Sewing with less stress Front

Sewing with less stress Front
My newest sewing book

Sewing with less stress back cover

Sewing with less stress back cover
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About me

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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, September 17, 2011

A simple knitter

I am done.

Here is Miss Scarlett's sweater :

I knit it from Elizabeth Zimmerman's famous and thought-free Tomten pattern I found in this book, bought years ago when I was under the delusion I was going to become an ace knitter until I found out it took too long to finish anything. The pattern is also available here from Schoolhouse press. There are about a million better versions of this sweater on the internet.

Apparently the sibling has dropped, so it seemed like a good time last night to finish the baby blanket I started too, before he/she arrives:

130 stitches, 10 stitches of knit, 10 stitches of purl and after 10 rows you reverse the order to make the little squares. About as complex a pattern as I can handle.

And finally here is my leatherette skirt in the planning stages, now partially sewn up. No one was more surprised than me that those curved pieces are fitting in quite easily:

Now off to a party with the Cookie Monster.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Flypaper night

You know, like put it up there and see what sticks?

One of my favourite things to read in other blogs are the random stuff lists. They really give you some sense of who you are reading.

Since tomorrow is Miss Scarlett's birthday, tonight is all about putting the hooded sweater I have been inexpertly knitting together and getting the zipper in. No sewing. It has been a frantic week and at the end of it, here's what's sticking:

  • Fake leather is a lot easier to sew than I thought it would be. 
  • I hate ripping out anyway.
  • My husband does an amazing Cookie Monster voice.
  • I picked up the costume this afternoon. 
  • I should never go anywhere without a camera.
  • Whose dumb idea was it for me to do a double course load this fall to have the winter off?
  • Oh me.
  • Every spring my mother-in-law calls in from the country to tell us when she sees the first robin.
  • Next month she is moving into an apartment block near me in the city.
  • I have a yard.
  • My daughter's boyfriend from grade nine is in one of my classes.
  • He is now bald.
  • My sister is the only licensed deaf female fork lift operator in Canada.
  • 47 different variations of BMV pattern sales must mean that some new Vogues will be out soon.
  • Please.
  • I need to sew jackets.
  • I need to start my Christmas sewing.
  • I want to make something I don't need.
  • Have you ever shared a bed with a man who snores and a fox terrier who paces?
  • Do you want to?
  • My son gave me the "Human Manure Composting Handbook" to read.
  • This is not a joke.
  • Page two is more interesting than page one.
  • Page three is pictures.
  • Might not get to page four.
  • No pattern proof reader job offers have come in yet.
  • I am pretty surprised about that.
  • Ordered real leather once.
  • The bullet hole at the top got me.
  • I have my own skin don't need anyone else's.
  • Except as an accessory.
  • I want to buy Miss Scarlett Mr. Roger's dvds.
  • Tomorrow an invisible zipper in the leatherette.
  • Hope I am not too excited to sleep.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Vogue patterns and dream jobs

I got a very nice email from Vogue last week asking if they could put up some of my pictures on their facebook page ( I think you might have to be a friend to see it).

I was pretty pleased to be contacted by them. In my heart consider this an incremental step towards my Dream Job which would be pattern instruction copy editor. You know someone who would say "if you had worked a long day and really should be doing the dishes but were sewing instead wouldn't it be less frustrating to do step 14 as step 3 instead?"

I will wait for that call.

Do you have a dream job?

My husband would like to have a cooking show. 

But I am not sure what kind of market there is for a cook who throws utensils, won't talk while he is cooking, and serves a meal and then goes to lie down for a few minutes before he comes to the table because he is so emotionally exhausted by the whole process. And usually won't take one bite until someone else says "It's fantastic". To which he always says "You just saying that. It could be better."

I had a student once who more than anything else in the world wanted to be an instruction writer for put-it-together-yourself BBQs.

What's your dream job?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Me in a leather skirt?

I have been fussing around with this pattern lately wondering what to do with it:

Your old pencil skirt is a really reliable wardrobe item. I was thinking the other day that if I still had them, I could wear the straight skirts I wore to my first job to work tomorrow and they would still be in style. How many garments can you say that about?

But from a sewing perspective a standard straight/pencil skirt (think that on me they are more magic marker skirts - whatever) can get pretty boring if you do it plain every time.

So this pattern caught my eye.

