Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Sewing Resolutions

Fancy tree made by a coworker -- such fun!

As this year comes to a close, I'm looking back and realizing that I'm a slow and steady kind of sewist. I pushed myself in the middle of the year and then backed off for a my primary resolution for 2015 is:

1. Slow and steady. Be the tortoise, not the hare.
Easier said than done, when I feast my eyes on all the wonderful patterns out there that I just want to make NOW. But when I'm overwhelmed by choice, I end up not making anything at all. So...choose one and make it start to finish.

2. And in a related resolution -- get back on track with my Make a Garment a Month challenge. Having the support of other sewists who are doing the same is really helpful. I must continue!

3. Another related resolution -- finish those UFOs one way or another. Finish sewing them, or decide to let them go.

4. My final resolution: learn new skills.
I have signed up for a number of Craftsy classes and I'm halfway through a couple of them. I want to watch them in full, and then work through them to learn better fitting skills, and some new tricks and tips as well.

5, And another extra one -- keep going with my embroidery and get enough practice in to actually get good at it!

Those are my sewing goals. I have so many patterns and so many lengths of fabric in my sewing corner that I've got to get some projects made just to keep from being buried under a fabri-lanche.

I wish all my fellow sewists a very happy New Year and abundant Sew-Jo in the months ahead!

Fun long-distance gift from my best friend. Does she know me or what!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Pattern Review's Great Sewing Bee, Part I

This month Pattern Review is doing a really fun contest, modelled on the Great British Sewing Bee (a show I really love) It's set up so that's there is an assignment each week, and then you find out if you go on in the competition at the end of each challenge. This first week was an A-Line Skirt; I joined in, but alas, will not be moving on. Probably a good thing; now I can cheer for everyone else while getting busy on all the Christmas sewing I have in the queue! And pushing myself to do this in a week (actually less) really helped me get over that 'sewing block' I've had for the last month or two.

For my attempt, I used a vintage pattern that I have had in the stash for a while, Simplicity 9825. I also used some navy polycotton from my stash, and made a contrasting waistband from a floral sheet with nice blue/purple tones in it. The skirt pattern was only 17 inches long but instead of lengthening it I added a contrasting hem band of the same floral.

Lapped zip at centre back, a tiny hook & eye (gah, I hate those things) and a lining. I used some pretty mauve lining that my husband uncovered when he cleaned up my sewing space ;)

I had fun doing this, even though 3 of the 7 days of the challenge were taken up with my being away from home. I sewed like the wind the rest of the time -- until the late nights, resulting in dark pictures. But one of the results of my weekend away was that I discovered a style of embroidery called Kantha, which comes from the region of Bangladesh/West Bengal. (one of the people at the class I was at also ran a charity selling hand-stitched scarves from that area) Kantha is a style that uses a simple running stitch that adds some really nice texture to cotton fabrics (often old saris) It can get a lot more fancy too -- but I just wanted to try this out with the basic stitch. So I stitched the waistband and hem band as contrast.

It was a lot of fun, and I really, really like how it turned out. It feels pretty and it fits, yay! Here are more pics.

Closeup of my attempt at Kantha

Such pretty lining

Friday, October 24, 2014

October's "Fire Opal" Dress

I've fallen behind in my "Make A Garment A Month" projects -- August and September have both disappeared with their respective makes still sitting in pieces on the "to do" pile...

But I jumped back in this month, with Sarah Liz's wonderful October theme, Opal. I love opals, and since they're my birthstone I can wear them without incurring any bad luck :) I have a beautiful sweater knit that I wanted to use for this month, as it's all blue and shiny white and opal-like...but instead, I couldn't resist making this new Vogue pattern from a red ponte knit that I've had in the stash  for a while.

So I'm calling it October's Fire Opal dress!

I used Vogue 9022, a pattern that I ordered pretty quickly after it was released. I like the relaxed feel of it, and the cute pockets. I thought it would be a great work dress.
Vogue Patterns Misses' Dress 9022

Once again, without even consciously realizing it, I've made a copy of the pattern cover. My dress is a similar solid red, although I could definitely see this one in a colour-blocked version. It also states that this can be made knit or woven; since I chose a knit, I left out the walking vent in the back as well as the keyhole opening at the back neck. Just stitched up that centre seam top to bottom -- I left in the seam, however, to assist with some shaping.

