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February, 2013

  1. The 5 Shopping Rules of a Fabric Snob

    February 28, 2013 by rosie

    let's go shoppingA particularly busy time at work means that I haven’t had the chance to fire up the sewing machine very much lately. I have made one dress, (a relatively boring modern one). Photos of that are to come, once my betrothed has stopped commandeering the camera.

    However, often when I am stressed, or down, or bored, or happy, or motivated, or tired or frustrated, I think about fabric and clothes. I suppose it’s obvious really, but because I make quite a lot of outfits, I just become more aware of them in general. I notice what people wear, and I notice how they fit (or not). My sewing has also informed the way I shop for clothes, and I have recently come to suspect that my personal ‘shopping rules’ that have consequently arisen may be not be considered normal by my peers.

    The following ‘rules’ have formed over time, but the more I sew, the more they inform my non-sewing part of my wardrobe:

    1. Wear natural fibres*

    This would be my number one rule. I have quite a few reasons for this; some rational, some probably more psychological.  I can see that many would argue this rule, and that’s OK. But for me, it’s something that  I really try to stick to. Every time I deviate from it, I regret it. Firstly, natural fibres just look and feel better. They wear better. They BREATHE! The idea of wearing plastic (polyester, nylon, synthetic fibres etc) just disturbs me.

    *There are a few obvious exceptions to this rule: Underwear, swimwear, and sportswear. The latter doesn’t really have much relevance to my wardrobe requirements.

    It’s amazing how restrictive this rule is when you start shopping.  I view this, most of the time, as a positive. Most retail clothes feature very little nature fibre content. It’s quite a saving and a turn-off.  It makes me realise how much of a ridiculous markup there is on these clothes. Or they are just cheap, crappy, poor quality plastic imports. The GFC also seems to have brought with it a significant reduction in the natural fibre content of even premium brands, for both men and women. I would prefer to buy fewer items of better quality. They will last longer, look better and feel better. It only becomes frustrating when you are desperately searching for something specific and NOTHING in any of the stores is made from natural fibres. That’s where being able to sew is useful!

    One further thing on this very important rule. If you wear natural fibres, you are more likely to cope with extreme weather. One of my biggest gripes is when ladies, in winter, complain of being cold, and they are dressed in nothing but acrylic/nylon/polyester. Usually without sensible layering. There’s a reason why sheep exist! Wear wool! And embrace woolen/cotton spencers and singlets!

    Similarly, wearing polyester in the middle of summer is crazy. And gross. Even if it’s some cute and floaty fake chiffon garment, your body would cope far better if you wore, say, cotton, or linen or silk.

    2. Avoid stretch fabrics where possible.*

    Harsh I know, but again, there are exceptions. This is mainly a subset of rule number 1; ie – don’t wear stretch fabrics made from fake fibres. They are the epitome of eww, unless you are playing sport. I don’t know why girls insist on stretching stretch fabric to its maximum stretch – it’s just not cool, I’m sure it’s not sexy (a quick poll of some of my male friends confirmed this) and 99% of the time,  it’s generally not flattering.

    Knits from natural fibres such as wools, cottons etc are ok. A lovely wool jersey dress in winter is cosy, and it breathes.

    *Again, the underwear and sportswear exception applies! I also occasionally stretch the rule to allow garments such as fitted but not-too-tight trousers to be, say, 97% natural fibre with 3% stretch.

    3. If  it doesn’t fit properly, don’t buy it.

    I was amazed last year to discover that a lot of people buy their clothes off the rack without trying them on first. How is this possible? Fit is so important! It might be a fantastic garment on the hanger, but if it doesn’t suit your body shape, or it doesn’t sit properly on you, then, no matter how great the item in question, it’s going to make you, and it, look bad.  My number one gripe – ladies squeezing into skirts/dresses that are obviously too tight across the hips/thigh area. The skirt bunches and wrinkles up; if there is a split in the back, it warps; the seams are stretched and the whole thing just looks terrible. Even if it looks great from the waist up, if it’s not right elsewhere, it’s still going to be wrong. I could go on about all the ill-fitting clothes I see being worn every day. Half the time, I don’t think people even realise! It fascinates me, yet also drives me silently crazy (well, less silently now!).

    4. Iron your clothes.

    Annoying I know, and this can probably be viewed as a number one reason why people don’t stick to rule no. 1. But, it’s so completely worth it. There is NOTHING  like beautiful crisp cotton. Rumpled and crumpled clothes never look good. This goes for guys too – so-called “iron-free” clothes, aside from violating rule number one, just look cheap and make you look lazy. When you sew, you spend so much time pressing and ironing during the whole construction process, that it becomes second nature. And if you’ve spent all that time and care and effort making a garment, you want to display and wear it to its best advantage, so ironing just becomes standard.

    5. Wherever possible, wear a slip or petticoat.

    Without getting too Nanna, there is a reason why these exist. If the garment isn’t lined (and let’s face it, store-bought items usually aren’t), then wear a slip (petticoat) underneath. They stop things being see-through (another gripe!), they make everything hang and fall better, they are great for stopping stockings sticking to dresses and causing them to creep up, and they help smooth out any unwanted lines etc. It’s totally worth it.

    So there you go; my top 5 personal rules for all items of clothing – whether store-bought or handmade! I admit that sometimes I deviate from these rules, but every time I do, it comes back to bite me.

  2. Bound for Glory! (almost) – in pursuit of the perfect bound buttonhole.

    February 11, 2013 by rosie

    After what feels like an eternity and a thousand set-backs, I have finally completed my AHJ Frock No. 7641 from September 1, 1950. Yes, remember that dress I started ages ago, with the overly ambitious small bust adjustment? That SBA was stressful. But, it did end up working – sort of – with a lot of wrangling and ‘ad lib’.

    The reason I chose this dress in the first place was because I wanted to overcome my fear of bound buttonholes. With 13 of the suckers, I figured this dress was sure to put me on track.  Plus, I was also attracted to the ridiculously huge pockets.

    I consulted the Readers Digest in addition to Gertie’s new Book for Better sewing. The instructions and diagrams in this are great, and I highly recommend it. Warning though: Bound buttonholes are just as time consuming as you’d think!!!

    I must admit though, my bound buttonholes still aren’t as perfect as I hoped. I think they did improve as I went along. I did the window facing with silk organza for the facing as well – I had to do these entirely by hand for  the two buttonholes in the corner of the collar, as the angle was too acute for me to use the sewing machine by the time I had attached the facing to the collar. I suppose I shouldn’t aim or expect perfection for the my first time, and overall, I’m fairly happy with the dress.

    The fitting did cause some issues – I had to use 6 cm seam allowances rather than the normal 1.5, and I ended up fitting the front and back darts by ‘eye’ retrospectively (well, mum did the fitting when I went home to visit one weekend.) There’s one bit in the front (the bottom of the button hole facing bit) that doesn’t sit particularly well, and I’ll have to go back and hand sew it down a bit, but I think I can pull it off, overall.


    A bit crumpled from being at work all day, but you get the idea. The SBA didn't turn out too shabby after all!

    A bit crumpled from being at work all day, but you get the idea. The SBA didn’t turn out too shabby after all!

    The original pattern

    bound buttonholes are everywhere - collars, sleeves, opening and pockets!

    bound buttonholes are everywhere – collars, sleeves, opening and pockets!