Style Crisis – My rear-view perspective

My inclination is usually to look forward, not back; if I have a motto, it’s to ‘let it go’. Not that I’m a stranger to flashbacks of embarrassing moments that appear in my head at quiet intervals, leading me to groan aloud in the shower, in the car or, memorably, on the top deck of the number 73 bus. My way of dealing with them is usually to try and ‘own’ whatever the transgression was, roll my eyes and look forward to doing differently in the future.

And so, I’ve never posted an annual review on this blog; certainly not after a year where I felt constantly on the back foot. Like most of us, it felt like a year spent responding to relentless change, barely being able to catch breath, let alone come up with a coherent plan.

Busy sewing bee

However Kerry (our social media manager who also blogs at VeryKerryBerry, for those who don’t know her) pointed out last week that I’d done a truckload of sewing last year, got to grips with lots of new sewing techniques and tried out new styles. When we listed them I was amazed at the number of projects I’d done. Although every single one was worthwhile in terms of learning, if not as a wardrobe addition, the sheer quantity went some way towards explaining my feeling of wanting to make 2021 a year of less freneticism, more focus.

Ordinarily one of my criteria for assessing what worked would be to tot up the number of ‘wears’ for each garment. Not a metric that makes any sense for lockdown sewing. My look back at 2020 then, is all about understanding what worked and what didn’t – and letting that filter into my plans for the coming year. In order of making, here we go…

‘Oslo’ Coat

Pattern: Oslo Coat by Tessuti Patterns

Fabric: Checked mohair from personal stash

Sewing enjoyment: 5/5 – Tried out interlining for the first time; the pattern came together like a dream.

Wearing enjoyment: 5/5 – Lifts my fabricky heart every time I have an excuse to wear it

In a nutshell: Checkmate

Raw-edged Coat

Pattern: Raw-edged Coat by Maker’s Atelier

Fabric: Sueded scuba

Sewing enjoyment: 4/5 – My sueded scuba was single-sided so I had to engage brain to figure out the collar and front facing but otherwise a quick and easy sew.

Wearing enjoyment: 3/5 – A little oversized for me and perhaps not the year to be wearing a white (or even ivory) coat.

In a nutshell: Paging Doctor ClothSpot

Toaster Sweater – Kit sample

Pattern: Toaster Sweater (Simplicity 8529)

Fabric: ‘Columbus’ navy blue ponte Roma jersey fabric

Sewing enjoyment: 4/5 just as quick and easy as promised. Not a challenge, but satisfying to get a clean finish

Wearing enjoyment: 3.5/5 Suits my mood on minimalist days where I want to feel unfussy. I’d like a version with the high neck and in a brighter colour.

In a nutshell: Sober as a judge

Olya Shirt / Dress

Pattern: Olya Shirt by Paper Theory

Fabric: Printed viscose twill

Sewing enjoyment: 5/5 It was the construction that drew me to this pattern; I love those inseam pockets worked in with the sleeves – very clever and with some classic elements too.

Wearing enjoyment: 1/5 There’s a lot of fabric around and falling from the upper chest which is where I’m broadest. My shirt started life as the dress version but I felt swamped and my draping fabric choice didn’t help any. Neither did my button placement on those front pockets.

In a nutshell: From the nipple to the button never satisfies

Camber Set shift dress

Pattern: Camber Set by Merchant & Mills

Fabric: Printed linen

Sewing enjoyment: 4/5 I was warned about a tricky bit on the neckline which I navigated successfully; otherwise a quick and easy sew.

Wearing enjoyment: 4/5 My previous experience with an M&M pattern resulted in a top that was too small so I sized up with this one – but needn’t have worried. This is a super-cool, easy-to-wear, wafting dress that was perfect on the hottest summer day. The perfect simple design for a wild print pattern. Also, the postman said it cheered him right up in lockdown.

In a nutshell: Apple of my eye

Mélilot Shirt – wearable toile

Pattern: Mélilot Shirt by Deer & Doe

Fabric: Printed viscose challis

Sewing enjoyment: 4/5 It’s always a pleasure to sew a pattern with well-thought out techniques and instructions, even if they’re a little different from the ones you usually deploy. I learned to cut out front pieces separately in future on this type of fabric; my print matching was fine below the waist but off at the neckline.

Wearing enjoyment: 4/5 There are some lovely curves on this pattern; the waistline and hemline both give me a little shape where I’m otherwise lacking it.

