Ombre Dress

 

I got this fabric for either Christmas or my birthday several years ago, I can’t remember which. It’s an ombre silk charmeuse from Mood and there were several colorways to choose from- I’m also not sure who this gift was from (I think it was Claire?) but I am SO HAPPY they chose this golden and deep brown version because, even though I hadn’t curated my closet and gotten into my colors when I put this fabric on my wishlist, it’s smack in the middle of my palette and looks really nice with my skintone.

I fell deeply in love with this silk as soon as I held it in my hands but I had NO idea what I wanted to make with it- I didn’t even have an idea when I saw it on the Mood website, I just knew that I wanted to have it. So it has sat in my fabric drawer, unused, for about 3 or 4 years. It wasn’t one of those “this fabric is too nice and expensive for me to use it on anything” pieces, I just kept getting stumped on what pattern would best match it’s qualities. I wanted something that would allow the full measure of the ombre to stand out, which was tricky because the color gradation of the silk occurs from one selvedge edge to the other, as opposed to having the ombre spread out in measured panels lengthwise. This meant that I had to be smart about which pattern I chose and I had to make sure that my layout would work within the confines of my yardage (I think I got three yards), but since I had to follow the rules of working with a directional print, it meant there was much less space to play around with and I would be squeezing as much as I possibly could out of the fabric.

I don’t think I realized when I bought the SashaMcCalls 8036 pattern that it might be a good match for this fabric- it actually took me a few weeks of the pattern hanging out in my craft room to make the connection! I was just casually going through my smaller-than-before stash one day and I pulled out this silk, as I had done a million times before to no avail. I glimpsed this pattern  out of the corner of my eye and poured over the pattern details to see if I would have enough fabric for it. It seemed like a good match because 1. it has a waistline, which meant I would have a little wiggle room in matching the ombre from top to bottom, 2. the skirt was full and swingy, which was important to me so that the beautiful soft drape of the fabric could take centerstage, and 3. it had some interesting design details, like those dramatic sleeves!

Although I love the version with the buttons down the side, I thought this fabric would work best in the most simple, uninterrupted silhouette possible- putting buttonholes in charmeuse felt like it would have been the biggest mistake ever- I personally like to mess with this type of fabric as LITTLE as possible. It wasn’t terrible to sew with, but the tiniest little threads in the fabric wanted to snag every once in a while, even with brand new microtex needles inserted into my machine, so the less I had to handle it, the better.

I was smart enough with this project to make sure that I made a muslin before cutting into my precious silk, and I only made some minor, customary (for me) adjustments on the pattern pieces, like grading between sizes at the waist and hips. I usually shorten the bodice on big 4 patterns but I think this one didn’t require it, which was a nice surprise. I was on the fence about the sleeves at first, worried that they would not look very proportionate on me because of all the drama they are drafted with, but turns out they are my favorite part of the dress!

Once my muslin was finished and I was happy with the fit, I laid out the pattern pieces so that the brighter yellow gold at one end of the ombre would be closest to my face and the deeper brown would fade to the bottom of the skirt. I’m sure it would have looked really nice the other way, too, but since golden yellow is one of my favorite colors, I wanted that to be the part that got the most action. I ombre matched the bodice and skirt so that the fade of the colors would look uninterrupted from top to bottom by overlapping the placement of the pattern pieces by the width of the seam allowance along the same lengthwise line of the fabric, and it worked out well. I just barely got my sleeves in on the same line of the fabric, though to be honest, one of them had to be cut slightly off the parallel line of ombre because I had do little fabric to work with. I figured it wouldn’t be obvious since the sleeves would be separated by my torso and therefore any discrepancies would not easily be seen, and I was right- I can’t tell where on the sleeve there is the slightly color variation!

The construction of the dress is pretty simple, the only trick for me was being gentle with my delicate fabric and making sure the pleats of my sleeves were aligned properly. This charmeuse doesn’t recover well from holes made by machine or hand sewing needles, but I couldn’t easily get around them when constructing the sleeves- since the fabric is slippery, I had to baste the pleats down as per the instructions (I was worried that sticky tape would have left gunk and stained the fabric) and the price I paid for this is that you can see several faint 2 inch long trails of needle holes at the heads of the sleeves where the pleats are. Small price to pay as you have to really be looking hard for them, but still annoying. While I love the overall look of this dress and am so happy I made it, charmeuse is just not my favorite fabric to work with- believe it or not, I would take silk velvet any day of the week! Ha!

Besides the slipperiness of the fabric and extra care I had to take to sew it every step of the way, it’s just not particularly easy to wear. It likes to wrinkle A LOT, but ironing it is tricky because it loves to soak up the imprint of whatever is underneath it (seam lines and edges and folds) and steaming was difficult because the fabric just LOVED to pick up water stains. After completing this dress I actually found it so hard to do a final press that I took it to the dry cleaners. It came out looking great, but just in the transition from cleaners to car to closet it picked up wrinkles again, lol. And what’s more, when I wear it, the fabric is so slippery that it doesn’t really want to stay closed at the front bodice wrap- just in the process of taking these pictures I found myself constantly looking down to make sure my bra wasn’t showing. The fabric is much too delicate to sew in a snap at the front, which I normally do on wrapped garments that like to loosen up over wear, so I will have to see if fabric tape will do the trick. This is of course not even mentioning the fact that one mediocre gust of wind is enough to blow this floaty fabric up and away from my entire body, a la Marilyn Monroe over the subway grate, so wardrobe malfunctions are high on my list of worries when wearing this thing, lol.

So I’ve barely worn this dress and I already have some limitations on how, when and where I can get away with wearing this dress: preferably inside, possibly outside with a coat/jacket worn on top, with plenty of fashion tape in my purse, and ideally with a very plain slip underneath! But oddly, I’m still happy I made it! Each of my makes is an opportunity to learn a little bit more about the marriage of fabric and pattern, about new techniques and classic ones, and about my own preferences when it comes to construction and taste. I hope I get an opportunity to wear this dress to the perfect event sometime in the near-ish future (seems like it’s mostly zoom calls these days, but a girl can dream!) and I am also excited to make this pattern again in a more appropriate, easy-to-wear fabric, like a lightweight linen or cotton. See you next time, Sasha!

Photos by Claire Savage, maker necklace from Closet Case Files, RTW shoes.

 

Mustard Linen Jumpsuit and Windowpane Check Duster

Before I begin this post, I just want to take a moment to make my position very clear- I am a staunch proponent of #blacklivesmatter #blacktranslivesmatter #disabledtranslivesmatter and #defundingthegoddamnpolice. I am so worn out by the last couple weeks and I have tried to use my social media platforms as much as I can to share information on anti-racism, dispel harmful myths about blackness, shine light on the effects of white supremacy, and uplift the voices of my black, queer community. At this point I am exhausted from having these dialogues and dealing with the ignorance that is par for the course when we start talking about why black lives matter, so I don’t have much energy to write anything very eloquent here right now (other than this blog post that I wrote weeks ago and am only now getting around to posting, haha). My website will not be a space for debate or “conversation” with white people on why black lives need to be protected and police brutality needs to finally, FINALLY, end. You are either on our side, or you are in the way. I expect that I will write more on this at some point in the future, but ’til then, if you are not an actively anti-racist person, please feel free to begin the journey of defunding your own personal white supremacy/anti-blackness and seeking out information to enlighten your mind, your heart, and your spirit…anywhere but in the comments of my post 🙂

My inspiration for this jumpsuit came directly from themindfulsewist, who used FibreMood’s Carmella Jumpsuit as a starting off point and ended up with this beautiful thing!

https://www.instagram.com/p/B58fVDaAroa/

My jumpsuit has a slightly different fit than hers (which makes me want to give hers another go at some point) but I still love how mine came out. I already had so many similar jumpsuit patterns in my stash that I couldn’t bear cutting a new one out and figuring out all the alterations, so I combined 3 or 4 patterns to end up where I did, with a slightly loose-fitting, cropped legged jumpsuit. I started out with the pants of the Intrepid Boilersuit Pattern from Alice & Co that I tested a while back, then I added the Leah Jumpsuit pattern from FibreMood (I hadn’t made this pattern before but liked the collar and boxy but not-too-loose bodice). Next I used the popover button placket from the Kalle shirtdress to create that beautiful front button band, and I think there was a little taste of a McCalls jumpsuit pattern in there…but I can’t remember exactly where- maybe in the crotch curve of the pants? lol)

Anyways, it was a real Franken-sperience putting it all together, and I didn’t quite nail it. Aesthetically it’s great, but fit-wise I really don’t like the bodice. The arm holes are too low and I hate that webbed underarm look in garments where it seems like your arm and torso are connected. It’s not uncomfortable, but I like the fit of the arms on the Intrepid Boilersuit much better. Additionally, I’m not super pleased with the crotch depth- it’s just a teeny bit too short and has a tendency to ride up when I first put it on (versus once the linen has relaxed a bit). That part is all my fault- I usually leave like, a whole inch in the seam allowance of the waistband so that I can adjust the fit as necessary, but because of the order in which I sewed the button placket in relation to the rest of the garment, I had to make a decision on length before I was able to fully try it on, and I cut myself a little short.

The popover placket is one of the things that really drew me to themindfulsewist’s jumpsuit- it looks so finished and modern with it, much more interesting than the standard button bands I usually tack onto the front. And I always hate figuring out how to finish the bottom of the normal placket where it attaches to the crotch seam. Mine just never seem to turn out very clean. But this one looks great! Unfortunately, because I was hacking so many different patterns together and wasn’t following any one set of instructions, I painted myself into a bunch of weird corners in the process of sewing this. I got myself out of every single one of them, thankfully, but watching me figure all the details out in real time was quite the sight!

 

This was mainly because I really liked the popover button placket technique for the Kalle shirtdress and didn’t want to draft a new one for the jumpsuit; I essentially just took the popover pattern piece, lengthened it to fit all the way from the neckline to the crotch, then followed the instructions as written. Since the popover placket gets sewn onto a flat, uncut bodice front (you cut the placket open during construction after it’s been sewn and stabilized to the front piece), this meant that I needed to sew the waistband before I sewed the placket, but sewing the waistband on first meant I also couldn’t try it on for fit adjustments (it’s a woven garment, so a closed front meant I couldn’t try it on until after I had already made the placket). I solved this by doing some very weird clothing yoga where only half the waistband was sewn so I wouldn’t have to unpick the WHOLE thing in case the fit was off, and then I just kind of held the bodice up to my body with my legs in the pants and eyeballed where the shoulders hit, lol. It was bizarre! And inexact! As I said earlier in the post, I could have given myself a tiny bit more room at the waist to create more room in the crotch and more of a bloused effect, but it’s not uncomfortable so I am not stressing too much about it. Again, the garment is made of linen, so it softens and stretches out quite a bit after some wear.

