Sewing with less stress Front

Sewing with less stress Front
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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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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Many resolutions this year but one of them is to just make time to sew more. In evidence of that I just finished this Ottobre top, design number 12, under the wire as my husband waits for me to start making our curry for New Year's.

It was my first Ottobre pattern and I must say I really enjoyed it. I have been troubled for some time about my failure this past year to actually sew anything from my Burda World of Fashion magazines. I used to sew from these magazines almost exclusively for years and loved the style. I used to look at my BWF and feel I wanted to make, and wear, just about everything in the magazine.

But somewhere along the line that changed.

Or maybe I did. And maybe that is something I should be concerned about. 

It seemed to me for a long time that Burda clothes were highly fashionable but very wearable. These were days too when I was a young mother and only worked part-time. But now it seems to me that the clothes now look less and less comfortable. The words "plunging neckline" appear a lot, the shoes all have 5 inch heels, and everything just looks so tight. And there are 42 pattern pieces to many things.

Don't get me wrong. It is probably not them, it's me. I still love many of the coat patterns but my sewing time is tighter than my clothes need to be, and I wonder sometimes how long some of the styles will be around. I worked with a fabulously dressed Russian woman at my last job and she sewed all her clothes from Burda mag.They were great, but I couldn't help thinking that many of them would go old fast, so I started to look more critically at what I would actually sew from the magazines that I would still think would be cool in 4 months.

While I was spending way to much time on worrying about this, when I should have been thinking about the economy for instance, or world events, I ordered some Ottobre magazines on a whim. Ottobre is famous for its Finnish kids patterns but twice a year they also put out a woman's issue. One thing I noticed when I looked at the pictures in Ottobre was that the models all had funky, comfortable Scandinavian shoes, like the ones I actually wear, and that nearly everything there (maternity clothes excepted, although if I don't cut back on the festive chocolate soon I may fit into them) was something I would put on and wear to work in my real life.

The rayon jersey (thank you Fabric Mart)  T shirt here is my first attempt and I found the instructions clear and interesting. Thanks too to Debbie Cook for her excellent instructions on how to end a coverhem that solved that mystery and problem for me.

The way it looks to me tonight Ottobre may give me one route to add a little Euro style to my wardrobe that actually fits into my prosaic East coast Canadian lifestyle.


Oh, resolution #1 : Sew more Ottobre designs.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008



I am not a great knitter but I do enjoy it.

Unlike sewing which is a pretty obvious activity to people, you can maintain some level of creative output during social times, my entire family are mega conversationalists, myself at the front of the line, without appearing too distracted if you knit while you talk.

I started this holiday season struggling in quiet desperation with Lopi yarn. Lopi is made in Iceland from I assume Icelandic sheep and logic would
suggest that anything knit from Lopi yarn would be warm, which in Nova Scotia in winter is generally a good thing. The trouble with Lopi yarn however is that it is about as bouncy and flexible as steel wool (poor cold, tough sheep) so having invested in a fair bunch of this stuff I have knit and unknitted 3 whole sweaters of the same yarn this year, all because each product was rejected by the recipient as being too stiff, tight and uncomfortable. ( I sew for myself, knit for other people). These were 3 sweaters that I completely unraveled and started again, mainly because I am as stubborn and as stiff about somethings, like wasting money, as an Icelandic sheep.

Finally I found these great free designs from Norway and a simple pattern for a garter stitch dog walking jacket for my daughter. Finally I was able to make something that had some stretch to it with this yarn and she loved the sweater, as rough and rustic as it is. And most importantly that Lopi is now of my house.

With a few remaining balls of Lopi I also made some felted mitts, that in Lopi are Arctic duty warm and completely wind and water proof.

I actually enjoy making felted mitts, because the felting, which I do by hand, sometimes even in my nightly bath, is fun and all your knitting mistakes disappear. For those of you who haven't done it yet, felted mitts are knit large and then scrubbed in hot water until they matt and shrink. The blue pair here (knit in a lighter worsted weight here and not so steel like) is a before and after.

