Another In Between Post…

The perfect photo to depict my personal style – it only took me a year and a half to find! This photo is from Vogue Magazine

My last post was about “My Numbers,” a list I use to keep track of my general yardage for sewing patterns. The other side of that paper is “My Colors/ My Style,” another list I use to keep me on track with the colors I prefer, and patterns I like best.

I used to have a lot of trouble with purchasing fabrics that, while lovely, weren’t really my style. They had colors that I don’t like to wear, or that didn’t go with anything else I owned; worse they would be in fibers that I’m allergic to, like wool. I also collected a lot of patterns that were for garments I would never wear: sheath dresses, sleeveless tops and dresses, pencil skirts… just things I knew I would never wear. Why was I buying them? Sometimes I just liked a detail, or the fabric, or the styling. At some point I realized what I was doing, so I was able to reform.

Our wonderful local fabric purveyor, Roz, of Sew Much Fabric, held a year-long personal style series for the Houston Fashionistas group. In it, we did exercises to help us define and refine our color and style preferences, so we could make a chart to reference, as well as style and mood boards to help us create a direction for our sewing.

And the results of those exercises for me are the above list. Now when I go fabric or pattern shopping, I can compare it to my list, and stop myself when I’m about to buy something that doesn’t work for me.

The photo at the top of the post perfectly represents my style: from the kitten-heel sandals to the Breton tee, the full long skirt to the handbag – it’s me! I call it “comfortably, classically feminine – but not girly,” Roz says it’s actually Classic Parisien – or was it Classic French? Well, we know what she means.

Do you have a personal style chart to help you with your fabric and pattern choices?

An In-Between Post

Lovely large, red tomatoes just begging to be made into a sandwich; I thought it’s be nicer to look at than a piece of paper…

It’s another sewing hiatus for me; my home is well into a kitchen renovation, which also happens to include my new sewing studio. Why? The home we bought had a party room, which had a kitchenette – or summer kitchen as the contractor calls it – and it’s this room that we’re converting into my sewing studio. So, out with the kitchenette, and on with the sewing… in another few weeks.

In the meantime, I’ve been cooking on a hot plate and raking through piles of sewing notes, which I never seem to manage to file in my binders. And in that pile of notes I found this sheet: can you guess what it is?

They’re “My Numbers,” the general amounts of yardage I need for a variety of garment patterns. These are of course specific to me; everyone will have their own yardage amounts, which will also depend on what pattern you’re using.

I came across the idea rather early on in my sewing career. I won’t say I made it up myself, but I decided to make a list for myself after reading a few online posts. I kept coming across the same questions over and over again in sewing forums: “how much fabric do I need to make X” and of course, the answer is always “it depends” which of course the original poster never wanted to hear, but it’s the truth.

For instance, I was at Quilt Show once, buying some yardage for shirts for my husband (yes, there are many, many vendors at Houston International Quilt Show selling garment fabrics, trims, beautiful laces, jewelry, leathers, etc. it’s not just quilts! Though those are lovely to look at…) I know that I need 3.5 yards of 42 to 52 inch fabric to make him a short- or long-sleeve shirt. If I’m lucky enough to come across fabric that’s at least 58 inches, then I can by 4 yards and get one short- and one long-sleeve shirt for him.

A lady approached me while my fabric was being cut and asked what I was buying the fabric for, so I told her, shirts for my husband. She then asked me how much was needed to make a shirt; so, I explained “my husband needs X-amount of Y-wide fabric for Z-type of shirt.” And depending on which shirt she was making and whom for, that would determine what she needed. She got frustrated with my answer – I think she wanted to say, why can’t you just give me a single number – but the vendor overheard us and explained “you see, her husband is very tall, and needs this much fabric (I had mentioned my husband’s height previously to him) and since I’m a much shorter man, I need this much fabric.” I think she finally accepted that she really needed more information, but she still was a bit miffed about our “no answer” answer.

