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

Sewing for Charity

On Monday night I offered a free sewing class for people in my local community.  I did the cutting with some help from Irene and Pam (ladies from my church), wrote up instructions, and organized sewing machine loans for those who didn't have them.  It was open to anyone who wanted to learn how to make a pillowcase, or folks who already knew how to make a pillowcase and just wanted to hang out and do some group sewing. ('Cuz what's better than a sewist?  A bunch of them all in one place, right?)  The only catch was that you had to donate at least one of the pillowcases to charity.

I'm so glad I did this!  I got to meet more people in my community, do a little teaching, and watch the pillowcases take shape.  Ten people came out for the fun, even though it was snowing.  And I'm pretty sure they had a good time, too.

Rhonda Buss was my main motivation for organizing this event.  Some of you know Rhonda from her blog and from the beautiful sewing that she does.  I took on making someone's wedding dress this past fall and I would never have been successful without Rhonda's help.  And when the work was done, Rhonda wouldn't accept payment for her time and support, so I had to think of some other way to pay her back.  She's been building an army of pillowcases for the Mary Bridge Hospital in Tacoma, WA, so helping her in return seemed like the right thing to do.

So these 15 pillowcases have marched off to join the other 900+ pillowcases that Rhonda has collected so far.   Onward, ho!

Things Being Various

Extra credit to those who can tell me from where I stole the title of this post.  Hint: One of my favorite poems.

I had a bunch of small odd jobs to do this past week - fixing a snap on someone's favorite winter coat, sewing heavy metal patches on my husband's favorite jean jacket, mending holes in jeans, bartering with my electrician (I repaired his comforter, he fixed my counter lights).  I also made yet another corsetted pencil skirt (second one for this client).

Look at that tear!  He won't let me fix it because he says it's easier to hang.

The comforter's electrician made me laugh.  He's an older, gruff guy with a little white fluffy Lhasa Apso that he clearly adores.  The dog rides shotgun when the weather is warm enough, sleeps at the foot of his bed, and travels to Mexico with him for the winter.  The damage to the comforter was due to the sleeping situation (I guess these dogs like to chew!) and one end was threadbare with big holes.  The electrician had taken the comforter to a couple of places and no one would fix it for him.  He didn't want to replace it because he can't find one exactly like it (he's almost as attached to the comforter as he is to the dog that mangled it).  So he had me chop off four inches and sew it back together.  He was so happy when I gave it back to him - it made my week!  And I love to barter since the "payment" can't be taxed!  (So far I've managed to barter for piano lessons, family portraits, logo work, business card design, and now, electrical work.)

Chopping block

Restitching ends of panels so they didn't pull apart

Slip-stitching the layers back together

I also won a copy of Lolita's Sugar Plum pattern in Lladybird's giveaway.

I've had my eye on this pattern since I saw Rhonda's version of it and I can't wait to sew this up for myself after the holidays!  I'd love to use this Italian Silk Op Art print from Mood (are you listening Santa???  I only need 1.5 yards!!):

I made some progress on my Jean-ius jeans:

And I made up a flyer for the Free sewing class I'm teaching next week in order to add to Rhonda's pillowcase drive:

Let's see what this week brings!

A Snippy Day

I spend the last couple days at the cutting table (aka, the large self-healing mat that lays on my sewing room floor).  This is probably why my jeans get so worn at the knees.  I hate cutting, so I sometimes do a marathon session so that I won't have to do it for a while.  Yesterday I spent about six hours cutting out fabric for scarves and today I cut out a client's skirt during naptime.  So glad I get to sew tonight and all day tomorrow!

The scarf project took a long time because I had to eke out the scarf pieces from jersey scraps and old t-shirts, and then decide what went with what.  Here's what I had at the end of the day:

Twenty scarves!

These are going to become teacher gifts and, if I'm lucky, I'll have some leftover for my Etsy shop.

Whew.  So glad that's over with  . . .

Nothing Fancy: McCall's 6408 in Black


I made this ponte cardigan for myself a couple of weeks ago now.  I had just decided to abandon the Elisalex dress until spring (I couldn't make myself do the work of picking things apart and redesigning the skirt when I wouldn't be able to actually wear the dress for another 6 months), and I wanted a quickie palate cleansing project.  I've made this pattern up twice before for clients.  Since the weather has turned cold, I've found myself looking in my closet for a black cardigan and the only one I had was a mangy cotton one I bought from Target when I was pregnant.

The pattern is McCall's 6408.

