In the Sketchbook – August 2016

Welcome to In the Sketchbook, a monthly look at fashion design sketches that we are working on for ourselves. Sketching garments on a personal croquis is a great way for the individual couture enthusiast to move beyond the use of commercial patterns and into a world of personalized design! It can be intimidating at first, but with a little bit of practice it becomes something you look forward to. Join us for a look of what we have going on In the Sketchbook! Brought to you by Wendy Grossman of Couture Counsellor and Steph King from Siouxzeegirl Designs.

Yikes! I haven’t posted since July. So sorry. I’ll try to make up for it over the next week or so.

Last weekend, I was out and about with a couple of dear friends and we stopped at a favorite store that sells the work of independent designers and artists. A little unstructured jacket caught my eye and the saleswoman insisted that I try it on. Here is a very rough idea of what it looked like.

IMG_1990

I didn’t say anything until we left the store, but trying on this jacket reminded me just how far I’ve come in creating a custom wardrobe for myself and how much I’ve raised the bar for myself. This jacket reminded me of a shirt jacket I bought several years ago from a chain store that caters to women of a certain age that I wore to death. I threw it over pretty much everything – pants and a knit top, my trusty standby the black knit travel dress, plus a few other things – and I was dressed. Or what passed for dressed as I told myself that I’d lose the extra pounds I’d put on and this would do for now. Those were the days when fit meant I could close the garment and it didn’t pull anywhere. Never mind where my shoulders are, the sleeves aren’t set in anyway. The more it obscured what was underneath, the better.

There are a lot of patterns available that offer the same features for the same reasons. Not having to rely on them feels fabulous.

Having said that, there are times when a little more relaxed silhouette is nice to have as an option. I’ve had a kimono jacket percolating in my brain for a very long time. I like the idea of a short version worn with pants and a camisole. I’ve figured out that I wouldn’t be happy with actual kimono sleeves or even raglan sleeves, so my current thinking is to use set-in sleeves. I’ve also come to realize that a neckline that just sits flat on my shoulders isn’t my best look. And   when it comes to separates, a hem that dips toward the back is better than cutting myself in half. So, this is the latest version of the kimono-esque jacket I’m considering.

IMG_1991

I’m thinking it needs the same shaping I put into my no-close topper – pleats at the shoulders and armscye darts. It might need something hidden to keep it closed, or it might be okay hanging on its own. I’ll need to mock it up to see.

The next question is what to pair it with. I’ve been drawn to something from the ’30s called beach pajamas, which are pants that are fitted at the top and almost skirt-like toward the hem. They’s usually made of rayon and they look like they’d been a lot of fun to make and wear. But they definitely aren’t right for the kimono-esque jacket.

Aug - 1

That brought me to my go-to Eureka pants that Sarah and I modified to something between a trouser and a slack.

IMG_1996

Better. But then I wondered how it would look with ankle pants. I’ve been wanting to make pants that get pretty narrow and end at the ankle with a vent. Something like this:

IMG_1995

I think that has possibilities.

I’d love to hear what you think about these and about what you’re sketching. Be sure to check out what’s in Steph’s sketchbook at 10 Sewing Machines & a Serger. And also check out Fabrickated. She mentioned that she’d like to join in on the fun with showing what’s in her sketchbook.

 

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

I could give you a list of reasons why it’s been three months (!) since my last blog post, but that would accomplish nothing. The real reason I’ve been hiding – yes, hiding – is that I made a series of avoidable mistakes in a jacket that made me lose confidence in my abilities. Simply put, I was too embarrassed to post anything.

This episode has taught me that it is absolutely essential to check all assumptions and reinforce the basics no matter how far I think my skills have progressed. With a lot of encouragement from Sarah Veblen, I overcame the urge to allow the jacket to become yet another UFO and then worked with Sarah to correct the pattern mistakes I had made for a new version of the jacket. We also revised the collar pattern because the design needed some fine-tuning. The final step in this learning process will be to make the 2.0 version of the jacket. Before going on to that step, I want to share the experience to reinforce the lessons learned so that I don’t make the same mistakes again and, I hope, you will be able to avoid making them in the first place.

Back to Basics

First and foremost, test all assumptions. I made two muslins, so all the adjacent seamlines on the pattern pieces had been walked, right? Then how did I end up with a back piece that had a much longer shoulder seam than the one on the front piece? Obviously, I made an adjustment somewhere and didn’t recheck to make sure the adjacent seams matched before cutting out the fashion fabric. The thing that really got me is that the mistake wasn’t buried in a princess seam or something that took some time to check. The difference in the shoulder seams is something that hits you in the face when you lap the pieces over one another at the shoulder.

Lesson learned: keep track of all steps. The simple solution is to use a checklist before cutting the fashion fabric. I’m not doing this just when I’ve made changes to the pattern, but also when I pull different pieces from different garments. I might have made tweaks in a garment that I’ve forgotten about, so I can’t assume that the side front piece from one blouse will fit together with the front piece from another project. In this project, I started out intending to make three-piece sleeves, using the pattern from my still unfinished French jacket, but changed my mind and used the two-piece sleeves I’ve used for other jackets. It was only after I found myself struggling to ease in the sleeves that I realized the armscye for my French jacket is smaller than the armscye for my jacket sloper.

