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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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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Nurture their nature

I think every mother knows that one day her time as perfect in her child's eyes will be up. 

Every mother, no matter how hard she tries, knows full well that if one of the kids ever goes to therapy as an adult the first thing the shrink is going to say is "tell me about your mother."  Whatever goes wrong in the future we all know that the string will be followed back to us.

Daughters in particular have an extremely clear eye about ways in which their mothers can improve. For instance today mine mentioned to me that I was a very intense person and they all know that. 


She must have seen me with a seam ripper in my hand at 11:00 pm.

She also says some very nice things to me too, which I like to think are as accurate as the above.

One thing she tells me is that I nurtured their nature, meaning the three of my children are all very different and I noticed this.

Now we both know there is very little difference between sewing and life. One informs the other.

Fabrics are like children.

It seems to me that too often we proceed as if completely different fabrics should behave the same way.

"I never had this trouble with your brother getting him to do his homework."

And of course this approach works about as well for fabrics as it does for kids.

Case in point.

A few weeks ago I made a Rockford Raglan out of some weird but wonderful crinkly grey tissue knit. I was doing some assembly line sewing at the time, under pressure to get some tops made before I went on a little trip. As a result I whacked on a neckband to this fabric just like the neckbands I successfully had put on a few other shirts.

Somewhere in the back of my mind when I did this was a little voice saying "this fabric is super light, are you sure this is a good idea?"

At the time I was not in a slowing down mood so I ignored that voice.

The neckband was of course not very nice. I persuaded myself that the rippling was simply the result of the wrinkles in the fabric and not operator error.

However I wore this top yesterday and that neckline bothered me all day.

So last night I cut it off just before bed. 

Below is exactly why this neckband didn't work and evidence that I should have known better. See how all that heavy serging overworked the fabric? 

Exhibit A:

Honestly Babs. 

I should be ashamed to show you this. I make a lot of sacrifices for the educational value of this blog.

A complication of this surgery was that I was left with a top that was crazy terrible with a wide open neck that would never fit on my chicken neck and shoulders. 

Exhibit B:

Remind me to learn how to take a selfie. How are you actually supposed to do it when the phone is in front of you? A learning task for another day apparently.

After this bit of drama I went to bed and couldn't sleep.  I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do with this hacked up top now.

When I got up this morning I had an idea.

My idea was to nurture the random floaty fabric of this top  with my one remaining remnant and put in a cowl neckline. I figured this would bridge the opening and my neck, and let the fabric sort of be fluffy like it wanted to be. 

Here is the result as photographed by my granddaughter this afternoon.

And here is the full view:

A shout out to my photographer. I asked her if she had time to take my picture. 

Scarlett said "Babs I am a kid, I always have time." 

She did however want me to explain that this messy wrinkled fabric is supposed to look like this. She doesn't want you to think I am a person who doesn't know when something needs to be ironed.

And here she is, a kid who always has time and has heard of ironing:

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Exit of skinny leg pants

The title says it all.

After years and years of narrow leg stretch woven pants and long tops worn to cover what these pants reveal I have decided to totally embrace wider, even shorter, pants.

I needed some new pants anyway and this seemed like a good time for an update.

The first thing I did is dig out the very first StyleArc pattern I ever made, the Linda pants. Some time ago I decided that the widish classic leg of these pants was insufficiently stylish for a Nova Scotia fashionista like myself, so I put this pattern aside when I went narrower like everyone else.

It was however a terrific pattern with that trademark Stylearc crotch curve that fits me without any alteration at all. It also has that smooth elastic containing waistband that lies as flat as any regular waistline. I am glad I saved this pattern.

However in a mild updating of it I made them a bit shorter this time out. To tell you the truth I am happy to let go of that look we were supposed to have with heels and hems grazing the floor.

Listen if you live where I do and a lot of the year is spent sloshing around up to your ankles in frozen slush and on salted roads. That super long leg look was never too practical in my world. In fact when I saw pant hems were going up my first thought was "Great no more arriving at the party with salt stains on the dress pants." Fellow Maritimers back me up here.

