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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, June 4, 2010

A super easy inside zippered pocket

In both my Betty Shopper bags I added a zippered pocket on the inside.

You just have to have one of these, for keys, phone, change, your bank card or for your earrings if you go swimming.

I have a very simple zippered pocket that I have been making for years copied after some winter jacket someone once had. I used to make these all the time when the boys were young and even more unreliable and I was waging my losing battles to get them to bring home notes from the teacher from school. Those guys couldn't ever make it from the school to the house without losing whatever important thing the school gave them. I had one efficient year when their sister was in the same school with the two of them but it went down hill after she went to junior high.

The same with rubber boots. First if I could get them to put them when it rained for a walk to school I was winning, but forget ever seeing those boots come home again. Maybe if I went hysterical someone would bring home two lefts, or between the two of them three lefts, but the names inside where always different, and not theirs. Reminds me of the summer they did swimming lessons and every towel in my house eventually disappeared. I read the riot act and told them to go to the lost and found at the pool and bring home at least ten towels, which they did. They were a bit indignant when even this didn't make me happy and said it was my own fault "You never told us it had to be ten of our own towels, we just picked the first ones in the pile."

I miss those days.

OK back to the pocket which I did perfect although no one ever used them, except me in a bag or in a jacket of my own so I wouldn't have to look for the keys in the grocery store parking lot.

The pocket:

First this is functional not decorative, part of the zipper tape is exposed, but that's what makes it so fast and easy, you can't have everything.

1. Cut out a pocket piece (I usually use a pattern envelope as my pattern, I always have one of those on hand).
2. Find a zipper (I didn't have a colour match for my pockets on hand, oh well) it actually is better if it is a bit longer, that way you don't have to sew around the slider and you can bend the end under.
3. Face the zipper down right sides together at the top of the pocket piece and stitch one side of the tape to the pocket. Flip it up and topstitch close to the zipper teeth so it won't catch.
4. Position the pocket on the lining and pin.
5. Fold under the ends of the zipper and top stitch the remaining side of the zipper directly on to the lining.
6. Fold under the edges of the pocket piece and top stitch the pocket in place.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Amy Butler's Betty Shopper Bag

I have promised my daughter a big baby/diaper bag since before Miss Scarlett was born and in this last month I finally had time to make one.

I have the usual collection of bag patterns but decided I needed something hipper than my Kwik Sew totes, given the clientele, so I decided that I would try Amy Butler's biggest bag.

It was a very interesting experience.

First off Amy has written the instructions for her clientele who are young woman with next to no sewing experience. As a result the instructions are highly detailed and for a new sewer would be quite useful. In some places.

On the other hand I think that Ms. Butler is a great designer and having come up with a beautiful profile for a very large and useful bag she must have thought "gee I need to add some value to this pattern" so put in a very complicated partition to divide it up on the inside which really, in my opinion, is about ten times more work than the basic bag itself. Needless to say I dispensed with this partition thing when I had to read the directions for this detail five times before I even remotely had any idea what was going on.

This one feature would be too much for a beginning sewer and really should have been left as an option or with a better description of what it was supposed to be, or in the end look like.

The other feature that I thought was strange about this pattern was that it called for four large grommets (which with tool would be pretty expensive) to be applied and for the straps to be put through them and knotted to secure. Not a bad idea in itself but I suspected that this was to get around the fact that many new sewers could have trouble sewing through the multiple layers of a strap (there is a lot of interfacing involved here - quite a complicated supply list) and not because it was the best sturdy strap idea.

I suspect this was the logic but I don't know, asking a young sewer or even an old one like me to cut large holes in a finished bag moves it right past the easy project stage.

Since I am in love with the slickness of those plastic Jo-Ann drapery rings (see burlap curtains) and since they also come in a smaller size and are pretty cheap that's what I used instead, with less trauma. I did find though that the knotted strap didn't work very well, in fact the knot kept pulling through, and if there had been anything really heavy in the bag for sure this would have happened, so I made a double knot, which looked messy and by then the straps were far too short to put over my shoulder - and I figure that anyone who is going to want to have a bag that is really big enough to transport a sleeping bag in, or as my husband said is big enough to carry the baby, is going to have their hands full and need to get that bag over her shoulder.

