Moving forward by looking behind

Literally.  No, really actually literally.

By Kitty

When we used to do conventions (remember those?), I occasionally saw T-shirts that read “People who misuse the word ‘literally’ figuratively drive me insane.”  

As a word pedant, I quite understand the sentiment.  So in this spirit, I’m going forward with my first personal project of the new year by (literally) looking behind me.  At my backside, to be specific.

Warning: if you don’t feel like looking at lots of scary photos of my mono-butt in badly fitted pants, maybe skip this one.  

You Have Been Warned

Why the sudden interest in bums?

I’ve been sewing for myself since (figuratively) the first ice age.  But most of that time, I’ve focused almost entirely on fitting my outsize bosom and not at all on the other half.  

As anyone who’s seen me knows, I was standing at the front when they were handing out busts, and forgot to show up for the booty line.  A year ago, you’d have needed a microscope to find my behind.  Now, with my pandemic-induced, year-long bout of weight lifting, my buttocks actually exist!  They’re a sad, if valiant, effort at actual curves, but at least they’re trying.

And none of my pants fit anymore.  Only then, it occurred to me that I’ve never really thought about anything I wear on my lower body.  Even my Felix & Kitty design line, which contains a slew of jackets, vests, coats, tops, shrugs, skirts, and cloaks, doesn’t contain ANY pants.  Woof.  Did it really take me ten years as a professional clothing designer to notice that?

What are “pants,” exactly?

First off, if you speak British English, I mean trousers, not underwear.  When I was growing up, “pants” were what Americans and Canadians would call “panties.”  Over 25 years after landing in North America, I still giggle internally when I use the word “pants” to mean lower body outer garments with a division for each leg.

I can’t say “trousers,” though, because here in Canada, that means a specific style of pants.  There aren’t set definitions, but trousers are generally dressier, looser-fitting pants that don’t cup under the buttocks at all, and have wider legs.

For todays purposes, I will be using the word “pants” to mean something like “slacks.”  These are pants that fit fairly snugly over the hips, cup under the buttocks noticeably but aren’t skintight, and have narrower but still fairly straight legs.  Basically, something halfway between trousers (in the North American sense) and jeans.  You know, the kind of thing you could wear to pop out to the shops or for work in a semi-formal office and look respectable, while still feeling comfy if you’re just lounging at home.

Do you know if your pants fit?

Well, looking around, I’d say that most of us (myself included) really don’t.  If you don’t believe me, try this little experiment with me:

  1. Put on a pair of your regular pants.  Avoid anything super-tight or stretchy, like skinny jeans, leggings, or snug yoga pants, because that doesn’t tell you anything about bum fit.  Also avoid anything really loose, like palazzo pants or culottes, for the same reason.  Just plain old semi-fitted slacks.
  2. Stand normally without twisting or looking behind you, and have someone take a few pictures of your lower rear view.  Make sure they get some close-up of the buttocks and upper thighs.  This will NOT give you the same view as just looking at your bum in a mirror.  Trust me on this!  All these years, I looked behind me in the mirror and thought my pants fit fine (just see how wrong I turned out to be in the photos below).
  3. Now google some pictures of “how pants should fit in the back,” or some variation thereof.  This is probably the best way to find photos of real people with real bodies in properly fitted pants.  Don’t bother with fashion photos, which are generally retouched to remove all shadows and lines, and are in NO way representative of how real clothes should fit.
  4. Compare (2) and (3).  If they’re more or less similar, lucky you.  For the rest of us, what we see will come as a bit of a shock.  Take a deep breath and remind yourself that self-knowledge is always worth having.

I accidentally performed this “experiment” while trying to figure out why the back of *all* my pants kept pulling down when I bent over or sat down.  I asked Felix to take rear view photos of a pair of my most recently made pants, and received a nasty shock when I saw that they looked like this (if you’re the sensitive sort, you might want to cover your eyes):

Experimental Results

Blurgh.  I’m pretty darn picky about the fit of my clothes these days, what with being a seamstress and all, but I’d never before thought to do this.  I always thought my pants back looked fine when I glanced behind myself in the mirror!  Is this only happening to me, or did anyone else have the same revelation?

