Wednesday 23 December 2020

Ankara Tamarack Jacket

My love for the Grainline Studio Tamarack jacket pattern developed slowly. As in, it took a couple of years. If this pattern was a potential partner, they would have written me off long ago! My interest grew over time, but it took the vision of an Ankara (AKA African Wax fabric) version that finally made me commit to the plan and I begun to gather supplies. Then a couple of weeks ago the time came to give back the overlocker I'd been borrowing. I looked through my list of potential sewing projects to work out what I could make next that could be made entirely on a regular sewing machine. Although the pattern suggests rather than specifically dictate to do so, I felt that binding all the bulky seam allowances would be the best way of finishing the innards. Therefore, it seemed like a good time for the Tamarack project to rise to the top of my 'to make' list. 


Last Spring, I saw a woman in a supermarket car park with a really bold puffer jacket. I can't remember exactly what it looked like, but the print reminded me of an Ankara design and my mind went straight to the potential options that were dwelling in my stash. This particularly length of Ankara fabric was brought back for me from her honeymoon in Ghana by my good friend Anna over ten years ago. She told me about the overwhelming awesomeness of the vast fabric market where she bought it, but she knows me well as she picked out the perfect print and colour way for me.  

Shortly after receiving it, I made some of the fabric into this 1950s style retro dress (pictured above). And a year or so later, whilst pregnant with my daughter, I made a dress using the Made by Rae Trillium dress pattern, then called the Washi dress pattern (pictured below). 

Historically, I have kept very few of my me-mades once I have stopped wearing them. However, I kept both of these because of how amazing this fabric it. So I harvested what I could from both, and located the final piece leftover from the original length. Even so, I had to piece the fabric together in a couple of places: around the shoulder/yoke area on both the fronts and the back pieces. I was able to pattern match pretty well, AND I was able to stitch along the joining seams during the quilting step, so I think they are effectively hidden. Finally, I pieced the scraps together to make the self-binding. There really is very little of this fabric left now!

The Tamarack pattern directs you to use the same fabric for both the inner and outer layers. Obviously that wasn't going to happen with mine due to the limited fabric, plus I wanted the ease of taking it on and off that you get with a traditional, slinky lining fabric. I got this navy viscose lining remnant from Fabric Godmother, and made bias binding from the leftovers to bind the pocket edges and all the internal seam allowances. 

The other element that I had to purchase for this project was the quilt batting/wadding. After reading the advice on the Grainline blog, I decided I wanted to source some wool batting rather than cotton for a warmer jacket, but i just couldn't find the size required (twin) in stock anywhere in the UK. As a second choice, I went with a batting made 100% from recycled plastic bottles. I flatter myself by thinking that my green-washing radar is pretty well tuned, but you wouldn't believe how thick they were laying on the 'this product basically saves the world' message in the packaging! It completely ignores how much energy is required to extract usuable polymers from that 13 discarded plastic bottles, and to turn them into quilt batting (which is then wrapped in plastic and shipped to Europe from the US). And looking at the reviews in the comments section of the website, some other customers seemed to have taken the 'I bought this and have just saved the world' perspective on board! Lols. Anyways.


As I say, I wasn't always sold on the style of the Tamarack jacket pattern. Chatting with Mr SoZo about this, I finally figured out that it reminds me of two things: A) the kind of jacket that an elderly Chinese farm worker woman might wear, and B) detachable lining that might be part of a Very Practical Coat. Once I'd made these stylistic links and the question was no longer bugging me, I was honestly much happier to go ahead with the project! 

As with almost all patterns I use, I made a couple of initial adjustments to this one. I blended between sizes at the side seams (my waist and hips usually fall into a size category that is one size larger than my bust), and pinched out about 2cm from the length of the torso on the front and back pieces to account for my short-waistedness. Being able to make these simple (and now automatic) adjustments is such a blessing, and would be worth learning how to sew for even if I didn't actually enjoy it!  

The trickiest part of the project was the welt pockets. When my batting arrived, it was thinner that I expected, but that was partly to my benefit as the construction of the pockets would no doubt have been more difficult if it was been thicker. I declared life too short to pattern match the welts, and once the binding was added to the edges, I think the mis-match of the welts looks fine. Due to the limited amount of fabric I was working with, I was able to match the pattern at the centre front, but couldn't align the colours of the design. 


I wasn't able to collect all the relevant materials for this project until recently, and because Autumnal jacket weather had passed, I'd kind of shelved the project in my mind until the Spring. However, we've had an (alarmingly) unseasonably warm couple of days lately so I got to wear this out in the world yesterday for the first time. I still feel the elderly farm worker vibes are present, but I also believe that the bold fabric print off sets those vibes enough that it looks pretty stylish. The fit is comfortable, plus the sleeves are narrow enough that it might prove a useful layer underneath my grey Cocoon coat when the temperature really drops and I want to give my Buffalo Check coat a break. 

