Saturday, September 6, 2008

Do you love your sewing machine?

I love sewing machines. There are few things as interesting to me as a new machine to discover, fresh out of the box.

And I have known quite a few. I have in my time done some educational work with Pfaff, Husquvarna/Viking, Singer and have reviewed some Brother machines. Good ones, in all those lines. And no I have not ever sewn on a Bernina.

The truth is that the sewing machine business has changed over the years. RIght now many machines are made in the same factories in the East in what they call Original Equipment Manufactures. Brand loyalty in fact may not be what it was and in fact different machines may now come out of the same factory. I am sure you have noticed almost identical machines with different brand names. That said different companies have different specs and some companies still manufacture their own top of the lines to very specific specifications and in their own factories, although parts may come from many sources.

Right now I sew on a Pfaff 7570 which I love, but not completely. If I had my way my dream machine would include:
  • a fantastic buttonhole. I have issues with machines that are now priced the same as a small car but do not produce a wonderful buttonhole. My 7570 makes a decent buttonhole but the sides are too close together, no way of adjusting this, and it is too easy to cut the stitches open when you cut the buttonhole. It is a real pain to have a nice buttonhole with the zig zag stitches sliced open and frayed. To handle this I make a version of a manual buttonhole with an elaborate series of steps, following something I read in Threads years ago. Also unless the buttonhole sides are stitched in the same direction they will not, cannot, look the same. I have found the old automatic buttonhole where you put the button in the back of the buttonhole foot often makes better buttonholes than my 7570 although there can be thickness issues here. You know you can keep increasing the embroidery area all you want but until I get a buttonhole I can rely on I am not that impressed. I make a lot more buttonholes than embroidered vests and tablecloths, in fact I make none of those.
  • good utility stitches. I like the serpentine stitch, where has that gone?
  • a thread cutter.
  • a needle threader.
  • really good built in lighting. Old machines had this and it was great.
What do you like in a machine?

Morning thoughts on projects, coming out as a sewer and coats... and cookie recipes

Looking at my blouses from yesterday I am thinking to myself that they look a bit full. Very comfortable on but definitely will need to be tucked in or belted to work. Pictures are useful. I also know that I always go through a period for a week or two after I make something of not really liking it, and then when that wears off I can make an objective judgement. Whoever said you are your own best critic was definitely a sewer. These three tops were in various stages of assembly before yesterday but a day's good sewing brought it all together.

I struggle with sewing time. My to-do-list is huge and I am appalled by how much housework needs to be done around here every time I pause to look. I am having a wedding in three weeks and before we head off to the venue I have two nights of my sisters and families coming through here for meals. As my sisters are not distracted by sewing and other activities to the extent I am, they are well ahead of me in the painting and decor department I am going to have to rise to the occasion. Which it appears I am doing by sewing blouses and blogging.

And back to my main point. Thing is sewing is good for my mental health. After leaving a son in London, surfers, school, work projects, convention watching, and wedding prep I admit to being frazzled as in the detached-from-myself sense. All output and no resource replenishment.

That's where sewing comes in. After yesterday I got up this morning feeling totally like myself and full of energy. Bit concerned the blouses are now a little loose, but happy. And that is why I need to sew as much as for the garments. Time well wasted to paraphrase the comedy channel.

Now back to coming out as a sewer. It is important and legitimate to say that I sew, I have to, I want to, it's the best personal use of my personal time. We also need to recognize that to many out there sewing is sort of quaint and not really something people talk about. When I was in politics, where you do have critics if you want to or not, someone on an opposing side actually toasted me in a backhanded way by saying "who would have believed a sewer would be so good at this work?" Meaning I suppose Imagine a middle aged woman outsmarting me at this game. Also sewing was used in this man's vocabulary as another way of demeaning me by referring to what he saw as a gender specific activity. Which made me think it's time to come out as a sewer and make a point of self-identifying.

I see the knitters do this. There is a bunch in the English department that make a point of knitting at meetings (knitters call this KIP, knitting in public I believe) as a statement that "woman's work" needs to be valued. And I am glad they do, at the meetings we have in common their socks are often the only interesting things happening.

