Persephone Pants x 2 ... and Mental Health Awareness

You may or may not be aware (or indeed care), that a significant amount of my sewing over the past couple of years has included many attempts at recreating a handmade version of Jesse Kamm’s of-cult-fame Sailor Pants. With varying degrees of success and comfort.

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Then, as I’m sure you are very aware by now, Anna Allen Clothing released the Persephone Pants sewing pattern earlier this year and the sewing community has gone totally nuts, with literally hundreds popping up in my Instagram feed.

I was pretty sceptical about the pattern at first. I know for a (untested) fact that Kamm pants would not fit my small(ish) waist accompanied by a large booty, and I couldn’t see how, without a side seam, I would be able to make them fit me. But then the as-ever-knowledgable and brilliantly talented Katie dived into the warm Persephone waters and came up with a few pearls of fitting wisdom that convinced me I should give them a go.

And they are awesome.

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I rarely make a pattern more than once, but I’m two down on these and gearing up for a third. When the desire to sew returns. The shape is immensely flattering, the fitting surprisingly easy and the instructions - particularly for the button fly - absolutely excellent. Although I would say choice of buttons for the fly is crucial as the ones above are quite thick, and as such you can see them and they make the front protrude more than I’d like.

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Both pairs are made in denim from Threadbare Fabrics, which is wonderful quality. The creamy colour is the 10oz Cone Mills S-gene stretch denim in natural and the blue is an 11oz Japanese selvedge denim in cornflower. My only concern about this denim was the stretch in both of them as the pattern specifically calls for non-stretch denim. There is a caveat that basically tells you it should work in stretch and it does, but in retrospect I would definitely go for non-stretch. The main reason for this is that I wanted these to fit me snuggly around the waist and upper hip, which they do and I’m pleased with, but the stretch means you see every lump and bump and a not insignificant amount of VPL. Never ideal.

I would also aim for a slightly heavier weight. The 11oz is definitely better than the 10oz and I think 12 oz would probably be perfect.

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So as I made both of these at the start of the summer and failed to make any notes, my memory of the fitting process is a little hazy. However I can tell you that I slashed and spread to add 1 and a quarter inches to the back rise, tapering to nothing at the front rise. And raised the centre back by half an inch.

I increased the darts to about 2 inches each on the cream pair but on the blue pair I put the excess across the back waist into the centre back seam as on the cream pair the darts really poke at the points. Annoyingly lengthening the darts just made this worse. Next time I might try putting in some darts at the side as Katie suggests in her post. Aside from that I didn’t make any adjustments. It’s staggering that that is all I needed to do!

I made the cream ones first and when I made them they fit so well. I then promptly put on 10 pounds which means they are snugger and more VPLy, but still surprisingly comfortable. In fact these are the most comfortable, best fitting pants I’ve ever made. Well until I made their sister.

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So this is where I go a little off topic. (If you’re here purely (and understandably) for the pants skip down to the next photo.)

I’m conscious that Wednesday was World Mental Health Day. It is also five years this week since we made the move to NYC with a five month old and a two year old in tow. This was pretty monumental and as much I hate to admit it, it had a huge impact on my mental state whilst I was still suffering from Post-Natal / Partum depression (PND). Also, my weight gain is due in part to a medication I have been taking to help with a mood disorder.

I mention these as they are all significant in the way I have dealt with life over the past 5 years. In this age of reducing the stigma of mental health issues and encouraging people to not to see it as a weakness (which is SUPER hard), I can’t really let this week go by without talking about how this affects my life.

A few years ago, I wrote an article for Seamwork Magazine about how sewing helped me with PND and coming to terms with my new reality as a stay-at-home-parent. I think about this article a lot. I stand by what I say in most of it, but some aspects of it seem a little disingenuous to me now. Disingenuous is wrong, naïve is probably more accurate.