How are pants supposed to fit?

From a practical standpoint, your pants should feel secure around your waist and stay in place with normal movement though your entire day, but never feel uncomfortably tight, even when you sit or bend over.  You should not need to hike them up constantly; nor should they ride up between your buttocks and give you a wedgie.  The pants legs should not get caught up on your calves.  The waistband shouldn’t roll or pull down.  Basically, you should never notice them at all.

From an appearance standpoint, the front should have no significant wrinkles or drag lines when you’re standing still, and there shouldn’t be any excess fabric or pulling.  There should be no evidence of the dreaded “camel toe” at the front crotch area (look this up!).  The front of these pants — the same pair as the one above, with the terrible back view — actually fit pretty well:

The Front is Good

Depending on the design and fabric, the back may need to have some drape lines for ease, or you might not be able to walk or raise your legs.  But you shouldn’t see major wrinkles, “cat whiskers,” or visible wedgies.  In a perfect world, the back of your pants falls almost as smoothly as the front, but you still have full mobility.  In other words, NOT like this:

How to get pants that fit

I tried it the usual way.  I took careful measurements, chose the right size pants pattern, altered it meticulously so all the numbers matched me, and sewed it up.  Then I tried again with a different pattern from another pattern company.  Then I tried drafting my own pattern from my measurements.  This is what resulted:

I tried commercial pants off the rack, which felt like they fit, more or less, from different brands.  They looked like this:

Note that while all of these look awful, they also look broadly similar to each other, in spite of the fact that each design comes from an entirely different maker and has different details and levels of tightness.  In other words, the wrinkles and drag lines are consistent between all the brands and styles.

This tells me that something about the way I’m built is causing this fit problem, rather than a problematic draft by a particular company or designer.  I always knew I had non-standard breasts, but apparently I also have a statistically abnormal behind.  

After many, many attempts at fixing the issue, all of which failed abjectly, I finally decided to do what I should have done in the first place.

When in doubt, duct tape

Yes, I turned to my trusty old friend, duct tape.  So next time, I’ll go into some detail on how Felix wrapped my legs, bum, and intimates in duct tape to create a custom pants pattern.  

This will be Step 1 in the great unicorn pants project, in which your elderly great-aunt Kitty, who used to think she was a highly experienced designer and seamstress, quests for her first-ever pair of properly fitted pants.  Well, they say humility is good for the soul!

An invitation

If you also found the back view of your pants disconcerting (or if you have to hike up/pull down/fiddle with them throughout the day, or they keep trying to crawl up your butt crack or between your legs, or give you muffin tops where you have none), I encourage you to join me on my little quest.

Even if you’re not big on sewing, you’ll learn something about the shape and posture of your own body, and gain an important tool you can use to improve the fit and comfort of your next pair of pants.  Since most of us live in pants these days, surely that’s a tool worth having.

2020 is behind us!

(Am I the only one that has mixed feelings about this?)

By Kitty

Well, that was…different.  

Most of us have some choice things to say on the subject of the year 2020, many of which are not fit to print.  Everyone experienced drastic changes.  Lives, jobs, and sanity were lost, the world became an utterly different shape, and the weirdness is far from over.

But still….

In some ways, it was a pretty good year in Kittyland.  That seems like 1) an awful thing to say, given the terrible things that have happened to so many people, and 2) a very strange thing to say, since I lost pretty much my entire income and became professionally unemployed.

Obviously, I’m not saying it was a good thing that the world went barking mad, or that the consequences of the pandemic (and everything it unearthed about what’s wrong with society) are anything but horrifying.  

I’m speaking purely from a personal philosophical place.  This is the year I spent sewing what feels like (and probably actually was) thousands of face masks, half of which were donated to essential workers and assorted shelters.  The year I found out that making money can be less important than making a difference.  The year where we grew tomatoes and squash and beans instead of our business, and learned that produce is easier to share than products.

