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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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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Nightware suggestion Simplicity 9505

Sarah has thoughtfully sent me an image of her favourite nightwear pattern and I am inserting it here. Looks terrific. Just wish Simplicity was available still in Canada but will look for this somewhere online:

Summer sewing list: bite sized goals

This happens every summer. 

One minute I am digging out the summer clothes and the next minute I  realize it is the middle of July and all those things I was going to get done over the summer better get done before the summer clothes get packed away again.

I decided today that in addition to my usual round of family sewing, I needed to think about good summer projects for myself.

Unusually I decided to get sensible. So instead of time spent on ambitious sewing projects I decide to be nice to myself instead. I decided to make some things that have been percolating for a while now and would actually be useful.

Most of these are fast projects I can fit in around my other activities. All of them are outstanding:

  • A good bag for taking my cosmetic/shampoo etc. gear around with me in my travels. I have made nearly everyone in the vicinity a version of this free pattern, in the large size that holds everything, but why not me?
  • At least one hat. Obviously these are important in the sun but I have a terrible time finding one that is big enough for my large head. All the ones I own really have to be jammed down. I have a couple of patterns but might try this one, again a free pattern, or this one, because they have several sizes. I can make the brim bigger in the bucket hat too if I want. I am even thinking of trying some foam, like they use for bags, for the brim. I read in expensive sites like Tilley's about hats that float and I can figure that one out.
  • Some pyjamas and night gowns. I really need something cool for the summer and something decent to wear so I don't scare the children when I visit. I have Jalie's reliable old pyjama pattern for a start, again something I have made for everyone but me, and am thinking too of this Burda pattern. I need some cooler wovens, knits can get hot. 
  • Some kind of housecoat (this is a Canadian thing, in other parts of the world these are called robes etc.) that is covering enough for travel and staying with people but doesn't take up a lot of room in the suitcase. I had high hopes for this Vogue pattern, such a pretty drawing, but even when I sized down it was big enough for three of me and had sleeves that looked like A line skirts. I would actually just like a pattern that looked like the picture. I could probably figure something out if I have to.
  • And finally I really want to sew at least one decent handbag. I have danced around this one for a while. I always something more urgent to work on, but these patterns and bag creations really are what catch my eye most when I scroll through my Facebook posts on my phone when I am drinking my morning coffee. I think that after a person has liked say the Boronia bag 700 times she should probably bite the bullet and make one. 
So that's it for me. I am trying out a new and novel idea which is making sewing to-do lists of things I might actually make. I will let you know how this goes.

Now over to you.

What are your personal sewing projects for the summer? 

The comments are always the best parts of this blog!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Woman and ageing

I have been thinking a lot about this subject this week. I am likely going to be writing about it more as we go along.

I have been thinking about a few older women in my life and how they are living this stage of living.

I have been thinking of one older lady who lives alone and is totally dependent on her children for her what to do next, "I go where they take me."

I have been thinking of a woman, nearly eighty, who has had a great career and is now holding on to it with a death grip, to the point that this, not her achievements, will be what she is remembered for.

And I think of my 91 year old mother who as usual is doing what no one expected and lifting her broken leg/hip, walking to the dining room and exhausting herself with physio. She can tell you the life story of everyone in the rehab hospital already.

I am thinking of older women and, realizing in certain dopey circles this might include me, and their choices. Or lack of.

It's worth thinking how women if this generation, and probably all generations, I don't see my female students much different, are reactors in their own lives.

It's pretty easy to do this.

Parents, siblings, friends, men, employers, children all need us to do so much for them. When we spend all that time not letting down everyone else, considering always how they feel, there just isn't a lot of space to even think about what we want.

I had a conversation with my mother a while ago. She told me how totally overwhelmed she was by being a housewife. If I have heard once I have heard about 8 million times how my grandfather and father thought it would make them "look bad" if she worked after marriage as a nurse. That woman hasn't nursed since 1952. If you ask her who she is now, she says nurse.

My mom had four kids and stayed at home with us. She completely hated housework and cooking. That is where the overwhelmed part came from. She says for the life of her she just couldn't figure out how other women did it, kept a well run house. She says she always felt like a failure.

Our neighbour across the street at the time has verified this for me. She herself was always an impeccable housekeeper and tells funny stories of the absolute chaos of my mother's laundry room floor - piled high with dirty clothes and an inactive washing machine.

This woman also told me that her own three kids used to say if anything ever happens to you and dad make sure we are sent across the street because it's really fun over there.

I am thinking this morning of women like my mom and others of her generation and mine and even my daughter's and wonder how often we say, 

"This is what I really want to do."

