Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I am in a sewing funk. I'm not happy with my current projects and I had a moment this morning where I thought I'm just no good at this and what the hell am I doing anyway. I would have curled in a ball and cried this morning over the progress on my Liverpool shirtdress, but I had to go to work and didn't have the time.

I was trying to perfectly pipe some pocket flaps (say that three times fast), and it doesn't look good. The piping isn't turning corners nicely and it looks like crap. Like homemade. Which irritates me and makes me depressed and makes me think I can't really make anything nice so why am I trying.

That was how I was feeling today.

Then I got on my blog reader and Polka Dot Overload had a post recently dedicated to the same topic. And so did Colette Patterns?

So, I guess it's an epidemic. Not an epidemic of people who can't perfectly pipe their pocket flaps, but an epidemic of something. I think this quote from Kenneth D. King in the most recent Threads magazine started it all:

“If I were to say one thing and only one thing, it’s this: perfectionism is a disease, and a form of fear!

When learning the craft of sewing (which I believe is absolutely necessary in order to know what’s possible when designing), you should expect to destroy several acres of fabric before you get good. This is an acquired skill which can only be perfected by means of repetition—practicing over and over, learning from mistakes, learning when you can save something, and when you need to cut your losses and start over.”

I guess I'm in good company because I do waste yards and yards if not acres of fabric.

Still, it bothers me. I'm not a perfectionist. I have a good enough point, and maybe that point should be a little better. A little closer to really good?

I sew fast. I do everything fast so it's kind of no surprise, but sometimes in sewing that isn't a good thing. Granted, I can whip out a lined, a-line skirt with an invisible zipper in an hour or two. That's pretty cool. But sometimes I just wish I could slow down. Enjoy the process more. Take time on the tiny details, take time perfecting the craft so the finished products are really great and not just good enough.

Gag. I think I need to take a break from my machines for a while. Luckily I have a little Alabama Project sitting on the end table. It could use a little love this week. **sigh**

Look mom, I joined the Junior League

Have you ever seen the children's clothing catalog called Olive Juice? I have two little boys, so somehow through my online shopping I've managed to get my name added to their mailing list.

While their boy's clothes aren't exactly my cup of tea, the girl's things? Heavenly! So adorable, in fact, that I stole one of their designs from this season's catalog and reproduced it for myself.

That's right, people. I turned the Poppy dress into a dress for an adult woman on the upward slide to forty.

And guess what? I love it!

Here's the story.

I got their catalog in the mail a few weeks ago. I love love love this dress. The stripes! The ruffle! Love it.

Then I was in Omaha, Nebraska, for work one day and managed to find my way to their Hancock's store. You see, my Hancock's are total junk. Omaha's Hancock's on Center Street is awesome. The store is clean, the fabric selection is lovely.

I carried a big bag of bargain priced fabrics back on the plane with me, and one of them was this green and gray stripe knit. It's got a texture like pique but it's a little more subtle than the pique you see men's polo shirts made of.

I set about to experiment and see if I could make a similar dress for myself out of my new favorite striped knit. My worst-case-scenario would be that it would turn into a knit top if it looked hideous as a dress (less is more sometimes).

I love stripes, did I mention that? Love them.

I also love ruffles. Maybe I haven't told you all that yet, but I do. Love ruffles a lot.

And here it is. The finished product.

I used the sheath pattern from the Sew U Dresses book in my regular size, because with knits you'll have give (i.e. stretch) you wouldn't have with woven fabrics and I knew it would end up a little larger. That's what I wanted. If you want something more fitted, cut one size down in knits.

I reinforced the shoulders with stay tape and fell in love with my machine's stretch stitch (after two days of swearing and tearing out stitches that popped under each stretch test). No more straight stitches for me on knits! No sirree, I'll be using the little lightning bolt from now on. More on that later.

I think it looks kinda like a tennis dress for a Junior Leaguer, don't you? I love it. It's the kind of thing I'll wear all the time in the summer - to the pool, to Target, to the park. With flip-flops, with fancy sandals.

With a tan. Jeez, girl, get some sun would you?

Ok, so here are the details:

Once again, my photography stinks. Sorry for that. I wanted to show you the little Featherty tag I sewed on the outside of the neckline (in part to keep that stinking facing down!).

Total cost of the fabric was about $3.50. It was in the bargain section for $2.95 a yard and with the ruffles I used a little less than 1.5 yards. Score! The Olive Juice dress for little girls is $48.50.

