Saturday, August 23, 2008

Mary and Simon in Kimono

While I was visiting my Pa in the UK in June I discovered, in a box, my two Sasha dolls. I got Mary on my second birthday and Simon a few years later, but I never played with them aggressively - they were more kind of decorative - so they are in quite good nick. I couldn't find their box of clothes, but then I remembered the pieces of spare fabric too big to throw out and too small to make a garment with back in Japan.... So we bundled Mary and Simon into our carry-on bags and now here they are in Japan.

They were finding their one set of clothes too hot so the first thing they asked for was some silk kimono. I have actually only made one so far but I have enough fabric for another. Anyone recognise the fabric? If this blog had any readers I would make it a puzzle, but since it doesn't I will just remind myself of the answers. :-) The chiffon burnout is from James' man blouse. Top quality Japanese silk! Lucky Mary and Simon! It is lined with silk charmeuse which was used to line the pinstripe skirt. It is fully-lined so this makes it reversible (for the goth-kimono look). The Obi (the sash) is made from stretch silk charmeuse used to line number two of the recent frocks. I found a pattern on the internet showing the pieces and shapes of a kimono and then fitted the proportions to Mary and Simon's frame. Both men and women wear kimono in Japan. Women in formal kimono are a common sight in Kamakura so Mary is wearing the kimono in that style. However the colouring of this kimono is more like a men's kimono. Men are more commonly seen wearing the summer kimono (called yukata) so this is the style in which Simon is wearing it. Both sexes do up the kimono wrapping left side over right side. Here is a close up of Simon - he looks almost half Japanese!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


This is Marfy 1661 from this year's catalogue. When I were a lass I used to wonder why those close fitting dresses, which I now learn are called "sheath"s never fitted proper, and concluded I must be a uniquely weird shape. Probably it is true, but now it I realise that because they are close fitting the ready to wear versions of these sorts of frocks probably fit very few people.

So first I made a test using some wool blend fabric from the Emma One Sock online store. The pattern size is 42 which seems to fit quite well for the other patterns I have tried, sometimes requiring taking in a bit at the hips or letting out a bit at the bust. So I cut the 42 with 1 inch seam allowances. It was quite easy to put together the fronts and backs but took a while with all the pocket details and top-stitching. The pattern has some lining/facing pieces for the top of the bodice. Since my fabric was pretty solid I just made these from cupro lining fabric.
According to this book I have on making Linings, when you line a sleeveless frock, before stitching the side-seams you are supposed to stitch right sides together fashion fabric and lining pieces and then pull the frock through both the straps. I was sure this was impossible, since my fabric was quite thick as well as sturdy, so instead I did the front and back linings separately and then stitched the shoulders together after having turned the attached linings right sides out.

Then it was time to put in the zipper up the back and stitch all the long seams. I basted them first and then discovered I had to take in the waist and hips a bit. Then I stitched it all together. The final result was a bit of a mess at the back. The hem hung at an angle and there was extra fabric at the back waist. I've had to make what they for some reason call a "sway-back" adjustment before when making close fitting t-shirts. This is where you take a horizontal dart out of the back. So I played around with the fitting and decided to adjust the pattern, taking both horizontal and vertical darts out of the back and, because of the low-hanging back hem, I didn't add the removed fabric back in again on the hemline. I didn't want to go chopping up the test version though, so to make it acceptable I just stuck a couple of vertical darts in the back and sewed the hem crooked. It looks a bit odd at the back but seems pretty much OK all things considered. I also adjusted the pattern to take a cm out of the back neckline since it gaped a little.