If we do, we first run it in our minds past all the people our goal might affect, children, parents, friends, and spouses. We then also consider the what ifs, like what if I make a fool of myself, what if it doesn't work, what if I am a failure,  or the classic "what if they are mad?"

How many women:

  • went into a career because the family suggested it?
  • ended up in a job because they hired you and one thing led to another?
  • married someone because they asked and who knows if there would be another offer?
  • stayed in a job, marriage, or relationship because other people would be too disrupted if we didn't?
  • said "no it's OK" when it wasn't?
  • were smarter but smiled at the dumb idea?
Add to the list, you get my drift.

How many women do you know have a bucket list? A real bucket list.

How many women when they suddenly have time to themselves because of life changes or even just the realities of age, get sort of angry because so many people tell them to do what they want or do what they are interested in. They just don't know what that is. They have spent their lives not being that selfish. What are people talking about- do what you want?

The most frightening experience of my teaching career was in a writing class where students were asked to write about an issue they cared about. One 21 year old emailed me in a panic, "I am having real trouble with this assignment because there is nothing I really am interested in, does shopping count?"

As to my mother, who appears to be defying all expectations in rehab, I know why she is doing so well.

She told me.

She just loves hospitals.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Two more stress free shirt sewing hints

Hi folks.

There are a few other short tips on stress free shirt sewing that I would like to make sure to pass on. 

The first one, on buttonholes was mentioned in my last week's free newsletter for new and returning sewists (you can sign up by sending me a message through the form at the top of this page), but I think is worth repeating for those who missed it.

First up, shirt plackets.

These aren't too hard if you are methodical about it, but the marking can be a pain. What I do now for any detail the requires precision, like a welt pocket or these plackets, is to trace off the stitching/cutting line markings on tracing paper and pin that directly to the fabric.

Then, using a smaller than normal stitch length because this will make removing the paper easier, I stitch and cut the fabric as required. Note that below I have made these so many times I no longer put in the slash lines within the stitching box but of course you can do that:

Secondly I spray starch the buttonhole area before I make buttonholes in fine fabrics. I find that the dense satin stitching pulls in the fabric. This reduces the cutting area to next to nothing, and the starching eliminates this. Below is a shot of two buttonholes. The larger one at the bottom was made on starched fabric. The small one at the top was made in fabric that had not been starched. Both samples were made in two layers of fabric and one layer of interfacing:

On another note I have revised the instructions for french seaming the shirt in the last post. It appears that I reversed the right/wrong side parts, not surprising if you know my need for good copy editing, and I apologize if there was any confusion.

Finally I got an email yesterday that said one of the best men's shirt patterns I use the All Day Shirt by Liesl is on sale this week, until Saturday, for 50% off with the discount code  July2019 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Stress free shirt sewing: hems and seams

I have a few other details to discuss on how to sew shirts with less stress.

The first of these is how to sew a curved hem. I am not totally happy with the way the hem looks on my son's shirt in the last post (why don't those boys iron more?) but I saw that shirt before it was sent out and it wasn't wavy. The lesson here is that this pattern has a shaped side seam and for a casual shirt on this straight up and down guy I have to remove all curve. And in a casual camp collar style shirt like this one I will do a square shape with vents in the side next time.

Back on topic.

The curved shirt hem is a difficult one for most sewing folks. The straight parts at the front and back are easy, they are on grain, but once you get to the curved places at the side the grain moves off to something closer to bias and under the action of pressing and sewing it can so easily stretch and bow out. 

There is a lot of good advice out there about stay-stitching etc. to avoid this, but my nerves are something I like to restore, not erode. So when I sew so this is what I do instead.

I hem the fronts and the back of the shirt before I sew the side seams. 

The reasons for doing this are:

  • It is easier to press and sew up one small hem at a time
  • Any bias that exists, even if I elect to stay-stitch (I don't always do this in high thread count stable shirt fabrics) is pushed towards the side seam and I can trim it off before sewing those seams
  • This is the way many ready-to-wear shirts are made - look for a little patch many RT
The process is simple:
  1. I press up the hem allowance, turning the raw edge under on both front and back pieces before I do anything else to them, like sew on the front bands. These pressing lines are good markers.
  2. I sew the bands onto the shirt, but before I topstitch them down I fold them back and sew along the bottom, just like you would at the bottom of a facing in a blouse. I turn and press this to the right side and then top stitch the bands in place.
  3. I then stitch the hems, following my previous pressing marks.
Now to the seams, sleeve and side.

I don't serge any of my seams in my shirts. Yes it is fast and easy but I feel it is part of the culture of shirt-making, all other construction is enclosed with yokes, bands etc. to have all raw edges, even those covered by serging, hidden.

