Sewing jeans: Making samples

topstitchingthread

Do you ever get started enthusiastically on a project and then suddenly lose steam? That’s what happened with my muslin process. I was a bit tired and didn’t have much time so not much progress was made and now I have to motivate myself to get back to it. I have finished muslin 4 though and I think I’m really close to getting a good fit. I’ll probably write about it after the weekend. Now I want to show you another part of the sewing process, collecting all the materials and testing out different techniques before using them on the actual garment.

needle&thread

Also important: a supply of fresh denim needles!

I already bought some denim and matching thread for this project a while ago. All my RTW jeans are blue so I thought it would be fun to use a different colour for this pair and chose grey. I like how the fabric looks and feels, but it is quite lightweight so probably more suitable to wear in summer than winter (so I’d better hurry up making these!).

In Angela Wolff’s Craftsy class she shows how to distress denim with sandpaper to get that worn look that most RTW jeans have. I wasn’t really sure how well that would work on my fabric so I tested it and it’s not a success. It makes the fabric fuzzy which doesn’t look very pretty so for this pair I’ll give the distressing part a miss. I’ll have to try it on something else though!

Fabric on the left is not distressed, fabric on the right was distressed with sandpaper.

Fabric on the left is not distressed, fabric on the right was distressed with sandpaper. It’s turned a bit fuzzy.

I my opinion topstitching in contrasting thread is one of the scary parts of sewing jeans. It is so visible and if it isn’t done right it can really brand your make as homemade. For my jeans I bought two colours of Coats Epic 40 thread to try out. Black and a brown that is really close to black. First I tried which stitch length would look best and decided on 4.0. I also tried some stitches to use on the back pocket embroidery (another scary part…). I used the black thread for my samples but I think in the end I prefer the brownish thread over the black one because it is a little more subtle. I’ll have to practise a bit more though to get my double rows of topstitching consistent before I attempt this on the actual jeans.

stitch length

I also tried a keyhole buttonhole.

In bag making one trick to make your bag look professional is to throw some metal hardware at it and I think this might be true for jeans as well. I bought some metal rivets and jeans buttons that I can apply with my Prym pliers. Rivets are typically used in jeans to reinforce pocket corners. I got enough of both in each packet that I could try them out to see how well they behave when I apply them. It worked surprisingly well. It also made me realise that I have to think how I want the button oriented before I put it into the fabric. I think my jeans will feature at least a couple of rivets.

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I am not yet ready to get started on my jeans because I still need to perfect the fit but I think I do have everything I need to finish this pair. I’ve also already made some design decisions, like which thread to use for the topstitching and what stitch length to use. This will speed up the sewing process because I won’t have to stop to test this anymore. I also don’t have to quit in the middle of a sewing frenzy because I forgot to buy a zipper (I have a huge stash of zippers and something is bound to be suitable). Testing these things also makes for a nice change from making muslins.

This fabric was distressed before topstitching. It's also fuzzy.

This fabric was distressed before topstitching. It’s also fuzzy.

Do you generally make samples before trying something new?

I'll need to experiment some more...

I’ll need to experiment some more…

Sewing jeans: Muslin 2

If you are now wondering whether you missed a post about muslin 1. You didn’t. I had originally planned to blog the whole fitting process but muslin 1 was unfortunately not suitable for public display due to indecent exposure of underwear.

I am attempting to sew myself a pair of well-fitting jeans. I’ve wanted to do so for years because I am never completely happy with the fit of RTW jeans, yet jeans are what I wear most days. In summer I am a jeans and t-shirt girl, the rest of the year I’m a jeans, t-shirt and cardigan girl. With my RTW fast the need to finally make these self-made jeans happen is getting more urgent. Sewbusylizzy organised a Jeans in June and July challenge and this was the final push I needed to get started. Not sure whether I’ll actually manage to finish an actual pair in July since August is already looming on the horizon and I have to work all remaining July days except for today but if I finish the muslin process in July I’m happy (and if not, I’m probably still happy).

I already had a pair of jeans stashed away that I had started copying using the method from Kenneth D. Kings Craftsy class. I started that project ages ago but got distracted and was also a bit scared to continue because my first ever attempt at trousers years ago failed horribly and caused a bit of a trauma.

