Amy Herzog’s Knit to Flatter suggests that the best way to figure out your body shape and fitting needs is to take a photo of yourself in fairly form-fitting clothes, draw horizontal lines at the shoulders, bust, waist (or narrowest part of the torso) and hips, and then compare their length. Azzy has been posting her pictures, and it struck me that the pictures I took of my Birgitte tee with jeans probably showed my figure off well enough, so I thought I’d have a go.
The shoulder line is a bit approximate, but it’s clear that despite wearing a GG-cup bra, from the fron my bust isn’t a lot wider than my shoulders. My waist is (a) very high and (b) not particularly small, both of which I knew, but the bottom half of my torso is actually quite a lot wider than the top, which comes as rather a surprise when I have always thought of my chest as being far and away my most prominent feature.
Amy also suggests looking at a side view, and handily I also have this deeply unflattering picture from the Birgitte photoshoot.
Apart from showing that I should really have done a forward shoulder adjustment, I can see that my bust is far more prominent from the side (as, sadly is my stomach) and that I have a serious sway back (which probably doesn’t help with the appearance of my stomach, really).
In terms of translating this to clothing, well, I obviously need to add fabric across my front and take it away across my back, and my waist is high enough that the waistlines of most garments will be in the wrong place. And maybe I should give up on my dream of having a wardrobe full of lovely full-skirted Fifties-style frocks like Dolly Clackett‘s, which I suspect would only exacerbate my lack of waist and larger bottom half, and look for patterns with more gentle shaping that might suit my figure better.
Today’s cashmere cardi, wool dress and knee-high boots really felt more like an outfit for January than April, but it’s still freezing cold and was trying to snow earlier. I really don’t know what’s happened to spring this year.
Cardigan – charity shop
Dress – Boden
Tights – M&S
Boots – Duo
This dress is a much straighter shape than I’d normally go for, especially in a woven fabric, but somehow it works. I have been giving quite a bit of thought to what shapes of clothing actually work for me recently, partly in preparation for the pattern cutting course (if I’m going to end up with my ideal summer frock it will probably help if I start out with some idea of what that ideal actually is!) and partly because I recently bought Amy Herzog‘s new book, Knit to Flatter (I’m not normally a big fan of body-shape driven advice on what to wear, but I have had the disappointing experience of knitting myself things which really don’t suit me before now, and given how long it takes to knit a garment I’m not keen to repeat it, and Amy’s advice is less you-must-wear-this and more ‘these things will do x, and draw focus to y body part, and if you would rather the focus was on z body part try that instead’. And there are some very pretty cardigan patterns in the book, too). I know that I tend to gravitate towards fitted tops and full or A-line skirts, open cardigans or jackets rather than buttoned ones, and fit-and-flare dresses, but when I look at the pictures of me wearing this dress I wonder how much of that is just because that’s what I’ve always worn and felt comfortable in. When it comes down to it, I’m not sure I really have the faintest idea about why some things make me look better than others (or at least make me feel that I look better, which is not necessarily the same thing). And while I think that my perfect summer frock would have a fitted bodice, sleeves and a full skirt (something like Simplicity 2444 or the Sewaholic Cambie if it had proper sleeves), would that really suit me? Honestly, I have no idea. And sometimes I think life was easier before I started being interested in clothes…
Having started the year with grand plans for sewing myself lots of clothes, 2012 actually turned out to be a bit of a washout, sewing-wise. I managed a grand total of one finished garment for myself, and that was just another version of the very first skirt I made.
I did also make three pairs of pyjama trousers for T, which have been a great hit with him.
And I spent lots of time practicing full bust adjustments and nearly made a dress, although it has significant enough flaws that I’m never actually going to finish it.
