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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, July 23, 2010


Not sure if this sort of crime has hit your part of the world, but it has been going on here locally, with scarves wrapped around trees. A student sent me this link. This is happening on the streets of St. John's, Newfoundland.

I think I nearly yarn bombed that vest onto a street light myself last night.

Up late

My husband is home from Tennessee for a month now and I am looking forward to non canine and adult company in the house, and his cooking. First thing he did was hit the fish market and he will be making Thai scallops tonight.

I should post some of his recipes.

I was excited that he would be coming home and sat up knitting until 2:00 a.m. on this vest. It is knit on circular needles with a three needle bind off at the shoulders. I hate sewing up and often leave things in little rolled up units in bags until I can face the finishing. Funny when I sew clothes so much.

Of course I was up so late because it came time to cast off in two place for the armholes and of course I got the count wrong 4 times and had to keep ripping it back and starting again. But I decided that I wasn't going to go to sleep until I was at least where I was when I started about 11:00.

Not sure yet I am at the place where I say I knit to relax.

Being cool: sewing a rash guard

If you have anything to do with common sense, kids, or dermatologists these days you know that sun protection is a big thing.

The EWG has written a 2010 sunscreen guide that says a lot of what we use as sun screen is not that good for you,  but neither is skin cancer of course. Ombrelle, the version that is sold in Canada  in the drugstore is excellent and safe because it uses chemicals approved in Europe but not in the US yet so not for sale in there. You might want to tap some Canadian friends to send you some. The best advice is to cover up when you can and wear a hat. The test for sun proof fabric, without paying an arm and a leg, is something that you can see very little light through when you hold it up to the light. My African cottons are excellent BTW, anything crisp.

This is interesting. When I lived in Australia in the 70-80s no one wore a hat and everyone was always getting things burned off their noses or worse. You go to Australia now and everyone has a hat. 

We were just all brought up not to worry about this.  I don't know about you but my mother survived being home with us in the summer by saying one line - go out and play and don't come back in here." That's what we did. But at the pools and beaches these days and all the little kids are wearing these swim suit T shirt things and shorts - cost a fortune and so cheap and easy to make. 

Now I am in the water a lot in the summer and more so with Miss Scarlett, so I observed my surfer son and decided to make myself a rash guard to wear in the pool, or when I was hanging around in the sun a lot. To wear with the hat.

These are just swim suit fabric tops that ideally have flat locked seams and seams that are offset so you don't have seams on seams to minimize friction on the body. Surfers wear them to protect their chests sometimes when they surf without wet suits.  

I used Kwik Sew 3455 for my prototype and am pleased with the result. I chickened out and didn't flatlock the seams, stitched them with stretch stitch on my machine and cover hemmed over those seams from the wrong side so they looked like flatlocking, but the next time will do the real thing.

I was very pleased with this pattern. The shoulder seams are moved forward like they are supposed to be and the side seams wrap around the back, which would be better if I were lying on a surf board, which of course I am not.

The only thing I did wrong was make it too loose, my size according to the pattern, but once you are in the water this things grows (remember those baggy bum bathing suits you get stuck wearing as a kid?) so I really, really suggest you flat pattern measure and make these things at least 1" negative ease. You would certainly hear from a kid if you didn't.

Any tight fitting T shirt pattern would do and you might want to fool around with moving the seams like this pattern has.

Oh, and BTW I figure I saved about $60.00 by making my own - it is criminal what they charge for any so called sportswear and this really is just a T shirt.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The most important fitting trick I learned all year

Fitting has evolved for me as an issue and in the knowledge most sewers have. My fitting is better than it was years ago and this is how that has evolved, in chronological order:

1. Multi-sized patterns - finally this was an acknowledgment that a person could be size 14 in the neck and size 18 in the hips and gave you lines to cut along to make that happen.

2. Buying patterns by your upper bust (right under your armpit measurement around the body) measurement rather than the full bust which the pattern companies persist on using as a standard on their pattern envelopes. This means that collars and necklines fit so much better but may create a secondary problem to be solved by solution number 3 below.

