In Which The Blogger Takes A Flying Leap…

Out of her comfort zone, that is.

This post will be really long (mostly because it covers two weeks worth of progress–I am behind!), and I’m going to start out a little differently from my normal style. I don’t usually get all introspective on you; not because I don’t have Deep Thoughts, but because I’m usually just too excited to share whatever it is I’m sharing to get too serious. 🙂 So if Introspective Mads doesn’t do it for you (and that’s okay!), feel free to scroll down a bit and wait for the pictures to start! (TL;DR, I’m taking a pattern making workshop and it’s been very interesting and fun and confidence-smashing and fun again!) Without further ado…

*cue Deep Thoughts*

I enjoy learning. For me, learning is pretty much a desirable end in and of itself–I just like to know things about stuff (because I haz a smrt), and generally speaking, the more things I can learn about, the better! On the other hand, I consider myself a relatively cautious person; I tend to be risk-averse and enjoy having a solid routine. While I’m willing to try new things when I feel like it (for example, learning to sew!), I don’t really enjoy being prompted or “encouraged” to do things without first being interested on my own. My introverted nature does not help matters; I tend to stick to indoor nerd-ery and can become isolated. But sometimes, with the right encouragement or inspiration, I can be coaxed out of my little bubble and into the wide and wild world of opportunity. This time, the new thing is a workshop on pattern drafting and fitting, and the encouragement came from a new friend.

I became acquainted with Paula DeGrand quite by accident: I cannot remember how I found her blog, Getting Things Sewn, but once I did, I immediately subscribed and eagerly read every subsequent post, even feeling brave enough to comment from time to time. (This is one part of the online sewing community that I struggle with: I always feel like I want to comment, and sometimes I even type out a response, and then I chicken out and delete everything because these people don’t GAF what I think and also I’m an idiot anyway.) We also interacted a bit on Pattern Review, which is how I learned that she and I would very soon be residents of the same metro area! This winter, we were finally able to meet up in person and I am happy to report that she is just as intriguing and delightful in real life as she seems on her blog.

Prior to our in-person meeting, Paula had blogged about a workshop she was taking here in Columbus–a pattern making workshop! The instructor was Nina Bagley, a very experienced and talented patternmaker with decades of experience in the fashion industry. Unfortunately for me, the workshop–focused on pants, of all things!–had already started when I learned of it, and I immediately emailed the Cultural Arts Center to inquire about any future workshops like that one. While I did receive a nice but not-terribly-informative response (equivalent to, “Thanks for your interest. As to future workshops, we don’t know…we’re trees.”), the real insider info came to me from Paula, who alerted me to the opening of registration for the next workshop; this one would be focusing on coats and capes. Guys, I got the very. last. spot. in that workshop, and I squealed and bounced around with glee.

Now you may be thinking, “But Mads, you’ve never shown even the slightest interest in (or, let’s be honest, aptitude for) pattern drafting or expert fitting! Why would you think this workshop is a good idea?” And that’s totally a fair question. I’m still quite a beginner, and I’ve never made a coat or a cape or a jacket, and I assumed I’d probably be the least-competent person in the entire workshop group. But I got excited about this for several reasons: 1) Paula’s enthusiasm is contagious, 2) $100 is a bargain-basement price for a 5-week (1 evening per week for 3 hours) local workshop with a small class size taught by someone who has worked successfully in the fashion industry for many years, 3) I want to learn everything I can about sewing, garment construction, fitting, patterns, drafting, and design in order to make better things for myself and anyone else I choose to sew for, and 4) What better way to learn than from an expert, surrounded by enthusiastic people who are better than me at our shared craft? (And also 5) I’ve had that damn 1920’s pre-teen coat pattern in my mental “Gotta Sew This” queue since I bought it, and I knew this was a great chance to be successful with making it fit and look good.) So there you have it: Mads, out of her comfort zone, becomes Mads, the pattern workshop student. Back to you, Irreverent Whippersnapper Mads!


My first week of class got off to a terrible start. Like a boss, I left home 30 minutes before the scheduled start time–more than adequate to get to where I should have been going. (Uh-oh…) My directions had me get on the freeway, which should have been my first clue not to trust them, since this was a freaking 10 minute trip. Those same directions resulted in me getting off the freeway where I was told, only to find myself utterly lost in an unfamiliar (and none too nice) part of the city, nowhere near my destination. As if that wasn’t awful enough, my so-called smart phone decided that it wasn’t about to allow me to access Maps or the navigation functionality. And my GPS is buried in the house somewhere, which obviously meant it was not in my car to help me. Cue the panic attack! (No, I don’t have a generalized anxiety thing: I do have a few actual phobias that trigger these things, and a handful of other things can set me off too. Like being lost in an unfamiliar area, by myself, with no navigation assistance, especially if I’m on a timeline. Womp womp.) So to recap, I was lost in a part of town that I’d never seen before and which felt decidedly dodgy, and on top of that, I was crying and couldn’t breathe and was, as the kids say, freaking my shit. Time to call for backup!

