Now this is the kind of summer top I dream of. The fabric is a beautifully smooth, soft, and drapey mystery material that my mom (hi Mom!) gave me when she was clearing out her sewing and craft supplies. I’m not sure what she originally bought it for; I can’t recall anything she’s made out of it. The smooth hand and fluid drape remind me of rayon challis, although Allie’s Fabric Files says that wrinkles will fall out of rayon challis within a few minutes of wear, and that’s definitely NOT the case with this material. It loves a good steamy press, but also seems to wrinkle from my body heat alone. Perhaps it’s linen or a linen blend?
To keep the fabric from slithering away from me during cutting and sewing, I filled a dollar store spray bottle with homemade spray starch (made by boiling cornstarch in water) and applied it liberally while pressing. It made a huge difference in how the fabric handled: it remained crisp and even a little grippy throughout the sewing process.
The pattern is a heavily altered McCall’s 7324. I mentioned the modifications I intended to make after muslining the pattern, but here’s a rundown of the changes that happened on the final garment:
Cut a size 10 instead of a size 6
Narrow the shoulders by 1 inch
Deepen the armhole by 0.5 inches
Eliminate the vertical pleat extending from the placket
Eliminate the gathers along the front neckline between the placket and the shoulder, which necessitated the following compensating changes:
Change the shape of the placket opening from a trapezoid (narrow at the top, wider at the bottom) to a V
Change the length and angle of the placket bands to match the new opening, ensuring the bottoms of the bands will be horizontal when stitched in place
Shorten the neckband (which looks like a collar stand)
I also left the hem curve alone this time instead of trying to shorten the back. A little butt coverage isn’t such a bad thing.
The top is quite voluminous. With the relaxed fit, going up one size would have been sufficient. I also didn’t account for the fact that a two-size increase would change the armhole, so while taking in the shoulder width was definitely a good call, scooping out the bottom of the armhole an extra half-inch wasn’t necessary. In fact, as you probably noticed in the second photo, raising or moving my arms reveals a peek of bra band. I don’t care that much when I’m wearing the top casually, but I’ll throw on a camisole underneath if I’m in a more conservative setting. I’d love to make an obnoxiously colored bralette to wear with it—I keep envisioning orange—because FASHION.
On the inside, I stitched everything on my sewing machine, then finished the side and shoulder seams with my serger and the armholes with self-fabric bias tape. (Starch is the only thing that made bias tape possible, and even then, I’ve got a few spots of wobbly stitching where the raw edge has come untucked. I have no idea how anyone can make bias tape out of things like silk…) The hem is a baby hem made using Carolyn’s instructions.
I think that’s everything? Here are a few up-close shots:
I’m much happier with the gathers on this iteration, and my topstitching on the neckband is marginally better this time. I wore this beauty about once a week from the time it was done until a cardigan wasn’t enough to make it warm. I don’t exactly look forward to summer here in the south, but being able to throw on a cool, comfortable top I made takes a bit of the sting out of it—it’s the closest I’m ever going to come to looking stylish while sweating buckets.
While everyone else is reflecting on the end of the year, I’m scrambling to catch up on all of my 2018 projects! I had hoped to have that done before the holidays, but a combination of work deadlines and other professional obligations, as well as a few seasonal activities, meant I was busy right up until we went out of town for Christmas. I thought I might have time to write during my vacation (the longest I’ve taken since graduating college), but because we were visiting family we were far too wrapped up in eating, sleeping in, watching movies, playing games, and exchanging gifts to have much screen time. I’m not as bothered as I thought I’d be. So what if I have to put off doing any kind of wrap up until mid-January? No one was keeping score but me, and I’ve decided to misplace the scorecard.
The only trouble with being so far behind is trying to remember what I did (or didn’t do). I actually have a lovely sewing planner that my sister gave me—the pages came from this Etsy shop, and she comb-bound it with acetate covers herself to make it more durable—but I have a devilishly hard time remembering to actually write in it. These tartan pajama pants are a great example of a project that would have benefited hugely from taking notes, because they a) were intended as a wearable muslin, b) involved several modifications to a basic pattern, and c) required a significant hack job to fit correctly because of additional alterations I forgot to make.