3. Full bust alteration - used so often that most of us use the acronym FBA as a descriptor. The Amazing Debbie Cook has generously written the definitive tutorials on this here. The important thing to know about the FBA is that you may benefit from this alteration even if you don't have what you yourself consider a full bust. Think of this more as a fullish bust alteration, or a your actual full bust is just larger than the upper bust measurement which is of course the measurement you just used to buy a new pattern. This puts the extra where you actually need it and not under your armpit (which also increases sleeve size) and makes a huge difference.

So far most of you are with me, I am sure.

However I have recently discovered another alteration, #4, an easy one, THAT MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE to bodice fitting, and that is the square-or-sloped shoulder alteration.

This is the reasoning.

If you think that your clothes hang off your shoulders as a base, sort of like a coat hanger, then it really helps if the garment has the same shape as the hanger, which in this case is you. Just bend down the ends of a wire coat hanger and put a blouse on it and see where the wrinkles are - that's what sloped shoulders ("duck shoulders" one of my friend's calls it) do. Just what your own shoulder might be doing to your garments.

Or, if you have the experience to have this picture in your head, think of how some small cocky guy in a Western shirt with bony shoulders swaggering around a summer fair looks, with the sleeve seams at his shoulders, but the collar all loose and riding up, that's what square, slopeless, ruler-straight-across shoulders do to you. That would also be me and it's been many years since I swaggered around a summer fair, but my collars still push up loose around my neckline, no matter how many back neck darts, forward shoulder rotations I do, or how many upper bust measurements I take.

So what I am saying is you might be fitting everything else but are you thinking about your shoulder shape?

The fix is simple and involves putting a pin in the pattern at the point where the neckline and shoulder seam stitching lines intersect and pivoting up (for square) or down (for sloped) shoulder seam by 1/4" to 1/2" depending on how bad a case you have. Front and back of course.

For pictures again refer to the Debbie Cook's great tutorial and here are my steps:

1. Place your bodice pattern on the fabric and cut out the centre front and neckline, do not cut along the shoulder yet.
2. Put a pin in the pattern where the shoulder and neckline stitching lines intersect. 
3. Swing the pattern piece up or down 1/4" to 1/2" cut along this shoulder line.
4. Move the pivot pin to the new location of the sleeve/armhole seam stitching line and shoulder line and pivot the pattern back to normal so the centre fronts of the pattern and your original centre front cut match.
5. Proceed with cutting out the rest of the bodice evening out the bottom hemline if necessary.

What is cool about this method, which is a simplified version of that described in Nancy's Zeiman's useful book Pattern Fitting with Confidence, which I feel is particularly helpful on this issue, is that it doesn't change the armhole at all so the same sleeve fits in just fine. The only thing changed is the angle of the shoulder to match yours.

Worth a try if bodice fitting is still making you crazy, this supplied the missing piece of the puzzle for me.

I love cabbage

Just ask my children, for their whole childhoods I made various cabbage dishes that I put down on that table and only I ate, for days. Cabbages are pretty big.

In the summer that looks like cole slaw.

The trouble is of course that cole slaws can be pretty tricky. You know those ones that seem all core, are dry and make you feel like a cow - chewing away trying to break it down. 

And then there's the mayonnaise school and the vinegar school and that stuff you buy at the grocery store when you are desperate not to cook and you get it with a roast chicken in a little plastic case with the lid that doesn't snap open except suddenly all over the counter.

You know that supermarket cole slaw, the watery kind that has that fake green dye in it to disguise the fact its made up all of shredded core. The stuff that makes you wonder why you bought it when you know better, but is at least better than that macaroni salad, also in a plastic tub, which is made up of only mushy macaroni and seems to have a lot of pepper - does that really count as a salad?

It is amazing what you eat when you are tired after work.

Well last night I made the best cole slaw ever. My mom gives us magazine subscriptions sometimes for Christmas and so in addition to Dogs in Canada my husband receives Bon Appetit.

The new issue came yesterday with an interesting new recipe from a restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina called Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q which I am reproducing here, copied from the magazine website 

What makes this an interesting recipe is that it is a 2 stager and stage 1 breaks the cabbage down a bit, sort of wilts it so it isn't quite so tough, and it combines the vinegar and mayo flavours.

