Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Super Online Sewing Match: The End!

I still can't quite believe this, but I opened my email last night to some very exciting news: I won the Super Online Sewing Match! I remember when I was debating whether or not it was even worth it to send in an audition email. I didn't think I stood a chance!

Before submitting our entries for round five, we were asked what we learned about ourselves and our sewing through this contest. This was my answer:

"This has been a summer of huge personal growth for me in many ways; I moved out of residence to live on my own, I worked my first full-time job, and I competed in this contest. Oddly enough, I've called sewing and knitting my "creative outlet" since picking it up again just over two years ago, I've never considered myself a very creative or artistic person. At school, I've always been strongest in math and science, and that's exactly what I'm studying at university - the most creative course I'll be taking next year is computer programming! 

That being said, this contest has made me realize how creative I can actually be. I felt a little like the underdog in this contest, being the youngest with only a couple years of "serious" sewing under my belt, but it has really pushed me to branch out, try new techniques, change designs to suit my style, and make the highest quality garment I can. It's given me the incentive I needed to break out of my habit of making more knit tops and dresses! I never knew if anything would work out, but everything so far has, and because of that, I've become so much more confident in my sewing.

I've also realized how much I love hand sewing, which I've always seen as a finishing touch, usually to make the finishing of a garment less visible. My Marianne dress was my first project where my hand stitching was visible on purpose, and I loved it! I can't wait to experiment with other hand embellishments - next up is learning some hand embroidery!"

I'm so incredibly proud of everything I've made as part of this contest. I wear both my Sutton Blouse and my Marianne Dress quite a bit, and I sleep in my Carolyn Pajamas every night! My Caravan Tote is my go-to summer bag anytime I need something a little bigger than my purse, and perfect for cycling when I wear it as a backpack!

I was so happy with my Cascade Duffle Coat, and I think it'll be so great for fall in Montreal, but I really had no idea how this contest would end. Leah and Teresa are both such talented sewists, and they both made amazing coats. It's been such a pleasure to sew alongside everyone else in the contest as well:  Lori, Barbara, Meredith, Michelle, Kristina, Tanya, and Cheryl. I loved seeing everyone's take on the same patterns, and I got many ideas for future projects from them!

This contest couldn't have come at a better time for me. I'm just about to move into my first apartment in Montreal, where I'll set up my own sewing space with my new machines. I'm also only a few days away from my second-year "blogiversary" - my first post on this blog was on August 29th, 2013! I remember following the first SOSM two years ago with such admiration for the contestants, just before starting my blog. I never imagined, then, that I would be a contestant in the next one, let alone the winner! I've learned so much in the couple of years since I picked up sewing again, and I've especially learned so much this summer.

Lastly, thank you so much to everyone reading, commenting, emailing, and following the contest. The comments on my blog are what inspire me to keep blogging, and everyone's support has meant so much to me throughout the competition!

Here's to many, many more years of sewing!

Friday, 21 August 2015

SOSM Round Five: The Cascade Duffle Coat

Two months after sending in my audition email for the Super Online Sewing Match, I still can't quite believe that I made it to the final round! This round's challenge was the Cascade Duffle Coat by Grainline Studio.

I'll admit that I may have panicked a little bit when I found out... I've always wanted to sew a coat (my current wool coat needs replacing), but I imagined that it would be a summer-long project, not a week-long project! I also had no idea what I would do for fabric, and figured that I would probably have wait for shipping to Canada and get a late start. We were given a gift certificate to Fabric Depot to use, but as with the other challenges, shipping to Canada would have taken longer than is practical when you only have just over a week to sew.

To my complete surprise, I visited the local quilting store where I've been able to buy notions, and found that they had some nice wool coating literally tucked away in a corner! It looked like it had probably been there a looooong time (it was quite dusty), but I was so happy and so excited that I didn't care. I decided on this teal wool and mohair coating which is cozy, thick, and really nice quality. Mohair is one of the warmest wools out there so this should be great for Montreal! I'm not sure it'll get me through January and February, but that's what my down coat is for.

