How to Sew Applique Seams on Lace

My project “Miss Fisher’s Lace Fantasy Duster” hit a snag… ba-da-boom! Pun pun pun!

No really, it did. But I figured it out.

The Art Deco-inspired lace I bought has beautiful scalloped eyelash borders on both sides. I wanted to make the most of this design, so I lined up the fronts of the duster along these motifs.

I also lined up the sleeves this way, so that the pretty scalloping would fall at bracelet length along my arms. So far, so good.

But what to do about the hems and the V-neckline? This isn’t the kind of lace where you can just trim around for the motifs – the curves go every which way. I thought about just doing a rolled hem, or using a decorative stitch on my machine to mimic the scalloping, but I really wanted that eyelash and scallop look everywhere.

Threads Magazine to the rescue! An issue from 2006 had a great tutorial on how to sew with lace. Here’s a step by step on how I made it work.

  1. Cut the pattern pieces out of the lace along the seamline as if it’s a normal piece of fabric.

2. On another piece of lace, trim carefully around the motifs, following them where they go. They might go a couple of inches away from the border. That’s fine.

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3. Lay the cut-out motifs on top of the cut edge of the pattern piece, right side of pattern piece to wrong side of lace motif, as you would for an applique. My lace was fairly thick and durable, so I just pinned the bejeezus out of it, but for a more delicate lace you may want to use some temporary fusible whatnot.

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4. Sew with a narrow zigzag along the edges of the lace motif. Follow the cuts and curves where they go, which might be pretty close or fairly far away from the raw edge of the pattern piece, depending on how the motifs lay out. This was pretty easy since I have these black edges all over the place on my lace, but you get the idea. (At least, I hope you do.)

You will end up with a mess that looks like this:

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But fear not!

5. Trim away the excess on the pattern piece from the underside. It was difficult to get a good picture of this, but basically flip the whole thing over to the wrong side and feel along with your fingers for where the motif is sewn on to the pattern piece. Use some small sharp scissors to remove that excess from the raw edge of the pattern piece, leaving only the appliqued motif behind.

It takes time and patience, but in the end you get this:

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Can you see the seams? Didn’t think so! I mean, you can feel the difference but you can’t see it unless you look really closely. And who’s going to do that?

Miss Fisher’s Lace Fantasy

I have never sewn with lace before. I don’t wear lace, actually. I mean, I donned a tiered lace Scarlett O’Hara dress for my junior prom, but that was back in the 80s when I could be forgiven for it.

But lately, I have been craving lace. Miss Fisher is to blame.

Played by Essie Davis, Phryne Fisher is the quintessential 1920s fashionista, swanning around in lace jackets and dusters as she solves crimes, saves the day and gets the men on the TV show “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.” (It’s an Australian show, available on Netflix in the US.)

I bought some Art Deco style lace from Mood Fabrics in New York:

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And I am learning how to sew lace for the first time. The red thread you see running through the center is the center back.  One of the first things you learn is to use running threads and tailor’s tacks to mark the pattern.

The Competitiveness of “Making”

Why is “making” things such a big deal?

I went to a dinner party Saturday night and got all snarky with friends about the glory of “making” vs. “buying.”

I happened to be wearing my tablecloth dress because these friends had shown an interest in the past about my sewing projects. It glams up pretty well with some cream-colored rope-soled wedges, a Kenneth Cole bag in sage green and some gold and jade jewelry inherited from my grandmother.

So when a friend asked if I made the dress, I said “yes.” Actually, I said “Is it that obvious?” She assured me it was not obvious at all, but she knew I sewed and so she always wonders when she sees me if I’m wearing anything me-made.

The guys at this party – my husband and two friends (husbands of the women) – had looks on their faces as if to say, “Please don’t let this mixed-gender conversation turn into a female-only discussion about sewing.” Clearly, most men don’t get it. They understand “making” something they enjoy, like baking a cake or painting a picture, but sewing women’s apparel is beyond them.

What’s a gal to do but to get a bit snarky?

One of these guys happens to have a pretty big garden. “Why grow your own vegetables and flowers? Why don’t you just buy them?” I asked. One guy homebrews beer. “Why do that? Why not just buy beer?” Hmm?

Clearly, I hit a nerve. I didn’t get much of an answer from the guys, beyond “it’s just a hobby” and “I’ve been doing it forever” and “I invested in all this equipment already.” Shortly after this little discussion, the guys decamped to the kitchen to talk, leaving the women in the living room. We shifted our conversation elsewhere.

When dessert was brought out, I could not resist another little dig. I knew darn well that my friend had not baked the peach tart that was put before us, but I couldn’t resist asking: “Did you make that?”

She said “no” and seemed embarrassed about it. Why? It was delicious and beautiful. We ate the whole thing. What difference does it matter if you make or buy? Are some things more worthy of “making” than others? If a man makes it’ does that make it more worthy?

Hey – if you want to make, make. If you want to buy, buy. No judgment.

Do You Upcycle?

I tried my first upcycling project recently, and it came out pretty well.

Through the magic of upcycling, an old tablecloth becomes a dress for a garden party.

