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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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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Finding your style series part one: Life is not a funeral and the neutral dilemma

O.K.

Well remember when I did a hemming knits series?

I really enjoyed doing that but even more I enjoyed the comments.

I like this blog best when it is a discussion, not a presentation.

So before I do a series on hand stitches, and I am still going to do that, I thought it would be interesting to open up the floor to a discussion of finding your style.

This is an issue a lot of women think about a lot.

Like me.

Yesterday.

And today.

People who are thinking about their personal style, in my opinion, have just had one of these life experiences:

  • they catch sight of themselves in a window on the walk down some street. They see that reflection and they think "is that dowdy/fat/schleppy woman me?" They realize at some point they have become the person their younger selves promised they would never be.
  • they go to an evening event where all the other women seem to be wearing high heeled boots and tight black sheath dresses and they feel they have a sign on them that reads "I got my pants at Costco and I spend most of my nights in bed knitting while I watch Netflx." As opposed to say drinking Nergronis.
  • they get out the clothes they save for good to go out to a meeting, or to meet folks they used to work with, and realize while they were waiting for good the same clothes got way out of date and way too tight.
  • they realize that if they had to pull together a favourite outfit there is nothing they have in the closet that they really like all that much, in particular those things that they put on their bodies most days.
  • they go to parent teacher and they wish they could be as fashionable as the grade three teacher.
  • they show the kids pictures of themselves when they were younger and the kids say "Mom you were so stylish!" in surprised sort of voices.
Women start to think about personal style when they suspect they don't have any.

Real style that is.

I have been reading, as we all have, a lot of wardrobing and style advice. 

My idea right now is that we consider, on a large and philosophical level, some of the big ideas in the style advising world, kick them around and explore what isn't and is true.

How does that sound to you?

To start with I want to talk about a central concept. 

And that is that every wardrobe, every plan of a bunch of clothes that express your own personal style, begin with some neutral basics.

As a common sense approach neutrals make a lot of common sense. Here, in my view, are those sensible ideas:

1. Economic. If you want to save money and cover the something to wear to a lot of events territory, then neutrals will do that. I know when I worked a fairly dressed up job my two black skirts and two black pants were worn in some incarnation nearly every day. No one in human history has ever said "Hey aren't those the same black pants you wore just Tuesday this week?" 

Who can tell? Who would remember? Who would even care?

You wear the same orange mohair sweater three times a week for six months and someone is going to say something eventually, guaranteed, as in "Gee you sure must like that sweater (I sure don't)."

Black separates are the ultimate invisible man garments.

2. The neutrals go with everything, assuming you can contain yourself to some sort of a colour family. Navy, grey, brown, beige, black. Except for navy which is sort of its own territory reserved for the navy I guess, most neutrals can even be extended into neutral pairs, black and grey, beige and brown. In this case the neutral even can go with itself. Economic and practical.

Mind boggling in its efficiency.

3. A lot of neutrals, particularly those that go with themselves or something nearly like itself, really reduces dressing thought. Put it on, it goes with everything, and no one will remember it anyway. Men have this down pat. Maybe twice a year a man might think "navy suit or grey suit" and his wardrobe plotting is done for the rest of that calendar year. If you are too tired or too busy or too thinking about more important things than clothes neutrals take the pressure off.

In general taking the pressure off IMO should always be a major life aim.

4. Neutrals are classy. We are back here to that orange mohair sweater. Neutrals are elegant. Monochromatic neutral outfits are dignified in particular and always appropriate. The same cannot be said for clown pants for example. And since pretty well no one I know, myself comes to mind, are really on the inside all that elegant, dignified, or always appropriate, it surely is helpful to have clothes disguise you out in these areas.

Now all of this leads us naturally to press conferences.

In my other life, one of my several other lives, I had to go online and watch a press conference on the local news so I could comment on it.

I can't show you the whole panorama but here is a small part of the view of the folks on stage:



Now there were about 40 people there and remarkably every single one of them was wearing black, all or mostly. 

This is in Nova Scotia in February which is itself pretty dark and depressing to the point that folks either end up in RVs down south or are sitting at the kitchen table in front of seasonal affective disorder lights (I sold mine on Kijji when we decided to go south in the winters and spent the money on fabric).

I looked at this press conference and thought, well life isn't a funeral and maybe this whole neutral thing has got out of hand.

