Learning to sew clothes (2013)

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Last year, I learned to make clothes. Despite being a long time sewist of things like bags and pillow covers, I had never really delved into clothing. If I ever sewed anything wearable, it would have been in grade school. But as my my right index finger became more and more debilitated by inflammation, I've had to mostly stop knitting, and it felt natural to start sewing more in exchange. So I decided to buy a bunch of fabric and patterns and try it out!

I had great intentions to take pretty pictures and write detailed pattern reviews for each one, like I did for my Tova top, but that never really happened, so I'm going to compromise and do little wham bam catch up post here, using the photos I have on hand. Starting 2014 with a fresh slate and what not.

Project 1: Self-drafted undies

I tried drafting an underwear pattern from an existing pair, and cut them out of an old t-shirt that never fit quite right. Totally unexperienced with sewing knits, no idea how to finish the edges, winged it all.

Result: Way too small, unwearable undies.

Lessons learned: Maybe use a pattern next time.

New skills acquired: None.

Project 2: Simple Modern Sewing dress

Made from a pattern from the book "Simple Modern Sewing". This name is misleading. The patterns look simple and modern, but they are severely lacking in instructions, and there seem to be some mistakes (maybe from the translation?), so for my first real garment from a pattern, this was pretty frustrating. (For the record, the garment designs in this pattern book are very nice, and I believe with a bit more experience, I will be able to complete more of the poorly written patterns with less frustration.)

Also, this fabric I chose frayed like crazy even though I zigzag stitched all the edges. It constantly sheds bits of thread. The facing in the collar and arm holes doesn't stay down and likes to poke out all the time when I wear it. Finally, the dress is pretty big on me, definitely "tentish". I added pockets (winged it) and they are okay but hang a bit low inside. 

In theory, it's a cute dress, but it really doesn't wear that well, and is more suited to frumping around the house on a hot day. Do like the contrast pockets and lining in the notch that I added.

Result: Kind of weird but wearable dress.

Lessons learned: This pattern book is sketchy, and this fabric is hard to work with. Tracing patterns onto Swedish tracing paper is awesome (thanks Lili!)

New skills acquired: Pockets... sort of. Darts.


Aside 1: Serger!

Then I bought a second hand serger. And it worked, yay!

Project 3: Tova top 

I don't know what possessed me to pick such an ambitious project next, but I'd been seeing others' completed Wiksten Tova tops online, and just really wanted to make this one! So I jumped into more intermediate sewing before I'd really mastered the beginner level. I guess I felt it was more the lack of/badly written patterns that'd been holding me back so far... 

This pattern by Wiksten was extremely complex, had tons of new-to-me techniques, and took me a bloody long time to prep and finish. But it turned out amazing! I attribute the fantastic finished garment to the quality of the pattern and how well all the steps are laid out. Also, the serger came into my life just at the right time. I used a Nani Iro double gauze fabric for this shirt, and serged every seam. Without that, I'm pretty sure the whole thing would have disintegrated.

The only thing that's slightly wonky is the collar, which maybe one day I'll re-do. I think I cut it on not enough of a curve because it stands up a bit too much. Otherwise, it all turned out great. More pics and info about this one over here. After sewing this, I had so many new skills, and felt like I was ready to tackle almost anything!

Result: Beautiful shirt!

Lessons learned: Sergers are amazing. Well written patterns are amazing. I can make amazing things when I take it one step at a time and follow instructions! 

New skills acquired: Where do I begin? Gathers, inset placket, inset sleeves, binding, using a serger, working with far more pieces than ever before, confidence. (Is that a skill? I think so!)


Projects 4 + 5: Jalie undies and self drafted t-shirt

They held so much promise. The Jalie undies are too big and weird shaped, and the t-shirt is unwearable, partly due to my still having no clue what I was doing with knits. Whomp whomp.

Result: Two totally unwearable, unsalvageable garments.

Lessons learned: Knits are weird. That underwear pattern is weird. Maybe stick to patterns? Maybe don't. Not sure.

New skills acquired: None.

Project 6: Simple Modern Sewing wrap skirt

Oh Dog, the horror. What is wrong with this book??? Perhaps I should have known better than to attempt another pattern from this book using my most precious Nani Iro fabric that I'd been saving for the perfect pattern. Alas, I forged ahead. Had I only looked up reviews of this pattern before embarking on this fraught journey... 

This pattern is a disaster. A disaster! First, it is not actually a wrap skirt, and this is not explained in the pattern's feeble instructions. Secondly, the pattern itself has mistakes in it: the pleats are not properly aligned, and the yoke/tie system is a total horror show. Luckily, I noticed the flawed pleats when I was pinning them, and was able to re-align them properly so they'd be centred when the skirt (actually a loose tube!) was "wrapped". When I hit this initial WTF, I clued in and looked up pattern reviews, which was a lifesaver as I discovered that the yoke pieces are too short in the pattern! I measured and extended those appropriately.

After this, it all went along okay enough until I got to the loop/tie system in the yoke. What a friggin mess. I ended up totally throwing out the rest of the instructions, as I was hell bent on salvaging this project because FAVOURITE FABRIC. 

