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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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Friday, July 12, 2019

Woman and ageing

I have been thinking a lot about this subject this week. I am likely going to be writing about it more as we go along.

I have been thinking about a few older women in my life and how they are living this stage of living.

I have been thinking of one older lady who lives alone and is totally dependent on her children for her what to do next, "I go where they take me."

I have been thinking of a woman, nearly eighty, who has had a great career and is now holding on to it with a death grip, to the point that this, not her achievements, will be what she is remembered for.

And I think of my 91 year old mother who as usual is doing what no one expected and lifting her broken leg/hip, walking to the dining room and exhausting herself with physio. She can tell you the life story of everyone in the rehab hospital already.

I am thinking of older women and, realizing in certain dopey circles this might include me, and their choices. Or lack of.

It's worth thinking how women if this generation, and probably all generations, I don't see my female students much different, are reactors in their own lives.

It's pretty easy to do this.

Parents, siblings, friends, men, employers, children all need us to do so much for them. When we spend all that time not letting down everyone else, considering always how they feel, there just isn't a lot of space to even think about what we want.

I had a conversation with my mother a while ago. She told me how totally overwhelmed she was by being a housewife. If I have heard once I have heard about 8 million times how my grandfather and father thought it would make them "look bad" if she worked after marriage as a nurse. That woman hasn't nursed since 1952. If you ask her who she is now, she says nurse.

My mom had four kids and stayed at home with us. She completely hated housework and cooking. That is where the overwhelmed part came from. She says for the life of her she just couldn't figure out how other women did it, kept a well run house. She says she always felt like a failure.

Our neighbour across the street at the time has verified this for me. She herself was always an impeccable housekeeper and tells funny stories of the absolute chaos of my mother's laundry room floor - piled high with dirty clothes and an inactive washing machine.

This woman also told me that her own three kids used to say if anything ever happens to you and dad make sure we are sent across the street because it's really fun over there.

I am thinking this morning of women like my mom and others of her generation and mine and even my daughter's and wonder how often we say, 

"This is what I really want to do."

If we do, we first run it in our minds past all the people our goal might affect, children, parents, friends, and spouses. We then also consider the what ifs, like what if I make a fool of myself, what if it doesn't work, what if I am a failure,  or the classic "what if they are mad?"

How many women:

  • went into a career because the family suggested it?
  • ended up in a job because they hired you and one thing led to another?
  • married someone because they asked and who knows if there would be another offer?
  • stayed in a job, marriage, or relationship because other people would be too disrupted if we didn't?
  • said "no it's OK" when it wasn't?
  • were smarter but smiled at the dumb idea?
Add to the list, you get my drift.

How many women do you know have a bucket list? A real bucket list.

How many women when they suddenly have time to themselves because of life changes or even just the realities of age, get sort of angry because so many people tell them to do what they want or do what they are interested in. They just don't know what that is. They have spent their lives not being that selfish. What are people talking about- do what you want?

The most frightening experience of my teaching career was in a writing class where students were asked to write about an issue they cared about. One 21 year old emailed me in a panic, "I am having real trouble with this assignment because there is nothing I really am interested in, does shopping count?"

As to my mother, who appears to be defying all expectations in rehab, I know why she is doing so well.

She told me.

She just loves hospitals.




Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Two more stress free shirt sewing hints

Hi folks.

There are a few other short tips on stress free shirt sewing that I would like to make sure to pass on. 

The first one, on buttonholes was mentioned in my last week's free newsletter for new and returning sewists (you can sign up by sending me a message through the form at the top of this page), but I think is worth repeating for those who missed it.

First up, shirt plackets.

These aren't too hard if you are methodical about it, but the marking can be a pain. What I do now for any detail the requires precision, like a welt pocket or these plackets, is to trace off the stitching/cutting line markings on tracing paper and pin that directly to the fabric.

