Saturday, June 12, 2021

School of Making Peacoat

My (first) Alabama Chanin School of Making piece is finished! I am so pleased with it that I (almost) wish we were entering late autumn instead of early summer. I started it as soon as I returned from my (first) workshop there in early May. 

It took me almost a month to the day to finish it. This, of course, is because it is entirely made by hand, another first for me. In fact, if I had not had some extended car travel, it would not be finished. It is the perfect project for travel. 

The peacoat is the shorter version of their fabulous full length trench coat. It has a double breasted front, sort of. The front seams start out at the neckline double-breasted and then angle toward the side seams until it just meets at the front hem. It calls for 3 large snaps, but I've not added them yet. I'm not sure I really want closures. 

In retrospect, my first ever AC piece should have been a simple piece, say a shirt or a skirt. But no, I decided to choose one of the most complicated of their options. A smarter person would have started simple and built up to complex. I feel lucky that it all worked out fine in the end. In fact I feel very very lucky for lots of reasons!

The back has 4 pieces - 2 center back pieces with a slightly shaped center back seam, plus 2 side back pieces. 

There are two simple front pieces, a left and a right one, shaped as I described above. The sleeves are two-piece, adding some lovely shaping there. There are also side seam pockets. Lastly there is the simple collar. The kit included two sets of collar pieces, one with the stencil and one without. I chose the plain collar.

When you attend one of their workshops, a project is included in the price, hence my greedy choice, I guess. You order it the first morning and it is delivered to you in a lovely cotton pillow case of sorts, with each piece cut to size and labeled. So there is no cutting. Directions from the pattern are photo-copied and given to you to accompany the kit.

The kit does not include the actual pattern, but it is available for purchase. I wish I had purchased it for reasons I describe below.

The kit included enough thread to make 2 or 3 jackets. This worries me a bit. I'm skilled at worry, wondering if it will fall apart when/if I wash it someday. These pieces are not intended for the dry cleaners. Rather they recommend machine washing and just a bit of time in the dryer before air drying it. The dryer time keeps it from stretching out of shape.

I may have extra thread because I used a running stitch to outline the stencils, rather than a stitch that would use more thread, like the back stitch. Naturally, there were other challenges for my worrying mind. 

I started work with a center back panel. The right side of the bottom layer is placed next to the wrong side of the stenciled (top) piece. This first step places two layers carefully together, lining up the raw edges by patting it into place. Throughout the project, I kept reminding myself that the right side of this 100% cotton jersey is identified by the fact that horizontal edges roll to the right side. 

After carefully aligning the raw edges, I pinned them in place and used my lifetime supply of basting thread to baste the raw edges together. I felt this step was very, very important because seam allowances are only 1/4", giving me almost no room for inaccuracy. All of this went smoothly and I began to stitch around the stencil shapes. It is totally relaxing and meditative. I highly recommend it.

Then I started on the front pieces using the same routine to prepare it for stitching the stencil shapes. The instructions describe finishing the front edges up to the notch where the collar attaches, notch B. This is accomplished by placing the two layers right sides together and stitching along the raw edge at 1/4". Then you are to turn it right side out and begin to stitch around the stencils.

However the neckline for each front piece contains 2 notches and they are not labeled. The two notches are about an inch apart so it was possible they were really a single notch. Or not. I emailed them. No response. So I called them. The sweet young lady who answered said she would research it and get back to me. All of the young associates are polite and sweet and patient in the southern sense. Yes, ma'am!

When she called me back, she said, "The left notch is notch B." Hmmm... There are two fronts, each with two notches. So I said which left notch? The one on the left front or the right front? And is it mirrored on the other front? She said she did not know and that her knowledge of sewing garments was too limited to understand my question. 

The next associate was familiar with Alabama Chanin clothing construction. And she opened up the physical pattern to sort it all out. As it happens, one of the notches is for Center Front, and the other is for attaching the collar. I'm thinking that info might have been printed on the physical pattern pieces.