A variation on that question is “how much of a fabric should I buy for my stash” and the answer again is, it depends. What do you want the fabric for? Do you think you’ll make a blouse, a pillow? Frame a panel for a wall hanging?

Most of us have some idea of what we’d like to do with a fabric, even if it’s only a vague idea: garment, or quilting, or home décor, etc. And knowing approximately how much we need to buy is great help if we’re trying to build a stash. Even when you have a specific project in mind, it will be good to know how much you may need. It’s always best to consult your pattern of course, but we may not have the pattern to hand, and we’re not likely to remember how much the pattern specified. So when we come across a really great fabric, we can guesstimate how much we’ll need if we know our individual yardage numbers.

So how do you figure out what your numbers are, especially if you haven’t done much sewing? Gather some patterns and check the charts on the back. You don’t even need to own the patterns, most pattern companies list the yardage on their websites. Then based on your size, write down the yardage. I would take the average of a good dozen patterns that are pretty similar and you have a good number to start with.

If you’re more experienced, you can adjust the numbers as you know you’ll need to; for instance, I know that I can reduce the amount for pants by about a half yard because I’ve always had at least that much fabric left over. Thus, I arrived at my yardage for pants. Creating your own chart is a very useful exercise, and won’t take you more than an hour or so; I encourage you to make one for yourself.

A teaser for the next post: the other side of the page!

Curtains and Other Window Treatments, Part 2

Some puddlin’ goin’ on at the bottom…

I have a lovely window seat in my new kitchen; it’s 11 feet long, and has three large windows. And I have enough space to put in box cushions (a future project for a future post!) But right now the curtains are too long, they puddle on the bench. That can be an OK look if it’s what you’re going for, but I don’t want the curtains to get caught up in the cushions, nor do I want anyone to sit on them, possible bringing down the curtains and rods.

I bought panels from the store, which were supposed to be 84 inches long, but as you can see, they’re more like 82. Which is fine, but with purchased panels, just be sure to measure them for an accurate adjustment.

You can get an extra-long tape measure at the craft store for home decor projects

These curtains didn’t come with tie-backs, but hemming them will give me the fabric I need to make them. I cut the excess fabric from the top of the panels (I’ll explain why the top in the next post), then serged the cut edge to make it clean. Then I pressed down a hem at my ironing board: first a one-inch underlap, then a three-inch hem.

I’m a press-to-hem-at-the-board type; this clover tool makes it easier

…and sewed a straight stitch across at my regular machine.

(Apparently I did not get a photo of my finished hem, and as the curtains were already on the rod, they were gonna stay there. Here’s a photo of the original, upper and lower hems, which are pretty much the same hem I gave them after trimming.)

A quick tip: I had a fairly new needle in my machine (I had only done a quick hemming job on a pair of pants), but after the first panel, my thread kept breaking. I changed my needle, just in case there was a nick or burr, but the thread continued to break every few stitches. I suspected the extra slubby nature of the fabric wasn’t setting well with cotton thread, so I switched to a polyester. Bingo! No more thread breaks. I sailed right through the remaining panels.

Ahh, that feels better – room for cushions now!

And now my kitchen curtains are complete! All of my curtain panels went through a similar process; measure to fit the window, then trim and hem. When you don’t have time to custom-make your window treatments, purchased panels can be altered to fit your needs.

I’ll see you next time for part three – tie-backs!

Curtains and Other Window Treatments, Part 1

One thing you have to think about when you move into a new home is, how are you gonna cover the windows? If you’re lucky, the house comes with blinds or draperies. If you’re lucky enough, the new windows are roughly the same size and number as your old home, and you can just move the old treatments to the new home. If you’re me, then you wind up with a new house that has twice as many windows as the old house, almost none of which are the same size as any of the old windows….

The old house had one sky light in the kitchen (which I miss so dearly!), and twelve other windows: eleven floor-to-ceiling and one high up with privacy glass, so no curtain needed. The new house has, let’s see… twenty-six – no, twenty-seve… no! oh my, twenty-nine! – and of varying sizes. I not only used up every curtain from the old house, but has to scramble to get rods, curtains and sheers for many of the remaining windows. I say scramble because: why are curtains and rods never anywhere near the size of the windows you have? But I made do, and now we get to the mend part – shortening curtains and sheers for windows that are shorter than my old house. Not to mention making tie-backs as well.

