Strike Up the Band (Collar)

I started working on a new shirt pattern a few weeks ago…V8759. It’s similar to the dress shirts I’ve been making for Robert, using V8889, only it’s got a regular front placket, instead of the covered placket (also called a fly front) that V8889 calls for.

[Side note: anytime Robert wears the green chambray version of V8889 to work, his co-workers remark about him being dressed up…despite chambray not really being something one things of as “dressy.” Also, for more information than you probably want on shirt plackets, check out this brief overview on Proper Cloth.]

Since it’s getting warmer — in theory, despite the 50-degree temps we’re still experiencing with regularity — I thought it would be a good idea to make a short-sleeved version. That, and I only purchased 2 yards of fabric with this shirt in mind. I probably could have moved things around to get everything cut out of what I had, but…I didn’t want to.

The main fabric is a beautiful yarn-dyed cotton in cobalt blue that I picked up from Stitch Sew Shop the other day. I had so much fun working with it that I’m pretty sure I’m going to swing back over there on a lunch break and pick up some more in different colors.

I had worked through the front pieces and stitched together the center and side back sections, and was just about to grab the back yoke when I realized…I had only cut one of that piece. This turned out to be a fortuitous oversight. I had enough of the blue cotton to cut out the missing piece, but I decided I wanted to do something a little different for the inside of the yoke.

I had purchased a constellation print fat quarter from Modern Domestic during one of my Portland trips last year. I didn’t have a specific plan for it when I picked it up. I just knew I liked it. Which, to be honest, defines more than half of what is in my stash. I had enough to cut the yoke, and still have enough fabric to cut a couple of strips on the bias, for binding.

The directions for this pattern call for using French seams, as opposed to the flat-felled seams of the dressier V8889. It’s been a while since I’ve used French seams, though I used to use them for everything (It’s just such an easy-ish way to finish seams when you don’t have a serger and don’t want to just zigzag the edges). I still think I might like the flat-felled seams for this pattern. Especially since the short sleeve will make it easier to stitch the flat-felled seam without the fear of catching the fabric, like when I sew the long-sleeved dress shirts.

I used the bias binding hem trick for this shirt, like I did on the green chambray shirt — you might remember that one had little velociraptors on it. I also cut two thinner bias strips, folded them in half lengthwise, and used them for an added little design pop on the sleeve hems. Sort of like piping, only not quite.

Robert requested a shirt with a band collar on it, which made constructing this shirt even easier. You don’t have to bother cutting out a different pattern piece…you just leave the top of the collar off and just use the collar band. Thus, getting a band collar. Simplicity!

A little peek of stars

I searched through my bins of vintage and random buttons and managed to find enough coordinating blue ones for the front of the shirt, and VOILA!

A new shirt.

I have to say, I really like the coordinating yoke lining and bias binding on the hem, and have already decided to make that a recurring design feature of Robert’s other shirts.

I’m also really pleased with the way the Vogue menswear patterns are

I told him he was allowed to smile for these.

working out so far. The directions for both V8889 and V8759 have been clear (with the exception of a wee bit of confusion on my part regarding the tower plackets for the long-sleeves on V8889), and I haven’t needed to do any adjustments to make the patterns work for Robert’s size. This is, honestly, a wonder to me, as the difference between Robert’s shoulder and waist measurements are pretty significant. If a ready-to-made shirt fits his shoulders, the rest of him is generally swimming in it. Not so with the Vogue patterns. They have fit perfectly, with no adjustments needed.That’s a nice plus.

I’ve already gone ahead and cut out two more of the same pattern, using similar yarn-dyed cotton in two different colors. I haven’t yet found a coordinating “fun” fat quarter for the inner yoke of the fourth shirt (which is a teal/white plaid), so that one is on hold at the moment, in terms of cutting.

By now, I’ve finished the second shirt (in a colorway called “Peacock”), and I am halfway finished with the third one. As you can see, Alvin decided to help.

Sometimes, You Fail

cutting out the lining

I’ve had Butterick 5951 in my “Ooo! I want this!” pattern pile for a little while now. Last weekend, I finally pulled it out of the envelope, pulled some fabric out of my stash, and got to work. I cut the bodice of View A and the skirt of View C and have been sewing on it over the past couple of days – a little bit here, a little bit there. Usually, I want to get through a project SO FAST! because I’m anxious to try it on and see how it fits. While I admit I still wanted to know how this pattern would look, I really wanted to take my time, enjoying the process, spending a little more time getting to know my sewing machine, etc.