Back view -- what was I doing? No idea

The making of it was easy. It's just basic straight seams, no set in sleeves, and some hems & facing. I did add in an extra inch to each side below the waist by grading out, since my pattern was a medium -- and while I'm generally medium on top, I'm large on bottom. 

The only unusual bit is the pocket construction. The side panel is in two lengths, and you stitch together the bottom seam of the pocket and then fold that length over to form the pocket. Despite there being "fold lines" marked, I would strongly suggest that after folding these pieces you carefully measure both side panels to be sure that they are even -- you don't want to have to unpick one side after sewing everything and readjust it. Don't ask me how I know that.

Red dress outside on a beautiful fall day

There is no stitching to hold down the tops of the pockets -- I suppose you could top stitch them before continuing with construction if you wanted that look. As is, it is a loose, soft look that I quite like. 

Overall I am pleased with this dress. The knit has enough weight that it doesn't cling, and the lines of the pocket seam and of the neck facing don't show through. I was going to switch the neck facing to a simple turned under neckline hem, but decided against it as I wanted a clean finish, and was worried about puckering at the neckline if I just stitched it down. You could probably also finish it with a neck binding if you preferred.

Feels good to be getting back into some fall sewing with this bright and comfortable dress.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hand Stitchery 101

Hello, I'm back! What's the reason for such a gap in my blogging? Well, boring stuff like being really busy at work etc.... but also some new projects.

One of the reasons I haven't been sewing much or posting much here is that I've been bitten by a new crafty bug -- embroidery. This is what I've been up to in my evenings over the past while.

I saw a class on Craftsy -- Design It, Stitch It: Hand Embroidery with Jessica Marquez. (highly recommended -- and on sale now!) This reminded me that I'd always been interested in hand embroidery, and I was in the mood to learn something new. So I signed up and off I went, fitting in my lessons and practice in the odd minutes between work and meetings and so on. I've only got one or two more stitches to practice before I've worked my way through this really excellent class, then I'll have to branch out and try putting them together into a design. Here's a batch of stitches from the first couple of lessons -- very first try so the fabric was pulled a bit, and I realized I needed more practice, but still very enjoyable.

Then the next couple of lessons, with looped stitches and some knotted stitches too

And then the crossed and fill stitches (I love the herringbone most). The two leaf stitches are sitting right above a curvy satin stitch which looks amusingly face-like. I still have to add in my long & short stitches along that curvy shape as well. But I couldn't resist testing out a different thread in the big open space, and freehanded a labyrinth out of pink variegated crochet thread. I quite like it. (if you like labyrinths you can also buy a set of labyrinth embroidery patterns from Sublime Stitching -- I've drawn them so often that I just freehanded this little sample)

So lots of stitching going on over here, and I'm having fun learning something new. Do you like embroidery? Do you have any great sources to share? I recently made the Zsalya dress by Kate and Rose, and their company also sells pretty Hungarian embroidery designs too. Are there any other pattern companies that include embroidery?

But it's just about time for me to finish up a couple of the dresses patiently awaiting my attention on the sewing table, so hopefully the next post or two will have some finished sewing to show you, too!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Text Talk

Since my big sewing blowout in July, I haven't been doing a lot of actual sewing. I've bought fabric, and cut lots of patterns out in preparation, I've been taking some online classes, I've even bought and prepped some new patterns. But the sitting down and sewing hasn't been happening enough. This time of year, though, is a really busy time for my other passion -- books.

Fall brings a huge list of new releases that I have to read. Yes, have to. For my job (librarian) and various committees I belong to, I have a reading list that I must get to. And of course, there is all that pleasure reading to squeeze in as well! 

women-in-clothes-cover-usHere are a few great titles that have come my way in the past while, things I've read and things I want to read.

