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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, November 27, 2009

One of my Christmas cooking dresses

Last weekend I had an urge to make something asap. I had only a few hours and my soul needed something done from start to finish before I went to bed. So I grabbed some weird black velour with some white line designs on it (think it was a Fabricmart extra) and pulled out a basic T shirt pattern with those little gathering things at the centre front neckline and cut it out long enough to be a sort of an A line dress. Not going out Christmas wear, but Christmas Eve cooking wear that can get thrown in the washer and dryer once it has cranberries all over it (I need some bigger aprons.)

It is what it is, and it filled several needs. The only slow part was fiddling around with my Pfaff 5 thread coverhem which does a great job if you are willing to spend 40 minutes setting it up and waiting for it to start working right. I gave up actually and finished the job with my wide twin needle and decided I am going to get myself a dedicated coverhem that doesn't get me down to my last nerve every time I have a simple hem to do. The machine works great as a serger so I think I will leave it at that and make my life easy. I sew a lot of knits and am planning on investing as much of my precious time as I can in expanding the sewing space in my life and so this seems to me to be a sensible thing to do.

Any suggestions for good ones?

Aren't these pretty?

I have been making quite a few earrings and went so far as to borrow a book from the library on big beads. It's due back tomorrow so I took a few pictures of some necklaces that caught my eye and really don't look hard to make at all.

Imagine the dresses you could make to go with these.

What turns out and what doesn't

Of course not everything you intend, or expect, to happen does. That is probably the hardest thing about being the mother of adults. You know that and they don't. Not yet. And part of you doesn't want them ever to find out.

I have been very happy in my life but that has taken a lot more work than I expected, and some of the help I was expecting didn't come through, but what didn't happen easily I made happen. But it has been a lot of work and it still is.

Just turning 56 has made me think though how much work I want to keep doing. How many years do you go thinking there is not enough time in the day? Is this the pivot point where you realize its not about so much about not enough time in the day as time in the life? Is there a time that you think, hey wait a minute I keep investing in this career but now that the long term is the short term is it over investing?

I am not talking about fading out, but engaging in fewer things and most importantly letting those who are still trying to make it do that. One more academic year and I am going part-time.

It is worth thinking about aging and what you are going to do or how you intend to do it.

I have two stories.

When my former mother-in-law was exactly my age she made a strange announcement. She told us all that she had decided that she figured she knew all she had to know or in fact wanted to know and that she was just going to go on from that point working on what she had stored up.

As I write she is now being treated for dementia.

The other story is about my 82 year old current father-in-law. Some time last spring he announced that he was going to build a new house. Didn't like the old one, knew a nicer part of the countryside. What he meant was build his own house, like sit at my dining room table and draw it, drive around in a truck with wood and borrow an excavator. I was completely against this whole idea. For a start he has had several little strokes and this is a man who freely admits he doesn't remember last Christmas  "So tell me anything interesting happen?" I did a great job nagging my DH to put a stop to this crazy idea being planned by a man who was likely to kill himself and a few other people in the process and that if you couldn't remember Christmas it was not a sure thing that this new house would be some place he and my saint of a mother-in-law would be living in for too long.

My husband did what he is good at which was not argue at all with me and go help his dad make this happen. To my spouse it wasn't about common sense but about that fact that this was what his dad wanted to do.

Thing is, it's done. They moved in today and are planning a new garden and landscaping and to my father-in-law his future is just as large as anyone else's. Reminds me when the doctor told him to stop going into the woods fishing with his heart issues in case he had another stroke. "Don't care about that at all" he said "I love to fish and if I die fishing at least I would be fishing."

So this is what sense I am making of all of this. Keep doing what you love to do, keep trying to learn new things about it. Keep new ideas coming into that head, and never stop starting.

Never stop starting.

Babysitting again after a 40 year break

That's right, the kids are out and I am on duty sitting at DD's dining table listening for baby sounds. They're at a concert, the first time they have gone out since Miss Scarlett was born.
Babysitting hasn't changed, although the last time I did it I charged 35 cents and hour and 50 after midnight and this time its on the house. I can tell it will be the same, look around at someone's house, eat the snack they have left and try to keep awake until that you can hear that car in the drive way. I have different things on my mind though. In those days I used to spend the quiet time away from my busy and noisy home thinking about my life and where it was going to go, generally full of hopes and worries about boyfriends and jobs and school and money and where I was going to find a place in the world for myself and if, in fact, I was going to find one, or the right one for me. This time out I am thinking the same things but having these thoughts on behalf of kids who aren't settled yet, not like this one here with the nice husband and beautiful baby. Of course my daughter worries too much - if the baby only wants to sleep during the day in her arms does that mean she is spoiled, but if she cries will she have attachment issues. Yesterday Miss S. fussed for a time between 5-7 does that mean she will do that every night? I keep telling her don't worry it all goes away and resolves itself, they all turn out fine, don't waste these precious years worrying it away, enjoy what you can while you have it.

