As a child, I grew up with lots of stories about dyeing. My French-Canadian great-grandmother, who lived to 106, used to make her own dyes. Her daughters worked in woolen textile mills in town, and would secret away scraps that my great-grandmother would dye for use in rugs and other home furnishings. I am lucky enough to have one of the rugs my grandmother made, using some of her mother’s homemade dyes in addition to upcycled wool from clothes and other uses.
The mint green wool in this rug comes from a suit my grandmother wore in 1945 when she took a train across the US to see my grandfather, whose ship came in to Seattle after World War II was over.
Dyeing is not a lost art, but it’s not exactly thriving either. I have no idea how my great-grandmother did what she did.
I experimented with RIT in high school – we made tie-dyed T-shirts and felt like hippies for about 15 minutes. We had no idea what we were doing. The dye came out in the wash and ruined other clothes. Fun times!
So when I saw a shibori dyeing class at the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, Conn. I had to sign up. The class was making four cotton napkins using different dyeing techniques. The instructor also allowed me to bring two yards of other fabric to dye for a top to other use. I was excited at the chance!
This was not a traditional class using real indigo dyes and twine and other techniques, but it was fun to try.
Here are the napkins I made:
The triangle motif at the upper right is my favorite of these four. It’s made by folding the fabric over twice and then folding it into triangles. The trick is your first triangle fold is actually a half triangle – necessary to get the triangles to align properly. We practiced on paper first:
The one at bottom right is made by making narrow pleats and then rolling the fabric into a bundle, like so:
The napkin at bottom left used a typical tie-dye technique of wrapping objects such as marbles within a fold of fabric and tying it off.
I covered the napkin with these little bundles – sometimes three marbles inside. The result came out like this fresh from the dye and rinse pots:
The fourth napkin did not come out well. This is what it looked like when it went into the die pot:
I think my popsicle sticks came loose or something, because the end is a bit blotchy. Oh well.
Finally, here’s my cotton poplin, to be a blouse for summer:
I had to break it into two one-yard cuts so it would fit in the dye pot. Also it was the end of the day so the color is a bit faded. I need to find a pattern that will allow me to use the dye pattern to best advantage.
Here’s one of those “I’m glad I made a muslin” stories.
Last winter, I planned to make a cross-country ski jacket. I bought a pattern – the Fairbanks Pullover from Green Pepper Patterns, an indie pattern company for high-quality outdoor gear . They’ve been around since the 1970s, and I sewed a similar anorak from a Green Pepper pattern back in the 80s.
OK, enough for the Memory Lane detour.
At the same time I bought the pattern, I also bought some PolarTec Power Shield fabric – pricey but since it’s a sandwich of a fleecy insulating layer and a water-resistant and wind-resistant outer layer, I figured it would be worth it in the end, and certainly easier than working with those two textiles separately. I bought zippers. I bought drawstring cord and cord stoppers. I read up on waterproof seam tape.
And then I thought – better make a muslin.
This pattern ticked several “yes” boxes in my “Make a Muslin or Wing It” checklist:
While I am familiar with Green Pepper patterns and admire their quality and attention to detail, it had been a loooong time since I sewed that anorak. So I am not really familiar.
Another “make a muslin” clue was that I could find no reviews of this pattern online – nothing on PatternReview.com, no blogs, no photos even. So I’d have no one’s advice to rely on.
Finally, there was the expense question. The PolarTec Power Shield – plus shipping – was $65, not to mention the trims and hardware.
Make a muslin, dammit!
I am glad I mocked up the jacket out of an old bedsheet. It was disappointing. The fit – although for a woman’s shape – was very boxy and too tight in the hips. It also was a little small in the shoulders and arms – OK for a casual jacket but not for skiing. Finally, the style with the big front pocket was awkward – I could imagine it flapping around with my phone and keys inside while I was skiing.
I gave it a pass and remained on the lookout for something else to try. I considered the Closet Case Files Kelly Anorak, which looks like a high-quality and well-reviewed pattern.