I should emphasize, in case anyone thinks I know what I am doing, that it is very, very important to establish that the yarn is all wool before you start this. I had a lovely mystery wool pair made for my son and I spent the 24th of December locked in the bathroom scrubbing away in boiling water to try and make those suckers shrink. To cut to the punch line 30% silk yarn will not shrink. At all. However my Dr. Seuss mitts were great for comic relief Christmas morning and my belief has always been that any cause that produces a laugh is not totally lost.

Since then I have been knitting a compensation pair from some real 100% wool, but do suspect that I will run out of this unique yarn 75% of the way through the second mitt.

As a knitter my success rate is fairly consistent.

Another reason to enforce some quality sewing time tomorrow.

Christmas sure cuts into my sewing time

But that is a good thing. We had our usual chaotic time with people coming and going all hours of the day and night, dogs, music, too much food, hours on the phone to family from away. When I recover I will tell you all about it.

But I am here to say that I haven't been able to get at the sewing machine in a few weeks now and it is more or less getting to me. I have tons still going on and classes to work on for next week but tomorrow I am sewing something.

Or else.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Realism sewing

Not unrelated to my editing thoughts are my minor sewing projects of the week. Christmas is on its way and with it the hundreds of jobs (as I wind up my job too before the holidays) that it seems the women in the family always do. A highpoint was picking up my middle son who came in from London via Newark at 3:00 a.m. two nights ago. He will be here for about three weeks before he moves to Washington to start a new job. The best thing about having him in London in many ways from my own selfish point of view is that Washington seems so close to Nova Scotia and I see only a line of fabric shopping between the two of us now.

Back to sewing. 

I had of course huge plans of slipcover making but the more I thought about it I do not want to ever make slipcovers. I tried wrapping some fabric over the chairs and I realized that I am infinitely interested in seeing how fabric wraps around the human body, but have zero interest in the body of a couch. When I thought more deeply about it I also had to ask myself, why do I need to have slipcovers?

The reason is because Mr. Rascal sleeps on the couch and the chair, and he is only 23 pounds. Some days we also babysit my daughter's Golden Retriever when her mom, a nurse, works days. So I realize that all this angst was over two dogs (we won't go into the alternative which is both dogs could and should be trained not to sleep on the furniture) and that I could achieve chair protection and a much lower cost, more energy efficient way.

So I am posting here my mental vision of what I thought I would be producing and what I actually made and my actual solution. 

That solution involved some dark denim with fleece fused to it, some minimal fitting and a quick serge around the edge. What I lack in finesse I have gained in speed and the rapidity with which I can remove these covers when I have civilized guests. A far cry from Exhibit A but suits the clientele just fine, and best of all involves both significant personal growth on my part (faced facts about what kind of sewer I am) and freed up time to do what I really want to.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Editing continued

O.K. I think it is fair to tell you I am on a bit of a theme here. 

A couple of things happened. 

First of all I turned 55 last month and, yes, this month was asked twice at stores if I wanted the senior's discount. A reporter friend of mine was asked the same thing when he was 45 so I shouldn't take this personally, and of course I will take any discount going. 

But it made me think. 

I am not bothered about aging but I have a lot I want to get done, and suddenly I can see the time will be running out on the meter one day and that I should be making choices on where I am going to direct my time. This goal, not that one.

Secondly, I listened to an episode of This American Life about a woman whose job it is to go into people's houses if they die unexpectedly (no this is not as gloomy as it sounds bear with me, it was actually quite a funny episode in places) to find evidence of next-of-kin. The shocking thing about this was that in that process she uncovered so many attempts of things that were abandoned. This horrified me. I imagined my children trying to find anything around here and seeing all the evidence of my creative disillusions. Vintage patterns bought online to be used once I had taught myself how to grade, miles of horsehair interfacing for when I was going to tailor men's suits, bound button hole gadgets, Christmas ornament patterns ... I can hear them now "What was she thinking? When did Mom think she was actually going to get the time to do all of this?" Do I want people to remember me as a planner but not a finisher? One of those women who stands in jeans, sweats and runners and wrestles you for the Designer Pattern at the Vogue sale? Someone who really didn't know herself and her own life all that well?

