The Year I Sewed Myself Back Together

It’s been about a year since I got back into sewing (for, like, the 20th time in my life because always REASONS…). This time, it was pregnancy (OMGexhausted for nine months) and recovery and motherhood that put the brakes on my creativity.

Finally, about a year ago, I had a baby who would nap in her crib instead of only on me or in a moving stroller, and I was determined to do something for myself, for what felt like the first time in months. I unearthed my sewing machine from behind boxes of breast pump supplies, already-outgrown newborn clothes, and detritus from a career that already seemed like a lifetime ago.

The first top I sewed in 2018 — keeping things simple!

I started slow and with low expectations, but was soon spending every naptime moment I could snatch cutting, pinning, pressing, and sewing. I don’t think I can accurately describe how much empowerment I got from returning to my sanctuary in sewing. I stitched up more than I could reasonably wear, and gleefully photographed everything along the way, thrilled that I could feel like ME again — not just a walking milk source, or a glassy-eyed zombie or a scared and lonely new mother.

Sewing provided so many of the things I needed: control, creativity, personal autonomy, a feeling of progress and completion, and a way to measure success outside of salary or ounces of milk produced.

Instead, you can measure how many cats are on your pants!

I sometimes struggle with the feeling that I shouldn’t spend so much mental energy thinking about, when it all boils down… clothes. Like, shouldn’t I be solving the world’s problems, or pondering life’s larger questions? But regardless of how much time I spent planning, scheming and designing and generally thinking about… clothes…. the true result of my year of sewing was a return to myself, stitch by stitch.

I remember the feeling of greed I had for months after dragging my old Kenmore clunker out — greed for more time to sew, more energy to create — and I recognize that feeling in retrospect as a craving for balance, for a space for me as just myself, and not a mother or wife or patient. Thinking about sewing wasn’t just thinking about… clothes… it was claiming space for myself, both in the physical world and in my own mind.

Oh, to feel glamorous again! Sewing these pants had me feeling myself!

It’s been an amazing year of sewing — by far, the best I’ve ever had. I sewed more, challenged myself more, tried more fabrics, and absolutely upped my game. The intense need to sew as a therapeutic salvo has quieted, but the thrill of starting every new project remains.

I meant to just write a year-end review (as you do in the sewing interwebs, right?), but there’s not a single garment I made that means more to me than the overall experience of finding joy in creating after months of crushing doubt and struggle.

Self-care sometimes looks a lot like flitting around taking selfies in a garden while your baby fusses in an off-camera stroller.

I wish such an experience for anyone this year who needs it, for whatever reasons. Sew and create and dream and heal and grow.

The Stadium Coat: Simplicity 8470

This coat. I mean, THIS COAT. I almost didn’t think I’d make it to the end! This post is ridiculously long, whiny, and detailed, but I’m considering it much-needed therapy after this whole experience. Strap in, friends.

Okay, this is not my first coat, but it is definitely the most legit coat I’ve ever made — zipper, hood, a variety of pockets, etc. This is a full-on coat, and while I knew I this was going to be a bit of a stretch project, in which I’d try a bit harder, take a bit longer, and learn a bit more than a typical project, I did not see it coming. I secretly thought it would end up being easy. Not so. This coat nearly broke my sewing spirit. That said, it’s done, it’s pretty damn good, and I’ll probably wear it all winter long, and hopefully for many winters to come.

The pattern is Simplicity 8470, and I’m both totally surprised and totally not that this pattern has kind of flown under the radar. It’s a straight-up (and really good) knockoff of the popular J Crew Chateau Parka.

Make your own classically styled but Instagram-famous stadium coat in whatever color you want with fancy-schmancy lining to boot? Sweet, right? That said, there are not many versions I’ve seen out there, and even fewer full reviews of it.

And dudes, the reviews. If you’ve even glanced at them, you know there’s a drafting error with the back lining piece. No big deal, it’s not a hard fix — just check out the other reviews on Pattern Review for the solution. (I opted to narrow the outer back piece, and I should’ve enlarged the lining instead, so I am not the one to advise on the best way to do correct this error.)

I feel like everyone who sewed this up really likes their coat, but is not ready to endorse this pattern, and that’s exactly how I feel. I mean, I’m happy that I’m divorced, but I wouldn’t exactly recommend it to friends. That’s the vibe I have from this pattern. I can’t recommend it, but if you really want a nice coat and are ready to roll your sleeves up and do the damn thing, then go for it.

