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, June 9, 2012

Up for debate: Spanx

I adjusted my pattern and cut out Vogue 8804, the CS jacket yesterday, and will be posting about that this weekend.

In the meantime I came across this article this morning and I would be interested to know what you think.

Are Spanx a step backward for women?

Let's face it. We're talking girdles.

I remember girdles.

I remember as a child watching my mother contort herself into a girdle and stockings with garters for special events - like her famous stand-up-straight-hold-your-stomach-in photo shoot pose.

I even remember a very old grandmother from Scotland visiting one of the neighbours and hearing rumours down the street that the old man had to lace her in every morning to a corset, pulling really hard and using both hands.

At the root of it of course is the female need/expectation that we all look slimmer than we are.

Is this part of a whole pile of things women do that reflects trying to measure up, as if the original is flawed?

Is the natural woman flawed? Is it just because we are women we feel we need improving before we go public?

It's hard to draw the line between contorting yourself and respecting yourself, because the ultimate alternative, the notorious "letting yourself go" shows even less self respect.

I am trying to figure this out.

Where I am now is that things I do because I feel good about myself are one thing, and things I would do for other people are another.

I wear make-up everyday, yes I have my nails done (thanks for the good advice on that), I iron my clothes, and I spend probably far more time than I should thinking about what I wear.

But I don't wear Spanx.

It's back to my hairdresser.

When I was eight I was taken to a hair salon called Mona's where I was told, before I was given my first "perm" despite the fact my hair already was curly, that I had to learn "a woman has to suffer to be beautiful."

My hair is now natural and I like it. It is my hair.

So I guess I am interested in enhancing (like clothes, make-up and accessories) but not suffering.

Now I know lots of women wear Spanx and feel just fine. I have a sister who tells me she wears it to do housework. Caroline, my favourite sewing fanatic, has posted a picture of her foundation garments here  and says she wore it all day no problem.

This has not been my experience.

My midriff high number rolls down, the thighs cut in, but most of all I just feel trussed.

I feel back at Mona's. If I am eight or fifty-eight this is who I am. Deal with it.

I remember once wearing Spanx to a wedding and going into the bathroom to take mine off because I felt it was inhibiting my dance style.

I ran into another woman doing the exact same thing. 

Listen it's no small feat to fix a full set of Spanx into an evening clutch.

Now don't get me wrong.

I wish as much as you do that those folks you sometimes see in the Walmart check-out had more pride. I have thought to myself "Oh my dear that's just too tight for you." A lot of times a better fit would take care of things.

And I would certainly defend the right of any woman to wear Spanx if she wants to for herself. And if it doesn't hurt her.

But I don't want her to feel she has to. Or to feel that what's she's got isn't good enough.

The question is do I want Miss Scarlett and Heidi to grow up and wear Spanx, or do I hope that by then they will just be happy enough with what they've got? 

Which they better take care of.

What do you think?

Friday, June 8, 2012

When the mistakes aren't your own

I have a long history of dumb sewing mistakes.

The left sleeve sewn into the right armhole for example, say three times in a row, and that was when I was trying.

But still like all sewers I have had my moments when I thought the pattern instructions were just wrong. 

Typographical errors, misprints. Of course nine times out of 10, to quote my favourite sewing machine repair guy, the problem was sitting in the chair.

Despite this I don't think all pattern instructions are perfect. 

If you, like me, have sewn a lot there are so many, many times when I read instructions and think:

Come on now, there is an easier, more current, more effective way to do that and nearly every one does it that way these days, so why are you telling the poor stressed beginner to do it the hard and most likely to get all balled up way?

You know like  the stay-stitching the neckline that is going to have a stretchy band sewn to it.

Techniques need to be updated, although I think this is getting better. Even words like "sew or serge" are an improvement. I drives me crazy when pattern designed for knits only tell the sewer to do it with a straight stitch.

But apart from some of the independent patterns, where I have run across with pattern pieces missing or notches all wrong, not sure how many real printed mistakes I have seen lately.

How about you?

So I am intrigued by all the discussion boards, chats and blogs (including comments here) that there are some real mistakes, particularly with the sleeves, in the new Claire Schaeffer jacket.

My plan is to do my own close look at the paper pattern pieces and weigh in with my own opinion this afternoon.

This will happen after the big event of the day which is when my daughter is having an industrial machine delivered and installed at her place.

I am definitely going over there to watch and test drive. Definitely. I still can believe she sews.

Might even take some pictures.

Now there's something to look forward to.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Policy statement on muslins

First of all an update on the closet cull.

I made great progress today with Miss Scarlett's help. In between baking in the Easy Bake oven we went through the last of my closet. She sat on the bed and was very helpful and definitive.

"Throw it out Babs, throw it out. It's yucky."

Well that was easy. You need a 2 1/2 year old to get this job done right.