I love a clean finish to the lining

I was also really enjoying little things like delicately slip-stitching the lining along the zipper tape, and fixing a slight mistake that occurred while I was cutting out the pieces. Sometimes, it’s nice to take your time and not hurriedly rush through a project, with a deadline hanging over your head.

When I cut out the front bodice pieces, I realized that the fabric was uneven along the bottom side, which meant one side of the bodice needed a little patch.

Last night, I wrapped up all the finishing except the final hem. I went to my room to slip it on and check the fit…

…and I hated it.

It was just wrong, wrong, wrong. The wrong style, the wrong fabric…everything was just wrong.

the patched bodice corner, from the wrong side.

And, while there are often things you can do to tweak a pattern and make it work, I honestly don’t think I could tweak the whole thing enough to make me happy with it. It’s just not-right-for-me overall.

Which is frustrating, when I’ve spent so much time on it, and was excited to see how it turned out. But that’s, unfortunately, part and parcel of any great sewing adventure. Sometimes, you fail. Sometimes, you do everything right and it still doesn’t work. Even after 20+ years of sewing, it still happens to me. And probably on a more regular basis than I would like.

Not to worry, though. I plan to take the pieces back apart and use the different components in other projects. The skirt gives me the most material to work with, and I already have an idea about how I’m going to use it.

[I should note…the lining for this dress was already salvaged from a different failed pattern experiment. Sometimes, you fail repeatedly.]

And they call the wind Bernina

That reference doesn’t really make much sense at all, but I needed a title for this post, and sometimes they just don’t come, and you end up with a stinker like that. Oh well.

A while back (much more than a year ::wince::), I helped my friend David move all of his grandmother’s things out of her old house. She had a lovely sewing collection – jars of vintage buttons, bins of vintage thread, a giant Tupperware full of binding and hem tape – and he was kind enough to pass on a number of those things to me. And, believe me, they have been getting a lot of use. I haven’t had to buy buttons for a project in some time, and I made a bunch of baby bibs last summer that each had a different color of binding.

One of the things that David included in that oh-so-kind giveaway was this little beauty.

That right there is a Bernina 1260.

Now, for those who might not know, Bernina is a really good sewing machine. I have heard it referred to as the Cadillac of sewing machines. Growing up, I always worked with Singer machines, which are not bad, but are a lot easier to find and get your hands on. For one, most of them don’t require financing, the way most Berninas do.

The Singer that Mom had purchased for me was humming along just fine at the time, so I wasn’t necessarily looking for a new machine. David was originally planning to take the Bernina home, himself, but at the end of the day, as we were packing up the last few things, he looked at the box and said “You know what? You sew a lot more than I do, and would probably get more use out of this than I would. Why don’t you take it?”

I asked him several times if he was absolutely sure. Like I said, Bernina is a good company. Even though the 1260 is an older machine (made in the 90s, I think, and believe me…it hurts to call anything from the 90s “older”), it is still a great, dependable machine. Plus, it’s made of metal, unlike pretty much everything made nowadays. It feels like a more permanent, steady, reliable machine because it’s not made out of plastic.

The machine and the accompanying sewing cabinet sat at the church for a little while, until I could finally clean out the basement area and set up space for it. Finally, I was able to move it in, set it up, plug it in, and hit the power button…only to have the light briefly flash and then die.

I figured it was probably a fuse, which was inconvenient. You can change those yourself, but it’s difficult to get in there and change everything out, and I wasn’t comfortable taking everything apart myself. So the machine sat on the table for a lot longer than I really want to admit, waiting for when I had the free time to pack everything up and cart it over to the shop.

Back in January, my office was closed for the Inauguration (one of the perks of being located in the DC metro area), and I knew the Quilt Patch was going to be open. I called ahead to make an appointment to drop off the Bernina, and was told the turn around was around two weeks.

Saturday morning, a little more than two weeks later, I headed back to the Quilt Patch. The machine is back, and everything is fixed. It turns out it wasn’t the fuse after all. The power supply had to be replaced. Since the machine is older, you can’t get a new part, but the repairman happened to have a rebuilt motherboard on hand. He then proceeded to tell me it was a real nice machine, with a smooth satin stitch, and that it was worth it to replace the broken part instead of getting a new machine.