For sheers, I really like to use the rolled hem – also called merrowed hem – on my serger. It’s a three-thread stitch, and when you use wooly nylon, you get a lovely finished edge all in one pass.

Since most of these sheers are quite a lot longer than I need, I will be cutting the excess before going to my serger. If it were only a couple of inches, then I would just cut and hem at once. But twelve inches or more is a lot to keep a straight line on the serger, so two steps give a more even hem.

It’s OK to fold it up to cut, it’d be too wide otherwise

After cutting off the excess length at my cutting mat, I fed one end of the curtain into my serger. To get a clean start to the hem, I slowly worked the leading edge up to the needles, and just as the fabric caught, I pulled the chain of thread straight back to clear the stitch fingers, then pulled it forward and across so the end would be caught in the hem.

See? Nice clean start.

If you have speed control on your serger, now’s the time to crank it all the way up, especially if you have 20-plus panels to get through!

Now we’re at the other end: how to finish? First, run your thumbnail along the entire length of the hem. This will help redistribute the stitches, and cover any little bald spots you have. There’s nothing wrong with your machine, it’s just the nature of the rolled hem, especially when you use woolly nylon. This fabric is a polyester, about the same weight as organza, so the fibers are bit stiff, and can make little “pokies” if the fabric is off grain (it’s a store-bought panel, it’s definitely off-grain.) If running your thumbnail along the hem doesn’t fix all the little pokies and bald spots, grab the hem on either side of the spot and circle them gently, that’ll work any fibers back in.

To finish the other end of the hem, I like to use Fray Check or something similar. I put a small dot right at the edge of the fabric, letting it absorb into the threads. After it dries enough in a few minutes, I clip the thread right at the edge of the fabric – you’ll never see it. You could otherwise try to turn the project over and capture the end of the thread tail as for the beginning, or you can knot it or use a needle to run the tail back under the stitching, but I find the fray check method is the simplest.

Now I have lovely sheers in all my windows, that float just above the sill.

I like to use a contrasting color for the wooly nylon, I think it adds a nice pop. And yes, I do use a while needle thread, and yes, you can see it in the hem; but I like the looks it gives, a small bit of white against the color. It’s not really noticeable, but you can always match your thread colors of course!

That’s all for part 1; join me next time for part 2 where I discuss hemming curtain panels.

Tips for Moving a Sewing Room

Whether it’s to a new neighborhood or a new state, moving can be stressful and chaotic. But it can also be an opportunity (sorry, I can’t think of any way to make it fun; “opportunity” was the most positive thing I could think of.)

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve recently moved to a new home. Luckily it was only two and half miles away. Unluckily we’d lived in our previous home for fifteen years – and had the accumulated stuff to show for it. I’m going to list some thoughts and tips on moving in general and a sewing room specifically, in no particular order. I hope it’s of help to you in your next move!

Start packing now. Now being as soon as you decide on a new home; don’t wait until a week before the movers arrive to start packing. That goes for the whole home as well as your sewing space; start packing up everything that you won’t need between now and your moving day.

Leave yourself one box that you move yourself, that holds any essentials you’ll need those first few days. Think of it like a carry on – what do you need to have with you in case your big suitcase is lost by the airline? What will you need to have easy access to in case you don’t unpack all your boxes that first day? (Because you won’t, unless you’re moving out of a dorm room, and even then you may still not be completely unpacked.) That can be one box for household essentials, one box for personal essentials, and another box for sewing essentials, especially if you need to keep sewing during your move.