There have been some amazing quilted coats and jackets popping up on IG recently. If a suitable quilt appeared in a charity shop, I'd be tempted to make it into another Tamarack jacket, with the quilting stage having been done for me. And even if I don't use this particular pattern again, my eyes are definitely opened to the stylistic and thermal qualities of quilted clothing! 

Friday 4 December 2020

Free Pattern Friday: Socks for Everyone

Welcome to my monthly 'Free Pattern Friday' feature, where I road test a free sewing pattern or tutorial: sometimes a children's one, sometimes an adult's one. I publish these posts every first Friday of the month, timed to provide inspiration for those 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.

I've been making my own clothing for a long time now. I've even had a bash at making shoes. But there are a few things that I continue to rely on shops for, namely bras, socks and tights. I can't imagine ever getting good enough at knitting to successfully knit my own socks, and I'm not sure that I'd really want to spend all the time and effort to do so anyway when I prefer thinner, less wooly socks anyhow. However, I've seen a few people in the sewing community who seem to have successful sewn socks, including Carolyn who made these great looking sockettes. I've kept this possibility in my mind for a while. So when I recently chanced upon the free the Ellie & Mac Sew It Forward Sock pattern, I was all in! Thanks heaps to Ellie & Mac for sharing their hard work for free. 

Pattern type:

This pattern is for making basic ankle socks with a cuff band at the top. The pattern is made up of four pattern pieces, and are constructed with just four seams. 

(image source: Ellie & Mac)

Sizing info:

The pattern has been graded to include almost anyone who wears socks, from small children (
UK kid's 7-8) to men (UK adult's 12-13). A sizing table is included for US, EU and UK shoe sizes to help you select the right size to cut, but it is worth noting that the stretchiness of your chosen fabric may affect which size will be more successful. 

One of the reasons why I was excited to try this pattern is that my shoe size (UK 7, FYI) is usually the biggest included in most women's sock size ranges (usually sizes 4-7). So I'm convinced that my socks wear out quicker than other women's who have smaller feet! Therefore, I was excited to see that I could select a size UK 6-7.5 that put my size in the centre of a size range rather than at the outer edge. 

Fabric info: 

Knit fabric with 50% four-way stretch is recommended. I'm guessing that the type of fabric that most people would have in their stash that fits this description would be a cotton/Lycra single jersey. They require very little fabric, so a dig through your scraps and leftovers might provide you with some 'free' fabric to make some really fun, crazy socks!

The grey pair in these photos is made using a scrap of weird knitted stuff that I have no clue about. It looks like tights fabric so I thought it'd be suitable, but in hindsight I feel it is too drapey and slippy. The rust coloured pair uses some very lightweight jersey (once again, can't be sure of fibre content). This pair clings to my feet a bit better but still feels too slippy and thin. I expect both will wear through at the toe or heel pretty quickly. 

(image source: Ellie & Mac)


Accessing the pattern is easy, you just need to add it to your cart and go through the check out on the Ellie & Mac site. The pattern pieces and instructions are part of the same PDF document, which makes it easier not to lose either! One issue I did have with the pattern was that the band paper pattern piece looks very different from the fabric band pieces that are photographed at the beginning of the step-by-step instructions on page 9. So much so that I emailed them thinking I'd missed cutting the piece on the fold or something. 

Aside from that confusion, putting these together was ridiculously quick. However, I've found that the second seam that joins the back pieces to the top piece can result in a little pleat where the seam intersects the first seam at the ankle, so that step should be taken slowly. The pair pictured above has no weird pleat, however you can see in the picture of my pair at the top of the post does. It doesn't really effect the fit, and I reckon if you were making a stack of these, you'd get really good at avoiding making a pleat.

As for the fit, I really like the shape of them, and although I was concerned that the band might be too tight, actually it's fine. I felt that they come up a bit high, so I made my rust pair a couple of centimetres less so, although you can't really tell in these pics. The grey pair is made using an overlocker, with three threads rather than four to avoid bulk. I made the rust pair using a narrow lightning flash stitch on my regular sewing machine and the seams of this pair are definitely less noticeable when worn. 

The fabric choice will really make or break this project I think. I'm tempted to try again using a more standard cotton/Lycra jersey that is thicker and more stable than the knits I've used here. 

Customisation ideas:

I like the idea of being able to combine sizes to make narrower or wider socks, if that's something you require. You could also alter the height in either direction: shorter to make sports socks or higher to make knee-highs, or beyond! 

Would I make them again?

Umm, I really don't know. I doubt I'm going to reach for these pairs of socks unless all my other pairs are in the wash. Less slinky fabric may help, but I'm just not really sure I want to wear jersey socks. Maybe I'd get used to it. I do love the idea of being able to make everything that my kids and I wear, although I feel that jersey socks would be an even harder sell for my kids than they are for me! 

Recently, most of my shop-bought socks decided to all developed holes at the exact same time, and I enjoy the idea that I am able to tide myself over with me-mades until I get round to getting myself some more. This really was a very fun and super speedy project, so if you are at all interested in giving them a try and have some suitable leftover fabric to hand, I really do recommend giving them a go.

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