Okay, let’s talk about the fabric I used. The outer fashion fabric is a wool (probably a blend? It’s been in the stash a few years, so I’m not sure). It has a sweater knit type of look and is a gray and white mottled blend. I’m sure there are technical terms for all of this, but I sure as hell don’t know them. It’s not super heavy, so I wanted to do more than just line the coat per the instructions. I knew a wanted an extra layer to add warmth. After finding some cute pre-quilted polyester gingham on clearance at Joann, I thought it would be a nice shortcut: lining and batting all in one. I was saving myself some extra cutting and application work, and it was cute (if a bit cutesy) — score one for me.

My view — I get to enjoy the lining all the time!

Of course, this stuff is a real pain to work with. It’s the most polyester of polyesters: it moves around, the filler expands and contracts exactly where you don’t want it to, and generally makes it hard (for me, at least) to be accurate. I don’t regret choosing it, but it didn’t perform any better or easier than I anticipated.

I also got lost in the wormhole of coat interfacings. LOTS of opinions out there, folks. LOTS. I went with the recommendation to use fusible weft on nearly all components: front, side front, cuffs, hems, pockets, armholes. It really does seem to be great for adding soft, flexible heft to coat and jacket fabrics. Highly recommended. Except I didn’t buy quite enough. So the pockets were interfaced with a woven iron-on I bought from Cali Fabrics but can’t remember enough to really describe what it is.

Okay, onto the pattern options. I knew I wanted a hood. I’ve been eyeing these sleek, tailored coats (I have that gorgeous Isaac Mizrahi Vogue pattern that came out earlier this year and have been itching to sew it up once I find the right fabric and I also LOVE the look of the Sapporo coat), but in reality, I need a coat that’s really warm and that covers me. I’m out walking and at the park every day with JuJu (who is no longer Baby JuJu, and is fully Toddler JuJu), and I need my neck and wrists covered, as well as some drizzle protection.

This hood is roomy, if a bit floppy!

Turns out, there are, like, NO patterns with hoods out there. Okay, that’s a gross exaggeration, but there are shockingly few. So, that pretty much decided me on the pattern itself and View C specifically. While the version with the front pocket zips and fur-trimmed hood is fab, I just imagined the fur getting janky with everyday wear and the pocket zips becoming annoying. Those are the pockets for hands, no zips needed, right? For the hood, I did not interface, underline, or use my fluffy lining. Since I won’t be using it often, I wanted it to lay smoothly and not be unnecessarily puffy. It was the right call, but it’s pretty wimpy when actually needed. How do I know? I got caught in the rain today and had a hard time keeping the hood on while walking in the wind with no free hands.

On to the marking. I wanted to be super accurate, so I basted in and tailor tacked A LOT of markings. It’s kind of fun in the beginning, but it added a couple of days to the project that I kind of regretted later on. Especially the bevy of tailor’s tacks I removed before adding the fusible weft. Because I didn’t think through that far. My fault. Having the center fronts, relevant fold lines, and front zipper stitching line thread traced was useful, though.

A master of accuracy, clearly

So I’ve cut, marked, and fused for literally a week and not a single seam is stitched. (Hey, we’re down to one nap in this household, so that’s all I’ve got, and I usually have other household stuff to do as well. And I’m a super slow sewist.)

I’d read that the pockets are the biggest challenge, just in their general fussiness, and it’s totally true. I also tried to line the pockets with the quilted lining, thinking it would keep my hands extra toasty. I’m sure it would have, but it also made the pockets look WAY puffier than I anticipated, so we’re off: unpick the stitched-on pockets, take them completely apart, and redo them with a standard lining.

Okay, not really a standard lining. I decided to repurpose a dress I’m no longer wearing as piping and lining for the hood, and now, the pockets as well. So no just cutting into straight yardage — first, I had to do a good deal of unpicking of the original dress in order to liberate the lining fabric. No prob, let’s keep going.

Reassemble the pockets, stitch them on, get the other pockets and flaps sewn and placed and realize that they look just enough off-grain to make me SLOWLY GO INSANE if I don’t fix them. Deep breaths. You can fix this, Self. You don’t have much extra fabric, but there is enough to recut one of the pockets and we’ll just try to adjust the other as much as possible.

