A Decent Blouse from Quilting Cotton

For PatternReview weekend, there’s a contest to make a Hawaiian-style shirt. I was going to pass, since I don’t normally wear a boxy shirt and I didn’t have a suitable pattern or fabric at hand. Then I remembered I had this:


It’s an Indonesian cotton batik left over from a quilt I made maybe 15 years ago. Do I dare break the “No sewing apparel with quilting cotton” rule?


Yes! It turned out pretty well – a bit stiff, as to be expected with such fabric. But not bad! The purple buttons were an inspired choice – salvaged from a skirt I made at least 10 years ago.

“Wait!” you may be thinking, “I sew with quilting cotton all the time. What’s the big deal?”

IMHO, quilting cottons typically are not great choices for clothing because of the drape, texture and lack of stretch. They’re simply not made to  be worn. Plus, the prints tend to disappoint – they’re often not on grain, and charming prints for quilts tend to cloy in clothes.

I get the appeal. For lots of sewists, quilting cottons are all that’s available locally. And, they’re generally cheaper than apparel cottons. Besides, who can resist tie-dye dolphins?

Never say “never,” but proceed with caution – that’s my advice.

Pattern choice is key. This is Maria Denmark’s “Edith” blouse. It’s a good choice for a quilting cotton because it’s sleeveless, the front facing requires some structure and the pattern doesn’t need fabrics that drape. This is a pretty fitted blouse, with bust darts and big fish-eye darts in the back and front, so if you can’t get the fit down in a quilting cotton, there’s nowhere to hide. I think I did pretty well, although there’s excess fabric above the bust to deal with.

The batik is high-quality, printed on grain. It has a right side and a wrong side, but they’re pretty similar – the wrong side is pictured on the top/right of the swatch sample shown above. Look closely and you can see little dots of dye that don’t appear on the right side (bottom/left).


The armholes are a bit tight and pull a bit across the back. This might be a fit issue, or it might be happening because there’s no give at all in this fabric.

Anyway, it’s fun and I am ready to party in it at PatternReview Weekend in Stratford, ON Canada in June!


Rejecting the Idea that “I Didn’t Get Into This for the Math”

Innumeracy pisses me off.

People never say “I can’t read!” But many will say “I can’t do math!”

Ridiculous. Of course you can do math. And if you practice, you can get better at it.

I used to be one of those people who avoided math. I struggled with math as a kid, and I was led to believe that math was hard for me because I was a girl. Other parents who watched their daughter sob over arithmetic at the kitchen table might have helped, might have hired a tutor, might have called the teacher to see what was going on. My parents didn’t care. They didn’t think anyone needed math beyond the ability to calculate a restaurant tip or estimate a grocery bill. And so I suffered at the kitchen table, math book open, for years.

My school system grouped students according to their general “smartness” – the smartest kids in the “red” group, middle kids in a “white” group and the dumbest kids in the “blue” group. (Can you tell I grew up the 70s?) These groups never mixed. I was in “red” because I was really great at reading, writing, social studies, science and everything else but math. I got pushed along with the rest of the “reds” through elementary school and was grouped into a similar system in middle school.

Things fell apart in high school. My struggles overwhelmed me and I got a C’s and even one D in Algebra II sophomore year. I had thought about studying medicine as a kid, but I knew you needed great math to be a doctor, so I shelved that ambition and focused instead on what I was good at – writing and reading.

Instead of continuing with the “red” crowd into Trigonometry and Calculus, junior year I downshifted into a remedial math class. I wanted to study what was on the SATs (a college entrance exam) so I could get a decent score and get into a decent college. The remedial class basically drilled you on the SATs – you know, “volume of a cone,” simple algebra, and crap like that. In higher math, I was destined for more C’s and D’s, but in this class I stood a chance. My guidance counselor told me this class would mar my transcripts for college, but I didn’t care. I was cutting my losses. Besides, I thought, I really want to learn this stuff.

To my amazement, I did well. The teacher was great and something just clicked in my head. Math was a lot easier for me after that. I actually got 10 points more on the math than the verbal part of the SAT. I really enjoyed physics. Who would have thought?

I use math all the time on the job. As a journalist, I cut a niche beat for myself in data-heavy analytics. When I joined the business world, I learned how to read companies’ earnings reports. I deal with statistics every day.

