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Sewing with less stress Front
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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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Thursday, September 9, 2010

You have to see this

If you haven't already pop over to Anna's blog, scroll down, and have a good look at her housedress.

I am absolutely crazy about this dress. It really speaks to me. I have seen so many capri and T shirt uniforms this summer and have worn them myself. But I do love dresses. I think  we forget that women used to make and wear a special kind of work dress for everyday.

There is something easy about this that makes me remember. A woman's bare feet going down the wood boards of a hall to make the coffee before anyone else was up. An ironing basket. Housedresses on my father's aunts on the farm and the very thin gold bands on hands that were always smoothing something down. The dresses my mother and her friends used to order out of the catalogue so they could stand behind screen doors and say to us "you're not coming in yet. Stay out and play. I'm doing the floors."

There is something so comfortable and comforting about the look of Anna's dress.

When did we stop sewing housedresses?

On disappointments and socks

Not to be a sooky baby but I have had a couple of disappointments in the last few weeks.

A really cool trip that included a visit to see a couture show at a museum (I had the ticket bought and put away in my underwear drawer so it wouldn't get lost) cancelled because of a change of plans at my husband's work. It was a go-along-with-the-spouse financed trip and not something I could justify on my own I decided.

And hopes raised on the career front by someone who then found out it wasn't theirs to give.

Disappointments for sure but nothing really major. Nothing really terrible on say the scale of cutting into really good fabric and then realizing that this was one of those patterns where you were supposed to add the seam allowances and hadn't, for example.

And I am, after all, someone who has been around the block a few times. A self-description that made my kids hysterical when I said this once at the dinner table. They started naming all the streets in my neighbourhood, "what block was that Mom?" A prophet in her own home etc.

What I mean is that resilience is something I have been refining for a while now.

I have learned too that it is important to try and not disappoint anyone else if you can. It's easy to do, without thinking. You have to pay attention.

A while ago now I did a lot of sock knitting, it was a great reliable gift for son-in-laws, sons, husbands and nephews.

I never thought.

That is until my 9 year old niece remarked that "Do you have to be a boy around here to get new socks?"


Well these ones are for you Sophia. May you always stand up for yourself.  Happy Birthday. 


Finally a use for an embroidery machine

I have an older sewing machine, a Pfaff 7570, that does many decorative stitches plus hoop embroidery. I'll admit to you right now that I hardly ever, next to never, embroider anything. In fact I think the last time I hooped was to do big monograms for a coat lining I made.

Let's face it, no one really needs an embroidery machine unless they want one for fun. I keep meaning to embroider some towels or something, or his and her pillowcases, but I never get around to it. I think towelwise I was scarred years ago by the boys who one summer managed to lose about a dozen of my best towels at the pool. Eventually I read them the riot act and said no more towels until you guys go down to the lost and found and bring all those towels back.

They were very good about it. Marched down to the pool and brought me back 12 towels from the lost and found. Thin old Spiderman towels, towels with frayed edges and rust stains - I hadn't been specific enough that it was my towels they wanted back - and they didn't think I would notice anyway. Been reluctant to invest too much emotionally in my towels since then.

I also admit there are very few embroidered garments that do much for me, in fact I think some of the stuff looks a little cheap, and you know how classy I am. I also suspect that the invention of embroidery machines was a compensation idea by the sewing machine companies who have never quite recovered from the retirement of the pervasive home sewer. 

I mean what do you do when there is no longer a sewing machine in every hall closet? Invent something that will give you what you would have made from 500 of those old machines.

At least.

Am I the only one who is finding getting cornered by a sewing machine dealer every time you look sideways to spend over $8,000 on a top-of-the-line a little thin? Are they crazy? Divide that by yards of good fabric.

I did that once and figured that I could make about 300 very nice dresses for that. And what would I use to sew them? 

A straight stitch.

However I had a boring but very useful utility grey flannel pencil skirt to make this week. To keep my own interest up I put a large embroidered zig-zag on the inside of the waistband and used a decorative stitch to topstitch the hem in the lining.

I really enjoyed doing this.  Now I have transformed a useful skirt into something that I will really also enjoy wearing. Might do this again.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back to school

I was in meetings today. Tomorrow I start teaching my first classes.

I am excited and nervous like I always am.

Who will I meet?

