sewing in april

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I mentioned at the beginning of the year that I received a sewing machine for Christmas (after about four years of not having one), and that I was looking forward to getting into sewing again. January and February went right by without a stitch sewn, but by March and April the home isolation period seemed to offer the opportunity to pull my machine out and finally try sewing some garment projects. And so after a couple of weekends of sewing, I have two projects to share with you!

Before April, I last sewed a garment in 2015. I’d also had a couple of sewing experiences that year that I’d felt slightly frustrated by – having become a very proficient and knowledgeable knitter, I started to feel totally lost at sea when I came back to sewing as an adult, because I wanted to be equally proficient and knowledgeable in that skill. I first learned to sew as a little kid, and I sewed a fair bit in high school, but I wasn’t very fussy about details or finishing at that point in my life (and at that time, I was only knitting really basic scarves, so sewing felt like the more developed skill between the two). But as an adult? I was definitely thinking about details and realizing how very much I didn’t know.

So coming back to sewing this year, I really had to psych myself up before getting going on my first project. But I sewed two things in April! And I have more sewing projects lined up. So that’s excellent. I also decided to purchase the Learn to Sew Clothing online class from Closet Case Patterns, and I can absolutely say that’s been a wonderful investment. At first I felt slightly overwhelmed by the number of hours of video content available through the course – did I really need all of this? – but even though I know enough to sew basic garments, the course walks you through so much foundational knowledge, and a lot of it is exactly the kind of stuff I’ve felt like I’ve been lacking. I learned loads in the first three video lessons alone. Sometimes it’s really worth going back to basics.

But at any rate, here are the two projects I sewed in April:

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First up is the Berlin Jacket by Tessuti Fabrics. Now, I’m gonna say up front that this pattern only goes up to an XL, which is not great. (Size inclusivity* is something I’ve thought about a lot in the past year and I’m in the middle of working on expanding the size range for my own back catalogue of knitting patterns.) I would love to see Tessuti Fabrics expand the size range on this, because I know there are sewists above an XL who’d love to make it if it came in their size. I chose this pattern because I had a few meters of a boiled wool knit I’d ordered from a local shop, originally thinking I would use it for a dress – but at the last minute I decided it was probably too thick for that, and I’d do better to find something that specifically recommended boiled wool. I also wanted something that suited my re-entry level skills (in other words, simple and approachable). This pattern seemed to fit the bill on both counts.

The Berlin Jacket is kind of a coatigan, in that it’s lightweight and unlined, so it’s somewhere between a coat and a cardigan. It’s been a really nice layer for Trondheim’s spring weather, though. I cut the size medium and didn’t make any modifications. The sleeves are designed to have the cuffs flipped up, and while I do wear it that way if I’m wearing it indoors, if I wear it out on a walk (as in the photo at the top of the post) I find I prefer to have the cuffs flipped down for the extra length. At 6′ / 172 cm my arms are on the long side so extra length is always appreciated.

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Most of the seams are overlapped, so there are a lot of visible raw edges, which is why boiled wool is one of the recommended fabrics for this pattern (since it won’t fray). That meant minimal finishing, in theory, but it also meant I went back along some of those raw edges and trimmed any raggedy spots, since when I cut the pieces out I didn’t do the neatest job (I used shears, since I don’t have a rotary cutter). The heather grey is very forgiving, however, so even the edges that still aren’t that neat don’t look too bad. I’m overall really pleased with this project and it proved a nice first project to get back into the swing of things.

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Next up, I went looking through my (small) pattern library for a simple top, and discovered that I had the Tiny Pocket Tank by Grainline Studio. This is actually a discontinued pattern (I believe it was Grainline Studio’s first ever pattern), and it was replaced by the Willow Tank in 2016 (although the Willow has a slightly different silhouette and fit than the Tiny Pocket Tank). Both patterns only go up to a finished 46 3/4″ bust (to fit a 44″ bust), as far as I can see, so again the sizing is pretty limited. But again – this was making use of a pattern I already owned which was at the right skill level for me, and I liked the silhouette, so I decided to make use of it.

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I chose a mid-weight quilting cotton for this project, even if something slightly lighter might have been a better match for the pattern. I knew it would be easy to sew (and there are so many beautiful prints available) so it felt like a good choice for me. I skipped the eponymous tiny pocket, so the basic construction was dead easy – shoulder seams, side seams, and the hem was pretty simple to execute too. It was the neckline and armholes that took the longest. This pattern and the Willow both make use of bias facings, which I had never used before. I’ll readily admit to being one of those people who’s totally intimidated by bias tape, but I followed Grainline’s photo tutorial for flat bias facings, taking my time to go through every step, and it was worth it in the end. I did the neck first, which felt like it took forever, but the armholes went quicker and by the second one I didn’t have to check the tutorial anymore. If this were a solid color fabric with a contrasting thread, you’d probably be able to see that not all my seam lines are quiiiite as tidy as they could be, but in this fabric it’s totally passable and I’m really pleased with how well I managed to execute the facings overall.