Always something I like to hear.

The gummy bear council has deemed the machine worthy of use.

I switched my machines out (don’t worry, I still expect to get some use out of my old machine – especially since she’s much easier to cart around than the Bernina. The sewing table that David gave me is designed specifically for my “new” machine, with a nifty clear drop in that makes the sewing plate even with the rest of the surface, instead of the fabric having to shift up and over and back down the Singer’s plate.

Knowing I needed to jump into a project in order to know Bernadette (as I shall now call her) a little better, I busted out a pattern I had picked up a few months earlier, but hadn’t yet gotten around to.

I had been impressed by the design and instructions for the Comox trunks, by Thread Theory, so I picked up a few more of their patterns, to add to Robert’s handmade wardrobe. Since I’ve now made him two shirts, I thought I would try my hand at a pair of pants. The Jutland Pants were the obvious-to-me choice, as they are similar to the pants Robert already wears.

I showed him the pattern, and he was intrigued…but he had a request. He likes cargo pockets, but he prefers ones that are inset, much like a welt pocket, rather than the ones that have a flap on them. Could I make a pair like that? I think I probably can, but for the first run at the pattern, I’m going to move forward, just following the pattern as written. If the fit works, then I will attempt what he has requested with the second pair.

Finding suitable fabric to make a (hopefully) wearable muslin was a challenge of its own, largely owing to the fact that I was tired that day and really didn’t want to trudge out to the regular fabric store. Instead, I headed to Walmart, where I figured they would have some twill fabric. I did find a lovely, brushed twill in beige, but there was barely a yard on the bolt. I settled for some chocolate brown cotton canvas, and another, lighter tan twill that has a slightly slick feel (it’s supposed to cut down on wrinkles, and repel a little bit of water).

Knowing I only needed about half a yard of fabric for the waistband facing, pocket, and lining the cargo pocket flap, I dug around in my stash boxes at home. I pulled out a box of fabric that came from my grandmother’s house – some of them reclaimed from old dresses or shirts, and some of them, miraculously, several yards of uncut cotton prints. I opted for a dark green/black/ever-so-slightly-visible-pink plaid. i can’t remember exactly what it used to be, but I know I reclaimed it from a previous garment. I can still see some of the old stitch holes, and there were obviously darts in the original piece. I had just enough for all of the pieces I needed, with enough scraps left over that they can be used for quilt squares or other small projects.

[I love it when a new sewing project can have little bit of history in it, like this pair of pants.]

I had picked up some metal zippers when I was at Walmart, but I didn’t have any jeans buttons, and the zippers weren’t quite right, so I ended up swinging by Stitch later, during one of my lunch breaks. So convenient to have that shop around the corner from work!

Most of the construction for the pants breezed along pretty easily. The directions are incredibly detailed, with little blurbs about terminology for those who might be new to sewing. I thought that was a great touch, as many other patterns assume you are familiar with all sewing terms. That’s not generally the case, starting out. [I’ve been sewing for at least 25 years, and I’m still learning things.] The only section I had trouble with was the section focused on the zipper fly front. I read, re-read, re-re-read those instructions so many times! I’m still unsure whether I put the zipper shield on correctly, but the pants seem to work fine.

I loved the plaid lining for the flap….but the placement of the pockets didn’t work out and I ended up removing them all together

Mid-way through the construction, I had Robert try on one of the legs. I was worried about the fit at that time, as it looked like they might end up being too tight when everything was finished. Turns out, I shouldn’t have worried about that part. Robert had mentioned that his usual, store-bought 30s were starting to not fit right, so I cut the 32 size. It’s a little roomier than I think Robert really wants, so I think I will aim for a midway point between the two sizes when I cut out the next one. The knee patches need to be moved up about 4 inches, and the cargo pockets on the side were also situated too low. This should be solved by making a length adjustment to the pattern before cutting out the next pieces. I’m going to remove the pockets from the first wearable muslin, so they won’t look weird, but I’ve made some notes for the next version. Robert also requested I reinforce the corner of the right-hand front pocket, to allow for where his knife clips to his pocket.

