Sunday, September 14, 2014

Craftsy review: Pam Howard's Classic Tailored shirt




One of the many things that happened to me over the summer was that my male relatives got a look at the shirts I have started to make for my sons and put in orders.

So many in fact that my fall sewing is going to involve alternating between projects for myself and projects for other people - with a required trip to NYC (great) for supplies.

I usually am not all that crazy about sewing for other people, because non sewers can be incredibly picky and request things that can't really be done (can you let out this wedding dress 4" - I forgot to tell you I was pregnant) but family, and those who want basically the same garment, are different.

Also let's face it my vanity took a nice boost to actually have requests for my sewing when the response around here to some of the things I make for myself can run along the lines of "well I wouldn't wear it."

Since I appear to be on a shirt making roll I decided to sign up for Pam Howard's shirt making class on Craftsy.

I will be honest with you, my Craftsy experiences have been mixed, ranging from a fabulous beginners crochet and some interesting cooking classes to a design your own knitwear class that, I should have known better, seemed to require a Phd in advanced mathematics - something that a person who was bribed to finish her grade 10 algebra by her teacher father with promises of pickled herring (I will pretty much do anything for pickled herring) is unlikely to ever get.

Back to Pam Howard's class.

It really wasn't what I was expecting.

In my mind, based on no evidence, I was hoping for some more tricks and tips - industrial methods or maybe a new way of doing the tricky parts, sort of an expanded Off the Cuff style.

I was surprised to find instead that Howard uses fairly conventional techniques and this really is a woman's style shirt, as opposed to a classic man's shirt (which is exactly what the course description promised).

For instance she hand sews down her collar bands and cuffs (no burrito method here) and uses a continuous placket rather than a real tailored placket. I was also surprised that she does her final press with sizing, which I am pretty sure is hard to get in Canada.

So at first impression I was a little disappointed.

Then I watched more closely.

What makes Howard's sewing amazingly precise is her technique at the machine and the ironing board. Like the best of professional sewers she really knows how to manipulate fabric with her hands and that is the secret to her accuracy.

She also has an amazingly calm and serene style and approach - you just feel yourself relaxing when you listen to her - and this, I realized, the perfect anecdote to the mentality of the quick and very experienced sewer who has got into the habit of rushing through sewing.

Pam Howard's message is - slow down, be careful, try holding it this way, enjoy the process - exactly what someone who has been sewing forever, like me, needs to hear.

So this morning as I took it a bit easier and used her simple but careful "finger felling" technique on the current shirt, I actually produced my best ever flat felled seam, no mess, no fuss and no stress.

So my verdict: great class, great teacher, more for even an experienced sewer to learn that may first appear, a great way to get back to some precision sewing and, most of all, find the zen in the process again.

Thank you Pam.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A dad's shirt: the Nergroni

One of the classes I will be teaching at Patch Halifax  is the Negroni shirt. 

I finished it before I finally figured out it was named for a cocktail which just shows you I need to get out more, or drink more.

It is a slim fitting, modern shirt without a collar on a stand (I figure to make it a bit easier) but a proper placket on the cuff and some interesting alternate pocket styles you can get for free here to download (I used one of those with a slanted flap for my shirt).

This pattern has sort of a cult following and I must say the pieces are wonderfully drafted - everything fits together like perfect puzzle pieces.

How often do you see that?

The instructions are also very good but since this may be a first shirt for many sewers there could have been some more explicit pressing instructions, like how to turn and press a collar for example.

What I really found interesting were the cool directions on how to bag a lined yoke when you are using a convertible collar and facings, like you have with this shirt, and not the regular collar on a band and the front bands you would have on the usual men's shirt. Worth the price of the pattern to get that one figured out. I am not a fan of back neck facings in blouses and many patterns I have seen to date (I just finished a pattern by Palmer and Pletsch like this) that have a convertible collar and a yoke involves a lot of messy hand sewing.

I am pretty pleased with the result, although the pattern matching at centre front was not up to par - the challenges of a diagonal print and limited yardage did that objective in.

I can't decide if this shirt is so ugly it is cool, or just ugly.

It did seem to me that the print was something my dad would of worn in the '50s and since it was that kind of style I decided it worked.

Ignoring the fact my dad didn't really have very good taste. Nice man but sort of was drawn to orange polyester plaids if you get my drift. I always meant to sew him a proper shirt.

He would have worn this one.

On that note here is my Negroni:





Sunday, September 7, 2014

A quick dog report

I was going to write tonight with a proper pattern review but it is late and I have to get up early for class.

Instead I will give you a Daisy report.

I have started to dream about her teeth.

This is why.

When I took her to the vet this summer he told us she would need a number of teeth out as a result of her poor care and diet history. Her age was estimated, based on the condition of her teeth, at at least five and the vet wasn't sure how many teeth he could save.

