Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Butterick 5387

I had to go digging in the resource center for some of the miles of blue gingham hiding there this past weekend. Seems I am going to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz for Halloween. I had the blouse and will add the needed blue ricrac trim. DD gave me a tiny basket with Toto to walk around with. Old black flats will become ruby red slippers and a gingham pinafore, to be constructed by next Friday,  will hopefully tie it all together. We are all dressing as book characters for the day on Halloween and Dorothy seemed pretty easy, except for the hair, but I will figure something out. Do yo see those bias straps on this pinafore? 

Anyhoo, digging back there sure got my sewjo mojo boiling. I found all sorts of things to inspire. If you saw the Pin Post you may have noticed the egg cups full of pins were sitting on a really  lovely fabric. This is the purple/blue wool gabardine that I felted. It took two washes and dry on the hottest settings but now I am really happy with the felting. I need jackets for work. Blazers and more structured jackets will not work as I and my comrades do a lot of reaching and stretching and carrying of books. I need something closer to a sweater than a structured jacket. A felted wool jacket will be great. I have a pattern picked out but it's a real stretch to get where I want that wool to go so I will start with a muslin. There are only three pieces and the construction really lends itself to the wool. I will reach into my bag of tricks to see what I need to make this felt look it's unique best. I will keep you in suspense on the pattern because I think you will say, "wha?"  I hope to make it work and fingers crossed. 

This  lovely lady is Mary Ray, accomplished sewist, teacher and member of the editorial staff at Threads magazine. From the first time I saw her top I knew I wanted one just like it. On the Threads site she actually goes into the method used for her sweet top. It's a method I've used a few times involving fusible tricot and random folding of tucks. I love the look and had total plans to make this. Then last week I walked into Joanns clearance sale and there was this rayon knit that looked pretty darn close. I bought. I started. I decided to make something rather close fitting from a favorite knit top pattern, Butterick 5387. The neckline is not easy but the three times I've made it I've somehow gotten it to work, despite the directions. Here's my last  version:

I like the shape and the way it fits. But now that I have it halfway finished and hanging on Ms. Dumdum I really like the look of that textured fabric just draping.

 So now I am playing with the idea of adding 1/4 circle godets into the side seams. Ideas are still gelling on this one but I won't do the more fitted top. This fabric is quite sheer. Being rayon it also has a really nice drape so I have to take advantage of that. At this point I have the neckline completed, the worst part, so the godets will be next, maybe french seams, We'll see. So what I thought would be a two hour turnaround has become another sewing event! I'll keep you posted.

I have to say,  this was one biatch to get sewing on. The fabric was more slippery than a two year old's spilled bottle of bubble soap. It was like sewing air. But I think it will be worth it. I am also going to make a nude cami for underneath. I have a couple but I want something a bit more comfortable and have a couple of ideas.

So that is one project. The blue felted wool jacket will be another and a third couple of fabrics that inspired me are these:

One is a cotton damask I dyed myself  and have never quite known what to do with it other than admire. The lower fabric is a great knit for a skirt. We'll see how this ends up!

Thank you to all who have participated in the Monday sewing series. Your ideas, suggestions and experiences have been so helpful to all readers. Thanks, again. 

I am reading the most awesome sewing book, one new to me. I can't wait to share it all with you. 


Monday, October 20, 2014

NLS #3, Needles and Pins, where it all begins.

OK, be honest here, when is the last time you changed the needle in your sewing machine? Ah, Mon Dieu! You've never changed it? Excuse me while I run to get the smelling salts..........

I'm back! Such tiny little items like pins and needles that can be so cute, so sharp, so useful, important and sooooo painful if you get stuck with one.  Are there differences in pins? You bet! There are tons of "cute" pins which could be kind of sweet tucked in a hat. You can find loads on Etsy that are made by some very talented craftspeople. They make nice stocking stuffers for sewing friends. While they  are really cute, they are not too practical other than they are harder to lose. You won't find those suckers hiding in the carpet!  Seriously......there are all sorts of pins so let's see what we have here. 

I call these fork pins. So does Clover! Would you believe they are 10.99 for 35 pins at Joann's and 5.99 for the same amount at Wawak?   And why would you need  fork pins? Matching plaids, lining up seamlines for stitching across, getting that waistline seam to match across the zipper. They have great holding power and you will wonder how you lived without them. They are very handy.

Then there are silk pins. There are two kinds, cheap, lousy silk pins and good strong silk pins that will last you years. On the left you can see Dritz silk pins. They bend and nothing is more frustrating than reaching for a pin and getting a bent piece of crap. On the right is a box I picked up at Claire Shaeffer's "store". They are from Clotilde who, sadly, I don't think is in business any longer. But you can get Iris pins which are similar and have a great reputation. They are available from Nancy's Notions. When do you use silk pins,aka, super fine pins? They are great for delicate fabrics like silk organza, organdy or handkerchief linen when a larger pin might leave a hole. When using delicate fabrics its a good habit to pin in the seam allowance. Pins can and will mark delicate fabrics. These pins are not what you use when making jeans, wool coats, etc. They are just too fine and usually  a bit shorter than other pins. Then there are glass head silk pins, too.............