I also practice all the time. If you want to get better at math, you need to flex your muscles. Here are some ideas to help you:

  • Calculate tips in your head. This is very easy! You do not need a calculator! Let’s say your bill comes to $82.50 before tax, and you want to leave a 15% tip:
    • 10% of $82.50 is $8.25 (just move over the decimal one place).
    • 15% is just 10% plus 5%. So cut the $8.25 in half ($4.13) and add it to the $8.25 = $12.38. I usually round up to the next dollar, so leave that waitress $13!
    • If you want to leave 20%, just double the 10% = $16.50!
  • Estimate your grocery bill. (This would make my parents proud, anyway.) Just an estimate is OK:
    • Weigh your produce and other items weighed at checkout (there’s usually a basic scale nearby) and estimate the cost. If those tomatoes are $2.99 a pound and you’re buying 2.5 pounds, that’s $7.50 for tomatoes!
    • As you shop, keep a running tally in your head of everything you buy. Bread, eggs, milk, etc.
    • Subtract any coupons or special sale prices offered at the register.
    • See how close your estimate gets to the actual tally.
    • BONUS ROUND: If your estimate is off, it might not be you. Maybe an item rang up incorrectly. I have saved myself many dollars over the year by knowing about what I should pay and spotting errors on the receipt.
  • Calculate sales taxes. Taxes vary depending on where you live. If you don’t know what your standard sales tax is, find out. Whenever you go shopping, calculate that sales tax in your head based on what you’re buying. For example:
    • A $50 shirt, $20 belt and $80 pair of jeans = $150.00 worth of stuff.
    • Let’s say your sales tax for clothing is 7%. You can calculate this the same basic way you did for tips, or make it easier by adding the tax up in 1% increments.
    • 1% of $150.00 – $1.50 (move over the decimal two places). $1.50 times 7 = $10.50. That’s 7%!
    • If you like to work with even numbers, maybe think of it this way: $1.50 + $1.50 = $3 – that’s 2%. Do this twice more, for $9 (that’s 6%) And add that last 1% for $10.50.
    • Add the stuff and the tax. Total you owe for fashion = $160.50.
  • Calculate the true cost of sales items. Lots of times a sale will offer, say, 30% off the full price of an item, and then you might have a coupon for an extra 10% off. You can’t just add those two discounts together to get 40% off. Many people try to do this. They are wrong. The store is going to take the 30% off the full price first, then take 10% off of the discounted price. Sneaky, eh?
    • Let’s take our $150 clothes example from above. If the items were 40% off, the discount would be $60 and the items would cost $90.
    • The real way discounts happen, it looks like this: 30% off of $150 is a discount of $45, so the items would cost $105. Then an additional discount of 10% would equal only $10.50. So you’d pay a total discounted price of $94.50. Still a deal, but a bit more than you might have thought if you hadn’t done the math!
    • BONUS ROUND: Calculate the tax!

I could go on and on. Try it! Exercise those math muscles! The world runs on math. A basic competency will get you far in life – beyond just knowing how much to leave the waiter, you’ll understand the true cost of mortgaging your house, or paying off a car loan, or figuring out a savings plan.


Sewing Resolutions? So Far, So Good

I made eight sewing resolutions for 2018, and I am happy to report that I have done two of them, made progress on a third and am starting on a fourth. That’s half my goals – and we are only 20% of the way through the year!

Resolution #1: So far, so good. I have done zero sewing contests and sewalongs for far this year. I was very tempted. Sewcialists had a “Sew Stripes” sewalong, The Monthly Stitch was on a “Flora and Fauna” kick,” and PatternReview.com had two cool contests – “Match Your Shoes” and a 6-piece capsule wardrobe. I had the fabrics and patterns picked out for all of these, and then I said “nope.” My priorities did not align with these events.

My top priority was to fit pants so I could move on to making jeans (resolution #2). This remains frustratingly undone. (Cue the sad trombone music.) I am passing on pants for now. But the year is young! I want to take another stab at it later in the year, with a better pattern to work from.

Skip ahead on the list to resolution #6. Done! I am going to PatternReview Weekend in Stratford, Ontario, Canada June 1 & 2. (OK, technically this isn’t done until I’ve actually been to the event, but it’s all booked and paid for, so I am calling it a win.) I’m really excited to connect with sewists I’ve known only by their makes and comments on that site. And I am up for some shopping and sight-seeing too. We’re planning a vacation around it, to see Toronto, Niagara Falls and parts of New York state.

