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, May 5, 2012

Blended families

Being with family on holidays seems to have brought out my family theorizing. 

This morning I am thinking of blended families. You see I don't think you can really blend a family, so you can't tell where one set begins and one ends, but you can branch them out. That's a difference. I realize this is a tough subject for a lot of people and I realize my thoughts are only my thoughts, and might upset some folks, but here goes.

I want to write this because I have myself been lucky in this area, an area that causes a lot of suffering,  and do feel there are a few things that work and some that don't. A lot of this I learned from my own husband and my step-daughters' mom who just seemed to know how to do this. I think it's worth passing on,

Here goes.

First of all don't pretend, as nice as it would be to do that. You were each married before and your child's other parent is your child's other parent. Even if your current marriage is the one you wish you had first,you can't just declare you are now a family a la Brady Bunch and cancel all previous realities. 

1. You are not their mother, they already have one. The place you will have in that child's life will develop in it's own way and in it's own form and in it's own time. Don't push it. I have seen women tell teenagers the second time they meet them that they want to be "someone they can come to with all their problems" or a woman at a cocktail party introduce herself as a mother "of seven children" neglecting to mention that she hadn't even met three of those children until they were through high school and only two years before.

When one of my step-daughters got married I made the dress but didn't try to organize the wedding, as bossy as I am, and was only in the family pictures when her mom invited me. It wasn't about me.

2. Actually once you have been a single mother in a sense you always will be. You and your children have a history your present spouse can't ever quite share. You will feel alone in a private way at graduations and weddings and that's OK. Everybody's life has its curves and this is one of yours.

3. Don't try to do everything together (see intro). After all the kids were there first. The absolute best thing you can do to establish a positive relationship with step-children is to make sure they have direct access to their parent, alone when they need it. You don't need the kids to endorse your new relationship, nice if it happens, which might take 20 years, because the relationship is between two adults. Committees don't remarry. 

I learned this from my husband. For the first year we were married he bought a cottage where he moved his stuff and went there every weekend so my kids and I could continue to have our time together. Smartest thing he ever did. Since then I visit kids on my own and sometimes he even eats in his office when someone is home so my child and I can visit over a meal like the old days. I make sure I am not always on the scene whenever I can with his daughters. That's all kids really want, when so much has changed in their lives, to know that their primary relationship with a parent is still the same.

Listen I know it's hard. 

I think blending a family is probably one of the toughest things you can take on. I am reminded of something a social worker friend said to me once about her clients, it's not what happens to people that makes them unhappy, it's whether or not it is matching their expectations. Expect very little, expect it to take a lot of time, and treat the kids like you would treat friends of your own children, particularly if they are older- with interest and caring but not with much authority.

Finally I have to end this with a shout out to my two stepdaughters. They are absolutely the most wonderful women and have been terrific to me. Their mother did a good job, a very good job, and I have been the beneficiary. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Claire Shaeffer's Chanel Jacket pattern preview

Remember this pattern? Remember me nearly losing my mind over my Chanel jacket experiment fiasco last month?

Well thanks to the miracle that is US mail my BMV order arrived today in my mailbox. You have to know it often takes 5-6 weeks for patterns to arrive at home in Nova Scotia. 

Listen if Homeland Security ever wants to really tighten things up they should contact Canada Post/Border control. Those guys really know how to scrutinize. Last Style Arc order I got at home came with a letter to say they had to open my package and check all my patterns just to make sure that's what they were, and that I should inform the shipper to mark sewing patterns on the package, not just paper products or whatever. They held up my patterns for 2 months. That made me feel the world was a safer place.

Back to Chanel.

Claire Shaeffer has a reputation for knowing her way around couture-wise so I was interested/surprised to see some changes to her method vis a vis the original Chanel techniques that were so trying on my sanity.

Here they are:

  • Interfacing, on neckline and sleeve and bottom hems.
  • The units get pretty much done and completed (front, back sleeves) before they are attached.
  • This is the important part - she has you sew up the unit body, say the back and the lining back with all the princess seams and all that stuff and then you do the quilting of that part. This eliminates all those overlapped and hand sewn seam allowances (there are about 400 of them on the average jacket) you have to deal with in the old technique. THIS IS HUGE.
  • The side panels are not quilted at all.
  • She also advises little custom darts to be sewn in the lining only to pull it in here and there at the waist, wherever you think you need them as sort of an after market feature.
This will make the jacket far more manageable and when I am back at the homestead I am going to give this a whirl.

That's all the good stuff. I should warn you that the instructions for making the hand bound buttonholes take about half the written text and made me feel like I was reading the how-to's for a DIY Faberge egg. Not something you would whip off during the commercials.

Definitely going to be doing some trail runs on those and not letting myself get my hopes up.

