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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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Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 my sewing year in review

Whoa, it's nearly New Year's Eve again already.

I spent the day down in my sewing workroom (I have decided to call my sewing space, now nearly an entire lower floor of my house my workroom - because I am hoping it sounds more like a place where I am not going to be interrupted and because, let's face it, sewing is the real work of my life) cutting stuff out and thinking about my sewing year.

Like some years this one had a few unexpected turns and this affected my sewing.

This was the year when I really got into sewing for other people, my immediate family, in a big way. 

Looking back I understand things I did now better than I did at the time.

Being a person who is alive I had some challenges/adaptations to work through this year.

My two sons were both living in the US and I felt the distance. My dear DIL became pregnant and there were more than a few days when I wished I could just drive over and see her and I couldn't. My daughter was hit quite suddenly with a neurological condition that changed her life. 

So this year I was a person who sat in her house and thought well what am I going to do about all of this?

Well what I did was decide to sew for them.

I made my daughter soft and comfortable clothes, my boys shirts, my daughter-in-law maternity clothes and the exciting new baby nightgowns, sleepers, car seat covers and pretty much every thing else I could think of. I made the grandchildren here bathing suits in the summer, Halloween costumes in the fall, and Christmas outfits this month.

In my own crazy way I sort of tried to keep my family connected and together with pretty much the only tool I had which was my sewing machine. I mothered the best I could with seams. Because I really had to find a way to keep mothering this year.

Of course this kind of sewing didn't serve the blog or my communication all that well. I couldn't post surprises and it wasn't always possible to get pictures taken so I really sewed far more this year than you saw here.

But I have a lot of faith in my blog readers and I sort of felt you understood.

My connection to the sewing community really strengthened this year and that was one of the best parts of 2018. My funny and interesting friends at the local sewing guild, those of you who left comments here on the blog and on Instagram, and even folks who read my book and took time to write and tell me their own stories all meant a lot.

I also was able to get to know new members of the sewing community better. I managed to keep my one resolution to sew more Indie patterns and that really opened up a new world to me. The young digital designers, the mom entrepreneurs in particular, really inspired me. Some of my favourite patterns of the year came from small designers and I intend to sew more from these sources.

So what am I going to sew in 2019?

I am going to be open to whatever flies in through the open window but right now here are my thoughts:

  • I will continue to sew a lot for my family. I really got to know everyone's preferences better this year and sort of understand what their different wardrobes look like - I want to build on that, sort of collaboratively. I really enjoyed making people I love, clothes they love.
  • I am probably going to continue to find ways to reach out with my random handy hints on sewing and share more of that - if I have made a mistake and fixed it or found a less stress way of doing something I like to communicate that. Not sure what that looks like though, more blogging, some tech sheets, Youtube, I will have to figure that out.
  • I am going to work on my own style. My own wardrobe didn't really develop much this year and I feel a need to do some taking care of myself that way right now. Sort of confused because some of the current trends and things I see other folks make I like, don't always work for me. Seems like a good year to define my own style more. Putting a lot of new things in the closet seem overdue too.
Not that's enough about me.

What I want to hear now are your plans.

What do you want to sew this coming year?

Where do you want your sewing to take you in the new 12 months?

Maybe even not what you actually should do, but what do you want to do, what are your sewing wishes for 2019?

That's it.

Let's make sewing wishes.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

My review of the Eversewn Sparrow 30

When I was at QuiltMart in Portland last spring I had a chance to see and test sew on the new Eversewn machines. As a result of that experience, and great conversation with Philipp Ueltschi chief of Eversewn and yes also of the famous Bernina family, I was lucky enough to have an Eversew Sparrow 30 sent to me to test.

Those who follow me in Instagram will have seen periodic posts on this machine and the various projects I have sewn on it.

I have a lot to say about this machine, and the thinking evident behind it, and that is one reason why this very detailed, long, review has taken some time to write.

I have strong feelings about any reviews I post on this blog.

I don't know about you but I am somewhat overwhelmed at the amount of marketing information across the blogosphere, presented as product reviews. Who needs more of that?

