Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Sewing Goals for 2016

Looking ahead to a New Year, I've been thinking about what I want to get out of my sewing in 2016. There are a few things, and I'm going to note them down here so I can keep reminding myself!

photo from Boston Public Library's Print Dept., via Flickr

Sewing Goals

1. Make the items that I've already thought about, and have already matched fabric and pattern so that they are ready to go! (maybe make a sewing project timeline? does this work for anyone?)

2. Try things that will teach me new skills. New "stretch" projects.

3. Apropos of the last point: watch more of my multiple Craftsy classes!

4. Get a better camera & learn more about photography

5. Keep on with embroidery projects to keep learning and improving

6. Something I need to get better at but don't feel the love for: Do My Mending. I have plenty of wearable items that just need a hem or a seam restitched or a quick fix. Just do it. 

7. Remember to enjoy it all.

Since I was super lucky when it came to sewing supply gifts at Christmas, I have lots to inspire me & keep new projects flowing. Sometimes I am just inspired by looking at what I have, which is why I am aiming to keep those supplies in an orderly and accessible manner this year, as well.

How about you? Any big goals this year?

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015: A Stitcher's Roundup

This year I sewed fairly steadily, with some slight sewing slumps along the way -- most notably for the past few weeks! But I made some interesting things, tried some new techniques, and ended up buying WAY too much fabric even though I was trying to use up what I already have. Now my chore is to tidy and organize it all into usable stacks.

Looking back over my makes this year, I do have some favourites. And there are a few things I just haven't worn.

Part of the reasons behind most of the unworn items is that I have to go back and fix something, usually something pretty minor -- but I find it so hard to "mend" something once I'm done. Sigh. There are a couple of items that I don't wear, though, because they did not turn out well -- the fit is off or I just don't like them. I've passed a couple of them on, but I still have hopes I can fix a couple of them and start wearing them.

 Here is my yearly roundup --

My Floral dresses

 The Rest of the Dresses

Various Tops

The odd ones out!

Once again, I've mainly sewn dresses. And they make up most of my favourites too. This year found me sewing a lot of florals, with a few other patterns making an appearance -- not too many solids in my wardrobe! I really like most of my makes this year.

I find that making dresses is still my favourite thing to do, and when I tell myself that I should make something else for a while, I stall out on sewing altogether. So I need to let myself do what I love :)

Here's to another year of wonderful sewing!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pre-Christmas "Selfish" sewing

Lucky me -- I've finished all my Christmas prep and can get to some of my own projects again! Well, really I snuck this first one in while I was making gifts, but since it only took 15 minutes to make I didn't feel too guilty.

I found such a fun knit fabric on the remnant table at my local fabric store. But it was just a little too loud, a little too child-friendly, to make a dress from. So I decided to make a quick infinity scarf. I sewed it together, put it on, then realized that it looked very festive from a distance!

I've already worn it at least 3 times to work, and had comments on it each time. Some were about its festive colours, and then after a closer look, some of the comments came in the form of song. Thanks, coworkers, for the earworm...

Check out the irresistible detail in this fabric. You will see why I had to buy some.

At the ladybug's picnic!
The other thing I've been doing with my time -- that isn't sewing -- is cleaning up, or trying to clean up, my sewing area. That's my goal for the end of the year. You know you're an adult when you realize you are happy for upcoming holidays so that you'll have time to clean your basement...

But in more entertaining things, I've also picked up an embroidery project that I prepped in the summer. I've started on the flower garden and plan to make each kind of flower in a different kind of stitch. Most of the greenery will probably be in stem stitch with a bit of leaf stitch and/or satin stitch for accent. I couched the green thread for the words, although on second thought I should probably have left that for last. Oh well! This is a pattern that I both sketched and cobbled together using a couple of images from google and a nice font - since it's just for my own stitch practice I figured it would be okay to do so this time. This should take me a long way into the New Year!

What about you? Are you finished with your seasonal sewing for others and ready to get back to your own projects?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Text Talk Two

I've been quite busily working on some Christmas projects (and slipping one little one in for me) over the last while, besides coming down with a nasty cold that has made me a little too tired to take on any big projects in the evenings. So no new sewing projects to share at the moment, though I'll be sharing a couple of little things later this week.

