Sewing with less stress Front

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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Saturday, April 21, 2012

On new things

I am delighted to announce my interfacing has arrived. 

This weekend I will finish off those two shirts and disinfect the remaining toys before the little girls and their mom arrive Tuesday.

I feel my luck has turned.

Let me tell you about my golf.

First off let's make clear that I am no athlete. In fact in the family I grew up in I was frequently referred to as the one who didn't do sports. Maybe that's one reason why I sew.

When I was growing up sports was a team thing and I was the kind of kid who was most likely to be picked last for the team. 

Then my husband got me out to the golf course last year. Since he knows enough about teaching to give very little advice and say lots of nice things (or maybe he knows a lot about marriage), I started to have fun.

Until two days ago when for some reason there were teams of 20 men around each sand trap fixing them up who stopped, leaned on their rakes and shovels, and watched my every shot.

Let's just say that ball would have gone further if I had kicked it with my foot.

This built up to a sort of session on about the 7th hole when my golf partner / spouse was given a full description of how I felt in grade 8 when the gym teacher laughed so hard at my attempts to play basketball he had to sit down. Of ski trips with new boyfriends when I skied into the snow making machine. Of even being a Line Dancing class dropout at the local community centre, because I couldn't keep up.

I think every one of us has something that they have been told, or believed, or have tried and failed at in the past - to the point they have decided they just can't do it. It's just not them.

This matters only if you have been steering around that thing you can't do so long that somehow what it is makes you feel lesser about yourself. If all that steering around had detoured you. It depends too, I think, on how badly you felt, or even were made to feel about not succeeding, that determines how much it is costing you. 

But you know we all deserve to feel complete, because we are. So when a person gets knocked back, even by herself, she has to deal with that.

So after I stamped home I actually googled "how to recover from a bad golf game" (you would be surprised there are about 8 million hits on this) and saw useless diagrams but finally found one soul who said "the more you try the worse your swing will be. Loosen your grip and just try to hit it up in the air and forget about everything else." (I am paraphrasing here - the author was a male professional golfer and I am not).

So I went out again, yesterday and today, and did just that. I decided to play for me. Just for me. I looked at that little ball and said to myself "up in the air you go" and about 20% of the time that's exactly what happened.

20%. Pretty good for a girl who was booted from basketball in grade 8. 

I used to have a phobia about bound buttonholes. So about 20 years ago I made them and made them and made them until I made one perfect, in fushia knit no less. I cut that sample out and it's on my bulletin board at home and sometimes, in some jobs, I used to put it in my pocket and take it to work.

I keep that buttonhole around to remind me that I am not a fast learner but I am a good learner. To remind myself that you can learn a new thing at any time in your life if you allow for not learning it too fast.

You have to give yourself a chance, you have to give yourself a chance.

I left that buttonhole at home, maybe I should have brought it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fitting and bodies

Thanks for the nice comments on the menopause post. It is very helpful when I write something and think to myself "am I nuts?"

The interfacing is due to arrive tomorrow. 

That's a good thing because, I am warning you, I have pretty much got most of the best shirt ever made done, and it really needs a collar and facings. It is so loud and colourful and cheerful. Very retro said my husband, searching for words, but then again so am I.

Of course I wrote about the inside of the change of life and since fitting is an issue here, I should talk about that too.

A few things happen and here they are. No need to panic, like Bunny said once in a comment here, it is possible to be easier to fit after what I like to call the change back to yourself than before.

OK, the body things:

1. Your skin starts to look like your mother's in places that you thought were safe, like your legs. Cross your legs in shorts and you have leg wrinkles. Well, what do you know. And you might rethink mini skirts because your knees... well mine are reminding me of a basset hound's chin, and this too is sort of surprising. This impacts styles like say a mini skirt, except for the part that if you are of this stage - if you want to wear them you will and folks can just cope.

2. After a life time bending over children, desks, computers, and, yes sewing machines, your neck sort of gets bent forward. This means your front chest measurement gets narrower and your back gets wider. Some sewers deal with this by cutting a smaller front and a bigger back. I actually know someone who wears as size 12 front and a size 20 back. Imagine that, and she looks totally normal.

The really important thing to remember, and I am bolding this because it is so important, is if you sew you look great because things fit, it is only poor fit that makes "figure flaws" which IMO are just pattern/fitting issues, not person inside issues.

I personally deal with the bent upper back thing (which I have earned as a tall person in a short world and time spent with students/children/dogs/sewing - all completely worth the alterations) by looking for centre back seams and princess seamed backs so I can easily taper in the top of the seam. As Nancy Zeiman would say "Viola."

