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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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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Jalie 2921

I decided that I needed to start cutting into my stash in advance of some serious fabric shopping I intend on doing when my daughter, Miss Scarlett and I hit Winnipeg to see my mother, sister, nieces and nephews next week.

I have had my eye on this top for a while as it seemed to me to have the potential to look like a professional style work top for school and still have the comfort of a T shirt. I am always on the look out for patterns like that. I move around in the class room a lot, sit on desks and have to get dressed fast for early classes.

I have had this quite nice, heavy rayon knit lurking around from Fabric Mart for a while and since it has a slightly retro print to my eye it seemed like a good fit for a pattern that I also felt had a slight 50's feel to it.

I enjoyed sewing this. It is always nice to work with a pattern that has some clever instructions in it and Jalies usually do. The burrito style way the collar is attached is really cool and gives a nice professional result.

One word though about the back neck and about fit.

Jalie drafts for the small boned Quebecoise body and the arms are slim and so is the upper chest and shoulders. There is considerable negative ease in this top, which might be fine around the bust but not so fine around the waist and hips. I suggest you disregard the measurement/size advice and flat pattern measure and figure what size to cut out yourself based on the knit ease you are comfortable with.

If you don't have out of shape thin arms like me (and note these sleeves are skin tight on this body) you might even want to morp the neckline and collar onto a TNT with good sleeves to save yourself some aggravation.

This particular knit was not super stretchy, a bit flaccid in the recovery so the one thing I wish I had done was to stretch the back neck of the collar about 2 to 3 so it would hug the neck better. I am going to do that in the next version and see how that goes.

Also yes the scarf is long and I suggest you measure it off with a tape measure and hang the tape measure around your neck to see what you think before you commit.

Myself I am tall so I like the length and I think it makes me look cool. Yes I know.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Don't get me started - a review of Butterick 5495

Oh let's talk.

This week I finished one of Butterick's "fast and easy" patterns, 5495 to be exact, pattern picture here.

Now this is a simple knit talk and I am needing some of those for my everyday life, and since I have found a good brand of easy to wear pull on tightish, slimmish pants (with the stretch woven yoke sort of like my easy short pattern, several posts back) I now really need tops loose and long enough to cover what could be called many other things but really can most accurately be described as a bit of a middle aged female gut. The kind of thing that seeps into your body so that one night you are lying in the bath with a book propped up on your stomach and you look down and say "oh my god." This happens about the same time you realize that other parts of your body are getting thinner, like your thighs and your hair (OK maybe not thinner so much as sort of detaching).

I am going somewhere with this and that is that all of this leads in a pretty straight line, if you are a sewer, to the need to sew more clothes.

Now this Butterick 5495 looks on the pattern envelop as if it has some style and some grace around the middle. Not really. The cut is essentially some very nice under bust gathering achieved by a loop that pulls the fabric in (kind of like a loose top you might have once made where you grabbed all the fabric at the front and said "now that looks better"). Quite flattering with a nice V neckline.

However appearances, in pattern envelopes at least, can be deceiving. In fact this shirt has no more than standard T shirt ease waist down and the effect as you can see in my own blurry picture spotted version (will upgrade the photo later, someone was trying out a new iPhone) is a lot like a twist top but probably easier to figure out.

OK so my advice on this is that if you want more than very moderate room in the waist and hips of this top you best add a couple of inches at the waist and hip. I have already cut out another version in better fabric (this is very comfortable) for another top and even gone so far as to cut an even fuller version in a longer length, sleeveless, for a summer nightgown in some pointelle knit (that's what Fabricmart called it - a single knit with stripes of little holes).

So there are some good things about this pattern.


What's with the pattern companies completely disregarding the realities of modern sewing and knit fabrics with the instructions? No wonder good sewers pay zero attention to the instructions (or buy indy patterns that may have some very basic and maybe even dated styles, but at least have instructions written for real sewing and real sewers - I am sure that most people buy the independent patterns simply because the instructions actually make sense.)

OK, so what do I mean by instructions that refuse to acknowledge knit fabrics or techniques, written I assume by professionals (or more probably cut and pasted from some library of generic sewing instructions) and therefore absolutely doom the new or new-to-knits sewer to failure?

Let me tell you, specifically:

1. The pattern pieces are marked with a straight of grain line. No such thing in knits, that's a woven term. What matters in knits is the direction of greatest stretch and keeping that running around the body. Where is the greatest stretch line in 5495?

2. The sewer is told to sew all seams twice with a straight stitch. If you sew knits chances are very high that you have a serger, and even if you sew on a 50 year old machine you will have some kind of a zig zag. A narrow zig zag is an excellent alternative to a serged seam, but really who do they think is making this top, a person with a treadle machine? What's with the straight stitches only?