Before buying the wool, I went home and thought about design. Like most Grainline patterns, I liked the pattern, but it wasn't really my style. I knew that I would want to make the shorter version, since a longer boxy coat would overwhelm my small frame. I experimented with making it a little more A-line and adding a box pleat at the back, similar to shorter swing coats from the 50's.

I really wanted to use buttons because I knew I wouldn't be able to find leather for toggles, but to have a functional button closure, I would have needed to add another band to the front, which would make it too bulky. Instead, I made button closures from leather cord. I changed the pockets so that I could get my hands into them more easily, and I added decorative buttons tabs to those as well.

The last thing I couldn't decide on was whether my coat should have a hood or a collar - I love a good collar, but I've been caught in far too many Montreal storms to deny the practicality of a hood. So, I made both! The hood is removable, and attaches with snaps underneath the hood. I made the collar a little smaller to accommodate the hood, and a little rounder, out of preference. The finished coat is a little retro, a little modern, and super practical!

When I bought the wool, I found some black silk lining hidden in all the polyester. I love silk lining because it adds extra warmth, and just feels amazing to wear! I would have preferred gray to match the leather cord, but they only had black and white. I was really happy with the leather cord and buttons that I found, though! They have such a random collection of notions at this store, but it worked out well this round. They only had three colours of metal zippers, but the light green zipper tape with silver teeth looked nice, so I went with it.

I also chose some flannel to line the pockets and hood, and to use for the zipper band. It's a charcoal gray and light green herringbone, but looks gray from a distance. It matches the leather cord nicely, and up close, the green goes well with the teal (and is pretty close to the zipper band). It makes the pockets and hood so much cozier!

I made a muslin to test the fit around the shoulders, because with the more flared shape, I wanted it to fit really well there, so it wouldn't look too big everywhere. I found that it fit quite well with very little adjustment, which is really nice! To make the A-line shape, I placed the back piece 1 1/2" away from the fold, to allow for a box pleat, and I slashed and spread the front piece, then re-traced the armhole shape. I thought I might have to shorten it, but I actually lengthened the sleeves 1/2"! I think that's a first for me. I think they ended up just the right length, and so did the coat - it's short enough to be flattering, but long enough that it'll cover my sweaters.

To modify the pockets, I first removed the extra that gets folded under when they're sewn as instructed, then folded under a corner of the pattern piece. I then drew in where I wanted the button tab, and made a pattern piece that size plus a seam allowance and a little extra for turn of cloth. When I sewed them, I sandwiched the tab in between the main fabric and lining, and sewed along the diagonal, reinforcing the seam with the selvedge of my silk lining, sinc I didn't have any twill tape handy. I understitched, then sewed the other edges, leaving an opening at the bottom, and then turned it right side out. When I attached it to the coat, I made little bar tacks at the edges of the opening, for strength. I made them narrow enough that they sink right into the wool and blend with the topstitching, but they're there!

I ran into a bit of trouble attaching the zipper, when I realized that the recommended zipper and zipper band didn't fit my coat! I went back to the pattern pieces, and the button band is indeed longer than the front band for the size 0, unless I made some mistake somewhere and was supposed to take a larger seam allowance on the zipper band or something. I had to unpick it and shorten my zipper, then I added bar tacks on either side to prevent the zipper pull from coming off. This did set me back a little and I actually emailed Jen about it - I could have made a mistake with it somewhere, but it could also be a problem just with the size 0, since the coat does get a little shorter with every size.

Making the button closures was a little fiddly, but I'm so happy with them! It was a lot of trial and error - I figured out the right length to make the loops, but I had to twist them in precisely the right way before sewing the loop shut so that they would lie flat once I made the twists. I couldn't pin the leather, so I used a glue basting stick to hold everything in place before I could stitch it. I wanted them to be really secure and lie flat, so I stitched them to the coat at every point the leather overlapped itself.

I added some matching twisted leather cord to the button tabs as well, so that they would match. They're completely decorative, but I love the little detail!

