Sewing with less stress Front

Sewing with less stress Front
My newest sewing book

Sewing with less stress back cover

Sewing with less stress back cover
What my new book is about

Clothesmaking mavens

Clothesmaking mavens
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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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Saturday, January 2, 2021

How to sew on a button

Now I know no one who reads this blog needs to know how to sew on a button.

That said I am well aware that there are lots of folks who never had to develop skills like this.

For those missing button people I decided to do a video. My husband, who is playing around with iMovie decided to "produce" it. We both had fun.

Thursday, December 31, 2020


 2020 has been a great year for understanding what really matters.

It has also been an important year for truly understanding the things in life you can do without.

When you think about it those are two pretty important realities. Can't think of many of us who would not be better off having faced these things.

The list of things that, as they say, don't really serve who I am now, is long. 

The list of things that matter to me is very specific:

  • my family
  • my animals
  • my sewing
  • my part of the world
  • my friends
  • folks I run into and chat with - I am a social person, casual contact is important to me
  • learning new things

That's it.

We have all been waiting for a new year, or more specifically to declare this one over. 

For the first time I am seriously thinking of what I can do to make sure I keep 2021 focused on the list above - there have been enough detours and distractions in life.

There will be more on my ordinary life in later posts I am sure but this morning I am thinking of my sewing.

2020 was a sewing intensive year for me. 

I really got into sewing wardrobes for other people, my daughter and mom for example. I will continue to do that and am adding in a few folks, my niece is pregnant now and I want to make her some maternity clothes.

Some of my 2020 sewing was of the sample variety. In this last year I also wrote another book. 

I see it is on Amazon already for pre-order (I don't completely understand why) although it won't be released and available until August 2021. Publishing is a complicated and slow process.

Writing this book, essentially a collection of my handy hints, during a pandemic was an entirely weird experience. 

I made most of the samples in lockdown, in a period when the fabric stores were closed and mail order very, very slow. I had originally planned to hit Stonemountain in Berkeley and the garment district in NYC during our last winter's trip to get great fabric. Instead last winter we high tailed it out of Texas and came straight home when Trudeau called us all back to the mothership. I had to drive by the garment district and cancel a trip to Berkeley to see the kids. That was hard.

Once home I started to work on the sewing side of the book. The publisher had  come up with the interesting, and good idea, of colour coding the samples for each chapter. So in addition to scrambling to find suitable fabrics in my house, I also had to make do with what I could in terms of the right colour. 

I am very happy with the ideas in this book but regret that, due to the circumstances, in a few places I had to make do with less than ideal fabric. Poly cotton just doesn't press as well as all cotton for example, but what was a girl to do? In my case carry on.

I was very lucky however that despite the pandemic I had huge support from my people.

The studios at the publisher's in California were closed and the departments who had worked on my first book sent home. As a result to meet our deadline my husband stepped in and did the process shots. A friend on my daughter's street did the model shots and family and friends were my models. Another friend lent me her store for the cover shot (thank you Chris at Patch) and my 6 year-old grandson suggested I put a semi-permanent in my hair (something I regret seeing the cover now) so I did have a stylist.

In the end I hope that something in this book will be useful to someone. That is really is all I care about.

So after a 2020 that was all about sewing focused on other people, family members and the sewing community, I am going to give myself more time to sew just for myself in the new year.

Specifically I am going to do more challenging projects and get into the process more. It has been a while since I have been able to do that. My wardrobe has also reached a place where I don't exactly need a lot so I can afford to experiment.

There is no plan right now other than giving myself the luxury to sew in a more adventurous way, and that's pretty much my only resolution.  I am going to think of 2021 as our collective recovery and applying lessons learned year.

Now over to you.

What are your own thoughts for 2021?

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Follow up on the Big 4 and printing issues

Thank you to all who responded to my last post. There is a lot to think about here.

For a start let's talk about the failure of the printing capabilities at the plant in Kansas.

I have to say I don't really buy this story. Here's why:

1. The malware/computer issue occurred in October. Any winter/holiday pattern collections would be well on their way then - and surely printed for shipment to the stores or ready for online direct customer orders. An October printing problem would impact the spring collections maybe, not winter or holiday.

Note too that Vogue and Kwik Sew was still able to produce slim collections - but were there ever any intention to offer winter/holiday collections for Butterick or McCalls? 

2. Assuming that there were some patterns for this season in the works in all pattern lines, what would be stopping the companies from making .pdf versions available so as not to lose market share? 

