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

What's Up: Maria's skirts, Cora's dress, Mishaps

Howdy, Readers.  This past week or so has felt utterly crazy, and I'm not entirely sure why.  Devon's on staycation, so the schedule has changed, but that's not the whole story.  The girls both came down with hand, foot, and mouth disease, so that added to the chaos.  And I think I was suffering from bad luck, at least in the sewing room.  Maybe that poltergeist returned.  Whatever the cause, my patience and my seam ripper have both gotten a good workout.  So I don't have much to show, but show it I will!

I finished Maria's skirts, and I'm happy with how they turned out.  The first is a chevron jersey skirt (the style I practiced by making my own).  I got very nervous at the last minute that it wouldn't fit well because the fabric wasn't as stretchy as my practice skirt (which I had her try on to judge size), but it all worked out so my jitters were for naught.  I love the fabric she chose (an Ella Moss Rayon Striped Jersey from Hart's fabric - now out of stock):

I did a fold-over yoga waistband on this one instead of elastic.  Maria liked it enough to order a second one, so that's good news.  And I am working on the tutorial, but it's harder to write up than I expected.  I'll get it out soon, promise!

Maria's second skirt was a simple A-line which we mixed up by added a band of solid fabric and then a band of the main fabric, but in the reverse direction from the rest of the skirt.  The fabric is Joel Dewberry's Heirloom Marble Stripe in Green:

I also made a dress for Cora a week or so ago.  Getting photos proved difficult as she's decided she's not sure she likes the dress (humpf), but here's my reluctant model:

I found the fabric in the remnant bin at Hancock's and put it together similar to how I made my refashioned t-shirt dress (but I made the bodice for this one).  Cora thought the polka dot fabric looked like a "fire dog" so I found an image of a dalmation online, used that to cut out the fabric, and then appliqued the dog to the dress by hand and machine.  Hopefully the dress will grow on her!

I've got a number of things in the works, including a new handbag style (for Jill), a linen skirt (for Eileen), skirts for a new client (Stephanie), and a dress for myself that I hope to finish in time to submit it to the Burdastyle Summer Sewing Challenge.  I sure hope my bad luck is cured.

Have a great week!

A Solution to the Problem Shirt and a Warning from Trivium

One of the things I love about sewing is that it gives me ample opportunities to solve problems.  In my past life as a teacher and teacher supervisor, solving problems was my favorite part of the job because it allowed me to make connections and be creative. 

Last weekend I didn't have much time to sew so I decided to make another top based on the Simplicity 2580 pattern.  I've already made a dress and another top from this pattern, and I was pleased with the results both times:

I decided that I wanted a basic white version of the top. Sunday afternoon I quickly cut and sewed the top only to find when I threw it on that there were tiny HOLES in the fabric, about 4 inches above the hem.  I bought this fabric on clearance from the Vogue Fabrics booth at the Sewing Expo I attended last March in Schaumburg.  I vaguely remembered (after the fact) seeing these holes when I took a closer look at the fabric when I got home, but when I went to cut out the fabric I completely forgot about them because I was trying to avoid a rust-colored smudge in the middle of the fabric (not my most successful clearance purchase). 

So now the small amount of sewing time I had last weekend had been squandered on a failed project.  Before I got too humpfy I decided to see if there was a way to solve the problem.  The holes were too high up to fix by cutting off the lower part of the shirt and adding a hem band.  Then I thought about cutting off the entire bottom half of the top (at the bodice seam).  I've been wanting to sew a color block something so this seemed like a good fit, but I couldn't find any solid jersey in my stash that felt right.  So I turned to my closet to see if something would work. 

And now I have a top I like made up of my failed project, an Anthropologie shirt that never really worked on me, and a strip of fabric left over from an alteration I made to a client's jersey skirt: 


I'm happy with this save but I was left feeling vaguely dissatisfied.  I think I have a bigger problem to solve.  I've been reading The Phantom Tollboth to Cora and this passage really struck me:

     "But why do only unimportant things?" asked Milo, who suddenly remembered how much time he spent each day doing them.
     "Think of all the trouble it saves," the man explained, and his face looked as if he'd be grinning an evil grin - if he could grin at all.  "If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you'll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult.  You just won't have the time.  For there's always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing, and if it weren't for that dreadful magic staff, you'd never know how much time you were wasting."