Really it as enough to make this girl go put on this top made out of some nice poplin bought in New York at one of this tiny shops that sadly is now out of business. The pattern Stylearc's Maggie Shirt


Not one of my more flattering pictures, so just look at the top not the face. And of course the navy pants.

So my questions to you for tonight is this:

How important to defining a personal style and building a wardrobe to reflect it are neutral colours. Do you think you have to pick one, or two?

Is your position on neutrals settling in or changing?

What advice would you give anyone on the subject of neutrals?

Over to you.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Dropped pocket cardigan review Jalie 3248

My photographer is supposed to notice things like a wrinkle over my belly, but he never does, sorry
If you live in Canada, as I do, the word cardigan makes you think of something thick and probably pilled that you wrap up in because you are freezing.

Everyone needs a couple of cardigans like that, hanging over the back of the office chair, on a hook near the back door.

But cardigans, done right, can be a pretty classy layering piece, every bit as finished as a jacket when you are a situation where one is required, or you want to look classy when one isn't.

The idea is a twin set, a shell with a matching jacket underneath. As a concept I love twin sets but the boxy just below the waist traditional teams just don't flatter me at all.

I am long and need something longer to feel covered.

But I still wanted to make something twin set-esque and I  had this pattern, Jalie 3248 for a while now:



Interestingly the pattern description says it is meant to be worn over a shell or tank. It makes sense to pay attention to this description.

This is not your cozy winter cardigan. 

The fronts are not meant to meet at all and the sleeves (widen them from the elbow down if you want more room) are narrow, too narrow for a sleeve underneath.

That said for a little something to have on over a shell or tank it is perfect, just perfect.

There is a real place for that little extra something, once the weather warms up. But best of all to me is that this cardigan can add the functionality of real pockets to a summer top.

If the fabric is light enough, this  cardigan is a way of adding pockets without a lot of warmth and weight - I'm thinking of taking your phone with you when you walk on the beach, carrying poop bags when you walk the dog, having your car keys and debit card when you run into the store.

That kind of pockety thing.

So here we go, beautifully shot and styled in the inside of the RV because it started to rain outside.



The shell underneath was made out of an old T shirt pattern I lengthened. Because the rayon knit was so thin I double fronted it and lettuce trimmed the hems by stretching as I rolled hem on my serger.

The cardigan was made from the same colour of a heavier knit, still very light, but with a lot more texture - one of those slub knits that you never know what you can make with it.

I was pretty concerned actually that even this slub knit was too flimsy to really hold a cardigan shape. That was one reason I chose the dropped cardigan pattern.

The fronts are doubled - that's how the the pockets are made, pretty nifty technique as are so many of Jalie's pockets - so that added enough weight to hold the shape of the front edge.



I was so happy with this set I put it in my book - bright I know - but who doesn't need cheerful?

I have another version of this at home - will show you that one when I get back - and I wish I had brought that set with me too for the trip, very useful.

And I am definitely going to make myself another one in white for summer too - there are many times when I walk a beach and need a place for my debit card, my keys, my phone and of course Daisy's little bags.

Friday, February 16, 2018

On colour, personal style and palettes

My ideas on this one are all over the place, what else is new, but I will start in the middle and work out.

I think we all go through life transitions when we wonder about our personal style and if and how it should be updated.

After all how you look on the outside reflects a lot of how you feel about yourself on the inside. In my experience when there is something of a match it's a good thing.

Hands up anyone who has looked at their clothes at some point and said this isn't who I am any more?

New mothers with work clothes, students going into the workforce, moving from the ranks to management, somebody's mommy to suddenly somebody's mother-in-law.

Of course at every stage there are undertows that seem to carry you along, and promise that will be in the right direction. Career basics - black, grey and that damned white shirt for example.

Age appropriate is a good one too, and kind of tricky when you don't actually feel one bit older. 

Some of us, OK its me I am talking about, in fact feel as if we were the original hipster all along and a lot of folks are just now catching up.

You know, the sewing before it was cool crowd.

Which brings me to the expectation that black and grey loose clothes are sort of good taste. Timeless the word is, and I think this is probably true. 

I figure the last oversized vest outfit in its own way documented that.

However I really am drawn to colour. Even when it's not particularly tasteful.

I'm big on cheerful.