First off, there is a new release, a book of essays called Women in Clothes. How could I NOT want to read this one immediately? The publisher synopsis states that "Women in Clothes explores the wide range of motives that inform how women present themselves through clothes, and what style really means." To make it even more irresistible, their website is amazing. You can read the surveys that this book is based on, and you can even fill out the survey yourself. Even if you don't want to take the time to fill out all 83 questions, do look at it -- there are many thought-provoking questions about our style, clothing preferences, and the deeper meaning behind it all.

I've also just picked up a copy of Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style and read through it. Gunn is well known as a fashion leader, and his advice is very specific -- know your style, dress appropriately, don't make the fashion faux pas that he makes clear in his text. It's a bit of a fluff read, especially the chapter of fashion mentors (find your style maven and follow her example -- all the usual suspects -- Marilyn, the Hepburns, etc.) But it was still entertaining, and I certainly share his horror at people wearing pyjama pants in public. 

This book actually reminded me of another book from 1938, Margaretta Byers' Designing Women, all about how to dress your age elegantly and affordably.

There are many fashion/design books on my radar lately. I've also just finished Diana Vreeland's "D.V." -- while she is fascinating and of course full of crazy stories, I was exhausted just reading this book -- I can't imagine spending time in her actual presence! She's been described as eccentric and imperious. And I can see why after reading this one...

But I've also been reading and reviewing a few others books that may be of interest to sewing readers, over at my regular book blog. I've just read a very interesting Canadian memoir called Measure of a Man, by JJ Lee (my review here) -- it's a blend of personal and professional, as Lee talks about suits and the memory of his own father. Really an excellent read; I hope you'll check out the original review for more of my thoughts on it, plus some links to some of the neat stuff that JJ Lee does besides writing memoirs (including a radio show about our clothing choices). 

And one last mention of a book I read a while back and really enjoyed -- I think I might have mentioned it here before -- I've seen it making the rounds of a few of the sewing blogs, but wanted to throw my recommendation in as well -- Linda Przybyszewski's The Lost Art of Dress. (my review here) It was informative, entertaining, thoughtful, and full of great notes that led me to other reading (like "Designing Women" above). Definitely worth a look, so do try to get your hands on this one if you can.

That's it for this round of Text Talk. I'm sure I'm have more to share fairly soon. It's not like I ever stop reading ;)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Mystery of the Missing Singer Skeleton Key

There's an old Singer machine in my mother's house, a beautiful treadle with a wooden cabinet. She's had it for years; it belonged to her stepmother, who bought it sometime in the early 30's, though we place it as a model from the late 1910's. When Granny Emma passed away, my mother was given the machine, as she was the one likeliest to use and/or appreciate it.

I remember it always being there in the house, though when I was younger, I didn't truly appreciate the beauty of it. Now I wish I could investigate it a little more closely -- there was so much I never discovered about it. I regret those incurious years!

Particularly because my mother just dropped this amazing fact in casual conversation: the cabinet has 2 rows of 3 drawers each, the bottom 2 of which are locked. The topmost drawers were able to be opened when my mother lifted the machine out and finagled the drawer open from the inside. They had a few used needles, a bobby pin, and a few bits and pieces of notion ends in it. Not much to see. But the drawers below have never been opened since Granny Emma's days.

In all her antique-shop travels, my mother has never found a key that fits this machine cabinet. Now that she's revealed this mystery to me, I am extremely curious! Is there anything in those drawers? Did Granny Emma tuck away something that no-one knows about? I guess I'll never know, well, unless we can find an old skeleton key that matches this machine. Has anyone else ever come across such a thing? Are there any secret key sources out there?

Knowing my step-grandmother, the drawers could either be empty and bland, her secrets kept forever; or, there could be fascinating little items tucked away at the back of a seldom-used drawer, revealing things about her life that I never knew. Which is it? This is a case for an intrepid girl detective. I'm going on a key hunt!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Weaving Sewing into Vacation Time

I have just had a few days vacation, and went away for a couple of them. During my quick getaway, I ended up seeing a lot of sewing related goodness by chance! We stopped in at the Bethune Memorial House in Gravenhurst, Ontario -- the spot where Norman Bethune was born -- and the house is set up in a period fashion. Imagine my surprise to see the sewing machine and sewing box set up in the dining room area:

There were also some beautiful textiles on display, look at that quilt, and crocheted spread, and lovely embroidered garments. You can't quite see the candlewicking on the pillows, but it was really nice.