After sewing on the ruffles I didn't want to use ribbing at the neck and arms so I made facings. Now I kinda regret that decision? They don't lay so nice. Is there a trick to this? I haven't sewn much with knits for years. Or would you have used ribbing (self) at the openings? I don't know, I'm open to suggestions.

I never know what to do with my body in pictures. I looked up so I could cut out my head and I laughed so hard when I uploaded the pics I decided to keep it. Nice nostrils, Heather.

Monday, March 29, 2010

lovely lovely Liberty

Have I mentioned before that I love Liberty of London's Tana Lawn? I do so love it. I think it's because I used to go with my mom into fabric shops that carried it and it carried such wow factor - "ooooh, look, they carry Liberty," and there was some touching of the lawn with longing and admiration.

And let me tell you, Tana Lawn is lovely.

That's why I was so excited when Target announced their new collaboration because I was hoping hoping hoping they'd get some sheets or curtains or something that I'd be able to use as fabric. To wish for clothes that would fit me is kind of ridiculous. Target's clothes are adorable and I stock up on their t-shirts all the time, but the rest of their things are engineered for those women much shorter than myself. And those women who like skirts super short. Whose waistlines are way up under my boobs.

I was disappointed at the original offerings of Liberty at the beginning of March. Nothing I could use! Until today, when I had to go to Target early in the morning to stock up on goodie bags for my son's 4th birthday party, and found these scarves! They're beautiful, they're made of 100% cotton lawn, and they're $14.99. What's even better is they measure 42" by 60", or 1 5/8 yard! I broke it down and it makes it about 8.99 a yard. Much better than +$30 the Tana Lawn costs!

So I pulled out my Amy Butler Liverpool shirt/dress pattern and set about cutting it out during naptime. I'm going to try to put a Ramonster twist on it. We'll see how it goes. I may chicken out and go conventional but we'll see.

Saturday morning I took my son out estate sale-ing with me, and check out what I got for $10.

This is an enormous framed piece of fabric! It feels like cotton that's been silk-screened but since it was made in the sixties it's hard to tell. What I can tell you is I love it and it will be adorning the walls of my {future} sewing studio. For now, it's adorning the wall of my basement sweatshop corner.

I also picked up an awesome pair of swivel stools for $15, and I'll share their transformation in a later post. There's some oilcloth in my future. I know furniture technically isn't about sewing, but I have to make new seat covers for them and paint them black. Exciting!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Top #3

I finished my third entry for the Spring Top Week contest over at Made by Rae. It's a skinny little cotton tank from a pattern in my Sweet Dress Recipe Japanese sewing book. They picture it as a tank and also as a dress.

I wear tops like this a lot in the summer as it is very hot here in St. Louis in July and August. Very hot. 110 with lots of humidity hot. Africa hot.

Unfortunately, the day I took these pictures it was really super cold and really really sunny. So they're not the easiest to see, right? I know, I know, I need a photography lesson. I don't have time for another hobby.

I laid it on a posterboard in my kitchen and took some unsunny pictures, too.

I love it for so many reasons, but one of them is that I was able to use up the last of my Katie Jump Rope from my stash! I really am growing to like Denyse Schmidt's prints for clothing more and more. They kind of remind me of a modern take on Liberty and the fabric quality is phenomenal.

Love love love it. Don't even care if nobody else does, I love it that much.

If you decide to make it, or something like it, here are some tips. The pattern comes in two sizes - 9 and 11. I still haven't found any sort of guide on what those two sizes mean, so I cut the size 11 with about a half-inch seam allowance. I ended up having a little extra fabric in girth so I pulled it in from the center back when I turned for the button plackets.

It also appeared to call for double-fold bias tape as the trim. Can I tell you how extremely thin double-fold tape is? And how hard it is to work with that? It's very unforgiving. There were quite a few spots where the fabric didn't catch under the stitches and I had to go back and re-do it.

I'm considering making the sundress version of this pattern and trying a wider bias trim to see how it goes?

Other than that it was super simple. I guessed that they called for gathers under the bust, so I put two rows in and then sewed the bias trim on top of them. The little buttons on the front are decorative, the back is functional but you can pull it over your head easily.

On to my next project. What is it again?

Sneak peak at Spring Top #3

My favorite so far, more on it later...

Also, a peak inside my travelling notebook. I carry this in my purse and take notes on all sorts of things - work projects, home projects, kid projects, sewing projects. It's where I collect my thoughts and write things down so I don't forget them. I still end up forgetting most things, but some of it is caught before it slips away.