3. Your waist gets bigger. If you are lucky you may have fully functioning members of society out in the world after a start from behind that same waist. Larger waists are not a bad thing. Small children find them comfy props when you read to them and a really good belly offers good support to a nice plate of snacks and to the head of a hopeful fox terrier. In a hard world it doesn't hurt to be soft I figure, and sometimes is appreciated. Remember your best hugs of your life. It wasn't from someone bony was it?

OK, back to fitting.

When I was younger, before I did so much with my life, I had a 28" waist. This was a whole lot smaller than my hips and was a real pain to alter for. I had to go through my undergraduate lectures with uncomfortable darts sewn into the waistbands of my jeans.

For the first time in my life, post change-back-to-myself, I have few fitting issues with waists - I just add to them. This is because, and this is sooo true, it is always easier to make something bigger than it is to make something smaller. As a general rule in fact, when between sizes buy small and add -  trying to reduce a pattern usually is disastrous.

3. You develop boobs. This may be an issue if you had lots to start with, but if you didn't really this extra also makes fitting easier. Just remember to lower the bust darts. I am not sure if increase in bust size is not really some of that stuff packed away just-in-case under your armpit moved to the front, but I will take it - fitting is easier.

I think I have more to say about being a woman at this stage - and if you aren't there now, you will be, so I will be writing more on this in later posts. I also have things I want to say about being a young mother and about working hard in the world.

It all matters to me.

But for now what would you add to fitting the experienced sewer?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The change of life

No kidding. I am actually going to write about that.

I have no choice. 

The interfacing still hasn't arrived and I spent a lot of the day getting my next online course that goes live Tuesday ready. That's the same day my daughter and the little girls fly in so my plan is to lock myself in the bathroom with my laptop and a headset that evening.

Should work.

Also I have been thinking of my fabulous oldest step-daughter since I was here. (If you knew her you would know that is the only word to describe her). Last year when she was visiting we were sitting out the back with a glass of wine and she looked at me and said:

"What's the menopause like?"

I am not sure what I told her, but in the last year I have been thinking about her question.

It seems to me we do a good job as women about not being honest to each other about life's realities. Here are some examples:

"Sleep when the baby sleeps and you will be fine." (What if the baby never sleeps?)

Or in the labour room "tell us if you are uncomfortable." (uncomfortable is telling the same story twice and realizing it half the way through).

"You will miss them when they are gone, but you'll enjoy the time to yourself." (Am I the only one who went back into the empty room to smell the pillow? Five years after that first trip to the airport.)

Likewise no one talks about the menopause. 

So it looks like it's up to me. Since the interfacing hasn't arrived.

So here it is. What no one tells you. Let veterans add what I have forgotten:

1. You will get angry like you never have before. Part of the change of life is that part of you that allowed you to be tolerant, say when a male manager with half your brains spoke to you as if he were twice as smart, just expires.

It's gone.

You just stop putting up. All of a sudden.

It's unexpected and forceful.  I have seen "F-k housework" written in lipstick on kitchen walls.  I have seen the clothes no one picked up off that floor bagged and put out in the trash. I have received emails from efficient long time office administrators that have said "Toodle-doo folks. Organize your own conference."

And I am not even telling you what I have done.

Just don't scare yourself.

However once the storm has passed you will feel pretty good. Just remember it's not you, it's them. Probably always was.

2. You look at men differently. Thank God. I read somewhere women are susceptible to looking at a nice exterior and then fabricating a beautiful interior to match. You stop doing that. Your sex drive doesn't change, you just don't waste it.

This is a great relief and frees up more time to think about your sewing.

Listen, I look at George Clooney and think "that's a guy who would say he had paid off the Visa when he hadn't." Lately when watching Luck I found, for the first time, that Dustin Hoffman was sexy - because he was, in the end, nice to his grandson.

Nice is the new hot. Always should have been. Tell that to a 19 year old.

3. You get to be who you used to be again. Remember that awful time during puberty when suddenly you felt everyone was looking at you and all you cared about was what they thought? Well that expires too. And it's not whether or not they are looking, you just don't care if they are. 

When you dress you want to feel cool and what anyone else thinks, well tough bananas. 

I am personally convinced, based on no actual evidence, that I have never been cooler. That's kicked in to replace all that other stuff that's expired. I feel cool like only Miss Scarlett feels cool when she rides her bike around and says "I'm sporting." 

It's good to get that back.

You like your treats and you treat yourself. 

Rhubarb pie on the steps. Library books read in the bath. Looking at your feet in those new shoes. Talking to other women, members of the tribe. Noticing the birds. Working and thinking you are just so good, so practiced. Realizing you like yourself too much to let it get to you.

And you sew more.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

More about interfacing and about life's hardest job


I have two more Jane shirts cut out, one loud with a white background (I think you saw that fabric on the line) and the other loud with a black background. Sort of my positive and negative shirts.

