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.)

A summer break

Over the course of this wonderful summer I took a break from sewing and from social media.

The former was enforced as I was out of the country for a lot of it and therefore separated from my sewing machine. I'd been on a bit of a sewing bender in the Spring, which I thoroughly enjoyed, made some fab garments which may or may not make it to these pages, but was a bit all consuming and not conducive to any type of organisation in the rest of my life. I needed to take a break.

And the latter just kind of happened. 

But I think there was a bit more behind it than that. I made a conscious decision to be fully focused on my children. Of course as a stay at home mum (in part thanks to the epic amount of time it is taking for my green card to be processed - approaching 3 years now), they are pretty much my every focus anyway, but being with them for 11 weeks solidly with no school, and only a little bit of camp, I saw as an opportunity. I think it stemmed from a slightly naff but thought provoking meme I saw that said, "You only have your kids for 18 summers. Make them count."

I usually ignore all such 'inspirational' messages but I couldn't get that one out of my head. And I think for the first time this summer my kids are at an age - 7 and 5 - where we could really be free to explore and experience things together. No naps, generally few tantrums and a lot of curiosity and fun-seeking makes for excellent summer companions - albeit utterly exhausting.

So somewhere along the line I just stopped looking at my phone. I literally used it to take photos and message friends and family to organise whatever visit / excursion we were planning. Didn't even check my email ... yeah well maybe shoulda done that.

In fact when I did go to look at Instagram I'd scroll through the first few posts and feel either totally overwhelmed by inadequacy or just 'meh'. Mostly the former. And I realised that whilst I often find the posts I see and accounts I follow (almost entirely sewing or independent fashion related) inspirational and motivating, it also often has the opposite effect of making me just want to give up on everything.

One of the reasons I started a blog and my Instagram account (I don't tweet and am desperate to give up on Facebook but I live so far away from so many of my friends and family that I feel that it would be cutting a lifeline, oh and Snapchat - what?) was to build myself a community that I didn't have when I first moved to the States, didn't know a soul and was very much in the somewhat isolating throes of baby and toddlerhood.

And what a community I found. I am so grateful and happy to be part of it and I love how the relationships and the accounts and blogs I read have evolved over the last few years.

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this, and I'm not really saying anything that hasn't been uttered by many people. And I suppose like everything in life, balance is the key, but it was so freeing to step away and not feel drawn to my phone at every opportunity.

As the kids go back to school (my baby just started Kindergarten, sob ...) and I spend more time by myself, I think I need to remember to use my phone and social media consciously and limitedly (if we can make that a word for these purposes) and not as a crutch to fill time.

Lift my head up and soak in the freedom I have.

I made a hat. And went on a march. And before that I made a skirt.

I haven't really been sure how to write this post. I absolutely want to tell all the lovely people who relate when I say sewing keeps me sane, and come here to read about fabric and stitching about the sumptuous velvet skirt I made (see details below). But, also, given that the majority of lovely people who do come here are women, I have to mention the stunningly powerful thing women all around the world did last weekend. The Women's March.

I knit a Pussy Hat and I got on caravan of buses and I went to DC. To show that I am not prepared to accept the archaic, bigoted and dangerous policies of the new administration. To show solidarity. To stand with the millions of other women, and men, who feel that basic human rights and equality are at stake.

I have always seen myself as a well-informed, liberal person who is not afraid to stand up to defend myself when required. But mostly, as a white middle-class woman, there aren't so many times that is required. I protest vehemently on Facebook (to other mostly white, middle-class people), I've marched a couple of times for things that matter to me and I always exercise my right to vote, but I've never actually "needed" to be politically active. 

And then I went to DC and I realised that whether I need things or not, is not the point. I am a woman, so I should help defend the rights of all women. I am an immigrant, a privileged, white immigrant, so I should be helping defend the rights of all immigrants, especially those who don't have the "benefit" of my skin colour or background. I have never had an abortion but I know many women who have and I should defend their right to do with their body what they choose with the same ferocity I defend my own right to choose what happens to my body. I have children who I was lucky enough to carry and give birth to in a country where pre-natal care is free, non-judgmental and available to all (that being the UK not the US). So I should speak up so that others have that right no matter where they live or who they are. 

Somebody enabled me to have all of those things. They didn't just happen. People, women, protested, sacrificed and were well aware that the changes they achieved might not happen in their lifetime; but they did it because it was right. 

For the first time in my life I understand that it's not enough to just nod and agree and talk. If I believe in true equality for everyone; believe in the fact that a human being can not be illegal; believe in keeping others' minds and hands off my and my daughter's bodies, then I have to DO something.

And so I'll be doing. And when I'm not I'll be sewing. (Because I'm a woman and we can do and be anything and everything.)

Here's the pretty skirt (details at the bottom):

The Sewing Stuff:

  • Top is a modified Named Clothing Inari Tee - I used the V neckline from Papercut Patterns Sway dress as the template for the neck. I made a facing to correspond to that and omitted the sleeve cuffs.
  • The sandy black silk charmeuse is from Mood Fabrics.
  • The absolutely beautiful fluid, shiny, mushroom grey silk velvet for the skirt is from Chic Fabrics, which I believe is sadly closing. It was only $15 / yard.
  • The pattern is adapted from a 1970s shirt dress pattern (Vogue French Boutique 1860 from the Renata line) that was my mums and I also used for the skirt of this dress.
  • I added a 1 inch elastic waistband, stretching and serging the elastic to the waistband and skirt fabric, before folding the waistband in on itself to create even gathers.
  • The pockets are lined with dark grey cotton voile.
  • I finger pressed all the seams and steamed them with the iron and catch stitched the hem.

I hope my political enlightenment wasn't too much for a sewing blog and to see you soon. xx