The first stab at sewing up the Jutland pants took about 12 hours, spread over four days. [Keep in mind that I only had a few hours here and there to work on them.] That includes cutting out the pattern, the actual construction, and the final fitting/hems. I feel pretty confident that I could get that time cut down a fair bit, as I become more familiar with the pattern. Of course, working with welt pockets will probably slow me down considerably. I dislike sewing welt pockets, even if they end up looking nice.

Bernadette came through for me on this project. There were a couple of hiccups here

Robert’s initials, stitched onto the back pocket

and there – mostly when lint build-up affected the thread tension, or when I had to experiment to figure out how to position the needle to sew with the zipper foot, but the machine did all of the things I needed it to do. I was even able to add a little personalized touch to one of the back pockets. I think, with some extra practice, I’ll be able to do some great things with this machine.

Updates on the ‘Do

The To-Do List, that is.

The list now looks like this:

  • Robert’s green chambray V8889 – FINISHED
  • Oakley slouch hat (crochet) in “Mermaid Musings” colorway, from A Treehugger’s Wife Yarn – halfway finished
  • Lizard shawl (crochet) – finishing tonight
  • Caterpillar Mitts (knitting)- FINISHED
  • Nessie (crochet) – FINISHED
  • Lost Souls shawl (crochet) – this would have been done long ago, but it is currently in a box in the storeroom, sitting under three other boxes
  • Multiplicity Buttoned scarf (crochet) – finishing tonight
  • pattern weights – I’ve got about twelve of them done, but I have at least fifteen more that need to be filled and sewn up
  • woodblock/Irish chain quilt
  • sawtooth quilt
  • super-secret-almost-finished restoration project
  • alpaca fleece – halfway finished with combing, have started spinning
  • Shetland ram lamb fleece – 1/8 finished with combing
  • Spinning: By the Sea colorway from Avalon Springs Farms
  • several items in the mending bin

That’s three projects done, and two more that will be completed by this evening! That means I can start another one, right?

[Just kidding…I want to knock out a couple more of these items before I start anything new.]

I took a break on Robert’s shirt about two-thirds of the way through, to work on Nessie and the mitts (which sounds like a band name). Not because I was overwhelmed. Honestly, I was just putting off my least favorite parts of the pattern – sewing the flat-felled side/underarm seams.

The first time around, that part took forever, so I figured it would be the same this time, too. It was actually a lot easier and faster, once I got down to it. In fact, I think I finally figured out the best method to sew everything down without a) catching the rest of the fabric under the stitching and 2) having to start and stop and move the needle and adjust everything a million times. I even wrote a note to myself in the pattern, so I won’t forget next time.

Of course, once the sleeves were done, the shirt was all done except for the buttons, holes and a final hem. Again, not a favorite thing to do. I hate sewing buttons and button holes. I mean, hate, hate, hate doing them. I’m pretty sure this stems from my years as a costume mistress in my high school theater days, when one of the actors (totally going to call out Cory Moone, even though I’m pretty sure he doesn’t read this) consistently told me about missing buttons and closures on opening night.

[I’m not exaggerating about this. One time, Cory came to me 20 minutes before curtain to tell me that he didn’t have elastic in his pants. Or a button on his other pants. And that his shirt, for some reason, was missing a buttonhole all together. Another time, he caught me during a costume change and dropped the revelation that his vest – for the scene that was about to start in 2 minutes – didn’t have buttons. That last one? I glared at him and safety pinned his vest shut. When he said “but it doesn’t look right,” I responded “If you had told me earlier today, when I asked if you needed anything, it would have. Deal with it for now.”]

Anyway, the buttonholes went a lot faster this time around than they usually do and – miracle of miracles – I didn’t mess any of them up. I’ve started using an Exact-o knife to split the buttonholes, rather than trying to snip them with tiny scissors. I’ve found I get a nicer finish, and I’m less likely to accidentally cut through the stitching.

Since the buttons on the front of the shirt are hidden by the folded front placket, it’s not as important that they match all of the other buttons on the shirt. That helps, when you’re sifting through jars and bins of assorted buttons. For Robert’s shirt, I used five plain, white pearlescent four-hole buttons. Since you can see the collar button, I opted for a small square button of clear, green plastic. The buttons on the cuffs and sleeve plackets are vintage gray-green plastic box-shank buttons that go so well with the color of the shirt.