But then there were the notches on the collar pieces. There's a single notch on one long side of the collar and a double notch on the other long side of the collar. The two long sides were not identical in length so I really needed to know which one to attach to the neckline. The second sweet associate I spoke with did not actually know but we surmised that the double notch attached to the back neckline.


Now I'm wondering if anyone else has ever made this. Or maybe the other sewists figured it all out on their own. The lesson for me is that I need to purchase the pattern to go with the kit. The additional cost is marginal ($12) compared to the aggravation of guessing, and the other costs!

My next challenge was attaching the in-seam pockets. This proved to be quite straight-forward. The written instructions were sufficient for any experienced sewist to follow. I considered taking the lazy way out and omitting the pockets. I am so glad I did not. I really like having those.

And I love, love, love the finished piece. As I was stitching, I began to wonder if this project would turn out to be more fun to make than to wear. Sometimes it works that way for me. I love the process. But, in this case, I love the result too. 

I hemmed the sleeves rather than leaving them raw-edged. The bottom hem is raw edged, but the sleeves were a bit too long and there was no way I was going to cut them off! Other than that, it is a size Medium with no adjustments. I was able to try on size Medium while there but was still nervous about how mine would fit. I am so pleased.

I purchased a second kit while there, a top called the Alabama sweater. It is an A-lined shirt with a V neckline. The original is sleeveless but I added 3/4 length sleeves, knowing I'd get more wear out of a sleeved garment. And I raised the neckline. Their tees are a little too low-cut for me.

They include a small sample rectangle to test the techniques. This is how I learned what I will NOT do with this new project!

I started it while traveling, but put it away once back home. I want to savor some zen sewing on it during my next trip, a family vacation in July. It is a much simpler make than the peacoat. There are only 6 pieces - two fronts, two backs, two sleeves.

I chose a stencil they call *text.* I asked them to print it diagonally on the two front pieces and a little on one of the back pieces. I also left one sleeve mostly plain. So it will not take nearly as long as the peacoat.

Yep, I'm a School of Making devotee now. It is hand-sewing at its best.

Friday, June 4, 2021


The Whistles top is an older pattern from the Sewing Workshop, the companion to the Bells top. Two  entirely different tops in one envelope. I made the Bells shirt a while back and did not end up wearing it much, though it is an interesting top. It has a feminine shape and interesting sleeves. I think it is the most fitted of any of the Sewing Workshop patterns. I wonder where I put that...

For some reason, I did not pay attention to the second shirt in the pattern envelope - the Whistles shirt. I needed Linda Lee to point out how interesting it is. Now I see the light. She does an amazing job of directing my attention each Tuesday at 11 CDT. Do you watch these FB live sessions? She could sell ice to the Eskimos, as they say. And I go willingly because it's so inspiring. I might be making quilts and pillowcases otherwise!

Right now, the Sewing Workshop offers two kits for this pattern, each with gorgeous bold panel prints designed by Noelle Phares. Her work is beautiful and I'm tempted to order some panels from her. I was also tempted by the kits, though they are now sold out.

Part of what I love about sewing is making my own selections, so I have stubbornly refused to order any of the kits they are offering this year. So far.

But back to the Whistles shirt. It is a fairly simple shirt, much like the Now and Zen shirts, with a slightly dropped shoulder, straight sides with vents, and straight long sleeves. 

The Whistles has asymmetrical front and back seams that incorporate very cool architectural details. There are 3 wedge shapes arranged along the center front, some that hide buttons. 

And there are 3 similar wedge shapes along the back. 

The fabric is a cotton-linen blend from my local quilt store, the Cotton Farm. It is a *shot* weave, where the warp and the weft are different colors. It gives the fabric more depth and a richer color, I think. It washed and dried beautifully becoming quite soft. It does not seem to wrinkle much. And it is fairly light weight, nice for our warmer and warmer weather.

The front and back pieces must be cut single-layer, due to the asymmetry. When I initially cut out my pieces, I failed to properly label each of the wedge shapes and so had to go back and re-attach the tissue. Some of them look similar but each of the 6 wedge shapes is unique.