On the left are glass head silk pins. Why these? Glass heads can be ironed over without melting the little head. But these, by Dritz also are pretty weak and bend and frustrate. But their little blue heads make me smile so I keep them around. Glass heads come on nearly every type of pin, making them great to have on hand for those hot ironing moments. Annie's craft store carries a big selection  glass headed IBC pins, the brand Clothilde sold.

The pins on the right are my basic go to pin for most projects that aren't delicate. They have plastic heads but I don't make a habit of ironing over pins. That can sometimes leave indentations that won't come out after so I just don't do it. So why would I want thes big headed, longer than normal pins? Because they are easy to see and their length gives them great holding strength! They also show right up on the floor when they fall. They are quite strong and work well for heavier projects like coats and jeans and such. I use them a lot. Most importantly, they stack up nicely in my egg cups and make me smile when I look at them. But they are little work horses. On to that more interesting subject.............................needles!

If you are one of those who never changes your needle in the machine, for shame! Maybe you are lucky and never have pulled threads from a dull old needle with a blunt hole or a burr on the shaft. Maybe you can sew rayon knit with a number 12 universal needle that's 3 years old. Maybe you have a superneedle that is enchanted and will never break no matter what you sew. None of those thing apply to me or most sewists. Different fabrics need different needles.

There are all sorts of needles in many many different sizes. Most of my sewing is done with a Microtex needle, Size 11. I rarely rarely use a universal needle anymore for anything. The rest of my sewing uses HS stretch needles. They are great on knits and vinyls and faux leathers. Ever sew faux leather? I don't own a roller foot or teflon foot. Instead I have a bottle of "Sewer's Aid" a silicone lubricant for sewing. I put the tiniest film of the stuff on my finger and rub down the needle shaft, the bottom of the presser foot, and the needle plate, The faux leather flies through beautifully and makes a very nice stitch as well. A bottle will last for years. But make sure you use that HS needle for your fauxs. 

My needle box sideways for easier reading for you. 

There are so many different needles and using the right one will make your sewing so much less frustrating and your stitch quality that much better. A disclaimer here: I do not do any machine embroidery. that has it's own special needles, Organs and titaniums and other such that I know nothing about. You will have to find that info elsewhere. If you don't know that you may need a different needle for your latest project you might want to invest in either Sandra Betzina's "More Fabric Savvy" or Claire Shaeffer's Fabric Guide. You look up the fabric and they tell you exactly what needle, thread and stitch to use. Both are wonderful resources and that's where I learned to use the HS needle for the vinyls and fauxs. 

Once you start buying those various needles, you need to organize them. I keep mine in a 7 day pill dispenser. Make sure you bring one of your Schmetz needle cases with you when shopping for your  pill organizer. It doesn't fit in most but if you keep looking you will find one. I got mine I think at WM. Some mailing labels and a bit of time in Word got me the labels. This organizer is right next to my machine reminding me to use the proper needle and change it often. How often is that? Some say every 8 hours of sewing. I put in a new needle with each garment.  You can stock up on those 50% off sales at the chains. 

Listen to your needle, really! They will talk to you. Before you start any new garment do some stitch samples with the scraps. Make a sample with your chosen needle and stitch away. Listen carefully. If the needle makes a click or pop or sticks and moves the fabric up and down, or just sounds "heavier", you need a different size needle or a different kind. I don't think I have used a ball point needle in 20 years and I haven't missed it at all. Those will often make the tiny little pop sound. That means they are to fat for your fabric and you need something sharper, a universal or microtex.  Today I worked on a top of almost sheer rayon knit. I thought for sure my microtex 11 would be perfect. Wrong! the fabric and thread would get sucked down into the bobbin case, the machine would lock up and threads would break and jam around the bobbin mechanism. I changed to a straight stitch foot, no good. I stitched on Solvy, no help. But when I changed to a Size 11 HS stretch needle, Alleluia! Momma's happy. Your machine, fabric and thread will all affect how your needle choice works and often I have to try a couple of needles on my samples before I get the stitch I want. 

I like to do heirloom pin stitching. Some use a wing needle for this application. I prefer a size 18 sharp needle. I find the wing, which is very sharp on it's edges, can cut delicate fabrics and the round shaft of the universal or microtex needle will make a big hole and not damage the delicate heirloom fabric. I know some disagree with me and that's OK. 

Schmetz has a great site to give you much more technical information on needles than I know and I think it is good to take a read of it. Their Learning Center is loaded with info, a bit dry reading but expert knowledge from those who know needles best. 

Did you think I would forget the hand needle? Heck no!  This little box above measure about 3x5 inches, a tiny tote! I've turned it into a little file cabinet of sorts  for my hand needles. If you sew, quilt, embroider, do heirloom sewing, you need ALL SORTS of hand needles and keeping track of them can get messy. This system has worked well for me. 

