A year in a sewing life

As I write this, the sun is streaming through the rain on the ClothSpot windows making a little rainbow on my keyboard. There’s jazz on the playlist and the decks are officially cleared for some weekend sewing. The perfect moment then, to take stock of 2021. In Dickens’ words:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I’m counting myself lucky to have experienced a couple of real miracles amid the grief and chaos of last year. One of those miracles came in the form of a new granddaughter who is thriving despite her untimely arrival; we’ve plenty to be grateful for.

There were times when sewing was well down even my to-do list; others when it was a bit of a saving grace to have something to do that was productive, focused and requiring only me to take action. I’ve written before about how the clothes we make and wear are interwoven with the nature of our lives. When life changes, our clothes change – we’ve all had our own experience of that over the last couple of years. For the most part, our garments have been more casual and versatile. Partying (for some at least…🙄) grand occasions, dressing for public consumption – these have all been off the agenda and so our sewing habits have changed over the last couple of years.

That said, one of my makes was indeed for a formal occasion and quite a few saw the light of day out and about, so although 2021 may have been a more casual year than some, it wasn’t completely introverted. Of my twelve makes, all have been worn and none are destined for the charity shop. One requires some retro-fitting but I’m confident that will be worth my while. I’m recounting them in order of creation since that reflects my main preoccupations during the year. Here goes…

Make 1 – ‘Ninot’ Jacket by Pauline Alice

A difficult start to the year meant that it was March before my sewing was under way. I needed a dark coat for a formal occasion and with no time to toile, the shoulder fitting was definitely off-piste in my ‘Ninot’ Jacket from Pauline Alice. That affected the line of the armscye seam as well as sleeve length. However a lustrous wool venetian backed with silk crepe-de-chine under the collar and behind the buttoned tabs, gave it class. Welted pockets and buttonholes made it a labour of love. I adore that pleat at the back and although the shoulders can’t be altered, it’s staying in my wardrobe for future use.

Make 2 – ‘Heron’ Shirt by The Sewing Revival

A cheery ‘palate cleanser’ was required after all that sobriety. By this time we’d had our first spring fabric arrivals and this pink floral viscose challis with an unusual print palette was drawing my eye. It’s not a fabric I would usually have worn – but with a beautiful handle and a little more weight than usual for this type of fabric, it was perfect for my version of the ‘Heron’ Shirt from The Sewing Revival. It lifted my spirits and saw plenty of wear in the year. It’ll come out again this summer.

Make 3 – ‘Intrepid’ Boiler Suit by Alice & Co Patterns

There was lots of detail to tackle in my buttoned version of the ‘Intrepid’ Boiler Suit from Alice & Co Patterns but it resulted in a garment that feels very ‘me’. I love the top-stitched details and I was pleased to have gone with buttons rather than a zip in this version, if only for the added punctuation in an all-over colour. I feel properly ‘dressed’ and stylish in this – but in an unfussy way that feels right. The waist elastic however is too loose and it sits too low on my hips. It was my call not to make it too tight but I’ll need to bite the bullet and re-do some top-stitching to correct it. I’ve no doubt it’ll be well worth the effort. It’s been in and out of the wash and the piqué weave in the soft brick Tencel I chose seems to help it withstand creasing. I’ve found it especially useful in cross-seasonal weather; wearing it for a rare 2021 shopping expedition in September I actually felt respectable as I ventured into a posh shop for some moisturiser.

Makes 4 & 5 – ‘Fantail’ Tank & ‘Kingfisher’ Top by The Sewing Revival

These casual tops-with-a-difference from The Sewing Revival were right up my alley – I loved wearing them with jeans. They were a break from the usual t-shirts and camisoles and an opportunity to play with summer colours. I really enjoyed adding laid-back jersey trims to the viscose crepe I used in the Kingfisher Top and was encouraged by Janine at TSR to try out a centre-front jersey ruffle which I ended up loving, despite innate ruffle misgivings. Their Fantail Tank was a no-brainer for our vibrant ‘Samba’ cotton lawn – our runaway star turn of the summer which seemed to cheer everyone up, including me. The gentle structure of the lawn was perfect for the cocoon shape created by the elasticised front hemline.

Make 6 – ‘Dunedin’ Dungarees by The Sewing Revival

Continuing my apparent love affair with The Sewing Revival I decided during a warm spell that I needed some cool summer trousers with which to wear sleeveless tops and t-shirts. Their ‘Dunedin Dungarees’ turned out to be just the ticket. Supremely easy to wear in our ‘Blakeney’ chambray with rolled-up hems, these were a regular in the ClothSpot studio throughout the summer and autumn. They had an outing to the Tate in the summer and felt equally easy and laid back out and about – withstanding a torrential cloudburst outside Victoria Station. So a total success – except I do have to be careful not to style them with primary-colour tops – PlayAway danger alert! (And yes, Mr. ClothSpot still laughs whenever they come out but I’m used to ignoring that kind of behaviour).