Next it was time to stitch a real one. For this I had some linen-cotton-lycra blend stretch fabric also from Emma One Sock. Since the fabric is a bit transparent and also a bit rough to the touch I fully lined this with some white stretch silk charmeuse from Sarah Veblen's online store. This time I did manage to pull the frock through the shoulder straps although only half the dress at a time since I did this step before sewing the centre front and centre back seams. These fabrics were both very nice since neither frayed much at all. This was a surprise since plain silk charmeuse seems to fray a great deal. With the stretch of the fabric I didn't need to insert a back zipper which was also a bonus. Weirdly I found that I had to take a a couple of cm out of the front of the neckline. I did this by altering the centre seam between the neckline and bust. The bad thing about this version is that I think the neckline was better before I went and top-stitched it. Apart from that it fits quite well. At least James says it is better than the practice. I have been wearing these two frocks at work quite a bit through the hot hot hot sweaty summer.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

From scraps to boxers

For some unfathomable reason, James didn't want photos of his lovely self in his underwear thrown all over the interwebs. So here we have a rather dull couple of photos of James' new boxer shorts pinned to the front of a chair.

The shorts are made using the leftover pieces of silk from my suit jacket lining. The fabric pieces left little room for manoeuvre and, unless one were to start making stripes, there was no choice as to which colour was the front and which the back. The first photo shows the front. The pattern is Jalie 2326, which contains a large range of sizes from boy to bloke. James' measurements are closest to size V and I added a 1cm to the seam allowances because the silk frays a lot. I decided to practice a rolled hem so including the extra 1cm, these are bit longer than they might have come out. That, however, is a good thing because James is so tall. There are only very small scraps of silk left now, and I used up the thread I bought to go with it, which makes me glow with the illusion of economy. Being so shiny, these shorts really do look like the shorts boxers wear, but I am told they are very comfortable and I hope they will be good for wearing round the house, as "loungewear", now it has got hot again. Probably these are on the baggy side, and in a less drapey fabric perhaps I should make them a bit narrower.

The shorts were fundamentally simple to make with only two pattern pieces, plus an elastic waistband, but I find sewing anything in silk charmeuse quite tricky. The instructions on the pattern are terse, and really give no explanation or feeling of where they are heading unlike, say, the instructions on a typical Kwik Sew pattern, which teach you how to sew. This gives me some nervousness since it would be very easy to miss a step and makes me wonder if it might have been easier to not bother with the instructions at all! Actually I only started work after checking some pairs of James' boxer shorts to see how they were really put together. One thing I noticed too late but must write down for reference is that, in RTW boxer shorts, the elastic waistband is not stretched much over the front fly area, where there are several layers (4-5) of fabric together. The consequence of over stretching it as I did is a curve which does not lie completely flat when the shorts are worn.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A suit

Remember the pin-stripe skirt and the story of how I got given 2m extra pin-stripe for free? Obviously I had to attempt a suit. Now, for only about 100USD, and a month's hard labour, I have one. I actually finished it a couple of weeks ago, but have been tidying up since then - wool sure make a lot of dust - and I only wore it properly for the first time this week.

The jacket - Marfy 1450 - is, of course, constructed out of a long series of errors. I like to think the errors get smaller the more jackets I make, but still with so many steps in making a jacket there really are a lot of places to go wrong. Moderately priced ready to wear suits are made with much greater accuracy, but I think home stitchin' still wins because of better fit, and nicer fabric (for the price).

I used Kenneth King's Tailored Jacket CD to make the jacket. I think I made better job of the inferfacing this time, but I still struggle to get the lapel right. This jacket has vertical darts in front and back and they all have little dimples in which is also not ideal. Marfy patterns do like quite pouffy sleeves and it is a bit of a struggle getting all the ease in. My resulting sleeve cap is nothing like as smooth as a real suit.

The Marfy size 42 is pretty close to my size. The last jacket ended up a bit tight across the back, and I shortened it a bit too, and also narrowed the shoulder slightly. I compared that pattern to this one and decided that adjustments would mostly likely be within seam allowances so I cut out the lining. I broadened the back by sewing 0.5cm into the seam allowance at the back-underarm seam, tapering down to nothing by the waist. I also added 0.5cm to the circumference of the arm, again tapering to nothing in about 20cm. After making these adjustments in the lining I make the adjusted pattern pieces for the interfacing and top fabric. I also added some extra to the pattern for shoulder pads. I only used thin pads (0.5cm) but it wasn't clear to me whether space for pads is included in the pattern. Even with the extra I added, the bust point is a tad high. The arms are exactly the right length unaltered and I also did not change the length of the body.