Milliner's are my go to for sewing bullions. Bullions are such fun to sew! That big file in the front is all embroidery needles, different sizes for different threads. I use to do a lot of crewel and have tons of crewel needles. There is a hand sewing needle for every sort of stitching imaginable and using the right needle will make it all easier to stitch and give you better results. If you've ever hand quilted you know how a tiny quilting needle will give  you the  most even small stitches. Those itsy bitsy needles, whatever kind they are, or needles with tiny eyes like milliner's and darning needles, can be intimidating. Use them. It takes a bit of getting used to a "different" kind of needle but your improved results will make the effort worthwhile. 

Have trouble threading those multi ply or thicker threads or just have plain old aging eyes? Here's a way, one I learned when I did lots of embroidery, that can make threading your needle a bit easier. In the last post we discussed threading the needle as it comes off the spool. But what do you do if the thread is thick or several plies? Do you lick it and shove it through and all the little fibers go this way and that  and one odd sibling ply refuses to enter they eye? This method has served me well when using regular thread and needles as well. 

Give your thread a nice sharp cut. Lick if the plies are flying every which way. Then with your left hand squeeze the thread between your thumb and index finger, really tightly. You just want to see a tiny dot of thread. While still pinching tightly, shove the eye of the needle on top of thread and push down. Done!

Here you see the final obvious results with the thread pushed through the eye of the needle. Due to the lack of a third hand, which would be nice to have when sewing, I couldn't take the picture while shoving on the needle, but trust me, it works. 

Pins and needles are not the most thought provoking topic of sewing but they are one of the most important tools we use. Get to know them and what they can do for you. Your sewing will improve, your frustration level will lower, and your results with be worth it. .....Bunny

Monday, October 13, 2014

Let's Talk Thread, NLS #2

courtesy forbesfabfomgers/com

Happy Monday and welcome to Next Level Sewing #2. What is more basic to sewing than thread? Yet using it well can definitely add a bit of polish to your garment. These are simple skills that you won't find in a pattern and if lucky will stumble upon on the internet. I've tried to gather them together here for a more cohesive lesson for you.  If you have any questions or would like to share your experience please feel free to do so in the comments. There is a definite dirth of info on the web about thread.

Thread from the spool.   Whenever handstitching, always thread your needle the way it comes from the spool. Cutting a length of thread, letting it fall in a loopy situation on your work table, and then picking up any cut end is not a good habit. By feeding the leading cut end of the thread into your needle and knotting the end that is closest to the spool you eliminate aggravating knots and kinks. Thread is made with a twist. When you thread the needle with the end that is closest to the spool you are constantly fighting the natural twist and it is a battle between you and the thread's urge to get back in line with it's twist. Guess who's going to win?

Want to make your handsewing a bit couture? If your handstitching is for finishing, like a hemline or buttonhole, run your thread through a piece of beeswax. Beeswax is available from any of the chains. Then pass the thread under a warm iron to meld the wax into the thread. I would not use this technique for heirloom sewing of lightweight fabrics but it is wonderful for finishing hems on anything wool or more tailored like a jacket. When I iron the thread I do it over a few layers of scrap fabric. I don't want that wax to telegraph to the ironing board cover where it will later be released while ironing something else, not good. So do this over a towel or a few layers of cotton scraps.
courtesy sew4home.com

Thanks to the late Anita Boucher who taught me this 25 years ago when she saw me thread my first needle for hand stitching a quilt! The end of twisting, knotting thread was glorious!

Knot those puppies!  In the past few months I have seen two very well known sewing teachers topstitch a pocket and just snip the threads off at the corners when done. No, people, No! Once this garment is washed, and in both cases seen it was washable  jeans and pants, I promise you those unknotted threads will pop out and fray. Then the pocket or whatever will come lose from it's stitching and in no time that garment you put all that effort into will look like Walmart's latest fast fashion after a run through the washing machine. Again, not good.

How to do this correctly? Simple. I always keep a pincushion next to the machine with a couple of crewel needles in it. Why crewel needles? They have big eyes and are quick and easy to thread. I don't want to futz with needle threading while at the machine so make it as easy as possible.  When finished stitching a seam, one that is on that outside and will show, leave about 8 inches of thread before cutting. One thread, the bobbin thread, will already be  on the back. The other is on the top and gets threaded with the crewel needle. Run that thread through to the back of the garment in a way that looks  like another normal stitch . Once on the back do a square knot  with the two threads. Square knot? Right over left, left over right. Clip the threads now.  A more couture finish?  Run the threads between the garment and come back up on the wrong side about an inch away. Clip them  to keep the ends hidden. You now have your threads tied off and your beautiful topstitching will hold up to cleaning and look good for a long time. To make my point here I sewed up a simple pocket, a la quick, and on the right  side I tied the topstitching threads to the back. On the left side I clipped them as I saw the two well known Craftsy Profs do, down to the quick. Then I put the pocket in the wash for one wash and one dry. Look how this came out after one washing. The stitches on the right that were tied to the back are solid and holding. The stitches on the left are a mess. This pocket is doomed to separate from the garment with a few more washes. This is what happened after one wash. You work too hard and put too much into your sewing to have it fall apart and look shabby like  this.

