Trying Different Hats

Normally, I try not to even think of the ‘C’ word until the beginning of December, unless I know I need to order a present early. This year I’ve put that rule aside for three reasons:

Firstly, I’m sick of ordering online. While I understand and empathise with Aussie Post for the delays, it’s one more thing to worry about. And the delays are only part of the problem with ordering online. Recently some items I ordered hadn’t arrived so I tried contacting the shop, but they didn’t reply to messages left via email, their answering machine, their website’s contact form or their Facebook page. It took a couple of weeks to finally get through on the phone, only to find out the items had always been out of stock and help up by international shipping issues. If I’d known they were out of stock I wouldn’t have ordered the items. Two and a half months later they still haven’t arrived, but the shop is the only one in the country selling them so I really don’t want to cancel my order.

The second reason is I don’t much fancy shopping in person, either. When lockdown ends there’s going to be a rush on shops, and things will sell out, and since we’re supposed to be transitioning to ‘living with Covid’ (which will no doubt mean ‘dying with Covid’ for a number of people) and I doubt the vaccine passport idea is going to go smoothly, I’m intending to stay away from strangers as much as possible.

The third reason is because my solution to the above is to make most of my gifts, and that takes time and planning.

On the up side, I have a very short recipient list. On the down side, it includes two men who aren’t easy to pick something for even when not choosing hand made.

One of the ideas I had for gifts was to sew hats. I found a free bucket hat online and gave it a try. Aside from me misreading the interlining pattern pieces as lining and having to unpick them then cut and sew a new lining, the construction was problem free and it fits perfectly.

The outer fabric is denim and the inner a navy cotton with tiny flowers in red, green, yellow, blue and white. Both came from destashes.

I also have a sunhat pattern I’ve been wanting to try for ages, so I gave that a whirl. The main fabric is a white corduroy printed with green and black parrots from an old, stained dress of Late Lucy’s. The lining is a white cotton bed sheet.

This was a bit of a faff to construct, with lots of stay stitching and a seemingly unnecessary bit of gathering thread to ease the side piece to the top, but there is a nice bit of theatre when you turn what looks like a clump of fabric inside out and it turns into a hat. It fits and I like it.

Still, it’s not really Mum’s style and definitely not Dad’s, so I stuck with the bucket hat.

Mum’s uses some offcuts of fabric from a dress she made years ago and more of the white cotton sheet for the lining, and Dad’s uses the same denim I used on my bucket hat with a lovely soft red cotton plaid for the lining.

All the hats have used destashed or repurposed fabric, so I’m pretty chuffed about that. I’ve offered to make one for Paul, but I’ll have to enlarge the pattern. If I made it with the black denim in the stash it would be easy to tell which hat was his and which was mine, and I have a black and grey plaid shirt that would work for lining. Hmm.

Sewing the Good Stash

All this stretch garment sewing began a few years ago when I bought two fabric remnants, a black jersey with flowers and a navy and white striped knit. The striped fabric was meant to be the test fabric for the leggings I was going to make from the floral.

A few years, various hesitations and much fabric and sewing machine buying later, I have finally sewn that floral fabric.

When the fabric arrived it proved to be a bit thin for leggings, so I figured I’d make a long-sleeved top or skivvy. Of course, laying out the pattern pieces required care to ensure I didn’t wind up with big flowers in unfortunate locations, but I managed it without too much fuss. However, what I found then was that even if I’d plonked the pieces down in the most space efficient way, I’d still wouldn’t have fit in both sleeves.

That left me with a choice. Either I have 3/4 length sleeves, which I hate, or cut outs at the shoulder. So I went with the latter.

Expecting disappointment, I have tried using the cover stitch machine again with varying results. Sewing two layers seems okay, but it wouldn’t stop dropping stitches when I attempted two layers either side of waistband elastic on a pair of leggings. After I’d exhausted the setting adjustment options in the manual, I tried pulling the thread out of the lefthand needle, which is the side that always fails, and just sewing with two, and you know what? It worked!