There was also a quilt made by Chinese and Canadian quilters commemorating Bethune's activities but I forgot to take a picture of it! The blocks were made half in China and half in Canada, then quilted by a local group.Very pictorial style.

I also ended up doing some fabric store shopping, rather unintentionally. There was a Fabricland right beside one bookstore that we stopped at, so of course I had to go in. There was another next to a Tim Horton's that was a pit stop on the way home... I ended up coming home with 20 new Simplicity and New Look patterns (all being sold for 99¢, so I didn't hold back...) Most exciting, I finally found a Simplicity 1880 in my size! My local store was sold out of this one long ago.


Lots of fun on this holiday, as you can see. There was also some book shopping, museum going and sightseeing, of course, but I loved the bits of fabric and sewing history that got tucked into it all!

Monday, August 11, 2014

August's "Make a Garment a Month" Pick

After going crazy with sewing last month, it's a relief to pick just one...or maybe two...things for my "Make a Garment a Month" regular challenge. August's theme is to do a little stash busting, so I've chosen a dress that uses a little bit more fabric than a simple skirt or top.

The first is Simplicity 2177 -- I am going to make this one because my best friend just sent me a copy of this pattern that she picked up at a sale, just because. So of course I am going to make it! Also, I have the PERFECT fabric for it, a striped sheet that I bought at the Goodwill a month or two ago. The second? The green & grey colourway will also allow me to use the remainder of the grey fabric from my July skirt-making to make the matching jacket. At least that's the plan at present!

Friday, August 8, 2014

New Old Patterns

Sewing up so many patterns last month didn't stop me from buying new ones...well, new to me, anyhow. I took a little road trip to a nearby town this week, and hit 4 thrift shops and 2 used book stores... lucky for me, my husband is also an avid 2nd hand shopper, more focused on books though ;)

We had a great time, and I found some great books, as well as a few decor items and a cache of sewing patterns. I brought home a nice variety, along with a couple of sewing books -- even if I'm not actually sewing, I'm thinking about it!

Here's the haul --

The pattern I'm most interested in trying first is the Simplicity in the middle, with the yellow trim. It's Simplicity 5583, marked "Esprit". It has a jumper view but also a dress view. It really reminds me of something I owned in the early 90's but hopefully I can update it sufficiently!

The books are fun to look through -- though dated, there are some neat ideas -- I've already got some new tips from the Claire Schaeffer "High Fashion Secrets" book. Think my sewing vacation is over now; I've had a break but am ready to start something new again. 

How long do you usually go between projects?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

So Much Sewing: Some Thoughts

So as my regular readers may have noticed by now, in the month of July I was sewing up a storm. I signed up for the Pattern Stash contest at Pattern Review, hoping to inspire myself to get to some of those older patterns in my stash that looked good to me at the time but somehow never made it out of the envelope.

I discovered a few things about myself and my sewing while participating in a contest like this.

On the positive side, I did make 15 patterns! That is, quite literally, 5 times my normal output; usually if I make 3 things a month I feel impressed with myself. Only a couple of the things I tried this month were items that I ended up not liking -- most of them were really satisfactory. Out of everything that I sewed up, I think I'll be most likely to want to make these ones again:

Vogue 1247 -- a well-fitting, practical skirt
New Look 6977 -- an easy and pretty skirt
Simplicity 3790 -- wonderful pullover top that fits well
Kwik Sew 3756 -- unusual neckline, easy top -- it's all good
Kwik Sew 3559 -- the first thing I made this month; and it's been worn at least 10 times so far. Great pattern, wonderfully useful top. Definitely making this one again.

I enjoyed sifting through my older stash of patterns and matching them up with fabric stash -- got lots of ideas and even decided to give away some fabric that I didn't like anymore. Plus, I used nearly 19.5 yards of the stash in this month's sewing! I enjoyed having a deadline of sorts to keep me focused on my sewing, and I enjoyed how it helped me to stop dithering and just cut a pattern out already ;) I discovered that I like cutting out the next few projects all at once and then having them ready to go, even if I will be limiting that to only 3 projects cut out at once in future, to avoid the dreaded UFO.

