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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon

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Monday, November 12, 2018

Sie Macht's Christmas list



One of my favourite bloggers, Erin Van Handel over at the Sie Macht blog, has come up with a great Christmas list that I might just print off and leave lying around the house.

The idea of sewing gift list is an interesting on. Right now today my own personal list would also include a set of Kam snaps and the applicator tool. You can pay a lot for these or get a combo kit with the tool as well as a bunch of different coloured snaps for about $25 on Amazon.

Here that is:





And here are some applied on some practice pieces I used today:


Of the course of my multi project adventures over the years I have used many different snap systems. To be honest most of the one you can get at the local fabric store can be sort of horrifying to use.

Generally there is punching a hole in a perfectly good garment involved, hammers, prongs and pieces that get off centre when you try to hammer them on, or get all dented and flattened if you don't know your own strength or don't have any sense to know when to stop hammering.

And then of course these snaps often end up falling off or pull away from the too big hole you punched in with your handy dandy hole punching tool.

A button and buttonhole you can maybe fix up, a torn out snap hole is much harder.

Well I am happy to report that the Kam snaps are simple to apply, just make a little hole with a stiletto, and do some pressing with the tool you see above, much like using a stapler.

Almost zero upper body strength is required and these babies don't seem to want to ever come loose or out.

Really too, too, easy.

This is really going to change up my baby clothes game a lot. Since my successful afternoon putting in snaps in practice pieces I have more or less been cruising around the house with my tool in hand looking for things that might need a few snaps .... you never know what could be next.

Now over to you.

What would be on your own ideal sewing Christmas list?


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Little projects

Lately I have been doing a ton of family sewing, none of which I have documented, as it was sort of the on-demand out the door stuff.

For the family about to launch with the first baby on the West Coast, I made a nightgown, cap, nursing cover, breast pads, flannelette wipes and burp cloths. Those were mailed and arrived. 

This weekend I am making more baby gear and promise to take some pictures. The last batch got mailed as fast as I could. Due dates are pretty immovable deadlines.

Additionally Miss Scarlett, who is 9, has gone deep into synchronized swimming. 

Her coach more or less behaves with the seriousness of an Olympic coach, a gazillion hours of practice, multiple drills etc. I am pretty sure when she looks at her little team she is not noticing that they are random, giggling, little girls. Despite this Scarlett, who has inherited my vague streak and has been known to walk out the door to school with only one shoe on her foot, loves her coach and the swimming.

The dressing protocols of synchronized swimming are pretty specific however. This week I made two black practice suits for her and a black T shirt for wearing on the pool deck.

All I can say is that thank goodness for Jalie patterns and their multi-sizedness - I can see the Diane swimsuit and I are going to have quite a future.

After the next round of baby stuff I am going to start on some Christmas sewing.

To be nice to myself I have decided to intersperse this sewing for other people with a few hand sized projects for myself.

One I am going to try is socks.

Yes socks.

I have seen multiple socks on social media and some of them look pretty cool. Jalie has a well-regarded pattern but they look to me like they are meant to be sports socks in fleece. Also some folks have commented on the seam at the toe that may or not be comfortable.

Since I have a huge collection of knit scraps I thought I would try out some crew length socks for starters in a pattern drafted for lighter weight knits, and without the seam.

One pattern I have on my table at the moment, yet to be tried, is this one from Peek-a-boo patterns:


I realize that making socks is pretty weird, might be taking the made-by-me thing a little far, but why not try. 

I don't know about you but finding a good sock that doesn't leave dents in your legs and is comfy on the foot is really hard. My favourites are my own hand knit socks but I am a slow knitter and those don't exactly flow off my needles and into my drawer.

If they work these might be something I inflict on the family this Christmas too. We will see how they go. I should note that MadeforMermaids has also just realized a multi-sized family sock pattern that might be interesting, although I will start with the pattern I have first for now.

The other hand sized projects I have been working on between sewing assignments have been underwear and a sports bra.

I actually have my own exercise program. 

Most days I go on the exercise bike, motivated by Netflix. 

Not exactly an Olympic sport and no coach.

