Unselfish Sewing – A Christmas Gift for Mom

My mom’s look involves a lot of black and white clothes, with little pops of color in her accessories – glasses, nail polish, shoes or jewelry. So when I decided to make a handbag for her, I knew I’d make it out of black and white fabric, with a pop of brightly colored piping  – just for fun.

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A handbag for mom for Christmas

The pattern is the Swoon Ethel tote, which is free from Swoon Patterns. I really like this pattern! Especially for a freebie, it’s a good quality design, a pleasing shape and size, and it goes together quickly (once you get through all the tedious cutting and fusing of the interfacing anyway).

This is my second try at this pattern. I made one out of leftover denim and cotton for myself earlier this year, and because I had resolved to exclusively use stash materials, I interfaced the bag with leftover cordura nylon instead of the fusible foam interfacing the pattern suggests. This time, I sprang for the foam interfacing. I was a little leery of working with this stuff, but it turned out to be very easy to use. The pattern calls for Pellon Flex-Foam FF78F1, but I couldn’t find it, so I used Pellon Flex-Foam FF79F2, the double-sided fusible foam interfacing.

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Flex foam interfacing – squishy!

You’re meant to sandwich this stuff between two layers of fabric and fuse both sides separately. I just fused one side (the black and white bag fabric) and it worked out fine. I sandwiched the fusible interfacing between the bag fabric and a dry silk organza press cloth, and used a damp silk organza press cloth to fuse the bag fabric. The steam penetrated through to the other side a bit, but the dry press cloth peeled off easily.

To sew with this, I basted everything with my zipper foot for agility and then sewed the 1/2 inch seam allowances. It compresses pretty well under the presser foot.

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A bit awkward, but easy to sew

Then I used an edgestitch foot (Bernina #10C), which has a metal guide down the center. This helped prepare the needle for the bulk and prevented any skipping around or distortion.I used a size 14 jeans needle. And I trimmed down the seam allowances.

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Use an edgestitch fit and a hump jumper to control the bulk

Because I am pretty sure my mom would want a closure on the bag, I installed a two-piece magnetic snap. This was so easy! I coated the prongs of the snaps with tailor’s chalk to mark the place, made little slits in the fabric, then pushed the prongs through and bent them back. I cushioned the snaps with a scrap of leftover foam interfacing and gently pounded them with a rubber mallet to ensure they were secure.

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Coat the prongs with chalk to mark the spot

These magnetic snaps are so easy and useful that I could see using them on many things in the future.

As I did with my first version, I used a self-drafted facing because I didn’t want any lining peeking out. I wish I had made the facing wider – it’s a bit skimpy but wide enough for the magnetic snaps.

Other little details:
* I added some hot pink piping (leftover from a PJs project) to jazz it up a bit.
* To keep keys from falling to the bottom, I added a swivel snap hook, looped through a slim strap and sewn into the body of the bag.
* I did a double row of topstitching around the bag opening because I wasn’t happy with the way the lining was sitting in the bag with just the usual edgestitch along the opening.

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Swivel hook for keys

For fabric this time I used some cotton duck outdoor upholstery fabric. It’s been treated to resist water and stains, so I think it will clean up all right if it gets wet or dirty. Because my mom is a cat lover, I could not resist the lining fabric – design “Whiskers and Tails” #16340 by Neiko Ng for Robert Kaufman. Both bought at Joann.

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Meow!

I really hope she likes it!

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Edgy Wardrobe Winter Sewing Plans

I have gotten a lot of wear out of my edgy wardrobe so far. I am still sporting the Assistant Manager of the DMV look to work a couple a days a week, but I have gotten more comfortable at wearing my edgy looks.

Now that I have a good pair of work pants, the Style Arc Jasmines, I want to edgy them up. The pair I made is good, but they’re pretty basic. To review:

The pair I made have a little bubble at the front zipper, which tells me that the front crotch curve is a bit too high. They’re also a skosh tight in the front crotch. I will deepen the crotch curve in the next pair.

As you can see from the line drawing, the pants have two interesting seam details. The angled front pockets, akin to jeans pockets, work very well if you have heavy thighs. And the back yoke works very well if you have a bit butt and hip to small waist ratio, as I do, since it’s easier to adapt that yoke than to adapt the whole back of the pants. The version I made dips down a bit at center-back, easily remedied in the next pair with a bit of a wider angle for the top of the yoke.

Now that the fit issues are out of the way, how do I jazz these up?

First, I’d like to replicate the built-in belting of these RTW Karen Millen trousers:

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A built-in belt? Yes please!