The pattern is, I believe, Simplicity 1520. I say “believe” because I also have Simplicity 0301, a unisex pattern that was formerly available for free on Simplicity’s site but has since been removed or very well hidden. The reason I passed over the free pattern in favor of a purchased one is because the free pattern has a simple cased elastic and a very generous fit, whereas I was looking for a slimmer cut, a combination of elastic and drawstring, and preferably pockets. The joke’s on me, however, because although S1520 appears to fit that bill, it actually has none of those features—I misread the back of the envelope and ended up with effectively the same pattern.
As best as I can remember, I modified the pattern to include buttonholes at the waist to feed a drawstring through, shortened the inseam at the lengthen/shorten line to accommodate my 5’2″ frame, and marked the placement for inseam pockets using my pocket template (AKA the pockets from Simplicity 1419).
What I notably failed to do was reduce the crotch depth, both because I’m shorter than average and because I prefer to wear my pants (especially my lounge pants) on my hips. I was blissfully ignorant of this oversight until I’d already made the buttonholes (and folded and sewn down the top of the pants to make a casing for the elastic), and I was so annoyed about it that I decided to salvage what I had instead of completely reworking it. That is to say, instead of cutting off the top of the pants at the correct height, making new buttonholes, and folding down a new casing, I lopped off the “waistband” 5/8 inches below the stitching line that made the casing, removed something like 3″ of excess fabric from the crotch, and reattached the “waistband” by stitching in the ditch. My ditch-stitching wasn’t very tidy, but you can’t really tell. The bigger giveaway is that the tartan no longer lines up near near the top of the pants, but honestly far less egregious than the (lack of) stripe matching you normally see in ready-to-wear.
Shortening the crotch meant moving the pockets down as well, but that was a straightforward change, albeit a time-consuming one because I’d already serged the seams. (Ugh, why.) I moved them a little too far down, so they’re not really useful for sticking my hands in. They still work just fine for a phone, so I could not be bothered to move them a second time.
The fabric is a lightweight flannel shirting from JoAnn. To match the tartan, I cut everything on a single layer and used a walking foot to sew my seams before finishing them with a serger. I focused on making sure the horizontal stripes matched across vertical seams, and I feel I was successful; next time, I’ll pay more attention to respecting the pattern repeat and mirroring the vertical stripes as well.
The silver ribbon was a freebie that came tied to the bag of an Aerie purchase. Instead of threading both elastic and ribbon through the casing, I took a cue from Lauren’s Margot PJ Pants and cut my ribbon in half before sewing each piece to the end of a length of no-roll elastic. I thought for sure I was going to love this, but in reality I don’t. It’s a pain to try to cinch the pants and keep the slippery polyester satin bow tied. I can’t decide if I’d rather just elastic or just a drawstring, but this hybrid jobby just ain’t doin’ it for me.
Given how badly I botched the fit initially, I don’t think these are a very good muslin, but they for sure are wearable. I’ve basically been living in them this winter, especially since I switch into lounge pants as soon as I get home from work. I have more of this flannel stashed away—my first cut shrank in the wash and was just too short for pants—that I’m hoping to use for a second cozy project. And since I could use another pair of winter pajama pants, I’ll probably take a second crack at this pattern before finally cutting into a more precious fabric that I’ve been hoarding. (Yes, precious pajama fabric. You’ll understand when you see it.)
Here’s hoping that, in 2019, I can graduate to a level of sewing where I don’t mess up pajama pants. 😂
I’d been meaning to visit the Spoonflower headquarters in Durham since I moved to North Carolina five years ago
I’ve wanted to try a Grainline pattern for ages but couldn’t quite justify the purchase when I have a stash of patterns and fabrics waiting to be used already
I’ve thought about taking a sewing class as a way to be more social while improving my skills, but most classes are aimed at absolute beginners and tackle projects I’m not interested in
Lladybird was one of the first sewing blogs I started reading regularly, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to meet a sewing celebrity
Because this was the first time Sprout Patterns had done a collaboration like this, the process was a little hazy at times. For instance, there was a very limited number of spots in the class, so registration was first-come, first-served. All well and good, but when I submitted my registration through their online form, I received an email with the subject line “2018 Sprout Sew-Along with Lauren Taylor” and the sender “Confirmation Message” but a blank email body. Hmm. Did this mean that I had secured a spot, or merely that my request had been received and I was on the waiting list? Nail-biting ensues. Five days later, I received another email that confirmed I had indeed scored a coveted seat in the class. Whew, that was a relief! I assume they had to handle some portion of the registration manually and that was the cause of the wait, but a simple message up front could prevented a bit of unnecessary anxiety for those like me who did get in, and tempered the expectations of those who ultimately wouldn’t.
