The Lure of “Free” Patterns

Shortly after I started sewing apparel, I got into a “free pattern” kick. That is, FREE PATTERN! DOWNLOAD! DOWNLOAD! DOWNLOAD!

Some have been great (the Deer & Doe plantain shirt and the Maria Denmark kimono T):

Some have been “good for what they are”, such as the Sew So Easy bolero jacket (embellished heavily), the Halloween Hat Pack from Fleece Fun (made for the Womens’ March on Washington in January) and these three chemo caps I sewed for my mother-in-law’s friend from three different patterns found online):

And then there’s the stuff that just doesn’t work. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s the pattern. Maybe it was a full moon and Mercury was rising. Whatever. The latest disappointment was the Noelle racerback bralette from Madalynne:

 

 

I am reluctant to be too critical of a free pattern – getting what I paid for and whatnot. But this is really off. I made it out of stretch lace with a stretch mesh lining and about 4 yards of picot elastic.

For starters, the instructions stink. They’re written out but there are no drawings or photos to help. I had three major construction problems:

  • The instructions never refer to the lining (when and how you’re supposed to put it in). I just basted it on – basically treated it as an underlining.
  • The instructions for how to install the sliders on the straps made no sense. I just figured it out.
  • You sew picot elastic around the whole thing (the top, armholes, under the bust and at the bottom of the band). The instructions say to sew the elastic flat. So basically the elastic doesn’t do its job at all. I stretched as I sewed and it was not enough.

I wanted a bralette for Pilates – something soft and breatheable for exercising. I had made the Colette Florence bralette last year and loved it, so I wanted to try this style next. Unfortunately, this was a waste of time and money. The fit is very off – even stretching the elastic as I sewed, the bottom band is way too big and the underbust area does not remotely offer enough support and I can’t make the straps any shorter. And I’m a mere B cup. Also, the whole thing just looks sloppy and unfinished.

So, downloader beware? What are your favorite free patterns?

A “Friend” at Work

A woman I work closely with had a goodbye party this week. I didn’t attend. Notice I did not say “a friend from work.” I would like to think of her as my friend, but she’s not, really.

Her husband got a job in a new city, so they’re moving. She’s going to keep her job, but work remotely from now on with occasional trips to see up at the headquarters. She did not want to move, does not want to work remotely, and is actively and vocally dreading the whole thing.

If she were a “friend,” I would feel more comfortable telling her what I really thought about this. My greatest regret in my career is that I put my husband’s career ahead of my own. He was older and more established at the time, so I deferred to him. Today, I have advanced much further in my career – perhaps as far as I can go. He’s in exactly the same place, doing exactly the same thing, and counting down the days (many many days) to retirement.

If she were my friend, I’d tell her not to defer, not to consider her career second-best. It isn’t, for one thing – she’s at a higher level than he is and is more established at a premier company. She also loves living in the city and loves being in the office. She will be miserable working from home full-time and living in a provincial city. Also, her husband sounds very controlling. They got married not even a year ago. She’s forever saying her husband “lets her” do this and that. I find this disturbing. She’s all of 30 years old, and she has a long way to go. I am 47 and I have a bit of wisdom to offer. Yet, all this is none of my business.

I might have considered her a friend, but it’s clear she doesn’t feel this way about me. I actually heard her talking on the phone about me (our desks are next to each other). She started to say “a friend at work” when she stopped. “A fr….. a coworker,” is what came out instead. So she actually stopped herself from calling me a friend, while on a personal phone call, and sitting right next to me.

So,  I keep my mouth shut, skip her going-away party, and count her out.

Can you really have “friends” at work anyway? I was close to a few people at my old job, and we’ve tried to stay in touch. When we get together, though, we talk excessively about the old times, or about the current situation at work if they’re still at the same place. Is this true friendship, or just affinity born of professional convenience?

I have two true “friends” from work – both women I worked with decades ago. Perhaps distance is needed to assess whether a true friendship is in the cards. We’ll see in another 20 years who I still consider a friend.

Betrayal!

I finished making a top from Simplicity 8137. I feel so betrayed. It looked like a quality project, just the kind of thing my work wardrobe needs. I need a dressy lined top in my life – the kind of thing that looks like a jacket but isn’t, to look crisp and cool on hot summer days.

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The love affair started with the fabric. I picked out some really nice rayon crepe at B&J Fabrics in the Garment District in New York. It had just enough drape, just enough texture. It was a daring and flattering shade of cobalt. I picked out excellent Japanese-made Bemberg rayon from my stash.

The love affair progressed at a torrid pace. The pattern was a bit of work to cut out – 11 pattern pieces – but that was fine because I was after a quality experience.

We had our first fight when I realized that Simplicity 8137 is a lined top but there was no lining for the sleeves. Seemed a bit daft to me. A flaw to be sure. But the rest of the experience seemed good. A nice solid match for me. I continued on.

We got along well together. A few tricky bits around the tie belt went smoothly with a bit of guidance. I fashioned crisp pleats, understitched with precision, and rejoiced when all the notches and seams lined up. I even had a great experience with the humungous narrow hem.

But then…

I tried it on.

And I saw this:

IMG_20170716_180801I could hear my grandmother’s advice – “Stand up straight!” So I stood up straight and took another picture. Same deal.

I was mystified. Why did the back slope down on one side? The front wrap section has a bit of drape to it, but that looks cute and flowy. Why is it all going sideways here? And what’s with the drag lines across my back? It fits fine so where are those coming from? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?

As if often the case with torrid affairs, you blame yourself. Surely, I thought, I made a cutting error or a sewing error to end up with such a sucky back line. Surely, this can be fixed, right?

Ever have a lover’s quarrel where you wish you’d been taping the conversation, so you could play your lover’s nasty comment back? Well, when it doubt with sewing, I go back to the pattern as the ultimate version of the truth.