But buttonholes aside mark me down as cautiously optimistic as we used to say in political spin.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Armchair sewing

I am on the mend but not back to my fighting weight yet (this is a metaphor) and my spouse seems to be having a go with this bug too. Last night he called out "You skunk" in his sleep which was either a) evidence he has the bug b) his dream retaliating to my dream of having left him for a short, and I stress fictional time, for a sewing celebrity who wears leopard print rain boots. 

We are currently sharing the same sick bed, a woman cold and a man cold, for a bit this morning. That means I have got up taken someone small to go pee, put in a wash and hung out a wash and my dear husband has stared at the ceiling laid out straight just in case and announced "it's all in God's hands."

Sometimes I am sure you think I make this stuff up. Absolutely not.

I have decided to recover completely today as my Style Arc order arrived yesterday. In addition to the replacement Sacha shirt and the Coco jacket I ordered these:

Still in recovery over some ponte that pilled I have decided stretch wovens are the better pant for me - none of that knee bump thing going on. Also I picked up about 12 yards of RPL from Fabricmart that is staring at me.

Since I am only a temporary resident of Florida I have to think ahead to cold weather. Shams made a wonderful version of this. I think both a jacket and a coat would be useful. Something I actually need for my real life.
Continuing on my irresponsible sewer on vacation theme.

This will either make me look sharp or like a total idiot. Only one way to find out. My plan is to do a cotton twill version now out of the fabric above and if it works do a jumper for winter for work.

I am thinking of this for a rain coat sort of thing. Of course the belt may not be good. I would also do a closure(s) so you can close the neckline.

My daughter's business also seems to be ticking right along and I think I am on button sewing duty later today. Pictures of that project later.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On the DL

I don't have much to report on the sewing or thoughtful front today as the big people in this house are passing around a flu and it's been my turn.

I should have known I was going to get sick because my dreams, always pretty weird, were particularly intense the night before the sore throat.

For a start I dreamt I divorced my husband, a little vague why, and married instead one of the sewing world's celebrities, one who is not in fact in the market for a wife. Things were going pretty good for the first hour or so, but after we had said all there was to say about interfacing, I called up the person in charge and made arrangements to get my old husband back.

The moral of this, apart from the fact it appears I am a bigger jerk than I thought I was, was that it takes more than buttonholes to hold a relationship together.

My spouse is getting a bit of mileage out of this. I open my eyes in the mornings to "now who are you married to today?"

Listen, that wasn't the really bad nightmare part either. Far worse was I dreamt I was making my next Chanel jacket out of red and yellow plaid acrylic that, get this, I didn't have to quilt to the lining because it came already bonded to a thin layer of foam. I actually thought I was pretty cool with this short cut.

I am lucky my husband didn't divorce me over that one. Imagine.

This sick I laid down for a bit today, deciding that it was not a good idea to cut out my nice silk and cotton when I was so unreliable, and read.

My reading falls into two categories. Real books I read for work and books that I read in the bath, when I am eating dinner alone, and on the treadmill. 

I have pretty high standards for these off task books.

They must be written by women if the main character is about women. No explanation necessary. 

I like mysteries but should be interested in serious fiction, and I would be if it was more cheerful. I joined a book club while my husband was away this winter and really I had to drop out. All the books were about depressed women, or people with regrets, and there wasn't what I would call page turning plots. And not one of the books was funny. You know even a book about a serious subject can be funny. If I ever join a book club again it has to have a cheerful book policy.

Call me shallow and nail it on the head.

For my vacation reading I have of course read a Diane Mott Davidson, you know those mysteries where she is a caterer - OK if you space them out with other books. She cooks interesting if butter heavy things and there is some snappy dialogue. And I tried one of those knitting novels, Gil McNeil Needles and pearls, which is actually quite well written once you get past the fact that it is sort of a fantasy of what every single pregnant woman wants - other people who cook and bring presents and a man who can do home repairs. Not completely realistic but some humour makes up for that. Light stuff.

I am also reading some Florida mysteries which I am really enjoying because it always thrills me to know what road they are talking about. Amazingly the local branch library gives cards to non residents for $10 for 3 months which to me is another reflection of the absolute generosity of libraries. I might spring for the $40 year membership so I can read their ebooks once I get home and need to be reminded that the sun does shine somewhere.

Now back to my hallucinations.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Unsolicited grandmother thoughts part 1

The first rule of being a grandmother is never give advice. 

So I don't, except here on the www.

Listen, my daughter is a better mother than I was. She is a trained pediatric nurse. It is unlikely her girls will ever have  a couple of hours surgery to remove a sewing needle that has migrated up their foot to their ankle because it was impaled in there for a year and a half. Her kids are safe and carefully, thoughtfully raised. She knows how to do things I still don't know.

