Concept and Iteration

How did I arrive at a point in my life where I didn’t own a solid white or a solid black t-shirt? It’s certainly not because my wardrobe is dominated by prints—easily 90% of my clothes are solids. It’s also not because I eschew basics—I tend to buy staples like v-neck sweaters and button-up shirts in multiples, and I own few, if any, pieces I would consider “statements.” And yet here I was, lacking in the most basic of everyday garments (after underwear, of course).

The last few times I’ve tried to buy plain white and black tees, either short- or long-sleeved, I was deeply disappointed by the options available. I’m sure you’re all-too-familiar with the scene: racks of tissue-thin shirts that cling unflatteringly, bind up around the arms, and fall apart in three washes or fewer. No thanks.

I had plenty of white and black cotton/spandex blend in my stash, as well as a PDF copy of the free Tonic T-Shirt pattern from SBCC Patterns. I’d attempted the pattern before and wasn’t happy with the results, but I was determined to get it to work so that I’d have a well-fitting pattern at my disposal whenever I wanted/needed to whip up a new tee. (I also really want SBCC Patterns to work for me, because they’re specifically drafted for petites and I’d love to be able to support someone pitching my niche.)

As it turns out, my issue with the fit of the first attempt came down almost entirely to size selection. I’d sewn a small because I didn’t want the shirt to be too snug in the waist or hips, but that meant the finished bust was 1″ larger than my actual bust. Also, I must have taken my waist measurement on a day when I was bloated or something, because I’ve since re-measured at a slightly smaller size. These measurement issues, combined with a fabric that wants to mold rather than drape, made for an ill-fitting shirt that went straight into the recycling heap.

This time around, I cut out an extra-small (in white) in order to get negative ease at the bust and was much happier. To concentrate on neat, even sewing with no puckers or wavy seams, I basted everything with a zig-zag stitch on my sewing machine and then went back over everything with my serger. It takes twice as long, but it’s the only way for me to get a good finish. Maybe one day I’ll be able to zip everything through the serger without putting holes through the middle of the fabric, but today’s not that day, and tomorrow’s not looking good either.

I prefer to install my knit bands in the round rather than in the flat because I feel like I get a cleaner finish that way, and I had to cut off 1″ of the band in order to have a loop that was smaller than the neck opening. (I also prefer to sew my seams and then turn up and topstitch my hems for the same reason. So, I basically ignored the instructions and used the alternative method for every step. It worked out fine.)

With the proportions sorted out, I noticed two things: the hem has a tendency to ride up, most likely due to the amount of negative ease through the body, and the neckband was difficult to serge and topstitch down evenly due to its narrowness.

I immediately cut out another shirt (also in white), but lengthened the bottom hem straight down by 1.5″ and doubled the height of the neckband. I chose to add length at the bottom rather than at the lengthen/shorten line because the narrowest part of the shirt does seem to be hitting the narrowest part of my waist. This worked exactly as I planned, but for someone long-waisted, the lengthen/shorten line is the way to go.

I like the double-height neckband—it somehow has a more casual feel—but even with the previous alteration of shortening it by 1″ it was a little too long, and even after pressing it’s noticeably wavy. It’s no worse than you’d find in some ready-to-wear, but it’s something I wanted to fix on future versions.

With that in mind, I cut out a third and fourth shirt, both in black. For this iteration, I cut an XXS neckband instead of an XS and reduced the height of the neckband to 2 1/8″. This new neckband is now taller than the original but shorter than the doubled version, and it just might be perfect. I could probably shave a tiny bit more of the length off to get the band to lay completely flat, but I’m not sweating it.

At this point, I also lengthened my topstitch from 2.5 mm to 3.5 mm, which made the stitches a little more visible without being sloppy.

Below are the three version to give you an idea of what the differences look like in context. Black and white do not like to be photographed together like this, so the exposure/contrast is absolutely awful, but I hope it gets the point across.