Don't Backstitch.   I know. This is against what you have been doing for maybe years. But backstitching, particularly at crossed seams, can add bulk and make for a not smooth seam intersection as well as uneven seams. Remember Couture Sewing Maven  Roberta Carr's number one rule of sewing, "Reduce bulk whenever possible". Not backstitching reduces bulk. But my seams will fall apart!!! NO! See the next paragraph.

Dial down your stitch.   OK, this takes a little getting used to but the results are worth it. I promise you, in no time you will be doing this without even thinking. When you get between a half inch and a 1/4 inch away  from the end of a seam STOP.  Same goes for starting seams. Dial down your stitch length to 1.5 or even 1 and continue stitching till you meet the edge. This will give you strong seams and will eliminate the bulk of backstitching. Cut your threads right at the edge. Once pressed, intersections will have a smoother appearance than those that are backstitched  and seams will lie flatter. Have you ever seen backstitching in a retail garment? While I really don't think they do anything to strengthen stitches in manufacturing other than hand the piece off to the next stitcher in the process, we continue to bulk up our seams with all this unnecessary thread. So dial down that stitch length for a more professional look to your seams.

In the pic above you can see the difference this makes.  This is a cotton chambray.Do you see how the backstitching has added bulk to the right seam and is not letting it lay flat? This has been pressed open just like the seam on the left. By dialing down,  the stitch length the entire length of the seam is exactly the same width and presses beautifully. By backstitching, three rows of thread are making the width of the seam unequal and pressing flat not doable without bubbling. Yes, you could press the life out of this and probably bring it back to look a little better but it will return with each washing. You don't want to do that every time you iron, do you?

How old is my thread?   If it's on a wooden spool, too old! Save those and put them in a lovely glass jar to admire and accessorize your sewing space. All decorating aside, THREAD GETS OLD. At least once a year, usually twice, I will go through every spool I have and give it a yank. If it breaks pretty easily, it gets chucked. You could save it for basting but there are better options and how many spools do you need  just for basting? Thread gets dry rot. I have heard of people actually keeping their thread in the freezer to prevent this. While I don't go to that extreme it is important to be aware that thread has a lifetime, like us, and does age. You inherited a huge collection of thread from 97 year old Aunt Ida who recently passed. Better give those babies a yank before using them to sew a garment on your new age machine. If they don't pass the test, into the pretty glass jar they go! This is particularly important with sewing children's clothing where you want strength and hopefully a garment made well enough to pass along to the next child. Cotton threads are more likely to dry rot than the  polyesters. Yank test on your threads once a year!

Thread fades, particularly cotton thread. All those lovely thread holders that hang on the wall next to your big window over the sewing machine? Not the best thing for your thread. It is best stored in a dark space, free from dust. You can get thread organizers that stack and fit into cabinets nicely. Mine are stored with each color in its own box and inside of a cabinet. Sewing in the basement? I did for years. Fluorescent  lighting will fade your threads, particularly the silk ones. BTDT. It does a wicked number on silk and silk thread.


There is a surprising lack of information on threads on the web. There are many different kinds of threads, too.

The poly or poly blend threads most of us use to do our sewing are quite strong and have elasticity built in. They are great for knits because of that factor. But because of that elasticity, extra care has to be given to winding your bobbins. Wind your bobbins at a slightly slower speed. We are always in a rush to fill a bobbin, an aggravating interruption to our sewing. Slow down with the poly threads. At high speed the thread is stretched before being wound on the bobbin. Then when you go to sew you see the puckered pulled tight seams. That is because the thread is too taut on the bobbin. So wind the bobbin at a touch slower speed. Careful, too slow and your bobbin won't be tight enough and the next thing you know there is looping in the bobbin case.

Our newer computerized machines can be temperamental. They don't like thread lint so you need to clean your machine after each garment. Some machines definitely have a preference for their thread brand. At one time my machine would only be happy with Gutterman thread. Now it will use both Gutterman and Coats and Clark. Turns out C&C implemented some change that made my machine like it again. So experiment to see what works with your machine best. DON'T use cheap thread. It is made with very short staple fibers that will lint up your machine and can cause an expensive week or two at the machine spa. It's not worth it. Good newer  thread only!!!

Cotton threads have a matte finish and offer a rich look for button holes and topstitching. Their bit of fuzziness helps fill in the spaces on machine buttonholes and can make a lovely finish. I've heard more than one expert suggest cotton thread for sewing silk blouses. I've done this and really like the way it works and looks. Cotton thread is not for the construction of much used children's clothing.