Then, using a smaller than normal stitch length because this will make removing the paper easier, I stitch and cut the fabric as required. Note that below I have made these so many times I no longer put in the slash lines within the stitching box but of course you can do that:



Secondly I spray starch the buttonhole area before I make buttonholes in fine fabrics. I find that the dense satin stitching pulls in the fabric. This reduces the cutting area to next to nothing, and the starching eliminates this. Below is a shot of two buttonholes. The larger one at the bottom was made on starched fabric. The small one at the top was made in fabric that had not been starched. Both samples were made in two layers of fabric and one layer of interfacing:



On another note I have revised the instructions for french seaming the shirt in the last post. It appears that I reversed the right/wrong side parts, not surprising if you know my need for good copy editing, and I apologize if there was any confusion.

Finally I got an email yesterday that said one of the best men's shirt patterns I use the All Day Shirt by Liesl is on sale this week, until Saturday, for 50% off with the discount code  July2019 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Stress free shirt sewing: hems and seams

I have a few other details to discuss on how to sew shirts with less stress.

The first of these is how to sew a curved hem. I am not totally happy with the way the hem looks on my son's shirt in the last post (why don't those boys iron more?) but I saw that shirt before it was sent out and it wasn't wavy. The lesson here is that this pattern has a shaped side seam and for a casual shirt on this straight up and down guy I have to remove all curve. And in a casual camp collar style shirt like this one I will do a square shape with vents in the side next time.

Back on topic.

The curved shirt hem is a difficult one for most sewing folks. The straight parts at the front and back are easy, they are on grain, but once you get to the curved places at the side the grain moves off to something closer to bias and under the action of pressing and sewing it can so easily stretch and bow out. 

There is a lot of good advice out there about stay-stitching etc. to avoid this, but my nerves are something I like to restore, not erode. So when I sew so this is what I do instead.

I hem the fronts and the back of the shirt before I sew the side seams. 

The reasons for doing this are:

  • It is easier to press and sew up one small hem at a time
  • Any bias that exists, even if I elect to stay-stitch (I don't always do this in high thread count stable shirt fabrics) is pushed towards the side seam and I can trim it off before sewing those seams
  • This is the way many ready-to-wear shirts are made - look for a little patch many RT
The process is simple:
  1. I press up the hem allowance, turning the raw edge under on both front and back pieces before I do anything else to them, like sew on the front bands. These pressing lines are good markers.
  2. I sew the bands onto the shirt, but before I topstitch them down I fold them back and sew along the bottom, just like you would at the bottom of a facing in a blouse. I turn and press this to the right side and then top stitch the bands in place.
  3. I then stitch the hems, following my previous pressing marks.
Now to the seams, sleeve and side.

I don't serge any of my seams in my shirts. Yes it is fast and easy but I feel it is part of the culture of shirt-making, all other construction is enclosed with yokes, bands etc. to have all raw edges, even those covered by serging, hidden.

Of course the standard is to make flat felled seams, and I have made a lot of those with a felling foot, but that kind of work, particularly when you get to the tricky step two of edge-stitching down a raw edge, is nerve-wracking.

And we are sewing stress free right?

So after much experimentation I have decided to use french seams for my shirts, two different ways, and to top stitch them to look like flat felled, mimicking the appearance of RTW shirt seams.

To set in the sleeves- a conventional french seam:

  1. Make a french seam, step one wrong sides together, step two and final stitching from the inside.
  2. Top stitch close to the folded edge of the encased seam, which will give the appearance of a single line of topstitching from the right side. Note how this eases in the extra bulk of the sleeve cap but keeps this hidden from the right side:


To sew the side seams- a french seam done in reverse with the encased seam in on the outside:
  1. Make a french seam, step one right sides together, step two and final stitching from the outside- this will catch the hem allowances.
  2. Press the encased seam allowance to the back of the shirt and top stitch close to the folded edge, giving the appearance of a flat felled seam.

Here is how this looks at hem level, from the wrong side.

First before the final top stitching is done:


And then after the final top stitching is done on the right side:


Done and not at all stressful.