Here’s a look at the necklines up close, so you can see the differences in neckband height:

One last thing I’d like to mention is that Steam-a-Seam 2 is the not the same as Dritz Wash Away™ Wonder Tape. At some point I had rolls of both in my notions collection, but I must have used up the latter on a previous project. I grabbed the Steam-a-Seam 2 thinking that it was designed for the same purpose and painstakingly applied it to the sleeve hems and bottom hem of my first t-shirt, only to realize after heat-setting it that it’s much stiffer than Wonder Tape. It seems to have softened a bit after a couple of washes, but I definitely wouldn’t use it again for stabilizing a knit hem while sewing. Steam-a-Seam 2 Lite might work for that purpose (I haven’t tried it myself), but I think I’ll stick with Wonder Tape.

I’m so glad to have these shirts in my closet. They aren’t glamorous, but they’re comfortable, and it’s nice to feel like even on an ordinary day I have something handmade to wear.

FO: Floral Sorbetto

Back at the beginning of January, I wanted to sew up a two-yard cut of navy corduroy that I bought during Hancock Fabrics’ going out of business sale into a button-front skirt. Strangely reluctant to spend money on a suitable pattern, such as the Pauline Alice Rosarí, and apparently incapable of judging the value of my own time as well, I embarked on a daring adventure to hack Simplicity 1465, which is a pencil skirt with a facing instead of a waistband, front and back darts, an invisible zip in the back, and no lining, into a pegged, button-front skirt with a lining attached to integrated waistband-and-button-placket facings. Several evenings and weekends went toward making flat pattern adjustments and baste-fitting the pieces to get the styles lines I wanted and the correct dart sizes and hip curves.

Things were going swimmingly until I had to install the lining into the shell. Suddenly, things went from fitting well to being too small to close in the front by several inches. Unsure whether it was a drafting, cutting, or sewing mistake (or all three), and lacking the fabric to re-cut all of the pieces, I fell into a sewing funk. I’d wanted the finished skirt very badly, but even after several days of cooling off didn’t feel like I had the wherewithal to sort out the mess.

Wanting to get out of my rut, I cast about for an easy project that I could accomplish quickly with few or no adjustments to boost my confidence. Conveniently, Colette had launched the New Sorbetto, an update to their original free top pattern, and I had a remnant of cotton lawn from my Garden Party Dress lingering in my stash that I felt was destined for better things than just pocket bags.

Because Colette drafts for a C cup, I cut a size 4 and did a 2″ SBA, which I prefer to think of as a Sufficient Bust Adjustment rather than a Small Bust Adjustment. Tutorials for bust adjustments abound online, but I went ahead and used the one offered by Colette on the Sewalongs website.

Side note: Measuring as an A cup for this pattern made me laugh, because I’m currently in need of new bras and I’ve recently determined that I’m not a 34B, nor even a 32C, but probably a 30D. (In fact, if I were to follow A Bra That Fits’ Bra Size Calculator, I’m on the cusp of 26E/28DD.) This isn’t to suggest I think that Colette’s sizing is wrong, but rather to highlight one of the many instances where two clothing-based industries use the same terminology—cup size—but arrive at it using two different sets of measurements: Colette is interested in the difference between one’s high bust or upper torso measurement and one’s full bust measurement, whereas bra companies are interested in the difference between one’s full bust and one’s underbust measurement. Just a little reminder that it pays to understand how a clothing manufacturer or a pattern designer approaches measurements and sizing schemes if you want to nail your fit.

My remnant was L-shaped with narrow legs, so I had to sacrifice the center pleat in order to get the front and back pieces to fit. I did, however, have a square large enough to make continuous bias tape to bind the neckline and armholes. I like that continuous method of making bias tape, but struggle to make my bias tape a consistent width when using it, so instead of binding the edges as instructed I created bias facings on the outside of garment, like the ones on the Sewaholic Dunbar, and then edgestitched them down as instructed using a dark gold all-purpose thread that matches the darker yellow flowers in the top. The bottom has a narrow hem, folded under twice and topstitched down with the same dark gold thread.