Every other day I do a little weights etc. routine that I have on my phone. I use a wonderful, free Australian app that was designed for pelvic friendly exercise but appropriate for anyone. 

You can download it here through the links.

I know a lot of folks on Instagram in particular post pictures of their work out routines and outfits.

They inspire me but realistically I have major doubts that I will ever run any marathons. Maybe if they parked the NY garment district at the other end of the finish line and the sign didn't say finish but said 70% off. 

Other than that, probably not going to do it.

Rolling around on a exercise ball in the spare room or doing bridges on the floor while Daisy licks my face is more just what I am actually going to do on a regular basis.

That doesn't mean I don't have an exercise outfit.

Wait for it.

My favourite shorts, made from a shortened Style Arc pull on pant and a T shirt I got at Union Square in New York from a group who was fundraising for sewing programs in developing countries. Completely comfortable and ideal for the character of my own workout routine:


Back to the hand sized projects. It should be pretty clear by now why Miss Scarlett and I forget one shoe.

To go under this fabulous activewear outfit I have made a cotton lycra sports bra, well because I am a sport I guess. 

I have made several attempts at these but after having spent significant dollars on ranges of fold-over elastic and high performance fabrics (insider hint: you only really need high performance fabrics if you are in fact a high performer) I have ended up with strangling type things that rode up and over my breasts, which is neither flattering or performance-wise, useful.

As a result I have been engaged in a sort of last ditch attempt to find something in a soft, utility bra that would require no extra materials than those already in my knit fabric scrap pile.

That criterion led me to George and Ginger's Lovesick bra. The pattern is a free file on their FB page - to access it all you have to do is join the FB group and look under files.

Like most bras of this type it holds things still more than lifts and separate, but is super comfortable and requires nothing more than a good strong knit like cotton lycra, for the outer cup and maybe something else in a knit for the lining.

If you want support you can thread through some elastic into the straps (instructions included) and I know some folks have used power net in the wide band and even the cups.

The design basically relies on three small darts in the cups that are seamed together at centre front. It is a pull-on style, so you have to be comfortable with that too.

Here is my wearable muslin version:


I am pretty impressed by the minimalism of this design and the fit. Since I haven't quite retired from teaching (my drop dead date on that will be April 2019) I am probably not going to post any pictures of myself in a bra - but after that of course, look out.

The only change I would made in the next of these bras would be to possibly go down a size in the band and to lower the underarm a bit, maybe 1/2".

Pretty pleased with myself.

In the same spirit of little projects I have also been making more Bunzie underwear.  Despite my misgivings about knit bands to replace the usual elastics, as a wearer I have to say I have converted to this approach in a big way. For a start these are just so easy and fast to make and do not require leaving your sewing room to go and find some special elastic. 

They are also really comfortable and stay put, which for underwear is a real virtue.

I made of course the full coverage, high waist, old lady underwear version because, and this is one of the best kept secrets of old ladies, I am pretty sure these are most comfortable option that everyone else wishes they could wear. Here is one of my recent pairs, made out of random left over fabric, but that much should be apparent:


So off I go, but now I have to ask.

What are your own hand-sized, reliable, palat cleanser projects that you sandwich in between serious sewing, or even to restart your mojo if that is ever something you lose?

I'm interested.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

A lesson we need to keep learning- all knits are not alike

This post started out to be a review of three new to me tee shirt type patterns. But when I started thinking it seemed to me that just as important as talking about the patterns, was talking about the knits each is suitable for.

I really think most of us fall into the trap sometimes of thinking that all "knits" are alike, and if we see a pattern calls for knits, we immediately think anything that stretches will work just fine.

This is of course nuts, and I can say this without insulting anyone because I am referring to myself when I make this mistake.

I mean really. Would we ever assume that just because a pattern says woven that we can use either linen, denim, chiffon, melton or broadcloth and the garments would all turn out just fine?

Nope.

So to be fair to any knit pattern it is important to recognize that certain patterns are suited to certain knit fabrics. The trial garments below are talking points on this issue.

