Friday, January 31, 2014

She Knits Too!

My Miette
I used to engage in a variety of crafty hobbies when I was younger. Knitting, crochet, sewing, beading, macrame (am I dating myself?), lost-wax casting, stained glass, leather work, furniture building. I actually considered taking an arc welding class at one point. Then I had my son and I decided there was no time for any of that nonsense until he grew up and went away to college.

That day actually came to pass about 10 years ago. I waved him off, dried my eyes and began dragging out my boxes of supplies.

Good cropped length for high-waisted pants. I added an extra pattern repeat or it would be even shorter.
I became enchanted with sewing a couple of years ago. Before that I was on a real knitting jag. I spent tremendous amounts of time wandering around yarn shops, squeezing the skeins. I went to knitting conventions and knitting retreats. I made a bunch of fabulous yarn-y friends that I still love to hang out with. I even completed a few sweaters and a bunch of socks. I still have a pretty beefy yarn stash, and probably 5 sweaters in various states of almost-doneness.

I went to a knitting retreat last January and, rather than taking along one of my many WIPs, I cast on the Miette cardigan by Andi Satterlund. This baby was so quick to do that I had almost finished it by the end of the weekend. Then it sat for a year waiting for those final touches - button bands and buttons. Just a couple of weeks ago I had an attack of finish-itis and took care of those last bits.

I used some forest green Cascade 220 from the nether regions of the stash. It's a color I'll get a lot of wear out of, even though it's so dark I can't figure out how to photograph the sweater so that you can see the cute eyelet details around the edges.

If I had it to do over again, I'd make the next size up. I usually make a size down from where my measurements would put me because I'm a loose knitter, but in this case that was a mistake. Even after some pretty aggressive blocking this cardigan wants to pull at the buttons. I suppose, since it's knitting, I could do it over again by frogging and beginning anew. But I'd rather slit my wrists.

If you're in the market for a cropped cardigan, I highly recommend the pattern (which is free, by the way!). It's top-down so there's minimal finishing. Otherwise it would probably have languished for another two years in my almost-done pile. It knits up quickly and there's just enough eyelet happening to wake you up after the rows of stockinette. Plus it looks cute on everyone who's tried it.

I'm saving Zoe's hair to try spinning it up for a white version...NOT!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Gertie's Portrait Blouse

I got a yard of rayon challis when I was last at Britex. This was the occasion when I bought several lengths of fabric having a general idea what I wanted to do with it but without checking the actual yardage requirements in advance. Bad idea. I really liked the colors in the rayon and thought it would make a nice blouse. When I bought the fabric I was thinking "sleeveless," but I've been trying to limit my sun exposure lately. Turns out that when you park Irish skin in a California beach town for 30 years, Bad Things can happen. So far nothing a squirt of liquid nitrogen can't fix, but it pays to be careful.

After looking through my ever-growing pattern collection, I thought the best fit for the fabric was the Portrait Blouse from Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing. I thought I could squeeze it out of 1 yard of my narrow rayon and those cute little cap sleeves would shield my shoulders from the sun.
I've made this blouse once before, also from a small piece of rayon, in a Size 6. In that size the fit on me is loose enough that I feel like I really need to wear the top tucked in. Otherwise I have no waist and it looks like my bust is riding on my bellybutton. The good news is that the loose fit means I can wriggle in and out without needing a zipper. I like to avoid zips in blouses when I can because they often end up being a bit uncomfortable under a waistband or belt.

First rendition, Size 6
 This time I tried a Size 4, partly because that meant I wasn't overlapping my seam allowances into the selvage. Yes, my cutting layout was that tight. This version definitely needed a zip, but on the plus side, I think the fit is enough closer that I feel like I can wear it loose.

Most recent rendition, Size 4

I only got one picture of it on me that I thought was post-able. Not because of any lack of skill on the part of my favorite photographer but because in all the other shots either the blouse looked way too wrinkly or I looked way too wrinkly.

So here is my question: for my first version I bound the neck with bias tape.
Bias bound neckline
 On the second version, I hunkered down and used the facings. Even interfaced them.

Neckline with facings
I have to say I try to avoid using facings when I can because they seem to want to flip up and cause me problems. I try to be good about using interfacing and stay stitching, but the problems never seem to go away entirely. Especially because I try to avoid ironing even more that I try to avoid facings.