The fit is a little more boxy than I’d like, but about what one would expect from a pull-on woven top in a lightly structured fabric. I’d really like to take a crack at this in a drapier fabric like rayon challis or even a lightweight jersey; I have a few sleeveless Portofino shirts from Express that I live in during the sweltering summer months, and I’d love nothing more than to fill my closet with a pared-down version of them using this pattern.

You can’t tell here, but the fabric is slightly sheer, and the armholes are a tad low, so I’m wearing it over a white camisole. That’s how I plan to wear it to the office, but I have no doubt that on the weekends when the temperatures climb I’ll ditch the cami. In future less-sheer versions I’ll probably shave a little off the top of the straps in order to raise the armholes and bust darts slightly to avoid the need for a cami entirely.

I know the Sorbetto is old news in the sewing world, but for anyone who, like me, didn’t sew it up the first time around, I offer up this warning about the new pattern: the instruction file is really, really long, coming in at 36 pages. While I have no doubt that novices or less confident stitchers might find things like the detailed cutting layouts useful, the sheer volume here is a bit overwhelming, and it’s also a bit of a nuisance to get to key pieces of information (size charts are buried on pages 11-12, and the actual sewing instructions don’t start until page 26). Once you’ve sewn it once it would be easy enough to dispense with the instructions entirely, but if you need to quickly check for confirmation of a seam allowance or what have you, CTRL F is your friend.

Overall, I accomplished what I set out to do: I used a pattern and fabric I had on hand, made minimal adjustments, finished in a few leisurely evenings, and ended up with a top that I can wear throughout the warmer months. I’m feeling refreshed and ready to tackle more sewing projects. Hurray!

FO: Pumped Up in Pink

At some point around the end of June or the beginning of July—that hazy time before the flood—I completed a second set of gym clothes using the same patterns as my first set (Top: New Look 6285 View C; Leggings: McCall’s 7261 View D). I had expected the first attempt to be something of a wearable muslin, and when it indeed turned out to be quite wearable, I had high hopes that with the second attempt I would skillfully incorporate all of those lessons learned, resulting in a nigh-on-perfect fit. Instead, I managed to create new issues while fixing the original ones, so that take two is more of a different fit than a better one.

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The first thing I set out to fix was the tightness of the pants. While I like my leggings to fit closely, there was some straining at the seams, especially when I was doing leg presses. No popped stitches yet, but better safe than sorry, right? So instead of using the pattern pieces I had traced off previously, where I had shaved off ¼” all the way around so that I could serge with a 3/8” seam allowance on the original stitching line, I traced off a fresh set of pattern pieces along the original size lines but serged with the same 3/8” seam allowance, effectively increasing the leg, hip, and waist circumferences by 1”. (Lengths were also increased, which I figured would be beneficial, and could be shaved down easily enough if needed.)  One inch ended up being a lot more than I needed, so I pinched out the excess and resewed the outseams, removing—can you believe this?—1/2” each from the front and back leg pieces, or a total of 1” for each leg. Somehow, this still resulted in an ever-so-slightly roomier fit, and now I can safely do lunges without fear of splitting a seam open.

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The other major change I made to the pants was the waistband. My first pair had a wide band but no elastic, so the band tends to fold or roll down on itself when I bend or sit. To prevent this, instead of cutting one folded waistband, I cut two waistband pieces, each with an extra 3/8” seam allowance on the top edge, and sandwiched the elastic in the top seam.

