Oh my gosh. I planned on making the Closet Core Patterns Carolyn pyjamas for the December Sew My Style project. And when I say the “December project”, I mean the Christmas 2019 December project. Yes, this is officially a mixture of very old project and that golden unicorn – the finally-finished UFO project. I had the bright last-minute idea of making sleepwear for everyone in my household as a well-meant gift on an impossible timescale. A pair of men’s pyjama bottoms for my husband and a pair of Carolyn pyjamas for my mother-in-law. And while I was at it, why not another pair for myself? I mean, they’re just pyjamas, right? Why not indeed?
Anyone who has already made the Carolyn pyjamas will be chuckling at this point knowing, as I too now know, that the Carolyn pyjamas are not a simple cut and sew project. They are beautifully detailed and those details take time. Quite a bit of time, actually. As well as that, my green pyjamas project was one of those where lots of little annoying things happened.
I couldn’t find my piping anywhere in my sewing room and Covid-19 lockdowns had just been implemented here in Washington. I couldn’t find the colour I needed of this well-known brand online for LOVE or MONEY and I went to three different Joann Fabrics that promised online they had puh-lentyyy in stock, just to come away empty-handed each time. Have I mentioned before how much I dislike JoAnn Fabrics? A lovely sewing friend of mine picked some up for me from her local sewing store and posted it up to me, but then I couldn’t find the pocket piece I needed for the next construction step. I looked everywhere. Everywhere. But no luck and so I sidelined the project.
I found the missing pocket last week (hence finishing this project finally) and do you know where it was? It was ON the BLOOMIN’ SHIRT FRONT. Yes, I had already sewn it on and somehow (how? how?) completely missed it. I think the sewing Gods were trying to send me a message. But I showed them, oh yes I did. More on that later.
There were many other small annoyances and some construction issues but before all that, what do you think of the pictures so far? They show off the pyjamas fairly well, yes, and don’t they look natural? No, no of course they don’t. I always slightly giggle to myself when I see some of the pictures people take of themselves in their freshly-pressed pyjamas or nighties. To be fair, for all I know, perhaps some people do live in a world of crisp ironed lily-white sheets, not a rumple in sight and always curled up with a suitably chic book. I live like this:
Yes, my pyjamas have to perform a number of functions, but the most important thing is that, as well as hopefully looking cute, they need to stay in place and be reasonably durable against dog claws, food stains, pretzel crumbs and various other daily assaults, including, but not limited to, the odd wedgie. And I’m pleased to say the Carolyns do that admirably.
Ottobre 2017 Family men’s pyjamas
But I’m jumping ahead of myself here and I do have quite a bit to say about my pyjamas. Let me first quickly sum up the easiest pair I made, which were the men’s pyjama bottoms. My husband is not super into what I make, but said he “wouldn’t mind” some pyjama bottoms for Christmas, (which in husband-talk is as much enthusiasm as I will ever receive), so I dug out my Ottobre magazines and found a perfect pattern in the Family 2018 edition.
Ottobre’s first Family edition was in 2017 and it had loads of really, really great patterns for men. I made underwear, a sweater and trousers for the mister just from that one issue. As well as menswear, they had a few patterns for older teens – another underserved market, in my opinion. In case you’re not familiar with Ottobre, they bring out really great kid’s patterns (four issues a year) and women’s patterns (two issues a year). These editions have been around a while, but the Family edition was a brand new venture.
It only comes out once a year, so I waited with baited breath for the 2018 issue and it had some more really nice men’s patterns. Rather bizarrely though, in my opinion, it had a section for plus-sized ladies patterns and a maternity section. Are plus-sized women a different part of the “family” than regular-sized women then? How odd. And I get that when you’re pregnant, you’re creating a “family”, but this is more of a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence isn’t it?
2019 rolled around and there were fewer men’s patterns, some teen girls (but no teen males), a few plus-sized patterns for women and then, bizarrely, two random regular women’s patterns at the end. In 2020 there was no family edition, so I can only surmise it didn’t sell very well. It’s so weird to me, because there is such a dearth of good male patterns and this edition only comes out ONCE a year. As in, maybe 6 men’s patterns a YEAR. There isn’t enough interest for more than six patterns a year? Come on. So odd. It’s a shame, because I genuinely think there were some fine and modern menswear designs going on. Maybe one day we’ll get another.