Obviously, it’s not okay for a brand new machine to not sew as it’s supposed to, but the internet tells me it’s a common problem and most likely operator error. Still, I will be checking the guarantee to see how long I have to work out the source of the problem.

Newness

For my first garment on the new machines, I decided to make a top out of the striped jersey I’d bought as a test fabric way back when. Since it was supposed to be sacrificial, I decided to also trial changing the skivvy pattern to a top with a scoop neckline.

Referring to a top from my wardrobe, I sketched out the new neckline and made a template for cutting out more fabric rather than cutting into the pattern.

I didn’t do this for the pattern back, which would come back to bite me later, I just trimmed a bit off the back piece after I’d cut it out. Then I got down to sewing.

To get around not having enough cones of thread in the colours I needed (because my old overlocker only takes three) I used black for one thread, which isn’t noticeable. One day, when lockdown is over, I’ll buy not just an extra cone of navy and grey, but an extra five so I don’t have to rethread the overlocker and coverstitch machine at least twice for each project.

(I did try to order more navy and grey cones, but couldn’t find any shops selling the brand and shade of navy I have, and I really need to match the grey in person. Which was probably a good thing, since there was also a big delay in the postal service thanks to Covid exposures and a surge of online orders.)

Some sewing later, I had a new top:

Which went well apart from two things:

First, the coverstitch machine is SO finicky! I went through all of the offcuts of the fabric test sewing, each time adjusting the various settings until the machine stopped skipping stitches. And yet when I came to sewing the actual hems… skipped stitches. Watching videos online helped a bit, but even when I finally got it to work and managed to sew the wrist and bottom hems successfully on this top, the machine then could not handle the neckline. I gave up after unpicking it several times and returned to using a double needle on the sewing machined.

Second, I really should have done more than snip a little bit off the back neckline. It stuck out so far that when I pinched it in to fit snugly, I found it was about 6cm too big. By then I was so over unpicking that neckline that I waited several days before taking a deep breath and redoing it. Fortunately, I only had to unpick the back, trim the back neckline and resew it, and then it was fixed.

I’m not sure what to make of the coverstitch machine. The fabric I used was thin, slippery, and had a very fine and grippy knit structure, so maybe that was the problem. I need to try other fabrics before making any conclusions about it. It’s a whole new thing, so naturally it’s going to take practise and experience to feel confident with using it.

But I am very happy with the sewing machine and overlocker, and keen to tackle the next project.

Fidget vs Focus

The sewing I’ve done this year has been different to the occasional bunches of projects over the last decade. I’ve taught myself how to sew stretch fabric, done some challenging refashions and sewn more handwoven fabric than ever before.

My aim had been to have well made clothes from organic cloth, but the long-term benefit of that has been getting my sewing mojo back. You see, when I was in my 20s sewing was my main hobby, but I pushed myself too hard and wound up hating and avoiding it. Then in my late 30s I discovered refashioning, which was a great way to get back into sewing because it isn’t making a garment from scratch so there’s often a lot of construction already done.

This renewed enthusiasm is a much quieter thing than the obsession I had as a young sewer. Recently, I judged it enough to upgrade my machines. My Jenome is great, but it isn’t strong enough to sew many layers of fabric. My overlocker is good, but it has only three threads so only sews the edge, not the seam. I’ve also found that the stretch seams sewn with a double needle on the sewing machine keep breaking, and I concluded that the only way to get the quality I want is to use a coverstitch machine.

Of course, being locked down meant ordering without trying, so I did my research and aimed for robust machines. Which meant heavy machines I don’t want to be hauling out of the cupboard when I use them. To set them up permanently, some shuffling of the craft room furniture was required. Which led to a review of all the crafts I do, whether new, current and old.

That inevitably turned my attention to the Passap knitting machine. I searched for the email from the seller and was shocked to discover I’d bought it nearly ten years ago. I probably only used it regularly for the first year. The main reason I bought it was to make socks, of which I made a few then stopped because I already had so many socks.

