Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Still a beginner




I can’t stop trying to sew clothes.  The piles of failures, you guys.  It is pretty disheartening to consider.  My most recent, most successful sewn dress actually fell to pieces in the wash, and finding good apparel fabrics is such a hopeless quest out here in the hinterlands, so when that charcoal gray linen dress that I wore and loved and looked and felt like a million bucks in came out of the dryer in shreds, I was, um, sad, and sort of decided maybe this wasn’t for me.  I got so tired of that defeated feeling, having spent the whole day bent over a project, feeling like I was getting somewhere, and then that slumping at the end, when it didn’t work.  Maybe I should just stick to sewing quilts, this is too hard, all the wasted fabric, ugh.  But...I just can’t stop thinking about it.  I bought three yards of this plum linen blend with the highest hopes, pledged to make a muslin and then did; I measured, I ripped, I tried things on, I made tiny changes to the muslin, tried things on again.  I believed I had learned something, so I gritted my teeth and cut into the plum linen, sewed so carefully, felling the seams, slowly and neatly topstitching.  And it failed.  I threw it on the floor, screamed a little, and sat down to knit, which, as you know, leaves me a lot of space for thinking.  What I thought about a lot was this quote, which is perfect.  It is about being a beginner.  Things like that, and thinking about Georgia O’Keeffe’s incredible handmade wardrobe, built by her hands in the tiniest stitches; clothes made exquisitely, with exceptional care and intention, clothes made to fit her and only her—thinking about that kind of thing just makes me keep on trying.  I want high-necked silk blouses with tightly buttoned cuffs and tiny pintucks.  I want a fine wool black dress with long sleeves and a long, slim skirt that reaches just to my calves.  I want to draw what I want, and know how to make it, and the only way to get there is to keep on trying, so here’s what I did:  I put away the pattern (note to self:  I have tried to make that dress four times, and it does not work for me, learn this...) and went to the closet, where I found a dress—from Target—that I like.  I put it on the table on a big piece of paper, and traced around the pieces.  That’s all, I just traced it.  I tried to be accurate, and to take stuff like seams into account.  I could have “trued” the drawn lines with a ruler and/or a french curve (is that what that thing is called?  I really don’t know) but I didn’t, I just traced the pieces and then cut them out:  presto, pattern.  I laid my homemade pattern on the last of the plum linen and cut it.  I sewed it.  I sang loudly to Stevie Wonder as I went, because it was giving me power and I wanted to feel powerful and it was working.  And then the dress was done.  I gave it a press and I put it on.  

And it fits.  



53 comments:

  1. This is how I sew. I've tried, tried so hard, to sew with commercial patterns. Each time, it's a disaster. When I make my own "patterns'", as you did, I love what I make. There's a lesson for us here.

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    1. High five! Yeah, this is how I do everything else anyway; why would sewing be any different? :)

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  2. This is the best, I needed to read this and read the quote that was mentioned. This gives me hope that I will eventually be as successful as I hope to be

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    1. Right? Isn't that quote perfect? :)

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  3. Yes!!! You go, girl!��

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  4. This is just great - the Ira Glass quote and, especially your experience. Thank you! From another oft-discouraged, frequent-failure discouraged sewer. Maybe that buried machine will come out to make a summer dress.

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    1. Don't give up! I'm not going to. :)

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  5. I find this very inspiring - I have never made a piece of clothing because I tell myself I don’t have the brain for anything 3-D. You make me want to reconsider!

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    1. It's a matter of getting enough failures under your belt, I think, and keeping on in the face of it. :)

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  6. That is such a comfortable looking dress to wear, a fringed shawl added at the end of the day when the sun goes down. The colour is FAB,love it, clever old you. Again. Sigh.....

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    1. Oooh, yes! I have just the shawl in mind, too--oh, summer, hurry along... :)

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    2. I agree with the last sentiment. Over here in Norfolk UK we are having our fifth consecutive day of cold, grey, dampness and fog, so it would be nice to see a bit of sunshine, feel that warmth, no matter how fleeting.

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  7. So pleased you have a success. I have a fully handmade wardrobe now, but even so my latest make is going straight to a charity shop,it just doesn't work. You have to roll with the failures and as time goes on the proportion of successes gets better, and then you get a dress or coat that you just love and it makes it so worthwhile .... keep going"

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    1. These are the magic words! Thank you. I love that your whole wardrobe is handmade! Go you! :)

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  8. Bless you, what a story. But finding what fits can take a long time, I struggle with this too - perhaps that's why I fail, because I struggle haha...

    Life is good

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    1. So true. The failures are all part of the learning, but they are so. annoying. in the moment! xoxo

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  9. Hooray for you! And the dress is lovely.