First off the Mama Paige by Made4Mermaids.Unfortunately the website doesn't seem to release images to be copied easily so you are going to have to go the link for more pattern details, but here is a start:


  • This is a free pattern. A number of the indie companies, particularly the start-up type ones who sell only .pdf patterns offer some really great free patterns. Worth a look around, what you might want to sew just might be available for nothing or next too.
  • This is a dolman top with skinny sleeves (really skinny you need a really stretchy fabric to make these work, or size up the sleeves) and a T-shirt, tunic and dress length, plus some neckline options.
Here is my version. 

Note the first one, my "muslin" was made in a scuba that I didn't really like. The arms were pretty tight, good thing I have little upper body muscle development, and the structure of the fabric made me look like a fridge with two stringy arms sticking out of it.

When my husband said he wouldn't wear it - first time he has ever commented on anything I make with anything more than an eyes unfocused "looks great"- I decided that this one was one for the recycling bin. So too late to show it to you here now.

So, educated on the pattern, my next version was this ITY knit in a long tunic length. The fabric has tons of stretch and enough body not to cling. I wasn't expecting to like this top, not my usual choice of print, but I actually do. It will work with leggings or a straight skirt:



I have to admit I have soft spot for P4P patterns. They have an astounding collection of free patterns that are really useful, from baby clothes to sun hats to leggings to the pyjama pants you think you might make for Christmas.

This particular pattern is not one of their free ones, but how could I resist any body's favourite? It also had a really unusual scoop neckline with a full shoulder. Wide scoops that expose my bra straps are something that drive my crazy and as a scrawny shoulder person I run into this a lot.

Here are the descriptive photos of this pattern:








I made a sort of muslin for this one too and after that made a few person additions to my own version of the size large:
  • I added an inch at the waist because I am long waisted.
  • I cut nearly the dress length to give me a tunic length for my tall self
  • I raised the scoop at the centre up 1.5" but that might be too much, might go for 3/4" next time
I have learned from experience that a tunic length knit top works best for me in something with some body, i.e. it won't cling to my belly and articulate it. So for that reason I used a cotton/lycra interlock. Here we go:


You can see that this has a real flare to it. I made the large, worked for my upper body and bust but the hip measurement for the large is about 2.5" larger than my own actual hips. So what you are seeing is more of a pattern size than a style design issue. On someone who had the pattern size hips 43" this would look quite different. I will probably take this in a bit below the waist (which is definitely shaped) next time.

Finally I made the Classic Tee by Love Notions. This pattern is currently on for $5.00 which is very reasonable given the quality of the Love Notions draft. 

The name of this pattern more or less says it all but it needs to be noted that this pattern, like most from Love Notions I have tried, has a a good shoulder fit but a fair amount of ease in the waist and hips. 

Here are some of the pattern shots:






This is an extremely wearable pattern. I did not do any pattern changes for my muslin except add my standard 2" for extra length.

Now the fabric I used wasn't ideal, a thinnish rayon knit, you can see the belly grab and I can see the hem will need a press after each washing, but it is so comfortable. I probably won't even add length next time:


Definitely a standby pattern for sure and once I get some sewing for family done I hope to get another version of this made up in firmer cotton lycra to see how that works. This pattern one might be best done in lighter fabric, we will see.

So there you have it. Three very different T-shirt patterns all suitable for different fabrics and for different uses.

Now what do you think?

I really enjoyed the process of pattern comparison and think I may be doing more of exactly that in the future.

















Sunday, October 28, 2018

A jacket project

A few posts ago I showed you a reversible straight skirt I made from some suede knit with a rayon knit backing.



I decided that I wanted to make a jacket to go with both versions of the skirt for my travels. I was hoping for something that would look sort of suit like, despite the fact that my daughter has told me about two million times to stop matching things.



I figured that when she was around I could switch the skirt to the grey side and I would be O.K.

In addition to clandestine suit wear I also wanted a jacket that could double as a sort of spring/fall jacket, meaning that it would not be so fitted that I couldn't wear a sweater under it if I wanted to.

This is the pattern I chose, a new season Butterick from Katherine Tilton, B6596:


I liked the asymmetry of the zipper placement in the jacket and the fact it called for a knit. I usually don't like unlined jackets but in a knit that's just fine and in a two-sided bonded knit even better.

