Dress Forms

My Dress form, Duplicate O’Neill – you’d have to watch a particular scifi show to get the reference.

This is probably the most frustrating area for home sewers: finding a fast, reliable, replicable way to get a good fit. Many of us, especially those of us who are larger, come to sewing to begin with because we got tired of shopping for clothes that don’t fit well, if they fit at all. So for us, fitting is the whole point of sewing. Unfortunately, even if we learn how to fit well (a whole other topic), fitting ourselves is nearly impossible, or at least tedious, difficult and frustrating.

Many sewers I know gave up on sewing, or moved to home décor or quilting because there’s no fitting involved. Or, they only sew oversized, loosely fitted clothing, or only sew for other people. That makes me really sad! Sewing should be a revelation, a revolution, a release – and it is for so many! But for so many more it became instead a struggle that caused them to turn away from sewing for themselves.

If you’re at all serious about sewing for yourself, you need to find a way to fit, and a dress form is the simplest way; unfortunately it’s also the most expensive way. Other ways of getting a good fit are to get a sewing buddy – someone you can consult with on sewing projects, fit issues, whose opinion you ask for color guidance, selecting fabric – and someone to meet with on occasion and gush about all things sewing! Because no one else in our lives wants to hear about it….

I am very lucky; I found a wonderful local fashion sewing community in the Houston Sewing Fashionistas, any of whom are always happy to help or offer an opinion – and many of whom are professionals! So lots of help available there. And I have a sewing buddy. She unfortunately lives an hour away (which is not a long distance for the Houston area, trust me) so we don’t get to meet as often as we’d like, but we each have dress forms so we can work on our own mostly and communicate long distance, getting together occasionally for big issues.

Yet another option is to get well-fitted slopers, which you can use to check your adjustments to patterns. This does require a fitting buddy or hiring a seamstress at the beginning, but you won’t have the expense of creating a dress form. If you are fairly standard in shape or size, and only have a few, small adjustments to make to a pattern out of the envelope, this may be all you need.

But if you are very large, very small, or have large variations to make from the pattern, you really need a dress form.

If you are close to the size of a standard dress form, you can probably get away with padding it out; check different brands, they each have a range of sizes and shapes so one brand may work for you while another is too far off. Also, there are padding systems like Fabulous Fit which make the process easier. Some brands even offer personal or community guidance for shaping a dress form to fit you.

My dress form is a Uniquely You, and as I mentioned in a previous post, I thought it was the best option between a dress form you have to really work to customize, and a made-to-order form.

The UY works like this: you buy a pre-made foam core that’s closest to your size, but larger. Then you fit the cover, very, very tightly, to your body. Then you place the cover on the dress form (sitting on it like trying to close an over-stuffed suit case works well) and check the measurements, adjusting as needed. It worked very well for me, except the bust which I had to pad out more to get my full forward projection, but otherwise it was fine. It took about 2, 2 ½ hours for me and a sewing buddy to fit and sew up the cover.

There are custom dress form makers out there, doing everything from 3-D scanning and foam creation (Ditto or Beatrice), to traditional custom dress forms from PGM and Wolf, and independent craftspeople who can help you make one. And there are make it at home types like Uniquely You and BootStrap, and of course really make it yourself with homemade ways of creating a body double from paper tape or plaster.

The 3-D and custom forms are very pricey as I understand, north of $1000 or $1500 dollars – not to mention the expense of travelling to the manufacturer (or getting an iPhone.) But if it’s in your budget and you don’t have a sewing buddy, or you have a highly irregular body shape (which is probably why you’re sewing your own clothes anyway) then it may be worth saving for.

I think though if you have a sewing buddy, or a local professional seamstress who will work with you to adjust and fit the cover, the Uniquely You or Bootstrap would be your best option. I am not personally familiar with BootStrap, but it seems to be the same principal as UY: adjust the cover to fit you skin tight, so you can replicate your measurements when you stuff the form.

I know a lot of sewers find dress forms frightfully expensive; either you have to pay someone else for the materials and to do all the work, or you have to spend money and your own time to get it right. As with all things, only you can decide which combination works best for you.

My dress form is in need of a small shaping update, but is current to my measurements. I covered it in satin to allow garments to slide on and off (the UY canvas cover makes clothing drag), and I currently have pins marking my guidelines, but that’s an old rig-up that needs to go; loose threads catch easily on the pin heads and can cause pulls. I need to finish my original plan and use ribbon and flat head pins or small U-shaped staples to mark and hold the cover in place. It’ll probably be a couple of months before I do, but once it’s done I’ll share a photo.

