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

What's Up: Skirts for Domenica, Teaching, Sticky Fingers, Sleeves

It is a lovely spring day here in Berwyn: the sun is shining and all is well.  AND Grandpa is coming to take the girls to the zoo shortly so I can have a few extra sewing hours, so my cup overfloweth indeed.

I had a good week although it was not without it's pitfalls.  My main focus was completing Domenica's skirts as she wanted them for a vacation this week.  The first skirt came together well: straightforward fitting and no sewing mishaps.  Domenica chose a fun print from Sherri Berry Designs called Mod Tod Gears in Green.  The shorter length and flirty ruffle work well with this fun print:

The second skirt should have been easy as it was almost the same style as the first; I just wanted to move the zipper from the center back to the side and add a lining.  Easy peasy.  But you know when you are trying to parallel park your car into an easy spot but you just can't seem to get the angle right?  That's how I felt mid-way through making this skirt.  I felt like the skirt was cursed.  (Sorry Domenica, it really isn't.)  At almost every step I made some dumb mistake that was completely fixable but still annoying and time-consuming.  Like: I almost ran out of fabric while cutting it out (I had to piece together the inside back waistband), I sewed my label onto the front of the waistband instead of the back, I completely sewed up (and SERGED) both side seams of the lining so there was no opening to put it on, I turned around one part of the waistband while sewing it together.  My seam ripper got a good workout on this skirt as did my patience.  I finally walked away and came back to it later in the evening after relaxing for a bit.  The last few steps went smoothly so I guess the poltergeist had moved on from my sewing room.  I hope she didn't come to yours.

Here is the cursed skirt, looking very cheerful and obedient:

Domenica chose Happy Mochi Yum Yum India in Lemon (isn't that a lovely name?) for the main fabric.  I added teal topstitching to the pockets and waistband and a teal button for the closure.  And please notice how I matched the print on the pocket and pocket facing - nice, huh?!  I'll be making a reversible wrap skirt for Domenica a little later this summer.  She even found the tutorial for me!

Cora, my 4.5-year-old, has been practicing her hand sewing with a plastic needle and felt (little holes punched out).  I decided that it was time for her to try the real thing (thread, sharp needle).  This decision was mostly based on need - I wanted to keep working on something and needed to give Cora something novel to do.  And it turns out that she's ready!  Here's what she made:

If you can't tell, it's a Tooth Fairy pillow.  She wanted to put the eye drops in the pocket for the picture so that everyone could tell that the pillow has a pocket.  And she's super happy that she now has a handmade creation on my blog.  Ah, kids!

And speaking of kids, I think I can now say that I have taught sewing.  Teaching is not new for me - I spent 13 years as a teacher and teacher supervisor at a supplementary reading program - but I haven't yet taught sewing.  Liita, who runs Little Bits Workshop, invited me to come work with one of her students who was having trouble with a pleated skirt.  I jumped at the chance and had a lot of fun.  It was rewarding to work with someone new to sewing and L, the student, did a great job.  She got frustrated/bored/tired of the skirt at one point but pushed through until she got to a good stopping point.  So now she's got one more experience with the rewards of perserverance under her belt.  And Liita offered me a more regular teaching job going forward.  You can't see my smile but I hope you can feel it coming through the screen!

I decided to try to produce 4-5 clutch wallets for the Urban Trunk Show at Little Bits Workshop on May 12.  This item fits best with the upcycling/recycling emphasis at Little Bits and Liita thinks that they will sell well.  It usually takes me about 4 hours to make one, so I'll need to find a way to shave off some time.  One way to do this is to go into factory line mode, as I'm often faster when I am doing the same thing over and over again.  This weekend I did the work of selecting about 70 swatches to use for the wallets and then removed all of their backings.  I had to stop a couple of times to wash my hands as they kept getting sticky from the backing and the residue left on the fabric.  But here are 6 (including one for Jen) packs of wallet fabric, all ready for the cutting table (I'll try to squeeze that in somehow this week).

And, finally, I managed to find a small amount of time to sew some tops.  I fixed the Dolman Sleeve top (tutorial from Make It Love It) from last week by cutting 6 inches off the length and attaching a 5 inch band at the bottom.  I used the too-small version of the top to make the band so I still have a bit of fabric left (maybe a little shirt for Cora or Maisey or their bears?).  I also re-did the neck band and I'm much happier with it.  I don't know that this is ever going to be my favorite top, but I like it more.  And surprisingly, Devon went out of his way to say that he liked it and his usual response is a perfunctory "nice, good work," when I beg for a compliment on something that I've made. 