3. An enormous proportion of the construction steps are about things that make sense in wovens when stabilizing grain is the thing (see note 1 on the absence of grain in knits) but are just messy and unnecessary in knits and likely to over work the fabric. My own analogy for knit fabrics is pastry, this is something that works best if you treat it with a light hand, over work it and you pull it into a shape from which there is no return - ever see a pie crust that benefitted from an extra 20 minutes of good hard kneading? Exactly.

I have included a few shots here, staystitching a curved seam, stitching one of those little boxes around where you are going to have to clip -a practiced sewer would just ignore this advice but a new sewer would follow this nonsense and end up with a wavy, worried seam.

Also note the hem instructions. Where is the reference to how to actually handle a knit hem so it doesn't stretch out of shape and you don't end up with the dreaded wonky wavy hem? Baste this twice and then press it and then straight stitch it, well that would take as much time as it should to put this little top together and definitely produce your worried hem. 

4. Finally, and this is specific to this top and not to knit instructions in general, the V neckline instructions, illustrated here are really, really odd. Basically you are told to do reinforce stitching, clip to the point of a V, fold under the edges of the V like sort of facings, after which you finished the raw edges and then just to press the facings down. So what about the point of the V? Is that just supposed to be pressed under and just stay? Are they kidding? 

I tried this and of course the finished edge of the facing just stood there showing at the point of the V because there was nothing to hold it down. Also the V was so deep that it in fact ended below my bra band. Not a look that is that sharp on a 56 year old woman even if she made her bra herself and did an excellent job.

My solution was to sew a little dart to close the neckline up and finish the bottom of the V (fold the top right sides together and start stitching about 3" above the point of the V which then becomes the dart point - doesn't that make any sense? It will when you have it in your hand).

Final thoughts on Butterick 5495 - nice and interesting top but use your own head to put it together.

And better photos next time. And maybe the next pattern won't make me crazy and I won't look that way in the picture, vertical hair and all.

Monday, June 7, 2010

On women, money and jelly roll

Last night I made a couple of jelly rolls as part of our family dinner dessert. My grandmother used to make these and I think part of my appreciation for them comes from memory. In fact I only remember her cooking two meals, one standard in winter, one in summer. Hot meatloaf in winter, cold meatloaf sliced with home-made pickles in summer. She also made a wonderful mayonnaise for her salads which were always garden lettuce and radishes.

She was a Depression housewife and looking at her recipes now I see that they were all very economical, there's nothing much in the jelly roll (no fat but the eggs) and it is all about technique, not just the ingredients, and what you make with it.

Much like life. Just like sewing.

The other thing I know about my grandmother was that she ran her household on the money my grandfather gave her every week, which was limited, despite his business. I know that bothered her a lot, being subject, dependently to what she was given. In fact even when he died the management of his money was turned over to a nephew who worked in banking and he put her on an allowance, and there were always stern words about not "touching the capital."

Some man told her what she should live on her whole life, and I remember too that she wanted to work early in her marriage, she was a book-keeper, but wasn't allowed to, as it would "look bad."

The thing about her was that when she died, at 94, we discovered she had her own secret bank account where she had pieced together a surprising little sum, composed I suppose of the corners she cut over the years. I remember seeing a quarter of a pancake carefully wrapped up in her fridge.

So it doesn't take a lot to make a jelly roll, but you have to know how.

Here's how you do it.

Set your oven to 375.

Lay a tea towel on your counter and put a few tablespoons of icing sugar on it and using your hands rub the sugar into the towel to coat it well. Roll up the tea towel.

Get out a baking sheet and grease it. Then cut a piece of parchment paper or tin foil (I use parchment, my grandmother used tin foil she had saved) and lay that on the baking sheet and grease it well too.

Measure 5 tablespoons of water and 1 teaspoon of vanilla in a cup.

Measure out 1 cup of flour into a bowl and add 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Get some jam or jelly ready with a knife or large spatula on your counter.

Put three eggs in a bowl and beat them hard until they are yellow and frothy. Then add 2 cups of sugar and beat that in nicely.

Add the water and vanilla from the cup and beat, add the dry ingredients and beat until a smooth batter.

Pour the batter onto the paper or foil lined pan and tip it around to move the batter over the whole surface. Don't stress about this, it doesn't have to be an even rectangle.

Now this is the secret, hit the pan hard down on the counter. This will make the bubbles in the batter rise to the top and not stay in as fault lines in your cake so it will crack up when you try to roll it.