I have a large number of first years this term and that is always particularly interesting. The cool girls still carrying the sheen of high school confidence, the country girls who I will see tomorrow with earrings too big and hair with too many elastics, who next year will all have sleek cuts, hair straightened into elegant lines, and better wardrobes than mine. They will be the quick studies in life. And of course too the boys whose mothers have gone to the bookstore for them, who are here to party and doze in the back row.

These kids are halfway with me - halfway between home and the world. I have to be careful to give them the right stuff, so they are tough enough, smart enough, able enough to take the disappointments, but not so much that the kids I will see tomorrow, the children their parents see when they drop them off, ever disappear.

I want to tell those parents don't be afraid of the wrong things.

Don't be afraid that if they don't get on the grow up, school, job track and stay there, that they will be lost forever. The opposite is in fact true. Any teacher, a teacher like me, would a hundred times rather a new student who has had a year or two or more off before doing, at 22, 24, 26 something they would never have thought of at 18. These students, the gap students, are a pleasure to teach- they can handle themselves, and since they have learned who they are, don't waste school time trying to learn that, instead of the education they paid for.

Have a little faith. They are going to need it in life and right now that's the best thing you can show them.

What I would worry about though are the kids who were too hot in high school. They remind me of what an old fisherman told me about the fishermen he knew in Newfoundland "when there were so many cod all you had to do was sit in a boat and the fish would jump in." Those fisherman fell apart he told me, when the cod went away.

You have to learn how to fish.

I think sometimes of one of those girls, a girl who came into my office and slammed her paper down on my desk. I had given her a D. "I don't think you understand" she said, fluffing her streaked hair out of her eyes, " I am an A."  

"That may be true," I told her, " but I don't think you understand, this paper is a D."

Hard lesson to learn, when you thought you were exempt, and none of us are.

For those of you with smaller kids or starting someone to school, you must read this.

Now off to choose my outfit for the first day of school.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Butterick 5523

Here is my version of this pattern, Butterick 5523. 

Again there is a back story on the photos. The day before Hurricane Earl we had our hottest day ever and my daughter and I  went to the pool with Miss Scarlett to cool off. The pool we go to is a wonderful outdoor pool with filtered salt water - which is nice and buoyant but you come home with red eyes and sticky hair. We decided once we got back to my daughter's place that she was a better photographer than anyone at my house so we put this dress on me and I kept my shades on to make me less raggedy.  That's the story in case you thought I was a different person and had become cool.

 The back view, obviously, showing the belty thing which you don't get in many knit dresses and also the shoulder squaring effect of the inverted pleats at the top of the sleeves.

There are a couple of things I would like to share about this pattern:

1. I am 5'9" and I added 3" to this dress, if it had been an inch or two longer I wouldn't have minded. You might want to think about length carefully before you cut ( I am lazy and usually add 3" to everything.)

2. The bodice is zero ease, i.e. the same measurements as you are and so maybe it looks a bit tight across the back, since it is a knit. It feels fine on but I would be very careful and use a knit with a fair bit of stretch for this pattern. In fact I think the window of suitable knits is fairly narrow. A heavier knit like a ponte would not have enough movement ease, unless you added or cut a size larger, but a lighter knit would not have the body to support the back belt or hold the pleats. I used a fairly substantial rayon interlock and that seemed right to me.

3. Since the bodice is zero ease the instruction to sew a casing between the bodice and skirt and insert elastic is unnecessary since this seam already fits close to the body and adding elastic runs the risk of adding bulk or distorting this seam. Forget this step, you won't miss it.

4. OK this is making me crazy but the construction advice for sewing with knits continues to be out to lunch. What matters when you sew with a knit is that the shoulders are stable (add tape or interfacing) and that the seam stretch. Use a serger or alternately, and this is what I did because I find it makes the most discrete seams in a knit dress, stitch with a very tiny, zig zag.

It is also important, if you don't want your knits to look harassed and tired before you even wear the garment, not to worry the fabric with lots of unnecessary techniques.

So why do the Big 4  keep giving instructions that aren't knit suitable? What is this doing to the success rate among new to knits sewers?

I am sure the folks at the pattern companies know this, so what's with the instructions as if this was being made out of broadcloth? Straight stitched seams, staystitching, notching the seam allowance, twice-basted hems (no mention of twin-needles much less coverhems, or a catch-stitch if you are hand hemming)? These just aren't knit techniques.

Final verdict. Nice comfortable dress, I will be wearing this with tights and maybe boots.

Now two more skirts and then I get to make another dress.