Don't get me wrong! I have learned from reading the excellent information available on all of your blogs that your iron is your best friend while sewing.  I am diligent about pressing seams and darts, even hems. I've even begun pressing my fabric before cutting out my pattern (wimped out on that one for years.) But once that garment is finished, it will probably never see the iron again in my house. It's sink or swim for my wardrobe. I take each item out of the dryer, give it one of those flick-of-the-wrist shakes and hang it up. Any little wrinkles that don't hang out are there for the duration.

This is what the faced neckline looked like directly after my usual shake-and-hang treatment:
Oh the horror... Maybe rayon isn't the best fabric for a lazy laundress like me
Pretty gnarly, huh? Unless I give it an intensive spit-powered finger pressing, I will be needing to iron this puppy after each wash. Which means it won't get worn that often. However, once it is ironed it looks pretty crisp and nice.

The bias-tape neckline comes out of the dryer looking fairly sweet, but not what I'd call crisp. And the fabric is already beginning to fray a bit where I trimmed the edges of the bias tape seams. Maybe I trimmed them too aggressively?

Do you prefer bias tape or facings for your necklines? And if you use both methods, how do you decide which one will work best for a particular garment?

My full review is on here.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

My First Fly Front

I'm participating in the Make a Garment a Month challenge and the theme for January is to learn a new skill. I figured it was time to dive deep into the ocean of my sewing fears and try a fly front.
My first fly front!
Kristy of Lower Your Presser Foot has made up a Burdastyle trouser pattern that I'd been eyeing. They looked so great on her, I decided to give it a whirl. With this style of trouser, my cowardly method of moving the zip to another location wouldn't cut the mustard. Time to gird my loins and get to it.

I used some stretch twill in a nice greenish-gray that I got at Britex last time we were in San Francisco. Lesson #1 - don't buy fabric for trousers unless you've checked how much yardage you're going to need. I thought 1.5 yards of 54" fabric should be fine. I'm only 5'2" for gosh sakes. Turns out it takes more fabric than you might think to wrap all the way around your legs. I had to get extremely creative with my cutting layout, including having the front pieces cut North to South and the back pieces cut South to North. When I got done I could stash my leftover fabric scraps in an egg cup.

I figured out pretty quickly that using Burdastyle instructions to insert your first fly front was a bad idea. I read those instructions 15 times and was still at a loss. 

Boy am I glad I live in the information age. I scoured the internet for information on fly fronts and found a Threads tutorial by Sandra Betzina that I actually thought I understood. Sadly, her pattern was using cut-on fly facings. I had already cut my pieces according to the Burdastyle pattern, which has separate fly facings. And no way could I re-cut anything. I manhandled my pattern pieces into a construct that more or less let me follow along with Sandra and ended up with something that works, and doesn't look too bad from the outside. The inside's a different story. Looks like one side of the zip attacked the other and ripped its guts out.

This is the good side. The bad side is too terrifying to show to the public.



side - the top is one of my 700 Renfrews

Love those pockets
The trousers actually turned out pretty much as I hoped they would. It is so great having fellow sewists who act as pattern testers for me. I was looking for something a little slimmer-cut than my last few pairs of pants. I wanted them to be kind of like a nice, comfy pair of weekend jeans. Only I'm not ready yet to sew a pair of jeans. Maybe for 'Face Your Fears 2015.'

I have another piece of stretch twill that's earmarked for my second try at these. I can tell you one thing for sure though, I'll be altering that pattern to use a cut-on fly!

I should be able to do that by just lining up the seam lines for the fly pattern pieces with the seam lines for the center front pattern pieces, right?

My pattern review is on here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Burdastyle Camp Shirt

My second FO for 2014 is a camp shirt from the April 2012 issue of Burdastyle magazine.

Not really a halo, just some garden art
I like the shirt, but it does come up short:

Looks best tucked in, in my opinion
I had 1.5 yards of Kaffee Fassett cotton in stripes marinating in stash. I really liked the colors, and thought it would make a nice, light-weight shirt. I didn't have enough yardage to want to play around too much with stripe-matching though, so I searched through my Burdastyle library to find a pattern with minimal shaping that I thought I could fit onto this slice of fabric.

I could tell this pattern was going to be pretty short, so I added 3 inches to the recommended length. Once I'd sewed it up it was still a bit shorter than I'd have preferred, so I added a bias facing to the hem so that I could keep all the length I could. If I make it again, which I might, I'll add another two inches at least.

My sewing buddy, Jessica, helped me out by taking some pictures for me. She not only did the photography, she provided adorable prop dogs:



The pattern was nicely drafted and pretty easy to put together. My only issue (besides the length) was the finish on the collar. I suspect I got turned around in the directions - Burdastyle can be a bit cryptic. The pattern has cut-on front facings, but I can't for the life of me figure out what they wanted me to do with the back collar. I ended up adding a bias strip to cover the seaming. I think it worked out OK, but I feel like I missed the boat on this one.

