“Join in January”: seasonal sewing and the cult of the cuff

A couple of weeks ago I set out my annual plans for the MAGAM (Make a Garment a Month) sewalong: The organiser, Sarah Liz, had asked participants to think ahead to the whole year, and plan accordingly. While I don’t always plan my sewing too far in advance (what seems like a great idea in January might have been relegated to “what was I thinking?” status by June), I liked the opportunity for organising my thoughts and really thinking about what my wardrobe needs. My plans were divided into four categories: patterns I want to draft, fabrics I want to use, specific garments I want to make, and wildcards. I started off with one from the “patterns I want to draft” category, as it was seasonally appropriate and a gap in my wardrobe: I wanted a fitted sweater, finished with bands on the neck, wrists and waist. I was dreaming of using up the leftovers of the beautiful sweater knit I used for my Designin’ December project, and I had a very specific vision of how I wanted it to be. Basically, in my usual “spoiler” way of showing you the finished product at the start, this is how I imagined it:

And so here is how it came to be…

Right back when we were starting to use the pattern drafting software, before I had a blog and before Valentine & Stitch even existed, we spent a very long time designing my “perfect” long-sleeved t-shirt. It was to be fitted through the bust, slightly more forgiving over the tummy (because I’m never going to do stomach crunches) but still fitted over the hips, loose under the arms (I can’t stand anything that restricts me there), and full-length sleeves. It’s not a design we ever released, as although it’s fully gradable between the sizes, there are so many t-shirt patterns out there from more established designers that I doubted there’d be a market for ours. But it was there, waiting patiently to become something more exciting when the time came. And now is its moment to shine!

Shining like the winter sun!

Because the underlying shape was already there, all we had to do was alter certain details to turn it into the sweater I had in mind. I tried everything out on paper first: I raised the neckline and brought the shoulders in and then drafted a turtleneck band. Next I shortened the sleeves and drafted a cuff, and then shortened the length and… didn’t draft a waistband. I had it in my head that it would be super-flattering to just use the flared bottom of the sweater, turn the hem into a straight line, and flip the new pattern piece horizontally to make it into a band. So I tried this out with some horrid polyester jersey (yes this part is important!) from deep in my stash, and it looked half-decent.

First draft. If I look ill at ease, it’s because that fabric is ITCHY!

There were things that needed altering: the sleeves were too short, I wanted a little more length in the body, and there was some excess fabric over the high bust and upper arm, but overall the shape was looking good, and the bottom band seemed to hold itself nicely. The cuffs were perfect because, you know, they’re CUFFS, and the turtleneck was also just right (basically we can just call it a neck cuff). So we transferred all of my calculations to the computer, and made the alterations mentioned above. Excitedly, I printed out my new pattern, cut into my beautiful sweater knit, and sewed it up full of anticipation.

Then I tried it on.

The horrid polyester jersey had been much more rigid than my cotton sweater knit. In my “proper” fabric, the band didn’t have enough weight to give a nice shape – it just sort of pointed out at the bottom and made a “v” at the side.

Forgive my unbrushed hair. This is my “didn’t realise I was going to take blog photos today” natural state!!

I could have worn it. It was okay. But I don’t want an “okay” sweater, especially not when I’ve used such special fabric for it!

So I unpicked the hem band.

The whole thing.

The whole overlocked thing.

It was not fun.

Rich drafted me a “traditional” waistband of the same depth instead, and I cut that out of my last stretch of fabric, assembled it, and attached it to my bodice.

Sometimes it pays to do the boring tasks… I love this sweater SO MUCH!!

It’s just the right amount of fitted for me – you can see from the side views that it doesn’t cling to my tummy, but the waistband cinches in nicely at the hips (which makes me think: is it still a waistband if it sits on the hips? Is there such a thing as a “hip band”? Or is that something you’d use in an intensive physiotherapy session?)

Much better without the weird “side v” thing. Also upholding my fundamental belief that sweaters are just better with cuffs.

I’m wearing my sweater here with a new pair of Eléonore jeggings: I made these ones from a cotton velour, with the idea that they’d be posh sweatpants, but actually they look too nice to be sweatpants!

I also took a few photos with my hair tied up so you can see the fit across the shoulders, chest and back properly. If I look moody, it’s because I don’t photograph well with my hair back 😉

AND there was even a moment of sewing serendipity: remember that unpicked waistband? I was trying to decide if I could use it somehow. I laid my hand on it, and it jumped out at me. Fingerless mitts!

Now, here’s the part where I am in awe of Rich’s technical talent. I can draft on paper, and so I can design a mitt based on my palm circumference. He, however, can take my calculations and turn them into formulae that grade the pieces between sizes according to standard glove sizes. Don’t ask me how – I sit there beside him and try to grasp it but, you know, it’s MATHS. There’s a special switch in my brain that always defaults to “off”.

