Dos Alders in Mexico

I’ve just got back from a short holiday to Mexico; it was our third time there as it’s probably my favourite country in the world (vying closely with Japan!). In the week prior I decided I needed a couple of new holiday dresses, so spent some very enjoyable evening and weekend time sewing up some simple frocks ideal for the spring heat. I also did a few crafty things out there and a spot of fabric browsing!

(Yep, I found a sewing sign!)

I dug out an old PDF that I haven’t used for a while, Grainline’s Alder pattern. Thanks to past me I had View B adjusted for fit as I’ve made it twice before – one, two – plus an uncut copy shop version of View A which I decided to try this time. I applied similar fit and style adjustments to View A: converting the collar to a V-neck (Jen’s tutorial here), a small FBA and swinging out from the hip to add more needed pear-shape space. I’ve made so many simplifications to the pattern that it’s now only two pieces!

Both dresses have the same construction: French seams throughout (well, there’s only the shoulder and side seams so hardly a huge effort) and self bias tape to finish the neckline and arm edges. Some hate it but I quite like making self-bias and it always seems to behave better than any bought stuff. I’m that weird sewist who likes doing buttons and buttonholes too so this was quite the dream sew. They both have my little custom labels that I designed and had made by Nominette too.

Onto some in-situ holiday snaps… (sorry these look kinda pixelly? Something weird going on with my exports.)

The first one is in a beautiful lightweight but opaque printed linen from The Fabric Store. I ordered this fabric actually expecting to use it to make some cushions, but once it arrived the drape and smooth handle were so lovely I couldn’t resist a dress instead. (And I have enough left for those cushions, yay!)

I spent a while at the cutting stage trying to get the print lined up across the seams and centre front. Giving myself a B+, it’s pretty darn close!

These pictures were taken in the lovely suburb of Coyoacán, fitted with scented flowers, cobbled streets and colourful walls.

The second one is made from Kokka double gauze that I bought in Tokyo last spring. This abstract print was far less critical to match! I adore the colours in this fabric and it’s butter soft.

Happy to report it was both heat- and cycle-friendly! I can’t wait until the English summer or another holiday to wear these again.

Onto some other crafty stuff I did over there. One day we did short workshop in the lovely San Angel area to learn about alebijres, the richly-decorated little folk animals you find in every Mexican craft market, and to paint our own versions. They have an interesting history that merges pre-hispanic traditions with the work of one of Diego Rivera’s proteges, Pedro Linares. I made a little pink ‘n’ green kitty and Josh painted the crazy lightning lad.

We also took a class on another day to make a small weaving using yarns mainly dyed with natural products such as indigo, cochineal and flowers. This took place in the Chapultepec Forest and was also really fun and relaxing. We booked both of these days (along with some other trips) on Airbnb experiences, and I really recommend those as a way to meet locals, hear their stories and maybe do a little holiday crafting.

The artisan markets are full of wonderful crafts too. I brought home a lovely blackwork Otomi embroidery like in the right-hand photo above, which I’m going to hang on the wall. You can read a bit more about Otomi’s history and how it’s made here.

Finally, I did a spot of fabric shopping in the city of Puebla, a couple of hours east of Mexico city, where we decided to spend a night fairly last-minute. It was a good decision as Puebla is a beautiful place, with an amazing antiques/flea market, stunning old churches, and plenty of fabric shops!

Like most Mexican cities, similar shops tend to clump together along a street or block, so there were several fabric shops conveniently next to each other around Calles 2 Ote and 8 Pte towards the north of the small city centre. Josh handily entertained himself by going to buy tacos árabes, a local speciality (another interesting read), while I poked around a few of the stores.

There were the usual suspects that I encountered on my first trip to Mexico, the large chains called Parisina and Modatelas. These usually contain haberdashery and other crafting / misc household stuff too, and the fabrics are mostly synthetic and very bright! However I did spot some nice rayons, linen blends, ‘crepe ghost’ whatever that may be, and traditional style woven stripes and smocking.

