Here’s one of those “I’m glad I made a muslin” stories.
Last winter, I planned to make a cross-country ski jacket. I bought a pattern – the Fairbanks Pullover from Green Pepper Patterns, an indie pattern company for high-quality outdoor gear . They’ve been around since the 1970s, and I sewed a similar anorak from a Green Pepper pattern back in the 80s.
OK, enough for the Memory Lane detour.
At the same time I bought the pattern, I also bought some PolarTec Power Shield fabric – pricey but since it’s a sandwich of a fleecy insulating layer and a water-resistant and wind-resistant outer layer, I figured it would be worth it in the end, and certainly easier than working with those two textiles separately. I bought zippers. I bought drawstring cord and cord stoppers. I read up on waterproof seam tape.
And then I thought – better make a muslin.
This pattern ticked several “yes” boxes in my “Make a Muslin or Wing It” checklist:
While I am familiar with Green Pepper patterns and admire their quality and attention to detail, it had been a loooong time since I sewed that anorak. So I am not really familiar.
Another “make a muslin” clue was that I could find no reviews of this pattern online – nothing on PatternReview.com, no blogs, no photos even. So I’d have no one’s advice to rely on.
Finally, there was the expense question. The PolarTec Power Shield – plus shipping – was $65, not to mention the trims and hardware.
Make a muslin, dammit!
I am glad I mocked up the jacket out of an old bedsheet. It was disappointing. The fit – although for a woman’s shape – was very boxy and too tight in the hips. It also was a little small in the shoulders and arms – OK for a casual jacket but not for skiing. Finally, the style with the big front pocket was awkward – I could imagine it flapping around with my phone and keys inside while I was skiing.
I gave it a pass and remained on the lookout for something else to try. I considered the Closet Case Files Kelly Anorak, which looks like a high-quality and well-reviewed pattern.
But, it seemed too dressy and close-fitting for my purposes, and it used a lot of fabric – I’d be out at least another $30 for supplies. So I put it out of my mind.
This winter, I tried again, this time with the newly issued Simplicity 8843. I made a muslin this time, too, because I was not sure that the drop shoulder would work well.
It does! I’ve decided to lengthen it an inch at the waist and an inch at the hem. Also at the sleeves. And I did a high round back adjustment so the collar sits better.
OK, there’s no “Saint Distaff.” Although, any woman who had to wield a distaff when spinning wool or flax is a saint in my book.
Rather, “St. Distaff Day” is Ye Ole Catholic Church’s way of saying: “Get back to work!”
Back in the day, Christmas partying lasted until the Feast of the Epiphany (it still does in some Christian cultures). You know, the old Twelve Days of Christmas” racket.
The day after the Epiphany, the fun was over. Women picked up their distaffs again and resumed their lives of ceaseless toil. Men resumed their ceaseless pastime of tormenting women, which on St. Distaff Day included stealing the spun wool and flax and setting it on fire.
There’s even a snatch of doggerel to mark the merry moment:
“Give St. Distaff all the right;
Then bid Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow everyone
To his own vocation.”
I am on a business trip, so no textile work for me!
Confession time: I hate making muslins. I hate the time they take, even though I kind of half-ass the sewing. I hate the materials they use up, even if I use old bedsheets, odd-colored thread and repurposed zippers. I hate that they’re just an approximation of a real finished garment, but never exactly the same.
Yet sometimes they are necessary. I made this checklist for when to make a muslin, and when I can do without.
Your mileage may vary. These are issues that are important to me, maybe not so much to you. If you have any ideas for changing or expanding this checklist, I’d love to hear from you – drop me a line in the comments box.
I happy that I scored a few accomplishments in 2018 in my distaffian pursuits, besides sewing. In no particular order, here they are, plus some recommendations in case you’re interested in knowing more.
Survey Research and Statistics
I enrolled in a graduate program in survey research. I took an intro to survey research class in the spring and a statistics class in the fall. I recommend that everyone gets to know a little about surveys – how they’re conducted, what a good one looks like, what a bad one looks like, how the math is done and how to interpret results.