Man, I think this list is too long. It makes me tired. I think a little non-garment sewing is in my immediate future.

By the way, that fabric on the table is from Anna Griffin's line, Isabelle. I ordered it from Hawthorne Threads...get this...yesterday. I kid you not, it showed up on my doorstep today! Check out their website, Cara's the one who referred them to me. They offer bulk discounts for any order 3 yards or more, and their shipping charges are super affordable. Even though I plan on starting up a fabric store some day in the near future, I still think a little link love is in order.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pattern sale!

Hancock's has Simplicity patterns on sale for $1.99 today through Friday! Time to stock up on the basics, eh?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring Top #2

My entry #2 for the Spring Top Week contest is another vintage pattern makeover. I took this maternity pullover, Simplicity 2554 from 1968 in view 2, and reworked the body to be a "normal" shape.

All this really takes is taking out the enormous swing in the front, and curving the sideseams in where the body would curve naturally.

Once again, this pattern had those weird darts that descended from the armscye into the bust. I just can't imagine that was ever a flattering look, and it certainly doesn't work for me at all. Maybe it's my height? I really loved the collar and tab on the front. I've looked at this pattern dozens of times in the past year and a half, and I never got tired of it. When Amy Butler's Love line debuted I thought maybe this would be a good combo for it?

I'm still searching for the perfect button. I used a fun, glittery glass button that looks like a fake diamond, but I also think something yellow that resembles a gemstone would be super cute.

Once the top was made I decided to go without the giant bow in the front. Maybe I'm too tall for it, maybe I'm too old for it, but it just didn't look right. I still like the shape of the collar and the tab without the bow, so that's good.

This pattern was a breeze to put together. I loved the way they have you assemble the collar and facings, it made it all lay super nicely.

Thanks for letting me share, I'll take some better pictures and edit this post as soon as I get a chance.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Burda Style trumps Spring Top Week

I got the April 2010 edition of Burda Style in the mail today. For some odd reason, most of the designs didn't really speak to me, with one gigantic exception.

Skirt 125 is to. die. for. The flounce! The bow! I love it. Love love love. So I think I'll probably lay the crazy tops aside after I finish this latest Japanese bias trim tank, and instead turn my attention to a lovely silk pencil skirt for work.

Have you gotten the April edition yet? Is there anything you think you're going to make? Honestly, March's issue had two or three designs that are on my list for spring/summer sewing.

With this one I can only foresee this skirt living with me, but maybe not...sometimes it takes a while to grow on me.

Weekend sewing

I had a relatively productive weekend in the sweatshop. My mother in law is going in for surgery on Tuesday and was lamenting her lack of a nice bathrobe to wear over her gown.

I have yards of this pink Amy Butler Ginger Bliss petite prink print in my stash, so I made her a robe on Saturday morning.

Once again, I wasn't happy with the pattern's engineering. I ended up having to trim off about an inch of the neckline's curve because of the yucky way the raglan sleeves went together. Blech.

I had a goal of using French seams for the entire thing since it's a bathrobe and I didn't want seams (even serged ones) showing when she takes it on or off. Or laying against sore spot and rubbing. I managed to do it! Yikes, it doubles the time it takes to make something so I kind of only recommend it for simple patterns, but it is a nice finish.

Oh, and I managed to sew on the one button for my Spring Top #2, and it's done! Voila! I'm so excited, I'll share more details in a different post.

So that's about it for my weekend. Good times.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tracing Patterns from a Japanese sewing book - a mini-how-to

One of the tops (maybe even two) for my Spring Top Week contest entries is from a Japanese pattern book called Sweet Dress Recipe.

I thought it would be nice to post a mini-tute on how to trace patterns from books like these (as well as others like Ottobre). I remember when I got back into sewing last year, suddenly the sewing world has exploded with patterns that come in books and need to be traced. I'd never done it before. It was intimidating, I'm not gonna lie.

But it's really a very simple process, so here you go.

First, you need to buy the right supplies. I bought the Dritz package of tracing papers at JoAnn's, along with a few tracing wheels, and some pattern cloth/paper from a local specialty fabric shop. Gridded pattern paper (which actually feels more like a fiber) is awesome for this sort of thing, too, but I haven't seen any lately. The best product for tracing patterns is called Swedish Tracing Paper. You can sew on it, which means you don't need to make a muslin to check if your pattern is going to fit properly!

