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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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Monday, July 8, 2013

A question for you about clothing care

I bet you wish you came to my place for Sunday dinner. 

We run a regular salon over here once a week, discussing important and serious topics of the day.

Last night it was ironing. With a sidebar on hand washing.

The whole concept of "doing your ironing" made sense to my mother-in-law who is of the coke bottle with the shaker on top for dampening clothes before they were ironed generation - the concept meant nothing to my sister-in-law, daughter, and step-daughter.

The three of them are of the if-it-can't-go-from-the-washer-to-the-dryer I won't wear it school, and they iron nothing.

Myself, sort of in middle, am horrified by this. I think most sewers are. You just can't press as you sew and than forget about ironing after that. And you can't spend good money on good fabric and trust it to jumbling around with Mr. Bounce sheet at high heat.

I mean we know where that leads.

Fades and pills kids, fades and pills.

Myself I iron what I wear, although it tends to be on a case-by-case, day-by-day basis at the ironing board set up in my sewing room. And I admit when I do a tired morning rush out the door, more than a few times I grab a knit or something that doesn't need ironing.

This cheats my wardrobe resources and every once in a while I think I need to "do my ironing" and get ahead, be prepared more for emergencies.

My mother-in-law and my mother were of the school of ironing everything after it was washed, this was a routine and they did it. They both sprinkled clothes and put them in the freezer if they couldn't get it all done (every Canadian household always had a chest freezer downstairs at least 8 feet long) so it wouldn't mildew. I even remember my mother, at some stage we all were wearing her particularly out, had an "ironing lady." 

This involved my dad packing it all up, tablecloths, and shirts and kids clothes even, and driving it off to some poor soul who ironed it up for my mom. My dad was a teacher so this is no indication of our affluence, but of the trauma of being behind in her ironing that got to my mother, never a domestic natural, and I think tears were involved.

Anyway, women did their ironing.

I remember once being sent over to do wild little boy relief for a family friend who had four of them. She was in position when I arrived - ironing board set up on the beige broadloom, in front of her afternoon "shows," drinking a vodka and orange in the afternoon (which I thought was the height of sophistication and something I made a mental note to do when I grew up, as I only ever saw my own mother drink instant coffee).

I watched her iron tea towels and sheets and even her husband's underwear and we both ignored the boys who I am pretty sure were killing themselves somewhere in the backyard.

I understand that vodka and orange now more than I did then.

What I am sure of now is that her clothes were all set in case she had to run out the door early some time, although I realize now she probably didn't go out much.

So maybe it is OK I only half have the ironing situation under control.

Well that was last night over the dinner table and the natural second course was hand washing, something I am a great believer in. My step daughter (who confided the only thing she has to hand wash is a sweater she got from me) wanted to know what you do to get the soap bubbles out of a hand washed sweater. 

This brought on a dissertation from me on the virtues of rinse water.

And everyone went home after that.

Tell me what is your position on ironing and how much hand washing do you do at your house?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Technical notes from that birthday shirt: or how do you finish a back neckline?

For various reasons sewing guide sheets have been on my mind this week.

It all started with an email last week from an independent designer who noted that their patterns had minimal instructions because the assumption had been made that anyone who bought a pattern "already knew how to sew."

I have been considering this all week.

O.K. how do most people learn to sew?

Schools have maybe a smattering of sewing instruction jammed in between other family studies stuff, if that. My kids made shorts on semester for example. Even I didn't learn to sew at school (the project was a slip and I think I barely passed - the teacher obviously had little patience for deviation, mine was floral with lots of free form lace). 

My mother taught me the basics, things she learned from her mother, stuff like tailor tacks and the importance of grain lines, and I am grateful for that knowledge. In university I did a minor in theatrical costume design where I found out that no one can raise their arms in an 18th century frock coat from an original pattern.

But really most of the sewing knowledge I had starting out, pre Nancy Zeiman, pre sewing books, pre the internet for sure, I gathered from reading about 10,000 sewing instructions.

From this process I learned a lot about what worked, and even more about what doesn't.

Like most sewers (tell me if this is you too) I have remembered a particularly cool technique when I have found one and integrated it into my own repertoire.

For instance when I recently made Brensen Designs KISS dress I found a new way of bagging the lining in a sleeveless dress and that is the method I will use from now on. To me that meant it was a great, not just a good pattern.

I also learned a lot from alternative pattern sources. Kwik Sew and Jalie have taught me all I know about knits and Burda magazine opened my eyes to more ready-to-wear methods of construction and the reality that there were more sensible, and successful, ways to put garments together than the peculiar techniques I read in the Big Four.

All of this is leading somewhere.

After I had read my message a week ago from the designer who presumed sewers already knew how to put pieces together, I got to work on my son's shirt, Vogue 8800. This is an excellent pattern with a nice slightly retro, hip look and the fit was great. (BTW despite my earlier comments it turned out he really loved the shirt and gave me a shout out on FB for making it which was nice).

This is a convertible collar shirt, being casual and retro, and there isn't a stand on the collar, which is unusual for a man's shirt, but consistent with the style of this one.

When I glanced at the instructions I noted the usual Big Four method for finishing the back of the neck below the collar was still there, and I have taken professional level iPad shots of that method so you know what I mean:

The last stage, see how nice and easy it looks to just turn under that neckline collar edge and slip stitch it down. A sewer might be fooled into thinking this will go smoothly and in the end look like this picture.

OK this is how you set this up. Note very accurate clips right to the stitching line, already I am worried.

Where this technique goes off the rails. See how much action, and layers, there are at the intersection of the facings, collar turned under edge - all depending on those two surgically precise clips, which at this point are probably fraying and even more so because the odd stitch, the ones used to nail down the collar (making sure not to catch the free edge as they say) has been unpicked and restitched. I mean who can do this is a relaxed way?

I know all of this because in an unusual burst of conformity I actually tried this method to see if I was being too fussy. I did get it to turn out, with some fixes and restitches, but really am not happy with it, not as a process and not as a  product. I can do better.

Techniques like this, and I am sure this one was just cut and copied in from some sort of central data back without any actual person thinking this through, function only to frustrate sewers and even worse, far worse, make the learning-to-sew  sewer feel she just can't do this sewing thing.

Yes I know I have written a lot about this in the past but it always annoys me. Why are techniques never seen in ready-to-wear inserted into patterns by folks who should be trying to create new sewers, not lose them?

Are there other sewing-pattern-only-methods out there that frustrate you? What are the instructions you ignore?

Oh and how do I usually finish back necklines? I either serge right across the seam which reduces bulk and wears quite well, or I put a binding over the seam allowance. 

Tell me how do you finish the necklines of collars without a stand?