Advice this old mother should apply to her 20 something sons who are lovely boys, just not settled, just like Miss S isn't between 5-7.

My babysitting days changed how I looked at sewing.

In the neighbourhood I was a teenager in there happened to be a colony of Swedish executives all over here working for a Swedish company and my sister and I were their on -call sitters. To us they introduced us to an exotic world. For a start they left us weird snacks, a long way from Mom's tuna casserole and Heinz soup can cuisine. Caviar on rye bread, raspberry whips and something called Jonson's temptation for dinners we sometimes ate with the kids, a sort of scalloped potato with tons of anchovies mixed in - like my mom would ever make that.

But most of all these Swedish mothers did non-stop handiwork and sewing. There were botanical cross stitches on the wall, bright living room curtains that they actually changed every season, getting brighter as the days got darker, and Bernina machines set up in the corners of kitchens and Burda magazines left on the kitchen tables for me to look at. One lady I sat for, Lillamore, had a different dress on every time I saw her and many of them, linen tent dress things, very 60s style, had often plackets of machine embroidery on them.

It was my first exposure to women who sewed recreationally, and constantly. It legitimized sewing to me as a style of living not something you did when the money was tight, or the child too large for store-bought clothes or because it was Hallowe'en.

I used to sit in these houses waiting for these couples to come home and think to myself that I am going to be like this when I have my own life. I am going to handcraft my own place and make my own clothes and have colour and have style. I am going to change my curtains with the seasons, and spend my time cross-country skiing and rolling smoked salmon to put on flatbread with dill sprigs, and I am going to buy Burda magazines and sew. Sew all the time.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sewing time

I am taking today to sew myself something easy and useful. I need the break in the action and so do the people around me. Time for Mom to recharge. I have all my end of term marking coming up, plus some new semi-online courses for next semester to develop, the pre-Christmas move of the little family to help with, Christmas and a houseful of company, including a 10 year old niece who loves to sew. This is a funny kid. Her mom, my youngest sister, is deaf and this little girl got herself signed up for sewing classes this summer by email. She will appreciate my new sewing room and enjoy my stash, I am looking forward to sharing this with her.

Before I talk about sewing things, I want to say a few words of things I am grateful for this morning, still in bed with my laptop and coffee after my 7:30 a.m. wake-up call to watch Sewing with Nancy:

1. My granddaughter. Seeing the look on my daughter's face with her is amazing, as I can see that my child now feels the way about some little person as I do about her. The beginning of a lifelong connection.
2. That my son is alive. Not everyone makes it through a fall through a stairwell down onto a concrete floor. The ER folks made that pretty clear.
3. My family. Both my son from D.C. and my sister from Ottawa flew in for weekends after the baby was born to stand in the kitchen and make innumerable freezer meals for the new family. They are both awesome cooks and I am proud to be part of such a practical family. Yes it all gets a bit intense sometimes living as a group but they always come through, always.
4. My 82 year old mother for also visiting me and for giving me a good example of active aging - I should know so much about current events at her age.
5. My husband for being a sport, such a sport and for treating my children, who he didn't even meet until he was 48, exactly like his own. For serving my mom gourmet meals, lobster et al., every night she was here (and for my Prairie mom of the add a can of mushroom soup culture acting like she was used to such fancy treatment), for doing all the work to get DD's house to sell, and for all the times he says to me "don't worry about it, it will all work out" and for being right about that.
6. For my son-in-law. He knows me and so often he looks across the room at me and I know he just gets it. For explaining young men to me when I find being the mother of young men confusing being one of four girls myself.
7. For the dogs. Josie, Rascal and Birdie, mine, my son's and my daughter's. Often when things are busy I do the dogs and dogs always seem to me to have their priorities right. Lift your nose to the air and sniff, love a sunny day, rest when times are slow and always be ready for a fun time when it presents itself. 
8. For Birdie in particular. One of the incredible things about the place I live in is its generosity. Near me is one of those very old, establishment golf courses and when the season is over they open a hole in the fence for the neighourhood to use the course for dog walking. I did that yesterday and when I went back to the car realized that somewhere my car key had fallen out of my pocket. My DH was out of town with the other key so we walked the 18 again looking for the key - a pretty hopeless task but I told Birdie to find the key (he is a border collie and a good listener, the other two just major in random behaviour and fooling around). He ran around bringing me any stick he could find and but eventually after 36 holes turned up the key in a pile of leaves. What are the odds? A good dog, a very good dog.

