Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Selfish Sewing Week: Grainline Archer.

Hi everyone! Thank you so much for your good wishes for a speedy recovery on my last post! We are all so much better now. I can even breathe through my nose for the first time in four weeks. Wahoo! It's the small things, right?

But things actually took a turn for the worse early last week, when Joe complained of pain in his eye, started running a fever, and then half his face dramatically swelled up, giving him the appearance of a gargoyle (poor kid!). When we took him to the doctor, it turned out he had a infection working its way through his sinuses and behind his eye, and the doctor was pretty concerned. She sent us home with antibiotics, with the caveat that if the infection worsened, or did not improve quickly, we were to admit Joe to the hospital immediately for IV antibiotics. I guess she was concerned that the infection might spread to Joe's eye, which could permanently damage his sight or who knows what. EEEEK. Not what a parent wants to hear!

I am happy to report that after a couple of days of giving antibiotics around the clock, Joe's eye visibly improved and he started feeling a lot better. No hospital stay required! Whew! Antibiotics are miracle drugs, people. As a culture, we are so spoiled by modern healthcare. We forget how serious an infection like this can be, and how even 75 years ago it very well might have been life threatening. With doctors increasingly concerned about antibiotic-resistant bacteria, we got a little reminder of what it's like to NOT feel confident in the powers of penicillin, and, er, it was not enjoyable. We have been so blessed that our kids have been so healthy, with hardly an ear infection between the two of them. While I hope that breastfeeding my kids well into toddlerhood helped a little, I realize this has primarily been just good luck (after all, many of my friends breastfed their kids just as long and have had more issues). I am so grateful for our good health, and also, very grateful that when we needed antibiotics, they worked, and worked so quickly.

Joe was sick enough to welcome some "doctor medicine" as he called it and was a sport about taking it at all hours. After a couple days, he reported that "I like doctor medicine, it works quick!" It didn't hurt that our doctor at Kaiser was the very best in the entire universe and had Joe giggling and joking through his appointments! That is a big deal for our shy and cautious boy!

We are now seven days into a ten day course of antibiotics, and Joe is by his own account 100% better, and has started to complain about taking the meds because "I'm all better, I don't need it anymore!" Oh happy day. But, also, take your "doctor medicine," kid, we're not going to be breeding any superbugs on my watch.

Anyhoo, I spent several days home with poor Joe last week, during which we watched all the bad/good kid television and movies, spoiled Joe with new hot wheels and legos to help keep him entertained, ate a fair number of popsicles, and administered medications. When I wasn't ministering to the Joe Bug, I was plugging away on my sewing project for Selfish Sewing Week: the Grainline Archer buttondown shirt.

Grainline Archer Shirt

So let's talk sewing. Excuse the decidedly unglamorous photo shoot here. What, dirty dishes are not your preferred backdrop? Whatever. Look, Ma! I made a buttondown shirt! In PLAID. PLAAAAAAID. And I kinda/sorta/pretty much/totally MATCHED THE PLAID. Dudes. This from the lady who can't match stripes to save her life. I am so proud!

Grainline Archer Shirt

Check it!

Okay, so I am pretty much the last person in blogland to sew up this pattern. Look, even Carolyn beat me to it by one day! Yup, I'm a laggard. I bought the pattern sometime last year (even then I was lagging), but I was definitely a little intimidated by all the details. I'm currently on a bit of a temporary pattern/fabric fast, just because we have a lot of other things we want or need to spend money on right now. So I've been going through my pile of patterns and rethinking some of the ones that have been put aside. After making the Alder Dress and the Linden Sweatshirt, I am a definite fan of Grainline Patterns, so Selfish Sewing Week seemed like as good a time as any to finally make an Archer. The best fabric I could find in my stash just happened to be this plaid, which I think I initially bought with a dress for Maggie in mind back before she developed such strong opinions about her clothes (like, they must all be pink). I honestly don't remember where I bought it, it was either Stonemountain or Piedmont fabrics, but it's definitely a nice shirting weight cotton with a woven plaid, similar in weight to quilting cotton but much smoother to the touch.

Based on my measurements, I cut out a size 12. Okay, let's take a moment:


Ahem. Sorry to raise my voice there. I am trying to get this notion through my impossibly thick skull. Apparently I will have to learn this lesson the hard way 5 million times before I will start making better decisions.