Not a belt as much as a sash? Whatever it’s called, I like it. I don’t like wearing belts because they tend to ride up (see big hip-to-waist comment above) and they never seem to match what I’m wearing. To put it another way, I don’t like wearing belts, so I don’t have a lot of belts, and then when I need a belt, I don’t have one I like… vicious cycle.

This Karen Millen detail is just a tube of fabric that emerges from the waistband and connects with two D rings about 3/4 of the way between the center front and the right side seam. The D rings are looped through a short tube of fabric that tucks into a waistband seam that lines up with the pockets. The other side of the pants has the same waistband seam, but there are no D rings.

The look is a bit edgy because of the metal and the asymmetry, but totally office-appropriate. This should be pretty easy to do (famous last words). The Jasmine pants have a much smaller waistband, so I will need to think this through.

I also want to play with zippers at the hems. I splurged at Botani in New York’s Garment District for two fancy zippers with black tape, shiny silver teeth and decorative pulls:

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Pretty zippers…

Unfortunately, I screwed up and bought 8-inch zippers when I meant to get 6-inch zippers. I could shorten them, but that’s a hassle with metal teeth. Also, because these are fancy zippers instead of the basic cheap ones, they are a bit heavy. I worry that the weight will drag the sideline of the pants down unless I use some sturdy fabric. I’ll have to think on this.

Finally, the back yoke and front pockets seem to beg for some faux leather piping, like the stuff I used for this Swoon Patterns Ethel tote bag:

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Telfon foot works perfectly to apply faux leather

I was thinking also of some piped welt pockets in the back. We’ll see.

The pattern calls for woven stretch fabrics such as stretch Bengaline. This is hard to find fabric, but I figured anything with some texture would do. The original pants are in a heathered gray stretch gabardine. At B&J Fabrics in New York, I scored some black stretch wool pique that would be suitable for the next pair. A think a stretch twill would work well, also.

 

A Few Footsoldiers for The People’s Sewing Army

Let me start off by saying that sewing toys and little fiddly things is not my jam. I have little patience, for one thing, and I find that no matter how I try, something store-bought is going to look 100 times better than what I can make.

That said, when I heard about The People’s Sewing Army on Instagram, I signed up. It’s a group that aims to use scraps of fabric and other stashed items to sew for good causes. The December challenge was to sew items for homeless children in Oregon. I happened to have some suitable scrap fabric, leftover polyfill and one stuffed animal pattern in my possession, so I signed up.

I feel that these stuffed animals are sad to look at. I am reminded, however, that my most-loved toys as a child were things my great-aunt and grandmother made for me – a little lumpy and bumpy, asymmetrical and awkward, but loved literally to pieces. I hope that’s the case for these.

The pattern came from an issue of Simply Sewing magazine. It’s supposed to be a dachshund. I think it looks more like a mouse or a rabbit or a mammal from some fever dream in 1975. Anyway, I did the best I could, using leftover chambray from these pants, cotton shirting from this shirt, and gingham from a bathrobe I made back in the 90s. The polyfill is leftover from Halloween costumes I made for my niece and nephew when they were little (they’re teenagers now). And the buttons ribbons and trims have all been hanging around for years.

I made these in one day, then switched gears to something for older kids. They often get left out of charity drives because it’s easier and more fun to buy or make for little ones. I had some Harry Potter-themed flannel left over from a PJ project many years ago, so I had the idea to make them into little tags the older kids could put on a bag or jacket.

The fabric had these Houses of Hogwarts shields on them, so I made one for each house. I cut out each shield piece with a 1 cm seam allowance, then cut a frame out of other bits of the fabric. To the frame pieces I sewed some clear hard yet flexible plastic that I salvaged from a box of Christmas ribbons and bows. I made paper tags that the kids can remove to write whatever they want, and finished them off with ribbon ties.

That’s all I had time to do, so I boxed the lot up for shipping to Oregon. Of course, the damn post office was closed by the time I got there yesterday. I’ll try again this week.

Looking at other people’s contributions on Instagram, I felt pretty lousy. I mean, many sewists are more talented than I am at this type of thing. Still, I tried. I feel good about trying. This is not exactly what I had in mind when I was seeking sewing projects outside my comfort zone, but I learned something anyway. And I hope someone will love or at least use these things.

At Last!

I feel like Etta James….

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AT LAST a pair of me-made pants that fit really well! Here they are, the Style Arc “Jasmine” trousers:

 

 

To understand why this is such a big deal, remember my three-muslin doomed effort earlier this year?