Thirdly with all my marking I have had a reason to think a lot about how important editing is, something all writers know anyway. I am also reading Steven King's excellent book on writing which says the same thing.

What have I been writing on my papers? Apart from "No caps nec."?

1. Cut, these words are not necessary.
2. Break this one sentence down into two or three simple clear sentences.
3. Vague. Where are you going with this?
4. Needs focus.

Fourthly I have been thinking about the current SWAP competition on SG where the challenge is to make a capsule wardrobe of clothes that you would actually wear in an typical week in your life.

Imagine! How crazy is that? To sew clothes that you would actually really wear!

This has been a hard concept for me to get my head around but in combination with items 1-3 sort of boiled up in my pre-Christmas brain into a whole lot of thoughts and various activities, many of which I am going to document here.

The first thing was the Big Throw Out. (Caps. nec.)

A few nights ago in an anything-but-marking mood I stayed up and started throwing things out of the three closets I have taken over. Four garbage bags later for the Diabetes Society this is what went:

1. All skirts that were not in my basic colours of black, grey and navy. Anything lighter makes me look fat, anything else will require me to make tops that won't go with anything else but the said skirt.
2. All skirts that are patterned and loose. Some of these are in lovely fabrics, silks etc. but I have a straight up and down body and longer loose flared, draped skirts are counter my shape. Also since I have never adjusted to the idea of a coat that is shorter than a skirt, even if it seems to be fashionable, this meant that I needed to sew a slightly longer coat to wear over them in spring and summer. Let me see, a lined light wool coat (47 possible patterns collected) so I could wear skirts that didn't suit me. Out.
3. Suits and suit jackets. Lots of them from my recent corporate life. Good fabrics, good clothes. Problem is that I can't wear these things to teach in. I suppose it would do my students good to see me all super professional but these are not comfortable for my life which involves walking through the woods to work (often within feet of deer it is really lovely, beats the pavement) and running around a classroom talking to kids, sitting in groups, sitting on desks, drawing on boards etc. Also if for some crazy reason I ever go back to the business world by then these things will be just out-of-date enough to be aging. I have also realized that my large number of "investment" pieces really are the kind of classic that despite good fabric and decent construction, actually manage to navigate that place where they are not ever quite out of fashion, but not quite ever in it either.
4. Anything that doesn't quite fit or isn't comfortable. Some of these things hurt to throw out because I made them.
5. Synthetics. The hot flashes have put those in my permanent past.

It was tough and I admit to a moment in the middle of the night when I stood beside the clothing donations bin and wanted to climb in after my stuff and pull a few things out and I actually finally now have a real "Capsule Wardrobe" because there is not much left. And what is left is going to have to work a lot harder.

But I do feel clearer.

Catch up

Late yesterday I posted the last of my semester marks. Very happy to have that done and a little time to breath before the holidays.

What do I have to share after marking all those term papers and exams?

First when did they start teaching in school that capitalizing a word made it important? As in "The most Important thing to remember about this Issue is the Ethical consequinces (not my misspelling) of the practitioner's Actions." I wrote "Caps not nec." so many times my hand got cramped.

I am also struck by the cultural advantages some kids just have that puts them at an advantage over other students quite out of proportion to talent. Some students come from an educational background or region that just equips them to slip into university life, some have such a longer way to go to adjust from the style and communication of their communities before they can figure this out.

That goes two ways though. There are the privileged kids who have been gaming the system their whole lives (one conversation from a mother who works in the profession "he always has had a habit of doing his papers but forgetting to hand them in", yeah right) and the kids, who I admit, are dear to my heart, who don't do well at all their first assignments, often in this part of the world from small fishing villages, who nevertheless come to my office and say "OK tell me what I have to do to be better at this" and keep coming back at me, cheerful and determined, until they start to get it. That attitude is worth so much more than any GPA, that ability to take advice as an opportunity to learn not a criticism.

Versus the girl who came to my office and said to me "I don't think you understand, this paper is a C. I am an A."

Actually you might not be right about that kiddo, at least not today.