I wanted to try a new-to-me technique when it came to the hem, using bias tape to make the curved bottom edge easier to navigate. I have a nice selection of store-bought bias tape, courtesy of three different friends’ great aunts’/grandmothers’ sewing rooms, which would have been the easy route…but I was already sort of on a customization kick and asked Robert if it was okay if I made my own bias tape using a wacky print. He was fine, as long as it didn’t show through to the front.

I pawed through the scraps I had in my odds and ends bin, pulling out the pieces that were big enough that I could cut a few strips on the bias. Then, I sorted those choices by color, tossing back the ones that *REALLY* didn’t work, as well as the ones that fit the general color scheme but that I wasn’t in love with. That brought me down to five choices, which I narrowed further by taking out the ones where the print was too big to work with the narrow binding. That brought me to two choices, which I ran past Robert.

20170201_191639I didn’t tell him I was leaning toward the dinosaur print, letting him make his own choice. Guess which one he went with?

20170201_205338I cut several 1″-wide bias strips from the fat quarter and stitched them together. Then I folded one long edge down a quarter of an inch and hit it with the iron. You stitch the binding to the shirt edge with the right sides of the fabric together, iron the seam and flip the bias strip to the back. I used my new wonderclips to hold the binding in place (instead of pins), and stitched everything down.

And the shirt is done!

[Of course, then I tripped up the stairs whilst carrying it and it went straight into the litter box at the top of the stairs, which meant it then went straight into the washing machine. At least it was a recently scooped litter box.]20170201_205816

What to do, what to do?

Obligatory adorable kitty picture - from a random day when Raven and Alvin were getting along

Obligatory adorable kitty picture – from a random day when Raven and Alvin were getting along

With the recent addition of my new (albeit fledgling) skills in knitting, I have encountered a problem. Well, to be fair, the problem was there before. Throwing knitting into the mix just exacerbated the problem.

What problem is that, you ask? Backlog.

WIP/UFO backlog, to be exact. (“Work in Progress” and “Unfinished Objects” for those of us joining without a background in these terms). Between knitting, crochet, spinning, and sewing (which can be broken down further into quilting, clothes, embroidery, and assorted crafts), plus the odd costume fabrication…I may have a bit of a problem. Add in, of course, a handful of around-the-house renovation/repair tasks and the soon-to-be-here springtime gardening, and my to-do list is looking a bit full.

I actually really like things to be fairly orderly (despite what my mother might think), so the state of my workspace and to-do list is making me anxious. To justify adding knitting to my list of skills, I needed to start whittling down my list of WIPs.

First up was a shirt that had been in my pile for much longer than it should have been. I had purchased a lovely light green chambray from Stitch last Fall, with the intention of making Robert another dress shirt. I’d had delightful luck with Vogue 8889 – so much that I traced out a copy of the shirt pattern in Robert’s sizing on parchment paper, so I don’t have to fiddle with the multi-size pieces. I decided, since it went together so well the first time, I would see if I could repeat my success. I cut everything out…and then the project stalled.

In all fairness to myself, I initially stopped working on it because I threw my back out pretty seriously (I think that bending over the table had actually contributed to the problem, but getting a new mattress and making more frequent visits to my chiropractor improved things). I’ve been feeling better for a bit now, but the pieces were still just hanging out in a corner of my shelving, taking up space. Until Sunday night, that is.

Sawtooth quilt that will, one day, be finished

Sawtooth quilt that will, one day, be finished

After a brief search through the pattern bins to find the instructions – I forgot I had put the envelope into the folder with Robert’s pattern pieces – I sat down and finished transferring the sewing marks onto the fabric in chalk. I searched through my assorted thread bins for the right kind of thread, finally opting for a cream thread for the seams and an olive-y green for the top stitching. Both of the spools came from the “donated to Meg” collection that I have inherited from the sewing rooms of friends’ family members.

Alvin's to-do list mostly includes staring at birds and begging for food, with the occasional item of mischief.

Alvin’s to-do list mostly includes staring at birds and begging for food, with the occasional item of mischief.