In my own classes I teach a lot of ambitious young women who talk a lot about career pressures and work life balance etc. and even about how they are going to look professional on entry level salaries. One thing I decided to tell them, in addition to all the work/life research, was that everyone needs an absorbing hobby they can escape to when the stress is tough at work. I tell them how sewing does this for me. None of my students sew but I could see the wheels turning and when my summer seminar class was over they gave me a big thank you card (doesn't happen often at universities) and a gift certificate to Fabricville. I thought that was pretty cool. I think we need to make sure that all these ambitious young people are told that creative time is good for their souls.

Now onto my next projects. I have satisfied myself by catching up with the desire to resew a blouse pattern I loved 15 years ago, as loose as they are. Done, that outstanding item is now, a decade later, off the agenda. I finished a black wool jersey top that had been gathering dust. Done too, and BTW use a small zig zag on wool jersey it is so much gentler and flatter on the seams.

Next up in the planning in my head stage is a red wool garb coat for fall long enough to cover my skirts. I know it is the fashion now if I believe the runways and catalogues, to have your coat shorter than your skirts, but to me that just looks messy like you can't afford a new coat. Mark me down as someone born in 1953. So as my skirts are a little longer these days, covering the knee and I need a coat to match. 

I have decided to use some well-matured-in-my-stash red gabardine and this vintage pattern. Lining has been a problem. I had some nice patterned red and white polyester but have decided (see previous post on hot flashes) that if it doesn't breath I can't either, so I have been searching for something interesting in silk. Nothing locally or on the net I can find this morning, so as a possibility I have ordered this charmeuse from FabricMart this morning. Probably too loud and unsuitable but other silk I was considering disappeared overnight and I have learned my lesson. Will see how it goes when it arrives. If it is too terrible I can make PJs or something.

Current this weekend sewing is going to be 26 lined basket liners for the welcome baskets we are putting in every cabin for guests at the wedding. One of my sisters has made little jams for the baskets, my husband is making about 500 tea biscuits (big Nova Scotia thing) and I am supposed to make some cookies for tins. 

Any one have a really great cookie recipe to share? Something that won't fall apart and is a little different?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday night and three tops ahead














































Almost dinner and just squeaked across the finish line, three tops from patterns mentioned in earlier posts, a black wool jersey wrap top from the same pattern shown in red previously (and which has been sitting in a cut out stage since then) and two versions of my recovered wrap blouse pattern in patterned silk that has been lurking in my stash for a long time. I love the grey and blue one, such nice crepe fabric and a nice retro print, but the pink and blue and turquoise flowers (what was I thinking ? I never wear flowers - but it was a right colours print for a SWAP I never finished) is something I can wear under a really boring black jacket with black pants or skirt. Since my pants and skirts are largely black and grey both of these tops should get lots of use. I realize that the sleeve length is not terribly current, but a weird length that will work for me all fall-winter-spring. I always make my sleeves 3/4 anyway. Can't stand to have stuff around my wrists when I am working with my hands. A nice productive day, now off to cut the grass, my husband is doing dinner as usual.

Finding the time

I have been looking forward to today all week. A Friday at home and time to sew. I have one wrap blouse from my recovered Sew and Sew Pattern done and another almost done. By the time a photographer is home from work tonight I should have something to show for my day.

I don't get as much clear sewing time as I would like to. This week the reasons have been:

