Tuesday, 14 August 2018

My Gemma Tank Journey

It's difficult to explain exactly why these two basic little tops took up as much time and brain space as they did, but I'll try. It's definitely not a fault with the drafting of this pattern, however I have a theory that it's actually the simplest garments that are the hardest to fit, because when there are no frills, flounces, gathers or any other busyness, there's nowhere to hide any wonkiness! 


Towards the end of last summer, I was feeling a desire for some woven tank tops. My anchor La Brune top had convinced me that the world wouldn't come to a stand still if I exposed my upper arms, and actually it feels really nice to wear a sleeveless garment in hot weather (who knew?!). I spent ages going back and forth between Made by Rae's Gemma tank patternWiksten's tank pattern and the no-longer-available Tiny pocket tank pattern by Grainline Studio. By the time I selected my #2018makenine plans, I had finally fallen down on the side of the Gemma tank because I felt the bust darts are a nice addition for preventing this type of garment from looking too shapeless. 

A quick note about the bindings. One of the things that make this a speedy, simple pattern to make is that the neck and armholes are bound with bias binding rather than being finished with facings. Rae has helpfully detailed three methods for using bias binding on her blog. What she calls the 'French method' is by far my favourite, and is what I have used on both my versions that you see in this post. However, because this method flips the binding to the inside of the garment, rather than encasing the raw edge with no folding, as the other two methods do, the neck and armholes become wider, and the shoulder strap gets narrower. To combat this, I've added a little to my neck and armholes. However, my bra straps do peek out a tiny bit from time to time, so I may increase my addition to the armhole around my shoulder for future versions. 

This pattern helpfully comes with two different front pieces for different cup sizes: A/B and C/D. Although you'd never guess from looking at me with clothes on, I actually wear a D-cup bra. However, pregnancies and breast feeding have, umm, 'redistributed' my fullness and I chose to go with the front piece designed for the A/B cups. I also graded between the Small around the bust, out to the Medium for the waist and hips, which is my usual adjustment. I toiled this up in some thin cotton and the result was ok, but there was far too much fabric around the lower back area. I realised that I'd forgotten to pinch out some of the length to account for my short waisted-ness, so I did that and made another version in gingham left over from this Tova dress. I was hoping that it'd end up wearable, if not perfect, but I should have dug deep and found the patience to make a second toile in not-so-great fabric first because the gingham version did NOT end up wearable. There was still a whole load of fabric bunched up at the lower back that the short waist adjustment didn't solve. 

(image source: Made by Rae)

It was time to accept something that I'd been avoiding admitting for a while: I have a sway back issue going on. I spent a bunch of time researching sway back adjustments, and eventually came across this excellent Youtube video by Alexandra Morgan which shows three methods clearly and thoroughly. I went with the method that requires you to make a centre back seam rather than cutting out the back piece on the fold. I did this for two reasons; firstly, it made more sense to me to have a CB seam for achieving an adjustment that thoroughly deals with the sway back problem, and secondly, the next piece of fabric in my stash that I had my eye on for a Gemma tank was quite small, so I thought that cutting the back of the garment in two pieces rather than on the fold was going to be necessary anyhow. 

This time, I did managed to summon up the patience to make a toile before ruining another piece of nice fabric. I could see that the sway back adjustment had definitely improved things, but it was far from perfect. Because I didn't have anyone around to help with the tricky business of fixing a fit issue around the back, I'd had to guess the position and amount of the adjustment I was making. After that toile, I went back to the pattern and pinched a tiny bit more out of the sway back adjustment then got out the chicken fabric. 

The chicken print version:

This fabric is another of those pieces that seemed to have magically appeared in my stash, as I have no memory of how or when it got in there. Weirdly enough, I had another, larger, piece of African wax fabric with this chicken print before that I made into a dress for my best friend almost a decade ago! The previous piece was some kind of synthetic or synthetic blend (which contributed to it's demise when it met with a hot iron), but this smaller, orangey-er piece is definitely 100% cotton. 