I actually originally added similar button tabs to the sleeves as well, but once I tried on the coat for the first time, I just didn't like them. They were too much! There was enough detail on the body of the coat, and with so much flare, having something at the ends of the sleeves just looked odd. The fabric is also super thick, and I found them to be quite bulky and annoying to wear. So, off they went!

I also made shoulder pads out of cotton batting to add, but found the same thing. Maybe I just made them too thick, but with so much volume at the bottom of the coat, they were just way too much. With the heavy fabric, though, the sleeve looked like it needed some support, so instead, I drafted sleeve heads for them. What a difference! They're subtler than a shoulder pad but make the shoulder sit so much more nicely.

I sewed the collar as suggested, but I had to modify the hood a little to make it removable. I initially made it longer because it would be sitting below where it would if it were sewn in, but it ended up too big so I trimmed off the extra I added. I sewed it mostly according to the instructions, except that I attached the snaps, then sewed the bottom shut, leaving an opening to turn it right side out. I only attached the snaps to the lining, after interfacing the places where I would attach them, so that they wouldn't show when I was wearing the hood. To get the placement right, I pinned the collar on so that it sat nicely, marked the places I pinned it on both the hood and the coat, and then attached the snaps. After attaching the snaps to the hood, I topstitched about 3/4" from the edge to give them some stability.

Attaching the snaps to the coat was a little terrifying! The outer coat was completely sewn at this point, and with the brand of snaps that I was using, you have to punch a hole in the fabric first, so there's no going back! I figured that if it didn't work out, they would be hidden under the collar and I just wouldn't mention them... but, they worked really well! The hood sits so nicely and comes off easily (but not too easily!).

After that, I was finished with all the changes that I wasn't sure would work out, so I followed the instructions a little more closely. I'd never sewn a bagged lining before, and while I was attaching it, I was convinced that it wouldn't work. It just seems so bizarre while you're sewing it, and then you start turning it right side out, and all of a sudden you have an (almost) finished coat!

Once I finished, I couldn't quite believe what I had just made. I think it looks so professional, and it's definitely one of the most involved sewing projects I've ever finished - possibly even more so than my grad dress, and I spent months on that!

Over the course of this contest, I've learned so much, and I've made five amazing garments that I'm so proud of. I've tried some patterns that I probably wouldn't have picked on my own, and I've learned to modify them to suit my style - it's made me so much more confident in my sewing!

Thanks for reading! Be sure to have a look at Leah's and Teresa's coats as well - they're both beautiful! And keep an eye on Sew Mama Sew for a showcase on Saturday, with the winner announced on Tuesday.

Lastly, another huge thank you to Micheal from Photoflow, a family friend, for taking these photos for me!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

SOSM Round Four: The Carolyn Pajamas

I'm going to remember this as the project where all my sewing equipment failed me! Cutting everything out took frustratingly long (I'm still not used to not having a rotary cutter!), then my machine kept eating my fabric, the tension just wouldn't cooperate, and the threads kept getting tangled. It also decided that it only wanted to do two stitch lengths: either quite small (about 1.5 mm) or medium (about 3 mm), which meant that basting (and removing it) took quite a while.

I was already behind and definitely feeling the pressure of the deadline, and then to top things off, my iron died on me. Fantastic.

My parents were visiting during this challenge, which was both good and bad in this situation. The bad part was that they were out hiking and had taken the car that I drive, so I was stuck without an iron until they came back (I was actually considering biking to the hardware store when it started pouring rain). The good news, at least, was that they were happy to go to the store for me to buy a new iron once they got back, so I was able to stay home and focus on my project.

Technology issues aside, I really enjoyed this round of the Super Online Sewing Match, the Carolyn Pajamas by Closet Case Patterns. I really loved the pattern as-is, so unlike other rounds, there wasn't anything I really wanted to change. Instead, I focused on construction - I underlined everything and used the underlining to finish the seams, I replaced nearly all the topstitching with hand sewing, I made my buttonholes by hand, and I added covered buttons to match the piping. The result is a couple of the most well made garments I've ever finished! It's almost a shame that they're just pajamas... although I should point out that there's something very indulgent about making pajamas this nice!