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In order to get the smoothest possible interior and exterior, my steps (to the best of my recall) looked something like this:

  1. Place waistband pieces right sides together.
  2. Lay ¾” elastic on top of the waistband pieces, aligning them along one long edge.
  3. With the elastic still on top, serge all three layers together. The waistband piece in direct contact with the elastic—the middle layer of the sandwich—will be the inner waistband; the other waistband piece will be the outer waistband.
  4. Turn the sandwich over so that the elastic is now on the bottom.
  5. Open the waistband pieces so that the right sides are visible.
  6. Understitch the inner waistband—the piece lying directly on top of the elastic, the middle layer of the sandwich—by using a narrow zigzag to sew the fabric to the elastic opposite the serged edge.
  7. With the inner and outer waistband pieces still opened up, fold the entire waistband in half to align the short edges—the center back seam—and serge.
  8. Wrap the outer waistband piece over the top of the serged edge of the elastic, placing the elastic in the middle of the sandwich and aligning the bottom edges of the inner and outer waistband pieces. (If you cut the waistband pieces the same size, they won’t actually align; you can either try to calculate how much longer one piece needs to be than the other and cut your original pieces accordingly, or do like I did and just trim the longer piece to match the shorter one during this step.)
  9. If the center back seam feels too pronounced, you can open the inner and outer waistband pieces back up, snip into the serged edge just above the elastic, and then fold the seam allowances in opposite directions before turning the waistband wrong sides together again.
  10. Attached the waistband to the top of the pants as you normally would.

The result is smooth waistband with a lot of more staying power.

Unfortunately, I’d completely clean-finished the waistband before attaching it and realizing that the pants were too big around. Since I didn’t want to completely disassemble the waistband to take out the extra width, I only went back as far as Step #7, cut off ½” from each short end, and re-serged. It saved time but meant that the bulk-reduction trick in Step #9 wasn’t feasible, and I can definitely feel the CB seam when I’m sitting with my back against a chair/weight machine. I had also clearly lost my motivation to line up my seams by the time I was attaching the waistband for the second time.

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On the bright side, other seams match up a little better this time around.

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Seriously, is there a trick to this? Even with pins and a walking foot, matching seam lines is like spinning a roulette wheel for me.

Anyway, on to the top! I’m ashamed to admit how long it took me to change the essentially straight seam to the sweetheart one you see below, and it’s entirely down to the fact that when I tried to join the original yoke and body pattern pieces into a single piece that I could modify, I completely missed that some parts of the pattern are marked with a 3/8” seam allowance and others are marked with a 5/8” seam allowance. There doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to this, and I definitely sewed the first top with 3/8” seams throughout. Once I got that sorted, it was easy enough to draw in my desired seam shape, cut apart, and add new seam allowances.

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I didn’t quite get a point at the bottom of the heart, but using a ton of pins, basting, and then serging slowly made for a pretty smooth curve that I’m rather proud of. Then I forgot to topstitch the yoke seam. Again.

I chose to take the entire top up at the shoulders by an inch based on the fit of the earlier incarnation, but I wish I hadn’t: the armholes were a bit low before, but they’re definitely too high now. Also, I’m pretty sure I’ve caused back neck gaping that wasn’t there before. Live and learn, I suppose. If ever there was someone prone to overfitting, it would be me.

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All in all, it’s not the perfect fit I was hoping for, but I’ve increased my workout wardrobe by another 50%. Can’t complain about that!

 

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Progress? Progress!

Remember this promising sliver of knitting?

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I’m not surprised if you don’t—it made its first and only appearance all the way back in January. January. That was six months ago, friends. Egads. (So much for this being a year of knitting productivity…)

I stalled out sometime in April after I completed the back and started the front. Fingering-weight stockinette doesn’t make for particularly speedy knitting, but it’s mindless enough that I can work on it while watching TV and riding in the car. No, what strangled my enthusiasm for the project was not the pace, but the prospect of weaving in all. those. ends.

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I hate weaving in ends. Every time I sat down and knit another stripe, I created two more ends to loom on the horizon. Just look at them, promising hours of tedium—and no doubt frustration—as I try to figure out where to put all of them without any stray colors cropping up where they don’t belong.

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But, fueled by my Me-Made-May pledge (which came about in part because of this very project), I finally made a concerted effort to drag this project toward the finish line. Over the course of four weeks, I knocked out the front and started in on the first sleeve. (Interestingly, it doesn’t bother me to be on Sleeve Island, and I’ve yet to experience Second Sleeve Syndrome on a project.)