Since any patterns would be designed in CAD formats it should have in fact been easier to switch, even for the duration of the printing issue, to .pdfs than hold out for paper.

3. Where are the updates? Where is the customer relations? Do any of us really believe that a viable business could not get a software issue fixed within this time frame, particularly if not doing so would cost money?

What's with this crazy story that the computers wouldn't even turn on? Are these the only computers available on the planet? Are we to believe that these large pattern collections were not backed up and accessible from other machines (even I have my own stuff backed up on the Cloud). 

I have never worked in any office that did not back up the servers. If the printers still worked, and the problem as described was a software not a mechanical issue, then why couldn't the files be downloaded to new computers and sent to the printers? What century are we in?

This is how this whole story is feeling to me:

  • the funds are not available or made available to fix the issues and get production going again. Obviously the cost benefit analysis of fixing the problem wasn't there. No one was losing much money if these idle printers just sat there.
  • Butterick and McCalls are being fazed out anyway. This is a well timed exit strategy.
Further thoughts.

I am not a conspiracy theorist. In fact those folks make my head explode.

However I have common sense, most of the time, and hopefully can still add 2+2 and get 4. That's what I think I am doing here.

I have some sympathy for the company. After all this is exactly what happened to newspapers - an area I have worked in. Print newspapers, like print patterns I guess, stopped making financial sense years ago. In fact there is a town in Nova Scotia, Liverpool, that used to produce the newsprint for the Washington Post. That order was cancelled long ago and that plant, and much of the town, closed down too.

These things happen, times change. I get that.

But I am seeing something else at play here.

Not caring.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I know people who have retired once they knew they just didn't care as much any more (one was my old doctor who I give full credit for his honesty). I even know people who find it hard to care about anything much at all (my most horrifying moment of my teaching career was a student who when asked to write about something she cared about, said well I am not sure I am interested in or care about anything).

Let's be honest we have all reached the point at some time in our lives when we stopped caring about something that used to matter. Often this is a good thing, if what we cared about a lot, if for example, what was what other people think. But it is a terrible thing to have a business or an occupation where you really don't care about the product. How does it feel to acquire a line you don't have much interest in, or have customers for that line that don't really matter to you? Tires, or shovels or sewing patterns, it's all the same to you.

That's what the Big 4 feel like to me these days, like they don't care anymore.

Which is too bad, because when it comes to sewing, I still do.

A lot.

BTW thanks to Vintage Sewing Patterns for posting the link. It was nice to see good pattern design again.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The future of the big paper pattern companies

If you have a collection of Big 4 paper patterns it might be a good thing to hold on to them.

Some of these patterns were very good. However right now it seems to me that the future of the brands we have all used for so long is wobbly at best. 

Now I am a big believer, not much choice, in change being the only constant. But it does make me sad to know that the future of the patterns I have sewed from my whole life appears to be insecure.

Now the Big 4 -Vogue, McCalls, Butterick and Simplicity- (the first three now owned by one outfi)t are no longer stand alone sewing pattern companies. Instead they seem to be the holdings of other entities whose business seems often to be what they used to be called "sundries." We, the sewists, are no longer who they really are about.

Maybe the idea of a big centralized pattern company has had its time. Maybe it's the turn of smaller, more nimble companies (some not so good, some excellent) to take over. Maybe this is all OK and part of the industry's reconfiguring itself naturally.

But I wonder where these companies will be the end of this coming year.

Simplicity/New Look/printed Burda

Now I can only speak to these patterns based on what I can see online. A number of years ago Simplicity and New Look decided not to sell in Canada anymore. For this I won't ever quite forgive them. We are next door and we sew a lot up here.

That said, despite a completely annoying and hard to sort through website, Simplicity and New Look seem to be doing a decent job of keeping up with current tastes in clothes. They don't offer a huge selection but they seem to be fairly competitive design wise to the Indies and I do love their persistent offering of vintage patterns. I can see they are making an effort to be relevant and I appreciate that.

I wonder though how long that will last given the gift store orientation of the other products their parent company owns.

Vogue/Butterick/McCalls/Kwik Sew

Wow just wow. 

It seems to me that corporate has more or less given up on Butterick and McCalls. Both those lines had slim Fall season offerings (10 and 9 new patterns respectively) but neither offered anything at all for Winter or Holiday!

Are you kidding me? 

There have always been winter, holiday, early spring by this time in the calendar. Have the staff all been laid off? Things on hold until they figure it out?

And this doesn't even discuss the fact that those fall patterns were about as recycled and ordinary as they could get. 