And of course it is super easy. Everything I cook is, because after all every minute spent in the kitchen is a minute not spent in the sewing room.

We had this for dinner last night and one of the same kids who has turned up his nose at at least twenty years of my cabbage creations ate nearly the whole cabbage's worth.

That's an endorsement.

Jim 'N Nick's Coleslaw


  • 1 2-pound head of green cabbage, ( I used red, savoy would also be nice I think) quartered, cored, cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices (about 14 cups) I hope you have a food processor with a shredding disc
  • 1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup grated peeled carrots see food processor above - you want to cook not work
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise


  • Place cabbage in large bowl. Add vinegar and sugar; toss to coat. Cover and let stand 30 minutes. Toss cabbage mixture well; cover and let stand 30 minutes longer. Drain cabbage. DO AHEAD Can be made 8 hours ahead. I did this part at lunch and went back to work. Cover and chill.

  • Transfer drained cabbage to another large bowl. Add carrots, green onions, and mayonnaise; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Don't over do the mayo.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Every other Wednesday pattern give- away July 21, 2010

Here we go, a size 18, bust 38 back buttoning 60's blouse. 

Just email me, following the email link on my profile page, with Back button blouse in the subject line and I will send this out to the first email I receive today.

Also let me know if I can publish your first name and city in my blog, I thought it would be cool to see where these patterns go after they fly out of my sewing room. Last three went to locations 10,000 miles apart.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Make 80 the new 100

I teach in a professional program. Sometimes my students worry me. They are so serious, so ambitious, expect so much of themselves. They want to look perfect, run every day, get A+s, graduate to a great job, have a wonderful husband who does at least 50/50, have smart, funny, relaxed kids (even though their mothers won't be one bit relaxed), make money, have life long friends.

Somewhere along the line someone told them good for you, you exceeded expectations, and now they think they have to do that in everything they touch. These are the kids who come to see me after every assignment wanting to know what they could have done differently to get that extra .5, usually to be truthful that I took off because they were telling me what they thought I wanted to hear and not what they thought, which of course  is what I am really looking for. They stand in front of me almost in tears about next to nothing say things like "I know I am a perfectionist, this isn't good enough for me."

Well maybe it should be I think. You will never be as young, healthy or as full as possibilities as you are now maybe, so enjoy it. Why let the little things cancel out the big things?

Well, yesterday I told them the best professional advice anyone ever gave me (they all took out their pens when I said that) and that was the best job you will ever have in your life you will love 80% and hate 20%, and when you realize that you only dislike 20% of what you have to do everyday and love the other 80, know you are where it's as good as it gets, and you should be feeling pretty pleased with yourself.

I have expanded on this concept and it works for me. You see I know I am not perfect .Yes, I give most things my best shot (housework maybe not so much) but I have decided that if I come through 80% of the time this is me operating at optima performance. So as long as I am not a 78% I am good, if I am an 81% this is excellent, and rare. The 20% well that comes with the territory when things are just about as perfect as they can get.

I apply this ratio to my sewing and my sewing success and it's about accurate. I can consider myself a wonderful sewer if I have only 20% that I don't really wear or like when I am finished.

This is helpful in situations when perfection is expected. Husbands who tell you are beautiful and mean it, but don't finish any household project they start, for instance, and naming no names.


Weddings. In fact when my daughter who used to be a perfectionist was getting married and stressing about the details I told her "we are going to have 20% not work out quite right here and that's what perfect is going to be." 

So it rained, and it was an outdoor wedding, the musician had a heart attack on site and had to get rushed to the hospital, the groom left his tux at home (we were at a place in the country) and we had to send an electrician in to break into the house and get it, and her dad's girlfriend spilt a glass of red wine on the dress by accident.

And it was a perfect wedding, the best I ever went to.