After all have you ever noticed that whenever someone says Gee you look nice today, it is nearly always the day you have on that red dress and almost never the day you are wearing a grey raincoat.

So despite the fact I have a bin of black and grey scraps I snagged at a designer's off cut sale, and have brought along to experiment with, I am still drawn to colour.

Case in point here, in an awful photograph with my most googley eye glasses on to catch the light, is a version of Stylearc's Blaire shirt.

 I made this as a chapter garment for the chapter in my book that's about measuring and patterns - obvious I know but I am a literal sort of person.


This is a really loose shirt, I made mine in a 10, down from the 12 my measurements would have indicated and I want you to know that I am completely aware it is kind of nutty.

But I laughed when I made it, and I laugh when I wear it, and it sure goes on and off fast when a person is trying on something she is sewing to check fit.

This one is sort of a sewer's Hawaiian shirt but since sewing is about as close as I get to feeling like Jimmy Buffet, it's perfect.






Thursday, February 15, 2018

Podcast news



As some of you may know, and I think I mentioned earlier, I did a podcast interview over at the Clothesmaking Mavens a while ago.

The interview turned out to be sort of a spoken flypaper thoughts.

As a result of that experience Lori and Helena, the mavens, asked me to join them with a little contribution each podcast.

You can find the latest podcast, including my little bit recorded live in the rv from Austin Texas, while I had a cold, here. 

Apparently I am now going to be one of the mavens, a development I never would have expected but isn't life interesting?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sewing a reversible unit to wear on top of leggings



Reversible vest unit (fake suede side out) over Costco leggings and a stand alone cowl made out of a scrap I got in sort of a grab bag bin at a sale.

As all of you in the American South know already it has been a cold winter. Not Nova Scotia cold, nowhere near it, but relatively speaking cooler than anticipated.

The trip down here, we left in January down the roads from the frozen North, was also pretty cold and I have been wearing my fleece lined leggings (thank you Mr. Costco 2 for $20) a lot.

A lot.

The thing is that I am not usually much of a legging wearer generally.

I worry that I am past appropriate legging wearing age. And have wondered if I would look like so many of my students who have been wearing them as pants substitutes with tiny tops and so often look like there must be part of the outfit left at home.

As a consequence I don't have a lot of warm tops that are legging long enough, to cover the areas I have been working hard on with my husband's wonderful dinners and the appetite of a 14 year-old-boy that is one of my trademarks.

So in fit of utility sewing (I nearly never make something practical just because I need it) I decided to jump off a cliff and make something that I would not normally wear at all - a pullover vest unit thing.

I already had this Vogue pattern I had originally bought for the jacket (yet unrealized). 






Since it was a set it also included this top and I thought well why not? It would cover the wide parts encased by leggings and would let me to use a variety of random turtlenecks and tops underneath for warmth:



The fabric I used was a weird knit that was grey single knit jersey fused to some fake black suede. I got it  by the pound bin at G Street Fabrics in DC when I was there for a wedding in the fall. I actually ran out fabric shopping in one of those lulls you get in weddings while everyone takes pictures.

I had no idea what I was going to make from it at the time, but since there aren't any washing machines in state parks and because I struggle to stick to a carry-on when I fly, I got the great idea to make a reversible vest.

Nothing fancy of course. 

I loaded up the serger on the picnic table with black thread and 4 thread serged up the shoulders and side seams, grey sides together. This gave me neat seams on the grey vest and I just straight stitched the serged seam allowances down on the black side.

Looks OK.

For the raw edges of the hem, armholes, and neckline I serge finished them and then folded the black to the grey side and topstitched them all down.

Note the original pattern called for an attached cowl but I wanted to keep such a multi-use garment versatile. As a result I left that off and just made a cowl like ring to put around my neck from a remnant I found in another bin in another location.

Surprisingly I kind of like how this turned out. 

I have cut out another one in red fleece for cold weather - I am aware we are going back up North again at some point.


And here we go. 

The dress code in Texas state parks is not that defined and anything fits right in:





Monday, February 12, 2018

Sewing basics in the campground: Jalie's Marie-Claude pullover

I am behind in my pattern reviews since I have been caught up happily sewing on the picnic table in the state park outside of Austin Texas. I am surrounded by quiet and trees, a few deer and this afternoon a coyote passed by. Not to worry I always have seam ripper handy.