To help combat the tyranny of ends, I used one of TECHKnitter’s strategies for weaving in as I go on the front and the sleeve. It slows down the process of turning a row and joining a new color, but I’d like to think it’s preferable to the interminable and uncertain job of dealing with all the ends at, well, the end. But I’m withholding full judgment until I can seam everything and put it on—I don’t want to actually recommend this approach until I know that it won’t come apart or create unsightly lumps or bumps on the face of the fabric.

Meanwhile, I’m itching to move on to other projects. With consecutive days of 80-degree temperatures and 90-degree days on the horizon, I won’t be sporting this sweater any time soon—except for blog photos, of course. 😉

FO: Active in Aqua

For Christmas 2014, Justin encouraged my renewed interest in fitness by gifting me a complete gym kickstarter kit that included a Fitbit, a Camelbak water bottle, and a pair of athletic leggings with matching wicking T-shirt. The clothes, which replaced the ratty cotton-spandex yoga pants and novelty tees I’d worn to the gym all throughout college, were a huge upgrade in terms of comfort and performance. They’re easily in my top 5 most used gifts, and they’ve held up really well over the last year and a half—in fact, they’re still going strong—but they have two drawbacks. First, the leggings are from Under Armour’s ColdGear line, which means they’re lined with microfleece for warmth and thus not the most suitable for spring/summer wear (even though that wear takes place in an air conditioned gym). Second, they’re just one set, which means I have to wash them at least once a week if I don’t want to offend fellow gym-goers with my rank aroma.

I’d been eyeing a few different options from major athletic brands online and crossing my fingers for a sale, until, on a quick trip to JoAnn to pick up some notion or other, I casually spied some pretty space-dyed polyester-spandex described as a quick-drying performance fabric (still available here at the time of writing; don’t trust the color in the shop photo).

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I tried to talk myself out of it, but in the process only managed to stumble upon the same fabric in another colorway (also still available here; again, don’t trust the color in the shop photo) as well as a complementary solid black (I believe this is the one). Deciding this was a prime opportunity to vote with my dollars and show JoAnn there’s a market for apparel fabric and specifically athletic fabrics, and also determining that this was probably the one time where it actually would be cheaper to make my own clothes rather than buy them, I brought home a couple of yards of each.

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Lightweight leggings and a fitted tank are perfect for the warmer days of spring. The tank top is New Look 6285 View C and the leggings are McCall’s 7261 View D.

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Let’s talk about the tank top first, since it was a much more straightforward project.

N6285 isn’t marketed as an athletic pattern, but the basic design works for both my casual wear and exercise needs, and the color-blocking possibilities immediately caught my attention. Coordinating gym separates are something I’ve longed for since my (broke) college days—who doesn’t feel more motivated by a matching gym set? It may not be readily apparent from the envelope art, but View C has an hourglass silhouette while Views A and B are straighter and looser. Since my current gym t-shirt is on the relaxed side, I thought it would be fun to try a more fitted top to see which I prefer.

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I cut a straight size 6 based on the finished measurements; a size 8 would probably work just as well, but cling a little less around the stomach. The pattern is drafted with 3/8″ seam allowances, which is perfect for serging. I jumped straight to assembling everything on my serger rather than basting/sewing with a zigzag on my sewing machine first, which resulted in three places where I failed to catch all of the layers. But a little hand-stitching followed by more careful topstitching made those places practically invisible on the finished garment. In fact, I’m pretty pleased with how steady my topstitching came out, even if the neckband is a little wavy.

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The top is a little longer than I expected, but the length combined with the negative ease keeps everything anchored nicely around my hips, even when I’m running, so I don’t think I’d shorten it on future versions. The straps also seem a wee bit long: the armscyes don’t quite expose my sports bra, but it’s close, and even though that doesn’t really bother me, I think I’d like to take them up a bit just so the yoke, the widest part of the bust, and the armscyes are sitting where they’re supposed to. I wish I had thought to topstitch the yoke seam, but I’d already sewn everything together by the time the idea occurred to me, so I’ve filed it away for next time.