My PND has never really gone away and as much as I try to do the things I’m supposed to, like immerse myself in things I enjoy, exercise and eat well (I could do a LOT better in both of the latter), there have been many days, particularly over the past two years, when getting out of bed has been next to impossible - only the requirement to get my kids to school has enabled it. I was taking SSRI medication (anti-depressants) this whole time, but the crippling feelings of utter despair, total hopelessness, worthlessness, feeling totally empty and numb of emotion coupled with copious amounts of crying, and some very very dark thoughts were only getting worse. Eventually I realised that, several years in, this was something beyond PND and I really needed help.

I’ve had a few false starts in finding treatment but this time last year I met a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with severe, drug-resistant, clinical depression coupled with anxiety. We are still working on getting the right medication at the right dose, as I have stretches of time where the depression comes back. In fact it never really goes away. But now it is not quite with the same force that it was previously. Although it can still make the day-to-day activities of life challenging.

My erratic sewing output is kind of a bellwether for where I am in the cycles I have. I can go from being hugely productive and motivated, to unable to even look at my sewing machine, or in fact engage with social media, as it is all utterly overwhelming.

For this and other reasons I’m working with my psychiatrist to understand whether my depression is unipolar or bipolar. This potential diagnosis initially totally freaked me out. And didn’t make any sense to me. Bipolar to me was all about insane highs, the mania, which I don't have, coupled with depression, which I do. But actually I’m understanding that there are different types of bipolar and bipolar 2, for example, is not the same. Yes there are highs, but these can manifest themselves in ways such as increased productivity, irritability and increased energy. Bipolar 2 is defined more by the long, intense periods of depression.

I’m still not sure whether this is where I am. My depression is pretty all-consuming but I’m definitely in a better place than I was last year. It looks like I will be on medication for the rest of my life, which is disheartening (a huge understatement) in itself. Don’t get me wrong, medication for me is a good thing, I wouldn’t be functioning without it. But the prospect of this never going away is incredibly upsetting.

And it’s a total f**ker when it means you gain weight as well and then find it impossible to lose. Bigger picture I know, but I hate it when my beautifully, painstakingly handmade clothes, that I really want to wear, just don’t fit me anymore.

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Did you see what I did there - moved so effortlessly from talking about something that I feel is so important to talk about, raise awareness, and destigmatise, to talking about sewing again. Don’t tell me I’m not a master of the segue!

Before I get back to the pants; I am no expert, but if you feel the same way and can summon up the wherewithal, and can actually get to someone who can help you, try and do it. It will drastically improve things for you. Also listen to this podcast - it deals with mental illness in an accessible, humorous and very personal way. And this guy, who I’ve just discovered, is honest and real and intersting to follow. I suggest them, mainly because both of these people get it. And people getting it, makes you feel so much less alone and so much less of a freak.

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Moving on: the second pair of Persephones in the gorgeous cornflower selvedge denim, have less stretch, more weight and fit a little better - although I didn’t tackle the waistband in the same way so that doesn’t sit as flush as I’d like it. For the cream pair I used a technique I watched on a Craftsy/ Bluprint class about copying your favourite jeans (Jeanius with Kenneth King) that has you press and stretch the bottom edge of the waistband before attaching it so that it curves and is essentially longer than the top edge. This then makes the waistband hug the curve of the body better. Literally genius!

I have worn and worn and worn these. I really wanted to use the pretty yellow selvedge as much as possible, so I made it ‘visible’ on the inside of the waistband and the backs of the belt loops.

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Interestingly these fit much better even though I made them around the same time. I think I was a bit more forgiving with the seam allowances and the denim is more rigid.

On both pairs I’m so thrilled with the fit, especially through the crotch. I know in these pics there are smile lines indicating they don’t fit well through there, but they really do! And are so comfortable!

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It really is a genius pattern; accurately emulates a highly sought after piece of clothing and I think, surprisingly, can really work for any figure.

I hope you don’t mind my little detour down the mental health path. I find it very hard to talk about with people face to face, but I also think, in this age of projecting a perfect life through all channels possible, it’s super important to be honest about our struggles so we can support each other and have real connections. That in itself can be so hugely helpful in relieving the loneliness of depression.