However, this hyper-focus on sewing is not sustainable in my lifestyle. I also discovered this month that I am a slow sewer. To get 15 items sewn (many of which were "quick and easy" patterns) I had to spend the vast majority of my available time sewing. While I of course love to sew, I also have other things that need doing, and most of those things were entirely neglected this month -- and I'll be playing catch-up for the next week or so.

I also find that whenever I place myself under an obligation to do something (no matter what it is) I immediately begin to feel less excited about doing it. I don't want to rob myself of the joy of sewing, which is why I do it, so I don't think these kinds of competitions are in my future. Plus I don't like the feeling of comparing myself to others that contests engender, or the anxiety of not doing as much as I had thought I could...

Another element is that these kind of quantity contests mean you're in a rush and whipping things up -- and I found that I'm not interested in just making something for the sake of making it; I want to take more time over the things I'm making, and learn things with each project, and go the extra bit to line a skirt or add a nice seam finish, or rip out a zipper and do it over again. Or take on a difficult pattern and spend the whole month just fitting it and testing it. So while I did have fun this month, I have to accept that I am not a rapid stitcher who can turn things out instantly.

Despite all this, I thought this was a valuable experience -- I learned to think about sewing more consciously, and was able to make up some items that I was just not getting to, due only to procrastination. I streamlined my crowded sewing space to make it more functional, and went through my pattern and fabric stashes. I was inspired by other participants' makes and their sewing habits. Now to incorporate that into a more normal schedule for all that sewing ahead!

All photos via British Library on Flickr

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gray or Grey? A few shades, but not 50

And now for my final makes of the month, a grey palette that I've been working on for a week or two. Unlike my last dress, this grouping is more of a "cloudy day" collection ;) This is going to be a picture-heavy post so I'll just link to the patterns, not add their covers too.

So I finally finished handsewing the skirt fasteners and stitching down grosgrain waist stays last night -- I always put off the little finishing bits -- and decided to stitch up a linen tank top to match them all. I have another linen top cut out of the same lovely smoooth black, but thought it was too complicated to finish it in time -- that's a project for next month!

I really like this set of skirts -- they are each interesting for some reason. So...

#1. The Common Denominator Black Tank, New Look 6035

I bought this pattern originally for its suit jacket design. Have I ever even attempted to examine any of my jacket patterns yet? No. So looking a little more closely at the options in this pattern, I decided that this tank top, with the gathers in the front, slits at the side seams, and simple neck & arm binding, would be perfect worn loose over my new skirts, or under a jacket (if I ever get one made!) I like the fit -- next try I think I'd pinch out 1/2" in centre back, and 1/2" in the length of the shoulders. Otherwise I think this is a great, useful staple piece.

#2. The Rachel Comey Vogue 1247


Pocket closeup
It fits via yoke front and back - I feel like it is
quite slimming too
I've been wanting to make this skirt for ages. I love the look of the front yoke pockets, which I think are quite unusual, and I had the perfect grey linen blend for it. I also like it because it sits at the natural waist, which I find much more comfortable than below the waist. It has a wide waistband and it fits my waist and hips, both, without many alterations. This may actually be my favourite skirt that I've ever made.

Of course, I also adapted it by adding 7 inches in length, to have it sit at my knee -- it's a mini as laid out in the pattern -- never a good look for me! In this lovely fabric, I know I'm going to wear this one a lot. I'm considering a second version in fine wale corduroy...

Back view: my not exactly invisible invisible zip --
but I still like it
The only change (besides length) that I made to this design was not finishing the interior seams with bias binding as instructed. I just pinked them as usual and called it a day. I'm sure the bias finish would be lovely, and perhaps I'll use it when I make this again, now that I know how much I like this pattern.

#3. The Cloudy Day Wrap Skirt, Butterick 3024

I had more of this grey fabric so tried this traditional wrap skirt. I like the way this fits, not too tight, not too baggy, and I also added a side seam pocket into the non-opening side, which should be useful.  Taking pictures on a windy day has convinced me that I need to add a few snaps down the opening...let's just say it's a necessary adaptation...