Speaking of the fabric, WOWZA, amirite? This is a stunning vintage washed linen from The Fabric Store in the most beautiful blend of green, brown and yellow I could imagine. Mustard is in my color palette (obviously!) and I think it’s brilliant, one of those colors that doesn’t say much when by itself, but when worn against brown skin, it just sizzles.

So you may be asking, what the hell is going on with those pockets, lol. I loved the pockets from the inspo make- extra big patch pockets that took up practically the whole thigh. I waited to draft the pockets until after the majority of the jumpsuit was constructed so I could make sure I got the proportions correct, but once I got to that point, I realized I had very little fabric left and I still needed to draft a belt. At some point I was standing in the mirror with a pocket pinned to one leg and a scrap of fabric held around my waist for the belt, just trying to visualize the proper placement. The top of the pocket and bottom of the belt were hitting at the same place on me, and when I lifted the pocket just a touch to be even with the belt, I got this interesting apron effect with it. I wondered if I had enough fabric to make this apron idea an actual design feature, and after a little puzzling around with my tiny scraps, I figured it out.

I would have loved to have even more fabric so I could make the pockets bigger and wrap the apron/belt tie around my waist more than once, but I am totally satisfied with how this came out and I think it looks so rad. I can’t explain why it works, it just does, and honestly those are some of my favorite moments in making clothes. I have only a basic understanding of color theory and would consider myself only an intermediate sewist, but when things click into place for me without any rationalizing, when I’m just overwhelmed by a moment of “THIS LOOKS SO RIGHT!”, I feel rejuvenated! Because there isn’t really a science of style- we all have different tastes and we like what we like, and when I put these pink memade mules on with this brownish yellow ensemble, I can’t explain to anyone why it works, I just know that it makes my heart beat fast when I see it. And I really want to hold on to that, hold onto being motivated by my own tastes instead of what I think I am supposed to like, or what advertisers and marketers assume I will like based on my demographic.

So yeah, here I am inspired by a jumpsuit that I didn’t quite end up with myself, but one that I love nonetheless. And truth be told, I will probably give my inspo jumpsuit another try in the very near future- after having hacked about 3 jumpsuits from different pieces of different patterns, I am ready for a regular old run of the mill pattern that will need much less work. My guess is that the new Closet Case Patterns Bianca Flight Suit is gonna work out well for me since all their other patterns do, and Heather always does a fine job of sharing smart ways to correct fitting issues along the way! So far, jackets and jumpsuits have been my sewing mainstays (did you know that I will have made SIX JACKETS in the past 6 months?!?!) and I don’t want to ruin a good thing. Speaking of jackets…

 

There isn’t a whole lot to say about this one- making it was a last minute decision because I had acquired the pattern (Simplicity R10013) on my hunt for a different coat project which I ended up not using it for. It is a very simple and quick pattern to put together, no real shaping, no lining (although I ended up adding one), and no special techniques required. It’s a great pattern for a newbie but doesn’t offer much in terms of style- it’s baggy and boxy even in the XS I made. I think the only reason I like it is because the fabric is so dynamic. The fabric is actually the wool suiting that I planned to make my Jasika Blazer out of, which, FYI, is on it’s way to the blog, I just need better photos of the jacket first. Once that post is up, you can read all about why I discarded the fabric in favor of something more stable and thick, but thankfully I figured out another way to use it. It’s actually pretty terrific as a warm weather jacket- the wool suiting is so light that it’s almost floaty, which is why I decided to line it with white dupioni silk from my stash- it needed a little more heft to ground it. Again, it’s not the most interesting jacket in the world, but it’s gonna be a dream to layer over things when the weather gets cool again; thankfully the window pane check gives it all the drama it needs.

You might recognize that this icy blue color is not in my autumn palette (one of the other reasons I decided not to make a blazer out of it!) but it pairs beautifully with this mustard yellow and also with other oranges and browns in my palette, so although I haven’t had many opportunities to wear it yet, I think it will be a nice addition to the outerwear portion of my closet.

FYI, shoes are memade suede mules that you can read more about here. Thanks as always to Claire for the pretty pics, and thanks to you all for continuing to show support and love for me and my black community!

Spotted Shelby Romper

I LOVE THIS MAKE, I LOVE THIS MAKE, I LOVE THIS MAKE!!!

This is one of those garments that worked for me right from the very start- directly out the envelope and every step of the way. Such garments can be pretty few and far between for me, I usually need to make some sort of adjustment along the way, even if it’s just taking length out of the body or the sleeves, but nope, this one was solid the whole way through. What a joy to make!

I have been a fan of True Bias patterns for a while now, but for some strange reason it took me a long time to appreciate the full beauty and simplicity of this design. The Shelby Romper/Dress pattern came out a couple years ago I think, and…I dunno- it just didn’t jump out at me at the time. But that’s ok- better late than never, right? This design has a firmly 90’s vibe and I think that might have been one of the reasons I didn’t connect to it initially- I was in middle and high school in the 90’s and that decade isn’t cemented in my head as a particularly wonderful time in my life.

It was typical teenage angst stuff- hormones, crushes on all the wrong boys, managing the pros and cons of newfound independence- but with the addition of recognizing a sexuality I thought I needed to repress, dealing with racism every day while not always knowing how to defend myself against it, and confronting blatant misogyny and patriarchal standards of beauty. Although I probably fared better than a lot of people, I still connect those years with massive feelings of insecurity, loneliness, and confusion. Today when I see 90’s styles, I don’t always have a positive association with them- I only remember the feelings of inadequacy, the urge to pretend to be the confident, carefree girl that I so desperately wished I was.

But this is the beauty of adulthood, right? If we are lucky, we get to struggle through the tumultuous years of wanting to fit in and be liked by everyone and eventually settle down in the land of I’m Proud Of Who I Am, If You Don’t Like It, Feel Free To Get Lost. I’ve been living in this place for quite a while now, and wow, it’s so freeing! And it gives me the opportunity to reaquaint myself with pieces of my past in a new way. Like Doc Martens! I never wore them when I was a teenager because the fear of being seen as a “poser” was so terrifying to me- I wasn’t brave enough to explore my identity outside of what was expected of me, and I didn’t know of any black or brown cheerleaders who did show choir, excelled in English class, and wore Doc Martens.

While so many of my peers were trying to experiment with how they presented themselves to the rest of the world, I was exactly the opposite. So many things about my identity were ambiguous to others, so all I wanted was to be stuck in a box, to have a category, to feel known. Thankfully I don’t give myself those kinds of limitations anymore- I feel much more comfortable asserting my identity to others instead of trying to meet their expectations, and as a result, me and my Doc Martens have been living a pretty beautiful life together, trying out different styles, exploring our connection to fashion and queerness and identity on our own terms.

Enter: The Shelby Romper. My high school was mostly preppy, but I did see this style occasionally when I was out and about, usually as a dress (the romper option provided with this design has absolutely elevated the whole look for me). They were often made with Liberty-style floral prints on a black background, polyester or a rayon blend, and only the cool girls with really good taste in music wore them. They paired them with chokers and shit-kicking boots and fishnets tights, and while I feel pretty solid that I am *never* gonna be on the black velvet choker train again, I love the idea of taking such a defining style from the past and framing it with my own sensibilities. Black is one of my least favorite colors to wear (I appreciate it on others but it makes me feel invisible!), so marrying it with this bright, polka dot rayon from Emma One Sock in a shade smack in the middle of my Deep Autumn palette feels like a match made in Jasika heaven. The fabric is really light and flowy which matches the movement of the garment perfectly- although it’s a romper, it’s got the ease of a loose-fitting dress, so lightweight, floaty fabrics show it off so nicely.

Because there is so much ease in the romper, I didn’t grade between the waist and hips like I normally do and I made a straight size 2- there are like, 17 inches or so of extra ease in the hips so I knew that it would be plenty for me to still feel swishy in. There is no waistline seam in this pattern, as this style is traditionally made with princess seams that flow easily over the body, but there is a waist tie at the back to cinch in some of that volume. I think I forgot to mark the tie position on my back pattern pieces so I just kind of eyeballed it when it was time to attach them, and I think I made them a tiny bit too low- I would prefer they be maybe two inches higher, which is a quick and easy thing to fix on this garment, but alas I haven’t actually done it yet, lol.

I used french seams on the side and back seams of the garment but used regular ones with a serged finish for the front seams so that I could clip the curves and have them lay properly over the bust. Other than that, construction was an absolute cinch- very straight forward with smart techniques and clear illustrations, as I have come to expect from True Bias patterns. I really cannot rave about this make enough. I love every single thing about it- the sleeves are comfortable and proportionate to the rest of the garment. With the right textile, all that ease around the body lays down around my figure beautifully and doesn’t make me feel frumpy or like I am laden with extra fabric. The fabric itself is an absolute dream- cool to the touch and breezy, and striking with it’s simple, irregularly spotted print. It almost looks like animal print to me, but much more subtle. And the dynamic orange color gives me the perfect opportunity to play around with the color combos in my curated palette, essentially setting the stage for me to get away with the cool-toned robin’s egg blue of my boots, which is not in my palette, but successful because it is not worn right next to my face and plays off the heavy warmth of the orange romper.

I LOVE the length of this romper, too- I didn’t have to shorten it at all, and it gives me lots of coverage while still feeling very flirty and cute. I didn’t think when I first bought this pattern that I would ever make the long version, but seeing how in love I am with the short one, I would be remiss to not give it a try. I just saw someone’s version of the longer length Shelby on IG in a cotton double gauze and OH MY LORD it looks absolutely perfect! If I can get my hands on a richly-colored cotton gauze in my palette, you better believe this pattern is gonna make it to my sewing queue again, and I will 100% be wearing it with my Docs. Circle complete 🙂

(I Can’t Believe I Made) Silk Velvet Pants + Adrienne Blouse

I want to start out by saying that these pants are very imperfect, and I know it. I don’t say that to denigrate my skillset or self aggrandize or anything, but rather to serve as proof for any other sewists out there that things don’t have to be perfect for us to enjoy them, for us to be proud of them, for us to get good use out of them! I know where every single flaw is in this garment and yet when I look at it, all I think about is how fluid the gorgeous fabric is, how perfectly it fits into my autumnal palette with it’s deep golden brown, plush texture. I am too proud of creating a wearable garment out of this tricky-to-sew silk velvet from The Fabric Store to be concerned about it’s imperfections…

But that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to talk about them! Ha! A quick reminder- not all velvets are created the same. Velvet is generally trickier than say, a quilting cotton, but some are waaaay easier to sew with. Stabler velvets, like the kind you might make a blazer out of, or the kinds with a backing that is used for upholstery fabric, haven’t been that difficult to work with at all (other than not being able to iron it like normal fabric), and stretch velvets seem to be much more forgiving, too. But slippery woven velvets, especially the kind made of silk like these brown pants? My god, the journey is arduous! But totally worth it, because the fabric is just SO stunning.