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I made two modifications kind of on the fly, since I was trying it on as I went, and the fit was feeling a little weird when I got the main construction finished. The bust darts felt too low for me, and the front neckline on this pattern is notoriously on the low side as well. I ended up taking in the shoulder seams by a half inch, so the shoulder straps were shortened by 1″ in total, and I took out my shears and lowered the underarms by about a half inch as well. To be honest, I totally eyeballed that and I was a little nervous about the length of the bias strips still being right, but it all seems to have worked out okay. And after wearing the tank for a full day, I’m really pretty happy with the fit, so those adjustments seemed like a good call for me. Between the silhouette and the print, this is a garment that’s got me looking forward to summer, although I can wear it already as a layering piece. At the top of this post you can see it paired with the Berlin Jacket.

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Next up, I’ll continue with the Closet Case course, and I’m planning a project that ties in with that. When you purchase access to the course you also receive the PDF versions of the patterns from their Rome Collection, so I’m planning to sew a Fiore skirt. It will add a few more skills to the table which are technically all things I have done in the past (working with interfacing, sewing buttonholes and buttons), but the course is there to guide you through the tricky bits, and I’m eager to have that kind of guidance right now.

*If you’re not familiar with the size inclusivity discussion, I highly recommend checking out this interview Pom Pom Quarterly did with Jacqueline Cieslak, which was originally published in the magazine earlier this year. Jacqueline is amazing. You can check out her knitting patterns on Ravelry while you’re at it.

FO: hemlock tee

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I’ve been enjoying following Me Made May again this year, but with how busy it’s been in my house – prepping for an international move, then a parental visit – trying to actively take part really hasn’t been practical. There definitely haven’t been many opportunities to actually create new items of clothing. I decided to set aside an afternoon while my parents were here, though, to sit down and sew something I’ve been meaning to sew for months: the Hemlock Tee. It’s a free pattern from Grainline Studio, designed for knits. Ever since Me Made May rekindled my desire to sew last year, I’ve wanted to tackle knits.

When I was in high school I did a lot of sewing, but I was never a technical sewer – I was very DIY make-it-up-as-I-go-along about it all. I think I wrote about this last year, but it’s been so interesting to return to sewing after reaching such a professional level with my knitting. My knitting skills are pretty polished at this point and I know so much about technique, fit, and designing – so to come back to sewing means realizing I know next to nothing about the technical aspects of sewing garments. I was pretty sloppy in high school and I really didn’t care, but now I want my hand sewn garments to reflect the level of polish I’ve come to expect from my knits. It’s challenging, to feel like you’re going back to being a beginner at something (and for that reason, it’s probably a very good exercise for me, too).

In any case, when I bought this grey and white striped fabric (from Drygoods Design in Seattle – I *think* it’s this one), I had originally slated it to become a Linden. I even bought the pattern with it. But as it sat on the shelf, waiting for me to have time to make it, and as I looked into ribbing and trying to find a good ribbing to match the fabric, I started to think that perhaps I should start simpler. I’d still love to make a Linden, but the one-size oversized free Hemlock Tee felt like it might be less ambitious. (For those of you who sew regularly, the Linden might not seem that ambitious, but I really need baby steps here. I’m sloooow at sewing and it takes way more attention to complete simple tasks than it should because I so rarely do it.)

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This super simple tee still took me the better part of an entire afternoon. There are plenty of reasons for that – I used my regular machine with a walking foot put on, and I had to figure out how to install the walking foot before I could even test it out. I also started off using a triple stretch stitch (recommended for knits if you’re not using a serger) but that was causing some serious issues with the shuttle in my machine and I broke a few needles before I exasperatedly gave up on that and switched to a normal straight stitch (since it’s an oversized tee, I think it’ll do okay).

I felt unsure about the length of the sleeves, so I didn’t actually hem/finish the sleeve cuffs – since it’s a fine gauge knit, the fabric won’t really fray or do anything terrible, and I’ve just rolled up the sleeves for now so they’re closer to elbow length. I also shortened the overall length of the tee, cutting off several inches of fabric before hemming it. I think it suits me better than the longer length did.

While I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the process of actually sewing it (I think it will take a lot more sewing practice before I can really enjoy sewing a garment) I’m fairly happy with the end result, even though I can spot all the flaws. At a glance, most people won’t notice those, and this tee’s definitely my style and is very at home in my wardrobe. I think it’ll transition super well from a summer piece to a winter piece – it’s very layerable, and I can already picture it with a huge scarf around my neck.

So this will very likely be my one make for the month of Me Made May. I’m still grateful for the excuse to think a little bit harder about what I’m putting on in the morning and where it came from, and I’m definitely grateful for the month of inspiration that comes with so many people sharing their handmade wardrobes day after day. I’ll be doing a lot of culling of clothes before we fly to Tromsø, trying to pare down and really only bring essentials or things I really love, and this month has made it easier to think about what I want to keep and what I’d like to let go of.

Are any of you participating in Me Made May this year?

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