It sort of worked. One of the arched pockets isn’t quuuuiiiiite the right shape, but the other side came out perfect. And using that woven interfacing instead of the fusible weft? Well, that was clearly a mistake, because even though that interfacing didn’t FEEL stiff on its own, my pockets are now stiff and mostly inflexible, like I’ve sewn cardboard into them. Perfect. Well, on the bright side, we’re through that near-disaster and it should be smooth sailing from here.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Assembling the coat body was actually pretty easy. So was assembling the lining. Except I went to try on the lining, and it’s kind of small. Eeek! I sewed a straight 10 (my usual size), expecting there to be enough ease for a coat of this type. I even measured another jacket I have to see if the finished measurements were comparable, and they were. I guess that puffy fluffy quilted polyester takes up more space than predicted! I restitched the side seams, leaving as small a seam allowance as I dared. Another note: this fabric wanted to unravel so badly. I pinked all my seams, since serging them seemed to create a lot of extra bulk. I hope it works!

Fixed that wonky hem later…

After some more unpicking of darts in the dress I was cutting up for lining, I got the hood assembled and attached, and the zipper installed. The zipper was the easiest part, to be honest. Just a note: the zipper tape shows on one side when the coat is unzipped. I decided to roll with it, but I can see it bothering a lot of the type of folks who would be tackling this jacket.

And before bagging, let’s make some piping! That’ll be fun! (Spoiler alert: no, it won’t be.)

Okay, it’s actually time to bag the lining! Stitching the lining to the coat was not a big deal, but again, that polyester and the infernal batting constantly squishing out. It was tough on my machine, and made it hard to be accurate. There are probably methods to address this, but I just wanted to power through, so that’s exactly what I did. Honestly, I’m exhausted just writing about this, so you can imagine how incredibly OVER IT I was at this point. Oh, and I broke two needles in the process (metal zipper accident).

Bonus Oops: I trimmed a bit of lining when I should’ve have in a total facepalm moment. I had to patch in a new section, right in the front. Amazing. And totally my fault. So that was another day lost.

All that, and it’s the hem that really broke me. I could not figure out the instructions. Seriously. And I’m not one of those folks who is terrified of Big 4 patterns. The instructions are always clear enough to figure out, even if there are some head-scratcher moments. But DAMN, I just did not understand what I was supposed to do. I’ve bagged linings before, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around what was a very simple step. I ended up using a different method, resulting in a seam at the bottom of the coat instead of the coat fabric being neatly folded under.

And to be honest, it looked kind of shitty. I was prepared to live with it. I even went out and took blog photos. And when I looked at them, I saw how bad it really was.

This is the photo that made me realize I needed to go back and fix EVERYTHING

The hem looked terrible, and one of front bottom corners was flipping up like CRAZY. I wanted to be done with the project, but after all that work and frustration, I didn’t want to sorta-kinda-actually hate my new coat.

I unpicked, unbagged, and spent another couple of sewing sessions trying to get that front flap to lay flat. I also undid the alternate hem method because what I needed to do finally clicked. (Turns out, I didn’t need to do much of anything. I just needed to tack the hem up to the seam allowances in a couple of places. So, some re-pressing (haha, I would love to repress the whole experience…) and hand-stitching, and I think it’s a significant improvement, even if it’s not perfect.

Plus, I didn’t actually mind making these changes much. Once it felt like it was my choice, and I could stop and call it day at any time, I got a lot less frustrated. Aren’t things funny that way? I guess I’m not really that different from my toddler: I do much better when I have a choice.

To sum up a bit, I really hated the sewing experience. But the actual coat is pretty nice and wearable. Yes, it’s definitely a size too small for me in the hips specifically, which I’m sure my bulky fabrics contribute to, but seriously, it’s a coat. I need that fluff! I strongly recommend sizing up one size (maybe more) if you’re concerned, but YMMV.

I also recommend taking a second look at the pockets. The bottom pocket (I added the flap, which is useless but looks cool) is a perfect size for a phone, but not particularly great for getting said phone out quickly and easily. And the top pockets? They’re not as luxuriously large as I had hoped. I kind of have to crunch my hand down in there to get my whole hand in with wrist coverage.