But what I have been doing is reading: that is pretty much a standard for me, and in recent evenings when I've felt it necessary to get into bed early on, some fascinating books have kept me company. I'm very intrigued by the intersection of textile craft (particularly embroidery) and activism, and have been reading through two collections on the topic.


The first, Craftivism: the art of craft and activism, by Betsy Greer, is kind of the start of this genre. Greer apparently is the source of the term, and in this book she highlights many different groups of crafty people who use their craft to social ends. Some are knitters, crocheters, embroiderers, even quilters or mosaic artists. Each has a small essay and some photos of their work, as well as links as to where to find out more. I did find though, that many of the contributors are ephemeral, in the sense that their websites are out of date already, and no longer available. The book is still inspiring, though, and it is lots of fun to ponder other people's clever ideas.

The book also highlights another organization with a wonderful and active website, the Craftivist Collective out of the UK, which has ongoing projects that anyone worldwide can join in on. It's worth a look. The founder, Sarah Corbett, has written a small guide to craftivism, but unfortunately I can not seem to find an available copy here in Canada. Perhaps I'll eventually resort to the Book Depository, once the Canadian dollar isn't at such an abysmal exchange rate ;)


The second read is focused more closely on embroidery. It's called Hoopla: the art of unexpected embroidery, by Leanne Prain, a Canadian writer who has also written books on yarn bombing and storytelling via textiles.  It's a huge, heavy book full of photos and essays - much the same format as Greer's book, but longer. It has a variety of craftivists, some which appealed to my aesthetic and some which really didn't.  But again, it is interesting to see the variety of craft enthusiasts who are using their chosen method to create something unique. This book is not entirely focused on craftivism, rather, it opens up into crafters who are just choosing to pursue their craft as a kind of lifestyle statement as well. Plus a few textile artists who exhibit professionally. It's an intriguing blend, and made me think about what I want to get out of my own sewing and embroidery practice.

I ordered both of these books through my library system to check them out. I usually do this with craft books, in order to see what I need to own for myself. I don't think I'd need either of these in my permanent collection, but they were both very worth reading, and I'm very thankful for my library system's robust interlibrary loan abilities.

And now to the one book that started me off on this craft reading jaunt -- a classic book in this field, which I've owned for years and years -- though I ended up reading the newest edition from 2010. It's Rozsika Parker's The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery & the making of the feminine. It was a great read.

The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine

Parker is extremely knowledgeable and a very good writer; the history she shares is very readable, not dully academic. This is a chronological approach, dealing with embroidery from the time of the Bayeux Tapestry up until the 70s (when it was first published). The new edition also has some mention of more current embroidery artists, but just a mention. It's also primarily looking at English history.

Things I found most interesting were the way that embroidery came to be both tied to the feminine in an oppressive manner, while also allowing a space for the subversion of the title. Originally embroidery was not differentiated from the fine arts; it was only in the Renaissance when art and craft began to split that embroidery turned into a feminine, amateur craft. Parker draws the connections between the ways that patriarchal society used embroidery as a way to  define "the feminine", in many different eras.

I was particularly taken with the war of words in the 1600's between men who thought that needlework was beneficial because it kept women silent and still, and the women who replied to them by writing their own public tracts in response, mocking the author. Throughout the book, Parker shares both how women were oppressed by needlecraft, and how they spoke up using the same metier. I was really inspired by this one to follow up with our current resurgence of handicraft and activism. Parker's book is a fascinating, feminist history of this art form, and is a must read in this area.

After I'd read it, I also discovered this amazing podcast series from a conference at Goldsmith University in the UK: The Subversive Stitch Revisited: The Politics of Cloth.  I've been listening to many of these lectures while sewing and embroidering, and enjoying them in their varied subject areas.

Lots of learning going on around here lately. Do you have any must-reads to recommend?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Chasing the Clouds Away with Butterick 5870

I've been both quite busy lately AND having a wee bit of a sewing slump. I think I've been avoiding the mending that is waiting for me.