<Trouser fitting interlude>

At this point in the proceedings I finally confronted the fact that I live and breathe in trousers 99% of the time when I’m not wearing a swimming costume. It was time to deal with that reality.

I have a wide waist, narrow lower hips, a short torso and not much in the bottom department. All these factors meant that I need to toile and fit any trouser pattern (who doesn’t really?) but the previous two years had seen my body shape change like a yo-yo. Swim training had ramped up through 2019 then stopped abruptly at the first lockdown in 2020; was then on, off and back on again. Those changes in routine had seen me gain muscle mass and lose body weight then reverse the process in turns. By summer 2021 however, a sustained return to regular swimming seemed to have stabilised my body shape for the first time in a couple of years. Time, then, to do some full-on trouser toiling.

My challenge was to create a pair of trousers that fitted me but without losing the cut and style of the pattern in question. My first outing was to be the ‘Peaches’ Trousers by Fibre Mood.

Three toiles later (details on our Instagram here and here) I was ready to go…

Make 7 – ‘Peaches’ Trousers by Fibre Mood

It might not be immediately apparent but I’m trying hard to think about styling projects before I embark upon them. For these wide-legged trousers I was aiming for a vintage look that suited my chosen fabric, a viscose-linen blend that I chose for its ability to bring a little structure to the ‘Peaches’ Trouser pattern.

In the event I’m not sure my favourite-ever vintage silk shirt was the best choice – this was my first foray into wide-legged trousers for some decades and I think I need something with a little more structure these days. But the trousers were worn, worn and worn again. I think they’re set to become a timeless summer staple. Not only shall they reappear this summer, but I love this pattern. It needs a little more tweaking in the waist and the behind but I can’t wait to make it up again.

Make 8 – ‘Frankie’ Dress by Tessuti

After all that toiling and trousering I was ready for another quick win. Our swimming club by this time had colonised two local open air pools for early morning training and I needed something I could pop on over a swimming costume and change into quickly after the session. (If you’re interested, in the winter I use a fleecy ‘Swimzi’ Onesie – fabulous but way too warm for the summer). To the rescue came the ‘Frankie’ Dress pattern from Tessuti. Suffice to say it did the job perfectly – on and off all summer, survived being kicked around the deck, plenty of launderings and even a dip in the pool.

Makes 9 & 10 – ‘Sidewinder’ Pants by The Sewing Revival

With that urge out of my system, it was time for more trousers to take me through the autumn. I’d realised by now that the laid-back but creative stylings offered by The Sewing Revival were very much up my street and so I took a closer look at their Sidewinder Pants. I had discounted them previously since they have an elasticated waist which I don’t think tends to look great on me due to my fairly flat rear. That said, I loved the simplicity of the front panel, the inseam pockets and of course, that dynamic twisted side seam. For my first pair then, I took inspiration from a high street design and opted for an elastic-cuffed ankle in our ‘Headland’ olive lyocell. I love these – and have worn them lots – but when (not ‘if’, note!) I make them again, I’ll add a little more length and width to the lower leg.

My second pair (which I’m wearing as I type on a cold January day!) are in a soft Italian wool/cashmere blend. Again they’re cropped, but with a turn-up. They work really well over chunky winter boots and are definite ‘keepers’ although on the next go, I might increase the turn-up, crop the length and narrow the taper just a tiny bit more.

Makes 11 & 12 – ’10-minute Top’ – self-drafted

Here we come screeching into the last pair of makes for the year. This pattern draft came about as a hash-up of a very simple but lovely knit top I’ve had for years – and my inability to resist the silver ‘Mercure’ fabric as a party piece in November. I just knew that drape was perfect for the design, and look forward to wearing it under my leather jacket next time I go gigging or clubbing. However it was the viscose jersey version that kicked things off when I needed a quick-and-dirty top to wear for the first evening out that Mr. ClothSpot and I had enjoyed for the best part of two years. My silver version is still waiting for the clubbing to recommence – but the viscose jersey one did service over Christmas and will do so again I’m sure. Here’s to 2022!

What I’ve learned

As ever my sewing experience has very much been a learning experience too. This year it’s not been so much about actual sewing skills (although obviously I’ve used them!) but more about fitting and styling.

I’m even more convinced that the work you put in is commensurate with the pleasure obtained. My coat, boilersuit and wide-legged trousers were all the product of hours of work; whether handiwork, fitting or general complication – and I have taken huge pleasure in wearing them.

With the exception of my last pair of makes which really were the product of ten minutes apiece (once my pattern was drafted) I’ve really enjoyed taking my time with details – whether that’s planning and fitting or sewing details like top-stitching and buttonholes. Even my ‘throw it on for the pool’ dress had attention paid to twin-stitched hems and a contrast facing. That was the product of making time at the weekend to ‘go slow’ and enjoy the process – I’m sure I’d always be the one with a sadly-unfinished garment at the end of a Sewing Bee challenge!

I’m hoping that my 2022 will build on those lessons, especially the time spent fitting. Trousers should be much easier and quicker with that process ‘under my belt’ so to speak.