 

 

I decided that instead of trying to adapt any pants pattern to my body – with its heavy forward thighs, wide hips, ample butt and small waist – instead I would seek out a pattern that is as close as possible to some decent RTW pants I own already. I have this pair of Calvin Klein stretch gabardine pants that fit pretty well. They work for me because of the angled front pocket, fly front, darts in back but not in front, curved waistband, and tapered legs. A long search uncovered the Style Arc Jasmine pants, with the same pocket, fly and dart sitch:

 

 

The pattern calls for stretch gabardine or other bottomweight woven fabrics. As a bonus, the Jasmine trousers have a yoke in the back, kinda like jeans. This seemed to offer good fit options for my rear and waist. I had some really nice wool gabardine in stash. Let’s roll!

I have not used Style Arc much because they can be hard to get in the US, the patterns are only one size, they use a 1 cm seam allowance (I prefer 1.5 cm, especially for pants) and their directions are … shall I say … “minimal” and “open to interpretation” (or, to be blunt about it, “crappy”). I also think Style Arc has less ease than Big 4 patterns – the two Style Arc blouses I’ve made were a little too close-fitting. So I ordered the Jasmine pants a size larger than I thought I would need.

The first fit was encouraging. They were too big on the sides but pretty good along the crotch curve and butt. So far, so good. I widened the back darts 1/4 inch, took in the waist 1 inch on each side, tapering to 1/2 inch from the belly to low hip, then graded out again to 1 inch from just above the knee to the hem. Viola!

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Style Arc Jasmine fronts

These pants are not perfect. But they fit better than most RTW pants I can find, and I am very hopeful for future pairs. For the next iteration, I will deepen the front crotch curve a tiny bit and pinch out a tiny bit of fabric at the hip crease in the front to remove that little bit of whiskering.

In the back, I will pinch out that bit of extra fabric under my rear, and I will grade the top of the yoke up 1 inch so to remove that little dip down at center-back.

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Butt, baby!

I really want to try these also in denim, a full size smaller since I can wear jeans tighter. I may be getting ahead of myself, but I hope that I have found a true TNT pattern for dressy AND casual pants.

By the way, I am wearing the blouse from La Mia Boutique that I made earlier in the year. I keep hoping I will love it, but nope. Note the awful distortion of the back stripes because of my scoliosis and shoulder issues. (A topic for another blog someday.)

Cultivating a Culture of Sewing

During my trip to Ireland and Scotland, I was delighted to see how cultures of sewing and quality craftsmanship were still going strong. I was on the lookout for this, yes, because my plans included shopping for lovely wool fabrics. But I did not have to look far at all to see so much more. Here are a few objects that tell the story:

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American flag sewn by hand on Islay to honor sailors who died at sea

On Islay, off Scotland’s western coast, there’s a little museum to the history of the town. You know the type of place – the candle molds and butter churns, the arrowheads and stone tools, the old-time photos and other bits and pieces donated by the community.

And then there was this flag, in a place of honor. It was sewn for the funerals of American sailors whose ship, the Tuscania, was sunk by a German U-Boat off the coast. Islanders nursed the wounded and retrieved bodies for days, then prepared those who died for burial.

The museum’s plaque explains the story of the flag better than I could, so here it is:

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I examined this flag for a long time. You could see how different women sewed different parts, based on the skill and style of stitches. Some stars are a bit off-kilter. I could imagine them pushing through to complete the project. But it’s sturdily made to withstand Islay’s wind and weather. The islanders are proud of this flag, and rightly so.

In Glasgow, the city of Scottish industry, the museum had a sweet exhibit on sewing.

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Exhibit on the Singer Sewing Machine factory

The museum also had a hands-on exhibit where you could tread the pedals of a sewing machine. I enjoyed trying to film it, but I confess my video skills suck, and I am too cheap to pay for the video upgrade on WordPress. Imagine the squeaky foot pedal anyway:

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Every morning, I tuned in for a few minutes to a quilting show on TV, and reminisced about the days when PBS regularly aired several sewing and needlework shows.

Ireland abounded with sewing treasures too. Besides the ancient Viking distaff, there were exhibits about weaving and knitting. And loads of sheep, of course. We also visited a shop that sold 100% Irish-made goods. There are plenty of cheap stores selling tourists junk, but we sought out the real thing. The shop had bolts of fabric in the back, and I was sorely tempted, but I’d already budgeted out my sewing money. My husband bought this cap, thoughtfully labeled:

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My husband has worn it almost every day since we got home. I can’t wait to go back.

#IPM Anything but Clothes? How About a Bag to Go with My “Edgy” Wardrobe?

