Thoughts on Patterns

It’s quite interesting how a formerly happy user of Big 4 (Big One?) patterns like me has shifted to almost exclusively using Indie patterns over the last couple of years. Or hacks of Indie patterns. Or rub-offs of beloved old RTW. Or completely self-drafted patterns. Or pretty much anything really besides the “pattern company formerly known as Big 4”. How did that happen?

I know there’s been some…okay, a lot of debate on Big 4 vs. Indie pattern companies on social media. And each will have their fans for whatever reason. I do know that when I learned to sew back in the Dark Ages, there wasn’t any real competition for your pattern dollars. There was Simplicity, Butterick, McCall’s and (if you could afford it) Vogue and that was pretty much all that was available at the fabric store. Anyone remember those big metal drawers? Huge catalogues to flip through on top? Tissue patterns that only came in one size per envelope and they usually were out of yours? Just little old me?

Now there are so many new designers with patterns for sale! Some are actually printed and packaged but by far the vast majority are available in PDF. Instant gratification – except for the part where you have to print and assemble the pages. All sizes in one pattern and if you need a different size or multiple sizes you can just print it again. I’m especially enamoured of the ones with layers so you can print the size(s) you want without all the extra lines getting in your way. Of course that depends on whether they actually include your size. Happily many designers are increasing their size ranges to accommodate more bodies. This response to the demands of the current market is what I believe really puts independent pattern designers far ahead of the Big 4. And we haven’t even discussed diversity which is another whole blog post itself.

Of course there’s still a lot of same-old same-old in the offerings. Nearly everyone has a simple knit tee or woven top, easy skirt, pop-over shift dress, pull-on elastic waist pants, a boxy sweater or robe. Each sewist seems to embrace their own favourite TNTs (tried’n’true) patterns for basics. I think it’s wonderful that some designers have specialised in a certain niche that may have been previously underserved such as lingerie, men’s garments, curvy or larger body sizes, gender neutral styles etc. Better pattern testing and quality control by a range of sewists eliminate a lot of the mistakes that so easily slip by when everything is done in-house. Another advantage of PDFs is that any revised versions can be easily delivered to the original purchasers. Online tutorials and videos as well as more detailed sewing instruction booklets can really help beginners or those for whom a new technique might be confusing. If you learned to sew with Big 4 the Indies’ generally clear and modern sewing instructions are absolutely wonderful in comparison.

However, my very favourite part of sewing isn’t actually sewing at all, though it’s an important part of the process. It’s printing, assembling and fitting the patterns to my body. It’s like a really enjoyable puzzle! And it gets easier as I get more familiar with what works on my body. Sometimes it can be frustrating and takes some chopping and reassembling to get it right especially if it’s a more complicated pattern, an unfamiliar silhouette or a new-to-me designer. Very occasionally I might have to reprint and start over if I really screw it up. I often use my personal basic blocks to trace shoulder slopes, armholes and sleeve caps and to check waist and hip widths so I ‘m pretty sure the finished garment will fit me in the most important areas. I confess I never make a muslin/toile but dive right in to a wearable garment though if I’m not quite sure I got it right, I might use fabric that has been lurking in the stash for a long time instead of something more precious. Often I never get around to making another “better” version!

Right now I’m on a big Pattern Play roll. I just learned a new-to-me technique of just snipping off the corners when assembling PDF sheets and it’s a game-changer. Speeds things up a lot even from when I was using my big paper cutter. Here’s how it works. For me anyway. Itch to Stitch goes in the opposite direction and cuts off all the corners. Johanna of The Last Stitch tests 4 different methods of assembling including this one and gives pros and cons of each.

Cutting corners

This technique only works on the type of patterns that have a border around the pages, not the “no-trim” ones (more about that later). I’m right-handed so you might want to go check out Itch To Stitch’s post if you are left-handed and don’t want to reverse my instructions. Could get confusing! Rows go from left to right and top to bottom and you are just cutting across the corner right at the border using paper scissors. I tried using my rotary cutter with a blunt “for paper only” blade but scissors were actually easier and quicker! The angle of the cut doesn’t have to be perfect but don’t cut off the border at all. You’ll be using those corners as your important match points.

Row One: The first sheet (on the top left) is not trimmed. The second sheet is trimmed on the top left and bottom left corners. The third and subsequent sheets of the first row are trimmed the same as the second sheet. Using a glue stick, glue each page in order one at a time, matching the corners top and bottom. You don’t even need to look at the pattern lines or anything else, just the corners. So easy!