There are so many surveys these days. I estimate I get a request to take a survey at least twice a week – mostly marketing and customer service surveys where companies want to know why I bought or didn’t buy something or what my experience was like. Sometimes a pollster calls me for a public opinion survey or a political poll. I used to say “thanks but no thanks” to surveys, but after learning more about them, I participate more often.
A couple of takeaways:
People like to harp on surveys that are “wrong,” but they rarely are wrong. Most 2016 US presidential polls predicted Hillary Clinton would win by a slim margin. Most Brexit polls predicted the UK would vote to “remain,” by a slim margin. Those surveys were not wrong. A slim margin is still a margin – the margin represents the likelihood that the outcome would go the other way. It’s unlikely, but it does happen, as we know all too well.
Innumeracy is a problem. Many people do not understand simple statistics and random chance. For example, if you flip a coin, the chance it will be heads is 1 in 2 (expressed mathematically as 0.5). If you flip a coin twice, the chance it will be heads twice in a row is 1 in 4 (0.5 times 0.5 = 0.25), but the chance is will land heads on each individual flip is still 1 in 2. The odds reset with each flip of the coin. If you flip a coin 9 times and it comes up heads 9 times, what’s the chance it will be heads on the 10th flip? Still 1 in 2. Every slot machine ever was built on peoples’ inability to understand this.
All surveys contain some kind of bias, no matter how well the pollster controls for it. For example, some respondents will modify their survey responses depending on the gender or race of the person asking the question. Some people will misunderstand a question. Maybe a question is poorly worded. The person asking the questions may not be clear or understand a response. Many other things can go wrong.
Survey fatigue is a problem. As more and more surveys are conducted, respondents are getting better and better at evading them. This makes it harder to get a decent response rate, which increases the cost and time it takes to do a solid survey. The old random-digit telephone dialing methodology doesn’t work well when so many people have cut the cord, and most young people have never had a land line at all. New technologies are needed to combat this.
Internet polls are useless. Seriously, don’t ever pay attention to what an Internet survey says.
These two college textbooks were pretty well written and approachable:
Also, the statistics posts on DrMath.com and the LinkedIn courses by Eddie Davila are good.
I finished my perennial beds this year. A few things didn’t do so well, but all in all, I am happy with how this turned out. I am glad I spent the money to have the old bed dug up and new beds created.
I have learned the hard way not to engineer a perennial bed that closely. Maybe some gardeners are OK with fussing over everything, but I lack the money, time and energy for any high-maintenance plants. They have to grow with little love or supervision, or they’ll take their chances. That means no delphinium, which need constant fertilizer, or Asian lilies, which get eaten by bugs.
I didn’t design these beds but instead adapted a sample bed design from the book “The Garden Primer” by Barbara Damrosch. Not all of the plants were available in the varieties and colors the book suggested, but I was able to find decent substitutes. A friend gave me this book years ago. There’s a new edition out that has updated recommendations for plant varieties.
I’ll revisit the plan in the spring, as some plants likely won’t survive the winter. I wanted some white phlox, but I couldn’t find any – will seek again in the spring. Also, I think the design overall has a few too many “daisy” shaped flowers – I’d like more shape variety.
The vegetable garden turned out pretty well, considering the soil in my raised beds needs replacing. I augmented it heavily with compost – bought some in addition to what I made. As usual, I planted too many tomatoes.
In 2018 I discovered the joys of modular cooking. In brief, my husband and I cook and prepare a variety of proteins, veggies, starches, salads and soups that can mix and match into meals.
For example, in the summer I do every week a big mixed grill of vegetables, and in the winter I do a big pan of roasted mixed vegetables. The mixes are seasonal and vary a bit week to week.
This mix above has bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini and yellow squash. Alongside this grill wok we cooked several chicken breasts and a few ears of corn. We get these meals out of it:
Meal 1: Chicken and veggies with corn on the cob
Meal 2: Chicken fajitas with the veggies, plus salsa and tortillas, with corn salad on the side
Meal 3: Pasta primavera with the veggies and the last of the chicken, plus some Parmesan cheese and a tossed salad on the side
Meal 4: Omelets with the last of the veggies, plus cheese, bread and salad
Winter takes on this concept start like this, with a whole roasted chicken and roasted root vegetables.