When or if it becomes safe to have conventions again, we’ll no doubt return to the making and peddling of fancy dress.  But a part of me will remember with fondness a year in which my sewing skills and materials went toward making the world a little safer, not just prettier.  There’s a lesson in there somewhere, and I hope I’ll remember to take it with me when life approaches normal one day.

For a while there, it did feel as though I was playing hooky if I wasn’t spending every minute of the day churning out masks.  Now that mass production seems to have caught up with the demand for masks and vaccines are a real thing, I feel like we can indulge in a spot of frivolity.    

So here are some things I hope to write about in the near and intermediate future:

  • Bums.  Not the kind of bums that involve unemployment, but the kind you sit on.  I have gone on at some length in the past about the trials and tribulations of owning a non-standard bosom, and how to get clothes to fit around it (here, for instance).  Now I mean to branch out into the other curvy bit that can often be stroppy on a woman.  Even into the dreaded realm of pants fitting.
  • Feet.  More specifically, the atrocious things you might be doing to yours without even knowing, and what you can do about it.  The majority of foot problems are self-inflicted!
  • DIY tutorials.  One of the things I’ve learned last year is that we all could stand to be a bit more self-sufficient.  This is probably true even when the world isn’t going to pot, right?  Instead of just talking about things I’ve made, I mean to start showing you how to make them yourself, if you’re so inclined.  Maybe starting with a simple, no-fitting-required sewing project, progressing on to a T-shirt that actually fits your DDD cups and/or spectacular booty, and perhaps even going all the way to basic corsetry, if I don’t get lost in my garden first.  

Until next time, Kittens, stay safe and enjoy the fresh, crisp new year!

The weather outside is frightful

(But these masks are quite delightful!)

By Kitty

In normal years, when the holiday season arrives, I head down a deep dark hole and hibernate there until all the party-goers have gone to sleep it off and it’s safe to re-emerge.

But not all people are misanthropic goats like me, and some of them even want to celebrate Christmas/Winter Solstice/Kwanzaa/Diwali/Hanukkah/Las Posadas/non-denominational holiday of choice with family and/or friends and/or attractive strangers, pandemic or no pandemic.  

This gave me to think.  You, being all sociable and well-adjusted and the like, are probably getting dressed up and sallying forth sometime this month.  And you likely don’t want to top off your glamorous outfit with a mask you got out of a ten-pack in Surgical Blue or Grim Reaper Black.

Can masks be a fashion statement?

Unequivocally, yes.  Some masks absolutely can, the operative word being “some.”

Like any other item of clothing, I think masks can project certain messages.  They can cover the full spectrum, ranging from “I’m covered enough not to be illegal; can’t be arsed to do laundry too” (think ill-fitting, one-size-fits-none disposable masks that gapes open at the top and sides) all the way to “I’m mysterious, alluring, and something fascinating awaits discovery beneath.”  

Which latter is what I’m hoping to evoke with our latest style.  Bit ambitious for a simple mask, maybe.  But designers without ambition are like eggnog recipes without rum: they exist, but shouldn’t.

Compare and contrast the following two concepts:

The Sparrowhawk mask

This is the mask style for people who don’t mind being surreptitiously stared at.  

If ever a mask could be said to make a statement, this one does.  Co-ordinate one of these with your office suit or party dress, and suddenly the face mask gets elevated from merely utilitarian to the perfect finishing touch to a thoughtful ensemble.

Here are several examples of the breed, both plain and embellished:

Pros, cons, and undecided

The geometric, angular design forms what can only be described as a beak, which projects far enough off your face to give you loads of breathing room.  The extra 3D space is definitely a pro.

It’s very structured, with a three-layer mask folding into side panels that are at least six layers thick.  It’s the face mask equivalent of a super-secure, ultra-modern skyscraper.  Just so we’re clear, the part directly over your breathing passages contains only three layers, because you still need to breathe.  It’s a myth that thicker is better, beyond a certain point.