My new routine is to make a checklist with all the garment pieces and all the adjacent seams that need to walk. It looks something like this:

  • Front to Side Front
  • Side Front to Side Back
  • Side Back to Back
  • Front to back at shoulder
  • Sleeve to armscye

When everything is checked off, I’m ready to cut.

Resist the Temptation to Combine Steps

When teaching patternmaking in her fit and design workshops, Sarah carefully lays out each step that her students should follow, which includes cutting the pattern on the cut line before walking adjacent pattern pieces. I thought this was a step I could skip and simply cut away excess paper when I used the pattern to cut fabric. I was wrong.

After I had kvetched to Sarah Veblen about all the mistakes I made with this jacket, I worked on fixing each of the problems in a workshop that she calls “You Choose Your Focus,” where each participant works on whatever she needs to accomplish with Sarah’s supervision. As Sarah watched me walk two pattern pieces, she noticed that I had veered off from the seamline on one piece and was walking one seamline onto a cut line. She assured me that this is not an uncommon mistake, especially when changes have been made to the pattern and there are extra lines and markings that have been crossed out. She then said in her gentle, patient and non-accusatory manner that the best way to avoid this mistake or at least minimize the number of times you make it is to trim away the excess pattern paper before walking the pattern pieces.

Lesson learned: If a step seems unnecessary, ask the instructor why she advises taking that step before skipping it.

Don’t Forget to Think Seamline

This is another place where the number of lines on a pattern piece can cause confusion. Some lined garments are lined to the edge, whereas others have linings that hang from a facing at the neckline and other really ambitious garments have both a neck facing and a faced hem with a lining in between. Here is what that looks like on this particular jacket:

IMG_0564 (1)

The facings are made of a beautiful black silk taffeta that has a tone-on-tone embossed rose pattern. Sigh. The silk lining is from A Fabric Place outside of Baltimore and I managed to buy more when I was there in November. Yea.

So, on my first attempt to make the lining pattern I marked the depth of the facings on the garment pattern pieces, plus cut lines above and below each of those seamlines, which meant I had three sets of lines at the top (seamline, then cut line for lining and another cut line for the facing), plus two at the bottom, since the lining and hem facing don’t get attached as a seam but have a jump hem instead. I also got mired in math trying to figure out the depth of the jump hem, which is why you see that seam at the bottom of the lining in the picture above. That’s where I attached a bias strip to add length.

Sarah’s advise is to only draw the seamlines, or if you must draw multiple lines, color code them. She draws her seamlines in blue pencil.

Here is a visual for the neck facing/lining segment of that convoluted explanation:

IMG_0572

The reduced scale pattern piece for the garment back is on white paper. I’ve marked only the seamline where the lining (purple tissue paper) attached to the facing (yellow tissue paper). As you can see, the lining’s seam allowance extends up like it’s supposed to and the facing seam allowance extends down. The process was to mark only the seamline, then draw the facing piece, add the seam allowance and cut, then draw the lining piece, add the seam allowance and cut.

Lesson learned: Pattern pieces that get too cluttered are confusing and it’s a mistake to think I will always be able to remember which piece goes up and which goes down.

The whole jump hem thing is a little more involved, so it gets its own section.

Map Out Jump Hems Visually

You don’t have to be math-challenged for math to trip you up, at least I don’t. And there’s something about jump hems that have had me confused for a long time. Sarah walked me through the process visually with strips of paper and I think I finally get it.

When a jacket is lined to the edge (no neck facing) and the hem is turned up (no hem facing), the lining pattern pieces are the same length as the fashion fabric pattern pieces. To get a nice jump hem that covers the hem stitches and ensures that the fashion fabric isn’t pulled up by a too-short lining, we build in a jump hem, which simply means that the fabric hangs down part way over the hem allowance, has a soft fold, comes back up to the hem stitching line and is hand stitched in place. Sarah advises to turn the raw edge of the lining under by ¼” and pin that fold to the hem stitching line and then stitch. Everything works out just fine.

Here is an attempt at a visual representation of how that works:

IMG_0015

The blue paper simulates a back lining for a jacket that is lined to the neck edge. It is the same length as the back jacket piece. The only difference is that it has a little extra width to allow for a pleat at center back and it is marked in approximately the places where the stitching ends to allow for arm movement. The white paper represents the fashion fabric pattern piece, which is turned up at the hem with cross-hatching to represent the right side of the fabric in the hem allowance.

IMG_0017

The picture above shows the fashion fabric piece with the hem turned up overlaying the lining piece, which has ¼” turned up at the hem edge.

The rest of the pictures show mock-ups of a jump hem with a lining, neck facing and faced hem. The principles are the same. The only difference with the faced hem is that you want a bit more of the facing to not be covered up by the lining.