RACHEL ANTONOFF BEA SUIT PANT (JADE) - RachelAntonoff.com

Pinterest Inspo Image

I last worked with this velvet about a year ago when I made this jacket (which just so happens to be the color of my inspo pants above!), and once I was done I swore I would never work with it again, as much as I loved wearing the fabric. It’s just so delicate and finicky! But eventually I stumbled across the above image of a pair of bright green velvet cropped pants and I couldn’t get them out of my head. I had actually tried my hand at a pair of silk velvet pants last year but the pattern was not a good fit for the fabric at all- they had pockets on the fronts which I tried lining with silk so that they wouldn’t be too bulky and would lay down nicely, but they refused. The pockets gathered and pulled on my body and were such a sore sight for me to look at when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I also didn’t like the leg shape on me that much- so I moved on to another project and figured my velvet pants dream was dashed: I just didn’t have it in me!

But of course, after a few months away from the idea, I started dreaming of them again and challenged myself to try once more, but with a different pattern. In some ways this pattern, the Alphonse trousers, was even more complicated than the first one I had tried, because it has a zip fly (and if anything says FIDDLY AND FRUSTRATING, its a zip fly made in silk velvet). But I told myself I could go very slowly, take my time, pull out all the stops, and triumph in the end. I knew that once I got the zip fly looking good, the rest would be a relative breeze, because the Alphonse Trousers are a TNT for me and they look good in just about every fabric I have paired them with. They have pleats at the front waist which creates a beautiful drape in this fabric, and is also a bit more forgiving with fit in the hip area.

Sewing the zip fly was really tough, and I had to carefully take the stitches out more than once to make sure everything was laying right and looking good. This velvet shows every single mark you make on it, from the needle holes to the actual tracks of the foot of your sewing machine, so I had to make sure that my top stitching on the right side of the garment was as close to perfect as I could get it the first time around. I did pretty good, but it took twice as long to complete as a zip fly normally takes me, and I definitely smashed the nap around the zip fly more than once while trying to press it. I don’t have a needle board to use for ironing velvet, so I tried using all sorts of other things to gently press it when needed. Nothing worked as well as placing a big scrap of velvet upholstery fabric on top of my silk velvet and carefully pressing it from the wrong side, but I learned this a little too late and had a couple of shiny spots on my velvet where the heat of the iron and smashed down the nap.

doesnt my butt like it’s from a Ren and Stimpy cartoon??? WTH! LOL

I was able to revive the nap in these places by wetting it lightly with water and using a really soft nail scrub brush to fluff up the nap. By the end of making these pants I finally caved in and invested in a “velvet” brush, which has stiff but delicate bristles that help fluff up the velvet and revive it to its original plushiness.

My zip fly was imperfect, but it looked pretty darn good to my naked eye so I moved onto the rest of the pants construction. I have used fabric sprays to adhere velvet, I have used tape, I have sewn with paper in between the pieces of fabric, I have used a walking fo0t, you name it- most of these techniques were either too messy or too complicated to work well for me on this silk velvet (although they have worked to varying degrees on other types of velvet). So far my favorite trick to sew super shifty velvet has been to hand baste all my seams together before running them through the machine with a straight stitch, then I serge the raw edges (which gives me no trouble at all- if I could just serge the whole thing I would be in great shape but serging doesn’t allow for me to do any fitting adjustments during construction). Hand basting (I prefer inside the seam allowance, not directly on it) takes a bit more time but is so worth it in the end- my raw edges don’t shift around as much under the presser foot when I have hand basted the pieces already and I get mostly even lines of stitching. I also prefer to increase my stitch length when I sew velvet at the machine because the plushy fabric tends to drown the stitches in it’s surface and it’s really difficult to unpick any errant stitching without ruining the fabric.

Of the three or four pairs of Alphonse trousers I have made, I haven’t put side pockets on any of them- the pattern is drafted with in-seam side pockets which don’t well for me at all on most any patterns, and because of the placement of the pleats I haven’t been interested in trying a different kind of pocket on the fronts for fear of interfering with the way the pants will lay. I did put welt pockets on one of the pairs of alphonse trousers I made but decided to forgo them for this velvet- the less challenging the pattern, the better!

Once the seams of the pants were all put together, I moved on to the waistband. I interfaced a piece of raw, stable silk from my stash and used it for the inside of my waistband since I wasn’t remotely interested in trying to interface this silk velvet. I underlined the waistband pieces so the silk wouldn’t peak out the top of the waistband and it worked well enough. The belt loops were extra fiddly of course, but I managed to get them all on, and the only thing I need to fix now is the waistband closure. I have completely run out of the large hook and eye notions that you use for pants so I decided to use snaps instead. Unfortunately they pop open every time I sit down, so once my local sewing shops are open again and it feels safe, I will grab some and redo this closure. I didn’t want to do a regular button hole on this silk because I was afraid it would garble up the fabric and make it look messy.

And I guess that’s that! I think my grain was off when I cut these out of the fabric because one of the inside leg seams drifts towards the front of my body, hahaha. It’s ok though- I am really, really happy with how these pants came out because at the beginning of the project I was convinced they would end up a total fail, and I proved myself wrong! What a happy surprise!

Last, but certainly not least, is this beautiful little Adrienne Blouse I made from Friday Pattern Company. It’s the first pattern I made from this popular indie pattern company, and what a gem it is! I had seen various versions of it going around the sewing blogosphere but I was always on the fence about it. I’m not usually one for dramatic sleeves in casual wear- maybe because I’m always futzing about and doing stuff with my hands and I was nervous these billowy sleeves would get in my way – I hate in-the-way sleeves lol!. I also saw a lot of versions that used thicker, heavier weight knit fabrics that made the garment look dense and burdensome which turned me off- we are already in the thick of summer weather here in LA so I didn’t want to make anything that would trap in heat and be uncomfortable.

Thankfully I kept the pattern in the back of my head and then remembered it when I came across this stunning turmeric linen knit from Blackbird Fabrics. I’d worked with linen knits before and figured this would be a dream fabric and pattern pairing- it’s very lightweight and breezy, with a looser weave than some cotton knits, and it gets softer after washing. The pattern was very straight forward and simple to put together, and I love how they suggest you use bra elastic in the neckline and sleeves because its stronger- I never thought about that before but it’s true, and it worked beautifully in this garment. I didn’t make any adjustments other than shortening the sleeves just an inch or two, and I made a straight XS which seems to work great on me. I was worried about where the neckline and sleeves would hit on my body in terms of my bra straps- I didn’t want them laying completely outside the line of the blouse but I also knew this fabric would be too sheer for me to feel comfortable wearing it without a bra. Good news, the ruching of the gathered sleeves is tight enough that it kind of holds my bra strap down around my shoulder and it doesn’t peak out much at all. Of course it will lay differently on different bodies, but I wanted to share how it works on mine.

I love the shape and style of this shirt, it’s such a nice change from a plain tee shirt or boxy top style which seems to be the default for knit tops sewing patterns these days. I tried the blouse on before I put in the bottom elastic for the sleeve hems and was absolutely delighted by how fun and easy it felt to wear it with full billowing sleeves. I thought I would hate it, but they were beautiful! Maybe it’s because the sleeve (which I shortened slightly) hit around my elbow, so it didn’t get in the way at all and felt very loose and flowy and romantic, but not cumbersome. Ultimately I decided to finish the top as designed with the hem elastic, but I plan on making another one and leaving the sleeves loose as soon as I come across another beautiful, lightweight knit!

In case you couldn’t tell, the golden yellow of the linen knit and the buttery brown of the velvet are right in my palette and I feel glorious wearing them together. My IG feed is becoming the kind where all the colors match my palette and I am just so thrilled to keep benefiting from this color theory!

Bare Mag and The Matthew Aaron Show

I did an interview for Bare Magazine and made them a quarantine diary with Claire’s help! I’m not practiced at all in the art of producing or editing videos, but this ended up being a pretty fun project, and perhaps even more importantly, sucking up a whopping 6 hours of my time! I am thankful for any and everything that makes these days go by more quickly, lol. You can read the interview HERE, and you can watch my quarantine diary below!

I also got to guest on the Matthew Aaron show recently and it was great- doing interviews over the phone isn’t my favorite, but Matthew is terrific at his job and we had a great time chatting! You can check that interview out on apple podcasts HERE or online HERE!

 

Grace

Hi all! I meant to publish this on my birthday last week but I totally forgot, lol! This essay was originally published on the Welcome To What We Are blog and now I’m sharing here for my own followers. Thanks so much for reading!

Grace

I was 9 years old when *Anna Finch, arguably the most popular girl in my grade who occasionally gave me the opportunity to be friends with her, told me I didn’t “look black”. As the child of a white mother and black father growing up in Alabama, I immediately knew she intended this to be a compliment, which made me feel sick, but my 4th grade brain wasn’t quite capable of articulating the offense. I knew I couldn’t take it as flattery, but Anna’s saccharine smile let me know that she didn’t particularly care. I bit my lip. I think I probably responded with uneasy silence, a staple of our relationship by that point, and we continued playing on our school’s playground. When I was a kid and I didn’t have the right words to stand up for myself, or if I got overwhelmed by my own emotions, I just shut down. I told no one, kept it packed deep inside some space underneath my muscles, buried in the blood, and I carried on.

Years later, I found myself navigating these same brackish waters when I came out to my friends and began to hear “wow, really?? You don’t look queer!”, sung from the mouth’s of smiling faces, eyes bright and proud at the “praise” they were bestowing upon me. I was old enough now to know that there was a good reason I felt stung, a good reason I was never sure exactly how to respond; I grew up in the south, so I was used to people cradling me softly with one hand while pinching me with the other. But I had moved to NYC by this point and had started to find my community as I was finding myself, started to feel the real power of that blood splashing over my bones. I smiled tightly, changed the subject.

Now as a professional working actor in television, film, and stage with decades of work under my belt, I am more and more frequently confronted with the newest version of “Let Me Tell You Why Your Shame Doesn’t Make Me Uncomfortable”. It initially manifested itself as “You still look like you’re in college!”, followed in quick succession by “You don’t look 34 at all!”, “38?! You’re kidding!” and “OMG YOU’RE 39?!? THERE IS NO WAY YOU’RE 39!” Of course, they mean it as a compliment, every single time. They always have. But I stopped taking these unsolicited remarks at face value long ago.