The fabric is 100% cotton in a rather dense weave, similar to duck. It doesn’t drape like an apparel cotton should, so I chose a very simple Japanese pattern book dress for it (see my my other blog, Sewing Japanese, if you want the deets on how I put this together).

It’s not that hard to think of fabric from an old garment or other source as potential “yardage” for something else. A tablecloth is really just border-print yardage hemmed all the way around, right? Not much of an “upcycle” for the truly committed.

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OK, so how about this old bathrobe? I got this years ago at a Nordstrom Rack sale. It’s nice 100% cotton fabric, very well made. It’s simply worn out – a hole in the shoulder from close encounters with a hairbrush, a makeup stain that baffles soap, fraying belt and cuffs. I prepared to toss it in the trash. And then I thought… upcycle?

I think I can squeeze a pair of PJs out of it – shorts and a tank top kind of PJs. Or maybe a nightgown. Or maybe … who knows?

I’m not going to disassemble it but rather measure it up against pattern pieces from a TNT PJs pattern to see if I can make it work. I love the striped facing. I’m thinking I can use it to make a neckband and maybe cuffs or a drawstring for the waist. You can’t tell in the picture, but this also has a hood that offers potential if I get creative with seams. I can even (maybe) reuse the pockets.

So into the laundry it goes for a good cleaning and an assessment. Do you upcycle? I’d love to get more ideas.

An Artist’s Date on the Linear Trail

This week’s Artist’s Date – solo adventures meant to inspire creativity – was to an old haunt of mine: a linear park perfect for walking, jogging, cycling and rollerblading.

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I used to come here all the time. First, when I was dating my husband, we’d come here to rollerblade or bike. We did a lot of sporty outdoors stuff when we were wooing one another. Now, not so much.

Then, when I used to work at home a lot for my old job, I’d come here for a rollerblading workout after work or during my lunch break.

Over the years I’ve walked here with a pregnant friend, walked with her and her infant daughter in a stroller, walked my dog, and just walked.

The last time I was here was a couple of days after the US election when I was despondent about Donald Trump’s election victory. I wanted to go someplace where I could really think, alone. I am not a very political person. I became a political person that day.

The election encouraged a lot of soul-searching in me. I used to be a journalist, so while I am very well informed about the issues, I rarely have an opinion about them. I can see both sides, and I avoid getting caught up in day to day debates. I read widely, I always vote, but I don’t belong to a political party. Even though I have not been a journalist for years, I had always told myself that I should remain neutral in case I ever want to get into journalism again.

Who am I kidding?

I felt physically ill about Trump. I couldn’t sleep. I would think about him and my heart would race with anxiety. I had never had such a reaction in my life. I realized that I have been very fortunate in my life, selfish and privileged.  I realized I need to do more to share with others, to stand up for what I believe in, to educate myself about issues and speak my mind.

I have tried to do that. It’s hard and sometimes depressing. It’s easier just to avoid the newspaper and talk about fun things and laugh at the Trump impersonation on “Saturday Night Live.” But then reality sets in and I get angry and anxious again.

On my Artist’s Date yesterday I thought about this as I rollerbladed along. I have done several political things I have never done in my life. I marched in protests, wrote letters to congress members, donated money to political causes, signed petitions, and spoke out whenever I felt I should. I have alienated some relatives and a few friends, but I feel good overall. It’s time to pick sides.

I also thought yesterday about what to do next. I am going to give a speech about civil liberties, which have been under siege under Trump. I crafted out the speech in my mind, and next I need to write it and practice it. I’ll give the speech before an audience at my Toastmasters club later this month. It’s my way of informing people, giving back and letting people know where I stand.

The Artist’s Date has been an excellent boost to my thought processes and desires for action so far. Where should I go next week?

An Artist’s Date to the Vintage Shop

I found a bit of my grandmother this week during my Artist’s Date. As recommended in the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, people looking to develop their artistic muscles should go Artist’s Dates – weekly solo adventures to seek connection and inspiration. I headed to a vintage shop to look over things from estate sales, with special hope of finding cool vintage clothing, textiles and sewing supplies.

As I rummaged through a bin of buttons, I spotted a set of pearly pink oval buttons. Then I spotted another set. And another. Then I saw a set of the same buttons, a bit larger. I pulled them all together for a better look:

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Seven sets in all – 10 smaller buttons and four larger ones. Clearly, some woman not too long ago had bought all these buttons, intended for a special project. Based on the number and size of the buttons, I’d guess she bought the small buttons for a shirt dress and the larger ones for a matching jacket.

My grandmother used to wear such ensembles to church. I have a few of her sewing patterns from the late 1960s, and you can see the basic look, although these are simple no-button jackets and zip-back shift dresses:

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These buttons were pricey originally, so I imagine the woman who bought them had special plans for them that were never fulfilled.

Also, that pearly pink finish spoke to me. My grandmother’s favorite color was pink. She had pearly pink tiles in her kitchen and bathroom. She would have loved these buttons.

I didn’t buy them, because I can’t imagine using them. I was tempted to buy one set, just to have. But then I thought it was better to keep them all together. I hope they find a home – and a worthy project – someday.