Silk threads are lustrous and extremely strong. They are what you use when doing  basting that will then be pressed in as in a hem or other tailored applications Why? Because they do not leave indentations in the fabric when steamed. Heavy steaming is required in many steps of the tailoring process and regular sewing thread will leave indentations in the garment that are hard to remove. Regular silk sewing thread avoids this. You can get Gutterman silk threads for this at the chains. Silk buttonhole twist is what you want to use when going to the effort of hand buttonholes on couture garments like a Chanel style jacket.The next sentence is a bit controversial but I agree with it. Because it is so strong, the silk can actually cut threads in your garment fabric and is often recommended to NOT  be used for actual construction. I would use a high quality cotton like Mettler silk finish thread on silk fabric, not silk thread.

Threads come in different sizes. The higher the number the finer the thread. For  heirloom sewing size 80 and even a 100 threads are used. They disappear into the fabric when doing pinstitching and other heirloom treatments, so lovely.  This allows the "holes" to be seen and not clumped up with thread.  These are sometimes called "fine embroidery thread" but are not machine embroidery threads. That is a whole different animal that I know nothing about as I don't do machine embroidery.

Most regular threads are size 50, Machine embroidery threads tend to be size 30. Remember, the lower the number the thicker the thread. Remember though, other than for heirloom sewing, I haven't found the number to be particularly important to know. What you do need to know is that threads are marketed not by size but by use as in multi purpose, buttonhole twist, topstitching thread, quilting machine thread, etc, etc, etc. There is a thread for each type of sewing being done out there and it's not hard to find the correct thread without knowing a size. Just shop for thread by it's eventual use and fiber content. Heirloom sewing is the exception. Specific thread sizes are often recommended and are available from heirloom purveyors like Farmhouse Fabrics and Martha Pullen.

Basting threads are a wonderful thing to have on hand and not available in most stores. I thank Claire Shaeffer for introducing me to the wonders of skeined basting threads. They have a loose twist and a very soft finish. They won't leave indentations when pressing. They are also easy to remove and break easily so you don't have to bother picking up and putting down your scissors when all you want is a quick baste or are thread tracing. The soft thread is great for tailor tacks as they don't pop out like regular thread tacks can. This stuff is hard to find and is Japanese in origin. I bought mine through Claire's class. Susan Khalje sells it in her web store here.  Spoil yourself and get some great basting thread.

I hope this post about thread has helped you improve your skills and knowledge. Join in the convo and let us know your tricks, experiences or questions. Till next Monday...............Bunny

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Textile Mill

Saturday I had a wonderful date with the cutest young guy, my grandson Zackie. On DD's recommendation Zack and I went to the See Science Center in Manchester, New Hampshire. It is in the area known as "the Millyard" by the locals, one of whom I used to be. Neither of us had ever been there before. It was fabulous. The Center is a totally hands on experience and the children are highly encouraged to handle everything. It is great fun and every child there seemed to be having a ball. The Center was built by the genius, Dean Kamen, the man who invented heart stents, insulin pumps, omni theatres, segways, and much much more that touches our lives daily. I can remember when the Millyard was two miles of empty textile mills, known as the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. Kamen bought up most of the buildings and they now house museums, tech companies, a university, restaurants and more. It is a vital area of the city and quite unique. This was the largest cotton textile mill in the world in it's heyday. You can read a lot about it here. It's a very interesting history.

The picture above is from 1911 and I can tell you it doesn't show the entire length and breadth of the mill.  But what I wanted you to see most at the See Science Center was a replica of the Millyard in it's heydey, ALL OUT OF LEGOS. It is the largest Lego exhibit ever built taking 2 1/2 years to build. It is so exact and is totally alive with 3500 figures, trains, bridges and building going thru a day in the life of the mill. It is huge!

In this pic bales of cotton are being loaded on to the flatbed trains. The canal runs through the length of the complex and so does the Amoskeag River on the right.

Below is a cross section of one of the buildings showing the looms and workers. There were over four thousand looms going at once. Can you imagine the noise? The clock tower, like much of the complex, stands today.

The bridge on the right brought many of the workers over to the West Side, an area of Manchester known at one time for the large French Canadian population. Young Quebec women would leave the farm to come work in the mill. The mill supplied housing but there was a long waiting list.

Below you can see in the center some of the row houses on that waiting list. Today they are expensive condominums and really lovely with so much character. Each unit has a lovely porch and gardens. Today the area is filled with trees and beautifully shaded.

This building below, which still stands as most do, is still a landmark known as the Cigar Factory and the sign is just as legible today. 

Everything is based exactly as it existed at the turn of the century when the mill was in it's heydey.  Here you can see the lovely park the benevolent owners provided.  There are over 3500 people placed in the display and that alone took 3 days to set up. 

Here you can see a parade honoring the soldiers coming back from what I would think would be WW1. I love the people on the roof watching. These buildings are all there today and the display has been built detail by detail from actual photos.

And this is my favorite spot in the display, all the people flowing out of the building after their shift is over. There were 17,000 employees. This was very hard work. People breathed copious amounts of cotton fibers into their lungs. They often went deaf from  working over the clang of 4000 looms. Many were young girls who had left the security of their families and farms in Canada and couldn't speak English. Many were the ancestors of the Manchester population today. 