These days when I share my stories with other people, describe the pain of all the tiny invisible nicks that cover the surface of my skin (which I now know to call microaggressions), their faces fall into the expected folds of disgust about Anna’s blatant racism, about my friends’ unacknowledged homophobia. But they get stuck when I talk about the damage it does to listen to people tell me I don’t “look” my age. They wrinkle their eyebrows in forced sympathy, but most of them don’t truly recognize how harmful it is- they still consider it a compliment. Yes, looking younger than you actually are is considered a privilege across many cultures; it’s called ageism, and I call bullshit.

What I understand now at almost 40 that I couldn’t vocalize in the 4th grade is that when Anna told me I didn’t look black, she wasn’t insulting me, she was exposing herself for the racist her parents and community had raised her to be (she eventually confessed that she didn’t want to invite our classmate Shauntay to her birthday party because Shauntay was black and actually looked it”. I paused, and stared at her, confused, until she explained that “black people steal” so she “didn’t want one” in her house). I also understand now that when my friends looked at me with pride in their eyes while congratulating me on the fact that I didn’t look queer, what they were actually saying is that queerness is something that clings to you, shameful, dark, and heavy, and that no one should purposefully want to be associated with that kind of indignity. They were telling me it was okay that I was queer, as long as it wasn’t an identity that was obvious enough for unassuming straight people to recognize.

I’m sure you are reading this and thinking how awful, how horrible, how obviously devastating it would have been to have someone tell you that the parts of yourself you had learned to take pride in held no value, that these cornerstones of your identity were shameful. Clearly blackness is nothing to be pitied, clearly queerness is something to celebrate! Yet here I am, trying to understand how age is any different. What is so despicable about looking 37? 38? 39? Why wouldn’t I want to look 50 if that’s how old I am? We spend so much of our lives eating foods to nourish our bodies and working out to keep ourselves strong and reading books to keep our minds agile and going to therapy to make sure we have long, mutually beneficial relationships so that we can enjoy living on this earth for as long as we can, yet as our age climbs higher, we feel more and more embarrassed about it. Who started this? Who told us we could have both? We can’t. We don’t get to work towards living our healthiest, most sustainable lives while also condemning the fact that we are getting older; one begets the other. So why do we waste so much of our energy fighting against and hiding from and disparaging the fact that we are aging?

Oh right, the patriarchy.

Our obsession with youth is a direct result of the patriarchal standards that have defined our culture for centuries, and aside from the fact that it inequitably impacts women and femmes, the standards are also patently false and impossible to live up to. When we comment on an older woman’s beauty, we often say that she is “aging gracefully”, but this, too is an untruth, because what we usually mean is that she looks young. We mean that she doesn’t seem like she is aging much at all. We mean that she makes us feel more comfortable about how many years she has been on earth. We mean, ‘maybe there is a chance that we can get older and not feel bad about it’. But we will. We will always be fed the false narrative that perfection is just within arm’s reach, that once we buy that serum or take that class or read that book or hire that life coach, we can elevate ourselves to our most youthful, attractive, energetic selves. But understand that there is no end to that reach. Behind that bottle of serum is another, more expensive bottle. The class never actually ends. The book is just one in a long series.

Most of us know that traditional standards of beauty are directly related to their proximity to European whiteness, but I am realizing more and more that they are also directly related to youth, and the further women get away from looking like 20 year olds, the less attractive most of society deems them. We are told that as we get older, our “grace” has nothing to do with the impact we have had on our communities, our art, our families, our relationships, our contributions to the world at large or our worlds at small. As a man gets older we treat the shiny salt in his beard as if he earned it steering ships through thunderous seas, the deepening furrow of his brow as if it made its’ appearance after years of battling international spies. Sometimes it seems like all a man has to do to “age gracefully” in our society is keep his hair trimmed and not wear velcro sandals. But women, on the other hand? Our gray hair and crow’s feet are proof that we have “let ourselves go”, our age spots remind everyone that yes, we will all die someday, our plump bodies serve as a manifestation of how asexual the world insists we have become.

Does it matter if we started writing poetry in our 60’s and found out we were actually good at it? If we helped save someone’s life, quietly and humbly? If we continued to show up for ourselves after years of timidity and finally achieved a level of peace that we had only dreamed of? Unfortunately, none of these accomplishments is more powerful in the eyes of the patriarchy than our breasts continuing to sit as pert as possible, even after bringing children into the world. I’m not a mom, but I imagine “can you believe they had 5 kids?! They look so good!” is another backhanded compliment that makes the rounds pretty frequently. Why have we internalized the idea that being an actual vessel for life is something to be embarrassed about? Why can’t we celebrate the map of our lives painted across our bodies for all to see?

I am still struggling with how to respond to these comments that frame being 40 as some dreadful, secreted fact that shouldn’t be spoken about in more than a whisper. In my industry, youth is currency, and I acknowledge it as a privilege, just like my light skin, my able body, my cisgender, my neurotypical brain. But it’s not lost on me that so much of what is considered valuable in our culture are things we are completely powerless over. No one can help how they are born, what their genes look like, who their parents are. And we shouldn’t. Our ability to age gracefully should rely less on our closeness to conventional attractiveness, less on our closeness to youth, and more on what we have done with all the years we were lucky enough to accumulate on this earth.

Anna Finch wrote me on facebook several years ago, before I deleted my account. She started with something along the lines of “You probably don’t remember me, but we went to elementary school together…”. Amazing how one person’s forgotten memories can be another person’s linchpin. Anna was the first person to express to me in words her disdain for my identity, a contempt I had felt from strangers often, my skin burning from the stares that disgusted white people beamed at me and my family as we walked down the streets of Birmingham. But I had never heard it articulated to my face by someone I knew, someone I wanted to be close to, someone I was so desperate to be seen by. Anna had written to tell me how proud she was of me and my career. I promptly replied with the most scathing, angry words I could form into complete sentences, years of fury and hurt and bitterness raining out of my fingertips and onto my keyboard. And then I deleted it and closed my computer. I know that people, especially children, have the capacity to change for the better, and my hope is that Anna found her way down a path that brought her to a place of less hate and more peace, more compassion, more love. But it’s not my job to be her welcoming committee.

I am black, I am queer, and I am turning 40 on April 10th. I am proud of all of these parts of my identity, and I will be celebrating not how I look, nor how other people think I look, but how I feel. I met my partner 13 years ago and in our time together we have created the type of healthy, loving relationship that was never demonstrated for me as a kid. That is grace. I turned a childhood rooted in anxiety and fear into an adulthood where I learned to channel my energy into making, creating art that has inspired and empowered me to no end. That is grace. I have always been guarded, suspicious, apprehensive of opening my personal world to more than a few people at a time, but I am consciously working to change that, to fight against the fear of being vulnerable to the most important people in my life. That is grace.

Aging gracefully doesn’t look like anything, it’s not young or old or ugly or pretty, male or female; it’s not on any binary. It’s just a sense, an awareness that we are striving to be better than we were yesterday and the yesterday before that. An acknowledgement that we can’t be where we are right now without all the years that came before it. A connection with the blood that has been racing through us from the moment we took our first breath up to this very day. A promise that we won’t ever disparage ourselves for being exactly who we are, where we are, when we are. Because we deserve nothing less. Happy birthday, y’all.

*name has been changed to protect this girl from my mom

A Short Story

This blog post is coming to you from my personal queerantine! Times are pretty terrifying and stressful and unprecedented for many of us who have had the privilege of living lives absent of large-scale chaos such as what the Coronavirus has introduced, but I have witnessed and experienced such profound moments of beauty during this time that I thankfully have been able to stay more optimistic than panicked. This weekend Claire and I had a google hangout with some of our NYC friends over dinner, and it was so lovely to see their faces- it added a sense of normalcy to my life that was desperately needed. We chatted about how we are all coping, how our families are doing, what our new normals looked like. I shared that I had just bought a huge packet of vegetable seeds to plant, the best case scenario being that gardening would give me something productive to do during isolation, the worst being that it would provide sustenance in the (hopefully unlikely) event that we would need better access to fresh food in the coming months. My friend Geri shared that she had just purchased gas masks. It was in that moment that I realized how much of an advantage we had over so many people, how much our environment was affecting our ability to feel optimistic and hopeful. We have sun, warm, breezy weather, plenty of outdoor space, a walkable neighborhood, lots of rooms, plants, flowers, more activities than one person could get through in a month. I love our home so much, but I’ve always thought of it as modest. Right now, though? It feels like a paradise.

Anyways, it got me thinking about how this pandemic has allowed so many of us to be vulnerable to each other in ways we just don’t normally practice. Sharing our fears and our worries to feel less alone, being honest about where we came from and where we want to be once we find ourselves on the other side, creating and inspiring one another and being soft to strangers and friends during the bleakest moments of our days. It’s one of the bright spots I’ve found, feeling so connected to people even though I am more isolated from them than I have ever been. In that spirit, I want to share a short story I wrote a while back. I wrote it to workshop in my writer’s group, the first I have ever been a part of. As someone who is constantly creating, I am embarrassed to say that sharing my fiction writing is REALLY difficult. It feels personal in a way that none of my other artistic endeavors do. I have been writing essays for years, but fiction holds this really strange, sacred space deep inside me, and sharing my work is literally one of the most uncomfortable things I have ever done. Which is why it feels kind of important now. In my writer’s group (which has been a beautiful experience for me because I am lifted up by some of the smartest, most talented and compassionate women I have ever known), one of the members remarked that my story was emblematic of a heroine’s journey, which really resonated with me. Because it’s not a big story, it’s very small, very intimate. But maybe that’s what we need to be reminded of right now, that sometimes saving ourselves is just as powerful as saving the world. Sometimes we are the world. It’s okay to show up for ourselves.

Below is my short story, if you feel so inclined to read it (and a drawing kind of inspired by it). Thanks for being here. I am wishing you all peace, and hope! And wishing you as many moments of joy as you can find or create yourselves!

Stockinette

She called them “panicked attacks” when she was a little girl, when her mom used to have them. As a kid she didn’t really understand what panic was as a singular thing, where it came from, what it meant. But she knew exactly what it looked like, the rolling chaos it brought, a wave too big for the shore. A panicked attack wasn’t just any ordinary, run-of-the-mill bout of anxiety; a panicked attack arrived with problems of it’s own.

The girl sat in her parked car in this foreign neighborhood, staring out her smudged front window, not actually seeing anything on the other side of it. She counted silently, backwards at first, and when she lost track of where she was, she counted forwards, and when when she lost track again, she just made up numbers.

“Two thousand, three hundred seventy-eight.”