Is all that a pro or con?  It’s a pro if you prefer a solid-feeling mask that stands upright on your face.  It’s a con if it feels too rigid for you, and you’d rather have something a bit cuddlier and more flopsy-soft.

The extra layers at the side panels definitely forms a better barrier, and makes them sturdy enough so gaping is generally a non-issue.  But the trade-off is that not as much air can move through those 6 plies, which bothers some people and others don’t even notice.

I personally find the panoramic height of the “beak” compensates for any restriction through the sides, and the three layers over my nose and mouth allow more than enough air flow.  I went for a brisk hike in a Sparrowhawk mask and had no trouble at all.  In fact, I think this might become my go-to style, because I like the solidity and the extra vertical space over my nose.  Plus it does look so interesting.

But if you’re highly sensitive to the least reduction in breathability, you might be best off in a mask designed mainly for easy breathing, like the Gondola mask.  There’s a certain charm to its Empty Child aesthetic, if you’re into that (if you don’t do Doctor Who references, think WW2 gas masks).

And we’re off to the ball!

The drama of the Sparrowhawk mask lends itself especially well to ornamentation.  I rummaged through my box of shiny things, and put together a few fun possibilities for your next party, special event, or just showing your festive spirit at work:

By the way, all of these embellished masks are being offered for sale here while they last.  We’ll match each one sold with a mask to be donated to a local shelter (especially in child sizes and unusual sizes, which are harder for them to come by).   

We have enough special materials left to make another one or two of some of these, while others are really one-of-a-kind.  They’re gone when they’re gone.

You can find regular (undecorated) Sparrowhawk masks here.  These can be made in any number of fabrics from our vast fabric galleries to match your outfit, so your imagination is the only limit.

Happy holidays to one and all!

Is this the best mask of them all?

Or, better late than never.

By Kitty

In this instalment of our continuing adventures in mask making:

  • Old Aunt Kitty eats a helping of humble pie, with a side of crow
  • We encounter a mask style that may just be the best ever
  • We are reminded that wet masks are bad, and unimpeded vision is good

The hunt for the perfect seasonal mask

So after I spouted off at some length about the latest official mask recommendations and the pros and cons of assorted filter materials (herehere, and here), I turned to the task of creating a new style of mask with some quite specific requirements.

  1. The shape must allow maximum ease of breathing, while being able to accommodate a filter pocket for those who wanted to use disposable filters.  Now that we’re supposed to have a minimum three layers of tight-woven material, breathability is more important than ever.
  2. It must be fairly simple to make, so we could keep the price down, and so we could produce them quickly for donation.  Since every single health authority says that wet masks should be changed AT ONCE, we all need to carry around three or four masks in the wintertime, meaning they can’t cost an arm and a leg.
  3. It must maintain its 3D loft and resist sagging, even if it gets damp.  For those of us in the North, rain/snow/condensing breath/runny noses are a fact of life now, and we do not want possibly contaminated, clammy fabric crumpling against our breathing holes.
  4. It needs to form a good seal around the nose to prevent glasses or sunglasses from fogging up, even in nasty weather.

The new mask style (well, new to Kitty, anyway)

For weeks I pounded my head against the sewing table, trying out design after design and rejecting them all.  Some were too complex, some stuck to my nose or mouth if I took a deep breath, some pulled down every time I talked or moved my jaws, some caved inward when a little moisture from my breath precipitated on them, and so forth. 

Finally, I struck upon the perfect idea, and there was much rejoicing.  Hurray and huzzah!

Then about two minutes after that, I found out that about eleventy-thousand other people had struck upon it already.

It turns out that this mask concept is already out there, and has been for months.   Origami enthusiasts, sewing mavens, and droves of millennial Youtubers had all gotten there before me. If there was an originator for the design, it has been obscured in the mists of time.

Which goes to show that even an elderly, experienced seamstress like myself can stand to learn from the internet.  I could have saved myself a deal of head-banging if I’d just sone a little Google search first.