I liked the smaller shops better; these typically have sections for knit/woven dress prints, costume type fabrics like tulle and sequin, and a wall of more premium cashmere and wool suitings. Prices are mostly in the $50-150 MXN (£2-6 GBP) per metre range, thought probably more for the fancier stuff.

I only bought one thing, this irresistibly silly cat print knit which I’ll use for a simple pyjama top. But it’s still always a treat just to browse in fabric shops while traveling! Here’s a list of some of the shops in Puebla in case you are travelling there:

Telas La Moderna, Av 2 Pte 106
Telas Janina de Miguel Velázquez, Av 2 Pte 310,
Modatelas, Av 2 Pte 304
Parisina, Av 2 Pte 111
Telas Boaltex, Av 8 Pte 116
Telas Rafa, Av 8 Pte 307

Mom jeans 2

Here’s the second pair of jeans made from my self-drafted pattern! In a classic blue denim this time, an indigo selvedge number from my go-to denim source, Ditto Fabrics.

I made a few little tweaks from my pink pair, mainly to get the centre back fitting better. I angled the back yoke seam even more to account for excess fabric in the small of my back, and also transferred a sliver at the top of the back leg onto the bottom of the yoke, as the yoke was looking a bit shallow. I’ve still got a fold there, so next time I’ll take even more out.

In further recycling efforts from my Monki base pair, this time I reused the zip! I used some scraps of rather loosely-woven ikat cotton for the pocket bags. I should have used something more stable, I hope they don’t shred quickly.

To keep things interesting I tried a different technique for the waistband, where the inner waistband is sewn to the inside of the pants first. Then you flip over the outer waistband, tuck in the seam allowance then topstitch and seal the outside in one pass. It’s a little bit like the tutorial that Heather recently posted on her blog. The benefit is there’s no need to invisibly secure the inner waistband like the regular technique, since you sew that first and then secure the outer waistband from the outside.

However I found that while the inside does indeed look super neat and tidy, it was harder to achieve a good looking result on the outside, particularly at the centre fronts where it felt bulkier than usual and was difficult to keep all the fraying edges tucked away, even with a liberal use of Aqua Glue. I had to re-sew a few bits where my stitching went awry, and was glad I wasn’t using contrasting topstitch thread!

My daily wardrobe has been desperate for jeans like these, since all my RTW pairs of this style are currently a little too tight (cold weather comfort eating and no exercise, I see you) and I don’t own a plain indigo pair. This pair has the benefit of being way more comfortable than my Monki RTW ones even when they did fit, since the denim is super soft and quite lightweight (and I think it has some elastane in, unusually for a selvedge), and the fit being obviously more tailored to me. They’ve had plenty of wear already! I just wish I’d done slightly contrasting topstitching for a bit of visual interest. I’m now on the hunt for a true solid black to continue building up my jeans rota.

Pink jeans

Phew, this slow sewing business means long blog posts are also the order of the day! Here are my new pink pants which I self-drafted and poured a lot of love and detail into, so there’s plenty to write about…

The style of these trousers is based on a pair of very much loved ready-to-wear mom jeans from Monki. ‘Mom’ style refers to the somewhat 80s aesthetic combo of high waist, loose fit through the hips, tapering to a ankle-length slim calf – a shape I think works pretty well on my pear shape but is difficult to find a good fit in the shops. My Monki jeans were made out of a rigid denim and I was forced to admit that they’d become just a shade too tight to be really comfortable. I haven’t seen a single commercial sewing pattern for this style so made the decision to sacrifice my jeans by cutting them apart to draft my own pattern.

The rubbing-off process was pretty straightforward: I seam-ripped the waistband and crotch apart then carefully cut close to the main seamlines to open up the legs. Then I pressed everything flat and traced all the pieces onto dot and cross paper.

