Sewing with less stress Front

Sewing with less stress Front
My newest sewing book

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Sewing with less stress back cover
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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, January 29, 2011

The more things change the more they stay the same

At the beginning of the week I took my sewing machine, a Pfaff 7570, into the shop. They told me it would be two weeks before I had it back.

Two weeks! The stress of it. Now I have back-up machine. A little Janome, but I have set up with my Singer buttonholer and it does a superlative job making nice little round ended buttonholes, just the way I like them. Perfect every time and no need to rip out and restitch, ever. I didn't want to mess with that.

BTW if you want to know why there is tape on the bed of the machine in this picture I have replaced the Janome feed dog cover (you have to drop or cover the feed dogs with this attachment) with a piece of clear plastic I cut out of some packaging, with a hole in it for the needle to go through and taped it to the machine. I find the attachment moves easier this way.

So not wanting to interfere with something I had set up just right, I decided to look for a second hand simple machine to do simple sewing when my main machine was down.

And I found this, for about the same amount of money I paid 
 for my straight stitch plate:

A beautiful old Pfaff that does such a gorgeous straight stitch. When I looked at those stitches I almost cried. So beautiful where those stitches and so nice the purr of this machine in fact that I stayed up last night and took out all my topstitching in my HP blouse and redid it on this machine.

Call me crazy and you would be right.

All this reminded me that despite all the fancy machines now on the market not a lot has changed. 

A good stitch is still a good stitch.

Let me tell you a story.

A while ago a friend of mine picked up an old wooded file cabinet at an estate sale. In it he found a pile of original patent documents, including some for sewing machines. They are dated just before WWI.

He was going to throw them out but at the last minute had the good sense to remember me and gave me them to me.

Five of them are now framed and hang over my fireplace.

Here is a picture of one of the patents here. You will see that the design of the sewing machine, how the stitch is formed, hasn't really changed at all. 

 Now off for a weekend of dog walking, paper marking and shirt sewing. More on that later.

Saturday morning coffee

This week I wore a black wool crepe sheath and a black and white cardigan to work. At the end of the day I wondered why I ever wear anything else to earn my living.

I was so comfortable and I felt chic.

Why do we wear those stiff old man suits? When I worked in a more formal job a while ago we all wore suits. I used to go to a great second-hand boutique where the owner saved designer jackets for me and I would take them home and make skirts to match. I figured it was the only way I could afford a wardrobe of expensive suits when I had so little sewing time.

But I was never all that comfortable and most of those time those jackets hung on the back of my chair.

But Michele Obama changed all that. I am a great admirer of the Madame Obama (not the least of which is because I think she gives an even better speech than her husband and I used to write political speeches) and love the ease of her clothing. I love the way she has introduced personality and femininity into a tough job.

And this morning over my coffee a NY Times op. ed. put it all into words for me:

.... she certainly promotes a healthy sense of enjoyment and individuality in fashion. With her brio and idiosyncratic clothing choices, Mrs. Obama has rewritten the dress code for women who work. We wear cardigans now instead of always jackets, flats instead of impossibly high platform heels. We have a little fun with fashion, even to the point of being more frivolous.

I also think she is an absolute well of inspiration for anyone who possesses a TNT dress pattern. Just look at this dress she wore to talk to Wal-Mart:

I love the collar on that grey dress and am going to be adding it to my own TNT sheath just as soon as I down tools on the Ten White Shirts

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Adventures in collar making

A while back I posted links to what seemed to me to be the three most popular approaches to collar-on-a-stand making. I now have tried all three and found my favourite, the one that suits my sewing personality.

Here's which one and here's why.

Debbie and Belinda's Insert-the-collar-last method gets this random sewer's vote. It seems to me to be the method I am most likely able to master, yes master, with a bit more practice. The reasons have to do with the fact that this method deflects the tricky sewing into bigger spaces where you can get your hands in there and has space to resew imperfections, rather than ripping out stitches. It also has a few smart tricks (see previous post on why I love smart instructions, preferably with tricks I haven't seen before).