  • Back to school. I had my first classes yesterday, all first years, most with new back-to-school clothes and makeup, many from away and my theme was you are just going to be fine. I love my students and as I teach in a professional program I always feel pressured to give them as much useful information as I can. They are all there, the perky girls who were big deals in high school adjusting to a world where no one knows who they are, and the quiet ones who will find out this year that they are finally going to come into their own, and the boys who are used to sitting at the back of the room and riding on their basic intelligence and horsing around who suddenly realize the world is a competitive place and, begrudgingly start to ask interested questions.
  • An emergency call from another institution in town. The pre-admission writing course instructor has had to take the term off and could I fill in for them? Sure I said how hard can it be? Then another call back to say the "coach" wanted to see the curriculum. Seems some of the local hockey players have been sent back for upgrading. Now this should be interesting.
  • The wedding plans. My daughter, who is now getting married three weeks away, has been having a ceremony reading crisis. Nice biblical verse but the groom wanted Kipling's "It " poem the one that ends with then you'll be a man my son, or something to that effect. It's his favourite. So she decided to find other suitable readings to add on, which involved her saying things like "Oh Mom, everyone has that at their wedding, you're stressing me out." Fortunately she finally found something on her own and I am off the hook.
  • The US political convention. Up late every night. I used to work in politics and am far too involved in this one election for someone who isn't even American. I can't help seeing the craft and strategy and spin of it all. I left it politics where I was involved in communications because in the end I was exhausted by the recreational cruelty of the game, and by being surprised, even when I shouldn't, by the fact that I always underestimated the role that ego and ambition play in that world. I do know though that politics produces the laws and policies that affect every aspect of ordinary lives, so it does matter, I just wish it wasn't such an inefficient process. What I do know is that whoever makes the rules win, and so I am watching this all hoping that I will be proved wrong, that all the rules I know will be broken, that democracy can still produce what it needs to. So I am tired. Just like my husband who happily leaves me in front of the TV to go to bed, but who I wake up to give a complete strategic analysis every night. 
  • Surfers. The waves are good and there is a big competition here this weekend on the East Coast. My youngest is a surfer and he has been bringing home guys who need a place to stay. Nice guys who say things like "Showers, awesome" very polite and pleasant but interesting to see who comes out of the bedrooms in the morning. And lots of towels to wash. But these are someone's kids aren't they?
  • Obligations in the sewing world. I teach the odd class and do a little newsletter type writing. Seems lately that doing this is taking away from my actual sewing time and I need that to keep me centered. Like many women it is often other people and their needs first. That is something I am going to have to work through.
In the meantime, today, I sew. A nice, calm, creative day.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fall trend sewing


I have taken some time this year to actually look at the fashion magazines and see what, in the new season styles, I can find for inspiration for my personal sewing. So far I have three groups. Trends I love, trends I will have to think about, and trends that I will definitely pass on.

So here they are:

The passes:
1. Giant heels. Come on. I walk to work, part of the way through some very nice woods that start in the parking lot behind the Mormon temple and end behind the Sisters of Charity mother house (there is a symmetry to this that I haven't figured out but enjoy anyway) but even if I were back at my downtown political job on city streets I still would not wear these stupid shoes. My personal view is that just when women start to settle in comfortably in the world some backlash thing like hobble shoes comes out to set us back. Surely there has to be a way to have style and still think on your feet.
 
The think abouts:
1. Belts. These are everywhere, thinner than last year and applied to blouses, sweaters and cardigans to give them shape, always a good thing. But we all know that you need to have an asset before you draw attention to it, and my waist has long ceased to be that. I will need to do some experimenting with thin belts, looser and maybe bloused to see how it goes. A quiet session in front of a mirror in the department store should help me with this one - but I can tell you my common sense is telling me that they don't make any belts that work with this waistline, but we will see.
2. Tulip skirts. I definitely wore these back in my waistline days and I remember sewing in those soft waistline pleats and the tapered hems. I fully anticipate that these will be stomach exaggerating not stomach disguising, but who knows, I go through life expecting to be pleasantly surprised.

Trends for me:
1. Looks like I have another chance to inject colour into my black/grey wardrobe and purple has grown on me, plus it goes both with black and grey.
2. Cut-on sleeves. Maybe it's the retro in me but I am really pleased to see the return of the cap sleeve and even the dolman. Easy to sew and to my mind cap sleeves add something transeasonal to dresses and tank tops and have the same hip minimizing value as the old shoulder pads without the bulk.
3. Tie collars continue, but have been expanded to include wider rolled collars, particularly in jersey and roll collars that turn into ties. Good for faces and something that I can easily add to my best fitted t-shirt pattern.
4. Big buttons. Love them on twin sets, cardigans and jackets. Every sewer loves buttons and when they are big they can be a real feature. Of course a big button absolutely has to have a bound buttonhole because huge machine done ones just look tacky IMO, and of course I have found a really different way to do them in one of my vintage patterns I want to try. Stay tuned on that one. If this new method works you will hear about it, if it doesn't well you won't.
5. I also really like the big handbags, with less hardware (I may make one this season looking to Hot Patterns for the patterns), tights (see walking to work above, and also the oppression of women and clothing which is my view of pantyhose that doesn't last a day) in grey in particular, and monograms (at last a useful application for my machine's embroidery function).
6. And my personal favourite - vertically colour blocked dresses - I am seeing black with grey inserts there are some really cool versions in this month's Vogue.
7. And anything Michelle Obama wears. I love that woman and I love her clothes. Just everything she has on. A real woman with a real figure and always dressed absolutely perfectly.