The kids and my daughter took the pictures. It's probably not hard to figure out which ones were taken by an 8 and 10-year-old.

The top is the Love Notions Classic Tee.

For a foray into wide leg 7/8 length pants I tried Stylearc's Como pant. I made mine in ponte and didn't include the tie thing draping down over my belly. The top here is another version of the Love Notions Rockford Raglan, which I think has a slight and obviously inappropriate maternity vibe, but still OK I hope.

For some reason I think that these wide pants look better when they are a little shorter. Maybe cropping them off keeps the volume from being overwhelming. What do you think?

Not crazy exciting sewing I know, but these are basics and I needed some of those as sort of ballast in the old wardrobe. I will definitely be making more of these, the wide pants in particular. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A simple little weather idea

I am facing the fact these days that summer is over. 

The leaves falling off the trees, the groups of children on the sidewalks back at school, and myself in a warm and dry coat when I walk the dog are my first clues.

This week as the weather has spent a while looking like it is about to rain. As a result I have been glad I have a coat with a detachable hood I can stuff in my purse for emergencies. I can see putting something like this in a backpack for a kid too.

It's a simple idea and one you have probably already thought of but here's mine edition.

To make a detachable hood all you need is a pattern with a view with a hood and one without, with just a collar.

I used the Jalie City Coat:

I made my own coat in some softshell with a fleece backing on the inside. Very practical, warm, dry, and cozy. The coat I made had just the collar, much like the one pictured above.

I then made the hood as a separate item and hemmed it. Next I sewed some of those big snaps that are now available, three of them, a set on the under collar where they don't show, and on the hood.

Here's how that looks:

Pretty simple really but one of those practical manoeuvres a person who sews her own clothes can make.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Flypaper thoughts tray edition

  • Today I officially finished my Hallowe'en sewing
  • The baby flamingo costume has arrived in San Francisco for the youngest
  • Complete with a crocheted hat with a crooked beak
  • Swerved it a bit so it wouldn't fall between her eyes
  • Anika is going to be busy enough putting the fluorescent feathers in her mouth

  • Finished a Flash costume for the five-year-old boy.
  • Oh to be so young and innocent 
  • That a sweatsuit pattern made from red ponte scraps with some yellow zig zags straight stitched on can make a person race around at top speed
  • "Did you know Babsie that when I run I can feel a cloud of air behind me?"
  • That such magic can be created from just this

  • Made a black cape with a hood and a mohair skirt from some black wool I once had high ambitions for
  • Found black elbow length gloves for a ten-year-old (terrified I was going to have to make those) at Value Village
  • And bought black tulle for a veil
  • So that pre-teen can feel both terrifying and cool
  • Made a filly apron and hat for our baker
  • With a giant pocket in the front for loot
  • And found 1. a toy tray and a mug that we glued marshmallows on and 2. Japanese sugar marshmallows that look like donuts
  • All glue gunned to the tray
  • A person hits a strange season of life when they don't miss a former profession and job
  • But they are thrilled out of their minds to have found fake donuts 
  • Maybe I haven't left something but am returning somewhere
  • Am going to make bound buttonholes tomorrow
  • A soft boiled wool jacket would be violated by machine buttonholes
  • Had to get Hallowe'en done early because I am going to Winnipeg to see my mom next week
  • Forgot to ask if the snow was melted
  • The one city I never get lost in
  • Has the geography of a Monopoly Board
  • Do the police on Portage still wear Buffalo coats in the winter?
  • They did when we were kids
  • What did those coats weigh 100 pounds?