Other notes about my dress form; the base is formed from a table top from the craft section of the home store, and has casters on the bottom. I wish I had made one of them a locking caster, but it still works. I also used a piece of all-thread for the stand, and a set of two nuts and a washer to support my form at the right height.

Sewing Tip: Decoy Scissors

One pair of scissors left out all the time

Everyone at home needs scissors at some point. And everybody at home knows where to find them – your sewing room. For those of us who saved up to get some really nice shears, this is unfortunate. Because, even when they’re in the kitchen and know you keep a pair of scissors in the junk drawer, they still go all the way to your sewing room to get scissors. Why? ‘Cause they’re cool, or extra sharp, or pointy, or, just because, I imagine.

But wait, what’s this below?

Many of my sewing associates have told me stories of loss and damage to a highly valued (and valuable) pair of scissors to a family member, despite “all the times I’ve told them not to touch my sewing scissors!…” I decided to take a different tack. I know my husband, and however much I love him he would never remember not to use my sewing room scissors, so I put out a pair just for him to use. They sit there, left out on top of the sewing table, ready for him to grab. And he does, all – the – time. They’re sticky from packing tape, scratched from opening boxes, and may even be a little bent from being dropped many times, but that’s what they’re there for.

Shhh! This is where the good scissors live…

 If you have little ones in the house, you may want to try hanging your decoy scissors higher up on a wall so they can’t reach them, but you definitely want them to be out and obvious as soon as someone goes into the room. Well I’ll just put them away you say; no, then they start looking for them and then they find the good scissors and now they know where the good scissors are and they go right to them every time – ask me how I know! So find a new hiding place for the good shears and scissors, then put out a decoy pair for the household to use.

How Long is Your Wish To-Do List?

Almost the entire of my fabric stash; will I sew it all?

We all have them, a “wish” to-do list, that running list of things (or maybe a paper or digital list) in our head that we’d like to get to, someday, eventually…. If we live long enough…. Aside from the general life list, I have a sewing list. Last December I wrote down everything I could think of, mostly because I had some time to kill while waiting.

It wasn’t as long as I thought, only 37 or so items. Of course some of those items have multiple parts so it may be as long as 50-plus individual pieces. And in fact, I have achieved some of those items, so I got to cross them off when I reviewed my list this morning. But I’ve also added some items, mentally anyway. Not that I can remember them right now to write them down… they may even be the same things I’ve already written down (that’s the problem with mental lists, can’t see whether we’ve gotten it down already or not!)

A small part of me wants to be very alarmed by this list – it’s so long, when will I ever finish! And what I see on websites and forums is that others are just as worried about their lists too: is my list too long, how do I manage it, how do I get all of it done? They seem to think they’re a bad person if they don’t.

But I remind myself of the things I’ve learned from my other lists over the years – my travel list, my cooking list, other similar lists. The first one is, I don’t actually have to do everything on the list, sometimes it’s just fun to have a fantasy or two.

The next thing is, things change. Out lives change, our financial situations, our personalities, and thus, our dreams and desires change too. Sure, when I was twenty and had nothing else to do, I wanted to see the world. Now that I’m older, have a husband and home that I love, I don’t need to see everything. I have done some traveling and lots of cooking, and I will do some more before my time is done. But other things interest me now.

So, I may have dreamed of visiting the entire of Asia (and the entire of Europe, all of the Pacific Islands and most of North Africa…), but maybe one trip to Japan or Thailand will suffice, or a European river cruise. I have over 1900 (!) digital recipes on my computer, not to mention the couple of dozen (after a cull, still a couple of dozen) cookbooks on the shelf. I’ve made many dozens of these recipes over the years, and I will make many more, but I know I will never make them all. Some are for inspiration, some are just to make me happy. And that’s OK, as long as I have the space and mental energy to deal with them.

So don’t feel bad about your lists, your pattern stashes, your fabric collections, your dreams – have fun playing with them instead.

The rest of my stash, waiting to be washed and put away.

Quilted Machine Covers

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I think all sewing machines should come with instructions for making a cover; it would give new owners a quick project that allows them to get to know their machine, and the satisfaction of a completed project!

