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I am a mother, a new 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 first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Sunday, May 6, 2018

What I thought when I made ties and why I wrote a book

Tomorrow my book is released (see above, for sale on Amazon, you can click the link, and a variety of retailers). Family has been asking me how I feel about this.

To tell you the truth I didn't write this book with tomorrow in mind.

I was thinking about someone who was sewing alone and sitting down with her to talk about sewing.

To explain what I mean I think the process is worth sharing and something you can identify with.

One summer night nearly two years ago I was looking at patterns, indie designers, and some sewing blogs. I just happened to scroll down a list of patterns for sale and then I saw this yellow coat.

It looked to me like an interesting design for a coat but I couldn't help but notice that the melton hem was over pressed but still kind of lumpy. I felt bad for the sewist because I had a pretty good idea of what could be done to fix that hem.

Trimming away bulk would be a good start.

Even more importantly padding that hem with say bias cut flannel would eliminate the way it went out in points here and there - both smooth it out and soften it - so the characteristics of the hem would match the characteristics of the fabric. 

I also knew exactly why the person who had made this coat had not done these things - there were no instructions in the pattern to explain this, or there had been no one around to tell that sewist those little technical tricks that make such a difference.

So that night, alone at my dining room table with Miss Daisy on my lap and a cup of tea on a coaster, I sent off an email to a good publisher that essentially said I want to write a book of all the things your mother would tell you about sewing if she could sew.

I had a mother who could do that, and two grandmothers who were both intensive sewing people themselves. And I have spent an entire life time collecting sewing hints and tricks between these two ears.

At the time I figured well I bet this publisher get lots of emails like this and this one will probably be one of the nutty ones.

And that was that.

About four months later I was in the changing room at the pool with the little girls (trying to keep one from locking herself into a locker and helping the other one find her lost bathing suit since my daughter wants to know how it is possible for us to lose one bathing suit a week) when my phone beeped. I don't usually hang over my phone when I am with the kids but it was the end of the day and at that point I was wondering if my daughter was planning on collecting the kids early.

So I checked my phone.

It turned out that the beep was an email from the publisher C&T saying yes they would like to publish a book.

I was amazed. So I told the girls (turned out the bathing suit was in the locker BTW) and they wanted to know if they would be in it and then we went home.

What followed was nearly a year of writing, of waking up in the middle of the night with random details that I felt I had to make sure to tell readers to save them heartache, and of writing ideas down on index cards I kept in my purse until I lost them.

Somewhere along the way I realized that I wasn't just writing a book about sewing but a book about my life. Some of my hints, or advice, or random ideas were things I had figured out one day 40 years ago and some where things I had learned by teaching younger sewists over the past few years. I wrote stories about my grandmothers, about my mother, about sewing students and sewing machine technicians and so many sewing friends. 

My book became a kind of a road trip of my life with so many of the important characters in that life handing me sewing knowledge as I went by.

So I wrote and wrote and wrote and came terms with the fact that my entire time on this earth had been preoccupied with sewing.

Then I learned about how books are built.

First I thought writing a book was like writing an essay for school and having someone correct it.

Not at all.

For a start there are many different kind of editors, copy and content editors, visual and photographic editors, and even someone who does flow which I have to say is just about the nicest job title I have ever heard of - flow editor. Wouldn't you like to be the person who knew how to do flow?

So next I cut and cut and added and cut and sewed ordinary daytime clothes in bright colours, because I thought who wants to read a book that isn't cheerful looking, even if these were clothes no one but me would wear?

What I ended up with certainly is not the definite book on sewing but it is my book and really the best I could do - all focused on the new or returning sewist I wanted to help.

I started and ended this book with one thought - if some woman alone in front of her sewing machine remembers something I wrote and thinks "why that is so much easier" then I would have done what I had come to do.

What comes next in this process is something I don't know much about, which is do what I can do so folks know this book is there and might be useful to them. To be honest I am not sure entirely how I am going to do that but I am again going to be my best. Getting the book to folks who want to review will be part of that, and I am going to keep an eye on the reviews on Amazon too. Those reviews are important I think, most folks read the reviews, just like I do.

And right now I keep thinking of that yellow coat. It would be so easy to fix that hem.

Which brings me to ties.

When I somewhat recklessly told my son that I would make his company some ties to wear to a trade show I looked at a lot of patterns. 

I even downloaded and bought a few, including the multi folded Osman tie from Burdastyle. I read and tried with care to execute multiple steps. I folded and folded again to the centres, I measured and read about the importance of pressing and then about the importance of not pressing.

I went step-by-step like all sewists do when they are trying something new, just like we all do when we are teaching ourselves to sew by working our way through patterns.

The thing is that those trial ties were not what I wanted.

Frustrated, and of course panicked because I had both a deadline and a promise to a kid on my mind,  I remembered something.

I remembered that I had written a book exactly about this. 

Exactly about the fact that step-by-steps are not enough. About how instructions so often leave out the important stuff.

About how you have to know why you are doing what you are doing before you can do it.

So I went out and bought a few good second hand ties and took them apart and tried to find that place - the what tie making was really about place- before I went into the detail of the how- tos, because after all I have just spent a year and a half of my life writing a book that says if you don't know why you are doing what you are doing you are not going to enjoy the process or do a very good job of it.

So this is what I figured out about ties:

1. A tie is a long piece of fabric cut on the bias so it bends around a neck and can tie smoothly into a knot.

2. To cut a long thing like a tie on the bias on most fabric it needs to be pieced, usually by adding a section in the around the neck part with diagonal seams (to preserve the bias).

3. The ends of the tie are faced with a facing that is about 3-5 inches deep. The top, unstitched end, of this facing is raw because it will be hidden when the tie is wrapped around the interfacing.

4*. This part is starred because this is the really important main idea (so I think now I will bold it too) - the construction of a tie is just about one simple idea - centre a no-seam- allowance tie interfacing piece in the middle of the tie, and using that interfacing as the edges to feel just wrap the tie fabric around the interfacing and, with as near as invisible stitches as you can muster (think I will start my hand sewing series tomorrow,) overlap slightly and stitch in place.

5. Press carefully and hope no one asks you to make them a tie again.

As to patterns I would just suggest you get a second hand tie in the size you like, open it up and selvege the essential interfacing pieces (in good ties this will be bias cut wool) and open the section seams, iron the fabric, and trace out your own pattern on paper (don't use the original fabric because it is after all bias and with handling will become inaccurate).

So that's how I would make a tie and so that's why I wrote a book.

If you read it I really hope that something in it will help you enjoy your sewing more and contribute to the best of all moments of sewing - that bathroom mirror try on when you look at something you make and think - I look great.

If anyone can make a couple of people feel that well then I think writing a book is worth the time.

So that's it.

And tomorrow the first of the hand stitching series starting with the hand stitch you should never use.


annie said...

Talk about a teaser - the stitch you should never use.

Sox said...

Thank you for answering the questions one doesn't know they have. I"m looking forward to seeing your book.

Leigh said...

My library has ordered 5 copies! And there are already two holds on it. Well, three now. :)

Kay said...

Just ordered the US version of the book (@ for any other US readers who are interested). I've been looking forward to it since you announced the publication date.

I know I will learn a lot. I've been sewing for 56 years, but it wasn't till I started reading sewing blogs that my sewing took a real jump in quality. My work was often creative and looked pretty good, but I knew there were techniques I saw in RTW that I didn't know how to duplicate, so I just kept sewing as I had always sewn. But to re-purpose that definition of craziness, if you keep doing what you've always done, you will keep the results you have always gotten. I never had access to IRL sewing classes or sewing friends. But now, through the magic of the internet, I do! I've found out about books, techniques, more books, and now, practical tips from a practical sewist. Thanks!

MakeitAnyWear said...

Congratulations on the book.

Angela said...

I ordered my copy long ago - seemed like the release date would never get here! I'm so excited!

Nursebennett said...

Same as Kay! Internet/sewing blogs has taught me so much! I’m about to order your book now! FWIW, I buy tons of ties at thrift stores for .50 each to rip them open and use the tie interfacing for sleeve heads. Will set a sleeve in perfectly every time. Learned that trick from Peggy Sager. Can’t wait to read your book. Congratulations!

Diana Griswold said...

My book is due to arrive tomorrow. I can't wait!!

patsijean said...

I just ordered myself a copy. The Amazon preview looked glorious.

Teri on the Left Coast said...

Have had my order in to since December 30 and just now got the email saying it will be in my hands between May 9 and 11. I’m very excited. Thank you Barbara, I’m really looking forward to your book.

Lyndle said...

I was excited yesterday to get an email saying mine had shipped. it's probably coming by sea so who knows when I'll actually get to read it but i am looking forward to it! i love chatty books. and i didn't know about coat hems and boss flannel so I'm expecting this book to be my BSFF (best sewing friend forever, obviously).

Alison said...

Really looking forward to your book, our library has five copies on order, and I have already placed a hold on one of them...

Henni said...

The book sounds lovely! I'll definitely keep an eye out for it.

Anne van den Bosch said...

I'm over the moon that you wrote a book. Of course I didn't know, so it's extra nice to have a surprise gift for myself on such short notice. And why do I always tear up when I read your posts?? Gah. I find this post so moving then, bc that woman sitting behind her machine alone, can be me. I'm allowed to be that woman. Sewing saved my mental health (I don't think it's cheaper than therapy, not if you sew all you think you need (and have good coverage like we do in EU). And to have a wise voice thinking along is such a comfort. Thank you! Is all I came to say.

Dot Wankat said...

I have read your blog for years, starting with random good luck of finding your February 6, 2011 entry called "Sewing Up the Raveled Hem". You wrote about sewing because that's where you (and Doreen) knew who you were. That reflected my own fragmented life so accurately that I was and remain an enthusiastic and usually quiet reader.

Your book is a link I can hold and page through for both your sewing points as well as your wisdom and humor. I preordered it the minute I figured out how to do it and am really looking forward to delivery.

Writing a book is a huge job. Congratulation on seeing yours in print.

BeccaA said...

I am so looking forward to the arrival of your book today! I love your writing, and I find your explanations very helpful. I think I need your lesson on how to sew and press a hem right as I do tend to over-press my sewing, following the philosophy that if some is good, more is better.

Kathy S said...

My copy is on its way to me right now... The Amazon preview was tantalizing, just exactly what I wanted in a sewing book. I stumbled across your blog in a link from Carolyn's Diary of a Sewing Fanatic a while ago. Like the previous commenter Dot, I am usually a silent reader not a commenter. Congratulations on the book and I wish you wild success with it!

Laceflower said...

Congratulations Barb, a really huge accomplishment.

Anonymous said...

Mine should be arriving any day now. I have been sewing since I was about 12 (a long time ago) and love reading other people's sewing wisdom. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks!

Ladyslipper said...

I preordered your book and received it today. Very excited to read it cover to cover,

Lisa G said...

I am so glad I found your blog! Making a tie for my son-in-law is in the top 5 of the "makes for others" section of my sewing list. It's been there for almost a year (I did warn him it might be years before I get to it). Thanks for this information on tie-making! I have added your book to my Amazon wish list. Too bad it's so close to Mother's Day here...everyone already got my gifts, haha! I may just get it for myself rather than wait for my birthday in August, but I do like to give the kids lots of low-price options when they shop for me! I look forward to learning from you, on the blog and in the book! :-)

Mitra said...

I preordered in December and the book has shipped! I’m so looking forward to reading it.

I was taught by my grandmother to sew, but she passed when I was in my early teens - and no one else in my family sews. Since I lived with her as a child and we sewed pretty much every day, I absorbed a lot that gave me a kind of useful reckless confidence - this has been very useful with creative endeavours, sewing related or not. She was one of those handy people, who would have done just as you did, with the tie.

Somehow I adore that your grandchildren call you Babs. That was what we called my grandfather! This guy was married to the sewing grandmother, and bought her her beautiful Singer 15-91, with the pot motor. (Nothing but the best for his Sandra.) Boy, she took pride in that machine. She knew how to maintain her tools.

I love your writing and your sense of adventure. Thank you for writing, both blog and book.

Savannagal said...

I enjoyed reading your blog posts, but I have to admit I didn't follow half of your sewing talk. I consider myself a beginner although I've had a sewing machine and serger for 15+ years. I've tried sewing different patterns but I always get stuck somewhere and don't know how to move forward. So mostly I just use my machines for really bad looking repairs. Your book sounds great. I'm not sure I'm even far enough along for it to help me. I still need to learn the basics. But I'll definitely check it out. Thanks.

Barbara said...

Savanna gal I tried really hard to make this book useful for all levels of sewists. I also put a sort of dictionary of sewing terms at the back to be helpful. If I ever use a term you don’t know please leave a comment and I will explain. My mission is to make as many folks as I can feel great about sewing.