At this rate I wouldn't be surprised if these lines have faded away by summer. 

Kwik Sew, once a wonderful flagship brand for those who like to sew knits, seems to be rebranded as a sort of craft pattern company. Fine if you sew clothes for dogs and dolls, not so much if you want to sew for yourself - aprons excepted. There is not one garment pattern in the Spring or Winter/Holiday Kwik Sew catalogue.

Which leaves us with Vogue. 

Vogue used to be the home for those marvellous designer patterns we all used. Like it's sister companies Vogue offered little this season - only 12 new patterns in the winter/holiday combo and of course the designer patterns are totally gone.

To give them credit among this slim collection there were some real meaty patterns for real sewists - nice to see after the innumerable easy, similar tee shirts, and pullover dresses in so many Indie lines.

I really hope we can continue to see challenging patterns like these, something for a sewist to think about as well as make, available to us:

So from where I sit we might get to the new year with only Vogue and the Simplicity group producing patterns, with Kwik Sew continuing to go deeper into crafts.

It shouldn't be a surprise. Three pattern companies in one portfolio is a lot unless they are branded to be very different. That didn't happen.

There were some things however that the pattern companies could have done to help themselves. 

At the top of my list would have been:

1. Overhauling fit. What's with the completely dissimilar to RTW fit? Personally I have no patience left for making Big 4 patterns that turned out to be humungous and completely unlike the line art on the envelopes.

2. Better instructions. Instructions needed to be updated to contemporary techniques and machines. Why are for knits patterns still being issued without reference to sergers? What's with the double straight stitched seams instead? Enough with the cut and paste guide sheets apparently composed of instructions written originally years, if not decades, ago.

What do you think? 

Where do you think the big paper pattern companies are going and what, if anything could they do to turn it around? 

And should they?

I'm listening.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Watertower textiles

 Like most of you I have been sewing a lot from my stash this last year. It is amazing how much I have squirrelled away and how long I can keep sewing from it.

That said I don't always have exactly what I need and most particularly don't often have what I need for the wide variety of family members I sew for. I have gaps to fill.

Also this year I have needed some treats. We have done really well here in Nova Scotia staying clear of this virus, but we have done it with a far degree of prudence and isolation. Many days are just like the day before or the day after - at home, in the routine.

So this year I went on the search for some new online fabric sources and a bit of excitement.

By far my favourite new discovery has been Watertower Textiles in Leamington Ontario. They are very strong on knits, which I sew a lot, and have incredible quality for the price.

Their bamboo fleece is the nicest I have ever sewn. I have made many sweat shirt tops and jogger pants from it. In fact in the middle of Christmas dinner my SIL asked if I could get some to make him a sweatshirt from it, just like the one I made my daughter. This was the fabric I used in many of the joggers I posted pictures of a while back.

I also got this really wonderful cable knit from them I used to make this version of the Boyfriend cardigan from Love Notions.

So as a treat to myself this fall I indulged myself and signed up for a monthly subscription box. 

The clincher for me was that if you have signed up for the subscription box any fabric you order from them during the month has the option to just be added to the monthly box shipment, at no addition charge, saving me a fortune on the random shipping charges I would otherwise pay.

Basically this is a surprise box, generally of two coordinating fabrics which seem to be from the new arrivals, and some extra treats. It doesn't matter to me if the colours aren't always what I would wear, because the fabric is often just perfect for someone I sew for. To date of the three months I have been receiving these boxes two months I will be keeping the fabric for myself, one month I saved and made something for my daughter.

Here are some pictures of the boxes I have had come in the mail to date.


I made the cardigan (Cozy cardigan from Patterns for Pirates) and joggers (previously reviewed pattern) from the monthly box. I didn't have quite enough fabric for the waist band so I used some DBL that I had from a mystery bundle I also got from Watertower that month

I made the cardigan (Cozy cardigan from Patterns for Pirates) and joggers (previously reviewed pattern) from the monthly box. I didn't have quite enough fabric for the waist band so I used some DBL that I had from a mystery bundle I also got from Watertower that month.

Here are the subscription boxes for December and October respectively, both of which I will keep for myself:

Now I am fully aware that I don't need surprise fabric. However in these weird times I have really enjoyed something not to script (although by subscription). I love the monthly surprise (looking forward to January already) and to stretching my creativity by having fabric on hand that I might not have deliberately ordered otherwise.

It's also just fun to get something unexpected and interesting in the mail once a month.

Fun matters. And the way I see it getting some fun back into our lives has to be a priority for 2021.