The man speaking in this passage is the Terrible Trivium, "demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit."

And I realized (probably again) that I've avoided taking on harder personal projects during my weekend sewing time because I'll need several weekends to finish them.  I've opted for unimportant, easy projects instead of important (in terms of skills development), harder ones.  And so even being successful with a problematic small project just doesn't thrill me because the whole project is not that challenging.

So here's my solution.  This week I will cut out and start work on one of the Burdastyle dresses I've had my eye on (so that I can finish it in time for the August 5 Summer Sewing Challenge deadline).  And then I'm going to start Gertie's Bombshell Dress online sewing class I purchased from, in which I'll learn to "customize the included BurdaStyle pattern, make a muslin, and construct a highly tailored garment with boning, bust padding, underlining and hand-picked zipper."

Oh. Boy. 

What's Up: Detour to Wallet Town, Finished Skirt, Crafty Gathering

My Etsy shop has generally been a bit of a bust.  I've only sold one item to someone who is not a friend or relation, and that was a custom order and not something already in the shop.  Truth be told, I've put almost no effort into the shop because my local custom order clothing business keeps me plenty busy, so I really shouldn't be disappointed. 

I did get "convoed" a couple of weeks ago by someone who wanted a wallet like the ones in my shop but with a zipper closure instead of a snap.  This provided some good motivation for a) figuring out how to do the zipper closure, and b) making a new wallet for myself so that I had a prototype to show her.  This week the girls are in a morning summer camp so I've had some extra time to work on it.  I bought a pattern for a wallet with a zipper closure so that I could easily learn how to do it.  As the pattern design is different from mine in all other respects, I think I'm safe to use this one technique from it (the pattern I purchased is the Easy Zip Wallet from Jamie Kalvestran for those who are interested).    And here is the result:

This is like my other wallets in that it is constructed mainly from upholstery scraps (swatch books, scraps from an upholstery store), which makes for a fun inside:

I love making pretty, practical things and this fits that bill.  It's small enough to fit in a bag but I can also fit my phone, house keys, check book, and all the regular wallet stuff into it for quick trips out.  I love my new wallet and I've already had three orders for this new design, so it looks like it's a winner!  Who knows, maybe I'll hit the Etsy jackpot with this one!

I finally finished Spencer's skirt last week (I had to do a muslin for this one).  This is the 6-panel skirt from Kay Whitt's book Sew Serendipity.  The fabric is the same Joel Dewberry Heirloom combination that I use for Linda's dress, and I do like these fabrics together:

I also like the handy little side pockets:

I've got something new on the horizon.  Kristine Fachet from Sur Le Feu and I have organized a gathering of crafty/artistic folks for Thursday, August 9 at Studio 22 here in Berwyn.  It will be a mixture of folks who craft for fun and for profit, and I can't wait to hear about all the things people are doing in their various fields.  I'm also looking forward to talking to people face-to-face about sewing and crafting since most of my conversations in that vein happen online.  If you are local and want to join in, send me an email at

This week I plan to finish up Maria's skirts and get started on a dress for the new Sewing Challenge over at Burdastyle.  And I also need to turn my ideas into actual plans for the Camp Runway program I'll be leading at The Little Bits Workshop in August (8 middle school girls have a week to make an outfit). 

And just for fun, here's the fedora I bought to give my head some extra height ($8 at Burlington Coat Factory):

The Ideal Body

I've been thinking a lot about an article on The Ideal Silhouette that I read in the most recent issue of Threads magazine.

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Christina Hendricks - image via

I'm not out to get into a debate about the The Ideal Silhouette - the hourglass - and how close/far it is from real women's figures or how fair/unfair it is as a standard.  I do think it is what many of us - me included - strive for at some level because it's the shape we've associated with beauty from a young age.  And we are disappointed in our clothes and in ourselves when we don't meet it.