If I make this again (lol, right? But you never know…), I would either a) add about two inches in length to the top pocket, and drop the lower pocket placement down a bit to accommodate or b) raise all the pockets to be more like the J Crew version and shorten the jacket completely. Probably Option B.

There are litany of small-to-medium errors (flat piping did NOT go smoothly or uniformly, there’s some very visible pulling on the front edges, the visibly unpicked darts on the hood lining got some prime placement on accident, etc), but I’m trying to be chill. Turns out, this probably isn’t the best coat I’ll ever make, and when I think about it that way, I’m kind of stoked. I’ll make more coats in my life — why does this one need to be OMGtheultimatecoat? When I think of future coats, it really helps me put this in perspective as a solid learning experience.

And it’s not all negative–things I love:

*The floral hood lining. It’s super visible, and prints are not my style lately, but I LOVE it. It shows that it’s mine, and 100 percent unique. Also happy to have put that old dress to good use.

*The warmth. I’m so damn toasty, which my perpetually freezing self is reveling in.
*I don’t think a lot of folks will even notice the flaws. Pretty aware that I’m being self-critical and that most non-sewists would think it was amazing that I made a coat.
*The topstitching — it came out pretty good overall. This is probably the last project I’ll make on my old mechanical Kenmore (I bought a Pfaff Passport 3.0 about halfway through this saga and have barely touched it since I didn’t want to taint it with this godforsaken project), and it did a solid job. Enjoy your retirement, Kenmore. You did good.

Forever long post complete. Thanks for reading, 2 people who made it to the end. Bottom line: take on challenges, try not to freak out when sewing makes you feel incredibly stupid, and then enjoy your projects, imperfections, blurry photos, and all.

Welcome to the closet, my Crazymaking, Cold-Vanquishing Coat of Doom!

These Jeans, You Guys: Simplicity 8222 Pattern Review

Dudes, let’s talk about these jeans.

I know I’m late to the “OMG I can actually sew jeans” bandwagon. But that makes it NO LESS TRIUMPHANT.

I started sewing in the pre-online-fabric-store era, where you were pretty much stuck with whatever denim you could source locally, and the only denim you could source locally was rough, zero-stretch, super thick, sandpapery shit in an ugly-ass wash. I never imagined that I’d be able to make jeans that were actually cool and comfortable, so maybe that’s why it took me so long to try.

I had all sorts of reasons in my head not to make jeans. I already have a pair I love, and a bunch of other pairs that are okay. My body is in flux and I’m assuming I’m going to put on a few pounds once I stop nursing. Blah blah, excuses. But then April 30 rolled around and I just decided I wanted to make some damn jeans for Me Made May. (Yes, this post is about 3 months late.) I packed Baby JuJu into her stroller and picked up Simplicity 8222 (99 cent sale, baby!), the nicest denim I could find at Joann’s, some denim thread and needles, and even the right kind of button. I was going to make this happen!

Mean muggin’ at the library

TL; DR — I totally did. I love the way these turned out!

Okay, so the pattern: I really enjoyed using this pattern and the Mimi G video tutorial. I didn’t expect to use the YouTube portion much, since I’m a reader and printed instructions are what I prefer, but I’m rethinking everything right now. I LOVED the video tutorials, and was shocked at how I really didn’t need the printed instructions at all. In fact, the only times I stumbled were when I used the printed instructions instead of just going with the next step in the video. It was such a fun way to sew! I’ve ignored the video component on my other Mimi G makes, but no more. I’m sold, and I’m taking a second look at her line to find more gems because it was just a lovely change of pace.

The pattern has three different back pieces for each size (slim, average, curvy), and I went with slim. (I lost my booty somewhere during pregnancy and suffer from severe Concave Butt Syndrome at the moment.) I also saw a few other reviews that noted they cut a size smaller than usual, so I went with the smaller of the sizes I fell between (8 vs my usual 10). I can’t speak for anything beyond my own experience, but these jeans fit great with almost zero alterations.

3% stretch content ACTIVATE!

  1. Caveat 1: I did take out a smidge extra from the back yoke.
  2. Caveat 2: I’m not a super fit-freak, so I’m not talking about having zero wrinkles, just about having jeans that fit my waist, hips, and body as well as I would expect from RTW.
  3. Caveat 3: They’re stretchy skinny jeans, so fit isn’t super hard. Right? Because if not, these are miracle jeans!
  4. I was SWEATING when it came time to baste everything together and try them on. After looking at the waistband pieces, I was sure I was courting disaster with my reckless decision to size down. Nope! They fit better than I could’ve hoped. So, if your body type is similar to mine, consider trying these and going with the slim fit.