Impromptu bias strip to finish back collar
I've been sewing more and more from Burdastyle lately. I'm a magazine junkie. Once I've invested in the latest issue I figure I should try out as many patterns as I think I can manage. Just in case it might be helpful, here are my tips for working with Burdastyle.

Have you ever eyeballed the pattern sheets in the Burdastyle magazines? Look like the architectural renderings for a nuclear power plant, right? There is a method to the madness though. My first tip is to take a look at the great series on using Burdastyle patterns that the Curious Kiwi put together. I so wish I'd known about these tutorials when I was first messing around with Burdastyle.

My second tip is to use exam table paper for your tracing. You can order it by the roll over the internet for not too much money. It's transparent enough to be easy to use for tracing, but has more tensile strength than tissue paper.

My third tip is to use a high lighter pen on the pattern sheet to outline the pieces you want to use. If you take your eyes off that pattern sheet for even one moment, say to pick up your pencil or take a sip of your refreshing beverage, you will lose focus and be unable to identify your target. Highlighting the pattern pieces doesn't entirely fix that problem, but I find it helps a lot. I figure if I want to use a new set of pieces on that same pattern sheet, I can just use another color of high lighter pen to help me hone in on them.

My final tip is to invest in the seam allowance curve of your choice from SA Curve via Etsy. Oh. My. God. This tool changed my life. My seam allowance curves make it child's play to add a 5/8 inch seam allowance to Burda patterns. Or to add stitching lines to other patterns, if you want to go the other direction. I got the two curves below as a Christmas present to myself. The proprietor, Claire Tharp, was so helpful when I was placing my order, and even in the midst of the holiday shipping madness, I had my new toys in my hands within a week.

My very favorite new sewing notion
My full review is on here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

My Featherweight

Last year I was at a sewing weekend, trying to do some shirring on Gertie's Shirtwaist Dress (which I love). My Babylock was having issues sewing with the elastic wound in the bobbin. My sewing ladies told me that machines with computerized tension can be picky that way, and that I should try to find an old Featherweight to use for tasks that require a more straightforward tool.

I mentioned to The Man that I'd been advised to track down an older Singer. Among his many talents, he is a flea-marketeer extraordinare. No matter how exotic the item, he can track it down and strike a bargain that leaves the seller wondering what just hit them. So within a week, he'd found me my Featherweight.

My baby
Judging by the serial number, it was made in 1950. That's even older than me, and it's in way better shape than I am.

Pretty plaque

Look at the adorable little on-off switch. Doesn't it look like a tiny gear shift?

It came with the original carrying case, the owner's manual, and lots of attachments. I even have a tube of vintage grease.

Some of the attachments are utterly terrifying.

This is the ruffler. Doesn't it look like it's just waiting to chew my fingers off?

This little guy folds and applies bias tape! This is the first one I have to figure out. I'll be putting bias tape on everything that can't outrun me.

I think this one is an adjustable hemmer
 I really want to spend an afternoon playing with everything to see how it works. Tanit Isis is my hero. She's not afraid to roll up her sleeves and take these vintage machines apart to see what makes them tick. I'll be referring to her posts when I begin my experimentation.

I figured the first thing I made should be a vintage pattern. I hunted through my small but growing collection and decided to try McCall 7741.

Love the jaunty scarf on red beret lady
I was quite nervous going in, but the pattern turned out to be pretty easy to put together, and the instructions (all one page) were very clear.

Unfortunately, the finished garment requires a level of expertise in ironing that is beyond me. All those tucks and pleats go caty-wumpus in the wash.

If you like to look at pretty vintage sewing machines, you might take a ramble through my friend Carol's web site. She hunts down, refurbishes and sells some really nice sewing doodads.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Burdastyle 70's Pants

Front view
I must be feeling a 70's vibe. My first make for 2014 is another pair of high-waisted, wide-legged pants: Burdastyle June, 2012 #109.
My friend Lisa calls them 'elephant leg' pants. Those hems are 24" around. Burda did them in denim, but I was looking to replace a pair of khaki pants, so I used a tan-ish twill. Sadly, it wrinkles like crazy when washed, so I've ended up with jeans that need to be ironed.

I'm at the point in my sewing journey where I'm attracted by patterns that have something a little unusual in their construction. These puppies have side seams that travel to the front as they move up the leg. The seams are top-stitched and include in-seam pockets. After tracing the pattern, I spent a night laying in bed, trying to imagine how I was going to top-stitch those seams without sewing the pockets closed. The Burda instructions were good though. I just had faith and did what they said and it all worked out fine.