I’ve used the Bond over and over, and it can be packed away into its carrier, so it’s well worth keeping. But I think the Passap has to go. Ironically, it’s home isn’t in the craft room, so selling it has no bearing on the furniture shuffling except to empty the cupboard of the magazines and parts that came with it.

Of course, selling it will have to wait until after lockdown ends. Even if I found someone willing to hire a courier, I can’t get out to collect the packaging needed.

Funghi Legs

Having successfully made leggings, I looked at the two jersey prints I had, and considered whether to make more or use it for skivvies and tops. I decided the latter, but I did want to make more leggings. The pattern I had traced off an old pair was slimmer at the ankle and lower at the waist than the Style Arc pattern, and I was curious to see how well it would fit. So I went online looking for organic black cotton jersey, and somehow some two other fabrics fell into my cart.

I always wash fabric before sewing it, just in case it stretches or runs or behaves weirdly. When I went to cut out a pattern I found that both new and old fabric was distorted where they had hung on the line, so I stuck all five pieces in the rinse and spin cycle and then into the dryer. Now, we barely ever use the dryer. Call me old fashioned or hipster, but if I can save money and avoid producing carbon by drying on the line or a clothes airer, I will. The only reason we have a dryer is because I adopted Nana’s one when she died in 2009 for emergencies, like the house flooding (which seems every house I own will do at some point) and we have an excess of wet towels to dry. I think Nana’s dryer was bought in the 80s. It worked fine until recently, when it started making a burning smell whenever it was on the warm setting. This meant it took about three days to get all the fabric dry, helped along by me ironing it now and then to speed things along. Cotton sure goes suck up moisture. Anyway, it all dried eventually and…

I sewed up some black leggings first. The pattern worked fine – a teeny bit tight around the legs. When I cut out the next pair I gave them a few mm extra room, but that pair came out a little loose, despite feeling a little less stretchy. That just seems to be the luck of the draw with jersey.

I have another pair of leggings to make, but I’m moving on to skivvies and tops next because they’ll use black thread. No sewer changes the thread on the overlocker until they have to!

One From Two

Earlier this year we spent a weekend in Castlemaine, and at one of the local tourist attractions, the Mill Market, I bought a second hand jacket:

I love how three different knit fabrics have been combined to make it. This came to mind when thinking about how I might make garments out of Late Lucy’s knitted skirts at around the same time I culled some knitwear from my wardrobe. Could I make another jacket out of the navy skirt and an old jumper?

I had a perfect match colour-wise, though that only gave me two fabrics.

So I made a rough pattern from the jacket using calico, and laid pieces of it on top of the skirt and jumper. I had enough fabric to make it, if I eliminated the pockets.

The jumper I’d cut up had been sewn so the purl side faced out. This meant the knit side was in really good condition, so I put that one on the outside.

The next day, despite not feeling 100%, I got out the scissors, too a deep breath, and started cutting. The pieces from the jumper were cut first, then I turned to the skirt, and that’s when I got distracted.

It occurred to me suddenly that if I flipped the side pattern piece over it would fit right down beside the collar piece. I should have then made sure I still had room for the sleeve pieces, but I didn’t, and only went to cut them out did I realise my mistake.

I didn’t fancy making a vest, so I’d have to find more fabric. I packed everything up and put it out of sight. Then, a few days later, a possible solution came to me. The cuffs on the original jacket are extensions of the sleeves, that fold up. What if they didn’t fold up, but were attached halfway up the forearm? The main sleeves pieces could be shortened. I measured and tweaked and made it work, though it meant the sleeves would be bit skinnier so I had to hope they wouldn’t be too tight.

Once cut out, all of the pieces were overlocked around the edges except where I’d taken advantage of already existing hems. I sewed the bottom hem of the side pieces on the machine, but though I’d done a test on a scrap I wasn’t happy with the way this stretched out the fabric. So I hand sewed the rest of the seams, using thread unravelled from the waistband, until I got to the zipper, which is a non-stretchy part of the garment, and the inside of the collar, which benefited from the reinforcement of a straight stitch.