I interfaced all of the wedge shapes. Only a few of them have button holes and buttons, requiring interfacing. But I did not want some of them to look crisp and the others, wispy. I'm pleased with the resulting look, though it does feel a teeny, tiny bit heavy. Do you think so?

The collar is plain but can stands up crisply or can be folded flat if it feels too hot. I like having those options. I interfaced both top and bottom collars too. One slight issue with the neckline is the way the raw edges are finished. If you use a serger, as I did, it does not look finished when left open at the top. Of course, I could add a little bias binding right there. Maybe a little piece of silk that contrasts?

Next time I might finish that one edge near the neckline with something nicer than serging (see above picture). However, after Linda Lee's recommendation, I now use embroidery threads in my serger. It creates a much more invisible and soft edge because the thread is two-ply rayon. Also it doesn't melt under the iron!

The sleeves are plain. I knew I'd want to roll them up so I used French seams. If I make it again, I may add a placket and cuff, or some sort of detail to the sleeves. 

I think that this solid color allows the details to shine. The Whistles does create a beautiful top in those Noelle Phares panel prints, but I think that fabric would show even better on the plainer Now and Zen tops. 

This top lends itself to using coordinating fabrics for the wedge pieces. I came very close to using another cotton-linen blend in gray and white stripe for some of them. In the end though, I am very pleased with this new shirt. Maybe I need to go out to eat someplace and wear it now that I'm fully vaccinated!

I hope you are sewing something beautiful!

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Zero Waste Land - updated

A great resource for a variety of ZW sewing patterns

For the past several months, I have been researching the concept of zero-waste sewing and zero-waste patterns. The research was part of my preparation for a presentation to City-Wide Couture, a neighborhood group in the Atlanta chapter of the American Sewing Guild. Within this group, we rotate around the membership, presenting topics of interest.

In Camp Sew N Sew one year, we made Folkwear's Hipari.

My first stop was my recently pared down stash of sewing patterns. While none claimed zero-waste status, there were a number of them that qualified. You know the patterns I'm referencing - the ones based primarily on rectangles, like this:

There are the ethnic garment patterns reproduced by Folkwear. The history of garment construction is based on materials available, as well as climate. Often the materials were woven on hand looms, and so restricted by the width (weft) of the loom. The raw materials were precious and the process was intensive so there was strong desire to use everything produced. The bog coat is a well-known example.

A favorite of mine is the clever monpei or field pants from Folkwear's #112 Japanese Field Clothing. I have made PJ pants from this pattern for a number of years, not to save fabric, but because I love the clever way a wedge is removed from the back leg to create the crotch in otherwise rectangular fabric. This technique appears in a number of their other ethnic patterns, so perhaps was a trick used across cultures.

And I used that technique one time when I goofed while cutting out Cutting Line Designs One-Seam pants in a fabric with a noticeable right side. I managed to cut 2 left legs. I fixed it by chopping off the crotch curve, adding a seam, and flipping it over. There is no way to see that seam in normal activity.

Right now there are a number of Zero Waste pattern designers out there. They are working hard to produce interesting designs, not just rectangles with armholes in the sides. Some are quite complex. I decided that as part of my research, I should try one, a simple one to start.

Liz modeling her free scrubs patterns

As a follower of Liz Haywood, one of hers was the natural choice for my first ZW project. I chose the Ursa dress to test. The size chart is quite expansive, especially for a ZW pattern. I chose my size from my bust/hip measurement, noting that the pattern indicates 7 inches of ease. 

Now the muslin/toile conundrum - it is generally wise to muslin a new pattern before cutting into precious fabric, but that flies in the face of ZW philosophy, doesn't it? I chose the middle ground with a fabric I received free from the sewing guild, one that I'm not that crazy about. It's a rayon cross dyed in yellow and pink. The resulting color is sort-of muddy.