The confirmation email included a simple schedule (meet-and-greet on Friday night, sewing all day Saturday and Sunday), a pre-class checklist in the form of a Google Doc, and a link to video explaining how to order your pattern and fabric through the Sprout Patterns site. I confess I only skimmed the video, as the process of purchasing the materials was pretty straight forward: follow the steps to order a Sprout Pattern as you normally would and use a class-specific coupon code to get the pattern of your choice printed on Kona® Cotton Ultra with free shipping.
If you’ve spent any time on the Spoonflower site at all, you don’t need me to explain the hours I spent browsing for the perfect print for my Archer—there’s an overwhelming number of pretty, quirky, colorful, fun, bold, and bizarre designs already available even before delving into creating your own.
But I’d also suggest the severely constrained browse/search functionality on the site makes choosing a design more arduous than it needs to be. You can browse By Designs or By Color, which uses a system of categories and sub-categories, but if you select one of these you can’t narrow your criteria any further. You can do a search instead, but it’s really unclear whether this search is looking at the name of the category or categories the design is in, the name of the design itself, a set of invisible keywords, or some combination of the three. Using or not using quotation marks around your search terms does change your search results, but not in a predictable way. It’s frustrating to say the least, especially since there are plenty of models for different, successful systems.
After narrowing my favorites to around 30 designs, most of which were line art florals or dots/spots, and most of which were on a coral or blush background, I settled on Botanical Sketchbook – Floral Pink Blush by Heather Dutton. Then I popped over the Sprout Patterns site and selected the Archer pattern, View A, Size 2, and picked the design from my Spoonflower favorites. (You don’t need to browse Spoonflower first and then go to Sprout—you can browse designs directly on the Sprout site—but I found it easier to browse in the full-window view of the former as opposed to the smaller pop-up window browsing available with the latter.)
Sprout generates 2D and 3D models to help you visualize the scale of the design and determine its placement. The models are very helpful for avoiding unfortunate print placement, but the one shortcoming I see is that the pattern pieces aren’t labeled in the 2D model, so it’s possible to start dragging the print around without immediately seeing which piece you’re affecting, particularly in the case of small pieces or ones that are mostly hidden on a finished garment, such as a collar stand. In my case, I confused the pieces for the pockets and the cuffs, and it took an embarrassingly long time to figure out why I couldn’t move the large round flowers plastered over the nipples. Eventually I was satisfied with my choices, and I put the order in my cart and checked out with the coupon code with no issues.
It’s at this point I should probably mention that I felt a great deal of anxiety about placing my order, for a reason that I hadn’t expected. See, I’d received confirmation that I was registered for the class on February 28 along with instructions for ordering, and the class itself was scheduled for April 6–8. But I never actually received any guidance on how quickly I needed to place my order to allow enough time for it to be printed and shipped. The Sprout FAQ mentions that “average turnaround time for all products is 2-3 weeks,” but none of the correspondence mentioned this, or even directed students to the FAQ. I think the organizers must have assumed that everyone would want to get their patterns and fabric in hand as soon as possible, and it was never my intention to dally, but by the time I saw that key piece of information, there was a lot less than three weeks left, and I was in a bit of a panic. Again, a quick email would have done wonders here—a little “hey, if you haven’t ordered yet, you’ll want to do that soon!” would have been enough to make me commit to a decision.
Luckily, my order shipped in just two days, and since I’m in the next town over, it only took a few more days by mail to land on my doorstep. I had plenty of time to pre-wash my fabric and swing into JoAnn to pick up interfacing, coordinating thread, and basic translucent shirt buttons. In terms of tools, we were expected to bring our own sewing machines, pins, needles, snips, and so on, but scissors, cutting mats, irons and ironing boards, and sergers (for finishing seams) were provided.
On Friday night, the class gathered for a meet-and-greet with Lauren, who is exactly the person in real life that you’d expect her to be from her blog (which is something she stressed is important to her when she did her interview on the Love to Sew podcast). We snacked and drank and cut out our patterns while she chatted with us about sewing, blogging, and even gave a peek into her personal life.