IMG_0568 (1)

Here we have the lavender tissue paper as the lining (it worked much better than the stiff blue paper I used earlier), plus the yellow tracing paper showing the facings at the neck and hem. I’ve turned the lining under ¼” and pinned it to the top edge of the hem facing. Notice the fullness above the area that’s pinned.

IMG_0569 (1)

Here it is with the lining tissue smoothed down. Try to ignore that hemline that I drew in.  Obviously, I misjudged where this would end up, which is why this method is better than doing the math.

IMG_0570 (1)

Here is a view that tries to show everything that’s going on in the area under the jump hem that is hidden when you see a sewn sample.

Lesson learned: Visual mock-ups can avoid a whole bunch of stress and can sometimes clarify things that were once a mystery.

Resewing Has Its Limits

Not all of the problems I encountered were in the pattern. I made some plain, vanilla sewing mistakes that gave me quality time with my seam ripper. There was a snowball effect to this, which I encounter quite a bit. Once I make one dumb mistake I seem to make a whole slew of them. One example was that I set the collar with right sides together. Very dumb. Ordinarily, sewing mistakes are easy to fix, assuming you haven’t trimmed or clipped anything yet. But the lovely silk and wool blend fabric I used for the jacket raveled an unbelievable amount when handled. No matter how careful I was in removing stitches, I was left with very little seam allowance in many areas. It makes me worry about the jacket falling apart when I wear it.

Lesson learned: check the big picture before sewing a seam. Just because the pieces went together nicely when pinning doesn’t guarantee that they are oriented correctly.

There’s More, But It Can Wait

I also learned that my understanding of collars and undercollars had some gaps. We can walk through that in a later post once I’ve gotten comfortable employing my new knowledge on the subject. Besides, I’m more than ready to stop dwelling on my disappointment and move on to some successes.

Here is what the jacket looks like. I finished it in time for the Sew Chicago holiday brunch. Everyone was very supportive and had nice things to say about it and I know that if I hadn’t blabbed about all the mistakes I made most people would never have noticed. I’m looking forward to getting the 2.0 version of it done and feeling really good about the work.

Homage Jkt 1 Modeled

Fear of Beginning, Fear of Finishing

Have you ever Googled “paralyzing perfectionism”? I did it this morning (not for the first time) and got 18,600 hits. You have no idea how comforting it is to know that I’m far from the only one suffering from that affliction. On second thought, you might know exactly how comforting that is, in which case you and I have something in common other than a passion for sewing. This syndrome is why The Couture Counsellor has been incubating for months. It’s why all-nighters are still part of my work life. And it’s one of the reasons why closets brimming with fabulous clothes exist only in my head. The good news is that I’ve been chipping away at those fears. The closet I do have in my compact city apartment is filling up with clothes I made and love and I’ve started this blog without waiting to get the perfect logo designed, find the perfect blog theme/platform, become a better photographer, learn more about Photoshop, learn HTML, lose 50 pounds, blah, blah, blah.
I approach learning about sewing the same way I approach any research project, which is to say I like to be thorough. Okay, I’m a research junkie. It sometimes serves as my primary avoidance activity.
In classes, when everyone is writing down the technique being demonstrated, my brain is comparing and contrasting what this instructor is saying with what other instructors say about the same subject while my hand is scribbling down the information being given. For a long time, the contradictions threatened to drive me the rest of the way to crazy. Then I realized it just means there is more than one way to do just about anything and our job as sewists is to find the one that works for us, or maybe have a couple of different options available for different situations. Take sewing corners for example. Sew to the end? Pivot 90° at the corner? Pivot 45° and stitch across one stitch? Or is it two stitches? Or three, even? The answer is: It depends. That answer will cause normal people to grind their teeth, but it’s an answer we lawyers use all the time, so I can live with that.
Remember when I said fear of starting is only one of the reasons I have so many more garments in my head than I have in my closet? The other reasons are other demands on my time—working for a living, volunteer work for sewing organizations—and the ridiculous amount of time I spent trying to develop a good set of basic fit patterns. I’ll tell you about that experience and the solution I found at the end of that long, twisty road in an upcoming post. If you are on that road now, I can show you a shortcut. Stay tuned.
The title of this post mentions another fear—fear of finishing. That’s a fear that has become much less of a problem now that my hand sewing skills have improved and I’ve learned how to tackle what I call The Fussy Bits. By that I mean hemming, hand tacking, getting hooks and eyes and snaps in the right place and  sewing all kinds of closures so they look neat and tidy instead of knotted and gnarled. We’ll get to advice about those Fussy Bits in a later post. What I can tell you now is that there is no substitute for getting your hands on fabric, needle and thread and sewing some samples and sometimes some less than stellar test garments. You can read about sewing techniques and watch other people demonstrate them and it will give you a better idea of what to do, but it won’t get you all the way there. It’s like the old joke my father loved to tell about the young person who stopped an old man on the street in New York and asked, “Sir, can you tell me the way to Carnegie Hall?” The man smiled and said, “Practice, practice….”