Label those boxes! And I don’t mean “kitchen” or “sewing room”, I mean write down as much detail as possible on the outside of that box about what’s in that box, because when you need that one thing so you can finish a project or cook dinner, you don’t want to have to wade through 45 boxes marked “kitchen” or 62 (yes!) boxes labelled “sewing room.” Yeah, it takes a lot of extra time, but you’ll spend a lot more timea lot more time – looking for stuff if you can’t get unpacked within the first week (or longer.) And no, “sewing room, supplies” isn’t specific enough, not when you have three or eight boxes labelled that way. As an aside, I had over 220 boxes – and that’s not counting the stuff that didn’t get packed because I couldn’t get it to fit in a box – or because I just ran out of boxes.

Don’t forget to take your machine boxes out of the attic. Because you saved them like you were supposed to, right? This is why you saved them – so you could safely move your machines. Whether you’re moving down the road or across the globe, pack your machine with its original box and stuffing. Because I had my original packaging, I felt just fine about letting the movers handle my machines.

Consider sending your machine(s) to the spa. I really should have done this myself, dropped my machines off at the dealer to get all spiffed up while I was setting up my new house and sewing room. I went two and half months without sewing as it was, that was plenty of time to get them all their annual tune-up (I have five that I use regularly.) If you have more than two machines, you might call your dealer in advance and make sure they can take them all at once. This way if you didn’t save your boxes, you can have them safely put away somewhere until you’re ready to bring them to your new home.

Make a diagram of your house, showing where all the rooms are. Then, label each room – on the door, or the door frame – so the movers know where each room is, and they can put those boxes where they belong. Hang the diagram by the front door so the movers can see it and don’t have to ask you about every box and piece of furniture – they will be so thankful! I myself am thankful to my sewing buddy Jodi for this wonderful piece of advice – thanks Jodi!

Take the time to cull your belongings. This is a popular one with advice columns (blogs?) because it’s a good one – if you get rid of your crap stuff first, you won’t have to move it! Genius, isn’t it? I wish I had gotten rid of more stuff before we moved, because we got rid of a heckuva lot after we moved, I can tell you. Really go through your stuff too; you’ll be touching each and everything anyway, you may as well decide whether you should keep it, toss it or give it away.

And if you have lots of time, make an inventory of your sewing stash if you need to. I stash patterns, fabric, buttons and ribbon. And buttons. Did I mention buttons? I love buttons.… Ahem. I actually started to inventory my fabric and patterns long before we even though about moving. You see, I was having trouble keeping track of all my thoughts and ideas in regards to projects. I tried several different methods, I even tried a couple of different programs (software?) Nothing really stuck. My latest revelation was that I like to browse my stash for inspiration, So I came up with – wait for it – an excel spreadsheet, with links to the photos of my fabric. In addition, I have folders with subfolders on my computer that have the photos from my patterns. Yeah, I know – boring and old school… made more so by the fact that I keep a running list – on paper! – of project ideas… go ahead, giggle, it’s good for you. Where was I… You can actually do your inventory before or after you move, since you have to take it all out of the boxes again anyway. But doing it before gives you the opportunity to cull, instead of just shoving stuff into boxes.

Know where your furniture goes before the movers’ put it there. Huh? Yeah, I know. What I mean is, get the layout for your sewing space (or any room really) decided beforehand so the movers can actually put the furniture where you want it, instead of saying “oh, put it anywhere, it’s all on wheels so I’ll just move it later if I want…”  Moving it later is a bear, because it’s not all on wheels, there are dozens of heavy boxes in the way, and it’s holding your collection of very heavy books that you now have to take all down to move the bookcase and then put all the books back – know where you want the furniture in advance!

About those boxes – keep them small. I know how tempting it is to get great big boxes and fill them as much as you can, but eventually you or someone else has to lift those boxes, and stuff gets heavy fast. Save the medium and big boxes for pillows, comforters, batting and other exceptionally lightweight stuff. I found the “book” size boxes – about 12 inches square – to be the most useful. Small enough for me to lift, even when actually filled with books.