In my defense the doctor was treating that bump on the sole of my son's foot as a wart, and that particular son has a very high pain threshold (something that came in handy in his childhood. We will save the discussion about how he fell out of a bunk bed and broke his collar bone and didn't tell me until three weeks later for another day).

No, these granddaughters of mine will turn out well and their mother is doing a great job.

I know this too because three wonderful kids survived me. And I know this because I am a grandmother and I have been at it long enough to have seen other children grow up on social assistance do a master's in engineering on a full scholarship, and the child from the lovely family get nailed for 64 counts of break and entry.

Doing things perfectly doesn't guarantee anything. IMO young mothers should take the pressure off themselves and stop worrying if they aren't perfect.

Your kids won't notice anyway.

Just like they won't remember all the perfect experiences. Kids who don't do Disneyworld every year are fine, and the ones who go often throw up the whole time or, like one guy I know, announce they will rather stay and play in the fountain in the middle of the driveway. The Magic Kingdom out-classed by the Holiday Inn.

You know of all the Christmases and birthdays I worked so hard to produce, you know what my boys remember most?

The year I gave them a "Grabber" a $1.99 thing with a claw so you could bend it around corners and pick stuff up.

You don't have to be perfect, you just have to love them and be you. This means not feeling bad if you feel tired/stressed/annoyed and not trying to be absolutely nicer than you feel all the time. 

It's OK to say stop that. It's OK for mom to be the one who needs the time out. You are the mother. You don't always need to give reasons or choices. 

You don't need to be so pleasant that you say things like "Daniel do you think your brother Nick likes his head being held under the water?" This is an absolute quote from a ransom mother at a pool- they had to hold me back from what I considered to be an appropriate intervention.

My Dad could make kids do anything. He was The Master and he had two tools, distraction and humour. I remember after one lunch time I got all my reluctant eaters to come to the table and sit down politely because I was balancing the plate of sandwiches on my head. As I walked to the table I thought I should go and phone him and say thanks dad, thanks for teaching me this.

I never made that call and never got a chance to, he got sick that summer, but in a way it doesn't matter. He knew what he was doing.

Most parents do.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Who is Elizabeth Gillett and what is she doing in my head?

Last winter when I was preparing for the only black tie event a year I go to - typical of my life it's black tie bingo - I was trying to implement my theory that a person should not spend longer sewing to get ready for an event than at the actual event itself, I ran across this Elizabeth Gillett pattern:

I thought it impossibly glamorous, good for dressing up my black crepe sheath dress one more time, and pretty easy to sew. In the time frame I was working with however I would have had to pay the full $30 or something for the pattern and there was nothing at the bottom of the street fabric store that was fancy except for what was left over and marked down for Hallowe'en.

I didn't forget this pattern however, and filed it away in the old steel trap for the next time I would be playing bingo with the glitterati. 

If that's what you call a bunch of professors out of the old Birkenstocks and in what they wore to the kid's wedding trying to raise money for the new building.

Back on track.

A while ago the stunning Erika Bunker did a very nice jacket from this same pattern and in the last few issues of Vogue's patterns there have been two more Elizabeth Gillett patterns, this one and this one:

Now of course these patterns are all eveningish but it has occurred to me that they have some potential as jacket or cardigan alternatives in different fabrics, sort of easy to sew add-on units.

Last night while another BMV sale was drawing to a close, and I was trying to make sure I spent as much as possible, I ordered the pattern I wanted last winter and I am thinking about the others.

It has also made me wonder about Elizabeth Gillett who is apparently a scarf designer in NYC.

Kind of interesting niche.

Maybe I should interview her.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Can you stand it? Another version of the Jane shirt and they keep getting louder

Remember the bright and white shirt I made about a week ago?

Well here is the night time version.

Apparently the neck is the first to go. Thank God the sense of humor is the last. Got a feeling I am going to need it, or if taste like this keeps up, everyone else is going to.
Definitely in the camp of things you make on vacation in Florida and unpack on a grey and wet day in Nova Scotia and say "what the hell?" to yourself.

Needless to say I love it. Here and there.

A few little things about this pattern that I forgot to mention in my first review:

1. Pay attention to the different seam allowances marked on the pattern pieces. 1/2" for structural seams and as little as 1/4" for things like the collar. This makes a difference.

2. If you do make the 3/4 sleeve version make sure you put in those slits, particularly if you pose with your arm bent in every picture.

3. The sleeves are a dream to put in and don't require any ease stitching even though they are set-in sleeves. Man do I enjoy that.

Hopefully those other patterns will arrive soon, if not who knows what iteration of this pattern you will be looking at next.