After all that chat, I don’t actually have a ton to say about the pyjama bottoms, except they fit my husband really well without any adjustments and they were nice and straightforward to make. They have pockets, which is a nice touch and are neither too wide, nor too skinny for pyjama bottoms. I think they just took me an hour or two and I used a light Carolyn Friedlander lawn, which is wonderfully airy (or so the husband tells me).
The pattern actually comes with a lapel collar, much like the Carolyns, but my husband thought he would probably only wear the bottoms. He’s worn them a lot over the last year, so I expect I will be pulling this pattern out again sometime.
And now onto the Carolyns! So, first things first – they are really cute. I mean, really. I made a pair for my mother-in-law first and then a pair for me (I finished the MIL pair a bit closer to the original date) and both of them elicited a sigh of contentment from me when put together. They just look so… posh. And well-made.
They have been made by many, many sewists and lots of people rave about them. I can see why and there are lots of positives, but I will say that, as a whole, this was not my favourite pattern to sew. I found it quite finicky and hard to get a nice finish on a few parts. I’ll go into the details further down, but I will also note that a zillion people have sewn them without reporting any of my little issues, so it’s entirely possible (probable, even) that this is just not “my” pattern. As I say, once I got them finished, all was (almost) forgotten.
There are three views of the Carolyns: View A – long-sleeved top and bottoms, View B – the same with piping and View C – short-sleeved top and shorts. I made View B for my mother-in-law and View C for myself. I don’t wear a ton of sleepwear – yes, I’m one of “those” people as my friend recently put it – but I do wear it more frequently these days since having a child and, of course, when I travel anywhere. I feel I may have just given you more information than I ever intended, but there you are. I hope you weren’t eating.
Sizing and fabric
I made the same size for both myself and my mother-in-law, which was an 18. I did not size down and do an FBA as I normally would, because the pyjama is a looser affair. I think the size works perfectly on me and I have no complaints at all for the top half. It is loose enough for sleepwear, but still flattering to one’s curves -two things which do not always go hand-in-hand.
For the bottom half, I do have some fit issues and it’s entirely my own fault that I didn’t check the fit before I made them. Somehow I was just thinking of loose old pyjama bottoms and didn’t pay it much mind, but the rise on the shorts is way too short for me. This is such a normal adjustment for me that I’m sort of kicking myself, but oh well. They’re still totally wearable.
As you can also see, the waistband elastic is a vibrant pink hue. Add this to my list of annoyances on this project as I realised my white elastic was the wrong size. I didn’t realise quite how sheer the fabric was and popped the pink in. It sort of bugs me, but will I change it? Very unlikely. They’re pyjamas.
My fabric is a little sheer because it’s a feather light Valori Wells mint poplin. It’s a dream to wear and I love it! It’s one of my oldest fabrics and I’m so happy to have used it in a perfect project. For my mother-in-law’s pair I used a lovely lawn I picked up at a Seattlesews fabric swap. It reminds me of a Liberty print and her favourite colour is red, so that was always going to be the piping colour.
Alright – the main event! Closet Core Patterns always have really in-depth instructions that you can tell have been tested and tweaked for a significant period of time. They have great tips on piping and French seams and lots of notes. I finallllyyyy invested in a piping foot for my machine and I gotta tell ya, it made the world of difference. Perfect piping is so much easier now and it’s so simple to use. Definitely 100% worth it, if you’re considering the purchase. Mine was just a few dollars from Amazon.
I confess it’s been so long since I constructed some of the garment that I don’t recall all the details of each step. However, as far as I remember, the bottoms and shorts came together easily and well. There is a faux fly, which you could always leave out to simplify matters, but it’s a nice detail and elevates the look of the pyjamas. There are pockets, which are always appreciated in a garment like this, too.