    The entire process was just so much more fun than I anticipated! Of course, I was anticipating hell on earth, so there’s that. But really, the attention to detail, the precision, the constant changing of thread from regular to topstitching — it all felt fun and purposeful, and not nearly as bad as I thought. Yes, jeans take some extra work. But honestly, it didn’t feel like that much extra. Just more topstitching. Which, surprisingly to me, I kind of nailed.

    Topstitching (mostly) on point

    My machine has really taken a shit lately, and I was afraid the topstitching would be super wonky. But apparently, it’s just lighter fabrics that I’m struggling with, because my old Kenmore handled this denim like a champ! I did unpick a good deal of stitching, but it wasn’t that bad — at least it felt purposeful, and it was a choice each time to aim for a better end result instead of sticking with something slightly crooked or wavy.

    Here’s a lesson: 3 months later, I don’t even remember if this is photo is of topstitching I took out and reworked or left in and moved on. Seemed very important at the time…

    The only big change I made was to the fly. I read through reviews — be sure to check out That Black Chic’s review of 8222 — and knew that the zipper placement could be problematic. And yeah, it was. If I hadn’t made any edits, the zipper teeth would probably be visible constantly. So instead of placing the zipper tape 1/4″ over from the seamline as directed, I placed it 5/8″ over, based on how my RTW jeans are designed. That almost solved the problem. My zipper stop is sticking out at the very top — which probably has to do with the button/buttonhole placement. If I’d overlapped those a smidge more, I might be fine. Either way, I’m going to bump up that distance a bit more if I can next time, or at least be super-cautious about the button placement.

    Questionable button placement + FOX POCKETS

    This is one of those fixes that I couldn’t make sense of until I was in the thick of it. I read the reviews, I read the instructions, but I couldn’t figure it out until I was doing it, and then it made more sense. So if you’re scratching your head, maybe give it a go anyway, and trust yourself to figure it out. Also, next time, I’m going to add about an inch to the front edges of the waistband to make sure I have enough leeway to make up for the added segment to the fly. Since any excess will just be cut off in the seam allowance (provided I line up all my other edges and notches first), it shouldn’t affect the fit, but will ensure that I’ve got enough waistband to work with — it was a close call on this pair!

    I also took the opportunity to finally have the ankle length I always wish for — yay! It’s so hard to find shorter jeans, but they’re my true love.

    I will say that the biggest hurdle of making jeans is that the first third flies by and it seems like, “Hey, this is great! Let’s make all the jeans!” The second third is like, “Still going strong. Let’s knock these out, already.” And the final third is like, “Make jeans, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.” I definitely felt my enthusiasm wane in the last few steps.

    So much excitement in the first few steps when they start looking like REAL JEANS!

    Of course, my machine also gave up on me. I left the buttonhole for last, knowing that my Kenmore was going to suck at it. Don’t do that — get that buttonhole sewn in before installing the belt loops or your buttonhole foot may get stuck. And you may end up having your machine eat your jeans. In the front. Very noticeably. On the very last step. And you may have to call your mom in (who is thankfully on hand, watching your baby) and have her help you dig your almost-complete jeans out and then advise on how to create a buttonhole without a functional zig-zag stitch. Just saying.

    And let’s talk about the fabric for a second. This stretch denim is from Joann, and it has performed beautifully. I’m not 100% positive, but I think it’s an 11 oz 61% Cotton/31% Modal Rayon/6% Polyester/2% Spandex blend. It has great stretch, and more importantly, great recovery. I have crawled all over the floor, done a ton of bending and reaching, and these jeans haven’t bagged out. I mean, they’re also a pretty tight fit, but still. I’m a fan. This denim was $19.99/yd, but you can wait for a 40% off denim sale and get it for $11.99, which is super reasonable. The wash is nice and dark, but still reads as blue. I can’t advise on how it wears in the long run, but I’m hoping it gets some nice natural wear patterns so that these will age gracefully, even with the low cotton content.

    Okay — this is getting too long. Love the pattern, love the jeans, they were a fun project, and I’m going to get so much use out of them.

    Welcome to the closet, my denim darlings!