Oh!  And check out the chevron on the sleeves.  This was a bit of a happy accident.  I wanted to make sure that the stripes matched at the side seams so I laid the cut-out front on the fabric so that I could match the stripes before cutting out the back.  I didn't even think about the fact that this would make a chevron along the shoulder seam, but it did!

I was feeling a little unfulfilled on Sunday afternoon because all I'd managed to do sewing-wise was getting all that backing off the swatches.  So while Devon took Cora to the store and Maisey was still napping, I whipped up another cowl neck top.  I wanted to try putting a short sleeve on it so I flipped through my patterns to find one that I liked.  I stole the cap sleeve from Vogue 8787 (which is a great dress - I need to make this soon!):

Pinned Image
Vogue 8787

I didn't really spend much time thinking about how this would work.  I cut out a size and pulled the armsyce while I sewed in the sleeve to give it a curve. And it worked!  Have I said yet how much I love sewing with jersey?  So in less than an hour I had this new top:

So this week I will finish Bryn's skirts and start working on Marides' skirts.  And then there's all that cutting to do.  Maybe I can borrow some of L's perseverance.

Have a great week!

Free Sewing Tutorial: Draft a Cowl Neck

UPDATE: I added a tutorial for drafting a facing for a cowl neck top here.

UPDATE: You can find a tutorial for the deeper cowl neck here.

I have a simple t-shirt/shell pattern that works well for me but I have enough basic tops - I want something fancier!  I love the high cowl neck look that is going around these days: 

Pinned Image
DKNY from
Pinned Image
LRK from

I wanted to make this look without having to shell out money for a new pattern and I couldn't find a free tutorial online that was really what I wanted.  So I hid out in my sewing lab and figured it out!  I use a lot of online tutorials in my sewing so I'm always happy when I have something to share with all of you.  Here's what I created:

*1 - 1.5 yards of drapey fabric with stretch (jersey, knit, stretch charmeuse, maybe even stretch poplin)
*Tracing paper (I use Bienfang Canary Sketching and Tracing Paper, the 50 yard/24" roll)
*Clear ruler
*Top/bodice pattern that you like (if you don't have one, there are plenty of tutorials online that will show you how to create a pattern from a t-shirt or top that you have in your closet, like this one).

Step 1:  Cut & spread neckline
Trace your front bodice/t-shirt pattern onto a new sheet a paper; you need to cut the pattern so you don't want to ruin your master.  Draw a curved line under the neckline, 1.5 inches down from the original.  Cut along this line until you are about 1/8 inch from the shoulder line.

Draw two lines that meet at a right angle on a new sheet of paper.  Place your cut pattern piece along the top line on this piece of paper.  Spread the neckline so that both points touch the top line.  Angle the remaining bodice so that the bottom center front corner touches the side line.  Tape into place.  This sounds harder than it is so don't fret!  It should look like this:

Smooth out the angle created at the shoulder line:

Step 2: Turn half pattern into full pattern
You need to cut on a bias for this design, so you will need a full instead of a half pattern.  Take a big piece of tracing paper and draw a T with lines meeting a right angles.  Trace your half cowl neck pattern onto one side of the T and then flip and trace it onto the other.  It should look like this when you are done:

It looks a bit odd, doesn't it?  Trust me, it works!  Imagine that super wide neckline draping in the middle because this is what will happen.  (Ignore the wide band in the middle of my pattern piece - my tracing paper wasn't large enough so I had to tape two pieces together with masking tape.) 

Draw a new grainline that is at a 45 degree angle to the center line.

Step 3: Place and cut your fabric
Spread out your fabric.  Place the front pattern piece on the bias and the back pattern piece on the straight grain.  It will look like this:

Cut and sew the top as you would normally.  I have left the edges serged and turned them under by 1/4" and topstitched them into place - your choice.  I added a band to the bottom for this top but you could do a simple hem or leave the hem unfinished.  However you finish it you now get to glow with pride everytime you wear it because you drafted the pattern and put it together on your own!

I also drafted a cowl neck from a pattern that had a bodice dart which made for a deeper cowl.  I'll post instructions for how to do this if there's interest - leave a comment if you want it!

Credit:  I generally followed instructions I found in Adele Margolis' book Make Your Own Dress Patterns.  I strongly recommend this book if you are interested in learning about drafting patterns.

What's Up: Success in the Knit/Jersey Laboratory, Skirts, Little Bits Workshop

Greetings!  This last week was a good mix of drafting new patterns AND sewing them into something wearable.  I'm excited to share the things I've made and I'll be posting a new tutorial later in the week.