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  10. I also wear a me-made wardrobe and I can tell you, there is always something to learn. I have what are called "TNT" patterns (tried & true) for basics like a jacket & straight skirt, and even with a pattern I have made literally dozens of times in multiple fabrications, once in a while, a fabric throws me a curve ball and just. doesn't. work. You can, successfully, use a woven for a knit pattern and vice versa, but you wont always get away it. Wovens tend to need darts for ease, knits need to be situated on grain properly, etc.

    As for garment fabric, please give fabricmartfabrics.com a look! They have incredible sales and 1st quality garment fabrics. Once and a while they even have quilting cotton, but it is even better quality that I find at quilt shops here.

    I also suggest you try New Look patterns. I think their aesthetic will align with the garments you are looking to sew.

    You have the skills in you to do this, please don't give up!!

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    1. Oh my goodness, there is so much to learn. I will surely check out those links. And I will not give up! Fists in the air, like Rocky! xoxo

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  11. YAY!!! Go Kristen, Go Kristen... I learn something new everyday when I am sewing. It is so bloody grey and wet here I am churning out a ridiculous amount of items in order to avoid taking my girls on a day out in the rain during these Easter Hols!

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    1. That's what rainy days are for, right? Your handmade wardrobe is so amazing. xoxo

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  12. Hang in there, it takes time to find a pattern that works for you. I used to sew all my clothes and had one pattern for tops, one for pants and one for a dres

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    1. When you find a good one, it's the only one you need, right? :)

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  13. I definitely know how this is. I love to sew, but I always feel like it is a huge waste when something doesn't come out right, especially if it comes out too small because then there's no fixing it. It's not like knitting or crochet where you can frog it and re-use the yarn. I've had the best success with how you described as just using another dress that you know fits. Especially when you feel like you've hit a wall on sewing, I always feel like that is the best way, because you just need that win of finishing something that works. :) I love that color by the way, so very beautiful!

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    1. Yes, totally. At least when the knitting goes sideways, the materials can be salvaged. A failed sewing project just cuts me to the quick. xoxo

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  14. Every year I head off to sewing camp for 5 days. Most everyone makes garments... even with a new serger and a good sewing machine, I leave each year with a few quilts made (mostly from cut apart fabrics re-used from other items). This year the group is bugging me to make just ONE garment. I am daunted. I've watched the other ladies make muslins, waste tons of hard to come by knit fabrics, etc... they joke about my "ready to wear" clothing but seriously, a few hours in a trying on room seems less daunting than making one shirt/dress over and over and over again trying to get it right. I have so often felt like you. This year I am bringing along some favorite "ready to wear" pieces that fit me well. I'm hoping to play around with a bit of making my own pattern work. Your post was encouraging because I was just lamenting about this process this week and looking longingly at my pile of quilt fabric as I begin to pack for my sewing adventure.

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    1. Sewing camp sounds pretty wonderful! I think your plan sounds like a good one, and I also think you should go ahead and make quilts if you want to. :)

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  15. I've only ever made one dress, when I was pregnant and still working. A colleague guided me through the process and I can remember showing her my progress, many times, only for her to say 'It's ok I guess, if you don't mind it looking homemade' Aaargh, I actually ended up jumping up and down on this dress in a rage one night. However, I would not be bested, and completed it. A nurse at one of my checkups said she loved it and asked if I'd bought it from Laura Ashley...that comment meant everything to me, but I still can't bring myself to go through it all again.

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    1. Oh man. I'm so sorry somebody said that to you! Just, argh. Something like that might stick with me, too. xoxoxo

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  16. I love all the comments here. In my cupboard awaits a lovely pile of fabric for dresses, tops, etc, washed and folded and looking all hopeful. Whenever the mood strikes for making, I go look at it and dream about what it might become.. And then I walk away. Lately I can't bear to go through your plum dress ordeal. It's such a process, and then to end up with something less than satisfactory is a huge bummer. BUT! Summer is coming and hopefully it will give me the inspiration to forge ahead. Your post certainly has! Love the fabric. Keep plugging away :)

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    1. It is such a process, isn't it? And such a different set of skills than the ones I have learned with making other things. It's hard to be a beginner, wah! :)

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  17. I applaud your tracing-an-existing-garment solution! Clever to work from something that you reach for often, that fits the way you want it to.

    I also sew, mostly tops. some pants, some for my younger (very skinny) son. I've gradually been pulled into making fitting adjustments, in part because of a pattern I really, really wanted to make and have in my wardrobe...that I just could *not* get to fit (though the pattern was eventually released in a version with the full bust adjustment options that I hadn't been able to figure out on my own...).