I struggled to make the most of the print placement because of the amount I had to work with, and I promise you the back print placement looked better when it was the full length version of this garment. Anyways, seeing as I didn't take photos of any of these steps you'll have to believe me that this chicken version was definitely an improvement, fit-wise, on the previous sway-back adjusted toile. I knew that this fairly crisp fabric was stretching the limits of the suitability of cotton for this pattern, and although I seemed to finally be rid of much of the excess fabric around my lower back, every time I bent down or forward, or lifted my arms, the lower back section kept kind of 'sitting' on my upper bum and I'd have to yank it back down again. This quickly became tiresome, and I decided that the only way to salvage this chicken version as something I would actually want to wear was to hack the bottom off and make it a boxy crop top. I tell you now that I am NOT a crop top kind of woman. However, the denim sweet shorts that I've wearing a lot this summer are pretty high waisted, so I felt confident that a cropped Gemma tank would have a mate to form an outfit with. 

The feather print version:

Before I hacked the bottom off the chicken version, my mum came to visit and I got her to have a look at it on me and get her assistance. Together, we were able to take any residual lessons from it that could be gleaned before I went at it with the scissors. She got busy with the pins and worked out that just a tiny bit more was needed to be taken out in the sway back adjustment, and worked out the precise position for where it should come out. We also figured out together that my sway back adjustment was swinging the side seam backwards, and by slicing through the seam and allowing it to open up, we worked out that 1cm needed to be added to the side seam of the back piece from the hem up to nothing around the upper hip area. 

With these alterations made but my stash depleted of suitable fabric, I lay in wait for another viable piece of fabric to come my way before I could test this (hopefully final) set of changes. Those who follow me on Instagram (@sozoblog) may have seen in my feed a couple of weeks ago my beautiful little haul of fabric and notions that came home with me from a recent trip to Rouen, France. In one shop called Fabric et Moi (a blog name if ever I heard one, surely?!) I found this beautiful feature print cotton poplin (I'm guessing it's poplin) and snapped up a metre with this pattern in mind. (In the same shop I bought a small length of a similar fabric, pale pink background with a subtle gold feather print design for my daughter, convinced that she would crap herself over it. When she saw them, she preferred mine *eyes roll skyward*.) 

I managed to complete this Gemma just in time for the weather to turn and for no-sleeves to stop being an option, so I haven't had a chance to give it a proper test run. From these photos it looks like even more could be pinched out of the sway back and/or I could give myself a bit more at the side seams over the hips. However, IMO it doesn't look bad, especially from the front, and in a softer, drapier fabric like the kind used in the Made by Rae image towards the top of this post, you might not even see a need for further adjustment. Either way, I'm done with tweaking, or even thinking about, this pattern for at least six months. 

What did please me very much though, is that not only did I squeeze this top out of 1 metre of fabric along with self-made bias, but I also was able to make a pair of shorts for Frankie with the remains. I find few things more satisfying. In case you're wondering, I used the Made Everyday with Dana Kid shorts pattern, size 3 (Frankie will be 2 years old next summer, however, I find this pattern runs a bit small). I also added labels to both the tank and shorts using some cute woven ribbon with birds that was the perfect theme and colours for my fabric. I was kindly given a length of this and some other ribbons by Textile Garden a number of years ago. If you're in the market for some sweet woven ribbon, then you should head over there as they have a great selection

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The Landers Have Landed

Most of the time, I like to blog about a sewing project soon after completion, whilst the experience of making it is still fresh in my mind. These Lander shorts, however, were tricky to get round to photographing because I've been wearing them so much, they always seem to be in the wash. I eventually got these pics taken a couple of days ago, and if you were wondering what Lander shorts look like when they've been worn almost constantly for two months, then I have your answer right here. 