I am on standby for interfacing though, so I am sewing everything but the collar pieces and facings - they have to wait.

I finally ordered in some interfacing from Pam at Off the Cuff and after a five year self-imposed ban on the stuff, I ordered fusible.

For years like everyone else I used fusibles and they worked just fine. Then, five years ago, I was making a real nice blouse with the same fusible interfacing I always used, and it bubbled.


You know the kind of stuff you press and press before you wear it but those bubbles still rise up again to ruin everything. You try to say it is OK but it isn't. I was so traumatized, the same interfacing I always used, and suddenly it bubbles.

I lost my nerve. 

In fact ever since then I have gone back to sew-in that I have even sewn in. However sometimes I wonder if my collars and cuffs look old school, you know sort of uncrisp like this, a bit bumpy around the details:

So I am going to close my eyes and fuse, with the $9.00 reconditioned steam iron I got at Big Lots since my own irons are at home and the mouse who spits in the rental model is getting tired.

I've got a lawn chair set up beside the mailbox and as soon as the interfacing arrives I am ready to go.

On a totally different note, but something I was reminded of when thinking of traumatic events and old pictures, I have bought my husband his birthday present a few weeks early.

I consider buying presents for males one of life's hardest jobs. What they want, which is usually very specific, they buy for themselves. If you ask them what they want from you for a holiday/birthday/etc. they say "I don't need anything." Or even worse they say things like "well you could fix that zipper on my jacket".

Well that's a help. As if you are going to give someone a nothing or a reconditioned jacket.

No wonder there are so many socks under the tree across the nation.

However this year I figure I finally scored. Here it is:

A genuine antique picture of, you guessed it, a fox terrier with the exact same expression that Mr. Rascal has on his face, and come to think of it, my spouse has on his face too.

Now what am I going to get him next year?

Maybe I will make him a shirt with a crisp collar and cuffs.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

More information on Stylearc's Coco jacket

If you hung in there with me you know that one of my problems with the Chanel jacket project was that the pattern was not on my side.

Not for a minute, not from the beginning.

Why in sewing, as in so many other major areas of life, do we just not listen to those little voices?  Not until it's too late, not until we have said to our friends "I should have known." The signs are always there. In my case I should have stopped when I had to wrestle the upper bust to the ground.

So the issue of a pattern for my next Chanel jacket, when I am at home an reunited with all my tools, is major.

I have been thinking about the new Coco pattern from Stylearc but I had some questions.

I finally emailed Chloe and team with my questions and with the generosity that seems typical of that operation they sent me shots of the shop model and .pdf's of the instruction sheets. This is simply the kind of information a sewer always needs and never gets pre-purchase, so with the Stylearc team's permission here it is for you too. 

You should be able to scroll down through the embedded .pdf to see it all:

And here are some studio shots of the model jacket:

Work in progress model frayed edges not added yet.
This is definitely a shorter Chanel type jacket but I feel the lines add width to the upper body for balance, and I may lengthen it a bit for me.

Yes, I have ordered this pattern and a whole bunch of others along with a replacement for my Sasha shirt that turned out so well and is still missing in Room 333.

More news too.

In all the discussion about this jacket I asked Chloe if she would let me interview her, channeling that part of my past that used to write for a couple of the local papers.

She said yes, amazingly, so watch for that interview too as soon as I can post it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Interfacing and other crises

Man is it going to be hard to to back to the real life. 

I like this blogging, bike riding, sewing, knitting thing. The internet is amazing, the way I figure it I should be doing all my teaching April to September at least online. Of course it nearly killed me to teach myself how to build the courses, but worth it, definitely worth it.

If my mom is reading this, and she probably is, the woman is on Facebook now even, she will be happy to know that I have sterilized the second hand toys. I know she was about to ask.

You see my mother's prime time in her nursing career was during a polio epidemic and later TB and she is more or less the Queen of infectious diseases. My dad used to say proudly that she could have stopped the bubonic plague in its tracks.

When we were kids this mean that anything that came into the house second hand was sort of autoclaved. The books used to bug me the most. An hour at 250. I was in school before I realized that not all pages of all books were wavy.

When she used to come and visit me in the summer when my kids were little she would do a complete sterilization of all toys before her coat was off.

So yes Mom, it's all be soaked, disinfected, run through the dishwasher and dried in the sun. The ostrich feather dress up boa didn't turn out so well.

OK that's the productive part of my life.

Now onto the crises:

Crisis #1: 

I have lost my Sasha shirt pattern. I am convinced it is behind some couch in Room 333 in Knoxville Tennessee but I didn't make much headway with the weekend guy at the desk. Had trouble explaining what a sewing pattern was, and trouble making him understand that this was a National Emergency. Will try again tomorrow when Housekeeping comes in - otherwise I sure hope those folks at Stylearc have operators standing by.