Always in her head as the words, never the shapes.

“Four hundred thirty-two. Twenty-seven thousand, sixteen. One million, sixty seven hundred, thirty-one thous-.” She paused. She wasn’t good at naming 9-digit numbers. She started over.

“One million, sixty seven thousand, three hundred forty three.”

As she named numbers she made sure not to grip the steering wheel too tightly because she had read in a magazine (or maybe it was on twitter?), that if you clenched your muscles when you were about to be attacked by something panicked, your body would hang on to that fear and never release it, and you would be destined to live with negative energy churning through the strands of your muscles forever, and so would your babies, and so would their babies. (Wait, maybe it had been her horoscope). She worked her fingers gently, rhythmically over the molded bumps on the back of the steering wheel. The little dips were notches for your fingers to rest inside, as if to make sure the driver knew exactly where their hands were supposed to fit when operating the vehicle. As if the driver’s hands could go anywhere else while operating the vehicle.

She traced each of the bumps around the wheel and went back to counting. There were thirty-two of them.

She traced them out again. Thirty-three?

She traced them out again. No, thirty-two.

Thirty-two?

She traced then out again. Coughed.

Okay, thirty-two.

But how many dips in between the bumps?

Her eyes were getting dry from staring through the window into the bright outside, so she shut them tight. Took a deep breath. Took five more deep breaths. Focused on keeping her fingers relaxed while ignoring her taught shoulders pulled up her to her ears and her toes clenched into little balls under the roof of her Keds and her stone stomach struggling to make room for all the breath she was forcing in and out of it. She told herself she felt better. She wasn’t really sure if she knew what “better” felt like but she figured that if it wasn’t this, she could be sitting in her car until it turned dark. Maybe until it turned dark and then light again. She was in a dip between two bumps and if she didn’t climb out of it now, she wouldn’t manage to do what she had come here to do.

PublicEstateSales.org

Come see all the goodies available in this artist-owned craftsman style house, an artist, maker and collector’s dream EVERYTHING must GO!!! inside & outside!!!!

Stunning Asian Inspired Dining Room Suite China Cabinet, Seafoam Green Velvet Gently Used Sofa, Console Tables, Cane Rocking Chair

King & Queen Bedroom Suites TO Choose From, Books/cd’s/Stationary, Tiffany Style Lighting, Listed Art Oils and More

Women’s clothes in size M-XXL, Rosenthal Moss Rose China Service with Extras, Frigidaire AC unit, Tons of Crafting/Sewing/Yarn/Beads/wire & so much more

*estate located in Rondo, CA 90079 address will be available 24 hours before sale opens, check back for updated info

Out of her car and squinting in the bright sun, she watched a middle-aged man with too many balled up plastic bags stuffed under his arms cross the street towards the peach colored house on the corner, number Fifty-Seven Sixty-Seven Oakley. She had memorized the house number last night but she pulled out her phone anyways, unable to stop herself from double-checking the address that she had already double-checked seven times before she left her apartment. What is double checking called when you do it more than twice?

“Double…triple…quadruple…” she muttered to herself, following in the man’s footsteps down the tree-lined sidewalk. “…quintuple…” she mouthed. She pulled her canvas tote tight against her body, then loosened her grip just as quickly, paid attention to her exiting breath (no negative energy). The thing is, she had never been to an estate sale before. And when she was in a new place, real or imagined, and she didn’t know what she was supposed to do there, what it was going to look like, how she was supposed to operate, she just…felt wrong. Too many possibilities to sort through and make sense of. Too many variables to prepare for. Not good. No bueno. No thank you.

Wait, what came next? Was six times of something the one that started with ‘sex’? Or was it seven times of something? She knew that if she walked fast enough she could enter the house right behind the man with the bags and learn how to be at an estate sale by watching him (he looked like he knew what he was doing). But she couldn’t remember if ‘sextuple’ meant six of the same thing, or seven.

Two bags fell out from under the man’s arm. He bent to pick them up, but then another one fell out of his back pocket, and then four more fell from under his other arm. Maybe he didn’t know what he was doing. He snatched all the bags up, walking a bit more slowly towards the house to keep hold of them all, and at this point she could have easily caught up with him and followed at a respectful distance, but instead she slowed herself to pull out her phone from the very bottom of her bag, open the safari app, and type into the search bar “what next after quintuple”. She clicked the top result. Sextuple for six, google said. Septuple for seven. Octuple. She had learned all these a long time ago but had forgotten most of them, so she kept reading. Nonuple. Decuple. She rehearsed the words in her head, tried to commit them to memory. She glanced up just in time to see the man gently closing the front door of Fifty-Seven Sixty-Seven behind him, one of his dropped plastic bags doing a slow motion bounce across the overgrown lawn.

“Goddamnit” she groaned, marching across the walkway towards the three concrete steps leading up to the house’s tiny peach porch. At the front door she paused. She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to ring the doorbell, knock, or just walk in. She cursed herself again. She hadn’t paid attention to what Plastic Bag Man had done because she just had to know what ten of something was called. She was right on the verge of starting what had the potential to be a very time consuming spiral of self-aggrandizement when she heard a car door slam behind her and turned to see a spritely older lady hop out of her Range Rover, open her trunk, and start pulling out cardboard boxes. If she waited any longer to go inside the house, the white-haired lady would be on the porch in no time, probably asking her questions, trying to make conversation. She felt her stomach roll. No bueno. The girl pressed her palm to the doorbell, then turned the knob with one hand while pounding on the door with the other.

Three’s a charm.

When she had first entered the house, the darkness, the coolness of the space, had stopped her in her tracks. She shut her eyes tight and waited for the wave of wooze to drip from her head and settle into her, yes, still clenched toes, where it usually resided, waiting to rise up again whenever she needed to be reminded that she was indeed a living thing. Her breathing steadied and she opened her eyes right as a clipboard swiped past her face, a mash of words trailing over the shoulder of the person holding it: “welcome-let-me-know-if-you-need-anything-sorry-the-velvet-couch-is-already-sold”. There were, in fact, many general things she needed at any given time. She would not be letting the person behind the clipboard know what they were.

The shadow of the space started to lift as her eyes adjusted and she realized she was in a living room, an older person’s living room by the look of the purple-ish shag rug and dusty brocade drapes towering in front of too-small windows. Clear plastic covered what was left of the furniture and she didn’t have to touch it to know it was sticky. She had once begged her mom to take her to the hospital, convinced she had ripped off the skin of her legs after spending three hours in the dead of summer on her grandma’s plastic covered couch watching a Soul Train marathon (her mom was going to take her but grandma said “uh uh we ain’t doin’ no such thing” and gave her ice cream instead). The space was awfully dated but the taste wasn’t exactly bad- everything looked well preserved, expensive. Not very crafty, though? She scanned the room, then peered down the hall looking for makes. A quilt, maybe? A framed cross stitch? A crocheted throw in too many shades of clashing acrylic orange? Nope, nada. The living room was littered with lots of things, but nothing seemed handmade: porcelain table lamp, albums, a mid-century stereo system and a collection of battery-operated radios from what looked like every decade of the past century. A vintage storage trunk in pristine condition that she could probably have fit her whole body inside of. Dozens of framed canvases were propped up against the walls, mostly still lifes, some portraits, all creepy, a perimeter of angles rising from the cushiony carpet. Did the person who used to own this house paint all these? Did a painting count as something ‘handmade’? Technically that seemed like a fair description, but it also seemed weird somehow. She had always hated the fact that painting was considered a practice of art while needlework was considered a practice of leisure. What was the difference if you used your hands for both?

She walked towards one of the smaller paintings that leaned against the couch, sliding between an armchair and a folding card table covered in ornate silverware. She knew it wasn’t physically possible to squeeze in her butt, but she tried to make it smaller anyways, inching slowly past the furniture so that no part of her body would have to touch it. Crouching down low to the carpet, she strained her eyes to see the painting better: a bowl of shiny fruit spilling onto a table, a glass of juice or wine, a spoon holding some pomegranate seeds. It wasn’t a particularly moving painting, but it was very detailed and she could tell what everything was supposed to be. ‘Robert H. Woods’ was the name carefully, legibly painted in white at the bottom of the canvas. ‘Robert’, she said quietly to herself. Maybe that was the difference between painting and needlecraft: men. She stood up and scooted again down the tight alleyway of card table and couch, immediately noticing that the antique spoons on the tea-colored tablecloth were identical to the one in the painting. She instinctively grabbed one and exited the room through the kitchen, floating past a bookcase of encyclopedias and old maps, eyes peeled for her prize.

It was waiting for her immediately when she opened the heavy wooden door next to the bathroom and climbed down the creaking stairs to the basement. One bulb with a long metal chain to click it on and off dangled from a wood beam in the middle of the room, and all around the tiny circle of light loomed the shadows of sweaters. There were dozens and dozens of them, hung up on wire hangers snagged onto the frames of doorways, hooked over knobs and curtain rods, clenched onto window sills, metal scrawls etched deep into the peeling paint of the concrete. She wondered if all these sweaters had been knit by hand. She shook her head. No way. There were more sweaters here than anyone could have knitted in two lifetimes. They dripped from the ceiling and the walls, the curved edges of the hangers pulling on the stitches at the shoulders, arms too long for the bodies reaching grotesquely towards the floor. Gravity thinned out the Fair Isle, distorted the tiny shapes and flowers and patterns stamped across the rows; the collars sagged so much they looked like U’s instead of O’s. She felt her breath catch. Who would do this? Anyone with a bit of sense knew not to hang up wool garments for any length of time if you wanted them to keep their shape. She knew that yarn, like skin, grew. You left them stretched out like this and the stitches got weaker, got pulled out of shape, were impossible to block back into their original dimensions, were destined for death. This basement was a goddamn sweater graveyard. She let her toes clench up.

It wasn’t until she stepped off the last step, walked further into the basement, past the bookcase that had been relieved of it’s titles and crammed instead with vintage Disney glassware, that she realized the entire room was carpeted in shadowy stacks of more sweaters. There were a few skeins of yarn hovering in the corners, some plastic tupperware of pipe cleaners and fabric remnants and rick rack, but mostly it was just sweaters. They were everywhere: piled up on the plaid couch, stacked on top of the wooden crate, leaning against the rusty wheels of a road bike, smooshed inside an empty fish tank. A few looked small enough for kids but they were mostly adult sizes- stripes, cables, tweed yarn, thick’n’thin yarn, lace weight. It was hard to breathe in this room, all the fuzzy fibers from the wool clinging to the air. Something rough suddenly grazed the girl’s cheek and she spun around, eyes wide. A sleeve cuff dangled in the air, peeking out of a cluster of wool torsos that hung suspended from a beam in the low ceiling. She grabbed the sleeve and leaned in closer, scrutinizing the stitches in the dim light. Fingers have a way of working yarn into knits and purls that can’t be duplicated by machine, the oil of skin plumping all of the fibers up, giving them life. She grabbed another sleeve hanging on her right, reached for a waistband that hovered on her left, eyed the thick two by two ribbing, found a single end of yarn woven into the backs of the stitches.