In a nutshell: Shaping up nicely

Mélilot Shirt – Silk Shirt Kit sample

Pattern: Mélilot Shirt by Deer & Doe

Fabric: Silk crêpe de chine

Sewing enjoyment: 5/5 – I took my time with the techniques on this one and was thrilled with the finish. Spray starch tamed my fabric and my top-stitching had a work-out.

Wearing enjoyment: 5/5 – This one hasn’t been out much – I’m not wasting a classic on lockdown working. But it feels sooo luxurious…

In a nutshell: Biding its time

Isla Top

Pattern: Isla Top from Tessuti Patterns

Fabric: Micromodal jersey

Sewing enjoyment: 3/5 – An easy pattern to put together but alerted me to the fact that my jersey skills were lacking. Overlocker ate my first neck and reverted to a standard machine stretch stitch second time around. My hem’s unravelling too…

Wearing enjoyment: 5/5 – The revised neckline was actually better for me than the original – and this turned out to be the perfect luxury yoga top. Waaay cheaper than certain RTW options.

In a nutshell: Thread that needle. Again.

Soft-tailored Jacket Kit sample

Pattern: Kwik Sew 3715

Fabric: Italian stretch wool

Sewing enjoyment: 5/5 – Back on home turf here with our Blazer Kit sample. We were pleasantly impressed with the Kwik Sew instructions and prepping the Sew-along with our additional soft-tailoring elements meant that each stage had to be properly planned and executed; an amazing discipline.

Wearing enjoyment: 4/5 – Again, not so many lockdown opportunities for this one, and I might have preferred a different colour – but it’s incredibly easy to wear. It needs some cropped trousers which are in the queue…

In a nutshell: Don Johnson eat your heart out

Plantain Tee

Pattern: Plaintain Tee from Deer & Doe

Fabric: Micromodal jersey

Sewing enjoyment: 5/5 – I came late to this well-known freebie from D&D but it was worth the wait. The classic scoop neck and gentle fit-and-flare look simple but I took the opportunity to up my game on the jersey-sewing front. I saved the overlocker for the long seams and got to grips with spool tension and ‘woolly nylon’ thanks to Kerry – all of which led to our Jersey Knit Sewing Kit.

Wearing enjoyment: 4.5/5 – A real easy wear in the summer; great for autumnal layering too. Also gave rise to my first bit of video; still waiting for my Strictly callback.

In a nutshell: Give us a twirl

Lana Top

Pattern: Lana Top from Coffee and Thread

Fabric: Micromodal jersey

Sewing enjoyment: 4.5/5 – Another outing for my newly-improved jersey sewing skills, this was a pattern that came together very easily, with those sleeve ruffles proving an easy win on the trend front. A bit of interfacing helped keep my hemlines smooth and even but neckbands still need practice.

Wearing enjoyment: 4.5/5 At the height of summer, this was a very laid-back look. Ruffles are a new thing for me, but in moderation, I can cope – they made me feel just a bit frivolous and carefree.

In a nutshell: Ruffle my feathers anytime

Ogden Cami

Pattern: Ogden Cami from True / Bias

Fabric: Printed viscose challis

Sewing enjoyment: 4/5 – Nothing like a quick and easy win at the height of summer. This was a sample for our Ogden Cami Kit but I’d have done it anyway.

Wearing enjoyment: 5/5 – Wore it day after day, alternating with an older version until the weather turned. Made my August much easier than it would otherwise have been.

In a nutshell: Summer lovin’, had me a blast

Charlie Caftan

Pattern: Charlie Caftan from Closet Core

Fabric: Printed Tencel challis

Sewing enjoyment: 3.5/5 – It was lovely to call on some old-school skills as I gathered the skirt front and sat down to hand-stitch the waist panel in place.

Wearing enjoyment: 0/5 – Ah. Well. This was my first Closet Core pattern – I knew they were blocked for a different body shape than mine but hadn’t quite appreciated how much that might matter. It turns out that some frontage really helps with the bodice while hips would give shape to the otherwise very-draping skirts. I have neither, so even before the side seams were sewn, I realised that my caftan was looking rather – erm – depleted. On the upside, I have a pear-shaped taker for it once I’ve finished it (it’ll be with you soon, Hannah!). I’m still on course for a Cielo Top though…

In a nutshell: Sad café

Cuff Top

Pattern: Cuff Top by The Assembly Line

Fabric: Tencel twill

Sewing enjoyment: 4/5 – Easy as pie, this one. Although it’s been suggested the centre front seam isn’t strictly necessary, I like the direction it gives the top. I might size down for future versions; also a little shaping down the side seams and around the hemline might work for me too.