I feel like most of this project went together a lot faster than the original shirt – probably because I had already made one, and didn’t have to refer back to the written instructions as much…though I don’t know if the sleeve plackets will ever get easier. And don’t get me started on sewing a flat-felled seam in a narrow men’s sleeve. ::heavy sigh::

Soon, it will be time to sew on the buttons, and then I can move on to the next couple things on my to-do list:

  • Oakley slouch hat (crochet) in “Mermaid Musings” colorway, from A Treehugger’s Wife Yarn – halfway finished
  • Lizard shawl (crochet) – need about three more repeats and blocking
  • Caterpillar Mitts (knitting) – about 75% finished
  • Nessie (crochet) – this one is sad…it only needs the legs sewn on and it’s done!
  • Lost Souls shawl (crochet) – this would have been done long ago, but it is currently in a box in the storeroom, sitting under three other boxes
  • Multiplicity Buttoned scarf (crochet) – only needs blocking and the buttons, which I have pulled from stash, but I can’t find the daggone left-over yarn to sew them on!
  • pattern weights – I’ve got about twelve of them done, but I have at least fifteen more that need to be filled and sewn up
  • woodblock/Irish chain quilt
  • sawtooth quilt
  • super-secret-almost-finished restoration project
  • alpaca fleece – halfway finished with combing, have started spinning
  • Shetland ram lamb fleece – 1/8 finished with combing
  • Spinning: By the Sea colorway from Avalon Springs Farms
  • several items in the mending bin

I’m not allowed to start any new projects until I have worked on at least six of these, and finished two.

Update: Since first drafting this, I have, in fact, finished sewing the legs on Nessie.20170124_224948

North Dakota Winds


North Dakota from the air

I’ve been working through some of my handspun yarn (the skeins that haven’t already set aside for presents). The last remnant of one of my first-ever skeins (kingfisher blue and gold) was my first choice…mainly because I wanted to finally use it up. I worked up a pair of mittens, making the pattern up as I went along. I used a gold two-ply Targhee (the leftover yellow from the two tone yarn) to add a little color blocking interest to the pair.

[Also, the thumbs required the use of slightly smaller yarn in order to work]

I managed to finish off all of the yellow and most of the two-toned yarn…and promptly forgot them when I left for a week-long trip to North Dakota. Understandably, I was little upset – and not just because I had specifically tried to finish working on them before I left. I was also upset because it was FRIGGING COLD in North Dakota that week.

I usually bring an assortment of things to keep me busy on my flights – books, music, and some sort of hand craft. Lately, I’ve been working my way through some sawtooth quilt squares, but I had left my case back in my office, so I ended up packing the cowl I had started working on a few weeks earlier. The yarn was a fingering weight 2-ply that I spun from a beautiful Frabjous Fibers braid (BFL and silk). I would love to spin more of this colorway, but I lost the card for it before I even finished spinning it…so I have no idea what it is even called. For some reason I’m thinking either something to do with blue lagoons or pines…I don’t know.

What I do know is that the resulting yarn is so soft, and there is a lovely sheen to it in the light, even though it doesn’t contain any sparkly angelina fibers. It’s all due to the nature of the BFL and silk mix.

I did a fractal spin with this braid, which gave it a sort of heathered look where the colors blend. The pattern I used for this project was the Swiss Tweed Cowl from Knit Picks. The heathering in the yarn gave the cowl an interesting subtle striping that is rather hard to photograph in a lot of light.

I finished the cowl on my last evening in North Dakota – which provided some much-needed “down time” after two days of intensive meeting notes, a tour of an oil rig, and a great dinner with interesting people and the largest piece of fish I’ve ever seen on a plate.

[As an aside: I am what is known – by some – as an ambivert. I require both the interaction with people and quiet solitary reflection time in order to recharge.]

Since the weather was still rather frigid when I began my return travels that Friday, I wound up wearing the cowl home. It was comfy, and large enough to not feel constricting, while not hanging halfway to my navel, which boded well for the length. I often have a problem with cowls, as it’s hard to find that perfect length.

The jury is still out as to whether I will keep this one for myself or if I will box it up as a gift for someone this Christmas.

Don't let the sun and blue sky fool was COLD outside!

Don’t let the sun and blue sky fool you…it was COLD outside!

The journey to North Dakota, by the by, will probably make the list of one of my favorites this year. I had not been back to the state since I was a little kid, and it was an entirely different experience driving through its beautiful rolling terrain as an adult. I left the reservation at New Town with the sunrise that Friday and managed to drive through four or five different types of weather. It was still freezing outside – as evidenced by the snow on my car and in some of the fields I passed – but there were times that the sun broke through the clouds and patches of the sky lit up bright blue.