The top was where I ran into a few problems. First, I can see from the finished top that I haven’t put the pocket in the right place, but that’s easily sorted. The main issues I had were when I got to the collar and lapel attachment. Now, I’ve put on quite a few collars and not quite so many lapels, but I found the going tough both times I tried this part of construction, even though they were a year or so apart.
I found the method really fiddly and ended up getting a ton of tucks every step of the way, which is something I’ve largely overcome in most of my regular sewing. I always do a lot of research for trickier projects (I would say this is an intermediate pattern for sure) and I thought the results were interesting for this one. A LOT of people said the instructions were very easy to understand and had no issues, but most beginners, or non-experienced sewists seemed to have an issue in the same part – although not all. As I mentioned at the beginning, I make a lot of Closet Core Patterns and usually don’t have an issue, but this was a tricky one.
Getting the collar on in the manner they describe is quite tricky because of the 5/8″ seam allowance – there are some little corners to get into and lots of points to match. Tip No. 1: mark your dots and dashes really well on this pattern, because you really need them. I will say I found this part easier the second time, but I will probably try the method outlined in the tutorial video another time (in Resources, below).
Oh yes – this pic has reminded me about another annoyance on this project – my interfacing was really bubbly. Argh. I don’t get this a lot, but I started ordering “good” interfacing from around this point last year and it does make a difference.
Getting the lapel on and everything to match was also tricky. Firstly, the lapel seemed too short both times at the collar end. I could not, for the life of me, get it to fold neatly under the shoulder seam to finish the top end of it. I saw a review on pattern review from a lady who had made it three times and it was too short each time. I also noticed that the version from the tutorial most frequently recommended – a video by Sew Sew Live – seemed too short as well. I should really check the paper pattern, but I’m not entirely sure where it is!
Secondly, I found the piping on the facings to conversely be too long. Getting that 90 degree angle and keep the piping flush is quite tricky and, again, I’ve seen some experienced sewists struggle a little too.
All these issues are reasonably minor, but they caused me a lot of knock-on tucks and seam-ripping moments. I don’t expect everything to work first time, but I found this part of construction more frustrating than most. Like I say, maybe just not a method that suits me, but I feel the instructions could be improved here as I had to resort to other resources quite a few times to understand what was going on and that’s not normally the case for Closet Core Patterns.
Apart from this area, it was pretty plain sailing. The sleeves go in on the flat, which went smoothly and the finishing was straightforward. Oh wait – one other little thing was the hem. The instructions have you create the bottom of the facing first and then roll the hem. However, the hem is caught by the stitchline you’ve already sewn at the front corners, so I found that at a 1/2″ seam allowance it was hard to catch it and turn it up twice with as much neatness as I desired.
Tips and Resources
My big tips for this garment are, as above: mark your garment really well. Also, stop and check things match up at most stages. This is something that comes with experience, I think, and is hard for a beginner to do, because you don’t really know what you’re looking for. But if I were to make another pair of Carolyns, I would be checking much more through the process that things were the right length and matching marks and seamlines, before snipping, grading and sewing.
Closet Core have an online sewing tutorial for the collar and lapel that augments the written instructions. I’d say you should definitely check that out.
Sarah from Sew Sarah Smith also has a nice photo tutorial showing the steps, although without piping.
Sew Sew Live has a full video sewalong for each part of the Carolyn pyjamas. She makes it look quite easy, but it’s a great – and often-used by the looks of it – resource. Also, she does encounter some of the same issues I did and made me feel like I wasn’t going mad. I wish I’d found it before I started the project though, haha.
I think with these additional resources you should have a pretty painless time of it, but don’t hold me to it! Haha.
Alright – I know I’m whinging a bit more than normal in this post, but it was just one of those projects. That’s it. I had so many small annoyances that were not in ANY way the problem of the pattern that it just seemed it would never end.
Then when I did have to do quite a bit of seam-ripping and scouring the Internet for tips, it just added to the frustration.
Nevertheless, I honestly don’t want to totally put you off. I really like these pyjamas and feel like I’ll be wearing them for years to come. It is 100% worth battling through the tricky parts and one thing I can guarantee – it will definitely up your game as a sewist.
I just might not make another pair for a while.
Bye for now!