Find a place to stage those boxes. We were lucky; we park in our garage, so we only had to move our cars to the driveway for a few weeks while we slowly filled the garage with most of our boxes. And the movers were glad too – it was all right there when they pulled up the truck. They only had about a dozen boxes to pull from inside house, in addition to the furniture. Speaking of…

If it has to be disassembled, do it at least a few days in advance. I know: you know how to take apart that piece of furniture or exercise equipment or playset or whatever it is that needs to be disassembled. Guess what? Something will happen, and you will be frantically trying to take apart that easy-to-get-undone thing while the movers stand there waiting for you to take it apart because it’s the last thing that needs to go on the truck… and then put your back out and cut your arm while doing it. Because that didn’t happen to me or my husband… right.

Bookmark your projects in some way. I pushed to get all my hangers-on projects done before we moved. Not that I didn’t have a few projects that were long term hangers-on… and this is something you should be doing anyway, because you never know when you may have to put a project down or be able to pick it back up again. I go into a bit more detail in my post here.

Well that’s about all the wisdom I gleaned from my recent experience in moving. I hope you were able to pick up some good tips, and if you have any to share please do so in the comments! See you here next time…

Igniting That Ol’ Sewjo

Who puts a window in a location like this?

Sewjo being your sewing mojo of course. I don’t remember where I heard the term first, but a lot of sewers have to take time away from their sewing for whatever reason. And whether you’ve been away for a long or short while, it can be hard to get back into your groove.

As you know, I myself have moved to a new home, in addition to which, the home itself needed a lot of updating and care. That caused a lot of frustration and anger for me – most of which has been expressed in movie form in The Money Pit, starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long. Ok, it’s not as disastrous as that, but the something-new-every-day-that-makes-me-want-to-cry part is quite accurate. Even knowing going in, everything that was wrong as stated in the home inspection we got, it was worse (it always is, isn’t it?) Very much worse. Unfortunately, Texas’ housing lemon law only applies to new builds, else we’d be all over that.

Steering back to this post – after finally being able to set up my sewing room and unpack all but five boxes (seriously, it all fit in my storage at the old house, why do I need to buy more for this house?) I needed to excise the negative energy and get some good vibes going. I decided to do what I call a “quick’n’dirty” project. Quick because my attention span is a bit short right now and dirty because, well, I wanted to make it pretty quickly, and didn’t have time for excellent technique.

I chose one of the awaiting curtain projects, and I chose the one that was most irritating. Our master bedroom has a window that is a half moon, at the top of a 12-foot wall. The purpose of the window seems to be to let in the light from the overly bright street lamp, as well as the light from four different neighbors’ driveway flood lights – which all turn on and off all night long. (And not in a good way like the song…) While the window does let in some nice daylight, it doesn’t have a view of anything so I decided to put up some light-colored curtains.

Said curtains though, upon arrival, turned out to be an open-weave and thus semi-sheer variety. What to do? I had some white fabric to hand, so I did a quick lining and hem.

Definitely See through!

Since these curtains are going at the top of a wall, where no one will be able to inspect or disturb them, I did a bare minimum to them. First I shortened them on my serger to a suitable length (I picked 50 inches; there’s lots of math on how to do curtain lengths. My window is 35 inches tall, plus the rod is 6 inches higher than the window, plus a nice hem.) Then I pieced the lining on my serger; the curtains were 49 inches wide, and my fabric only 42.

Then I pressed the piecing seam, then pressed a half inch or so at the top of the lining. This made a nice clean edge to attach the lining to the curtain. Then I turned under and pressed the sides of the lining so the raw edge wouldn’t show.

I then used a straight stitch to attach the lining to the top of the curtains under the rod pocket (which are actually loops on these panels.)

Then I turned up a hem on both the panel and lining in one pass, attaching it with a straight stitch. It’s not terribly clean, and there’s a small bubble in one of the panels, but this was supposed to be quick and dirty, remember?

And now I have perfectly acceptable curtains finally blocking all that night-time light pollution…!

