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I am a mother, a 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 book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Friday, January 15, 2021

Projecting your sewing

Well where do we start?


I remember when the only patterns I used were selected from big books, extracted from metal drawers, and driven home. 

I remember when I subscribed to BVM and browsed patterns online and then ordered them to be sent by mail. At the time I thought this was incredibly convenient and progressive.

This was before the world of .pdf patterns. 

I love .pdf patterns. 

I love access to new designers. Yes some of the indies are random drafters, but some are excellent. It has been worth the trouble of sewing up a few dudes to find some lines, like LoveNotions, I can count on.

In addition to the range of patterns that I can now access in .pdf, I also love the convenience. I really like being able to source a pattern just when I want it, just when I am ready to sew.

In theory this on demand access was supposed to mean I wouldn't stockpile as many patterns. Of course the opposite has been true. There isn't a pattern sale on this earth that doesn't get me clicking "add to cart" in that dangerous hour before bedtime.

There is a downside to patterns in this format too of course. 

Once downloaded the patterns have to be printed out before they can be used. This has meant either taping together letter sized sheets, then cutting them up into pattern shapes or even tracing over the print-outs, or sending the file to a copy shop, and going over in the car to pick up the big rolled sheets.

Not exactly convenient or incredibly fun.

And of course these big, large carbon footprint, patterns take up a lot of room.

I have many boxes and baskets of patterns stored like this in my sewing room, or rolled up in a corner, practically to the point where I am tripping over them:


I was become overwhelmed entirely by my pattern collection.

As a result I decided to try projector sewing.

The idea is simple.

You open up a pattern on your computer in the large copy shop or AO format or a "projector file". The computer/laptop is then connected, by cable or wirelessly to a projector that has been mounted above a table or even the floor and is able to project the image of the pattern onto that surface.

A projector file is basically a copy shop size version of the pattern with a grid layer of squares on it. This grid is measured and checked to makes sure the pattern is true to size and if it isn't, adjusted. 

Once the pattern is true to size  you can either trace the image onto paper (economically because this is not a tracing on job not a tracing over job and you can use any large paper to do this) or lay your fabric directly under the image and cut along the lines you see - no pattern or paper involved at all.

I have done both.

The advantages of projector cutting are obvious: 

1. No printing, taping, and cutting or driving to the copy shop and paying at least as much as you paid for the pattern to get someone to do the printing for you.

2. Money saved, time saved, energy (global and personal) saved.

3. It's super fast, particularly if you project right onto the fabric and cut. Even more so if you are one of those folks who cut with a rotary cutter. 

4. Pattern storage is simplified. Mine are on the Cloud.

The challenges are also obvious:

1. There is both software and hardware involved here. Until this all gets refined to more sewist friendly products you are going to need:

  • the right kind of projector and a way of connecting it to your computer/laptop. I found excellent advice on this FB group.
  • the projector has to be a significant distance  from the surface to project the large shapes of the pattern. For most projectors this is about 5-6 feet or 2 meters. There are some more expensive projectors that can throw the image from closer, but for the majority of projectors have to be mounted on a ceiling. This isn't a job you can do with a glue gun or tape. You have to be drill comfortable yourself or have someone who is who owes you, or even better loves you. The best place for my own projector right now is on my living room ceiling. When my niece and nephew finish renovating their house and vacate our basement, and I will move operations down there but in the meantime here is my living room ceiling (only you would do this, says my daughter):

2. There is some fiddling around to do to make sure the pattern is being projected accurately. This isn't actually very hard. For projector files this process is one of measuring the squares and making sure they are the size the should be (usually 1 " or 5 cm) and then changing the image size % as necessary until they are. Here's my screen with the image percentage adjusted to 21.1% which gives me a perfect match between the grid and my ruler:

Note the grid is a layer in Adobe. Once  the image size has been adjusted to be exactly right you can turn the grid layer  off so those lines are no longer projected -just like you can turn off the layers for different sizes in normal pattern printing.

Also, if you have an older pattern or one that doesn't have a projector file, no problem. Just find the registration box, that little box you are meant to check and measure before you print, and work from that:

It really only takes a few minutes to get things adjusted. Once you have figured out the right projection adjustment % for one company just write it down for reference for next time.


I have a folding table I can use under the projector for patterns and also use the floor. I have written down the different percentages for each pattern company for these two projection distances so I know I will always have an accurate pattern. It is actually easier to work on the floor for me because I don't have to worry about the weight of large pieces of fabric hanging off the end of the table.