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Marilyn Monroe - image from TinyPic

What I am fascinated with is the technical problem of how to achieve it through illusion when it's not your real figure.

I'll come clean.  I have no problem with a little bit of fakery if it makes me feel good.  Left to nature, I have the body of a boy: small hips, no waist, broad shoulders, not much in the bust department (and I was dismayed to find that giving birth and nursing two lovely little people made what little I had almost disappear).  And of course, when I put on weight I don't become more curvy, just the same shape but broader.  So I fake it.  I wear a Wonderbra ("Hell-oooo B-cup!") and I try to wear clothes that make me look more shapely.

One of the things I liked about the Threads article is that it broke down why and how to take measurements to do a self-analysis of your own figure for both horizontal measurements and vertical measurements.  I've not been able to figure out if I'm an inverted triangle (keyhole) or a rectangle (column), and this article gave me a simple way to figure it out.  So now I have a new badge for myself!  I am an inverted triangle because my shoulders are a full five inches wider than my hips.  The length measurement that is the least "ideal" on me is the top of head to underarm (so this is why I like a teased crown!).  And I now have a reason now to buy the fedora I've been hankering after ("Thank you, Threads!").  You can download the article and do your own self-analysis here: Self-evaluation worksheet from Threads article.

I also liked that the article expanded the range of figure types from the four I frequently see (Triangle/Pear, Inverted triangle, Rectangle, Hourglass) to six.  The new ones for me were the Figure 8 (like the Hourglass but the shoulders slope down and the hips sit lower on the body) and the Oval (self-explanatory), and I have clients in both those categories.

The information on how to use illusion to give your self your ideal silhouette is also helpful.  And I say your ideal silhouette because Threads gives you permission to create a different sihouette than the Ideal.  Interesting, huh?  Most of the guidance I saw for my figure type is stuff I've naturally done because I like the way it makes me look (prints on bottom, solid colors on top, sleeveless tops, no poofy sleeves, fitted bodice) but it also gave me some new things to try (raglan sleeves - who knew??) and some ideas on how to cheat and make a style work for me that doesn't really fit my body type (bright colors or yoke/hip embellishment so that a pencil skirt looks more curvy).  I also now know why my attempts at wearing skinny jeans were doomed to failure (accentuates my shoulder/hip imbalance).  I've been eyeing a book by Peggy Sagers at Silhouette Patterns for some time now called Dressed to Kill Gently, which addresses the topic of illusion and focal points.  Doesn't that sound exciting??!

Most of all, I find the creation of this kind of illusion really fun.  It draws on my creativity.  It helps me appoach designing and sewing in a more strategic way.  It makes dressing feel a little bit like an art.  Does it add meaning to the world in any way?  Probably not, but it does aid acceptance of who I am and I'm a better person generally when I achieve that.  I will never have a tiny waist no matter how many times I do the Ab Ripper X workout.  But I can appear to have a smaller waist by working some fashion magic!  And that sounds like much more fun than removing a rib.

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Five figure types - from The Fitting Room

What's Up: Chevron Skirt, Sewing Supplies Organizer, New Fabric


One of my new clients, Maria, ordered a chevron jersey skirt.  I'm making it from a striped fabric, so I needed to create a prototype to figure out how to do it before I started cutting up her lovely Ella Moss fabric.  Since it worked, I now have a new skirt for myself!

The fabric is a striped rayon jersey that I bought from a while back because it was a) on sale for $2.39/yard, and b) a interesting color combination for a stripe.  It's now out-of-stock so don't fall in love with it!

I had to do some fiddly cutting out and pinning to get the chevron effect at the front and side seams but it was certainly worth the effort.  I hope to get a tutorial up for this skirt by next week for those who want to DIY, and I hope to have pictures of Maria's version of the skirt by then, too.