I slashed and spread a little to add in extra width where needed to make them actually fit again, trued up all the adjacent seams then finally added grainlines, notches and seam allowances. Some pieces like the pockets were easier to draft off the tracing rather than the original jeans. It was all pretty intuitive, though you could check out this Craftsy class if you wanted to learn how to do it properly!

Drafting bring all the curious cats to the yard…

Having made loads of pants I could retrofit the construction method easily using standard techniques. I did a lot of baste-and-try as I went to make sure my drafting was working out okay. Generally I did a pretty good job on the fit but annoyingly I made a mistake adding width into the back yoke as it turned out huge and gape-y in the small of my back. I did my best to fix it but it’s left a few irritating puckers along the yoke seam. Additionally when I use this pattern again I’ll take some height out of the centre back as it’s wrinkling a bit horizontally too. But eh, linen wrinkles anyway so it doesn’t show up too much.

I used a heavyweight blush pink linen from The Fabric Store, which they kindly sent to me. I think this is the first linen I’ve got from TFS, which is silly since along with merino knits I think it is what the store is most well-known for. They have many different weights and get beautiful trend-forward colours dyed just for them (the dreamy Caper shade has been a big hit in blogland, and I have my eye on it too…). In fact I have barely sewn with linen at all generally. I think I’ve always been put off by the wrinkles and that it’s always felt both a little rough yet delicate and loosely woven to me.

I’m glad to find that so far, my fears were unfounded. It was great to sew with, a little lighter weight than the usual denim I use so helped to assuage any bulky seams. My only concern is that it’s rather loosely woven and frayed quite a lot as I was working, so I really hope it holds up to plenty of wear. All the major seams are overlocked and faux-flat-felled, and I think the flax fibre is stronger than it seems so my worrying may be unfounded.

There are lots of details that I poured extra time into, which I had a lot of fun planning and sewing. Despite being made of non-denim I wanted them to definitely read jeans rather than chinos, so added all the usual detailing: double topstitching across the seams, fly topstitching, and nice metal hardware. I love the sturdy pink and brass zip and the fun jeans button and rivets, all from eBay.

I didn’t want the waistband to bag out over time so I stabilised the entire top edge inside with some twill tape, and also added some loosely-stretched elastic into the back waistband only. (Interestingly the waistband – as copied from my source jeans – is straight, which never usually works on me but this one is very narrow and sits very high on the waist, so it doesn’t gape.)

Something I’ve wanted to try for a while: I added a little underlap with a concealed button to the inside waistband. This helps keeps the waistband horizontally aligned and gives it a little extra stability. Super happy with how it turned out and it’s definitely my best-sewn fly front overall. (Yeah the buttonholes look messy: I put some paper behind the fabric as it’s a really difficult area to feed under the buttonhole foot otherwise, and I haven’t picked it all out yet.)

I think this is my favourite bit: I picked off the original back waistband label, machine-embroidered stars over it with my daisy foot and sewed it back on. I like the reconstructed nod to the source garment and it also helps give these that proper jeans-y look. I got the daisy foot for Christmas last year and it’s the first time I’ve used it, it’s great!

Pink jeans might not seem like a capsule wardrobe essential, but this colour is pretty much a neutral to me these days. In fact I thought I’d have to wait until spring to start wearing them but they pair really well with sweaters (RTW and Toaster above) and I don’t really feel the cold too much anyway so I can start wearing them right away!

These jeans feel amazing to wear, amongst the most comfortable and well-fitting I’ve made/worn, and they were an absolute joy to sew, from drafting to hammering in rivets. Overall they took about three weeks of leisurely sew-time which I think is a good benchmark to aim for in my slow sewing going forward. I can’t wait until spring really kicks in when I’m sure they’ll get worn to death with tees and sandals. I’m definitely going to use the pattern again to make a classic indigo pair next – I have some selvedge denim on the way already.

Have you self-drafted or rubbed off favourite clothing? I think it’s quite addictive!