The sleeves are a teeny bit short, but I don’t think I’ll notice. It took quite a few weeks to make it, and a lot of hand sewing, but I’m chuffed to have made something wearable from two tired old garments.

Skivvies

So of course, having chosen and started another filler project, the skivvy pattern arrived. I decided to continue with the filler project, then I stuffed it up big time and packed it away in the hopes I’d stop beating myself up over it. Out came the skivvy pattern and my test fabric, and I quickly whipped up a garment:

The fit is almost perfect – only the neck is a little tight when putting it on. I was so chuffed, I cut out the pieces for another, out of a mercerised cotton from a friend’s destash. This time the fabric was a one-way stretch, so it would be a test of whether the pattern works without vertical elasticity. The cutting required matching the pattern, but what made that extra challenging was the pattern was denser at the sides than the middle, as if the centre area had been stretched. I tried steaming the fabric to see if it would even out, but it didn’t help. Fortunately I had enough fabric to place the front and back at the centre, and the sleeves at the sides.

I took a break, had a cuppa, considered other things I could be doing… and went back to the craft room and sewed this one up too. It came out fine – a little tighter at the neck but still comfy once on:

My plan now is to alter the pattern to make a round or scoop neck top. But by then I’d figured out a possible fix for the filler project I’d messed up, so I returned to that.

Flexible

A while back I stumbled upon a website that sold organic cotton jersey in fabulous prints, and I snapped up two pieces – one with navy and white stripes, one of flowers on a black background – imagining them as either leggings or long-sleeved tops (or both). The navy stripe was supposed to be my test fabric, because I wanted to make my own patterns by cutting up an old pair of leggings and a skivvy. Like I used to do in my 20s. Of course, my 20s was a looong time ago and when the fabric arrived I hesitated, and I put everything aside until I gathered some confidence.

Eventually I did, starting with cutting up a pair of leggings and making a pattern. I compared it to a leggings pattern I’d received free along with other patterns I bought from Style Arc. It was waaay different and after I had other problems tracing a skivvy pattern, I put everything aside again.

Since buying the fabric I’d become rather fond of the navy strips fabric, so I decided to buy some organic jersey from Spotlight to use as my test fabric instead. I also bought a double needle, after watching videos on how to sew stretch fabrics, for top stitching.

Recently I got enthused again. I brought out both patterns and laid mine over the Style Art one to see how different they were… then flipped it over. And they matched bar a few small variations. Duh.

So, using the Style Arc pattern, I cut the pieces and got sewing. In a anticlimactic short hour or so they were done.

I wore then the next day and they didn’t fall apart. Two tiny areas of sewing came undone – a tiny hole in one leg seam and a bit of waist overstitching that had snapped when it was stretched – but they were easily fixed. The legs were too long, which I’d anticipated, the calves too loose, and the waist was a bit high at the front. When I laid the traced pattern on top of the Style Arc one again, these were the areas that were different, so I figure I’ll use the traced pattern next time.

The Style Arc pattern worked well enough that I decided to buy a skivvy pattern from them. When I’d traced the skivvies I cut up, I found they were quite different in size and the fabric pieces were really distorted, leading to more guesswork than I was comfortable with.

Distortion in commercial garments is a bit of a gripe of mine, and one of the reasons I want to make my own stretch fabric garments. Since I started photographing clothes to put in Stylebook, I’ve been amazed at how badly cut the fabric pieces of commercial clothing are. Leggings nearly always twist around a leg – just one so it’s definitely not a design feature. T-shirt side seams twist around the body. Even the really expensive organic and ethically made leggings I bought are badly cut and twisty, and the fabric is really flimsy.

Hopefully the skivvy pattern will fit me, or at least be easy to adjust. Because if I can make my own stretch fabric garments, I could possibly make most of my clothes. Not that I’d have to be whipping them out constantly – just replacing garments as they wear out.