Now onto sewing.

Today I need some instant sewing. I am going to make myself a velour knit dress for practical around the house holiday wear. A tights and Clark mules outfit for what will really be going on around here. Usually my Christmas outfit is for my husband's company's party which has always been a very dressed up and formal affair, long dresses and the whole bit, but for some reason they are doing a hayride thing at a farm, how hopeless is that, and we aren't going.

A comment on one of the things I have missed most during my sewing absence - something new to wear. Usually I have a new garment every week or two and having something new is a lift isn't it? I really missed that and have been forced en route to other things lately to go into the stores. With money in my pocket I have bought nothing and have come away feeling that I just can't dress myself at all unless I sew it myself. Here are the reasons:

1. Fabric quality. I am amazed at how chintzy the fabric is in even fairly pricey clothes. Polyester in everything - if I wouldn't invest in this fabric on the bolt why would I pay so much to have something made up in it? We don't in Nova Scotia have those outlet centres like they do every 10 miles on the US highways so maybe my choice is limited but is there nothing being made these days in quality fabric? My only purchases this year have been online from Landsend and if anyone has any other ideas for quality simple clothes I would be interested.
2. Too much decoration. I am facing the fact that the only clothes I really am comfortable in long term are pretty simple in nice fabrics.
3. Too much money for too little. OK there may be good reasons to spend $200 on a cotton blouse but I can't think of them. Not when it is $8 a meter fabric at the most and nothing special.
4. Fit. A jacket that is tight across the bust, too short and has a baggy neck and sloppy sleeves. No Ms. Sales lady it doesn't look great on me. I need a size small neck, a tall length, and a FBA and medium to large waist. What rack is that on?

OK that's it. Off to the sewing room.

Friday, November 20, 2009

So what happened to me?

There has been a lot going on in my life between me and this blog lately. Here is a short list in no particular order:

1. Grandbaby- I work full-time and my sewing time has recently be transferred into being part of the baby support unit. Very gratifying.
2. A son on the DL- my youngest is a student working part-time as a carpenter while he is at school. He was involved in a workplace accident that could have easily been very, very bad however he walked away with only a smashed shoulder and other less serious injuries. He is back at home with Birdie his dog and has needed some attention.
3. DD mother of new baby and her husband had a chance to buy a much bigger house in their area which required a 10 day window to repaint and totally redo their place to sell. Both the buying and selling missions are accomplished thanks largely to my husband who did nothing but paint his heart out for a full week straight. She will be moving in to her new place one week before Christmas.... part two of the saga.
4. Visitors - my family likes to go through everything together and so the sheets from the spare room have been in and out of that washing machine non-stop. Good to see people but no time to SWAP.
5. Oh yes the job, for some reason my career has gone into overdrive. Anyone free to help me mark the 110 term papers that will hit my desk Monday?

For the first time in probably 30 years it has been about 2 months since I have sewn anything. It is a crazy feeling.

Thanks though for Ruthie who put me on to earring making. I have been able to hide out in the basement for a minute here and there and have been churning them out, one at a time, and without this minor release valve on my creativity I probably would have exploded all over the walls. Thanks Ruthie, from me and from my family.

However I have thought many deep sewing thoughts in the interim and will be posting those as soon as I can. I am on my way back I hope.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Biarritz, not so much

Busy week but here as promised is a shot of my Biarritz jacket. When it was done, in some nice beefy rayon as per Loes Hinse, paired with my black straight skirt it reminded me of my dad's comments years ago when my mom brought home a black suit that she wore with a white blouse,
"Well," he said, "You look very nice, for a nun." Yes this suit turned out pretty dull for me too so I added some giant snaps to try and get the nun out of it, but generally I am not happy with this at all and you can see why. There just isn't enough support and structure, or lines in this for me. And even with my interfacing in the collar and on the facings and my taping the neck edge it is just really droopy (even without the weight of the snaps -actually it probably looks better in real life than in this photo which picks up every wrinkle.)

The Loes Hinse thing just isn't working for me in jackets and this is the third one I have tried. For me I think an unstructured jacket needs to be fuller to pick up the attributes of drape or flow or made out of a knit, and a jacket with a bit more structure needs to be lined and well more structured.

I will probably wear this a few times, until I feel I have my time back, and then ditch it.

I loved the tweed suit I made a while ago and that has me thinking I should try some more risky shapes and maybe focus on comfort shapes in jackets for a while. I can feel a style shift of some kind coming on. You know it might also be time to nail down a sweater set.

So Loes Hinse may connect with some folks but did not mesh with my own approach.