How would I have done this the “right” way? The better things to do would be:

  • Opening the top hem, and slipping in the lining there, re-stitching to enclose the lining edge
  • Which edge should have been finished all-around with the serger or zig-zag stitch
  • Those side edges of the lining then tacked down either by straight stitch, or machine blind hem for an extra-fancy finish
  • The lining would then hang free, not be caught up in the panel hem
  • The panel hem could still have a finished inner edge with the serger or zig-zag, but then the hem would be completed with a machine blin-hem stitch, or maybe even a hand-sewn blind hem, for extra-fine fabrics.
  • The outer panel would have gotten weights, and if it were a very long curtain, the lining would be weighted as well

So yes, I know how to do curtains the better way – but if anyone is examining these curtains that closely to complain, I think I have bigger problems than quickie curtains, don’t you?

Stay tuned for a future installment on curtains for your new home!

Hello and Happy Spring

I love a chicken in the Kitchen!

Hello everyone! It has certainly been a long time! I believe I last left you over at friend Roz’s blog, with a five-part series describing my latest fashion project.

What have I been doing since then? As you know, I take the holidays off – so much cooking to do and so much family to visit! Unfortunately no one was able to do much of that this past year; I instead busied myself with the search for our new home. My husband has been furloughed to a more permanent work-from-home, and trying to have meetings all day next to a room full of embroidery machines running at top speed – and sound! – was not happening.

So, I spent most of fall searching and we found our new home. After a quiet holiday season with just us, we bought our new home, moved into the new home, sold our old home, and now my husband has his own, quiet office upstairs at the front of the house, and I have my own sewing studio downstairs at the back of the house.

Still, I intended to be back at my machine by the second week of February, but as they say, even the best laid plans…. You see, we did not buy a fixer-upper, but it turned out to be one. The poor house was unoccupied for over two years, and was not well cared for in that time. We’ve had to have most of the major systems attended to, and that did not allow for setting up the new sewing studio. Between carefully letting contractor after contractor into our home, and waiting for the last of the drywall dust to settle, it took an extra seven weeks before I could even uncover my machines. But now the dust is gone, the house is functioning well, and I have a fantastically- large new sewing studio to share with you!

In addition to the usual details on my embroidery and sewing projects, the coming months will also bring some tips on moving your sewing room to a new house, setting up and organizing a sewing room, and other related items I’ve learned along the way.

In the meantime, why not take a look at what some new and old sewing friends are up to (I had to do something with myself besides unpacking boxes!) Roz has introduced us to a new sewing friend over at her blog, K.C., who will be sharing her entry into sewing with us. Old friend Ann (who is not at all old!) is continuing to share her wardrobe journey with us – I know I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from her posts. Samina is on hiatus this month, but left us with lots to read about before she left (and a nifty guest post and project!), and will be back soon with her always fun and thought-provoking ideas on sewing. And of course, friend Andrea has, as always, great video classes, patterns and other tutorials at her website and YouTube channel.

Take care, Happy Spring, and be with you soon!

Pattern Companies

This is an essay about my experience with pattern companies; it’s long, and, obviously personal. If you aren’t interested in my thoughts on the subject (which can be strong) I invite you to skip it.

I recently wrote a guest blog series over on SMFabric and Friends, which is hosted by our lovely local fabric maven, Roz. She and I received a lot of questions after that first post – and there are more posts to come!

One of the questions I got several times was which pattern companies I use; I was also asked why I don’t use certain Indie “Curvy” companies. The short answer is I use Big 4 patterns from the five (I know!) main companies: Vogue, McCall’s, Butterick, Kwik Sew and Simplicity.

I know this is a rather “hot” topic, and there is even some debate about using indies vs. big companies; who you are supporting, which business model is better, the social issues around body positivity and inclusion. And certainly, all of these things are important, and I am very happy to see so many companies offering extended sizing, for “curvy” people or not. But leaving all this aside, I use the Big 4 most of the time because they work best for me.