While the mill is spectacular with it's foundry, train station, parks, housing, etc, it is the people who made it great and the vision of the owners who were known for their benevolence to their employees. It was the glory day of textile manufacturing in the Northeast. As transportation changed, the mills moved to the South for cheaper labor. Today they have moved from the Southern United States to off shore countries. Today's foreign mill owners are far from benevolent and workers are used like yesterday's newspaper. 

The photos  I've shown are only a small indication of the vast display. If you ever get the chance to go to the See Science Center in Manchester, NH. do visit. It is well worth the trip and I promise, little ones will love it. Hope you've enjoyed this visit..........................Bunny 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Next Level Sewing, #1, calling all Sewing Newbies!

Around the blogosphere lately I have seen a fair amount of chatter regarding sewing books. There are so many new sewists and I personally find that thrilling. But it seems many newbies now want to up their game and pick up the next level of skills. On forums there is talk of the lack of middle level sewing manuals. While I disagree with that thought and will talk more about it in a moment, I do think many of our newbie sewists have really caught the passion and are looking to better their skills. They don't want to sew couture  and many don't have the time for epic garment sewing at this stage of their lives. Even if they did "To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose........" While one day couture level sewing may intrigue today's newbies, many realize they need to learn a bit more of the every day sewing before jumping that broom.

It energizes me to see our newest sewists looking for the next level of sewing. It is actually something that has been really calling for my attention for some time. I've started keeping a list of things that come up as I am sewing that might be of interest to someone who wants to get better at this craft.  What I have read on several blogs and forums is that the newest sewing books are not filling that need. Reports are many are one dimensional, or are single project oriented  or just simply have the basics. Many books I've seen ( remember, I work in a library) are rehashes of the same ole, same ole. Do you want the info A-Z, or the one with a ring binding, or the one with the funky trendy artwork?  Many new sewists are wanting more. It's exciting that new sewists want to get better at this passion. It makes my heart skip a beat.

I've really thought about this a lot. As I am working on my own projects, often simple practices come up that really make a difference. These are not epic sewing moments, but the small little techniques that you don't see mentioned in patterns or sewing books. They are the things the patterns assume you know. They are what you learned the hard way or from a dear mentor. So my list began. And once that list got started I knew I would have to address this on the blog.

The things I would love to share are mostly pretty simple. They are all those techniques that, as a young sewist myself, I thought were a waste of time, too much trouble, or just didn't seem necessary. Some are methods that I learned over the years as my sewing progressed. Now they are techniques I can't imagine not doing as they add so much to the finished quality of a garment. Nearly all take little extra effort but make such a difference in the final result.

With all that hoopla I have decided to write a series on "Next Level Sewing". It is intended to help our treasured new garment makers produce more professional results. No promises here but the plan is to publish this series once a week, on Mondays. So tell your sewing friends, those who are just beginning, those returning to sewing after a hiatus and all your sewing friends that on Mondays La Sewista  will be having her series: "Next Level Sewing". If there is anything particular you would like addressed, please let me know.

I am going to start this first post in the series discussing books. There are tons of newbie books out there. Most are very enthusiastic and inspiring. They often are one dimensional and you read them feeling like something is left to be said when you have completed the book. It's as if you learned a lot about making tote bags, or aprons, or skirts, or hats, or whatever, but did you really learn to sew?  Lots of books like this are out there and my suggestion is to get your new sewing books from the library. Unless money is no object, save your dollars to invest in some of the classic writings as well as some vintage sewing books. In case you're wondering how I formed this opinion, my work in the library gives me great access to books and I process all the incoming new books personally as well. 

At the other end of the spectrum are the highly detailed couture or textbook type sewing books. These really should be read. Again try them at the library but definitely invest in one or two so there is a reference for that special garment you know you will make one day, a wedding gown, prom gown, little black dress, or a couture inspired suit. These books are fun to read and inspire also. They will be there when you need them. So a newer sewist may want to have one in her sewing library for now even if she/he is not ready to try couture. It's always great to have inspiration as well as something to strive for.  My recommendations would be anything by  Claire Shaeffer, Kenneth King  or Susan Khalje.

So what's the in between you ask? the meat of  "middle" sewing?  My recommendation for the newbie sewist is GO VINTAGE! Many new sewists are fans of vintage clothing so why not vintage sewing books? Other than a few newer notions and tech fabrics, sewing has not changed much for a long long time. The garments and styles change but easing in a sleeve is the same concept and skill today as it was in those gorgeous 1930s tailored suits of yesteryear. Matching plaids is the same skill today as it was many decades ago. Edith Head, my favorite vintage designer, had skills that would make her an excellent designer today as well. The vintage books may have a different vibe but the information in them is just as good today as when it was written and many are specifically that next level of sewing reference that the newbie is looking for.