The lining is silk charmeuse in an excellent blue colour, bought from Sarah Velben's online store. Generally I prefer to shop for fabric locally, but I haven't seen much range of silk lining fabric so quite a while ago I bought Sarah's colour card. It is really worthwhile since it means there is no guesswork over colour or fabric (I also have a set of samples of the different silks she sells). The only downside is having to wait for it to arrive, but since this time I actually had a plan I could buy it well in advance.

The pattern has no pockets, but KK's CD includes an inside pocket in the lining which I included. It is rather handy although , of course, I managed to put it in the wrong side, which makes it a bit harder to get at than it should be.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Longsleeved J

The brown raglan top is Kwik Sew 2561, a pattern which I have made in various forms 5 times. This version is the slightly slender version, with crew neck and arms extended by 1" compared to last time. The fabric is a fairly substantial cotton knit from Swany. This one seems to have really worked if I am to judge by the fact that there have not yet been any complaints!

The other two tops are cycle/mountain wear and are made of Polartec PowerDry using Kwik Sew 2439. I have made this before, only last time I made View B. This is the "close fitting" View A. After laying out the pattern pieces I realised I could fit them all onto the fabric twice so I thought I would make two tops. So I cut out two fronts, two back and two arms, plus collars and cuffs, neatly using up all the fabric. Only later did I realise that two James' have four arms. Fortunately I had some more PowerDry, although it is slightly heavier weight, so was able to cut the extra arms. I blame the arm pattern for being confusing because, unusually it is symmetrical and cut on the fold.

I cut a medium added an inch to the chest measurement and cut the length to large size. The arms I cut to the full length including the hem and then added a 4cm cuff. Also, as usual I added an inch to the back length. It all worked out fine, except that, at least in this lightweight fabric (the pattern suggests heavyweight fleece) the pattern is not remotely close fitting, especially in the arms. I'm not quite decided what to do if I make more sports longsleeves. I could possibly adapt the raglan top (which I already have a zippered version of), or I could start from James' T-shirt draft...


Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Marfy 1469. From the Marfy Fall 2007 catalogue: "This flared skirt is divided into panels cut on the grain and on the bias. Suggested fabric pinstripe"

The hard part of making this skirt is cutting out the pattern so as to get the stripes on the bias strips going the right way. I spent a long time working it out and then, finally giving in and asking for James' help, I managed to do it...wrong! But I only made one mistake and I was able to switch the incorrect pieces and draw new stitching lines so there was no problem in the end.

My choice of this pattern was all about the fabric. There is a store in Kamata (Yuzawaya) that sells fabric for men's suits on the top floor. Actually what they do is make suits for men. You pick your fabric from a very large selection and they make the suit. However, (if you persist and find the right assistant) they will also sell you fabric by the metre. I have long wondered what I could do with this fabulous resource (apart from make James a suit which he doesn't really need) so when I saw this pattern in the Marfy catalogue I jumped at it. I thought it was the perfect piss-take on pin-stripe. So in this case I even followed the Marfy fabric recommendation! You might think this is not so extraordinary but Marfy do suggest some outrageous fabrics. Things like "vicuna"!!!

I decided on black with blue stripes and one of the samples I really liked was at half-price, so I requested 1.5m. It was a Super100s Japanese wool. Then it turned out this fabric was end-of-line and the assistant decided to give me the whole 3.3m. I'd only asked for 1.5m so I got that length at half-price and then the extra 1.8m free! Unbelievably that means I got 250 US dollars worth of fabric for about 55 US dollars and of course it means I also have enough to make a suit.

After cutting out I finished all the edges of the pieces with an overlock stitch to avoid fraying. I am a little under size 42 in the hips according to the measurement chart and in fitting I took 1cm off the-right side seam. In the left side I installed an invisible zipper. I cut the full length, but aware that it would be shortened quite a bit I increased the flare a little. In the end I tried several lengths and decided that mid-knee length looked best, which, including a 2.5 inch hem, meant cutting a couple of inches off the bottom. I hand-sewed the hem, and also added a black silk charmeuse lining. I had some problems sewing this fabric. The bobbin seemed to be sticking. It didn't actually effect the stitches that I could see, but the thread did not seem to come off the bobbin smoothly. I never quite tracked down the problem although it did seem to improve a lot when I used a size 7 needle...I hope my machine isn't peaky.

