not)… but let’s start with one of the small, everyday reasons I love the idea of having a small, intentional wardrobe.
I don’t have any closets.
This is a slight exaggeration. My husband just built an upstairs hallway closet for coats and things (in a nook created by old, defunct chimney – it’s brilliant).
The end result of this is that I constantly feel that my drawers are very full. As you can imagine, this helps me question whether I really need this or that, and to clear out items I do not wear regularly, and ensure that everything matches very, very well.
I have to give massive credit, again, to Sarai’s wardrobe-planning blog series for helping me to think about colors, shapes, and my style in a very focused way. Turns out it’s basically gray, brown, pockets, and hand-knitted pops of fall color. I wear dresses with leggings, and short-sleeve blouses for work that I can layer with my handknit sweaters.
My husband is also very intentional about his wardrobe – he basically has a uniform: khakis, button-down white shirts, a few flannel shirts, a few heavier sweaters always made from the same vintage pattern. He always matches, he always looks classy, and he never has to think about what to wear.
He’s been holding on to one old, holey pair of jeans for several years, though – his favorite pair to date. They’re not made any more. We kept thinking, we could turn them into a pattern and re-make them, but until recently, neither of us had those sewing skills.
This year, since I’m feeling cocky about my first pair of jeans actually fitting, I decided to pull those holey jeans apart and use them as a pattern for a new pair, for his birthday. I ordered some khaki/jeans material from Mood Fabrics (how genius is their order-a-swatch-for-a-dollar thing?). Unfortunately, because of my insane schedule, I had to package them up unfinished – without hems or button-hole (and I won’t be able to finish them until late in October).
He was still happy. And he now has a bespoke jeans pattern, all his own, for as many more pairs as he would like.
P.S. Seamwork Radio launched a few weeks ago – and I really enjoyed the first episode! Put some sewing in your ears!
Momentous News: these things actually fit me pretty well. You may have seen the first selfie snap a few weeks ago if you follow me in Instagram – but, well, daylight hours and spare photographers are a little hard to come by around these parts. And I didn’t want to leave you with just one grainy selfie. I wanted you to bask in the glory that is a second pair of jeans.
Sorry I’m not sorry.
And y’all, I have learned so much. With the help of a few fake-o darts hidden at the pocket seams, some creative cussing, and a whole mess o’ naptimes, they fit. Did I say that already? They fit.
Are you curious about lessons learned? Me, too. Allow me a quick recap:
What on earth kind of home sewing machine can actually make it through 12 layers of denim at a go? There were several areas – final top-stitching of the waistband and the belt loops in particular – that were just simply too thick to fit under the presser foot. There must be some smart ways to thin things down. Drop me a link or comment if you have a suggestion!
Flat-felled seams sound awesome. They’re no doubt durable. But they are just too thick for this material.
I need a little additional shaping around the waist area built into my pattern so I don’t have to fake darts at the 11th hour.
It’s more of a relaxed-fit pattern than a skinny-jeans pattern, despite my re-drafting the leg lines. Probably just as well, since this denim doesn’t have as much stretch as my store-bought pair.
I averaged a 1/2″ seam allowance ’round the whole thing, for those of you who were following my saga of annoyance. In a couple places, I might have slipped out to 5/8″, but I neglected to note exactly where. So for future pairs, 1/2″ it is.
You should always, always, ALWAYS double-check which side the button belongs on and which side the hole belongs on BEFORE you take a seam ripper to your pants. Or else you’ll end up with a hidden patch on your otherwise lovely jeans. Not going to lie, it took me a week or two to recover my courage and put on the finishing touches after that mistake.
And on the note of buttonholes – my automatic buttonhole stitches didn’t work for jeans. Thread and fabric too thick for those tiny little stitches. So I set a straight stitch at 2.4 mm and created a slightly sloppy square of stitching instead. This worked, once I figured out which side the hole belonged on.
You know what comes next, right? I get cocky and royally mess up a pair of jeans for my husband. I can practically smell reality knocking.
