Positive Peer Pressure

Caitlyn holds up a shawl made with Freia Handpaints yarn to show the full wingspan and different lace patterns

Caitlyn stands with one hand on a brick wall and her lace shawl wrapped around her neck like a bandana

Caitlyn sits on the steps of a public building with her shawl wrapped around her neck like a bandana

Caitlyn sits on the steps of a public building and peers playfully from behind her bandana shawl

Peer pressure: the catalyst of lying, cheating, stealing, drinking, smoking, and who-knows-how-many other societal woes. As a topic and a scapegoat, it was a perennial favorite in D.A.R.E. Seemingly all of the world’s vices would, someday, be offered up to us innocent lambs in the guise of friendship, and it was our solemn duty as good citizens to stand our ground and say, “no, thank you, I don’t need that to be cool.” We dutifully role-played each of the tactics, in escalating degrees of righteousness, for declining these tantalizing but ultimately life-destroying activities.

Peer pressure got a bad rap. What about using peer pressure for good? There was precious little talk about how peer pressure is also a lever for positive action. You can call it motivation, or a good influence, or tough love, but let’s be clear: it’s still peer pressure.

Take this shawl, for instance. The pattern is the Local Yarn Shawl from designer Casapinka. It was designed and released to commemorate the inaugural Local Yarn Store Day on April 21, 2018. I don’t particularly follow new pattern releases in the knitting world, and I’m not usually tempted by flash sales, special events, and the like. I will occasionally download free patterns when they’re offered, but I don’t go out of my way for them.

But as it happened, my own local yarn store Warm ‘n Fuzzy was one of the participating vendors. It doesn’t take much to bring me into the store, and the promise of a small discount on yarn purchased to create the pattern was as good a reason as any to at least drop by and see what was new.

While I liked the look of both of the sample shawls shown in the pattern and knew that Warm ‘n Fuzzy would have a delectable array of speckled and tonal yarns to suit the larger design, I kept coming back to the blue gradient. It wasn’t really a mystery to me why: every time I went into the store, I’d eye the Ombré Gradients by Freia Handpaints. I’d seen them used to great effect in yoked sweaters, but as I wasn’t ready to tackle large-scale stranded colorwork yet, and the yarns are on the pricier side anyway, I’d always sigh admiringly over them and then move on to something more “practical.”

On LYS Day, there was a great bustle of people in the tiny store, and energy was high. Despite the crowd, I shopped as was my wont: I went immediately to the Freia, which I loved and which absolutely met my needs; then I proceeded to examine, heft, and pet every other fingering-weight yarn on display, because there might be something more suitable, something better than the thing I wanted most; then I drifted back to the Freia collection to dither a little longer, as though there were a real choice to be made.

Eventually Justin took me by the shoulders and said, more or less, “We’ve taken up space long enough; either we buy this yarn or we leave.” (He has a real knack for getting to the point.)

If it had been a sleepy Sunday afternoon, if we had been the only people in the shop, if I hadn’t gotten a cheerful email saying “come out and support your local business!” I might have put the yarn down and walked away. But I wanted the Freia, and I wanted to show Warm ‘n Fuzzy the love they deserve on a day dedicated to everything great about small (and often woman-owned) craft businesses.

Did I spend more money than I intended, more than I’ve ever spent on a shawl? Yes I did. Was I happy with my purchase? Also yes, very much so.

Of course, since I had something else on the needles at the time (though I’ll be blowed if I have any idea what), I didn’t immediately dive into knitting. In fact, I very nearly forgot I had either the pattern or the yarn until I was casting about for something to knit five months later. I had been seeing more sampler-like shawls popping up on Ravelry—ones that used bands of different lace or textural stitches—and got a hankering to knit one.

After scrolling through several pages of designs and finding nothing that particularly scratched the itch I had, Justin very sagely interrupted to ask whether I might have something in my Favorites already, and to suggest that I ought to work on knitting the things I already liked instead of searching high and low for new things to fall in love with. More positive peer pressure at work.

Once I rediscovered the pattern and the yarn, everything was smooth sailing. In the ongoing cosmic irony of my knitting life, I needed two balls of the Freia to have enough yarn for the small shawl which meant—you guessed it!—alternating skeins as though for stripes. Two balls was a manageable level of hassle, however, and the end result was well worth the minor inconvenience. You can find the (few) technical details on my Ravelry project page.