The fit is really good, and it looks very nice to me in the mirror, although photographing this skirt is rather a challenge. I think it's very cool - no one else on the train to Tokyo has half their pin-stripes at 45 degrees!


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Black jeans

James wanted some new black jeans. Choice is limited since James takes between 32/36 and 34/36, the second number being the length and the first the waist measurement. Such jeans are rare in most parts of the world and probably non-existent in Japan. He has some 34/36 501s but they have always had an up-the-bum-crack issue. We looked in Levi's while in San Francisco last year and the latest 34/36s are much worse fitting. Basically, the 34 label now applies to a fatter arse (odd since I thought it was supposed to be inches), and of course no 32/36s in the shop at all.

The jeans James has that mostly fit are 32/36 Wranglers. Problem is these are actually a bit tight across his lower back and he doesn't like to wear them for long periods, especially after he slipped a disk a few years ago. Those jeans are also blue.

So the aim - transform the Wranglers into black and a slightly looser fit.

The big cheat was that James had 2 identical pairs of the Wranglers so I took one to pieces and drafted the pattern pieces as close as I could to the originals. I also stuck as close as I could to the construction used in the originals, without which I think that the result would not look very RTW. To start with I added 5 cm at the waistband tapering to nothing at the hems. Then during the fitting stage I took off 2cm above the hips - so I reckon this means they are basically size 33/36, in old money. The only thing is that I didn't allow quite enough hem allowance so they are about 1cm shorter than they might be.

These jeans were a rather amazing construction journey. The pockets were pretty standard. The only extra piece is a piece of pocketing attaching the pocket to the flies.

From the fly onwards construction is completely different to usual pattern construction, because of the lapped seams. First the right hand side of the zipper is sewn. Then the left, and then the front crotch seam is lapped. The willy guard (zipper guard?) is interesting since it is basically a rectangle with a fold in at the bottom which adds some bulk. I guess it is deliberate! For a more "manly" effect. For the crotch the back and front are sewn before the inseam.

If you look at the lapped seams on your jeans you will see they look the same from the right or wrong side, whereas a home-sewers lapped seam does not (at least in instructions I have seen). I guess they have special machines in the sweat-shops. To make it look like RTW, first lay half the seam allowances over each other, and pin or baste in place. Then turn the seam to take up the rest of the seam allowance, pin and baste. Then sew the stitching lines on the machine. I was greatly helped in this tricky endeavour by magical thread that is sold in Japan that melts when ironed. It really only sticks to a basting level, not a permanent hold. I used this for my first line of basting and so when I turned the seam and ironed, the full lapped seam was lightly stuck in place. This was particularly useful for moulding the curved back crotch seam.

The waistband was fun. It is just a piece of fabric, folded in half, seam allowances ironed in place and then top-stitched all the way round. That was actually a whole lot easier to construct than the usual pattern method, although I realise that I have one line of stitching where in home-sewing there would be three. I did add some stay-tape at the waistband to prevent stretching.

Medium weight denim, black on the front and olive on the back. This pair is mid-weight denim and he would like a thicker pair some time. That of course would be harder work with the sewing - my machine handled the mid-weight denim very well. Summer should however save me from making another pair very soon.

I even ripped off the Wrangler back pocket pattern... Here is the boy relaxing in his new jeans.

I entered these in the PR 2008 rip-off competition. Winning entries in that competition are usually inspired twists on commercially available patterns that make them look cunningly designer cat-walk. Obviously this entry falls short on many levels, but its the taking part that counts init...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Overpowered by flowers

I bought this lovely fabric in Keitoya in Kamakura. It is a 4-way stretch cotton woven, with a lot of stretch along the grain and less stretch across the grain, relatively supple considering its weight, quite warm and very comfortable. However, when I got it out of the fabric pile, James kept pulling faces and covering his eyes, and I had to teach him what stitchin' people in the interwebworld say when they dig unspeakable fabric from their stash, and that is "what was I thinking?". This enables one to pass off fabric one thinks is lovely off as a blunder when one discovers that the rest of the world disagrees. I'd thought a pair of trousers in this fabric were just the ticket for work or play. After all, it seems nothing clothing-wise is a step too far in Japan.