Right now I am using the projector most often to quickly trace patterns onto brown paper. 

I have a lifetime of working with paper patterns, so once I have them I can use them quickly. Also I still like the paper for adjustments and still like a paper version of a pattern I suspect I will be using multiple times. 

Tracing along the projected lines onto paper is a crazy time saver compared to printing, taping etc,

I have also projected directly onto fabric and liked that too. The only issue is that until I take the time to learn a free program called Inkscape so I can arrange the pattern pieces so they are in a good position for on the fabric layout (the pattern pieces in most files are not laid out for economical use of fabric) it is necessary to move the fabric around under the image to place the pattern pieces. In some cases I find this a bit slow because I had to fuss around with grain. It might also be possible that I haven't fully adjusted to the weirdness of moving the fabric to work with the pattern, rather than moving the pattern to fit the fabric - like I have for decades and decades.

As to cutting you just cut away, but bear in mind that the fabric layers are not pinned. Pattern weights of some kind really are a necessity. I take some care to slide my scissors not lift them and the fabric but that isn't hard.  Folks who cut with a rotary cutter and mat might be even more efficient.

So that's it.

I am definitely a fan of projector sewing.

To me it is well worth the hassle, and some expense, to get this going.  But to my mind the return in time and money saved from then on makes it worth it.

Confession though. 

I actually had the set up done by my tech savvy husband. As a result he knows more than I do about the hardware side of this. I think I am going to ask him to do a guest post on how we did our set up for you.

Watch for that post shortly.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Flypaper thoughts home for the winter version

  • Other years we are well on our way down south in January
  • This one I am sitting in my chair next to an animal sandwich
  • Trying to warm up
  • Daisy and I went for a walk just now
  • She got cold
  • Despite her winter coat
  • So home, I sat her next to me
  • And wrapped her in a blanket
  • The cat decided to lie on the blanket, on Daisy's back
  • She's been waiting for weeks
  • To find a way to attach herself to a dog
  • With whom she has a one sided relationship
  • They both went to sleep
  • Now I can't move because they might wake up
  • And Daisy might realize there is a cat on her back
  • So I am being quiet
  • Quiet and cold are the words for this month
  • Not that we aren't busy
  • I have made four new pairs of warm pants
  • And made forty sewing new year's resolutions
  • #1 sew from the patterns I already have
  • Same as my intention from last year 
  • And the year before
  • But this time I mean it
  • Like I will next year
  • Fortunately I can be pretty busy in my own house
  • Firing off projects all over the place
  • Making corn tortillas
  • Sewing elastic into rings
  • Talking to my neighbours when I walk dogs
  • Who's that my husband asks, waving at you?
  • Dexter's dad I say
  • Molly's dad
  • Garth's mom
  • You know the pug who must be 400 in dog years
  • Blind and pulled by his mom in a sled
  • Mr. Crow who is trying to walk the equivalent of some trail in Britain
  • He was booked to hike last spring
  • Now translated into miles around and around our streets
  • I count him four times a day past my window
  • Good to have an interest
  • Speaking of my husband
  • He bought me Masterclass for Christmas
  • He's really having a great time with it
  • Just finished a course in how to be a hostage negotiator
  • I can't make stuff like this up
  • He says it's more interesting than Malcolm Gladwell
  • Which I find hard to believe
  • Says he has been using his new techniques on me the last  two days
  • Wants to know if I have noticed
  • Noticed what I asked?
  • How I am using my 80% voice 20% of the time now
  • I mean what do you say to that?
  • Keeping to myself that after three kids I am pretty sure
  • My own hostage negotiator skills are pretty excellent as they are
  • Fair enough he wants to catch up
  • I have identified some wardrobe gaps
  • Biggest one is golf clothes
  • I haven't made much to golf in the last few years
  • Pieced together Costoc skorts and any top with a collar
  • Had to be sure I wouldn't be a golf drop-out first
  • Then I found friends who didn't keep score
  • So now I need to turn my mind away from my putting
  • To what I will wear
  • This is going to be a challenge
  • The rules of golf seem to involve wearing polyester
  • And paying way too much for it
  • Upside is that I can see potential for legitimately dressing in loud colours
  • Contemplating figuring out a golf dress
  • Could churn those units out if I could figure this out
  • I wake up at night and wonder about piping
  • And decide to just make shorts to wear underneath 
  • Rather than attaching
  • These are serious issues
  • It's cold
  • My son has bought a wood fired sauna
  • He lives by the water and no doubt plans to jump in the North Atlantic afterwards
  • Me I am wondering if it is possible to knit in a sauna
  • What do you think?
  • Resolution #3 knit an aran cardigan
  • Been meaning to do this for 20 years
  • I knit socks and watch strange CBC TV
  • Just finished a great series about the Northern Alberta decoy duck carving competition
  • To that you can knit socks
  • Many of them
  • But might do me good to read a chart and pay attention
  • When you are hostage to the winter
  • Your mind can wander
  • Not sure I have the skills to do this cardigan
  • How hard can it be?
  • The motto of my life

