Friday, April 17, 2015

Perfecting Men's Shirts - Pattern Review

I'm scared to sew men's shirts...but I think I'm just scared to sew shirts in general. At least for men, there aren't any bust darts to fiddle with. But I've come to the conclusion that unless I really try to come clean and practice sewing shirts, I'm omitting (or avoiding) learning and improving some basic sewing skills. In one shirt, I can learn how to sew a:
  • Collar
  • Collar stand
  • Front placket
  • Set buttonholes
  • Cuff placket
  • Cuff
  • Set-in sleeves
  • Patch pocket
  • French seams
  • Hand-basting
  • Interfacing placement
I have finally improved on the collar and collar stand now. After making a couple of vests, and unsuccessful shirts, I feel like I know what I need to look for in a good design and pattern. But before I could tackle a shirt, I really needed to test some patterns. This could require more than one muslin. (Sad but true.)

Here is an iffy men's pattern to start...at least for size 44 anyway. I note "iffy" because I can be pretty bad at reading pattern instructions when I'm tired. I want to err on my clumsy side. But this pattern had a lot of issues for me. I think that poor sewing instructions is equally as bad as poorly drafted patterns. In more Vogue Patterns that I'd like to count, I have found this to be the case.  Vogue V8759 was no exception. I'd like to hear if others had problems too.


The collar stand didn't fit the neck well. I had to trim it back nearly an inch to make it flush. The ease that they said it had, really didn't seem to exist. It said there was a four inch ease. But it really didn't measure out that way. The sleeve doesn't feel right in the shoulders. Even though it "looks" okay, it doesn't feel correct when on. It seems to pull at the back armhole. I had my brother-in-law, who is three sizes smaller try it on, and he still felt like the shoulders were uncomfortable. This men's shirt is on my female dress form...so disregard the feminine silhouette.

No buttons yet. I might turn this into a work shirt for myself. 

There are French seams in the back, but they are difficult to see in the photo.
One of the key pattern requirements I want is a different collar and stand for different sizes. I think when all the sizes are printed into one pattern piece, fit can be become a problem. I have difficulty cutting the exact size on those tiny size lines that are squeezed into corners. Does anyone else have this problem? Patterns where there are size-specific patterns make for better matching, and there is less room for error. This is one reason why I like StyleArc Patterns.

This Vogue Pattern was scrapped.

This is an excellent men's shirt pattern. I mean EXCELLENT. Not only did Simplicity give me separate and specific sizes for the collar. I found the instructions very clear. Also, many industrial sewing techniques were included into the instructions. If you want to pick up some good professional sewing tips...make this shirt. It is also true to size.

I want to mention that I have been happy with many Simplicity Pattern results as compared to other patterns.

This muslin may go to my eldest son, since he has much longer arms than my hubby.


Placket instructions looked intimidating, but after careful reading and following...it turned out.
Careful to match up the cuff pleats to the cuff size though. I folded it wrong on one sleeve,
and the cuff size was off. But that was a user error, and not the pattern.
I am still in the muslin stage for this shirt. The Simplicity pattern was a great fit overall, but it had not been tailored to my husband yet. Once I get that out of the way, and create a second muslin. Yes, you heard me, a second muslin. I sewed this linen shirt in a 44, and although it fit him in the waist, it was slightly tight in the collar, sleeves were too long, and the shoulders too broad. My hubby has a thick neck, narrow shoulders, short arms, and a large waist.

It the pattern alterations are successful, I will only have to do two muslins.  But I'm not going to hold my breath. I can't wait to cut into some beautiful shirting fabric I got at the Robert Talbott outlet. I also have Robert Talbott silk fabric for men's ties. That's another project that's happening soon. Stay tuned everyone...and happy sewing!





Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Making a Copy of My Stepmother's Favorite Pants

My stepmother lives in Hong Kong, and turned 96 years old this year. She is healthy, alert, and free of meds. She has lived a very unusual life compared to mine. I am amazed at her survival abilities, and her ingenuity. My stepmother never went to school, and is barely able to read except a few words. With this disadvantage, she still managed to learn how to memorize bus routes, and do basic math. She also knows how to repair stools, cook precisely, and sew her own clothes. (Just to name a few...)