This is Marfy Pattern #1058. It was in the Fall 2007/2008 issue but as evidenced by the Marfy patterns on the Vogue patterns website, it is not new. The pattern appears in the catalogue twice. The first entry they are pictures with a loose shirt/tunic and called "tapered hip-hugging pants", the second time pictured with a quite minimalist jacket they are referred to as, "straight pants with pointed hip-hugging waistline". On the Vogue Patterns site they are in the Marfy Autumn/Winter 2006 collection and pictured in a third ensemble with this text, "These straight, hip-hugging trousers have a wide inserted waistband".

I cut the trousers on the line of less stretch in the fabric which was the cross grain. This means the pattern is sideways, but I decided it was better that way round since it elongated the design. I made the trousers assuming from the Marfy size chart and previous experiences with their patterns that I may have to take them in a bit at the hips. The fabric is very stretchy and I took 2cm at the back seam allowance (just in the top ~10cm) and 1cm each side seam allowance (all the way down). It was then I realised I hadn't sewn the back darts! No trousers I have sewn before have had these so I missed them. The fabric is so stretchy that I was able to take the 1cm darts, which improved the shape, without much trouble, although the waistband is a tad short with all those cm removed. I am not sure I have learned so much about the pattern since my fabric is so forgiving, but these were a much easier fit than the Vogue trousers I have made, where I had to change the shape of the side and crotch seams and waist band.

I only noticed while perusing the vogue patterns site and the Marfy catalogue to write this post that the waistband is secured with two buttons and that there are belt-loops on the catalogue photos. The two buttons would have been a good idea since the waistband is quite wide. As for belt-loops I can add them later if I can find enough fabric - I don't have much left. Since it was rather expensive I did not buy much excess.

A size 11 universal needle worked best - a thicker one made holes. I used Resilon thread a straight stitch and I finished all the edges with an overlock stitch.

Here are some pictures of the, erm, ensemble of black cotton jumper and flowery trews. The camera has difficulties exposing on both items simultaneously, as I expect do most peoples' eyes. I still like these trousers and even James admits they are "fun".


Cotton jumper

When I was 17 or 18 my Mum bought me a black knit cotton jumper. It is a slightly odd fabric, like it is made of string. It shrinks when washed and then stretches in wear, a bit like denim does, only more so. Anyway, this jumper no longer has much shape, but I kept it because a smartish-casual (ie not sporty) black jumper is a versatile thing. However, when I found a knit in Yuzawaya (Kamata) that had a similar feel I though I should make a replacement. The fabric is a sheer, or perhaps it might be called a holey knit. It is so cold at home and work in winter that we rarely actually remove our jumpers to show what is underneath, so I thought it was a positive feature to be able to see through the fabric. Having worn the jumper for a week I don't think this fabric is as hard wearing as the original so I have doubts it will be around in 20 years.

I took the pattern I used for this jumper, which in turn was stylistically derived from Burda 8291, and added ease (2 inches total = 1/2" at each side seam) at the bust and waist to make a less fitted top. The hips always seems to stick out on the other versions so I did not add any ease there. I then redrafted the sleeve in order to make it a bit looser. A strange thing happened when I did this because I made a mistake and equated the lengths of armscye and sleeve cap not on the stitching line but at the edge of the pattern pieces. This results in the sleeve cap being too short. However, in the original pattern I had released a dart at the armscye, and it was just about the same size as the error induced by my drafting mistake. So I took the opportunity to ease the dart fabric as was taught in Sharon Gifford's T-shirt class on PR . Due to the willingness of the fabric to shrink and stretch under the iron, this worked far better than I expected. Until then I'd not got this to work that well. Now I think the key is in how the fabric reacts to the steam iron.

