Saturday, October 12, 2013

Collecting My Wits and My Calm

I realized I had not posted any finished project for over a month.  I'd actually been knitting and sewing a lot. But drama at work was robbing me the motivation to take photos and write about the progress.  So here, I now have quite a few things to share... a small collection, like I'd dreamed of making earlier in the summer.

Back in September I started a sweater.  All I wanted was a simple cardigan with rounded collars.  I went through my stash and decided upon Classic Elite Portland Tweed in Rosewater, a dusty pink.  I wasn't particularly enamored with the yarn or the color.  It wasn't bad, something I bought over internet, but it was not too exciting either.  I designed the sweater so it's worked top-down in one piece with raglan sleeves and built in shallow pockets and a pleat on the back. Also, I added on the sleeves and pocket some very simple cables. The sewn on collars were knitted separately.  I actually knitted the collars twice to get it right. The buttonholes were simply single crochet loops as after thought.

I liked it. Nothing earth shattering, but comfy. I thought it was rather sweet looking.

In the mean time, everything at work got more confusing. Sitting in one place doing mindless knitting didn't help.

Fortunately I was able to find distraction in sewing.  I'm really a novice at sewing, so when I do it, I have to concentrate 100%. This time I got ambitious, I thought I'd make my own sewing patterns.

Yes, and to completely take my mind off things, I decided to draft my own pattern of...drum roll please.... pants.  Trousers with pockets to go with the sweater.

I checked out "Make Your Own Patterns" by Rene Bergh from local library. I read through parts of it and decided I'd give it a try. I drafted a trouser pattern following the steps in the chapter. It was very mathematical and straight forward, it took me half a day to draw the patterns. With the new coupon from Joann's I bought some muslin and did a sample. It turned out fine. That was when I realized I must have fairly "average" figure that there wasn't much fit issue.

Instead of the plaid fabric I really wanted to go with the sweater, first I sew a pair with a plain brown-ish grey suiting fabric from my stash as a test run. Since the part of the book I followed did not have pockets, I thought the easiest placement would be at the side seams.  I slimmed down the legs a bit from the books math, and made a few minor changes to for better fit.  I'm very proud to announce that the trouser ended up fitting me well.

After this first pair, I got more confident to use the plaid for the pants to match the sweater.  I made few more changes so the legs are tighter and tapered.  Also, I changed the placement of pockets to be more towards center from the side seams. I was able to sew the whole pants on my day off. I took my time. Breaks were necessary at every 20 or 30 minutes. And it was also interrupted by friend's phone call.  She asked, "what are you doing?" I said, "sewing... pants... in plaid." She giggled.  I know, crazy, who would wear plaid pants now that we're not in the 90's any more?

After a bit chatting, I got back to sewing.  I even matched the plaids very, very carefully so the two sides match, and so do the fronts  matching to the back at side seams.  The pants looked so great, except... when it's on me.  I think it takes certain body type to wear pale color plaid pants, the type that is the tall and slender, that type that is not me.  What was I thinking??? It still didn't stop me from being very proud of the work, the matching prints stuff.

After trying on the pants with the sweater, I decided the legs needed to be a lot shorter. One flaw, the material was much stretchier and slightly softer than the brown trouser, so the waist did feel slightly looser even after I took in 2 more inches.  I think I'll have to add belt loops onto the pants for the real perfect fit.

Then I thought the original brown trouser needed a boxier sweater to pair with.  The idea of having a mini collection of knitting and sewing designs prompted me to incorporate cables onto the second sweater.  OK, so the collection was going with cables as one element.  The second sweater was made slightly over-sized. plain grey, very neutral looking, not feminine like the first cardigan.  Since the combination of the pullover and the trouser was rather understated, I put the cables somewhat off center to add a but more fun.  Additionally, horizontal textured stripes were added to contrast the vertical cable column and echo the grids of plaid.

The yarn was Debbie Bliss Fez. Love, love, love the yarn. I seriously love every second of knitting it and wearing it. It's soft but not limp. I have another sweater lot in fuchsia, but I'm still kicking myself for not getting more of it when it was on sale at Elann.  It's one of the few yarns I can see myself knitting every sweater with it.