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Revisiting patterns

I really like the dress I am wearing on the cover of my latest book. It is so comfortable and the cotton blend ponte is so wearable. I also made my mom a top from this fabric because I like it so much. I got both the fabric for the dress and for the cardigan from my local Fabricville.

There is a story behind this dress.

I used Jalie's Nicole I had made this dress when it first came out and reviewed it here.

Despite really loving the fabric and the style of the pattern I haven't really worn that dress much at all. It sticks to my rear end and stomach too much.

However like I said I really like the style so I decided to take a different tack and try it again. This time I selected not the size my measurements would give me, but the size that the actual garment measurements would give me to what I know to be comfortable around the middle of my body.

This meant going up two full sizes from the armholes down - essentially changing this pattern from close to the body ease to an additional 1.5" of ease.

Here is the result:

So so much better and now one of my favourite patterns. (You can see I did this in the fall - in major catch up blog post mode here).

I think this is a strategy I am going to work on with other patterns. Because Jalie comes in so many sizes and those sizes go up in fine increments it is possible to tweek the ease a bit without a lot of distortion of the pattern lines.

I think I am going to try the same approach with the Lisette skirt pattern, which has beautiful lines but on me made me look like an egg cup. You will notice that when I did that review I focused on the construction techniques and not my body fit.

Once I had this success I decided to go back and look at other patterns.

One of these was the Charlotte cardigan. I had some nice red sweater knit but wanted something really practical and warm. As a result I just lengthened this pattern to something more jacket like to wear with the dress.

The sweater knit was fairly soft though so I didn't make buttons and buttonholes. Instead I used those big snaps that I consider one of the best inventions of this century:

I think there is a theme here. 

One of my take aways from this strange time of the pandemic is about doing more with whatever you have on hand. My house, I have rediscovered, has deep sewing supply resources that I have had no choice but to mine this year.

I used to think, with irony, that I collected patterns, notions and fabric like squirrel. Like I was waiting for the big storm and I couldn't get out.  

Well what do you know. 

That storm came and I was ready.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

How to sew on a button

Now I know no one who reads this blog needs to know how to sew on a button.

That said I am well aware that there are lots of folks who never had to develop skills like this.

For those missing button people I decided to do a video. My husband, who is playing around with iMovie decided to "produce" it. We both had fun.

Thursday, December 31, 2020


 2020 has been a great year for understanding what really matters.

It has also been an important year for truly understanding the things in life you can do without.

When you think about it those are two pretty important realities. Can't think of many of us who would not be better off having faced these things.

The list of things that, as they say, don't really serve who I am now, is long. 

The list of things that matter to me is very specific:

  • my family
  • my animals
  • my sewing
  • my part of the world
  • my friends
  • folks I run into and chat with - I am a social person, casual contact is important to me
  • learning new things

That's it.

We have all been waiting for a new year, or more specifically to declare this one over. 

For the first time I am seriously thinking of what I can do to make sure I keep 2021 focused on the list above - there have been enough detours and distractions in life.

There will be more on my ordinary life in later posts I am sure but this morning I am thinking of my sewing.

2020 was a sewing intensive year for me. 

I really got into sewing wardrobes for other people, my daughter and mom for example. I will continue to do that and am adding in a few folks, my niece is pregnant now and I want to make her some maternity clothes.

Some of my 2020 sewing was of the sample variety. In this last year I also wrote another book. 

I see it is on Amazon already for pre-order (I don't completely understand why) although it won't be released and available until August 2021. Publishing is a complicated and slow process.

Writing this book, essentially a collection of my handy hints, during a pandemic was an entirely weird experience. 