I am very happy with this jacket and will probably at least another one, it is that comfortable.

That said there were some definite surprises in this project.

First is fit.

Going by the back of the pattern envelope, I am between a size 16 and 18 bust, a size 22 waist and between a 16 and 18 hip.

Because I always choose pattern size by my high bust, I cut out a size 14, and added two inches to the hip and two inches to the length (these patterns are drafted for 5'6" women and I am 5'9".)

This meant of course that I was sewing a jacket that was drafted for someone with a bust 3" smaller than mine and with a waist 6" smaller than mine.

Here is how that size 14, with additions only a hip and length looked like on me:


Really not tight at all is it, in fact I might even have gone down a size, although this is fine for an over something else jacket. Next time I make it I will not add anything at all to the hip area and not add to the length.

Can you imagine what this would look like on me if I had made it in a size to match my measurements?

No wonder so many sewers have given up on the Big 4 and gone Indie.

And this is another case study of why I always work off my high bust, rather than my full bust when using the big pattern companies.

I have a pretty clear idea what happened.

The first clue was simply that the instructions were so nuts for a for knit pattern. 

If you read them, all the stay-stitching and clipping and turning and pressing and easing, a person would swear that this pattern was drafted for a woven fabric and that the instructions were written in an 1968 home ec class. 

No mention of sewing a knit with a serger (or finishing with a cover hem or twin needle) or even with a stretch stitch or small zig zag on a sewing machine. It is as if the last 50 years of knowledge in how to sew knits never even happened.

Most weird. This sort of breaks my heart for the new sewers out there who are diligently following pattern instructions and not understanding why they are a struggle, or why they produce garments that look home made.

It really makes me wonder how much input the designer has into these patterns or if they do a sample and the team, at say Butterick, just cuts and pastes in stuff that they have in the generic instruction bank.

Even more odd is that there are two distinct voices in these instructions. 

Most of the steps are as I have described above, textbook woven techniques, and completely ignoring the fact that this pattern was supposed to be sewn in a knit, but then suddenly there are some really wonderful, detailed and quite original instructions for sewing in the invisible zipper pockets. That section seem totally out of character with the rest of the text.

It was as if the pattern editor couldn't find any way of explaining these rarely atypical pockets and asked Tilton herself to write something and then dropped that particular text into the middle of the guide sheet.

Here are the pockets BTW:



A demo of how to put your hands in a pocket

A demo of how to unzip a pocket
Speaking of pockets the pattern calls for four, the two you see in action above and two more internal pockets.

These internal pockets are sort of pattern envelope size and are to be set up high, about three inched below the armpit in each side panel.

I actually made up these pockets and was about to put them in when I realized what I was doing - getting ready to sew in some big pockets to go one under each armpit.

I reminded myself of Miss Heidi when she was asked to stand on a balance beam in gymnastics "Why?" (actually what she actually said was "why do you want me to stand on a piece of wood?")

What is a person supposed to put in these pockets?

Conceal and carry sandwiches? Library books to read on the bus? A cell phone under the right armpit and a pack of cards under the left? Passports for the whole family and the plane tickets home?

Nothing about these pockets made any sense so I left them out. Maybe you should too, unless their purpose is clearer to you than it is to me.

Not all details were this unusual.

The zipper front was easy to install but I did have to work with the zippers I had locally. I really wonder sometimes if it s within my rights as a mother to ask my son, who is happily living his life in Berkeley, to move back to New York for the sewing notions - zippers in particular? Wonder if he would go for that?


In the end I was pretty happy with how the jacket went with both sides of the reversible skirt as hopefully you can see in the shots above. Ignoring the pattern sizing and instructions were worth it.

This is a very wearable garment and hopefully the shots show that.

Speaking of photography I will end this post with an out take just like they do at the end of some movies - all the things they leave on the cutting room floor.

I have to saw that neither my husband or I would say that these photo taking sessions are the high points of our martial experience. I generally want to know why my husband holds the phone in such a way to make my head look small and my stomach look fat and my husband wants to know why if I want the top of my head in the shot I don't tell him.

