Tuesday, September 3, 2019

We're On A Mission: Curvy Sewing!

So, curvy folks...how many tearful fitting room moments have you had, trying to find clothes that fit? Or what about those sewing disasters, where you tried an up-sized pattern and the fit is definitely not fabulous?
Those days are over! We're on a "curvy sewing" mission at Hip Stitch, with upcoming events where you can learn to alter a pattern for a custom fit and sew a garment you actually feel and look great wearing.
Montrose shirt by Cashmerette
Megan Green of The Green Violet (and a geologist in her day job) started our curvy sewing exploration earlier this summer, with a York Pinafore class. The mission continues with "Sewing with Knits--Let's Make a T-Shirt!" this Saturday, Sept 7. (It's full, but you can get on the wait list.) And here's even more excitement: Nov. 2-3, she's teaching a two-day retreat, the "Curvy Sewing Intensive," featuring the Montrose shirt by Cashmerette. (TWO days of focusing on custom fit, pattern grading, sewing a muslin and more! Go here to read more about this class.)
We asked Megan to share a little about her sewing journey, and how empowering it has been. She is also a contributor to the Curvy Sewing Collective and well-practiced at sharing about her sewing passion. Here's her story:

How long have you been sewing? Who taught you?
The projects in the first year I sewed could probably be classified as fitting "disasters," but you know what? They still fit better than RTW, so I call that a win! Every garment I sew is part of the learning process, so even if the final garment wasn't very wearable, I still learned something to apply to the next garment I tackled. 
I don't specifically remember learning to sew, but my grandmother was a very talented seamstress and she taught my mother to sew. I remember my mother sewing Halloween costumes when I was a kid and a formal dress for me when I was in high school. I suppose I picked up the basic skills somewhere along the way, but most of my garment sewing skills I have learned though reading blogs and books. I'm going to be taking a pattern drafting class at Santa Fe Community College this fall and I am excited to keep learning more about the technical aspects behind garment fitting. 

Did you start with garments of other items?
Garment sewing was always my goal and passion. I remember wanting to sew garments for a long time, but being quite intimidated by it. Fortunately, it's not nearly as scary! Like most people, I did work on learning basic machine sewing skills on some home decor projects such as curtains and pillows, but garment sewing was always the end goal. About 90% of my wardrobe is now handmade. The last frontier that I would like to tackle is "gear" type clothing, such as hiking pants and raincoats.

Has learning to create garments for yourself contributed in any way toward reinforcement of positive self-image? 
It has had a huge impact on my self image! As a teen and through my 20s, I was always just outside of the RTW size range.  I remember squeezing myself into jeans that were too small. I literally had no idea that clothes could be comfortable and functional! Now, as the fashion industry catches up with reality, we have more options in a variety of sizes and styles. Did you know that studies suggest that the average size of the American woman is 18? However, being three different sizes between my bust, waist, and hips, I will continue to sew most of my clothing because now I know clothing can actually fit well, be comfortable, functional AND express my individual style. 

Did you have some fitting disasters?
The biggest "aha" moment was when I really embraced the concept of cutting a pattern in different sizes to correlate with my different measurements. For example, in most patterns I am an 18 at my bust and a 24 at my hips and instead of cutting an average of a  20 or 22 so that the bust is a little too big and the hips are a little too small, I actually blend between the sizes and come out with a garment that is size "Megan". This is one of the skill we will focus on in the Curvy Sewing Intensive. 

Megan, modeling a Knit T-shirt she created.
Why is it important for those with non-RTW shapes to have access to purpose-designed patterns and good instruction on fit? 
When I first started, very few pattern designers were making patterns in my size in styles I liked. I first had to grade up the size of each pattern before starting the actual cutting and sewing process. It was a major barrier and it is why I was so intimidated for so many years. Fortunately, things have really changed and there are more patterns available in a variety of sizes. Things are getting better every day. In the past year, I have personally worked with a number of designers on improving their size ranges and it has been great to see curvy sewists have access to patterns that were previously inaccessible!  It is a screaming relief to be able to make clothes that fit and look good!

What are the hardest areas to fit, usually?
For me personally, the biggest fit challenge has been pants! Fortunately, it's actually quite straightforward to construct a wearable pair of pants, but when you really fall down the fitting rabbit hole on pants, you can spin yourself in circles. It's the same with nearly any type of fit issue.You can spend ages trying to perfect the fit on a garment. In my opinion, there is a middle ground where a garment fits and looks better than RTW and functions well. By that, I mean that any fit issues that impact the function of the garment have been addressed, but perhaps the garment isn't "perfect" from a technical standpoint. I personally think wearable is more important than perfect, and that is how we are going to approach the Curvy Sewing Intensive! I don't want anyone to be intimidated by trying to get a perfect fit!

Where do pattern designers need to fill in the blanks, so curvy sewists can expand their custom wardrobes? 
There are still huge gaps in the pattern market. Some are just in the plus-size realm, while others are notably lacking in all ranges. I think the patterns for business clothing like suits, more formal blouses, etc., are lacking across all size ranges. More trendy, causal styles are widely available up to a size 18 or 20 pattern, but taper off in sizes above that. It's the same with athletic offerings; leggings and tank tops can be found in plus size patterns, but anything more specific or technical is also lacking (coats/jackets, workout shorts, hiking pants, sun shirts...the stuff I wear everyday as a geologist). There is also a huge lack of plus-size pants patterns available, which frustrates me to no end.

Can you share a few of your fave pattern designers? 
I nearly exclusively sew indie patterns instead of the traditional McCall's/Butterick/Simplicity patterns that you can find at JoAnn's. "Indie" is a general descriptor for a wide range of patterns made by smaller companies, often started by home sewists who saw a need for a specific type of pattern and decided to create it themselves. 

For beginner plus-size sewists, I always recommend Cashmerette Patterns (https://www.cashmerette.com), which are available in sizes 12-28 with cups sizes C-H. Jenny of Cashmerette Patterns was the fist to identify the huge lack of plus size patterns and do something about it! Her patterns are classics, the types that can be made repeatedly and easily incorporate into your wardrobe.  

Many other indie pattern companies have finally followed Cashemerette's example, but most only have a limited selection of their patterns available in plus sizes. Helen's Closet (https://helenscloset.ca) is working hard to get its entire range of patterns up to a size 30 by the end of 2019, and I love the styles for being modern and fun. They also have great directions for beginners. 

If you are looking for something a bit different with stylish details, check out In the Folds (https://inthefolds.com). These patterns have a slightly more limited size range (for example, Australian 24, which is a 52" bust and 55" hips), but they are beautifully designed. This designer also makes patterns for the Peppermint Magazine Sewing school (https://peppermintmag.com/sewing-school/), which are free on their website and come in the same size range. 

Any advice for non-RTW people who feel like custom sewing is beyond them?
This isn't a skill I was born with; it just took lots of practice and a willingness to fail a few times along the way. I truly believe anyone can learn to sew a beautiful and functional wardrobe to fit their lifestyle if they just have the time and patience to put into the practice and develop the skills. And I promise it's not as intimidating as anyone fears!