Because every cloud should be followed by a rainbow:

hidden colour :)
Actually, I'd used up my white grosgrain on the next skirt, and didn't have any dark ribbon left. Then I suddenly recalled that I'd bought a roll of rainbow grosgrain for a craft project a while ago... and there it was. So I have a hidden colourful surprise in this one -- it pleases me to know it's there.

#4. The B&W Doily Print, Simplicity 4236

I bought this pattern a while ago, thinking of an interesting border print for it. I found a print a month or two ago, that was more home decor than garment weight, but I loved it. I had just enough to make a hybrid between View C (quite full) and View D (quite straight). The weight of the fabric would not have allowed for a really full skirt anyhow, and I am quite pleased with this one!

I added a really lightweight cotton side seam pocket in the non-zip side and it usually sits okay; don't know what I was doing in this pic -- in holding up the top for a clear view I must have squished the back of the skirt out a little. This skirt just feels pretty to me, and it's a very simple make. The waist is just turned under with white grosgrain and the zip opening is topped with a hook & eye.


So there is my four-piece set of shades of grey. I like all the pieces and think they will be a very wearable set of clothes, even into fall. Tomorrow I'm going to be sharing a few of my thoughts about making so many things all at once, inspired by the PR Pattern Stash contest -- and then I am taking a sewing break while I have a few days off work as well. No more basement sweatshop nights for me this summer ;)

OonaPalooza Print Explosion!


It's Oonapalooza month! That's the theme that the Sewcialists have chosen for July: be inspired by the inspired style of Oonabaloona

I first discovered Oonabaloona via Pinterest, long before I started my own blog. Then, when I began following the sewing blogosphere more closely and started this blog, I realized who she was in this commmunity. Always fun and inspiring and full of creative ideas...and lots and lots of maxi dresses and crazy prints too!

I always thought that people who are short like me should not wear maxi dresses. Look at Oona, I thought, if only I was as tall and glamorous as she is, I could carry off some of those maxis she wears! Imagine my surprise when I finally clued in that I am just as tall as Oona -- nearly 5'2"! Unfortunately the "glamorous" part is not so easy...oh well!

So Oona's inspiration for this outfit is twofold: first, her example has given me the courage to try a maxi dress, and second, to try one in a fabulous floral print. I really like it, much more than I'd expected to!

I used an old pattern that I have had for probably close to 20 years but had never even cut out. It's Butterick 4597. I didn't alter it, as I wanted it ankle length, but I did grade out with an extra inch from the waist down. If I make it again I'll also shorten the torso by an inch, just so the waist flares a tiny bit higher up.

The pattern is designed for knits, but had a long zip in the back. Since I used a stretchier knit than called for, I eliminated the zip and just sewed up the back. Since there is some shaping in the back seam, I didn't cut it on the fold, just stitched up the seam.

Full view

I love that there is a knee-high slit in centre front
but it is hard to notice standing normally --
 here it is pulled over slightly just to show it off
And again

Just I was taking this last photo a bit of sun came 
through the clouds like a spotlight ;)

This was a fun pattern to finally attempt, and I love how it is fitted but not super tight. I never thought I'd actually like a maxi dress, but thanks to Oona's example I gave it a try, and really love it!

This is nearly my last make for this month of pattern stash sewing; another post will be forthcoming with my final makes. It's been an interesting experience, but I have many thoughts on it...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Floaty Florals

And now for another quick make: this knit skirt from New Look 6977. I wasn't sure which piece to make from this pattern, as they all seem like good choices. But I had a lovely piece of floral knit that reminds me of the 70s, in a good way... and I thought would look great as a flowy skirt.

I cut the length of the skirt halfway between the really short one with the contrast waistband and the far too long other option. It's just below my knee, and hemmed with a narrow hem. With the flare of the skirt, it swishes nicely as I walk ;)

This is a very simple pattern indeed: two trapezoidal shaped pieces with a rectangular waistband. The waistband is kind of interesting, as it is a foldover with a wide elastic inserted -- it sits just below the waist and creates a waistband that isn't all gathered and bulky, instead sitting quite smoothly. It's really nice!

Just two trapezoids...

Another view. A pretty, swishy skirt!