Wasn’t that the name of a book review show? And I have been reading, or re-reading, a book by Linda Przybyszewski – The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish.
I’ve been on a mini hiatus the past few weeks, and was reading to pass the time. You see, I’m in the generation that is currently middle aged, so the mantel of care has been passed to me, and I have a number of older friends and relatives who need to be checked on regularly, so between phone calls and travel, I have been busy with other things this past month or so.
(And yes I am middle-aged, as in, no longer young. I’m sorry to disappoint my good friend of 30 years and my doctor [who are my age] but we are not-young-any-more. They both get so upset when I say that… but it doesn’t either mean we are old, or that older people are necessarily old, but none of us are still young, deal with it.*)
Which brings me back to the book. In it, Ms. Przybyszewski talks about the women who used to be “Dress Doctors”, those who, not so much dictated what women should wear, but who used art principles to help women decide what to wear, what was becoming and age appropriate. She also explores how we as a culture came to the idea that young is good, old is bad, and we need to look young all the time. And in my lifetime American culture has more than bought into the idea.
I won’t get into too much detail – Ms. Przybyszewski does it better, get her book – but I very much like the idea that there are things, styles, colors, jewelry, that are more appropriate for the mature woman. Not old woman, but mature; the woman who has life experience. And that experience gives her the mien to wear more sensual clothing, clothes that have gravitas a 20-year-old just can’t pull off.
So I will let my sense of self inform my own personal style – and that self is squarely middle-aged, thank you – along with a little guidance from the Dress Doctors. I hope what I convey is that I am an experienced, worldly, adult woman, and I don’t need to wear a mini skirt to prove it.
*As an aside, I’m reminded of an episode of Frasier, where he is complaining to Niles that he’s 51, and that’s only middle age… Niles quips back, “so you’re planning to live to be 102…”
Well not really, I just thought it’d be a fun title. But I did learn some things, so it could have been an adventure….
In my bedroom I have some very long and heavy light blocking curtains. And while they work to block the light, they have grommets in the top and are a little difficult to pull open and closed every morning and evening. I thought it’d be easier to use tie backs to keep them open.
Since they’re so heavy, and so long, I decided on a very wide tie back – 8 inches. And of course I was going to embroider them! I wanted to try something a bit different, so I used a “thread velvet” or cut thread design from OESD.
Here’s my test run – always test it first! As you can see, my chosen stabilizer didn’t work well and there are wrinkles and pulling galore. I thought a fusible cutaway stabilizer would be enough, but there’s a lot of stitches (31,671) going into a fairly small area, about 5 by 7.
Instead I used good ol’ Décor Bond. It’s fairly firm and will help such wide tie backs keep their shape, but is still thin enough to embroider through.
And here’s the final result, with all the threads cut to create a velvety look. (OK, I actually think they look a little like wooly bears, but you know, I think weird things.)
Oh, and there’s another reason to make a sample – you can audition your colors! If you notice in this side-by-side, the first sample has a darker brown than the second. I didn’t care for the darker one so I changed it out and like it much better.
But wait you say – there are still wrinkles! Why yes, yes there are – because I pressed the Décor Bond from the back. It does not like to be pressed, let alone steamed heavily; at least not directly. Adhere and steam it from the fabric side of your project. So lesson to learn: normally you press embroidery from the back, but if you use something like Décor Bond (which I suspect contains nylon), press from the front. And use a pressing cloth!
Alright, second tie back, pressed from the front – ooh, so much better!
Normally I would have flipped one design so they would mirror each other after installation, but I forgot so I just hung one upside down; it looks different enough.
And here we are, new tie backs for the bedroom. The fabric was a silk dupioni I had left over from another project, the Crane Tapestry, and since it hangs in the same room I thought it would be nice to try and match it. Light blue on periwinkle may not be terribly chic, but I can always change them!
Hello everyone! I’m back with the final final storage for my sewing room. When we moved last year, we just took it all with from the old house and I used what we had and made do. And it was fine; it worked, and somehow I got everything stored (despite having more to store; see below.) But I was never happy with it, my husband was never happy with it, and I finally decided on what I did want for storage. I think it was just the oppressive feel of those big, dark cabinets in such a light-colored room. They worked really well in the old house, both as storage and as furniture but they felt out of place here.