On the positive side, I have spent some time sorting and reorganizing my patterns & have started in on my fabric stash...slowly, so as not to overwhelm myself with the excess! My patterns are now sorted by type -- dresses, tops, skirts/bottoms, vintage, and wardrobe patterns. They're also sorted by knit or woven. I've discovered I have way, way more woven patterns than knit, but after filling one box with all my knits I've been overcome with the longing to use them!

Fortunately, I recently saw two knit fabrics side by side on the sale table & picked up a bit of each. And then decided to make up Butterick 5870 using contrasting fabrics.

The main body of the dress is in ponte, and the contrast fabric is an unusual "unknown fibres" knit which has a "Greek Key" type of design woven in. It is very lightweight and slightly see-through, so I was not sure what to use it for until it suddenly became clear that this dress was the place to include it!

B5870, Misses' Dress

This dress (a See & Sew design) doesn't look like much on the pattern cover, made up in unflattering stripes, but the line drawings are gold!

Line Drawing

Noticing the way that the yoke comes up over the shoulder made me want to make this dress with a contrast yoke, to highlight the shoulder detail. Once I'd decided to make the yoke and cowl in contrast, I also added cuffs to finish the sleeves to balance the look. I made View A, but made the bottom of the skirt even, like View B. I am not a hi-lo hem fan.

I cut the pattern itself out and made all the adjustments (shortening the front bodice by 3/4" & back bodice by 1/2", drafting a sleeve cuff, and then measuring the skirt and deciding not to shorten it at all -- watch out, tall girls!) then cut the fabric, all on one night, and finished up the sewing in just a couple of hours over the next two evenings. This is really a straightforward dress, with no really tricky sewing to worry about.

The only thing I'd point out is that the instructions to sew on the cowl might confuse a new sewer, as the illustration shows the collar sewn on and at the "press toward bodice" step. Just sew it on right sides together like a cuff and all is well.

I may still shorten this a bit

As usual, I added side seam pockets. Although some people don't like pockets in knits, this ponte was not all that stretchy, and besides, when I make things without pockets, I end up not wearing them as often as all of my pocketed goods. So pockets were made. I sewed them on, adding seam binding into the initial pocket seams to minimize any stretching. They are smooth and invisible and I love them.

I don't have a coverstitch machine and have never been able to get my hems looking really good on knits. Since this hem would have been so obvious, I was worrying about how to do it well. This was late at night and I wanted to wear it in the morning. Then my husband said, why do you have to sew it? It looks finished and it's the length you want it.  Cue the angels singing....I didn't hem it!! I think it looks pretty good although I did feel a bit unfinished :)

It's a great work dress; warm but not too much so, cheery to wear on dreary November days, and it is modest enough to lean down to child level without flashing anyone ;)

I was surprised by how much I like the fit on this one. I didn't do too many adjustments other than cutting the shoulder/neck at 14 and grading to 16 by the waist seam. The ponte is so soft and comfortable, but I did have to mark the wrong side with chalk X's while sewing since it was indistinguishable at a quick look but has a couple of flaws on the wrong side that I didn't want on the outside. Other than that, it went together like a dream. This pattern has an interesting shoulder line, and has small gathers at the shoulder and the back yoke seams. I think it makes it a really nice dress with just that something extra.

wee gathers on the shoulders
more gathers on the back

I enjoyed making and wearing this one, and do recommend this pattern, the very first See & Sew I've ever made from my collection.

Cowl from the side. Wondering what to make next...

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fitting with Angelina di Bello

This week, I found this intriguing book in my thrift store travels:

Tome II, V.1 Dust Jacket
Beautiful binding

Adding the blurbs from the front flap,
 as they are nearly all I could find out about Angelina Di Bello!