Upcoming plans, and thoughts on capsules

Long time no sew. I’m having a bit of a dry, introspective patch with my sewing lately. It got kicked off by getting a new wardrobe recently, which necessitated getting all my clothes out and dumping them in my sewing room for a week while the new one was installed.

I didn’t have physical space to sew for one thing, plus being surrounded by my clothes forced me to confront the amount I own and consider how I can balance my desire to keep sewing with the fact that I really only want to make garments that my wardrobe needs and I know I’ll love and wear often.

Yeah, that old chestnut again, eh?!

Admittedly I don’t actually have tons of clothes perhaps compared to others – I have one half of a smallish wardrobe which holds everything – but still feel increasingly uncomfortable with owning more than I need.

As I carefully sorted and hung things back in the new wardrobe (with colour-coded hangers, thanks for noticing) it made me realise I really like the idea of having a much smaller choice. It makes getting dressed much easier: when I was in the midst of everything-everywhere chaos I found I would automatically reach for my top ten garments almost unthinkingly. The old 80-20 rule in full effect.

There’s a million and one thinkpieces about how to create a capsule wardrobe (and I have a Pinterest board dedicated to the concept), but I found the steps and advice in this article pretty useful to think about.

It begs questions like: What are those pieces I reach for all the time? What’s common about them? Can I combine them to make easy outfits? How can I make more things like these, without making the exact same thing again for the sake of it? How do I keep up sewing while not needlessly making clothing I don’t want or need?

The above is a collage of the garments which I do love and end up grabbing day after day, and it’s not hard to see a pattern, right?

Dark colours (with the odd pop of pale or pastel), tied or high waists, sparse, sketchy prints and drapey fabrics are clearly my jam. Clothes that are comfortable and well-made in lovely fabrics always float to the top.

[All sources on Pinterest]

Of course, sewing still needs to be fun too! I’ve really missed being at my machine the last month or so, and with spring not too far away I’ve been starting to squirrel away ideas for the new season. The solution I’m going to test out is being even more considered in the garments I pick to sew, and aiming for longer projects where I perhaps try new skills or really labour over the little details I am often too lazy to invest in. That way I get to enjoy precious sewing time while still building well-made and needed items into my closet.

That’s the plan anyway, and these are some ideas on the next few garments I think would be great additions to my carefully-edited wardrobe.

1. Another Helmi dress, maybe one plain and one print.
2. Casual mini tee-dress, maybe another Inari.
3. Pull-on big pocket trousers, probably self-drafted
4. Windowpane check peg trousers – I have the fabric and pattern earmarked for this.
5. A spring-weight coat. I have the Orageuse Londres in mind, in a tencel or cupro. Not sure if I’ll go for pink or a maybe more classic navy.
6. Midi length knit sheath dress, might hack the Trend knot-front dress.
7. Button-up blouse/tee (maybe with sleeves) in a silk noil or linen; New Look 6250
8. Nice plain jumpsuit, Butterick 6312
9. More wide-leg pants, either Landers or high-waist Ginger flares.

[All sources on Pinterest]

Finally, here’s a little moodboard to help out with my idea on cohesion, colours and silhouettes. I think I already do pretty well on picking out naturally cohesive projects, but it’s always useful to have a little reference board.

Is anyone else thinking about this stuff? Am I overthinking things?! I just finished a lovely spring-facing project which really got me back in love with sewing, so I promise it won’t be a month between posts again!

Foreman, for my man

I’ve started the year with an uncharacteristically selfless sew. Well, sort of, since I promised this to Josh before Christmas and it’s only just finished…

Josh had been after a navy twill workman style jacket for ages and couldn’t quite find what he was after in the shops. I showed him the Merchant and Mills Foreman pattern which fitted the bill pretty closely, though I had to make a few adjustments to get it completely on brief.