Look for them at your library  and/or pick them up on Amazon or from Alibrus.   Those two sources vary wildly in their pricing so be a sharp shopper. Read all the reviews. Because these books have been time tested, no gushing faux designer worshippers are reviewing the books and stacking the reviews in their favor. These are time tested tomes.   Try them out from the library. Then invest. Some of my favorites:

Anything  by Adele P. Margolis. She has numerous books and is a sewing icon who passed away last year in her nineties. She is very easy to understand, hilariously opinionated, and fun to read, not what you'd expect from a book teaching sewing. I recommend any of her books and keep your eyes peeled for them at thrift shops and yard sales. While the pages may be a bit yellowed and the illustrations a bit of a hoot, these are priceless. I guarantee you will learn a lot, never will feel overwhelmed and will enjoy her writing style. She's an amazing teacher.

The Singer Sewing Series by Cy Decosse   These books came out in the 80s and 90s if my memory serves me right. They are just as relevant today as they were then. What sets this series apart from other and newer sewing books is the clarity of the teaching and the phenomenal photography, some of the best I've ever seen in a sewing book. The pictures are glossy, in color, large, and very  very close up. Explanations are simple to understand and work perfectly with the photos, no need to reference or back track.  There are many books in the series. My favorites are "Sewing with an Overlocker", aka, serger, " Sewing Knits",   "Tailoring",  "Sewing for Children" and numerous others. Each topic has it's own separate book. The great photography and clear lesson planning are consistent in all the different volumes. There is a logic to the chapters that makes so much sense as one skill builds on another.  I still pull out my pants book and the serging book quite often. Concepts that are difficult to visualize and therefore understand in other books are clear as a bell in the Singer Sewing Books series. Highly recommend, again, a bit vintage but worth seeking out.  You will refer to these a lot, promise.
courtesy etsy.com

The Bishop Method of Sewing by Edna Bryte Bishop is a classic that starts with the absolute most basic information. It is very logical in it's progression and by the time you are done reading the Bishop Method you have an amazing font of sewing knowledge to help you along. Bishop is the queen of GRAIN and will stress that every chance possible. She also teaches directional sewing. Mastering just those two subjects alone will kick your sewing up big notches.

The Simplicity Sewing Book(s)  These books were released periodically by Simplicity from the 1950s through the 1970s. They carry good solid information in a clear format. The big advantage here? They can be found very inexpensively on Etsy and Ebay. Search for your best price. These are worth having in your sewing library. I think the covers are a hoot. Love that price too! So much info for one dollar!

The Vogue Sewing Book  This book has had many reincarnations with the 1970 issue being the most desirable among the cognoscenti. This is a great solid reference that will take you from starter sewist to tailoring expert if that is where you want to go. You need a book like this on your shelf. It is a go-to reference that will not let you down when you have a sewing quandary. I highly recommend. Again, shop around for the best price. Look on Ebay, Etsy, Alibrus and Amazon used.

Our first post on "Next Level Sewing" is now complete. I hope you get the opportunity to put some of these sewing books into your library. If you are looking to jump out of newbie mode with your next garment, any of these recommendations can help take you there. Good luck! Thanks for reading and I hope you are able to follow along with this series. Until next Monday when we will discuss some really simple techniques that can make a big difference...............Bunny

This was the last stretch of road, near my home, when I drove back from New Hampshire today. The blue cable on the left, actually a tube,  is used to transfer the sap from the maple trees to a main "sugar house" where the sap will be boiled down to make maple syrup in the spring. A glorious fall day with a hint of chill in the air, perfect!.......... Bunny

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Vest or Jacket, Madame?

Thank you so much, everyone, for the lovely comments on the Ikat Jacket. I just love Ikat fabric and think it should be used more in clothing. This link will show you tons of Ikats that are available by the yard. As in my case, most are home dec prints, but a pass through the washer and dryer and you will be good to go with them. I always recommend a sample wash first, however, so please do that before throwing it all in the machine!

On to the next project. I have really not been sure what it should be. As I stare at my fabric resources there are so many options but I want the jump up and grab me fabric to start yelling my name. One possibility is this yummy wool gabardine. It is a gorgeous color that sits between cobalt blue and very deep purple. Patterns have not been clicking with me lately but I think I may be on to something with Vogue 8932.  I actually am thinking of making the vest, View C. There is a great version on PR that you can see here.

I am going to do a felting sample of the fabric to see if that will work. But then my mind really got going with maybe felting some orange wool roving and doing striped piping and before I knew it, excitement set in. I am thinking of a bit of change with the hemline. I am also concerned with the seams narrowing in toward the neck. That's fine, brings the interest up to the face, but it also means they widen at the hip so I will have to figure out a way to balance all that. The big question is how artsy do I want to get with this?

The other Marcy Tilton pattern is artsy from the get go without any further embellishment from me. My concern with this pattern is doing an  FBA. I need an FBA but there are 17 pieces in this little vest and it would be a real test of mental agility to figure that fitting conundrum out. But I like it........