Next up, unfold the gigantic pattern page. In the Japanese books these can be extremely intimidating and confusing. Most designs are numbered or lettered, so get your eyeballs up super close to the paper and start looking for those numbers or letters. You can see how many criss-crossy lines there are in the Sweet Dress Recipe book! Ottobre books color-code their patterns which makes it about 10% easier. Not a whole lot, but a little.

I have another Japanese book I traced and its pattern page wasn't nearly as crowded and crazy as the Dress Recipe book.

I got out a highlighter and when I found one of the pieces I needed, I outlined it so I could find it later. One of the problems with these patterns is I didn't understand the sizing. The Dress Recipe book appeared to have two sizes - 9 and 11. I cut the eleven because I figured I could take it in later. The other book had S, M, L, which is easier for me, I'm an L!

As you can see (or maybe not), I did all of this on my mom's kitchen island. You just want a relatively firm surface where you can spread out the pages.

Then you put your pattern paper on the bottom, tracing paper in the middle, and pattern pages on top. With your tracing wheel, starting sawing back and forth along the pattern lines. For the best results, use a little motion like you're trying to cut through a stubborn pizza crust. You want to lay down a fairly clear line.

I always like to weigh down the corners of the gigantic pattern page from the book with something heavy, so as I'm sliding the tracing paper around underneath (tricky because you can't let the top or bottom layers move at all), your pattern and your tracing stay exactly in place.

This is what it looks like when you're finished. I was using the red page out of the Dritz package for this one.

So here are some examples of tracing gone wrong. Remember all those criss-crossy lines? Well, even when I told myself over and over to follow the right lines, at one point I got ahead of myself and traced the wrong line.

I went ahead and traced the right line and told myself NOT to cut the wrong line. So then oops I cut the wrong line because I forgot about what I'd told myself. That's ok, I taped it back together and cut the right line.
Anyway, that's that! You've traced your pages, you cut them out of the pattern paper, and now you can cut out your fabric. Remember, none of the Japanese books and most of the European books do not include seam allowances, so you have to cut your own. I typically cut a half inch, but that's up to you.

More on the shirt I'm making from all of these tracings in a future post. I better get back to my machines!

**Post-edit - Tina has a good point in her comments. An even easier way to trace a pattern is to get translucent paper and lay it over the page, then use a pencil. That's how I trace or copy commercial patterns, but with these books the lines are so confusing and criss-crossy that I find it easier to use the dastardly wheel. With the Ottobre patterns, the wheel does leave marks on the paper. So far these Japanese pages have been very hardy and haven't been dotted up at all. It also helps when you trace on a harder surface. Carpeting tends to poke holes in the original page with the wheel.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring Top #1

I finished my first official Spring Top Week top this week! Yay!

It's from a vintage pattern, Simplicity 8278 dated 1969. I really love the yellow version on the jacket cover. It's a dress, but for some reason that sash and the clean lines really spoke to me.

I made the first version of the top in a white stretch poplin, and to be honest that was the right choice of fabric. The only problem was that it was too tight. Across the shoulders, especially, which isn't really a flattering look for anyone. I know, I know, if only I'd made a muslin.

The second problem was I had estimated how long I wanted it to be, and I underestimated. So the first top, which sits happily in my sweatshop, is simply not for me. Perfectly cute and wearable, but for someone much smaller than myself.

I wasn't going to let that stop me! I pulled out my stash of white linen/cotton blend fabric and cut it out again. This time I changed the darts from coming downward out of the armscye (what the?) to under the arm in a more modern fashion. And I removed the weird shoulder/neckline darts that were on the original pattern. That could have explained why the first version was too tight across the shoulders.

I also added about an inch more of ease on either side of the bust, and at least six or eight inches of length.

I really like the finished version! It calls for either snaps or buttons to close, so I chose sew-in snaps for now. I am thinking I might switch it up to buttons but I have this crazy idea of being to coordinate the buttons with the sash I'm wearing that day? Is that insane? Too Garanimals? Do they even make interchangeable buttons, like those watchbands you can switch out for your outfit? If not, I'll probably just make some out of the white linen/cotton.

One of the things I love about this blouse is the ability to make vastly different sashes. This one was out of Heather Ross' octopus print and an orange cotton I got at The Quilted Fox here in St. Louis last year. It has the most amazing hand, it feels like silk.

For my photo shoot, I paired it with some linen/cotton pants I bought at Anthropologie last year, but I think it would be cute with a black pencil skirt and a black and white sash, too.

