Sewing the precious

img_2385I’m a slow sewist but that doesn’t mean that I have a perfectionist attitude to my sewing: basically I’m just slow. I’ve been sewing for six years now and while I’ve learned a hell of a lot about making garments in that time, this is very much a hobby for me. I’m definitely better than I was, but this is a journey without a destination in mind – so there’s no route map either.

Maybe for those reasons, the Sewcialists’ challenge to ‘sew the precious’ earlier this year really resonated with me. When you know you’re not really ready to sew the good fabrics, you put them aside nervously until you feel ready. And then you don’t ever feel ready.

The fabric was one I bought a year ago – just after my fantastic class at Sewoverit, learning to sew the Francine jacket. I said firmly to my husband then that I would need to sew another jacket immediately, to cement the skills I’d learned. I went off to Fabrics Galore one lunchtime and bought the very last of some lovely black wool – with enough structure to make a jacket work, but still with enough drape to hang nicely.

Clearly, without the discipline (reassurance/confidence etc) of Julie and the rest of the class, my beautiful wool (and the dark red lining I’d also picked up) sat for the rest of the year in my stash. I thought it was time to give it a purpose. Obviously not its original purpose. Because: me.

img_2345After a small item that I wrote was published in the Maker’s Atelier magazine last year, Frances said thank you by letting me choose any of her patterns – and after much indecision (they are all lovely) I was drawn to the Swing Jacket. I loved the simple lines and felt that the styling with a classic pencil skirt would be something I’d definitely wear to work.

The next thing I did was an absolute first for me: I made a toile! Every single book, blog, expert, course or TV show that I’ve watched/read etc has extolled the virtue of making a toile. Testing out a pattern on muslin fabric, practising construction, checking fit, making adjustments – these are all excellent reasons for taking the time and trouble to make a toile. At the same time, in a sustainable sewing world, it feels awfully frivolous to waste enough fabric to make a trial garment. It also feels to me like a waste of time – when I feel like I have never-enough-sewing-time as it is, to spend some of it on a tester garment feels wrong somehow. These are my reasons – laziness and impatience with a side order of planet saving/stinginess. That’s set alongside a body that conforms to most patterns – only really requiring the use of the shortening lines for most pattern adjustments to get a decent fit – so the impetus to toile is reduced again.

img_2055So this time was a first for me. I cut the main pieces in some old heavy black cotton from my stash. I stitched them together by hand – and actually really enjoyed that part of the process. You know when you read instructions, but it isn’t until you’ve made the thing that it makes sense? Well somehow that’s a lot clearer if you’re sewing by hand and not just feeding fabric into a machine.

So having made the toile what were my earth-shattering revelations? Yup, I liked it and would go ahead with my wool. No adjustments required that were obvious. (Let’s come back to this point later.)

So, on with the show. I cut the pieces, and followed the instructions that Frances had helpfully posted on her blog about constructing a lining for the jacket. Having already made it once, it was quite straightforward to make both the woollen and lining versions of the ‘real’ thing. The wool was beautiful to work with – taking an iron in precisely the way that the lining fabric refused to.

In Frances’ post, the suggestion was to leave the unhemmed jacket and lining hanging for a few days – which in my world means until the next weekend at the earliest. It meant the fabric had time to drop – and also gave me time to scowl at it every time I went past my dress form.

And this is the bit where I refer back to what I learned and didn’t learn from my nice toile. A sample piece isn’t a finished garment. It hangs differently and the fabric is (by necessity) a lot – well, cheaper. It wasn’t lined, which again changes the way it fits. Basically it just wasn’t the same.

Now it was nearly done and I’d lived with the nearly-finished coat in my kitchen for a week, I decided that it actually needed to be quite a bit shorter to look right on me. (I know, back to the lengthen(never!)/shorten lines again.) Clearly I was still able to do this because I’d not hemmed the thing yet, but I also ended up cutting off and wasting a quite wide strip of expensive wool fabric, when I was desperately trying to squeeze a pencil skirt out of the remainder.

As well as being a slow sewist, I’m turning into a slow blogger too. I finished the jacket two weeks ago and have worn it to work several times since then. I’ve had complements which is nice – and it does feel like something that is very me. I’m a little irritated that I didn’t trim the excess fabric enough at the front edge hem – it feels bulky there to me, but I’m guessing that not many people would notice though it’s glaring to me. It’s more irritating because I wanted this one to be special, and it’s a note that jars – you know. But I’m not irritated enough to unpick the hem and redo it, so it’ll have to be something I learn to love.

So for the swing jacket – it’s a great, simple and stylish pattern that sews up quickly. If you’re drawn to that kind of shape I’d definitely recommend it. And personally I think the lining really adds something too and is straightforward to make.

For toiles – yep, I’m not yet convinced. In a world short on resources and a life short on time, I think I’ll carry on trying things out carefully, fitting as I go, measuring carefully (me and the garment pieces!) and just going for it. But in future I’ll try and stop saving the precious – it didn’t do Gollum any good after all.

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