I used a size 14 needle, put Resilon thread in the bobbin, and used a straight stitch for some of the seams (double back-stitch for the hems). Resilon is a Japanese thread in size 50, that has some stretch and is also rather strong, which makes it possible to use a straight stitch in garments with small to moderate stretch. I sometimes use it in top and bobbin, but it has a tendency to spring off the reel and then twist up, especially at the start of the reel.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

jumper re-form

This was originally a practice run for a pertex cycling top, which later became world famous. However it has turned out to be a very popular fleece top for wearing in the mountains. James uses it as apres-walking wear in the drafty huts during summer and walks in it in the winter. I highly recommend windpro fleece; it really does make a far superior jumper for cold conditions. Yesterday James complained that he didn't like the cuffs. He said they were cold. As the pertex practice these were created using a simple hem with elastic cord in them. I have now replaced this by more normal cuffs made from powerstretch.

A re-form is what you do in Japan when you want to change your fixed interior decor. So you replace your white walls, white ceiling and wooden floor by, say, white walls, a white ceiling and maybe a wooden floor. Or you might replace your kitchen cupboards with kitchen cupboards. Of course if you want to spend a fortune it can be more extensive than this involving knocking holes in the walls and such like. Since we rent our house we can't do any of this. So we just have to put up with white walls a white ceiling and a wooden floor. I don't mean to sound too sarcastic. I actually really like the simplicity of Japanese decor.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Jumpers again

One lunchtime during the AGU in San Francisco we popped into Sak's 5th Avenue Men's Store, which isn't on 5th Avenue at all, but just of Union Square. How silly to forget to rename their store when they went to SF. The shop is tiny compared to the other bit of the shop (the wimmins section?) which runs for almost the whole length of one side of the square. Anyway, inside S5AMS were lots of lightweight fluffy jumpers costing hundreds and hundreds of dollars. One might have been tempted only a badly fitting jumper is still a badly fitting jumper no matter the fluff-factor or the price tag. So, by way of getting some fun in famous Britex fabrics which is nearby, I suggested to James that we go and buy some fabric and make a fluffy jumper ourselves. Britex is an odd shop. You can't really browse. You tell the staff and they find you what you want from their stock. Fine for us since we'd just been feeling up the fluffy stuff in S5AMS. They sold me 2.25 yards of a 60 inch wide black wool knit for $50 a yard. It really was only just enough with no room for cutting error. It's smarter and less fluffywuffy than the stuff in S5AMS. I think it's high quality, and I expect it to wear well but time will tell.

So then it was back to KS2561, for the third time in the year. We decided to make it a bit slimmer than the previous version made with quite thick (and very fluffy) fabric, so trimmed the pattern down by 0.25" on the side seams, tapering the arms to their original side at the cuffs. Got confused again by the sleeve length. My tracing stated the adjusted pattern had been lengthened by 1.5" compared to the original but when I compared the two, it was much less than that. so I retraced it to 1.5" extra length. Of course when it came to it I had to take that extra length (5/8") off again! I've also now adjusted the cuffs to be narrower than the original pattern piece because I prefer them shorter.

So now having a properly adjusted pattern, James wanted another longsleeve T-shirt. The fabric to be used was this buttermilk. It is quite lightweight and I did wonder if it would be too light for men's t-shirt. I'd not sewn with buttermilk before. It really isn't all that stretchy. Pretty much no stretch along the grain and not that much width-ways. These features conspired to make James complain that the sleeves are now too short!! tsk! The problem is mostly that the tighter neckband (less width-ways stretch) pulls the neck higher, but the lack of length-ways stretch also contributes. So now I have a note on the pattern piece to lengthen it an inch for the crew neck version! A v-neck in this less stretchy fabric would I think really require a longer neckband. Another thing about buttermilk is that it ladders - so I got to use one of the very fancy over-lock stitches on my machine which was quite fun. A good feature of the low-stretch fabric was that I didn't get any stretching of necklines and hems. A less good feature is the fabric seems attracted to other fabric. It doesn't cling to skin but it does to under-Tshirts or over-jumpers, as can be seen in the photos of both the shirt and the jumper in this post.