Of course the standard is to make flat felled seams, and I have made a lot of those with a felling foot, but that kind of work, particularly when you get to the tricky step two of edge-stitching down a raw edge, is nerve-wracking.

And we are sewing stress free right?

So after much experimentation I have decided to use french seams for my shirts, two different ways, and to top stitch them to look like flat felled, mimicking the appearance of RTW shirt seams.

To set in the sleeves- a conventional french seam:

  1. Make a french seam, step one wrong sides together, step two and final stitching from the inside.
  2. Top stitch close to the folded edge of the encased seam, which will give the appearance of a single line of topstitching from the right side. Note how this eases in the extra bulk of the sleeve cap but keeps this hidden from the right side:

To sew the side seams- a french seam done in reverse with the encased seam in on the outside:
  1. Make a french seam, step one right sides together, step two and final stitching from the outside- this will catch the hem allowances.
  2. Press the encased seam allowance to the back of the shirt and top stitch close to the folded edge, giving the appearance of a flat felled seam.

Here is how this looks at hem level, from the wrong side.

First before the final top stitching is done:

And then after the final top stitching is done on the right side:

Done and not at all stressful.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Catch up with life pictures: sewing context

Recently someone told me that if I wanted to sell more books I needed a bigger social media presence. Due to life being life I thought this was sort of amazing.

For a start I am a person who sews and likes to share anything I can about sewing in a less stressful way, because that interests me and might be useful to you. A book to me is a vehicle for that.

And as far as social media goes, which I guess includes this blog,  I sometimes wonder how those who have a highly, highly active online life get the living part done.

All this is leading into a completely random collection of details about what's been going on around here.

First near the end of June my 91 year old mother fell at home and broke her leg below her hip in four places. My mom being my mom bounced back as much as you can bounce in these circumstances. She is now in a rehab hospital working on just that, which to her means being very engaged in everyone and everything and treating it like one more interesting experience. I am actually not kidding about that.

Here is my mother shortly after she was admitted, as evidence of what she is like ( she would love to know I posted this), but because she is herself all over social media, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Pinterest as well as texting everyone all the time, she will find out about it soon.

Next last weekend my middle granddaughter Heidi, who was staying with me for the weekend, had a sudden and severe attack of appendicitis, perforated actually which is not ideal. Luckliy I had the presence of mind to get her into the ER on time. Her parents and the other two kids were about two hours away (Heidi had stayed behind because she had a birthday party to go to) but her mom was able to make it back just in time for her surgery.

Heidi has been a very sick little girl but my daughter, Katrina, is a nurse and has been rooming in with her and giving her 24/7 expert care. Here is a picture of the two of them going for a short walk around the floor:

Katrina has her own medical issues of course but has been amazing. Right now it appears Heidi is recovering ahead of schedule because her mom has been on it and might be home in a few days. In the meantime this week I have been taking care of the other two kids, cooking (my vegetable lasagna got returned - no one likes mushrooms) and taking care of the cleaning of the Airbnb the kids run.

In the middle of all of this I kept up sewing. Sewing is always my island of recovery in really busy times.

Here are some sleep sacks I made for baby Anika in California (Pattern by Peek-a-Boo), two of them pieced to use some patterned knit scraps I really liked, one in two layers of gauze for the summer:

These were a lot of fun to make these.

Finally, speaking of social media, here is a picture of my youngest son Ben, who lives in Austin Texas and works in the wind industry. Today is his birthday. He and his girlfriend are in Berkeley with his brother and his family to celebrate. Here is the picture he posted of himself in his shirt. I used the Negroni shirt pattern by Colette:

Now I don't often post a lot of personal stuff, focus more on the sewing, but this seemed to me to be the point tonight. Sewing is part of real life and gets done for the real people in it, sometimes around the living, but always as a place to catch your breath and make something.

More organized posts soon, I miss this too.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Short story: So you want to be a writer

Inspired by:  Indeed, learning to write may be part of learning to read. For all I know, writing comes out of a superior devotion to reading.
Eudora Welty

I am pretty sure my dad spent most of my childhood wishing I was someone else.

He talked a lot about a big gang of kids. Why couldn’t I be normal and happy running around with a bunch of friends? Like he did in the stories he told in at the house parties my parents used to have. Parties held on nights when clouds of cigarette smoke drifted down the bungalow hall to our bedroom doors, cracked open so we could lie in bed and listen to grown-up laughter. Listen to the voices as they grew louder and the stories were told uncensored now the kids were in bed.

A big gang of kids like the ones my dad piled into the car when he was in university. In the days when you did drink and drive, seeing how closely he could back up to the edge of the bank of the Red River in his dad’s car, just for laughs.