So, out with the old, in with the new – we got a closet storage system to cover one entire wall. This particular one is by Easy Track, and I like it because it hangs from the wall, allowing you to use the space underneath as well. The units are 24 inches wide, 30 inches for the corner units, and come with your choice of shelves, rods, drawers or doors. You can also get 15-inch-wide units; 35-inch selves to use with plain vertical panels; baskets, shoe shelves and hampers if you’d like.
It went in over one long week; we did two or three hours after work each day, and spent the weekend before breaking down the previous storage and rearranging the room, packing up everything that was inside the cabinets and other storage; the weekend after putting everything away again. I also made space in my office for the bookshelf and a majority of the books and my embroidery designs, though I left in the sewing room the books that I tend to use in there.
The boxes come flatpack, so you do have to assemble it yourself. That wasn’t so bad though. The bad part was they sent the wrong doors, so I had to hang curtains to protect my fabric while I waited on them. And in fact they shorted me one set of doors, which I’m still waiting on…. The doors and drawers come with brushed nickel knobs, but I found some pretty clear acrylic ones to use instead. They’re a little “boudoir”, but I like them.
Otherwise it’s up and done and working so very nicely! I’ve finally found the storage system that works best for me and my sewing room.
As for having more to store… I was not entirely honest with myself at my old house. I was always saying that I had everything in my sewing room, except my 10-needle machine. Not true! I had at least half a closet of things that necessitated additional storage when we moved to the new house, if I were to keep everything in one room. Which I still don’t in fact; I have some lovely vintage actual cotton velveteen (which just means cotton velvet) that I keep stored by hanging in a closet. But I know that’s there, so it’s alright. Happy Spring, and see you here again soon!
My friend Jodi recently shared an article with me from Seamworks Magazine1, in which they try to compare and contrast buying clothing and making your own. I think they make an honest effort, though as they themselves note, there are so many variables it can be very difficult to make a direct comparison.
We in the sewing world talk about this all the time, and my initial knee-jerk reaction is, of course it’s not cheaper to sewn your own clothes. I get questioned all the time, “can you make shirts for me too?” when others see the shirts I make for my husband. Sure I can, if you have the budget and time for a fitting fee, multiple sessions, and don’t mind each shirt costing between $150 and $300 – or more.
Afterwards, the more Enlightened (or perhaps just polite) will say they didn’t realize it cost so much to make a shirt. The less enlightened just start in on how they can get shirts at the chain store for $30, and I should be selling them cheaper, and how dare I? Then depending how much mental energy I want to expend, I might engage then for longer, and remind them that I would be one person, making a one-off custom shirt, and that I can’t even get the fabric (even “cheap” fabric) for $30.
The article does a good job of discussing things like bulk purchasing, manufacturing at scale vs. single-person whole-process, and reminding us of the human cost of making things as well: all the things I usually don’t have the mental energy to explain to the complainers.
But I digress; as Jodi said, the article is a good conversation starter, and it certainly got me thinking. Since I get so many requests to share my clothing making, even though this is ostensibly an embroidery blog, I thought I’d share my thoughts with you.
My initial thoughts back to Jodi were this: It is an interesting article, but I think they forgot to talk about one thing: the value and longevity of clothing that fits the individual. If I have a pair of jeans that fit really well, I might keep them longer, be inclined to repair them repeatedly, than I would a pair that are only “good enough”, and remind me they are uncomfortable in some way with each wearing. Too, with such cheap fashion available, I imagine the human psyche would value them less and feel more at ease tossing and buying cheap clothing more frequently. (Never mind that they are usually of such terrible quality that you only get a few wears anyway.) Even if I spend $300 on a good blazer, if it doesn’t fit well, I’m still going to get much less use out of it and get rid of it sooner than if it fits, so in a way, I think sewing for yourself, or having your clothing made for you, can be less expensive overall. And Jodi also remined me of other reasons we sew, like how much joy it brings us to create, which makes sewing for yourself more valuable.