Behold:

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The pattern piece on top is the left front. Under it you can see the right front. Notice how different they are, how the right front tapers way away from the left, two inches at the end? Why would anyone think this is a great idea? It’s not enough of a taper to look like an intentional asymmetric look. Rather, it just looks like a mistake.

Can this relationship be saved? I am tempted to trim off the taper and make the hem even, but then I worry it will look funny in the front. Here’s the front look:

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There are other problems, as you can see. The tie has this pleat to gather a bit, but it just sags and looks sad. So that needs to be fixed too. And those drag lines will still be there in the back.

So, I think we need to break up. Sorry, Simplicity 8137, but it’s not me, it’s you.

The $5, 15-hour Cucumber

My reluctant garden finally turned out some produce. Behold! The $5, 15-hour cucumber!

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Are you saying to yourself, “This looks like every other cucumber I ever saw?” Well, yes. But this is a magic cucumber. It’s magic because I put some seeds in some dirt and out it grew.

Now, are you saying to yourself, “Um… Duh… Isn’t that how all cucumbers grow?”

Again you are right. It wasn’t magic. It was horticulture.

Happy now?

I estimate this cucumber cost me $5. I bought a packet of seeds. I also bought some mulch. So those are my raw materials. We don’t count wear and tear on other things, such as gloves and tools. We won’t count the soil in my raised beds, since that’s been in place for a while. We also won’t count the cost of water. What do I look like, an accountant? Let’s just say $5 and call it square, OK?

I estimate it took 15 hours of labor to grow this cucumber. The “stick seed in the dirt” bit takes 10 seconds. But you know what takes hours? Weeding, watering, shoveling, tilling, screening the soil, making compost and digging it in. Also peeking at the cucumber vine to see if it’s coughed up anything yet.

So that’s my fabulous cucumber. I’m going to eat it with some hummus. I may get another one next week.

Party Party

You know your party’s too big when you have to buy ice.

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I mean, I have a freezer. It has an ice maker. So ice is basically free (factoring in the pennies spent on electricity and  water). When you buy ice, it’s a sign that life is deviating from the norm.

It started simply enough. Our next-door neighbors were back home after months out of the country. We wanted to see them, so we invited them over for the holiday weekend. And then we invited the neighbors on the other side, since we all get along and a party of six is more fun than a party of four.

Then my husband ran into neighbors up the block while walking the dog. They accepted an invitation. While they were chatting about “what to bring” and so forth, like you do when you’re planning a party, other neighbors walked by with their dog, so they were invited too. And then it seemed unfair not to invite the neighbors behind us, since a pretty big party with most of the other neighbors was now unfolding in our yard.

Now 16 people are coming.

My husband’s excited. He likes to play the host, and he enjoys big parties. He gets to show off his fancy grill to the other men. During normal times (that is, when there’s no party) he’s none too eager to cook, shop, clean and organize. But when a party’s unfolding, he springs into action – liquor store, grocery store, vacuuming, sweeping, making burgers and setting out chairs. Dishwasher full? He’ll empty it. Buy ice? No problem. And after the party’s over, he will clean up every single thing. He likes to come downstairs the morning after a big party and remark that it looks like there was never a party. I don’t know why this thrills him so, but it thrills me that I don’t have to do all the work.

I am indifferent about parties. I would rather have a smaller gathering. I would sometimes rather have none. But once the party starts, I will be glad we’re having it. So I baked cookies, made deviled eggs, tossed a watermelon and feta salad and mopped the kitchen floor.

Party on!

How to Sew Applique Seams on Lace

My project “Miss Fisher’s Lace Fantasy Duster” hit a snag… ba-da-boom! Pun pun pun!

No really, it did. But I figured it out.

The Art Deco-inspired lace I bought has beautiful scalloped eyelash borders on both sides. I wanted to make the most of this design, so I lined up the fronts of the duster along these motifs.

I also lined up the sleeves this way, so that the pretty scalloping would fall at bracelet length along my arms. So far, so good.

But what to do about the hems and the V-neckline? This isn’t the kind of lace where you can just trim around for the motifs – the curves go every which way. I thought about just doing a rolled hem, or using a decorative stitch on my machine to mimic the scalloping, but I really wanted that eyelash and scallop look everywhere.

Threads Magazine to the rescue! An issue from 2006 had a great tutorial on how to sew with lace. Here’s a step by step on how I made it work.

  1. Cut the pattern pieces out of the lace along the seamline as if it’s a normal piece of fabric.

2. On another piece of lace, trim carefully around the motifs, following them where they go. They might go a couple of inches away from the border. That’s fine.

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3. Lay the cut-out motifs on top of the cut edge of the pattern piece, right side of pattern piece to wrong side of lace motif, as you would for an applique. My lace was fairly thick and durable, so I just pinned the bejeezus out of it, but for a more delicate lace you may want to use some temporary fusible whatnot.

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4. Sew with a narrow zigzag along the edges of the lace motif. Follow the cuts and curves where they go, which might be pretty close or fairly far away from the raw edge of the pattern piece, depending on how the motifs lay out. This was pretty easy since I have these black edges all over the place on my lace, but you get the idea. (At least, I hope you do.)

You will end up with a mess that looks like this:

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But fear not!

5. Trim away the excess on the pattern piece from the underside. It was difficult to get a good picture of this, but basically flip the whole thing over to the wrong side and feel along with your fingers for where the motif is sewn on to the pattern piece. Use some small sharp scissors to remove that excess from the raw edge of the pattern piece, leaving only the appliqued motif behind.

It takes time and patience, but in the end you get this:

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Can you see the seams? Didn’t think so! I mean, you can feel the difference but you can’t see it unless you look really closely. And who’s going to do that?