These were all hand knitted.

No. Way.

The original sweater that had attacked her was a deep, royal blue all over, save for the mint green bow that was woven onto the front, it’s ties tucking under the arms to the back. Stockinette with intarsia, she noted, one of the simpler ways to create an image in a knitted garment, and, guessing from the over-sized fit and slouchy raglan seams, made in the 80’s. The sweater should have been ugly- blue and green was a weird color combination by most people’s standards, and the bow was a bit much, but…there was something about it that she liked. It looked like winter. She got on her tip toes, gently lifted the hanger from it’s hook in the ceiling, and examined it more closely, tsk-tsking at the peaked spots of stitching bubbled up at the top of each shoulder. ‘Who would do this??’ she thought again. She saw a couple of moth holes on one sleeve, a bit of unraveling at the collar, but they were only tiny bits of bad; the yarn was a great quality, a super soft merino, or maybe even a cashmere blend? As she carefully unhooked the cold hanger from the sweater, she glimpsed it’s insides and felt a thrill at the sight of all those purls stacked next to each other, row by row by row, a parade of tiny, even nooses at the necks of each stitch.

She stood silent, alone in the quiet chaos of wool, holding the sweater. She had come to the estate sale to rifle through some vintage skeins of yarn, maybe pick up a couple pairs of needles that were in good condition. But she felt she had just stumbled across exactly what she was looking for, though she wasn’t sure why.

She held the sweater up against her body and swayed back and forth in the sweater graveyard. The girl had never actually knitted a sweater before; she told the knitting friends she had made online that sweaters were beyond her expertise, but that obviously wasn’t true. In the three years since she had taught herself, she had knit dozens upon dozens of scarves, hats, dolls, each project built with a more intricate stitch pattern than the last as her fingers became more adept at maneuvering hard metal with soft skein. She got very good very quickly, graduating to gloves (both fingerless and closed) on double-pointed needles with fingering weight yarn, thick square pot holders with the outlines of tiny cows grazing across the edges, lacy shawls, more complicated hats with poofy pom-poms than she cared to keep track of (but of course she did: she had made twelve). She gave most of her makes away to family, sometimes donated them to the thrift shop downtown, but the truth was that she had been ready for a while to make a sweater for herself, she just hadn’t been ready to be bad at it. She didn’t like learning curves, hated the long transition between starting something and owning it. She probably would have never even tried knitting if an important person hadn’t told her that it might help curb anxiety. Her mom had hated the idea, had said “who could sit still long enough for all that?!” so of course she took it up. The suggestion had come at a time in her life when she didn’t have a lot of space to say to no to things that might make living easier. So she reluctantly put

  • Learn To Knit

on one of her many to-do lists, which was followed in quick succession by

  • Learn To Bind Off
  • Learn To Use Circular Needles
  • Learn to Knit In The Round
  • Learn To Read a Knitting Pattern
  • Learn To Knit German Short Rows
  • Learn To Knit With A Double Strand of Yarn
  • Learn to Knit On DPNs

and so on and so on.

She had been waiting to put a thin, even line of ink through

  • Knit A Sweater

for about five months now, theoretically spending all that time counting backwards from about two million. And here she was now, in the middle of a home filled with subpar artwork by a Mr. Robert H. Woods, at one.

“Jesus Christ Look At All These Sweaters!” screeched a high pitched voice, and the girl instinctively threw her hand to her mouth to clamp it shut, fearing she had actually vocalized what had been running through her mind since she had first descended the stairs. No, not her own voice- the voice of the woman from outside. White Hair Lady smashed one of her cardboard boxes down on top of a clear patch of polyester couch cushion and started fingering the folds of a knot of sweaters at her feet. The woman caught the girl’s eye and brightened. “D’ya see this?!” she yelled, brandishing a delicate sleeve in her direction. “Look At All These Sweaters!”  White Hair Lady kept staring at her as if waiting for an explanation, but the girl couldn’t, wouldn’t give her one.

Hours later, she is sitting in her bedroom, twinkle lights plugged in, cross legged on the floor at the foot of her bed. The music trickling from her phone is turned down too low to really tell what’s playing, but it’s loud enough for her to feel like she isn’t by herself. She takes a tiny pair of silver plated scissors, holds her breath, and snips into one of the bottom-most stitches of the ribbed waistband. This part she knew would be tricky, pulling the yarn apart from the row where the sweater had been bound off. It catches every six stitches or so, knotting up on itself, keeping the length of growth to a slow crawl, making her stop to squint at the tiny fibers rolled all together in a tiny cushiony glob. But once the bottommost row is unraveled, her fingers speed through the body, stitches zipping away from the grip of it’s mass, miles and miles of zig zagged stretches of yarn piling up at her knees.

It gets tricky again when she gets to the bottom edge of the bow because now she has another color of yarn to contend with, to carefully separate from it’s braid, but she gets through it, manages to not break the continuous flow of yarn any more than she has to. Bits of fuzz and debris and the ache of whatever was happening in the 80’s flies around the room, settling in her hair, on her eyelashes, making her sneeze. Part of her had wanted to go very, very slowly, keeping count of every single stitch she unraveled from the old sweater, to know exactly how many stitches she has to work with for the new sweater that she will make out of this untangled yarn. But she knows that this is too, too many steps backwards. Uh-uh, nope. It wasn’t too long ago that she had made a promise to herself (in front of someone else, for accountability, even though it was hard, and even though she hated it), that she would no longer let her brain soothe itself in a way that might put her body in trouble. The kind of trouble that not drinking or eating or sleeping or peeing can cause when the person wearing the body is occupied with performing a task that might take hours to complete. Or days. Weeks. No bueno.

So she is going fast, she speeds through the rows, she rips them out with steady resolve, only pausing to undo a knot, or to start folding a new skein of yarn. She doesn’t even have time to count all the individual stitches.

But.

She’s still sort of like, loosely keeping track. Just of the number of rows she has unraveled. She could probably do the math and figure out a very approximate figure for how many stitches comprised this beast of a sweater. But she doesn’t have to know, or need to know. She just likes to know. She likes to know as many things as possible.

As the sweater shrinks down, invisibles itself to nothing more than a chunky necklace of stitches, her excitement rises and collects in her fingertips like butterflies, itching to get started, even though it’s not time yet. Having touched every single stitch on the sweater, she has a good feel for the yarn, can tell that it will glide off her metal needles with ease, won’t clump too much, will slip into a wall of tiny, even loops while her fingers dance above them, coaxing them together, pushing them apart, through the back loop (TBL) to rib, through the front loop (TFL) for stockinette, gently scooting each one down and off the needle so she can get to all the stitches behind it, the ones her fingers haven’t choreographed yet.

In the bathroom, a sea of deep blue with spots of green is pooled inside the tub, tiny filaments like cactus needles poking through the surface of the water. She has painstakingly wrapped the miles of yarn into many large, thick loops, then tied little pieces of string around them to keep the strands from getting tangled on itself when she puts it in the bath. The cool water soaks through the strands, irons out the kinks that someone’s hands and needles folded into them so many years ago, loosens all the leftover dirt and grief that have been mashed into the grooves of what was once a piece of art.

After exactly forty minutes in the bath, she pulls out the stopper in the tub and watches, listens as all the water glugs out. The yarn, almost black with water, smells heavy of wet dog, so she cracks open the window above the sink. Tip toeing to the hall closet, her feet leaving faint prints on the wood floor, she finds six empty hangers and floats back to the bathroom, the breeze from the outside already thinning out the air. She lays the soaked loops across the hangers, places them all around the inside of the tub, on the shower head, the towel hook, the soap dispenser. For a moment it sounds like it’s raining in the bathroom, the yarn dripping too many rhythms at once, a tiny but determined applause. She remembers when she first started knitting, remembers learning the difference between knits and purls; a knit has a loop that wraps around it like a necktie, and a purl has a loop that wraps around it like a noose. That’s how you tell them apart. But really, the back side of a purl is just a knit, and the backside of a knit is just a purl. There’s no difference between the two stitches, it just matters which side you are on when you make it.

She turns out the light, closes the door, and lets her yarn dry.

 

 

My Judi Dench Coat

buckle up, these pictures are weird as shit lol

WOOHOO! How y’all doin?? If you follow me on instagram, you know how…special…my experience with CATS the movie was. I’m not here to argue with anyone about whether or not CATS was good. I have been around long enough to know that art doesn’t have to be good to be entertaining, and I was NOTHING if not entertained! One of the strong takeaways from the film (and there were MANY takeaways given my state of mind, lol) was Judi Dench’s Cat/God character wearing this gigantic honey blonde colored coat that seemed to be made out of cat fur. Like, she had her own cat fur…and then she wore a coat on top of her own cat fur made out of what looked like…other cat’s cat fur. At the time I couldn’t stop thinking about Silence Of the Lambs, how this was the equivalent of a human wearing a trench coat made of human skin, and how, since she was a Cat/God, the coat was probably made out of all the furs of her enemies. Which is…so weird. But perfectly suited to the rest of the movie which was also…so weird!

Anyways, when I started making this coat, I realized that it drew a fashionably striking resemblance to Judi Dench’s costume in CATS, which tickles me to no end! I originally got the idea for this coat after trying on a jacket at a store in Vancouver last summer.

You can see these fleecy furry coats everywhere now, but at the time they were brand new to me and I absolutely loved how unique it was. I loved the texture of the sporty, wooly fabric paired with a more traditional cut of coat, and I loved the curved hem at the bottom. I would have been happy to buy this RTW jacket since it was such a special piece but it didn’t fit well (see how long it is in the sleeves?), it was too expensive for the quality, and it was made of 100% polyester. I knew I could do better than that- it didn’t seem like a particularly difficult hack to pull off- no lining or surprising design details or anything.

I found the pattern before I found the fabric. I think I asked the IG hive for any pattern ideas they might have based off this photo, and IG totally came through- the Stacker jacket pattern by Papercut seemed like the closest thing to what I was looking for, and hacking would be super easy- I just needed to lengthen it and curve the hem (I also made it a slightly hi-lo hem). It took longer to find the fabric.