But, it seemed too dressy and close-fitting for my purposes, and it used a lot of fabric – I’d be out at least another $30 for supplies. So I put it out of my mind.
This winter, I tried again, this time with the newly issued Simplicity 8843. I made a muslin this time, too, because I was not sure that the drop shoulder would work well.
It does! I’ve decided to lengthen it an inch at the waist and an inch at the hem. Also at the sleeves. And I did a high round back adjustment so the collar sits better.
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.
Three little dachshunds
All in a row
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.
Template for shield-shaped tag
Final tags – one for each Hogwarts house
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.
I have satisfied another resolution I made at the new year – to attend a sewing retreat. I went to PatternReview Weekend in early June in Stratford Ontario, Canada. I am glad I went, because I wanted to meet in person many people I’ve known only through their comments and sewing projects on PatternReview. But, the whole event was not really my cup of tea, so I don’t think I will attend again.
I also really enjoyed a tour of the Stratford Festival Theater’s costume shop. We were allowed to only look at most costumes, but at the end of the tour we could try a few on.
This costume had quick-change ability to turn from black and white to color.
So many costumes…
Trying a few on
My friend Olga gets her style on
We marveled at how well-made the costumes were for durability, and how many fancy trims and techniques were used. I really would have loved a tour of the sewing workroom, but that wasn’t on the tour. Boo.
The rest of the event was OK. There were a couple of demonstrations, but it was hard to see well. I am more a hands-on learning type. Also, I am not a very sociable person, and since it was my first time at this event, I didn’t know anyone there. About half of the 80-odd attendees had been before – some multiple times. As is inevitable with all-female events (one man attended) cliques formed and first-timers ended up together, trying to make connections.
Deepika, founder of PatternReview, welcomes us.
A ukelele band!
Camp shirt contest
Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. Some organizers of the event were “ambassadors” who did a great job of seeking out newcomers and chatting them up. All the same, it was a bit exhausting to have to introduce myself over and over, and to try to make connections with people. This isn’t a complaint – I am just better in a small group than in a large group.
One of the highlights of the event is a pattern swap. Attendees brought in patterns they didn’t want anymore, and all the donated patterns, books and magazines were piled onto tables. Then there was a rush at the swap table to take away whatever you wanted. I donated five patterns to the swap – a suit pattern that was part of a lot I got from eBay, a free dress pattern from a magazine, a dress pattern I bought in the wrong size by mistake, a jacket pattern I knew I’d never sew, and a home dec pattern for a project that a friend asked for, then cancelled.
I decided I’d rather eat lunch than peruse the swap table at first. I am not much of a “stash” person. Most of the time, I buy the patterns and fabrics I want for specific projects. I seldom buy on spec or just because something’s on sale. I realize I am VERY spoiled in this regard – I can shop at the Garment District in New York anytime I want, there are Joann’s nearby for basics and cheap patterns (sometimes at little at 99 cents apiece) and a very good fabric store in Connecticut if I don’t want to go into NYC. Speaking with sewists from rural places, who have to shop online, and from Canada, where patterns seldom go on sale, I appreciate how fortunate I am. Still, I didn’t want to take things just for the sake of taking them.
I visited the table later on and took five patterns – a vintage skirt, a Style Arc top (been meaning to try Style Arc), a couple of dresses that seem suitable for me and a coordinates set of officewear. In my goodie bag was a voucher for a skirt pattern from Deer & Doe and the Vogue “5 Easy Pieces” pattern – a great haul, all in all.
The goodie bag also had coupons for discounts on fabric and patterns, gadgets such as measuring devices and snips, decorative pins, info about area attractions and other fun stuff.
There were two contests with prizes – making a camp shirt and making sleepwear. I made a camp shirt for the contest and wore it all day Friday, since I thought it could be judged anytime. It turned out the shirts and sleepwear were judged in the evening only. I had changed out of the shirt for dinner since it was pretty sweaty and rumpled from being worn all day in a stuffy church basement. The contest judging took a long time and I found myself getting pretty antsy to get out of there.