I cut out a size 0 top, grading to a 4 at the hips, and size 4 shorts. I knew that I wanted to make the shorts and short-sleeved top, because I have way more winter pajamas than I ever wear, but in the summer, I sleep in a pair of Disney boxer shorts that I bought in Disneyland 4 years ago... all summer long. Needless to say, I really did need a new pair of summer pajamas!

I made a muslin, and the fit of the top was great, but I did have to fiddle with the shorts a little. I raised the rise 1", so that they sit at a more comfortable place for me (although I'm short, my waist is really high on my torso, and I don't find anything sitting low on my hips very comfortable). I lengthened the crotch seam 1/4", then I carved 3/8" out of the seam to make more of a "J" shape in both the front and the back. I'm pretty new to fitting pants, but I've had to do the same adjustment before, so this may become a standard alteration for me.

The fabric is a silk and cotton blend voile that I bought in Calgary, the nearest big city (it's just over an hour's drive from Canmore, where I'm staying). Finding it was a bit of an adventure... first we went to a place called Fabric Depot, which looks a lot better online than it really is. It was almost entirely home decor fabric, so I didn't see anything that was even close to what I was looking for. My mom asked if they had any rayon and the guy there didn't even seem to know what we meant!

The nicest fabric store in Calgary is a place called Olga's, but unfortunately we were too late in the day to make it there before they closed. In slight desperation, we went to the nearest Fabricland, which I usually avoid because I've never really had any luck there. I did manage to find this fabric, though, which I didn't love at first, but once it was away from the store and the other fabric there, I liked it a lot more! As the pajamas came together, I realized how perfect it was for them. It's bolder than I would wear normally, but I absolutely love the print and the colours.

Since it was fairly sheer, I chose to underline everything. I couldn't find a similar weight fabric that was white, but I did find a light yellow cotton voile that matched quite well and took care of the sheerness. Since I don't have a serger, I'm experimenting with different seam finishes, and this was the perfect time to try a seam finish I've been wanting to try for a while - flatlining! Basically, you cut the underlining larger, and wrap it around the raw edges of the main fabric. I followed this tutorial at Cashmerette for the basic technique.

The only problem with this technique is you can't use it for all the seams because you can't deal with corners (I tried a couple different ways of approaching this, with no luck). I considered finishing the other seams with bias binding or French seams, but both of these would have been too bulky with the underlining. Instead, I finished some of the edges with flatlining first (the side seams, the shoulder seams, and the underarm seams), stitched in the ditch at the ends of the seams to secure it (I didn't find that I needed to stitch in the ditch along the whole seam, as the two cotton fabrics stuck together pretty well), and then turned it inside out again. I then sewed the main fabric and the underlining together with a 1/8" seam allowance, clipped the corners, turned it right side out, and pressed. This way, all my finished edges had a 1/2" seam allowance (you lose 1/8" with the flatlining technique). It made for more rounded corners, but they're inside in the seam allowance so it's not a problem (you can see this at the edge of the shoulder seam above).

The edges that would be later enclosed by a cuff or facing, I didn't finish, but I did finish the bottom edges of the pockets with French seams.

The only thing I probably should have done differently was how I finished the fly - I finished the vertical edge with flatlining, and then the bottom edge I sewed the two layers together. This made the fly look rounded with a bit of a wrinkle, so I probably should have just made it rounded anyways, since I made my topstitching at the fly rounded.

Overall, though, I love this finish, and I really want to use it again sometime soon! It's a great alternative to a full lining if you're worried about a fabric being sheer. The only problem was that it took ages - I really underestimated how much time it would take to underline everything! It was only my second time underlining anything (the first time was my grad dress), and I forgot how long it takes.

I used the same fabric for piping and covered buttons, which are accents that I absolutely love. After my Caravan Tote, I was really anxious to use piping on something else!