Resolution #7 is done. I visited two charity shops and upcycled items I bought into Pussyhats for the Women’s March in January. I didn’t find any yardage or nice sewing supplies at either place, but I tried. Now I know that they’re probably not great resources for a big project, but they’re perfect for upcycled work.

Resolution #8 is in progress. I wanted to make something for my mother as thanks for the nice sewing materials she bought me for Christmas. She wants me to make her a cold-shoulder top for summer. She’s mailing me some pictures from catalogs and magazines, as well as her measurements. I will need to pick out a pattern and sew it for her once we decide what to do. Luckily, the Big 4 went overboard on this craze, and cold-shoulder looks abound in the pattern catalogs.

As for the other resolutions…

Holding firm on #5, making fewer damn mistakes. I didn’t make so many mistakes with what I’ve done so far this year, but then again, I haven’t made much. Way too early to declare victory on this.

For #3 – the embroidery unit’s still snug in its box. I was thinking of taking a class on it at the dealer this summer. The classes are always in the middle of the week, so I’d need to use a vacation day. I’m holding off for now. I need a project to tie this to, or it won’t happen.

Finally, #4 will have to wait for May. I think I can wear at least one me-made thing every day, as long as we’re talking tops, dresses, skirts and jackets – not whole outfits because of the aforementioned pants problem.

How are your resolutions coming along so far?

Five Years Ago I “Leaned In”

Five years ago, I found myself at a crisis point in my career. I was feeling restless and dissatisfied. I vaguely felt underpaid and underappreciated, in a male-dominated industry and company. While I had been successful,  I was stuck.  I didn’t know how to move forward, nor did I have the energy or courage to move. I had started looking for my next opportunity, but without any firm direction or goal.

I read “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg shortly after it published, five years ago this week. So had a couple of work friends. We each invited five women to be part of a “Lean In Circle” at the office, to follow up on the book’s advice. A group of about 15 women met for two hours every other month to work through the program and support one another.

“Lean In” changed my life. Today, I am at a much bigger and more prominent company, in a bigger job, with more pay, responsibility, challenge and energy. “Lean In” didn’t do this alone for me, but it pushed me out of my comfort zone, jump-started my career and opened my mind to what was possible.

A lot of people like to disparage “Lean In.” I wonder, did they actually read the book? They complain that Sheryl Sandberg approached the topic from a place of extraordinary prestige, wealth and privilege, as a Harvard graduate and COO of Facebook. Yes, she did. So what? I don’t understand how that invalidates what she has to say, as if the only “legitimate” women’s viewpoint on careers has to come from some hardscrabble perspective. And I really don’t understand why a “women attacking other women” viewpoint in op-eds and blogs is somehow more valid. There is a special place in hell reserved for successful women who don’t help other women succeed.

Here are several real-world examples coming from me, who came from a hardscrabble background, of how “Lean In” opened my eyes and helped me move forward:

Sexism: My manager at my old job was an older British man. I liked him and we got along well. But he did three things that really bothered me:

  • He insisted I get a mentor.
  • He socialized after work only with other men on our team. Me and other women were never invited.
  • He said that me and another woman I worked on a project with lacked “gravitas” to present our project findings on the big stage at a department-wide offsite, so he recruited a man to present with us.

At the time, I didn’t see these things as sexist, but “Lean In” opened my eyes:

  • Sheryl Sandberg wrote a lot about and how older people are always encouraging young women to get mentors. This push makes young women feel inadequate and forces them into artificial relationships with senior people who… you guessed it… make them feel even more inadequate. Mentors can be wonderful, but such a close relationship must develop organically.
  • By not being invited to after-work events, I missed out on valuable face time with the boss.  The men had better relationships and more insight into what the boss was doing and thinking.
  • “Gravitas” is a fancy way of saying “you won’t be taken seriously.” The man who my boss pushed into the project ended up doing some harm to it because he had to throw his dick around.

Equal Pay: I pushed for better pay when I joined the company, but I was told “this is our offer, not up for negotiation.” I was getting paid more than at my last job and this was a big opportunity, so I accepted it. Once I got promoted into management, I got a small raise because it was in the middle of the budget year, with a vague promise I’d get more later. I wasn’t happy, but I was naive enough to trust the system. Then two things happened:

  • I realized that most of the men who reported to me made more than me, and the lone woman on the team with equal experience to the men and at a higher position made even less. My complaints got me nowhere. I was never made whole and each year I sank a bit further back in pay equality because new people were brought in at higher salaries.
  • I was a top performer and earned raises and bonuses regularly, but I still was underpaid. I earned about 85% of what peers from the “Lean In Circle” earned. And they were underpaid compared to men in similar positions.