  • Yup that's my background
  • Created people who are very resourceful
  • But without any sense they could actually move somewhere else
  • If they had sense
  • A place where your lungs can freeze in the winter if you breath too deeply
  • Where my sister once froze her cheeks solid while we were playing
  • I remember the white circles on her face
  • I was supposed to bring her in then but didn't
  • A place where people say things like
  • Well Joyce lost her legs to cancer but you know she still got her canning done
  • Of course she did
  • A place where no one was allowed to sleep in
  • And you saved it for good
  • And the liquor was kept in the linen closet behind the towels 
  • In case the grandparents came over
  • And we wore our Hallowe'en costumes over our snow suits
  • So they had to be made big
  • And I once won a city wide competition for a Little Bo Peep costume
  • To go with the lamb costume my sister wore
  • That my mother made while lying on the couch recovering from a miscarriage
  • Which is exactly why I retired to crochet a flamingo hat
  • And to glue gun Japanese sweets to a plastic tray
  • It makes perfect sense

Friday, October 11, 2019

Jalie's new Rachel top

Yesterday Jalie released a new pattern, the Rachel and I made it up to wear to a presentation I gave to the Atlantic Sewing Guild. 

I used a lovely wool and bamboo jersey that is so comfortable - keeping with my wear what is comfortable theme. The pants BTW are Jalie's pull-ons, cut shorter in my attempt to be somewhat updated.

This top is so much simpler than it looks. It was a comfortable half an afternoon sew, start to finish. Essentially this is a basic T with a crew neck or mock turtle option, with a sort of an extension on one side that is sewn into a tube and then pulled across to the opposite side seam and basted in so it is captured when that seam is sewn.

Nothing to it.

I was hesitant about this style as I am wary of anything that draws attention to my belly but I found it actually is very midriff disguising.

As a result I will be making more tops and probably a dress or two from this pattern.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Flypaper thoughts company gone home edition

  • Had a really spectacular September
  • Family company from Ontario, the US, and England
  • Loved it all
  • Reminded me that I have no need for personal space
  • Grew up like that
  • Pretty sure I was 35 before I was in a room by myself
  • I remember my mother when we had visitors
  • "They're in there by themselves in the living room!"
  • "Quick someone go in and talk to them."
  • I am going to be going to visit my mother later this new month
  • We will talk
  • In the meantime I am gearing up for my busy season
  • Hallowe'en costumes then Christmas
  • As soon as I finish here it's back to crocheting a baby flamingo hat
  • Mysteries of the universe
  • Why do crochet patterns always call for synthetic or blend yarn and knitting patterns always call for expensive yarn?
  • Maybe crochet would be less stiff if natural fibres were used
  • Quick I need Netflix recommendations
  • What's with the categories?
  • Who wants something that is in the actual category of "suburban disfunction"?
  • Gee grab the popcorn
  • Where is the category of "funny and interesting with no violence or anybody being sad?"
  • Just finished Derry Girls which was ideal but now over
  • Where's the category of "good for crocheting baby hats where you don't need a pattern?"
  • Or "Suitable for people doing hems in bed with a dog lying on their legs?"
  • Or series that are "good enough to watch but won't keep you awake when that episode is done or make you watch so much in one night that you have to tell your spouse in the morning you shouldn't have stayed up?"
  • Speaking of which
  • My husband had a dream last night, a bad one
  • He broke a broom
  • That was it
  • The bad part
  • Are our lives getting too quiet?
  • But better than the one when he woke up and thought I was a raccoon
  • A very Canadian dream that one
  • This week I am having friend come to sew days
  • Hosted in my basement
  • Love those days
  • May sneak in something for myself before I start sewing pink feathers onto a tiny cape
  • Need something new for the fall
  • We raccoons can't let ourselves go
  • Got to give the bigger kids time to settle into their choices
  • I once made one son a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde costume
  • Split right down the middle 
  • A suit jacket on one side and a shirt on the other
  • Etc.
  • Thought it was brilliant
  • Then kid came home and said he would rather be a robber like his friends
  • You know T shirt and carry a pillow case and have a mask
  • Not that I didn't forgive him
  • Telling you this story 25 years later proves that
  • Once again I will be the Cat in the Hat
  • It's one hell of a hat
  • And I need a return on my investment
  • Unlike Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • Wonder if that's on Netflix?

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Two weightless raglan tops

Many years ago I proposed I think twice to David Page Coffin when he was working as an incomparable editor at Threads, that I write an article on sewing for comfort.