My machines did not come with instructions for covers, but I found these from Just Sew Patterns, who have an Etsy shop. I made one each for Sunny and Gargantua. Yes, I could have made my own patterns, but I also know myself; if I waited around for me to make the patterns, the covers would never get made.

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The covers fit fairly well, though Gargantua’s needed some adjustments as he lives in a serger table. I just left the sides open as flaps – it fits well enough I think.

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I chose an embroidery design set from Urban Threads, the Mendhika Pack. I think I used every design too, embroidering the front, back and sides of each cover.

To embroider on the quilted fabric, I used a clear wash away topper and a mesh cut away for the back.

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It was easiest to embroider each piece before assembly; sometimes I hooped the fabric with the stabilizer, sometimes I floated it on top. To affix the topper I used the basting stitch that comes with many embroidery machines.

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Quick tip; the basting stitch comes out easiest when you clip the bobbin thread from the back first, then pull the excess topper away from the front side.

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Just a few hours later and I have some lovely new covers to reduce my dusting time in the sewing room!

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Changes in the Sewing Room…

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Wow, it’s April already! Happy Spring – I hope you’ve all got bright, fun new projects to work on. I kept busy in March between spring cleaning, a serger demonstration for my local sewing club, and – getting a new machine!

I have to say, at the beginning of March I was not quite planning on that! Meet Sunny, my Baby Lock Solaris (yes, a rather obvious name but I’m not imaginative.) It was and was not a spur of the moment purchase; how’s that? I’ve been looking at a new top of the line machine for a little over a year now, but the Solaris was not on my radar. I won’t go into it here but suffice it to say, after several serendipitous events at my local dealer I decided to get the Solaris.

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How is Sunny? Well, he’s big, and complex; I took a new owner’s class after getting him, and he can do a lot. But in two short weeks I’ve only made two things; I finished a shirt for my husband and made myself some needle pads – I’ll post about those soon. Sadly I’ve been busy and haven’t been able to really try out all the wonderful things he can do (as soon as my house guests are gone I’ll get to delve more deeply!)

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Poor Sunny has to live on the foot rest until the new table with a bigger lift comes in!

Sewing Room Tour

Sewers seem to have an especial love of seeing other sewing rooms – I know I do! We like to see how others organize their space, or arrange their workflow. Too we just like to see what fun toys others have that we don’t (yet….)

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View from one direction…

I am lucky enough to have a very large space for my sewing room. It was a little used dining room until last summer when I realized I was spilling out of the spare bedroom. So we donated our dining room set, repainted the walls “Pernod” yellow and I moved in!

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view from the other direction.

The space is about ten by twelve feet; there are only walls on two sides so it feels very open and airy. One of the remaining two sides is a half wall that allows me to view our back garden and the last side is more of an extension of the foyer. In this hallway area I placed four very large cabinets, which hold all of my fabrics and much of my notions and other supplies.

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I have 5 work stations arranged in a U-shape, and two chairs that are shared between them. The main sewing table is a countertop height Koala table with electric lift and back extension which is easily erected when I need a large surface for cutting, layouts or sewing very large items like curtains or quilts. My main machine is an Elna 900, a combo sewing and embroidery machine. He is named HAL because of the big red spot on his touch screen, and because he scarily knows more than I do about his operations sometimes…. I recently got the extra-large foot pedal and love it! I keep my most needed tools and notions in the drawers of this cabinet.

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Back Leaf extended; love the floating side leaf!

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Directly behind the main table is another Koala cabinet which matches in height and width. There are two sets of storage drawers; the larger set is where I keep the accessories for my 900, as well as my Westalee quilting templates. On top are cups and containers for pens and marking tools, as well as pin cushions. Charity sewing projects are in the open cubbies, as well as bobbin and thread cases. My Accuquilt electric cutter also lives on top, with plenty of counter space when I’m using it, and folding away neatly in the corner when I’m not.

Next to the storage cabinet is a set of three drawers where I keep all the materials for current projects. I have two sets of these drawers, and love them for that purpose! The drawers are very large and I can put away any project I’m working on when I need to work on something else or when I’m just tired of it and want a break. On top of these drawers is a basket that holds a queue of future or potential future projects, as well as any household mending.

My ironing station is across from my main sewing table, against the half wall. I purposely put it there so I would have to get up every so often and stretch my legs. Yes, when I’m deep in a press-intensive project it’s a little annoying, but worth the bother. I have a great 18” wide ironing board (learn about his current cover here) and a Reliable Corporation i400 boiler type iron.