However since the real feature is all the neat seaming, I had a feeling that my original plan to make it in black gab just wasn't going to do it justice. But throwing stuff around down in the sewing room yesterday I realized I still have lots of that pleather stuff left over from the package my sister Dawn mailed me.

Bingo. I had a winner. 

However all I had to do was get my head around me in a leather (or de facto) skirt. Still. I figured it was worth a try. Leather is often pieced and it would certainly show off the stitching.

Stay tuned. Just get through the rest of the work week. 
Then hopefully you will have a chance to give this middle-aged sewist the leather look thumbs up or thumbs down.

At this point neither of us knows how this is going to turn out.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Like yourself

I have this student.

First class last term we were talking about the job hunting process. She commented that "well I know this isn't fair but I am probably going to have an advantage, you know, because of my looks. I hate to say it, but being attractive makes a difference."

I kept on my best teacher face but I remember thinking to myself that I hadn't actually considered this girl really attractive. Eyes a little close together maybe, nose a little big, a few pounds, and well those were sort of knock knees...there were far, far prettier girls in the class. I was taken aback a bit by her comment.

Over the course of the term I got to know this student. I eventually realized that there wasn't any vanity involved, no stuck up ego, it's just that somewhere along the line she had been brought up to just like herself. She enjoyed herself, she could laugh at herself. As student, and not a particularly good student, she had a great attitude. Nearly fail her, and I would get an email back "Great feedback Barb, really appreciate the trouble you took to explain this to me. Now I know what I need to do." And you know, the next assignment I saw she actually had taken it all to heart and I could see the changes she made. 

You just couldn't get this kid down. Unlike nearly everyone her age somehow this girl understood how not to take it personally, it was my comments on the work, not on her.

By the end of the term I started to notice things. How this student was always so well-groomed, well-dressed, good appropriate make-up, she took care of herself. She just took care of herself.

Last class I took her aside and told her that when she went job hunting I would give her a reference.

Not that she might need it, such an attractive girl already has an edge.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

McCalls 6401

With surfer son's partially finished body work on his car in the background, nice touch

With a never before noticed over bite - nearly every picture I am talking to the photographer. Linda pants from Style Arc, isn't that a nice pattern?
Well here we are.

McCalls 6401 is a sort of Big Shirt with ties at the sides to draw it in. Very dropped sleeves and one of those front bands that curves out slightly in a V so the first button starts about 7" down.

Here are my thoughts:

  • I made this in some quilted cotton that I bought on that afternoon I thought I was going to develop into a quilter. Since that thought had left me by about 4:00 that same afternoon I make up some "wearable muslins" in that yardage. My intention was to see if this pattern would work in a White Shirt since I have a huge pile of that stuff waiting for patterns that inspire me.
  • It is pretty big. Despite the fact I am a 16-18 bust I made the medium (12-14) and you can see for yourself how generous it is.
  • I started to cut the longer version but when I realized how long it was I cut off 3". As I am 5'9" you can see how long it still is in length too.
  • I really like the way you can use the ties to pull it in and how they tie at the side and not over your belly. Belting a big shirt like this often gives me a poofed out belly that is not cool. This is better.
  • The only construction change I made, and I really believe in this one, was not to interface the front bands. I have done that in the past and even gone back in and removed it (now that was a fun job). I have been making shirts for neglected sons and I note that men's shirts never have interfaced bands. Personally with the four layers of the fabric in the bands a lot is happening there to add bulk - IMO adding interfacing just makes a shirt too stiff over the chest. If it was a good idea to interface those bands they would be adding it to the gazillion men's shirts that are manufactured.
To me this is not a bad going-to-the-store, weekend shirt. Since I go to the store and have a weekend every week I will probably wear it a fair bit. I will decide once I have done a day in it if it is too loose and may actually make a white shirt version.

The Incompetent sewer's shirt collar instructions

I have enjoyed sewing this shirt and pictures of it will be up the end of the day when my husband gets back from going out to help his mom, and I have the buttons sewn on.

In the meantime here are, in what I hope is some kind of coherent order, my instructions for a collar that works for me. (see title above).

I want to emphasize that absolutely different methods work for different sewers. This is true of all techniques and the reason why there are 101 different ways to do everything out there. Just find what works for your sewing style. Personally I do best when a job is broken down into little stages with self correction opportunities are available at each stage, and everything does not depend on one large ambitious seam to make it all work.

Having to pull out the seam ripper does not bring out the best in me.