I did buy quite a lot of patterns; as well as the pyjama pattern and the Bebe dress, I bought the Colette Ginger skirt and Jasmine blouse patterns, and the Sew Liberated Ashland dress (which has different pattern pieces for four different cup sizes, so might work well for me), and only last week I bought the Sew Liberated Schoolhouse tunic. I just haven’t managed, so far, to summon the courage to start tracing the patterns and thinking about what fabric I could use; not having an easily-visited fabric shop is probably part of the problem here, as I still don’t really feel I know much about types of fabric and what’s suitable for what kind of garments, and apart from quilting cottons non-synthetic fabrics tend to be expensive enough that I’m very scared of making mistakes. Then again, I’m just as scared of picking the wrong pattern and making something that doesn’t suit me. I was going to make the Colette Pastille dress because it looks like a nice simple pattern to start with, and I even bought three metres of purple cotton poplin in John Lewis to make it in, but then the more I looked at the pattern pictures and bloggers’ pictures of their versions the more I thought it looked a bit skimpy, and that I wouldn’t be comfortable with such a short, straight skirt, and I really want more shoulder and armpit coverage than you get with cap sleeves, so if I was going to make it I’d have to do an A-line skirt (fairly straightforward) and add proper sleeves (not so straightforward) and I’m still not sure it’d really work for me. I think my sewing goal for 2013 should be to try to conquer the fear of failure and Just Make Stuff. That’s one of the main reasons I bought the Schoolhouse Tunic pattern; because I’ve tended not to devote much time or thought to my casual wardrobe, all the patterns I bought at first were things that I could see myself wearing to work, but until I’ve really got to grips with the fitting issue I’m clearly not going to manage to produce anything that I’m comfortable wearing to work, apart from very basic skirts, so I thought that maybe I should try sewing more casual clothes first, and I’d quite like some tunics I could wear over a long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans. So that’s my next plan, though who knows when I’ll get round to it – making T’s Christmas pyjamas was the first time I’d touched my sewing machine since August…
Relatively tame olive-green tights today, but I was wearing my Big Birdie skirt and an owl brooch, so I think there was enough fun and whimsy in my outfit anyway.
Necklace – made by Helen
Jacket – Jigsaw
Porcelain owl brooch – Susan Sharpe on etsy
Top – Gap
Skirt – Clothkits, made by me
Tights – Debenhams
Boots – Duo
I took a close-up photo of the brooch, though it’s a bit fuzzy:
I’ve been wearing dresses a lot more than skirts recently, and I thought it was because I didn’t have any tops to go with the skirts I own. Actually, I realised today that I have plenty of plain but reasonably smart jersey tops; I just don’t have many winter skirts that feel right for work. Some of the skirts I used to wear are just too small, a couple of others have broken zips that need fixing, and several (from my Per Una phase) just don’t feel right – they tend towards the flouncy and while they worked beautifully with layered tops and tough boots, in a straightforwardly business casual outfit they’re just too girly for me.
Luckily, ‘not having enough skirts’ is a really nice problem for me to have. ‘Not having enough tops’ is tricky, because of fitting issues (though I’m wondering if I should just learn to make basic scoop-necked jersey tops so I can have them in the colours and sleeve lengths I want, with necklines that don’t threaten to show my bra to the world every time I bend down), but skirts are the one thing I can make relatively successfully. I see an examination of the fabric stash in the very near future…
OK, so I haven’t installed the neckline facings and it still needs hemming, because by the time I’d got the zip in I’d been sewing for five hours sat next to a very hot iron on a hideously hot and humid day and I’d reached my limit (which isn’t too bad given that a year ago I could only sew for an hour at a time), but an unhemmed dress with no neckline facings is still a dress in my book.
And admittedly, the bodice is too short so the underbust seam is straining against the bottom of my bust, and frankly the whole effect is a bit 70s-maternity-dress, and the back is a bit wonky, and I’m not entirely sure I’d make the pattern again because I suspect that actually, it’s very hard for a 38-year-old woman to wear an empire-line dress without looking (a) pregnant, (b) like she’s trying far too hard to look cute or (c) like Mrs Bennet. Or possibly all three.
But so what? None of that takes anything away from the fact that I made a dress.
(Serendipity Studios Bebe pattern, in printed poly-cotton from Croft Mill and with an ordinary centred zip rather than an invisible zip.)
I am really coming to like the way Lyttelton shows off my figure. I might have to make another one. Or something else similar, I suppose, although I think part of it is the depth of the back and sides and the vast majority of shrug patterns seem to be much straighter across the back.
Shrug – Lyttelton
Necklace – White Stuff
T-shirt – M&S
Skirt – made by me
Shoes – Greenshoes
I’m also vaguely wondering about buying the Sewaholic Renfrew pattern to try to make really well-fitting t-shirts. But then again, I’ve also been wondering about making my own knickers, and yesterday’s post brought three metres of flowery poly/cotton from Croft Mill to attempt a wearable muslin of the Bebe. I think my ambitions may be outstripping my capacity a bit…
This is this weekend’s attempt at a muslin for the bodice of the Bebe dress.
And this was last week’s.
It’s definitely getting there. I’m trying to decide whether I dare to try to make the actual dress now…
Meanwhile, I also got to grips with threading up my vintage machine.