Let me explain, with a list of the reasons this method works for me:

1. In this method the long neckline edge of the bands are sewn first, and independent of the collar, to the neckline edge, sandwiching the shirt between the two. As we all know sewing a flat thing (the bands) to a curved thing (the shirt neckline) can be tricky and the risk of getting those little mini pleaty things caught up in the seam is high, and annoying. Because you have the tops of the bands still open when you do this step, and don't have the collar to worry about yet, it is easier to keep this seam under control and see what you are doing. Also if you work with 5/8" seam allowances there is something for your  hands to hold under the needle and you can cut these seam allowances off to 1/4" after wards - same end effect without the scaring feeling of letting go of little pieces of fabric as they disappear under the presser foot.

2. The curved ends of the stand are then stitched as far as the collar opening, and again because the collar is still not yet involved, it is easy to see and hold onto. The idea of drawing in stitching lines with a template was a good one ( I made a little template cut from the file folder I keep tax stuff in - I am sure in a few months I will wonder what idiot cut a curved shape out of the edge of the folder) and I discovered that if you don't get both curves completely even and the curved the same, you can go back and restitch until they are quite easily, which of course I did, without having to unpick previous stitches and starting that whole fraying process. There is no end of collar bump in this method, much like the Burritto.

This system also calls on one of the Major Rules of Successful Sewing  which is it is always better to do a series of short, in control seams than one big long I-hope-I-am-lucky-and-it-looks-better-from-the-right-side seams. 

3. The last thing you do is pop in the completed collar in the last remaining opening which is at the top of the collar band. I like this because the Tricky Seam was actually a big flat one where you had large pieces to work with to pin and again your hands and eyes could see what you are doing - easy too to compensate for any tiny inaccuracies in how big and opening you left by unpicking the odd stitch or closing a too big gap with top-stitching.

OK, and what would you be worried about in this last seam? That the two sides of the band wouldn't be completely even and that you might have one slip away and miss the top stitching that captures in the collar? Am I right? Of course but, and here is the smart part, before you start this whole process you baste these two edges together, press and then remove the basting stitches - so the two seam allowances you are going to be tucking in around the collar are already perfectly even and pressed ready to go before you even start the collar insertion process.

I mean how smart is that? 

You can see some of the stitches in my straight stitch plate
post and in the shots I will be taking of this latest shirt once I get to the buttonholes.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I realize the title of this morning's post "a little discipline" may have sounded like a comment on HP.

Didn't mean that. My opening thought when I opened my eyes this morning was that my machine is off for two weeks in the shop and it will require some discipline from me to focus on cutting, planning, and other non-straight stitch tasks.

But my frustrations with HP's minimal instructions (which really read more like a written list of things to do) remain - despite the fact I don't use most guide sheets (except to look at the pictures to see if I am still on track, like most tactile learners a.k.a sewers).

I love a good instruction sheet - in fact some of my best techniques were collected from the advice of clever patterns. I think Kwik Sew is my favourite for clear illustrations and instructions, followed by Jalie, the Big 4 are improving, and when I read BWOF it is for the instructions, which yes are minimal but still every now and then have a really oddball cool technique worth remembering. Even though I decided life, at least this one, is too short for tracing (but hats off to those of you who do) I like to see how they put it all together.

So I was disappointed that my first HP, which I understood to be more RTW in approach, hadn't anything new techniques to teach me, or at least give me the pleasure of reading/seeing nice clear instructions.

I have to get this shirt finished  so you can see what you think. That will probably happen over the next day or two, 
after I take a cutting out and marking papers break.

Tomorrow though I will try to get something down on the best collar method that worked for me.

A little discipline

Almost finished the HP boxy shirt and my machine sort of died, several issues, one must be a loose wire in the foot control - I am not going to get this done doing a series of single stitches. So off it goes for service today.

I am taking this as a sign to take a break and do some serious cutting out of future shirts.

My own feeling is that the machine and I got sort of fed up with Hot Patterns about the same time.

Yes the styling is generally good but there are some details I am not crazy about. A collar on a band that is actually designed to be a bit loose/low (look at the line drawing) and a collar that is very pointy - like blouses my sisters and I wore in grade seven. Not that this doesn't like fine on, but not features that I would make again.

But that's not really it.