The fact is that I if I don't like a product I won't post anything about it at all, except in circumstances where I feel I want to warn my fellow sewers about something that I feel might cause them angst. Who needs more of that either?

I only write exactly what I think about any product I use.  I want to make sure that I have thoroughly tested anything new before I comment on it.

Also, full disclosure here, about 20 years ago I did some educational work for Pfaff and one project for Brother. I am pretty familiar with how some aspects of the sewing machine industry work. 

I know for example that there is a huge difference between "demoing" or even test driving a machine and using it day-in-day-out for a wide range of sewing challenges. 

For that reason I wanted to really use and live with this machine, and assess it based on other machines I have worked with, before I talked about it.

So to put my comments into context, these are some of the projects I have made on the Sparrow 30 over the past 6 months:

  • Men's shirts - this was useful in testing buttonholes, for ease of use and reliability, and for stitch quality through various thicknesses, as well as the ability to edge stitch precisely (needle positions were helpful here)
  • Swimsuits and lycra leggings - these were great test garments for the stretch stitches - I used both the reverse action triple zig-zag and the narrow zig zag for some details, as well as the triple/multiple zig zag for top stitching through thick chlorine proof elastic
  • Fleece- multiple layers of thick fabric (pressure foot adjustment used here)
  • General dressmaking (zippers) children's and baby clothing - cotton woven, rayons, and knits - both cotton lycra and modal or rayon
  • Mending - darning, satin stitch and various utility stitches. Fabrics included denim and outwear
I really feel that my observations on this machine are based on some pretty thorough test sewing, under a variety of conditions.

Note: I am a garment sewer and although I tried out and played with the alphabets and many decorative stitches I didn't actually complete a project with any of these features.

Now before I get into the specifics of my experience with this machine I want to put this machine and the Eversewn company into what in my own opinion only, is context within the industry. 

For a start I have to say the one question I hate being asked most by new sewers, or worse still by the non-sewing relatives of potential sewers is "what is a good machine to buy for someone who is just getting into sewing?"

I really cringe when I hear this because I know that the machines they have budgeted for are more than likely not all that well made and, my worst nightmare, would be so frustrating to the new sewer that they might even give up on life's best activity.

As a general rule, cheap machines are cheap machines, and who wants to tell any mother that? 

I am also equally frustrated by sewing machine dealers who present that the only machines worth sewing on are the same price as a small car, or that they should also be the same size as one. 

$5,000 before you can try making your first skirt? Really?

I have always felt that to bring in all the happy sewers I would like to into the sewing community there needed to be an achievable alternative.

So last spring when I was in Portland I wondered if Eversewn, with its very reasonably priced, feature rich machines, and cool sewing notion kits, might meet that need. And that it might fill what I saw as a definite gap in the current menu of sewing machines on the market.

That's what I wanted to find out.

That's why I was eager to test this machine.

I also have to tell you I was intrigued by Philipp Ueltschi. 

Obviously sewing machines are in his blood but it needs to be said that these are not Bernina machines, I see many aspects that I would call Bernina informed. Eversewn is Ueltschi's own project and if I were to put it into one of my own sentences I would describe this project as:

"Sewing machines made for millennials by a millennial who also happens to know an awful lot about sewing machines." 

(Note sure if the company would agree with this assessment but it's how it looks to me).

More specifically my assessment for my fellow sewers would be that this:

The Sparrow 30 is an A1 machine, that performs very, very well and has a whole range of very useful/sophisticated features that are simply not usually found in machines at the price point. 

A new or returning sewer who has a specific budget would in no way be settling at all for less features with this well-priced machine, in fact, relative to the competition in this area of the market, would be getting far more for her money than she would get elsewhere.

Now let's get into some of the detail and some of my own favourite features. 

Here are the highlights:

I am one who is more interested in sewing functions than in a number of decorative stitches so here are the things I liked, and liked a lot in this machine. All are features seen most often on much more expensive machines:

  • The metal body: Although this is a fairly light machine (ideal for some of the sewing retreats I took it on) it is solid. You just can't compare the feel of an all metal body to one that doesn't have it. That said this machine does go really, really fast when set to top speed and although it stayed still no problem at all on my study sewing table at home, there was some hopping when I sewed fast on a portable table. Putting the machine on a piece of old yoga mat fixed that.
  • Needle up and needle down: My lovely old vintage machines don't have this and I really miss it. So so useful as a necessary third hand when top-stitching/stretching swimsuit elastic.
  • Variable sewing speed: Being able to turn down the sewing speed when doing careful work like topstitching makes all the difference.
  • Needle threader: no explanation necessary.