Wool Skirt to Wool Dress

Remember the wool skirt I turned into a jumper?

It’s had heaps of wear this winter, because it’s so cosy and comfortable. However, first time I wore it was to an art class where everyone helps out setting up and putting away props. I discovered several holes in it when I got home. They could be moth damage, but I reckon I would have noticed as I put it on. A bit of mending later and the jumper is fine to wear at home, and I now don’t wear knitwear to classes.

The skirt was one of six from Late Lucy’s wardrobe. Of the other five, one I wear as is, one was 100% acrylic and was donated, and the other three are too big for me. I reckon most op shops would send them straight to landfill or recycling, so I’ve kept them with an eye to refashioning.

My simplest idea was to turn them into pet blankets for the RSPCA, but the buttons Lucy had added to the split at the back of two skirts looked so much like button bands that I turned one of them upside down and put it on the dress form.

Could I make a cardigan or jumper? I played around but it was clear there wasn’t enough fabric to make sleeves, and the idea went into hibernation.

Then my latest winter dress idea had me looking at the skirts again. Without removing fabric for sleeves, they were long enough to be dresses. Lots of pinning and sketching later, I had a couple of different approaches to consider, depending on how brave I was going to be about cutting into the fabric, and how confident I was that I could sew it on the machine or overlocker.

The brown was my least favourite so I decided to experiment with it. I took out the elastic in the waistband, but found the band still pulled the hem in so it would have to be cut off. There were a few holes at hip level, so I cut there finished the edge on the overlocker, which produced a slight ‘lettuce’ effect. I found I could tuck and dart and avoid cutting at all on the top part, but the bottom hem would require top stitching… across a very stretchy fabric. The prospect of that and the distraction of weaving had me put the project aside for a while.

But I kept the proto-dress on the dress form and every few days would examine it and think, and so eventually the solution hit me: sew it by hand. I unravelled some of the yarn from the waistband to use as thread and got sewing, and a few days later I had this:

Which I’m wearing as I type this. It’s warm and cosy and comfortable and I’m pretty chuffed with the result. I’d probably wear it only in casual settings, but since I spend most of my time at home that’s not a problem.

I’d like to turn the purple skirt into a dress as well, maybe taking the cut and machine sew approach instead, but I have other ideas for the navy one.

Winter Wardrobe

As the weather has grown colder and I’ve started dressing warmer a feeling has crept over me.

I’m SO over my winter clothes.

Not with individual pieces. There are garments I love in there. It’s more the general look. Cotton tops and skivvies under hand knits because I can’t wear wool against my skin. Skirt or pants. It feels like a uniform.

How to change that? Adding other kinds of clothing to the mix seems the obvious answer. But before I got too carried away, I took stock of what I had in case I’d forgotten something or saw new potential in the old. I’ve been making clothes more lately and that inevitably leads to too-tightly-packed wardrobe, too. I decided to be ruthless and remove anything ‘faded, jaded, worn, torn, smelly or pilled’. Which was… a lot more than I expected.

Then I updated Stylebook so I had an overview at my fingertips. It had already occurred to me that I have one good outside-the-usual winter garment that I love: a black wool knitted dress with a big cowl collar. I wear it with leggings and the combo is different enough to be refreshing. The only down side was that if I get too warm, there’s no taking it off. Leggings are definitely NOT pants.

Still… a dress. A winter dress. I don’t have many dresses, and only this one is winter-weight. A lighter dress could still be part of a layered outfit, though. Looking in Stylebook, I noted that I have a black, jersey sleeveless dress that might suit.

So I gave that a try, layering over a skivvy and leggings and throwing a loose handknit cardigan on top. Comfy. Cosy. Looked good. A bit snug around the waist with two layers beneath, however. Still, it proved the theory right, and I’m now thinking about making more winter dresses to my wardrobe.

I swear every time I sew a garment, three more add themselves to my to-do list.