The making process was great fun. And I tried to be meticulous, pulling threads to make sure the grain was perfectly straight. My fabric was wide and the Ursa is designed for 42-44" wide fabric. I cut off the excess fabric in order to simulate her exact instructions.

The dress is basically a tube with the length-wise grain going around the body, head and legs out of either end. The tube is created with a CB seam, so CF is on a fold. A wedge is cut from the hem of the front fold to create the two underarm gussets and a safety patch for the top of the CB vent. I really like how the gussets attached.

The shoulder seams had me scratching my head but I finally got it worked out. The design cleverly shapes the shoulders, rather than simply creating horizontal seams. 

The design also creates a slight cowl neckline. I like how this looks in Liz's wool version worn as what I would call a jumper. I had my eye on some plaid wool in stash that has been there forever.

But then I slipped it on over my head. Hmmm... My head was too large to fit through the neckline. That was easy to fix by simply letting out the shoulder seams until it fit. I think I took it out a total of an inch, maybe a bit more.

Then it would not slip over my hips. My hips are the largest part of my circumference. This seemed odd, given the 7" of ease. I measured my finished garment and it measures an inch less than my hips. I fixed that by letting out the CB seam which was 3/4" anyway. 

I remeasured everything and even checked Liz's measurements (which are spot-on). I don't know for certain what happened, but I have a suspicion. Because the crosswise grain hangs vertically, and because rayon misbehaves anyway, I think it worked like one of those Chinese finger toys and pulled up tighter, particularly at the top of the CF wedge removed.

UPDATE: What I failed to check was the possibility that I rotated my fabric and ran the warp lengthwise instead of as instructed. Yikes! That's exactly what caused my too-tight tube. Liz was kind enough and patient enough to walk me through it via email, even though we are separated by half the planet. I cut my fabric 41x50.75 inches. I constructed it with the 41 inches (less SAs) going around my body, instead as intended. And I thought I was so careful!

And I know I will not wear a dress like this. I should have known that up front. I did try a little to style it, adding a belt, jewelry, and even shoes. 

I am very grateful to Liz who responded quickly to a post I made to her blog about my planned presentation. She generously provided me with a number of links to resources, including a video of her fashion exhibit at an art gallery, available here.

Aren't sewers the best?

For my next experiment, I tried the Lawrence jacket. Having waded into the ZW arena with a simple dress, I felt ready for something a bit more complicated. And it too shows up in interesting variations online. There are two views and only two sizes. This is a generously fitting, boxy shape so the two sizes are not serious limitations, IMO.

For my first Lawrence, I used muslin. After my trials with that rayon, I knew I needed to try a more predictably stable fabric, so a white cotton muslin was just right. And it too was free, given to me by who-knows.

Because of the size of my muslin, I chose the shorter viewB . The finished garments online do not show it with pockets but the ZW design calls for patch pockets. 

This too was a fun make. If you read my blog much, you may know that I do love trying new patterns. I often reuse patterns for specific wardrobe items, but I especially enjoy the first time through a set of good pattern instructions.

My first challenge was understanding the finished measurements. The bust range is 32" to 44" for size 1. The finished measurement is shown as 29". What? You know, it's the silly things that trip me up. Of course, this is half of the finished measurement, measured flat. 

Like most of ZW patterns I found, this one does not come with pattern tissue. Instead the purchase provides you with a PDF document with precise measurements. So if you like a little simple geometry (I do), it's fun. Here is my muslin marked up and ready to cut. I've highlighted a mistake where I did not cut the front neckline deep enough. 

Because this is zero waste, a mistake in one area creates a problem in another. My neckline mistake was revealed when my back vent facings were too short. After my problems with the Ursa, I delayed cutting anything on the bias until I absolutely had to. You can still see the neckline as I prepared the pleats along the shoulder seam.

The doubled yoke makes use of the burrito method that I like. Here you can see the front and back neckline cut before completing the yoke. The front neckline is cut as a triangle and the back neckline is scooped. 

Those two scoops from the doubled yoke are IMO handled in a kludgy fashion. 