I wrapped up a different kind of project that I started while I was on vacation in Pennsylvania.  I did most of it there but needed some tools that I didn't have to finish it up, and I finally found a free hour this weekend.  This pocket organizer is long overdue in my sewing room:

I used a large upholstery swatch and some thick plastic wrap that came with something we bought ages ago.  I usually love to throw things out, but this plastic looked like it might be useful someday.  And now it is!  I generally followed a tutorial I found over at IndieTutes.  I also think this would be a great project for recycling a crib bumper and the vinyl wrapper that housed it. had a big sale on ITY and other knit fabrics and I went a little chevron crazy there.  I did buy a few not-chevron prints, but as you can see, the chevrons won! 

To my clients: let me know if you see something you like for a late summer/ fall top.

The top I worked on this weekend would look fantastic with a chevron print and I've got a couple variations of this top in my head that I hope to produce soon. The top is based on the Simplicity 2580 pattern that I used for a dress a few weeks ago.  And it also features one of my new loves: fold over elastic!  I'll wax poetic on wonderful stuff another day.  And I'll have better photos of the top later, but here's a quickie:

Next week I'll have some lovely client skirts to show and a funky dress I've been working on for Cora!  Have a great week!

Free Sewing Tutorial: Refashion a T-shirt into a Sexy Dress

I just love a fancy jersey t-shirt.  They are so versatile and manage to be both comfy and flattering.  I collect images of the simple little details that can be added to jersey tops to make them special. 

A couple of years ago I splurged on a Velvet top that I had been eyeing at Garnet Hill.  The color was perfect for a pair of Boden shoes that make me feel fabulous (see here) and I loved the neck detail.  This was before I learned to sew with jersey, so it wasn't something I could make for myself at the time.  Even on sale, it still cost something like $48, but I had some birthday money so I decided to be extravagant (after all, my motto is, "Moderation is all things, including moderation.").

If you are as frugal as I normally am, you can imagine my disgust when the top developed small holes near the front hem after only a dozen washes. 

This top was supposed to last at least a decade!  I held onto it, partially because I paid so much and partially because I hoped to have the skills to do something with it someday.

And now I do!  Keep reading for my tutorial on how to turn a ruined t-shirt into a sexy new dress.

You will need:
*Jersey top/t-shirt
*Jersey fabric for skirt, approximately 1 yard
*3-inch knit elastic (I bought navy elastic from the Etsy shop AC After Glow)
*Coordinating or nicely contrasting serger thread
*2-3 hours of time

Step 1: Cut top to size
Try the top on and hold the elastic around your waist to figure out where you want the waist of the dress to go.  Put a mark on the shirt at the mid-point on the elastic band (you ultimately want the top/skirt seam to hit about halfway down the elastic).  Measure from the bottom of the top to this point and then mark all the way around the top.  I usually do this as a series of small dots:

Cut off the bottom portion of the top.  Good bye holes!

You could make a runched flower with the scraps or use them for embellishment on the skirt or top.

Step 2:  Make skirt
I used a pattern from Sew U Home Stretch by Wendy Mullin.  I cut out the size small skirt but graded up to a size medium for the waist (since I don't really have a waist).  I like this skirt base because it's quite straight and I didn't want a flared bottom.  I decided to go with a fabric with horizontal stripes because with my figure issues (I'm an inverted triangle), I thought it would help balance out my broad shoulders.

I wanted the skirt to be fitted so I choose to go with this pattern. If you want a more flared skirt you could cut out two rectangles and just sew up the side seams or go with an a-line shape.

If you don't have a pattern for a jersey skirt, you could also follow the steps that Rita from Suburbs Mama has listed in her knit pencil skirt tutorial - just don't add the elastic.

Cut fabric and sew side seams.  I used a serger for sewing the side seams but you could also use a regular sewing machine.  For a regular sewing machine, use a long stitch (4mm) or a long zig-zag stitch.  I recommend practicing on a scrap of fabric until you get good results.

Press side seam towards the back.  Use a press cloth to protect the fabric if you are using a rayon jersey.