Put it in the oven and set your timer for 10 minutes. Watch it carefully, it may need a couple more minutes than 10, you need it cooked but not too brown on the edges, remember the batter is thin. You don't want to overbake and end up with a dry jelly roll.

When it is done you have to start moving fast.

Take the pan out of the oven and immediately unroll the tea towel on it icing sugar side down. Then flip the pan over onto the counter and lift the pan off.

As quickly as you can peel the paper or foil off the cake, the longer you wait the harder this will be to do, but again don't get stressed about it, it's normal to have a few edges stay stuck to the paper.

Just as quickly spread the cake with jam (I use seedless raspberry) and using your tea towel to help you, roll it up. Again this is easiest right away the longer you wait the more likely it will be that the roll will crack.

Leave your little rolled up bundle on the counter to cool and when it has cut it up into slices. This will be best if eaten before the end of the day, which it will be.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thoughts on the South and cooking

I loved my time in Tennessee.

It was really my time out from real life and that does a person  a lot of good. Particularly if she is sewing.

While I was sewing away I watched the food channel in the background. As there was no risk of dogs barking or yelling or babies crying on the TV it was good white noise for Mr. Rascal who was under orders not to start barking in the hotel.

I should give you some background on this. Before I met my husband who is an amazing and obsessed cook I was your good basic get-three-meals-on-the-table-for-three-kids-cook. No one starved, but  I wouldn't say anyone was particularly inspired. 

So since I have been married my husband has done nearly all of the day-to-day cooking and I have enjoyed baking and things that caught my attention. But with the new schedule he has of one month here and one month in the States, but he has promised to freeze me a few meals before he goes. Last night he made and froze about eight meal sized lobster thermadors.


Tonight we are having a mega family dinner with the husband's famous BBQ every kind of meat, (what my son-in-law calls the meat sweat special) roast vegetables, my lemon squares and jelly rolls (I love old school desserts and have the jelly roll pretty perfected).

Back to the food network. If you are a sewer I recommend their recipes, once you figure out who you like and who you hate. These are my reasons:

1. The recipes are reviewed. So you know before hand what substitutions, results ordinary people had. 
2. These folks have to cook really fast because they are on air, so a lot of the recipes are fairly simple which means your cooking doesn't cut too much into your sewing time. Which is important.

I was particularly taken with the shows on Southern cooking and anything practical and homestyle.

My absolute favourite is Sunny Anderson who uses simple ingredients in smart ways and has great tips. Also she is real and not pretentious (Barefoot Contessa are you hearing me?). I also like Paula Deen for desserts in particular (anything of hers I have ever made has everyone groaning in appreciation - but these are artery specials so not really for daily use), and the Neelys who do a lot of BBQ meat of course but really interesting sides, and I love the Southern sides, and they have a nice presence on TV. (Oh my god I never, ever watch the tube unless you count the news and HBO and here I am going on about my favourite shows - who cares this is my kind of reality TV.)

Last night I made the Neely's apple crisp which was excellent with pecans and maple syrup (one of my local ingredients) and so much better than the oatmeal heavy versions I have done all my life.

Here's the link.

Oh and we have discovered that my husband can bring up to 5 kilos of Andouille sausage across the border every time he comes home.

We are in business.

Vintage blouse, sort of, recycled

It's all about the fabric.

The clothes I really, really love and keep wearing always have fabric that I really enjoy. Take this crazy blouse. It's a basic camp shirt and I have been wearing it for at least 22 summers. I should be ashamed to admit that but every year I think I should retire this blouse but since the fabric makes me so happy I don't. It has splashes of colour on it and sayings written of what you need to do when you go on a trip, things like drink wine in France etc. I can't tell you have many times I have had the person in the grocery line up behind me start laughing and say "I am enjoying reading your shirt."

I got the fabric so long ago from the Natural Fiber club which was my first foray into mail order fabric shopping.

Well one of the things I have done this spring was to develop a TNT blouse pattern and experiment with morphing different necklines and details from it. More to come on that as I get my photos collected.

One of my experiments was to cut my old shirt up along the side and sleeve seams and recut it with my new pattern. I have the new sleeve pattern laid on the old sleeve for you just so you can see how much ease we wore in those days. No wonder so many sewers say that they used to be able to sew anything that fits and now they can't anymore. That's because clothes are so much more fitted.

Of course the big old sleeve was much lower in the body so I had to add in some extra fabric from the sleeve off cuts the raise the armholes, but I think it got lost in the print.

And I saved the existing collar, facings, buttons and buttonholes which I enjoyed.

Here are my before and after pictures.

I should be able to get another 20 years out of this at least.

I am so green.