All I could find was 100% polyester fleece or sherpa, and the places that did sell organic cotton fleece tended to not have enough fabric for my project or only have it in colors I didn’t want. Eventually I found a place called Simplifi Fabric based in Canada, which is an online fabric store that specializes in organic and sustainable fabric by the yard. I love them! In addition to all kinds of organic cottons and bamboo and denim and ribbing in their online shop, they had a few different colors of a sherpa fabric that was mostly organic cotton with a little polyester in it, and after being indecisive about which shade I wanted, I went with the earthy-gray toned sherpa (I was initially drawn to the ivory shade but I knew it would probably get dirty pretty quickly).

do not know whats going on here but i think im supposed to be acting like a cat? a florist cat? 

The fabric was super soft, softer than I anticipated, and squishy and cozy. The back of it is flat and non-furry, and seems to be more like a knit- it kind of looks like  the inside of french terry on the back, actually. It has a little bit of stretch but not enough to make any big alterations to the sizing. The pattern was straight forward and construction was easy- I serged my inside seams since I knew I didn’t want to line it and they were too bulky to french seam (wasn’t interested in Hong Kong seaming either). I turned up the bottom hem and used my coverstitch to tack it down, not that you can tell- the texture of this fabric eats up any top stitching which means you don’t get much room for detail, but it also hides away any imperfections. The fabric was super easy to work with- the seams were certainly bulky, but it was stable, not too messy (nothing like velvet or sequins) and my machine needles had no problems working through several layers at a time.

I didn’t run into any issues at all except the normal problem solving that comes with hacking a pattern, haha. I constructed my yoke with two pieces instead of one, because even though the fabric isn’t super heavy, I wanted the shoulder area to feel nice and stable with all that coat length pulling down on it. I had a little bit of confusion about the construction of the pockets at the front of the coat- there are two different versions and I didn’t realize I was following the directions for a specific one til I was halfway through it, haha. Turns out, I wasn’t making the pockets I intended to make! In addition to that, the original placement of the pockets was off on this coat- probably something to do with the new length and the fullness and texture of the fabric, but my original choice of breast pockets looked strabnger and bulky. I scooted them down to hit around hip length (which is where my hands would naturally fall if I was using side pockets. Ultimately I think I would like this coat better with regular in-seam side pockets in addition to the patch pockets on the front, but it’s all good!

I found some beautiful buttons from Michael Levines and I think they work so well with the coat- they elevate it a bit from looking like your average athletic-wear fleece jacket into something a little more refined.

And…I guess that’s it! A super simple garment that has a pretty major impact- I got a compliment on this coat by a salesperson in SAKS recently, who, upon finding out that I made it myself, immediately started scrutinizing it and asking to see the insides, lol. I hate when people do that- just appreciate it and move on! Sometimes people are so shocked when you tell them you’ve made something impressive that they start looking for flaws anywhere they can find them, telling themselves that you can’t be THAT good (it happens with men examining my woodworking ALL the time!). Well guess what- we can and we are!!!

Hoping I can get some more good wear out of this thing before LA heats up to the oven setting that global warming has turned it to. Anybody else so ready to be on the other side of this election with an amazing, exciting and inspiring president in office?? I can’t bear to deal with all the upcoming stress and anxiety of it, but I am SO ready to celebrate some good political news!

Keep on keeping on, y’all! And as always, thanks to Claire for this pics!

 

A Camel Overcoat

This particular make was the source of a lot of interesting conversations on my instagram a couple months ago, and it all started with curating my closet and defining my color palette. In culling a wide assortment of beautiful looks on pinterest to get a better understanding of my style goals, I found myself coming across the same duster over and over again. It was usually camel colored and in a very lux, expensive looking fabric, hitting at the ankles and unadorned with lots of bells and whistles. I loved the clean lines of these RTW dusters and how easy I knew it would be to wear with so many things in my closet, since camel is in my seasonal color palette already. I also happened to have the most exquisite, luxuriously soft cashmere wool coating from The Fabric Store in my stash that I had been saving for years, which was perfect for the look I was going for. I was planning to make By Hand London’s Rumana coat with the cashmere but once I discovered the boxier, less tailored style of these pinned RTW looks, I decided I would use the fabric for this instead, since I knew I would be getting lots of wear out of it.

All I needed next was a pattern, and here is where this sewing tale takes a detour into darkness, folks. I have a handful of great coat and jacket patterns in my stash, but nothing that checked all the boxes for this particular make. So I did a little online research and asked around IG for any recommendations that had the design details I was looking for: unlined, simple, boxy fit, a proportionate collar and lapel, and a drape that allowed the coat to kind of hang open on it’s own; I wanted this duster to be a compliment to whatever outfit I wore underneath it, not the main attraction. After receiving a few good suggestions, I settled on the Hot Toddy Coat by a company called Our Lady of Leisure because it seemed the closest match to what I was looking for. It was boxy, loose fitting, the perfect length, and the collar and lapel were exactly what I was looking for. The only thing I needed to change were the pockets- as designed, they are simple patch pockets stuck onto the fronts, but I wanted hidden side pockets that didn’t detract from the smooth lines of the coat. I hacked my pockets from the Oslo coat onto the Hot Toddy Coat and it worked a treat. Sadly that’s about the only thing that went smoothly with this make, lol!

I made the smallest size provided because I was in between a size 2 and a 4 and I didn’t want the coat to end up being super huge on me. When I decided on this coat I asked on IG if anyone had ever made designs from this pattern line before and I didnt get many hits (red flag number one). Two people reached out to say that their makes of different patterns from this company fit a little on the large side, so I thought I was safe in choosing the smaller of the two sizes I fit between.

I printed out the tiled PDF pattern, taped all the pieces together and then started cutting them out. I immediately noticed that there was an error in the layout of the sizes. This pattern uses letters for sizes (size A=US  2, size B=US 4 and so on) and nested patterned lines to differentiate between them, but one side of the same pattern piece would have backwards lettering, so that the dotted line for size A on one side of the front coat piece would suddenly turn into size G on the other side. I’ve been sewing for long enough that I know how to follow the right line for my size even if it’s not properly labeled, but for some reason the nesting of these pattern pieces was extremely hard to follow. I couldn’t tell if the pattern line for one specific size was mislabeled or if the letters were out of order, or both. So the ensuing fit issues I ran into? I am still not sure if its because I cut the pattern pieces out incorrectly due to their mislabeling or if the drafting was really that off. I think it’s the latter, but I honestly have no idea (you are required to add your own seam allowances to this pattern, which I did). The reason this ticks me off so much is because this was not a cheap pattern. For a $12 PDF, I expect there to be no major, obvious errors with drafting or labeling of pieces- if you are charging people this much money, you got to deliver the goods, and they simply did not. It’s one of the reasons I scoff good naturedly at BURDA patterns all the time- their instructions are atrocious and you have to add your own seam allowances, but their PDF patterns are usually no more than 5 bucks. You get what you pay for!

Once everything was cut out, I constructed my pockets and sewed the main pieces of the jacket. It came together very quickly because there is no lining and it’s already a very simple design, but even with such a beginner-friendly pattern I noted that the accompanying instructions were really poor, which was red flag number 2. The illustrations didn’t make sense a lot of the time, because if I recall correctly they didn’t differentiate interfacing and regular fabric in the drawings. Furthermore there was no information on pressing anywhere! Like, at all! I don’t just mean they didn’t specify which direction to press, I mean they didn’t suggest you press at all. On a wool coat! As my sewing wizard friend Grace says, “Pressing is sewing!”  For a pattern marketed to novice and beginning sewists, this pattern left a LOT to be desired.

Not crazy about the bright white pockets inside this coat cause they obviously dont blend in well and you can get glimpses of them if I am sticking my hands in my pockets or something, but honestly…these are the least of my worries with this coat lol!

I basted one sleeve onto the jacket, tried it on, and was very surprised at how ill-fitting it was. It’s a two-piece sleeve so I assumed it would have a pretty nice fit right away since it was built to allow ease of moment for your arm, but it was so tight that it got stuck halfway up my arm and I had to yank it down. The seam of the underarm was also so high that it cut into my armpit. On top of that, not only was the sleeve itself way too tight for a boxy coat that was supposed to fit my measurements, but it was also puckering all around the armscye. I took the sleeve out and redrafted the pieces with an additional 1.5-ish inches of ease while also scooping out the bottom of the armhole of the coat. Sewed everything back up again and tried it on. Thankfully the sleeve fit much more comfortably now, but the wrinkles and puckering around the armholes hadn’t disappeared at all. I went up to my mirror for closer inspection and turned my camera around so I could have a better view of the back and it…was…my god. What a nightmare.

The drag lines in the back made clear that there was simply not enough room in the body of the coat to lay across my shoulders smoothly. Because it doesn’t close in the front, I had no idea how badly it was pulling in the back when I first tried it on, but now that I could see it clearly, I was devastated. There was no way I could (or would even want to) get away with wearing such an ill-fitting coat. I kicked myself for not making a muslin, then admonished myself for feeling guilty- at a certain point in your sewing career, you can comfortably make all kinds of simple projects without doing a muslin first, and should have been one of those patterns! It’s got a boxy fit, simple design lines, no darts or curves to fit onto the body- by all means this should have been an easy project to sew and adjust without having to rely on a muslin. Anyways, I digress- I was just super disappointed in both myself and the pattern. I hated that I had saved this cashmere coating for over 3 years, just waiting for inspiration to hit, and I had ultimately squandered it on a pattern that didn’t work well at all for me.

Camel Coat From Hell

this is my “Im too mad to talk” face

I decided to walk away from the coat, to take a long break. I knew that after a couple days of letting it marinate on my brain, I would either decide to move forward with trying to save it, or…gasp…throw it in the trash, attempting to save as many large, unencumbered pieces of the cashmere fabric as I possibly could (to do what with? Who knows! But saving some of it felt better than trashing all of it). As much as I tried to get the jacket out of my head over my “break”, I was unsuccessful. I couldn’t stop thinking of ways to fix it, wondering which would be most efficient, which would lead to the sleekest looking final piece? I was dreaming about this thing! After my break, I knew I couldn’t move onto another sewing project before trying my best to save this one, so I got to work. I took out the back seam, cut out a 2 inch-plus-seam-allowances panel from my remaining fabric (from here on out I will be referring to this panel as my “racing stripe” lol) and sewed that to my back pieces. Because of adding 2 additional inches to the back body, I knew this would have to transfer to my collar and neck facing pieces so I recut all of them with the extra 2 inches included. These additional two inches would also mean that the coat would fit differently in the front, and I was hoping that the new neckline wouldn’t sag out or droop down too much.