On my sister's last trip to Hong Kong, she brought home an old pair of cotton pants that my stepmother made completely by hand. This includes the measuring, cutting, and hand stitching. My sister gave me the task of copying these favorite pants of hers, and creating a new pair.

My stepmother's original handstitched pants.
 To the left of her pants is red elastic she used as a drawstring. At the waist, my stepmother left an opening where she could pull the elastic through to adjust her waist size. By using elastic, it made for more comfort and customization. The pant looked simple enough to transfer.

A while back, I created a large, long cork board to use for transferring ready-to-wear clothes into paper patterns. Here is the board, which fits nicely on my small fold out table.


I placed a large tissue paper underneath the pants, and used push pins to hold the pants steady. I took a sharp dowel, which has a rather large point, and poked little holes around the outline of the pants.
I only had to do one pant leg. Then I added seam allowances.


My stepmother's pants do not have side seams. So the side seams are placed on the fold. Basically, there's only three lines to stitch to piece it together: the front and back of the seat, and the crotch line. Pretty brilliant design huh? She pretty much perfected it after 30 or 40 years of sewing these pants.


Here's my pattern all sewn up. I used a cotton stretch poplin. It is slightly heavier, and great for cool Summer wear, and it gets pretty hot and humid in Hong Kong. These are similar to Kung Fu pants which have a wide crotch. These allow for a lot of movement and stretch. Squatting is a common resting pose.


Close-up of the tie in the front. I created a similar elastic waistband, except I attached the same cotton fabric to the end of the elastic piece. The cotton fabric is sewn together, so the strap never gets lost in the pants.

See how the strap is one complete loop, and she never worries about losing it in the wash?

I created button holes on the inside waist to pull the tie/elastic through. I also secured the elastic at center back so the strap does not slide around as much.
I think it turned out pretty good for my first try. I might copy this pattern and make a pair for myself. They look really comfy.

Here's my stepmother...at 96 trying to smile with her mouth full. Happy sewing everyone!



Monday, March 30, 2015

Spring Cleaning 2015 & Pattern Pattern Everywhere!

Keeping my room tidy was particularly difficult last year while studying full-time for my board exam. With barely enough free time for my projects, keeping the space clean became a low priority. Up until yesterday, I had the bulk of my stash sitting on every available table space so I could see everything. After a year of semi-neglect, and a lot more stash, quality time spent on organization was long overdue. I don't mean just sweeping the floors, dusting, and putting things away. I mean pulling everything out, and then re-sorting.

Up until this month, I had what I considered an average to low collection of patterns. I have been stumped with what to make because I had more fabric than actual pattern choices. I realize now that it should really be the reverse. 
These are my original pattern containers that I now have categorized by type. The left box is filled with dress patterns. The blue striped box on the right are separates, costumes, men's, and accessories (basically, all the other categories). Before yesterday, I had all my patterns crammed into this shelf space. It was a mess.
I found these IKEA storage boxes on my top shelf, and realized they were completely empty! Since these were solid, I made labels to help me sort them in the future. The lidded boxes made stacking a breeze, not to mention tidy.\The green box above is for jacket patterns, and the red box is for odd-sized patterns like my Folkwear, StyleArc, downloaded Burda, Eva Dress, and random Indie patterns. 

One of the really difficult things about using a lot of patterns is what to do with the patterns when I'm done. I would be interested in knowing what others are doing. I keep telling myself that I might use them again, and I think for patterns I really, really love, I should transfer them to tag board so they can be a part of my permanent collection. But that is a project I have not attempted, even though I have a small roll of tag board ready for use. My current used-pattern drawers are full. My next project is sorting through these and throwing out patterns I don't like.
These drawers are filled to the brim with used patterns.
Used patterns on top of those white drawers. It's difficult to store without folding them down to smaller pieces. 
I bought this gift wrap storage container on sale at Joanns, and it's long and wide enough to fit all those taped-together downloaded patterns. It's already mostly full, so I have to start throwing some of these patterns out. 