  • Thread cutter: I don't always use this, often like to trim my threads closely myself, but when I do I always appreciate the long threads on the underside that don't pull out.

  • Single pattern/tie off function: Neater than sewing forward and backwards at the beginning of every seam, although you have to figure this out, it really does a single pattern of the stitch rather than a mini reverse and forward like some machines.
    • Adjustable presser foot pressure: This is sort of an old school feature but a really useful one I wish they still had on every machine. Loosening the foot pressure for polar fleece was useful, as was increasing it for lining.

    • Great lighting: For some reason a lot of new machines don't have this. The Sparrow has nice strong light in the stitching area, which I really like:

    It should be noted that the LED lighting here does cast as sort of yellow halo around the lit sewing area, something that startled me at first, but I don't notice anymore.

    • Really great buttonholes. Some truth needs to be told here. A straightforward mechanical buttonhole often produces a more reliable buttonhole than many of the real fancy computerized ones. In fact one of my sewing partners, a former high end sewing machine dealer, told me when she watched me make buttonholes on this machine that in her opinion this traditional system makes some of the nicest buttonholes ever. A button placed in the back of the foot determines buttonhole size and the lever that is pulled down whenever buttonholes are made, regulates consistent size for each buttonhole:
    • Ease of use: we are going back here to a machine for a new sewer. The Sparrow is sprinkled with a number of really useful illustrations, particularly for threading:

    • A nice simple to understand control panel of common stitches on the machine face: It was so interesting to me that our 9 year-old just sat down in front of this machine and she knew exactly how to thread and use it. No problem at all.

    • An excellent, stable extension table. I was also very impressed with this, particularly since I had just recently tested a top of the line that did not have these little feet and as a result extension table on that machine bounced around annoyingly:

    Issues with this machine.

    I found this a nice, easy, comfortable machine to work with. Of the eight sewing machines I have in my workroom this in fact is the one I reach for when I am in a hurry and just want a reliable little bit of sewing done with little fuss. This says a lot.

    The only issue I had was with some "bird nesting" in the bobbin area when I was just getting used to the machine. 

    After a bit of double checking (an old sewing machine technician friend of mine always used to say that the first place to check for an problem would be in the chair in front of the machine ...) I decided that this important thread guide was essential:

    Yup this first upper thread path is super important. (Note I put the handle down to take this picture but of course it needs to be up for sewing).

    I missed this a few times (and am not sure if the thread cutter didn't jangle it out when I had been casual about getting the thread in here) and got a thread nest in the bobbin area. 

    Interestingly the only consistent problem reported by new users for this machine, as reported online, were those lower area thread nests - my suspicion now is that those problems might have to do with missing this thread path. 

    Since I have started paying more attention to getting the thread in there and in threading the machine with the foot up (to open the tension disks) and making sure I "flossed" the thread in between the tension disks I haven't had any further problems with messy bobbin thread at all and subsequently sewed for months since then for hours and hours without seeing this issue again.

    So final verdict:

    Great machine, more than excellent for the price. A machine I will happily take to classes, and recommend to anyone who asks and is looking for a nice, reliable, high feature, good value machine.

    An overdue option for those in the market for a new machine too, who are often so overwhelmed by all the choices.

    Friday, December 28, 2018

    Favourite pattern time: Lovenotions pullovers

    One of my pleasures this Christmas was to discover and sew Lovenotions new pullover patterns, the Navigator for kids, the Constellation for women and the North Star for men. I have no affiliate relationship with this company but do note that there is currently a 20% off discount if you buy all three at the same time - something I wish I had done.

    Before I go into the story of my own versions I should show you the pattern pictures from Lovenotions:

    I have made a ton of fleece/hoodie/casual knit jackets in my time. I compared my experience with sewing those with this new pattern, so far I have made the women's and men's version and will be making some for the kids soon too, and have been really impressed.