So I undid the knots and looped the straps through stitched them down and was very happy with the results.

BTW rather than getting all stressed out about trying to find the right interfacing just underline the pattern pieces with a firm thin poly quilt batting. This is a Nancy Zeiman idea and works very well, is a material easy to source, and is easy to sew through while delivering fine body to the final bag.

Final verdict, this is a great big, sharp, cool bag and worth the price of the pattern just for the shape. And it is a very smart shape, super wide at the bottom and narrow at the top so all the stuff you have stuffed into this bag won't fall out.

I made the polka dotted version here for my daughter, and she loves it, and red one for myself out of some water resistant rainwear fabric that now means I will only be making a rain jacket and not a red raincoat this fall.

Oh, and the instructions don't tell you to bag the lining and that really is a better method for getting the lining in this bag (I just left a hole in one lining side seam for turning and stitched it up afterwards) than pressing under the raw edges of both the outer shell and lining, which of course you know would just shift when you stitched it together and be all messy looking.

Wonderful pattern, if you have any sewing experience you definitely can put it together better using common sense than by following the instructions, which a sewing friend of mine frequently refers to as the destructions.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sewing burlap curtains in a hotel room for beginners

My modern son in DC gave me a bolt of burlap (yes wrap your shrubs burlap) and asked me to make curtains with rings in them.

This fused all my sewing brain cells completely but I have been waiting for ages for him to need me to do something so I told him I would do it.

The issues were many when I thought about them. For a start there was the feed barn smell and the fact that I knew this was going to be a pressing challenge. The stuff looked very spring backy to me. I worried about seams and bulk and about the ring things, if I could find them pulling right out of the loose weave and the curtains falling on the floor, which would not be a good thing for my reputation as a sewing and useful mother, which is something I am perennially trying to work on (the useful mother part for adult children who was capable of doing it all fine themselves).

I was pretty freaked out by this job so I called in my consultants.

My daughter, by Skype, told me to forget about trying to seam panels and just to leave the selvages as is in a series of single free-hanging panels which she said was much more modern.


She also suggested binding the cut edges, which I did with purchased bias binding, zig zagged on as I trusted nothing about this project.

I found the rings at Jo-Ann's in Knoxville in the drapery department and tried them on a series of samples. Of course when I pulled on them they pulled right away from the fabric as I knew it would.

Enter consultant number two, my spouse who looked at the whole issue with an engineering eye. His solution, and it worked as is worth passing on, was to cut the holes for the rings (scary I know but the rings come with  a nice little template in the package) and then to rim the cut edges of the hole with some clear drying craft glue to seal the cut edges and when the glue was semi-dried and tacky to then snap on the rings. Of course as the glue  dried completely this helped hold the rings on further.

Worked great and no ring pulling away. Very sturdy. I spaced the rings the same distance as those on the hotel bath curtain.

Here are some step-by-step photos including how I hung the curtain panels at the glue-around-the-ring-holes-stage over the shower curtain rod so it was easy to put on the glue and let it dry.

This was a very fast and easy way to make curtains and the burlap was very cheap ($3.00 a yard and he got some in a cream colour) and actually looks very sharp I think.

And I always liked the way barns smell.

The rediscovered minimalist

I am home now and doing house and life catch up. Floors and cooking and visiting and forms and details. Meetings again tomorrow.

I don't want to forget what I learned while I was away sewing for a month in a hotel room. This is what that was:

I am happiest when things are simple. Eat one of the two things in the fridge, sew from the fabric that fits in a suitcase. Stretch out the project and the pattern or two because that is all you have, so fill in the time being careful, moving that bust dart, trying that read-about shoulder fit, practicing non automatic buttonholes. Non-fusible interfacing.

I was really happy with few options, in two rooms and time to work right through. Really happy.

It has occurred to me that like a lot of women I have been cluttered up with all the stuff I have gathered and all the things I have been because other people wanted me to be them. I had a long talk when I was away with a young woman who was working in NYC and told me that she really didn't like her good job but that everyone around her in their 20s was trying so hard to get set up to make money, work with a great firm - she told me most people she knows don't really like what they are doing everyday.

Add a few decades onto that, and I have been lucky to have avoided most of this, but a person can find herself in a hotel room with her sewing machine and realize that this is all she needs to be happy.

And it is as simple as that.