Although not a stand-out piece, the sweater turned out nice.  It completed the neutral look I wanted for the trouser.  I kinda wish it's even looser for a bit more fashionable look. It was knitted bottom-up in round, and separated at underarm.  Set-in sleeves were knitted in round and sewn to body at finishing stage.

The brown and grey were so neutral, it made me dream of making a coat with a beautiful magenta/fuchsia fabric I had stashed for a year.  It was found at Joann's bargain pile.  After the purchase, I made a pair of pants with a pattern guaranteed for perfect fit. Well, perfect fit it wasn't. I threw the pants away. After following the direction of finding my exact size and fit according to the envelope and the instruction, I was too disgusted that the pants turned out way too unflattering and baggy. It looked like 4 size larger than what I needed.  But I loved the fabric so much I went back and bought more right after that. I never got around to make the pants again, now they'd be perfect for a coat.  That is, if I can do it right.   


I followed the instruction for making a top from the same book, and gave up after 20 minutes. I'm sure it would've worked if I followed it through, but it was getting too tedious. Paul wasn't around to help me with a bunch of measurements that was called for. I thought, heck, with all the designing of sweaters for myself in the past few years, I know most of the measurements of a top I'd like. Combining that with a coat I made few years ago from a sewing pattern, I was able to come up with sets of numbers that I thought would work for a coat, shoulder width, armhole circumference, armhole height, etc.

I also happened to come upon one episode of  "It's Sew Easy" on Amazon Prime on how to adapt sleeve patterns (Season 1, episode 7 - episode#107, "Patterns".) I figured it can't be too different from drafting one completely from scratch.  I even went crazy and decided I wanted princess seam.  So the book talked about to draft princess seam, that helped.  But it didn't really talk about how to add seam allowance.  I must admit I was not a careful reader, so I could've easily skipped that part. I thought about it in my head, I supposed if I really wanted a smooth drafting process, I could just draft out exact size, then cut pieces and add seam allowances by taping or re-drafting.  But I was a bit lazy.

I drafted so the 2 parts of princess seam would be right next to each other on paper with seam allowances included. This did create a problem when I was sewing up the muslin.  I realized I had to be very careful as to where to begin sewing, so the edges of the 2 parts of the princess seam would form a continuous contour. After few trial and error, I was able to draft that out more accurately.

Then the curve of the collars at the neck edge was more challenging than I expected. It took me 3 tries to get the right shape and size. I realized a straight edge across the neck edge was not going to cut it.  It had to be the same curve as neck line on the body, just like the waist band on pants.

I forged on with making this pattern, I was having such a blast and completely wasn't thinking about the mess at work for the entire weekend.  I redrafted, taped the collars a few times.  After 2 muslin samples of patterns, I was finally confident to sew up the coat using this beautiful fabric. I didn't put in pockets as I had hoped, because at that point, my mind couldn't handle any more calculations of inches in increments of 1/8.

I changed my mind about the waist band. It was originally designed to be laid straight around the waist. I ended up having this idea of diagonal up at the center front, and glad I changed my mind.  It gave a little slender looking lines.

The lining was a little more work than I thought.  I didn't sew the waist band as a separate part. Instead I connected the top to bottom with extra length that equaled to the waist band. That took a bit extra drafting. Also, since I made the main fabric center front folded over for the button band, the center front lining had to be recalculated and re-drafted, as well as everything else due to inside neck band was in main fabric.

When I went to Mills' End for the lining fabric, I decided on a not lining-specifc fabric that's gingham in print. I liked the tiny gingham print because it's grids, like the plaid.  The material was polyester.  It was on sale for $1 per yard.  I asked for 3 yards just to be on the safe side, the clerk threw in the extra bolt's end, 1 whole yard, in for free.  4 yards of it for $3, not bad at all.

