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
What my new book is about

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Clothesmaking mavens
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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, May 19, 2012

Sewing machines : a love story

Before I get going this morning I want to thank you for your comments on nightwear. I can feel a theme warming up here. It's what you wear for yourself, when no one is looking, that really counts, shows your self-care or respect or whatever you want to call it. I think all women need to pay attention to that.

Now moving on to my love story.

The relationship of a sewer to her machine is a profound one. Machines have distinct personalities. You know this is true. Some just seem like arranged marriages and some, well you are just close. Finding a machine that you can feel like this about takes a lot of work.

I have seen sewers spend thousands and thousands on a new machine and pull out the old unit because they feel more comfortable with it. I have a number of machines, including a Pfaff 7570 with dual feed, and my daughter still prefers to sew on the $20 Elna that came from a church rummage sale. 

She says it feels more comfortable to work with.

I have sewing machine opinions. 

Once, about 20 years ago, I did some part-time educator work for Pfaff, then also Viking/Husqvarna then Singer when all those corporate relationships kept changing. I made friends with the Pfaff technician who had trained in the factory in Germany. He was really funny and sometimes he even let me assist him at technical training sessions for dealers. I was pretty incompetent at that but I learned a few things.

I will probably share some of that over the next few days. In the meantime want to share my pictures of my Bernina 801 which, due to the randomness of eBay, now has an original extension table.

My tech friend told me once that the older Berninas had a wonderful hook and a stitch and I have always wanted to try it. I think I know enough to look inside a machine and see if it is bashed up, and I was happy with this one, which, once I had assembled all missing parts costs, about $360 all up. Far less than you will pay for these machines or similar.

Last night I fired her up and got to work on a shirt I wanted to make due to my current interest in making more for my ordinary life.

Here I am on the tiny table we have in this house. Nice machine extension table isn't it? Arrived yesterday.
The collar stitches. The machine went through this like butter and I was beside myself. Definitely the best stitch quality I have ever seen. 
I think I am going to do a Q and A on machines over the next day or two. 

Any questions you have? This is one of my favourite topics.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Night and day

OK. I have a question for you?

How big is your daytime, standing up, wardrobe?

How big is your night time wardrobe?

I am wondering about my priorities and balance here.

I spend an inordinate amount of time making far more clothes than I would ever wear or need. OK I admit that. I have clothes in at least part of three closets and off-season put away some place. My nightwear fits into a drawer and a half and I don't really think a lot about it, apart from is something clean.

The whole issue of pajamas, nightgowns, or whatever T-shirt combo your favour is interesting on several levels. First off there are three categories:

1. Nighties. For some reason most nightgowns want to turn all adult women into sweet little old ladies (except even sweet little old ladies are a lot cooler than that these days). Rosebuds and miniature pastels rule. Little lace or ribbons that fray in the wash. Why is this? Just like how in my day maternity clothes seemed to want to turn you into a baby - many maternity tops had duckies on them for goodness sakes. Makes you appreciate the belly band and exposed belly in a bikini. Why are most nightgowns so old?

2. Pajamas as daywear. Now I certainly sympathize with this. Many times I have felt psychologically like showing up at work in my jammies and slippers, it was that kind of day. Lots of students and folks you see shopping in the detergent aisle at the Superstore wear their pj's 24/7. Even still have you noticed they seem to be trying to dress adult women as teeny boppers- florescent piglet designs, Sylvester the Cat? Why the dumbing down?

3. Valentine, anniversary, Victoria Secret nightwear. Fine if you find leopard polyester cozy and don't mind waking up with spaghetti straps wrapped around your neck, and the lace bodice twisted around to your back. Not the best for a lifestyle that involves midnight trips down to the bathroom, that 3:00 am who's-turn-is-it-to-let-the-dog out run, or a the perfect couple evening involving you knitting and Mad Men on the Tube, not next to you.

I remember my mother had an orange nylon number of many layers and green rosettes shoved at the back of her middle dresser drawer (is it still there mom?). When ever we asked about it she would say "Dad bought it. In San Francisco." 

As if that explained everything. Maybe it does.

Yes, there is not a lot of nightwear out there worth the nearly half of our lives we are going to spend wearing it. The pattern books have very little, though getting better. 