Row Two: The first sheet of the second row (on the left) is trimmed at the top left and top right corners and glued to the bottom of the very first sheet. The second sheet of the second row is trimmed at the top left, bottom left and top right corners. Third and subsequent sheets are trimmed the same as the second sheet and glued on the top and left sides across the row.

Trimming the corners
Applying the glue stick

I match the top left corner first then the top right and lastly the bottom left should just line up nicely where it belongs. The only drawback I’ve found to this method is that sometimes part of the pattern lines are obscured under a layer of paper but unless they are very light or you use a weight of paper heavier than 20-lb you should be able to see them easily through the sheet. Or you can hold the pattern up to the light so the lines show up and pencil them in on the top layer. You also might not like that the patterns are bulkier and don’t fold as easily but I kind of appreciate how sturdy they are.

The wrinkles mostly disappear when the glue dries

This technique uses a little more glue stick because the paper overlap is wider than if you trimmed off the whole length instead of just the corners. I buy mine at the dollar store or office supply store in boxes of 24 or 30 (sometimes marketed for school teachers). I prefer the smaller size sticks because I can manipulate where the glue goes much better. You can actually use a whole stick for just one pattern depending on the number of pages though so it’s worth stocking up! You might find bigger sticks a better value but watch the prices because they are all over the map on every size. I believe it might be cheaper than tape (depending on source and brand) and also makes the patterns more easily recyclable. Plus you can safely iron them if they get crumpled. Just FYI, where I live tissue paper is not accepted in paper recycling so only the envelope on those type of patterns is recyclable.

No-trim pattern pages

As I mentioned, no-trim patterns aren’t amenable to the corner-cutting technique. These are supposed to be easier to stick together because you just overlap pages up to the line. However in practice I’ve found that the edge of the pages varies a little due to the way the sheets are fed into the printer so accuracy can be somewhat off. And the printer can’t print right up to the very edge of the page either. You can’t really tell if the edge of the page is in the right place so you have to go by matching up the pattern lines. It’s not a deal-breaker but it isn’t quite as accurate as cutting corners. As an aside, Love Notions Patterns (of which this is an example) attempts to save you paper by overlapping pattern details, such as two different necklines on the same front or back half-pattern piece, instead of having you print two different pattern pieces. Also sleeves are often just a half-sleeve and you’re directed to place it on the fold. Since my sleeve cap’s front and back edges are not identical and I prefer a whole sleeve pattern in order to place it on the fabric accurately, I end up tracing another sleeve half anyway so nothing is actually saved there. This is just personal preference however and not actually a complaint. It’s just a different way to do it than usual.

So back to it then. Currently I’m trying to franken-pattern two different printouts of the same pattern: Closet Case’s Sienna Maker Jacket. As usual I fall between the two size ranges. Sigh. The smallest curvy size 14 has the better fit for me at the bust especially because it has a dart although I have to grade out to an 18 at the waist and hip which is an easy fix. However the upper chest/armhole/sleeve area is too large so I need to graft on the size 12 from the regular range because the curvy range doesn’t go down that far. I spent a lot of time dithering between the two size ranges and this is the best way I can see to make it fit. I don’t feel like redrafting the upper area which is the hardest part to do and the most important for how a garment looks and hangs. So I printed out both patterns and will probably end up assembling both of them completely before I chop and reassemble parts. It will be interesting to see how much they differ, won’t it? That lesson might be worth the wasting of time and paper. Yeah, I’m weirdly curious like that. Heh.

And Another Month Gone

Again! Is Covid-time faster than normal time? I think so! The weather has been really changeable and although we’ve had a few warm days it’s mostly somewhat cooler than usual for June. I’m even wearing a sweater today! At least I haven’t had to water the garden much. I really don’t feel as if I accomplished much this month at all. I mostly just read more books, pulled a few weeds and picked some produce. What does it say about me when my most exciting day is Laundry Day twice a month? Yeesh. Still no new Finished Objects to show. No knitting and very little sewing happened. I did repair my bug-munched top so I could wear it though.

Visible Mending

It took more time to choose the repair fabric than to actually perform the fix! I finally chopped up a dyed and stamped swatch from the scraps drawer and did some sloppy sashiko stitching on it and I think it looks passable. Hopefully I can get a few more years’ wear now. Loved clothes last!

Wearing it: front view
Wearing it: back view

When this thing finally gives out, I’ll probably make a new version. I still have the pattern I made. Or maybe I won’t wait until it dies to sew it again! It’s a great way to use up fabrics that are too small for a full garment. I think the design has held up well considering I saved the original inspiration photo nearly 10 years ago. Good wearable styles don’t date quickly.