Sometimes I want to go full out artsy. Then I find I don't always wear the garment as much, not because I don't like it, but because artsy colorful garments are not as versatile as solid simpletons. So there are decisions to make. We will launch something soon. Speaking of,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Monday evening I will  have what I hope you will find is a very interesting post. A clue: I will launch what I hope will be a great new series of posts. More to come Monday. In the meantime I am traveling to visit my daughters and families and get some dental work done as well. Hubby will keep the homefires burning and the wheels of the little bus turning as he delivers his precious charges.  Didn't know my hubby drove a little bus? It's his part time retirement job, one he picked up a few years after selling his business and retiring. I don't think I've ever seen a man so happy to do his daily work. He has a handful of physically and mentally challenged children that he brings to school each day. I used to go with him. He is wonderful with these 3-5 year olds and treats them so lovingly. I never thought my husband would ever be doing something like this but it has filled his retirement years with a lot of joy. We are blessed and he is surely earning his crown in heaven......Bunny

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Ikat Jacket, Simp 2153, again!

This really is meant to be a lightweight summer jacket but Mother Nature and my constant recent delays made for some Autumnal modeling shots today. I really like  this jacket and will get a lot of use out of it. Our summers are generally in the fifties at night so a lightweight jacket is a must. Factor in a lot of jeans wear and I think this will become a staple in the closet. Here's the 411:

This is Simplicity 2153. It is the same jacket I used for the Threads Fall Jacket Challenge last year. A good anorak pattern is a great thing to have in the stash and this may not be the last time I make this. I can see me making it in some rainwear as well.

The pattern itself is fairly easy but I made quite a few changes and because of those changes did not follow the sequence in the pattern. More on that..........

This is 100% cotton home dec fabric, maybe, just maybe from Fabric.com. I do know the selvedge says it is a Raymond Waites design called "Tincia" (?), can't tell. It's hard to read. It also says it was made for Mill Creek Fabrics. I love the texture. It is like a heavy textured linen which you can see better here.

I prewashed this fabric removing the "soil and stain repellant finish" listed on the selvedge but it got a really nice soft hand to work with after that, more like clothing. I love to sew with home dec fabrics. I can't remember one, even tapestries, that I didn't throw in the washer and dryer. It softens them up and makes them much more wearable and sewable. Don't hesitate to look at home dec fabrics next time you are shopping. 

The lining is rayon Bemberg lining. Interfacing is a woven from Fashion Sewing Supply. Have to get more of their product as I am close to out!


I made quite a few changes. The pattern does not specify a lining. I did a bound lining (formerly named flat lining) that you can see how to do here. It gives a really nice finish to a more casual garment like this. This fabric was quite ravelly and I am glad the seam edges were bound from the beginning.  The bodice pieces were all flat lined before starting construction. The sleeves were lined using the Nancy Zieman method which can be found in the tutorials. The armscye edges were bound with Bemberg lining. 

This pattern does not have a facing that goes around the neckline. I made one and much prefer how that finished up with the bound edges compared to a partical facing and lining run up to the neckline. I've never been a fan of that technique. 

I dropped the casing down a half inch as I felt it was a touch too high in the first iteration. 

Pockets were cut on the bias simply to add a bit of interest and to help the fabric move away from the home dec vibe. The hip pockets were cut at a slant with cuff. Rivets were used to secure the pocket corners and were intentionally put in upside down as I liked the back of the rivets better than the front. Pockets were topstitched with a triple stitch. 

I used simple drapery cord for the cording which I may change if I find something better. I am not 100% happy with that and am still looking. There is a pony bead at the end of each cord, simple, and cord locks at the waistline . 

I added two inches to the length which I find kind of interesting as I am only five feet tall. So watch the length if you make this. I faced the hem instead of folding it up. 

Split cuffs were added to the sleeves with a deep facing. The sleeves on this run huge. I took a good inch out of the width. Usually I am adding width to accommodate those late in life accumulations under my arms but this pattern actually had to be made smaller, so beware. 

It took extra effort and fabric at the cutting stage to insure that all the prints matched and were symmetrical throughout. 


I am pleased with the pattern, once again, and the outcome. I love Ikat designs and this project let me express that choice. I highly recommend the pattern but suggest lining it one method or another and making a full facing that goes around the neckline. If I find the right rainwear fabric I may give this a go one more time!


I've had some questions regarding the iron I just purchased. I used it throughout this project and knocked down my ironing pile today as well. I am very pleased with it. It pushes out more steam than any iron I have ever had,no drips. It is a Rowenta "Steamforce" which I got through Amazon. My favorite feature, however, is that skinny little point with the steam holes in it. It is wonderful for ironing seams open effortlessly. No burned fingers! And those are all steam holes, not dimples, unlike my last Rowenta. 


I often get asked about my little bunny labels. I picked up this roll, half of which has been given away, quite some time ago. I got it at the much missed "Fabric Fix" store for one dollar for the entire roll. I would love to think that one day I will actual run out of little bunny labels. Now that's a sewing fantasy!...................Bunny