Not to worry 400 other projects on the runway, including some nursing tops for my daughter this weekend.

Friday, September 25, 2009

On knowing yourself, sewing contests, Loes Hinse, and fabric boards

I know this is a fairly random post title but it all relates.

First there are a lot of sewing competitions going on, SWAP, sew alongs of various types and my personal favourite (actually the only one I can finish) Wardrobe in a week. WiaW suits my sewing personality, I have decided, the other ones don't.

There I said it. 

I'm not SWAP material.

You see I have to be pretty organized in the rest of my life. I feel responsible for a lot of people. 120+ students, many of them first years and just about as sensible as you would expect. My multi-generational extended family, blended family, and now baby-in-the-family. The dogs.  My friends. I put a fair amount of effort in trying not to let anyone down. All this is good but in the one day a week if I am lucky that I get at my sewing I really don't want any more rules or any sense of obligation. If I am distracted by a bright shiny object (new pattern, fabric, often a project that inspires me on someone else's blog or at on the boards at Stitchers' guild) I really want to follow it and not feel I should do something else first.

I like to sew when I feel inspired. I like to look forward to my sewing day all week, to hardly wait, to run down and sew when I should be doing something more useful like washing the kitchen floor. Sewing is my creative place, where I actually sort of design my life entirely my own way, and not something I want to convert to another item on the to-do list.

When I get that organized I will let you know.

Wardrobe in a week on the other hand makes no logical sense and is all about sewing what you want in a craze before you lose interest in it. WaiW involves making up your mind really fast, announcing to other people that they are going to have to feed you, ignore the mess, answer the phone, and expect nothing from you. Oh I suddenly see why I enjoy this ...might not be entirely about the sewing. It is sort of dramatic and exciting which is part of what sewing is to my life - a passion way past logic.

I think there is another one coming on for November and I'm in. I am so in.

On an unrelated note. Part of understanding your sewing style is to realize that some fabrics and some patterns suit your style. And some don't. It doesn't matter that other people can make these things work and you admire what they produce - it all has to mesh with your own sewing identity.

I remember Carolyn once wrote that she wasn't a tailor. That's sort of what I am getting at.

Now I believe in Loes Hinse patterns. Some sewers I really admire make beautiful garments, that frankly I wish I had made, or at least own. I believe in the whole casual elegance, easy to sew an easy to wear thing, but I have trouble making it work for me.

Right now I am in the throws of a Biarritz jacket.  I should love it; I certainly love versions other sewers like Terri have made.

I think I have trouble trusting Loes Hinse patterns. These are supposed to be no interfacing patterns, very minimal in construction. When I look at her pictures I often think the hems looks droopy and even homemade a little so I add interfacing to all the hem edges. And I can believe that an uninterfaced collar won't disappointment me so I interface that too. And the facings. And the curve of the V worried me on the bias so I ironed on stay tape, and onto the shoulders too. And of course when it was time to wrap the facing around the collar and serge it down, it was all too bulky at the tiny, crucial corner. I was not happy either with the serged back neck edge which was through so many layers and really bulky, so I covered that with a strip of silk bias.


I will finish it tomorrow and post some pictures. I think I am beginning to understand the problem here as I blog and watch DH cook. Now he is a much, much better cook than I am. I am not a bad family cook, but I would no more spend 2 hours on a sauce for pork chops than fly to the moon, even though that sauce will be amazing and I will love it, and have the waistline to show how much I love good cooking. As a cook he has technique and I don't. Loes Hinse is like that I think. It isn't about simple ingredients as much as special ways of handling those ingredients, literally at the machine.

The jacket I am working on is the right fabric by her standards, a beefy rayon and maybe I should have just trusted it and not used all the interfacing. I am just not sure if I can do it until I can believe it.

We will see what I think tomorrow. We will see if I decide I like it enough to do it her way in another garment.

Now you shouldn't read on unless you are a hardcore sewer. Sewers like me have their minds go in strange directions that might shock the ordinary person.

This is what I mean.

Last week DHs company asked him if he would go down to the southern US to work for a few months over the winter. Now he wants to go. He loves that part of the continent, likes the people and of course loves, loves the food. It is an adventure, and of course there is that thing about missing out on the Canadian winter.

Now I will miss him when he is gone, and he leaves in about a month. Possibly on and off for most of the winter. I will miss someone who acts interested in everything I say (OK Rascal does that too), I will miss the cooking of course and have been online trying to find recipes that I will make for myself - it has been a lifetime since I cooked for myself, back probably to my mother's kitchen, I am of that generation. I will miss having someone make me laugh. I will miss someone who takes good care of me, I mean how many men are there is the world who get up early every Saturday morning to make coffee and bring it to you in bed so you can sit up at 7:30 and start watching Sewing with Nancy?