McCalls 6069

There have been several excellent versions of this dress reviewed on PR so I decided to make my own. This is a great easy pattern, but as the reviewers have noted the back is really low. As I result I raised mine by 2" when I cut it out which means I can wear a strapless bra with it (and I am not crazy about strapless bras in summer - I mean the point is to be cool not encased in synthetic knit) but since the neckline in this dress is so open and breezy I am still getting air so it's OK.

I felt I took a risk in this one and was worried I was going to burn some nice rayon knit with it. I was afraid this loose neckline would shift around and fall off but the back suspension tie thing across the back neckline really works. Once I have this dress on I can forget about it and it really stays put. I have worn this a couple of times, out with DH and out for sushi with a girlfriend and a few times when I wanted to be as cool as I could be.

This back view achieves two things. First of all it gives you a good look at my major fitting issue (and the bad varicose I acquired after a issues with my last and biggest baby, c-section, and blood clots - he was of course totally worth it and so what these are my legs) and at how low the back is. You might want to consider raising this a few more inches if this is too low for you - but I have to tell you it's cool like this on a hot day.

And this is a picture of course with my assistant who spends as much time in the sewing room as I do.

Technically there are four things I would alert you to about this pattern:

1. It's short - I am 5'9" and added 4", think about that.
2. I found the band piece in the back was wide, and awkward I thought, and didn't lie right. So I took it out and made a skinny little tube with my loop turner and basted it in place to get the right amount of pull up for my own back. Maybe I pulled this in a little more than others might, but I wanted security with this neckline.
3. The elastic waist uses a technique that the pattern companies seem to love these days and that is using the waistline seam allowances as an elastic casing. I find this a little skimpy. You might want to cut this seam allowance wider so you can get the elastic in easily or even better use a wider elastic - I think narrow elastics aren't all that comfortable at the waist anyway.
4. This dress is hard to put on. It usually takes about five tries before I get the band thing at the back not the front and the whole dress not backwards too. You have to pull it over your head to get on and that's confusing when you are in the middle of it and can't see what you are doing. I wouldn't recommend this as a dress to pull on if you have to catch a bus.

All in all though I am pretty pleased with myself for how this turned out - taking a risk that works is particularly satisfying, so maybe I should do that more often.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sewing room cleaning and pattern give away

I have sent off the vintage patterns to the first three folks who responded and it was fun. Nice feeling to write far away addresses on envelopes with my patterns in them.

I think I will do this again but make it simple.

Every other Wednesday morning, starting this week,  I will post one pattern and the first email I receive requesting it will have it sent to them. This should keep me going for a while and by doing this mid-week will give me something to post between weekends when I have more time to sew and blog.

I will start with some vintage patterns and work my way to things that are more recent like a couple of HP. See how it goes and if no one wants something I post, well we recycle everything here in this city.

What's up with Burda?

Looking over dress patterns last night I confirmed that the Burda Mode site which used to allow you to both look through the pattern catalog and the pages of the current BWF magazine has been taken down and replaced with BurdaStyle, which has a very small selection of BWF designs for purchase/download and some contributor designs. Very hip and nice social networking type site - but no access to the catalog anymore or to the complete magazine. Interesting BurdaStyle has relatively few "members" so this looks like even more of a step back.

First time to my knowledge that I think I have seen a company reduce access for its customers to its projects and consequently sales. Now if I want to look through the magazine to see if I want to buy it I have to get in my car and drive downtown to the newsagent who carries it or into my car and drive to the fabric store to look through the catalog. The German site has an elaborate, over complicated "trend" selection from the magazine but it is not as nice simple and accessible as it used to be.

Makes me wonder if the burden of a multi language magazine is no longer paying off and if they aren't considering a switch to downloadable patterns.

Also indicates to me a narrowing of their focus to less experienced sewers, which is very important, at the cost of the general sewing public.

Makes me wonder where they are going to next. I also know that BWF has looked increasingly irrelevant to me lately anyway - the clothes are not as wearable as they were, and I used to love that magazine. Of course I think part of this is how the garments are staged and I frequently pass over some twisted photo of something I can't really see and then find the same pattern looks great on a real sewer who has made a version and obviously has more imagination than I do.

At any rate I regret losing access to their pattern catalog.