I thought and still think this is an interesting and important topic.  After all the clothes we really wear are those that are comfortable - so why don't we consider this more as a deciding factor when we sew? However no one but me thought this was a good idea for an article, but I have held on to the idea since. I still think this is something we should think about.

I am often struck by my mother's beautiful 1950s suits and dresses with how every heavy they are. That 12 panel wool skirt completely underlined with horse hair ... well you might as well be wearing the horse blanket IMO.

So whenever I can I try to find fabrics that are as weightless as possible, but still durable to put on this body.

Ans due to my far flung children, I also travel a lot. I need light clothes.

This weight restriction and paying for your checked baggage thing has got totally out of hand. All it has left us with are these two things:

1. We now all have to travel in the baggage department, with folks trying to shove steamer trunk sized "carry-ons" in the glove compartment over our heads.

2. Nothing has suddenly become really heavy and really heavy costs about an extra $40 in excess baggage fees. And no one listens to you at all when you tell them they don't understand because you have nothing in that bag, not counting the shoes that match, a big housecoat in case there is a fire in the hotel and you have to spend the night in the lobby with strangers, a few patterns to look over, and some knitting to keep you entertained during long conversations with people you have come a long way to see. How heavy can just that be?

Which brings to my sister's quilt.

The fabric I used to make these two weightless tops was bought in Portland Oregon last spring while at Quilt Mart to promote my book on garment sewing at my publisher's request. When I was there I saw a lot of quilts that I knew my quilting sister would appreciate, and spent a lot of time walking around and talking to people who told me they didn't sew clothes, because that was too hard.

But they could quilt, which I cannot. It is pretty much all the focus I am capable of to sew two sleeves not one. I am sure glad two arms is all I got. Yet quilters can sew 580 pieces of fabric back together again and not get overwhelmed and do a good job of it.

The tiny stitches those folks can make are amazing. A wall hanging one of my sisters made for me recently is proof of hat.

Here is the story. 

I have a scarf from Japan a couple of the kids brought back for me last winter after a trip.The pattern is stylized apricots.  Since the Japanese word for apricot is the same as my youngest granddaughter's name, Anika, I decided I wanted to do more with this scarf than just wear it.

So my sister Dawn in Ottawa made a whole quilt wall hanging for me with it. I completely love it and her for doing this.

Here are her crazy small stitches:

And here is me standing beside the quilt in weightless and packable raglan sleeve (most comfortable sleeve in my opinion) top #1.

The pattern is this one from Jalie, the Marie-Claude, sort of a sport top, and you can see how loose the sleeves are, cut for movement at the armhole even though the sleeves themselves are fairly narrow, like a base layer. This is some sort of weird puckered cotton/rayon/lycra and weighs about the same as a teabag. It also will not show any suitcase wrinkles at all which will be handy.

Weightless top #2 is made from another novelty fabric, this one a sort of pre-wrinkled number that looks like the all those discarded pieces of tissue paper that are all over the living room floor Christmas morning. It has silver threads running through the grey.

Because this was so wrinkled and odd and floaty I tried out a new pattern for me, another comfort raglan, this one Love Notions's Rockford Raglan. I really loved this pattern. It has a nice fit through the shoulders and sleeves but does ease up a lot over the belly - perfect for fabric with real drape. I wish I had used this pattern over the summer when I was in the market for tops that didn't cling.

All the Love Notions tops also come with an optional full bust front pattern piece, which saves you from having to alter the pattern with your own FBA. I made a medium here but used the full bust front piece.

You good sewers with your eagle eyes will notice right away that the neckband pulls in a lot. I personally did a lot of stressing about this, took it off, re-sewed it, pressed, top stitched the seam allowance down (something I rarely do) until I had a good look at the fabric and realized that with all those built-in wrinkles (more apparent in the fabric on the front of this top) I was crazy not to respect that quality and accept the fact this fabric was not meant to lie smooth. I just had to let this fabric be who it was.

Plus I can wear a necklace, or a cardigan over this or, and this is my go-to, really bright pink lipstick to distract the eye.