After adding the racing stripe, I tried the coat back on and it was…not perfect, but definitely better. Still a few drag lines around one of the sleeves, and I actually kind of hated the idea of the racing stripe, but it was way more comfortable than before and didn’t look like the nightmare it started as. I ran into trouble again at the kick pleat (which, as designed, seemed to include way more fabric than necessary, but whatever) and the mitered corners. FYI hate mitered corners! They look so beautiful when finished properly but I always find it hard to get them even on both sides of a garment. This coat was, unsurprisingly, no exception, and after lots of fussing and seam ripping, I ended up just cutting the excess hem and kick pleat fabric off, omitting the pleat entirely and extending my racing stripe all the way down to the hem. Fin. UGH.

I have so many conflicting feelings about this coat. On the one hand, I am SO PROUD OF MY STICK-TO-ITIVENESS! In the past, I have given up on far less complicated makes, or fixed things in ways that made them wearable, but not as aesthetically pleasing. This jacket, though not the initial vision I dreamed of, toes the line between the two- it is absolutely wearable (which I know is true because I have been wearing the CRAP out of it since I finished it) and the weird racing stripe is in the back so I really don’t have to look at it and be reminded of how much I hate it! But on the other hand…I am still frustrated at myself for not making a muslin, which should be par for the course when working with fabric that is precious to you, or working with a pattern from a company you have never sewn before. And of course, I am frustrated with the actual pattern.

The coat elevates pretty much any outfit I wear it with, but it can also go from casual to dressy without a hitch. This is face is because someone handed me a box of french fries with caviar, and I do not think they go well together at ALL.

Which leads me to the tricky part of this blog post: attempting to offer an honest, personal review of a pattern without tearing that indie pattern company down. It is important to me to show respect to everyone in the sewing community- those who sew the patterns, and those who make them, but I also want to be specifically careful with discussing indie pattern designers, whose work and growth I want to support whenever possible. It’s easy to complain and nitpick and judge what we have purchased when it’s brought us grief, but the truth is that I don’t know the first thing about designing patterns and managing a small business, so I can’t comprehend all the work that goes into it- it does NOT look easy. If I had made tons of patterns from this company and had issues with every single one, I wouldn’t hesitate in telling folks to be weary- I’ve done it before and I will do it again! I have had consistently bad experiences with both bigger and smaller sewing pattern design companies, and I try to be very transparent about my experiences with them- I’m not offering honest contributions to the maker community if I am afraid of speaking my truth because I don’t want to offend anyone. But, although I don’t plan to make any Our Lady patterns in my future, I want to remind you all that these are my experiences, and not necessarily indicative of what other people have experienced- after sharing my rough journey with this coat on IG, I had a few people write in to say that they also had a terrible experience with this specific coat pattern, but others wrote to say that their makes from other designs by this company came out great! So what is the truth? Well, like so much in this world, it’s not binary. My experience with this pattern wasn’t great. But someone else’s experience with it was terrific. Above all, this pattern company seems to be helmed by passionate, enthusiastic makers who want to share the joy of sewing to a broader audience, and I don’t want to get in the way of that. I wrote an honest review on their etsy page so if they are interested in taking constructive criticism about what could be better, they have the opportunity.

There you have it, y’all. This was my weird experience. This is my weird coat. I get compliments on it every time I wear it. Sometimes the world makes no sense. We just gotta keep stitching!

Thanks to Claire for the photos! And FYI the dress underneath is another Rachel Wrap Dress in forest green ponte from Blackbird Fabrics- unfortunately I think they are sold out but they restock popular fabrics all the time 😉 !

Where In The World Is Sika San Diego?

I actually hate the nickname Sika and I only let a tiny few people in my family use it, but it does have kind of a nice ring to it in this context, lol!

This Vogue 1650 trench coat was a BEAST, but I expected it to be. Occasionally I’ll come across a design that is deceivingly fancy, the kind that looks like you put way more work into it than you actually did, the kind where you feel a little guilty accepting compliments on it because it wasn’t a particularly difficult project even though it looks super amazing. This is not one of those patterns. Every bell and whistle you see on this coat took all my strength to ring and all my breath to blow, but I do think it was worth it in the end!

The green fabric is from The Fabric Store, and I am so tickled that I chose this color even though I hadn’t gone on my color palette journey yet to discover that green is smack dab in the middle of my seasonal palette. One of the reasons I landed on this fabric (aside from the fact that it’s so similar to the version on the envelope, haha) is because it specifically seemed perfect for this project, but green is the only colorway it came in, so the color is just a happy accident! It’s a sturdy nylon and canvas blend, which makes it great for outerwear since it repels water very easily (it’s not treated with anything, that’s just the qualities of the fabric) but it was incredibly difficult to sew because…well, again, it repels water very easily!

Ironing interfacing to these pieces was a journey into madness- it wouldn’t take steam well at all and adding more heat just burned the nylon fibers of the fabric, but I had to press on because, what good is a trench coat without interfacing?? I was afraid that regular sew-in interfacing would alter the fabric’s properties (it is crisp, unwrinkling, and…unfortunately I can’t think of a better word than erect, lol- it just stands straight up at attention!) I worried that sew-in would either make it floppy or make it lose it’s crispness, and I also was lazy and didn’t want to go all the way downtown to buy some sew-in. Eventually I learned that spraying the interfacing lightly with water, then pressing down very hard with a medium-set iron and a press cloth worked 80% of the time. When it didn’t work, I would see little bubbles peeking up from the otherwise smooth canvas, and then I would have to use the strength of ten Serena Williamses to press even harder and push those bubbles out to the edges, which would also work about 80% of the time. In short, I couldn’t get all the interfaced pieces perfectly flat and adhered, but so far I haven’t noticed any bubbles when I am wearing the coat, so let’s just call it even: Trench:1 Jasika:1.

 

Aside from the bizarre properties of the fabric, this sewing pattern has 4,672 pieces. Y’all. Y’ALL. I feel like I might have spent one lifetime tracing and cutting out all the fabric, lining, and interfacing pieces of this damn coat. Then I died and was reborn again in time to actually sew everything together. Half of this coat was made by a ghost. This many pieces of a sewing project isn’t all that unheard of, nor is it that difficult for me to get a hold of under normal circumstances, but I started and finished this entire project in my apartment in Vancouver, which means I didn’t have my trusty cutting table or rotary cutters or the space I’m used to for laying pattern pieces in separate piles around the room for easy organization. And also. I had to cut. my. pieces. out. on. the. floor. I’m fast approaching the age where this kind of activity is a OH NO THE HELL YOU WONT! I was doing cat/cows, back stretches and downward dogs every 10 minutes because my body was SO not okay with being treated so poorly, lol. I think it took me a full two days to cut all these pieces out but I finally got her done. Then I went through the hell of trying to interface everything, which took another half a day. When I was finally ready to sew, I celebrated and hooped and hollered and flew through construction of all the big parts, but I got slowed down again once I finally put the sleeves on the jacket and realized that something was very wrong.

This next part of my sewing project became a dramatic saga detailed in my stories on instagram over the span of a few days, so if you missed seeing them, I’ll get you up to speed. Essentially the sleeves were drafted really weird on me. I made a size that my measurements fit squarely into and I didn’t anticipate there being any issues with fit, but once I tried the jacket on with the sleeeves, it was obvious that something was amiss. Mainly, the armhole felt way too tight at the underarm, and way to shallow around the bicep, so it pulled on the bust area of the coat even when the coat was open. I am not a busty person (32B here!) and I also have a small back, so whenever I have too-tight issues at the bust on a garment that I know for sure I made the correct size in, I know it’s something to do with the drafting and not with me. There were drag lines at the bust as the sleeves tugged around my arms, and that was just with me standing still with my arms at my sides- as soon as I moved my arms away from my body, the whole entire coat lifted up- instead of  being able to move my arms freely, the jacket was moving with them.

Thankfully Grace (wzrdreams for those of you who are unfamiliar, my friend and professional tech designer for RTW who is a virtual wealth of information for so many of us in the sewing community) had some ideas for me on how to fix the sleeves. She also shared lots of helpful information about the drafting of Big 4 patterns and explained why I always seem to have the same issues with their patterns but not any others. With my newfound knowledge from Grace, I unpicked the sleeves, made the armholes deeper by scooping out maybe 3/4″ at the bottom of the armhole grading to nothing about halfway up, and re-drafted my sleeve pieces (back on the floor, I went!). I added length to the top of the sleeve cap to accommodate what I scooped out of the armhole, widened the entire sleeve so I had more ease for wear, and re-cut the little band on the one side so that it would fit around the wider sleeve piece. I was nervous this wouldn’t work at all because I didn’t have any of the TOOLS that you are supposed to do this with, like curved rulers and math, lol. I was pretty much just eyeballing things and guesstimating, but it’s all I had to work with and guess what…it totally worked! I know it is imperfect in some ways, perhaps there is a version of this fix that is much more precise than what I was able to do, but by god, it worked! I could move my arms and wiggle around comfortably, wear a sweater underneath without it feeling like I was suffocating my arms, the bodice has no more weird drag lines, and there was no visual misalignment with any of my seams. So, take THAT, coat! Trench: 1  Jasika: 2, for those of you still keeping score.

The rest of the coat was put together without too much drama. The lining of this coat didn’t require me to birth her, sadly, so I did lots of hand sewing to attach everything at the hems, and a bit more hand sewing when I realized the  coat wasn’t hanging properly and the lining was tugging at the outer shell. That’s pretty much the last hurdle I had to tackle, right at the very end, and again, I attribute it to the wonderfully strange qualities of this nylon canvas- I’ve never sewn with anything quite like it, and it bewildered me as much as it made my heart sing. I think there is still a little tugging and pulling on the hem because of how the fabric wants to lay, but it’s something I can am living with. I’m not a sewfectionist and probably never will be!

I was excited to wear this coat even before it was actually finished- I wrapped the belt super tight around me and wore it without buttons when I went shopping for… buttons! Ha! Which, by the way, I found at Dress Sew, my favorite physical fabric store in Vancouver. The selection of buttons in the basement of Dress Sew is tremendously good but also overwhelming. Thankfully everything is arranged by color which at least gives you a place to start if you are trying to color match.

I am so proud of this jacket, not so much because of how well it turned out, but because of how much I persevered to see it through to the end. It’s so easy sometimes to run into one too many obstacles on a project and decide that your time is better spent starting over from scratch, with something different, something familiar, something easy-ish. That’s what my Butthole Bin has been for. But as I get further along in my sewing career, I have learned to trust my skillset and my ability to think outside the box when it comes to making something work that decidedly does NOT want to work. This doesn’t mean that the same answer applies to every project I work on- sometimes my mental health is way more important than figuring out how to fix that wonky zip fly. But trusting myself enough to at least try to fix things instead of immediately discarding them feels like major growth for me, and I’m very thankful.

Thanks to my babygirl, Claire, for the photos!