The fabric is a yummy ponte knit from  I started out making View D but decided I didn't like the asymmetrical hemline so chopped it off to make View B.  View B turned out to be way too long for my body shape, so I chopped another 5 inches off the length and gave it a 1.5" hem, and this was perfect for what I wanted. Chopping the length meant that the ties were now disproportionately long, so I chopped 5" off each of them.  I didn't make any alterations to the fit - this garment is not fitted and looked fine as is (apart from the length that is - before I took it to the chopping block it looked like I was wearing a bathrobe).

I had to lighten these photos so that the cardigan details would be visible.
This left me so washed out I decided B&W was better.

The only other modification I made was to add a bit of elastic to the back since the ties come from the side seam and don't really shape the back on their own.  This is a simple technique I've used in the past to give shape to t-shirts or other loose-fitting garments.  I simply cut a 3" piece of 3/8" elastic, drew a horizontal line 4.5" long in the center back, and used a zig-zag stitch to sew the elastic to the line, stretching as I went.

When I make this again, I might add length to the ties so that I can wrap them around to the back and then to the front again, or I might use a wider elastic to gather the back a bit more.

While this seemed like a super boring project at the time, I've probably worn this cardigan 2-3 times a week. Boring, but useful!  At this rate, I'll wear the cardigan 60 times this winter (pretty good price per wear rate).   I'm thinking I might need another one in gray just to mix things up a bit.

I also made the scarf I'm wearing from leftover ponte knit (the taupe pieces are from the McCall's 6408 I made for a client and the purple pieces are from the Cake Tiramisu I made for a client).  I find I almost always have a strip of fabric about 6-8 inches wide left at the end of my yardage when I make up a knit/jersey project.  I've been turning these into fashion scarves (not to be confused with the kind of scarves you wear outside during a Midwest winter).  I'm pretty sure this is what Cora's teachers will receive as their Polderman present this year.

What's the best boring garment you own?

Multiplication by Duplication

One of my favorite requests from clients is to replicate an existing garment.  I enjoy doing this because I know the new garment will be a favorite because the client has already road-tested the style and fit, AND because there usually aren't any tricky fitting issues that come up in the process.  I use the method described in Steffani Lincecum's book Patternmaking for a Perfect Fit (I was pleased to note that Sunni of A Fashionable Stitch also recommends this book).  I'm also in the process of taking Kenneth King's Jean-ius Craftsy Course, so I'll have another method in my arsenal soon.

And can I just say how excited I am to copy my favorite jeans????!!  I bought my favs for $10 from Burlington Coat Factory.  The quality of the denim isn't great, so they only made it about a year, but I LOVE them.  Can't wait to have another pair in good quality denim (or 3 . . . and maybe one in stretch wool instead of denim . . .).

You can check out some of the other garments I've replicated here and here.  My latest request was to copy two favorite knit tops.  The first was a simple peplum top from Old Navy:

The only real change my client Susan wanted to make was to have the sleeves swapped to elbow-length.  

The biggest challenge in copying an existing garment is accuracy, which is fun for me because I get to unleash that meticulous, picky side of my personality (instead of inflicting it on my family, friends, or home).

Pinning side seam and waist seams

Pinning through onto paper (I iron the filler paper from shipped packages),
and I find it helps to wiggle the pin a bit to make the hole in the paper a bit bigger.

Connecting dots and adding seam allowance

Susan chose a jersey fabric that we found on for the peplum top, from Michael Miller's Heaven and Helsinki stretch jersey line.

I have the top paired with a jersey skirt I made for another client.

The second top was a black swing top with asymmetrical side seam inserts.  The original top suffered a bleach accident.  Susan wanted the sides changed so that they became symmetrical.  She chose a black bamboo/rayon jersey from Vogue Fabrics and a funky print jersey from Mood.  I didn't get a picture of the original, but here are the copies:

I have to say that this process still feels like making magic to me.  I'm always anxious that it won't work or won't fit well and (so far) it always does.  One of these days I'm going to get around to replicating my own fabric top, a poplin blouse I bought from Anthropologie about 10 years ago . . .

Wool Wiggle Dress, Gertie Style


In my last post, I asked people to guess what I was sewing from this picture:

Those funny organza strips went into making underarm gussets for wiggle dress I made for a client last week. 

Pretty cool, huh?

The dress pattern is from Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing.  I've made two other patterns from this book, the Bow-Tied Blouse (here) and her Pencil Skirt (here and here).  The wiggle dress I made had shorter sleeves like the dress on the book cover.

Fitting this dress on my client was relatively easy.  I cut a size 10 on top and scaled down to a size 6 at the hips.  The muslin looked a hot mess at first.  I've been following the LCD fitting technique I learned in a Peggy Sagers workshop (LCD - adjust length then circumference then depth) and when I pinched 1.25 inches off the length of the bodice (where it looked bunchy between bust and waist), it all worked.   The only other alterations I made was to take in the side seams at the hip about 1/4", peg the sides at the hem by 2" overall, and take in the princess seam under the bust at the second fitting.

