Friday, May 27, 2016

Thread theory, info and birthdays

I have a real nice husband. 

He pretty much spends all his time taking care of this family. He cries more easily than I do, at TV commercials with small children in them, and when he looks at Miss Daisy. His cooking, to quote one of the kids, is so good its its own food group. He thinks he can fix anything and will break it trying. I have seen him do innumerable eccentric things but never once be uncharitable or mean spirited about anyone. He has no dress sense. He will leave the house with four items of clothing all with a different team name on them, from places and states he has visited. He will put on brown socks with grey pants. He cooks dinner for me every night and makes me coffee before I get out of bed in the morning. He fixed his slippers with duct tape. He once asked me if I thought he could make a hot tub by cutting the old oil tank in half. He painted most of the youngest son's B and B after a week of 12 hour days and a 5 hour drive home. He is under the impression I am a real catch. 

Tomorrow is his birthday and when I asked him what he wanted to do he said have dinner with me at home. He then brought home 20 pounds of lobster that he is cooking in the bathtub as I write this in a plastic pail with the Sous Vide and his app. 

He is making his own birthday dinner. 



When I asked him what he wanted for his birthday he said nothing, he has everything he needs.

I have decided to make him some pants, some Jutlands from Thread Theory. If I can get a pattern to fit him he can avoid the stores and he will like that.

Here is the pattern:




Least I can do. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Flypaper thoughts illustrated edition

I know it has been a while since I posted any flypaper thoughts, having detoured this blog with useful information for some reason, but the old flypaper seems to be the best way of bringing you up to date on why I have been on a blog posting lapse. 

SO here we go again:


  • Youngest son, the one who is the Cheapest Human Being on Earth, put together the resources to buy a B and B.
  • Turns out these are family businesses.
  • Even I got asked to paint.
  • What were we thinking wearing Dusty Rose for an entire decade in the 80s?
  • Do you know how many coats of paint it takes to cover over Dusty Rose?
  • That stuff is iridescent and also will haunt your dreams
  • Next morning it always starts showing through
  • You will be pleased to know we hired ethical mouse hunters
  • Actually I was ready to join the NRA but the husband has a softer heart
  • Involved some kind of powder in the attic to confuse them and one way mouse doors so they could escape the premises but not get back in
  • I kid you not
  • Installer had huge ear plugs and giant ear lobes and tiny buck teeth and told me to "think like a mouse"
  • Even though I still wanted to join the NRA I tried
  • Think he found it easier
  • Turned out not to be a scam
  • First night after the confusion treatment I could hear them running around in the walls
  • In circles
  • A few turned toes up in the middle of the floor next morning
  • Stress I figure
  • They must have been confused, I sure was
  • Confusion is not as cheap as it was when I was doing it
  • View from hill down on son's B and B, his building is the one with the Dusty Rose glow:


  • After I was fired as a painter we went to Cheticamp where my husband is doing a National Park job
  • Because he is up in the mountains we are not staying there because the coyotes have been dangerous and Daisy is rabbit like
  • This one has a GPS on it that my husband said appeared to be making him (the coyote) annoyed:

  • You really can't blame him, I mean couldn't they have come up with something smaller
  • Not all wildlife is that aggressive
  • Here are some moose on site
  • Only thing really dangerous about moose is they are heavy and can fall over on your car
  • In Newfoundland this is a real worry and there are moose whistles on cars
  • A ton of moose is not joke on a Kia
  • Long thin legs and heavy bodies
  • Who else can identify ?

  • Owing to the coyote but not moose situation we are staying in town
  • Cheticamp is an Acadian village at the top of Cape Breton with a good lobster and crab fishery
  • It is also the world centre of hair foils and not a place you go to the co-op in without your lipstick
  • People are so nice, stop to see if you need a ride anywhere since you are walking
  • Does the rest of the world know there are places like this that are normal?
  • Or look like this:




More on projects later but right now,

Bonne nuit.


While you were sewing, a little fitting information

I have to condense numerous mental posts into this one.

I need to talk about fit, about what I have been up to, and what I am going to do next. 

But first of all let me thank you for all your wonderful comments about the new sewers in your lives. Of course this makes me just wish I had a hundred books to give away. I will be making the draw tomorrow, my husband is keen on some random number generator thing and the publisher will contact the winner for shipping details.

Now to fitting.

Of course I knew this when I brought up this can of worms subject  but there are so many fitting issues it is hard to work through them all. So I have had this idea that if you email me directly with a specific problem at the email address to the right top of this page I will see if my two cents can be of any help. Some of you have already done this and it seems the best way to deal with specific problems.