And when it does, you’ll know where to find updates!
I hope that the first few steps of jeans sewing are the most difficult.
Turns out, putting in a fly zipper is pretty complicated. And when the pattern leaves out a key detail like seam allowance (see my complaints in the previous post)… and the fact that you have to sort of offset the one zipper tape (so that you can hide the zipper and everything will close up flush – does that make sense to you? Photo below)….
Yeah, it took me a while. Several days’ worth of naptimes. It’s cool, though. I’m taking extensive notes for the next pair. #wearablemuslin
Things that I’m still mystified about:
Good zippers for jeans. The shortest one in Joann’s is still too long, far too long. If you sew jeans, do you usually order the zippers online?
Good buttons for jeans. Joann’s, again, had only 2 choices and I wasn’t in love with either of them (looks-wise).
How to use a twin-needle with my machine. That would cut my sewing time down pretty drastically, and make my top-stitching more even and professional-looking.
Will the gosh-darn things fit? Contrary to a normal wearable muslin, I’m going whole hog with this pair – finishing the edges, doing all the techniques. I want to test-drive it all. I’m subbing in flat-felled seams, for one thing, and trying out a different finishing stitch on my machine. It’s basically science, y’all. Hypothesize, test, and test again.
I also want to know how these new seams & finishing touches wear. Which ones are going to fall apart in the wash, which stress points tear first? I’m in it to win it with this jeans game. I will bet you a big, fat load of Party Points that I tear a hole in the first two weeks.
I have another confession. Crafting confession #1,000?
When it comes to knitting, sewing, printmaking (anything in the craft realm really) I have little or no idea about what skill level most projects are – and I don’t care. I would rather try to make something I want and need and love – and spend four weeks cussing and Googling and picking out seams – than go through measured steps to slowly build my skills. The intermediate projects always look so boring, right? Tell me I’m not the only recklessly impatient one around this neck of the woods.
So you won’t be surprised to hear that my latest sewing project is a pair of jeans. Never set in a zipper before? No problem. Looking for a chance to test out flat-felled seams because you read about them in the Colette Sewing Handbook? Sounds perfect. Eager to excuse your impatience by utilizing the phrase “wearable muslin”? Me, too!
Also, I am down to one pair of jeans that still fits me, and if I’m going to spend $30-$60 on a pair of pants, I am darn well going to have the fun of making something at the same time.
I understand that this might make me crazy. But let me take you on a tour of my latest-and-greatest sewing madness anyway. (I figure, if you’re sticking around, you’re probably crazy, too.)
I spent about 20 minutes surfing around and looking up jeans-patterns-reviews online, ordered a Sew U Built by Wendy book based on the lovely creations of a few sewers, and got some clearance denim for my wearable muslin.
Before you run over to Amazon and buy that book, though, you should know (due to what I can only imagine is a publisher’s error on a huge scale) there are no seam allowances included! The book saysthat seam allowances are noted on the pattern pieces (because Wendy recommends anywhere from 1/2″-3/4″ depending on the garment), but it’s a big fat lie. You are going to be guessing like crazy the whole way through.
This makes me angry. There are so many good independent pattern writers out there who go to great lengths to ensure that their patterns are accessible to all levels by including information about ease, seam allowances, and tutorials for the hard parts. I don’t think I’ll ever buy a “big name” pattern or book again – I’d rather stick with the indies, and know that I’m getting a good product with actual customer support if there’s a printing error.
However. I have the book now. I did a lot of manic math while I was adjusting the legs for more of a skinny-jeans look. The legs should fit OK. It’s anybody’s guess about the behind-area, of course, until I finish.
I do recommend the Colette Sewing Handbook. I will probably never make most of the actual garments (see impatience with slowly building skills above), but there is a wealth of information about fitting adjustments, different seams, and common techniques you’ll run into when garment sewing. I’ve referred to it multiple times while adjusting and sewing my jeans.
Next time, on The Jeans Diaries: zippers turn out to be hard.