It's pretty interesting; lots about how to make basic fitting and design alterations. Large, clear line drawings and instructions that are thorough, but do expect some sewing knowledge. Here are some of the interior pages:

Adjusting for a high bust

Adjusting for one shoulder higher than the other

On the next page, a numbered list explains all the different profiles of dress
 you will learn to make with Angelina Di Bello's courses--
and notice the television channels she also appeared on at bottom

I found out a little more about this author, teacher, and expert dressmaker via the Montreal Gazette. One of the many fascinating things about her was that she began her first studio in 1946 on Tupper St -- a tiny street that I lived on for years in Montreal! Other amazing points directly quoted from that article:
  • In 1966, she was the only North American to be authorized by the House of Dior in Paris to make use of the Dior Pleat, which had been invented by Christian Dior to eliminate unsightly slits in the back of a garment and which Dior had copyrighted.
  • Di Bello worked with Gazette fashion maven Iona Monahan to co-ordinate the fashion shows during Expo 67. She was responsible for fitting and altering the more than 800 garments that were shown during the six-month exhibition.
  • In 1976, she designed and tailored the Greek gown for the women who carried the Olympic flame as well as all the hats worn by athletes in the Parade of Nations at the Montreal Games.

She also had a tv show on public television for many years, both in French and in English -- in English, the name was "Pins & Needles"; in French, "De Fil en Aiguille". According to a conversation on a sewing forum, her son Francesco (Frankie) assisted on her show and it was quite a family affair. Her husband Luigi illustrated her books and patterns and helped with the couture business -- I had wondered why his bio was included on the back of the book I just bought!

If I could have found a clip from her tv shows, I'd have shared it, but sadly, she seems to be absent from much of an online presence. Thank goodness there is enough to know that she was a busy, creative, and very successful dressmaker throughout her working life. I know I'll enjoy learning from this book, and will be keeping my eye out for the other volumes she published as well.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sew Indie Month: Pattern Hack Zsalya/Cressida Dress


Sew Indie Month is officially over for another year, but the contests are open until the end of today. Thank goodness I had this weekend off work, because I've been working madly on finishing my own Pattern Hack to enter.


I looked at all the patterns included in Sew Indie Month -- really, all of them -- searching for inspiration. Influenced by all the folkloric prints on the runways these days, I eventually decided to use one of my favourite stalwart patterns, Kate & Rose's Zsalya top & dress, and hack it into a fit & flare style dress, using Jennifer Lauren's Cressida skirt for the bottom half. This entailed a few changes.

The skirt was the easy part; I planned to take out the button placket in the front of the Cressida, and cut both front and back on fold. I used the regular waistband and pocket, but had to do a little adjustment on the left side pocket, as I was adding in a side seam zipper. Instead of getting really complicated about it, I just "made it work" with the way the pocket already sat. So now that pocket opens a little lower than the other side (about an inch lower). I also made sure the waistband opened at that side and not the front or back!

It ended up though, with the fabric I chose -- a narrow quilting width -- I had to cut the skirt in two pieces. I added a 1/2" seam allowance to the centre seam and just stitched it up and continued on. The print hides the seam very effectively.

It was the Zsalya bodice that really slowed me down, though. I've made the Zsalya three times before, and really love it. But my idea here was to take out the fullness of it, and taper it into a waistband. I made some pretty massive flat pattern changes to the bodice below the yoke -- shortening it by a good 10 inches, narrowing both front and back at the waist, and adding in darts to take up some of the remaining fullness.

Fuzzy shot of the redrawn, redone bodice pieces, with multiple attempts to get darts etc. right!

In my first muslin, the front looked great, with some gathering left in at the yoke seam, and darts adjusting the fit otherwise. The back was horrible though -- the darts did not work at all, the back was all wonky and puffy. So I tried taking the back darts out and replacing them with equal gathering top and bottom (reminiscent of McCalls 6696). But that also puffed out and made me look like I had a kangaroo pocket on my back. So then I switched it to an inverted pleat. It looked nice flat, but had the same puffy effect when I tried it on. So then I decided to just fold out all the gathering, and then took a 1" swayback type of horizontal dart across the centre of the back. It worked beautifully. The only other bodice fix I had to do was to make sure that the bottom of the bodice was going to be the same size as the Cressida waistband, which I used pretty much straight as it was drafted.

Front bodice with gathers left in & darts though you can't see them

Back bodice, with no gathers left
I finally got to the point where I was going to cut out my pattern in "real" fabric. I considered a number of choices from my stash, but when I saw these two side by side I knew they were perfect. I think that the Zsalya yoke gives this dress a folksy feel, but adding in the effect of these two fabrics also makes me think of Japanese design.