I am not one of those middle aged people who would ever talk about the problems of kids today however. Let me tell you they are marvelous. I wouldn't have given up the adult world to come here if they weren't. Underneath the style, they are just like we were, only now still open and vulnerable and funny and honest and real in a way that makes you want to just say "don't lose this" because so many of us do.

If you are making the adult, corporate Christmas party cocktail party rounds these days you know just what I mean. Did any one ever plan to grow up and become one of those women who makes sure every sentence lets you know how many accomplishments she has, "Funny you should say that I actually wrote a book about that"?

Of course some people retain what my students have. I had lunch yesterday with a chemistry teacher who got teary talking about how she feels when she imagines her students finally walking across the stage at graduation.

It's so important to make sure you spend your time doing the things that are worth getting teary about and not doing things just for external audiences. It's important to not get so task driven that you forget to play.

Which is what sewing is to me, and more on that later.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I am back, kind of

I have felt terrible about my blogging lapse but I have been a prisoner in a place called end of term marking land. 113 term papers and 93 exams and 37 assignments. It just wouldn't stop and there is more to do this week. I swear those papers were reproducing at the bottom of the pile. I found out last week that other faculty with my course load have at least two markers and I am going to have to do that next term, I have always resisted because I don't trust anyone else with my first years and I want them to get lots of good feedback. But this has been crazy.

I have however written many posts to you all in my head, read sewing magazines every night in the bath and planned about a hundred new projects. Does that count?

My hope is that I will be released from marking land in two more days if I work really hard, and then it's back to blogging and my sewing life.

In the meantime I am posting a picture of my mom, of the Mom's skirts, because I think she looks pretty great for 81 (I have more grey hair than she does) and my wonderful daughter at her wedding in September, and me, wearing polka dot dress because my daughter insisted that I was not to look mother of the bride but to dress like I am, which to my kids is Babs. Once a 1953 baby always a 1953 baby.

Off to bed now for a rest. More marking tomorrow.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I hate home dec

Just because you sew does not mean you like to sew everything. 

Let's make that clear.

I love fashion sewing and spend most of my free time thinking about it, even when I can't get at my machine. I like the project nature of sewing clothes, all the variety of jobs contained in one garment, and of course I just like clothes. And because fashion changes, there is always something new and interesting to think about, and sew. Which is why I have never been able to restrict myself totally to the idea of core patterns and why my pattern collection is so delusionally huge.

The have-to-sew stuff is what I avoid. I have not made slipcovers for my living room furniture, although that would be a very good idea and the bought ones I have on the couch don't fit, and despite the fact I have the fabric, patterns and tons of how-to books. It all seems so tedious and to me represents the kind of non-gratifying sewing that would cut into my precious sewing time in a big way.

To me this stuff is production sewing in its worst sense, all about product and not about process - and I love process.

Curtains are even worse. I hate the large pieces and the fact you lose any sense of where you are, where the edges are, and mistakes when you make them tend to be large and obvious, like curtains that are 4 inches shorter than a the window.

But I have to do it. My husband is big on destruction, of walls that is, and I now have a larger bedroom with three, rather than one window. With Christmas coming and people coming home I should do the right thing and get some really simple curtains up. I have gorgeous fabric and have invented a really simple way of doing the casing involving blanket binding so there is no real excuse.

And the upside of making curtains is that I won't be sewing slipcovers.

Since I have promised myself no more big garment projects until Christmas is organized (and I feel that I am almost ready for Christmas 1982 this year) the only other way to postpone this is to get to work on my second most disliked job, alterations, which now is looking actually quite attractive since I hate home dec sewing so much. I figure that I have about ten items in my closet that if they were tweaked a bit could return to action.

This week's projects for sure.

The mom skirts done

My mom's skirts are now done and wrapped, soon to get packed off with other things for family and entrusted to Canada Post. Sewing for people at a distance can be tricky and waistbands, even those in elastic, are the most difficult. This is a problem I am sure for grandmothers who sew for children in other places. 