After making a toile (an essential step in this case) we made a few resulting alterations for fit and preference. I added a little width to the shoulder, took a chunk of ease out of the sleeve cap, and raised up the bottom of the armsyce a little. This was a bit fiddly with the two piece sleeve but I’m super pleased with the resultant hang and range of motion in the arm. We nipped in the waist a touch to make it less boxy and rounded off the collar/straightened the centre front curve too.

I was really happy with the pattern overall (which I bought locally from Ray Stitch); the instructions are particularly great with nice clear diagrams and the drafting is solid. Definitely recommended if you have a man to sew for, and it’s reminded me to re-check out the patterns in their book which I own. It was a very enjoyable sew, quite simple and speedy as outerwear goes even with the alterations and being extra careful with my topstitching and finishing as it was for someone else (I’m much more slapdash when it’s for me, anyone else the same?!).

One big difference from the pattern is that Josh requested a warmer coat, which meant adding a lining. The Foreman pattern is unlined but has straightforward construction and nice deep facings so it was quite easy to draft lining pieces from the existing pattern by subtracting the facings from the front and back pieces, then adding seam allowances. I did a standard machine bagging, turning through a hole left in the sleeve lining.

All the fabrics came from MyFabrics or Stoff and Stil: cotton twill for the outer, faux sheepskin for the body lining and quilted acetate for the sleeve lining. Luckily I’d recently had experience dealing with fluffy faux fur on my own coat so I found it quite easy to use it for the lining. It’s on quite a substantial velour backing so gives the coat plenty of warmth and a bit of nice structure too.

Josh loves the finished coat and was very appreciative. It’s become his everyday coat and has already had a couple of weeks road-testing, so it’s starting to look nice and lived-in. He’s particularly fond of the deep pockets, perfect for stashing his Kindle, wallet and/or booze. He’s been a truly super boyfriend lately so it was nice to do a little thing for him in return. In fact I don’t really need many new clothes for myself at the moment so I’ve offered to make him a couple of shirts and tees, and he’s requested some chinos – so watch this space for more man-sewing.

M7445 the second and third

I just made my third pair of McCall 7445 pants, so thought I’d bundle in pair 2 that never got blogged because I love em a lot and it might be interesting to see versions in quite different fabrics. Here’s pair one in needlecord, by the way still much loved and worn.

McCall 7445 is such a great pattern! It’s a Melissa Palmer design and includes extra large seam allowances, a sheet of fitting tips, and a construction that lets you check and tune the fit as you go. Even though I’ve made it three times I still baste and try on as I go because different fabrics can fit differently. I’ve also gained a little weight recently (thanks, Christmas) so perhaps made use of that extra allowance in this pair.

For pair 3 I used a stretch denim that I got as part of my December ambassador allowance from The Fabric Store. This is a fab quality medium weight denim with a slightly nubbly texture and a little comfy stretch. I added one inch to the length on this pair so they’re just ankle-skimming and more appropriate for winter when worn with fun socks and sneakers.

I went a bit rogue with this and the pair below and made a closed front with a centre-back invisible zip to fasten. The pattern views include an exposed front zip or faux-fly front but I like the completely flat front – super comfortable and zero digging in of anything. One tip I’d say if you make view B is to stabilise that waist edge when you sew on the facing. There’s no waistband to keep things snug, which makes for a very comfortable fit but leaves it more susceptible to stretching out. I simply slip some cotton twill tape into the seam as I’m sewing the facing onto the waistline.

This is the second pair, which are one of my favourite things I made last year. They use a mystery fabric that I got as a remnant from Misan Textiles on Berwick Street. Misan is pretty pricey but you can get some great deals on the pre-cut lengths in the basement! It’s difficult to describe; it’s like a very heavy crepe with a slightly spongy sort of feel like a scuba, and a tiny bit of stretch. It doesn’t crease in the slightest and they feel wonderfully luxurious to wear, especially in the cold. And the colour is brilliant! I guess I should give this pattern a rest for a bit now as my trouser drawer literally overfloweth, but it’s certainly earned its TNT status.