At any rate even if you might think that this top looks like something I have pulled out of the bottom of the bin I am going to wear it a lot - just so breezy and comfortable.

Love it.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Fall Moto jacket

I hate to admit it but summer is over. We went golfing today and there were deer on the course and red leaves here and there in the trees.

I have made my first fall jacket.

For a change, and because of the wider leg pants that are coming our way, I made a boiled wool version moto jacket.

Here's the pattern:

It's a nicely drafted pattern with a slightly longer, as in below waist, length and an interesting back. The only real change I made was to use my own easy way method for welt pockets (remind me to detail that when I have more time) rather than  small and fussy pattern pieces that IMO don't account for turn of cloth.

Here are some detail shots:

And some shots on me. 

Note I didn't include the snaps because I wanted to wear this several different ways and snapping and unsnapping I felt would be a nuisance. Plus there was enough body in this collar for it to stand close to the body without the snaps.

I will probably wear this with pants or a grey dress but since I haven't made those yet this is what you get. I have also left the pictures large here and foliage heavy because these were taken in my daughter's back yard, which I love - it opens right onto a park strip.

I wasn't sure how much I would like this jacket. I was worried it would be too much on my middle but I actually am pretty happy with it. It makes me feel somewhat cool and since I am not the least bit cool, that's a good thing I figure.

I have currently 8 other pieces of grey shade fabric on the line or in the dryer and as I sit here at my picnic table. I wonder what I should make of them all.

Occasionally I get up and reach up and feel them as they wave in the breeze and try to figure out what they want to be. I guess we will see.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Family time in Nova Scotia

I have been absent from the blog for a while because lately I have had a lot of family to be present for. Both of my sons were here with their wives and girlfriends (I refuse to say partner, to me that is a title that should be reserved for some guy named Morty who does the books in the other room). My youngest granddaughter was also in from California with her parents, so I had all four grandchildren in town.

I did a lot of cooking and a lot of babysitting if you can call it that. 

Like many families important parts of ours are now operating as branch offices. But given that reality I feel we do a pretty good job of keeping it together.

I had few thoughts about families this week. 

But before I share those here is a shot of my two sons and, on the left a new girlfriend from Austin we really, really like and my daughter-in-law from California, wearing a dress I made for her. This picture was taken at a wedding, on a beach naturally:

Having everyone home and together really made me feel completely whole. Such a good start to my fall. I have had a lucky life.

As I walked that baby or rinsed off one more plate I thought about how time changes families and how it doesn't.

I used to think the years my children were all at home, and for a short time believed I knew everything and could do anything, were the best years of my life. When things have got challenging there have been so many times when I have wished I had one of those days back. 

You know the ones. Everyone safe and asleep in their beds. Any problems that come up it is always something you can fix. Well now everyone is grown up I know that isn't true any more. When I walk down my hallway at night it is past empty bedrooms.

But this past week, when I felt so complete, it occurred to me that families are like rivers. They have a current. They flow inevitably and properly in one direction, from the oldest towards the youngest. You have to understand that. 

It seems to me that riding with that force makes it all the best years of your life. It have noticed that when troubles come into families it is often because someone isn't respecting that flow- the mother who wants to still be the big cheese, the adult offspring who reaches backwards and tries to be a child. It seems to me that as long as everyone is doing the best they can to help the next youngest along it will all be fine.

It's also important to let new people join in. 

One of the great blessings of my life are the people my kids have married. I always used to say my son-in-law was nicer to me than my own children, until my kids told me to stop saying that. He truly is one of my best friends. And when I struggled in the early days with my daughter's MS diagnosis it was my daughter-in-law's wisdom that grounded me and helped me regain my footing. She saved me.

I have had my moments. 

During some hard times I sometimes wished more than anything that I could have just one of those old days back again, when it was just me in my house with my kids. But this past week I held my youngest granddaughter and walked her to sleep. She looked up at me and I saw she looked exactly, exactly like her father did at the same age. Those same eyes looked right back into mine in that dark room. I knew the universe was winking at me.