And of course as the Handy Hints unfold I will talk about general issues again as they come up.

I do too want to pass on the two fitting books I find most interesting of the many on my shelves.

The first one, best for zeroing in on general issues like basic length and width adjustments is Nancy Zeiman's classic on Pivot and Slide. if you routinely try to add a few inches to your pattern sides and end up with sleeves that are too big too or width where you don't need it I would recommend you read this book. The Pivot and slide method allows you to add width for example without distorting necklines and armholes and is a good basic approach once you have got your head around working from a smaller initial pattern. This is what it looks like:


I really think you have to be careful with a lot of fitting tutorials. So many of them tell you to slash and spread and cut and move but they don't tell you how much or where exactly that cutting is supposed to happen. Nancy is so much more precise and one of the really nice things about her method is that it leaves your original pattern intact.

Now suppose you have got the pivot and slide thing working for you, it's not hard at all, what do you do about the very specific issues that a person can't really slide past like a neck that juts forward (I call it computer neck) round shoulders or stuff like your belly or your butt that seem to move that pattern around on your body.

In that case, and again this is strictly IMO, you can't beat this vintage classic by the Singer reference library:


What I like about this book is that there are pictures of folks in clothes that are doing the same thing yours are on you. Without any real sewing knowledge at all you can look at the pictures and say "hey that's me" and next to it is a picture of a pattern piece with the adjustment all worked out on it.

There are of course many other good books out there (if you have favourite please tell us in the comments) but these are the ones I keep going back to.

Friday, May 20, 2016

New sewers

The past ten days have been a blur, and a blur that has not included blog posts. 

I am sorry about that, and just as sorry you can't read all the posts I have written in my head while I have been painting the B and B my youngest son just bought, getting my summer classes ready, or walking the woods with Miss Daisy in Cheticamp Cape Breton where my husband currently has a project. 

More on all of that later.

One of the things that has been on my mind though has been young sewers.

Just before I left for Cape Breton Miss Scarlett, my six-year-old granddaughter and my heir apparent as the family seamstress, and I looked through the latest Marfy patterns.

I was impressed with her eye and for her definite opinions on fashion at such a young age.

This seems to me to be one of the big differences between new and us older sewers.

We were brought up by mothers and grandmothers who emphasized making the inside look as good as the outside (something I still try to do and don't regret) and following instructions exactly, sometimes even when they didn't make much sense.

Many sewers of my generation for example will try their little hearts out to grade the second seam allowance (more on grading and trimming in another post) precisely 1/8" lower than the first trim. I have even seen women try to measure this.

Of course with this sort of stress about detail the big picture, which might include fit and decisions about what really you want to sew rather than should sew, can lead to what I call paint-by-numbers sewing (and you have to be old enough to know what that is) that can sap the creativity and independent mindedness out of sewing.

On the other side, and possibly a reaction to this approach or a product of a generation who did not have home ec classes or family members who themselves knew how to sew, there are the bloggers/designers who are churning out tutorials, patterns, and books that in many cases are steering the readers as wrong as some of the old dumb head pattern instructions used to.

You know what I mean. 

Those "I just learned to sew last year and now let me teach you" sewing experts. I commend the enthusiasm, but not the instant commercialization and perhaps not the the lack of depth of knowledge that really can be useful if you want your garments turn out as well as they should. I am also getting a little bit weary with patterns described as "essential" and "iconic" that really are two or three pattern pieces, as if these shapes have never been presented before.

There is something for knowing what you don't know.

So all this said I am fairly cautious when I read about a new sewing book. I am on kind of a mission to help new sewers get enough of the right information for their first projects to turn out.

I also recognize that new and the newest sewers need accessible information.

In addition to my own experience with Miss Scarlett I have been contacted several times in the last year by non-sewing mothers who wanted advice on how to help their daughters who were desperate to get sewing. Sometimes this has involved me giving basic machine advice and offering to help teach, but really I wanted to offer them a good book too.

I had a fair idea my 1970 Vogue Book of Sewing was not going to do the job.

I was looking for a book with solid basics, covering all the things I think are important, but also that recognizing that newest sewers want to experiment and customize their clothing immediately, not wait for post graduate design courses like we might have felt we should.

I also should tell you that I have been sent a number of sewing books over the years to review on this blog. There maybe is one for advanced sewers I intend to get to, but most of them I have given a pass.

If I don't think it is useful I am not going to tell anyone else it is.