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Around the corner to the right of the ironing station is the second set of project drawers, as well as my 10-needle embroidery machine, a Baby Lock Enterprise (Enterprise G is his full and proper name.) This machine also sits on a Koala cabinet, the smaller embroidery station. The hoops for this machine are hanging on the wall to the right, above a Koala cabinet with a corner shaped top. There’s plenty of space for stabilizer in the open shelves as well as other embroidery supplies in the shelves and drawers below the unit. (On top of the set of project drawers is basket holding fabrics waiting to be washed.)

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The Koala cabinet in the corner holds the accessories and supplies for my behemoth serger, a Baby Lock Triumph. It also has its own table, a Koala serger station. On top of the corner cabinet my Baby Lock Embellisher is sitting under his pretty blue toile cover, and next to the corner cabinet against the wall is my newest machine, a Baby Lock Sashiko. He also has a table which is shared with the Embellisher. No, neither the serger, embellisher nor sashiko have names – I guess they know who they are when I need them! Sashiko and embellisher supplies are kept in both the corner cabinet and the smaller set of drawers in the storage cabinet behind my main sewing table.

This wall holds the embroidery hoops for my 900, as well as my seasonal wall-hanging – this one is “Quiet Oasis” by Anita Goodesign made with a print fabric from Moda’s blushing Peonies collection.

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Across the “hall” are the large cabinets we put in; they’re called pantries and are available at the home store. As mentioned before they hold all my fabrics and most of my notions.

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Next to these cabinets are two Koala storage towers, on top of which sits my 7th machine. This is my Elna 540, my first sewing machine and now my travel machine for classes. His name is simply “Good Boy” as he always gets it done, though Jarvis was a possibility for a while. In these two cabinets are my patterns for clothing, quilting and other projects, as well as smaller or odd notions that don’t fit in the larger cabinets. Between these I slide my cutting mats for storage.

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Around the corner and across from the storage towers is my bookshelf holding rulers, books, notes, fabric swatches, sewn samples and other odds and ends. Next to the bookshelf lives my dress form, named duplicate O’Neill. (Yes, all my sewing things are “he’s” so no, I don’t do girly-girl names. And yes, I like science fiction and similar for those of you who’ve figured it out!)

I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour of my sewing room, I certainly had fun sharing!

Refresh Your Sewing Room

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Definitely Time for a New Cover!

Here’s a quick way to brighten and refresh your sewing space – a new ironing board cover. Best of all, it takes less than an hour.

First, pick a fabric – I chose “Miss Scarlet” by Minick & Simpson for Moda – 100% cotton is best. For a wide variety of quality fabrics, try your local quilt shop (the ladies at QE are the best!) You’ll want enough yardage to cover the length of your board, plus extra for shrinkage and underlap. For example my board is 48″ long, so I purchased one and half yards. Then, wash your fabric really well on hottest water. Remember, you’ll be ironing and steaming on this fabric so you want to get all the shrinky-dinks and any color transfer out first. If you have a high heat cycle or hot water rinse, choose that; then dry on high heat.

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Don’t forget to save the cord…

Next press out your new fabric so it’s smooth and wrinkle free. Lay out your fabric in a single layer in a place where you have some room to work, your cutting table for instance. Then remove your old ironing board cover. Lay it out as flat as possible over your new fabric. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but make sure any motifs you want to show on your board are under the old cover. Now we’ll just cut out the new shape. This doesn’t have to be perfect, a rough cut is fine.

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Don’t forget to save your old cord; if you can’t then make sure you have enough new cord to go around the perimeter of your board. Now you have a new cover cut roughly to shape, a cord and you will also need one to two packages of double-fold bias tape – make your own or use pre-made, either is fine. My board is 48″ long by 18.5″ wide, so I need one and third packages.

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Now the sewing; I simply tuck the cord into the crease of the bias tape as I go around the edge of the fabric. No need for precision here, it’s just to encase the cord and the edge of the fabric. I pin the cord to the beginning of the bias tape to make sure it doesn’t slip out. Then, just sew all the way around.

When I get to the end of the tape, whether to add the next piece or finish it off, I just fold under the raw edge and overlap – no need to do any fancy sewing. Make sure you leave yourself a couple of inches of cord on either side of the opening so you can get a hold of the cord. Place the new cover on the board, smooth it into place then pull – pull tightly now! – and tie off your cord. Voilà – new ironing board ready for duty!

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