Saturday was a shopping extravaganza. We piled onto school buses and toured three sites – Len’s Mill (a warehouse-like place for fabric, yarn, housewares, crafting supplies and what have you), downtown Hamilton, ON, which has several great fabric stores along a cute commercial street, and Ann’s Fabrics in Hamilton, which sells mostly knits and activewear fabrics.
The only thing I really needed was lining fabric – I really like to stash that so that I don’t have to think about it. I scored 12 yards of nice 54-inch Bemberg in four colors at a shop in Hamilton, European Textiles.
Otherwise, I was shopping for fall and winter. Yeah, summer just started, but my summer sewing plans are spoken for by now.
At Len’s Mill I found this cute cotton Canada-themed flannel, which would make good PJ bottoms for my husband (he’d requested some earlier this year). I also bought some nice quilting cotton with a Liberty feel for a top to go with new pants I just made (I am thinking about a wearable muslin of the very popular Butterick 5526). Finally, I got 3 yards of a wine-colored suedecloth in anticipation of a work blazer for fall, possibly from Vogue 1418. It was lightweight and odd, so I may regret it. Or it may be fabulous.
Sign for Len’s Mills bargains
Len’s also had some interesting buttons – I bought a giant one for who knows what (a bag? a poncho?) and two cards of red and black handpainted wooden buttons for a thrifted leather jacket I’ve been thinking of upcycling.
At Ann’s I found some heavy knit with a border stripe that would make a cute long-sleeved T-shirt, maybe without the overlay from McCall’s 7247.
My favorite place was Marina’s Fabrics in Hamilton, because it reminds me of the small family-run places I know in New York, complete with a jumble of unusual fabrics, negotiable prices, and a talkative but grumpy immigrant lady behind the cutting counter.
It’s where I found two interesting pieces: a light wool loose houndstooth suiting in white and wine that would make a wonderful summer shift dress (probably Deer & Doe’s Arum dress – and would coordinate with the suedecloth too if I have fabric left over for a bolero or such) and a border print in a knit of some kind – probably poly/acrylic – in black, gray and cobalt blue that would be perfect for a high-waisted pencil skirt from Simplicity 8058.
I had budgeted to spend $200 on fabric and other sewing materials, and I managed to do it – 16.5 yards in all, plus two books and assorted other items. Looking at my take, minus the Bemberg, I wonder what kind of fabric magpie I am. None of this makes sense with anything else. That’s the problem with stash shopping – the thrill of the hunt doesn’t mix well with a coordinated plan.
I started on the prewashing chore when I got home and then I got to work, making the PJ shorts for my husband.
I wanted badly to sew something, after just talking about sewing for two days! That’s the main problem with PR Weekend for me. I prefer a hands-on event much more than an event where you mostly shop, eat and drink, and socialize. Still, I am glad I went. If it’s nearby again (next year it’s in Portland, OR) and if there’s some hands-on activity, I might go.
College is a great time for trying on personas. Even if you’re like me, and you went to college to study and to get a good job, you also spend time trying to “find yourself.” I went to Boston University freshman year with “outdoorsy” affectations. I needed just the right look. The summer before school started, on a trip to Quebec I bought this:
It’s an iconic Hudson’s Bay blanket, 100% wool, keeping Canadians warm for centuries, in a style little changed over the years. This was a twin-size or “four-point” blanket, marked with four blue lines along the side. Growing up, I had understood that the points dictated how many pelts a trapper had to trade for the blanket, but the Hudson’s Bay Company says this story is apocryphal. Boo.
It goes with nothing in my home now and has been toted around for decades. (When I set the blanket out on the bed to photograph it, my husband said, “Where did that old blanket come from?”) I’d long thought of refashioning it into a iconic coat of my northern heritage, so the combination of the PatternReview.com Refashion Contest and the Bargainista Fashionista contest left me with no excuses!
