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.)

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