However some things do get dated! I’ve been working on refashioning my indigo hemp jacket from the mid-’90’s. It absolutely did not fit anymore: drop shoulders, deep armholes, too long sleeves and tight waist and hip. Just wait until you see the “before” pics on me! But I absolutely love the funky fabric and the dyeing is a memorial to an epic indigo vat that my friends and I made one year. I’ve never been able to get something this large dyed that evenly since. Here’s a hanger shot just to whet your interest.

Indigo Hemp Jacket (before)

Notice that even the horn buttons dyed beautifully as well. (It was a wonderful vat!) Eventually I ended up picking out nearly every seam except for the collar and front placket. The thread I sewed it with was cotton so it would take the indigo and they are all flat-fell seams too so really sturdily stitched! Took ages, a sharp seam ripper and good light but I couldn’t figure out how else to reshape it. It needed extra fabric under the arms and down the side seams and I don’t have anything remotely similar in stash to piece with this it. I did find some denim that matched the colour pretty closely but wisely decided that it was too heavy and stiff. This hemp is thick and coarsely woven but drapey and fairly soft after being washed many times. So I went with something different but not too contrasting that just felt right. Not finished yet though so you’ll have to wait for the big reveal.

On another topic entirely I just wanted to mention the new Ravelry interface. Have you seen it yet? It’s been a big topic of conversation on my Instagram feed and there is quite a contingent of users who absolutely abhor it! Apparently it’s been an issue for those who suffer migraines and seizures. Personally as a senior and a migraineur, it did give my eyes the collywobbles at first too. However, after I discovered that they had eventually made some of the annoying things optional such as getting rid of the horrible drop shadows and changing the text font (which sort of solved my particular problem) it was passable. Barely. The text, icons and buttons are still too small especially on my iPad screen and there’s no permanent fix for that. I can zoom with the two finger spread of course but have to do that on every. single. page. The stark white background with skinny black type is still there. And yes, you can switch to “classic” Ravelry, which apparently isn’t actually Old Ravelry and is still a problem for some people. It’s not a forever option either. Not that anything is ever permanent on the Internet. (Unless it’s something you don’t actually want to be permanent!) FYI, I’ve been a Ravelry member since October 2007, nearly 13 years. I joined back in the days when you had to request a membership and wait until they issued you one. Yes, I’ve seen quite a few changes on there and most of them were changes for the better. Until now.

I really thought that Ravelry didn’t handle the criticism very well at all. I know change is hard for some people and some push-back is inevitable. But if a significant number of your users are complaining of physical discomfort or actual harm then maybe they have a real concrete reason for it? Brushing it off with a few quick optional or temporary fixes that you have to get on the site to access first is just plain ableism, people! And then patting yourself on the back for how well your site has done with sales and sign-ups since the rollout. Consider one explanation for that could be that everyone is stuck in the house, boredom is setting in and they want to fill the void with a useful craft? Doesn’t really prove that everyone loves it. So Ravelry currently has a questionnaire up. Which again you have to get on the site to access. I filled it out. Who knows if it will help at all? Meanwhile since I have all the patterns I need for the moment, don’t use the forums anymore, and haven’t really been knitting lately anyway, I’ll just leave them to it for now. At least I got my opinion out there. Use your words! My new motto.

Splat!

And that was the sound of my best attempts at posting more often. Sigh. I have to admit that I’ve been having trouble sticking with anything much these days with the notable exception of reading a metric tonne of books. Or it would be a tonne if I read actual books instead of digital ones from the library! Current count is 100 since January 1. Halfway to my 2020 goal of 200 which is kind of wimpy since I read 207 in total last year. Yes, I read quickly. And I don’t skip anything either. My genre of the moment is Regency Romance. Fluff and nonsense of course, but I’m enjoying them. Makes a good contrast to current news anyhow. Just saying.

So I have a bunch of plans and ideas for projects but nothing has got me excited enough to start yet. I haven’t knit a stitch since I finished that last pair of socks. No winding of warps for more towels, though I’ve picked out some possible yarns. No sewing, not even to finish my Grainline Felix dress which has been languishing for months and months. Debbie Double is currently wearing the bodice in hopes of teasing me into getting it done. And I keep walking right past her! What is wrong with this damselfly? Where is my Maker’s Mojo?

One thing I have been doing is planning in attempt to get kickstarted on something. Anything! To that end I’ve discovered the wonder that is Trello – an online tool for project and task management. There are apps for every OS and they all sync together. I first heard of Trello on an episode of the Love To Sew podcast where Helen was waxing rhapsodic about it’s virtues for sewing plans. I kind of ignored that because I have my inventories of fabric and patterns (among other things) on my iPad in Sortly, which is an inventory app (now unfortunately subscription-based but I have a legacy access) and OneNote on the desktop, which I use as a whiteboard posting inspiration/pattern photos and jotting notes. I didn’t want to start all over again with yet another app that required me to input a bunch of data. Also Sortly has the advantage that its files are available to me offline so for example I can use my iPad to check pattern requirements for fabric yardages while in the store. So I wasn’t going to use Trello for inventory purposes.

