Summer Updates

We all know it’s hot, so I won’t say much about that. But I will ask if the squirrels in your yard are melting too? This poor little fella comes and sits on the porch outside my office window every afternoon and just spreads out like a hot dog on cold tile – you know what I mean if you’ve ever had a dog.

I can’t imagine brick is terribly cool in this weather, but the porch faces north, and there’s shade behind the pillar, so I guess it’s comparably cooler….

He did remind me of a squirrel we had at our previous home; I called him Licky the window washer. (No, I’m not creative at naming things.) We had a skylight in our kitchen, and each morning in spring it’d be covered in dew. This squirrel would come and lick a considerable portion of the window each morning, thus earing his appellation.

In other news, I have injured my ankle again. I have a stern admonition from my doctor to not “stand on it, walk on it, or do anything else that hurts…” (yes, it’s the old joke – if it hurts to do that, don’t do that.) Easier said than done of course. So, four weeks of putting my feet up (which is a little boring) while doing things that can be done sitting – which does not include sewing, because using the foot pedal hurts….

But before that I did get several garments cut out, and made good progress on my Golden Tapestry project, all of which I have a few quick posts about.

Enjoy one last photo of my poor melted squirrel, and I’ll see you here next time.

Yes, I see you!

A Cautionary Tale Regarding Dye Lots

Well not much of a tale, but a bit of a gripe and some mild self-kicking, and advocacy for buying “the fabric” when you see it…

I’m planning my next home décor project, which is this – Golden Tapestry by Anita Goodesign. I spent time in January and February auditioning many different color and fabric combinations, and decided on – wait for it – navy blue and gold silk dupioni, ha.

Sadly I won’t be able to use my sample blocks in my project, darn.

But the navy blue and gold I sampled is not the navy blue and gold that was available this week when I ordered. In the case of the navy, it was a matter of dye lot, which as anyone who has worked with fabric in any way can tell you, can vary wildly depending on the quality of the manufacturing process.

There’s not enough left of the samples to do the whole project

As for the gold, it was a matter of product change; I didn’t notice when, under My Account and Previous Orders, I clicked on the link of my previous purchase, I was taken to a page with the label “New” at the top. So even though I thought I was ensuring that I was getting the same product, the store changed the link on me. Curses. It’s not really the store’s fault; I didn’t notice, and they couldn’t get the same item anymore (I’m assuming), thus the “new” label.

All of which is to say, or rather encourage you, to buy it when you see it! Especially when you’re doing a big project like this and are making samples with specific fabrics and threads.

I guess they match well enough, but I’m none too happy

I’ve Been Reading…

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.

A really good book, especially if you like fashion history

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.

I love the idea that only an older woman could have worn this dress! If you can’t see in the photo, she’s also wearing strings and strings of pearls… coupled with the yards and yards of chiffon, it makes for a very luxurious effect.

*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…”

More Adventures in Curtain Tie Backs

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.

Sorry for the poor picuture; it’s a south facing window, so never a good time of day to take a photo. But you can see the shape I was going for with the tie backs.

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!

Sewing Room Storage – Yet Again

The before…

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.

Lots of boxes to unpack

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.

Nearly done…

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 fashion fabric is in…

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.

Finally finished!

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.

Around the corner to the left is yet a little more shelving.

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!

Thoughts on Sewing Your Own Clothing

Something pretty to look at, as I don’t really have a photo specific to the post.

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

An Update on MDA Software

Image from Floriani’s website

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!

Altering a Pattern – Knit Tops, Part 2

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!

Altering a Pattern – Knit Tops

The first of several new tops

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.

Pinning the back pattern piece to my dress form shows that the XL size will suffice

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!

It’s January Again!

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.

And if you’d like something fun and awful (the old meaning; entry 1, #3 – or 4a) to look at, try this photo essay, also in the Atlantic this month.