Step 3: Sew skirt to bodice
With the bodice on top and right sides together, pin and sew the bodice to the skirt.  You may need to stretch either the bodice or the skirt to get the two to fit together.  Don't worry about this - jersey is very forgiving!  Just make sure to distribute the stretch around the circumference of the seam.  I do this by marking the mid-point on the front and back skirt pieces and the front and back bodice pieces.  I then pin at the side seams and at this marked mid-point and stretch as I sew from pin to pin.

Step 4: Cut and sew elastic waistband
Try on the dress and wrap 3-inch elastic around your waist.  Pull the elastic so that it is a little snug and cut 1/2" bigger than this.  Sew the elastic together with a 1/2" seam allowance.  Press open and serge or zig-zag stitch the raw edges.  Turn elastic band to right side and stitch down seam allowance.

If you want to add a label to your dress, add it to the right side of the center back of the elastic.

Step 4: Place, pin and sew elastic
Try the dress on again and wiggle yourself into the elastic waistband.  Place it where you want it on the dress and use a couple of safety pins to pin the elastic in place at the side seams.  Try not to pin the waistband to yourself.

Gently wiggle your way back out of the dress.  Pin the rest of the waistband in place (using regular pins), taking care to distribute the excess fabric evenly. 

Now edgestitch the top of the waistband to the dress, stretching the elastic waistband as you go so that you don't end up with pleats in the fabric.

This was the hardest part for me.  I had to un-pick and re-sew about half of the elastic because the jersey bunched up and moved around under the elastic while I was sewing.  Check frequently as you sew to make sure that the jersey is nice and flat under the elastic and that you are sewing an even distance from the bodice/skirt seam.  I did not sew the bottom of the elastic to the dress because I was worried that the jersey would bunch again.  This has not been an issue as I've worn and washed the dress.

Whew, done!  Good work!

Step 5: Finish hem
Finish the hem by simply serging the raw edges or by serging, turning up, and top-stitching.  I serged the raw edges and did not hem it.

The dress will look pretty blah just laying on the floor so make sure you try it on before you give in to disappointment.  A jersey dress really needs someone in it to look good!


Please let me know if you have questions or notice errors.  I hope you enjoy the results!

What's Up: Owls, Chevrons, and a Muslin for Spencer

This felt like a slow week.  It might be the heat that is making time seem to slow down - I'm sure that humidity makes for a lethargic tick tock.  Nevermind that my whole being just droops when I walk outside into a wall of 97 degree weather.  I think I also always feel like I haven't accomplished much when I'm tracing or drafting patterns because there's no wow! to show at the end of it.

I did finish up Jen's little owl parliament (yep, I googled it.  A group of owls is called a parliament.  Isn't that lovely??).  Here they are looking a bit mischevious on our front lawn:

I'm thinking about offering crib bumper recycling as a service on Etsy.  I loved that with this project almost all parts of the bumper were recycled (fabric became cover, fluffy batting became stuffing) and the only "new" materials I used were felt scraps and thread.  I can see turning crib bumpers into a variety of soft toys or even dismantling them completely to make clothes. 

My personal project this week is making a chevron skirt out of striped jersey fabric.  One of my new clients, Maria, ordered one and I wanted to get some practice before cutting out her lovely Ella Moss fabric from

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I'm using a turqouise and tan fabric from (no longer available) and I'm excited to show you the results (and a tutorial!) next week.

I made a muslin of Spencer's skirt and now I can't wait to get down to the real thing.  It's a six-panel a-line skirt with contrast fabric between the panels.  I get to work with Joel Dewberry's Heirloom Empire Weave Garnet fabric again, and I love the richness of this design. 

Other than that I've been ordering tons of fabric for fall (July 4th sales) and I can't wait for the boxes to start arriving!  I think I could get drunk on fabric. 

This week I hope to finish Spencer's skirt and start on Maria's, while finishing off my skirt and another personal project.  And I'll be taking some time out to grill and drink cocktails with Devon tomorrow.  Hope you all have a wonderful week!