And, much like Jean-Luc Picard, I managed to make it sew.
Fired up by yesterday’s successful sewing, today I decided to have a go at adjusting the Serendipity Bebe pattern, as I’ve got some lilac cotton with white polka dots I think would be perfect for it and really want to make it.
I got my traced bodice front, my French curve, my yardstick, a pencil, Sellotape and more tracing paper and settled down with to attempt a full bust adjustment. My first try was a disaster; the adjusted piece was a better fit over my bust but the side seam was twice as long as the side seam of the back piece. After screwing it up and throwing it in the bin and stomping downstairs for a cup of tea, I googled tutorials and thought it over and realised that when I redrew the dart I’d followed instructions for adding a dart to an undarted pattern and hadn’t taken the original dart width out of the side seam, so no wonder it didn’t work. And off I went to have another go.
This time, I just redrew the original dart lines after cutting the pattern and taping in extra tracing paper. The final result looked a bit of a mess:
but folded up and pinned together it didn’t look all that bad:
Obviously, being made out of stiff fabric and sellotape made it look a bit like one of Madonna’s stage bras:
but I’m hopeful that it will look rather better in fabric – I might try and run up a muslin of the bodice tomorrow, though I may see if I can pivot the dart down a bit first so it angles upward rather than being parallel to the floor (although there’s only so much leeway I have to do that, given the relative depths of the dart and the bodice…), and maybe also split the waist dart into two as per this tutorial…
Onwards and upwards…
As I think I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really like wearing t-shirts for work – they never quite feel smart enough – but I’ve never managed to find an alternative that works with my patterned skirts, and I do like patterned skirts.
Necklace – White Stuff
Cardigan – Gap
T-shirt – M&S
Skirt – made by me
Shoes – Greenshoes
Wearing a long necklace seems to help to smarten up a t-shirt, and of course it helps that this one is brand new and hasn’t developed random fading like a lot of my t-shirts have, but I think the basic problem with t-shirts is that they don’t really fit me properly, and while it is possible to look smart in a well-fitting t-shirt a badly-fitting one just looks scruffy, whereas a poor fit would be less noticeable in something that was smarter to start off with.
And I don’t think I own a top or a dress that is a good fit on my top half. Mostly, like today’s t-shirt, I end up with something that fits my waist, is a bit tight over my bust and too big on the shoulders and upper back. People keep suggesting that instead of struggling with full bust adjustments I could just copy a top I like the fit of, which would be a lovely idea if there were any tops I liked the fit of, but actually, I’m not terribly keen on sewing and there’s no way I’d be persevering with something which is difficult and exhausting and takes up time when I could otherwise be knitting if I could get things I liked in the shops. So I persevere. Maybe one day I’ll crack it…
Sunday afternoons, from about the middle of the Food Programme to the end of the Classic Serial, seem to have become my sewing times; T is generally watching rugby and I retreat upstairs to my craft room.
This afternoon I made a first muslin of the bodice of the Colette Pastille dress.
I cut a size 10 at the top of the bodice, based on my 38″ high bust measurement, and a size 14 at the waist (because my waist and hip measurements mean I definitely need the size 14 skirt), and then attempted a 1″ full bust adjustment.
It’s definitely an improvement on my Sorbetto attempts; the bust darts turned out pretty well (I ignored the original placing and redrew them level with the apex of my bust, following this tutorial) but I didn’t take account of the fact that this put the bust darts more or less level with the points of the waist darts, which I should have shortened. Having tried the muslin on, I think I should probably have actually cut a size 8 with a bigger bust adjustment, as I clearly didn’t add enough length in the centre front, and I think I also need to shorten the back so the back waist seam sits above the point where my bum begins. Also, next time I’m going to sew up the back (where the zip should go) and leave one of the side seams open as that will make it much easier to pin myself into it!
It’s definitely getting there, though it’s hard work and I’ve still got a long way to go. Of course, part of the problem is that until I started thinking about how to make things fit properly and took lots of measurements I was convinced I was top-heavy with narrowish hips and not much in the way of curves apart from my chest, whereas in fact my waist and hips are a good two sizes bigger than my top half would be with the ‘standard’ B/C cup and the only reason I have to buy tops the same size as skirts (or even slightly bigger) is because I’m so very definitely not a standard B/C cup. And of course, fitting issues aren’t exactly helped by the fact that I’m a completely different shape to my mental image of myself!