So for these skirts I decided to use the elastic with buttonholes in it, something I have not done before. This elastic is actually quite expensive and since I have acquired rolls of elastic at various discount places over the years (does anyone but me have tons of notions stashed away that they had totally forgotten they had, where they got it, or even what project it was for?) I decided to piece it. Pretty simple and it is nice to know that she can make these skirts fit. If I did this again, and I probably will, the one change I might make is to wait until I had threaded the elastic through the casing to add the button. It wasn't a problem but I think I was lucky and another time the button might get stuck crossing a seam. And of course I left a small gap in the waistband casing stitching so my mom can get at the elastic to adjust it.

Oh and I put a small piece of woven interfacing under the button on the wrong side for reinforcement.

I also like the fact that I could go in and straighten the elastic once it was in. I must have some weird perceptual problem because 99% of the time when I insert elastic into a casing and stitch it together I have a twist in the elastic and have to cut it, turn it and restitch and usually I make the same mistake again.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sewing companions

I don't sew alone. Here is a picture of Mr. Rascal (muddy nose from a wild time sticking his head into bushes on his walk) showing just how fascinating he thinks sewing is.

It's nice to have company, even bored company. 

I have also recently added some audio to my sewing, something that I am sure everyone in the world but me already knows about, and that is the free radio broadcasts that you can play on your computer while you sew from This American Life

These shows are totally perfect for sewing accompaniment. Quirky and not too serious and crazy topics (while I was doing my mom's skirts I listened to one about people who lived alone, and about breakup music ) but really just interesting enough to keep you company while you sew, but not so serious that you would put down your sewing to listen.

My children are familiar with a film genre that I also call "Sewing movies". Sewing movies are movies that you can have on that you can be watching but also quite comfortably leave the room to go and iron something, or to go down to the basement to find more interfacing, but when you come back - you haven't missed anything. 

Gig Young is featured in many of the best vintage sewing movies, Sandra Bullock is pretty reliable too.

Another busy week but Mom's skirts nearly done

I think I said a while back that I was making my 81 year old mother some skirts for Christmas, because fashion and fit for seniors really is hard to come by and my mom gets around and needs clothes for her many church activities, teaching Sunday school, tutoring reading at my niece's elementary school, taking care of my young nieces and nephew, doing the swimming competition rounds, and all the other crazy things she does like pick up a friend every Saturday morning and go to an equally crazy hairdresser who sets both their hair at 6:30 a.m. My mother claims this is the only time the three of them can fit this in.

So my mom needs to look nice. 

I knew she would want elastic waist skirts in neutral colours, so I made her a black and grey one and one in purple too because apparently when you are 81 purple is a neutral. I used a simple four gore pattern that I thought would appeal to her, Simplicity 4044 and used a washable rayon/poly crepe. 

After much consideration I decided that I needed to hem these skirts with a machine blind hem. With my mother's running around with winter boots to go on and off and knees that don't always bend I was concerned that she would tear out a hand stitched hem and I didn't want her to have to worry about that. A plain old straight stitched hem I decided would look tacky with the crepe, I mean these skirts are for my mom, and I knew that a well-stitched blind hem would both be invisible and also strong, and even if she caught it the lock stitch would keep it from unraveling.

The problem with this of course is that machine blind hems are usually a disappointment. How many of us have had those terrible old sewing machine dealers tell us "Dear this machine does a blind hem you won't ever have to do one by hand again." Yeah right. These guys have never seen a decent hand stitched hem.

But committed to new adventures I tried again and I have to say that it worked. This is what I did and this is what I learned:

1. For those of you who have never used a blind hem attachment there is an excellent video on YouTube on How to sew a blind hem that is very helpful. Basically the process is to press up the hem, pin it and fold the hem allowance back onto the right side of the skirt so the raw edge of the hem allowance is single layer next to the folded hem allowance (OK this is totally confusing you had better have a look at that video). The usual method is to pin the hem allowance up, this is in fact what they do in the video. I didn't do that but instead machine basted the hem allowance 1/4" from the finished edge with a very long stitch - the 9 mm. on my machine. I found this much easier to butt my blind edge foot against than just a fold held together with pins. I used a contrasting thread so it was easy to take out afterwards. I found the simple act of machine basting gave me a better edge and vastly improved the quality of my blind hem.
2. I lengthened my stitch length in my blind hem stitch to the max (6 mm.) and used a fairly wide zig zag 4.5 m,.
3. OK this is the trick has nothing to do with skill but with the conditions. I found that by using a nubby fabric like a crepe, and just as important one with spongy body and depth, that the stitches just disappeared in a way that was just not possible in the flatter, smoother wovens I have tried this on before.

