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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, July 17, 2010


I haven't been able to sew the last couple of days but that doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about sewing. A lot.

Every now and then Miss Scarlett and I have taken a break and sat in my sewing room and considered things. She looks around and responds intelligently to the patterns I show her and the fabric she touches.

Listen I have been thinking. 

I find it so easy to dress and feel good about what I wear in the summer.  I realize that I view  fall and winter as just so much more work to pull it all together. 

The difference of course is that in the summer I wear dresses almost exclusively - to work and when I come home. Why not? They are just so comfortable. Underwear, shoes, earrings and a dress and you are done and you look put together.

In the winter you have to mix and match, to SWAP, to coordinate and let's face it just sew more pieces to get one outfit. But that's the colder weather uniform isn't it? Pants and knit tops, skirts and blouses - the "third" layer and it all has to work together and tomorrow you have to construe a whole new edition, a whole new combination. 

So the question is if I wore more dresses in the winter, not everything but more, would I feel better about work dressing on dark cold mornings? Would I feel put together more and pulled together less? Can they work just as well for me in the winter as the summer?

Why don't I sew more winter dresses? I think that's going to be the question I have to answer this coming season. Everyday, winter dresses. 

I think this is a self challenge coming on. I realize I have quite a lot of jacket intention fabric down in the sewing room but you know in my work life the first thing I do when I get to school is take off my jacket - I never wear them in the classroom - too inhibiting. Most of this same fabric could be turned into a dress.

What are your favourite winter dress patterns? Or are you a separates person when the seasons change?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Not much sewing going on the next few days

Miss Scarlett, hot sweaty and very cheerful.

Rascal and Scarlett's dog Josie.

Birdie, my son's dog who can't believe he is stuck in the house with us for a whole weekend.

I am in non sewing mode right now. I am alone at home taking care of Miss Scarlett and the three extended family dogs. So far so good, I always did low gear better than high gear.

And I did this all before, quite a while ago.

This is my advice to new grandmothers:

1. There are no bare midriffs on babies anymore, even when it's hot. Everyone wears onesies which have 89 snaps. If you do one of these units up and it should take about 20 minutes, and you have two snaps left over that is because you have forgotten the two snaps under the arms. What do you know, who would have thought of that?

2. If your fox terrier decides it would be a good idea if he jumped into the bath with the baby this is actually not a good idea.

3. Play music at meal times to distract the baby from the fact you only have weird food on hand. "Dead man's bend" by Jan and Dean got us through lunch.

And babies always were great and they still are.

Who's feeding the cat?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Butterick 5495 revisited

Butterick 5495 has been on my mind. I know I had issues with this pattern and its archaic instructions, and I know I was mystified by the loose gathering under the bust that came in again, too tight I thought, at the hips.

The thing is that the basic idea was a good one, to gather the fullness with an unattached band of fabric looped through openings in the seams, and so I decided to try this pattern again, the way I thought it should have been drafted.

The results of those experiments are here. For the top above all I did was add 5" to the front centre piece only, 2 1/2" at each side seam and leave the rest of the pattern the same with the changes to the neckline I noted in my earlier review. Oh and I bound the back neck with self-fabric rather than stitch and turn it under.

This extra fabric liberated the front and I think allowed the gathering under the bust to flow more naturally, or maybe I am just happier with a different look.

The next thing I did was sort of crazy. I read once in an old sewing book that your muslins for dresses could be nightgowns so that's what I made here. All I did was change the shaped back seam to something straighter by laying it on the fold and added length and the extra 5" to the back piece too at the side seams - I sort of just cut it all wider and A lined it a bit. I used a soft pointelle knit from Fabricmart is some light cotton that really would be useless for anything but a nightgown. And I made the sleeveless version too which really just produces some loose capped sleeves. I bound the sleeve hems too because it was easy to do when I was already sitting at the machine and I was too lazy to get up and rethread the coverhem machine.

I am pretty pleased with this and think this could make a very nice dress, very comfortable and quick to sew.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Vogues I liked and why

Completely wearable and interesting skirt, and yes I will see if I can find a zipper for the back that doesn't look like it should go in a kid's parka. The top too is very nice, can be worn in or out, with a jacket or not. What's not to like?

Both this dress and the skirt below have gathers across the middle which worked for me in the Queen dress so I may step out and try again. More comfortable maybe and easier on the stomach than a tight front. We'll see, worth a try for sure and the dress is for a stretch woven. I teach long hours on my feet and comfortable is good.

A beautiful dress and not sure if I have an event in mind for this one, but if an event appears in my social calendar I know what pattern I will be reaching for.

Fall Vogues 1201 and 1202 follow-up

Interested in the response to my last post on the two Vogues that make no sense to me.

Glad to know that there are sewers out there who can see the potential in these patterns when I can't, and look forward to seeing them on real people to see if I change my mind. Noted that the wonderful Erica B liked them both and will be looking forward to her renditions.

Have to say though that I have my doubts and these are what they are:

1. Wearability. This is enormously important to me. If I put it on I don't want to have to think about it, only enjoy it. A long sleeved top with no back to me would be too cold in some areas and/or too warm in others. I also note that there are shoulder pads (always tricky in knits because you get that old 1980s show through) and that the collar on that top is fastened at the back neck by snaps. Myself I wouldn't expect snaps to hold a stretchy knit (and I would hate to be sewing them in) and when there is no back to your top, you sure want those snaps to hold. I don't like clothes to worry me. 

