Searching for the perfect fabric

Oh my goodness I wish I could get into some pattern of regular writing / blogging again. I know no-one expects it and it shouldn’t be something that I feel I have to do, but I really enjoy it - weirdly I find it immensely calming - and it’s frustrating not to be able to make it even a little closer to the top of my priority list.

I hope I can change that this year.

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These trousers are a case in point. I finished them before Thanksgiving and have carefully worn them a few times, finally taking photos last week and now thinking about what to say about them.

As with so many of the clothes I make, I saw an image of some teal-coloured jumbo cord wide-legged trousers and had to have them. Again as with so many of the clothes I make, finding or adapting the right pattern is never the issue, finding the fabric to fit the vision is often the tricky part. I quickly came to realise that finding teal jumbo cord was a non-starter.

So often, when in stores, you see absolutely stunning fabric that is impossible to replicate with what is available to the home sewer. I know many fabric stores stock designer ends, where they will have sourced the remainder of a designer’s roll of fabric. They also look very hard at stocking what is of the moment. But by its very nature designer ends will be at least a couple of seasons old, so what we are able to get our hands on in any particular season isn’t necessarily reflective of the current fabric trends, both in substrate and in colourways and prints.

And conversely what is available in any given season might be a little dated.

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Of course, the reason many people sew - myself included - is to step off that fast-fashion bandwagon of seasonal trends, so this brain-babble of mine could all be academic.

However, I think we are being disingenuous if we think that we are not at all susceptible to current fashions. The Big Four’s new collections are generally on trend (even if sometimes it’s unfathomable what trend they are trying to emulate …!); their businesses wouldn’t be sustainable if they didn’t release new patterns regularly that reflected current market desires. Market desires which are always, to some extent, reflective of the catwalk. And the very fact they have designer collections typifies this.

And while the indie pattern companies tend to produce more timeless designs - the nature of their business being such that they want and need to release patterns that have a potential selling lifespan of years rather than months - they are generally still influenced, with a couple of exceptions, by the basic silhouettes that are au courant. Wide legged rather than skinny trousers; ruffles ruffles and more ruffles; midi length dresses and skirts; cropped trouser legs. These are all trends of the moment - albeit an elongated moment.

So my longwinded point is that the patterns we choose to make are reflective of current styles, but the fabric which could really bring those patterns to life, is just not available at the same time. It will be eventually, but not when you - or at least I - reallllly want it.

So, you can see that I didn’t come up with any teal jumbo cord. In fact it was pretty hard at that point to find wide wale cord anywhere. As often is the case I was rescued by an Instagram commenter who pointed me in the direction of Stitches in Seattle, which I hadn’t come across before. And later on I know that Fabric Godmother had some lovely stuff in unusual colourways.

So I got some of the navy from Stitches and it is seriously wide wale - I mean not even three wales (you know the bumps that define corduroy - thems are wales) to an inch! It is pretty hard to see in these photos, but the below gives you some idea!

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I had a moment of consideration about whether to make a fourth pair of Persephone Pants out of this as I absolutely love them. But I’d been wanting to try the In the Folds for Peppermint Patterns Wide Legged Trouser pattern for a while and the inspiration image had side seams which Persephone cleverly does not, so Peppermint it was.

I’ve made a couple of the Peppermint Patterns now. I find it staggering that they are free to download, especially as Emily of In the Folds, who designs them, is so talented.

I really like this pattern. If I would change anything it would be to change the leg shape slightly - I think that is because I love the shape of the Persephone’s so much. But these are obviously a different pant with different styling, so this is just personal preference.

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Very surprisingly for me I had to make very few adjustments to the pattern. Because I made them so long ago and can’t find the pattern pieces to refer to, as a result of numerous sewing area tidy ups, I’m having to dust off parts of my brain. But I think I just raised the back rise half an inch and took the back seam in a little. I don’t think I even added length.

I absolutely love the pockets. They are anchored by the fly which makes them roomy and keeps the front of the trousers nice and flat. I think the only other place I’ve seen this is on the Grainline Moss Skirt. I also love the curved waistband. I have a very curvy bottom and lower back and curved waistbands always prevent the dreaded gape. This makes them so comfortable and I’m so thrilled with the fit, although they are getting a little big - either by fabric stretch or Charlie shrinkage.

I don’t think I’ve yet to find a perfect set of fly sewing instructions. These are pretty good, but I always end up in some type of tangle. Which is hilarious as a few years ago I couldn’t understand all the fuss!

I was so proud of myself that I remembered about the nap on corduroy (why is that so hard to type?) and got it all going the same way. This cord is very soft and these are particularly strokable trousers and when worn with my fancy new fake fur coat, garner a lot of weird looks as I walk down the street variously stroking parts of my torso and limbs.

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My only concern with the cord is that the valleys between the wales are quite wide and fragile looking so I wonder how long they’ll stand up to wear. It also frayed terribly and the fluff from finishing the seams totally clogged my serger. (Although that could just be that I haven’t had it serviced since I bought it four years ago.)

I’d thoroughly recommend the pattern and sewing with cord is a doddle as it all kind of sticks together like velcro. Pressing less easy.

Sourcing the exact fabric I desire is also less easy, and as I’m a “choose pattern, buy fabric” rather than “buy fabric, choose pattern” kind of girl, it can involve a lot of detective work, emailing suppliers to see if they do actually have more than they say on their site and making do with what is available even if it isn’t in the colourway you want. There is always dying (fabric that is), but that kind of leaves me cold.

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So, even though these aren’t as my inspiration/ vision, I do love them. They nod to trends. But ultimately they’re one of a kind trousers which I love wearing and will wear for a long time. And that, to be honest, is all that matters.

I’ll have to remember that next time I’m sighing at my keyboard because I can’t find that just right fabric.

See you soon x

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:

Leandra Medine Cohen wearing  Rosie Assoulin

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