First: my mad scientist work in the knit/jersey laboratory is starting to pay off.  I've been working on adapting a t-shirt pattern I have (Sihouettes #195) into a cowl neck.  It took three drafts but I finally got it right, at least on paper.  I wanted to wear something new and handmade for a night of cocktails and speaks with my good friend Candice.  Candice is crafty (she's the lovely person who did all the hard work on setting up my blog and she has her own blog over at Candoodles) so I knew that she could appreciate the work!  Here's how cowl neck #1 turned out:

While it took hours and hours of drafting work to figure out the pattern, the top only took 45 minutes to cut out and sew.  I used a metallic steel jersey that I bought on clearance at for $2.39 - a small price to pay to feel spectacular at the Green Mill with Candice!  The fabric called for an edgier look, so I finished the hem, sleeves, and neck with a serge stitch to leave them looking a bit raw.  The fabric is black on the wrong side and I like how the black peeks out at the neck.  This is a deep cowl, which I like, but I also wanted to have a short/high cowl neck.  Devon had some friends over for a poker game on Saturday night and I spent my time drafting the pattern for and then sewing up this top:

I wanted these edges to look more finished since the fabric is so pretty, so I turned under and top-stitched the arm and neck and added a band to the hem.  I found this fabric (my best guess is that it is a stretch charmeuse) at the Economy Shop and I got 5 yards of it (60" wide) for $3.50!

I'll be posting a tutorial for the high cowl neck top a bit later this week so come back if you want to DIY.

I had a bit of time on Sunday afternoon so I worked on the Dolman Top with Banded Bottom tutorial from Make It Love It.  Here's how it is supposed to look:

Pinned Image

Cute, huh?  My first effort a few weeks back was too small (I forgot to account for the negative ease in the top I copied):

My second effort is closer but a little too baggy for my taste:

I think I'll cut off the band and try again by making the bottom band wider and snuger.  I'll probably re-do the neck band as well as I think it could be neater.  I do have to say that I LOVE sewing jersey now.  I like working on more challenging projects but it's also fun to make a top in an hour!

During the week I worked on skirts for Bryn and Domenica and I should be able to finish them up this week.  I added a blue band to Bryn's skirt and I like this mix of colors:

For Domenica's skirt I got to draft a pocket and a slim waistband (but still curved - no more rectangles!):

And finally, on Saturday I attended a gathering of crafters in River Forest.  Liita, who owns and runs The Little Bits Workshop, is hosting a Trunk Show for local crafters and artists.  Think Renegade but much smaller in scale (for now) and plenty of parking.  Liita has found a great mix of crafters (many of them local Berwyn-ites) with tons of talent.  I look forward to teaching some classes through the workshop this summer and I'm excited to see what we can do with the trunk show.  I'll post more info as we get closer to the date (May 12th - just in time for Mother's Day!), but you can get a preview here:  Little Bits Trunk Show.

Then to crown the week, I went to the zoo with my brother (in from Seattle) and the girls yesterday.  Look who we saw:

They put all of my efforts at creating some pop to shame!

Up next: I want to finish at least one each of Bryn's and Domenica's skirts this week and get their second skirts done next week.  I also hope to find some pockets of time to make small items for the trunk show.  Wish me luck!

What's Up: Vogue 8764 with Joel Dewberry Heirloom Fabrics, Matching Prints Across Seams, Fabric Delivery

I finished Linda's dress last night, staying up a little later than I should because I was oh-so-close to the end.  This was a fun dress to make because Linda chose such lovely fabric and because I got to try out three new techniques with it.

As I mentioned last week, the muslin fit almost perfectly.  I went down a size from Linda's measurements because the finished garment measurements looked too big at the size her measurements said she should wear (I find that the major pattern companies provide a lot - too much - ease in their sizing).  I decided to just put in a touch more width in the back and sleeves to make the dress a bit more comfortable.  To do this, I used Lorraine Henry's method of pattern alteration to add width to the back.  I took a class from her at the Sewing Expo and adding width to the back is one of the fitting issues she covered, and I was happy to get to use it so soon.  I watched the Peggy Sagers webcast on sleeves (March 19 show) to learn how to insert a larger sleeve into a smaller bodice (pretty simple - just trace the larger armhole size onto the smaller bodice).  And then I used the lapped seam technique from Threads #153 (March 2011) to match the fabric print across the center front seam in the bodice.