I am about to make an exception.

I have recently read this book by teenage blogger Angela Lan and I love it:


Lan wrote this book between the ages of 11-14 and is clearly some sort of sewing savant. 

She gets all the basics right -  grainline, sewing machine needles and how to read a pattern and gives sensible basic instruction on techniques like setting in sleeves, sewing a knit neckline, and inserting zippers. She also includes some of her own opinions and experiences, for example why quilting cotton is not suitable for clothing.

In addition, like all sewers of her generation, she goes right to basic garments (hence the dream wardrobe reference) and to how to begin to generate your own designs. The book also includes six basic pull out traceable patterns and clear instructions on how these can be expanded or adapted, the high-waisted shorts into pants for example.

To me this is a gift book, perfect for a young girl who yearns to sew or for a mother who doesn't sew at all herself and wishes she could help her daughter start.

On that note the publisher has offered to send a free copy to one of my blog readers.

If you know someone young who could use this book please leave a comment and tell me who your young sewer is. I will make a random draw of the names next week and notify you by email (pm me your email address so I can do this).

The more new sewers the better.

Monday, May 9, 2016

A comfortable blazer and jeans


Lately I have had the bright idea of actually sewing clothes that I would wear everyday, be comfortable in, and go together. An outfit.

Crazy radical I know and let’s not talk about how long it took me to get here.

Specifically I wanted something I could wear to pick the kids up at school, wear to go to the grocery store to get the one thing I meant to get last time but didn’t, or meet the mouse exterminator in.

Real life, my real life, clothes.

What I came up with, this time out, was the idea of a comfortable blazer, a sharper replacement for that old sweater with the pills on it that is a current tired day default, and some jeans-like unit. 

I am on a sort of jeans/pants sewing tear at the moment, and am highly motivated by the fact I am getting sooo over skinny jeans. The truth is that if you are not yourself skinny you end up with long layers to cover it all and a midriff that feels more compressed than it deserves.


I have been eyeing this unlined knit blazer pattern for a while. It had some of the hallmarks of a good pattern, separate upper and under collar pieces, darts in the sleeves at the elbow to give shape, and larger pockets for the longer view and smaller ones for the shorter view - all indications someone was on the case when this was drafted.


I made the longer view and used some navy and white striped knit pique I found at my local Fabricville. Interestingly I see Fabricville now has an online store so I can link directly to the fabric here so you can have a look.

Here is me in my version:

My best church lady pose. This was after the first take where my daughter kept saying "Mom you are always talking and gesturing in the pictures. Try to look more normal."

Another version where you can see the line of the pants too. Really for an outfit that has the comfort level of sweats I am pretty pleased

I am so happy with this pattern I am definitely going to be making it again. A simple classic but without all the work of tailoring and ten times less restricting to wear.

I made the size 14 as is with some construction changes.

These were:
  • To add stability to the knit I applied a fusible knit interfacing to both the upper and under collar, the facings of course, and also to the sleeve and jacket hem allowances so they would hang better.
  • Because top stitching a knit pocket onto a knit fabric can be tricky to hold still, I interfaced the pocket with a woven sew-in interfacing. I actually made a sort of a pillow case bag, right sides together, woven interfacing to knit, with a small opening in the top hem for turning rather than turning under the raw edges etc. on the pocket. I hate having to fuss doing that and find just lining the pocket and turning it so much easier. Here is how that looked in construction:


  • To avoid fish lips buttonholes that look like this:


I made corded buttonholes, which simply are buttonholes made by hooking a heavier thread like a buttonhole twist or pearl cotton over the back of the buttonhole foot and letting the machine stitch over the cord. 




When the buttonhole is done simply pull on the free ends of cord, the back loop will be pulled under the bar tack at one end and hidden, and pull the free ends to the wrong side, knot and tie off.

A buttonhole made like this will not stretch out of shape:


And finally, I have to share the buttons. Love it when they match. It is just luck but I take credit for it:


Now onto the pants.

Since I am so newly committed to comfortable pants I have been looking for some version of "Mom" jeans. Yes, I know, but they are the new big thing (saw them all over Manhattan last month) and personally if anyone has earned the right to wear Mom jeans it's me I figure.

I have had this pattern for a couple of months and been meaning to try it:


When I was down at Fabricville getting my blazer knit I spotted some very nice blue stretch denim, good quality, nice hand, and decided to just do it. I believe this is the fabric here.

I really enjoyed the top-stitching:


Before you get any idea I know what I am doing I have to tell you I just threaded two spools of jeans top-stitching thread in my cover hem (you could do the same thing with a twin needle) so I cheated completely.