“Lean In” opened my eyes:

  • I didn’t understand how compensation works. If you are underpaid today, you will always be underpaid. The compensation system is rigged against you and no one will fix it.
  • If you want to be paid more, you need to know your value and negotiate hard. I learned how to negotiate and how to calculate my value to get better pay and other perks at my new job.

Taking Risks: I am by nature rather risk-averse. I don’t seek thrills or take many chances in life. “Lean In” made me realize I was too comfortable where I was, not challenged enough or interested enough to find fulfillment at my job. I noticed a few things:

  • My job was in a female ghetto – an operational role that was viewed as a cost center, not revenue-generating or otherwise contributing much to the bottom line. My boss took another job and I had a new female boss, who in turn reported to a woman, “Big Boss,” who was one of only two women leading our entire division. Only human resources had a higher proportion of women than our group did. Men made the decisions, and we women (for the most part) executed them.
  • Women at my level within this group were moved around like chess pieces to satisfy whatever demand at the moment fell on Big Boss’s ears. These lateral moves were good for gaining experience, but they never seemed to lead to promotions or big opportunities, rather just putting out fires and shoring up crumbling walls. Some women had been at these types of tasks for 5 to 10 years! Strategic decisions came from a higher level they didn’t penetrate.

Because of “Lean In” I realized I needed to take chances in my career. The longer I stayed where I was, the harder it would be to move. There was a reorganization and Big Boss wanted me to take one of these lateral-move jobs. I had a meeting with her, where I laid my cards on the table and told her flatly what I wanted. She said no. So I left. I never would have had the courage to do this without “Lean In.”

Leaning In at Home: Sheryl Sandberg inspired the most vitriol with her insights into how to manage a work-life balance. Such a powerful and big earner of course could have endless nannies, maids, assistants and other helpers. She didn’t understand the struggles of single mothers, or of women whose partners also have demanding jobs and are unwilling or unable to take on more responsibilities at home. This is a valid criticism.  And Sandberg herself viewed these challenges through a different lens when her husband suddenly died a few years ago. Also, I don’t have kids, so I can’t comment on the working mother dynamic. But this doesn’t mean that all of Sandberg’s ideas are bullshit.

  • Just like at work, at home you also have to ask for what you want. Your partner and kids won’t read your mind.
  • Your husband needs to be an equal partner, or you will tote around resentment along with all the housework, shopping, cooking and child care responsibilities. If he won’t meet you halfway before you’re married, you have no hope after you’re married.
  • Don’t put your career on hold because you might get married, might have kids, or might have to care for aging parents. Do what you need to do at work. If personal life throws curveballs later on, deal with them then.

When I took my new job, which has a long commute and longer hours, I told my husband that he must take on some responsibilities at home, such as making dinner two or three nights a week (including cleaning up after), vacuuming, paying some bills and shopping for groceries as needed. He doesn’t like it, but he does it, and he acknowledges it’s fair. “Lean In” helped me craft these discussions with my husband, to get to a satisfactory agreement.

What’s next?

I think I will reread “Lean In” this month to see what else I could learn or other places where I disagree with Sandberg. I also wonder what other women think. Have you read the book? Did it help you?

Mending Mojo

My sewing mojo ebbed after the pants-fitting debacle and the ass-awkward plaid skirt mess. I decided to take a month off from sewing. Instead, I worked on mending and improving a few me-made and RTW garments.

I have a bad habit of thinking “good enough” when I am done with a project, even if a few fussy details aren’t perfect. I like to wear things a few times and assess if I need to tweak the fit, change a detail or fix a flub. I also want to be sure, frankly, that I really like something I’ve made before I’ll commit more time and materials to it.