The main fabric is Joel Dewberry Heirloom Empire Weave Garnet and contrast band is his Heirloom Ribbon Lattice Fushia.  I'll put up a full-length photo once I get Linda in the dress as the dress looks much better on than it does just hanging around.  UPDATE: And here it is!!!

I'm excited to finally learn how to properly match prints across a seam and annoyed that I didn't learn this sooner as it's pretty simple, though time consuming, to do.  I've been thinking about when I'll do this.  I don't want to do it with every seam because I'd have to charge a lot more for my work and it wastes fabric.  And I've found that most people don't notice this because RTW clothing doesn't match across seams most of the time.  I'm thinking that I'll do it when I think it really matters, like on the front of a bodice or the center back seam for a skirt with a big print, like the skirt I'm working on for Bryn:

I love this Amy Butler print (Lotus Wall Flower in Cherry) and I wish it was available in more colors (it does come in other colors, but this is the only one I really like).  I used some of the scraps from Bryn's skirt to make this flower pin for Miss Cindy, the woman who runs the in-home daycare that Maisey and Cora attended before I left my job (the one I did for an actual company, instead of the many jobs I do now for my business and my babies).  I used the Kanzashi flower tutorial I found online at Live Creatively Now.

I cut the circles out while the girls finished breakfast and put it together while they watched an episode of The Jetsons, and that included the time I spent dithering over which button to use!

And, finally, I got a big box of fabric from before we went to Michigan for Easter.  How I love getting boxes of fabric!  From the top you see Joel Dewberry Tile Flourish in Amber (skirt for Marides), Amy Butler light olive, Amy Butler Midwest Modern II Fresh Poppies in Ivory (another dress for Jen), orange cotton jersey, Amy Butler Midwest Modern II Fresh Poppies in Sky (bias tape for Marides 2nd skirt), navy brushed twill (main fabric for Marides 2nd skirt), zebra jersey, metallic steel jersey, and black jersey.  I have my work cut out for me!  I found the jersey fabric in the clearance section and it will all be used in my ongoing experiments with knit and jersey fabric. 

This week I plan to work on Domenica's and Bryn's skirts and hopefully find time to make up a top for myself with my new jersey fabric.  I'm going out with my friend Candice tomorrow night (we decided that we needed to go somewhere not kid friendly, where we could wear heels and make-up and drink cocktails) and I'd love to have a new top to show off!

Hi-ho!  Have a good week!

What's Up: Vogue 8764 muslin for Linda, More work in the Knit/Jersey Laboratory

Greetings!  I'm a bit behind this week with my computer work due to non-sewing matters, but I'm excited to show you what I've been up to lately.  Last week my main project was putting together a dress muslin for Linda.  I played around with the darts on the bodice a bit and ultimately decided to leave them right where the pattern placed them (but figured out some things about moving darts, so I don't regret the time).  The muslin fit almost perfectly so I should be able to finish up Linda's dress before the weekend.  Here's the pattern I'm using:

Pinned Image
Vogue 8764

For those who are interested in trying out Vogue 8764, I like that the pattern has multiple cup size options.  I also appreciated that the finished garment measurements were given on the pattern pieces (although not on the back of the pattern envelope which would have been even more helpful).  I went down a full size and this ended up being almost perfect for Linda.  I'm learning that the finished garment size is much more useful in determining what size pattern I want to make.  I generally find that the pattern companies add more ease then I (or my clients) really want in a garment.  Peggy Sagers discusses this in a number of her free webcasts and her Silhouette patterns only give the final garment measurements.  Peggy's take on this is: Why would you measure your body when that's not the size you want it to be?  Measure your clothes.

I drafted the pattern for Bryn's first skirt and I'll show that off in next week's post.  I learned a new trick for matching up the print over a seam and the fabric that Bryn picked out is perfect for this.

I spent a good amount of time in my knit/jersey laboratory this weekend.  My current project is making a cowl neck jersey top for myself, and I want it to look like this:

Pinned Image
Phase Eight Carla Cowl Neck Jersey Top, Chilli from

I'm using the shell from Silhouette Pattern #195 as a starting point and I've been working on how to adjust the neckline.  You have to add both length and width to the neckline to get it to drape correctly, and I've now drafted the thing three times.  I finally got it right Sunday afternoon and then found I didn't have enough of the cheap jersey fabric I wanted to use as my muslin.  Grrrr.  So instead I whipped out a version of the Dolman Style Top with Banded Bottom Tutorial I posted about a while back.  I didn't add enough ease to this, but at least I had something I could wear by the end of the weekend!

I'll have more pictures of finished projects to show next week.  I hope you all have a wonderful week of Spring weather!