I mean this is a good man, and my life was half over when I found him, and I know how lucky I am.

But you know what my first, my very first thought was when he told me he would be leaving me for months to go work in the States was?

I can now order more fabric online and have it sent to his hotel and save a fortune in shipping-to-Canada charges which means I can buy more cool fabric. And he could bring it back to me when he comes home on the airplane for visits because he misses me.

How cold is that?

I also realized that I could eat a lot of tuna casserole (low fat kind, I found the recipe on the internet) and spend a lot of time catching up on the decades of sewing I have had on hold while I took care of everyone else.

So I went down to my local fabric store and mooched some fabric boards to roll my fabric on because I am going to set up my sewing room like a store, like creativity central, to get me through my lonely nights when I am baching it, when I am not working, when I am not grandmothering, when I am not dog walking or being a good adult.

I will make something of this.

Starting with the coat

I have been offline for so long with work and life events, and also, to be honest, replacing some of my online time with sewing time. I have a lot to say though, all my blog posts were being composed in my head while I ran around.

To begin with my red gab CJDesigns Easy Coat came back from the cleaners with the mystery stains gone. This was a big event as I had already decided to take it apart and make another half a front and had got myself in a mental space to do this, and then, what do you know, the stains were gone! It was like being given a whole weekend of sewing for free, like finding a $100 gift certificate for Fabric mart under the bed, like finding out that your machine has a hidden feature for making perfect automatic buttonholes you didn't know about.

"You are miracle workers" I screamed at the cleaners.

"No actually we are drycleaners" they said while they waited for me to leave. The trick they said was that I hadn't tried to get the stain out myself. They said once a customer has started to mess with something there are other chemicals involved and it becomes hopeless. Whatever it is they said just bring it in, wine, ink or lipstick.

I will remember that.

As you can see this is just a plain old coat, but I really like it. It is simple but not too loose, and there is none of that crude easy pattern feel to it. The only design change I made this time, after the silver raincoat version, was to cut the collar back by about 3/4". You can see that it is still a pretty large and pointy collar and the only thing I might do next time is morph another collar onto it- one with a stand to lift it a bit. I have the coat in the line drawing from my 5/2009 Ottobre magazine in mind.

I also didn't add shoulder pads because there is a nice fit in the upper chest for me in a large, and I felt I didn't need them.

A TNT coat pattern for me for sure.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Major update

My big news and reason for not posting in a while is here. Here is my beautiful granddaughter just born and looking very Canadian in a hospital hat. She came a bit early but she and her mom are doing very very well. 

This is wonderful.

Up to her arrival I was very busy with lots of work and lots of sewing. I made a wool gab red coat in the CJ Easy Coat pattern with some very nice silk charmeuse lining but am unable to show you a picture of it here. After one wearing I reached into the closet for it today and right in the middle were two big anonymous stains. Like there were gremlins in the closet. I have no idea what happened and all they could say to me when I took it off to the dry cleaner today is we will see.

I have already decided that since I love this coat and have some fabric left over that if the stains don't come out I am recutting a new left front and taking it all apart and sewing it back together. I mean it. I absolutely am not going to put this much into a coat and wear it once. This is a crazy idea but that is my plan B. Only a sewer would even think like this but I am mad.

Off to bed now. Tomorrow my son-in-law goes back to work and I am driving the baby and mother to the doctor for first check up. I think I will also be hanging around trying to give my DD some time to sleep. Our baby is doing a terrific job of nursing like a crazy person and my daughter asked me today if she would always be this tired and if she would ever have time again for a peaceful shower.

I told her give it about 20 years.

More later.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Easy coats

Living in Nova Scotia outerwear is important to me, and as I also walk to work, pretty essential. I have been plotting new coats for a while now as I have a definite gap in the mid-weather (as opposed to really cold winter) can wear over a suit or skirt stuff. You know those times where you have to go somewhere and the same coat you wore to walk the dog in the morning won't cut it. Sort of a car door to the front door coat. I have collected some nice fabric and quite a lot of different patterns, but nothing that made me want to get up early and start sewing. I was also concerned in making something too trendy, aka dated, in nice fabric that I would not be wearing every day and would therefore likely have around for a few years.

Also, see previous post, I have some interesting fall projects lined up, plus a whole heap of bra-making supplies under collection and really didn't want to invest my precious Labour Day weekend in something that would not turn around pretty fast.

So on one of my many online whims I ordered Christine Jonson's Easy Coat, because, well it was even called easy, and seemed a pretty classic style. To tell you the truth I wasn't expecting all that much. This pattern has been around a while and I thought it might be dated and boxy, but felt it was worth a try. For my "wearable muslin" I decide to make an unlined version first in some metallic type nylon taffeta I got on a buy-one-meter-get-two-free sale.

