PoldaPop Designs

The thoughts, sewing projects, and fabric oglings of a dedicated sewist.

Gifts for New (and not-so-new) Sewists

Last year I published a post on gifts for young sewists to help out the parents of my tween students. You can find that post here. This year, I thought I would focus on what to get folks who are fairly new to sewing. My guiding principle was, "What do I wish someone had gifted me when I first got started?"

Note - if you click on the item name, you'll be linked to a place where you can purchase that item. And second note, I'm not affiliated with any of the websites and receive no payment for linking, I'm just trying to be helpful.

#1 Good sewing scissors

A good set of sewing shears will change your life. You can cut accurately, which makes matching up pattern pieces less confounding. You can cut easily, which protects you from hand cramps. Your scissors stay sharp, which saves you from having to find the time and money to get them sharpened. And there is something so pleasing about the heft of a decent pair of scissors that I just can't describe.  (Well, I can - it's like the heft of a good rocks glass, but I'm trying to keep it family-friendly in this post.)

My favorite brand is Kai, and they have a great range of scissors available on their website and at Wawak.com.


I own a pair of 10-inch professional shears and a pair of 10-inch micro-serrated shears (for gripping slippery fabrics). You'll want to buy something smaller for kids and teens (8 or 9-inch shears). The professional shears cost $60-$70, but if you are on a budget, they have a series of non-professional blades that are excellent value ($20-$30).

#2 Thread
Nothing is more annoying than having to wait to sew because you don't have the correct color thread. Wawak.com has some beautiful thread sets. My preferred thread is Gutermann Mara 100 - each spool has over 1,000 years, the thread is high-quality (so machines like it), and they have a huge variety of colors. This 25-spool set is a great one for beginners ($60).

Gutermann 25-spool thread set

Wawak also has a 50-spool pack of Coats & Clark Dual Duty. The spools are much smaller (125 yards) but there is a greater variety of colors ($44). And if you want to indulge someone, check out the 100-spool pack of Gutermann Mara 100 thread ($238).

#3 Instruction
One of the things I love about sewing is how much there is to learn. But when you are starting out, this sense of all there is to learn can feel daunting. And while there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube and sewing blogs, not all of them are good (and when you are new, it's hard to tell the difference). I've found these sources to be consistently helpful, interesting and reliable:

This site has hundreds of online classes for a wide variety of crafty pursuits. The website makes it easy to search by level or topic. I've taken a number of classes and I love the format, the teachers, the price, and the production level. They have a number of deals on this month.

Threads Magazine
This might be the only magazine I've subscribed to that doesn't seem to recycle articles. This is a great way to learn if you are interested primarily in garment sewing.

Pattern Review is an online forum and social media platform for home and professional sewists. You can sign up for a free membership or a paid membership (gives you discounts on classes, fabric stores, etc). There are hundreds of reviews on patterns and sewing machines, you can ask questions from experienced sewists or just show off your latest make. This site is like a support system, therapist, an cheering gallery all rolled into one.

#4 Basic Sewing Kit
Sewing Storage Box from Etsy

Instead of buying one of those pre-stocked sewing kits, I recommend making your own. Buy a pretty storage container and stock it with good quality notions:

Pig pin cushion from Etsy

#5 Fabric!!!
Every sewist loves to shop for fabric. In the Chicago area, you might consider taking your loved one on a shopping spree to Vogue Fabrics or Fishman's Fabrics. Or you can buy them a gift certificate to one of the many great online fabric stores, like Fabric.com or MoodFabrics.com.

Stretch Cotton Sateen from MoodFabrics.com

#6 Space to sew
More than anything, new sewists need space to sew. At minimum, your sewist will need a table for cutting and sewing, good lighting, and a place to store all that fabric you gifted. This might be the best gift of all - a dedicated corner (or room, if you have one to spare) to be creative and focused. Your sewist will love you for it (you're welcome!).

MilkyBeer Blog

Please feel free to ask questions or post your own addition to this list. Happy Holidays!


Sewing Jeans (Pattern Review of Ginger, Angel & Birkin)

Back in late January/February, I went on a jeans-making spree and made four pairs in one month. I had a lot of fun trying out different techniques and hacking patterns to create my perfect pair. You know I love to get out the heavy-duty tools while sewing (hammer! pliers! nails! - oh my!), and top stitching is enormously satisfying, so once I got started making jeans, it was hard to stop.

I made a couple pairs using the Angela Wolf Angel Bootcut prior to this jeans-tornado, and while I was really happy with the fit, I wanted to see what I thought of the high-waisted style. I started with Ginger Jeans by Closet Case Patterns, because I've been happy with her patterns in the past, and her instructions generally seem very intuitive to me. I also wanted to give Baste & Gather's Birkin Flares a go.