Tracing pattern onto silk organza

copying jeans

The original jeans were copied by thread tracing the seams and straight of grain lines and then transferring these markings to silk organza. If you want to get a better idea of how this method works have a look at this post by Cindy from cationdesigns, she posted about this process in more detail earlier this week. The pattern was then transferred from silk organza onto Swedish tracing paper (my favourite type of tracing paper ever). The pattern was trued (which means making sure that all seams have the correct shape and that seams that are supposed to match up, do in fact match up) and I made a muslin. I made my muslin using regular muslin fabric without stretch, because this is what Angela Wolff recommends even if your fashion fabric contains lycra. I’m really hoping this will work out ok when I do sew my final pair in denim that contains some lycra and is, therefore, somewhat stretchy…

Anyway, as you may have guessed after reading the first paragraph of this post, they did not fit. In fact, they were super tight and couldn’t close (to be honest the original jeans are also a bit on the tight side). I made 3 changes to the pattern. 1. An adjustment for full inner thighs. 2. More room at center back. 3. More room at side seam of back. I probably could have tried to change more but worried that it would get so messy that transferring my changes to the pattern would become a nightmare.

After making these changes to the pattern I made muslin 2 from the same muslin fabric hoping I would now have something approaching wearable. Note that this muslin does not yet have a waistband. I’ve used waxed tracing paper to indicate the straight of grain lines. I’ve also added some horizontal lines that help to diagnose fit issues. These are definitely not the most flattering pictures I have ever posted of myself but I think I am now at a point that it seems likely I can get to a fitting pair at some point. Remember, it’s always the garment that is causing the horrible fit, your body is just fine! After all, I can change the garment to adjust for my shape but I can hardly adjust my shape to fit the garment. Well, I suppose I could get a surgeon to shave some flesh of my thighs but that doesn’t really seem like a workable approach to use for each new garment I want to make…

Muslin front

Do you notice how the fabric is pulled into the crotch causing distortions?

Muslin back

Again fabric is pulled into the crotch. It’s also pulled towards the sides. I will also need to change the placement of the back pockets at the end of the process to make sure they end up more centered.

muslin sides

Eventually the side seam should end up perpendicular to the floor. Right now there is too much strain because fabric is being pulled to areas where there isn’t enough fabric causing a wave-like shape

Obviously they are still too tight but at least I can close them now. I believe most of the issues are caused by a too short crotch length that is causing the fabric to be pulled into the crotch both at the front and back. I think I will also need to add some more room in the thigh area as they are still very tight. My previous adjustments at center back now causes some gaping at the yoke (something I nearly always get in RTW jeans) so I’ll fix that too.

Do you have any other suggestions for adjustments that I could make to get a better fit?

UFO Busting: Self-drafted A-line skirt

I proudly present what may very well be the best fitting skirt I have ever had. I made the pattern following (most of the) instructions from Craftsy’s “Design and sew an a-line skirt” class. The fit of this skirt is so much better than any RTW skirt I have been able to find. The main reason I hardly ever used to wear a skirt is that I simply didn’t have any good fitting ones. Usually, when I tried on a RTW skirt it was either way too large at the waist or way too tight at the hip. Now I want to make lots more!

Denim A-line skirt

This quite simple skirt turned into an UFO because I probably used inaccurate measurements when I drafted my first pattern months ago. My muslin looked hideous. I decided to toss it and start from scratch. This time, I marked the exact location of my waist, hip and desired hem line on my body so that I would be sure to measure in the right location and also have accurate waist-hip and waist-hemline measurements.

I still had to tweak the side seam between waist and hip quite a bit in my muslin because the difference between those two measurements is quite large due to my pear shape. Perhaps I could get it to fit even better in that region in a next version but for now I’m very pleased with how it looks.

A-line skirt with inset pocketInstead of making a very basic skirt I wanted something a bit more special, so I added a facing, cut up the front and back to do some colour blocking and added inset pockets. How to draft this type of pocket isn’t included in the class but I very much prefer this pocket over the options provided in the class. For example, I detest inseam pockets. Seriously, they always gape and then stand out a little bit from your body and since they’re usually located in the hip region of a skirt or dress they draw extra attention to your hips. I think it is safe to assume that over 90% of Western women does not want to draw extra attention to her hips. So, my advice is to avoid inseam pockets like the plague. It’s not difficult to add inset pockets to an existing pattern, although with hindsight I should probably have made mine a little deeper.