I am a size 20, when using the traditional method of measuring your upper bust (under the armpits and higher up on the chest) to determine your size. And all the patterns I have ever wanted (well, maybe one or two exceptions) have come in that size. Most of the patterns I buy go up to size 22 or 24, and some are even up to 24W, 32W and 44W. Yes, some Big 4 sizes go up that high. Granted, they are precious few and you could get very disheartened trying to make a very full and complete wardrobe from them, but one of those is a swimsuit so perhaps not all is lost. (Sizing and selecting your size is a whole other subject, and I may talk on it at another time.)

Now don’t get me wrong, I have tried many indie patterns over the years, and I am glad that they are there to serve people who are larger and otherwise not at all served by the Big 4. But I have had so many problems with them, I just gave up.

Peeve number one of mine: I hate PDF patterns. If the patterns were sold for $5 or so, it wouldn’t bother me to spend the time, money, paper and ink printing them, taping them, tracing them off. But if I’m paying $15 or $20 or more, I’m not going to print up 50, 80, over 100 pages just to get a pattern – no. Ten pages or less, ten dollars or less, that’s my personal PDF limit!

Alright, that’s very personal so perhaps not a legitimate mark against indie pattern companies. My next one is though: too many times the markings haven’t matched, or lined up, or been listed in the instructions. I’m experienced enough to get around this, but for someone new it might be a problem. And yes, I’ve reported the problems to that company, and while they’ve always been polite, the response is usually some version you must’ve done something wrong. Which I don’t appreciate. Of the dozens of Big 4 patterns I have made over the years, only one has had mis-matched markings, and it was simple pattern so it was easy to figure out.

Concurrent to that are poor instructions; and weird or wrong instructions. Again, I would report this, only to be told I probably did something wrong. Having to take a project apart to repair it is not fun, especially when you’ve been told it’s your fault.

Another problem I have with indie patterns is their lack of proportion. What I mean is, certain design elements are the same size for all sizes in their pattern, even when it goes from 0 to 28. For instance, I was doing a tee shirt once and the pocket was the same size for each pattern size. So what looked like an oversized pocket on their size 0 looked like a mini-pocket on size 28. Yes, I’m an adult and can create my own square for a pocket, but that’s not the point. Another person may not know to do those things, and may have been frustrated at the result.

Another instance of poor proportioning or grading; I tried a tank top once. The shoulder area, what would be the “strap” of the top, from the bottom of the armhole to the shoulder seam, was simply elongated for each size; it was about 4.5 inches for the smallest size (I think a 2) and was over 14 inches long for the largest size, on the front bodice. (Yet the width of the strap was not changed, so bad proportions again.) Well that’s far too long; yes since I’m sewing it I can change it, and maybe it was meant to be a low-cut armhole. But to me it shows they have no concept of sizing or grading (not that I’m an expert); sleeveless garments should have a fairly high-cut armhole to my mind. But I feel they aren’t thinking, and are making the same mistakes that clothing manufacturers do – just making it bigger all over for bigger sizes.

As I understand the principle, the shoulder, that “saddle” that is made up of the armscye and shoulder area, thus the use of an under-bust measurement for size selection, that area doesn’t change that much between sizes, so making widely different sizes for that area is not correct. I could be wrong, but since I almost always have to reduce the shoulder area in indie patterns, I may not be entirely wrong.

In contrast, with Big 4 patterns that have certain details (Simplicity 1460 comes to mind with its scalloped neckline) they are proportioned and graded for, if not each size, then for maybe only two sizes. So instead of a single pattern piece with say, all five sizes, you’ll have three, or even five different pieces.

Speaking of adjustments, I have always have a hard time making adjustments to indie patterns. With a Big 4 pattern, I almost don’t have to make a muslin, just do my FBA, adjust the back waist and I’m within a half inch of a good fit. With indie patterns, it was always a struggle. I would check to see what their cup size was, alter my FBA to accommodate it, and still have to do a further FBA; or shoulder adjustments; reduce the armhole; use a two-piece sleeve; add lots of darts at the waist; yeah, most people who sew have to make these kinds of adjustments anyway – no pattern is perfect! But even with all these adjustments, indie patterns still didn’t look well or fit right. I simply don’t have these struggles with Big 4 patterns.