Wearing enjoyment: 5/5 – It came out for Christmas Day as well as my Mum’s birthday – what higher praise can there be?

In a nutshell: Stunned by a bolt from the blue

And the awards go to:

Make of the year

It’s surely my Oslo coat. You can see the details on Instagram, from my experimental but successful interlining, to the construction and my button find. Sewn from a stash fabric that has been waiting for years, it’s been worn whenever I’ve gone out in the cold. It never fails to give me a lift – I love the collar, the length and the fact that it works with so many gloves and scarves.

Quick win of the year

Has to be the Cuff Top. I really didn’t know what to expect – just knew I wanted to have a play with our Tencel twill. I was a bit uncertain about the colour on me but thought it might work – and indeed it did! With lots of dawdling built in, it took exactly a weekend and to bring my year full circle, it looks fabulous under my Oslo coat.

Learn of the year

Definitely the Mélilot Shirt, particularly the silk version. Lots to learn about top-stitching (especially on curves), working with silk and fitting too. This was a project that really taught me how to take charge of my sewing machine, including finding out how to use different feet and adjustments.

Should have known better…

Thanks to the repeated disasters of oversized T-shirts, I discovered in the 1980s that having large oblong garments hang from my broad shoulders is never going to work for me. And yet…I give you my version of the Olya Shirt. As a pattern design it’s beautifully conceived, but not, I fear, for my body shape. My fabric choice didn’t help either (see below). Finally, lest we forget, nipple buttons 👇😳

What I learned

My routine is usually to sew at the weekends rather than try to create a sense of ‘flow’ during the hectic working week, even if I’ve theoretically carved out time to sew. Phone calls, order queries, managing the day-to-day of a small business; all these things conspire against that feeling of absorption in the process of sewing. We’ve all learned a great deal about the importance of mental health in recent years; last year in particular.

Even though I can honestly say that none of my makes were in any way rushed, some at least were produced in an atmosphere of needing to ‘get things done’. I might be sewing for myself – but the requirements of the ClothSpot schedule are never far from my mind.

I now understand the extent to which that sense of being ‘in the zone’ is critical to my enjoyment of sewing and my mental wellbeing too. What’s more, things generally turn out better when I’m sewing with joy, and not feeling as if it’s a job (although of course it’s both).

Elsewhere, I still (still!!) need to remember to take my body shape into consideration when I’m choosing a pattern, and not get carried away. That would have resolved the issues I had with both of my less successful makes.

Learning to match the right fabric to a pattern design is also a skill that you develop over time – and the Olya shirt was a design that I certainly didn’t do any favours for with my selection of a highly patterned, draping fabric. That’s a design that needs a plain or geometric design to show off the dramatic garment construction; it also benefits from a fabric with more structure to help create a shape.

Looking forward to 2021

Having taken a look back at our social media over the last year we’ve been amazed at the amount of content we’d posted there. If you notice a change in the rhythm of what we doing over the coming months then we hope it’ll be accompanied by a clearer sense of what there is and how it all fits together – which is exactly what I want to achieve with my wardrobe this year.

I’ll look forward to sharing all of that with you in due course. Meanwhile I’d love to know what you’re planning on the sewing front for the coming year. Has lockdown dealt a blow to your sewjo – or are you fired up with the idea of extra quiet time to create? Did you manage to sew at all in 2020 – or did it help you cope? Do you have a sewing goal for the year – or are you going to take things as they come? Please do let me know in the comments below – and whatever your plans, I wish you a happy, healthy and creative 2021!

10 thoughts on “Style Crisis – My rear-view perspective

  1. Gillian says:

    I really enjoyed reading this, you did make me chuckle out loud. And I’ve found some new patterns to try too Thank you 😀

  2. Judith Barker says:

    I share your problems with the Charlie caftan: with a small bust the V neck is almost at my waist! After adding an insert for decency it was comfortable to wear in hot weather though.
    I agree that this year has changed what we are wearing and it’s more effort to do anything. But bright clothes make us smile. You really suit your bright blues and reds. A great blog, thank you.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Hello Judith – and yes I gathered during my research that the deep ‘V’ can be an issue with the Charlie – and was prepared to wear a crop top underneath to manage that issue. For me it’s more that without a bit of frontage, the under-bust panel sits very low on me – with an excess of fabric above it. My maxi-dress exploration started when I tried one on in Liberty just before lockdown – and that worked really well – however it had a very fitted upper bodice and bust. I should have taken note!
      I really appreciate your observation about stronger colours on me. Now you mention it…doh! Can you believe that penny hadn’t dropped until now? Jenny has also noted that fact👇 – and it just shows what a bit of objectivity can do. I think I can cope OK with ivory and white and also silver grey, but I’m obviously not the straightforward ‘autumn’ that I always assumed I was 🤔 Noted for the future!