Facing

For the skirt fabric I used pieces of cut up old jeans. I have collected a selection of old worn jeans that I occasionally cut up into pieces and use to make stuff. When I pulled out my stash I discovered I had 14(!) pairs that I hadn’t yet cut into, which, even to me, seems like a somewhat ridiculous amount. Most worn jeans still have areas where the fabric is in very good condition, most often the back of the lower part of the leg. You want to avoid using parts that are clearly worn and the knees. Most denim nowadays contains some spandex and the knees in old jeans have usually become stretched out and baggy. For this skirt I used fabric from 5 different pairs and I really like how they work together. For the facing and pocket lining I used a floral cotton. The facing is interfaced with medium weight woven interfacing.

denim A-line skirtSome of you may have been wondering when I was ever going to post a project for which I used my new overlocker and coverstitch machine. Right now! I finished the seam allowances with a 3-thread overlock stitch and I think the inside now looks very nice and it was so much faster than what I used to do before. The hem was finished with a 2 needle coverstitch and I also really like how that turned out.

Left: details of 3-thread overlock stitch. Right: 2-needle coverstitch on hem.

Left: details of 3-thread overlock stitch. Right: 2-needle coverstitch on hem.

Largest revelations during the skirt drafting stage:

  • I do not need darts in the skirt front (which is actually a very good thing because it reduces the number of darts to sew by a whopping 50%!). Instead I lowered the top of the skirt a little bit at the centre front to ensure that the top of the whole skirt would be parallel to the floor.
  • Pinning a back dart on yourself while simultaneously trying to look in a mirror to see what you are doing puts you at serious risk of a strain injury.
  • My back darts needed to be quite a bit longer than I originally thought they should be.

140201_A-lineskirt4I did find this Craftsy class useful but I thought the teacher was a bit too happy. If you want to learn how to draft a simple skirt it is a good option though and if you start out with the right measurements you’ll most likely end up with a very nice fitting skirt. However, would I buy a skirt drafting class today I would most likely get the “Pattern making basics: The skirt sloper” class as that one seems to be much more versatile. I might still get it, I really want to learn more about pattern drafting, I thoroughly enjoy the process and dress making is even more fun when your finished garments actually fit well.

Completed: Crochet project bag and some adventures in crochet

A couple of weeks ago I started to learn crochet. What, crochet? And you didn’t like knitting, why would you even try crochet? And do you really need another hobby? Well, I want to have some projects that I can easily take with me on the train. While you can technically take hand-sewing projects on the train I find this a bit too much trouble because you need to bring thread, needles, pins, scissors and a bag to put all the cut off threads in because I don’t want to litter and then I’m constantly worrying that I’m dropping pins all over the place and that someone else will sit in them. A knitting or crochet project requires much less stuff and I think these might work better for travel related crafting. I’ve tried knitting twice and both times this wasn’t very successful so crochet (only 1 hook!) seemed like the better option.

The truth is, while fabric and sewing come quite naturally to me, yarn doesn’t. I’ve taken loads of Craftsy courses and for the sewing ones I usually watch the whole course once before starting on a project and then while I’m making the project I’ll watch it again. Tricky parts I might rewatch a third time and then I’ll know what to do. Not with crochet. I’m enrolled in Vicky Howell’s Crochet Lab course and I must have watched the single crochet class at least a dozen times already.

These are my first efforts where I quickly decided that it would probably be better to just start over:

I can’t believe I’m showing you these…

Then I produced this:

It looks like crochet but weren’t you supposed to make a square?

And then this:

It might be somewhat irregular but it approaches squareness.

Then I figured I was ready to try double crochet. I almost crocheted a whole swatch in what I thought was double crochet but what turned out to be a self-invented stitch. I did wonder why my double crochet was much tighter than the single crochet (it’s supposed to be looser) and didn’t look like what Vicky was doing before I realized that I was skipping a quite essential step. And that was after I had already looked at Vicky doing this stitch a dozen times at least. Ah well, after my invented stitch that was quite tricky to do, the real double crochet was a breeze.

At least I was able to figure out what I was doing wrong…

Now I am ready to tackle a double crochet scarf and for this I clearly need a crochet project bag that I can use to store my project in while travelling.  Enter some sewing (after all, this is meant to be a sewing blog!). I made a zipper pouch with boxed corners and three pockets on the inside. One zipper pocket, one pocket that was cut diagonally at the top and is divided into several narrow pockets so that it fits several sizes crochet hooks and one patch pocket on the other side. The outside fabric is interfaced with fusible fleece to give it enough body to stand upright on its own. It fits two really huge balls of yarn and I think it will be very useful to help me stay organised.