I used a lot of the skills I learned from Susan Khalje's Couture Dress Craftsy Class and advice I got from Rhonda Buss while making the wedding dress.

The dress is underlined in black cotton batiste, which kept the soft drape of the wool but gave it a bit more support and structure.

I added organza selvedge strips to the back opening to keep the bias cut from stretching and hand-picked the lapped center zipper down the back (most of the zipper was inserted during Cora's piano lesson):

I attached the lining to the sleeves by hand with a slip stitch and understitched the lining with a pick stitch:

I added drapery weights to the back vent and thread chains to help the lining and dress move well together:

I bought 5 yards of this wool/wool blend fabric from a woman who was destashing on Craigslist before moving out-of-state.  The lining is an Ambiance Bemberg lining I purchased from about a year ago when it was on sale.

This dress made me think about couture vs. home or industrial sewing.  I used a number of couture techniques, but I also used quicker techniques when I thought going couture wouldn't add significantly.   Here are some of the places where I decided to go the home/industrial route:
  • I didn't hand baste the pieces before sewing (although I probably should have done this with the princess seams as I had to sew the second one three times before I got it right).
  • I serged the seam allowances instead of binding them in some way (I love the way a bound seam looks but I knew my client didn't care enough about this to pay for the extra time).
  • I attached the lining to the dress at the neckline by machine and understitched by machine with only a few hand stitches where I thought they were needed (time/cost issue).
One of the co-organizers of Berwyn Makers (a group for folks needing help running a creative business) wrote an interesting blog post on this issue last week.  Elaine Luther is a metal smith and jewelery maker (and lately, a painter).  She recently attended The Zoom Symposium, to discuss the Future of Craft, and she sums up how her thoughts on process have evolved over the years in a post on what she calls The Cult of the Handcrafted.  It's interesting to read about how she has moved away from needing to handcraft everything to deciding in certain instances to use quicker/high tech methods.  You can read the post here.

I'd like to take a course soon on industrial sewing techniques so that I can learn more about that side of things.  I want each garment to involve making decisions about technique based on the fabric, the style, the client, the cost.  What matters to me in this case is that I am happy with the way the dress turned out,  I don't feel like I cheated in order to save time, and my client loves it!

What about you?  Do you enjoy couture techniques?  When do you use them and when do you not?

Can you guess?

I have two guessing games for you today.  Who's feeling clever?

First, can you guess what I wrestled into submission yesterday?

Second, I received 500 fancy new labels earlier this week.  I'm so excited to be able to put my signature on my own garments and those I make for clients!  I bought them from, (recommended by Angela Wolf in her How to Start a Home-Based Fashion Design Business) and from order to arrival took about 2 weeks.  I love them! 


Can anyone guess how long it will take me to use all 500 labels????

Graphic Studio Faro Pencil Skirt

Sometime back in the summer I agreed to be a pattern test for Studio Faro's Pencil Skirt Worksheet.  I finished my muslin in late August or September, but then the wedding dress took over.  All along I planned to make up the skirt using this fabric, and when I saw that the challenge this week on Project Sewn was for a graphic print, I knew I had to get busy.

I like having bold prints or bright colors on my lower half as it provides a balance for my broad shoulders. This fabric is a stretch cotton sateen from, and it's on sale this weekend!

I used some of the techniques I learned while making the wedding dress, a combination of instruction from Rhonda Buss, Susan Khalje, and Gertie Hirsch:

Underlined the waistband with flannel and organza and added spiral steel boning.  I also drafted the skirt with a 2-inch contoured waistband, because I like it like that.

Installed a waist stay to keep the skirt in place (I walk fast and my side seam often ends up a center front).

Why not magenta?

Put drapery weights in the back vent to keep the corners from flipping up (I like how the weights tap the back of my knees when I walk) and finished the hem with lace and a blind stitch.

Installed the zipper by hand with a pick stitch so that I could better match across the seam.

I used one of my favorite buttons from my button collection.  I found this at a thrift store where it was the only one of it's kind - perfect for a skirt!  Isn't it a beauty?

I've drafted pencil skirts before but Studio Faro's directions were a bit different than I had seen previously. The thing that most amazed me was the perfect fit on the butt!  When I've drafted skirts using a different method, I usually have to play around for ages to get this fit:

I tweaked the fit a bit between the muslin and this skirt by taking in the side seams a titch, as my muslin was made with, well, MUSLIN, and my fashion fabric was a stretch cotton sateen.  I'm really amazed how well this came off the drafting table!

I should have some finished wedding dress photos to show you soon and I plan to write a "what I learned" post about the whole experience.  Next up: Gertie's wiggle dress for a client!