In fact, I made the pants up totally according to the instructions, except I swapped out the fly front for a back zip. This was due to my phlyaphobia (fear of inserting fly fronts).

There's a maxim I've heard about fashion: if you wore it the first time around, you probably shouldn't wear it the second time around. I did wear this style of pants in my youth, and so far I'm loving wearing them again. They're bringing back a lot of my favorite memories of pants gone by.
Side view
The high waist means I can tuck in a shirt (like one of my Maria Denmark tee's) or wear a cropped cardigan without worrying about flashing a slice of midriff that should never see the light of day.
Back view
The wide legs are comfy and the pockets give me someplace to tuck my hands, or to carry my keys or a dog treat or two.

And you can stash five-inch platform shoes inside those legs with no one the wiser. I can look like I went from 5' 2" to 5' 7", and the extra inches are all in the leg, baby!

My full review is at here.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Sewn Christmas Presents

This year I only sewed presents for one person: The Man.

Two Tee Shirts
The Man wears jeans and a tee shirt most every day, and looks very classy and attractive doing so. He has very specific requirements for his tee shirts, to wit:

  1. high, round neck
  2. pocket (he's a fountain pen guy)
  3. no logos, writing or designs anywhere
  4. no scratchy labels at the back of the neck
  5. slim fit
  6. extra, extra long (he wears them tucked into the jeans and hates when they pull out at the back)
After several fruitless trips to Macy's and Nordstrom's we had to admit that this kind of tee shirt is almost impossible to find. Actually, for us it was impossible to find.

Luckily, I can sew! I got my hands on his favorite tee shirt and traced it to make a pattern. I was a little worried about getting the arm scythe and sleeve cap right, so I trued my pattern by comparing it to the Pete men's tee shirt pattern on the Burdastyle site.

I hied myself to Hart's and got 1.5 yards of some nice, 100% cotton knit in three colors I thought The Man might tolerate. While he was out of the house, I quickly cut my fabric and sewed those babies up, using the stretch stitch on my Babylock.

I wrapped them up and put them under the tree. And when he opened them, he actually liked them! Even the colors were OK. In fact, he said it would be swell if I could make him a couple more. Success! Ah, a sewist's life is sweet.

Why are there only two shirts pictured above, if I got three lengths of knit? It's a sad story. In my rush to finish up before The Man returned, I sewed the second sleeve of shirt #3 in upside down. Doh. In my defense, the stretch factor of this knit was different from the other two, but still, I should have known something was up.

I tried to pick out the seam, but no go. I was making holes in the fabric. I asked myself whether The Man might enjoy a flutter-sleeve tee shirt as a change from his usual style. Also no go.

So I'll save the carcass to use for undies for myself, and I'll pick up another 1.5 yards of the fabric for Shirt #3 next time I head out for Hart's. And now I know that he's approved of the color!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Burdastyle Pajama Style Pants

Front view
I've had these photos done for days, but haven't had a minute to write up my post. The Boy served as my photographer while he was here for Christmas. We went down to Long Marine Lab, thinking we'd have the Blue Whale skeleton as a background, and then decided all those bones would be too distracting.

Side view
These are the Pyjama Style Pants from the May, 2012 issue of Burdastyle. They have a slanted button front closure that looks challenging, but really isn't because it's non-functional. The pants zip up the back. It is a nice opportunity to use a statement button, though.

Back view
The pants have nice, big inseam pockets; handy for car keys, dog treats and giving you a bit of swagger when you walk.

They're made of some mid-weight denim with a very nice drape that I got from Hart's Fabric. I wish I'd gotten more of it while I had the chance.

It was a bit of a head-scratcher figuring out how to do the cross-over on the front, but the directions were actually pretty good. I just took them a step at a time and it all worked out. If you can handle high-waisted wide-legged trousers, I really recommend the pattern. They're very comfortable and the front waist gives them a bit of je ne sais quoi.

In fact, I liked them so much that I made them two more times; once as shorts:

Fun with Stripes Shorts
 And once from some loose-weave brown and mustard checked cotton. I must have had functional fixedness when planning this version, because this fabric looks almost the same as the fabric they used in the Burdastyle photo shoot.
Checked trousers
 Just noticed that I crossed the front right on one pair and left on the other. Probably one direction is male and the other is female?

Gray Whale skeleton in the background - too distracting, right?
My full review is here on