It's not often that I fall in love with a sewing pattern the very first instant that I become aware of it. Usually, it takes seeing a number of versions pop up via blogs and Instagram before a pattern can fully win me over. However, this one I knew straight away that I had to have it. I included it in my #2018makenine plans at the very beginning of the year, but I didn't pull the trigger and buy it until May, when I was able to take advantage of the #MMMay18 celebration discount codes (I also bought the zipper expansion pack, FYI).

(image source: True Bias)

I'm deeply obsessed with the full length (view C, pictured above) version of this pattern. But with summer then just round the corner, like many other sewers, I decided to make a hopefully-wearable toile of the shorts version as my entry point.

I'd read good things about how this pattern has been drafted, and that many had found that minimal fitting was required. In general, I completely agree, however I did take things slowly and made a number of alterations that I'll share with you now, if you're interested. 

First up, I started by blending between the sizes for my waist and hips, as I so often do. I chose the size 8 for the hips, blending out to a size 10 at the waist. The pattern gives you a sizeable 1" seam allowance on the side seams so you can make any tweaks that you find necessary. At the point of fitting the side seams, the pattern instructions do say that you can't alter the waist measurement during your tweaking, because your waistband will no longer fit if you do. I didn't even look at the waistband pattern piece, much less cut it out, until I had the shorts almost completed with the side seams basted, partly because I wanted the option to alter the side seams at the waist if I needed to. 
I ended up letting my side seams out a straight 1/2" all the way down (effectively giving me an extra 2" all the way around my bootay). I then pinched out about 2cm total per dart at the back to get the waistline to lie nicely against my body (I'm beginning to suspect I have a sway back situation going on). I restitched my darts so that they were curved rather than straight and made this alteration on my pattern pieces for next time. 

The other reason why I didn't cut out my waistband out until I absolutely needed to, was because I had read that a number of people had drafted curved waistbands rather then use the straight waistband included in the pattern. I wasn't sure if that need would apply to me, but after the dart pinching, I was convinced I would also have to redraft the waistband to include a curve if I didn't want it to sit up weirdly at the back. I then hit a bit of a stumbling block; I wasn't sure exactly how much to curve it or on at what point of the waistband to do so. By chance, I saw on Instagram that Josie of Fabric Godmother was tackling the Lander pants pattern at the same time as me. We entered into a discussion and she said that she planned to add the curve just at the back, between one side seam and the other. This made total sense to me; I don't go 'in' around the belly area, so curving the waistband at the front didn't feel necessary. 

So when I finally did draft my waistband, I started by tracing off the original size 10 waistband, minus the seam allowance. Then added the extra at the side seams that I had needed, then I removed the measurement that I had had to pinch out of the back darts, and THEN I added a curve to the back area (between the side seams). I created the curve by slashing down through the waistband and overlapping the slashes at regular intervals, eyeballing the curve that I was forming. I then added the seam allowance to all the edges. It may be worth mentioning that a curved waistband has to be cut in two mirror-image pieces (a waistband and a waistband facing, if you like), rather than in one piece like the original waistband pattern piece.

The other, more minor changes I made to the pattern were: 1) to shorten the length of the hem a little, 2) make the curved topstitching at the fly at little farther out to accommodate my buttonholes (my buttons are slightly larger than the pattern recommends, and 3) to leave off the belt loops as I know I'll never wear these with a belt.


I'm guessing this fabric is a cotton or poly/cotton twill, and its origin and how it got into to my stash are even more of a mystery. What I do know is that this fabric was in two pieces, and has lived in my stash for at least five years. Recently, I had made some vague plans to use it to make some trousers for Frankie, possibly involving some red piping. However, I wasn't sold on that plan as I'm not a fan of kids wearing trousers from fabric that have no stretch to it, so it wasn't much of a struggle to bury that idea and use it for these shorts instead. There was just enough for these shorts if I cut the waistband facing from something else, so in the end I felt that this twill was destined to become these shorts!