A big gang of kids like my next youngest sister, the one I was most compared to, and who played basketball, and hung with. The gang who did who knows what when she was gone for hours out of everyone’s hair.

“Can’t you get that kid out of her room?” my dad would ask my mother. “It’s summer and she should be out playing, not stuck in her room reading books.”

But I had so many books to read. 

Every Saturday I took the bus downtown alone, they let you do that then, to the public library. It was the tallest building in town in those days, bigger than Woolworths, taller than Kresges, and towering over the Saan Stores With Clothes for the Working Man on the same side of the street. The library, an old bank, must have been two, three storeys high, at least.

The library had two sections. 

On the main floor was the adult library, where you could visit when you turned twelve. Downstairs, in the basement, was the children’s section, where you went while you waited, either for your parents to rescue you, or to turn twelve. Sometimes it was hard to know what was going to come first.

The floor of the children’s section was concrete and uneven. The walls were painted in shiny red enamel, because I guess, well you know children, it had to be easy to clean. There was a librarians’ counter the staff stayed behind, where you took your books to be stamped for check-out.  There were also a few tiny chairs but no one sat in them. Your bum got stuck if you did.

Down one end of the room there was a mesh wall with a lock. Here the library staff did whatever they did, putting the cards into the back of the books I figured, or composing the criminal records of kids like me who always returned books late. I remember now that there was also a huge safe at the back behind the gate. After all who was going to lug anything that heavy up the stairs and away? It was just as easy to turn the dial and forget the combination.

The children’s collection made me sad. 

What I really read there was how small was the world adults allowed children to have and how dull it was. There were books with mice dressed up for tea or with children taken care of by nannies. None of this made sense to a kid who was put out the back door to go play every morning, snow or shine, and only let in when the can of soup was hot enough for lunch.

Some of those books even broke my heart. Enid Blyton was the worst. Where was I going to build a tree house in a town without trees? I did my best but the slim poplars put up for a windbreak wouldn’t even hold the Kleenex box I tested on the lowest branches. 

As for lunch beside the seaside, I walked across the street and behind the new houses to the farmer’s field and looked at the slough for the cattle. There were no lapping waves in that dense scummy water. I wondered if those kids who said everything tastes better outdoors had in fact ever eaten a sandwich in the evening outside in Manitoba, once the mosquitos and black flies came out.

So it was the sadness those books brought into my life that forced me, at about nine or ten, to go to the desk in the basement and ask if an exception could be made for me. Was there any way at all I could go upstairs to the adult library?

The librarian at the time was a spinster lady my parents told me, a fate so terrible it led to life in a red basement in a bank, but she did stop and listen. In fact she even left her post and went up those stairs to talk about my situation.

I waited a long time for her answer.

Eventually she came back. She said yes. 

All the librarians had talked and had decided.  Here was my card, an adult one, in a different colour. With it I was allowed to go upstairs, browse, and even check out books at the big round desk with the grown-ups. The deal was to not spread this information around. Also, well, I was tall. It would be OK.

That library card changed my life. Upstairs I learned about things you could do in life that children couldn’t. 

I read through shelf after shelf. I read Dylan Thomas when I was ten, Our Town, Faulkner, and Wuthering Heightswhen I was eleven. I read the Rubaiyat of Omar Khanyyambefore I should have.

But most of all I read the ‘600s - Applied Science. I read about keeping goats, and digging wells, and making cider. I read about auto mechanics, building my own house, timber frame and thatch, and I learning what to pack when I sailed around the world. My favourites, my absolute favourites, were any title that began “So you want to be …” 

So you want to be a bee keeper ? Sure. Why not?

When I was sixteen we moved away from that library and that town. My dad got a job somewhere else and off we went. Before we left I went back to the library to return my last stack of books. I had to explain to the round desk why I was leaving. I remember the head librarian taking my card for the last time and going into the back room. When she returned there were new words typed on it:

Lifetime membership to the Brandon Public Library. Bearer entitled to borrow at any time.

I have only been back to that town and that library once. Once to sneak in and see if my date stamps were still there, on the cards in the pockets of books I am sure no one else ever read. Of course they weren’t. The system had gone automated sometime while I was away, growing up, and moving on.

My dad is gone too.

 A few months after his funeral I helped my mother sort out his things. On the back of the dresser I found an envelope, unopened- an overdue notice from the library. I have it still, pinned to the corkboard above where I do my writing. It’s typed on yellow paper, second notice: 

V.I. Durant, W.J. The story of civilization: Our oriental heritage. 1935.

West, Paul. Words for a deaf daughter. 1970.

McClung, N.L.M. Purple Spring, 1921.

I hope those books were returned.