Angela Wolf Angel Bootcut jeans
StyleArc Jett Jacket and Jalie Twist top

Closet Case Ginger jeans
Jalie tie top

Closet Case Ginger jeans

Baste & Gather Birkin Flares

Ginger + Angel (Ginger waist/butt, Angel legs)
StyleArt Jett Jacket, color block Jalie Twist top

What I learned
1) You gotta get the correct crotch curve. The Angela Wolf Angel Bootcut is more of a J-shaped curve (gentle slope), and the Ginger Jean is more of a L-shaped cover (like a piece has been scooped out). The first pattern I tried was AW, and luckily that really worked for me. StyleArc uses a curve similar to Closet Case, and I was never happy with the way these pants looked from behind (a view I don't see much, but others, like my DH, have told me). I have a high butt, narrow hips, and the distance from my waist to hip is on the short side. If that describes your body shape, you might need a similar crotch curve. On the Ginger pattern, this means I have to add a patch before I cut - I imagine this would be difficult to fix once the fabric is cut.

The green line is the original on the Ginger. I traced the magenta line off
the AW pattern, which is what works for me. Big difference!

Oh! And pocket placement matters! The Angels were pretty good out of the box but I had to move the Gingers up and in about an inch.

2) Check your crotch length (wow, that sounds personal). I needed to shorten the crotch length in front. I didn't notice this with my first few pairs of jeans because it wasn't too far off, but I have certainly noticed this with RTW pants. This adjustment is super easy. I made this adjustment after the gray Gingers, and I think you can see the different on the dark blue and black Gingers.

Green line is original, magenta is adjustment.

Green line is original, magenta is adjustment.

3) I like tight but not too-tight. I knew that the Birkin Flares would be tighter than what I had made before but I wanted to see what I thought of something with negative ease. I've only worn this pair of jeans two-tree times since I made them, and only as "going-out-with-heels" jeans, never during the day. I feel a little self-conscious about the tightness, but my husband loves them, so they will likely stay in my closet.

4) Find the fly front technique that works for you. Sewing a fly front is not as difficult as you might expect - it's just a series of steps. I've now tried three basic methods: Angela Wolf (Baste & Gather uses the same or very similar method), Closet Case Patterns, and Silhouette Patterns (one of my students sewed a pair in class). Silhouette patterns' method is definitely the easiest, but I found I preferred the method that Closet Case teaches. It just clicked with my way of thinking and I got the most consistent results using her method.

5) Get the good fabric. I made my first pair from some random denim in my stash, and it didn't hold up well. I got about a year out of those jeans, and after putting in the effort to make them, I want them to last longer than that. I bought some Cone Denim in a Closet Case kit and it is fabulous - great weight, recovers well (I can wear a pair for more days than I care to admit without bagging), and it distresses well if you are into that. Cone Mills I also available at Threadbare. and I just bought some beautiful denim in the Gorgeous Fabrics sale. I made my black pair out of high quality denim from Marcy Tilton - a birthday present from DH - how did he know? ;). You can't see it in the photos, but it has a slight giraffe print to it.

6) Find the leg shape/leg length that works for you. I first cut my Gingers full length, but somehow they never looked right to me and I thought I just wasn't a skinny-leg-jean person. Then I rolled them up and it changed the looked completely, so I went back and hemmed them at ankle length. I'm sure that there is some visual trick that explains this (I suspect that full length skinny jeans are off balance on someone whose widest point is her shoulders), but it was helpful to see that something simple like hem length completely saved these jeans for me. I gravitate towards boot cuts & flares, but it's good to know that I can make skinny work.

7) Have fun with your pocket linings! I have a lot of quilting cotton scraps and I love having fun with these on the pocketses.

You'll see that I don't use traditional jean buttons for the jeans. I have done, and I like those, but I also like playing around with other metal buttons. And I don't like having traditional jean buttons on my back pockets - too pokey! I purchased these from Angela Wolf's shop (I don't think she sells them anymore) and Wawak.com. And I found some cool metal buttons on eBay that I'm excited to use.

If you haven't tried making your own jeans, I highly recommend giving it a go. It's enormously satisfying work, and getting that perfect fit is worth it. It takes me 6-8 hours to sew a pair now that I have the fit worked out, depending on how much distressing I do along the way. I followed Angela Wolf's Craftsy course the first time I made a pair, and it was very helpful. Closet Case also has a great sewalong, and I bet her class is fantastic. Sew on!


Gifts for Young Sewists

The mother of one of my young students contacted me over the weekend for advice on sewing related gifts. She specifically wanted to know if a dressform (which her daughter wants) would make a good gift. I advised against that (her daughters body will change so much in the next few years that the cost outweighs the value). But that got me thinking about what would make a great gift for a sewing kid.