As the clock ticks down on my 40s, I crave a new look. I have been working on an “edgy” wardrobe to take me into my next decade. I’ve made some skirts, tops and jackets, so how about a bag to go with it all?

This is the Ethel Tote from Swoon Sewing Patterns, with some modifications:

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I am proud that I made this almost entirely with materials leftover from other projects. The main fabric is black denim, leftover from wide-leg jeans I made from Simplicity 3688. The lining is leftover from a tunic I made from the Japanese sewing book “Happy Homemade Sew Chic.” Yes, that is an abstract snakeskin print!

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Using remnants – tight squeeze!

The lining’s interfaced with stash interfacing and the denim with leftover cordura nylon from a bag I made years ago. The bottom is reinforced with leftover buckram from yet another bygone bag project. The only new material is the faux leather piping, which I bought earlier this year to jazz up projects for my “edgy” look.

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Telfon foot works perfectly to apply faux leather

To sew it on, I used a teflon presser foot to baste it, then used a zipper foot to edge up close to it when I joined the seams. I think the piping adds a lot of interest to an otherwise basic black bag.

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Side view with piping

My major modification to the bag itself was a facing around the opening. While I love the purple, pink, black and gray snakeskin print, I didn’t want it peeking out, and I worried that it would get dirty over time, so I wanted a facing as a buffer. To draft the facing, I just removed the top 1.5 inches from the lining to make a template, added a 1/2 inch for a seam allowance, sewed it on, pressed and topstitched.

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Facing under construction

The bag has two big, deep pockets in the front and calls for two more inside. I sewed three on the inside – a skinny one in the middle perfect for holding a pen. I thought about sewing in a zipper, but the bag’s so deep that I don’t worry about things falling out.

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Inside view with pockets

Overall, this is a great bag, with clear and well-illustrated directions. It’s not a quickie project – altogether there are 33 pieces because you have fashion fabric and lining, with interfacings for each. (Plus 8 more pieces for a facing and interfacing for the facing if you go this route.) The bag calls for quilting cotton and foam interfacing, but since I was using heavier denim, I used the cordura.

Here it is with my other recent “edgy” makes (Oki Style “Joker” shirt and skirt made from Vogue 1312). I am sure this bag will get a lot of use!

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One of many “edgy” looks – now complete with bag

 

Finding Inspiration for Winter Woolens in Scotland

I came away from my vacation in Ireland and Scotland with a new appreciation for quality woolen fabric and garments. In the first place, it was a bit chilly – mid 50s at best and usually cloudy. Puts you in the mood for a mug of tea and a cozy sweater, right? In the second place, I was inspired by the two traditional two woolen mills I visited. And third, I enjoyed the pro-sewing atmosphere of both countries in their modern and historic cultural artifacts (post to come later).

I bought these fabrics to craft into my own garments:

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Tartans woven in Scotland from Scottish wool

The one on the right is a houndstooth from the Islay Woollen Mill on Islay, an island off the West Coast of Scotland. Islay is famous for its peaty whiskey, my husband’s favorite. I was excited to check out the mill too and was delighted with the experience. They even gave me labels to sew into my project, because Islay wool is such a quality product.

The mill makes fabrics for Saville Row tailors in a variety of checks and colors.

 

The guy running the mill was quite a character. He quickly and rather incoherently explained how the mill worked and then got back to work. There was a lovely smell of wool, old wood and axle grease in the place.

 

The showroom was just bolts of fabrics on shelves and piled on the floor. I looked everything over and had a tough time deciding what to buy. Finally I chose the gray, black and blue houndstooth because it was so unusual and it goes well with other items in my wardrobe.

 

I am planning to make a jacket out of it. Because this fabric is so rare and expensive, I will definitely make a muslin first!

The Islay Woollen Mill also had a pretty shop on the first floor with all finished goods from the mill and other things. My husband bought a traditional cap:

 

I didn’t get any pictures of the Edinburgh Tartan Weaving Mill, but be sure to look it up online and in person if you’re there. The mill is rather hidden inside an enormous gift shop down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle. The mill is in the sub-sub-basement, and the fabric shop is a floor above that.

The place specializes in traditional tartans. I chatted up the salesman and spent quite some time looking over the choices before going with this tartan, woven in the traditional “Blue Ramsay” design.

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This fabric has a smoother texture and a crisper hand than the fabric from Islay, but the colorways are similar, so I know it will go with other garments in my wardrobe. I am planning to make an off-kilter kilt with it from New Look 6326. I ironed out the fit problems with the previous attempt. I like the idea of using a tartan on the bias for the overlay. I will need to figure out how to stabilize it so it doesn’t stretch out or warp.