helens closet

Sewing review 2021

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It’s not been a bad year. Everything fit, not too many bad fabric choices, but I’ve still yet to complete a garment perfectly from beginning to end.

Two shirts

M6436 came along in Feb and March. I got the urge to sew a button down shirt and this pattern included different cup sizes so was a good starting place in terms of fit. The first shirt was that old favourite, a wearable toile, made from a vintage sheet and a small left over piece of cotton poplin. There were new techniques to learn which were button placket, collar stand and pocket flaps, but all came together without drama as the instructions were easy to follow and the fabric was well behaved.

I shortened the length of the second shirt and made different pockets. Fabric was quilting type cotton.

Although pleased with the sewing and fit of these 2 shirts they are difficult to wear, in fact I haven’t started wearing the toile yet. The cotton one has been worn 6 times. I have a lot of tops and it’s difficult to fit new ones in, the shirts were too warm for the summer months, the patterns are loud and they are too long to wear with skirts. I wouldn’t rule out making this pattern again but would have to be a short sleeved, shorter, quieter version.

Interfacing – obviously this pattern required it in the collar, cuffs and pocket flaps but I used an extra layer of cotton in place of interfacing. I have yet to find any which doesn’t transform into a web of useless mush after about 3 washes so have given up using it.

Four pairs of trousers

I sewed 3 x Helen’s closet Arden pants, my 5th, 6th and 7th ones in Feb and July. Number 5 was made from new viscose fabric left over from making some of these pants for my daughter. Of course there wasn’t quite enough and I added some toning pocket detail. These trousers were almost a perfect sew, I’ve had enough practice with this pattern after all, except when I started to wear them I realised that one of the leg pieces had been cut off grain which makes that leg hang twisted. At first I found this very annoying but now I barely notice it. I’d cut so many shapes out of the fabric at this stage so much there weren’t many clues which way the grain lay and the fabric design wasn’t directional at all. This would explain why I initially thought I would have to join one of the leg pieces then managed to cut it in one piece. So far they’ve been worn 17 times.

Numbers 6 and 7 were made as gardening wear – I do paid gardening work which is very hard on trousers and soon saw off 3 old pairs I had been using. One of the Ardens was made from the same vintage sheet as I used for the shirt toile, and the other was from an old duvet cover. I added jeans pocket knee protection to both. They are both a big success and have been worn and washed weekly since July.

In May it was time to try a different pants pattern and used K8175 which also has a skirt version which I have made a couple of times. The fabric is a fairly thin polyester crepe from a de-stash and these trousers turned out OK but I initially made the waistband too big and had to go back and alter, and the zip installation isn’t great either. They’ve been worn 10 times.

Two Yanta overalls

I am a big user of Helen’s closet patterns and this one looked so comfortable I had to try. The fabric for the first version was an Ikea tablecloth bought at a jumble sale for pennies. With so much ease and no bust fitting required, I made a straight size 16, but went back in to make the hips and legs smaller. Currently the most comfortable clothing I own and have been worn 10 times. The second pair, which quickly followed the first, was in what I believe is 1980’s liberty lawn found in a charity shop de-stash. This time I sewed a straight size 14 and shortened the body by a couple of inches, which I now regret as the extra room is useful when sitting down. I had been wondering what to do with this precious fabric for some time and liked the idea of sewing dungarees in a posh fabric, and I’ve used them as evening wear. Also a success, the fabric is quite thin and they’re not that warm. They’ve been worn 4 times.

Three jumpers / sweaters

In November I made 2 versions of K8529 which is basically the Sew House Seven Toaster sweater. The first one was a straight size L (but shortened and no high low hem) made from a scarf which was given to me as fabric, supplemented with some navy jersey. The scarf fabric was ribbed and the ribs ran diagonally so it was always going to be tricky to marry the two together. What I learned from this make was that the pattern was a good one, its USP being the neckline which is a cross between a boat neck and a turtle neck. The pattern piece is an odd shape folded back on itself to make a facing, which is then sewn to the shoulder. I really liked the way it is close enough to keep your neck warm without feeling tight. I immediately followed up with a 2nd version in ponte as a straight size M. This was a perfect fit and also one of my favourite makes of the year. The scarf one has been worn 6 times and the ponte one has been worn twice.

In October I made a TATB Stella Hoodie. For the body and hood I used some cotton jersey and for the sleeves and cuffs I used an old polo shirt in a similar colour. My twin needle was not particularly keen on the jersey and kept skipping stitches. It was an easy sew which came together well, and is a rare and useful neutral in my wardrobe. I made a size 7 but next time would make a 6. It’s been worn 10 times.

Two skirts

In Feb I made a second MiY patterns Kelham skirt in vintage Welsh wool which my mother had bought many years ago. I made the terrible mistake of pre-washing the fabric which both shrunk it and felted it. I steamed and pulled at the wet fabric but the damage had already been done. This is an error I am never going to forget. Determined to still sew the skirt, I just about got the main pieces out of it by shortening the length and using smaller seam allowances. It’s been worn 10 times.

In April I made the ‘seeing red denim skirt’ with a free pattern downloaded from Love Sewing magazine. The fabric was black denim with some stretch, and as usual there wasn’t enough of it, some piecing was involved. It’s also been worn 10 times. Both of these skirts are OK but not favourites.

One dress

McCalls Siella in bamboo jersey

In March I made M8085 in a bamboo jersey purchased from a local independent fabric shop. The fabric was similar to the one on the pattern envelope. This has been a good versatile dress suitable for many occasions. It’s a little warm for high summer but with a vest and boots has been quite serviceable for winter. The plain front design makes a good backdrop for necklaces. The dress is physically quite heavy, and there’s a full length version which would be pretty weighty. It’s had 11 wears.