However, Trello is much better than OneNote for planning! Much, much better. And the free level has all the tools and capacity that I need. Yay! Basically, you have “boards” that contain “lists” which in turn contain “cards”. Each card has a “front” side with its name and perhaps a cover photo, tags, dates, and progress. You can move the cards around in the list or from list to list or archive them if they’re no longer needed and they look nice and neatly lined up for you. When you click on the card, the “back” comes up and has space for all kinds of information. You can add details, tags, attach files and photos, dates, checklists and links. If you are working with someone else or a whole team you can allow everyone access to edit and comment. Pretty powerful stuff.

I’ve been setting up cards with photos of the pattern and any inspirational pictures, proposed fabric photos (copied from my Sortly inventory), notes, tags, Date Started and Date Finished fields, and a checklist so I can mark off steps like Pattern Printed, Fitting Changes, Cut Out etc. I love that I can link relevant tutorials and sewalongs directly into the Notes field so I can easily just click on them to bring up the website. You can also relate one card to another and attach the pattern’s PDFs if you want to keep them all in one place. I haven’t bothered though. To sum up, Trello is simple to use and very satisfying for an organisation junkie like myself. Helen has a great tutorial on how she uses it in a slightly different way on her blog so you can at least get a feel for what it looks like. You’re welcome.

One item I added to my Trello sewing board is a refashion/repair list. On it there is this top, which I made in 2013.

Anthropologie Knock-Off Top

It’s made from a patchwork of fabrics of various types and although it’s looking a bit faded here and there, I thought it was still wearable. Until I looked closer.

Back of the top
Closer still

See the holes? There are more on the other shoulder and at the back of the neck. This rayon is toast! I’ve always been fond of rayon with it’s drape and ease of sewing but I realise it has problematic origins as a fibre. And now I’m convinced that it really doesn’t hold up well enough over the long term. And I keep my clothes as long as I possibly can. So, what to do? I think I’m going to practice some Visible Mending and boro-stitch patches over the worst areas. We’ll see if that holds it for awhile longer. Unfortunately another rayon shirt I made in 2011 didn’t make it.

Rayon Batik Shirt
Holes, holes and more holes

The fabric is completely disintegrating! There are holes all over which amazes me actually because I don’t remember seeing them when I ironed this shirt last before it went into my storage closet with the summer clothes over the winter. Nothing else besides these two garments had holes. Definitely the rayon is the only fabric affected. Interesting. Oh my! I just had a thought! We have had a recent infestation of silverfish in the house! I’ve worked hard and have got the population way down with major cleaning and diatomaceous earth applications but it’s pretty hard to eliminate the beasts entirely. They are devilish fast and very smart and, yes, they love sugars and starches. Paper is a favourite diet item. Rayon is made from wood pulp the same as paper. Doh! That’s it! Mystery solved. Okay, I’m most definitely not planning to buy any rayon fabric in the future. I’ll stick with my favourite fibres, linen and wool, as much as possible. And of course it’s hard to avoid cotton. But meanwhile I have a stash that needs to be cut up and sewn together. Using some of those plans I’ve been working on.

Whoosh….

Did you hear that sound? That was May whooshing by. Another month disappearing in the rear view mirror. I wanted to post more this month but obviously that didn’t happen. We rambled about the neighbourhood. We gardened – a lot. We read and read and read. I finished a couple of projects. We wore our masks to get groceries, both for ourselves and for Thom’s elderly mom. We stayed isolated. We stayed well.

When put like that it sounds kind of boring, doesn’t it? It doesn’t feel like that while I’m living it however. We’ve found some pleasant and most of all quiet places to walk. Our favourite is Shaughnessy, that Vancouver bastion of huge heritage mansions and treed streets pompously named after prominent members of the Canadian Pacific Railway board of directors circa 1885. Foot and car traffic is minimal, giant old trees keep it cool and the curvy streets keep us guessing as to which direction we’re going. It’s an adventure every time! I haven’t been carrying my iPad though so I have no photos to show you.