It seems it is time I started paying more attention to this side of my sewing life.

In the interim month before I am laid up I am mail ordering some Karen Neuberger, who really makes comfortable stuff and seems to know who women are. The one of two of hers I have had I have worn to death.

Now what about you?

Do you sew for sleep?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I hate shopping but ,,,

I really do.

All those things not in your size and not in your colour.

All those two piece outfits where only one piece fits.

All those sales ladies who don't really want to help you.

All those price tags that can't possibly be worth it for that much fabric and so little construction time.


It was a rare rainy day here yesterday so I took it upon myself to further peruse the consignment stores. I can confirm that Chic Side, mentioned earlier, is the best. Here is what I brought home:

"Vintage" London Fog raincoat with a zip-in quilted lining.Yes I know this is not your glamour model but I have been needing something for walking to work, which involves a short trip through the woods, on cold rainy days - a project so practical it totally fails to inspire me as a sewer. High neck which looks like it is choking me but will keep the icy rain from going down the back of my neck. I hate that and it happens all the time. I also have some silver faux snakeskin that will make a good hat. I sort of thought I would go into the purse business for myself but never got around to it.

Washed the Chanel No. 5 out of it and we're fine. $23.00

A real Burberry hat, which I love because it is large and so is my head. Hats usually give me a headband headache.

I have some lovely rainwear gab I bought in NYC that I want to make the Stella coat with:

But I have to source some fake (I am not paying $25.00 a yard for the real stuff to match a hat that cost me $20.00) Burberry lining.

Anyone know where to get it?

Finally some jeans shoes, $18.00:

Now that's about all the shopping I can take for a while.

Back to sewing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Q and A

The family went home today and I was my predictably dramatic self crying at the end of the driveway as they pulled out.

I will of course see them again in two weeks, but those kids are so damned cute and we had such as good bunch of free time together.

I cried until the fifth hole at least, until some old dog-walking guy with a New York accent yelled at me "Good shot lady, better than the old man."

I felt a whole lot better after that.

Take it from me. If you are going to be a dramatic personality it is really helpful to also not be too deep. In fact it is an essential combination.

Later tonight when my husband is watching yet another hockey game, I think I am going to cut out a couple of Sacha shirts and my recovery should be complete.

In the meantime I thought I would randomly answer questions  you have been leaving here and I haven't answered properly. I think from here on I should start commenting to my own posts as required.

Q: Where are you in Florida?

A: In St. Augustine, Crescent Beach on Anastasia Island to be exact. We just booked April and May here again next year, which is sort of hopeful that we can do more than a month, but a thought. We will be here for another 2 weeks this month.

Q. What was that great consignment store you went to?

A. Chic Side Boutique. I have plans to hit a few other spots this week and will report back.

Q: How do you manage time on the internet?

A: I have designated times, coffee in bed with the email when I am not being jumped on by granddaughters (now I am teary again) and before dinner if my husband is cooking. Pinterest doesn't count. I have an iPad which I love but have a stupid phone (never charge it) as opposed to a smart phone. I figure enough already. When I was working for politicians my Blackberry ran my life, now I sort of figure if people want to talk to me they can find me. They usually do, but not the politicians which is good.

Q: OK, how do you really manage time on the internet?

A: Get hit by lightning. This works. In fact today I did just that. Two minutes before I was due to go online to teach the house was struck by lightning. The lights sort of popped and went out, the router fried and it was pretty loud and light all over my head. I called the tech guy at work at school (for once my cell was charged) and had him alert my students at his end and then I called my husband to come and help me. He was offsite returning the renta-crib but had trouble getting back due to an armed stand-off of some kind and 50 police cars surrounding the place across from the rent-it place.

Eventually he used stuff from his traveling emergency bag of discarded electrical parts and I am online again although I have to get disconnected when the hockey game starts.

Off to press fabric.

Any more Qs fire away and I will A them ASAP.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Flying off

There are many pleasures in being here in Florida for some time every year. I am really lucky our work lets us do this and family comes to share it.

One of my other pleasures is the wildlife. I am constantly amazed with how much stuff is moving around in these green spaces, dense, overgrown completely non-Canadian, bushes. 