Most of what I recommend here is available at your local Joann Fabric Store or whatever else you have in your area. I'll provide Amazon or store links for easy online viewing. These gifts are aimed at the late elementary/middle school age level, since that is who I mainly teach in my machine sewing classes for kids. And I'm not receiving any compensation for these recommendations - just my personal opinions.

Sewing Books
There are many wonderful reference and project books out there that can help your young sewist move forward with his or her sewing. 

For a general reference book, take a look at Sewtionary by Tasia St Germaine or The Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing.

Project books often come with a set of patterns, or show you how to cut out the pieces with basic measurements.

1) One Yard Wonders - I used this book a lot when I first started sewing. It has a nice variety of projects (simple apparel, home dec, stuffed animals, handbags) that can be made with one yard or less of fabric.

2) A Kid's Guide to Sewing - Basic projects and instructions. My daughter has this book and it has some interesting projects and good instructions.

3) Sewing School 2: Lessons in Machine Sewing - I don't know this book personally but the reviews are very strong.

4) The BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook - This book is more advanced, but it is a great way to see how you can make small changes to a pattern for a very different look.

And for those who can't make it to a sewing class and but like "live" instruction, check out the online classes at Craftsy.com.

Sewing Patterns
Finding good patterns that match your child's skill level and have good instructions can be a challenge. I know the pattern lookbooks can be overwhelming if you are not a sewist yourself. Here are a few places to get started.

New Look has a good collection of "tween" patterns that are sized and designed for 8-12 year-olds and I've found that my students really like these patterns. Unfortunately, you can't search on their website for this collection - you have to look for the patterns with a yellow band at the top AND with the tag "tweens" under the yellow band. For newer sewists, look for patterns marked "easy."
New Look 6339

Simplicity Project Runway
The designs in this collection appeal to younger sewists, and many of them are easier to sew. Look for patterns marked for "girls" if your daughter is not yet wearing misses sizes.

Simplicity 8026
In general, you want patterns with a small number of pattern pieces as they will be easier to sew. This can be hard to identify if you don't sew, but if you look at the line drawings on the back of the pattern envelope, you can get a good idea of how many pieces a pattern will involve.

Scissors - Good scissors are essential. New sewists have to build up their hand eye coordination when it comes to cutting, and poor scissors make this process even harder. It's easier to put together a project when you have nice straight edges, and choppy cutting make it harder to sew. I sew with 9" Kai professional shears and Ginghers are also a great brand. I've been sewing for 3 years with my pair without needing to get them sharpened, and the cheaper pair I had before that needed sharpening twice a year. Younger sewists will probably want 8" shears.

Ruler - In addition to a measuring tape, a transparent ruler is also helpful for measuring and cutting. My favorite is the 6" wide quilting ruler.

Marking tools - This is important for marking and labeling pattern pieces. I use clay Tailor's chalk and these Clover Chaco Liners (they come in yellow, pink, white, and blue).

Thread - It is helpful to have a wide range of thread colors available. I know I would love it if someone bought me this set or this set

Who doesn't love the gift of fabric shopping? Get your sewist a gift card to your local store, or to one of the many online stores out there. My personal favorites are:

GorgeousFabrics.com - quality apparel fabrics
Fabric.com - huge selection of quilting, apparel, and home dec fabrics, plus free shipping over $50
MoodFabrics.com - quality apparel and home dec fabrics
GirlCharlee.com - specializes in knit/jersey, lots of modern prints

Sewing Machine
If you are looking to give your young sewist her first machine, I have a couple of recommendations. Both of these machines are good starter machines that will last for years. Please stay away from machines at the big box stores - the lower prices sacrifice quality by replacing metal parts with plastic.

Pros: Great basic stitches, all metal parts (hard to break), vertical bobbin (also hard to break), decent with thick fabric, sturdy, lightweight, adjustable stitch length
Cons: Poor light, some problems with breaking needles (buying Schmetz brand seems to fix the issue)

Pros: Speed control, adjustable stitch length, basic stitches, lightweight, good quality for price
Cons: Poor light (you'll need an extra lamp), drop-in bobbin (my repair guy says that often beginners break the plastic in a drop-in bobbin and it's an expensive fix), not great for thick fabrics or many layers (handbags, heavy fabric), mostly plastic parts

If you have any questions or if you have recommendations for this list, please comment below!

Happy Sewing and Merry Holidays!

Fall Wedding

Photo: Robert Gaona

In September of 2015, K contacted me about making her wedding dress. She had found a picture online of a dress that she loved but couldn't find anything like it in the shops. I poked around and finally figured out that the original dress was custom made by a woman named Penelope Perkins in Salt Lake City.

Photo: Alixann Loosle Photography

K loved the layered look of the skirt but wanted some changes. I did a few rough sketches until we were both on the same page about what she wanted.  Then came swatches and fabric choices and finding a base pattern. I decided to use Kwik Sew 3929 because the neckline was close to what she wanted.