So in a way, making your own clothing can be less expensive, especially when you consider the costs of buying clothing; not just the financial cost, but the mental, physical and emotional cost. How many of us have spent the entire day (or two days) scouring every store in a mall, only to walk out empty-handed? And while my tribulations clothing-shopping are related to my shape, it’s not only the large-busted who can’t find anything. I know many smaller, taller, shorter and larger people who just don’t fit into ready-to-wear. For instance, I can go into a “plus-size” store, try on their largest size blouse, and it can still be gaping and pulling at the front buttons, while the back is so capaciously large, I could put a friend in with me. Why? Because my 52” bust is not split 26 inches in front and 26 in back as the blouse is. My back is all of 18 inches wide, and the rest is up front. There’s no way anything off the rack will ever fit. So, I sew.
I know, all of this has been said before, and I am very much aware of the privilege I enjoy in having the budget and free time to sew. Most people won’t though, and it pains me. This is especially because so many of us are judged on our appearance (or perhaps I should be more direct and say so many of us judge others based on their appearance), and much of what people find negative in our appearance is due to ill-fitting clothing. Yes, this segues into a whole other subject, and no, custom clothing for everyone won’t cure the world’s ills, but think of how often you judge someone because their clothes look poorly, and it’s just because they don’t fit.
I will finish up by saying that, whether in the end it is cheaper or not fiscally to sew your clothing, I think, considering the pleasure of well-fitted clothes and the joy making something can give you, it is far more valuable to sew for yourself.
1 Seamworks Magazine “Is it Cheaper to Sew Your Own Clothes” March 2022 issue
You remember my previous post reviewing Floriani’s My Design Album Software; I thought it was OK, but not terrific. My biggest disappointment was that it was such a basic software for the price. Well I decided to streamline my review a bit and post it on the company’s website, where it garnered a response.
They were open to my suggestions, though, perhaps predictably, attempted to counter and “correct” my thinking about the software. But no amount of “but it works this way” will ever change my experience of “it doesn’t quite do what I would anticipate this type of software to do based on its description.” But I did feel heard, and they did state that many of my complaints are going to be addressed in an upcoming update. They also said that they will be making more educational videos for MDA, and will have a look at their manual for it as well. Hopefully future purchasers of MDA will have an even better experience.
As for what else is up for February, it probably won’t be much, because guess what, I re-arranged my sewing studio again. Not a lot, but I did finally get new storage, and only a whole year after we moved in, ha! But everything is back in place now, and I’ll be working on a new project soon, so I’ll have lots of embroidery and tips to post in March. Take care and see you here soon!
I’m back with the finished top; here are my notes about the rest of the process.
I’ve extended the back shoulder seam line on the pattern, and used my curve ruler to match the outer edge of the sleeve. (I keep calling it a sleeve; it’s more of a dropped shoulder, but you know what I mean.) You can also see through the paper that I marked the location for a dart (two short lines on either side of a longer line perpendicular to the shoulder seam.) When I sew up the top with a dart, I’ll drape the pattern piece on my dress form, angling it towards the bust point, and deciding on the length at that time.
For now I’ve chosen to sew the top with a tuck, and to leave the back sleeve the original length. You can see the tuck in this close-up:
The finished top is looser than I would like, so I may remove one of the inches I added to my bodice front. The fabric drapes nicely, a cuddly, cotton-bamboo blend French terry. It’s a little sheer in this off-white color, so you’ll have to admire it on Duplicate O’Neill instead of me, but maybe I’ll remember to model the next one.
As for finishing the edges, I just folded them over as per the instructions, using my coverstitch set to narrow. I did find with this fabric being so light, it made a better stitch to sew just beneath the edge of the fabric instead of catching the edge between the rows of stitching. I also used a bit of stay tape in the shoulder back neck seams for stability.
Now I just need to pick a fabric for my next muslin – I certainly have several to choose from!
I finally sat down and did the exercises for the wardrobe project that the Houston Fashionistas did a while back – only took me two years! My assessment revealed that I need more tops to wear around the house. Since I only need tee shirts, I tried purchasing them as I have done in the past from a box store (though I really like Samina’s suggestion that we need luxury PJs instead; Just because we’re at home, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have nice things to wear!) Buying from a store didn’t work out well: the quality was terrible, the fit was horrific – high necklines, too tight of sleeves, too boxy and short of a bodice – not to mention that several were sewn quite off-grain. So, I pulled the knits from my stash, mulled my patterns (had a few on hand, bought a couple more) and will be making my own tops because I am worth my own time.