On a less thrilling, more workaday note, the top I’m wearing in these photos is also handmade. The pattern is the SBCC Tonic 2, the (free) long-sleeve version of their popular t-shirt (also free). The fabric is a mystery blend with a high spandex content; it (appropriately) came from Spandex World in the New York City Garment District. I picked up this fabric and another navy-and-white stripe there, along with a small collection of other fabrics from other stores, during a day-long fabric shop tour we planned as part of our 9th anniversary vacation.

Caitlyn is smiling as she stands with her thumbs hooked through her belt loops and shows off the long-sleeve striped t-shirt she made

Key differences between the Tonic 2 and the original Tonic tee are the higher crew neckline, longer length, and less-slim-fitting waist and hip. I’ve found I prefer the higher neck, and the longer length meant I didn’t need to add any length like I did to my Tonic tees—in fact, I could probably stand to shave off an inch, to perfectly nail the proportion I like. While think the slightly looser waist is probably a good call in such a thin, clinging knit, I don’t love the relaxed hip: it lacks the negative ease to anchor the top the way I feel it should. Fortunately, it should be easy enough to go back and serge a little excess from the side seams, tapering to nothing at the waist.

Caitlyn is standing with her back and one foot against a brick wall, arms crossed but smiling as she shows off the long-sleeve striped t-shirt she made

The armhole on the Tonic 2 is ever so slightly more scooped than the Tonic. The sleeves feel a little weird to me, like the seam isn’t quite in the right place. I can’t tell if it’s because I might have accidentally set the sleeves in backwards, because the bicep is a little too snug, or because I’m being a princess who wants perfection in handmade clothes. Whatever it is, it isn’t bad enough to stop me from wearing it.

Caitlyn is wearing a long-sleeve striped t-shirt she made, sitting on the steps of a public building, and laughing at something off-camera

I also made a short sleeve version of this top, using all of the Tonic 2 pieces but chopping off the sleeves at the Tonic length. I didn’t bother with pictures, though, because yawn. But I’ve worn both tops a ton in both business casual and casual outfits!

I even eked out a pair of underwear using Zoe’s free Pants/Undies/Knickers pattern, but they’re too small. I can’t decide whether I want to size up or find another pattern; I have a couple in my stash I could try before diving into a search online.

Caitlyn is wearing a long-sleeve striped t-shirt she made, sitting on the steps of a public building, and smiling with her eyes closed as though thinking of a secret

Sage Sleeveless Summer Blouse

Caitlyn is standing on residential sidewalk wearing a sleeveless summer blouse, white jeans, nude pumps, and sunglasses

Caitlyn is turned to the side to show the deep armhole, voluminous fit, and high-low hem of her sleeveless summer blouse

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.

Caitlyn has her back to the camera to show how the curved hem of McCall's 7324 provides full bum coverage

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:

A detail shot of the v-shaped placket and shoulder gathers of her modified McCall's 7324 sleeveless summer blouse

A detail shot of the gathers at the back neckline of the McCall's 7324 sleeveless summer blouse

A detail shot showing the high-low hem of the McCall's 7324 sleeveless summer blouse

A detail shot showing the baby hem used on the McCall's 7324 sleeveless summer blouse

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.

Muslining a Sleeveless Summer Top

My favorite summer top is, without a doubt, Express’s sleeveless Portofino shirt. It’s 100% polyester, but it’s semi-sheer, floaty, and relaxed enough through the waist and hip that it lightly skims the body, which is good news when it’s in the 90s Fahrenheit (30s Celsius). The polyester doesn’t make me sweat, the heat and humidity do, and if I’m going to be soggy anyway I’d rather not feel the cling of spandex or the weight of cotton.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I work in a pretty casual office—despite a nominally business casual dress code, jeans, leggings, and all manner of fashion and athletic shoes have taken over swaths of the company without any pushback from management—so I can wear my sleeveless Portofinos at work with or without a coverup (though I usually throw on a cardigan to stave off the summer AC). Since they transition so easily from office to home for me, they were a logical jumping off point to expand my summer top options.

During a trip to JoAnn last summer, I picked up four top patterns that shared some similarity with my beloved Portofinos:

  • McCall’s 7324, a sleeveless popover top/tunic pattern with a (buttonless) half placket
  • New Look 6345, a sleeveless v-neck tunic with a relaxed fit around the hips (but a more defined waist)
  • New Look 6414, another A-line, v-neck top/tunic, with the option for a keyhole neckline and sleeve variations
  • New Look 6450, an A-line top that sort of looks like a pillowcase dress, but with fixed neckband and more sharply cutaway armholes

I decided to tackle the McCall’s pattern first because I was relatively fresh from the Archer making class with Lladybird and wanted to take advantage of the things I’d learned and lock those tips into my mind. I hadn’t made any woven shirt patterns from McCall’s, just a dress with a very different fit, so I thought it wise to make a muslin before cutting into a more precious fabric I already had in my stash.