I repurposed my extra clear shoe boxes for storing notions a couple of years ago. But I didn't really do a good job sorting out all the notions into categories. Items were scattered across boxes, causing me to waste time digging through several boxes for items I needed. My zippers are now all in one box, bias binding in another, and so on...
Even after sorting and labeling each container, I think I could separate items out further. For example, I could go through the buttons and separate them out by size. I'll let you know if that happens.

Here's a picture of my more organized shelf. Even though it doesn't look less cluttered, everything is a lot more accessible. 
 Here's an example of narrowing down my notions to a specific category by task. I placed all my hemming supplies in a single bin. This included fusibles, lace, and any other task-specific tool. These are items I use really often, and spend lots of time looking for in bins.
Since purchasing my new Juki, having a convenient place for all the feet accessories was a problem. I like to use the extension table, and the storage space is in the regular pull-out table. I emptied everything, and placed all the feet in a small rubber container. Up until today, I had the feet scattered around the table, and inside the extension bin. 

My needs shift with my sewing skills. As I'm utilizing more complex sewing methods, my need to have tools scattered across different areas of my room become very important. I was worried about the number of scissors I owned, but now, they are just enough to have at every work station. I need some identical tools as well as project-specific ones. 
This art caddy was originally at my cutting table. I found that the deep and wide bins did not really hold all my cutting, marking, and measuring tools well. But it is a perfect caddy for my ironing station where my needed tools are taller and bulkier. The similar items are scissors, chalk and tape, but I have found that I like to do a lot of hand basting, collar or corner turning, as well as ironing. With everything organized mostly in the caddy, it makes it easier to move it around the ironing board. I replaced the pink caddy with this popular desk organizer.
I opted for this little spinning number over the art-specific ones because I don't need to store markers. I prefer having more tiny trays for the small, hard-to-store tools. I use lots of clips to hold pattern pieces for example. I also like various chalk and marking pens visible.
This is another view of my spinning tray. I remember donating this very item a few years back before I started sewing again because I found it cluttered up my office desk. I am not suggesting that we should keep everything we own. But many office supplies I used to own could be great storage now. 

Another item that I never regretted buying was a simple tall basket from TJ Maxx to hold all my rolls of fabric, paper, and miscellaneous vertical supplies. This bin keeps all these items in one corner without tipping over, and the bottoms clean from dust.
My IKEA shelves got a slight adjustment after repeatedly digging around for my interfacing, lining, and muslin fabrics. I decided once and for all that I needed to have all these items visible, and roughly organized at all times. I use some bit of these materials for every sewing project. I took a shelf out of the top, and moved it into the open shelf section where its at arms reach. 
By eliminating one of the top shelves, I created more room for thicker and bulkier fabric inside the top cupboard. The third shelf was often too high for me to see or organize the stash. It ended up being a space I rarely used.
I store my most frequently used knits and cottons here. Here's a picture of the cabinet now.
A few feet away from my sewing studio, in the second and bigger half of the barn sits a china cabinet. I sold the matching table and chairs during one of my many moves, but no one wanted the cabinet. My don't have room for it now, so it's been relegated to storage. With its glass doors, it's a perfect storage unit for some of my fabric stash. I've still got more stash that's hidden under tables around my sewing studio. I don't judge either...

My sewing area is an ongoing organization project. The re-sorting of thread, bobbins, and re-tidying of the tools tray which houses everything I need for the machines will never end. If I do not clean regularly...usually after every sewing project, I find it difficult to be efficient. Here is what my table looks like as of today. It might look different next week!
This sewing table is crowded! If I had a choice, I would love to have about a foot more space between each machine. My sister visited this week, and we shared this sewing space. Let's just say, we bumped into each other a lot. Behind the three major machines are two backup machines in the far corner. They are there because I don't have any other place to store them. But I'm considering relocating them into one of the shelves as soon as I sew some of my stash down. That might not happen for a while...or never. My stash tend to multiply and grow with very little effort. I need stash contraceptives...

If you want to see how much more stuff I have now compared to before...check out my previous blog entry on my sewing room re-org in April 2013 HERE. It's two years...and much fabric shopping, including trips to Asia later, I'm still busting at the seams. This little Spring cleaning took me nearly six hours. But I did it leisurely, and enjoyed every minute of it. Happy sewing!