I am posting some pictures here of the hem that resulted from the outside and the stitches on the inside once the hem had been smoothed down and pressed. Really you can see almost nothing of the stitches on the right side at all, and we all know I am not a very careful sewer.

So what have I learned?

Well something pretty obvious that is true of all other sewing - the fabric you choose makes all the difference. So from now on rather than deciding a particular technique, or in this case an accessory foot, doesn't work for me, I will try it in another context and another type of fabric before I make that judgement

Monday, November 24, 2008

Off air and under the snow

I had great sewing and blogging plans for the weekend but Friday night we got dumped on by a winter's worth of snow and my daughter also had a bad weekend where she was very sick. With her husband away I decided to go over to her place and stay for a day and a night to take care of the animals and her. She is much better today and it was nice to be able to help her out. I got the front door that was frozen shut finally open, walked the golden retriever who is less than a year old and thought all the snow was just great, made meals, let her rest and knitted felted mitts that have now since they are home and felted, turned out after many washings and dryings to still be about the size of oven mitts. My husband has gone off to work wearing a pair, told me they are just great and fit perfectly, although I did note his imitation of a gorilla with giant hands dragging on the ground as he went out the door.

I don't have classes today and once I run over what I have to do for tomorrow, it's time to cut out my mom's skirts and plot my plan for the SW SWAP sew along.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

So where did summer go?

The fact that this post is called that should tell you all you need to know about my current level of organization.

Suddenly I looked out the window at Nova Scotia today and guess what? It was snowing. Big, wet flakes of the stuff we had everywhere around here this time last year. Great weather for tea drinking, internet surfing, and sewing - inside. The kind of weather that makes you want to call work and say "I will see you in four months". The kind of weather that no one but the dog wants to go out into, and which leads to long discussions about whose turn it is to walk the dog.

Last time I looked it was August.

So what happened?

Well we had a wedding at the end of September, and for those of us who teach, an October spent catching up for the fact that our minds were not on job-related planning all September, and then pants fitting, and now it's mid November. Practically Christmas and another one that I will not do all the wonderful things I resolved last December 26th to get done this year. Make a beautiful, meaningful gift a month all year for example.

And I feel like sewing. However I have things to do in the next month, and major sewing projects will not be one of them. So here's what's up:

1. Three pull on elastic waist skirts for my mother from black, grey and purple rayon/poly crepe. When I visited her in Winnipeg last spring I made my mom three simple skirts like this from cotton. Like most other 80 year olds she is finding it impossible to buy clothes that are comfortable and not made of 100% polyester. In a sewer's world there is nothing easier to make that a two-piece elastic waist skirt and I felt terrible when I realized how thrilled she was with them. Worse still when she called me (we talk every day so I heard this a lot) that all her friends and the ladies in church wanted to know where she got those great skirts. So those are my mom's present this year.
2. Alterations. I know this is the dreaded sewer's "A" word and most of us would rather make a fully lined winter coat than say sew on a button or, worst of all,replace the zipper in jeans but, facing the fact that the next few weeks are just going to be too busy to start anything major, I realize that there are so many items in my closet that really could be moved from gathering-dust-on-the-hanger to wearable status if I just got moving and used my skills to update/alter/refurbish. I am thinking of great blouses that I should add darts or tucks to, to give them shape, skirt waists that need taking in, long sleeves that should be 3/4-ed. 

I think I will start the list. And the best thing about all of this, is once it is done I won't have to do it again. The holiday dishes will be done and I can get back to real sewing.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What I really learned about fitting pants

I have often noticed that what I learn about sewing also turns out to be something I learn about life. So this afternoon as I ponder why it took me so long to make pants that fit I realize that there was a distinct turning point.