The garden is doing well and we’ve actually gotten quite a few compliments from passersby on how nice it looks. We both enjoy gardening and of course this year we have less alternative distractions, right? Yeah. Thom does the bigger stuff: pruning, mulching, mowing, leaf blowing, the larger weeding, turning compost, staking and tying up plants. I do the more delicate stuff: starting and transplanting seedlings, shaping beds, fertilizing, harvesting, the pickier weeding and plant trimming. We luckily have complementary skills and abilities! The weather has still been mainly relatively cool especially at night and this month it’s been quite changeable too. More like April weather than the mostly sunny April we had. A benefit is we’ve been blessed with enough rain that I haven’t had to water very much at all so far, except in the greenhouse of course. Everything (except the cucumbers which are still in pots in the greenhouse waiting for it to warm up a bit more) is planted now so all that’s left to do for the next few months are weeding, harvesting and watering. And watching things grow. Yes, the hammock is already out and being enjoyed.

Not much exciting has happened in the studio however. I did promise a photo of the finished tea towels:

Towels in 4-block 4-shaft Summer & Winter

I love them so much! And am now encouraged to wind a new warp for more towels in a different weave structure. Maybe there’s hope for me to regain my weaving skills yet? Then there’s the second pair of socks for Thom:

New Berry Socks

Yes, I wove the mat underneath too. Years ago now and you can see the sheep are losing their chenille “wool”! Poor things. The sock yarn is DGB Confetti from 2009. Working from deep stash these days. Heh. I truly love this yarn brand and am sad that it’s apparently discontinued. It’s very durable and the colourways were attractive. Now that the superwash sock yarns from independent dyers are more popular, they seem to mostly all use very similar base yarns which aren’t twisted as tightly so don’t hold up to wear as well. They’re also twice as expensive, but I don’t begrudge the hardworking dyers their profit. Just that I would love to be able to keep wearing the socks! Also, I do like dyeing my own but it’s hard to get undyed sock yarns for a reasonable price if you don’t have a business. Nevermind. I have enough for the foreseeable future anyway.

Here’s the masks I mentioned in my last post, free pattern from Dhurata Davies:

His masks
Her masks

They fit very nicely:

The masked woman

I have to say the masks have really helped us with the stress of grocery shopping in crowded stores where it’s difficult to maintain distancing. Some shops insist that all their customers should wear one along with only allowing a certain number of people in the store. I think there are actually more people wearing masks here now than there were. On the busier city streets I would say that perhaps 1/3 to 1/2 of the people I see these days are masked but less than 1/4 of them in quiet, low traffic areas. A much higher percentage wear masks on transit. But not everyone. Discomfort, vanity or disinterest? Even we don’t wear our masks on our ramblings but only if we’re forced to be in closer proximity to others.

And I also sewed a shirt:

Tessuti Helga

This is the Tessuti Helga shirt pattern that I cut out of some thrifted poly-something a year ago. And then it sat. And sat. While I proceeded with a whole bunch of other projects. But finally I decided that this shirt had aged long enough. It was time to test whether this pattern fit me well enough to consider making another version from nicer fabric. The lines of this shirt with its clever hi-lo angled hem are quite comfortable. The facings are stitched down so I knew I wouldn’t have my usual fights with keeping them in place. I deliberately chose a size S which surprisingly fit well with enough wearing ease even for The Belly Fluff. Can’t imagine how loose it would be if I went by my actual bust measurement! The only fit changes I made were sloping the shoulders and shortening the sleeves, both necessary on nearly every garment I make. I had some trouble with the collar which somehow didn’t lie properly against my neck. I chopped it shorter and hand-stitched the seam closed and now I like it much better. Lastly I used 5 smaller buttons instead of the 4 larger ones called for. I only had these appropriate ones in the stash.

Back view
Front (slightly blurry) view
Hem detail and close-up of the novelty fabric

If/when I make this again, I would consider adding some length to the body of this shirt. It feels a little short in front to me especially when I’m just wearing leggings like I am in the photo. This fabric is a little stiff too (some kind of home-dec stuff?) so it doesn’t drape as well as something like a linen or shirt-weight cotton. It’s more like a jacket. But I think it will get some wear, more perhaps in the autumn.

Moving right along. I desperately need some t-shirts, particularly longer-sleeved ones, since there are obvious gaps in my drawers and several old well-used t-shirts are finally wearing out. After 20 or so years I think they don’t owe me anything! I have plenty of suitable knits in the stash so there’s no excuse really. When I cut garments out in batches I can usually squeeze in a short-sleeved or cap-sleeved t-shirt as well as a 3/4 or full-length sleeved one at the same time. These are all vital for layering with my other pieces in my wardrobe. It turns out that I wear knits far more than wovens or often pair them together. Knits are comfortable and forgiving of fit and lend themselves more to my leisurely lifestyle. Got to get on this, preferably before it gets stinkin’ hot in my studio. Which it will. Very soon now.