    I started off with the Constellation for women because I was on the hunt for nursing top options for my daughter-in-law. When I saw that this jacket was "nursing friendly" because of the unusually long zipper opening for a pullover, it just jumped off the screen to me. I have already been sent pictures of Maddie nursing Anika in it and yup, it works pretty well.

    I have also realized that the longer zipper places this jacket sort of between a pullover and a full zip jacket.Of course is easier to make than a full jacket because there is no zipper-ending-in-the-band situation to deal with (although of course you could use this pattern for a jacket too by just bringing the zipper right down the front if you wanted). This longer zipper makes these tops is so much easier than a pullover that you have to haul over your head to wear.

    I can see that this would make it a good top for kids or even older people because it would be so easy to put on and off.

    I was also impressed by the design details that all give a professional look but in fact represent easy techniques that make the garment very beginner friendly.

    For example:

    • The bottom pockets are really one big kangaroo patch pocket basted to the lower body piece. The edges of the pocket are just strips of knit or ribbing. Really about the easiest outerwear pocket I have ever seen.
    • The under collar is finished with a turned and stitched binding before it is attached to the outer collar - once the under collar is stitched to the outer collar around the edges the finished neck edge is just hand or machine stitched down over the neck seam. I am going to think now of other places where I can use this technique. There is actually a live link to a Youtube video on how to do this in the instructions, which would be useful for a new sewer or just a visual learner.
    • The zipper suggested is longer than necessary, you just trim the bottom off after it is all stitched in, so it is easier to hold on to and so there is a place to park the zipper tab while the zipper is being applied - there was a far bit of thinking ahead in this pattern. There is also a Youtube video link too for the zipper.
    As far as style features all versions have collars or hoods and the woman's also has a sort of shirt tale view without a banded bottom. That's the one I made for Maddie and will make for myself.

    I ended up making three men's versions and one women's for Christmas. Here is my youngest son Ben in his:

     Really a winner of a pattern. Today I actually cut out three more by popular demand, those will be ready to share soon.

    Monday, December 24, 2018

    Flypaper thoughts Christmas Eve 2018 version

    • Well where have I been?
    • Planes, trains, and automobiles
    • OK not trains
    • No one has read my memo requesting transcontinental train fare the same price as the current equivalent of being in a glove box for half a day with the option to spend $20 on pesto salad, minus the pesto and minus the salad up higher in the air than anyone lets themselves think about
    • I made a good business case
    • We could fill those trains with middle aged women who like to knit and want to have their scissors and circulars handy
    • And stretch their legs and play cards in the observation car
    • Or take advantage of the five pieces of luggage currently allowed on most trains
    • Listen there is a huge audience quite happy to be captive who has already figured out quite a few years ago that it is the journey that matters 
    • Tap this market
    • Until they do I am left to wonder why on earth anyone has a beer in an airport bar at 7:30 a.m.
    • Unless they are folks who are wishing for trains
    • My trip to Berkeley to meet the new granddaughter was wonderful
    • This one is going to be a real piece of work, highest of praises in this family
    • She's starting out by being really good at being a baby
    • So proud of my son who could work as a doula if the tech industry crashes
    • Does the middle of the night feed with her one bottle of the day
    • And changes sides to replicate the breast
    • That's my boy
    • And discovered this trip at Stonemountain that my DIL is a world class fabric shopper
    • She feels every piece and drags the bolts around so she can put them together so she can decide which one would be best
    • I am bringing a machine next time and we are getting right into it
    • This is of course as good as it gets
    • Made three meatloaves, 2.5 chicken pot pies and two curried vegetables for the freezer
    • You can take the woman out of Nova Scotia
    • Plus cookies from the NYTimes since I am old school but cool school
    • I have missed you so much since you left my house
    • But know I now where everything is in your kitchen
    • I can let out my breath
    • You are still you and I am still me
    • Bless the daughter-in-law who gave me that back
    • Going to be a wise mother
    • Stopped over for a day in Vegas due to a flight cancelation
    • First time I went there for a conference 20 years ago I thought it was glamorous
    • This time I noticed the runs in the show girls stockings
    • And the diaper sized safety pins holding some outfits together
    • Doesn't matter how many feathers or how high the boots
    • I still see students
    • And want to ask them
    • Does you mother know?
    • Are you a mother?
    • Maybe who was in the Rat Pack were rats
    • No undoing that now, not going back
    • Think the town knows that
    • Came home and sewed some Love Notions North star pullovers
    • Got to do my own best patterns list
    • Might put that near the top
    • Speaking of which
    • At the top of my list of things I was not expecting
    • Was the bidet contraption my husband attached to the toilet
    • Surprise
    • Your Christmas present!
    • I recognize a man who remembered it was Christmas when he was in middle of the plumbing department
    • Hopes he likes his pullover
    • That man's a star
    • Merry Christmas
    • It feels like a very good one

