Feel the fear and… dither for a while before maybe doing something else?

Shirt 1

So I was reading Seam Ripped’s posts about fear and perfectionism, and of course my first reaction was to scoff internally. I have no fear, I thought. I AM FEARLESS! Then I thought, hang on, that’s not even remotely true. I’m not, it must be admitted, a perfectionist; I would rather press on and finish something reasonably-ish than rip the same seam more than, well, once. But what struck a chord with me was this:

In any event, I keep patiently waiting to be ready.  Ready for hand-sewing, ready for Alabama Chainin’, ready for a couture jacket, ready to make a coat, ready ready ready ready ready.

Do you know how much nice coating I have? A LOT. Just last week I picked up four metres of a gorgeous navy blue boiled wool. Do you know how many coats I have made? A quarter of one (at a very generous estimate: I muslined one and then lost confidence when the fit was so out.)

I didn’t used to be so cautious, but most of my output in the last two or three years has been extremely safe: dresses made with Big 4 patterns (because my fit adjustments for the big 4 are almost always the same) and skirts made to the same three or four skirt patterns. (To be fair, I like either a pencil skirt or a full skirt, and the two patterns I use for these fulfil all my requirements.) .

Yes, process, enjoyment of making, blah blah blah… but it’s really frustrating to spend a weekend or a couple of weekends making something which then isn’t even a little bit useable. So I haven’t made trousers, for example, because the trousers I’ve made in the past have not just been sub-par – they’ve gone completely unworn either because they fit so badly as to be uncomfortable, or because they were so unflattering that I simply couldn’t bring myself to wear them.

Partly, that is because I seem to have less time to sew than I did, so when I sew I want the certainty of having a decent, useful, wearable garment. But the idea that if I put time into something I won’t get a wearable garment – where does that come from? I have been sewing long enough now that I ought to get something decent, even if it’s not perfect, if I try… but I’m reluctant to stretch myself, in case I stretch myself too far

Shirt 3

Anyway, here is a small example of me vanquishing one of my fears. When I started sewing regularly, over ten years ago, I thought I would make a button-down shirt. I didn’t have much money for ready-to-wear clothes at the time and I really wanted a nice, decently fitting button-down shirt in 100% cotton – something you really couldn’t get in charity shops. I used Butterick 3456, the view with princess seams and three quarter sleeves.

God, that was a terrible shirt. It was practically the first pattern I had ever followed on my own, I didn’t know what facings were, I had no idea what I was doing with the collar, and as for the cuff plackets, I remember staring at the pattern instructions completely unable to make out what I was supposed to be doing or why. Nothing was pressed, none of the seams were finished, and worse, I had no idea of fitting or of the vagaries of design and wearing ease in dressmaking patterns. I think, based on my measurements, I made a size 16 out of the packet – now my standard practice is to make a size 14 + FBA in Big 4 patterns – so my shirt fit me around the bust circumference and practically nowhere else. Eep! I wore it for  a while, because despite major flaws it probably wasn’t that much worse than the crappy ready-to-wear that made up the rest of my wardrobe, but it didn’t last long before being passed along to the charity shop. And somewhere along the way I got the idea that button down shirts are really hard.

Anyway, last week I finally got round to making another white cotton button down. (I read somewhere that Margaret Howell got into clothes design when she wanted a white cotton button down shirt and couldn’t find the right, absolutely plain one anywhere – so she had to make her own. If I could have a wardrobe made by only one person, I would choose Margaret Howell’s amazingly simple, impeccable clothes.)

Shirt 2

And it turns out that while I’ve been waiting to be ready, I’ve become more ready. I’m not saying this is a perfect shirt – by no means. One cuff is put on the wrong way so that they both face in the same direction, the cuff plackets were really fudged, some of the flat-felled seams are felled on the wrong side, and some of the topstitching is really wonky. But in the last ten years I’ve put on a shirt collar and cuffs (on shirt dresses); I know how to fit my figure; I’ve made buttonholes, I’ve learned how to flat-fell a seam; and when it came to cuff plackets, although honestly they are still pretty horrible, at least I understood what I was trying to achieve when I was putting them on.

The pattern is Burda 6849 which was a lovely pattern. I made my usual adjustments: 1 1/2″ FBA, a small wide back adjustment, and some width at the hem (not quite enough). I added 3″ to the sleeves – could have got away with 2″ but I don’t mind a long sleeve. Due to not adding enough width through the waist and hip I eliminated the front and back darts, but honestly I prefer it like that. The fabric is just plain cotton poplin with a little stretch from Rolls and Rems on the Seven Sisters Road. All in all, a SUCCESS – which I have been needing, and which justified the fact that this took quite a bit of time what with topstitching everywhere and collars and so on.

Next – a coat! Or maybe trousers…

Shirt 5



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