I have been making a few knit tops and the first one, because I am low on basics, is a quick version of Jalie's Marie-Claude raglan pullover.

I have a lot to say about this pattern and about using/fitting Jalie patterns in general.

Here we go.

But before I start let's have a look at my top made in the turtle neck version. Note being a grandmother I wouldn't wear this with leggings alone normally but it does help you see the top.









Now I know black shirts aren't too useful as far as seeing the details, but hopefully you can see how this top fits. I am tall and my husband's good cooking has collected around my middle, but I a fairly small boned. Loose garments, of the sort I have been playing around with lately, can really be too big around my shoulders - Jalie always gives me a good fit.

I admire the quality of the draft.

As an example of that here is the pattern piece for the turtle neck, the short sides are seamed together at the back neck. Notice how curved this piece is, to fit the round neckline and compare it to the straight up rectangle we see in most turtle neck collar pieces. 


How can you not end up with a better fit around the neck with a collar like this?

That said Jalies have become my sort of TNT staples and I don't have one size I use. 

I find that I can play around with the ease by tracing out a size larger or smaller depending on the fabric and on look I want. 

For instance I have three different sizes of Jalie's pull-on pant I use (this is one of my favourite patterns because it has a loose leg shape but is trim in the hips and waist - not always usual for pull on pants, definitely not a clown pant look). 

I cut out a smaller size when I make these pants in a knit, one size up when I have a fairly structured woven, like a cotton/linen, and one size up that I use to make looser summer pants in a washed linen or a soft cotton.

I feel the same way about this top.

This version, in this fabric a fairly firm poly knit I got at a designer's left over sale with a lot of bounce back when it is stretched. As a result it is quite fitted with a snug neck, sort of what I would call a base layer to wear under sweaters or cardigans.

To get a more of a pullover look in a sweater knit I will probably trace one size up, for looser sleeves and collar for instance.

In the meantime a fast and easy sew and a good basic I will use for years I think.























Sunday, February 4, 2018

Flypaper thoughts San Antonio edition


  • Really nice day walking around San Antonio Texas with my husband in a newly acquired cowboy hat and Daisy in a stroller
  • Yes he did
  • It was hot and he needed a hat 
  • And the next thing I knew
  • Suits him actually
  • Have you ever been there?
  • The downtown is like a limestone surface of streets
  • And walk down some stairs and it's Venice
  • River walks, sidewalks along narrow water no guardrails
  • Really like Venice
  • Who would have thought?
  • It was so beautiful I held myself back
  • Didn't suggest we find that fabric store
  • Filed that away in my personal account as a behavioural credit
  • Sure to be cashed in
  • Do you know there are roads in Texas that have an 85 mph speed limit
  • How good are you at serging in clear elastic in shoulders?
  • Working on a new top in the rv
  • Always tape my shoulders to stabilize but should do the elastic
  • When I try it I cut it into ribbons
  • Just lay in down and serge over it says Trudy
  • It lies down on her serger but jumps up on mine
  • Exactly the sort of thing I am in the rv to work out
  • In private and in another country
  • So if it takes forever to do right
  • We can keep it to ourselves
  • Interesting top
  • Sort of flared with pockets
  • For some reason it reminds me so much of one of the little bags old ladies have for clothespins
  • Like I wish I had
  • You know the ones with the bias binding that hang on a hanger
  • Well this one is going to hang on me
  • I am going to find it very handy when I hang out the wash at home
  • There is a man in this state park who rides a recumbent bike
  • He has a pole mounted across the back
  • And two Dobermans attached one at each end
  • Sort of like propellers on a plane
  • They fly around here while he whispers to them
  • Never have seen his wife yet
  • Probably in the camper wondering how she got here in her life
  • So glad I am not the mother with five small kids in a tent
  • Or do I wish I was
  • On second thought not sure
  • Pretty sure about the man on the recumbent bike
  • Lots of DYI around here but none involving flying dogs 
  • Yet
  • More like cooing to Daisy in a dog stroller
  • Short legs can only sightsee so far
  • My son in Austin keeps texting me
  • More fabric arrived here mom
  • Circling around back to Austin for 3 weeks
  • Staying in the vicinity means he can still live his life with us in town
  • When he can duck out and do that
  • Gives me time to think about clear elastic too
  • And find that fabric store
  • Believe I have a credit