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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, January 31, 2015

Snakes and ladders

OK maybe more snakes.

I should be showing you a picture of me in a Stylearc Slip on Suzie, a pseudo wrap dress I worked on today. 

You are going to have to do with the pattern picture only.

I can't show you any more than that owing to the fact my dress in in the garbage can in my sewing room, and a keen mind would be able to detect that one side of it appears to have been gnawed by scissors.

It is a great pattern. 

I have had this one for ages but was reluctant to try it since some of the versions I have seen looked pretty tight and low and seemed more suitable for walking around with a round tray with swizzle sticks on it than what I actually do in my life.

My compromise was to make it in a smaller pattern size than I usually buy to make the neck and shoulders smaller and to add to the sides, about 1/2" each seam or  2" total.

I had some really beautiful periwinkle blue knit I got locally and I followed the instructions for part of the way.

I say part because I am too smart to read directions on how to arrange the front pieces and twice ended up with the crosses all mixed up and in one try with the seams on outside on one side.

This was the point at which I referred to the instructions which I really suggest you do if you make this dress.

I did do as instructed, which I should not have done, for the neckline which I stablized, turned and cover-hemmed however.  Doing this only revealed to me, once again, that the fabric at the bottom of the street tends to be crap whatever the price, this wasn't inexpensive at all.

It was a rayon/lycra but working with it I soon figured out it was one of the flacid cheapo rayon knits with no recovery that pick up every crease going and need to be ironed which flattens them out even more and kills whatever life it might have had in it.

You know the kind.

This was too bad since it turns out the dress as altered fit and looked great, but I knew as I sewed with it that the fabric was just not worth the work. So I cut open offending seam, read the words. I then figured out how it was supposed to go together which will be useful knowledge in the future and decided that next time I will just bind the neckline edge.

This pattern deserves better fabric and so do I.

So I am going to pack this pattern away until I do a fabric shopping afternoon in a stop over in NYC  the end of February.

Bad news - I wasted money and time today

Good news - I made a non wearable muslin and have a great pattern for a faux wrap dress in the repertoire. I really can't wear a real wrap. Think about it. I am born to unwrap, just that kind of person.

All that said though to be honest a success would have been nice.

It is still grey and slushy outside and I have had enough of that thank you.

Also, and this is where the real snake comes in,  it appears when I finally decided to declutter my closets (you know there are a thousand articles/blog posts/ pins about this) and as instructed to make three piles - toss, donate and save - well it appears I saved the toss and gave away the save.

All of my favourite summer dresses are gone. As in gone, gone, and gone.

The ones I love and look forward to every year because I love, love the fabric. 



I have spent some time going over and over the house but to make a long story short, the off season clothes I put in plastic bags while I was emptying drawers for visitors got taken to Value Village about two months ago instead.

I may pass those dresses on the street some day but I can't have them back.

Today's dress was meant to be me climbing back on the horse - but this is where we came in.

On the up side I now have a lot of real fabric shopping to do and that pretty much cheers me up.

I'm thinking I may make a T shirt tomorrow and plan.

Friday, January 30, 2015

For every mother out there

If you haven't already seen this, it needs a share. My husband got teary over this, this morning. I figure this woman did a great job - kids with a sense of humour are the best of successes:

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cross-over V neck constuction steps

Step one: 

Iron a small piece of fusible interfacing to the wrong side below the point of the V. Do not stay-stitch. If some of your stay stitches show and you try to take them out later you will make a hole. The interfacing patch will provide all the stabilization you need.

Step two:

Working with a binding strip that is twice as wide as you want to finished neck finish to be (you are going to be folding it in half) plus two small seam allowances (I use about 1/4" for this) and a lot longer than you need (you can cut off any excess when you are done stitching and having the extra gives your hands something to hold onto), pin the binding around the neckline. Since this is for a woman's top the eventual cross-over will be from right to left.

Pin the binding even with the edges along the long side of the Vs and stretch it slightly across the back of the neck so it will hug the neck and not stand straight up.

Note that the pinning, and first pass of stitching, ends several inches above the point of the V on the left side. How far away this stops doesn't matter it just needs to be a fair bit wider than the width of the band. I think I stopped pinning about 2 1/2" before the point of the V to accommodate a band that was about an inch wide. I eye ball this.

Step three:

Stitch around the neck edge starting a seam allowance distance below the V on the right side and ending somewhere short of the V on the left side as shown. Use a straight stitch and a knit/ballpoint/jersey needle. As a V neck doesn't have to be stretched to go over your head a straight stitch is just fine. ( See above you would locate a spot 1/4" below the point of the V right at the white pin head above, stitch up the right side of the V across the back neck and down the left side of the V to where you see the pinning stop.)

Clip right to the stitching at the point of the V.

Step four:

Working from the right side play around with the ends of the band so it looks like this below and pin in position:

  • Fold under the seam allowances on the unstitched section on the left side.
  • Tuck the end of the right band into the hole on the left side where it was left unstitched.
  • Tuck the remaining part of the left band under the right band.
  • Pin in place
  • (Note in the event you have a pucker at the point of the V that only means you haven't clipped right to the stitching. Go back and do it fearlessly, remember you have interfaced this area)

This is what it will all look like at this stage from the wrong side:

Step five:

Flip it all up to expose the seam allowances and finish stitching the remaining seam - you can see what needs to be stitched by looking at the picture above and seeing where the seam ends - just continue that seam through all layers until your stitching meets the stitching above the point of the V on the right side.