First off here are the collar issues an incompetent sewer like myself on some days can have with shirt collars:

1. Sewing that tricky round corner and top-stitching it is tough to do evenly. With a 1/4" seam, advised by some for good reason because it is more accurate, can make you crazy if your fabric starts to fray. Note a straight stitch foot and plate if you have one, or a needle set at the furthest left or right position (right up against the presser foot opening so to reduce the wide gap in the standard zig zag presser foot and therefore adding stability to the fabric support) is a real hep.

2. Little bits of thread or fabric can hang out right at that bump where the collar stand meets the shirt.

3. The top stitching of the band to the shirt can miss catching the other side.

4. Add your own issues, I am sure I have made more and forgotten some.

In general this is my approach:

1. Do nothing in final stitching until you have as much as possible set it up and pressed and organized it in its final shape. This gives you the opportunity to correct any potential problems while you still can. The object of this whole method is avoid having to use a seam ripper at all costs.

2. Sew with a conventional 5/8" seam allowance and then trim before the next step. I find this easier. I like to have something to hold on to.

Here goes, and if any of this doesn't make sense please let me know.

1. Make the collar. Stitch, take one stitch diagonally across the point, and press. The secret to a decent collar is to press the seams open on a Barbie doll ironing board a.k.a. this: (When searching for an image I found a link to an article with good pictures on the Threads site. I was surprised to see I wrote it. No mention that I would go on to write instructions for incompetent sewers. )

Turn and topstitch. David Page Coffin says to use a smaller stitch length and not to stitch too close to the edge, so I do it because he would know. Use a little "hump jumper" or folded something behind the presser foot when you turn to corner so you won't skip or pack up stitches and to keep the presser foot level. (I use an old leather bookmark somebody gave someone once).

Now this is important: because of turn of cloth when you turn and press the collar the open neckline edges will not be even. Trim them so they are.

2. Right sides together, baste the neckline edges of the collar band together with a long basting stitch. Press this seam open, then remove the stitches. This is a Debbie Cook trick and a great one. This step will make both of the collar band seam allowances even and set them up for the final stitch down without one side being shorter than the other. It is also sooo much easier to have this edge pressed before it goes anywhere near any other part of the shirt and will set you up with an edge like this when you go to sew it down:

Yes I know this is a weird fabric, I am going through a black and red stage and this was hanging around.
3. Paying attention to the markings on the top of the collar band to show you where the collar ends, stitch the collar to the band, sandwiching it between the collar band pieces, around that curved corner and right across your pressed-up seam allowances on the neck edge. Trim this seam closely but leave the seam allowances a little longer at the neck edge. If you don't do that when you turn and press the collar band/collar unit you might have little frayed seam allowance pieces poking out at the bottom of the curved edge of the collar. This will drive you crazy.

Go inside and make a few hand stitches to hold these seam allowances up and out of the way of the pressed edges. Am I making any sense?

You should now have a nice completed collar unit ready to slot onto the shirt. If it isn't nice and complete you still have time to fix it up so it is.

4. Stay stitch the neck edge of the shirt and clip it as often as you have to to get that neckline to create a straight line when you pull it out. It is not possible to sew a curve (neck edge) to a straight (collar band) without those little pleaty things forming along the neck seam line. You have not choice but to make the curved edge straight.

5. Try pinning the collar unit to the neck edge to make sure it fits exactly over it. If not you still have time to make some adjustments. For example if your neckline for whatever reason is a shade too long you can still take in a shoulder seam a little bit until it fits.

6. Sew most of the collar unit to the neck edge stopping this seam a couple of inches short of the edges of the shirts and working with attaching only the outer collar band to the shirt. Leave the pressed edge of the inner band free. Stitch this seam along the pressed line of the seam allowance and then trim but only along the part you have sewn. You are going to need to be able to see that 5/8" to attach the rest of the band:

I like doing this because it takes the pressure off of having to attach the band in one long accurate seam. Oh, and at this stage I would trim the seam allowance of the pressed under inner band, once I was confident it would all work. I like to trim only at a last stage in case any other adjustments are necessary - I hate trying to resew a tiny trimmed seam.

7. Flip the pressed edge of the collar down, and top-stitch all around the band for the final securing, only a small part of this seam is going to involve making two unstitched edges line up:

This works pretty well for me and for the way I sew.

Pictures of the final collar on me later today.