Dinner 1: Roasted chicken with sweet potatoes and roasted carrots and parsnips
Dinner 2: Chicken pot pie with some of the leftover chicken and roasted vegetables, plus a gravy and a pastry crust
Dinner 3: Stuffed sweet potatoes with leftover chicken, plus some nuts and dried fruit
Dinner 4: Chicken noodle soup, with broth made from the chicken carcass, plus pasta and the rest of the roasted veggies
This method of cooking is a revelation for me. For this to work, you have to be OK with leftovers, admittedly. Often as the week goes on, the more flavorful dishes appear. Hot sauce is my new best friend.
What does this mean? No buying any ready-to-wear clothing, with a few narrow exceptions:
Wedding gown or bridesmaid’s dress (or any event where everyone has to dress alike)
Bras, underwear, stockings, socks
Uniforms for work
Belts, handbags and shoes
Could I do this? Probably.
More because I don’t buy much than because I am an awesome sewist. ‘Cause I am not awesome. Reminder here. And here. And here. And some photo evidence for good measure:
Pants of Doom…
Sorry – are your eyes OK?
Now that I’ve slipped that ugliness out of the way, let’s go through my closet to take stock of all the garments that I bought in 2018:
Two pairs of jeans
Two sweaters (a pullover and a cardigan)
A big puffy down coat
Winter hat and gloves
Long-sleeved button-up blouse
Two dresses (a shirt dress and a knit dress)
A knit jacket – “jardigan” thing
Also, I was given two T-shirts for participation in charity fund-raisers. Gifts are OK to receive under the RTW Fast challenge. And I bought two bras, eight pairs of underwear, several pairs of tights and socks (not sure how many) – but these are exempt anyway.
Of all these items, I really needed the coat, and that’s not something I could have made if I’d wanted to. I bought the hat and gloves on vacation because I was freezing in Scotland, so I don’t think that’s fair to hold against me.
I could have made the rest, I suppose:
I have made a few cardigans, so yeah, that’s easy.
I have not made a pullover yet. I don’t think that a sweater sewn out of sweater knit fabric is as nice as a regular knitted RTW sweater, but I see so many sewn sweaters that I think they must be worth a try.
The button-up blouse is made from silk georgette. That stuff would be a nightmare to sew. I needed a blouse like that for work, so I bought one.
I needed the blazer for work, too. Could have made one, I guess, but this fit so well and it was so nice, and I needed it on short notice, so I bought.
Jeans. Sigh. I WILL make jeans in 2019.
One dress, the skirt and the “jardigan” came from one of those clothing subscription box services. I got a $100 tryout as a gift. Of course, I spent $350. The jardigan is nice but the dress and skirt fit is bad. I seldom wear either and can’t find the motivation to make alterations. These two items are the only things I bought needlessly and regretfully in 2018.
Oh, actually, that sleeveless top. Yeah. I didn’t need that either and I could have sewn something similar in an evening, but I liked it and it was on sale and it was good quality, so I bought it. So sue me.
And the other dress… well, I wanted it and I loved it and I bought it. So there.
Looking ahead, what do I expect I will need in 2019?
A suit. I have many coordinating jackets and skirts, but I don’t fit into the two RTW suits I have. If I had a job interview tomorrow, I’d be at Lord & Taylor right now instead of typing this. I surely would not be sewing up a tailored suit. If I had time on my hands, maybe. And If I did want to sew a suit, I’d sew this, from the Italian magazine La Mia Boutique
Pants for work. I think I have solved that dilemma with my Style Arc find. Two more pairs are in my sewing plans for this winter. I am semi-confident I can pull it off.
Button-up blouses for work. I need a basic white blouse at least. I have had the famous Butterick 5526 blouse pattern in my stash for a year. (Seriously, I bought that pattern in January 2018.) I was thinking about ways I could make the bottom right or top left views jibe with my edgy wardrobe plans – maybe with a collar detail and metal buttons?
Another blazer for work. I have plenty of patterns. The simplest would be another Grainline Studios Morris Blazer, but I’d need to work on the fit. The Morris I have is worn out – the ponte is pilled up. Maybe I could make the La Mia Boutique jacket out of something that would coordinate as a suit or a separate with the black pencil skirts I already have?