I have also been trying to figure out what to lay on the runway for myself until I get back to full sewing speed after the next few weeks. 

I have a huge list of things I want to sew, but I need something I can pick away at when I feel like it, but is still sufficiently interesting to feel like little sews are worth doing.

Claire Shaeffer's chanel jacket.

Bingo, we have a winner.

There is so much to one of these jackets that it invites slow sewing, and this is going to be the time for that. I also have a slight case of needing to get back on the horse since my last attempt was so frustrating, most of which, I have decided, was because of a pattern that was not meant to be, at least on me.

Which raises the whole issue of muslins, wearable muslins and if you do them and how much.

I have to confess something. 

I have seen a lot of fitting muslins in circulation over the years. Some seem to me to have made the rounds, from class to class, for literally years. 

It has dawned on me, and this is just my opinionated opinion, coloured by my traumatization with the last channel jacket pattern, that if most of a particularly pattern isn't fitting all that well on your particular body in your particular size, well it isn't about infinite tweaking to get what you want,  that's just not the right material for you. Kind of like marrying a man on the basis that you can change him.

Anyone who has ever found a pants pattern that fits more or less out of the envelope, like my Style Arc Lindas or the pants in Vogue 1264, has realized, like I have, that a good pattern is a good pattern and it's nearly impossible to fuss that kind of quality out of a pattern that doesn't have it more or less already.

So I am quitting muslin making, or at least going back to not making them. 

Of course if I have super great, never able to find that again fabric, then I will make a "wearable muslin" starting from a new pattern and what I know are my basic alterations length-width in the waist- square shoulders and not much else.

The worst I can have is the knowledge that this particular pattern is not worth making again in valuable fabric.

The best I can have is confirmation that this is a good pattern for me and the knowledge that only a few little things that I now know to do next time, will make it perfect.

And the thing about a "wearable muslin" is, well, you wear it. 

I don't know about you but there is a huge difference between trying something one and seeing that it looks like it fits and putting something on your body and seeing how it feels. 

Even if the garment feels good when you put it on there are always what I call the 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM fitting issues - the armhole that feels a little tight, the crotch that pulls up when you have to sit in it all meeting, the neckline that moves off your shoulder. 

Standing in front of a bathroom mirror doesn't tell you these things does it?

So despite a rising pile of more urgent business I should be taking care of I am probably going to take scissors to some white pique this weekend and see what Vogue 8804 looks like.

And eventually feels like.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Culling the closet

I have come home with my usual post travel resolve to simplify my life.

But this time I mean it.


Also I have been trying to unpack for three days.

One of the issues is that since it is still the old season here I have more clothes than I can fit in my couple of closets (note the sneaky use of the word couple). 

In addition I like my new and newly sewn clothes more than most of my other stuff. So I have been doing a big fill up of bags to take off in my car and force into the Diabetes Society bins late at night.

Now I know there are many many organizational and wardrobe consultants out there. They provide worthy and similar advice about what to keep and what to get rid of.

Over the last few days I have come up with my own system:

  • If you take it right off the minute you get in the door from being out it should go. If it's that uncomfortable you shouldn't be wearing it at all. (The exception would be black crepe pants if you have a Golden Retriever, then I will give you a pass.)
  • If it requires any safety pins anywhere at all (neckline, straps or where the buttons part to expose your navel - a fault of a blouse of mine that I was foolish enough to wear to the sewing guild meeting where they don't mince words about buttonholes) it should go.
  • If it has been on your to alter list for more than a week it should go. I mean it. Sewers have two altering defaults, while they are still in their underwear in the sewing process or never. A week is generous.
  • If it is very good fabric but not a great colour. Clothes are not like government bonds, value does not make up for boringness.
  • If it is a great colour but not very good fabric. This will be an easier call for a sewer to make than the above. Unless you are going to wear it to feed toddlers or pat Golden Retrievers, fabric that is not up to scratch is going to wear on you so much you won't wear it at all.
  • If your reason for holding on to it involves the word "save." As in, "saving it in case I am invited to a black tie dinner" (who doesn't want something new for that?), "saving it in case they come back into style" (I just ditched a drawer full of shoulder pads in my sewing room that you could recycle as breast implants). You get the drift.
  • If no one has ever told you that you look great in it. The thumbs up does not include totally solicited opinions like "Honey will you please take your eyes off that screen and tell me what you think of this?" However if the person who told you you looked great was yourself on the other hand as in "Damn I look great" then it is a keeper.
  • It is on trend and you are trying to update the outside to hip and edgy, despite the fact that the inner you is reading Better Homes and Gardens Guide to Home Canning while she eats her lunch. Trends work only if you are trending that way yourself. In my experience.
Now what have I missed? When do you decide something is past its due date?