I made most of the samples in lockdown, in a period when the fabric stores were closed and mail order very, very slow. I had originally planned to hit Stonemountain in Berkeley and the garment district in NYC during our last winter's trip to get great fabric. Instead last winter we high tailed it out of Texas and came straight home when Trudeau called us all back to the mothership. I had to drive by the garment district and cancel a trip to Berkeley to see the kids. That was hard.

Once home I started to work on the sewing side of the book. The publisher had  come up with the interesting, and good idea, of colour coding the samples for each chapter. So in addition to scrambling to find suitable fabrics in my house, I also had to make do with what I could in terms of the right colour. 

I am very happy with the ideas in this book but regret that, due to the circumstances, in a few places I had to make do with less than ideal fabric. Poly cotton just doesn't press as well as all cotton for example, but what was a girl to do? In my case carry on.

I was very lucky however that despite the pandemic I had huge support from my people.

The studios at the publisher's in California were closed and the departments who had worked on my first book sent home. As a result to meet our deadline my husband stepped in and did the process shots. A friend on my daughter's street did the model shots and family and friends were my models. Another friend lent me her store for the cover shot (thank you Chris at Patch) and my 6 year-old grandson suggested I put a semi-permanent in my hair (something I regret seeing the cover now) so I did have a stylist.

In the end I hope that something in this book will be useful to someone. That is really is all I care about.

So after a 2020 that was all about sewing focused on other people, family members and the sewing community, I am going to give myself more time to sew just for myself in the new year.

Specifically I am going to do more challenging projects and get into the process more. It has been a while since I have been able to do that. My wardrobe has also reached a place where I don't exactly need a lot so I can afford to experiment.

There is no plan right now other than giving myself the luxury to sew in a more adventurous way, and that's pretty much my only resolution.  I am going to think of 2021 as our collective recovery and applying lessons learned year.

Now over to you.

What are your own thoughts for 2021?

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Follow up on the Big 4 and printing issues

Thank you to all who responded to my last post. There is a lot to think about here.

For a start let's talk about the failure of the printing capabilities at the plant in Kansas.

I have to say I don't really buy this story. Here's why:

1. The malware/computer issue occurred in October. Any winter/holiday pattern collections would be well on their way then - and surely printed for shipment to the stores or ready for online direct customer orders. An October printing problem would impact the spring collections maybe, not winter or holiday.

Note too that Vogue and Kwik Sew was still able to produce slim collections - but were there ever any intention to offer winter/holiday collections for Butterick or McCalls? 

2. Assuming that there were some patterns for this season in the works in all pattern lines, what would be stopping the companies from making .pdf versions available so as not to lose market share? 

Since any patterns would be designed in CAD formats it should have in fact been easier to switch, even for the duration of the printing issue, to .pdfs than hold out for paper.

3. Where are the updates? Where is the customer relations? Do any of us really believe that a viable business could not get a software issue fixed within this time frame, particularly if not doing so would cost money?

What's with this crazy story that the computers wouldn't even turn on? Are these the only computers available on the planet? Are we to believe that these large pattern collections were not backed up and accessible from other machines (even I have my own stuff backed up on the Cloud). 

I have never worked in any office that did not back up the servers. If the printers still worked, and the problem as described was a software not a mechanical issue, then why couldn't the files be downloaded to new computers and sent to the printers? What century are we in?

This is how this whole story is feeling to me:

  • the funds are not available or made available to fix the issues and get production going again. Obviously the cost benefit analysis of fixing the problem wasn't there. No one was losing much money if these idle printers just sat there.
  • Butterick and McCalls are being fazed out anyway. This is a well timed exit strategy.
Further thoughts.

I am not a conspiracy theorist. In fact those folks make my head explode.

However I have common sense, most of the time, and hopefully can still add 2+2 and get 4. That's what I think I am doing here.

I have some sympathy for the company. After all this is exactly what happened to newspapers - an area I have worked in. Print newspapers, like print patterns I guess, stopped making financial sense years ago. In fact there is a town in Nova Scotia, Liverpool, that used to produce the newsprint for the Washington Post. That order was cancelled long ago and that plant, and much of the town, closed down too.

These things happen, times change. I get that.

But I am seeing something else at play here.

Not caring.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I know people who have retired once they knew they just didn't care as much any more (one was my old doctor who I give full credit for his honesty). I even know people who find it hard to care about anything much at all (my most horrifying moment of my teaching career was a student who when asked to write about something she cared about, said well I am not sure I am interested in or care about anything).