Stay strong, sew some Persephones and see you soon. x

(Oh and the jacket up top is also drafted and made by me. Hope to get some detail of that on the blog sometime.)

The Refashioners 2018

Refashion, a definition: taking an existing garment and turning it into something else - usually another garment.

The Refashioners: The brainchild of the incomparable Portia Lawrie of Makery who - for, I think, six Septembers now - has aimed to promote the practice of reusing unwanted garments and making them into something wanted by hosting The Refashioners. She gives a handful of sewing bloggers a brief and features their refashioned makes each day throughout September. Then during October, she encourages the wider sewing community to refashion their own creation for the chance of winning some awesome prizes.

This year I was delighted when Portia asked if I’d like to be involved, having been totally amazed by the creations I’ve seen in previous years. I mean this suit refashion is just mind-blowing. And well this from this year - floored.

The brief this year is looser than it has been previously; simply to start with an image/ person/ icon/ outfit that inspires you and recreate the look with only existing, unloved garments.

I LOVE this idea. I have been known to try and recreate looks I’ve been inspired by on many occasions - here, here, here and here, being a few examples - but I’ve never done it by refashioning an existing garment before. In fact, my refashioning experience is shamefully limited.

My lack of experience became clear when I started looking at inspiration images. All the items I wanted to recreate were kind of in line with my style generally, involving voluminous shapes and lots of fabric. It soon dawned on me that finding existing garments to take apart and put back together wasn’t going to generate the amounts of fabric I would need to recreate this, for example:

Seeing Elisalex’s amazing creation from last week makes me think I should have thought of curtains! But I didn’t so I was struggling to think of what I could do when I saw this:

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Leandra Medine Cohen wearing Rosie Assoulin

I am a huge fan of Leandra Medine. I’ve talked about this before, but I love her approach to stretching the boundaries and acceptability of high fashion and her very self-deprecating humour. Nowadays, she may or may not have all the money and all the access to all the high-end fashion houses, but she stays true to her distinct, dysfunctional style and I love that. I also adore the designs of Rosie Assoulin. Her whimsical yet edgy aesthetic, shapes, fabrics and details always make me dreamy-eyed and seem to me to transcend trends, occupying their own bubble in the fashion atmosphere.

This combination is so representative of both of their styles. An almost safari-inspired utilitarian jacket made feminine when worn with a ruffled confection of a skirt. (And killer Balenciaga shoes - which sadly won’t be featuring any further in this post.)

So I took this picture and headed to my local thrift stores. I was feeling so so smug when I walked into Housing Works and picked up a ponte Everlane dress for $25, thinking it was exactly the weight and fabric I was looking for when comparing it to the above photo. Turns out it is completely wrong for this, as on closer inspection, the skirt is actually made from what looks like seersucker and is lightweight, ruched, asymmetrical and epically ruffly. I should really have known that ponte was unlikely for Assoulin, but ….

But no way I was finding something with enough yardage that I could transform into that so I’m sticking with the original inspiration image and what I initially thought it was made from. So this is where I ended up.

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With these as the starting point.

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The item for the jacket (or Emotionally Vested Vest as it is called) took a little longer to find. I really wanted to find a jacket with lots of pockets and made from a poplin or heavier weight twill, but just couldn’t find anything. I eventually settled on this men’s cotton twill shirt from L Train Vintage which fit the colour requirement, cost $5, had limited embellishment, good weight of fabric and, critically, no centre back pleat (they were positioned close to the edge of the back yoke instead) as I really didn’t want to remove and reattach a back yoke.

Emotionally vested vest - Rosie Assoulin
 Images from  Moda Operandi

Images from Moda Operandi

My initial thought was to use the shirt as it was and pin out excess fabric where required, but when I found more detailed shots of the vest (above), I became fixated on getting as accurate a representation of the interesting seamlines and construction as possible. So, that would include; paneled construction, welt pockets, double back vent and fixed back belt. That therefore meant pattern drafting. Oh goody!