Anyway, there are three happy upshots of all this. Number one: I have mitts to match my sweater. Number two: I didn’t waste any of my gorgeous fabric. Number three: we’re turning the mitts into a little pattern that we’ll add to our free patterns collection once it’s ready! So save your scraps of sweater knit, French terry etc. – they can become mitts!

You won’t be surprised to know I’m dithering about a name for them…

But they make me smile!

Have a great week, and thanks as always for reading.


18 thoughts on ““Join in January”: seasonal sewing and the cult of the cuff

  1. Kate

    I love your perseverance in the face of every sewing “disaster” in the quest for the perfect fit. But of course you are right, what’s the point in doing it if you don’t end up with something nice to wear! Glad it all worked out.

    1. valentineandstitch Post author

      Thank you Kate! Yes, I’d rather spend the time getting it just how I want it (though I cannot even begin to pretend I enjoyed the unpicking!) and then I have a garment I’ll wear over and over!

  2. Maxine

    I love this sweater Helen, you definitely did the right thing unpicking the hem (I admire your perseverance as I’ve unpicked two overlocked shoulder seams today and was ready to throw it out the window!). I’m a fan of cuffs and hem bands hence love the Astoria but I would love this version too if you release it, especially with turtle neck!? Mitt scraps at the ready..xx

    1. valentineandstitch Post author

      Thank you Max! Ugh that unpicking took forever, especially as the sweater knit is really delicate so I couldn’t get too frisky with my seam ripper! I’m really happy you like the result anyway. We will definitely release it but probably not till the autumn – there will be a few variations that we want to try out, and then it won’t be seasonally appropriate any more by the time they’re done! But it will see the light before too long. It even has a name 😉 Astoria looks really good on you, I think I must just be an anomaly as everyone seems to love it but on me it was just not working. Sorry to hear you’ve been unpicking too – it is really not the fun part, but it’s so worth doing! xx

  3. Diane G

    Oh yes, it IS a fabulous fit! Bravo! Worth all of the aggro and unpicking for sure Helen. Love your mitts too…you last photos made me smile 🙂

    1. valentineandstitch Post author

      Aw, thanks Diane! The unpicking took longer than the rest of it put together, but I’m so happy with the result that I don’t even mind! I’m happy you like the mitts too, I’m always on the lookout for gloves that I can actually do stuff in (like unlock a door, open my wallet, basically everything that’s involved in leaving the house!) xx

  4. Kelly

    Love how this sweater turned out Helen! Very chic and stylish for wintertime. 🙂 I understand your fabric frustrations – especially when you make something from fabric that appears similar to your final fabric. Ugh if I could only remember everything I learned from my Textile Science course in college! LOL I’m loving those mitts too – once I read you were going to offer them up as a free pattern I immediately started running through my fabric inventory in my head thinking of what I will sew them up with! 🙂 As always, loved reading your post. Hope you have a great week as well!

    1. valentineandstitch Post author

      Thanks Kelly! It was stupid of me really, the fabrics were roughly the same weight so I thought it’d be ok but the polyester was much stiffer. But on the plus side, the finished result is much nicer AND it’s a lot easier to sew! Ooh yes, the mitts will be great for your cooler winters! If you have any of that gorgeous sweater knit you used for your Astoria, I bet that would look fab!! Loved your post today too. We are both wearing black Eleonores on our blogs today! 🙌😘

      1. Kelly

        You live you learn as the saying goes… at least that’s what I try to tell myself lol! Omg, yes I was thinking of my sweater knit as well! Great suggestion – I think that will be perfect! Yay for Eleonore twinsies on the blog haha – you’d think we planned that! Lol!

  5. Sew Sarah Smith

    Oh my goodness this is exactly what I wanted! You should totally add the mitts in with the sweater pattern! I am buying this pattern the nanosecond it is released!!!! (PS it’s so fascinating to read the background to your pattern’s development) xxx

    1. valentineandstitch Post author

      Aw thanks so much Sarah! I’m so happy you like it so much! I have plans for several more, with a couple of variations thrown in 😄 And thanks too for the comment about reading about the background to the patterns – it’s such a big part of my sewing and really fun to document it. Apart from the part where I had to wear the polyester horror for the photos 😂 xxx

  6. Beck

    That looks just so cosy and it fits you just perfectly! You can tell in these pics that you feel so happy in this!!

  7. Suzy Roberts

    Lovely post and such a great essential basic top. The mitts are cute. Sarah is right, launch mitts with jumper. Minxy mittens. Xx

    1. valentineandstitch Post author

      Thank you Suzy! Haha, “minxy mittens”! I have finally decided on a name for them and it does begin with M… but it’s not that 😉 It is a great idea of Sarah’s and I loved it too, but the mitts pattern will be ready this season, whereas the jumper will probably wait until Autumn as there are more variations I want to try out, so I think timing is against me on that one :-/ xx

  8. Je'Tua

    Nice to meet other Day and Night Dress Ambassadors❤ I can’t wait to see your creations. And thanks for the info on how to make your own undies that you shared with me on Instagram!

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