As long as there have been Hudson’s Bay blankets, people have been making them into coats, it seems. I’d see them around once in a while, growing up in the 70s in New Hampshire, and I just love these vintage ads:
1950s coat on eBay
Tres chic in your blanket coat!
Pretend you’re a Revolutionary War solider!
While these looks are classic, I wanted something a little more modern. I almost keeled over when I saw this coat, from the designer Monse. Cost: 1,990!
I figured I could make something similar for the grand out-of-pocket cost of NOTHING!
I’ve had Butterick 6244 in stash since it won a “PR favorite” award in 2016. The coat is semi-fitted and unlined, with the front extending into a draped collar. Seems like a good match, right?
The pattern calls for wool double-cloth or coating. The blanket was a bit heavier, so I had to adapt a bit. I added 1 cm to the side and center-back seam allowances to give me plenty of real estate for the turn of cloth into flat-felled seams. I hemmed the bottom and sleeves by hand to reduce bulk.
Instead of doing a bulky narrow hem on the front, I cut off the 5/8-inch seam allowance and finished the raw edges with a machine triple blanket stitch in navy upholstery thread. The stitch is a bit uneven, as the wool was heavy and was hard to feed through the machine. I have decided to pretend this was intentional, to give the coat a “rustic” look. Also, because the blanket’s right side was a bit pilled up and had a couple of small stains, I used the wrong side out.
I skipped the Monse coat’s buckled sleeve cinchers and the weird chest harness, in part because I didn’t want to buy buckles and grommets and in part because I just don’t like them. I sewed the original Hudson’s Bay label into the coat, to match the Monse coat.
Upcycle knock-off of a $2,000 Monse coat
It’s too hot (FINALLY) to wear it this year, but it will be perfect for next winter!
Many sewing patterns are, shall we say, a bit generous when it comes to yardage requirements. I guess they figure “better safe than sorry.” It really stinks when you’re just a tiny bit short with fabric for a project.
Guess what? I am a tiny bit short of fabric for Vogue 1312.
For my size (16), the dress calls for a monstrous 4.5 yards of 60-inch wide, lightweight fabric in denim, gabardine or linen. Ever tote 4.5 yards of ANY lightweight fabric on your bod? Didn’t think so, unless you’re a time traveler.
But then I remembered an oddball in my stash. While recently visiting my favorite vintage shop, English Building Market, I came across a length of charcoal gray mystery fabric. It has a slight sheen to it and feels like a lawn or batiste, not too stiff or too drapey. I bought the lot – 4+ yards – for $20, figuring it would be good for linings or muslins at least. After a trip in my washing machine and clothes dryer, it measures 4 yards, 10 inches, and 44 inches wide. A burn test hints that it’s a poly-cotton blend.
Would it work?
Yes, with an inconsequential modification.
A lot of sewing patterns provide yardage requirements and cutting layouts for 45-inch and 60-inch fabrics. That’s nice, since you can often save money and reduce waste buying wider fabric. Also, sometimes the fabric you want to use is 54 inches, so it’s good to know your options. I seldom see patterns that really require 60-inch wide fabric. (The “Joker” shirt from Oki Style is a notable exception.)
Vogue 1312 also has oddly pleated shapes, so I took the pattern envelope at its word when it specified only 60-inch wide fabric. Well joke’s on me, because 45 inches works just fine. Behold:
Makes it with a couple of inches to spare!
The dress skirt is basically a bunch of draped or pleated rectangles, cut on the fold. Four rectangles are cut on the straight grain, and one is cut on the crossgrain. I estimated them all to fit neatly on my yardage, marking each one with chalk to be sure. (I don’t bother pressing the fabric or pattern pieces but rather rough-cut at the fabric estimation stage.) It’s an easy task when the pieces are literally rectangles – no fabric waste there!
The bodice was a different story. The pattern calls for a self-lined bodice, and I am about 7 inches short of making that happen. If I cut the front on the fold, piece the back together, and use a different lining fabric, however, I can just make it.