Monday, June 4, 2012

The tea towel maxi dress

Please note the missing baseboards, one of the nice surprises of my return was seeing the wonderful plasterwork and dry walling done on my evolving reno by my daughter's brother-in-law. We still have a way to go but if you have extended family it sure is nice if they are handy.

Before you go any further you need to know where my head was with this dress.

I have decided I like maxi dresses and wanted to whip up another one for day wear, schlepping around the house even. I also needed to be doing many other things rather than sew, so it had to be quick and easy too.

I looked around the net at the patternless versions. I liked a lot of them but this being Nova Scotia in June, and some days pretty cool still, I also figured that the strapless number I will probably make later in the summer wasn't going to cut it for immediate wear.

So this is what I came up with.I really am happy with it, as something super comfortable for hanging around here.

My spouse says this makes me look top heavy, and since this is not an actual reality, I might make more.

No pattern and as lazy as I could make it.

Here goes:

1. Decided I wanted a slightly raised waist so measured from below my ribs to the floor and added a couple of inches for an integrated casing (more on that later).

2. Using the full 60" width I sewed one seam and decided to situate that at centre back, where it actually gets lost in the print anyway.

3. I needed a top and decided I a) wanted to wear a bra under it and b) not fuss around with sleeve hems and neckline finishes in this light rayon knit, which I believe nearly all of us bought from Fabricmart last year.

4. Not feeling really clever and pattern drafty I went into the kitchen and pulled out a tea towel. I used this for a front and back pattern piece (if you are not tall like me you might want to take a few inches off the depth).

5. I cut out 4 tea towels from the knit. It stuck to the fabric so I didn't have to pin or anything.

6. I sewed essentially two pillowcases leaving one long edge unstitched, turned and lightly pressed. This gave me a double layer from front and back, fine because this was a thin knit, and gave me pre-finished edges for the neckline and sleeves.

7. I went into the bathroom and worked in front of the mirror figuring out how wide I wanted the neck opening and how open I wanted the armholes at the sides and marked this with pins.

8. Using a tiny zig-zag I stitched up the side seams and shoulder seams fading the stitching out and off the edge like you would the bottom of a dart when I got to the neck opening edges and the bottom of the armholes.

9. I sewed this little top unit to the skirt.

10. I sewed another stitching line about 1 1/2" away from this first seam to make an interior casing.

11. I threaded a nice soft widish waist elastic into the casing and turned up the hem which I stitched with another little zig zag.

12. I found my husband and handed him the camera.

What I have to do, in addition to getting my hair cut tomorrow, is figure out some accessories. 

The way I see it there is a place for a maxi dress that isn't a sun dress, particularly if you are not sure when the northern sun is going to start shining.

The only thing more comfortable than this would be to wear nothing at all and I am not sure if Halifax Nova Scotia is quite ready for nude grocery shopping.

This was a fun sew.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sewing things back together

I go in for my surgery on the 12th and am spending this week doing work work and trying to lift and clean and organize as many things as I can.

That has included getting to the bottom of the mountain of laundry.

Let me tell you a T-shirt story. Two actually.

When my middle son was in elementary school he had a favourite grey T-shirt. He wore it all the time. On its own and under other clothes if he had to.

It was his lucky shirt.

Now after expending all that luck eventually that old T shirt got worn right out. Beyond repairs. 

This drove my daughter, the oldest, nuts. She was beside herself with the idea that her brother was going out in public in a wrecky old shirt. Me I didn't mind. I have great respect for lucky garments. I have heard rumours that a certain brother-in-law likes to operate wearing his lucky blue underwear, and personally if I were his patient I would be happy to know that's what he had on.

Back to the story.

Well one day my daughter grabbed this old T-shirt when her brother was in the bathroom and she cut it up. So he would never wear it again and never embarrass her.

Now if you don't have kids you may wonder if this daughter has a mean streak, she absolutely does not, but if you have had several children, or siblings of your own, you know that this is the sort of thing that goes on when people aren't looking in larger families.

My son was devastated.

Of course.

All I could do was take that sliced in half shirt and applique it onto his favourite bed blanket so that on some level my son would still have it.

And those kids, well they get along fine now but it has taken some time and some retribution.

Well today when I was going through the mountain of laundry I found a hospital bag with this in it:

It's the clothes my youngest son (who moved out today to go live with friends, the 17th time he has done this) was wearing when he was brought into the ER after what had been a very bad car accident in the winter. He was a passenger and it was nobody's fault.

The clothes had been cut off him which of course is what has to be done when someone is brought in unconscious. 

I looked at those raggedy cuts and well I felt the way you would too. He was away when this happened, is miraculously fine now, but this was evidence. After a few teary moments over the washing machine I threw those shirts away.

Well, my youngest son wants them back. He has assigned me the task of sewing all those pieces together again so he can wear them, as sort of a statement he survived. Like all my children he thinks his mother can sew anything up.

When I can kid, when I can.