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That all said, my pattern drafting skills couldn’t quite work out how the hip seamline worked with everything else so I kind of abbreviated. I drafted a panel pattern - kind of like a princess seam, but it doesn’t run over the bust, and still includes a small dart - to emulate the seamlines on the original. The back was fairly simple as I could use the panels to create the shaping, but needed to include the back vent, so I drafted a vent as one would do for a pencil skirt on the seamline that would adjoin the side panels.

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I unpicked the pockets, collar and cuffs of the shirt and then carefully cut along the side seams to separate it into useable pieces. I unpicked the side pleats under the back yoke to get the back to lie flat.

I realised I didn’t have enough room to make a separate placket but couldn’t use the existing one due to the buttonholes, and the plackets being too wide, so opted to fold them towards the inside so that they could give me a finished edge there without using more precious fabric whilst also providing enough reinforcement to hold the snaps I would be adding.

I just managed to get the main pieces out of the shirt, using the sleeves for the side panels and throwing grainlines to the wind.

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One of the things I really enjoyed about this process was the fact that you kind of make it up as you go along. Once I had all the main pieces cut out, I started thinking about details and the more I looked at the pictures, the more I fell down the rabbit hole of adding more and more.

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(Wonky) topstitching was essential, so I used gold topstitching thread I’ve had since I bought one of Heather Lou’s (Closet Case Patterns) and Jenny’s (Workroom Social) jeans kits aaaaages ago. Welt pockets were also essential and I used one of my husband’s white shirts that was heading for recycling for the pocket bags.

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I opted to only create welts for the bottom pockets as I felt there would be too much bulk over me boobs if I did the top ones. Well, really I couldn’t face FOUR welt pockets. So the top ones are just flaps.

I sewed the back band into the back seams and created the vents and then got creative with the topstitching to keep the vents in place.

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The only place I used materials other than that from the repurposed garments was the snaps, fusible interfacing on the pockets and collar, and the bias binding for the armholes of the jacket.

Then I got kind of stuck. I was intending to use the original collar stand as the mandarin collar, but for some unfathomable reason, it wasn’t long enough. For the life of me I can’t figure out how this neckline, which is very close fitting around my not extravagantly thick neck, could be larger than that on a giant men’s shirt. But there it was.

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So I needed to draft a collar. That’s fine, no biggy. Except I just couldn’t figure out how I attach the mandarin collar whilst not attaching it to the top of the placket. See that gap between the edges of the collar - how is that done???? And I couldn’t cut it out until I’d figured out how to stitch it as I didn’t have enough fabric to cut two if the first one, that would be shorter, didn’t go to plan.

So whilst I avoided that issue for a while I got on with the skirt.

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Although here I also spent significant time procrastinating as it felt like I just didn’t have enough fabric to create the ruffles, a ruffle, any kind of ruffle.

That said, in the end the skirt was pretty simple.

Firstly, I cut off the top of the dress at the waist to make it skirt length. Then I sewed up and cut off the pockets as they just gaped. I took in the side seams so that the fit was more snug around my waist and hips. Before doing that I turned the dress around so that the back vent was now at the front. The dress actually had a centre front seam which I could have used to create the split for the ruffle, but why recreate when it’s already there and the joy of a stretch fabric is that the shaping front and back is pretty identical so it made no odds which was the front and back.

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I then had to figure out how to get the ruffle out of the very small amount of fabric left. I unpicked the centre front seam of the bodice and having already removed the zip at the back, I was then left with two identical flat pieces. They really didn’t look big enough to achieve anything, but in for a penny …

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Using the front ruffle pattern piece from Butterick 6554 I just put as much of the pattern piece as I could fit onto the pieces of fabric and cut two. Miraculously, with a bit of adjustment as to the height at which the ruffle would hit the CF seam (previously known as the back vent), I got it to fit!