And of course, I need to work on my posture and pull the dang thing down a little because it was riding up! Taking pictures on a timer of yourself is hard.
All in all, I am pretty happy with the finished product. I know now that vintage darting doesn't work for me because I'm tall. And I'm not vintage. And frankly, I've grown accustomed to where darts are and I kinda like it that way. But the ease of construction in vintage patterns never ceases to amaze me! The pieces go together perfectly. The fit is typically spot on, and there aren't a whole lot of complicated maneuverings that tend to send me off track.

Next up, another vintage pattern completely reworked and made out of Amy Butler's new Love line! Sooo cute, I can't stand it. Stay tuned.....

Monday, March 15, 2010

Clothing construction question

Good alliteration in my title, eh?

I'm turning to you talented people for help again. I bought a new coat pattern that I love. It just speaks to me for some reason. The sick thing is I think it has to do with the lady's dark hair? I've always wanted dark hair. Oh that's right, I have dark hair. I still don't exactly know what I look like.

Anyhoodle, I found the weirdest little fabric store in the basement of a sweet lady's house today. You heard that right.

I was in Lee's Summit, MO, just outside of Kansas City, for a lunch meeting. Afterwards, I googled fabric shops for a little looky loo and ended up finding a little gem called Zoelee's hidden (literally) inside this little gem's house. She has two basements, one on top of the other, and a full-fledged, full-service, fully-stocked fabric store in the bottom one. She even carries Juki sewing machines! I've never seen nor sewn on one before today, and it was a real treat.

For some reason I couldn't leave her home without buying something, and she happened to have this adorable coat pattern I've been eyeballing for a while. I picked up two coordinating ivory and gray Amy Butler twill prints for the exterior, but I plan on lining it. Technically it's an unlined jacket.

The thing is, it has front and back neckline facings that call for interfacing. If I line it, I was just planning on omitting the facings and enclosing the interior that way. But the facings are to be interfaced. So what now? Here are my options. Please weigh in with your expert opines so I can keep chugging on this beauty.

1. I omit the facings and line it as I'd planned, but fuse interfacing to lining in same place as would be found on the facing pieces? Kind of a quickie shortcut.

2. I include the facings and line it in a more complicated manner, attaching lining to facing pieces. This would allow me to interface as usual.

So, whadya think?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Psst....today's the day

You know where I'm going today.


I hope their sheets are good quality. I need one for Spring Top Week.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Alabama Project - Obsessions can be kind of healthy, right?

I can't believe I've never written about this before, but I have a teeny tiny obsession that I'd like to share with you all. I obsess over the projects in Natalie Chanin's books. Her skirts, primarily. Oh, and there's this one top that I think about a lot, too, but it isn't in any of her books.

I bought the first Alabama Stitches book sometime last fall? I can't remember when, exactly, but I remember it spawned a few weeks of constant thought and preparation for my first Alabama project. I was going to make a skirt.

I was going to freehand it.

Um, shall we just say freehanding anything is possibly not the best idea when it's your first try? The technique looked ok but without a guide I lost my way and lost interest and set it aside.

Thanks to the evil nice folks at Burdastyle who've been profiling Chanin and ran a contest of Alabama projects, I've picked up the obsession where I left off (and thanks to the lovely Sonja, who made me green with envy), and I'm going to try again. Except this time I'm going to do it right.

I bought proper textile paint (Jacquard Neopaque), and I painfully traced the rose stencil from the first book. Then I got ambitious and also traced the floral design from the inside covers. Have you seen it? It's stunning and costs sixty bucks on the website. Perhaps it's a little too advanced for my current skill set, but down the road.... see how I get myself into trouble? Then I spent a half hour browsing clip art pages and getting inspiration from around my house, because I have way too many other ideas floating around my head than is healthy.

Wouldn't this motif make a great project? It's my front doormat.

I still have to cut these out with an Exacto. Yikes. Too bad my helpers aren't allowed to use sharp implements.

I painted my fabric this afternoon and I'll let it dry for a day, then I'll heat set it. Thanks to Sonja, I learned I can water the paint down a little, which helps stretch it out since the pots are relatively small. As you can see, I should have used a proper stenciling brush but I was impatient. So I used a nice paintbrush. Hopefully when it's all stitched the flaws will be less noticeable. My jersey is camel colored and the paint is a light beige, not white, but my pictures are less than stellar, again.

Tomorrow afternoon I'll be able to cut the pieces! And hopefully by tomorrow night I'll be able to sit in bed with my lovely little Alabama project, blissfully stitching away.

Or not. My best laid plans tend to get derailed fairly often. But I have good intentions. That counts, right?

Let's see if I can stick with it this time, eh?