Lesson # 1: Make a muslin. Hahahaha. Ain't nobody got time for that!

Lesson #2: If you insist on ignoring Lesson #1, at least have the sense to choose a non-plaid fabric for your first version of a pattern.

Yeah, after I sewed the side seams, I tried it on and ... it was way too big! I know it's supposed to be a roomy "boyfriend style" but ... no. I ended up removing the sleeves and shortening them by almost 2 inches (!), slicing off some of the shoulder width and a little off the top of the sleeve, and taking in the sides about 1.5 inches, and ... it's still a really roomy shirt. I am seriously impressed with myself that I managed to make such significant alterations and still managed to kinda/sorta match the plaid on the sleeves with the body. It's not perfect but it is way better than I ever dreamed when I was hacking away at the fabric trying to size the thing down. Yay me!

Grainline Archer Shirt
Because of the way I'm standing, everything looks a bit crooked here, but it's not in real life.

Lesson #3: When sewing with plaid, put everything on the bias that can be put on the bias.

This was all very avoidable, of course. I am small through the shoulders and arms (and legs), and since the Archer has plenty of ease through the bust, I could have looked at the finished garment measurements and safely gone with a size 8 rather than size 12. Even then I would need to shorten the sleeve. Next time! You know, the Grainline Linden has really long sleeves too, and when I looked back at pictures of Jen modeling it on the Grainline site (like here), the sleeves look super long on her too, so maybe it's a style thing. Anyway, even after removing close to 3" of the Archer sleeves, the cuffs still hit halfway down my hand, like so:

Grainline Archer Shirt

Which brings me to my biggest real boo-boo with this shirt: I put the buttonhole on the wrong side of the cuff!!! DOH! Rookie error, but completely unfixable once I'd opened the buttonhole. Oh well, it's not something anyone else would immediately notice, and I'll probably wear the sleeves rolled up most of the time anyway.

There were a few other minor hiccups. Initially I had two pockets, but they looked really low on my body (again, probably because of the large size), and I didn't like them at all. So I picked those stitches and ended up going with only one pocket, which I adjusted to the proper place on my body. The final result is a fun, casual look, but I am not a huge fan of the rectangle pockets on my body. These big boxy pockets seem to draw attention to and emphasize the bust, especially when there are two of them. Next time I think I will either do no pockets, or use the more flattering (in my not so humble opinion) Alder Shirtdress pocket shape (which is a little smaller and pointed at the bottom) instead.

I also attempted to do cute little sleeve tabs as described in DixieDIY's great tutorial, but with the alterations I made to the sleeves (specifically, the alteration I made to the head of the sleeve when I decided to cut off my serged seam rather than unpick), the button ended up too high on the sleeve and isn't useful. The shirt looks great with the sleeves just rolled up without the tabs, so I haven't decided whether to just take the tabs off and forget about it or try to relocate them now that that means sewing on a sewn sleeve.

Grainline Archer Shirt

So let's see. I think I would rate this project as intermediate and "somewhat challenging." It was an adventure! I have sewn a handful of buttondown shirts in my career (most recently a Sketchbook shirt for Joe), but never in plaid. Because of the plaid, it took me longer to cut out this shirt than it would for me to make a simple sundress for Maggie! Similarly, this is not a sewing project that you can really rush through. There is a certain amount of precision and care that you'll want to take. That said, it was a good project to dip into for a few minutes at a time while caring for my sick boy because there are so many separate and discrete steps to follow. It is the kind of project where you can easily do one or two steps a day, and put down for tomorrow. And because it was time-consuming and required a lot of care, finishing it was super satisfying. I know I've complained a fair bit but you'll just have to believe me: when I saw how well the plaids matched across the front, I wanted to squeal with delight! I have finally conquered plaid matching! (This post really helped.)  And now I have a cute plaid shirt to throw over jeans or leggings on the weekend. Win! There is a place for quick and easy sewing (I do a ton of it, let's be honest), but it's fun to sink your teeth into something more challenging now and then.

