Wear-in your handmade jeans in five minutes

I’ve got a bit of a confession. I’ve got quite the stock of handmade jeans now – Gingers, Safrans, more Gingers – but they don’t tend to get worn as often as my trusty RTW pairs. The reason was always they they felt too crispy-new, too uniformly-coloured, with none of that lovely age (or slightly less lovely artificial ageing/distressing) of my favourite vintage or store-bought pairs.

So why did nobody tell me how fast and easy it was to get a lovely soft, faded, subtly-patina’ed finish on brand new handmade jeans, with nothing but a bit of sandpaper and five minutes of elbow grease? I’ve just turned three pairs of handmade jeans from meh to dreamy in a weekend.

Here’s how I did it. I got some fairly heavy-grade sandpaper out of our DIY cupboard and wrapped it around my hand. A sanding block would probably do the trick, too. I put the jeans on and simply started buffing away at the areas I wanted to fade and distress. I started around the front pockets, fly and waistband, then took long strokes down the inseam and outer seams. Then I crouched down (this is where you start to feel pretty silly) and rubbed the paper down my front thigh, down to the knees and calf. Finally I took it over the back waistband, back pockets and centre back seam.

The trick is to start with a little pressure and build it up. Hold the fabric fairly taut where you want a smooth fade and let it wrinkle and bunch a bit where you want whiskers to form. You also may want to put some paper or plastic sheeting down before you start as you’ll get indigo ‘rubbings’ falling off.

Finally, you can take the jeans off, check over for any bits that don’t feel uniform and scrub away a little more. I hung the jeans over the edge of my ironing board or over a tailor’s ham for this bit.

Here’s the same thing on my Cone Mills denim Gingers. This effect might not be for everyone, but I know I’m going to get a lot more wear out of these jeans now they feel soft and worn-in.

Magical McCall 7445

You know it’s a true love sewing project when a) I peel myself out of bed a little early on a school day to photograph them in the semi-dark for the old bloggo and b) I want to wear them so much, I do so even on a highly weather-inappropriate day. It’s close to freezing here in London and here I am, flashing a bit of ankle in my snazzy new pants.


These are the wide-leg cropped pants (yes, more!) from McCall 7445, which I got – and is still currently – half off at Minerva Crafts. This is a design by Melissa Watson for the Palmer-Pletsch line, and I actually discovered the pattern via Melissa’s Instragram feed showing her own versions of the pattern. Look at her silk velvet pair in action – swoon! I made view B, which has an exposed front zip and a waist facing instead of a waistband.

Fun fact time – Melissa is Pati Palmer’s daughter, and in case you didn’t know Palmer-Pletsch are known for being the goddesses of fitting. They’ve written several books on the subject and pioneered the tissue-fitting system. An unexpected bonus of this pattern is that the instructions have thorough guidance on how to tissue-fit the pants and make common alterations – flat/full butt adjustments, sway back, crotch curve adjustments, that sort of thing. The pants also have a one-inch seam allowance on the side seams for easier fitting. I assume all of the Palmer-Pletsch line patterns have the same?


As it happens, the size 14 was basically perfect on me out of the packet – or they look pretty good to me, anyway – so I didn’t need to use any of the enclosed advice. After basting at the given one-inch I ended up shaving about an extra half-inch or so off the waistline but that’s it in terms of adjustments. My measurements are actually a little over a Big 4 size 14, but they come up typically large, and I was also using a fabric with a slight stretch, a fine needlecord from Croft Mill, which meant I wanted to get them nice and snug. I also took one inch off the length.

They came together super fast, a few hours on Sunday evening. Turns out exposed zip flies are the easiest ever! It sounds gushy but I just love every detail of this design. It’s pretty rare I make a pattern exactly as designed without fiddling around with it, but these really are the one. It makes sense I guess since Melissa seems like a super stylish lady from her Instagram feed… alright, now I’m definitely gushing.


Internal details (excuse the fluff, needlecord loves it!): I love the squared-off pockets, which I lined with leftover silk from my Helmi dress, and the sleek self-faced waistline. I’m gonna make another pair of these pretty fast in some olive green heavy crepe I’ve got in my stash, perhaps with a concealed size zip.

And they’re a second tick off the 2017makenine list, hurrah. Yay for pants that make me want to dance!