Crisis #2:

I have decided to make not one but two loud shirts from the Jane pattern. There are things that look fine here in Florida that probably won't elsewhere, but here is where I am right now. I think I am going to be bringing out my inner Kosmo Krammer.

However, and this the second National Emergency. I have run out of interfacing. How did this happen? I have 400 yards at home.

The only spot around here for any kind of supply is Hobby Lobby and what they have is craft or sewing Pellon. This is not an "or" situation. The stuff carry is the line that looks like Bounce Sheet. Not going to work. Fortunately I now have Paypal and wireless and I will be hanging around the mailbox this week. Also discovered has zippers and other notions, haven't needed them before, so that's good too.

I will update you after my conversation with Tennessee Housekeeping.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Quick design question

As some of you can see I have changed the look of my blog from a simple to a sidebar view. My feeling was that this would make it easier to access older posts without having to scroll down a lot.

I felt my old blog was getting cluttered and this seems like an easy way to fix that. I am enjoying the luxury of being able to post more frequently now I am on semi vacation (still doing the online teaching thing) and noticed this more.

What do you think? Is this an improvement or not? 

Stylearc Jane blouse review

Yesterday was a good day. Hit the garage sales and got some clothed Barbies and a trike.

Also finished my wearable muslin of Stylearc's Jane's overshirt.

There is a bit of a back story on this.

I personally find a cotton shirt sometimes cooler in the hot weather than a knit top. More air room. I also have been thinking long and hard about clothing designed for men that have been deemed "classics" for women.

Tell me, do you often see a woman who looks better in a pair of pants with a fly than without? Why are trousers with a fly a female "classic"?

Same goes for the old power suit straight up blazer with the mega shoulder pads.

I think this is important because this list of classics denies garments that really do suit women and are comfortable for them. 

So I was so happy to see the return of the dress to corporate and fashionable life. I am intrigued by this fall's new statement skirts.

Which brings me to shirts vs. blouses if you define a shirt as something with a collar band. 

Now these shirts were designed for wearing with ties, which are things that men themselves complain about. Shirts can look fresh and sharp on women, particularly women with a longer neck because the stand raises the collar and takes up neck space. However if you don't have a long neck it can't be your best look. I remember once been suckered into thinking I needed heavy duty collar interfacing on a collar band shirt and ended up with red marks burned onto my neck under my ears. Was I mad, it had taken me ages to match the print at the front.

Which brings me to the blouse and a convertible collar worn open, a strictly only female garment. These are IMO more flattering on most women. 

Trouble is there are very, very few patterns for them. In fact if you add in the camp shirt element you are stuck with some kind of hybrid unisex women/men/boys pattern that has zero shape.

So I was intrigued when I saw the Jane shirt and thought that this might be a possibility.

Amazingly I am running out of fabric here (I thought the Chanel jacket was going to take me longer but I hadn't anticipated I would become so obsessed with getting it in the Out Basket.) In fact all I could find in Knoxville in 100% cotton  that I liked, until I discovered Gina's Sewing Centre, but that's another story, was dotted quilting cotton.

So I used some of this (I have three more dotted cottons) to make up a trial of the Jane.

Have to tell you I love it.

First the pictures:

The all important bum shot. Note yet another iteration of the Peta pants into shorts. Note the nice yoke with the pleats set off quite far to the sides so it doesn't billow out.

The frozen smile shot, nice fit I think. Note the matching star earrings someone talked me into buying at a jewelry party. Finally they match something and further allow me to channel my highly developed inner '50s housewife.

The dog talking side shot - so you can see what this blouse looks like unaltered and without a bust dart, which this pattern doesn't have.

Here's why I like this pattern:

  • No bust darts but in a casual shirt still a pretty good fit. Yes, with a dart I could eliminate those pull lines shown above and the pull up at the front, articulated in the cotton,  but since the front view looks OK I am good with this for an is-what-it-is.
  • Casual and therefore cool and comfortable but fitted enough so it doesn't look sloppy. Set in sleeve (that went in with minimal easing), ease built in at the back with a couple of tucks.
  • I love the collar. It's is pretty and feminine.
  • Fit together beautifully. Well-drafted pattern.
  • If I had my serger I would have knocked this out in no time. As it is I had to bind the back neck, and still in Chanel mode for some reason hand stitched the hems. Didn't want to see a line of white thread running between my dots.
I made this out of the box and this is what I would change next time:

  • I would lower the top button about 3/4".
  • I would add about 2" to the length and do the side slits as per pattern. 
  • I might add a bust dart and certainly will add to CF.
A real TNT keeper with potential for further development.