This was a very different experience from my first wedding dress, as almost everything I needed to do I had already done before. I didn't have the same nail-biting moments where I "knew" what I had to do (but I only knew it because I had read about it in a book or watched a video online) but wasn't entirely confident I could pull it off. So this time around I had much more confidence and much less terror.

The muslin revealed some fitting issues and I made the following adjustments to the pattern:
  • Sway back adjustment of about 3/8"
  • Take in princess seams here and there
  • Lower center front section by 1 inch
  • Lower armsyche by 1/2"
  • Adjust front shoulder slope - not sure what to call this, but I had to slash and spread a little dart (you can see this in the photo below)

Blue lines are new stitch lines

Construction details:
  • The bodice and skirt were underlined with white cotton batiste
  • I used poly charmeuse for the base layer for both bodice and skirt, and the bodice has a lace overlay
  • I used the same poly charmeuse for the lining, and underlined the bodice lining with muslin
  • The bodice has boning at center, side fronts, side seams,  side backs and just outside back zipper for a total of nine spiral steel bones (I later shortened the center bone by about 3 inches)
  • The skirt handkerchief overlays are alternating chiffon and lace - once I knew how long I wanted the points to be for each layer, I got to review high school geometry to figure out the size of each square
  • I cut the waist of the skirt overlays large so that I could add volume with pleats (you can see these in the picture below where K's mom is zipping up the dress) 
  • I did not hem the lace overlay and I sewed a tiny rolled hem for the chiffon layers - about 13 yards worth of hemming
  • Neckline lightly eased to shorter twill tape to help it curve inwards
  • Waist stay added to help distribute the weight of the skirt
  • Wedding dress strength invisible zipper
  • Lining hand stitched to outer layer
  • Fabric was purchased from Fabric.com 

K's mom came to almost every fitting and her joy and excitement for her daughter was palpable.

Photo: Robert Gaona

Photo: Robert Gaona

K works for our local park district and she and her husband were married in one of the local parks. We've had a mild fall in the midwest, and their day was sunny and bright, warm in the sun and slightly crisp in the shade.

Photo: Robert Gaona

I love these kinds of projects: fun, challenging sewing on something that really matters to the client. I am so grateful for this work. Happy Thanksgiving to all my US readers - may you all find projects that will you with gratitude for the gift of sewing!

Photo: Robert Gaona

My Latest

Hey! How are you all? It's been awhile since I posted here (not apologizing, just observing). I post a little more frequently over on Instagram, but I'm a bit downpour or drought when it comes to social media.

I've been working on some fun projects this year and I'll do my best to post about them at some point. Or not. We'll see! My latest is a partnership of two of my favorite Indie pattern companies: Jalie and StyleArc.

I found the inspiration for the trousers in a Sundance catalog that made it to the pile of reading material in the bathroom. When I saw them they reminded me of the Style Arc Lola pants, if you could imagine a few tweaks (which I could and did). I should show you a picture of the inspiration pants now, but they are no longer on the Sundance website and if I get up to go take a picture of the ripped out page, I'll likely get distracted and then this post will join the rest of the imagined posts in my mind. So instead, I'll just ask you to trust me. They looked like Lola pants with front patch pockets and a center seam down each leg.

Casual elastic waist pant with pockets & back hem detail
Style Arc Lola Pants

So I made a muslin of the Lola pants. The only alteration I had to do was to add a 1/4 to each side seam from about hip level down. Now that I've made up the pants in a linen-rayon blend, I kinda want to take that 1/4" back out, but I'll see what happens after I wash them. Oh, and I also added about an inch to the length.

Design changes were to add the center front seam to each leg using the grainline as a reference point, changing out the pockets for patch pockets, widening the front flat waistband so that it lined up with the new center seams. I also ditched the elastic in the back hem, but I might try that if I make a version of these with a heavier weight fabric.

And it looks about like what I wanted.

I bought some of the same linen-rayon fabric (from Fabric.com) in a dark teal and I might make a few more tweaks before I sew up a second pair in my more favorite fabric.

The top is the Jalie Haut Twist top without the front ruffle. I love this pattern and the red version is the fifth one I've made since March. And I have an idea for a sixth using two different fabrics. You can see the whole parade of them in my Instagram feed. The fabric for this one plus all but one of the other four came from GorgeousFabrics.com. My changes to the pattern were to add an inch in length, omit the back tie, and finish the neck the arms with clear elastic (I didn't like how the fold under method in the instructions turned out).

So there you go, another two items off my summer list. Because I am trying to follow a list this summer so that I can stay focused. So far I've crossed eight items off my personal list so it just might be working!

What about you? What are you sewing and how do you stay focused?