While I was sewing this, I had both the Grainline instructions and the Archer sewalong blog posts up on my computer screen to consult, and I spent a lot of time perusing reviews of the pattern. One advantage of being a laggard is that you get the benefit of a great deal of information about your pattern before you even start. With this project, I learned a lot about making shirts in general, and finally figured out that special Grainline collar stand technique that everyone raves about (watch the videos on this post). It really is a great technique, and one that I will use on all stand collars from here on out. This was a great learning experience. For better or worse, I don't think I have any more excuses for not making Steve a couple of buttondowns!

Next time (and I'm pretty sure there will be a next time, although I need a break from shirts for a little while), I would love to try a "popover" model, with a button placket that ends halfway down the shirt. The back ruffle might also be a fun variation - I didn't like it at first but I've seen some really great versions. I also think a sleeveless version would be really cute. And although I'm kind of terrified of slippery fabrics even for much simpler projects, a soft flowy buttondown would be a work wardrobe staple for me.

For now I think I will make a few fast and easy things before tackling my next "learning experience." What about you? Do you prefer quick and easy sewing, more challenging projects, or a combination?


  1. You are not the last blogger to make this shirt! I think I might be! I made a muslin when I was pregnant and hoped that it would fit after the baby, but it totally doesn't. I haven't been able to motivate myself to retrace the pattern and try again. Eventually I will get to it. I am due for a more challenging project after seeing many knit things. I really like your plaid fabric. Amazing job with the plaid matching!

  2. Aw man! Poor Joe! I am so glad he's on the mend now! Indigo looked like that once too when she was a baby. I had totally forgotten about that until I read your story.

    Well, the shirt is awesome! And wow, I didn't even know matching plaids on the sleeve to the shirt was a thing. that is seriously impressive! i actually really like the photos! it seems so fitting giving the story you just told about Joe. you did an awesome job!

  3. And I don't even have the pattern. Not cause I don't like it, I do, but cause I just know it would take me a decade to get around to it.
    Yours is incredibly professional looking. Definitely doesn't look like scissor hack fitting 😊
    Well done! Plaid matching is awesome, bravo.
    And yes, two thumbs up for sound, evidence based medicine from me too. Glad to hear bug eyed Joe is better.

  4. Kick ass plaid matching & great shirt!

  5. Fantastic plaid matching! I love plaid button downs. I haven't made this shirt yet, sticking so far to Lisette Traveler but I feel like I should try Archer because it has a back yoke. Glad you are feeling better and that the abx worked!

  6. I am glad Joe is feeling better it is so scary when your kid get sick even when they are grown you go running to help. Helpless! I have great respect for doctors and medicine. Now your shirt it looks excellent on you but sounds kind of hard. I admit plaids scare me so I shake you hand, big accomplishment! Hoot hoot for you!

  7. My first thought on seeing the first photo was 'that shirt looks awesome!' - like really, it has that lovely casual favourite-thing-I-throw-on kind of look. And then when you mentioned the pocket, I went back and looked and thought yeah, that is one Big Pocket. (Mind you I like it as a single.) I've not noticed that on the Archer before. Aren't we fabulous at that, as sewists, pointing out the one weird thing you probably would not have noticed. But anyway I am most impressed that you sized it down so successfully while working with all that Matched Plaid. Win!
    I like a good mix of sewing projects, maybe a 1:3 ratio of challenging to quick'n'easy.
    Hooray for antibiotics working for Joe. Just today or yesterday though I glanced at some article saying research is now suggesting we should stop taking antibiotics as soon as we feel better (contrary to decades of being told to always finish the course). What?? I hope the official advice is sorted out quickly on that!

  8. Glad that Joe is feeling better and on the mend! The shirt looks great. Challenging patterns (especially when you use plaid fabric!) take more time but the sense of accomplishment you get from conquering them makes it worth it.:)

  9. So glad Joe is feeling better. Sick kids always make me so anxious. But the shirt is fabulous. I'm in awe of your plaid matching skills! And shirt making and shirt altering skills!

  10. Oh my goodness! Poor boy, glad the scare is over.

    I had to laugh about your screw up on the buttonhole cuff. I have just made my first Negroni shirt for hubby and have done exactly the same thing on one of them! I just sat and stared in disbelief after I realised. It is so easy to do!
    This shirt is on my to do list as well. Thanks for all the helpful tips.

  11. While some see sewing as a long lost skill that is not needed in this day and age of factories and automation, knowing sewing can be a highly valuable skill when you least expect it.
    HG Nadel


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