The fabric is this 57″ White Dots on Navy from JoAnn. It’s listed as a cotton shirting, but after washing and drying it didn’t soften up much, and the crispness makes it feel more like a quilting cotton than a shirting to me. I wouldn’t use it again for a shirt.

The front of a woman's sleeveless summer top with a half placket and curved hem

The back of a woman's sleeveless summer top with gathers at the neckline and curved hem

As you can probably guess from these dress form photos, this muslin didn’t turn out wearable. I chose View A and cut out a size 6 based on the finished garment measurements and the width of one of my sleeveless Portofinos at the bust. The key difference between the McCall’s pattern and my ready-to-wear garment is that the latter has bust darts. Looking at the pattern, I had reasoned that the gathers at the shoulder were just bust darts that had been rotated into the shoulder and then converted to gathers. I further assumed that most of the room in the bust came from the gathers, and not from the width of the garment. I was incorrect about this, and the whole thing ended up too snug in the shoulders and bust, and not exactly relaxed in the hip either. I also found the shoulders too wide and the armholes too high for my frame; I made a note of those things for the next incarnation, but didn’t fret over them, since they’re easy to fix on a sleeveless garment.

A close-up of the armhole and side seam of a woman's sleeveless summer top

I made one other mistake, a completely brainless one that I should have been able to avoid. While tracing off the pattern, I felt the high-low hem was a little too pronounced, so I decided to shorten it to prevent walking around with a ridiculous butt flap. I did this by shortening just the back pattern piece by two inches—at the lengthen/shorten line. Cue my surprise when I go to sew up the side seams and realize that, surprise! the side seams don’t line up any more, and I have an accidental split hem:

A close-up of the hem of a woman's sleeveless summer top, showing how the front and back curves don't meet up correctly

I don’t remember now whether I sewed up the side seams first or sewed the hem first. At some point in the process I decided I wanted to finish the side seams by turning under the seam allowance and then stitching it down, rather than serging, so that made fixing the issue more annoying (and then the fitting failure made it irrelevant).

A close-up of a woman's sleeveless summer top turned inside-out, showing how the side seam is stitched down

I did, however, serge the shoulder seams (though why I dragged the machine out for just that, I don’t know) and then stitch then down as well for a mock flat felled seam.

A close-up of a woman's sleeveless summer top turned inside-out, showing how the shoulder seam was serged and then stitched down

With all of those little details covered, let’s get to my real gripes: the intersection of design choices, construction, and instructions.

What I didn’t notice when I bought the pattern, and what you almost certainly can’t see because the fabric is so dark, is the vertical pleat coming off the bottom of the placket. On the pattern piece, the placket opening is double the necessary width so that you can hot-dog fold the front of the blouse to create that pleat. It’s unnecessary from a construction standpoint, it doesn’t add anything to the look of the garment, and I hate it. Is that an irrationally strong feeling? Yes. Did I resolve to move heaven and earth to engineer that pleat out on my next version? Also yes.

Constructing the placket was way more challenging than it needed to be, though it’s probably fair to say that’s partially my fault. After preparing and applying the bands for the placket, I could not make sense at all of this instruction: “On inside, lap left front band over right. Stitch lower edge of bands to end of opening.” Or more precisely, I understood that it was supposed to look like this…

A close-up of a woman's sleeveless summer top turned inside-out, showing the completed partial placket

…but I could not get the bands and the opening to cooperate. After reading through Allie’s clearly written and photographed tutorial on sewing partial plackets, I finally figured out I hadn’t made the angled cuts into the corners of the opening. This step should definitely be in bold type, because if you don’t do this correctly (or at all), the origami WILL NOT work.

While we’re staring at the inside of the placket, I’d like to take a moment to complain about the unfinished ends (is this normal in RTW? I don’t have any partial placket shirts I can check) and the weird fold that results where the placket meets that stupid pleat.

A close-up of a woman's sleeveless summer top turned inside-out, showing how the placket intersects with the front pleat

On to the gathers! There are gathers around the curve of the neckline between the placket and the shoulder seam, along the shoulder seam between the neck and armhole, and around the back neck.