I’m starting with my “Jennifer Beals” top, Vogue 1835 – you know, Flash Dance? Well some of you are old enough to remember… and I thought it’d be a good opportunity to show how I do some of my “kinda-muslins.” Samina had talked about muslins a little while back, and I chimed in that I often do kinda-muslins. Someone wrote me to ask what I meant, so let me show you.
Now, I will preface with, I am not a fit instructor, or a professional fitter, or a fashion/ home economics/ or any other kind of professor. If you’re in the Houston area and need professional help, please see Ms. Andrea. She’s a wonderful person, and excellent seamstress – and a certified fit expert!
Part of the reason I do muslins is that I have so many/ such large fit adjustments to make. No, it’s not that hard, and yes, it’s worth it. When you first start out it will be time intensive and difficult; you’ll probably mess up a lot. But that’s why we practice isn’t it?
Anyway, my first step in adjusting a knit pattern is to pin it to my dress form, see how it compares. This pattern goes up to XXL. Even though the pattern says that the XXL size has a 50 ½ inch bust measurement, it’s not nearly enough for me. Firstly, my bust measures 52 inches; secondly, while the completed garment may have a total circumference of 50 ½ inches, it’s 25 ¼ in front, and 25 ¼ in back – not what I need.
My back measurement is only 18 inches from seam to seam, which means the rest of my 52 inches is all up front. This means the back is 7 inches too wide and the front is 8 ¾ inches too narrow.
And we haven’t even discussed that this pattern is supposed to have a bit of ease. If the finished bust (which in this case matches the width of the lower edge) measurement is 50 ½, and the body measurement for size XXL (24-26) is 46 to 48 inches, then it is giving approximately 2 ½ to 4 ½ inches of ease, quite a bit for a knit pattern, which usually has negative ease. This silhouette of course is a bit slouchy, and the reason for all the extra.
I have decided I don’t want that much ease, and want it slightly fitted, so I’m going to make my first muslin with as size XL for the back, and a size XXL plus two inches for the front. How will I do that? With what I think of as the trace and slide method. Since this is a knit, and not a fitted woven bodice, I’m not going to go through all the folderol of tracing the pattern piece, doing a proper FBA adjustment, then re-tracing and re-fitting the result. As shown above, I held up the pattern pieces to my dress form to gauge how much more room I need.
For the back I chose size XL, and made a straight tracing. But now it’s time to Franken-pattern! For the front, I was short a few inches on the side, and the neckline was too high, so I traced the lowest neckline, and I traced half of the front, or one side of the pattern piece. I then slide the tracing two inches out from the center front, aligning the lengthen/ shorten line to keep it all straight. Then I just finished tracing. Yes, you’ll have to connect the two sides, but a curve ruler will help you find a nice shape for the enckline.
Don’t forget to label your pieces! I learned that from Susan Khalje; write down the name and part number of the pattern, as well as the date and whom the pattern is for, and any adjustments you made. (Sze 10 with a 2 inch long-waist adjustment for example.) This way if you have to leave your project for any reason, you’ll know who it was for, when you did it, what pattern you started with, and what adjustments you’ve already made. You should also of course transfer any markings from the original pattern piece; hem length, darts, grainline, etc.
Now let’s match up our pieces, and check out the connecting parts; for a bodice it’s usually the shoulder and side seams. Do these side seams match? Yup, the sides are good to go.
How about the shoulder? Nope, not happening. Remember, I moved the pattern piece two inches while I was tracing. So what are my options here? The typical option is to put a dart where the extra fabric was added. I can also extend the back shoulder seam to match the front. Since I have more than one fabric to make this top in, I’ve decided to do both.
Come back for part two, where I show you the details of the first top!
Hello again everyone! As I’m writing this on January 6th, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! And Happy Mardi Gras of course…. I hope you’ve all enjoyed your holidays and are refreshed and relaxed.
I was uncertain what to post first after coming back from my hiatus: I had a few inquiries over December that I want to answer; I also debated whether to wait until I’d finished my next project so I’d have photos to show you. But instead I want to spend a few minutes talking about something that most people do this time of year, “Risolations;” or resolutions if you’re not a “Silly Ol’ Bear.”