In my defence, my version does contain several refinements of my own, which I really believe will make these masks a bit more comfortable and even a touch safer.

So here they are, these not-exactly-new but still kind of brilliant masks. If they have a standard name I haven’t found it, but we’re calling them Gondola masks, because that’s what they look like to me:

The selling points

First, these masks are comfortable.  Airy, lofty, with a metric buttload of breathing space.  We didn’t think anything would beat our Ziggurat masks for ease of breathing, but Felix and I both agreed that these are significantly better for sheer airflow, even with three layers of fabric.

Next, the 3D shape is genuinely self-supporting.  The pin-tucks work like reinforcing beams to help keep the huge “dome” of the mask high and dry, well off your nose and mouth.  Even when you deliberately inhale deeply, it’s all but impossible to suck the fabric down far enough to touch you.  If the mask does get wet from rain or snow, the fabric will stay lifted up instead of collapsing onto your face, which is rather important for safety.  

Observe how the mask dome stays up by itself

The dome is nice and tall — too tall to soak up those unspeakable fluids we all leak from time to time in the cold (it’s mainly water vapour from the air condensing in your breathing passages, but that sounds less fun).  

Because the path of least resistance means that your breath travel outward into that big space, it really minimizes fogging up of glasses.  I also scooped out a dip under the eyes, so the mask conforms better over the bridge of your nose, and doesn’t interfere with your vision — even when you wear it high enough.  You can see how nicely the mask sits against the nose here:

Close-Up showing the snug fit around the nose

By the way, next time you see someone in one of those disposable masks with the straight-across top, note how low-slung down their nose they’ve got it (and also note the big gaps that result at the sides of the nose).  They have to do it that way, because if they had it at the proper height, the straight top would wander into their eye region. So it’s either impaired vision or bad fit.  Either way, it’s dangerous.

If you want to use disposable filters

If you’re into filter pockets, this style does offer you the option.  No, not all mask styles work with filter pockets.  No matter what anyone tells you, adding a filter pocket to a pleated mask is an exercise in logical failure (it can be done, of course; it just negates the point of the pleats).  

Keep in mind that a filter pocket must perforce float free from the pin-tucks buttressing the mask’s structure, therefore may be more liable to get sucked up against your nose.  I have yet to find any supported studies indicating that disposable filters are better in any way than a three-layer mask, but you’ll need to decide for yourself if it’s worth it.

The negatives

Well, there really aren’t many.  This one is a winner in most respects.  

If you have a big beard you want to keep covered, or stubble that tends to catch on and pull down masks, you may want to stick to a mask style with pleats at chin level, like the Ziggurat mask.  Though Felix swears the Gondola mask doesn’t ride down even when he gets all stubbly, which is a complaint he has against all other non-pleated styles.

The Gondola mask does take up quite a lot of footprint on your face, which may be a plus or a minus depending on what you’re after.  It’s better coverage, but if you really don’t like the World War gas mask aesthetic, this style may not be for you.  

It’s uber-practical and perhaps lacking in elan.  If you’re attending a fashionable holiday masquerade, maybe try the Sparrowhawk mask instead.  Speaking of which….

Next time, the other new mask style

With the holiday season upon us, some of us are probably preparing to attend various gatherings.  In a world of mandatory face covering, I thought there’s a place for a mask made for glamour — all striking looks, but still not without practicality.  Kind of like a dramatic swirly cloak, as opposed to a parka.

If that sounds like your cup of amontillado, join me in the next instalment, in which Fairy God-Aunt Kitty makes masks for the kittens who want to attend the ball.  Guaranteed comfier and safer than glass slippers.

New Limited Quantity Mask Fabrics for December

December is just hours around the corner and we thought it would be fun to add a few holiday season fabrics to our mask collection. The following four fabrics are available in *very* limited quantities. When they’re gone, they’re gone. Here they are:

We’ve also added a larger quantity (but still limited) of the following blue cotton with a scroll and check pattern.

Blue Cotton with Scroll & Check Pattern

Happy Holidays!