Tom was nearly home when I reached him. I was absolutely frantic and he was trying his best to calm me down. (I don’t know if any of you have ever experienced a panic attack, but mine certainly do not respond to people telling me to calm down!) He finally got home and had the unpleasant task of trying to give me directions from a random intersection in Columbus to a place I only knew the name of, as opposed to the actual address; I couldn’t even tell him which direction I was facing, since my car lacks a compass and I had no frame of reference via familiar streets or landmarks. Tom got me to my destination, finally. Remember how I said I’d left 30 minutes before the start time? When I finally arrived, I was 10 minutes late to class. 10. Minutes. Late. This drive should have taken 15 minutes tops. And then I had to pay for a parking meter and try to find my classroom in a new-to-me building. On top of that, it was very, very obvious that I had been crying, which was *exactly* the kind of first impression I wanted to make on a room full of strangers, one of whom is widely respected and recognized in her profession and was, for all intents and purposes, in charge of me for the next three hours. After that whole ordeal, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to be there anymore!

When I walked in, I saw a huddle of people off in one corner of the room; they were all looking at something together (which turned out to be Paula’s project). I happened to walk in with another class member, so I felt a little less awkward about being late. Nobody batted an eye! After brief introductions, we got right down to business: Nina pulled and tucked and wiggled Paula’s coat, noting what adjustments she felt were needed and why. It was incredibly educational. All of us were allowed to weigh in as well, which felt strange at first but became natural by the end of our 3 hours together. (Or in my case, 2 hours and 50 minutes!) After Paula’s pattern had been cut, slashed, taped, and cut some more, Nina looked at me and asked if I had a pattern in mind. “Yes,” I said timidly. “Do you have it with you?” *RESIST THE URGE TO ROLL EYES!* “Yes.” “Well go get it and we’ll have a look!” This was the moment I’d been dreading since I realized what kind of format the class was in after about 5 minutes. It felt like those nightmares where you show up to class and the teacher announces that today, there will be a test on the socio-economic impacts of de-colonization on the African continent and you’re all, “WTF? I thought this was math class!?!” And also you’re in your underwear.

I walked back toward the group, clutching the traced-off pieces of my coat back, front, and sleeve. Being a genius (heh), I didn’t bring the actual pattern envelope with me, so Nina was sort of working blind in terms of imagining the look of the finished coat. I described it the best I could. She seemed pleased with the way the pieces worked together, but remarked that it looked “small, like for a child.” She was relieved when I clarified that it was for a child! My homework was to make a muslin of the coat body as-is and bring it back the following week. I left class that night feeling pretty good about my project and getting it to fit.

Back at The “Mads” House, I dutifully made my muslin. Nina and I had identified one sure-fire issue–a need for more length from shoulder to bust–and I was eager to see what we’d do to fix it. I packed all my stuff:

Fancy-pants bag, ready for class!

Fancy-pants bag, ready for class!

Stuffed with, er, stuff.

Stuffed with, er, stuff.

Made sure this made the trip, too--no more working blind!

Made sure this made the trip, too–no more working blind!

I made a timely arrival this week, and was really fired up to hack my muslin apart. Unfortunately for me, my rogue decision to set in one sleeve was a bad one, and Nina needed me to rip it out before we could do anything else. It somewhat helped her evaluate the fit visually, but we needed to mess with the body before we could worry about the sleeve. Feeling foolish, I went back to my seat and started tearing at things. I plodded back up front and Nina made some cuts into the front of the coat. And then she pointed out something that was terribly embarrassing: I’d cut the front piece off-grain. Badly. *sigh* Guess who is tearing their muslin to adjust the grainline before making up the next version? —–>This kid. Between that stupid mistake and my utter inability to fully wrap my head around the drafting stuff we were shown that night (different collar types–very interesting!), I left class last week feeling like I don’t have the skills or smarts necessary to do a good job on this project. I’m trying to remind myself that I’m there to learn and that if I keep working at it, I’ll get there! Besides, understanding flat pattern drafting takes time, since you have to think about things from both the 2-D and 3-D perspectives; that’s not something I really do at the moment! Would you like to see the state of my own personal Frankenstein’s Monster Coat Pattern?

Yep, that's masking tape. We created headroom for my t*ts out of masking tape. O_o

Yep, that’s masking tape. We created headroom for my t*ts out of masking tape. O_o

New shoulder line!

New shoulder line!

Original tracing on the right, Frankenmuslin on the left. Check out those neckline and armhole differences!!

Original tracing on the right, Frankenmuslin on the left. Check out those neckline and armhole differences!!

I didn’t realize that masking tape was so versatile, did you? We added some length from shoulder to bust (“headroom for my t*ts”) and scooped out the armhole. At my request, we also scooped out the front neckline–it was making me claustrophobic! The back neckline was lowered by Nina as well. She was sweet enough to clean up the lines around the neck and armhole for me and tape it all up. I also had to take a wedge out at the armhole and taper out to nothing down the side seam. Obviously my homework was to use this muslin as my new pattern and see how the changes helped with the fit; Nina will then assist me with adjusting the sleeve piece when we have class this week. My gut tells me that will result in a pretty extreme makeover for the sleeve, but I know I’m in good hands! Here is Pre-Teen Coat Muslin 2.0:

New, on-grain muslin!

New, on-grain muslin!

Trying on the new version over a hefty fleece shirt

Trying on the new version over a hefty fleece shirt

Awkward side-view selfie!

Awkward side-view selfie!

I’m mostly happy with how this is coming along. My main concerns are making sure that I’ll have enough room to wear bulky sweaters AND interline and line this thing, and that the side seams tilt to the back of the coat (which gets worse the closer to the hem you look) and I can’t tell if it’s a fit problem or due to the volume being concentrated in the front pieces vs. the back. Fastening the coat resolves that issue, so ????????????

I ordered a second, higher-quality wool for this coat than what I planned to use originally. (Don’t get me wrong: I’m still using the green and cream material for a first version.) I have a few reasons for this. First, the stuff I have is of a looser weave than I realized, and I want this sucker to be WARM, especially if the Polar Vortex insists on becoming an annual occurrence here in Ohio. Second, I’m not sure I’ll have enough of the green and cream fabric to do the attached cape, and I want a version of this coat with that damn cape, or there will be tears and violence. Third, this happened:

Yep, that's a hole.

Yep, that’s a hole.

Because I am so smart and so awesome, I decided that I could just tug this yardage out of the bin where it sleeps; naturally, it sleeps near the very bottom because it hasn’t been pre-washed yet. I may have hulked out a bit too much, because I do not remember this huge tear being present when I packed this material up the last time. 😦 It’s close to the cut end AND the selvedge, so I think I can at least get the coat itself out of this fabric. But I felt entirely justified in ordering some nicer wool coating (and interlining!) so that I can have a truly awesome, truly warm, truly cape-tastic coat one day. Behold:

This will make a fine coat and cape combo, no? =)

This will make a fine coat and cape combo, no? =)

I’ll wrap this entry up by saying that I hope it wasn’t terribly boring. I’m very excited that I’ve made a new friend (and one who is brilliant at sewing, to boot!) and I’m psyched about my workshop and hope to learn a lot. Nina is a great teacher, and my fellow students are very kind, enthusiastic, and talented. I’ll share updates each week, hopefully! (And my pants are still on the docket, so check back for progress there, too!)

12 thoughts on “In Which The Blogger Takes A Flying Leap…

  1. OOh Mads.. this was exciting.. So happy for you.. stepping out of your comfort zone is one thing.. Enduring is another.. And it is usually when we step out that it may seem for a moment that it wasn’t the right decision and then we start loving it and things start falling into place.. This is going to be an exciting course for you .. All the best .. I will look forward to that finished piece and much more.. 🙂

  2. Oh woweee you brave soul! I’m not sure I would have actually made it in the room after that rough start, so well done for toughing it out! I’m fascinated by your coat: have you got a picture of what it should look like? I have basically the identical herringbone fabric as you to make my first coat too! It’s a different style, but I shall be following along intently. Especially as I dropped out of my pattern drafting class because it was too ‘maths’ and too ‘fashion’. Yours sounds a lot friendlier, and a lot cheaper!

    • Oh my gosh, I forgot to throw the photo in that includes the pattern envelope–I’ll update the post to include one, so check back for that! It’s really very cute, but not so cute that it isn’t suitable for someone who ISN’T 12!

      This workshop is less focused on the math details and calculations (although they’re important) and more focused on understanding how drafting works from a flat perspective, and how that all translates to the 3-D garment in the end. There’s also lots of fitting thrown in! I wish your course had been a better fit for you. =( But I hope you aren’t deterred from that coat you have planned–if I can (maybe?) do it, so can you!! (Though I may have to wait for my new machine, because HOLY SHIT THE LAYERS.)

  3. My heart went out to you as I read this. As a direction impaired introvert, I completely identify with this. The class sounds wonderful. You got through the hard part, your coat is going to be beautiful.and you will have learned so much. Enjoy all those accomplishments. I really look forward to seeing your coats.

    • Thank you so much for your sweet comment. I felt so silly walking in on that first day after my meltdown, but it truly has been a great experience so far and I am glad I forced myself to get out of the car! Hopefully I can successfully apply what I learn and end up with well-made, toasty warm coats that fit properly!

  4. Mads–I can so identify with the confusion, frustration, and discouragement! I am so glad you came to class. We have such a great group–so supportive and interested. And Nina is a treasure. If I have anything to do with it, you are going to get that coat done. See you soon!

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