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.

One Day of Sitting and Standing Up Straight

I tried today to stand up straight and sit up tall all day. I made it exactly 10 minutes before I caught myself in the mirror, slouching while I brushed my teeth.

Sheesh.

Walking to the train, I tried to imagine I was carrying my breasts on a tray in front of me, like a medieval painting of Saint Agatha.

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Are these breasts, or just suggestive cupcakes?

That works pretty well, oddly enough, except when I forgot, and I forgot every 10 minutes or so.

Sheesh.

First thing at work, I had a meeting with about 30 people. We were jammed into a conference room, and I happened to pick the chair next to the speaker. All eyes on me! So I sat up straight. The whole time. I didn’t even let my back touch the back of the chair, I was that straight. My mind wandered to Scarlett O’Hara’s mother in “Gone With the Wind,” a lady so refined that Scarlett “had never seen her mother’s back touch the back of any chair in which she sat.”

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Me? Sit? No. I’m a lady.

Sheesh.

After that I felt a little burning sensation between my shoulder blades – maybe from muscles that hadn’t been used in a good long while, muscles that had been complacent and atrophied in their slouch.

For the rest of the day I tried to sit up as straight as possible. I realized my chair and desk were a bit un-ergonomic for this, so I fussed over the chair a while. When I got that straightened out, I realized my monitors were a bit low, so I fussed with them. I finally got to work on the computer and noticed from time to time that my shoulders crept up toward my ears. I pushed them back down. That little burn between my shoulder blades got hotter.

At lunch I stooped over my soup. I mean, I am all for trying this posture jazz, but I am not going to dribble soup all over my clothes to get there.

A few more meetings in the afternoon, and a few more Ellen O’Hara impressions. “Why yes,” I thought, “I am the epitome of femininity and refinement. Look at how my back doesn’t even touch the back of my chair, bitches.

I walked back to the train, head held high. I stepped in a subway grate and scuffed up the heel of my new boots, tripping and almost falling, but hey, I was walking with my head held high, not down at the ground like some slattern.

falling

Then I got on the train and took a nap, all slouched into the seat. Hey – I needed a break.

I resumed the walking and sitting when I got home for a while, but later, curled up on the couch watching TV, I caved. Enough for today.

Or, as Scarlett would say it, “Tomorrow is another day!”

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I Don’t Do Woo-Woo

My first stop in my effort to improve my posture was to seek medical advice. At least, I thought I was seeking medical advice. I really ended up seeking a practitioner of woo-woo.

I am talking about chiropractors.

“Woo-woo” is a snarky way to describe everything phony-baloney, magical thinking, pseudoscience, nutsy, mystical and downright bogus. I put chiropractors into that category. They are not doctors, and their practice has little to no medically proven benefit.

Yet, there are lots of chiropractors out there, and lots of people who “swear by” them. Swear all you want. That’s what happens when people are desperately in pain.

Anyway, the woman I saw was offering a posture clinic at my gym as part of a women’s health fair, so I thought I’d check it out. She didn’t bill herself as a chiropractor, which seems deceitful to me. She started by asking me a few questions about my age, health, exercise and eating habits. I showed her my uneven shoulders and my growing dowager’s hump. Then she poked around my back for a bit while I sat in one of those chairs where you plant your face into something that looks like a squishy toilet seat.

She filled out this assessment form for me:

back assessment
Woo woo !

It may be a little hard to read this, but basically it claims that all the health problems of humanity have their causes and cures in your back.

For example, let’s say you suffer from headaches, low energy, sneezing, nightmares and burning feet. This dog’s breakfast of symptoms is connected to your liver, don’t you know, and the cure is a chiropractic treatment of your 8th thoracic vertebra.

That was her diagnosis of me, along with problems with my 2nd thoracic and 5th lumbar vertebrae.

I can see how someone can get sucked into this. I mean, I get headaches from time to time. I struggle to maintain my weight. I have occasional aches and pains. It would be nice if the cure was a simple chiropractic adjustment, instead of dieting and exercising, avoiding headache triggers and otherwise succumbing to almost 50 years on this planet.

Some other health issues supposedly cured by chiropractors seem downright dangerous. If you’re craving sweets, feel tired after eating and get headaches if you get too hungry, your problem might be diabetes, not your 6th thoracic vertebra.

I asked the chiropractor if she could cite any peer-reviewed studies that proved these ideas. “No,” she said, “but I can tell you that my patients all feel better.”

In the first place, I don’t have any pain – it’s really more of an attempt to correct bad posture and its other effects that I’m after.

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Shoulder issues – the shirt is on grain. I am off grain.

If you are in pain, and if you believe the chiropractor can help you, then maybe it will. The brain plays a big role in the power to heal. Plus, maybe it just feels good to have someone touching you and showing you sympathy for your pain.

I don’t believe, so forget it. I probably insulted her when I told her that, but I don’t care. Hey, if you believe in what you’re doing, put some data behind it. Is that so hard?

I have my annual check-up in a few weeks with my real doctor, and I’ll ask her for a referral.

I Feel Bad About My Shoulders

Stand up straight! Don’t slouch!