The end of August she went in dental surgery.

To make a long story short after a good cleaning the vet decided to give her a rest from the anesthetic and see her again in October. Then he said he would see exactly what extractions she would need, apparently once the puppy mill crap was off her teeth were not quite as bad as he thought and he upgraded her age to a "young dog."

He told me that if I were very diligent with brushing her teeth a couple of time a day we might actually save many of them and maybe (slim chance) all of them. 

We will see next month.

Now you would get this but I am a committed do-it-yourselfer. 
These are not words I took lightly. In addition to twice daily brushing of those tiny teeth he also suggested I syringe her gum line with water. (Husband suggested he rig up the Water Pic but I nixed that idea).

So twice a day I lie on the kitchen floor like a manic, which in fact I am or was or am now much worse, with a tiny tooth brush, a tube of chicken flavoured toothpaste and something of my own invention I have added in, which is a pair of exfoliating gloves on my hands (that I bought for work on my legs but never got around to) which I use to get at the really back teeth and inside surfaces.

The water syringe idea is a none starter since she sort of chokes on it. The tooth brushing she tolerates, or at least tolerates me, despite the fact I have zero technique unless you count trying to hold a pair of slippery black lips open and stabbing aimlessly at her teeth, or where I think her teeth would be if I could see them.

It is all pretty inept and hopeless but I am devoted to this job. 

Her dental and medical care, and just being in the house for a few months now, has changed things.

The thing is since she had her teeth cleaned up and the bacterial infection fixed she has become a totally new dog.

She is wild. 

She runs up and down the hall and throws toys around. She lunges at me in my sewing chair and runs away with my back neck facings and steals socks. She knocks her bowl around when its time to be fed and barks at loud noises and does flying squirrel imitations off the front steps.

She has gone from a flat and broken soul at the back of a cage in a last chance shelter to a complete nuisance.

She has become a real dog.

Against all odds.

A lesson for all of us.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Can summer possibly be over and the Renfrew top

Well hello again.

I am back at school again with very large classes and what looks like some interesting students. I am going to be trying a few new things this term in a course I have taught fairly often. We will see how that goes. I always try to make my classes better every time I teach them. This is of course not always how it turns out. This intention means new ideas, some are good ones and some are dumb. Generally this works out overall but we will see how it goes this round.

This will be my last full time year teaching. After that my plan is to do one course a term and try to make it as near perfect as I can and just enjoy myself. No admin or all the rest of that stuff after this year - I have a feeling I am going to live without meetings just fine. More than fine.

My summer was so busy. 

I had family staying with me or visiting me for two and a half months straight and of course Billy the kid showed up too as the latest addition in July. All the folks allowed me to perfect develop my skills in cooking like I was running a restaurant, but while that was going on I caught up with everyone. This was good.

I really enjoyed having my nephew with me this summer a lot. It is kind of nice to have the good part of a teenager in the house (he is 17) without the responsibility of it being your own kid. Remember when you look back at your own children growing up and wish you had worried less and just enjoyed having them around more? That's what my summer was like.

He is a great conversationalist and I really miss him. When we said goodbye he cried and said I was his second mother which made me cry too. We will both remember the summer when he was 17.

Now we are back in normal life business I actually have a lot to tell you and am not sure where to begin.

Maybe I will start with some sewing and continue tomorrow.

One of the new things I will be doing this fall is teaching some classes at a new sewing studio/store called Patch Halifax

One of the classes I am doing is intro knits, a topic dear to my heart. Here is my sample of the Renfrew top in a high quality bamboo knit from the shop.


Of course this looks lousy as a hanger shot but is amazing on. I can't say enough wonderful things about this pattern. At first I figured that hey it's just another T shirt and I have sewn a million, but this is one well drafted, well fitting pattern. You will note that the hem issues that worry beginners have been eliminated by bands, not really gathered bands like we would have made old school, that finish the edges nicely. The cowl is cut so it hangs properly and interestingly and is so much nicer than the usual big rectangle from the Gang of Four.

I am going to be making one for myself soon in a stripe and that should produce a shot of myself in this pattern so you can judge for yourself.

Hope all is well with you.

So many people say fall is their favourite season but I have to tell you I am not one of them. So many people say that the return to a schedule makes them happy but I think I am built more for the random life.

You get more sewing done.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Another shirt from McCalls 6613

I am still deep in company land so this will be brief. Here are some shots of my latest shirt for a son, this one for my boy in NYC.

This pattern continues to impress with a few modifications. The buttonhole markings for the collar are far too high into the collar - the ones you see in RTW are right into the point, in some right into the top stitching.

