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Exploring a sewing pattern

Exploring a sewing pattern

I work well within structure. Not overbearing restrictive absolutist structure, but more in formulas, ratios, equations. I like to work through ideas in a framework, an outline. I am also a creature of habit. These qualities manifest in my sewing habits when I find a pattern I like. I am inclined to make the same garment over and over, playing with fabric choices and design elements. If you have been following along with my exploits for any time you have seem these theme in action. Hello uniform. I cook similarly. I find a recipe I like and swap out ingredients. I like the repetition that breeds familiarity, and thereby competence. Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour rule for mastery in a subject. In his book Outliers he refers to studies that say that anyone with an innate aptitude for a field of study, will achieve mastery in that subject after they spend 10,000 hours practicing. I am far from being a master at sewing, but I would wager I am creeping up on 10,000 hours and so feel pretty comfortable with my skills, and what I can do with them.

I have another blog post brewing about my preferred patterns and why I love them. However right now I am going to focus on one pattern that I have made up a number of times in the last year- the Wiksten Haori.

I believe most are familiar with this sewing pattern. For that small number who are not, the Haori is a loose-fitted, shawl-collared, lined boxy jacket in three lengths. If you are curious about other versions of this jacket I encourage you to search the hashtag on Instagram, or google the pattern. You will be treated to hundreds of versions of this garment that span all sorts of iterations. I believe the minimalist silhouette of this pattern makes it appealing to so many. With a few simple tweaks the garment can be made to express any number of individual styles. Cropped, long, structured, slouchy, casual, dressy, lined, or unlined. The options are wide, and defined easily by the Maker. The pattern was first published in the journal Making, based right here in Maine, in issue No. 4, Lines. As an aside, that was the issue I contributed a small project on mending to. Soon after the pattern was released into the universe versions began cropping up everywhere. It was a simple make, really just an assortment of rectangles that made it accessible to many levels of sewing skill, and so suddenly it was everywhere. It was described as a boxy oversized silhouette with a Japanese inspiration, and it became apparent that the fit was quite oversized. As is the way these days with the rapid transmission of information around the interwebs, advice was given to size down, sometimes with deep chagrin from frustrated Makers. I made my first one from the magazine, choosing a size L (12-14) based on the advice of previous Makers, and a frank assessment of my measurements. Based solely on my measurements I would have made a size XL (16-18), in the longest length (which at the time [in Making] was the only length offered), but I didn’t want to get lost in my jacket, and I had read it ran large. I used some faded Essex Linen for the outer portion, and an unknown linen/rayon plaid blend for the lining, both fabrics being retrieved from my deep stash. I didn’t know for sure if I was going to like this jacket on me, or whether I had the size right, so I didn’t want to use precious fabrics, yet.

As you can see the L is quite large on me. When I first tried it on I understood the appeal of the jacket based on feel. It is like being enclosed in a big hug, it is a cosy garment. However I didn’t feel particularly stylish or attractive in it. I felt overwhelmed by the silhouette. Full disclosure, since I made that first version I have lost some weight, and so my clothes fit me differently. For a time after I finished the first version I was of the opinion that the Haori was not for me. I wore it, but had no ideas about making another one. It served a purpose as a late Spring jacket for me that first year, but I wasn’t in love with it. I still wear it, in fact the photos you see here are when I had just returned from a Barre class this Fall. It is a perfect cover-up to wear to dance or barre classes over my work-out clothes so I don’t feel exposed in public. The huge pockets are handy for carrying my wallet/keys/phone so I don’t need a bag. But it’s big. And ungainly. And I often feel like it’s wearing me, not the other way around. I am also not feeling the contrast fabric for the collar. Future versions would lose that feature.


Time passes. Jenny Gordy of Wiksten announces she will be releasing the pattern as a stand alone, paper version with slightly different drafting and additional lengths. I see more versions go by on Instagram, I read more blog posts about the wonders of this jacket. I reconsider. When the pattern is released, I purchase it. I like paper patterns, am old school that way. Also I like to support independent pattern designers because their work totally changed my sewing practice. As a fellow Maker who I met through Instagram puts it, I show my patronage to the community by buying sewing patterns. I see the pattern through new eyes and my idiosyncratic brain kicks into gear.

I am still thinking of this jacket as a Spring or Summer garment, probably influenced by all the Linen versions being made, and by the recommendations of the designer herself, who sells linen fabric kits on her website. I buy some linen/rayon yardage from Joann’s on a whim one day (not my usual source, but occasionally fruitful) in a lovely Mustard yellow with no particular purpose in mind. (sad but true) With the new pattern in hand, another attempt at this jacket emerges. I resolve to size down (to a M [8-10]) and see if that doesn’t make me like this jacket on my body. The smaller size is much better on my frame, and the weight of this version makes it more of a warm weather garment. The shorter length appeals to me more, I don’t swim in this one. The collar, which is cut from the same fabric as the body, feels a bit big for a warm weather application, but is softer/looser and more comfortable in the lightweight fabric. I file that thought away and wear it on a vacation to Blue Hill where it is the perfect weight and warmth for cool late Summer nights in Maine. Then the inevitable Fall temperatures begin and the jacket goes into the closet. When I took it out to take these pictures I remembered that I like it more than I thought. It just has a short season in my climate.

