Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sartorial Choices

What does a damselfly do on yet another rainy day whilst attempting to recuperate from The Cold Bug? Sew? Maybe tomorrow. Right now I’m in a musing mood. Peter (of Male Pattern Boldness) posited an interesting question on whether or not we should dress better. I acknowledge that people tend to judge other people by their clothes but that habit can be so superficial and occasionally downright nasty. Your opinion is not required unless specifically requested! Personally I say wear whatever you like…but choose it deliberately. Don’t just pick up the first things you find on the floor. Oh wait. That would currently be me. Vintage fleece sweatshirt, old T-shirt, loose stretchy pants that I’ve been wearing for days and are really overdue for the laundry. My excuse is that I’m lazing about in bed not feeling well. And most importantly, I’m not sharing my outfit with anyone else, apart from T-Man. And he doesn’t much care.

Anyway as you might already know, I grew up in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. This was the era of wearing a dress, a hat and white gloves just to go downtown. I swear, nobody these days believes me but it’s true. Hey, sometimes it’s fun to dress up! I wore a proper uniform to private school and even when I got into public school in grade 10 girls had to wear skirts. The effect of all these strictures on me was to fuel my desire to wear whatever I darn well please! I tend to be somewhat perverse like that. (Must be my Scorpio birth sign.) I also started sewing as a young teenager specifically so I could have unique clothes that you couldn’t buy. Although I’ve always been able to justify buying fabrics! (Also books, magazines, yarns, thread, tools, fibres…)

Which brings me to the other recent hot topic of the sewing blogosphere: pattern companies and their lack of response to what we in the sewing world really desire. A fun discussion and I was directed in one of the comments to a very interesting master’s thesis by Debra Lee McLendon entitled An Investigation of the Sizing, Grading, and Fit of Commercial Sewing Patterns. It’s quite an eye-opener. Do read it if you are at all curious about fitting issues. One good quote:

This information could be used to increase customer satisfaction by producing better fitting patterns that contain more accurate information to aid sewers in achieving improved fit. This insight can also be used to increase sales by developing specialized patterns for new target markets.

Are you listening Big 4, Burda et al? Wakey-wakey, people! Why can’t you at least attempt to cater to actual women’s shapes instead of a size 10 fit model? (The latter is possibly nearly as rare as the unicorn.) Of course even revising their basic blocks and numbering systems likely wouldn’t help me that much with my own fitting. Not only am I not an hourglass body shape (more like a rapidly aging diamond/oval), I also have my own style ideas that do not necessarily follow the trends. However, it would really help the whole home-sewing industry if more people had more immediate success – preferably without having to learn the equivalent of a college degree in Textile Science to get the desired results. I’d put money on the fact that quilting is so popular because quilts don’t have to fit a body! Ditto for home-dec, bags and purses. Yes?

Unfortunately they’re still working with really old and inaccurate data. Big 4 pattern sizing hasn’t changed in over 40 years! I know human bodies are as diverse as snowflakes – only even more 3-dimensional - but they’ve had accurate digital body mapping for at least a decade or more. It should be relatively easy to come up with more representative sizing system. So you’d think things would be improving by now, both in patterns and in RTW. Just where exactly is the block located? Or are there more than one?

Oh, and while I’m at it – how about the problem of pattern sewing instructions? Why do they continue to have those awful fold-out newsprint sheets with really bad drawings? Why??? They over-explain something basic and gloss over the tricky stuff too. In contrast, I recently downloaded a digital pattern from a brand-new indie company, Thread Theory, the Newcastle Cardigan. (More on the company itself in a moment.) The pattern came in an email as a link to a download for a zip file. Included in the file were a PDF for the usual pages to be printed and stuck together and a separate PDF of the pattern instructions. These are fabulous! Lots of information, two-columns with written instructions on one side and colour illustrations and photographs on the other. Eleven pages of good-sized type, nicely presented. I have to admit I can’t read it with the eyes of a total newbie because I’m not one, but it seems pretty thorough. I’m starting to become very fond of the independents. They are free to innovate.

So what about Thread Theory? They are a husband and wife team based across the Salish Sea in beautiful Victoria, BC. And like the even-more-local Sewaholic, the pattern names are so evocative for me. Newcastle is a small island and provincial marine park just off the Vancouver Island city of Nanaimo where T’s grandfather once hauled coal and where we sailed years ago when we had our little boat and hiked around the whole island. I’ll let you go check out the above link for their whole story but the very cool thing is they have decided to focus on men’s garment patterns! Nice functional ones that a guy might actually want to wear. How novel is that? T-Man saw the first release, the cardigan, and immediately was intrigued. They will be releasing the rest of the 4-piece collection this year and are already planning a second year’s collection. The price is very reasonable and I don’t really mind printing my own pattern. I kind of like the immediate gratification of not having to wait for the post. We have to go fabric shopping now though since there’s currently nothing in the stash that’s appropriate. Awww…

But first I have to shake this bug. It’s cramping my style.


Anonymous said...

thanks for the info on Thread Theory,

Heather said...

Wow! Thanks for the news about Thread Theory. Sounds like a great little company and I too will soon make a Newcastle Cardigan.
And good luck with the cold. I hope I have finally hacked my final cough of the last two weeks. The bug really hangs on.

Anonymous said...


Thank you so so SO much for the kind words! And thank you to Heather for making us aware of this post!

We're so glad that you like the instructions (many hours went into them!). Hopefully the garment turns out well! Make sure to send us pictures when it's done :)

Louisa said...

Dear Morgan & Matt, of course I will let you know how it goes! I hope to get to the Newcastle Cardigan very soon. Right after I get some appropriate fabric and finish my current project. Really T doesn't ask me for much so I'm always happy to oblige him.