    Thursday, December 20, 2018

    Great new free pattern alert: Jalie's Yoko

    I have been on tour this last week visiting the new granddaughter, my son and my dear DIL in Berkeley California so my sewing has been put on hold, although I am going back into high gear today.

    Before I left on my trip however I was lucky enough to have access to a great new free pattern, the Jalie Yoko, square roll neck sweater. I was able to whip up two versions in a few hours to take with me.

    Here is the pattern photo:

    Before I get started showing you my versions of this pattern - I made both a top and an extended dress- I want to tell you why I like this pattern so much:

    1. It's free. 

    Some of the popular Indie designers now offer some truly great free patterns, like the newborn top and pants I made from Patterns4pirates. I really am grateful for these freebies because they give you a chance to check out the drafting/instruction quality of a new line before you buy.

    I was happy to see Jalie offer a free pattern for exactly that reason - as you know I am a great Jalie fan but I am aware that not every sewer out there has had the chance to appreciate the Jalie draft. This might give those sewers that chance.

    2. It comes in the wonderful Jalie range of pattern sizes. 

    Increasingly I am sewing for my extended and extending family. I pretty much get all my digital patterns copy shop printed now I have found a reasonable place that does that for me. It is nice to get all the sizes I need for anyone in the family I want to sew for, for the price of one pattern.

    3. It is such a fast and easy sew but also highly fashionable and elegant. 

    If you are doing exactly what I am doing this morning and revising your Christmas sewing list down from the hoped for to the actually possible, this pattern may be just what you need. 

    Made up in a nice stretch velvet (OK I have just added one more sewing idea to replace the one I eliminated from the list a few minutes ago) this could also be a great last minute Christmas outfit for yourself too. 

    In fact as I was shopping the stash last night I cam across a few pieces that I am going to turn into some more Yokos for myself as soon as I get my Christmas sewing done.

    4. I love the fit/style. 

    Although my middle is getting wider the older I get and the more I keep eating, my basic bone structure is quite small. I have tried to sew some of the new boxy styles recently from other pattern companies but have found they swamped me, or were just too loose in the shoulders and arms to be flattering. 

    The Yoko has that nice hip square look in the body but still maintains Jalie's nicely fitting shoulder and neck.

    It looks stylish but not sloppy. Does that make any sense?

    Now here's my first version, a top in a wool knit blend from Fabricville. 

    I didn't have quite all the fabric I wanted so I pieced the front, adding a centre seam, so the pattern runs across on one side and down on the other. Of course I have decided this is now a design feature. 

    The roll neck is really cozy and the slightly long sleeves look good I think pushed up. I love this top so much, it is warm and sort of like wearing a blanket wrapped around you which is comforting this time of year, but looks considerably more fashionable than that:

    And also, because I like sharing what a calm and relaxed event our photo sessions are, here is an outake of that moment when I said listen give me that camera, why do you take pictures that make me look old? Got to get that camera fixed.

    The second version I made was specifically for travelling. I used a bamboo/wool knit I had been hoarding to make something to wear for that incredibly long, uncomfortable, unpredictable process that has now become standard in modern airline travel.

    The bamboo component in the fabric meant that it did wrinkle a bit but this was so entirely comfortable and easy to wear I didn't really mind that.

