24 February 2013

Purple, Green and Yellow

Or: I don't know fancy colour names, so what.

There's this scene in Robertson Davies' What's Bred in the Bone where Francis Cornish, an aspiring young artist, is told to draw a perfectly and impeccably straight line. Being a dedicated student of drawing, he does so. Easy.

Then he's asked to draw a second line, equally straight, precisely on top of and parallel to the first. And then another that bisects those two indistinguishable lines. And then another that intersects those three lines exactly at their meeting point. Francis gives it his best, of course, but wonders at the near-impossibility of his task.

Hey, I wonder why the process of topstitching always, always reminds me of that scene.

I made the above shirt (jacket?) out of the fabric left over from two projects, this shirt and these pants, as part of the Itty Bits section of Cation Designs' Stashbusting sewalong. (Yes, that was the January theme. Better late than never, and all that!) The "yellow" in the title comes from the cream topstitching.

I'm actually not sure why I was sewing with leftovers when I have 5 different untouched fabrics in my bin, but I used up those scraps like you wouldn't believe. They were barely enough for the jacket—actually, they weren't enough for the jacket, and I ended up having to use two other scraps for the inside back yoke (see above) and the undercollar:

Uneven stitches on lilac fabric? I won't be popping this collar.

This was also my first project using Mabel Erwin's Practical Dress Design (scanned and shared months ago by TJ at The Perfect Nose). I read through a big chunk of the book way back during winter break, but hadn't got a chance to use the techniques from it until now. For anyone who's skimmed the designs in this book—and understood the implied promise that you, too, can learn how to sew all of them!—do I even need to explain the excitement of finally making something from it?

As much as I liked the drawings, though, vintage-style dresses aren't exactly my thing, so I pulled out an oldish Levi's jacket for inspiration, trying to ensure that the yokes, rolled collar, and breast pockets I had in mind would turn out looking like the real thing. Then I reached for my bodice sloper and got to work on making the jacket pattern.

What did I do? (Alert: Detailed and possibly boring sewing procedures ahead) (Just kidding; you know you want to read them)

Using the dart-manipulation techniques in Erwin's books, I moved the back-shoulder dart to the neck and adjusted the princess-seams in my bodice sloper to angles more appropriate for a jeans jacket. For those who'd like to know more, these are covered in Chapter 4, "Creating Styles Through Dart Manipulation", and Chapter 9, "The French Dart", respectively. The exact page numbers are page 35 (page 47 in the pdf) and pages 72-3 (84-5 in the pdf), but I'd suggest reading the whole chapter/surrounding text; it was helpful and pretty easy to read.

I also managed to draft front and back yokes—and trust me, it was exciting, because in this case there was a little more to it than just chopping off the top section of my sloper. (Nothing wrong with that, of course.) Like I said, my bodice sloper uses princess seams, so even after adding ease I couldn't just cut the top of my sloper off. I would have ended up with multiple yoke pieces that had awkwardly placed darts.

So I used Erwin's easy method of taping up dart lines/seams and then cutting new ones (though there are rules to this!) and ended up with front and back yokes that are curved in such a way that they look straight-edged when I'm wearing the shirt. (Covered in Chapter 7, which is titled, well, "Yokes".)

In terms of extra bits, I added internal pockets (based on my RTW jacket). The pocket piece was attached inside, then I cut out a rectangle from the actual shirt body and satin/zigzag-stitched the sides. I suppose the method was a little like welt pockets, but easier. Then I sewed the pocket flap sandwiched between the body and the yoke.

First time I'm liking the look of the satin/zigzag stich.

That was pretty much it! And I added a collar, but I don't really know how to explain that. I just made sure the length of the bottom of the collar matched the length of the neckline, minus about a half-inch on each end. My methods are always very technically sound.

In terms of construction, there's not much to say—my reasoning behind the semi-felled seams is that there wasn't enough seam allowance (sewing from scraps, remember?) for properly flat-felled ones, and any other seam finish, even a plain zigzag, would have been bulky in a weird way. There was a bit of hand-stitching involved on the cuffs, though. I did a variation of the lockstitch on the underside of the cuffs, to avoid any stitching showing and give them a "rolled-up" look.

That really is it for this shirt (unless I eventually add buttons), and I can't wait to wear it. I'm back at school on Monday, after a just-long-enough Reading Week. All the cool kids have new clothes when school starts up, right?


Very, very quickly: the late Robertson Davies was a Canadian novelist, playwright, professor, etc.—one of the "giants" of Can. literature, really. And though many of his works are based in and around small-town Canada, his characters tend to have something of that larger-than-life aspect as well; spies and magicians and fool-saints are present alongside (and sometimes in) the grumpy townsfolk and serious academics of his novels.

The Deptford Trilogy is probably his most famous series, though The Cornish Trilogy is also a really good read and extremely fascinating in the world it describes and uncovers (it's where the opening scene of this post comes from).


  1. Ye gads, what an undertaking! This is awesome Meraj (and I have since, started re-numbering the pages in my Friday Freebie pdfs to match the actual numbers XD)! Good on you-the topstitching is beautiful and I love the curves on the back yoke. Great work!

    1. Thanks! And yeah, the topstitching took way, way longer than I'd have liked, but was worth it x)

  2. It's not back to school without cool, new clothes. Especially with such rad topstitching.

    Your pattern-drafting skills are marvelous; I'm a bit jealous.

    1. I know right! (re: back-to-school clothes. I mean, it's a concept more appropriate for 10-yr-olds, but who cares, yeah?)

      Also, thanks! Like I said, I can't wait to see what you post about pattern drafting.

  3. Wow! This looks great! Your topstitching is impeccable, and the color combination is gorgeous!

    1. Haha yes, I was pretty excited about combining the green and purple here -- I felt like the combination added a little class to the "jeans jacket" design. Thanks for the compliments! :)

  4. Oh I laughed when I realized that that scene from What's Bread in the Bone is what comes to mind when you top-stitch. I bet it will come to mind for me too....I love the shirt and I love the mixing of fabrics. It is something I have only rarely done, but I hope to do more of! Meraj did you know about the Toronto Meet Up? I missed it but I think they are having another in the summer...

    1. Thanks, Nothy! Also, Robertson Davies is the best, isn't he? :)

      About your question, no, I didn't know about the Toronto meet-up...until the evening of the meet-up--after it had already happened. I do hope to make it to the summer one, though!

  5. You've done a beautiful job. I remember reading in someone's blog about sewing slow and this is one of those times.

    1. Thank you, Dorothy! Yes, taking it slow was definitely worth it in this case :).