No matter what you read or who you talk to right now, people are all about their resolutions: forums, blogs, twits, news articles – about what to choose or advice on “how to finally do it this year….” I understand the appeal; a new year feels like a new start, or a chance at one, and starting something new feels so exciting!
Please keep in mind, I bear no one any ill will whether you choose to make them or not – your traditions are up to you! But people inevitably ask me what mine are, and for many years now I’ve answered “none.” It’s not that I don’t think making plans or having goals are important, but I always felt such pressure to make resolutions, and make “good” or grand or worthy ones, let alone the pressure to keep them, it just seemed as if I was setting myself up for failure.
I personally prefer to honor and experience the cycling of the seasons, the sense of continuity: the days are now lengthening and will continue to get longer over spring until the summer solstice, when the days will start shortening again. And with that shortening I prepare for (as much as we ever have them in Houston) the coming of fall and winter. To me this is much more calming and comforting, instead of that frantic feeling at the end of the year over not having done what I resolved to do, and needing to resolve to do it again or find yet something else by midnight on December 31st. When time instead feels continuous, I’m much more relaxed about accomplishing my goals: I didn’t finish that, but I can do so in the future – if I want to. Or maybe I decide to leave it behind, for whatever reason, and pick up something else instead. It’s up to me, and there’s no pressure.
I think it plays very much to that American need to be productive, which I read about recently in an article in the Atlantic. I found the author’s final paragraph especially insightful, where Ms. Beck states “…hard work, achievement, productivity. Those aren’t bad things but are they really more important than relationships, contemplation, rest?”
So yes, having goals and plans are all well and good, but don’t forget to sit and do nothing, except maybe enjoy the view and occasionally contemplate deeply about what you are seeing.
Quick – can you tell the difference between black wool tricotine and black rayon crepe? No, I can’t either. Luckily, I cut off little samples and taped them to a page with a description in my fabric binder oh so long ago. Between the slight difference in weave and the different selvages, I was able to tell them apart.
To help myself the next time I’m looking through my stash, I added labels to the boards my fabric is wrapped on – can you tell the difference now? Yup, me too. I used these folder labels that we all probably have a half-packet of lying around somewhere… well, us older folks anyway. If you don’t have any and want to give them a try, any discount-department or office-supply store will have them.
Next test – can you tell the difference between dark navy, midnight navy, dark blue and black thread?
Nope, still can’t do it myself. How about on whites?
Which is 80wt and which is 40wt? Which is poly and which is cotton? Yeah, makes you feel really smart when you have seven different shades of white and no idea which is which.
How about now? Yippee for labels… these are the hole-mender labels we used to need for our three ring binders…
I found some a while back and they’re perfect for bobbins. I pull off the old label when I reuse the bobbin, and even if the sticker doesn’t come off cleanly, the new one sticks really well. They don’t interfere with the bobbin at all in my machine, and I can even wind more of the same thread onto it because there’s a hole in the label.
Hope you’re enjoying the holiday season – see you here next time!
Like many embroiderers, I have a terrific number of embroidery designs – egregious might be a better word. And while I do my best to keep my files organized, I lose track of what I have, and have had several near-misses in regards to purchasing the same item a second time.
Too there is the difficulty with design names – something like Celebrations might be appropriate, but without context, what does it mean? Holidays? Birthday-themed? Balloons and candles? When I save designs to my computer, I do try to label them with something descriptive, like monogram frames, or greetings cards, or animals, children’s… but then we are also limited to 250 characters in a file path name, and can only label them so much.
Enter database software. Yes, if you are inclined, and have a copy of it, you can use something like Microsoft Access. Me, I’m lazy, and don’t do well with computers so I prefer someone else to set up the database for me, and I don’t mind paying for it.
If you have Baby Lock’s Palette 11, you can use their Design Database software. It will let you add keywords and search and create catalogs of your designs, among other functions. Even if you don’t have Palette 11, you can download the software from their website, and use it to transfer designs wirelessly from your computer to your Baby Lock Wi-Fi capable machine. And you can still sort and print catalogs of your designs, but you can only add keywords within Palette.
I do have Palette, and I did try to use Design Database, and while I got it to work once in a test, I can’t get it to work again so I have a ticket in to Baby Lock and we’ll see if I can learn to use it. If I do, I’ll tell you about it in a future post.