This occurred when I let go of previous assumptions about my "fitting problems" and stopped trying to apply what I thought the solutions should be - specifically the moment when I realized that my grandmother had steered me wrong when she implanted in my head the idea that because I was tall I had a long crotch length and therefore had to begin from the starting point that I had to add length to every part of every pattern.

I am thinking now that we do the same things in many areas of our lives when we continue to proceed with trying to fix, or feel bad about, fitting problems in our lives.

Next month is my Dad's birthday; he died now over 14 years ago. He was a terrific guy, funny, smart, and most of all compassionate and generous. He was raised to inherit a family business. Then when I was in grade two he quit, went back to school and became a high school teacher, where he excelled and had an enormous affect on many lives. Basically he walked away to be with his family, something he never would have had if he had lived his own father's life with 18 hours a day away at the business. My dad was an amazing father and set us up in life as people who enjoyed other people and were always able to deal with challenges with humour. 

Thing is I know that my dad sometimes felt like a failure. He made the right choices in his life but did so against a background of peers who went on to be CEOs and professionals and parents who valued material success. No matter what he did achieve I know that in the back of his mind there was some sense that he had not measured up. I wish that in his lifetime he would have understood how many people thought he was the bravest and most successful person they knew.

Those things, often unfortunately, get said at funerals when it is too late.

In my own life I have had to deal with getting out from under my own set of expectations. 

I married young and at 45 became a single mother with three children. My husband then for lack of another way to say it, had a wandering eye. There was no way I could have understood this when I married him, and I realize now not anything I could have done about it. The impact of this was of course that my wonderful, happy children had to go through a divorce and it pains me every day in some way that there was nothing I knew how to do to give them the complete family they deserved.

Now my life has turned out. I have since married a wonderful man and the kids are amazing, good people. But coming to terms with the feeling that I let them down has been difficult, and of course I know they have had their own pain to work through.

But in making these pants, all these pants, it occurred to me that holding on to the idea that perfect children had to have a perfect life has been holding me back, just like my dad's view of success from his old neighbourhood, and just like the wrong idea of my non-negotiable ways to alter my patterns was.

Sometimes you have to let go of the things you know to be true to make something turn out.

And they say sewing is just a hobby.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The pants all five of them

Well here, finally are my pictures of the P&S pants. A light and dark grey pair, a black and grey mini houndstooth, a navy and black pair, all from the same pattern.
 I realize now that I have been at this a while, a few months at least since I started this and 40 years (!) if you count back to my first pair of awful pants. I am pretty happy with these, not perfect, but if you scroll down to the versions that got me here, much improved. I also feel that I learned enough about my body and this method that I could apply this to other pants patterns. A more casual pair in twill with narrower legs, maybe bootcut would be another one I would like to try, and also something more trendy. Katherine has made some good pattern suggestions and I think I will follow up on that, next Vogue pattern sale.

So what have I learned:

1. Let go of your assumptions about your body. I realize that my grandmother who was also tall, 5' 9" was very tall in her day, told me when I was a teenager that I had "a long pelvis" like she did. So since then I have dutifully added and added to my crotch seams just like I added to my skirt lengths and bodices, being 5'9" myself. One thing I have found out by measuring myself and comparing those measurement to the pattern that in fact I don't have anything at all like a long crotch length, and am shorter in the front crotch than even the standard draft. Glad I cleared that up. Wonder how much money I have wasted on wadders over my lifetime of sewing. Sometimes you live by your own family myths.
2. And speaking of money rather than spending a fortune, as I have, in search of the elusive "good pattern" it makes sense to just deal with a basic pattern and compare your own measurements to the flat pattern and learn where the differences are. The Simplicity pattern I used for this experiment was nothing fancy or really stylish but it was an uncomplicated place to start applying this method.
3. One step at a time. Pants fitting I have decided is a lot like learning to how the tension on your serger works. I have seen sewers who had tension issues and just gave each tension dial a little twist to see if that helped. It doesn't. Much better to make a fine tune to each dial at a time, because one adjustment affects another.
3. There may in fact be something to this buying a pattern two sizes smaller thing. These were fairly wide legged pants to start with but I added, mainly to the hips and waist and only slightly to the upper thigh to a size 12 pattern. If you look at the pictures and imagine if I worked from a size 16, and working from the pattern envelope measurements I would probably have cut out a multi-sized pattern somewhere between the 16 and 18 imagine how these same pants would look. I am looking forward to trying this method again on some really different pants to see how it goes.
4. Sometimes it pays to just focus. I haven't let myself work on anything but pants for at least two months now and I really have learned at lot. My previous approach would have been to make one terrible wadder, give up, then buy another pattern eight months later and repeat that same process. It feels great to finally have something that fits, I almost feel as if I have the basis for jumping into a SWAP.
5. I am pretty impressed with the old Pivot and Slide. I should have read this book when I first bought it 20 years ago.