I'm a fan of a contrast waistband, so I used a scrap of the koi print cotton left over from the matching shirts I recently made. I used a scrap of black and white gingham to line the pockets, and despite deploying the techniques in the instructions to cut back the pocket lining pieces to avoid them being visible, you can still see peeks of it from the outside around the edges of the pocket if you look closely enough. Next time I'll try to select a pocket lining very similar to my outer fabric.

I chose these metal buttons from my stash because, A) they were in my stash and therefore effectively free, and B), because I thought that, when combined with this khaki twill, it gave a cute nod to a  uniform-y vibe, like the original boy scout shorts that I heard in a podcast inspired Kelli from True Bias to design this pattern in the first place.


I'm so glad that I took the time to complete all those tweaks and changes carefully, because I think the fit is pretty spot on. They are really comfortable to wear, despite being made from a non-stretch woven fabric, although I might take a tiny scoop out of the front crotch curve on my next pair. Although the waistband curve was eyeballed, I'm very happy with how it fits snuggly around my lower back, and unless a different fabric type or weight loss/gain force me to take the side seams in or out, I'll use the same waistband piece going forwards.  

Although I'm now itching to make a squillion pairs of the full-length Lander pants, I can definitely see another pair or two of Lander shorts getting made for next summer. I've got my eye on a couple of pieces of fabric already in my stash for them, and I'll probably change the fit of the leg slightly to make them closer fitting, hopefully more akin to the image of the Lander shorts on the True Bias website. 

These shorts have also made me entirely reconsider my stance on khaki. I would NEVER have picked this fabric out if I were shopping in a fabric shop, however I have been really surprised by how much of my existing wardrobe this colour goes with. On the back of this discovery, I even got some khaki linen/cotton from the most recent Fabric Godmother open day for another project I've got lined up for the near future. 

Not only am I excited to make the full length Landers next, but I'm also chomping at the bit to try drafting different pocket shapes and styles, have a go at the zip fly, and maybe to play with constrasting topstitching threads. Expect to see more Landers round here before the year is out. 

Friday, 3 August 2018

Free Pattern Friday: Kids' Bummies

Welcome to my monthly 'Free Pattern Friday' feature, where I road test a free sewing pattern or tutorial: sometimes a children's one, sometimes a women's one. I publish these posts every first Friday of the month, timed to provide inspiration for those of you who plan to get their sew on over the weekend. I firmly believe that, if you pick your projects carefully, sewing doesn't have to be a crazy-expensive way to clothe yourself and your family. Thanks to all the amazing pattern designers who have offered up their hard work for us to enjoy for free.

Dolores has been the main beneficiary of my selfless sewing lately, especially for these 'Free Pattern Friday' makes, so when Brindille & Twig recently released their new free Bummies pattern, I knew I could finally redress the balance a bit in Frankie's favour. This pattern release coincided, fortuitously, with a heatwave here in the UK that lasted for a couple of months, and is probably now set to return for a while after two days of (very welcome) rain. Frankie does NOT appear to enjoy heat. Yet, when he's too hot and we take his clothes off, he also thinks his nappy needs to come off too. These bummies so far, somehow, have managed to fool him into not taking his nappy off whilst he's otherwise nudey. Thanks heaps to Brindille & Twig for sharing their hard work for free, AND for aiding us in this useful deception. 

(image source: Brindille & Twig)

Pattern type:

I would describe this pattern as an updated, modernised version of a traditional nappy/diaper cover, designed for knit fabrics. The waist is elasticated with an optional drawstring, and the pattern includes two variations for finishing the leg holes: elasticated or banded.

Sizing info:

This pattern has been graded between preemie and 2-3T (heights 44cm to 96cm). However, I'd really recommend choosing your size, for this and all B&T patterns, based on the child's height rather the age (or I just tend to pick a size down from their actual age) if you want the garment to be worn straight away. For example, although Frankie is a substantial 22 month-old, I picked the 12-18 month (84cm) pieces and the fit is perfect.  