  3. Marion George says:

    Well, it’s Sunday morning and I’m here with my coffee and your blog. Interesting and entertaining as usual. It made me think of last year and what I had planned and then achieved. It was meant to be a special one, Silver Wedding, Cruise, special birthday (no I’m not telling but it had an 0 in it) and wham, lockdown 2 days before anniversary, cruise cancelled and 6 weeks later I find myself, on all fours, in the middle of the street with a broken wrist. So it was 6 months without sewing and I was soooooo bored. Actually I did try in the later months but all were a disaster. I high point was a coatigan kit I had from you. I have worn it and worn so plus points. The lovely pencil skirt in silver Ziggy fabric is in the wardrobe, sadly yet to be worn.
    This year my sewing projects will have to change, I can see. I expect more lockdowns and restrictions so ‘going out’ clothes won’t be on the menu but I don’t want to look like a tramp at home – I might need to impress the Amazon delivery man! Relaxed is going to be the byword and suggestions are welcome. I see myself soft, flowing and comfortable – peel me a grape.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Aah, Marion – I knew you were struggling with your wrist but I hadn’t realised that your injury had conspired with Covid to wreck what should have been such a special year for you. Delighted that your ‘Florence’ went well though (Judy has been living in hers this winter I’m thrilled to report) and I very much hope that your ‘Ziggy’ skirt sees the light of day (or evening, even) before long, as I’m sure it deserves.
      I think your comment about ‘not wanting to look like a tramp at home’ is one that resonates with lots of people. We’re all having ‘trampy’ days from time to time I’m sure, but it’s such a spirit-lifter to have something to turn to that we really enjoy wearing. I’ve noticed a few articles in the last few weeks that have noted the positive effect that a person’s wardrobe can have on their lockdown outlook. But being relaxed and not trussed up is equally important. I hope someone happens by to deal with that grape for you (perhaps follow it up with an olive on a stick, dropped into a glass🍸?) Keep flowing on!

  4. Jenny Collard says:

    A great sewing year! I think the garments with stronger colours really shine on you: the red Melilot shirt, the Cuff and Yoga tops, the Camber dress, Oslo Coat and the toaster sweater all suit you so well, what style crisis I ask? 😁 you’ve nailed it!

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Jenny as I mentioned above to Judith 👆- I really (really!) hadn’t clocked until now that stronger colours work better for me. I had clocked over time that some photos were better than others – including the one of my cerise coatigan from 3 years ago (which I’m wearing now). I just thought I’d taken a better picture some days – or was having an ‘off’ day on others. Thank you for stating what should have been the bleedin’ obvious – it’s really helped my thinking!

  5. Gill Dean says:

    I mean no disrespect when it makes me feel a little better that you still have sewing pratfalls, with all your experience! I’ve just finished a toile for a mock-wrap dress in cheap jersey – one try-on had me bundling it into the back of the wardrobe. I try this style every now & then – age hasn’t taught me anything! I made Grainline’s Felix dress in the same challis as your Ogden and it’s bloody lovely. The fabric is so comfortable and has a lovely texture, so that was a summer 2020 success. On the other hand, I’m pretty sick of sewing Japanese knot bags, which was a furlough project. I’m looking forward to buying some ponte roma from you for a plain top (when my new overlocker arrives, which is tremendously exciting!).

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Gill I’m delighted that your viscose challis made for a winner as a ‘Felix’. Kerry and I were looking at the Felix too – the curved seam at the front is so graceful and we love an in-seam pocket. So sorry that your mock-wrap jersey dress revealed the need to learn from past experience! Makes me feel better that I’m not the only one to be missing the obvious. Always happy to make a fool of myself in the interest of enlightenment – I have no shame I assure you! 😂 A new overlocker is exciting – you’ll have fun with that I hope. Jersey is very much top or our list at the moment – comfort, warmth and a dollop of elegance too, all being well – fingers crossed!

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