Now time to settle down and plan my Christmas sewing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Oh dear

My great pant sewing experiment has run into a bit of a snag. The last of my P&S pants will be hemmed tonight, and if my husband and I can coordinate picture taking and daylight (which falls earlier every night now) we can get some good photos taken outside on the front steps. I have discovered that photos of dark pants taken inside just don't show up at all. So hopefully tomorrow.

I have made five pairs in the last week from this pattern and they are just fine, at least by my standards. I am more or less thrilled and feel pretty comfortable that I can make other pants fit fairly well with this method.

Now what do I do next? My original plan was to go on next to Wild Ginger and try that as a comparison but do I really want to make more pants I do not urgently need, now one month before Christmas? I did not plan in any way being satisfied with an early experiment.

I would probably go on to Wild Ginger after a bit of rest pants-wise for other styles, casual pants and something more fitted and conventional in a woven, like a twill and I would like to try Joyce Murphy's method because it has rave reviews. 

But to be honest right now I have a pattern that I am happy with already and may take a pause from pant production until I do that.

This is always the line I find hard to draw in sewing, the should-dos from the want-to-dos.

Which brings me to another one of my sewing dilemmas.

It's about the SWAP and group sewing and how fashionable am I comfortable being.

When you hit 55 it's time to get serious about maintaining your style. 

I have had a couple of weeks now of public places, meetings, doctor's offices, out in the stores and am quite distressed to see the number of women my age in jeans and sneakers in venues that I feel require lipstick. Sarah Palin even voted in jeans for goodness sakes, although I am sure that was deliberate and playing to the base.

There is no reason that comfortable has to equate with tired and bland, so I am going to try to keep an effort of some kind up. There are lots of stylish ways to be comfortable even at home, Loes Hinse patterns are as comfortable as sweats really as an example if you like her look, but I also have to negotiate the fact that I am more at home in classic clothes and simple shapes than anything too trendy.

So this is my compromise. I am going to work on the basic patterns that I can make over and over and to increase my style quotient I am going to try to make one item a month from Burda World of Fashion.

So back to the pant dilemma.

The thing I need to do now is compile my basic list and figure out what I need to develop. Feel free to contribute:

1. Pants - at least one version - Check
2. Straight skirt - a Wild Ginger version to revise - half Check
3. Twin set - need to develop
4. Basic blouse - see above
5. T shirt - I have a princess seamed Vogue with potential
6. Tank - can I devise from the above?
7. Comfortable dress that I can multi vary. What does this look like? I have a great fitting Wild Ginger straight sheath but I need something that is a little easier to wear to teach/walk to work.
8. A lounger. OK you know what I mean, not unwrappy like a housecoat, something that I can wear when I have family to talk to after my bath/book routine at night. Seriously schlepping. I am definitely getting old. Stop me before I hit the quilted brunch coat,
9. Lots of other things I will think of later.

Seems to me that while I focus on Christmas and other projects that I might do some work on a Wild Ginger blouse since the fit was so good in the dress, although I am likely to divert into pants too.

Lot on the go at the moment, renting out our house at the beach since we don't get down there much, and many calls from son-in-London who may have a new job in Washington D.C. Yeah! That's some place I can drive to when I miss him, not the same with the Atlantic ocean in between.

Now off to hem the last of those pants.