What to do with the yardage left?  Well, a simple dress.  But before I made that dress, I envisioned a bulky, hooded, vest with it.  I made the vest first.  First, I made some swatches for cables and settled on 2 cable stitches I liked based on look and proportion. I wanted a puffy cable instead of rope-like cables so the vest can kinda look like a down jacket.  The Vest was made bottom-up, 3 day knitting, gotta love bulky yarn.  I used Shulana Cortina that I bought from Elann months ago.  I really had fun knitting this vest, I did have to rest my wrist regularly for working with such bulky yarn.

This ensemble was quick and easy.  The dress was originally slightly fancier in design with curved collars etc, but major fail due to impatience and lack of planning, so I just scratched that and sew up a simple v-neck dress with separate bodice and skirt pieces sewn together.

Finally, I wanted one more outfit to complete the collection.  So far the collection is of pink, grey, and plaid/gingham which means vertical and horizontal lines.  Looking at the fabric I had on hand, a light grey t-shirt jersey material, and leftover fabric from the brownish grey trouser would go well.  I quickly drafted a t-shirt pattern using my own measurements and lesson learned from making armholes with coat.  All the schematic drawings I did for sweater patterns really helped me with knowing what I needed to do.  The drafting was actually done in very short time because I was counting on the knit fabric being forgiving.  My T-shirt came out perfect, exactly what I wanted.  I added vertical elements to the front by folding the front vertically and sewn straight down. I decided to go for a less "finished" look for the t-shirt by sewing the entire shirt with color of thread for the coat instead of the matching grey.  I love it.  it's a bit more "rebel," and less refined, not to mention less stress in sewing.

The skirt was just simple A-line skirt from the good old A-line skirt pattern I drafted this summer.  I didn't have enough fabric for pockets, so no pockets, hence easy sewing.  I added the vertical lines using the same contrasting color threads by using one of the stretch stitches on the machine for thicker lines. It was very satisfying to be totally free form.

I probably love the coat the most simply because it took the most time and it felt like the biggest challenge I overcame. Paul likes the t-shirt the most though.

I'm absolutely thrilled that I finished the entire mini-collection using everything from stash except for the $3 gingham fabric for lining and dress.  I even had all the zippers needed in stash.  I did have to shop for buttons, and I always hated shopping for buttons.  

It was a much needed process for me, designing every piece and making my own patterns for all of them. First of  all, I learned so much from making my own sewing patterns. Designing sweater patterns in the past really did help me here, I knew exactly what shoulder width and armhole width I like, so it took away guessing game.  Some basic understanding of set-in sleeves shapes helped as well. Everything ended up fitting way better than cutting from bought patterns. I know I can always adapt patterns, but somehow drafting from scratch seemed easier because I knew exactly where and how I should calculate things instead of figuring out someone else' math.  I find it the same as designing sweaters, it's often easier to start everything from scratch on my own, than to redo a lot of calculations. 

Then, there was the entire immersion and all-consuming process that has been saving my sanity for the past 7 or 8 weeks.  I worked on them whenever I'm not at work. It only left me little time to get upset about the mess.

The fact that I got to make every single decision in the process, how wide the sleeves, what steps to construct, making every cable stitch without referring to other sources (but I'm sure they existed somewhere already since they're super simple,)  how big buttons to sew on, how big collars to put on, etc., really gave me back little sense of control in life and making my own decisions about things. That was sorely needed.   


  1. WOW. I'm completely stunned by how much you've done in such a short time and how beautiful every piece is! They all look amazing on you.

  2. I concur... WOW!!! I cannot even BELIEVE that you DESIGNED and MADE all of those beautiful pieces in such a short amount on time! I am so impressed and I really love all of those items.

  3. Absolutely an amazing accomplishment! I have visions of sewing and knitting myself a wardrobe, as well, and you've set a great example of that! Though I probably will not draft all my own patterns as you so magnificently did!

  4. Love the coat. It is beautiful.

  5. Wow! You are so amazing and inspiring! I love what you've done. I hope one day to be able to knit and sew a wardrobe too.

  6. Wow! All of them are beautiful! The gray sweater is gorgeus.