There are some crochet related things that I find quite strange. For example, it is bad enough that UK and US English uses a different spelling, but why, why, do you use different words to describe the same thing??? And in different conversion charts I also found different terms and abbreviations. I’ve decided to stick to the US crochet terms because that is what is used in the Craftsy class and I don’t want to complicate my life.

crochet hooksRight now I have 2 crochet hooks from the brand KnitPro, 5 mm and 10 mm. Obviously, the hooks have a different thickness, but why do they also change the size (length and thickness) of the handle? Do they think my hand changes size when I change yarn thickness? As it is, I much prefer to hold the 10 mm hook because it is longer and thicker. The 5 mm really feels too short and my hand gets a bit cramped if I use it for too long. I think I should also try some other brands to find out what works best for me. Does anyone have suggestions?

And now it is time to get started on my scarf, will I get it finished during Christmas? Only time will tell…

UFO Busting: Alabama Chanin style cardigan

131006_cardigan3I am in love with this cardigan, it is absolutely perfect in all of its imperfections. It is also completely out of my comfort zone. Who would have thought that I was going to wear an embroidered cardigan and love it? Not me, that’s for sure. I am a no-nonsense girl, my wardrobe consists for more than 90% of solids and typically lacks frilly details. So, how did I end-up creating an all-over embroidered garment?

It all started when Craftsy launched their Hand Embellishing Knit Fabric course that is taught by Natalie Chanin from Alabama Chanin. Alabama Chanin sells completely hand-made embellished garments made from 100% organic cotton jersey. Their garments are very expensive, which is totally understandable once you realize how much work is put into creating each item. For those of us that cannot afford to spend several thousand dollars on a single piece of clothing they sell books and supplies that help you to create them yourself. I became fascinated by this process so I signed up for the Craftsy course and also bought the Alabama Stitch book.

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Would the woman who made this pattern still recognize it?

I decided against using the coat pattern supplied with the Craftsy class (it’s huge and I don’t think I’d wear it) but instead made cardigan 17 from Knipmode June 2011, that I already made once before. I did make some adaptations though. The original pattern calls for some voile being sewn in at the hems and shoulder seams, I had already discarded this detail as too frilly in my previous version and left it out here as well. I added 1 inch to both sides at centre front tapering to nothing at the shoulder. I shortened the sleeve to ¾ length because I couldn’t fit a full sleeve out of my fabric, and I usually push up my sleeves anyway. I also rounded up some corners to make it easier to install the ribbing around the edges. For the closure I used a hook and eye instead of ties.

131006_cardigan1Alabama Chanin garments typically consist of two layers of cotton jersey. For embellished versions a stencil is used to paint shapes onto the fabric. This is then embroidered, (reverse) appliqued and/or beaded.

I used 2m white 100% organic cotton jersey and dyed it with procion MX 128 warm black that turned out more grey blue than black, but I love it anyway. The inside layer is a lighter shade than the outside layer because I used a more diluted dye bath for that piece of fabric. The stencilling was done with white paint and the bloomers stencil supplied with the Alabama Stitch book. For the backstitch embroidery around the painted shapes I decided to use all the different shades of green I had in my stash which is probably close to 30 different colours. I love the effect that this creates.  It also made the embroidery part more fun because I could make some design choices along the way. The ribbing was attached with the whipstitch.

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I’m sure some of you are wondering how long it took me to complete this project. I keep a sewing logbook in which I write down what I do each day to help me keep track. I started this cardigan on March 16 of this year and worked on it during 46 days. On some days I only embroidered one shape, but I think it is safe to assume that on average I probably worked at least 2-3 hours a day, so in total it took at least 100-150 hours to complete it, but that might still be a conservative estimate. Anyway, I don’t really care how much time it took, all I know is that I ended up with one pretty amazing and unique garment that is for sure going to be a wardrobe staple!

131006_detailsI am definitely going to continue on this handsewing journey. It was a very relaxing process, I kept the project in our living room and worked on it while watching television or listening to music. It was also really nice that I could take this project with me to work on it elsewhere because it didn’t require a sewing machine. Talking about comfort zones, I now also want to try my hand at beading, yes beading.

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I just had to add this picture because my boyfriend, who took the pictures, thought it was very funny, so this one is for him!