Same goes for the jacket with those pants. Supposed to be made out of faux fur or velvet and that collar would be warm too. More snaps, hope they would hold too, and I am just not a fan of coats and jackets that don't close up securely. I live in Canada. Who would wear a warm jacket that left most of their upper body uncovered? And an outerwear garment that requires a belt to hold it on would be about as reliable as a housecoat worn on the bus to work IMO.

2. Datability - as in you show a picture of yourself in this to kids in a few years and they say "I can't believe you wore this", like they do when they see those power suit giant shoulder pad pictures - I mean the Obama girls aren't going to be saying that about their mom. There is fashion and there is style. Both these outfits have a "best before pretty soon" look to me. You know these are outfits that you could wear once and feel very current in but not want to wear again at least not with the same people. Wear you rather than you wear it outfits.

3. Flatter - OK if you have the sort of body that could be quite beautifully wrapped in Saran wrap that shirred skirt would be fine for you. On me it would articulate what I am carrying in front of me and what I am hauling behind me. Enough said on that. 

And those pants. Well we have worn those before and they sure were comfy. Could put a hairbrush, a sandwich and a library book in the pocket room you had under those pleats but I am not sure that big around where I am big works for me. However I do wonder if I am just suffering from fashion shock here and that once I get reused to this profile in pants that I might decide I like them. New styles have grown on me before. This one may take a while.

So none of this is to show distain just concern and honesty for what doesn't work for me.

Which brings me to something else that a comment from Carolyn triggered in me.

I started to sew because I was not standard size. 5'9" at 12 did not leave many options. I bet too that the sewing community has more original shapes than the general population (or more probably higher fit standards) so it amazes me that an industry that caters, depends on us, has done so little to acknowledge that there is no size to fashion.

OK end of rave.

What lifestyle would wear this?

OK. Some of the new fall Vogues are up.

I love a few of the patterns and will be sharing those soon.

But first, I don't know about you but I look at patterns and think of what life they would be suitable for, some of those aren't my life - hence the limited number of say cocktail dress patterns I now buy.

But there are a few here that are just stumping me. If anyone can think of the lives that these two outfits would be suitable for please let me know. Tell me the story.

And those pants. Now who would they flatter? I have that shape without clothes.

Do they really think they are going to sell thousands and thousands of these little numbers?

Vintage patterns done

My apologies, but more folks responded to my vintage patterns than I expected so I will not be able to accept more requests. The patterns will be going out to the first three respondents tomorrow (work late tonight) and will be confirmed by email.

Will be posting more of these I think. Feels good to have these go to good homes.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Vintage pattern give away

I am in the process of clearing out, cleaning up, my sewing room. It should take me several years. Rather than throw things out (if I was good at that I wouldn't be where I am now) I would like to send them off to a good home when, every once in a while, I come across something that I think might be of actual value to someone.

So I am starting here with three vintage patterns, size 16, 36 bust (one I believe is a half size and a 16 1/2 which would mean a shorter back waist length and deeper dart).

I will send one pattern each off to the first three sewers who email me. Please list the patterns in order of preference.

And because I am so nosy I wonder if you could also list your current favourite pattern and why you like it in that email. I think we would all find that pretty interesting.

See how this goes. Just send me an email with your address ( click on email on my profile).

I will close this by Friday night at 12.00 p.m

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chocolate cake for company

I have a friend who used to be the head of food services for our largest regional hospital. Every Boxing Day she used to have a party and every year everyone would wait for her famous, famous rum bundt cake. We always asked for the recipe but she would never divulge her secrets. She was a professional after all so we figured that was probably fair.

When she got older she finally told me, her next door neighbour, why she wouldn't give anyone her recipe. You see all she did was use two pound cake mixes, throw in handful of walnuts and substitute rum for the water. She was embarrassed to have anyone know that she, with graduate degrees in nutrition, would do that.

Me, as a mother of three kids, well I was thrilled. You see I once belonged to a dinner club where the organizer, a real overachiever, assigned us recipes to make. One Saturday I had to perform a 20 layer Hungarian Dobosh cake with a caramelized sugar top, it was supposed to look like a drum. Well by about the 14th layer I was ready to start hitting something I can tell you that.

I quit that dinner club. Not my crowd. Not my crowd at all.

My point is that some of the best, and most appreciated recipes are the easiest. My truly wonderful mother-in-law uses this recipe for chocolate cake and everyone loves it. I got this passed on to me, with no apologies, and now I am passing it on to you. I made it for family dinner tonight and as usual everyone had two servings.

Chocolate cake:

Don't worry about what order you do any of this. Just put it into a bowl and mix it up. The Kenwood mixmaster I got at a yard sale for $5.00 does a great  job. Pre-heat your oven to 375 and butter and flour a cake pan:

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 level tablespoons baking soda
6 level tablespoons of cocoa
1 cup of cold water
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 cup of Miracle whip (yes I know this is the shocking part)
1 egg

Mix it up and bake for 45 minutes

I had an excellent sewing weekend. Remade that Butterick T shirt with the gathered front into a nightgown and a new top with methods and addition ease that I learned about first time up, and made two pairs of pull-on pants from the Jalie PJ pattern and they are excellent, excellent and make fantastic non-baggy elastic waist pants. Have booked my daughter for a photo shoot Tuesday, really pleased with myself. Work tomorrow and in the meantime tonight, a few dishes to do.