    On the way back from California to Nova Scotia yesterday I ended up in fact wearing this dress for 26 hours straight, due that miracle called Air Canada's ability to randomly cancel flights without explanation.

    Here's are shots of me just before I headed out last week to the airport (accessorized by a small dog who had seen the suitcase at the door and was a bit clingy). The dress looked pretty much the same when I arrived home.

    Construction note: I used fusible knit hem tape on a friends recommendation  before I cover hemmed the dress. I see in these pictures that it added a bit of stiffness to the hem. I have since washed the dress, no surprise there, and I can report that this effect has disappeared
    A great pattern, definitely going to be wearing all and future editions until they fall apart.

    Saturday, December 8, 2018

    The last week in sewing *if you are a member of my family do not look at this post, or else

    It has been a busy week.

    I ended my term, marked all the last assignments, and submitted my final marks.

    The rest of the week was in a high level of activity - I am leaving for San Francisco to meet the new baby on Wednesday. and am going to have only less than a week before Christmas when I get back.

    So pardon the lack of carefully edited text in this post (which makes it not unlike all other posts) but there are a few nice easy patterns I want to share before this person, full of mincemeat piece, pickled herring (my most favourite food in the world - my dad used to bribe me to do my algebra in high school with promises of pickled herring) and borscht needs to have her bath and get to bed. 

    Tomorrow is a do or die sewing day before I take off.

    I am kind of tired. 

    Not able to find anything interesting on Netflix last night I sat up and started writing a novel - a mystery set in a fabric store to be called "Death at the cutting table" (what do you think so far?) to be continued, although not tonight. So far it's all a true story except maybe the death part which I have yet to make up.

    So with that smooth introduction here is how the safe side of my sewing life went this week:

    Last Saturday I taught an all day class on how to make a traditional kimono from your measurements. Great class and great kimonos. Here's one:

    Next I made my daughter's Christmas dress using the pattern I made by copying her favourite GAP T-shirt dress:

    It will look better on her than it does on the bathroom door. 

    I bound the neckline, stitched, turned and hand-stitched under because I thought that was the best finish for the fabric. I liked how that looked so much I also did binding at the bottom of the sleeves and all along the hem. This turned out to be a good idea for the hem. It added weight and saved me from doing any other kind of hem, like a cover hem (too informal) or a hand hem (stitches might mar the velvet).

    Of course because I am incapable of not doing extra of anything, just in case (if we have 5 for dinner I always cook for 25 and make three desserts) I over bought way too much of the green fabric so made my son-in-law a sort of fake bow tie:

    And I made the two little girls circle skirts from Lovenotions free skater skirt pattern (I think you have to sign up with their Facebook group for the free code), essentially a circle skirt with a knit yoga band -impossible to be any easier:

    Using the same pattern I also made a shorter version of this skirt for my youngest granddaughter to wear for the talent show section of the dinner with my son-in-law's extended family.

    She plans on doing roller skating and has a big plan to come roaring into the dining room on her roller skates in a roller blading fancy outfit (I had to make a short sparkley skirt to go with the gymnastics leotard she has planned to go with it) and do a quick circuit around the table to great applause and appreciation.

    After all of this I also had enough left to squeeze out a Dashing Vest (that's the name of Lovenotions free boys vest pattern) for my grandson:

    And of course for the new baby on the West Coast I made a few more sleepers and another sleep sack, this one lined and in fleece since it was pointed out in a very helpful comment here that San Francisco can still be chilly. 

    All of these from patterns from Peekaboo patterns:

    Of course all this sewing required some more of my regular fabric store trips.

    On one of these I met a fellow grandmother who had just scored some perfect dog buttons for a grand child's Christmas  sweater. 

    Perfect because she had spun the yarn herself. The brown stripes are from the fur from her standard bred poodle and the white stripes from yarn made from the fur combed off her Samoyed husky. 

    All a day in the life around here.

    Speaking of which, regular blog readers will know that my family has had its challenges this fall.

    But I have to say that family is the part where you all know it's all going to be fine.

    This picture, of my youngest son visiting my youngest granddaughter today in Berkeley, was there when I woke up this morning:

    Enjoy this season.