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.)

Seasonal Wardrobe Fatigue

At the beginning of summer, I'm so excited to not have to worry about layers and just be able to throw on a dress and sandals and head out.  By the time it comes to September, I am so utterly sick of every single dress I own and long for more 'interesting' combinations of clothing - that involve separates and layers and scarves.  

Don't get me wrong, summer is my time. Heat and the constant need for sunglasses and sunscreen fill my soul with light and if I could live somewhere where it was constantly warm I would jump at it.  Despite or perhaps because of hailing from the British Isles and all the weather systems that entails, I have no need for rain or cold. At all. (The latter is pretty hilarious given how goddamn cold it gets in this city).

That said, I definitely see the fun and interest in all four seasons, but I'm not someone who wishes them away (well perhaps in April, when it's still below freezing and winter has been going on for a lifetime - but that's my fault for living in NYC.) I do, however, constantly wish for interesting clothing arrangements.  

I made this dress in July and have pretty much worn it non-stop since, and consequently my relationship with it has soured and we're pretty close to breaking up, or at least putting ourselves 'on a break'. (I just watched 'How to be Single' on a plane, and for some reason Rebel Wilson saying 'OK, Season Three Ross' won't leave my brain.)

And now having looked at photos of it, I don't actually really like it that much on me. I clearly need to increase the armhole depth and the length hits me at the worst possible fat-knee place.

But before the relationship reached that stage of disgruntled overfamiliarity, I was utterly in love with everything about this dress. It is very simple, but incredibly flattering (at least so I thought) and in such a fabulous, take you anywhere (as Annie (my mum) would say) fabric, and so easy to throw on, feel pretty and go. Oh and the construction instructions are just brilliant.  Really, really good.

So, she is Ruby by the marvelous Tessuti made in a denim shirting from lovely Caroline of Blackbird Fabrics. I can't tell you how perfectly the fabric met my vision.  

I love a beautifully packaged independent pattern as much as the next sewing nut, but I also love how Tessuti are so honest with their patterns.  They are hand drawn and graded with no frills instructions but brilliantly drafted and the instructions always teach me something.

I've never used stabilising stuff when sewing before, but this pattern has you use it all around the neck and the armholes to ensure nothing stretches.  And it works a treat, there are absolutely no gapes anywhere.  I'll also, usually avoid visible bias binding like the plague, but it just works on this pattern and (shock, horror) I actually enjoyed every moment of putting it together.

I made very minor alterations to the pattern.  I decided to include a centre front seam as the fabric wastage would have been ridiculous if I'd cut both front and back on the fold. (I didn't put the seam down the centre back as I wanted to sew the keyhole and facing as instructed.) The seam is barely noticeable and then when I saw that a CF seam had been used on this awesomeness - after I'd finished the dress - I felt like the coolest kid. (I will be copying that next summer.)

I widened the neckline slightly and I added a load of length and then promptly took it all off again when hemming - this seems to be happening a lot; not sure what is going on with my deluded understanding of how long I am.

I love the cutaway shape of the shoulders - which is so flattering (if it's not all wrinkled due to being too high), and how, even though it trapezes out from under the arms it manages to hang in such a way that it shows some sense of your waist.  Perhaps this is because the side seams are essentially cut on the bias. I'm not sure but it's fab.

And with that I'm done writing about summer wear.  I made a lot more than I managed to blog, but as Morgan so eloquently writes, I don't need to sew all the clothes and I don't need to write about them all either.  

The love affair with this dress was all consuming and intense, but now I'm ready for trousers and shirts and myriad jackets and sumptuous scarves. Until May, by which time, I'll be all over her again like a rash. 

And that, my lovelies, is Seasonal Wardrobe Fatigue.

Much love

See you soon x

ps: it's been a bit sporadic of late, but Noble & Daughter turned 2 this week!