I have also settled on this method for doing a collar on a stand, more steps but each is more or less a straight seam and can be fixed before you commit to the next stage. No fancy sewing or rolling or twisting - this method suits my style of sewing best.


Here we go:







Monday, August 18, 2014

Flypaper thoughts mid August


  • Wall to wall family visits this month
  • Love the company, wish some of this happened in mid winter
  • Seeing more of the dishwasher than the sewing machine
  • Have resorted to delegating some of the food prep to a two and four year old
  • Results as expected
  • I think trees have souls
  • At least the ones in my front yard
  • Every night I take Daisy out in the yard and pat the moss patch on the one in front of the window
  • It knows
  • I know it does
  • The shirts are taking off
  • Have orders for five more for various men in the family
  • Who would have guessed?
  • In life you are never caught up
  • Figure that out and you have a lot figured out
  • Am making a list of most worn and most wish I had garments for this season
  • So far my eye shade that blocks out the various little device lights in my bedroom is #1
  • Silk tops not so much
  • Do you know that potato flowers are the colour of the skins of potatoes?
  • File that one away
  • I have plants in the front yard with purple flowers
  • Don't ask
  • Need to go to New York and buy fabric
  • Every once in a while you run across someone who doesn't know anything about a subject
  • But wants to explain it to you anyway
  • Little Billy looks exactly like his grandfather Billy
  • That's pretty nice
  • Kind of a life bonus
  • In the fall I will have time to sit in my sewing room and make seams
  • But then I will miss them all

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Shirt thoughts

As I said I have been sewing shirts. I have a few thoughts worth sharing I think and a couple of shots.

First pockets.

Since I am making patterned shirts for the clientele with well-developed senses of humour and hipster sense I am matching patterns on the patch pockets in those times I can.

For a person who has extraordinarily wide tolerance for lack of attention to detail in the rest of her life it is interesting how little things in sewing matter to me. I hate it in RTW when they slap on a pocket out of pattern on the front of something and don't match the pattern.

It is actually very easy to match the pattern of a pocket to a shirt. 

Here's the method I use:


  1. Pin the front pattern piece to the fabric and cut it out. Leave the pattern piece on the fabric. So far to good.
  2. Since you are using a thin paper pattern you can usually see the fabric pattern pretty easy through the pattern piece. Lay your pocket pattern piece on top of the front pattern in position as marked. Again so far so good.
  3. Using a pencil lightly trace the main outlines of the pattern onto the pocket piece as you can see them through the layers of tissue.
  4. Mark the top corners of the pocket on the front and remove that pattern piece.
  5. Take your pocket piece and find a spot in a fabric scrap where you can lay the pocket pattern on matching your pencil marks to the pattern.
  6. When you position your pocket to the front to cut out all you have to do is find the corner marks and line up your pocket pattern so it matches the front and top stitch down.
This is what the end product looks like:

A shirt for me I will finish when I have the boys shirts done.


Because I am making the boys a sort of casual shirt, with a collar and band and buttons on the collar points I am using this pattern:

McCalls 6613
I am having a final fitting today so I can't speak to that yet but I have a few construction notes.

The first is that this pattern has separate pattern pieces for the front bands. This makes sense when you are trying to do something fancy like cut the band on the diagonal like they have in the man's shirt pictured above, or if you are working with a fabric that has a right side different from the wrong side, like I am.

Be aware however that this is not the usual, or the best way, to do a band in a standard, both sides the same, shirt fabric.

RTW shirts are made with the front bands being mere extensions of the fronts (to add this to your pattern measure your finished band width and add 2 X that to the fronts measuring from the seam allowance). In construction the button hole band is folded twice towards the front and top-stitched down along each long edge and the button band is folded twice to the wrong side and top-stitched along the inner, folded edge only.

I like this way of constructing a band best, once you have adjusted the pattern if you have to, because it is fast, easy and looks professional.

It also does not use any interfacing because you in fact have three layers of fabric on each side, or six layers over all.

In patterns like McCalls 6613 above with a sewn on band for some crazy reason they have you interface both bands. This is not a good idea, even if you use very light interfacing, much lighter than you would for the collar (if you try to use collar weight interfacing for this your wearer will not be able to bend forward without impaling themselves in the neck with their button band).

Instead you need to forget about interfacing the band at all and just don't trim the seam allowances once you sew the bands on. This will give you a weight and support very similar to the first product and to a professional feel to the shirt.

All that said here is my latest son shirt, with the button holes all done but not cut and the buttons not sewn on. I have to position the collar buttons first. This fabric was originally intended for shorts so I was a little short and had to do a contrast for the inside yoke and the pocket matching described above was not possible. I tried the best I could with the fabric I had to extend the sails of the pattern so it is better than nothing.

I am pretty pleased with this shirt overall: