About me

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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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Friday, May 11, 2018

Flypaper thoughts and thank you


  • First things first
  • Many thanks for responding that that videos were useful
  • It turns out that if I can just be myself I have about a million small details in my head
  • Sit at the dining room table
  • And hand the husband the phone
  • We can do that
  • Love to write
  • But love to talk too
  • Listen
  • Any of you good packers?
  • I am not
  • My grandmother who was a great traveller in the days
  • When it meant going trans Atlantic on ship
  • Used to say that the secret was rolling everything
  • Took great pride in her packing
  • Occurring to me that she only wore polyester Crimpoline
  • Not sure about the spelling but you know what I mean
  • Bouncy original synthetic
  • Sorry Grandma
  • You could put that stuff through a road grader on the highway and it still wouldn't wrinkle
  • Actually wrinkles not my problem
  • Who knows what you might need?
  • There's climate change going on you know
  • Which means sunny with a chance of showers and cloud is pretty much it
  • My idea is best to take everything just in case
  • Still manage to leave what I really need at home
  • Spouse says no one needs five pairs of shoes for four days
  • He is still recovering from the time I packed all the tops in one suitcase and all the bottoms in another
  • And left the bottoms suitcase in that hallway
  • We were off to a kid's grad
  • Not ready to be the parents naked from the waist down
  • So ran around a mall buying only bottoms units
  • Honestly
  • If there was a bad packing Olympics there would be a gold medal for Canada
  • But I wouldn't make it to the podium
  • Because I had nothing to wear
  •  If you read my book can you leave a review somewhere?
  • One of my kids keep checking and he's worried about his mom
  • Doesn't quite understand that giving a copy to the library was the highlight of my week
  • I built my life on things I learned from library books
  • I think in my early teens I read everything that had "So you want to be ..." in the title
  • As in " so you want to raise goats" or "so you want to write poetry" anything at all
  • When I was 12 and we moved away from the small prairie town I grew up in
  • The town librarian gave me a lifetime library card in recognition
  • Of the fact maybe that I was the only person who took out all those odd books
  • Librarians like that are heroes
  • They changed lives, and they made them
  • Brainwave
  • I am going to send that library a copy of my book
  • Maybe there is another 12 year old who would like to sew
  • This is what matters
  • This is why I wrote that book
  • None of us are alone
  • The one thing in life I am most sure of
  • Tomorrow I am going to see my Mom
  • First mother's day since I left home that I will be with her on Mother's Day
  • She's a case without a cover
  • As my husband would say
  • Expect pictures and dedicated flypaper thoughts
  • On my mom who was the original in that department
  • "Your mother has a mind like a squirrel cage" my dad used to say
  • Appears to be genetic
  • You've figured that part out
  • Then I am off to Portland for Quilt Mart with the publisher
  • More or less having fits about it
  • I am signing books and doing a presentation
  • I want to talk about sewing people and to sewing people
  • Is that what I am supposed to do?
  • Mostly I want to watch
  • Not much a quilter
  • A lot of being careful with multiple pieces
  • I'm better with the variety of sleeves, necklines and hems
  • Might lie low on that one
  • I will however find things to buy
  • And am getting a tour of Portland that I am so excited about
  • Will involve fabric tours
  • What if the Air BNB doesn't have an iron?
  • Many household don't
  • There a crazy people everywhere
  • Huge list of sewing to do when I get back
  • Maternity clothes for my much missed DIL
  • If you can't be with them, sew for them
  • Sparkly swimsuit for my synchro swimmer
  • And more versions of the new Jalie releases
  • They are so nice, so nice
  • My dad typed all my university essays and pinned up all my hems
  • Pretty much everything that came out of that man's mouth made you laugh
  • My mother was an only child and an orphan at 16
  • Then she met my dad
  • Forced to ask him to a party in Grade 10
  • Not a great looking guy but someone had to ask him because he was so funny
  • And the life of the party
  • Said he made her laugh every day they were married
  • He passed away a long time ago
  • But we still talk his lingo
  • What a gift
  • Off I go to pack
  • Can someone come on over and help me
  • The videos will be back
  • When I am
  • First I have to get on a plane
  • Which, these days
  • Makes you miss Greyhound buses

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Basic hand sewing stitches: #3 the catch stitch

Here is one of my favourite stitches for durable, flexible hems in both wovens and knits.

I will let the video speak for itself ...



Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Basic hand sewing stitches : #2 the slipstitch

What are you going to do with me?

I will simply never get a smooth, pro looking blog, or now these videos, going.

Over the weekend my brother-in-law suggested I set up a real professional YouTube channel. You know one with proper videos, camera work, and lighting.

Well I pretty much knew as soon as he said that, that this was not for me.

The one thing life has taught me is that if you are going to sew all the time you really have to let a whole lot of other stuff slide.

Worth it of course, but there it is.

So there are no Photoshopped pictures on this blog, and my video team tonight was eating some after dinner ice cream while he shot what you see below.

This was OK because the only other team member on site is a small black dog. A small black dog who has decided I have sent her back to the puppy mill by putting her is a fenced off area in the living room while her back heals.

This is breaking both our hearts, and this is the context of the studio in which this one was shot.

I woke up this morning determined to make a little video on how to do a nice discreet slipstitch. The way the day developed did not lend itself to production prep.

At 8:30 am a friend came over to discuss a former job where her #Metoo testimony made after she couldn't take it anymore led to her boss being finally fired. She visited me on the way down to her old work place for the first time since that all happened. We had to go over that scenario for a few hours.

After she left I made a navy cardigan to wear because I am going to leave for Winnipeg and then Portland this Saturday.

Next I got a call from Miss Scarlett's school to say she had fallen off the monkey bars and had a possible concussion. So I whipped over there and took her down to meet her mother at Emerg. Looks like she is going to be OK but is under observation at home now with her mom who is a nurse and is likely going to hang around here with me while her mom works tomorrow.

As soon as I got home from the hospital my husband came home early to see if I would run over and play a little golf with him - he has a bad hip, going to set the wheels in motion for a hip replacement appointment tomorrow - and when he feels he can he wants to play golf.

All of this is to explain why my video is stitched on a remnant laid out on a somewhat still damp pillow case from the line.

So what's the point?

The point is that the next time you feel your life is not Pinterest worthy or particularly organized or even not even remotely organized and your mind is feeling more or less frazzled that's perfectly OK.

And perfectly OK that if in the middle of all of that you just tune out and start thinking about sewing.

That is actually what, to me, sewing represents in any sane person's life, and what - in addition to how to do a slip stitch, is what this video is about. 

Real life.


Monday, May 7, 2018

Basic hand sewing stitches: #1 the stitch no sewer should use

I had an interesting conversation with a friend about a year ago during which she said that she didn't think beginning sewers should not sit down at a machine until they had learned to sew by hand first.

I knew that this idea had great merit.

My friend's own mother is a superb Hungarian trained dressmaker, but I also knew that there is a slim to none chance of that happening often these days.

The truth is that so many wonderful and accomplished sewers do not enjoy hand sewing at all - largely because they find the results disappointing. In fact very recently a true sewing powerhouse I know told me she was putting off finishing a beautiful kimono because the instructions called for the band to be hand stitched down. 

She dreaded the thought.

"It always looks so messy," this wonderful machine stitcher said. "I don't want to ruin it."

Oh my.

I know what's wrong here of course. 

Almost none of us are being educated by the nuns these days, and I believe most nuns are more interested in social justice than handwork  anyway, and also the best most instruction sheets offer is are directives to "sew down by hand or machine" without any really explanation of what that hand sewing should be done.

So I am here tonight to tell you why hand sewing is one of the great pleasures of garment sewing. It is certainly one of the easiest and most satisfying. Someone needs to tell you that.

So before you click me off let me tell you why learning to do a few hand stitches is really a great idea.