And I saw the future of my family.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Kraftex picture frames

I will be writing soon on my recent family visits over the last ten days. But right now want to show a little fun project I have been working on between busy times.

I have been framing some vintage sewing pattern envelopes with strips of Kraftex for sewing room decor:

I decided to use strips rather than cutting out a frame because:

1. This was just so much easier. I was in the mood for not expending any great intellectual effort or manual skill. Most of these little units were made when I should have been upstairs peeling potatoes or something.

2. This was a more efficient use of the Kraftex. It's a cool material and I want to preserve every last little bit.

3. I love the appearance of sewing machine stitches and I wanted to have those show.

I used two kinds of Kraftex. 

One was the straight up unwashed version for the backing of pictures:

I used the washed version, the one that looks like leather, for the framing strips. I cut the strips 2 1/2"

Really there aren't any instructions needed for this. But here was my process:

1. I clipped the strips to the perimeter of the backing piece and stitched around the outside edges to hold them still.

2. I slipped the pattern envelope into the frame and then stitched close to the inner edge of the strips with a long stitch length, right through the edge of the pattern envelope. I used my edge-stitching foot for accuracy and to eliminate the having to think factor, which is sometimes nice.  

In one of the envelopes I had to slide it over to disguise a ragged tear, meaning one poor girl got sort of cut off, but I liked the middle outfit best so I can live with that. Hope she can too:

For such a simple little project I am very pleased with myself over these pictures.  To me a fabric store is more exciting than any museum. To me pattern envelopes are art.

I think these pictures are beautiful.

As far as hanging goes I just put on one of the fabric clips I used in construction at the top. The back of the clip has a little hole in it and that's going to be perfect for hanging.

It can be hard to find an easy way to frame the little things that matter. I am thinking now that I am going to do this exact same thing but leave the frame empty and not stitch the top closed so I can hang kid's art on the fridge. 

All I will have to do is glue gun some magnets onto the back. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Fabric and Kraftex quick gifts

I have taken a break before the entire family hits here for 10 days to do some easy sewing. I am taxing this ship slowly onto the holiday season Big Sew runway and thinking of ideas.

One of the things I have decided to do is make a number of quick and easy projects with Kraft-tex for gifts this year.

Yesterday I made a couple of Retreat bags with this wonderful free pattern from Emmaline Bags, two in denim with a coated cotton interior, and one in a most beautiful periwinkle shade of Kraftex.

The fabric version required the body pieces to be interfaced and then fused with fleece for support. I didn't need to do any of this in the Kraftex bag because the Kraftex has so much body it stands up on its own - which eliminates steps and cost. 

I love this pattern so much because the large size is really big, will contain all your gear plus a hairdryer if you carry one, and so easy.

I alway add Emmaline's wonderful zipper ends and pulls because it adds a bit of finish for not much effort. Their website has how to install the zipper ends which are handy if you cut down a longer zipper to make one of these bags.

Kraftex is so durable as well as being easy to sew. My husband and I recorded some hilarious videos last winter that show us testing it, including driving over it on the RV, and it held up well.

Here is a wallet my husband made for me with some scraps a few months ago and I have been really enjoying it because it is so light. Another free pattern. Although it carries exactly what my usual wallet carries I often have to check my purse to see if it my wallet is there because I just can't tell by the weight. BTW Kraftex is machine washable and I see this wallet is due that after a summer spent in the bottom of the swimming pool bag.

I have decided to make a few of these wallets for Christmas and some other things like luggage tags (I always stand there with 80 other people at the carousel looking for a black suitcase). I am also doing picture frames (got some really neat ones in the works, watch for those) and frames for pictures with fridge magnets. The last is a grandmother special because when the kids make a picture I always say "I will put it on my fridge like that was a real honour. I am also going to make some passport/boarding pass holders for family members who are organizationally challenged like I am.

It's fun to work Kraftex too. These will be the little projects I can make when I claim I am off doing something else and want to disappear into my sewing basement for a few minutes...