One was forced into a back facing (the shape is wrong), and the other is used to create a loop for the back neckline. 

It's not much fabric to waste. I removed mine and threw it in the trash.

The sleeves are nicely drafted making use of a gusset. Here is how it looked before sewing the side seams. You can see the deep patch pockets. They are sewn before the side seams so as to catch one side of each in a side seam.

Once I sewed the side seam and started adding the facings for the side vents, I realized my previous goof with the neckline. 

I also noted an odd method for top stitching the front facings in place. It creates a new vertical line through part of the pocket. I contacted the designer to see if I misunderstood the instructions. She directed me to a tutorial she put online to help people with pocket construction. Even there you can see the odd vertical line.

As I mentioned above, none of the ones I saw online added the pockets.

And the placement of the pockets is also odd. They fall right under my armpits.

I think this design has possibilities for a future real garment. 

I might make the longer one and avoid the pocket issues. The longer one features inseam pockets, a nice touch. I will say though that it appears to have an odd horizontal line of top-stitching on the surface.

For my 3rd and final experiment, I decided to draft my own ZW pattern. This stems from my nostalgic longing for a Mexican dress from the 60s-70s when I was living in Texas. Everyone had a couple of these in the closet, perfect for the hot weather. Here is one I kept.

When Folkwear came out with their version of this, I was pretty excited. Unfortunately my PJ version of it did not live up to my hopes for it. Their design is simpler than my vintage garment and that probably accounts for my disappointment. The sleeves stick out, I think.

My vintage version was easy to measure even though the shapes were somewhat torqued after years of wearing. You can see that it is composed of these rectangles: yoke, sleeves, sleeve gussets, front, back. 

I got out some graph paper and started calculating a way to make it ZW. After a few tries, I determined measurements that would allow me to cut all pieces from a single rectangle. I could not get a dress out of it without compromising the ZW idea, but a top was possible.

I shortened the front and back to 22" long, making a perfect rectangle!

For my first version of the Mexican top, I used a remnant of pretty cotton yarn dyed plaid. This too is ZW. I enjoy having remnants around for design play.

This meant I had to add some seams to use the remnant. I added a CF seam, inserting a bias strip to avoid matching the plaid. I like the effect.

The yoke in the vintage garment is a rectangle with an oval cut in it. Striving for zero-waste, I created a seam across the shoulder part of the yoke. It was easy to just leave a gap for my head. Yes, it's a little kludgy.


It was easy to make. The only slightly challenging part was the use of the squares for underarm gussets. 

Next, to make sure it was really ZW, I cut this from a rectangular piece of white muslin. It too was an easy make. The only kludgy aspect of my attempt at zero waste is my handling of the oval cut from the single yoke:

I needed a way to finish the neckline anyway, so I cut bias strips from the oval and used those to finish the edge of the neckline:

This is my favorite of the makes. I think I'll make a couple of summer tops with it.

Here are some of my final thoughts on ZW patterns:

  1. The design is challenging, particularly for designers trying to scale up and down. It's one thing to make a single-size pattern, as I did. But it's another level of challenge create a scalable design.
  2. Because of the this, many of the pattern designers ignore the difference between length-wise and cross-wise grain. These differences can matter, but not as much as I thought, given my mistake. When a loom is loaded, the warp is laid in very tightly. Then as the weft is added, it is typically looser. So there is more give in the crosswise grain. We sewers use this to good advantage running it around our bodies. It allows for more movement.
  3. Zero-waste patterns do not come with pattern tissue. Rather you purchase a set of instructions for measuring each piece. 
  4. As with most indie patterns, some of the nomenclature is non-standard, as are seam allowances. This is just something to note.
  5. I admire the people who decide to create these patterns for home sewers. It takes patience and persistence.
  6. Personally I enjoy having remnants as I like to incorporate them into other garments. And I learned that you can compost natural fibers. Of course.
So I am finished with my current research into zero waste patterns. 

I have a particular Vogue pattern by Marcy Tilton that is tempting me at the moment.