#2017makenine

I’ve been a bit out of it with sewing lately, but I really want to kick it up again in 2017. The first thing to do is take my machines to get serviced and repaired as soon as possible. My normal machine has two really annoying issues – the thread-cutter blade broke off and the foot won’t stay raised on its own – which I need to get fixed as they drive me nuts whenever I start a project. I’ve also started a fresh Instgram account just for sewing to give me another boost – it’s, predictably, at @whatkatiesews. And I’ve been buying a few pretty fabrics in the sales to kickstart some ideas – my stash is pretty low!

2017 Make Nine

Of course another fun motivator is to make plans. With a few more months’ of sad winter ahead, I tried to pick nine projects which would be wearable in the cold weather and beyond into spring and summer. Here’s my inspo-board:

1. I never blogged it, but I made a black button-down mini skirt at the start of the year, self-drafted using my skirt block: here’s an Instagram pic. It was an unassuming little wardrobe hit which always garnered compliments, because it makes my waist look tiny! So I’d like another one, either in dark denim or full-on 90s-revival velvet like this one.
2. A black midi kimono dress. I’ve had the Sew House Seven Tea House dress cut and ready to make for ages, but it takes 3m of fabric and I always buy in 2m lots so I’m waiting for the right stuff to come along and buy the correct quantity.
3. More waist-wrappy dresses – I love them! Either a Style Arc Serena, Vogue 1395, Style Arc Celine, or Named Kielo.
4. Bibbed wide-leg culotte-overalls. I’ll probably self-draft from the True Bias Emersons, which I also made this year and never blogged, but were a total hit on my recent holiday.
5. Swingy printed dresses. Just a year-round wardrobe essential! i’ll probably use my Roberts hack pattern.
6. A jersey midi column skirt, perhaps in a pre-pleated type of fabric if I can find some and figure out how to sew it!
7. Mmmm, sack dresses. Vogue 1482 or 1496 will do the trick here.
8. Cropped straight-leg pants, maybe in stretch needlecord, to be worn with tees tucked in or sweaters.
9. T-shirts! Another thing that never gets blogged but regularly sewn. I like this ringer-type twist and the longer-than-short sleeves.

Capsule sewing

My nine projects were picked based on this idea of a trans-seasonal capsule wardrobe, which can be mixed and matched to make it easy to get dressed and ensure high rotation across garments that all work together. Here’s how I see it all fitting together:


The obvious great thing about dresses (and their legged cousin, the jumpsuit) is you can throw one on and be instantly dressed. I wear dresses more than 50% of the time, and they are also funsies to sew, so it’s a win win. Plus you can use all the fun prints since they don’t need to match anything! In addition to the ones in my #makenine list, I also want another Helmi and probably some more Sudleys too.


I hope this trend for wide, slightly cropped pants doesn’t go away – I really like them, though I haven’t quite cracked the chilly-ankles issue now it’s getting close to freezing. I think they’re best with a slimmer top to balance them out, like a ribbed tee or turtleneck.

A variation on the above that I can throw tights under and a cardi on top of for winter. It gives me a chance to rock my main RTW indulgence too, silly slogan t-shirts and band shirts, a habit I can’t quite kick.

It worked, I’m excited to get sewing now! Happy Christmas and new year, everyone.

p.s. all image sources on Pinterest

2016 (and 2015) Top Five

I might not have time to squeeze in any more sewing this year – I’m all done with work and off on a little holiday before Christmas – so it’s a good time to reflect back on another year of sewing by doing my Gillian’s top five. Here they are!

1. My Named Yona coat was one of this year’s first projects back in January. It’s on its second winter now and holding up quite well, although I wish I had used a better quality interfacing as it has sagged and stretched a little bit through the raglan shoulder seams. I also think I need a slightly warmer or fasten-able coat if it gets any colder. But style-wise I still adore this coat!
2. This rib-knit Celine dress feels like me in dress form. I love it and feel great whenever I wear it, and it always gets comments! I gotta make another one, it’s just such a pain to cut out that I’ve been resisting it, ha ha.
3. While this black midi V1501 is not a wardrobe regular, it still makes my favourites list because I am so pleased with the fabric, construction and minor pattern hacks I put in to make quite a unique dress.
4. It’s been a Named-heavy year! Mt first Inari dress set the scene for making a few others. This fabric’s held up really well and I think it’s still my favourite of them all.
5. This starry silk Named Helmi dress is another one that I always feel awesome in and really represents the sort of style I try to shoot for. (I just wore it on Friday to celebrate my last working day of the year, hurrah!) Again I was really pleased with the construction I achieved and must make another one soon.