I made it up yesterday, while dog sitting the three extended family dogs who entertained themselves by wrestling across the floor for 14 hours straight, and I love this pattern.

Here's why:

1. It's really well drafted and all the pieces fit together very smoothly. A one day project no problem.
2. It is simple, but not crude and boxy. Nice slim fit through the shoulders and chest with enough flare to cover wider parts without alterations. The finished pattern measurements are printed in the guidesheet so I knew exactly what I was getting. Good shape.
3. The sleeves are as close as a set-in as a sleeve that is still sewn in flat with that one long up under the arm seam as you can get, not too wide, and for my average size arms fit perfectly.

The coat I have would be good for traveling or for throwing on over a skirt outfit doing the dash-to -the-door-run in the rain.

So today I am making a wool gab version with a silk lining and have high hopes and glad I ordered a few more CJ patterns.

Been busy sewing

When I opened my blog this morning I couldn't believe how long it has been since I posted. I also realized that the last time I wrote anything also marked the day that my summer company started arriving, closely followed by the week of prep and week of sewing of the Wardrobe in a week competition at Stitchers Guild.

I am posting the suit, blouse and skirt (you had to make four items in a week that you had cut out and marked the week before) I completed for that one. I have also been busy with baby sewing for my daughter, bedskirt for the crib, valance, receiving blankets, wet bags for transporting the diapers, and knitting more diaper covers/soakers. It has been an intense sewing time for me and I can feel I am entering into one of those phases.

I also reconnected with an old friend I haven't seen in a long time and we had a good sewing Saturday together. She was in a bad accident and still in recovery and it was poignant to see her slowly start to sew again and how nice it was for her to see something come together.

Oh yes and I have been super busy at work getting a new program launched and a new course online. Neither are really my thing, what I love to to do is teach and it was useful to struggle with administration (all those meetings how do people stand it?) this summer to remind myself that the classroom is where I belong.

First off let me tell you what Wardrobe in a Week sewing has taught me.

I am a real sewing contest failure. I tried SWAP a couple of times and ended up with things that fit the rules but I didn't want to wear. WiaW has limited garments, four, and a tight time frame so the emphasis is on sewing not planning (see comments about aptitude for the classroom versus the meeting room) and I do better at that. WiaW, invented by the way by the brilliant Ruthie, the sewing contest champ, also has built in to it a whole week in advance where you are not allowed to sew, only get organized. I thought in the past getting a pattern and fabric was as organized as I needed to be before I started sewing but I was wrong. Held back from actually stitching I had nothing better to do than fit, cut, fuse and go and get in the buttons, thread and zippers, wind bobbins and put it into bags (BTW those plastic bags with zippers new blankets come in are great for WiaW prep). This is not my usual procedure and I can tell you if you get everything ready in advance your sewing just flies by. This reminds me of my change in my baking when I decided to pre-measure all my ingredients just like a cooking show (and put all the other stuff away) before I made anything, as opposed to the old way where I would walk back and forth to the pantry as I went ... one teaspoon of baking powder, where did I put that etc.

Makes the whole process enjoyable. So I have decided to prep and bag all my fall projects, the other thing I have been doing, and plan on treating all my sewing if I can like a WiaW.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Around the house

My house is full of company right now. My son home from DC and my sister, brother-in-law and 18 and 20 year old nieces from Ottawa. Other family is coming over every night for dinner too so the place is jumping.

Not a lot of time to sew although I have done some more online pattern shopping (my Vogues finally came - good because at the end of next week I have to start my prep week for the SG Wardrobe in a Week competition) and some thinking.

I also got myself a set of good wooden hangers, the ones with the pant/skirt clips on them and in the process of company prep moved clothes around closets and while I did that decided to arrange my fall teaching outfits on these hangers. As all my courses are 24 classes per term, I always figure on 12 professional, more or less, outfits so I wear each outfit no more than twice for the same class a term.(Rotating the days of the week is another exercise).  I quickly found out that I have this covered with things I like to wear (and noticed that all the clothes I like are the ones I have made and that my discards are purchases) and the thought hit me that even if I didn't sew a thing all fall for work I would be OK. 

This is interesting because if you asked me I would say I needed to make a ton of clothes for fall, although I have a few suits planned for the odd conference talk etc. 

Where my real wardrobe gaps are though is in my home casual clothes, and I am at home a fair bit as I do most of my course prep and marking from home, and also DH and I are basically homebodies anyway in our social life (see above).