Saturday and Sunday were both sewing days. Rather than do a sample project, showing us each step and then having us to it ourselves at the same time, Lauren chose to give us a short set of instructions to tackle a particular section of the shirt, and then when the first person hit a roadblock, she’d mime the steps to complete the task on that student’s pieces, folding or pointing or marking (but not sewing) as needed. If any student got behind, or needed to see the steps again, she’d walk them through it individually on their own shirt. She said she was happy to repeat herself as many times as needed, because she’d rather have students work at their own pace then be handcuffed to the rest of the class, with the speedier students feeling bored and the slower students feeling anxious. I’d say it worked pretty well: it allowed us plenty of time to socialize, observe each other’s progress, and take breaks as needed to avoid becoming tired or frustrated. (The snacks and grown-up beverages available throughout the day didn’t hurt either.)
Because our sewing time was divided up over two days and limited to about six hours each day, we ignored Grainline’s order of operations and also used a couple of alternative methods. For instance, we attached the plackets, collar stand, and cuffs to outside of the shirt and then topstitched from the inside to avoid needing to re-sew if the topstitching veered off course and failed to catch the fabric on the inside. We also used the burrito method to get a clean finish on the yoke, which I quite like.
Lauren also recommended several great tools and resources, including an expandable sewing gauge to mark buttonhole placement (always put a button in line with the apex of your bust to avoid gaping!), a buttonhole chisel, and weft interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply. (At least, I think she recommended the weft, although the site itself advises that it’s not suitable for shirtmaking. Hmm.)
Lauren is exactly the kind of teacher I want for a sewing class: smart but not rigid, personable but able to keep things moving. I’m glad I got to take my first class with her, and hope to have the opportunity to take another class in the future (jeansmaking, maybe?)
The Spoonflower crew were also incredibly gracious hosts who were quick to offer supplies or assistance to anyone who needed them. They even made time for a tour of the facility at the end of the weekend. It’s a shame that the sew-along was the last class they had planned for the foreseeable future—the run-up to the event may have been shaky, but when it comes to day-of execution, they’re great facilitators.
As for the Archer itself, I’m quite pleased with how it came out. I’m lucky that the Size 2 fits pretty well out of the packet; the only thing I’d definitely change is bringing in the shoulders. I love the curved hem because I don’t like to tuck in my shirts. The Kona® Cotton Ultra was easy to press and sew, but it’s thicker and stiffer than I’d prefer for a button-up shirt, and I think it may be the culprit of some of the rumpling in the back. If/when I make it again, I’ll look for something lighter like a poplin or a lightweight cotton sateen. (Probably. I’m also tempted by all the flannel for fall.)
I’ll be glad to have this shirt in my wardrobe when the weather (finally) decides to cool down, but more importantly, I’m excited to have some transferable skills in my sewing toolkit. I fantasize about being the kind of slow sewist who savors the precise construction of an impeccably fitted shirt, but I’d happily settle for becoming a halfway patient sewist who can get her pockets to match and her topstitching to stay on the fabric!
Over New Year’s weekend, Heather and her wife were kind enough to host Justin and me so that we could visit with the Myers family. We’ve all done our share of going out to ring in the new year, both at intimate gatherings of friends and big parties of strangers, so we were perfectly content to spend this one at home with a plentiful supply of snacks, drinks, and games.
We’re all four of us gamers, so we’re constantly on the lookout for cooperative video games to play with our spouses and as a group. While there are a fair few online co-op games you can play on separate devices—some of our favorites are Gauntlet for the PlayStation 4 and Don’t Starve and Stardew Valley on Steam—it’s harder to find couch co-op games to play with our spouses (and as a foursome when we’re all together) on one TV that aren’t party games.
Enter Overcooked, an adorable couch co-op video game where two to four players are chefs racing the clock to prepare, plate, and serve up meals like soup, burgers, and tacos. In addition to the timer, players are up against challenging kitchen environments like a pirate ship, where the rolling waves cause the prep counters to slide around in changing configurations that can block access to ingredients or tools.
Despite the cooperative nature of the game, players are often inadvertently fighting each other as they try to reach for the same knife or pan, add the wrong ingredients to the dish another person is working on, or run slam-bang into each other as they’re scrambling around the kitchen.
Justin and I had played Overcooked before, and Heather and her wife had already beaten it more than once, but we had never played all together. Since we were familiar with the game’s hazards, we decided that an additional layer of difficulty was necessary to make it sufficiently challenging. And there is, of course, no easier or more instantly accessible way to do this than adding alcohol.
Seeing as it was a holiday weekend, the fridge was conveniently stocked with celebratory libations that suited our purpose.