Knit Wits (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sewing with Knits)

[There are pictures of a man in underwear in this entry. Nothing revealing, but I figured I would warn you. And thank Robert for being kind and comfortable enough with me taking and posting a picture of him in his new underwear.]

I have been sewing for a good long portion of my life. For so long, in fact, that I can’t pinpoint the actual moment I started sewing. I can point to the period in my life where sewing apparel from a pattern finally clicked in my mind (freshman year of high school, due to theater), or the first project I made for someone else (a stuffed guinea pig toy I made for my brother when I was in 6th grade…and that he still has!) but I had been sewing – to some degree or other – for a while before then.

Throughout my long personal history with needle and thread, the majority of what I have worked with are woven textiles. Cottons, linens, rayon, wool, viscose…the fiber content itself has varied, but they were almost all woven. I don’t know if this started out as a conscious choice or if it was just the convenience of what I always happened to have on hand (I have been gifted with a lot of material over the years). However, I can tell you that, currently, I have noticed a tendency to gravitate towards woven materials.

It was simple: sewing knitwear kind of scares me. I think, if I had an overlock machine, I probably wouldn’t have been as hesitant to get into sewing with knits. After all, an overlock machine is what makes sewing knits easier and cleaner.

That is not to say, however, that sewing knits is impossible on a standard sewing machine. In fact, it has been a lot simpler than I was building it up to be in my mind. Mostly, what it takes is some patience, a little know-how about how knits work, and a special needle.

Now, I have sewn with some knits before – I made a shirt for my Kaylee costume, one of my favorite shirt patterns EVER requires a knit fabric, and both my Po and Popple costumes were made using knits. However! I didn’t treat the knits as knits when I made the latter two. Because of the nature of those costumes, I didn’t need the knits to actually behave like knits. They didn’t need to stretch, and so I just used a straight stitch on the seams. Despite my happiness with the final product of Butterick 5497, I still generally shy away from patterns that require the use of knits.

Two Christmases ago I made my first decision to begin dipping my toe into the knitwear waters, so to speak. My brother wanted a new fleece pullover, but I couldn’t find the type he wanted…so I made one. He must actually like it, because I’ve seen him wearing it a number of times. (I made one for Robert last year, too, but I somehow made the shoulders too big, which I would have thought was impossible, and now I have to bring it in a little bit).

Andrew’s pullover turned out so nicely that I started thinking: Maybe my fear of knits really was unfounded. Perhaps I should try making some other things.

IMG_20160610_154808_181On a recent journey to Stitch, I picked up a new pattern. I’d had my eye on it for a little while – intrigued by the design and inspired by the challenge: the Comox Trunks, from Thread Theory Designs.

Thread Theory is a bit of a rarity in the pattern world: a designer exclusively devoted to menswear patterns (well, they do have one blouse pattern)! Robert was with me during a recent run to JoAnn’s the other day, and I pointed out the teensy-tiny section of the pattern catalogs that are given over to menswear (and half of the pages in that section said “unisex” and only showed women, which I thought was interesting). From the looks of the patterns, and the reviews of said designs that I’ve been reading online, Thread Theory does a phenomenal job of creating useful, easy-to-follow patterns that combine form with function.

Since I’ve been sewing a little more for Robert lately, I’ve been keeping an eye out for interesting sewing patterns that might work for his new pieces. So far, I’ve made two vests, a dress shirt, and that somewhat ill-fitting pullover (plus a Han Solo costume, but that was sort of hacked together, not really using a real pattern). I had heard about Thread Theory and decided to give them a look-see. Which is, incidentally, when I discovered the Comox Trunks pattern.

[Before I go much further…Robert asked me why they were called the Comox trunks. The answer is pretty simple. The owners of Thread Theory live in Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Comox is the name of a town on the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. There you go.]

I was extremely excited when I brought the pattern home, both because I was ready to attempt something new, and also because I really like making useful things for people. Underwear is about as useful as you can get, and the idea of being able to customize a pair made me positively giddy.