Another thing about indie patterns – and this is a personal peeve so more salt – they are usually very simple. I mean very. Don’t misunderstand me, we all want a simple pattern sometimes; we need a quick make, or have a fabulous print to play up; or we’re just starting out, or it’s our first pattern of a particular type and too many details will add frustration. And I think for beginner pattern makers, simple is where they’re going to start. But very few seem to graduate to anything more complex. Maybe they’re catering to their market, maybe they don’t want to make more complex patterns; but at some point, I believe a sewer should move forward in their education, experience and ability. Or at least be able to if they want. And this point touches on two other peeves of mine – how we teach sewing and the lack of advanced sewing education – but again, another story for another time. For me, the Big 4 offer a range of styles and levels of complexity; if I want to tackle a challenging project to improve my skills, I can.

But there are good things about indie patterns, as advocates on Pattern Review and other spaces have noted. The first being the size range, and consideration for larger, curvier bodies. Second is PDF’s – they’re available to anyone with an internet connection (just because I don’t like them doesn’t mean they’re wrong.) And they have more and different (some call it better) instructions, as well as lots (lots) of social media support. I think calling indie instructions better than Big 4 is a misunderstanding (yet another story for another time!), but the person making the argument was a much more experienced sewer and teacher than I am, so I defer to their judgement on this one.

Well there we are, my thoughts on sewing patterns – that was long! And if you’re still with me, thank you for reading! Take care and see you at the next post….

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.

Answers to Your Questions

I got a lot of requests for information after my last post on Roz’s Website, SMF Designs and Friends. I was asked about fitting, my machine, my dress form, and what patterns I use. I believe I answered everyone’s questions personally (and if I didn’t, send me another email!) But I thought since there were so many, I’d answer them here as well for everyone to read.

First question – Do I teach fitting for plus sizes/ where did I learn to fit? No, I don’t actually teach fitting; I do try to offer a larger person’s perspective of fitting to my local sewing club, The Houston Sewing Fashionista’s (contact Roz for more info), and I am always happy to try and help my local fellow sewers with basic fitting. But for professional help I recommend Andrea, our local fit expert.

Andrea has been certified as a Palmer Pletsch Fitter, and has developed her own techniques for fitting over the years. If you’re in the Houston area she offers consultation, and if you’re not in the area, she’s got a YouTube channel, blog, Instagram, her own pattern line, and many other ways of teaching and reaching others. She’s a wonderful person, a terrific seamstress and has lots of information and experience to share.

Second Question – What machine is Sunny that you can digitize embroidery? Sunny is a Baby Lock Solaris, and has IQ Designer Technology. IQD is a built-in embroidery software that, coupled with the on-machine camera, allows you to scan an image and create an embroidery design (it digitizes it for you.) So any Baby Lock machine with IQ Designer (or any Brother machine with My Design Center) and a camera will get you this ability. If you’d like to read more about Sunny you can here. But looking at it, it’s a bit preliminary – I think it’s time to do a follow up on Sunny, so you’ll see that soon.

Third Question – Where’d I get my dress form? My dress form is a Uniquely You, and I bought it from SewVacDirect, but they list it as discontinued on their website. I have seen them listed at as well, so either of those or someone else may still have some in stock. I thought it was the best option between a dress form you have to really work to customize, and a made-to-order form. Since it’s such a hot topic, I’m going to do another post to go into details.

Fourth Question – What brand of patterns do you use? You know, this is another hot topic, which I may write about later, but the short answer is I use Big 4 patterns – Simplicity, Vogue, McCall’s, Butterick and Kwik Sew – which is five, I know. I find them to be the easiest to alter to fit me, and I tend to favor Vogue and Kwik Sew, followed by Simplicity, then Butterick and McCall’s. I have tried other pattern companies, but that’s another story for another time as they say.

So, I think those are the questions that were most often repeated, and asked by lots of people – thank you! I hope I’ve answered your questions, and if you have any more don’t hesitate to ask!