Riffs on a Trusted Pattern: The Challenge
Over the past several years, my lifestyle and, therefore, my wardrobe have changed significantly. Retiring from my office job was the first wardrobe adjusting event. I shed anything that might require I wear high heels. A few years later I became a snowbird, so anything that might require wearing boots was weeded out. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, anything that doesn’t have elastic at the waist or a drawstring waistband is long gone. So what, you might ask, does a garment-sewing person do if she doesn’t require clothes?
First, as my observant husband has pointed out on many occasions, “sewing isn’t really about the clothes, is it?” Such a clever man. Sewing is about the making. Sewing, for me, is all about solving a problem with fabric and scissors. Some people do crossword puzzles, some people bake, and others play tennis. I sew. It’s my sanctuary and my joy. While that answers the question of why I sew, it doesn’t address the question of what to sew.
Bring on the sewing challenges
Last year, I decided that my sewing projects could benefit from some focus. While I enjoyed the randomness of my sewing projects over the past several years, my creativity was in a slump. Without any specific occasions or needs to address, my brain wasn’t getting much to chew on. I decided I would give myself a sewing challenge.
I have seen on social media sites that many in the sewing community pick a challenge for the year. Maybe it’s to use only fabric from the stash. Or to make a travel capsule wardrobe. Or finish those pesky UFOs (unfinished objects or projects). After much consideration and internal debate, I settled on a challenge to make a white shirt every month. One reason for choosing this challenge was that I am doing most of my fabric shopping online these days and I didn’t have to worry about matching colors. Of course, I didn’t need 12 white shirts. However, let’s again remember that “It’s not really about the clothes, is it?”
I am proud to report that my 2021 White Shirt a Month Challenge was a success. All 12 shirts were completed—most of them within the month they were started. I was surprised by how different each shirt was and how much I enjoyed figuring out what to do each month. As January 2022 approached, I was even a little sad that I wasn’t going to be making another white shirt. I realized that a new challenge was in order. It needed to be something to keep my busy, monkey brain humming along in 2022.
One jacket design a dozen ways
I ruminated and finally settled on the idea of starting each monthly project with the same trusted pattern.
One of the things I liked about sewing when I was younger was the chance to try a new pattern. Most of my patterns were “single use” at that time—and probably cost $1.25. As I have honed my style over the years, I have learned to truly love a TNT (tried-and-true) pattern. I know it will work for my wardrobe, I know it will fit, and I understand the construction. But I really don’t want the exact same garment each time. My challenge this year will be to figure out how many riffs I can do to my favorite TNT pattern—at least 12.
Choosing a trusted pattern
I knew I needed a pattern with a lot of flexibility, something that would be a blank slate for variations. It had to be a pattern that could be sewn in a variety of fabrics and fit comfortably into my current wardrobe and style. For me, it was an easy choice. The Fit For Art Patterns Tabula Rasa Jacket (which means blank slate, by the way) is a pattern I have loved for years and turn to often as a starting point for tops and jackets. I have an old and tattered copy of the Tabula Rasa Jacket that has been worked and revised until I can barely remember what it was like when I started. For my challenge, I thought it would be interesting to begin with a spanking new pattern and make a “straight out of the envelope” version for my first month.
Since it was already a week into January, I opted for the PDF and taped version of the pattern. Spending an afternoon taping a pattern together is not my first choice for entertainment, but this pattern is well marked, the instructions are great, and the support from the website is clear and helpful. It was such fun to have a clean pattern again.
I used the pattern measurements and helpful guidance from the instruction booklet and decided to make the size small as my starting point. Having worked with the pattern for a while, I knew there were a few things I would want to change, but I was curious to see the basic jacket again.
I made a quick toile out of an old sheet and was surprised at how well it fit even before I started playing around with it. I decided to make a few adjustments, though:
- I lengthened the sleeves 2 inches (I made this change before I made the mock-up).
- I removed the bust dart.
- I added width to the shoulders.
- I narrowed the front bands to 1-1/4 inches and added a little bit to the center front.
Once I had decided on a garment for my first month of this challenge, I added width to the hem of the side panel, because I was planning to lengthen the jacket to midthigh. My trusted pattern comes with a version featuring a flared side panel, but I didn’t want that much flare for this version. I’ll save that for another month.
Note below my original tissue paper tracing of the pattern and the adjusted brown paper pattern underneath.
Taking an unplanned sewing journey
As I start this challenge, I am excited to see where it goes. I have the first garment in mind, but, as I found with my challenge last year, my ideas seem to morph and flow depending on what the weather is like, what fabrics I have available, and what kind of time I have to sew during any given month. Not only is it a good challenge for my sewing brain. It’s also an exercise in letting myself give in to the flow of the challenge. Not mapping out a plan is tough for me. I will need to let go and not decide where a project ends, before I begin. Wish me luck, and stay tuned.
Update, March 20, 2023: See all the installments in Becky Fulgoni’s Riffs on a Trusted Pattern series here.