It made me realize that my home clothes, are sort of left overs and not very thoughtful, certainly I don't consider them a wardrobe. T shirts and jeans and often the same comfortable old pairs of knit pants, presentable for sure but definitely not where I put my sewing energy.

This got me to thinking about leisure suits and what most of us wear when we have a home day or what we change into when we come home from work. Hour for hour I should be putting as much of my sewing energy here as into my work clothes. I pulled out my most precious possession which is an old 1950's pattern catalog and looked at what those women in those more formal time wore.

I am posting some pictures here of the Tee Vee coats (what you wore when you finally got that girdle off) and thought of the patterns that exist from the Indie designers in particular for comfortable clothes, good for schlepping/knitting/sewing/talking on the phone to relatives days, but still stylish. I am thinking maybe of Favourite Things and Indigo Junction 

Some thing else to consider when the house is quiet again and I can start my bra and mini wardrobe sewing. Home wear might in fact be what I need most for fall.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Bra making here we come

I should start at the beginning, OK the pre-beginning.

In the last couple of months or so I have noticed that some of my favourite sewers have embarked on bra-making adventures. Sigrid started it, Liana continued it and Robin got involved too. Since each of these sewers always makes things I would like to wear myself I spent more than a few late nights looking at their blogs, following their links and generally considering the concept of bra-making.

There are a couple of reasons why I have not got into this bra-making thing myself. First it looked all a little fiddly to me - if I was good at that sort of sewing I think I would be a quilter and I am not. Also there seem to be a lot of hard to source parts to the whole thing, and I thought all those across the bust seams would show through knits, and as a general policy I don't like to sew what I can buy cheaper (OK that's not at all true, let's be honest it is the fiddly thing that got me). However the bras online that I see other sewers making look very pretty so let's say that the idea was planted in my mind, and there isn't a new area of sewing adventure that generally doesn't eventually get to me.

OK. On Friday I got my hair cut. My hairdresser has a strategic chair on the second floor of a building on the corner of our best shopping street. As he cut away and in between our catching up (he has done my hair for 20 years and once brought me a lasagna when the kids were little and I had pneumonia) I looked at all the women pass on the street below and thought to myself if there was one thing they could do to improve their appearance what would that be, and I decided it was a better bra. In the summer in all those T shirts there are a lot of poorly supported bosoms out there.

This got me thinking, and really my own bras aren't that comfortable. I don't really like the ones I wear to work (yes I have comfortable old knit bras for the weekend) and I often suffer from a urge to haul them down. 

Which brings me to shoes. A while ago now I decided to buy fewer shoes but to spend whatever it took to have shoes that are really comfortable but also have some style. I walk a lot, and walk to work, and the concept of work shoes that I can't walk any distance in is something I feel I have outgrown and have a right to outgrow at this age.

So now I spend more than I ever thought I would on shoes but am saving money because I buy fewer pairs - and I am happy to wear what I wear to work on the weekends.

You see where I am going with this.

In fact where I actually went after my haircut was down the street to a fancy lingerie shop with a  " Bra fitting specialists" sign in the window. I walked and and just said "fit me." And they did.

Well what I ended up with (pictured above) was a bra two band sizes smaller and two cup sizes larger than anything I have ever worn in my life. It fit and it felt great. The price, well we won't be talking about that, let's just say I won't be buying a lot of fabric over the next couple of months, and that when they brought me the matching panties at $90 I don't know who had a greater fit me or all my Scottish immigrant ancestors or the Prairie farmer grandparents. My people don't spend that on underwear. But I did buy that bra - for research purposes and to own something that fit - I am considering this tuition money and it more or less is.

You will notice something about this bra though, a couple of things. First is there is next to nothing to it 1/8 of fabric and a couple of yards of elastic. You will also see that it has seams and looks completely sewable.

This purchase has been followed by an incredible amount of pattern surfing/sourcing. I liked the European patterns a lot and tried to find one that looked like the research bra but also saw this. The Bravo bra is a new pattern designed by Anne from Needlenook's daughter  Monica and that lead to a really nice conversation with Anne herself (when I was supposed to be engaged in heavy duty company's coming house cleaning and bed assigning for 5 incoming guests). Anne incredibly has volunteered to send me a few fitting bras to try on to see what I think before I try a pattern. 

I think I am about to start something new, stay with me, as the ultimate Ordinary Sewer, who knows where this is going to go.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Diaper pictures

Adventures in cloth diapers

My friend Robin, this one is for you.

Busy week, that included DD making the decision to go on mat leave early (we have 12 months in Canada) because the 12 hour night shifts are bringing on a lot of contractions. Things have settled down as she has slowed down. BTW did you know that many European countries have legislation that says pregnant women are not allowed to work nights?