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Now, let’s talk about those leggings. I’d made two pairs of cotton-spandex leggings using McCall’s 6173 View B (unblogged, because they’re vanilla black leggings), so I initially assumed that these athletic leggings would be built from the same block, and that I could simply transfer the minor fit changes I’d made previously to this new, slightly more interesting variation. A quick look at the tissue proved that this was not the case. In fact, I have this sneaking suspicion that the M7261 leggings aren’t designed from a knit block at all, but instead use a woven trouser block. Based on the observations below, see if you agree with me:

  • M6173 is sized XS–XL, whereas M7261 is sized 6–22
  • M7261 has a completely different front and back crotch curve than M6173
  • M6173 is graded such that the sizes are nested with no overlap, whereas M7261 is graded with overlapping size lines
  • Most if not all of the reviews on Pattern Review complain that M7261 run large instead of being fitted like one would expect for a pair of leggings

Pretty fishy, right? Luckily, I had the two patterns to compare as well as the reviews to help me choose my base size and modifications. Unfortunately, McCall’s was not about to let me off that easily, as they did not see fit to include the finished waist, hip, or inseam measurement, nor did they mark the location of the hipline. I found myself muttering “Seriously?!” over and over as I tried to line up the pieces to determine the correct size. I cannot for the life of me figure out why none of this information is printed on the envelope, in the instructions, or on the tissue, since ALL of this information was essential to creating the pattern. Surely it’s in a spreadsheet somewhere?

I ultimately chose to make the size 6. Because I’m only 5’2″, I shortened the legs by a total of 4″; to keep the balance of the contrasting sections, I subtracted 2″ at the lengthen/shorten line and another 2″ from a line I drew on the bottom leg piece (specifically, a line drawn at the same distance from the leg seam as the provided length/shorten line is located). Since I’m not a fan of pants that sit at my natural waistline, I lowered the front rise by 1.5″ and the back rise by 1.25″ based on the fit of my RTW running leggings, which sit slightly higher than my regular pants and hit between my natural waist and the top of my hip bones.

Then, I painstakingly reduced the seam allowances of every piece from 5/8″ to 3/8″. Ostensibly this was for ease of serging and because I hate waste, but in reality I might just be some kind of masochist. I’m not sure if I redrew some of the notches in the wrong places, or if I made the mistake of matching edges when I should have been matching notches, but my seam intersections are hit-or-miss.

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The verdict on all those fit changes? Good, but not great. As soon as I pulled on the finished leggings I could detect a bit of camel toe happening in the front and a valley forming along the center back seam. It’s not terribly noticeable to others, but I can definitely feel it. The obvious solution will be to copy the crotch curve from my other pairs of McCall’s leggings, which don’t have these issues. The fit is also a little too snug throughout, especially around the bum when I squat/do leg presses, but I think this can be easily solved by tracing off the size 6 with its 5/8″  seam allowances, but sewing them at 3/8″ instead.

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A few people on Pattern Review noted that the waistband doesn’t stay put. I didn’t think it would be a problem at first, but when I move around, it definitely has a tendency to roll. I thought maybe it was just a result of using a very light material under too much tension, but after re-inspecting my RTW running leggings, I realized that they do, in fact, have an elastic sewn into the seam at the top of a wide waistband. I’m definitely going to incorporate this feature into my next pair.

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The real test, of course, comes from wearing the ensemble for exercise. I’m happy to report that this outfit’s maiden voyage to the gym did not result in any split seams, unexpectedly see-through fabrics, or other forms of abject embarrassment. In fact, although I said the fit was good but not great, a lot of the nit-picky fit issues weren’t that noticeable once I fell into the rhythm of jogging on the treadmill. That’s not to say the issues aren’t worth fixing, but it just goes to show that just because a garment doesn’t bear up under minute scrutiny doesn’t make it unwearable or even all that uncomfortable. And that gets me pretty pumped to sew up another set so that I have more options on gym days.