More jeans. OK, already! I will make jeans in 2019!
Shorts. I will need things for a cruise this summer. I am more of a skirt gal in hot weather, but I will need two pairs of shorts for hiking, birding and boating.
T-shirts. Most of the RTW ones and a few me-made ones I have are getting kinda sad.
A dressy dress. I have a summer wedding and an early fall bat mitzvah on the calendar already. Maybe I could get by with one dress for the both, with a jacket for the fall event.
Sweaters. This will be the last winter for some RTW sweaters that are a little faded, pilled up and stretched out.
OK, so that’s a list… What fabrics do I have in stash already?
Suiting for the suit or blazer – Some gorgeous wool suiting I got from Mood’s remnant sale. I also have 4 yards of black wool twill I scored at a vintage shop.
Pants material (these have already been planned for) – a stretch wool twill and a stretch pique.
Shirting for the white blouse – I have some white menswear pique and ivory batiste.
Jeans – I have some cheap stretch denim from Joann for a muslin and some beautiful Cone Mills denim for the real deal.
T-shirts – I have 1-2 yard lengths of various jerseys.
I would need to buy:
Material for the shorts – Twill? Linen? I also have some seersucker in stash, but it’s probably not suitable.
Sweater knits. I have some linen knit for a lightweight cardigan but nothing for pullover style sweaters.
Dressy dress material – Oy. I have a lot of material suitable for a dress that could straddle summer and fall, but nothing really fancy:
Three different knit/jersey lengths for a wrap dress, in prints and solids.
Navy and white print poplin for a shirt dress – more office than party.
Navy batiste that’s also very much for officewear, not party wear.
Lightweight wool houndstooth tweed in white and cranberry, with some suedecloth bought to make a jacket to match. There is only enough of the houndstooth for a shift dress and it’s very summery.
I have silk dupioni in red, gold, black ivory and navy for a jacket to coordinate.
This sounds like a lot of potential “needs” and some serious fabric purchases. If I actually sew half this stuff in 2019, that would be an accomplishment. I think it’s time for another Magic Quadrant of Sewing Projects to determine what’s worthwhile.
I knew going in that this was iffy, but in the spirit of my “Sew Edgy” wardrobe plan, I wanted to take risks. It was a low-level risk, to be sure. I got this cotton burnout knit fabric on clearance this summer for $1.99 a yard. And this pattern is very simple, with only a front, back and cuff, so it was not an investment in time or energy. Here’s what the pattern pieces from “The Great British Sewing Bee From Stitch to Style” look like:
The issue for me had less to do with the style than with what I can only call lazy drafting. The top is not, in the end, a quality garment without some modifications I am not willing to make.
The pattern maker made three decisions that seem lazy to me, from least offensive to most offensive:
The cowl is too shallow. It constantly wants to flip out and escape, and who can blame it? You can remedy this by redrafting the cowl to make it deeper. If you don’t want to do that, you might get away with sewing a small weight, such as a metal button, onto the apex of the cowl to encourage gravity’s assistance.
The cuffs are designed in such a way that you need to hem them. If you are going to have a knit cuff, don’t you want one that’s finished and polished? A simple tube-style design doesn’t need hemming. You’d need to redraft this, of course, and I can’t be bothered.
The back neckline is just a turn-and-topstitch job. This is always going to look amateurish and won’t sit flat. A simple neckband, like you’d have on any knit top, would work much better. You’d have to draft this, of course, and again, I can’t be bothered.
To be fair to the style, I have seen a few chic versions out there. I think it favors an inverted triangle or rectangle body type, not a pear such as myself.
The fit is hard to figure out – there’s a ton of ease at the bust and waist because of the dolman/batwing sleeve shape, to encourage the drape, then it’s close-fitting at the hip, and the hem is asymmetrical.
The book provides only finished garment measurements. I chose my size based on the hip measurement, assuming I’d want a bit of negative ease there. I cut a size 14, because the finished hip for size 14 is 40-3/8 inches, and I have 42-inch hips. Maybe it’s too big? Maybe my fabric doesn’t drape as well as it could? Who knows!
If you have this book and still intend to try this top, I noted two errors in the instructions:
For step #1 the text and the pictures do not match. The text is correct, the pictures are wrong.