I also know that my loyal husband thinks I am not helping him reach his creative potential. If for example you are wondering how I actually look when the suggestion is made that we shoot my sewing projects from the drone in the sky - so my readers can see the garment from all angles - well wonder no longer:







Wednesday, October 24, 2018

On process as well as product and how I sew shirts the relaxed way

A week or so ago when it was mental health awareness week ,many sewers spoke on social media about how sewing was good for their mental health. Myself I actually think I have a whole blog that probably expresses that.

I think we can identify with that experience, and the role our sewing plays in how we go through life in one piece.

What struck me most however was an Instagram post by someone whose work I admire. This younger sewer, and a good one, said that sewing helped her occasional depression and anxiety but that, to be honest, sometimes trying to do things right only added to her stress.

I have been thinking about this a lot. 

Sewing is of course an elective activity. (I have heard that there are folks out there who don't do it and actually buy their clothes). It should therefore be an addition to your life, not just one more thing to add to the try to achieve list.

This of course doesn't mean I am an advocate for sloppy sewing, far from it, but learning and getting more confident should also be a nice way to spend time along the way.

To my mind the value of sewing is as much about enjoying the process as the product.

If I were to put into one sentence what my philosophy of sewing would be it would be that finding the ways to create clothes that keep it stress free as well as high quality are what matter most to me.

The question we need to ask ourselves IMO is how can I make this part of the garment in a way that I will enjoy the sewing, without angst.

I am still and always trying to figure this out.

Sometimes that involves some personal go-to construction methods that I use to put together things I sew a lot. 

These personal systems are sort of a combination of my own short cuts, and the kind of fixes that I build in to deal with problems that I know from experience are lurking on the horizon.

Today I would like to talk about how I make the regular fun, print shirts that I give my sons and son-in-laws for presents.

These are not dress shirts. I have made those and have collar stayed and flat felled with the rest and the best of them but these are different - more the casual shirts that the boys wear to parties or out. 

Untucked as opposed to tucked in shirts.

I am going to go through the process for my own stress free casual shirt making but the note that this is not the way most folks might sew shirts and certainly not the classic way to do it.

However in my life this works when I want to make a fun shirt to put a smile on someone's face.

Here goes.

The collar and collar band.

One of the things I do is to interface both the collar and band pieces with a light to medium weight woven fusible, rather than using a proper crips shirt interfacing on only one collar and band.

I find that fusing tends to make fabric more rigid. So if it is only on one side of a unit, say only one side of the band, it is less mobile that the other piece. This means when you try to fit the two of them together the un-interfaced piece is just going to be a little bit stretchier, and you might find yourself struggling to fit that tiny bit extra fabric in say the neck area.

Since any kind of struggling is out in my world when I can eliminate it,  I interface all the collar and band pieces so they behave the same way and will fit together easily. And to my mind two layers of mid weight interfacing equals one layer of something stiffer.

Note I always try to cut the interfacing without seam allowances but if, after stitching, I see some fragments within the seam allowance I trim it out. Interfacing in the seam allowances makes turning a  collar and band neatly too hard.

Construction step one.

1. Make up the collar and top stitch it. 

Of course turning the corner and top stitching can be tricky because the foot is not level after the turn. 

The usual fix for this is to put a shim under the back of the foot so it won't stick at the corner and make those annoying little packed up stitches. Ideally the shim should be the same thickness as the collar. I find the quickest way to find exactly that is to swing around the other corner of the collar and put it under the back of the foot just while you do these stitches:


This little trick always give me nice corner stitching. Once made up of course baste the cut edges of the collar together:


Construction step two:

Sew both band pieces to the shirt along the neck edge, sandwiching the shirt between them:


You will notice I hope that the neck edge has been both stay stitched and clipped a lot so I was able to pull it straight. It is easy to sew a straight edge to a straight edge, so much easier than trying to sew a straight edge to a curved edge, so it is important to make that curved edge of the neckline straight - clipping will do that for you.

Once you have the bands stitched on, press them up. At this point it might be useful to also press under a seam allowance on the top edge of the outer (away from the neck) band:



Construction step three:

Sew the little curve ends of the band. 