1. Once you have the idea for a few stitches down hand sewing is definitely one of sewing's most relaxing activities. I love getting to a hand sewing part, it means I can turn off my brain as well as my machine, put my feet up and watch Netflix. Hand sewing is the meditation side of sewing, the breathe in and breathe out part. It's watching the clouds of fitting issues drift by. It's acknowledging that you put that sleeve in the wrong way 14 times and then letting it go. It's releasing the fact that you started this project by cutting out two left fronts and bringing your mind back to the present moment. Needle in and needle out. 

Get my drift?

2. Hand sewing gives you so much more control. You, or at least I, move slow. Much slower than a machine and certainly much slower than a serger. Now I am not ever going to go all totally Alabama Chainling on you and hand stitch an entire garment, but the ability to put in a few hand stitches here and there to get the job done is just so much more reasonable than trying to see that little bit of fabric under that presser foot and moving needle and hoping for the best. I like to put in zippers by hand on terrifying fabrics like velvet for this reason for instance.

3. It just looks classier, hems in particular. The control of hand stitching when combined with the easy to master techniques of near invisible stitches makes hemlines in woven fabrics that are just so much nicer than those done quickly by machine.

So all of this is good.

The problem, and we are back to our absent activist nuns here, is there often isn't anyone around to show you how to do it.

So let's move on to what not to do, and in the next sessions of this series move on to what to do.

Make sense?

Exhibit A: the hand stitch you shouldn't use:


This of course is the sort of hand stitching most of us start out with when we sort of improvise our way around hemming.

Over and under stitches seem reasonable to do and feel natural in your hand.

But it's not hemming kiddo or slipstitching at all.

In fact what you see here is a variation of what old school sewing types call a whip stitch or an overcast stitch - something that is exactly that - a way to go round and round a raw edge to encase it - a sort of pre-industrial manual serging technique.

Couture dressmaking still overcasts seam allowances by hand. 

For a long time home sewers did too- in the days before the invention of pinking shears and the zig zag stitch, and stuff like cake mixes, company recipes that called for cans of mushroom soup, and afternoon bridge parties played on card tables set up in living rooms with bowls of something actually called Bridge Mix all laid out.

In those days before the modern life just described the main way to finish a raw edge was with the a whip or overcast stitch. This was something I rediscovered when inspecting my mother's wool going away suit - full Dior New Look style with a giant horsehair interlined circle skirt and a tight peplum jacket with a a peter pan collar. There were about 75 miles of seams in that suit and every seam allowance was finished like the picture above.

That's how this stitch should be used and not for much else other than finishing seams that I can think of right now. 

OK I have done the part of saying more or less there are only rare occasions where a stitch that looks like the above should be used, but it would also be reasonable to also say why.

1. As a construction stitch the whip stitch just looks messy. It is probably, for that reason, why you don't like your hems, this is what you are looking at.

2. There is too much vulnerable exposed thread here, not at all secured by the structure of the stitch, and these threads will catch and break. If you suffer from hanging down hemitis this stitch might be to blame.

But not to worry.

Before we get out of here over the next week or so I am going to share some really nifty hand stitches that both work really well and look really nice.

In the meantime I will leave you with a video of something you already know how to do - how to knot the end of a sewing thread - with a dressmaker's knot.

Your entertainment for the evening.


How to knot a sewing thread

Booksellers

My sister the librarian has just left this morning, she and her husband were in town for her MIL's memorial, which was beautiful, and she reminded me of something important about books.

Although I have a link to Amazon at the top of this page to my book this is not the only place to buy it. Recommend it to libraries she said, purchase it at a local bookstore, or investigate other online sellers too.

Good point. 

There are of course too many booksellers to list here but a quick search of retailers, storefront and virtual, in your own community and country might be worth doing too.

Now off to do some cutting now my company is gone and thinking over this evening's post on the one hand stitch no sewer should use.

Been waiting a while to talk about that one.

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.