(Plus, you know…it meant I got to see Robert modeling them for fit ::waggles eyebrows::)

Of course, I had a little bit of a problem. In my excitement, I had picked up the pattern at Stitch, but hadn’t also gotten fabric or waistband elastic. Since I needed to make up a muslin first, anyway, I hunted around the basement for an unused t-shirt I could hack apart (I had seen a couple of people go this route, via an online search). I settled upon a t-shirt from Celebrating the Potomac a couple of years ago. My friend Anjela had designed a lovely tall ship logo for the event, and I thought that would make a lovely focal point on the rear of the trunks.

I had to get a little creative with the placement of the pattern pieces, when I was cutting everything out, so two of the pieces didn’t really go on the grain the way they should have, but the muslin served its purpose well enough. The logo is nicely splashed across the but, the crotch gusset has sponsors (with the printer info on the inside of same gusset), the stars that were originally on the sleeve are now on the cup, and the fly openings also have sponsor names. I found the whole thing hilarious.

Robert tried the muslin on and I admired the view asked for input for future pattern alterations. His first comment was that they were a little shorter than he usually wears. The pattern, as is, hits at sort of a midpoint between standard boxer briefs and regular briefs. This is a simple enough fix: when cutting out the pattern, add some length to the bottom of the trunk leg, and remember to add the same amount of length to both ends of the crotch gusset.

[Side note: I purchased both ball point needles and a twin needle, in anticipation of making these trunks, but I ended up only using the ball point needle for the first two pairs. I think I might try my hand with the twin needle for the next pair (and yes, there will be several more pairs), just to see how the finished product compares to the ones made with a single needle.]

The trunks were also a little bigger than they were supposed to be, and there was some unflattering bunching and shifting. This was a result of me not paying close enough attention, and making the seam allowances a little smaller than they were supposed to be, resulting in a looser fit than the pattern calls for. This was an easy enough fix the second time around – I just paid closer attention to what I was doing.

IMG_20160613_234659_073I took a little more time when I made the second pair (out of yet another unused t-shirt – this time a thin gray/black stripe), and I think it turned out pretty nice, if I do say so myself. I incorporated Robert’s input and made the legs a little longer. I also corrected a few mistakes I had made with the first pair – mainly in relation to the seam allowances. I also went ahead and added the little Thread Theory tag to this pair, since they actually looked rather professional. I affixed it to the front of the trunks, just below the waistband.

[A label is included in each pattern you purchase, which I thought was a nice touch.]

As you can see, the fit was better this time around. No weird sagging around the butt. I’m still having a little bit of a problem getting the hem around the legs right. I’ll need to play with the length and width of the zigzag stitch (or maybe this is where the twin needle will work best). Robert’s also still a little unsure of how he feels about where the back of the trunks hit, though that’s an easy enough fix.

I think I might also fiddle with the fly placement on these, too. He says it doesn’t work as well as it should where it is currently. I think I might just flip it to the bottom and see if that works better. I’ve seen a sample pair with that alteration, so I know it’s possible.

So…thoughts on the pattern: I really can’t say enough good things about it. The directions were fairly clear, with illustrations that really did help to figure things out. There was an error in the first edition of the pattern, so Thread Theory included an errata sheet with the booklet, which I appreciated. I did get a little confused with one of the steps (adding in the front fly piece), but the folks at Thread Theory did a sew-along tutorial when the pattern first came out, and I was able to look that step up and get some clarification (with pictures!)

In addition to clear step-by-step instructions for each sewing step, the pattern also includes overviews and insight on how to choose the best elastic and fabric, and the sew-along includes ideas for customizing your pattern.

I love, loveLOVE the finished look of this pattern. I’m sure part of the reason is that I like to ogle my guy’s bum (and, come on….who wouldn’t want to ogle that bum?), but that’s not the only reason I like the pattern. It’s clear that Morgan and Matt have given their patterns a lot of thought, and the instructions help knit-averse folks like me feel comfortable while trying out a new sewing skill set.

One of the best things about this pattern (apart from the finished fit) is how fast it is to get through. I made the muslin in one evening – start to finish about 4.5 hours, because I was really taking my time and reading/re-reading instructions, and looking up the tutorial. The second pair cut that time down significantly to 3 hours (from starting the cutting to the finished hem)…and that’s still because I was taking my time and watching a movie while I sewed (and because I dropped my dang pins on the floor and had to hunt them all down before Alvin could find them and eat them). I can see myself getting to a point where I can churn out several of these in a couple of hours – provided I avoid further pin mishaps.

[ I was not compensated in any way for this review.]