If you are wary about using a heavier thread like this in your machine don't be. All you have to do is make sure you have an eye in the needle big enough for the thread to pass through easily. Look for something called a top-stitching needle. I used two in my cover hem machine and put another one in my regular machine when I had to do single line top-stitching.

The pattern went together very well and I didn't have to make any alterations apart from taking in the back waistband 1 1/2" 

Note that the waistband for the size 16 was nearly 36" (mine is 34" and the size 16 is supposed to be drafted for a size 30" waist). It pays to measure the pattern sometimes before you cut. The crotch curve and hips were perfect though. 

You can assess the fit from the photos yourselves but really the only major change I would make next time is to take out the hip curve a bit because my own hips are totally straight without any curve at all. I have in fact already done that to the pattern pieces because I am definitely making these again.

You can see exactly where I bent my right leg the curve I am going to be eliminating next pair. Not hard to do but really when there are no wrinkles anywhere else and the crotch was great right out of the envelope, why not?

On the construction side the only really, really important thing I need to mention is that the pattern envelope calls for a 7" zipper. This is really interesting because the fly extension is, without seam allowances, only 5" long, a more standard length for zippers in women's fly front jeans.

I of course discovered this when I went to put in my 7" zipper which meant I actually had to do the last couple of top-stitches around the fly by hand to get it over the metal jeans zipper teeth. No surprise there are no close-up shots of that here. Ideally you should be able to place the fly front top-stitching just below where the zipper teeth end.

This means, for the next person, you are going to have two choices, zipper wise:

1. Buy a 5" and not a 7" jeans zipper. Easy to do.
2. Lengthen the fly extension by 2," Also easy to do.

All in all I am pretty pleased with myself. 

I felt I took a chance with some nice fabric and two totally new patterns and got lucky. These are both basic staple type garments and they will get a lot of wear. I should probably do more of this type of sewing and continue to explore really day-to-day outfits that to my own mind at least look sharper than their comfort level suggests.

More to come.





The question of finding a basic fit pattern

My friend Robin got me thinking with her thoughtful comment to my last post.

Obviously what I am providing here are some first principles for flat pattern alteration to help new and returning sewers get started, and to help them understand why patterns are not fitting exactly right straight out of the envelope.

For real fine-tuning once you understand the basics, or to establish a good fitting basic garment you can use to overlay commercial patterns, or even as a basis for your own designs ideas, a sloper - a custom fit garment is a great idea.

You can learn how to draft these, Craftsy has good courses and Robin is a grad of many of them, or develop them through your own trial, error, and efforts.

Full disclosure here, I am not myself a person with a lot of time (humane wildlife removal going on here all week plus I am committed to helping my middle guy paint his new B and B) or more to the point a lot of patience for those processes. I am more a sit and sew when I have a few minutes kind of  girl these days.

So all of this made me perk up with interest when I saw Bootstrap Fashions has introduced some new dress slopers for wovens and knits.

I was delighted to see the fit specs included things like belly protrudence, posture and shoulder slope which indicates to me that these patterns, very reasonably priced too, might be very helpful in automatically sorting out some common fitting issues.

I haven't tried these patterns myself, but they are moving to the top of the to-do-list, and I would be most interested in anyone else's experiences.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Handy sewing hint of the day #17

Before we get into the weeds of fitting there are a few important first principles we should talk about. 

These, like nearly everything I write, are primarily the result of my own observations after decades or working with sewing students and in sewing for myself and my family.

Here we go:

There is a lot made of the big three- bust, waist and hip - but IMO some of the most potent body parts, when you are working towards fit, are lesser known measurements, or shapes. 

These include:

1. Shoulder slope. I talked before about the importance of getting a good upper body fit by working with the chest/high bust measurement rather than a bustling but as important as fitting the hanger is knowing what the shape of the hanger looks like. 

Some women have your so-called average shoulder shape for which average patterns presumably fit, most of us have shoulders that are either square (like mine, boney and they just go straight across like a ruler, detected by collars that seem to ride up) or sloped (if you have always thought you have had "small shoulders" in fact your shoulders might just be sloped, think duck, not trying to be rude here but need to give you a clear image) meaning your tops seems to just hang too loose on the shoulders or even feel like they are sliding down.

Look for where the extra fabric is on your shoulders. 

If it seems to be bunching up at your neckline, particularly at the back and your collars seems to stand away from your neck you might have square shoulders - basically the pattern is providing fabric where there is no you.