Fast forward to deep Winter. On a cold day in the studio I think, hmmm, how about corduroy? It is a soft and yet warm fabric, densely woven, yet still drapy, good jacket cloth. I had some very soft wide-wale in my stash, purchased in NYC years ago. It has a dreamy sheen and is mighty comfy. I could line it with some Crepe de Chine long buried in my stash. I was seeing a cosy Winter jacket. A plan was formed. When I made up this version some issues with the drafting of the pattern arose. They were unseen in my previous versions, although I had inklings. The lining is attached such that both layers, inner and outer, are the same length. Which means if the weight of the two fabrics is unequal, one will hang down, especially if one is a slippery substrate. For this version I find the lightweight silk that I chose for it’s warmth, smoothness, and weight, hangs down below the bottom of the jacket in a way I don’t like. Even as I was finishing it I realized how to address this situation, but only after I had already cut out all my pieces. I tried to tack the lining into the sleeve seam to hold it up, but to no avail. In all my subsequent versions (that are lined) I cut the outer body pieces an inch longer, which then turns up to create a hem when you attach the lining to the outer layer. This keeps the lining from hanging down. Easy fix. I also discovered in this version that the collar was too much. In the corduroy it is bulky and doesn’t lay flat well. In the cold Maine Winter I wear layers. This collar is too much fabric around my neck with a turtleneck underneath and then under my Winter coat. Just too much fabric…. The collar is interfaced as written in the pattern, this gives you options for the feel and drape, with the option to use or forego said step. A lighter weight interfacing makes the collar softer. Some have skipped the interfacing entirely to make the collar looser still. With this Make I realize that the interfacing could be skipped.

You might think I had made this jacket enough times to stop. Especially as each version had some Achilles heel that made it not what I wanted from the jacket. But you would be wrong. I was working through something, some vision of this garment that I was not well enough focused on to be effective. I was randomly working on my 10,000 hours by returning to this simple Make, again, and again. This time I was staring at some wool suiting in my stash that I had thought would someday become a skirt, but hadn’t, when I got the idea to make the mid-length jacket. My thinking was that it would be a lightweight coat when Spring first poked out in Maine. {A lovely idea, but rather misguided, as Spring up here is usually wet, and VERY slow in coming… It’s Winter often until the 4th of July when it is suddenly SUMMER!} Figuring it would be layered over a sweater, I stuck with the M, and the full size collar with interfacing, and added my extra inch for a hem to the bottom. Some deep stash voile was pulled for a lining, an older Anna Maria Horner, whose colors complement the violet of the wool quite nicely I think. By now this Make was fast and efficient. From cut to finished in about 6 hours. I like this version…. but. You knew there was a but, didn’t you? Again, the collar is too big. In the wool (and I hate to admit this) it’s a little scratchy. Or at least not as silky as I’d like it to be. Don’t get me wrong, it is wearable, and I find this in between length oddly appealing. More on that later.

This brings me to my most recent version, my Indigo dyed, hand woven delight, the navy lusciousness you see here. This garment came to me in a flash one day in late August. I have been sitting on this drop-dead gorgeous hand woven fabric for a couple years now. I won it (!) in a blog contest on LLADYBIRD’s blog when I still had the studio in Portland. I swear there was no insider trading here, the algorithm picked my entry. You should go read that blog post to learn more about this fabric. Shortest version of the story is it was hand woven in Nashville TN, and Lauren had a cut to giveaway. And I won it! But folks, that fabric is so damn beautiful I was totally intimidated to cut into it. I have had this piece of cloth since 2015. Can’t say it was the oldest piece of fabric in my stash by a long shot, but it was still one of the most precious. It wasn’t a huge cut, just a yard and a half at about 60” wide. So whatever I was going to make needed to be a simple shape with a small number of pattern pieces. Over the years I have thought a jacket would be the best use for this cut, but hadn’t found one that had the right size/shape pattern pieces, or small enough drafting.

Sidebar. Last Winter I made my Mother a version of this jacket for a Christmas present. She is smaller than I, so I made a S (4-6), sewn up in some mid-weight linen, and I did some Kantha like stitching on the collar. She lives in Northern CA so doesn’t need a particularly warm layer. Stupidly I didn’t take any pictures of it, and she is NOT on any social media, nor does she even have a smart phone to take pix, and when I gave it to her, it was dark and gray, so I never took any photos of her in it. Sigh. It is a lovely jacket. I lined it in some lawn, and, due to the stitching plan, made the collar narrower. I did my hem adjustment so it hangs nicely. Having a S made up, and wanting to see how it hung on a body, I tried the jacket on thinking it would be too small on me. What do you know, but the S fit me as well! And nicely no less… The smaller collar was a better slope on me. Hmmmm…. Files away this piece of information