Now this is the part that gives you palpitations so to avoid that we are going to take it slow and avoid stressful situations. This means giving yourself a chance to fix up any mistakes or crooked sewing.

Go easy on yourself.

To do this shorten your stitch length, always easier to go around a curve in little steps rather than in big steps, and don't get in involved in backstitching when you start and stop. The little stitches should hold it and in the off chance you have to unpick anything, best if you don't have to try to untangle any knotted, backstitched thread.

To set up this stage of construction fold the front edges of the shirt in a bit to get them out of the way. I don't do any "Burrito" method that involves lots of high level rolling that I find fabric and nerve fraying, just, in this method, make a little fold like this:


Once the front of the shirt is out of the way turn the ends of the band down, right sides together and lower your needle into the point where the band meets the shirt and stitch around the curve and in a bit. 

You could, if you were a different kind of person than me measure how big a space you need to leave for putting the collar in but I sort of ballpark this and make sure I stop my stitching a bit before where the collar starts. 

I do this because it is a real pain, and sort of defeating the laid back process we have going here, to have to try to wiggle an interfaced collar into a too small space. Any tiny gap between the band stitching and the collar will be fixed up and closed with the eventual topstitching anyway or even the odd minute hand stitch if no one is looking:


Hopefully you can see here how in this case my first set of stitching was a bit wobbly (watching the final episode of Outlander on Netflix while I was sewing which may have had something to do with it) so I just went back, took a run at it again along the neck stitching again, pivoted at the corner and tried to do a better job. I did just that and Jamie survived another near death experience. Maybe we both did.

Construction step number four:

From here on you are cruising.

Next turn the corners of the band and lay the collar so the top collar is right sides to the inner band and stitch the collar onto that band.  

Below you can see how this looks from the back of the shirt at this point, collar attached and only the outer band to be hand stitched to the under collar where no one will see it. 

Note: yes I know there are slick ways to just double sided tape this down and capture it all in one round of perfect topstitching, but at this point that would require a person rising to the occasion performance-wise and being fairly precise. 

I find it easier to keep watching Outlander and leisurely stitching this down by hand with little slip stitch (I believe the how-to for that is in my book and on my YouTube channel).


And here is what that hand-stitching looks like:



Construction step number five:

Taking it slow all there is to do now is topstitch around the band, and later to make the buttonholes. 

You will notice again  I do not use a big stitch to do this. I was taught to proportion the stitch length to the thickness of the fabric and with shirt fabrics a stitch length of about 2.0-2.5 seems to work, again also makes curves easier to navigate. 

Note too that since a shirt like this is never worn with a tie I will later make a button hole in the band but don't cut it open. Looks neater that way and less traumatic.


That curvy hem:

Another area that can cause stress in shirt making is the hem. 

A shirt tale hem is a fine idea but the bias nature or that dip up can go wobbly and flare out. There are of course many intelligent ways to deal with this, stay stitching and paying care to pressing etc. but when I am sewing a relaxed shirt this is how I do it. BTW this is also the same method you see in many RTW shirts.

Construction step one:

Stitch on the front bands but before you top stitch them down fold them back on themselves, right sides together, just like you would handle to bottom of a facing in a blouse.

Stitch a hem distance from the bottom edge through all layers, trim, turn, and press. 

Then topstitch the bands. This gives a nice neat edge to the bands and avoids any clunky awkward hem bumps later (remind me to go back and trim some of those thread ends):


Construction step two:

Now before you sew any side seams make a narrow hem on the back of the shirt and on both fronts. Only then sew the side seams. 


If I am continuing to sew in an easy on me way I will probably straight stitch the side seams and then serge them together.


Construction step three:

Press the seam allowances towards the back and then, and I got this trick from looking at RTW, make a little row of straight stitches to hold it down and secure the flow of the hem at the side seams. In real life this is actually flatter than it looks here in the close up, but even still might give this another press:

a


So there you have it, with my apologies to my friends David Coffin and Maris Olsen for violating a few rules here, but really for gift giving type casual shirts this is a pleasant way to do them.

Have I been clear enough?