I can barely tell you what I did from here on in, it was like I was possessed by someone with more sewing know-how than me, and somehow I made it work. The skirt is slightly strange, but totally wearable. I will wear it as a badge of bravery come summer. Also, the serger saved me - double gauze shreds and frays like nothing else!

Result: Very pretty, slightly odd skirt!

Lessons learned: This pattern book is sketchy as fuck! When the shit hits the fan, I can improvise well enough.

New skills acquired: Pleats! Advanced art of salvaging desperately screwed patterns.


Project 7: Renfrew top

The Renfrew Top pattern is one that's supposed to be pretty sure-fire. And it was indeed, my first relatively successful sewing of knit fabric (I believe partly because I finally purchased a "walking foot" for my machine after reading/watching Made By Rae's walking foot tutorial). Alas, I had all kinds of SNAFUs.

I chose one of the organic cotton knits I brought back from Berlin, and crossed my fingers that I wasn't completely wasting this vibrant stripe! Things went okay prepping and cutting the pattern. It was all making a fair bit of sense, the instructions were easy enough to follow.

And yet, many of the pieces didn't end up fitting together properly. I had to add gathers in the front of the shirt where the collar was added because there was such a difference in length of the binding. Maybe this is what led to the annoying binding that no matter how much I iron it, it won't sit properly? It looks weird.

The arm pieces were ridiculously too wide to match to the arm openings. I'd done an inset sleeve no problem on the Tova, so I'm not sure what happened here. I followed the instructions and it was majorly wrong looking. I hoped it'd fit and I could just cut off the excess, but no such luck, my arms were like overstuffed sausages. I had to remove the sleeves and then re-attach them with a gather so they'd be wide enough for my arms but still match up.

Otherwise, the fit of the torso, and sewing the bottom band and cuffs went fine. It's almost a nice shirt. The sleeve bands are a bit wide. But I really need to fix the neck binding if I'm going to wear it out of the house.

Result: Kind of wonky, almost wearable shirt.

Lessons learned: Knits are weird. 

New skills acquired: Sewing with knits... sort of. Improvising gathers.


Project 8: The Staple Dress

The Staple Dress was another supposed-to-be-surefire hit gone slightly awry. I guess I didn't take the "hospital gown" warning seriously enough from other sewists. I used a quilting weight cotton, as this was intended to be a wearable muslin, and indeed, it is boxy as all get out. It's pretty stiff to wear too, and as I get rashy easily I never intended to put the shirred waistband in, so it just doesn't look quite right.

On the bright side, I totally rocked the pockets (on the second try), and managed all the bias binding on the neck and armholes, which was a first and something I was pretty nervous about.

Result: Not very nice looking dress, but wearable. Maybe I'll wear it as a smock. The contrast binding and pockets are cute.

Lessons learned: If I make this pattern again, use a lighter weight fabric. Listen to the sewing bloggers. Belts help, but only so much. 

New skills acquired: Proper pocket technique! Proper bias binding technique! Oh, and French seams.


Project 9: Wiksten Tank

Final project of the year!

After a couple of meh results, I thought I'd try the other Wiksten pattern, the Wiksten Tank - I figured surely it'd be a win after the Tova went so well, and it could never take as long. Plus, I have a bunch of nice woven fabric I need to find a good pattern for before I make a bunch. I set off to make another wearable muslin...

This pattern looked very simple as I got started, and I thought it'd be a quick sew. Alas, a bizarre problem (again, I'd forgotten to look up pattern reviews!) - too much fabric in the upper back, leading to a gapey strange back of the neck. Made by Rae has a nice trick posted to fix this, but I was too far in for this easier fix. 

I sat on this for a week or so, and finally decided for some more "winging it" and added vertical darts in the back over the shoulders. At this point, I accepted it might be a throw away, but pressed onwards. 

The bias binding on the arms and neck was easy enough after The Staple Dress, but the bottom edge was a lot finickier, and took forever. It would've been easy, except the curved hem made it really ridiculously tricky! I managed eventually to pin the hell out of it and get it sewn.

Overall, it's wearable and turned out okay. It's a little big on me, but it'll be nice in the summer when it's warm. The neck and front bottom hem don't lie completely flat, but I don't think anyone else will notice this unless maybe they've sewn one themselves, so no biggie!

Result: Wearable tank top, slightly modified. Slightly tentish, but not too bad.

Lessons learned: Maybe not the ideal pattern to make several pieces from. Always read pattern reviews first! Curved hems are painful to sew binding on. Remember to trim threads before doing last seam on French seams! (Otherwise little threads poke out, and look silly!)

New skills acquired: Improvised shoulder darts. Trickier bias binding.


In summary...

They may not have all turned out amazing, but I had a few real winners, and feel that at this point I'm a bonafide intermediate garment sewist! I have a much better understanding of how several techniques work, and how garment pieces go together. I have a better feel for choosing the "right" fabrics for patterns. I can sort of sew knits now. And I know how important it is to read pattern reviews before getting started!

All in all, a great success, and I'm excited to make a bunch more clothes for myself over the coming year!