If you feel you have extra fabric deposited below your shoulder line and just too much hanging off your shoulder you probably have sloping shoulders (a good look in the mirror at your bare shoulders will actually tell you everything you need to know here).

My good friend Debbie Cook at Stitches and Seams does a nice easy description here of how to do a fast easy pattern adjustment for either of this issues.

2. Arm length. Actually no human measurement IMO can vary as much as arm length which seems to have nothing to do with your height. It's easy to measure on a set-in sleeve pattern, straight down from the shoulder notch to the wrist. Many folks need sleeves shortened.

3. How high and low your fullest part. These would be the three Bs - bust, belly and butt. Bellies are often higher than patterns think and busts and butts lower. This matters because your darts- bust, front and rear- need to end about 1/2" or more bit before the fullest part and aimed right at it. 

It's pretty simple really-  the darts pick up fabric where you don't need it and release it where you do. 

If that extra fabric is released too high, too low or too early or late you are going to get an unattractive bubble sitting in the middle of nowhere. Shortening and lengthening darts is easy, just move the last dart marking in or out, in a skirt or pant waist dart this just makes a shorter or longer dart (I personally lengthen all my back waist darts about 1 1/2" which is all you need to know about gravity and me).

In the case of a bust dart you can both move the dart end in or out so it is about 1/2-3/4" from your nipple (the more fitted the garment the closer the dart end to the bust point) but you might also have to raise it, or more commonly for larger busts lower it, so it is aiming at your nipple and not some random spot on your chest. If you do this of course you will have to redraw the dart legs so the lines from the side seam are properly aimed at this new end point.

I apologize here for not offering tons of great and useful pictures for all you visual learnings out there, but that would require far more time than I have right now, hopefully my words are clear enough, and if not let me know and I will try again.

Of course too you don't need to put a dart where you don't need them. For instance if you have a full tummy and basically your waist goes straight down and right into it, you don't need a front dart at all in fitted skirts (not sewing your darts will also add greatly to the fabric available for your front waistline too) or even only a small one. 

Remember darts are for shaping and not necessary in cases like this where there is no smaller part to be released to a larger one.

All of this brings me now to the really, really important facts of pattern choices.

Because you have shape and it is an individual shape, you are going to have to add (see previous post about making larger not making smaller for the pattern size chosen). The basic rule of thumb is to compare your pattern's ideal measurements and your own and add the difference to the seams.

Classic example would be you have a 34 inch waist and your pattern bought for your smaller 40 inch hips says the waist in that size should be 30 inches. This means of course that you have 4" to add and with two side seams this would be 1" added to each (2 X 1" for the front and 2 X 1" for the back), tapering in the top of say your skirt with this addition to the pattern's hip.

The principle applies for additions everywhere in your pattern but the big trick is that the more seams you have to divide these additions among the more subtle and successful your pattern alterations will be and the more able you will be to target them.

Listen to this, it's important, the more seams you have to play with letting out here and there taking in where you might need to in areas where you have hollows like the front of your chest or at the back or your neck where it slopes forward, the easier it is to fine-tune fit.

By contrast a seemingly "easy" few pattern pieces pattern can be a fitting nightmare because there are no shaping features for you to work with - and instituting those, adding seams or introducing darts, are fairly sophisticated and very easy to mess up.

On this basis princess seams (all those places to adjust along their length, so easy to make room for a large bust exactly where the bust is larger and return to a smaller upper chest) are terrific for fitting (enlarging darts is so much harder), as are two piece sleeves (smaller armhole and bigger biceps, smaller wrists) or panel seams in skirts and pants.

Sometimes nothing is harder to fit than a "simple" to sew pattern.

Does this make sense?

Some illustrations.

The pattern below is hard to fit, only places to add anything is at the side seams and that might not be where you want it. What about a full bust or hollow chest?


In an exaggerated contrast look at all the pre-set places you have in this pattern to adjust, you could make this one fit anybody:


Or less intimidatingly, see the adjustment spots here:

See the fitting difference between view B and the others?

Far easier to get a smooth fit here than with darts


Wonderful pattern if you want to take in the back neck and upper chest but increase for the bust or hips
 And finally, I know this is a lot right now, it is useful, ending with shoulders which is where we started, to match the lines of your shoulders with the seam lines of a pattern, this allows for adjustments in synch with your shape.

Folks with sloped shoulder for example do well with raglan sleeves, and folks with square shoulders with set-in sleeves:




Enough to think about now. 

To be continued.