Looking at my list, I think there’s definitely a correlation between sewing enjoyment factor, quality of the result, and frequency of wear/wardrobe success. I don’t always get it right and there have certainly been garments this year that haven’t made the grade. But I do think it’s been a good year of solidifying my skills and making better choices about fabrics and silhouettes to make garments I’ll love to wear.

I also thought it would be good to look back a further year, and see which garments from 2015 are still going strong. As sewists it’s often our goal to make long-lasting and non-disposable garments, and I could definitely do better at this. But here are some older makes that are still in regular rotation.

My black cotton Roberts dungarees are still my go-to on ‘nothing to wear’ days. I love them! Likewise this Shibori swing dress is trans-seasonal and so easy to wear. Of all the jeans I’ve made, not that many have stayed the course; these Blue Gingers have done because the fabric has such great recovery and hasn’t bagged out (and I still love that shirt too!). My black Waver jacket got a second season of wear in the autumn before it got too cold, and my lovely Alder dress gets rocked out every summer – and is safely packed for my upcoming holiday to Mexico!

Je suis Cassiopée

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I’ve found a cure for low winter sewjo: buy a shiny new instant-gratification frock pattern, pick your prettiest stash fabric, and bash out a cute and comfy dress!

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This is the I Am Patterns Cassiopée dress. They’re a fairly new French pattern company and I’ve been admiring their catalogue of girlish babydoll silhouettes with unique detailing (and really nice styling for the sample photos!). Yes, it’s quite a simple shape, but I don’t have a woven raglan bodice so thought it was worth a purchase.

It’s a neat 25-page PDF, very easy to assemble, with 3/8″ seam allowances included. Instructions, supplied in French and English, are brief but concise. I didn’t use them on such a simple pattern. I would have liked a few more notches included on the raglan sleeve pieces to help me join them to the bodice, but they’re easy enough to add myself.

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I cut a size 40, a bit below my measurements as I figured there’d be plenty of ease and I didn’t want the neckline falling off my shoulders. The only fit alterations I made were to take a little wedge out of the centre back (a typical small-shoulder/narrow-back adjustment for me) and 3″ off the skirt length – oh, and the skirt is less full because I ran out of fabric!

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I love how deep the kimono raglan sleeves fall – almost down to the waistline, batwing-style – however I was expecting them to be 3/4 length like the pattern sample but they are practically full length. Next time I’ll take a few inches off these too as I’m wearing them rolled up anyway.

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The fabric is a woven viscose I scooped a while ago from the UK Stof and Stil website. I’m not usually the florals type but fell for this unusually sparse graphic take on them, and the jewel colours are super pretty. It creases like all viscoses do, but it’s really lovely quality and was great to work with. I’ll be buying more from them! (nb, Stof and Stil also have some really nice-looking and cheap sewing patterns…)

I have visions of a snuggly sweatshirt knit version of the Cassiopée dress next – maybe one of Stof and Stil‘s again!

Minimalafore + winter mood

awmood

Urgh! I’m really struggling with sewing motivation at the moment. It’s not for lack of inspiration: I’ve been pinning and sketching like crazy and have a list as long as my arm for things to make: a tie-waisted sweatshirt dress, another Helmi shirtdress, a minimal jumpsuit for layering, a party dress, a midi skirt, some wide-leg cord or velvet trousers…

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I’ve even got the fabrics in my stash for most of these makes, but something always seems to block me from making a decision and getting something started.

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I made this at the weekend just to console myself that I could still sew, and it turned out okay but I still feel pretty ‘meh’ about it.

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It’s a moderate hack of the Marilla Walker Roberts pinafore dress. I used the base pattern but merged the front into one piece, cut away a little extra around the top sides, curved in the A-line shape into more of a cocoon/egg shape towards the hem, and sewed the straps straight onto the bodice with no fastenings for a more minimal look.

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I also cut both the front and back with a centre seam (adding seam allowance) which let me leave a centre-front split. The fabric is a washed-black Cone Mills stretch denim. It went a bit crinkly and tie-dyed in the wash, but I’m sort of OK with it.

Anyone else in the top hemisphere feeling the seasonal downturn and struggling to find sew-motivation? I’m looking at the the Aussie bloggers wishing we were heading back into summer! Though I am off to Mexico for some sun in a few weeks, so I’m going to focus on that for now.