As we barreled through several levels without any problems, we couldn’t help but think we work pretty well together in stressful situations. A thought which, while it no doubt contained a kernel of truth, was so confidently felt by everyone in the room in a context so obviously ridiculous that it should have been a clue our faculties were waning.
Not long after, as we were scurrying around trying to keep up a steady rotation through all of the tasks and not collide with each other, Heather called out for an onion for the soup she was making. One of us—I can’t remember who, and I wouldn’t stoop to naming them here if I did—had the misfortune to grab the wrong vegetable and then shove it at her with fervent abandon.
“That’s a tomato, you fuck,” said Heather, with the calm condescension you’d expect from the damned explaining the weather in hell.
Gales of uncontrollable laughter obliterated our concentration and ensured swift and total failure. We tried to soldier on, but alcohol-induced hubris and humor claimed us in the end.
And so, when Heather’s birthday rolled around in April, I could think of no better gift to celebrate her hospitality, handmade-worthiness, and general hilarity than to immortalize her words in cross stitch.
The fabric is DMC Charles Craft 18 count Aida in white; the floss is DMC. The pattern for the tomato was derived from a screenshot of Overcooked that I manually transferred to a grid in Illustrator and printed. The text is an unvention: I didn’t even think to look for an alphabet online, and instead simply charted out something that looked good to me on graph paper.
I took this photo on my phone when I finished stitching during a weekend mini-vacation in Hickory, NC. I forgot to take a true completed shot of the piece before I gave it to Heather, but I did remove the fuzz from the place where I took out the period, spot cleaned the fabric, and finished it in the frame following these instructions on the Stitch Modern blog.
(For those who might be wondering about the censorship: Heather is no shrinking violet, but she has conservative in-laws and a young nephew that she cares not to upset, so I opted for something that would be easier for her to display openly if she chose.)
After the success of Heather’s handmade socks, it was no surprise—but also no less gratifying—that she gleefully embraced a bit of cheeky home decor.
When I look back at these photos, which have been sitting on my hard drive, edited, since the end of January, I recall distinctly how unhappy I was—that day in particular, but also that week, and indeed that entire season. Winter was a difficult time for me, the too-short daylight hours filled with a grinding work schedule aggravated by interpersonal conflict. Despite having few to no creative opportunities at work and craving self-expression, I often came home too drained to pick up any of my projects.
That was frustrating enough by itself, but what added insult to injury was the fact that I was also being confronted on several sides by the opinion that the parts of myself I was managing to express were cold, intractable, and unlikable—in short, unacceptable, and in need of changing. I was counseled on being optimistic, willing to compromise, and above all, being personable.
I spent a lot of time reflecting on what it is that makes me me, whether those things can be changed, and, significantly, whether they should be.
For a time, I practiced change. There were days when I exhausted myself with the effort of being easy to get along with. The act of being inoffensive.
I’ve never felt less like myself.
On the day these photos were taken, a Thursday, I was working from home due to the snow. After an increasingly taxing work assignment escalated to full-blown railing and stomping through the house, I finally set aside my computer and picked up my knitting and camera instead.
This hat is something new made out of things familiar and leftover: the pattern is the Lotus Hat from Uptown Purl, which I’d previously knit into my Meditation, frogged, and wanted to revisit; the yarn is the remainder from my Mashion. Modifications are detailed on Ravelry.
The whole thing came together in five days, and it only took that long because I kept doing the crown decreases expecting to run out of yarn. When I didn’t, I was able to increase the number of repeats to make a deeper hat.
Putting on a handmade hat (and handmade gloves), standing outside with Justin, and smiling at the camera in the cold reaffirmed that I make things, and will continue to make things, because I care about putting more into the world than I take out of it. I am resourceful, and I can adapt. I also have people who care deeply about me, and who I care about in return.
I didn’t know it at the moment these photos were taken, but the brief emotional respite they provided enabled me to understand, in the days and weeks that followed, that I was growing. It was difficult, and painful, and I would rather the catalyst for growth had been something other than this kind of hardship, but through it I found myself valuing my own work more and criticizing it less, strengthening relationships, and seeking to build new skills.
Spring brought its own share of troubles, but they were diminished in some small way by the feeling that I had survived worse, and could overcome this too. Summer has had its struggles as well, but more and more I find I want to focus on what I can make for myself.
I’m glad to finally say that, while there’s still plenty of room for improvement, I’m happier than I have been in months, and I’m relieved to finally close this post and start afresh.