Things are better for her now but we were busy there for a while and of course I figured that I should focus on the diapers.

Now here is my disclaimer. Cloth diapers are really big around here for environmental as well as economic reasons, but some of this movement (for those of us who cloth diapered as a matter of course years ago - gauze rectangles you bought at the grocery and drug stores) has like so many other things it seems has become very self-conscious and another reason for advanced consumption. I have spent a lot of time online and I can tell you the range of fabric and pattern choices is enough to make your head hurt. Hemp, bamboo, non-bleached, organic, chlorine free, birdseye cotton, sustainable, bio-degradable. diaper liners, diaper "soaker" pads as add ons, wrap diapers with snaps, with velcro, one-size (24 snaps), many variant sizes, all-in ones (meaning the diaper has a waterproof cover and the diaper fabric also inside), wrap around diapers with separate diaper covers and of course 47 different variations of diaper covers.

My neighbour called me over to see her niece's baby's bum and as I think I have mentioned earlier I calculated $45 worth of stuff on that infant's rear. Multiply that by numerous changes.

So you can imagine my relief when DD announced that the consensus on the pregnancy chat boards was that "pre-folds" - double layer flat diapers with a few extra layers of fabric stitched in the middle third - were the way to go because they are best way to get a "custom fit" was with a diaper you wrapped around and pinned. (Although there are a huge variety of ways to put these things on - I can't even describe the "bow tie").

The idea of "pre-folds" is that you are stitching the folds in so the diapers do not have to be folded every time. Makes sense to me, although you do need several sizes from 0-toilet training.

As part of our research we bought a very pricey set of 6 pre-folds at one of those baby boutiques and like all pre-folds they are marketed as "shrinking down to something soft and more absorbent" as if this is a huge breakthrough.

O.K. I know my sewer-fabricaholic snobbery is showing through here big time.

Looks to me like el-cheapo cotton that of course is going to shrink enormously and I know cheap fabric folded up and serged when I see it - whatever price you put on it. This IMO could only be marketed to a generation that had no idea of how to sew.

Oh my god, I have transformed into someone's old grandmother already haven't I?

Moving on.

I decided to make our diapers from diaper flannel. They still make it and it is nice quality - much like quilter's flannel. I bought a bolt when I was visiting my mom at $1.80 a meter 26" wide. Washed and pre-shrunk in hot water and Ivory Snow (gee I had forgotten that smell - I should use it more often.)

After a bit more online research this is how I decided to make them, in the small size first (figure I will make more as this baby grows and needs them - we have heard that the small ones can be folded as overnight inserts when the baby is bigger.)

I think it is best to explain this conceptually in words and then hope that my awful photography helps.

1. Figure out what the size the finished diaper needs to be. I narrowed it down to three basic sizes small 11"-14"; medium 13"-18"; and large 15"-21". Now I think that for a real newborn 11"-12" might be better. You might want to have a look at these sizes and decide what you think.

2. Once you have the final size in your head figure that it is going to be made by folding one larger rectangle into a tube and sewing, or serging, it along the long edge. Add a bit for a seam allowance. This meant that for my small ones I cut pieces 23" (two 1/2" seam allowances) wide and 14" long (I knew I was going to serge the ends of the tubes and didn't add seam allowances).

3. Also realize that you are going to need a sort of pad of extra layers to be sewn into the middle 1/3 of the diaper - some instructions suggested 6-8 layers but I found that in the flannel this was way too thick - almost like putting a rolled up newspaper between the baby legs and I didn't want to do that - so I cut only 4 layers (two pieces folded over) to do this - finished size of the pad about 11" X 4" so there would be  little extra to be caught in the stitching.

4. While the tube, with the long edge now serged, was still right sides together I pinned the pag right up against the seamed edge, with only a pin through one layer of the diaper fabric, to hold it into position while I turned the tube inside out. I had decided to put the seam a third of the way in so there would not be any seam bulk at the edge of the diapers. Once it was turned inside out I removed these pins and re-positioned them on the right side.

5. Serge the ends of the diaper tube closed, catching in the ends of the pads.

6. This is the fun part. The last step was to stitch through all layers on both sides of the pad to secure. Really this is like quilting (I even considered channel quilting these diapers but decided that would be too bulky). To do this I used those strange decorative stitches on my machine that I never use. In this case hearts and flowers. In a few I sewed down the middle of the pad too. I used up the ends of many pastel spools to do this.

That's it and I hope this makes sense. Of course being a multiple sewer I ended up making 38. And that is just smalls. My mom is bringing more flannel when she does the baby visit.

No fitting and pretty fun project.Oh and I also made a few extra pads to be put in for over night.