Did you hear that a lot as a kid? I did. I didn’t obey, and today I am sorry for it. My back and shoulder issues are worsening with age.

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Shoulder issues – the shirt is on grain. I am off grain.

I don’t wear a lot of striped or plaid tops for this reason. This shirt does a great job of showing the problem – my right shoulder is lower and forward of my left shoulder, and I have a bit of a hunchback developing on my left side.

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side view

Because the top of my body slumps this way, the bottom of my body hyperextends the other way to compensate. You can really see it on this pants muslin. Those drag lines from the front thigh around to the back calf tell the tale:

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Doomed from every angle!

Here’s what these back and shoulder issues look like from the front – note the two shoulder heights, plus drag lines on the right at the armpit, pointing to other fitting problems.

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Three issues conspired in my childhood to create this problem:

  1. I was very tall for my age – about 5’4″ in 6th grade – and I was very ungainly and self-conscious. I slouched and slumped to try to make myself look smaller.
  2. I had a mild scoliosis. I should have worn a back brace, but I didn’t get one. I don’t really know why my parents ignored this. My mother once said she was afraid kids would pick on me. Anyway, we had no money.
  3. I wore a backpack to school slung over only my left shoulder, which probably partly explains why it developed the way it did.

My inability to stand up straight ruined my wedding pictures:

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Bride of 1999

And it’s starting to cause me some pain. Things will only get worse if I don’t work on it.

My winter self-improvement plan involves working on my posture. I am going to try a few things:

  • Medical assessment of my posture – how bad it is and what I can expect if I don’t address it
  • Exercises to fix it, or at least to stop it from getting worse
  • Gadgets and garments that might help
  • Sewing and alterations to minimize the cosmetic problem

I am curious if any readers have struggled with this and have tips or experiences that I might find valuable. Please drop me a line if you do.

Feeling My Way Around a Blind Hem

Every time I set out to do a blind hem by machine, it takes me half an hour of thumbing through the manual, folding and refolding the hem, marking, pinning, swearing, and at least one test run on some scrap fabric to figure out what the heck I need to do. My machine does a nice blind hem, so it’s well worth documenting the steps. If you also have this struggle, read on…

The blind hem is a duet of a special presser foot and a special stitch.

My machine’s blind hem foot includes a guide bar that you butt up against the hem. The bar wraps straight around the bottom of the foot, except for a little jog where the needle goes when it’s doing the “blind” part of the stitch. I believe that such presser feet are standard on most machines, but if you don’t have one, they are well worth seeking out.

Obvs, you need to use the blind hem stitch in conjunction. It’s a sequence of a few short straight stitches all the way to the right, followed by one long wide zigzag to the left, followed by more short straight stitches.

When you sew a blind hem, the short straight stitches sink into the raw edge of the fabric at the hem of your pants or skirt, and the zigzag takes a tiny bite into an anchor point along your pants leg. This stitch is “blind” because most of the stitches go into the raw hem edge, and the zigzag anchor point is so tiny you can’t see it from the right side. While this seems like a fragile, fussy stitch, it’s actually very secure. Even if a zigzag stitch breaks when you’re wearing the garment, the hem won’t fall because all those small straight stitches are backing the zigzag up. I usually want this for any dressy clothes where a topstitched hem would look too casual.

Where I get confused is when it comes to marking and folding the hem correctly for the blind hem to work its magic. Start by finishing the raw edge of the hem (I just zipped it through my serger) and mark the wrong side of the fabric where you want the finished hem to anchor to the pants leg. In my case, that’s 2 inches from the raw edge.

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Mark the anchor point for the blind hem

This is NOT the finished hem length – it’s just the anchor point – and you will need at least an inch below the anchor point for the finished hem. This means you might set the blind hem anchor point up higher than you’d do if this was a turn-and-topstitch hem.

Fold the hem in wrong side into right side along that anchor line, and press. Then, fold the hem back on itself so the raw edge just barely peeks out from under the anchor point line you just marked, like so:

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Folding is the key to a good blind hem

My picture here shows the hem half folded in. The top is folded in and pinned, but the bottom isn’t yet. The fabric that lies between the anchor point and the bottom of the finished hem is tucked up in between the anchor point and the raw edge.

Position the pinned hem along the special presser foot like this from the wrong side:

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Blind hem presser foot in action!

The bar rests against the anchor point’s foldline, and the raw edge is to the right. Stitch, and check to be sure the small straight stitches are going into the raw edge, and the long, wide zigzag is taking a tiny bite into the fabric on the left.

Sew all around the hem and press. If it’s all good, you’ll get a hem like this:

Occasionally the blind hem goes wonky for me if the tension is off. You want a rather loose stitch so there’s no puckering or drawing up. You might want to pay around with the tension. For the stitch length and width, I usually just go with whatever the machine’s preset sizes are, but if you’re dealing with bulky fabric, you can adjust the stitch – just be sure not to move the needle from its preset positions, or it may collide with the bar.

Besides the blind hem’s invisible appearance, it’s very easy to rip out if you want to change the hem of a skirt or pants anytime, since only the zigzag stitches into the anchor point are really holding the hem in place.