The instructions are lousy. I know they are quick notes for people who already know how to sew, and that would include me, but I miss the pictures of a good instruction sheet (who reads the words anyway? Sewers are visual people) and the construction advice is not very clever, and often quite awkward. And there are things like sew to the notch and there isn't that notch printed on the pattern.

I don't know about you but one of the things I enjoy about sewing is the technique. I love a pattern that shows me a clever way to do something, or exhibits some thought about the smartest way to put the pieces together.

We will finish this up on my back-up machine and I will post some pictures for you to decide about, but I have to say that for a premium pattern price I would be happier with well-designed instructions.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Surviving the winter in Nova Scotia

Now those of you who live in brighter parts of the world aren't going to get this but here goes.

The place I live in is really beautiful, for about six months of the year. A few other months can surprise you, either way, but the November to March stretch can be Gloomy. This year I can count on one hand probably the days I have seen the sun since the beginning of November. I have noticed this particularly of course because the DH is away working in Tennessee for this winter and his reports of bad weather there, well let's just say they aren't that bad by my standards.

Now when challenged I have theory that some people go up and some people go down - it's in how you are wired. Myself I am not prone to depression when things are gloomy, but I do go into overdrive. Do things like decide to sew ten white shirts for example.

So this is how I am coping.

Saturday I decided I needed special food so I went down to our Farmer's market, about 15 minutes from here. Being winter there were only winter vegetables but I got some good cheese, apples and pears, bread and some Acadian chicken pot pies - everything is organic of course.

Here is a picture of the market:

And here is a picture of the pier it is built on, right downtown Halifax. This should give you an idea of the kind of location and city I am writing from. The sun was shining (clouds moved in later in the day) so I took a picture:

For those of you in the US the market is built on the pier that is the Canadian equivalent of Ellis Island. My own grandparents came through here at different times ; my grandfather with his sheep dog, my grandmother with a letter saying she was "a most excellent seamstress." My brother-in-law bought a plaque for the wall with the names of his parents who landed here from Greece.

It is a place with a lot of history.

I thought of my husband too when I bought my pies. His mother's family is Acadian, a fact recorded on the features of his face, and that is part of his history. For those of you who don't know that history the Acadians were the folks who settled here and were round up and put into boats by the British and pushed out to sea in the middle of the 18th century. Here is a link to some of that history.

Longfellow wrote about it in Evangeline.

Thousands died, some escaped and hid in the woods, some got as far as the plantations in the South where they   were rounded up and worked, some made it to Louisiana renamed Cajuns.

And some eventually made their way back to here, although I think they must have forgotten about the winters.

Last year my husband drove for two days straight from Tennessee to New Orleans. Just to see a name or face he 
recognized, hear some familiar music, eat some good food.

The Acadians love to cook. 

In fact I would say that one of the hardest things about him being away is the evenings. We go on Skype to talk to each other, sometimes while we are cooking. Me, my make-it-fast so I can go sewing meal, and him on his end making something elaborate and very tasty looking.

So back to how I am managing.

There is a thyroid thing that runs in my family. My grandmother, mother, and even my daughter have it, and so do I. I generally feel great and full of energy but I do slow down in the gloomy months. My doctor says this is not unusual. Did you know bears hibernate in the winter because their thyroid tells them to? Not a bad option if you don't have to go to work, and if you aren't interested in making ten white shirts.

So this is what I am doing.

Dressing warm. This is me with messy hair in the Lion Brand pattern big cable vest. Excellent for dog walking although when you take off your hat your hair looks like this:

And a close-up because the picture above doesn't show much but the crazy hair:

Making comfort food. Last night I pickled some cauliflower because I got all sentimental and remembered how we used to fish out the pickled cauliflower from the jars of mixed pickles, they were the best:

And I got a light box. It says something about my locality that these are sold in most drugstores in this town. Thirty minutes a day, I have it set up in my sewing room, to keep me from hibernating. It works I tell you - look I made pickles at 10:00 last night and also washed my kitchen floor.

And in four weeks I am off to see my spouse in Tennessee and my son in DC. Places where folks don't need to go under the lights.

That will be nice, very nice.