For the most part I really did feel that my makes last year were very ‘me’ with the possible exception of my ‘Ninot’ coat and ‘Frankie’ dress, both of which were designed with specific functions or occasions in mind. That said, I’d like to try and focus more this year on garments that will work together, both in terms of style as well as fabric and colour. I can’t promise that there won’t be the odd urge to seize the moment with a diversion however – sometimes it’s irresistible.

I’d love to know if you have an overriding plan for the year – is there a particular style or approach you’d like to explore with your wardrobe? Or after the last couple of years have you given up planning? Leave a comment below and let me know!

5 thoughts on “A year in a sewing life

  1. Di says:

    Belated Happy New Year Alice to yourself and everyone out there. Congratulations on actually sewing anything in 2021. My output was zero, although I altered two pairs of RTW jeans for my niece, and did a few repair jobs on my own clothes–which doesn’t count.
    My excuse involves a house move back to my native Yorkshire, and all that entails. Two separate injuries to the same ankle.The first when the pandemic started and Covid cancelled any medical attention for non life threatening injuries. The second when out walking , smugly congratulating myself on how well I was doing before twisting it again—badly!! The old saying ‘pride comes before a fall’ fitted exactly. Oh yes, I fractured my shoulder at the same time.
    It’s now 2022, with the above behind me. Sadly my wardrobe has deteriorated, particularly in the trouser department–they’ve had a lot of wear, particularly the pull on variety, which you’re not keen on, but were essential with only one usable arm over a number of weeks.
    Many thanks for bringing the Sidewinder pants to my attention. How they escaped my research for something different I don’t know. Also the tops ‘Heron, & Kingfisher’ which would make a welcome style change from all the old jersey T’s I’ve lived in. Ideal for when/if the weather warms up. I like the Fantail top too as it’s long at the rear. Not too sure about it being sleeveless –maybe I’m too critical of my upper arms.
    My current plan is to weed my wardrobe of scruffy items—-sooner than later. Sew more trousers/jeans of varying styles and a few midi/maxi skirts with matching and toning tops. A couple of casual jackets (shackets) and short jersey tie front cardi’s would be useful too. I have a box with UFO’s , so it might be a good idea to finish what’s in there first.
    The overall style for me now is smart casual. Never was keen on the baggy look regardless of what you see in RTW and I have little use for formal clothes although I shall keep some of my classic items just in case.
    I’m planning to attend a social function mid March (hotel booked), which was cancelled in 2019 & 2020. Haven’t decided whether to wear a dressy dress from my existing stock or make something new that can be zizzed up/down –for that holiday overseas I’d love to take later in the year —we can but dream.
    A pity you can’t buy enthusiasm and commitment. On this cold foggy day I need both. Instead of thinking about what to sew first I’ll be making another pot of tea—possibly with a biscuit.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      A very Happy New Year to you too, Diaana – it’s lovely to hear from you! And many thanks for the congratulations – I did feel as if sewing – or doing just about anything – was a bit of an achievement last year! And repairs do count – they put clothes back into circulation which is always a good thing. Welcome back to your homeland – a house move is a huge thing to have done but I’m so sorry to hear about your injuries – not the year to be throwing yourself around… I’m delighted you like the look of those tops – I do love TSR – they’re very encouraging about pattern-hacking and have such a creative approach to the fabrics they use. They’re also very accommodating of the bits of our bodies we’re less confident about – and you’ll be pleased to know there’s a version of the Fantail with sleeves – you can find it here! https://thesewingrevival.com/collections/tops-sweaters/products/fantail-shirt I agree with you about baggy – I can cope with wide-legged – but big baggy tops are not for me – I need something to at least hint at shape although I’m still learning about how best to achieve that. Enjoy that cuppa and keep taking the biscuits!

      • Di says:

        Thanks for your reply Alice. Viewed TSR website—see what you mean about pattern-hacking the tops I mentioned. The Fantail with raglan sleeves is ideal, and lends itself to various options. The pattern is also an opportunity to use up remnants, which, as you mention, they cover in one of their blogs.
        I agree about not wasting fabric/clothes in general. I’m currently wearing a pair of jeans that first saw the light of day in around 2009/2010. They’re now used for housework, walking in horrible weather and/or muddy places. The CPW (cost per wear) must be pennies. I would describe them as ‘distressed’. They’d probably sell for £££’s in posh shops, (so I’ve been told).
        I’ll definitely try the Sidewinder pants which have the opportunity to use decorative topstitching and different types of woven fabrics with/without stretch. I think a ponte would work well too.
        As you may recall I’m a fan of Style Arc pants. However, it’s good to try other indy designers, especially if they fit me as well as SA.
        Best of luck looking for non baggy tops. Time to resew some of your vintage patterns !!

  2. Georgia Wilkinson says:

    Glad I found you! I to learn to sew my own clothing! My late mum was a dressmaker and I am ashamed to say I learnt little but very basics. What’s a good starter item?

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