I assessed some recent makes and put a few in a “mending pile”:

Simplicity 3688: Fix the wonky topstitching on one of the rear pockets.
skirt front
Sew down the kick pleat better in this Burda 6895 skirt so it doesn’t bunch up when I sit, and sew the hip buttons down more securely.
The sleeve hems in this Simplicity 8174 jacket are a bit twisted with the lining. Need to fix this!
Same with this Deer & Doe Arum dress – the sleeves of the fabric and lining don’t play well together and they’re a skosh tight.
My husband likes these shorts from Kwik Sew 4045, but the back pockets are too shallow for his cellphone – I need to extend them.
The lining hem on this Brooklyn skirt from Colette’s Seamwork magazine is wonky and shows a bit in the back.

This pile of mending should keep me busy for a couple of weeks, by which time I hope the spring weather will have arrived and I can get excited about sewing again!

Everything Sucks

My sewing room garbage can is stuffed. I put in there the muslins and pattern pieces from the Burda trousers 127 from the December 2017 issue. The fit just looks awful, no matter what I do. I will spare your eyeballs the ugly pictures from my third muslin attempt. It was a serious shitshow. The idea to do a “full thigh adjustment” did not work. Excess fabric pooches out in the thighs and just looks absurd. So yeah, I learned that lesson.

Also in the bin is my skirt from New Look 6326. This had two problems – dodgy fabric and a backside fit that just baffled me. The waist was enormous but when I put in another set of darts in the back, I got this bizarre pleating effect. Could I fix it? Maybe. But fuck it. I don’t even want the skirt anymore. It’s made of wool crepe and it’s already mid-February.

Basically, I struggle mightily to fit the bottom half of my body. I can make tops and jackets all day. I can make a fit-and-flare dress or skirt. But I have to deal with my thighs, butt and waist in any way, I fail. This is serious disappointment. Half the point of sewing apparel for me is to get clothes I want but cannot buy because RTW cuts don’t remotely fit me.

I have always hated my legs. Even as a child I hated them. I seriously had cellulite and stretch marks on my thighs when I was 12. I have spent my entire life trying to deal with this. Even at my thinnest as an adult, my legs looked terrible. Now I have gained back some of that weight, and I think every fucking pound of it went to my legs and my ass.

This is a string of failures. I am also having problems with this graduate class I am taking. Work is boring. I can’t seem to lose weight. And our dinner party last night didn’t turn out well either.

Part of me knows that failure is inevitable when you try something new or hard. “Give yourself permission to suck,” I say to myself. Well, I suck all right. Everything sucks. I feel like I just need a good long cry, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I thought maybe if I wrote this – just put all the shit out there – it would release the floodgates.



Fitting Some Damn Pants Part III

So I screwed around more with my muslin from Burda 12-2017 Trousers 127. To remove more wrinkles and bagginess from the back, a 1 cm vertical tuck running from waist to hem worked pretty well. But it was still a bit baggy, so I added a second 1 cm tuck alongside the first.

Behold (the “before” picture is the one with the doggy photobomb – the leg on the left has a 1 cm tuck, the leg on the right has none). The picture on the left shows 2 cm tucks on both legs:

So it’s better – not perfect – but maybe as good as I can get it. I will extend the crotch curve a bit on the next pair, so that will take care of the “ass eating my pants” situation. I ignore that problem for now.

I also let out the inseam 1 cm from the knee on down (I sewed this muslin with 1 inch seam allowances), which was supposed to stop the fabric from twisting at the calves because of my extended calf situation. Behold (again, the “after” picture is on the left):

I don’t see much improvement here from the side view. At the hip, you can see how the gridlines on “after” picture are straighter and there’s less pulling at my big forward thighs. But there’s still twisting at the knee. Again, ass-vs-pants will be fixed with a crotch curve change.

OK, I thought, maybe I can live with some twisting at the knee. I mean, literally every pair of close-fitting RTW pants I have twists at the knee.

But oh crap – look at the front:


What a shit show. Ignore that bulge at the waist (I didn’t properly pin up where the zipper goes). But those thigh whiskers are terrible. This isn’t a case where I can just pin out a bit of excess. This is my thighs desperately seeking more fabric – from anywhere.

So, in desperation, I did this:


Sorry for the sloppy photo but I was at the end of my rope at this point. I stood there thinking “Why can’t I do a full-thigh adjustment?” Just like you’d do a “full bicep” or “full bust” adjustment? Slash the pattern where you need the fabric, fill with paper and tape it back up.

It makes sense in theory. I turned to strangers on the Internet and found absolutely no advice to do it this way. All I know is when I cut open the thighs, the problem disappeared. I might as well try it.