Since my underlining was yellow, I knew that the pieces that were interfaced with white interfacing might look a little brighter than the rest. So, I tried tea-dyeing again! I remembered from making samples for my Marianne dress that rooibos tea, despite often being called "red tea", gives a yellowish colour when using it to dye. I made a batch, then put it in an ice bath to cool it down, and let the interfacing sit in it for about a half hour. I rinsed it in cool water, then dried it on low heat for few minutes. It's not a perfect colour match, but it's close enough that the main fabric looks the same colour from the right side.

Issues with my machine and my iron aside, putting this set together went pretty smoothly. I left the topstitching along the cuffs and other piped edges for last, because I wasn't yet sure how I wanted to finish them. My original idea was to do some sort of decorative hand embroidery parallel to the piping.

Once I made some samples, I had decided on a blanket stitch along the piping, done in coordinating yellow embroidery thread. I knew that for the breast pocket, I would want to topstitch it first for strength, but once I had topstitched it, I really didn't like the way it looked. I've never been a big fan of topstitching, and I found that it was just too much with the floral print and the piping. I realized that if I thought topstitching in matching blue thread was too much, what would I think of the hand embroidery? I decided then to leave off any topstitching or embroidery stitches, and instead to secure the cuffs with slipstitching for an invisible finish.

Rather than topstitching around the collar, I catchstitched the two layers together just outside the seam allowance. This enclosed the seam allowance and secured the two layers together.

The pocket was a little tricker - I knew that the topstitching would make it more secure, but I really didn't like how it looked. But, being honest, I will probably never use this pocket (except for tissues or hair elastics) when there are bigger pockets in the shorts. I don't think I've ever used a breast pocket in a shirt before, so for me they're purely decorative! So, I unpicked the topstitching on the pocket, then slipstitched it in place, making the stitches closer together than I usually would, and tacking the corners with very small whipstiches that I managed to hide pretty well. It's surprisingly strong!

I also raised the pocket 1", and moved it 1/2" farther from the centre. It just seemed to hit at an awkward spot on me!

I sewed the hem by hand, which is completely invisible because I only caught the underlining.

The last problem I ran into was buttonholes. My sewing machine, like many, is a little finicky when it comes to buttonholes. Sometimes they turn out fine, and sometimes they're disastrous! This fabric is much too light for bound buttonholes, but then I remembered this post at By Gum, By Golly on hand-worked buttonholes. This seemed like a perfect project to try this technique! There are only 5 buttonholes, and if they ended up looking terrible, at least they were only pajamas, right?

As it turns out, they turned out really well! I might never do buttonholes by machine again. They're not perfect, but that's the beauty of hand sewing. Not to mention, the moment I started on the buttonholes (right after my iron died), all my frustration at my iron and my sewing machine seemed to fade away. Hand sewing is so relaxing!

As someone who used to be an extreme perfectionist, I love that I can appreciate the beauty of creating buttonholes by hand. Although I love the precision and concentration required to make the tiny stitches even and tidy, they're not all identical, but that's because I'm human and not a sewing machine. These buttonholes were made by my own hands, and a needle and some silk thread, and I'm so proud of them!

For next time, I'd love to get my hands on some buttonhole twist, which everyone seems to recommend, but there was no chance of me finding in time. I just used two strands of silk thread, which worked reasonably well, although something thick enough to only use one strand would probably have worked better.

I'm so proud of these pajamas - as I said earlier, they're probably two of the highest quality garments I've ever made! I only took the photos this morning, so I haven't slept in them yet, but I can't wait. The silk/cotton blend is so light and soft!

The pattern is fabulous, and I'm really tempted to make a flannel pair in the fall, despite already having lots of fall and winter pajamas. I'd love having a coordinating set, though!

Special thanks to my parents for putting up with my sewing mess everywhere and my frustration at technology while they were visiting. Thanks also to my mom for taking photos for me!

I should also add that my machine seems to be working fine again. I'm not sure if it just didn't like the fabric, or if it was just having a bad couple of days, but it seems to be fine now, thank goodness!

To see the other entries, check out Sew Mama Sew tomorrow. Thanks for reading!