Fabric info:

The fabric suggestion states 'knit fabric - most types will work'. For both my versions, I used a single jersey of cotton with elastane/lycra/spandex, which seems to have worked well as they are a suitably light weight for the hot weather, but also great for moving about. Although I don't think the stretchy content is absolutely necessary for the main part of these garments, I do think it'd be the better choice for the leg hole bands if you're making that version. Thin loop-back French terry and interlock would probably also be great options for the main parts/elasticated leg hole version, but you'd want to avoid anything thicker (like a ponte perhaps) that would be too bulky for the waistband.

Plus, one of the best bit about making this pattern is that you can bust the hell out of your scraps bin! The 'monsters and snacks' fabric version came from the improbably small leftovers from this project, and the blue and white striped fabric was harvested from this top that had got too worn and ratty in its former incarnation. I'd love to see some made from refashioned/upcycled old logo T-shirts as well. 


I'd say that this pattern is very typical of the six or so other B&T patterns I've now tried. The PDF pattern and instructions are bright, very clear and user friendly. I'd say this pattern would hold no significant issues for a beginner sewer (or beginner to knit-sewing), just be aware that the seam allowance is a scant 6mm. However, you could add a bit to all the edges and make the seam allowance larger before cutting out your pattern pieces, if you so wished.

When making the bummies, I had a concern that the measurements included for the length of the waist and leg hole elastic might be too tight for my marginal-chubster (I'm not sure that term is very PC, now I've written it...). So I added an extra 2cm to the waist elastic, but ended up removing it again. I'd been basing my assumptions on the measurement of elastic I usually cut when making him trousers and shorts, but I'd not figured out that these bummies need to fit more snuggly for them to perform their nappy-enclosing duties.

I did find that the length suggested for the optional waist tie/drawstring was a bit short. Also, I didn't like how the instructions recommend to just snip holes into the knit to thread them through rather than making button holes or adding eyelets, or even just adding a little square of interfacing to the back of that area. I know that button holes and eyelets would make this a less speedy and beginner friendly make, and that usually knit fabric doesn't fray, but on my version the holes started to look a bit tatty and stretched out pretty quickly. In the end, Frankie couldn't deal with having a drawstring anyhow and seeing as it was clearly annoying him, I removed it. 

The fit of these bummies is really cute. They are kind of a bit pouchy, and I wasn't sure Frankie would deal with the volume (he's quite opinionated about his clothes for someone who can't really speak yet), but he's been fine in these. I do think that the leg hole elastic could do with being slighter looser for his thighs. Obviously all kids are different shapes and sizes, but I'd recommend you keep an eye out for that if you make the elasticated leg hole version.

Customisation ideas:

I'm not feeling very creative right now, so all I can suggest is playing around with your fabric scraps and old/unwanted knit garment, perhaps using different fabric for the front and back pieces, as well as for the leg hole bands if you choose that version. And of course adding appliques, patches, motifs etc. etc. I'd love to hear any more suggestions... Oh, and I'd DEFINITELY recommend adding a ribbon loop or label of some kind to the back, as at a glance, is can be difficult to distinguish which is the front and back if you haven't included the drawstring.

Would I make it again?

Because of the slight trickiness of getting the leg hole elastic the correct length (or my laziness in re-doing it if it's not right), I'd say that the banded version is my preferred one, and I definitely plan to make Frankie a small stack of banded bummies for next summer. He *may* be potty training next summer, and I was thinking that these *might* make a good garment to help with that process, as a kind of bridge between big-boy underwear and acceptable-as-outdoor-wear shorts, so that there's only one layer to yank down when heading to the loo. Those who have experience in potty training boys might be able to advise me if I'm on to something here or not...

I warn you: making these could be addictive! Two or three pairs of these bummies would make a fun and impressive, but really pretty simple, gift for a baby or toddler. And it could be a useful pattern to have on hand for surprise-hot-weather or last-minute-pre-holiday sewing if additions to a child's wardrobe is required!
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