The finishing on the skirt is very patchy. I left the hem of the ruffle raw to keep length and movement and have hacked off excess fabric without serging the seam allowances. I’ve also left the waist unfinished. I had next to no fabric left and certainly not enough to make a waistband. I was going to use some black elastic and fold the top of the skirt over it, but to be honest it stays up perfectly well by itself and creates a smoother line, so I just left it as it is. I may have to revisit that if I decide to wear it with anything other than this jacket.

Honestly, I don’t love the skirt, the shape and ruffle reminds me too much of those awful mermaid swimsuits for kids that were everywhere last summer. That said, I’m pleased I managed to get close to what I was aiming for with the fabric I had to work with. Although I suppose it has been spoilt for me now I know what the original actually looked like.

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With the skirt sorted, it was back to that pesky collar. Some lateral googling provided the answer. This involved unpicking the topstitching on the front placket, opening out the placket facing, turning that back on itself so right sides were together and sandwiching the now drafted and prepped collar between that and the jacket body at the point I wanted the collar to start. Abundantly clear right ….?

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Anyway it worked and I managed to resurrect the topstitching without having to unpick the whole lot.

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It was then just a matter of setting 14 snaps (uggggghhhhhh), each one being a hold your breath until it’s walloped moment to see if it would reveal I’d bashed it too hard so that the two parts won’t snap together. Only lost a few and thankfully had bought extra so they all work. That is a WIN. Then it was just a serge and fold a simple hem. DONE!

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This has been such a satisfying project. a combination of quick and dirty fudging it (skirt) and detailed pattern drafting and construction (jacket), which in my limited experience seems to pretty much sum up refashioning. Along with a lot of “we’ll see if this works and keep our fingers crossed” along the way.

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Neither item is perfect: the jacket could really do with a lining as all the snap reinforcement, pockets, turned back placket etc, make the insides really unattractive; the outline of the front patch pockets from the original shirt are still pretty visible; I might have mixed up my pocket pieces so that one of them is only about an inch and a half deep; and the top pocket flaps aren’t level with each other … but I’m really pleased with how the jacket turned out and do like the skirt when combined with the jacket.

I feel it’s a pretty faithful rendition of the original inspiration and I really had fun. Thank you Portia for prompting me to step out of my comfort zone and attempt a refashion and for including me with such a wonderful group of stitchers.

The only other thing to note is that there is a paint / bleach / unidentified stain on the jacket right in the front, which I hadn’t noticed until I was cutting out the front pieces.

Surely that’s refashioning 101 - before purchasing check the garment for stains and holes ….

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See you soon x



Salmon Pink Baggy Pants. On the Roof!

There's this tension when writing a blog post after you've been MIA for a while; does one apologise profusely to the entire webisphere for deigning to not spout rubbish for a whole four months; give long lists of reasons as to why life got in the way; or just ignore the fact and pick up where you left off as you do with your oldest friend who you haven't seen for two years?

So not knowing how to address the awkward situation I've just created, I'll just waffle for a bit and then get on with the matter in hand - Salmon Pink Corduroy Baggy Pants.

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I've had a pretty patchy few months of sewing, some major bursts of productivity and then weeks and weeks when everything just gathered dust. There have been some incredible personal ups (going to Australia for Christmas to visit my brother and his family; buying an apartment!!!) and some downs (finally getting treatment for my crippling depression; not managing the stress of packing up for the move to said new apartment at all well.) But slowly I seem to be emerging through the difficulties of 2017 and the chaos of the first part of 2018 with a plan and energy and a focus that have been missing for far too long.

Realising long held sewing plans is one of the things that helps me feel I'm moving forward rather than stagnating. For several months now I've been pushing these trousers around my head; inspired by a beautiful rose pink pair from Mr Larkin that were way out of my budget league.

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So let's just firstly address the fact that these aren't a gorgeous soft rose pink, but an orangey, coral, just about salmon pink instead, which is not nearly as charming or wearable and could be deemed just plain ugly.

Then let's look at the garment as a whole and be honest and say, Charlie, they really don't do much for you - leg lengthening they certainly aren't - and they are in fact pretty ridiculous.