    I hope you try again with other patterns, or with tracing of garments that fit the way you want them to! I enjoy sewing my own tops - my colors, the lengths I want, the fabrics that feel good (even with the extra time for adjusting patterns).

    I waffle on sending on the next bit, but I think I will - hoping that you take what makes sense to you (and feel free ignore what doesn't ;-)...). So some thoughts -

    Patterns are made for some 'average' or 'ideal' figure (young, slender, perky...), which I am decidedly not! I go in knowing adjustments will be needed. Fewer adjustments on patterns for loose or oversized garments.

    I look for pattern reviews, especially with pictures, and look for reviews by people who appear to be somewhat similar to my body shape - if a pattern works well for someone with a similar body shape, it might work for me. Also reviews can tell me if a pattern has been a problem, and how other sew-ists have handled those problems. Sewing.patternreviews.com is a good place to look at reviews (non-members have access to the past couple months of reviews; membership - free or paid - gives access to all the pattern reviews). I also find reviews just by googling the pattern (brand and # or name followed by the word reviews) - there are a number of sew-ists who post reviews on their blogs, or other sewing community sites.


    It's worth looking at the indie designers or smaller pattern houses (a few to consider - Jalie, Silhouette Patterns, Love Notions, Itch to Stitch, Cashmerette, Grainline Studios, Liesl & Co, Style Arc, Cutting Line Designs, Sewaholic Patterns...but there are a lot more out there). Several of these routinely include fitting adjustment advice in their instructions, or extra pattern pieces for a couple of common adjustments (like a full bust adjustment). Some pattern designers design for a specific shape - examples: Sewaholic designs for a bottom-heavy figure; Cashmerette for curvy bodies.

    Measure, measure, measure...and then measure again (sigh). Measure myself. Measure garments that I find comfortable and that I think fit well (helps me figure out how much ease I would like). And measure the flat pattern pieces, add together, subtract seam allowances to get garment dimensions to compare with measurements. Remember that the pattern sizes don't relate to RTW sizes - check the pattern measurements.

    I hope this helps and you keep sewing!

    --Jean Marie

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    1. Yes, making the adjustments is the part I just can't wrap my head around. I can work from a sewing pattern as written alllll day long, and make something very lovely, but as you said, we are all shaped differently--I think I find it all the more frustrating because all the fails and mistakes result in loss of materials, where in knitting, if I don't like what I end up with, I can unravel and start over, and there's no harm done. It's a new way of thinking for me, and so many new skills to learn, and can be overwhelming. The links you suggest look so good, and I can't wait to have a look. Thank you for the tip about measuring the flat pieces--I didn't realize they weren't a match to RTW sizes. So much to learn! :)

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  18. Love the dress and the quote :)

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    1. It's such a good quote, isn't it? xoxo

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  19. That's a great perspective from Ira Glass! Reminds me of a mantra I say to myself often: even the experts were beginners once.

    Also, I am in awe of your knitting skilz and I'm a novice in knitting - but when I get frustrated with knitting, I turn with relief to sewing! Sewing clothes is my jam - and quilts and other stuff. Was just cutting out a sundress for my preschooler this evening.

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    1. I really want to get there someday, too. I want to feel comfortable with sewing. :)

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  20. It fits....and it’s gorgeous!

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  21. I don't generally put linen garments in the dryer. I let them air dry, then I iron them gently.

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    1. I might start doing that, too. I am just so in love with how softly rumply it looks when it comes out of the dryer, though...

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  22. I've had so many clothes sewing fails in the past, but I have this wish to make the one thing that will fit my body perfectly and look good while being worn. I have two dresses I made within the last five years and I have yet to wear them in public. I am searching for the elusive pattern that skims my body and makes me look twenty pound thinner. Is it out there? Probably not. But I will keep trying. I can sew skirts with gathered waists, but that's all.

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    1. That search for the one pattern, yes. Totally. I feel like once I get that figured out, I will be golden. Just gotta keep trying, right? xoxo

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  23. “It’s not about the dress you wear, it’s about the life you lead in the dress". Fashion for each

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  24. Love your dress! I have sewn my own clothes (not all, just some) since I learned to sew when I was 14. I hate to sew. Not sure why, I've just never enjoyed it, but I like the finished products. I would love to get all of the 100ActsofSewing patterns. Very simple and easy to sew. I'm also very, very tempted by SewLiberated's metamorphic dress. So cute and versatile! Love seeing your projects on here!

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    1. Thank you, Carolyn! I've been--trying--to sew clothes since about that age, too, and just kind of being miserable with the results. I really need to learn to make modifications, I think that's the key to enjoying it. xoxo

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