A close-up of a woman's sleeveless summer top, showing the gathers at the front neckline and shoulder

As near as I can tell, the gathers between the placket and the shoulder exist solely to pull the V of the placket open, otherwise the bands would neatly overlap each other like a normal (hidden) button placket. The area to gather is quite small, which made it difficult for me to gather evenly and ended up looking like unintentional puckers. In addition, since these gathers are at a roughly 45 degree angle to the ones coming off the shoulder seam, it results in a weird, bunchy, wrinkly mess in that area. Ugh. As with the pleat, I resolved to eliminate the gathers around the front neckline on the next iteration.

The gathering on the back neckline is fine design-wise, although I didn’t execute it well.

A close-up of a woman's sleeveless summer top, showing the gathers at the back neckline

It’s a shame that everything about this was a flop, but I really am glad that I figured out all of my the pattern’s issues before I cut into the fabric I really wanted to use, especially since my real-deal fabric was thin and slithery. It certainly didn’t hurt to practice a few techniques, either: my topstitching remains dodgy, but I’d like to think it’s just improving in very small increments.

Turning Point

Caitlyn is standing in a local park with one hand on a tree and the other on her hip. She's wearing a striped sweater and jeans and smiling directly at the camera.

Caitlyn is standing with her back to the camera and her hair pulled forward over her shoulder. Her striped sweater has alternating rows of fuchsia, turquoise, lime, and light grey with light grey ribbing at the neckline and hem.

Caitlyn is hugging her chest and looking playfully over her shoulder at the camera while showing off how the pink, blue, green, and grey stripes on her sweater match across the side seam.

A close-up of Caitlyn's forearms and hands. Her striped sweater has wider fuchsia, turquoise, and lime stripes alternating with thinner light grey stripes, and light grey ribbed cuffs.

Caitlyn is resting her hands on the back of a green park bench and smiling at the camera. The stripes on her sweater aligned across the body and sleeves, and the ribbing on the cuffs is echoed at the hem.

Given this sweater was on the needles for two years and two months, is it any surprise the photos sat on my phone for nine more months after that?

I kicked off this project right at the end of 2015, and I showed my progress on it at the beginning of June 2016. I’d just started on the sleeves when we experienced the basement flood that derailed the remainder of our summer, and that cemented 2016 as a terrible year for us. (There were many terrible things that happened that year. It was a bad year for everyone. But that was our personal tragedy.)

Eventually—I don’t remember when—I pulled the sleeves out of their abandoned project bag and finished knitting them. I’d ignored the CustomFit instructions for binding off the shoulders in favor of using short rows, as usual following the handy guides provided by TECHKnitting and Knitty. Seaming the shoulders was a cinch using a three-needle bind off.

Attempting to set in the sleeves (in the flat) revealed that I’d made a mistake on one of the sleeves and the cap wasn’t tall enough. I wish I could say where I’d gone wrong, but apparently I didn’t see fit to leave myself any explanatory notes about this. I ended up ripping out the sleeve cap to the underarm bind off and re-knitting, meticulously counting decreases on the second try.

Setting in the sleeves so that the stripes matched across the upper chest and the sleeve caps was a struggle and a half. I looked at many, many pictures of hand-knit and ready-to-wear tops with stripes to determine what properly matched stripes should look like. (I later discovered the Seamwork article “How to Match Stripes Like a Pro” also gives a clue.)

I concluded that a match stripe is typically located at the widest point on the chest, which generally corresponds to the lowest point of the armhole. You can place the match stripe at a higher point on the chest and sleeve, especially if you’re cutting and sewing a garment, but the armhole bind off provides a convenient matching point to work from on hand-knits. Importantly, you may be able to match more than one stripe above it, depending on the height of your stripes, but the closer you get to the top of the sleeve cap, the less likely the stripes are to match.

This should have been obvious to me, since I had specifically worked out what color stripe to begin the sleeves with precisely so my stripes would align at the armhole. But when it came time to seam, I got it in my head that I should be able to match all of the stripes on the sleeve cap to those on the body. That was an evening of self-induced crazy-making, let me tell you.

Once I finally stopped trying to achieve an impossible perfection in stripe-matching, setting in the sleeves and then sewing up the side and sleeve seams proceeded as usual—mattress stitch all the way!

I mentioned in my progress post that I was using one of TECHKnitter’s eight tricks for weaving in as you go. I chose the overcast method because it can be used for same-color or different-color joins in both flat and circular knitting (so versatile!) and because it’s recommended for fine yarn (no added bulk!). Unfortunately, I haven’t mastered the proper tension required to make this work well, because the tails are distorting the stitches they’re trapped against. Some stitches are pulled taller and other are squashed shorter, making it looks like there’s jog in the stripes. It’s not visible at a distance, but I can see it when I’m looking at the sweater up close and it bugs me (probably more than it should). My solution will be to only knit stripes where the unused yarn can be carried up the edge of the work. Or knit fewer striped garments. (AHHAHAHA yeah, right. Like I can stop myself.)