Let's be honest we have all reached the point at some time in our lives when we stopped caring about something that used to matter. Often this is a good thing, if what we cared about a lot, if for example, what was what other people think. But it is a terrible thing to have a business or an occupation where you really don't care about the product. How does it feel to acquire a line you don't have much interest in, or have customers for that line that don't really matter to you? Tires, or shovels or sewing patterns, it's all the same to you.

That's what the Big 4 feel like to me these days, like they don't care anymore.

Which is too bad, because when it comes to sewing, I still do.

A lot.

BTW thanks to Vintage Sewing Patterns for posting the link. It was nice to see good pattern design again.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The future of the big paper pattern companies

If you have a collection of Big 4 paper patterns it might be a good thing to hold on to them.

Some of these patterns were very good. However right now it seems to me that the future of the brands we have all used for so long is wobbly at best. 

Now I am a big believer, not much choice, in change being the only constant. But it does make me sad to know that the future of the patterns I have sewed from my whole life appears to be insecure.

Now the Big 4 -Vogue, McCalls, Butterick and Simplicity- (the first three now owned by one outfi)t are no longer stand alone sewing pattern companies. Instead they seem to be the holdings of other entities whose business seems often to be what they used to be called "sundries." We, the sewists, are no longer who they really are about.

Maybe the idea of a big centralized pattern company has had its time. Maybe it's the turn of smaller, more nimble companies (some not so good, some excellent) to take over. Maybe this is all OK and part of the industry's reconfiguring itself naturally.

But I wonder where these companies will be the end of this coming year.

Simplicity/New Look/printed Burda

Now I can only speak to these patterns based on what I can see online. A number of years ago Simplicity and New Look decided not to sell in Canada anymore. For this I won't ever quite forgive them. We are next door and we sew a lot up here.

That said, despite a completely annoying and hard to sort through website, Simplicity and New Look seem to be doing a decent job of keeping up with current tastes in clothes. They don't offer a huge selection but they seem to be fairly competitive design wise to the Indies and I do love their persistent offering of vintage patterns. I can see they are making an effort to be relevant and I appreciate that.

I wonder though how long that will last given the gift store orientation of the other products their parent company owns.

Vogue/Butterick/McCalls/Kwik Sew

Wow just wow. 

It seems to me that corporate has more or less given up on Butterick and McCalls. Both those lines had slim Fall season offerings (10 and 9 new patterns respectively) but neither offered anything at all for Winter or Holiday!

Are you kidding me? 

There have always been winter, holiday, early spring by this time in the calendar. Have the staff all been laid off? Things on hold until they figure it out?

And this doesn't even discuss the fact that those fall patterns were about as recycled and ordinary as they could get. 

At this rate I wouldn't be surprised if these lines have faded away by summer. 

Kwik Sew, once a wonderful flagship brand for those who like to sew knits, seems to be rebranded as a sort of craft pattern company. Fine if you sew clothes for dogs and dolls, not so much if you want to sew for yourself - aprons excepted. There is not one garment pattern in the Spring or Winter/Holiday Kwik Sew catalogue.

Which leaves us with Vogue. 

Vogue used to be the home for those marvellous designer patterns we all used. Like it's sister companies Vogue offered little this season - only 12 new patterns in the winter/holiday combo and of course the designer patterns are totally gone.

To give them credit among this slim collection there were some real meaty patterns for real sewists - nice to see after the innumerable easy, similar tee shirts, and pullover dresses in so many Indie lines.

I really hope we can continue to see challenging patterns like these, something for a sewist to think about as well as make, available to us:

So from where I sit we might get to the new year with only Vogue and the Simplicity group producing patterns, with Kwik Sew continuing to go deeper into crafts.

It shouldn't be a surprise. Three pattern companies in one portfolio is a lot unless they are branded to be very different. That didn't happen.

There were some things however that the pattern companies could have done to help themselves. 

At the top of my list would have been:

1. Overhauling fit. What's with the completely dissimilar to RTW fit? Personally I have no patience left for making Big 4 patterns that turned out to be humungous and completely unlike the line art on the envelopes.

2. Better instructions. Instructions needed to be updated to contemporary techniques and machines. Why are for knits patterns still being issued without reference to sergers? What's with the double straight stitched seams instead? Enough with the cut and paste guide sheets apparently composed of instructions written originally years, if not decades, ago.

What do you think? 

Where do you think the big paper pattern companies are going and what, if anything could they do to turn it around? 

And should they?

I'm listening.