I have seen crocodiles and leggy birds in the water, nearly ran over a 7 foot snake of some kind on my bike, seen more rabbits and turtles than I can count in our little residential neighbourhood, seen poor old dead possums and armadillos on the road in front of the house. And I am sure I am forgetting something.

Today between our houses this big hawk was circling too close to Mr. Rascal for comfort. My husband took this picture.

Now I am sure that local people would be amused to read this but you know when you come from a place where the winter shuts things down all this wildlife action is really amazing.

Tomorrow we head into our last couple of weeks here, more time to golf, more time to sew things other than baby wipes, and a quieter house.

Tomorrow the kids all go back to Halifax. It has been a great, great visit. Miss Scarlett will never be two and a half again and Miss Heidi will only be seven months once and I had lots of time with them. I will miss that door slamming open really early, pre-coffee, pre iPad NY Times, to a "Good morning Babs! You're awake! Do you want me to get your dress?"

Oh and I will still be here collecting boxes from One of the nicest parts of this visits was to realize my daughter has become fabric shopper too. It was terrific to sit side by side showing each other fabrics on our laptops and discussing how it was all a totally necessary purchase.

I never in a million years would have figured she would end up being a sewer too. 

Life is full of gifts.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Keeping an open mind

I don't know about you but I don't shop much for clothes. 

As a result I don't try on things I have never worn before and that is undoubtedly limiting my wardrobe and inhibiting my style.

Today for example my daughter and I went out for lunch and she stopped by a cool place for a new bathing suit. I wasn't in the market for one of those so I passed the time looking around and then trying on things I would never wear.

One of those things I tried on and then bought was this maxi dress, rayon with stretchy elastic bra straps. About as comfortable an outfit for hanging out as I have worn. Attractively hung in the shower stall, and not on me,  my photographer being fast asleep rather than trying on clothes in the bathroom late at night.

Now this is something I would never have bought in a pattern, thought I would look dumb in one, but now I have seen a maxi dress on of course I will be making a few of these up now as soon as my rayon knit are reunited.

Just goes to show the edges of the envelope need to be pushed out a little every now and then.

On another note in two days my daughter, son-in-law, and the little girls are going home. Of course their home and mine are in the same place so it shouldn't be traumatic, but it has been nice to be in on the day-to-day life.

When I put Miss Scarlett to bed tonight she put her dancing shoes outside her door so they would be ready for her when she got up to start a new day, no time wasted:

I am really going to miss things like this.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

These flowers arrived at my front door early this morning from my son in New York. 

I answered the door in my nightgown, crooked housecoat, and with Heidi in my arms. "Well happy Mother's Day" the delivery man said to me, but you could tell he was thinking "man I hope that's not her mother."

Mother's day always comes with laughs for me.

Recently when I was in Winnipeg my youngest sister, who is deaf, told my mother she had been neglected.

Now really this is hysterical. 

My mother has devoted her life to that kid, doing flashcards for language that she had sent in the mail to our small Prairie town, packing the whole family up to move from Manitoba to the best deaf school in the country in Montreal, moving back to Winnipeg when that was the best place for a deaf adolescent who would never speak French, as was suddenly required in Quebec. My mother is Mrs. Deafness. What she went through for all of us, my sister in particular, is the stuff of legend.

So why, after all of that, did my sister feel hard done by?

She feels she was sent to school with pants that were too short and she looked dumb. 

After all of that all she remembers from her childhood is a hemline.

I am not sure if you can get all of this in the telling, I can remember laughing so hard at the idea that my mother had neglected any of us, my sister in particular, I thought I was going to throw up.

The point is that this is what motherhood is about.

No one really knows what mothers do for them, their kids least of all. 

No mother's day celebration really can express how much we owe our mothers.

But even still, every mother knows too that the thanks should be the other way around.

I should be sending my son flowers.

When you become a mother all the white noise of life  disappears, everything zeros into one thought:

That's my kid.

 Sometimes it's the child you have, sometimes the child you choose, sometimes it's the child who chooses you.

What an incredible privilege it is to have that feeling in your lifetime. It's worth a lifetime to have felt it.

Happy mother's day.

I know.