Step six:

There is no step six. All you need to do know is cut off any extra tails from the binding, tack the left end to the right seam allowance if it seems it is flapping around (if you have got this far you will know what I mean) and if you want you can zig zag the layers of the seam allowance together to flatten if you want.

Why this method is fool proof (and therefore the way I always make knit V necks):

  1. No stay stitching
  2. No pivots
  3. You don't do any tricky stitching or in fact sew the worrisome part of the V until you have arranged it totally with your hands, patted it into place, put in a pin and made sure it will turn out (see step four)
  4. There are no surprises, what you set up before stitching is what you will end up with.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Making the Renfrew necklines easier

I love the Renfrew top.

It's a great draft with a good shoulder and neckline fit - both areas that too many other T shirt patterns don't do all that well.

I even teach the odd class on beginner's knits and use the Renfrew as our base pattern. It works.

And I have been adding length and width to make the pattern a tunic using the pivot and slide method and am pretty pleased with that too. Also the cowl is excellent. Well worth travelling over to other tops as I did with my blue Lazy-boy top a few posts ago.

All that said I find the V neckline and scoop neckline views have some issues that I detected in my student projects.

Here are my fixes for those issues.

The scoop itself is fine. 

Not too wide and not too low. And because of the nice secure fit in the upper bust there are none of the usual gaping issues. You can lean forward in all company and be comfortable doing it.

I do find though that the pattern piece for the neck binding is too long for many knits, like this very stretchy rayon/spandex below. I always use the old formula of measuring the neck opening once the shoulders are sewn and cutting the strip of neck binding 3/4 of that measurement plus two seam allowances. This seems to reliably pull the binding in just enough so it curves into the body and does not have any little peaky things. In this case, for the top here, that meant cutting off about 2"+ from the length of the binding strip as suggested. I think that the result, a neckline that curves in just enough, is a decent result.

Oh and BTW all three neckline views in this pattern tell you to top-stitch around the seam with a straight stitch after you have put the neck binding in.


Makes no sense to me. The seam allowances don't need that extra stitching to lie flat.

The seam allowances should naturally move down to the body if the binding is snug enough and top-stitching with a straight stitch around a part that is likely to stretch is just asking for trouble IMO. 

I get into enough sewing trouble on my own without asking for more, you can count on that. 

For instance the bright green strip drawing attention to my belly was not something I set out to do on purpose. I have decided to ignore this little detail since this top goes with my glasses but you and I both know it is still there.

Next I have abandoned the instructions for the set-in mitered V neckline the instructions tell you to use. I decided to do this for the simple reason that it breaks one of my main sewing rules, the rule I activate particularly when I sew something stretchy or emotional like a knit.

That rule is this: Never stitch a pivot if there is any way at all you can achieve the same result by simply crossing two shorter seams instead.

Crossing seams gives you the same end result, a corner or point of some kind, but by not pivoting you have avoided pushing the grain around in a woven (going one way going down to the pivot and going up the other away from it) which nearly always produces a little bubble at the point of the pivot - you are pushing the grain into a dead end and it has no way to go but up when you sew like this. 

In a knit pivoting so easily just twists the fabric around the needle and you get a little pleat that you will rip a hole through when you try to fix it, or a funny bumpy thing, to use the latin term.

So to do a V neckline that will always be easy and uses my two seam method and no pivoting I do a cross-over V. I will explain this tomorrow when I don't have dishes to do.

If my friend Carolyn is reading this I want her to know I can feel her eye roll at yet another psychedelic print. That poor girl has already done her time trying to get me to shop with taste. I obviously bought this when they let me out on my own.

Whenever I make something like this I always say to myself - I can wear it in Florida, I can wear it in Florida.

The thing is around here it is looking like this:

A shot near my youngest son's place, the ocean in winter. You might think this is picturesque - I just feel the cold.

My body is craving colour like an old sailor with scurvy.

So that's my excuse.

Now off to the dishes that still haven't figured out how to do themselves.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Fusible thread continued

As promised here are some shots of the sleeveless top I finished by turning under the edges using fusible thread in the lower looper.

There is not much to this, just finish the raw edges with three threads and the fusible thread in the looper that will be next to the body fabric when you turn up the hem edges, or in this case the armhole edges once to hem. Lengthen the stitch length if you want so you don't get too much thread built up.

Press lightly so the thread sticks the edge to the garment (the thread won't completely melt away and I have never had an residue on my iron) and this is what it will look like after pressing ( know I the loops show on the black and I could have tightened the looper to hide that but I wanted you to be able to read what was happening in this picture):

After top-stitching this is what the armhole edge looks like, nice and neat, no ripples and no bulk, which is a problem I often found with the fusible web - I once had to take it out of a hem because it stiffened it too much.

All this was in aid of this simple everyday outfit of some Lucinda pants and a Renfrew top with the sleeves left off and a cross-over V neckline. I will be posting those instructions Wednesday, right now I have to do course prep for the week.

Not much to report here except I hope you can see the great armpit coverage I got with this tactic.

Another shot that doesn't show much except a black top and I necklace I got at Belk last year and have had no occasion to wear in Nova Scotia, which is more of a single tiny diamond on a thin chain kind of place if you get my drift.

In a month we will be in Florida. Once there I will be teaching distance for two months and my husband can get some relief from the weather and hopefully loosen up those joints.

32 days actually but whose counting?