This post though is about Floriani My Design Album (MDA). It’s one of the few embroidery-design specific database softwares out there. It’s also the most expensive, stand-alone software at $499.
It does what it says it does, but I would qualify that with “just barely”, and “not as well as you would think it should.” Floriani does have very responsive customer support, so you can ask them questions, they just don’t always have an answer that will help your situation.
With the Floriani software you can add your designs to different categories, and you create the categories so you can have exactly what you want and need. You can also add keywords to the design files, and you can search by keyword, file type, and file name. You can also view image files and cut files, like SVG, which can also be categorized and keyworded (is that verb?) They have several videos on their website that demonstrate the software and all that it can do.
And it comes with other software: Image Maker, which gives you pictures of the designs in File Explorer – but only for Large and Extra-Large icons; and Thread Converter, which is self-explanatory. Not to mention a pretty good editing program too, in case you don’t have any other embroidery software. And – bless them for it! – they give you two licenses, so if you have two computers – say a desk top and lap top – you can put it on both.
But… (which is the whole point of this post, isn’t?) there are several quirks of the software which make it not as useable as I would like.
Firstly, nowhere in the manual, or in any videos I have seen to date, does it say that you have to categorize a file first before you can add keywords. While this is fine, the situation is further confused by the fact that there’s a Keyword button in the main screen, and it shows up while you’re in the File-View window; if you can only add keywords while you’re in the Category window, why is it available elsewhere? If you’re in File View, you can click on it, type in the dialog box that comes up, and even hit OK – but it won’t actually save anything. I wasted a lot of time and energy tilting at that particular windmill….
Then there is the fact that, once you’re in a Category, it gives you everything in that Category, so if you’ve already put in 300 designs, you’ll have to remember the files names you’re currently working with. If you’re lucky, they’ll all start with the same number so you can whittle it down in the Name search box. If not, then you’ll have to look for each file individually. Personally, I would prefer to add keywords in the File View window, since I know when I select a specific folder, I’m only working with those files.
Keywords, once created, cannot be altered or deleted. So if you misspell a keyword, say “Quitl Blocks”, you can’t correct it. Yes, you can add a new keyword, Quilt Blocks, and then make sure not to add anything to the misspelled one, but when you’re selecting from the keyword list, it’s very easy to select the wrong one.
In the search area, you cannot use multiple keywords, only one. It seems to me if you can add multiple keywords to a file, you should be able to search with multiple keywords. Also, the search box for Keyword doesn’t show you a drop-down list of the keywords you’ve created, so you’ll have to be very certain of which keyword you added to the file you’re looking for. Which rather defeats the purpose I think… and if you’ve misspelled it, heaven help you to remember your misspelling!
You cannot move or rename files, not even within the software. I can understand that if I move files while outside the software, the link it created will be broken. Fine. But if I’m in the software and move a file, why can’t it rewrite the link? Other database software can do this; I know my Photoshop Elements does it. And if I move a file outside of the software, Elements will let me run a search for broken links, and lets me fix them by locating the file. Often it can even do this on its own, with no input from me. With MDA, you have to delete the broken links from the Category, then re-categorize and re-keyword your files again. So you’d better be quite sure of how you have your files organized to begin with.
I will however concede that while Adobe has millions upon millions of users, Floriani customers are probably only in the thousands, and economics likely plays a role in how they design and update their software. (But this customer is complaining, so if you’re listening….)
Then there is the oddity of “no information”. An embroidery design file is created with things like stitch count and size, and embroidery software can create an image for you to view within the program. However, several times now I have come across files that present as having no stitch count, no size, just a big goose egg of info. Or, they’ll have all of this info, and it will show up in the information pane at the bottom of the window, but it will still not be able to create an image for you, so you have to open it in other software to see what it looks like. When I asked, I was given no information other than “no, it doesn’t show up on my computer either.” Hmm. I have found that if you re-save the file it will correct it nine times out of ten.
Well, that was exhausting – now you know how I feel when I try to use computers! For those of you who touch a computer and make it sing, may karma continue to smile upon you. But for people like me, when we touch a computer, it’s more like un-tuned saws with nails on the blackboard as an accompaniment.
I hope this review was helpful to you in deciding about Floriani’s MDA software; if you have any questions or suggestions, please leave them below!