A re-fashion

refashioned silk tunic

A friend gave me a pure silk top which she no longer wore. It was too tight on the bust so I added a lace side panel and moved the darts. It’s not been worn yet but soon will be.

Sewing plans for 2022

I’ve got a lot of patterns and fabric but don’t like to sew up a lot of things which won’t get worn. I do love sewing though, it’s a constant dilemma. Only definite plan is for a shirt dress, M8030, and vague plans for more Yanta overalls and maybe a cardigan, but inspiration will surely come as the year goes by and the urge to stitch gets stronger!

Helen’s closet Arden Pants

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I wanted a new pair of summer trousers and picked this pattern because it was Helen’s closet and have been pleased with her products so far.

I often choose the most simple version of a pattern and did so again here, with view A which is no drawstring or ankle cuffs. I added 3 cm to the length at the shorten / lengthen line not because I am tall but because I wanted full length trousers and these are designed as above ankle length.

I find that with sewing, the main time consumption comes with assembly of the pattern and then the angst over what fit modifications to make.

The actual making can be quite quick and easy, and this was certainly the case with these Ardens.

This fabric was from stash. It had come from the charity shop where I was a volunteer and would quickly hoover up any actual fabric donations coming in (there weren’t many). The design looks like ankara but it doesn’t feel like it. The weave is quite loose and a bit like a linen/cotton mix. I liked the colours and the bacterial nature of the pattern.

While I know that making a toile is the gold standard for getting the fit right, I’m not keen, seems like a waste of fabric, so I normally go for measuring the pattern pieces and comparing them to my measurements and other similar items in my wardrobe to come up with the necessary adjustments.

Helen suggests choosing a size based on waist but as my waist is 2 sizes bigger than my hips I used my hip measurements, grading up at the waist.

I haven’t yet achieved the perfect fit in trousers (the main problem is a saggy bum) and decided to go for it with a couple of other adjustments. The pattern is drafted for a 5′ 6″ woman and I am 5′ 3″ so I removed 1cm from the rise at both back and front. This meant taking the same amount out of the front pocket pieces so they still match.

My crotch length is 2 inches longer at the back than the front, but this pattern had a 4 inch difference, so I took another 1 inch out of the curved side of the back pieces as a sort of flat bum adjustment, a second FBA to add to my collection.

At this point I thought the pattern had been messed with enough and went ahead and cut the pieces out. With 0.5m less fabric than the pattern suggestion, by cutting the front pocket pieces on the cross grain was able to fit it all on, and there was very little waste.

There’s an obsessive amount of top stitching suggested in the instructions and went along with it for a while but then used flat felled seams where possible instead. I haven’t used this method very often up to now but may do so more in the future as it is easier than a French seam with a similar effect.

I came unstuck when sewing flat felled seams on the outside edge of the trousers which was just about doable within the width of the legs but involved some contortions under the machine foot.

Note to self is to research pros and cons of French versus flat felled seams.

I bought the right width waist elastic but it was a tight fit to get it into the casing, I’d probably use a slightly smaller seam allowance next time.

I bound the waistband edge for neatness and the loose weave fabric being prone to fray.

Overall these trousers are a success, the fit is probably my best trouser fit achievement yet, they are super comfortable and the pockets are a good size. Fabric choice is questionable because it is very light and unlikely to be hard wearing. I may live in constant fear of a wardrobe malfunction.

Helen’s closet Suki Robe from fabric and a scarf.

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My lovely vintage silk dressing gown had developed some more holes and was now beyond repair. Obviously I was going to make not buy a replacement and opted for the Helen’s closet Suki robe pattern,

I am a big fan of the love to sew podcast but have as yet not made up any of Helen’s patterns, and as a fellow Helen now was my ideal opportunity.

The pattern is recommended for advanced beginners and the comprehensive instructions talk you through every stage.

I had this fabric in my stash for a couple of years, bought from Fabric Land in Bristol. I liked the bright daffodil design but once back home started to wonder if it was a bit too attention grabbing bright. A dressing gown, however, can be as bright as you like. It wasn’t the recommended drapey stuff, but a light cotton, could maybe be classed as a quilting cotton.

I also didn’t have the recommended 3.6 m for the knee length version, but I did have a gauzy scarf rescued from the rag bin in a charity shop where I volunteer, which was in a co-ordinating dip dyed green and yellow.

Laying the pattern pieces out I was able to cut all of the front, most of the back, half of the pockets, and some of the ties from the daffodil fabric and the remaining parts from the scarf, apart from the main ties for which I once again had to turn to my stash and dig out some green gingham. Its a fabric mash up, but I was keen to use material I already owned.

Almost a zero waste project, this is all the fabric which remains.

I decided to complete this make with a slow sewing style and only complete 1 page of instructions per day (there are 19 pages). This was quite enjoyable, it was interesting to see the garment slowly emerge, and gave me plenty of time to finish seams and tie off threads as I went along.

The instructions were clear and easy to follow and there is also a blog post on Helen’s website for the more tricky bits like attaching the collar band.

I am so pleased with how this turned out. The neckline fits snugly without gaping and the sleeves are a perfect length. It is drafted for a 5ft 6in woman, and as I am 5ft 3in it is a little longer than knee length on me. I moved the main ties up about an inch to hit my natural waist.

Had to re-inforce with interfacing, the area where the ties are anchored.