So back to August and that dreamy piece of hand woven cloth. You see where I’m going…? When I had the flash that it would match well with the Haori pattern I was immediately prepared not to have enough fabric. A yard and a half of 60” wide cloth for a pattern that calls for at least 2 1/8 yds for the shortest length? Yeah, not likely going to work. But. But, I had recently cut out a Zadie jumpsuit from 3 yards of 45” Essex Linen by cutting the pattern pieces on a single layer, and that had given me new confidence, {10,000 hours, folks, not to belabor a point} and skills! So I laid the precious fabric out on my cutting table as flat as possible, and started to play some Tetris. Using the S I had used for my Mother’s jacket, I quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to make a full size collar. Pattern pieces were moved around and around. More than once I thought, dejectedly, this won’t work! But something kept me trying. Aha! If I use the lining pieces they’re smaller, and I can make the collar just one panel wide, folded over no less. I used chalk to draw the outlines of each pattern piece onto the fabric and it juuuuuuuuust fit!

cut pattern pieces.jpg

I was never as proud of myself as when I got that pattern cut out of that piece of fabric. At least not in my sewing career….

What you see at the right is all the scraps that were left. And I even got pockets cut out! The image on the left gives you an idea of the texture of this fabric.


Next came assembly. I had decided to let this cloth be the star of the show, and not to line it. The fabric has a really nice weight, Lauren compares it to a lightweight blanket and she is not wrong. It is a thick weave of nubby cotton threads, so dense and yet light to wear. I had grand plans to enclose all my seams in bias binding, even made a couple yards of the stuff from some sweet calico. But, really, this fabric wanted to fray like no ones’ business so I made an executive decision to save my sanity, and serged all my raw edges. Otherwise it sewed up easy-peasy. For the collar I just folded the one layer back on itself and effectively made a collar 1/4 of the drafted depth. I left out the interfacing this time. And holy crap, I LOVE THIS VERSION! I’ve worn it pretty much from the moment I finished it until the weather cooled down, and keep pulling it out for Indian Summer. It has a delicious heft and weight while being loose and cosy, it hangs beautifully, and looks both over-sized, and yet proportionally correct, at the same time. It is a unicorn!

The eagle eyed of you reading here will recognize that I have now made this jacket in three different sizes, and each one has it’s merits, each one I wear. Which is the point, actually, of this very long blog post. Size is a personal choice. Some of you may look at the first iteration and say that’s how it should look, while others may prefer the cut of my last Make. But wherever you fall, you have to acknowledge that each version is wearable on it’s own. For reference my measurements when I made the first version were B:40/W:36/H:44 and I am 5’5”. As I mentioned I have lost some weight so my current measurements are B:37.5/W: 34/H:40. Luckily I haven’t lost inches in height. The most noticeable difference when I sized down was the length of the sleeves, but if that was an issue it is easy enough to add length to the pattern pieces. I actually like the sleeve un-cuffed, so the shorter length is good for me. Many have decried this pattern for it’s over-sized drafting. I just see options. I am not alone, judging by how many versions populate the hashtag on Instagram. 3500+ at the time of this posting. And as many different versions as there are different Makers in the universe. What I want to emphasize here is that sizing is a continuum, and that what works for one, might not work for another. How you like your clothes to fit is very personal, and individual. You have the ability to make these decisions about fit and shape and style without being subject to the ideas of a nameless designer at some corporation. Use the measurements of a finished garment (usually included in the pattern somewhere) and compare them to items in your closet you are fond of. Start where you are with what you like and move outward from there. I am a firm proponent of researching patterns before I make one for myself. We modern makers are very lucky to have access to other’s labors by searching the internet and social media. Do your research. Look for others with bodies that resemble your own, and for others whose style you like. Dig in there, there is much to be learned from some detective work. And then, sew! Sew, and sew again. Each attempt gets you closer to your 10,000 hours. Some versions may not be terribly successful, others may be close. But each time you sew up a project you are learning something new, and adding to your toolkit. Simple silhouettes like the Haori give you ample room to play without having to worry too much about the garment being wearable. Different fabrics will create whole new looks from the same silhouette, giving you more options in your closet for little risk. While fabric stores are harder to come by on the ground, they are still here, and if you don’t have one near you, there are tons of options online. I have a list here. Educate yourself about fabric names and terms, your closet will blossom with your knowledge.

Oh, and in case you were wondering I’ve got an idea for another version. Was inspired recently when I saw someone in a lovely soft flannel shirt on one of the colder mornings recently that looked comfortable. The flannel shirt look is not one I am drawn to. However, I do have this dreamy piece of crinkly white/grey/black plaid flannel in a wool/cotton blend in the stash. Instead of a flannel shirt I could make a flannel jacket…? Thinking to make a mid-length Haori in size S, with a narrow, uninterfaced collar. The only question is, do I line it or not…? Wink.

Can you see why I spend so much time Making? Why my closet is so full of handmade? This is a small glimpse into my mind, and how it keeps pushing me forward. How about you? Do you have a pattern that has stretched you this way…?

carrying Oberlin

carrying Oberlin