Even weaving in as I knit, I had an unforgivable number of ends to deal with. To stave off utter despair, I made myself weave in about half of them before I let myself pick up and knit the neckline. It helped. Somewhat. I still had to weave them in, but breaking the work up over a couple of evenings before and after the final knitting sprint did keep my twitching eye in check.

Now that I’ve not only come to the ends of the ends, but also worn the finished sweater a couple of times, I feel like I’ve formed an honest opinion of it.

I’m glad I knit a CustomFit design more or less as written. My previous CustomFit sweater involved heavy modification due to less-than-optimal yarn selection. This sweater has given me an opportunity to evaluate my measurements and what CustomFit thinks of as a close fit, including the placement of bust darts, the circumference of sleeves, and so on. Overall, I’m happy with the silhouette, and I’m less inclined to tinker with the pattern generator to try to get an even slimmer fit (which could result in unflattering straining or wrinkling).

When I wore it out for the first time, I was lukewarm about my yarn choice. I love Cascade Heritage Silk (blogged evidence here, additional proof on Ravelry) because it’s an affordably priced wool–silk blend that offers next-to-skin softness and a rainbow of colors. But the drape of the silk means that it can feel like it’s bagging out when I bend or sit and sagging over the course of the day. But after multiple wears, I’ve realized this is mostly in my head. While it’s true it doesn’t have the recovery of 100% wool, it doesn’t actually grow with wear or get sloppy-looking. For a lightweight sweater worn on its own or over a camisole, it’s a solid choice and I’d recommend it.

The turning point this sweater is named for was the realization that this sweater pairs exclusively with jeans and gym shoes. It doesn’t look like any of the other sweaters in my drawer; it doesn’t go with anything else in my closet. It clashes with my complexion, especially now that I’m a redhead.

The candy-colored yarns that were irresistible on the shelf seem strangely muted when knitted up together. (I know that’s hard to believe, looking at those photos.) Their vibrancy waned with my enthusiasm, and didn’t return even after I finished the project.

I remember when I got those yarns, from the now-closed Yarn Tree Studio in Raleigh. I bought them first and foremost because they looked good together, like they belonged together. Not because I wanted to wear them. Which is so silly, in hindsight, because I’d always intended to wear them—as a sweater, as a shawl, as a something. I only saw them as “pretty yarns,” and didn’t for a moment consider them as “the stuff to make clothes.”

I could defend my decision by saying I bought the yarn six months before I did Wardrobe Architect for the first time, but I find I’m not actually interested in justifying this sweater to myself. Instead, I feel like I’ve finally learned something that all of the meditations and mood boards didn’t drive home for me: just because something looks good on the rack/on the yarn or fabric shelf/on someone else, and just because I like how it looks, doesn’t mean I need to own it or wear it.

If my goal right now is to have more things in my closet that work together to create cohesive outfits, then I need to think about my buying and making in terms of projects that support that goal. There’s nothing wrong with owning styles that aren’t “flattering” or are one-of-a-kind, unless my goal is to have more garments in flattering colors and remixable shapes—then I’m just going out of my way to dilute my closet and increase the chance I’ll have “nothing to wear.”

I don’t like making mistakes, and the idea of learning from my failure has never captivated me—I’d much rather save time and heartache by learning from the mistakes other people have already made, if that’s an option. Despite reading and observing other people’s style journeys, it took personal experience to learn this particular lesson about making what I want to wear. It was a long walk, but I got there in the end.

I’ve already seen the payoff: during a trip to the New York City Garment District this summer, I went with a plan to look for specific fabrics intended for specific garments, all of which should work together in a variety of combinations. As soon as I catch up on my backlog of finished projects from the last few months, I’ll share my autumn/winter sewing plan, which is already in full swing!

Caitlyn is sitting on a green park bench facing away from the camera toward houses in the distance.

Sprout Patterns, Learning with Lladybird, and Blush Pink Floral Archer

 

When Lauren announced back in April she was partnering with Sprout Patterns to do a sew-along—really, a workshop—for the Archer button-up, and that it would be held just 30 minutes from where I live, I knew I had to jump on it. The event ticked a bunch of boxes at once:

  • 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!