And then let's ignore all of that because they are super comfortable, super warm, I super don't give a stuff if I look ridiculous and I super love them.

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I used Vogue 8836 for these and jumbo cord from New York Elegant Fabrics. They're made without modification other than fitting, and I added the belt. The details are what make these I think - the do nothing pocket flaps, the belt, the silver button and D-ring accents, the pleats, and the turn ups. The latter two were massively helped by the hive mind on Instagram. I'd pretty much finished them and was disappointed, but after making the pleats face the other, correct, way (face palm), adding belt loops, and using scraps to lengthen them and create the turn up - hiding the seam inside the turn up - they were transformed. Well maybe that's a bit strong, but epically more wearable.

I have made this pattern before - it's a good, very simple pattern with excellent instructions for the fly front - out of a floral rayon, which had the potential to be amazing. 

But. This was in the early days of the pants fitting learning curve and I added so much to the rise that the crotch was a good 4 inches below where it should have been and try as I might I just can't resolve that situation. (I should add that after trying to link to the pattern on the Vogue website unsuccessfully, it might be out of print.)

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I've managed to get the fit of these pretty spot on, knowing now the key things that I need to do to get the crotch fit right and knowing what I can alter as I sew and what I need to get right at the pattern alteration stage.

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For these photos, inspired by Nina Ricci, I decided I absolutely had to wear a lace bodysuit with them. Clearly I don't have lace bodysuits. Who has lace bodysuits? So I made one lined with bamboo jersey and featuring not very stretchy stretch lace.

Fitted (crop) tops with baggy bottoms served me well in the 90s so why not now (with less of the crop) as we're all so fully immersed in a 90s revival. Scrunchie anyone?

In further homage to my 90s self, I've also taken to wearing these with an enormous mid thigh length turtleneck cable knit sweater - so there's that too.

Perhaps I'm being driven by a play of textures; corduroy, lace, shiny patent and then a seersucker jacket. I'm increasingly moving away from prints and towards creating interest through shapes, textures and playing them all together. You can just about see the lace below.

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The bodysuit is made with Closet Case Patterns Nettie pattern with fabric from Mood and is the third thing I've made using this pattern in as many months. I've avoided it for ages as I could not get past the cute but painful experience of the cream picot one I wore constantly aged 16. Unsurprisingly, it turns out it's the perfect pattern to go with all the wide legged / oversized bottoms I love. And because I can add to the body length and it's got the low hip shape it's really comfortable.

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And I absolutely love the neckline and scoop back, so feminine and flattering which balances the more masculine trousers I think.

 Checking out the fire trucks

Checking out the fire trucks

Let's also talk about pink shall we. I can't seem to get enough of it at the moment, a pink coat, pink jumpsuit, pink trousers and I have a Seamwork Neenah dress in the works that I had to restrain myself from making in pink french terry. That might still happen but I'm trying to only use fabric I already have.

Oh, and I'm desperate for a pale pink velvet sofa too. For my new pad. Where these photos are taken. On the flipping ROOFDECK!

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Seriously. I hope that's not too braggy but I have to keep pinching myself! I can see the Freedom Tower, The Chrysler Building, The Statue of Liberty (if you stand on tiptoe and squint through the trees) and of course not forgetting the iconic Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. 

Aside from the general all round unbelievable wondrousness of this actually being home, it also means if I can't face it, I no longer need to stand in the street with a remote and a camera fending off weird looks from passersby and hurriedly taking blog photos where I look totally stiff because I'm so embarrassed. 

So, I feel like I've managed to navigate the large gap between blog posts by clumsily embracing all three of aforementioned methods of which to deal with said gap.

I'm hoping, in between the day-to-day and apartment renos, and now I'm feeling more able to cope with life, I'm going to be a more regular blogger again. I miss doing it regularly, I love writing and sending myself out into the web not quite knowing who reads and who cares. It's kind of narcissistic, but I do know I miss my favourite bloggers when I haven't heard from them in a while.

So, I will see you soon xxx