For step #5, the WIDE end of the cuffs need to be pinned to the sleeves, not the narrow end. DUH.
Finally, beware that this top is a tracing-paper and fabric hog. Because the front and back are each one giant piece, you will need to piece together your tracing paper, and this uses 1.5 yards of 60-inch wide knit fabric.
On the positive side, the pieces are so big that this top will be easy to recut into another top. I am thinking another Style Arc Creative Cate, or a MariaDenmark Kirsten Kimono Tee.
I made eight sewing resolutions last January, and managed to meet five of them. So that’s a D in making resolutions a reality. But hey, who’s keeping score?
I was proud to have accomplished these:
I participated in fewer sewalongs and contests. This year I entered two contests on PatternReview.com and managed to win second-place in one for my blanket-into-coat upcycle.
Upcycle knock-off of a $2,000 Monse coat
Used to be my college dorm blanket
I also did a mini wardrobe contest, but that was only because it lined up perfectly with my autumn sewing plans to create an edgier wardrobe.
Skirt from Simplicity 8058 and the StyleArc Creative Cate Top
Skirt from Vogue 1312, top from New Look 6330 and Muse Jenna Cardigan
I also entered one of the four Independent Pattern Month contests with The Monthly Stitch. I didn’t win anything. This hurt my pride, since I think there were 14 entries for 9 prizes. This bag’s not the best, but I like it and have used it daily since I made it.
Swoon Ethel Tote
Inside view with pockets
For sewalongs, I participated in the People’s Sewing Army, making small Christmas gifts for homeless children in Oregon.
All in a row
Final tags – one for each Hogwarts house
I like the camaraderie of the sewalongs and contests, but I am glad I busted out of my former pattern of making stuff for the challenge alone. And, I am managing the current Handbag Contest on PatternReview.com, which is also fun and doesn’t require me to make anything.
2. I went on a sewing retreat. I attended the PatternReview.com Weekend event in Stratford, Ontario. It was fun and I made some new friends. But, I prefer something more hands-on for 2019.
3. I tried charity shops and hit the jackpot. I scored some really great fabrics at my area thrift store, including the fabric for the skirt for Vogue 1312, and some vintage trims and buttons. I also bought items to upcycle for the 2018 Pussyhat sewing. While there was not a great selection at my area stores, there was enough to encourage me to return.
4. I sewed something for my mom. I just got this one under the wire, this Swoon handbag.
My mom gave me a bunch of sewing supplies for Christmas last year, and I wanted to make her something in appreciation. But she was weird about it – she wouldn’t let me measure her to fit anything. So I went with something that doesn’t require any fitting.
5. I claim a partial victory in my resolution to top making so many damn mistakes. It takes me a while to sew anything because I make a ridiculous number of mistakes – sewing pieces wrong-sides-together, accidentally pleating or tucking, slicing off chunks of fabric with the serger. Stuff like that.
I can’t say I made no mistakes in 2018, but I made fewer mistakes. One bad cutting error really messed up my plan for the Muse Cardigan, but I salvaged it. Other than that, other errors were minor. I reduced errors by clearly marking right and wrong sides unless it was obvious, and by basting anything iffy. Plus, I got a little more comfortable with a bit of hand sewing when I faced anything daunting with the machine.
I have not yet achieved these:
Must make jeans. I needed new jeans. I hemmed and hawed over fabrics and patterns. And then I bought two pairs of jeans at the mall. And you know what? I don’t feel bad about it. Jeans are a lot of work, and fitting issues are daunting.
I finally found a good pair of pants I can hack – and my winter 2019 sewing plans include a pair in denim with lots of top-stitching, flat-felled seams and other jeans-like details. Also, I won a jeans-making kit from NeedleSharp, which includes some prized Cone Mills denim and the famed Ginger Jeans pattern from Closet Case Files. So now I really have no excuses.
The embroidery unit is still in the box. My husband bought me a Bernina 580 for my birthday two years ago. It came with an embroidery unit, which I didn’t really want. I WILL use this unit in 2019, even if it’s just to embroider a fancy design on the pocket of the jeans I will make. (See what I did there? I tied these resolutions together!)