Thursday, March 15, 2018

Designer Stitch Willow Kimonos (and a bit on the class I’m teaching!)

After a series of neutral colored garments, including greys, black, navy, etc., I have been itching to return some color into my sewing. A sunny, golden yellow did the trick!

This is another version of the Designer Stitch Willow Kimono pattern. I've made this pattern twice before, once for myself in rayon challis, and once for my Secret Valentine Exchange buddy, in a cotton lawn. I wanted to make one more more to remind myself of the process before explaining it to my students as part of a class I've been teaching.

You might have seen me posting a bit about it on Instagram, but I've recently had the privilege of teaching 10 Somali Bantu women (you can read more about Vermont's Somali Bantu community here) how to sew as part of a beginner sewing course organized and funded by a local makerspace, the Generator, and a community development organization, the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. You can read a bit about the course in this local news article (note on the headline: I don't know about making dreams come true, but pretty much everyone has the skills to thread the machine and sew some stuff now!). Since these women had a whole range of English language skills, ranging from fluent to quite bare bones, I couldn't have the students follow written instructions for the class, and instead used a combination of verbal instructions (with the help of a student translating) and some demonstration.

I started them off with basic skills, practicing on scrap fabric.We followed that by sewing a grocery bag using this free pattern from Stitched by Crystal. I highly recommend this pattern if you're teaching beginning sewing. Lots of practice sewing straight and curved seams, learning french seams, clipping curves, facings, hemming... plus it has a really professional finish and works well with quilting cottons. I was able to donate a bunch from my stash that I collected early in my sewing career, before I realized I wasn't a huge fan of wearing garments made from quilting cottons despite the fun prints.

Finally, we made the Designer Stitch Willow kimono jacket, which I thought was appropriate because it's easy to fit, simple to sew, and can be customized with trims, pockets, interesting hemlines, etc. Although the recommended fabrics are drapey wovens like silk or rayon challis, for the class I wanted to use something more stable. Because of limitations on what we could access quickly and locally in large amounts, we ultimately went for a super lightweight denim with nice drape, which worked decently.

I also want to give a special shout-out to Ann at Designer Stitch for letting me use this pattern for my class for free. I think she may have read my mind, because I in the middle of deciding on a pattern, had been considering the Willow, and she messaged me after seeing one of my posts to offer patterns! She also offered up other patterns from her collection for future classes, and even offered to organize fabric sponsors for the next class. What an incredibly generous woman! Thank you, Ann! Go check out her lovely PDF patterns.

Anyway, back to this yellow Willow: I made it somewhat as a practice garment for my class. Would the Willow work in a heavier-weight fabric? Would the pattern's construction work for my class? Could I simplify the instructions enough to verbally communicate them to the class? Did I want a big old yellow linen kimono? Obviously I decided to go for it, so the answer was yes to all of those questions!

The golden fabric is a linen/rayon blend from Joann, Sew Classic Linen Look Solid in Honey, which was very nice to work with (very similar to the Kaufman Brussels Washer Linen). I originally made the full-length Willow, but it was feeling a little bit cult-robe-y in solid gold, so I cut it back to the high-low hem version. I also added large patch pockets, because pockets.

I like how it turned out! It's definitely a different look from my rayon challis version, and I hope the fabric softens and relaxes a bit over time. The color is definitely brightening my day!

In class, some of my students finished their Willow kimonos with a bit of time to spare, so we had fun adding pockets and high-low hems to theirs, too, as our class drew to an end. We had a blast sewing over the course of the five weeks, and I hope I've passed on a few skills and some of my enthusiasm for garment sewing to these lovely women, if nothing else!