The floral print is a vintage sheet I've only owned for a few months, and the star print cotton is another 15-yr-old stash treasure that I originally bought with the plan to make a "Space Odyssey 2001" star quilt, alongside this other starry fabric I also used for a dress recently. The star fabric is a heavier cotton with a touch of stretch in it. I wouldn't really consider it quilting fabric but it did have a narrow width so perhaps it was sold as such; I can't really remember now! This info was on the selvedge:

In any case, I put it together, adding in a side zip on the left side, as the design made that the only possibility for an opening. I inserted a regular zip, as a centred zip, since I couldn't find a navy invisible zip in my local store. I'd have preferred an invisible one but this one turned out pretty well in the end.
Forgive the impressionist closeup -- I could not get a clearer image!

Then it came time for the sleeves. I wanted to use the Zsalya sleeve but change it from full length to elbow length. I had to extend the sleeve band as my elbow is larger than my wrist ;) When I tested it I didn't like the look of all the gathers that high on the arm, it seemed like 80's style puffed sleeves.

I decided that I should remove all the gathering and change the sleeve to the width of the band -- to do so on my muslin, instead of recutting another sample sleeve, I quickly sewed in a few tucks to take the fullness out and basted the band on again to check it out. But I was so taken with the look of the irregular darts around the sleeve that I repeated the same technique on my final make (there are about 7 darts in each sleeve). I love how it leaves the fullness of the upper sleeve but tucks it smoothly into the sleeve band. With the starry fabric, I feel like there are starburst darts in the sleeve, and I love the effect.

This pattern hack took much longer than I anticipated, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It was a lot of fun to look at a familiar pattern in a new way, and to do the "adjust & test & adjust again" until I had things just right. I might shorten the front bodice by another inch if I try this again, but I'm satisfied with how this turned out. I really love the final effect of these two fabrics next to each other in these two patterns.

I hope you all enjoyed Sew Indie Month as much as I did!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Not a Sham Skirt

This week I had to take a break and sew something easy and satisfying. Mostly because my sewing time was being taken up with watching live fashion shows from New York Fashion Week** -- have to keep up on those, you know! So with reduced time for actual sewing of my own, I decided to remake a wonderful fabric into a practical skirt.

I found this fabric at the Goodwill a week or two ago, and could not resist its autumnal colour and print. Even if it did come in the form of a giant pillow sham! I took a look at it and thought that I could make a quick and easy gathered skirt by putting some elastic into the existing button band and just cutting the bottom open and hemming. But when I tried that....well, not so much. It gave far too much of a dirndl effect -- too much fabric, not enough waist...

So on to Plan B. I looked through all my skirt patterns to find just the right one for this fabric. I ended up going with the basic A-line view of New Look 6843, which is also the pattern I used to make my first ever skirt, one I still wear! I pressed the pillow sham so that the serged seams were now in the middle, so I could cut my skirt pieces avoiding that chunky seam. I also left the skirt a good bit longer than the pattern, as I didn't want to waste any of my wonderful print.

I found the perfect button from a bunch I also recently thrifted

This pattern is so basic and reliable! I cut size 16 and the only adaptation I made was to add some side seam pockets (I just grabbed Butterick 6090, as it was handy in my sewing queue basket, and copied the pocket piece). I wanted to use self-fabric but there just wasn't enough -- so I cut them out of white cotton and just used a strip of the remaining print at the edge of the pocket. That way, if/when the pockets gape there won't be a flash of white.

This pattern used up most of the fabric -- this was nearly a zero-waste project. Only 4 buttons, and this little bit of fabric was left over:

Anyhow, it's a simple, well-fitting skirt pattern that I recommend, having made it twice now. It has a narrow waistband that actually sits at the waist, which I like. Comfortable and sleek, with two darts in front and four in back, which allows for a very nice fit. I like this version in its below-the-knee length, and feel like it was a great project to get back on track, just in time for autumn to arrive!

Wearing it with old standby KwikSew 3658 in the perfect colour 

**New York Fashion Week was very absorbing. I loved lots of the new looks -- much lace, embroidery and romanticism, which I am very drawn to even if I don't wear it much myself. But the highlights were some of the wonderfully produced runway shows. My favourites were Prabal Gurung's ode to Nepal, and Givenchy's stunning Sept. 11th show